Sunday, October 28, 2012

Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time (1991)


BEASTMASTER 2:

THROUGH THE PORTAL OF TIME


Oh my fucking God where do I begin with “Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time”. We’ll just say the filmmakers definitely didn’t take notice of numerous sequels and fantasy films to come before and make all the exact same mistakes alienating hardcore fans of the loveable original 1982 sword and sorcery cult favorite. The final result is one of the most heated and hated sequels of all time and takes an un-honorary position right next to “Highlander II” on the shit sequel pedestal.

The film opens with an opening crawl that is a complete lie. I mean if the opening crawl doesn’t know what the hell is going on than how the fuck is the audience going to?! Dar, the Beastmaster (Marc Singer), is captured by an evil overloard (Wings Hauser) only to escape thanks to his animal friends (how did they not expect animals to come rescue a guy known as “the beastmaster”?). Our evil overloard then teams up with a sexy witch (Sarah Douglas) to open a a dimensional portal (not a time portal… the title lies!) to modern L.A. and the beastmaster must stop him with the help of a spoiled valley girl before, get this, he steals a doomsday device to turn his home desert wasteland world into… uh… a desert wasteland?!

The first major problem that all six screenwriters made (seriously it took six to write this mess?) is that the film completely goes against all the rules and and set-ups made in the original almost as they wish no one going into this sequel saw the first movie. Did they not take notice off all the hatred of “Highlander II” the year before that went down the same road? The second problem is they decide to pander this crap to children going against the hardcore adult nature of the first film, as if they never saw the disaster that called itself “Conan the Destroyer”. And thirdly, no doubt to save money, they decide to dump our fantasy hero into a modern city environment ala “Masters of the Universe” in order to so save money on the costume and set design and thus loads up the tedious second half with our annoying heroine explaining to our hero all about modern technology.

Is there anything good about this waste of celluloid? Well two things… Sarah Douglas’ breasts. I never really viewed her as a sex symbol before this but the filmmakers make all of her assets but sadly they are undermined by her deplorable dialogue. Other than her chest everything is wrong with this sequel. The fight choreography is bad, the continuity with first film is lazy, the dialogue is about as subtle as a fucking train wreck on a boat and the characters make absolutely insane decisions like why the fuck would our evil overloard escape the Beastmaster by taking refuge in a Zoo… you know a place full of animals that our hero can control. I mean come on! The film however hits absolute rock bottom when our heroes drive past a theater on the L.A. strip that’s playing, get this, Beastmaster 2. I remember watching the film up to this point as a kid then turning it off as even my eight year old mentality knew that was too lame. Well look on the bright side maybe in this parallel dimension “Beastmaster 2” doesn’t blow ass.

“Beastmaster 2” is one of the most disappointing sequels I have ever seen. The original film may not be cinematic genius but it is hands down one of the best “Conan” clones to emerge in the early 80s and one of my favorite sword and sorcery flicks. This sequel goes against every aspect that made the original so enjoyable by making the setting in ‘modern’ LA and pandering the lazy story to children. Unlike “Highlander II” which has earned a cult audience with its insulting ineptitude, “Beastmaster 2” remains a hot spot with fans and is equally spit on today as it was back in 1991. However much like “Highlander II” it didn’t kill off the franchise (how I am not sure) as Beastmaster forged on with a made-for-TV sequel “Beastmaster III: The Eyes of Braxus” and a late night television series.
Written By Eric Reifschneider


Saturday, October 27, 2012

Hostel (2005)

Director: Eli Roth
Notable Cast: Jay Hernandez, Derek Richardson, Eyþór Guðjónsson, Jan Vlasák, and a cameo by Takashi Miike

"Hostel" is one of those horror films that tends to divide fans. Even though I am quite the Eli Roth fan as I find him as one of the few directors that truly loves and understands the genre, I have my own mixed feelings about this film. Each time I watch it, I find something more to either love or hate and depending on my mood whether I am fighting for it or against it. It's one of those kinds of films. As it is though, "Hostel" does exactly what it intends to do, modernize an exploitation film without losing the elements that make the genre what it is. In this regard, "Hostel" is a massive success even if I have my issues with it's story and depth.

Paxton (Hernandez) and Josh (Richardson) are college buddies on their way across Europe looking for a good time and girls. They hook up with an Icelandic backpacker Oli (Guðjónsson) for the trip and end up being directed to a lavish hostel in Slovakia. Here they find heaven. They find two beautiful women who are massively interested in them and the parties and alcohol flow endlessly. That is until Oli mysteriously disappears. And the townsfolk seem to be hiding a secret. A secret that will these college buddies fighting for their lives against an institution built on human death...

The interesting thing about "Hostel" is how it divides horror fans. Love it or hate it, the damn film does its job and does it with vigor for the genre. The atmosphere, particularly in the latter half, is impressive, the twists that the film takes are daring, and the horror both conceptionally and visually is of high quality. If these are the things you are looking for in a film then "Hostel" has it down. The way that the film transfers from the colorful Amsterdam clubs/red light district to the rather dreary and grotesque abandoned factory of its finale is almost artistic and Roth's odd ability to shift our views from our douche-bag heroes into relatable victims is pretty impressive too. And the torture sequences actually utilize tension and atmosphere much more than people generally give them credit for and it really hits home in horrifying ways. In these ways, I love what "Hostel" has to offer and the more I watch it the more I love these elements.

But there is a odd down side to this modern exploitation film. "Hostel" has trouble balancing our investment into the situation with silly humor and exploitation portion of its idea. The first half of the film seemingly drags on and on (with relatively little come around payback at the end) and really pours on nudity to match the stupidity of the pprotagonists. We know these guys are stereotype college guys with silly toilet humor and its almost irritating how much Roth tries to make that clear. WE GET IT.

And then the film does a few odd things for the sake of exploitation. The excessive nudity can be a little much, but it even goes beyond that. Half the time I love that Roth is willing to go as far as he does with the extremism of the film, but the other half seemingly makes little sense. One character commits suicide with little motivation to do so (although the resulting gore shot is awesome) and the child gang has a humorous throw down with some thugs that drags on a little too long. Many of these moments just pull a little too hard for what they are and it undermines many of the good qualities that they do bring to the film.

So as I stated at the beginning of this review, I do really love/hate "Hostel" and each time I watch it I love the elements I liked a little more and hate the elements I found annoying more too. In the end though, Eli Roth proves he is one of the best modern horror directors (I'm still out to vote on him as a writer) and the man knows his horror. "Hostel" is brutal and atmospheric, but its also often missing some motivations to make it work as well as it needs. It's a must see for horror fans, but not necessarily deserving of some of the worship it receives.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Hotel Transylvania (2012)

Howloooo!!!! Ghouls and Goblins. There is a chill in the air as I write this review, which can only mean that All Hallows Eve is just around the corner. Like most review writers I follow, this month of reviews will have a horror theme to them. While my first review of the month may not qualify as true anime it is animated so I get a pass here. I took it upon myself to trek out and see this movie solely based on the title. I honestly had no idea it was an Adam Sandler and friends movie. Based on the movie poster I thought this looked promising, so grab your weapon of choice as we battle the monsters together.

This tale centers around the all famous Dracula (voiced by Adam Sandler) and his daughter Mavis (voiced by Selena Gomez). Now this is not the Dracula that we grew up with, no no this version is more the businessman type.

Dracula owns "Hotel Transylvania" which is essentially a safe haven for all things that go bump in the night. All the big names are in this film from Frankenstein's little creation (voiced by Kevin James) to the invisible man (voiced by David Spade) and they have all gathered at Drac's 5 stake hotel to celebrate the above mentioned daughter's 118 birthday(equivalent to humans turning 18). So this version of Dracula is a single dad and has been for many years. Which makes for a touching story to go along with the main storyline of this film which is a coming of age father/daughter story.

Dracula has spent all of Mavis' life sheltering her from the human world. That is the reason why after all that he created the giant hotel du monster so that all monsters can be themselves without fear of the outside world. So imagine the shock when his grand hotel is suddenly breached by an unsuspecting human child who just so happens to be about the same age as his birthday girl. That is when the fun begins. Poor Drac trying to hide this human from all his friends and daughter which he has lead to believe that humans are the most evil thing in the world.


Add in several supporting cast members such as Steve Buscemi as Wayne the Wolfman and SNL star Andy Samberg voicing the human boy-child Jonathan and you got yourself a pretty funny cast. Now with this sort of all-star cast one could expect lots of adult themed humor. This however was not the case. I found the lack of adult humor rather refreshing to be honest. This film had a Saturday morning cartoon feel to it which I appreciated and enjoyed. The animation was well directed and appealing. It was bright and crisp with colors that were spot on for the tone of the film. The facial expressions were again well directed and believable.

So overall I did enjoy the film, it had its ups and downs but it knew what it was. This one was certainly for the kiddos. I felt like the movie really slowed down once the story turned serious. With that in mind as a parent I am glad we didn't take our toddler along and would recommend this film for an 8 + age group. So if you are looking for a fright filled evening this is not your answer. However if you want to go out and have some innocent fun with family with no fear of what your child might pick up on then by all means check this movie out. Until next time keep watching anime!

Written By John Price

Exit Humanity (2011)

Director: John Geddes
Notable Cast: Mark Gibson, Adam Seybold, Jordan Hayes, Bill Moseley, Dee Wallace, Stephen McHattie, and narration by Brian Cox

"Exit Humanity" had been sitting in my watch queue since the damn thing came out on home video and what better time to take a crack at this historical zombie film than during my horror-thon in October. Although this little independent film with its rather impressive set of supporting cast definitely ranked high on some levels of the concept, the overall execution was a mixed pot of zombie stew. I loved the idea of a civil war era set zombie spectacular, but "Exit Humanity" rarely invoked the kind of emotional and unique relevance that its concept could have carried.

Edward Young (Gibson) was there to witness the beginning of the end when he was fighting in the Civil War. Now it's six years later and the spread of the zombie plague has taken both is wife and son. In desperation to fulfill his duties as a father and husband, he takes to the road determined to have his son's ashes placed at a promised site. But the world is different now and friends and foes are hard to distinguish as he comes across a man desperate to find his sister and a rogue group of militants that are bound determined to find a cure.

Once again I stumble across an low budget horror film (almost plays out more like a drama here) that I desperately want to love. The concept of a zombie apocalypse set to the aftermath of the Civil War is damn near brilliant and there are plenty of moments where John Geddes does take the film to that level with artistic shots and some strong narration. Unfortunately there are two things that prevent "Exit Humanity" from reaching that level, the budget and inconsistency of execution.

Shoot first, ask questions much much later.
Budget wise, the film just doesn't quite have enough to really run with its concept. Although Geddes does keep the sets and costuming to a minimum for this sake - the film loses a bit of realism without those historical elements to remind us of the time frame. Our hero's jacket looks far too modern and the scope of the landscape is simply hindered by the lacking budget. The special effects for the zombies and the general look of the film is quite strong in this regard and its obvious that was one of the focuses of where the money should go, but it lacks the scope that would have really made it something to see.

And going along with that, "Exit Humanity" has really high points and really low points that are heavily influenced by its budget and other artistic factors. Brian Cox gives a riveting narrative to the film with strong moments that pop (perhaps coming out as the best thing about "Exit Humanity") and make our lead actor Gibson a bit more of a miss than a hit in the role. In fact, most of the cast is extremely inconsistent with their scenes where they are either nailing this moment of silence or totally botching an emotional break out. As much as I love seeing the great supporting cast they have here (Moseley, Wallace, McHattie) most of them seem on autopilot through the film and underdeveloped as characters. Geddes tries to grasp some things from the cast and from the script, but too often it fumbles right before the big score.

The hero screams for a third of his dialogue...at least.
There are also a few other oddities about "Exit Humanity" that left me unattached. Although the "chapters" of the film give the film its distinctive "diary" re-enactment structure, they are mostly irrelevant and the film will occasionally break into an animated sequence done in the style of his journal drawings that really pull the viewer from the experience reminding them that it is, in fact, still a movie. It's these elements that really make "Exit Humanity" an overall miss opportunity of execution.

For a low budget and independent film, "Exit Humanity" certainly shows promise for Geddes with it's ambitious concept and choice artistic moments. The film just can't carry that same energy throughout and leaves the end result mixed. I want to love this movie just for the idea...but "Exit Humanity" makes it damn hard to even do that.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Intrigued by a post-Civil War zombie epic? Feel free to use the link below to pick up your own copy of "Exit Humanity".

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Painted Skin: The Resurrection (2012)

Director: Wuershan
Notable Cast: Xun Zhou, Wei Zhao, Kun Chen, Mini Yang, Shaofeng Feng 
AKA: "Painted Skin 2: The Resurrection"

Although I have yet to see the first "Painted Skin" film from 2008, the epic natured sequel perked my interest with a trailer containing strong visual flair. Normally films of this nature (fantasy focused martial arts/dramas) rarely interest me outside of some of the technical aspects, but as soon as I started "Painted Skin: The Resurrection" I was engulfed. The film might be uproariously over the top with its Shakespearean tale destiny, love, and loyalty and distinctly unrealistic with its demon fronted fantasy elements, but dammit I was totally along for the ride. If you are not willing to set aside your disbeliefs then "The Resurrection" is going to have you throwing a temper tantrum on the carpet. If you are though...its one hell of a ride.

When a Fox Demon Xiaowei (Xun Zhou) in broken free from her icy prison by a fellow blossoming demon, she quests out devouring men's hearts looking for her chance to finally become a human. She stumbles across a couple star crossed lovers in Princess Jing (Wei Zhao) and the head guardsman of a border city (Kun Chen). She sees her chance to manipulate the situation to her own benefit by igniting jealousy between the two...but will the love of these two change her own desires?

Princess Jing...the new Phantom Of The Opera?
Despite my eagerness to bite into such a visual feast of a film, I erred on the edge of caution in truly buying into the film. It's romantic triangle seemed a bit too cliche and stretches for me to reach for the demon mythology seemed a bit ridiculous. Luckily, "Painted Skin: The Resurrection" ably works the viewer in. As long as you are willing to bide the idea of a demon walking the earth in search of a way to be human, the rest is smooth sailing. And I fully suggest in throwing all your chips in because if you do, the film runs with it.

Visually speaking, "The Resurrection" is a full out stunner. Sans a few awkward moments of CGI including a bear attack that looks humorously awkward despite its extensive attempts at being dramatic, the rest of the film is something to be taken in. After seeing some of the amazing special effects and visual flair for pushing some solid limits like fingers under the skin and demon-zing people, I wished I would have been able to capture this film theatrically. As is though, the film is a beautiful Blu Ray experience with its epic score and strong colorful visuals that any fantasy or cinema fan will want to see just to experience.

At times the visuals are dramatically striking...like this scene for instance.
Director Wuershan doesn't let the film completely succumb to a 'style over substance' manner either. Occasionally the film brushes over things that could have used a bit more depth like the 'Sparrow Demon' with her motivations and relationship to the newly found demon hunter supporting character, but when the film focuses down on the love triangle between our three leads - the film really does work like a Shakespearean tale that owns its depth and moral struggles. The actors all ably handle the subtle acting (and the outrageous action) with a pretty impressive consistency so that when someone goes and does something like cut out their eyes - it doesn't come out as cheesy when it easily could have. In fact, it is the acting in "The Resurrection" that truly had me hooked and grounded despite some of the extensiveness of the script.

Outside of some of my nitpicky comments prior the only thing I could have asked for more of was action sequences. What was included was very stylistic wire work with plenty of slow motion for modern action fans (it would have made Zack Snyder proud), but the cool raid scene was a bit short and most of the rest of the fight sequences are more for visual grandeur than actual strong choreography.

The underused villain of the film has a great "Conan the Barbarian" thing going for him.
For the most part I really could not care less for fantasy driven films of this ilk, but "Painted Skin: The Resurrection" had me sold from the start. It's a sleek film that barely feels like its two hour run time and the visual epic-ness that coincides with a well executed tale of tragedy in the hands of a capable director and a strong cast simply stuns. It's a film that rises above its shortcomings with the vigor and grace of its opening ice shattering sequence and it really never slows from there. A must have for fantasy fans or those looking for something a little different in their film watching queue.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Now that you've had a chance to gobble up this review...you want to buy "Painted Skin: The Resurrection" I'm sure. Well we have links below to preorder this bad boy for its November 13th release in the US (or purchase if after that date). Highly suggested that one looks at the Blu Ray as it stuns in high def.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Dead On: Relentless II (1992)


DEAD ON: RELENTLESS II

Aka "Relentless 2: Dead On"


With “Relentless” being a massive hit on the home video rental market, the serial killer highway was paved with “Dead On: Relentless II” being the first of many sequels to follow in its wake. Sadly going into this sequel it has two massive blows to its credibility. First is the departure of original director William Lustig and second is it being made direct-to-video, which almost guarantees it to be a bland, forgettable follow-up. These two black marks made me go into this sequel with low expectations and but to my surprise it was a hair better than I presumed.

Following the events of the original film, detective Dietz and his wife are having marital problems due to him being ‘married’ to his job. While trying to mend the bridge with his spouse, another serial killer (Miles O’Keefe) pops up on L.A. seemingly killing his victims at random. Dietz is forced to team up with a smarmy FBI agent and Dietz smells a cover-up a mile away and has to stop the killer, as well as blowing the cover-up wide open in the meantime.

The film suffers by not having the visual talents of William Lustig behind the camera but the look of the film is definitely not as flat as it could have been due to it being made, shutter, ‘direct-to-video’. For a DTV flick it’s got a lot of style… not as good as the original mind you but not bad at all and director Michael Schroeder does what he can to give the flick some polish.

The cast is also again strong with both Leo Rossi and Meg Foster reprising their roles and Rossi again owns the role he created. His Sam Dietz character is such a loveable prick that one can’t help but get engrossed with him. Dietz is good at his job and that’s rule number 1 for an audience to like a character, no matter what the job be. I can’t believe I’m saying this but Miles O’Keefe, known for playing braindead beefcakes in such turds as “Ator the Fighting Eagle” and “Tarzan the Ape Man”, is actually, dare I say, GOOD in the role of the killer. O’Keefe has a striking look that is perfect for a hardcore serial killer and the filmmakers know to keep his dialogue to an absolute minimum, a smart move so O’Keefe doesn’t embarrass himself.

"Dead On: Relentless II” isn’t a bad sequel but thanks to original director William Lustig hightailing it and the film being regulated to the “direct-to-video” market does hinder the final product ensuring that it will never eclipse the original. Still the director showing better style than the typical DTV film and another strong cast makes it a worthy follow-up to an otherwise watchable, yet also run-of-the-mill “to catch a killer” thriller.
Written By Eric Reifschneider

And the Crows Will Dig Your Grave (1972)


AND THE CROWS WILL DIG YOUR GRAVE


The Spaghetti Western genre is loaded with bizarre film titles and amazing poster artwork that are many times far better than the actual film product. “And the Crows Will Dig Your Grave” is no different. Watchable enough in its own right but hardly a genre film to get to get excited about unless one is a hardcore fan, like myself, and the more obscure the film the more we are drawn to see it.
Wells Fargo is getting downright pissed off that all their stagecoaches are getting robbed and plummeting their bottom line. To tighten security they hire ‘special agents’ (more like mercenaries) to track down and kill the most dangerous man in the area named Glenn Kovacs. In order to locate him an agent (Craig Hill) buys the freedom of a prisoner on death row named Dan Barker, a gunslinger with a connection Kovacs that will hopefully lead the mercenaries to his hideout.
Predictably Barker escapes on multiple occasions only to be caught again and again by the savviness of Craig Hill. He just isn’t grateful of his ‘freedom’ from the gallows but softenings his hard exterior when meeting the films eye candy in the form of Maria Pia Conte, a regular clone of the beautiful Claudia Cardinale as much as Craig Hill’s stoic agent is of Clint Eastwood. Fernando Sancho, known for playing creepy dirtbags in the genre, actually plays a character on the ‘rightous’ side of the law but in all honesty his character is no different than all the villains he’s portrayed with the only difference being star on his chest.
The film does have all the elements fans of the genre love with lots of shootouts, blowing dust, grisly beards, a lively soundtrack, and violent torture scenes (with a character hogtied with barbwire… ouch!) but the pacing of the plot is rather stretched out due to the films actual villain not showing up until over the hour mark. All the characters are also only motivated by money making it hard to draw a line between the good and bad guys, a commonality in the genre.
“And the Crows Will Dig Your Grave” may not live up to its kickass title, but it’s still an enjoyably average entry in the genre. It still has all the elements we fans love about the Italian West with selfish antiheros, driving score and dirty landscape and the Wild East DVD release (in a double feature with “The Dirty Fifteen”) is amazing with a fantastic transfer of such an obscure flick. Pick it up and support such a wonderful independent DVD label!
Written By Eric Reifschneider

Seven Psychopaths (2012)

Director: Martin McDonagh
Notable Cast: Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson, Tom Waits, Harry Dean Stanton

I still stand firmly behind my stance that McDonagh's "In Bruges" is one of the best comedies I have ever seen, blending the long time play writer's quirky violent humor with introspective character work into a charming and often unnerving display to craft a magnificent film debut. In all honesty, I expected McDonagh to play a little safer with his second film effort and cater a bit more towards the quirk and less towards the introspective. From the trailers I repeatedly watched about "Seven Psychopaths" with its odd dog napping schemes and off kilter characters/cast I very much felt that he did.

I should have known better.

Marty (Farrell) has desperately been looking for inspiration and focus to finish his upcoming screenplay "Seven Psychopaths." Even his best friend Billy (Rockwell) wants to help even though he's been busy with his partner Hans (Walken) with their dog-napping business venture. When Billy accidentally steals a very special dog from a very psychopathic mobster (Harrelson), all three of these friends are going to have to make some decisions about their futures or they may not have any at all.

I say I should have known better because "Seven Psychopaths" is about as off the wall quirky with its narrative as its gets. Yes the synopsis I just wrote is the basics of what sets the film into motion (and what we saw in the trailers), but it is only one tiny facet of what really makes this film tick. And it ticks into some very unusual and often dividing territory for your average film goer.

Would you trust a man in a bear ski hat? Would you?
The film is almost completely self referencing of itself. It's about a man, Marty, who wants to write a screenplay called "Seven Psychopaths" and the hijinks that he and his friends end up in by trying to find inspiration for the script. Half of the lines are stated about the film itself by the characters for their characters and it even goes as far as predicting the entire ending before it happens...only so we could watch it unfold that way. At times the narration does become a bit jumbled as it leaps into little 'mini-movies' throughout as our characters develop 'psycho-killers' for Marty's script which may or may not be based on other characters in the film. If this sounds a bit confusing, its because I'm not near as clever as McDonagh at letting it all play out and occasionally he (as director and writer) can't keep up either. Although I appreciate the meta aspects of the film, at times it is overwhelming with how it plays out in it's own predictions.

As for the actual on screen work and not conceptional ideas, "Seven Psychopaths" is damn near perfect. The casting is only top notch with Rockwell, Harrelson, and Walken giving some career defining performances that really embrace each of their abilities and quirks as actors. Only Farrell seems a bit underused as his character - intentionally so - is used as a narrator and subdued watcher outside of these ridiculous characters and their collision courses with one another. And McDonagh certainly works the leaping meta angel to its fullest visual advantage taking careful time to really build this "movie within a movie" idea to new lengths. The mini-psycho-films are almost as good as the film they reside in with their own intriguing (and sometimes changing) characters who violently battle through their issues in an almost Tarantino style way. The one thing that "Seven Pyschopaths" does quite well is the flow of the film as it gracefully moves through its many different layers.

I learned that an innate trait of writers is alcoholism. I better get on that. 
I can't say that it is as good as "In Bruges" is, but "Seven Psychopaths" is still an impressive second outing for McDonagh with its very strong rapid fire dialogue and amazingly offensive characters. It stumbles a bit with its own meta concept despite strong pacing and character connection to help overcome many of its flaws, but I can say that I had a blast watching it and how it all worked out. It is NOT a film for everyone as it is, once again, quite offensive and violent for a comedy, but for those with the stomach it is a treat like none other.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Bedevilled (2010/2012)

Director: Cheol-soo Jang
Notable Cast: Young-hee Seo, Sung-won Ji, Jeong-hak Park

After an excruciating two years of waiting for "Bedevilled" to finally come to the US, our friends at the ever vigilant Well Go USA having finally brought us the critically acclaimed film. And on Blu Ray nonetheless! So now the Blood Brothers finally have their chance to partake in this award winning horror/thriller... and it's quite the emotional rollercoaster ride.  In fact, I would go as far to say that I have not had a film bring out as much emotion in me in years. I literally had to stop it twice during its play time just to walk away and release the tension and anger that it had built up in me. If a movie can do that with "Bedevilled"'s relatively simple premise - then you know it has you by ears and its dragging you along with it for good or bad.

Hae-won (Sung-Won Ji) has been having a rough time living in Seoul. Her job has been increasingly stressful and her fear of retaliation from those threatening leaves her on edge when she is asked to testify against two gang members who brutally beat a woman in the street. She decides that a vacation is a great idea and heads to an island where she grew up with her awkward friend Bok-nam (Young-hee Seo) at her friend's incessant pleading. What she finds on the island is that Bok-nam's life with her young daughter has degraded into something of a societal nightmare at the hands of her monstrous husband (Jeong-hak Park) and the locals. And when a tragedy strikes, the thin strand of sanity for Bok-nam may not be enough to hold her back.

Our two leading ladies of "Bedevilled" in a great moment of contrast.
For a movie that was made for a little over $600,000 (deeming it very low budget), never does it feel that way. It's expertly crafted in story, stunningly built visually with great atmosphere, and the acting is blow-you-away brilliant. For a low budget "horror", it feels almost real. And the story is so simply and realistically built that I half expected the film to be based on some horrific true event of some sort. This realism is the reason that it dredged up so much emotional anger in me. When I saw what was happening to this poor woman and her daughter on this island (and how damn good the actors and director pulled off making it feel real) it just enraged me. By a half hour into the film I was yelling at my TV for Bok-nam to go crazy and kill all those bastards. You know a movie is doing great when it generates that kind of reaction.

An example of how the director makes the beautiful island seem dark and foreboding.
Sans a few illogical moments when the film takes a turn for the truly horror inspired finale (which were justified because I could not care less about the logic as long as she started taking out some fucked up islanders), this film is a subtle and very enthusiastic character study with plenty of social commentary to fuel its rising tension. Both of our leading ladies stun in their respective roles each with a specific issue to overcome in their own flawed manners and first time director Cheol-soo Jang ably uses his limited sets for maximum effect. What starts off as a serene beautiful island slowly turns into a dark cage before becoming the death trap of its last act. It's this smooth and almost elegant story telling narrative and great character work that make "Bedevilled" not only one of the best horror films of the year, but one of the best films from Korea.

"Bedevilled" is a film that comes with such high recommendation for those with the stomach to watch horrific and realistic events unfold that it must be seen to be believed. Everything about it is of the highest quality the story, the directing, and the ridiculously amazing acting. It's a stunner cinematic achievement that cannot be shaken from your psyche after the fact, perfectly doing what a good horror should do: leave you breathless both conceptionally and in its brilliant execution.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

The fact remains: you NEED to see "Bedevilled." So you might as well not waste any more time and click the following links and purchase your copy. Both Blood Brothers and Well Go USA would be much appreciative.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Argo (2012)

Director: Ben Affleck
Notable Cast: Ben Affleck, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Bryan Cranston and a cameo by Kyle Chandler

Although not necessarily the cult kind of film one would expect to read a review for here on Blood Brothers, Ben Affleck has become something of a fascinating watch. We all know that he had a penchant for poor acting and choosing horrid films, but with "Gone Baby Gone" and "The Town" he showed us something greater. You can read my review for the latter film here if you want. It's this reason that "Argo" was a must see for me despite being a historical dramatic thriller that doesn't necessitate cult standing. "Argo", however, does necessitate much praise and Affleck once again nails his direction (and even some strong acting!) for the film to make it a worthy Oscar contender.

When tensions mounted in the late 70s and the early 80s between the United States and Iran over the US's influence in their country, a hostage crisis broke out at the embassy. While the world's eyes focused in on this hostage situation the CIA and one of their best specialists in extraction Tony Mendez (Affleck) are called in to solve a problem. Six embassy employees have been hiding out in the Canadian ambassador's house since the event and they need to get out. Now its up to Mendez to crack one of the strangest cover stories featuring him concocting a fake science fiction movie scouting trip to Iran to get the citizens out before they are tried for espionage.

"To desensitize you to torture of the most severe kind, we will be doing a verbal reading of "Gigli"."
What is perhaps the coolest and most admirable trait about "Argo" is the dedication that Ben Affleck took towards the details of the film. Generally speaking, these kinds of "true espionage" films require this sort of visionary balance between keep the facts straight and making an entertaining and good film that doesn't come off as a documentary. "Argo" pulls this off. Whether its the attention to getting that 70s/early 80s vibe down with the films colors, the grainy film look, and the classic Warner Bros logo and credits font or the long shot subtle character work - Affleck nails the style and feel of a late 70s/early 80s film. For those into the technical aspects of film making, "Argo" is fascinating. The recreation of famous photos and elements from the period for the film or the attention to costuming and relative time jumping set ups is simply stunning.

If only these thee really did make a low budget and ridiculous science fiction film...if only.
Then to top it off not only is "Argo" a film for history nuts looking to see a brief snapshot of what it might have been like, but its a damn good thriller. Despite the fact that nothing really blows up, there is no massive final gun battle, or anything really to push the film into the 'action' category of cinema - I was completely drawn into the tale and on the edge of my seat for the entire last half of the film. Something as simple as a ticket reservation becomes an edge of your seat phenomenon in Affleck's able hands and it never lets up. With the stunning cast in full stride (the supporting cast here better get a few Oscar nods or I'm going to protest the Academy Awards again) that's anchored by an impressive performance of subtlety from Affleck himself and some heart warming comedy from the Hollywood characters ably played by John Goodman and Alan Arkin, I was completely drawn into the plot focused film. Although never did I think that this was a high octane thriller, its slow burn and tremendous amount of atmosphere and tension easily made up for any flaws it might have had.

"Argo" is one of those films that rises above its own genre boundaries (a historical drama) and really makes a great entertaining cinema experience. Aflleck is on a roll with his strong artistic choices as a director and as an actor. "Argo" is a significant departure from his tried and true previous films and the risk paid off. This film is a must see for 2012.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Sinister (2012)

Director: Scott Derrickson
Notable Cast: Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, James Ransone, Vincent D'Onofrio

At first, I struggled with "Sinister." The hype machine, once again, overworked this film claiming it to be 'the scariest movie ever' in many ways and, once again, the film has trouble living up to those claims. I'm not particular to blame "Sinister" for this as it was a very scary film judging from the packed audience's reactions around me and its easily one of the best 'mainstream' horror films I've seen in quite some time. It's hard not to be somewhat disappointed though as I desperately wanted "Sinister" to redefine modern horror instead of retread many concepts and ideas that have been done before.

Ellison Oswalt (Hawke) is looking for his next big true crime novel and one that redefines his career. Much to his family's chagrin, he moves them into the house of a previously murdered family where one of the daughters had gone missing just the year prior. They don't know it, but Ellison is looking to dive right into the mystery. When he discovers a black box marked 'home movies' in the attic featuring a handful of super 8 recordings marked with everyday activities, he discovers that each of these is a filmed account of a family being massacred - including the one he is investigating. Now he has stumbled upon something much larger, something much more ancient, and something much more sinister than he ever imagined.

I've never seen Ethan Hawke in more sweaters in my life.
Believe it or not, I had high hopes for Scott Derrickson pulling "Sinister" off. He was due for another great film after mediocre efforts in "The Exorcism Of Emily Rose" and the remake of "The Day The Earth Stood Still." Yes, that means I considered "Hellraiser: Inferno" a great film and still do (Click here for my reasons) and "Sinister" was the proper follow up.

As for the movie itself, "Sinister" is extremely well executed. The atmosphere is palpable in how heavily they craft it to be and the score that accompanies so many of these great scare sequences is jaw dropping. Derrickson's use of light and sound is creative, making with the sound of running film now something to fear and the light from an cell phone a poor choice when the power goes out. "Sinister" even pulls off portions of 'found footage' horror quite ably as each successive film that our lead character watches ratchets up the extremity of violence and scares, culminating in a final film about lawn care that had the audience shrieking. This is all built on a foundation of very impressive performances and realistic tones/characters whose flaws and detailing made us care deeply for their well being and how this tale of terror plays out. In so many ways, the execution of "Sinister" is the highlight of how great Hollywood horror needs to be done in the future.

"Shhhhhh. And turn off your damn cell phone. Yeah. You. In the sixth row."
So why the disappointment you ask, considering all the massive praise I just poured out about Derrickson's damn near brilliant directing and those stunning performances? Too often "Sinister" left me feeling a bit underwhelmed story wise. With some stunningly well set up jump scares and a uniquely built antagonist in this mysterious monster man, one would expect the rest of the film to follow suit and add some killer twists. Not necessarily the case with "Sinister." Half of the time I kept thinking that the film was essentially a combination of "The Ring" and "Insidious", it essentially was, and the twist in its finale was pretty predictable with the blatant clues given in the first half of the film. I won't give it away, but they essentially tell you how its going to go and then expect you to forget like the characters do so that the ending comes as a shock. Perhaps I was in the minority of not being fooled so easily, but it's hard not to feel disappointed in that sense.

All in all, "Sinister" was a very impressive Hollywood mainstream horror film. The atmosphere is thick, the scares and brutal, and the on screen execution from the director and actors is strong. The script and story it's built on just happens to not be the original and smart concept I was hoping for that would break the mold. It occasionally falls into cliche pitfalls for its scares (if the power goes out...get a damn flashlight) and it undermines the entire experience. For Hollywood its damn impressive and still going to be one of my favorites of 2012, but I'm hoping that the eventual sequel takes it to that next level.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Legendary Amazons (2012)

Director: Frankie Chan
Notable Cast: Richie Jen, Cecilia Cheung

The Shaw Brothers are one of the film companies that changed the way film was done. Their influence in Asian and world cinema can still be felt to this day and their dedication to genre films has created a voracious and almost cult like fan base. Of which I would include myself. Yet it shocks me that in this day and age, there isn't more of their films being remade. One here or there (and a "Deadly Venoms" remake that has been indicated for years and years), but never a full blown assault of Shaw remakes. That's what makes "Legendary Amazons" one of the first of its kind. A massively released Shaw Brothers remake and one that the awesome Well Go USA deemed worthy for a US release. Could it possibly live up to its own hype? To the legendary status of its originator "14 Amazons"?

The Song Dynasty has come into a bloody war with the brutal warriors of Western Xia. The Emperor is fighting with little help and after significant losses to the his enemies, he sends one of his best generals Yang Zongbao (Richie Jen) to fix the situation. When Zongbao vanishes at the front lines, his work is then bestowed on his only son Yang Wenguang (Xiao Ming Yu) - the last man of the Yang clan - to finish the job with a small army. The entire Yang Clan, now mostly made up of skilled women fighters including Zongbao's fierce wife (Cecilia Cheung), will vow to protect their last male family member as his personal protectors and defeat a massively superior army. No matter the cost.

To put it simply, this is a great concept for a martial arts film. Revenge, family, loyalty, epic battles. The Shaw Brothers had it right the first time around to make this into a movie. It's epic and has plenty of opportunity to kick a lot of ass. At times, "Legendary Amazons" does just this. It builds on this epic story and despite having to rush through some of its plot points to fit it all in, it really carries the heart and soul that made the original one such a classic. In this sense, "Legendary Amazons" is a worthy remake and a visual spectacle worthy of its mass release.

"Have you seen "14 Amazons"? HAVE YOU?!"
If there was one word to aptly describe the film as a whole though, it would be 'inconsistent.' That doesn't necessarily mean the film is bad, as the term would indicate there are many high/solid moments to love. There are some moments of endearing heart to its character interactions with some strong acting moments to move them and the visual design of the film is gloriously over the top and fun. The fights are ridiculous with plenty of oddities to go around and I was never bored with the film. It does entertain and as a film to waste a slow afternoon on - I was happy with its entertaining qualities.

Inconsistent does indicate that there are lows to the film too. The original film might have been cheesy, but it definitely carried a lot of charm with it. This one simply translates to cheesy without the charm in its modern adaption. And even many of the strengths mentioned above are not consistent throughout the film. The fighting, although over the top with wire work and well paced, is sometimes done in fast forward with some of the stunts looking very staged. The acting? Although strong at times, is spent delivering some really awkward dialogue and and supporting cast (including Xiao Ming Yu as one of the male leads) is mediocre at best. Even the costuming with its vibrant colors is either jaw dropping in design or horribly crafted as shields and weapons wobble with hits and our invaders look like they skinned a flock of Ewoks to make their clothes.

They laugh because they have no idea what Frankie Chan is up to either.
Honestly, I'm not sure what Frankie Chan was thinking half of the time. His vision of the film should have been along the lines of a mixture of Zhang Yimou ("House Of Flying Daggers") with the fight work of Tsui Hark ("Detective Dee"), but ends up missing on both with inconsistent execution values.  The film is beautiful on its Blu Ray high definition display with its grand sound and vibrant colors, but the actual quality of the film itself is pretty mixed. It was fun and it entertained, but when the two above film makers are doing essentially the same and to much higher quality - its hard not to be disappointed with the results.

BONUS PRAISE: I also highly suggest watching the behind the scenes featurette on the US release. It has some interesting "fight sequence" how was it done moments and a handful of hilarious bloopers.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Feel like you need to experience the entertain ride of "Legendary Amazons"? Then you can purchase the film at the links below (at the time of this review its a pre-order due out October 16th) and support the scene!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Relentless (1989)


RELENTLESS


William Lustig is a big name in the cult film world. Not only has he directed classics like “Maniac”, “Vigilante” and “Maniac Cop”, but he also founded Blue-Underground Entertainment, a company specializing in releasing cult films on the home video market in quality editions. Seriously this guy bleeds “Kvlt”. In the late 80s, like most directors that got their start in the cult film circuit, Lustig gave a stab at the mainstream market by directing two films, “Relentless” and “Hit List” for Cinetel films. Though at the time more people saw these films than his earlier efforts, today they are the forgotten entries into his filmography due to the fact they lack the eccentricities and bombastic approaches to violence and gore that fans praise his earlier efforts for.

The plot is a pretty standard “killer on the loose” connect-the-dots formula. We have a brash young rookie detective (Leo Rossi, whom fans may remember for playing the jackass paramedic in the original “Halloween II”) teaming up with an indifferent veteran (Robert Loggia) in order to catch a serial killer with daddy issues (Judd Nelson) whom kills his victims by having their own hands do the dirty deed. The audience can predict every turn in the plot, especially when the killer gets personal with detective Dietz’s family.

William Lustig has always managed to acquire dynamic cast members and “Relentless” is no different. Judd Nelson makes a memorable portrayal as our killer, Loggia is likeable as ever and Meg Foster delivers as the detective’s wife. Relatively unknown actor Leo Rossi surprisingly makes what would be a rather routine detective character engaging with his arrogant Brooklyn heritage. Rossi makes the character flawed and with that more interesting. I really wanted this guy to blow our creepo away!

Though the cast is good, what makes “Relentless” really stand out is the keen eye for style provided by Lustig as he makes the film look better than it really is. Even with his style one can tell Lustig is being subdued no doubt due to pressure by the producers trying to make a marketable film as it just lacks the trademark gore and violence that punctuated all of his notable efforts before. I just wanted the film to be more graphic, to go the extra mile that fans have come to expect from Lustig. Even the trademark Lustig extreme stunts are kept to a minimum with a high speed race home being the highlight

“Relentless” on the surface is just another “to catch a killer” film as the plot has nothing really special to set it apart from other films in the genre but Lustig’s stylish directing and the strong cast makes it worth a watch, especially for Lustig fans. Despite it’s routine plot and toned down “play it safe” kills, “Relentless” was a massive hit on home video following it’s short theatrical release and gave rise to three sequels. That in itself is a feat not many films are able to succeed at.
Written By Eric Reifschneider

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Shock Labyrinth, The (2009)

Director: Takashi Shimizu
Notable Cast: Yuya Yagira, Ai Maeda,  Misako Renbutsu, Ryo Katsuji

When a film is directed by Takashi Shimizu, the man who gave us one of the scariest ghost films ever made in "Ju-On", I simply cannot say no to it. No matter if his most current films have been relatively weak (cough "The Grudge 2" cough), he's due some redemption of sorts. That's why I was rather stoked to finally see "The Shock Labyrinth" in all of its wacky 3D J-Horror ghostly torture. The end results of this trippy journey into the hidden secrets of four Japanese youth is one of pretty mixed results, but I certainly dug the atmosphere and concept of the film.

It's reunion time! Three childhood friends are off to reconnect with one another after years of being apart. They are expecting good times to reminisce and find each other once again. What they don't expect is for a long missing friend to reappear at their doorstep. And once she falls ill while returning her home, they decide to take her to the nearest hospital...and the walls between dream, reality, and memory begin to blur as they collectively begin to remember why she went missing in the first place.

"Let me reach...right at the camera...for that awesome 3D effect..."
The plot of "The Shock Labyrinth" is one that might seem a bit familiar. We've seen a hundred J-Horror films of a similar tale and style done in a variety of ways. But this is Takashi Shimizu we are talking about here. The man practically made J-Horror a genre of its own and a world wide phenomenon. And he did with a relatively plotless film in "Ju-On." So "The Shock Labyrinth" should be right up the same ally, right?

Yes and no. Stylistically speaking, "The Shock Labyrinth" is a relatively by the numbers J-Horror film. Shimizu focuses on the atmosphere and kicks in enough creepy fucking visuals to make you think twice about chasing pale Japanese children down hallways (or in this case around spiral staircases). In many ways, I love the subtlety of this film. There is a lot of cool visual detail work (the feathery floating pieces and the oddly creepy rabbit back pack for starters) that helps the obvious budget constraints of the film. As always, the director delivers some pretty creepy moments and strong atmospheric drive in the film.

Good old Shimizu. Always littering my nightmares with the best visuals.
There are two things though that really prevent "The Shock Labyrinth" from even reaching the heights of peer films. Firstly, the acting is atrocious. Our lead in Ken is downright laughable at times and his supporting cast is rarely much better. For a film with only a handful of cast to begin with, this is shocking in itself. They really couldn't find anyone better? Secondly, the film is simply too confusing. "Ju-On" had this artistic vibe to its intertwining and jumping tales that wove its overall narrative. This film desperately tries for that same feeling and misses more than it hits. It can work. The flashbacks to their childhood in the haunted house and how it repeats in the present time to torture our characters is a fun idea and can be brutally revealing. It just doesn't work all the time. By the end of the film and its final twist, I wasn't sure what really had happened and the film doesn't pander to that question. In fact it likes to muddle it even more with hints that go in various directions. Although I appreciate the attempts at making a clever, those same jumps also make it frustratingly vague.

"It's just a couple of stories you are going to fall. Walk it off."
I am going to give the film the benefit of the doubt here though as I have a feeling that it will grow on me with time and repeated viewings. Don't blame me if my rating here at the end changes one way or another in the future (I'll note it at the end of the review if it does and why), but I enjoyed this film more than a lot of other people. It definitely is not perfect and certainly does not match Shimizu's earlier work. I still enjoyed its atmosphere and visual prowess at going about a rather mundane story. "The Shock Labyrinth" might not be for everyone, but it had its charm on me.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Feel like you need to experience "The Shock Labyrinth" for yourself and see what you think about this ghostly tale of discovery? Click the links below to order your copy now and support Blood Brothers and the awesome people at Well Go USA!