Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Grabbers (2013)

Director: Jon Wright
Notable Cast:  Richard Coyle, Ruth Bradley, Lalor Roddy, Russel Tovey

It's not some mystery that "throwback" films are a bit of their own genre now. Whether successful to the mainstream or not, the cult status of some of these films tends to be pretty high and for 80s style monster flicks like "The Host" and "Attack The Block," there are some beautiful films that should garner more attention then they probably do. "Grabbers," a nifty little Irish throwback 80s creature feature, is like the previously two mentioned films as an overlooked gem. While this one might not be quite as ballsy when it comes to storytelling or in its execution, "Grabbers" is still a blast to watch for those pining a bit for an older style.

When the local sheriff goes on holiday, he leaves the small Irish island community in the hands of his alcoholic officer O'Shea (Coyle) and an up-and-comer Lisa (Bradley) who volunteers for the assignment to help him out. Unfortunately, despite their initial differences on how to go about things, the two officers are going to have to mend their own issues when a local fisherman Paddy (Roddy) discovers a "grabber" in one of his lobster traps setting off an other worldly attack on the quiet town.

We could be heroes. Just for one day.
The premise for "Grabbers" is simple. Two different style cops have to team up to fight off an alien invasion. It's formulaic, oh yes, but the film comes off as sincere in its simplicity. Instead of wicked plot twists or over developed character nuances, "Grabbers" focuses on being fun and entertaining with its concept. While this kind of formulaic approach may not work for a lot of films which come off as watered down, for this little picture its simplistic approach comes off more as endearing and homage-like to those classic monster flicks of the 50s (and stylistically like the 80s) then it does as a weakness. While the romantic subplot is pretty predictable and the secondary characters more like caricatures then real people, it works for "Grabbers" to make it an easily digestible and fun to follow film.

Marked.
It does help that director Wright and his band of merry men and women all seem to be on one page for what "Grabbers" is meant to be. The character arcs for our two leads (an alcoholic and workaholic respectively) might be blueprinted from the beginning, but our actors sell the little moments of comedy and chemistry so well that rarely did I roll my eyes at the predictability of it all. Coyle is extremely heartfelt in the role and Bradley perfectly compliment him onscreen to make the basic scenario work. Even the supporting cast while being niche roles (the drunk fisherman, the cynical bartender, the nerdy scientist) are played in ways that rarely feel that way and our actors and actresses own their moments.

To be truthfully honest, the weakest part of the film is the special effects. I loved the creature design for the grabbers themselves, but the lower end budget tended to weaken the overall flick. By the time we get to the finale where the most CGI and special effects are needed to sell the starfish from hell monsters, it didn't quite have the 'oomph' to get the process done to the caliber at which the rest of the film existed.

Now we just need a "Grabbers Vs Graboids" flick. Oh yeah.
All in all, "Grabbers" certainly works as a fun and entertaining homage film to the classic 50s monster flicks done in a full on 80s style. For cult film fans, it's a blast to watch and it works amazingly well considering its tried-n-true plot setting and basic characters. It may not inspire the love I felt for it in everyone, but for those looking for a great time then I highly suggest "Grabbers."

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Saving General Yang (2013)


Director: Ronny Yu
Notable Cast: Adam Cheng, Ekin Cheng, Yu Bo, Vic Chou, Li Chen, Raymond Lam, Wu Chun, Fu Xinbo, Shao Bing

While Ronny Yu’s career has had some twists and turns of it’s own, from a brief career as a director in China with “Bride With White Hair” to his horror leap in the US and back to his roots with the epic Jet Li film “Fearless,” my expectations for his historical (sort of) war epic “Saving General Yang” was high. He’s always been a dark horse director of sorts and each of his films tends to be fairly distinct from the others. For his latest, he harkens back to an old school feeling film with some modern flair and the results, while perhaps uneven, are entertaining to say the least.

When the kingdom’s peace is threatened by war, General Yang (Adam Cheng) is assigned to be the backing force for the main army to quell the mounting tension from a young and vicious villain Yuan (Shao Bing). Little does he know that there is an ulterior motive behind the attack and Yang is forced into hiding in the mountains. With no help on the way, his seven sons decide to take it into their own hands with a handful of soldiers to find their father and return him to safety…perhaps falling into the trap they set out to defend.

"We come bearing horses. And staffs. And soldiers. And armor. And grimaces."
Ronny Yu and company set out to make one hell of an entertaining film with “Saving General Yang” and they more than succeed. One issue that viewers might stumble into is having their expectations about what the film is because it’s not a “war epic” in the modern sense of the term. While the scale of the film does tend to be larger than most in some aspects, there is most certainly an opening sequence featuring full blown armies clashing on horses and what not, the film rarely plays out like “Red Cliff” or other films of that caliber. Instead, “Saving General Yang” plays out more like an old school Shaw Brothers flick – gimmicks and all. The combination of seven brothers (whom all have distinct personalities and talents that come out little by little as the film rolls on) having to trek through various obstacles and battles simply resonates with something that Chang Cheh and the Venom Mob might have cooked up in the 70s. The character work, while gimmicky with the brothers, worked well for me despite the fact that there is a lot of ground to cover for them. The various ensemble casting sparks with a fun and occasional heartfelt chemistry that makes the play time fly by and it makes for a sincerely fun and entertaining watch.

...and then, the grass attacked.
From there, Ronny Yu does encompass a rather modern and visual style for the film. The battle sequences might mostly contain some solid hand-to-hand combat and choreography, but he injects a few other action set pieces to satiate the spectacle driven modern audience. An initial battle features a silly, but very awesome looking medieval version of napalm and his tendency to paint in some darker tones with the film’s violence and visuals cannot be missed. There is a ridiculously dark and brutal sequence where the seven sons have to cross the original battle field to only find their comrades’ bodies staked on spears and hung as a sort of macabre grave yard. I knew that Ronny Yu’s days as a horror director would peek through occasionally.

For what it’s worth, I had a blast with “Saving General Yang.” It might not be the overtly serious and dramatic “war epic” that the term has come to mean in recent years, but the Shaw Brothers inspired plot and slightly gimmicky execution make for a film that I will watch over and over again. Some might not be able to buy into the cheesiness of the film, but I felt it only added to the entertainment that Ronny Yu and company deliver.

Written By Matt Reifschneider


Hunger Games: Catching Fire, The (2013)

Director: Francis Lawrence
Notable Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci, Sam Claflin, Jena Malone

I wasn't sold on "The Hunger Games." The film wasn't bad by any means, but I definitely felt like it missed a lot of depth that it needed to work to its favor. As a fan of "Battle Royale," it was hard to not want the film to be a little edgier. Going into the sequel, under the subtitle "Catching Fire," I kept a skeptical front believing that without some of the darker tones and heavier themes that this series would only appeal to the family friendly crowd. Luckily, "Catching Fire" fixes most of the issues that plagued "The Hunger Games" and takes the series to the more serious places it needed to go.

Katniss (Lawrence) has had a tough time adjusting to her new place as Hunger Games winner. She suffers from night terrors and pressure from President Snow (Sutherland) to continue on her fake romance with Peeta (Hutcherson) is taking its toll on her psyche. But that hasn't stopped what her win has meant to the rest of society. Uprisings and revolt is in the air. Now President Snow wants to make a statement with the next Hunger Games by having all of the previous winners back...to battle to the death.

"We bid three dollars, Bob!"
So let's start with what "Catching Fire" does right, particularly in reference to the first film. Firstly, they replaced director Gary Ross. While they guy is not a bad director, I still have a soft spot for the fun and heartfelt ridiculousness of "Pleasantville," new director Francis Lawrence fits the style better. His work on films like "I Am Legend" and "Constantine" shows up here in the balance between pacing, action, and visual strength. The shaky cam action is mostly missing and his ability to add darker streaks (an aspect that severely hindered "The Hunger Games" and its subtext) make "Catching Fire" a much more immersing experience. 

Secondly, the execution is just on a higher caliber. The action is better paced in the latter half and the first half is hinged on a deeper set emotional connection with Lawrence (who once again shows quite a bit of talent in the highs and lows that might have come off as cheesy) and a lot more political and social subtext. It's this political and social subtext that easily kicks the film up a notch. I have to give them props for having two amazing actors as the film's villains (Sutherland and Seymour-Hoffman) as they conspire in board rooms in subtle sinister ways that brings to mind the old days when Blofeld would meet with his agents of SPECTRE to plan world domination against Bond. While I suppose many will criticize the love triangle that has seemingly taken a big back seat to the rebellion storyline, but I was fine with that choice. Peeta and Gale are handedly two of the weaker "mainline" characters in these films anyway.

No man (or woman) is an island. So go out there and kill each other!
Truthfully, there is only one complaint that I have with this entertaining piece of thoughtful pop culture film. The structure. Like many of the mega-franchises that have hit theaters in the last decade or so, "Catching Fire" is built to be continued in the next film so it sort of plays into a 'half-arc' of sorts where it has little falling action so that it can end on a cliffhanger. While this is most certainly fodder for fan excitement, it leaves the film, on its own, with a lot of untied threads and half developed concepts. Partner that with a film that does have very definable 'two halves' (the emotional and political first half and the action second half) and the structure left a bit to be desired.

Those outfits are HOT!
"Catching Fire" is a great blockbuster though. It's thoughtful in its stronger political subtext, the emotional portions are punchier (despite both Gale and Peeta having underdeveloped arcs again), and the action is more fluid in pacing and better shot. While I still doubt that it will end up making my list for best action films of the year still, it's a fantastic film that the whole family can watch. One that was certainly a surprise leap in quality over the mediocre first film.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Friday, November 22, 2013

Oblivion (2013)

Director: Joseph Kosinski
Notable Cast: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Melissa Leo

While I know plenty of people that would specifically skip a movie because of Tom Cruise, I have to admit that he generally stars in films that I enjoy. When it comes to his choices in action or science fiction, the guy picks some great films to carry on his tiny shoulders. Even with trailers that seemed a bit lackluster, I kept my hopes up for "Oblivion" and its classic looking science fiction ways. With fairly high expectations in tow, "Oblivion" kicked into high gear to be one of the best science fiction films I've see in the last handful of years as it delivered a slew of clever twists and strong execution with it.

When Earth was decimated after a brutal war with an alien race, there were only remnants of what life used to be left behind. For a drone service man like Jack Harper (Cruise) and his navigator partner/lover Vika (Riseborough), it's more or less a job. Keep the power stations absorbing Earth's water going to keep the rest of humanity alive in space and keep the alien scavengers from doing too much damage. It's not enough for Jack though as he begins to see cracks in the logic of his job and when a ship crash lands on Earth carrying mysterious people, he's lead on a journey where life might not be all that it seems...

Sci fi vista!
I'm not going to call "Oblivion" original or all that creative. It's not. It's a culmination of a lot of classic science fiction elements mashed into one, in fact. A little "Matrix" here. Some "2001" there. There's even a bit of "Blade Runner" to be had in some character work and themes. "Oblivion" is not that science fiction film to revolutionize the genre. It's just done really, really well. Director Joseph Kosinski knows his classic science fiction and "Oblivion" is the kind of film that perfectly homages the themes and ideas of Isaac Asimov and Phillip K. Dick into a modern action spiced flick. It loves to throw in a lot of twists and turns into the plot so just when you think you have it figured out it likes to take a different path, and while many of them are twists we've seen in science fiction past, "Oblivion" makes them work. So don't be fooled by those who say it is original or unique...what they really mean is that the film comes off as fresh even though it's built on the same foundations as many of the cornerstones of the genre.

"Hands up Humpty Dumpty...or I won't put you back together again!"
So what makes all of these well trodden ideas and twists work is essentially the strong execution. Director Kosinski certainly has an eye for the visually captivating (as we saw in his work on "Tron: Legacy") with some epic sets like an overgrown football stadium, underground bunkers, and the technician's sky tower and with a strong sense of pacing and space he is able to navigate this futuristic post apocalyptic world with relative ease. The small, but very effective cast handles the material with seemingly heartfelt vigor. Tom Cruise once again seems very natural in all the emotional states he has to go through here and his supporting cast, with particular reference to Riseborough who matches him stride for stride, handles the often outrageous moments well. If anything, there are a couple of moments where the action seemingly breaks the atmosphere created with the film (including a massive gun battle that reminded me of the mech-warrior "Matrix" shoot out - which is not a good thing) and it felt out of place. Kosinski handles those sequences well, but for a film that is more plot and character driven they did feel a bit awkwardly long.

Beautiful view of a wasteland.
While this review might be slightly vague in details pertaining to the film, that's intentional. There are a lot of great surprising plot twists and moments that should be referenced but for the sake of you, the reader, I will refrain too much. "Oblivion" might not be a perfect film as it tends to ride the coat tails of previous science fiction classics a bit too much, it's handedly still one of the best the genre has coughed up in a while that remains true to what science fiction should do - be an observation of the present by speculating in the future.

Written By Matt Reifschneider


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Seasoning House, The (2013)

Director: Paul Hyett
Notable Cast: Rosie Day, Kevin Howarth, Sean Pertwee

While Well Go USA has been the number one distribution company for cult fans to look to for the best of Asian cinema in the last few years, it would seem that they are expanding their wings into distributing some other genres. In this expansion, they ended up releasing "The Seasoning House" a wicked little atmosphere driven horror thriller that builds on realism and subtlety. Going into the film I had little to no expectations and by the end I was engrossed with what this little film that could had to offer. It might not be best horror film of the year, but it was definitely a pleasant and brutal surprise.

War is a terrible thing and in the aftermath of a war torn area, it's the young teenage girls of a forced brothel that seemingly suffer the most. A young deaf and mute girl (Day) is given the task of being a "caregiver" for the other girls who must keep them clean and deliver drugs to them to keep them docile. When she makes a new friend who is able to communicate with her, she is given the opportunity to find a little bit of redemption...and it might get bloody when she does.

Cut it out.
I think that it must be said that "The Seasoning House" is a ballsy film. Plot wise, the film deals with some very heavy topics: the aftermath of war, rape, drug use, and violence. At times it can be a little overwhelming as we are subjecting to some heart wrenching moments through some time jumping back story for our young heroine (which can be a little confusing at first as it comes rather suddenly) and we are shown the conditions that this war has left these young girls in. "The Seasoning House" also has a deaf/mute lead. While this isn't anything new at this point for film (both "Sympathy  For Mr. Vengeance" and the original "Bangkok Dangerous" had deaf/mute leads), for an already slow burn film it's a gutsy move that pays off. It helps that Rosie Day is a strong and subtle lead that can say a lot of a little facial expression and that the secondary characters are strong enough to carry it, but still it's a plot progression that certainly adds to the entire heaviness of the film.

Not only does "The Seasoning House" play it heavy handed in its writing and structure, but director Paul Hyett takes a rather modern French horror approach to the entire thing by focusing on thick atmosphere, slow burn tension, and bursts of extreme violence. With high risk comes high reward though and "The Seasoning House" easily benefits from all of these chancy plot progressions and stylistic choices. Don't be afraid if you head into the film for a while and nothing high energy happens for a while because it's coming. The final third of the film is viciously brutal with super realistic gore effects (and boy does it get gory at times - there is a throat cut that looks so insanely real that it hurt) as our heroine decides to instigate some shit hitting the fan. While occasionally it throws a few random loops that seemed a little forced as our lead runs from the militant oppressors, the combination of strong artistic choices and strong execution works very well for "The Seasoning House."

Giving the term 'walled in' a whole new meaning...
This film is not for everyone. The mixed reviews from various critics would indicate that, but if you are a horror fan, particularly for that modern French style of stylized atmosphere and brutality, then this is a must see and one of the best genre films of the year. It's a heavy and very trying film as it presents some very brutal moments and concepts, but its artistic merit takes it to another level.

Written By Matt Reifschneider


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Another ep. 1-12 (2012)

While October might be past, that doesn't mean it's time to stop reviewing horror! This review is for the suspenseful and bloody series "Another". So grab your battle ax and hockey mask to join me in the corn maze of terror, this should be fun!

Synopsis- 26 years ago a middle school student from class 3/c suddenly died. The student, Misaki, was popular with classmates and a beloved athlete. After his untimely demise the other students and faculty decided to carry on pretending he never died until after their graduation. In the year 1998, a new student named Sakakibara Kouichi joins class 3/c and immediately feels the cold chill from the other classmates. One classmate catches his attention right away, she is the beautiful eye patch wearing Mei Misaki. No one seems to notice her and before long Kouichi is caught up in the twisted history that lies within the secrets of class C.

My review- When I first heard about "Another" I was excited to say the least. I had been looking forward to the next big Horror series and thought for sure this was it. As a horror fan there isn't too many titles to choose from within the genre. So I was attracted to this title right away. After only a couple of episodes, I started to notice a pattern within the series. Each episode played out like a "Final Destination" film. Each death was predictable and boring. Sure there is a bit of gore/blood shed, but unless I missed my calling as a psychic each death was easy to see coming.

This is just one of the  problems with this series. I felt like the main character Kouichi was not very well developed. He really had  no personality making it difficult to stay interested in him and the series alike. I will say that I am not too hard to please when it comes to entertainment. With that in mind, know how much I really wanted to like this series but couldn't find anything to hold on to.

My expectations going in were standard, but were met with disappointment throughout. I was hoping for suspense and action mixed with jumps and bumps in the night. What was delivered was only a small amount of suspense with teenage girls whispering to one another, building up suspense on a secret only they knew. However, that quickly faded turning into a series of bad dialogue and predictable outcomes. Again with poor character development I never felt emotion for any of the main characters. The deaths of these characters felt more like a game of how ridiculous can we make it as opposed to really making the viewer dread the outcome. I guess what it really comes down to is bad writing. Overall, the look of the series is nice enough to look at. Kind of like the hot girl you see everyday and then you finally speak to her but as soon as she opens her mouth everything goes to hell. "Another" is best left to your imagination. The writers of this series should spend some time developing their craft not taking what has already been done and watering it down.

I will end with this. Whatever the creators were trying to do didn't work for me. As a horror series it failed miserably . I don't care for gore for the sake of gore but if you want to watch a series that is fun to make fun of by all means this is it.  Here is to hoping I can find the next good horror series. With that I give "Another":

Written By John Price


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Dark Angel (1990)

Director: Craig R. Baxley
Notable Cast: Dolph Lundgren, Brian Benben, Betsy Brantley

While Dolph Lundgren's career might have been a bit hit or miss to this point, there was a time when he showed massive potential as a lead in the late 80s and early 90s. This period contains the massively overlooked and awesomely cheesy "Dark Angel" or as it was known in the US "I Come In Peace." While this is the kind of film that might not appeal to everyone with its over the top concept and cheesy demeanor, for anyone that loves 80s style action then "Dark Angel" is a must see kind of flick. It's silly, gritty, and has an endless supply fire ball explosions. It's everything that one could want in a B-grade action film.

Plot wise, "Dark Angel" is an utterly wacky sci-fi spin on the classic 80s buddy cop flick. This time we get the renegade 'don't-play-the-rules' cop played by Dolph Lundgren and his substantially shorter and tight FBI partner (who's played with strong comedic effect by Brian Benben) as they try to track down a load of stolen heroin. The problem is that, despite their well timed bickering and differences of opinion on how to do things, this drug was stolen by intergalactic drug dealers. Chaos ensues, explosions happen, Dolph's hair gets spikier...it just goes nuts.

Dolph circa 1990 hair.
While their are certainly some problems to this plot and story, including the fact that the aliens and our two heroes seemingly have unrelated plots until about two-thirds of the way through the film, "Dark Angel" does some pretty awesome things for its limited budget that twists in some fun cliches and some ridiculous moments. Firstly, Baxley creates a great gritty atmosphere that works in juxtaposition to some of the lighter elements of the film. At times it feels almost like a graphic novel based sort of style with the hulking tall aliens and their white eyes and the dark streets lit up with massive fireball explosions. Tonally, it's a carry over from the 80s and its great at it.

"I come in peace."
Secondly, "Dark Angel" truly balances itself well. There is enough character work and arcs to get you invested into the characters, even if they are cliche, and the combination of science fiction and action make for some great set pieces to utilize the talents of all involved. In fact, this film might have more explosions then most of the actions films in the last year combined. Even the comedic beats are well timed to add to the entire silly experience of the film. Where else can you find a movie where the villain shoots throat slashing CDs or Dolph spouts of lines like "Either you're Santa Claus or you're dead, pal!"

Great chemistry makes up for poor dialogue in many scenes...including the counting joke.
"Dark Angel" isn't all fun and games though and any self respecting film critic can plainly see the film's flaws. As previously mentioned, the film takes quite some time to get the two main plots to come together and in the mean time tends to have various subplots that mean little in the way of adding to the story. We have a dead partner in the opening sequence who is quickly forgotten, there is an entire subplot about white collar drug dealers and money men that pops up randomly, and our romantic thread is bare thin at best. Even the acting, outside of some fun bits, is fairly run of the mill. Dolph, for all of his charm, struggles with anything more than one liners and action bits and our villain ends up being far more funny than scary. "Dark Angel" isn't going to be redefining the genre by a long shot.

If you're not willing to buy into the cheesy portions of the film, you won't enjoy hardly any of this film. It is, generally speaking, a B-film, but it's a fine addition to any collector's treasure trove of B-films. It's entertaining as hell with its crazy one liners and ridiculous amounts of action even if it struggles with some cliches and underdeveloped subplots. "Dark Angel" is definitely a film for cult film fans.

Written By Matt Reifschneider


Saturday, November 9, 2013

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Director: Alan Taylor
Notable Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgard, Idris Elba, Christopher Eccleston

I said this in my review for the first "Thor" and I'll say it again just for context clarification: I was never a fan of Thor in the comics. The first "Thor" film, despite some charm and fantastic casting, was an uneven adventure with some odd character work and patchy script. My expectations for this sequel were much higher given the continued nature of strong films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the epic look of the film, so even as a non-fan of Thor I was pretty stoked to see this film. Like the first one, the script is still a bit patchy and the character work for some of the new (and old) people showing up here can be hit or miss, but it's hard not to say that I still didn't highly enjoy "Thor: The Dark World" as entertainment...which is what I mostly expect from this sub-series of The Avengers line up.

This time around, Thor who has been tasked with cleaning up the nine realms after the destruction of the Bifrost at the end of the first film, which I assume was part of his leap to New York for "The Avengers," and he seems to be having a blast at doing it. Unfortunately, an ancient evil (is there any other kind?) arises in the form of the stone cold stare of Malekith who wants to destroy all nine realms at once using some floaty red shit called The Aether.

Stop. Hammer time.
Ironically, the first "Thor" and "The Dark World" share many of the same strengths and flaws. The charm of the first film remains intact in this one as Chris Hemsworth showcases why he became an A-list actor seemingly overnight with a smirk and hammer drop and the secondary characters (despite a significant lack of screen time and/or character development) continue to eat up scenery. The casting is simply superb and with the efforts of director Alan Taylor, it works much, much, much better than the lacking script should have. Tom Hiddleston simply outshines everyone as the recently turned anti-hero Loki in the film (who's mischievous quips and glances had the crowd rolling in the theater) and even smaller characters who have way less screen time or development (like Elba as Heimdall or Skarsgard as Selvig) seemingly can hold up scenes with relatively very little to say or do.

The Deadly Duo
Unfortunately, "The Dark World" does struggle to get the plot moving. The first half, after a few laughs and fun battle sequences, sort of stalls out when they try to reintroduce the romantic portion. Natalie Portman (once again) comes off as a flat character and her budding on screen moments with Hemsworth still lack the substance needed to hold up the charm of their characters. Hell, even the main "oh no, this fucker is going to even all of the realms at once!" plot seems to drag for a good portion of the film. Eccleston seems bored with his stony looks as the villain and certainly pales in comparison to the screen devouring Loki from the first one/"Avengers."

That being said, the one true thing that "The Dark World" does better than "Thor" is in the action. While the film starts off with a rather mundane medieval style battle that's play more as a glorious re-introduction to Thor more than anything else, the rest of the film seemingly finds a much better focus. The attack on Asgard is epic in nature of visuals and the finale features Thor and Malekith doing some random realm hopping that makes for one of the most entertaining battles I've seen on film all year. It might rely a little too much on CGI and visuals for the old school action fan in me, but it's hard not to get giddy at some of the well timed humor and strong pacing of these moments.

"We're here for the song and dance number..."
All in all, I enjoyed the film much more than the first just as it was simply more entertaining. It's still built on a flawed script where some characters find themselves as additional background pieces instead of true characters, but it's damn charming and the action is highly potent. It might not reach the heights of "Iron Man 3" in quality of balance or the spectacle of "The Avengers," but "The Dark World" certainly throws itself in as being one of the most fun.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

One In The Chamber (2012)

Director: William Kaufman
Notable Cast: Cuba Gooding Jr, Dolph Lundgren, Billy Murray

I most certainly don't keep it a secret that I love action films. I also don't keep it a secret that I watch a lot of straight to home video action films too. I've done my best to keep honest with you, the readers, about why I feel like straight to home video action might be one of the best overlooked genres in the system right now and it's films like "One In The Chamber" that make digging through them worth it. To be honest, I didn't have very high expectations for the film, but it's quite the serviceable film and it works more often than not as both an action film and as a crime thriller.

At this point, there isn't a whole lot that a crime thriller could do that would be considered "new" or "unique" if it's to be taken seriously. "One In The Chamber" isn't doing a lot to make it's statement on the genre either. When it comes to the thriller elements involving crime lords in Prague, betrayals, and assassins as our gunman Ray Carver (played with enough decency by Cuba Gooding Jr) is forced to play sides against two powerful king pins, "One In The Chamber" does come off as fairly formulaic. The emotional sub-plot is under developed and a bit awkward in pacing and obviously plays second fiddle to the gun-toting main plot and the film comes off as predictable overall. It's not all that original in this sense and even most of the action sequences seem to be of the general variety. Director William Kaufman adds enough flair to make them entertaining as possible, for example the rather by the numbers opening sniper hit gets a much needed boost of energy from his camera work and pacing, but those are nothing new either.

BFG = Big fuckin' gun
Let's be honest with ourselves though. "One In The Chamber" is a direct to home video affair and I didn't go into it with the highest expectations. Thusly, in the film's execution, I came out pleasantly surprised. Despite his fall from A-list status, Cuba Gooding Jr still has some decent acting chops to carry the film's emotional portion well enough with some solid voice over narration and subtle moments of the standard "hitman-with-a-conscious" role. He also shares time with ever awesome Dolph Lundgren as a pseudo-secondary lead. Any film with Dolph is a welcome film in my house and he seems way too comfortable as the charming and slightly insane 'other' hitman The Wolf here who's asked to hunt down Cuba. Dolph once again seemingly eats his scenes with vigor and his fedora n' hawaii shirt sporting hitman cries out to be franchised. If anything, I could have done with a lot more of him in this film (he shows up a bit later in the film - with a glorious entrance sequence where he takes a phone call in the middle of hit in the happening), but whenever he's onscreen he lights it up.

Dolph remains VIP even in direct to video flicks
"One In The Chamber" is the kind of film for fans of finding decent low budget flicks. It's not going to be winning over the harsh artsy critics or the even the more fickle cinephiles, but those looking for a well executed cheap rental are sure to find plenty of entertainment here. It's a well executed film that has to earn its merits with charming characters and director flair over it's mediocre script, but "One In The Chamber" does just that and won me over.

BONUS: The film also hints at the prospect of franchising both of the lead characters. In all fairness it's a long shot, but I sincerely hope that they do because it was way too much fun watching Dolph do his quirky routine in this film. It could end up being a great direct to home video buddy hitman series!

Written By Matt Reifschneider


Thursday, November 7, 2013

Death Machine (1994)

Director: Stephen Norrington
Notable Cast: Ely Pouget, Brad Douriff, John Sharian

When Stephen Norrington's career might have come to a very sudden and disheartening stop with "The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen," but his career in the beginning was very promising. After years of special effects work, his debut as a director with "Death Machine" is a fairly effective and charming science fiction and horror piece. While its low budget and occasional leaps of logic might prevent it from being a straight forward missed classic, the ridiculous amount of violence and dark quirks make it an immediate cult hit though. One that readers of Blood Brothers will want to experience.

Just as a 'for your information' for readers, I was only able to experience the "American Cut" of the film. From what I gather there are something around four different cuts for the film and I was only able to see the second shortest cut. Despite the shorter length for a cut that's more likely to be awesome, I have to admit that I had a blast watching "Death Machine."

What big teeth you have...
"Death Machine" is a film that probably released in the wrong decade. While the tag at the title of this review states 1994, this film would have probably done better with audiences and critics had it been released in 1988 instead. The tone and general style of the film reeks of 80s grit and violence and "Death Machine" owes more than its fair share to films like "Robocop" and "Terminator" more than any its peers in the early 90s. This tone does wonders for the film (particularly for those with a love of the 80s style) and Norrington racks up some solid tension and atmosphere to get the viewer engaged.  Partner this with the awesome special effects for the killer robot (outside of the random "vision" of the robot and the title sequence - this sucker is all legit and no CGI!) and this is a 80s science fiction nerd's dream.

Unfortunately, outside of the style and special effects this film can be a little bit more hit an miss. The film seems to rush through its "dystopian" setting to get us to the terror of our clawed robot and it has to sacrifice some character work for our heroes to get us to the action. Acting wise, the film can be hit or miss too. There is some great charm to some of the performances, but Brad Douriff owns this film with his seething and utterly creepy villain. He owns it so much that most of the other actors seem to pale in comparison and it actually might lessen the film's impact overall.

...all the better to eat you with.
"Death Machine" is not a 'great' film overall, but the cult film fanatic in my certainly ate up the high velocity violence (of which there is plenty) and the tone of the film. Norrington does falter to some amateur elements with his writing and plot work, but his style and atmosphere make up for a good portion of it. Now, I'm very curious to see what the other cuts of the film have in store for me if I can hunt them down...otherwise, "Death Machine" is going on my list of great overlooked films, even if it's not a great film itself.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Escape Plan (2013)

Director: Mikael Hafstrom
Notable Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Caviezel, Vinnie Jones, Amy Ryan, Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, Vincent D'Onofrio, Sam Neill

The idea of having Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger team up to break out of an "unbreakable" prison sort of makes me feel feeble and unmanly. I mean, two of the greatest action film icons teaming up to take on incarceration and all of the corrupt and ferocious private sector villains who run it? This is the kind of action film that old school action fans crave! While "Escape Plan" isn't quite the balls out action film one might assume, it's still an entertaining-as-hell flick that delivers on its promises and adds a few surprises as it goes.

While my assumption going into "Escape Plan" would be that the film would be an action packed modern film, it's only fair warning for those who haven't seen the film that it actually owes a lot to classic prison break thrillers then it does a "Rambo" or "Commando" flick. Which you know, is perfectly fine by me because it's a genre that hasn't gotten its time in the spotlight for far too long. It's not surprising that, considering their age, that Sly and Arnold took this film away from its action motifs and further into a thriller mystery film. It's not completely void of action as we get a couple of good fist-to-cuffs mid way through and the finale has plenty of gun action and a pretty sweet (if not overly edited) throw down between Sly and Vinnie Jones, but the film isn't focused on that and spends more time building plot and characters. It was certainly a pleasant surprise.

"Keep the beard."
The film takes itself rather seriously for the most part, outside of the obvious nods to the fact that we get a fist fight between our two heroes where Arnold taunts that Sly 'hits like a vegetarian,' and quite frankly its a great choice. Sly and Arnold have proven that they can eat up scenes like the proverbial red meat the previous line would indicate and they do so eagerly here. Not that acting is meant to be of the highest caliber, both Vinnie Jones and Jim Caviezel rollick in cheesy lines and sinister glares as the film's two main villains, but the film certainly presents itself in a serious manner. The plot is ridiculously over the top as Sly, the world's greatest jail break connoisseur, finds himself placed into a prison built on the ideas in his book and has to rely on the help of a fellow prisoner in Arnold to bust out. Along the way they get the help of a few surprise secondary characters played by the likes of 50 Cent, Vincent D'Onofrio, and Sam Neill (whom all, sans Neill, feel more like padding than anything else) as they attempt the most epic of jail breaks. While the script might sound like its straight from 1992, it certainly carries a substantial amount of charm in the dialogue and odd plot progressions that sells some of its more over the top twists.

"Didn't you replace me in "The Expendables""?
Perhaps the biggest road bump that "Escape Plan" has to account for is the relatively odd choice in director of Mikael Hafstrom. While he definitely builds on the prison break atmosphere for the film with some strong tension and claustrophobia (his talents lie there with previous films being "Derailed," "1408," and "The Rite"), his handling of the final act can be a bit choppy. The fight between Sly and Jones while strongly choreographed overall is often too dark and too cut up to be as cool as it could have been. Even Arnold's moment at the end with his big ass machine gun seems to fall a bit flat stylistically. While he succeeds for the first two thirds at handling the film, when "Escape Plan" does kick into action mode it's obvious he has a bit harder time handling the material.

Bang.
For fans of Sly or Arnold, "Escape Plan" is a fucking blast. It's charming and very entertaining as it oozes smarmy characters and plays around with its ridiculous themes. It had a few fun surprises in plot twists and the addition of bearded Sam Neill, but ultimately it's a film for fans of that Sly and Arnold style of the early 90, of which I am a proud card carrying member of. "Escape Plan" is not a film for everyone, but it certainly hit all the sweet spots for me and I will be there day one for its home release and I foresee it being a regular watch in my collection.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Ip Man: The Final Fight (2013)

Director: Herman Yau
Notable Cast: Anthony Wong, Eric Tsang, Gillian Chung

It's coming to the point where Ip Man films are evolving into their own genre within martial arts. Is it so hard to believe that there could be something like Ipsploitation? With the release of "Ip Man: The Final Fight," this will be the fifth film to be based on the historical figure of Ip Man since the awesome Donnie Yen/Wilson Yip film in 2008 and Anthony Wong will be the fourth actor to portray the titular character in just the US releases that I know of. I think that means we have a trend, no?

So just how does "The Final Fight" fit into this trend? Well, "The Final Fight" feels like less of a cash in then the prequel "The Legend Is Born" with its classic kung fu motifs (also directed by Herman Yau), but it's not quite the dramatic effort that "The Grandmaster" seemed intent on building. It's a film that tries to balance the two elements and follow the formulas created by the previously mentioned Yen/Yip entries. It starts off with a narration by Ip Man's son who is telling the story of the final years of his father's life (ironically so, considering his character really doesn't show up til the second half of the film) as his father moves to Hong Kong to attempt at making more money to support his family who stayed in their home town. Here he starts a new school and all kinds of shit goes down.

If Wing Chun could be angry, this would be it.
Truthfully, outside of a few budgetary issues that did seem to hold the film back in a few places, there is only one thing that holds "The Final Fight" from reaching the heights we've seen in other films of this Ipsploitation trend. There is simply too much going on. When I say too much, I sincerely mean there is a mind boggling amount of subplots going on. There are five or six of his students in Hong Kong that have their own plots that are intertwining between the main plot of Ip Man and his struggle to find his footing in Hong Kong. Some of these sub plots are successful, including a rather intriguing police officer who finds himself at odds with a local crime lord with a massively scarred face, but others seemingly feel like a means to an end (including a couple of marriages of students that seem tacked on for dramatic effect). There is even a fairly intriguing plot with a rival school (the master played by the massively underrated Eric Tsang, who once again delivers another great and charismatic performance here) that ends up being something of a let down as it is abandoned in the third act. What I wouldn't have given to see Eric Tsang and his crew join forces with Anthony Wong and his crew to bring down the villain who arises in the second half. Sounds like kung fu awesomeness.

Surprise! Eric Tsang bitches!
Outside of that, "Ip Man: The Final Fight" is a rather entertaining film. It's a blend of more modern dramatic character work and a classic kung fu sense of fun with its fight sequences. Anthony Wong delivers a rather compelling and subtle performance as Ip Man and some strong performances as secondary characters populate the landscape around him. The fight sequences are entertaining and poignant ones to the plot, being highlighted by a very awesome finale with multiple fights and a hurricane as the backdrop. While I would have liked the villain of the film to be introduced a bit earlier to create more of an impact on the finale, the execution of the film is pretty solid all around.

"You're holding hands wrong!"
Truthfully, the only issue that arises is that "The Final Fight" comes off as rushed to try and fit all of it into the play time of the film. This leaves a lot of oddly dropped characters and plots that can be frustrating for film critics, but your average kung fu fantatic is going to find plenty to love with its strong fights and touching moments of teacher and student relations. While its not quite as thoughtful as the Yen "Ip Man" films, quite as old school as "The Legend Is Born," or as (eye rollingly) artful as "The Grandmaster," "Ip Man: The Final Fight" is a fun mix of all three that should please Ipsploitation fans in all the right ways.

Written By Matt Reifschneider