Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Urban Legend (1998)

Director: Jamie Blanks
Notable Cast: Jared Leto, Alicia Witt, Rebecca Gayheart, Michael Rosenbaum, Loretta Devine, Joshua Jackson, Tara Reid, John Neville, Julian Richings, Robert Englund, Danielle Harris, Brad Dourif

When Scream kicked off the slasher revival of the 90s/early 00s, it did it in a way that was both intriguingly left field and completely misinterpreted by production companies looking to capitalize on its success. While this era is hardly the pit of despair that so many horror fans claim it to be, many of those ‘nu-slashers’ are certainly mediocre to terrible at best and for that reason I haven’t even bothered to revisit many of them since they came out. However, at the request of some of our readers, Urban Legend came to be on my review queue and eventually I warmed to the idea of taking on this modern slasher that spawned its own franchise...the sequels of which I have yet to revisit since they were released either.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Bamy (2016)

Director: Jun Tanaka

Notable Cast: Hironobu Yukinaga, 
Hiromi Nakazato, Misaki Tsuge, Toshi Yanagi, Yuki Katsuragi

Ghost stories in Japanese cinema have sort of faded away for the most part, aside from trying to squeeze out every drop of profit that companies can from franchises like Ju-On or Ringu, but J-horror (as dubbed by Western culture) in general is a dying genreas a whole, or is it? No, all jokes aside, Jun Tanaka takes the romanticized stories of ghosts that the likes of Kiyoshi Kurosawa has done before during the boom of the genre, and resurrected it and made it all his own by way of indie film making, with the chilling and overall creepy, Bamy.

Reset (2017)

Director: Chang
Notable Cast: Yang Mi, Wallace Huo, King Shih-Chieh, Liu Chang

After seeing the original trailer for Reset, I was not sold on the film. Its concept seemed gimmicky and the look and tone of the film seemed off kilter a bit from that initial impression. The fact that it was produced by Jackie Chan didn’t really catch me either. Just this year Jackie Chan “presented” the terrible action flick Amnesia (a loose remake of Who Am I? with a silly and generic US re-title,) so I wasn’t sold on that either. The Well Go USA trailer for the film made it look slightly better, but I wasn’t convinced that Reset would be a great film by then either.  Yet, despite some massive flaws and a very, very rough start to the film, Reset wasn’t nearly as terrible as I feared. In fact, by the end of the film I was having a lot of fun with just how silly it was as a B-grade style action thriller. Now, I’m not going to say that Reset is a great film by any means in the rest of this review, but it feels like one of those movies that will garner a strange and dedicated cult following in ten years as a forgotten piece of highly entertaining popcorn cinema. For that, I must give Reset some credit.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons (2013) and Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back (2017)


Director: Stephen Chow, Derek Kwok

Notable Cast: Wen Zhang, Shu Qi, Show Lo Chi-Cheung, Huang Bo, Jiro Lee Sheung-Ching, Chen Bing-Qiang, Cheng Si-Han, Xing Yu

Stephen Chow made a name for himself with his oddball comedic talents initially, balancing heartfelt and awkward in even stride as both an actor and a director. As time has gone on though, he honed his abilities to craft films that not only delivered on the entertaining elements of his style, but ones that emotionally resonated well above and beyond the norm. In this regard, many people feel that the highlight of his career resides in one of his most well-known films, Kung Fu Hustle, but after re-watching his epic franchise launch pad, Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons, it’s hard for me to call it anything other than the best accumulation of all his talents as a film. Perhaps not a masterpiece, but very damn close.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Going the Distance (2016)

Director: Yujiro Harumoto

Cast: Shinichiro Matsuura, Masahiro Umeda, Yumi Endo, Nobu Morimoto, Koji Mitsumizo, Sanae Ono, Mami Shimogaki, Maki Taki, Kyoko Fukuba

Asahi is a man from the Gotō Islands, who now resides in Tokyo, making his living as a boxing trainer. He is living with his fiancee, Kaori, whom he plans to be married to very soon. The two seem happy together as they are working on the wedding and making arrangements towards that very special day. Asahi invites his childhood friend Hiroto to Tokyo, to help him find a job, and surprise him with a wedding invitation. The two land a deal with a local businessman but we quickly find out they were scammed and Hiroto is in financial ruin. Things begin to quickly fracture in Asahi's daily life, presenting him with an nearly impossible choice to make, family of the past, or that of the future?

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970)

Director: Dario Argento
Notable Cast: Tony Musante, Suzy Kendall, Enrico Maria Salerno, Eva Renzi, Umberto Raho, Renato Romano, Giuseppe Castellano, Mario Adorf, Pino Patti, Gildo Di Marco, Rosita Torosh

At this point it has been over 40 years since Dario Argento’s debut film, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage was released. The film is iconic. It establishes a lot of the themes and style that Argento would utilize throughout the first portion of his career, it kickstarted Italy’s obsession with the niche elements of the giallo film in the 70s, and it continues to showcase just how effectively it was made to this day through the massive fanbase it has accrued. For the most part, everything has been said that needs to be said about the film in the cult cinema community and there are plenty of folks out there that have spent a brilliant amount of time embracing and celebrating this film. Like the folks over at Arrow Video. Not only is this film still iconic, but it has never looked better or received a more heroic package than the latest Blu Ray and DVD combo pack released by Arrow Video. If you want to save some time reading the rest of this review, then I will just say this: buy The Bird with the Crystal Plumage now and buy this version of it. If you are curious to why I say that then please, read on.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Madhouse (1981)

Director: Ovidio Assonitis
Notable Cast: Trish Everly, Michael Macrae, Dennis Robertson, Morgan Hart, Allison Biggers, Edith Ivey, Richard Baker, Jerry Fujikawa
AKA: And When She Was Bad, There Was a Little Girl

“Most people’s nightmares end when they wake up. Mine begin.”

It starts off with a very wide shot. Blackness with a vague picture in the middle and some slight movement. A slow, creepy and somber version of Rock-a-Bye, Baby is sung as the picture draws closer to the viewer. It shows two young girls, one pushing the other in a rocking chair, before it takes a drastic turn as she repeatedly bashes the other one in the face with a stone. The tone of this opening is engaging and symbolic for a lot of the themes that Madhouse will explore over the next hour and a half as its audience is slowly brought down into an increasingly shocking nightmare. At the core of what this Italian and American co-production offers isn’t necessarily one that will rock the foundations, but there’s an admirable quality to the approach that easily lifts it above so many of its peers. So it’s not all that surprising Arrow Video finally decided to give it the robust collector’s edition in the US and UK. It’s truly one of those films that time and the mainstream horror community has forgotten when it deserves more attention than that.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Au Revoir L’été (2014)

Director: Kôji Fukada
Notable Cast: Fumi Nikaido, Mayu Tsuruta, Kanji Furutachi, Taiga, Kiki Sugino, Tadashi Otake, Ena Koshino

A young woman named Sakuko (Fumi Nikaido), whom is studying for entrance exams to university, finds herself off to stay two weeks at a relative's house to do so. While there, her Aunt Kie (Mayu Tsuruta) provides her support as she naturally should. During her time there, she meets an old friend of her aunt's named Usagikichi, played wonderfully by Kanji Furutachi, and his daughter Tatsuko (Kiki Sugino) and nephew Takashi (Taiga). As the days pass, quite literally, we see into their daily lives and begin to learn about their past, in a film that takes its time to deeply develop its characters, both main and supporting in this breezy and brilliant drama, that definitely never got the international attention it most certainly deserved.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Blood Splatter: 2017 Horror Vol. 2 [Lake Bodom, The Bye Bye Man, Get Out]

Director: Taneli Mustonen
Notable Cast: Nelly Hirst-Gee, Mimosa Willamo, Mikael Gabriel, Santeri Helinheimo Mantyla
Also Known As: Bodom

The hype machine that I had tapped into was all about Lake Bodom since I first saw the trailer for the film well over a year ago. It looked like a sharp, fresh feeling slasher and seeing as I already was well aware of the local Finnish legend it was pulling from (thanks to being a huge fan of the band Children of Bodom) I was ready to dive right in. Thankfully, after some time waiting in North American distribution purgatory, Lake Bodom finally got a US release via Shudder. While the film is not necessarily one that is going to hitting truly unique marks for horror fans in originality, Lake Bodom is a pretty effective and fun slasher, bending tropes and modernizing the long repetitive genre with a modernity that fans will definitely enjoy. It’s not quite the immediate classic that I was hoping, but it satiates the cravings for a slick slasher that I wanted from it.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

By the Time it Gets Dark (2016)

Director: Anocha Suwichakornpong

Notable Cast: Visra Vichit-Vadakan, Arak Amornsupasiri, Apinya Sakuljaroensuk, Penpak Sirikul, Intira Jaroenpura, Atchara Suwan

The biggest surprise of the year so far comes by way of a cryptic Thai arthouse film that no one seems to be talking about, By the Time it Gets Dark. The continuing thread throughout this layered and fragmented narrative is a protest that occurred in October of 1976, by a group of young universities students attempting to stand for democracy under the weight of a ruling fist at the time. We see a group of students lying face down on a cold floor as soldiers with guns walk around them. Photographers appear and begin to take photos, though they are from our time. There is no time travel or anything, but the film has a meta-fictional approach from the get-go.

Sleepy Eyes of Death 3: Full Circle Killing (1964)

Director: Kimiyoshi Yasuda

Notable Cast: Raizo Ichikawa, Junichiro Narita, Yoko Wakasugi, Taro Marui, Kyooko Azuma, Saburo Date, Yuko Hamada, Takamaru Sasaki, Kenjiro Uemura

Aka Sleepy Eyes of Death: Full Circle Killing, Nemuri Kyoshiro: Full Circle Killing

When a niche genre becomes over-saturated, there tends to be a lot of lost classics in the mix. Unfortunately, the Sleepy Eyes of Death franchise – despite getting a nice box set release in the US years ago – has seemingly fallen into being one of those classics that have faded. I say unfortunate because even by three entries in, this series has solidified itself into classic status, forming a tight bridge between the more entertaining exploitative elements and a sharp artistic depth. The third entry, Sleepy Eyes of Death 3: Full Circle Killing continues on the path set up by the previous entry in blending the two sides of a chanbara film into an effective action film with quite a few messages to be said. While it doesn’t quite hit the heart and humanity of the previous one in that balance, it’s still impressive to watch and one that will not disappoint fans of the genre.

Mine (2017)

Directors: Fabio Guaglione, Fabio Resinaro
Notable Cast: Armie Hammer, Annabelle Wallis, Tom Cullen, Clint Dyer, Geoff Bell, Juliet Aubrey, Ines Pinar Mille

When it comes to household names, it’s not like Armie Hammer is a truly obscure one. The guy has been the star or co-star of some major films (some of them major flops like Man from U.N.C.L.E., but I digress) and I would consider him an A-list star or at the very least on the verge of being an A-list star. Which was why I was a bit perplexed that Mine, his latest starring venture, went VOD and then to home video via Well Go USA. It’s not like all star vehicles are instant theatrical releases as some of them love to do their indie productions, but this one was a dramatic military thriller and on paper would have been a solid choice for counter programming to perhaps a large family friendly animated feature or something. After finishing Mine though, I kind of get it. It’s not your usual military style film and its limited scope tends to breed a more artistic and indie film crowd than the usual big-boom-spectacle wanted from the genre. It’s also a mixed effort ultimately that attempts to do some lofty and grand things, but tends to get caught up in its own narrative. This, of course, lends itself more to the VOD structure and thus, the release style makes a lot more sense.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Railroad Tigers (2017)

Director: Ding Sheng
Notable Cast: Jackie Chan, Edison Huang Zi-Tao, Xu Fan, Wang Kai, Darren Wang, Jaycee Chan, Ikeuchi Hiroyuki, Yano Koji, Alan Ng, Andy Lau

Ding Sheng and Jackie Chan have already produced two solid films, the very impressive and effectively dramatic Little Big Soldier and the darker, underrated Police Story: Lockdown, prior to Railroad Tigers. The duo, while they certainly have their detractors against the style and approach to both films, had shown that they could vibe and be successful as a box office draw with mainstream movie watchers. So with that in mind, Railroad Tigers came with some decently lofty expectations. The film delivers on many of its promises, including a massively charming and fun approach to the subject matter that carries the most of the film’s weight, but it’s also the weakest of the films that Ding Sheng and Jackie Chan have made together. Fans of Chan’s slapstick silliness will appreciate a lot of the gimmicky comedic action situations that arise in the film and Ding Sheng certainly has a knack for visual flair that makes the finale a hilarious and heartfelt spectacle, but the film is undercut by many problematic writing issues and narrative flow hiccups that it can’t overcome. Railroad Tigers is undeniably charming. It’s also flawed in how it goes about it.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

At the Terrace (2016)

Director: Kenji Yamauchi

Cast: Kei Ishibashi, Kami Hiraiwa, Ryuta Furuya, Kenji Iwatani, Hiroaki Morooka, Takashi Okabe, Atsushi Hashimoto

Folding out like a stage play, Kenji Yamauchi's At the Terrace takes place all on one location, the terrace, attached to a large mansion, where the owners are hosting a party. A woman walks out from behind the curtains on to this terrace, slowly followed by a young man from another side of the house. He seems infatuated by her, trying to garner her attention, without being too obvious. After letting out a pathetic sigh, another woman, the owner's wife, walks upon the terrace and starts to call out the man for his desires. This is just the scratched surface of the confrontational banter to come between our seven characters who come and go from this particular place.

Casino Raiders (1989) and Casino Raiders II (1991)

Director: Wong Jing, Jimmy Heung Wah-Sing
Notable Cast: Alan Tam, Andy Lau, Ida Chan, Rosamund Kwan, Lung Fong, Charles Heung Wah-Keung, Hagiwara Kenzo, Kirk Wong Chi-Keung, Shum Wai

The interesting approach that Wong Jing and company take to Casino Raiders is that it combines two popular genres of HK cinema into one film: the gambling thriller and the heroic bloodshed action flick. The first two acts are almost solely dedicated to the former though as Alan Tam and Andy Lau play two gambling pros who help casinos catch cheaters and do a little cheating themselves to earn some extra cash. Their Chang Cheh style brotherly bond forms the heart of the film and as it goes it tends it add in a lot of material that seems irrelevant at first. A strange romantic triangle is formed with a rich beautiful young woman, they get into melodramatic fights, and eventually both of them end up on the short end of the stick as the film progressively gets darker as it goes. The flow at this point is a tad uneven as it adds in a lot of material about their relationship with one another, backstories, and the romantic plot and truthfully I wasn’t fully sold on the film even after the first two acts. It felt like Wong Jing doing his thing with some strong casting, but without a lot of weight behind it.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Evil Ed (1995)

Director: Anders Jacobsson
Notable Cast: Johan Rudebeck, Olof Rhodin, Per Lofberg, Cecilia Ljung, Camela Leierth, Danne Malmer, Mikael Kallaanvaara
Notable Voice Cast: Jim Friedman, Greg Roberts, John Thelin, Kara Killen, Joey Seisay, David Nerge, Bill Moseley

Horror comedies are a dime a dozen, although they certainly were not as prevalent as they are now it would seem, but even within that subgenre there are different approaches to the comedy and the horror elements contained within. One of the methods that varies the most in quality is the slapstick horror comedy, one of the more popular styles, and going into a film that takes this tactic can be a crapshoot. Even with a film that’s earned a significant cult following like Evil Ed there is an air of inconsistency that can be a huge detriment to the entire thing. While Evil Ed deserves the cult following it has accrued over the years, the film is not perfect. However, there is an impeccable kind of energy with a can-do attitude that partners with phenomenal special effects that makes this film the perfect kind of B-flick. Thus, also making it the perfect film for the Arrow Video audience.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Waxwork (1988) and Waxwork II: Lost in Time (1992)

WAXWORK (1988)
Director: Anthony Hickox
Notable Cast: Zach Galligan, Deborah Foreman, Michelle Johnson, Dana Ashbrook, Micah Grant, Eric Brown, Clare Carey, David Warner, Patrick Macnee, Mihaly Mexzaros, Charles McCaughan, Miles O’Keeffe, John Rhys-Davies, Edward Ashley

A film like Waxwork can only have come from an era as overzealous as the 80s horror film scene. Seriously. While the approach to its style and tone may not be for everyone, it does make for a film that’s relentlessly quirky and, for all intents and purposes, loud. In this manner, the film is exponentially fun. There is no subtlety to this film whatsoever as it goes about telling its tale of a haunted wax work museum and the youths that are being tormented by it. The structure of the film allows it to do plenty of fun “side stories” as the various protagonists are zapped into the scenes and have to fight off a variety of monsters or villains and it gives director Hickox a chance to show off some great practical effects and the strange sense of over the top humor he likes to inject into his films. In this regard, Waxwork is a full blown hilarious and entertaining time at the movies.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Spotlight on a Murderer (1961)

Director: Georges Franju
Notable Cast: Pierre Brasseur, Pascale Audret, Marianne Koch, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Dany Saval, Jean Babilee, Georges Rollin, Gerard Buhr, Maryse Martin, Serge Marquand, Lucien Raimbourg, Robert Vattier, Jean Ozenne, Philippe Leroy

One of the beautiful aspects of writing about cult film is that, with an open mind, there is a lot of surprises out there in the historical landscape of the art and so much of it is overlooked. Spotlight for a Murderer is one of those films that creates a special moment of discovery for me. Arrow Academy is a label fairly new to me as Blood Brothers has mostly dedicated its time to genre films more often than arthouse cinema, but Spotlight for a Murderer is one that appeals to both the genre side and the arthouse side. A 1961 French murder mystery flick, this gem is at times a noir, a gothic horror flick, an Agatha Christie inspired thriller, and a satire on all those things. It adheres to the tropes, but does so in a manner that indicates it knows it is accomplishing just that and starts to toy with its audience in the meantime. The film is highly engaging and is practically self-aware which makes it the perfect kind of cult film, in the know but well executed enough to exist on multiple levels. Needless to say, for those who enjoy any of the above listed genres or styles, Spotlight on a Murderer is a film primed for your collection.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Wolf Guy (1975)

Director: Kazuhiko Yamaguchi
Notable Cast: Sonny Chiba, Etsuko Nami, Kani Kobayashi, Yayoi Watanabe, Harumi Sone, Saburo Date, Hiroshi Nawa, Kyosuke Machida, Hideo Murota, Hiroshi Kondo

Seeing as Wolf Guy had not previously had a US release (in any format that I’m aware of, although if anyone knows you’re welcome to comment,) I was going into this newest Blu Ray release from Arrow Video blind. Sonny Chiba is always a selling point for me and the idea of having a werewolf action thriller from the 70s certainly perked my interest. Beyond that, this was going to be a full on blind run. Although I certainly expected Wolf Guy to be strange from its concepts, I had no idea just how off center and bat shit insane it was actually going to be. This film is utterly and truly outrageous in every aspect. In this regard, Wolf Guy (the full title is Wolf Guy: Enraged Lycanthrope) is massively entertaining for those looking for it even if the film itself is horrendously hit or miss in its execution of such. It’s a give or take kind of scenario, but go into Wolf Guy with the right mindset and one is most certainly going to come away entertained if nothing else.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Alien: Covenant (2017)

Director: Ridley Scott
Notable Cast: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterson, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demian Bichir, Carmen Ejogo, Amy Seimetz, Callie Hernandez, Guy Pearce

Prometheus was a film that almost immediately divided its fanbase. There are those that love it, those that hate it, and those that didn’t see it. Despite its occasionally glaring flaws, I sincerely love that film. I like that Ridley Scott tried to take the Alien franchise in a new direction, piled on a strange artistic and often bleak intent, and made an ambitious film that struck a chord (for better or worse) with everyone who saw it. Perhaps it’s these reactions to Prometheus that made its sequel – and still Alien prequel – feel a tad generic. On one hand, Scott and team seem intent on continuing with some of the themes of Prometheus with its very bleak tone and injected philosophical undertones. On the other hand, Alien: Covenant seems desperate to try and appease the Alien fans that bitched about Prometheus being too ‘different’ and goes back to some key formulas to appease them. Both are legitimate approaches to the film and, truthfully, Scott’s intent is admirable on some levels, but it still seems like the film is stuck trying to be two different films and the results are a tad awkward at times. Covenant is certainly a solid science fiction horror flick that entertains well enough with some scares and concepts, but when it comes to Ridley Scott I tend to come in with high expectations and this film just doesn’t reach those.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)

Directors: Joachim Ronning, Espen Sandberg
Notable Cast: Johnny Depp, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario, Javier Bardem, Geoffrey Rush, Kevin McNally, Golshifteh Farahani, David Wenham, Stephen Graham, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Paul McCartney
Also Known As: Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar's Revenge

To give a bit of context to this review, my opinion of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is far from a positive one. Like most people, I was massively surprised by the quality of the first, but the second and third entries left me cold and/or irritated by the sheer and immense spectacle driven focus that they had quickly succumbed to. However, with dire expectations in hand, the fourth film was surprisingly fun. It stripped away a ton of the melodramatic set pieces for a much more efficient (and for some, boring) summer blockbuster formula that left me pleasantly surprised. That is not, however, a statement of On Stranger Tides’ quality as it certainly was not a film to challenge its viewers or was even executed in any kind of artistic fashion. It accepted itself for all its silliness and delivered a fun standalone feature.

This now brings us to the focus of this review, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, a somewhat hilarious title considering that at least half of its main returning characters have been dead or dead-like for at least some portion of this franchise. As the fifth entry into this franchise, it was mildly touted as a finale that would wrap up some threads left hanging while maintaining the classic concepts and even ‘returning to its roots’ to fix some of the issues that fans had with the fourth entry. True to its promises, it kind of does all of those things. Kind of.  And it still delivers a fun summer kick off blockbuster that fans will find enjoyable enough. Truthfully though, Dead Men Tell No Tales is something of a mess narratively speaking, sticking to the formula with almost vicious intent and failing to really add anything truly inspired or new, but not quite sinking to the depths of poorly crafted storytelling that the second and third entry hit. To put it simply, it’s a lot of the same old, same old. For better or worse.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Poolsideman (2016)

Director: Hirobumi Watanabe

Notable Cast: Gaku Imamura, Hirobumi Watanabe

Continuing in the beautiful black and white cinematography that I believe Watanabe will do the entirety of his career with, which I am okay with 100 percent, Poolsideman blends the slow moving, observational elements of 7 Days and injects it with the black humor of And the Mudship Sails Away..., creating a film that seems to work to the strengths of the filmmaker, and is his best work thus far in my mind, though I put 7 Days right alongside it. Let me explain...

Gaku Imamura makes his acting debut as a man working at an inside pool building, in a city north of Tokyo, that seems to avoid all the chaos plaguing the rest of the world. This poolside man, spends every day working here, going through his very set routine, bored out of his mind, slowly crawling through the days. The film really makes a point of showing just how tedious and dull his daily life is. 7 Days uses this same method of the mundane to showcase the realness of life and captures time in the same way that someone like Tsai Ming-liang (Stray Dogs) does so well. It is absolutely slow, yet visually captivating and ultimately rewarding. Here, we really feel for the man's turtle-paced life, desperately wanting to see him break out and move on to better things, but he, like many others, is completely trapped in his own world, though he seems to be completely unaware of how easy it would be to just... leave.

Gaku Imamura gives a haunting performance debut!
The film gets a lot deeper than that, when we see that he never talks to his very, very chatty coworkers who speak a million words a minute on their breaks. He just sits there, like a bump on a log, antisocial, and even though they are at the same small table, somehow, he feels miles away from the company surrounding him. I don't want to delve to deeply on this, as really there isn't much to the film, in terms of things that happen. Again, the days are repeated, with subtle variations on the same repetitions. Another plot point, which I can focus on, is that one fine day another poolside man comes to our bored lead's place of employment, and he is played very hilariously by the director himself, Hirobumi Watanabe (7 Days).

I believe the most memorable parts of Poolsideman are when the two are chatting in their commutes to and from work. Our lead drives, saying nothing as usual, and occasionally lighting up a cigarette, while Hirobumi's character rattles random thoughts off the top of his head, and he is a big manga and anime nerd, providing some of the funniest monologues I've ever heard, including one where he says it is impossible to communicate with younger people, especially One Piece fans. I can't remember the dialogue to a tee, but it was absolutely hilarious. Still, the main character never once speaks.

"I am from the Dragonball generation!"
The choice of no dialogue here has its purpose, though the reasoning here versus Watanabe's previous work, are for two totally different reasons. There is something bubbling under the surface, though what, I don't want to spoil. The character soaks himself in the most awful and disturbing news of the war and terror that is surrounding the world as we speak. It echoes and takes these real moments happening around us in real life, and throws them at you repeatedly throughout here, and is a sad reminder of just how dark our existence as a species is becoming. Again, I don't want to ruin anything, but the final act, and the last scene are really something powerful and will stick with you long after the credits roll.

Yes, Watanabe's adorable grandmother has
 a brief appearance in this film as well.
Poolsideman started up, and I really thought it was just going to be a rehashed 7 Days, just at a pool building setting versus a farm life setting, but as it goes on it morphs into something totally different, and in ways a lot deeper. It is sort of blatant in its political showcasing, but it doesn't really take sides. I mean that the hero has his beliefs, though they are sort of open-ended to an extent, but it just chillingly provides a large barrage of vileness that people seem to have become desensitized to. It's sad, but a reality. This film ended up being far more interesting that I thought it would be, and is a total unseen gem. Such a shame that his works, aside from his debut, are practically nonexistent outside of Japan. Hoping some brave indie label comes along and snatches up Watanabe's works. He really needs to be known, and here's to hoping that just that very thing happens one day.

Written by Josh Parmer

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Cops Vs Thugs (1975)

Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Notable Cast: Bunta Sugawara, Hiroki Matsukata, Tatsuo Umemiya, Shingo Yamashiro, Asao Sano, Akira Shioji, Hideo Murota, Mikio Narita, Takuzo Kawatani, Harumi Sone, Tatsuo Endo, Nobuo Kaneko

“It’s war. Go and get them.”

The 70s were about as prime as it gets for Kinji Fukasaku films. The man essentially could do no wrong. Whether it was his two stints of the Battles Without Honor and Humanity series (the second series called New Battles Without Honor and Humanity is getting a Blu Ray release here in the US in July and everyone and their dog should be very excited) or his various other stand-alone features, pretty much anything he did from this era is gold. This includes Cops Vs Thugs, a film he did in-between entries on the previously noted New Battles series. It was hard not to get my hopes up for this film going into it knowing that not only was it a Fukasaku film from this period, but it starred some of his regulars and was written by Kazuo Kasahara who penned the first four Battles films, and even with those hopes Cops Vs Thugs strikes out as another massively impressive film that dives into the complex humanity of law and crime. It’s a film that is both highly entertaining in an action oriented cops and robbers manner, but it also strikes a very effective chord about the gray areas of morality that being human straddles in a world that’s not nearly as black and white as it is made out to be. The results are another classic from an iconic director that needs a lot more love and a lot more attention.

Friday, May 19, 2017

God of War (2017)

Director: Gordon Chan
Notable Cast: Vincent Zhao, Sammo Hung, Wan Qian, Koide Keisuke, Kurata Yasuaki

When one looked at the sheer amount of talent that was being utilized for God of War, it could almost be scary. Between director Gordon Chan, Sammo Hung, and an impeccably crafted cast anchored by Vincent Zhao, this film should be the epic war film of decade from the Chinese market. While the film occasionally slips into some cheesy territory, God of War does not disappoint as an epic war film and goes a step further by including some impressive moments that I did not expect going into it. God of War is truly massive from its dramatic heartfelt characters to its engaging blend of entertaining popcorn moments to its larger than life battle sequences. This is a film that does not hold back and it’s two hours of pure dynamic and dramatic action entertainment and perhaps the best film Gordon Chan has developed in a decade.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Climber, The (1975)

Director: Pasquale Squitieri
Notable Cast: Joe Dallesandro, Stefania Casini, Benito Artesi, Ferdinando Murolo, Raymond Pellegrin

For a bit of context to this review, I’m hardly an expert when it comes to Italian crime cinema, but I was super excited to jump into The Climber as it came with solid recommendations from fans of the genre. Of course, it also helps when it gets a slick new release from Arrow Video (which includes a new 4K restoration) to get my hopes up. With these expectations, it’s hard not to feel slightly disappointed with the film itself as I sat with the credits rolling. The Climber is hardly a bad film, that is not my opinion at all, and for those looking for exciting action, questionable anti-heroes, and a story that runs the sequence on ‘young criminal with big ambitions’ then this film will certainly hit all the right buttons. However, The Climber is also a film that plays things fairly close to the chest and straight forward, only digging deeper than its plot to deliver a few commentaries. It’s entertaining, sure, but hardly the overlooked classic that so many seem to claim it to be.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Trivisa (2016)

Directors: Frank Hui, Jevons Au, Vicky Wong
Notable Cast: Gordon Lam, Richie Jen, Jordan Chan, Tommy Wong, Elliot Ngok, Stephen Au, Lam Suet, Wan Yeung-ming, Philip Keung, Frankie Ng, Lau Ka-yung, Hung Yan-yan, To Yin-gor, Zhang Kai, Le Zi-long, Thimjapo Chattida, Aoi Ma, Kam Loi-kwan, Huang Kai-sen

Trivisa stirred some pots when it first came out, thanks to its throwback style to older Hong Kong dramatic thrillers, but when it won the Hong Kong Film Award for best picture last year it solidified itself as a near instant classic that is being hailed as a forerunner for a second golden age of Hong Kong cinema. While the domineering force of Mainland Chinese cinema and its powerful focus on spectacle and entertainment makes me hesitant to say that Hong Kong is going to mark itself as a force to be reckoned with yet, it’s easy to see why people would think that when watching Trivisa. This film is good enough to almost convince me that the HK industry is on the brink of something grand too. Particularly because of the young directors involved with the film. While it’s not the action film that most people tend to think about when they think classic Hong Kong film, it’s a throw back film to the era of dramatic gangster thrillers that solidified the careers of John Woo, Ringo Lam, and Johnnie To in the late 80s and early 90s. Quite frankly, it’s a film that deserves to be mentioned with the likes of those iconic names and for those looking for redemption in the modern landscape of Hong Kong cinema then yes, Trivisa just might be the beacon for a movement to do just that.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Brain Damage (1988)

Director: Frank Henenlotter
Notable Cast: Rick Herbst, Gordon MacDonald, Jennifer Lowry, Theo Barnes, Lucille Saint-Peter, John Zacherle (uncredited)

Memory is a tricky thing, particularly when it comes to nostalgia. Often enough, I refer to distorted memories of love or hate for anything artistic from someone’s youth as ‘nostalgia goggles’ and that for one to see a film (or whatever) properly, you need to see through your nostalgia goggles as it really is. This was my intent going into the latest Blu Ray release for the cult horror comedy Brain Damage. I haven’t seen the film since my mid-teens and I had very fond, if not foggy, memories of loving this film, but I didn’t want my nostalgia goggles distorting my review for the site of the film. On one hand, this intent made watching Brain Damage feel refreshing. On the other hand, it was also somewhat disappointing because the film, under a bit more scrutiny, doesn’t quite live up to those feelings I had of it from my youth. Brain Damage is a fun and often entertaining film, spun on its strange concept with some shocking visuals and offbeat humor, but it’s always one that plays things remarkably straight forward. A move that makes it easy to consume as a horror film, for those willing to look past some of its more grotesque gore and occasional shocks, but one that doesn’t resonate nearly as much as it had the potential to.

7 Days (2015)

Director: Hirobumi Watanabe

Cast: Hirobumi Watanabe, Misao Hirayama

After having the unexpected pleasure of discovering Watanabe's debut work, And the Mud Ship Sails Away..., brought to my attention through a box set called New Directors from Japan (Third Window Films), I was wondering what he'd be doing next most out of the others that were featured. Some time passed and thanks to social media, I was able to find some of Watanabe's outlets to discover he had shot and was starring in yet another black and white feature, the serene looking 7 Days. Thanks to the man himself a couple of years later, I have had the honor of seeing this followup.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Eros + Massacre (1969)

Director: Kiju Yoshida
Notable Cast: Mariko Okada, Toshiyuki Hosokawa, Yuko Kusunoki, Toshiko Ii, Dajiro Harada

Almost immediately starting my journey with the director's cut of Eros + Massacre (still have yet to see the theatrical), I was taken aback by the language being projected. It's highly intelligent and offers a plethora of words spoken, and this being the first thing I highlight can tell you a bit about my experience overall. It's sort of highbrow in its thinking, without ever turning its nose up on its philosophies and continuing dialogue as it treads on.

The plot is about a woman and a man solving a murder, in a whodunit sort of procedural, though it sort of made me think of Rashomon towards the end by way of its seemingly endless approaches and interpretations, that juxtaposes two different periods of time. The time of the past, which is set in the 1920s, and now to the man and woman of the 60s, who are trying to piece all of this together.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Blood Splatter: 2017 Horror Vol. 1 [The Windmill, The Devil's Candy, We Go On]

Director: Nick Jongerius
Notable Cast:Charlotte Beaumont, Bart Klever, Patrick Baladi, Ben Batt, Fiona Hampton, Tanroh Ishida, Noah Taylor, Adam Thomas Wright, Kenan Raven
Also Known As: The Windmill Massacre

Ambition can be a great thing. However, in the case of The Windmill, it can also lead to disappointment. The concept behind The Windmill is fun and interesting. While I was lead to believe that it would be, more or less, a modern slasher, this film goes for a slightly more mysterious and supernatural slant for its slasher tropes. It takes its time to build the characters that end up on the broken down Holland tour that are stalked by a disfigured man from the nearby windmill and the use of visions, backstories, and tension is all great in idea. The film uses some nice practical effects as a basis for its kills and there are plenty of things to like about the film…on paper.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Rings (2017)

Director: F. Javier Gutierrez
Notable Cast: Matilda Lutz, Alex Roe, Johnny Galecki, Vincent D’Onofrio, Aimee Teegarden, Bonnie Morgan

It’s no secret that here at Blood Brothers we love The Ring franchises. I even went so far as to write an article about why this series is still relevant late last year before the release of Rings and the Japanese crossover Sadako Vs. Kayoko. Now that Rings has finally gotten a US release, no thanks to the numerous delays and postponements it received, it was an easy decision to say that it was going to get a full review here on the site. Unfortunately, I’m not sure Rings deserves a full review. This third entry into the American Ring series suffers from the ultimate sin: having no potential. In particular, the film feels like it is meant to be a sequel that is not only meant to reboot the franchise, but one that is perfectly content with just rehashing EVERYTHING we’ve seen before. It thinks it’s clever with some of its modern spins and new mysteries to solve, but it’s all been done before in this franchise in one way or another and for fans that have seen all of them, it’s even less inspired.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

Director: James Gunn
Notable Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Michael Rooker, Kurt Russell, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris Sullivan, Sean Gunn, Sylvester Stallone

After the disappointing leap into the mystic and psychedelic realms of Marvel with last year’s uninspired (but still fun) run at Doctor Strange, it is a much needed boost for my moral for this shared cinematic universe to be returning to James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy for Vol. 2. Initial reviews and reports seemed generally favorable, but with my sheer delight in the Ice Pirates-esque humor, heart, and spectacle of the film first film I was ready for whatever this film was going to throw at me. Truthfully, it throws A LOT at the audience too. Not only does this film attempt to rekindle the kind of action, drama, and silliness that made the first one a sleeper hit for Marvel, but it also goes by it in the classic blockbuster sequel approach: more is more. More jokes, more drama, more plots, and more characters. It even adds in more than that. It runs with the psychedelic nature that Doctor Strange used and gives it grounding, being bombastic in its designs and color schemes all the while delivering the fun movie that people want to see. The execution is not quite as efficient as the original Guardians was, but for a sequel that was attempting to find the same balance and figure out why the original one worked so well, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is still a major Marvel success and one that pushes the franchise within the franchise into new territory while still retaining its core.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Marine 5: Battleground, The (2017)

Director: James Nunn
Notable Cast: Mike ‘The Miz’ Mizanin, Anna Van Hooft, Nathan Mitchell, Taylor Rotunda, Heath Miller, Trinity Fatu, Sandy Robson, Tony Skinner, Joe Hennig

It’s been stated numerous times on this site how I feel about WWE Studios. I love what they are doing and where they are going with their set of films. They’re expanding their catalog, while at the same time delivering fun and highly entertaining straight to home video action flicks. Granted, the quality of these flicks does fluctuate drastically between franchises and lone wolf entries, but for those who enjoy low budget action flicks then they at least satiate a kind of B-movie craving. The spine of this development just so happens to be The Marine franchise. Starting as a theatrical film, it quickly moved to the home video release department and it hasn’t looked back since. This series has seen its ups and downs as it goes, scraping bottom with the third entry and The Miz’s first one as the new series lead, but the fifth entry just might be the best one yet. The Marine 5: Battleground is trimmed, fun, and sports a silly blend of action and thriller elements to be the highlight of the franchise. Yes, you read that correctly, the fifth film in a straight to home video action franchise from WWE is the best one yet. Weird, huh?

Monday, May 1, 2017

Donnie Darko (2001)

Director: Richard Kelly
Notable Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Mary McDonnell, Holmes Osborne, Katharine Ross, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Daveigh Chase, James Duval, Drew Barrymore, Patrick Swayze, Noah Wyle

When Donnie Darko first came out in 2001, I was entranced. I was a fifteen year old, genre movie obsessed young man and this film spoke to me like Frank the Bunny did to Donnie. It’s a film that’s artistic, fun, insightful, and was perfectly timed for my generation of blooming cinephiles. It’s dark, but still off beat enough in its presence and well executed that it stuck with me through the last decade and a half. As an adult now, the film might be even better as the layers of its distinctively odd Twilight Zone inspired coming of age tale start to open up with repeated viewings and one can see just how weirdly detailed it is at embracing its premise. Fortunately, I’m not the only one that sees the appeal of its artistic and cult cinema blending as Arrow Video have dropped the quintessential release of the film. Those who were fans of the early Richard Kelly work, those new to the film, or those perhaps willing to overlook the strange Hot Topic powered hype that kick started well after the initial release of the film should definitely take another look at Donnie Darko in this latest release. Not only does it properly showcase the film as the piece of cinematic art it is, but it’s a release to impress those who may not even like it .

The Long Excuse (2016)

Director: Miwa Nishikawa
Notable Cast: Masahiro Motoki, Pistol Takehara, Kenshin Fujita, Tamaki Shiratori, Eri Fukatsu, Keiko Horiuchi, Haru Kuroki, Maho Yamada, Sosuke Ikematsu

Dreams for Sale, Miwa Nishikawa's previous directorial, is in the top echelon of my favorite films ever made. I think it is a true masterpiece, in every sense of the word, and an amazing character study on what humans do in desperate situations for money. I could go on for hours talking of that film. Knowing just how highly I praise that piece of work, I believe Miwa may have just put herself out there with an even better slice of cinema with The Long Excuse.

Sachio Kinugasa (Masahiro Motoki | Departures) is an award-winning novelist who has recently lost his wife (Eri Fukatsu | Villain) to a tragic accident that occurred when she and her friend, Yuki, were aboard a bus that slid off road into an icy river. As tragic as this all is and the damage it does to the numerous other peoples' lives affected by this devastating event, our lead Sachio seems to be relatively unaffected whatsoever. He is thrust into the spotlight, which he is used to being in, and he gives it his all to act sad, but the tears never come.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

This is Not What I Expected (2017)

Director: Derek Hui
Notable Cast: Takeshi Kaneshiro, Zhou Dongyu, Ming Xi, Tony Yang

Food lovers are transported to the best interpretation of 'food heaven' yet as This is Not What I Expected takes the potential erotics of food (visually speaking) and cranks them up to be the most eye-pleasing series of close-ups and slow-motion preparation shots of all time, in cinematic history, period. Now that may be up for debate, and is perhaps a strong opinion to throw out into the wild upfront, but it is what I stand by, just like the confidence of Kaneshiro's masterful critique of said cuisine.

Brimstone (2017)

Director: Martin Koolhoven
Notable Cast: Dakota Fanning, Guy Pearce, Kit Harington, Carice van Houten, Emilia Jones, Jack Roth, Jack Hollington, Paul Anderson, Carla Juri, Vera Vitali, William Houston, Bill Tangradi

It’s almost unfair to call Brimstone a horror or western simply because this is a film that refuses to succumb to the tropes of any one genre. On the surface, yes, it’s about a vicious reverend that seemingly tortures a young woman throughout her life, appearing in increasingly violent and malevolent ways to continue her torment… which certainly sounds like a horror movie set up with a western setting. However, Brimstone uses western motifs, dramatic pacing, horror themed elements of tension and dread, and an approach to its narrative that lifts it above being ‘just another horror movie’ or ‘just another western.’ This is a film that’s meant to be an intense and still often subtle roller coaster of commentary, character study, and cinematic craftsmanship. It succeeds at doing it all and is going to be one of the underdog best films of the year.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Three Brothers (1981)

Director: Francesco Rosi
Notable Cast: Phillipe Noiret, Michele Placido, Vittorio Mezzogiorno, Andrea Ferreol, Maddalena Crippa, Rosaria Tafuri, Marta Zoffoli, Tino Schirinzi, Simonetta Stefanelli, Pietro Biondi, Charles Vanel, Accursio Di Leo, Luici Infantino, Girolamo Marzano, Gina Pontrelli

The more artsy avenues of cinema have not necessarily been ones that we transverse here at Blood Brothers, but the recent American releases for Arrow Academy have certainly opened some of those gates. Just in the last few months, we have started to explore the realms of high end Italian cinema after spending years digging through the trenches of their exploitation and genre work. Reviews for films like Cinema Paradiso or a couple new releases from director Elio Petri have kick started this move and the next step is into the works Francesco Rosi. While the director has a few iconic titles under his belt that many cinephiles will recognize, the focus of this review is on the newly released Blu Ray edition of his political and familial drama Three Brothers. Layering a simple plot around the reunion of three very different brothers who return home when their mother passes, Three Brothers is far more than just another family centered drama where the characters have to work out their intricacies. This is a film that works on a variety of layers of character focus and various commentaries. It’s easy to see why it was nominated for an Oscar the year it came out.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Django, Prepare a Coffin (1968)

Director: Ferdinando Baldi
Notable Cast: Terence Hill, Horst Frank, George Eastman, Jose Torres, Bruna Simionato, Pinuccio Ardia, Guido Lollobrigida

The explosion of Django films in the 1960s is almost laughable. Everyone and their grandmother was trying to capitalize on the success of the original Django and the amount of poor and mediocre Django films can be daunting for someone diving in for the first time. I know because I just recently started my journey into Django-sploitation. Fortunately, there are a handful of guides and people out there to help and it was from these handy chaperons that the film Django, Prepare a Coffin first came to my attention. As if on queue, it wasn’t long after that Arrow Video announced the US release of Django, Prepare a Coffin for a Blu Ray release. While not an official sequel, I’m glad that this one got a nice release because it’s one of the few Django films I’ve seen deserving to be placed next to the original on my shelf. It’s cohesive in its approach, adamantly trying its best to feel and continue on the story of the hero it’s based on, and it’s a solid blend of entertaining spaghetti western and thoughtful storytelling. Prepare a Coffin is definitely one of my favorites to feature this character.  

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Love and Other Cults (2017)

Director: Eiji Uchida

Notable Cast: Sairi Itoh, Kenta Suga, Kaito Yoshimura, Hanae Kan, Ami Tomite, Antony, Hana Matsumoto, Nanami Kawakami, Katsuya Maiguma, Matthew Chozick, Taro Yabe, Yoshimasa Kando, Denden

Eiji Uchida has become a household name with indie distributor Third Window Films, leading the company to jump into the production world 100% on their own with Lowlife Love. With the surprise success of said project, Adam (TWF) and Eiji have teamed up once again for another crazy and wonderful production... Love and Other Cults.

Ai is a girl who is budding into a young woman, but the world she inhabits seems to vehemently reject her existence, and she finds herself hopping about various groups of living, seemingly absorbing herself in blend as a chameleon, only to shortly thereafter continue that hop. Along the way she meets some interesting characters, all nasty in a certain sense, but as the story unfolds, so do the reasons behind these characters brokenness.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Caltiki, the Immortal Monster (1959)

Directors: Riccardo Freda, Mario Bava (uncredited)
Notable Cast: John Merivale, Didi Sullivan, Gerard Haerter, GR Stuart, Victor Andree, Daniel Vargas, Arthur Dominick, Black Bernard, Rex Wood

Outside of the name Mario Bava being included on the front artwork, my knowledge of Caltiki, the Immortal Monster was pretty limited. The name has popped up a few times during my work on some other Mario Bava reviews, however, there wasn’t any indication that it was a film that would eventually be getting the pristine Arrow Video treatment. Now that it has, it’s easy to see why there would be a cult fan base for this film. For one, it’s co-directed (uncredited and from various sources described as fully directed) by the prestigious Mario Bava and his fan base seems to only grow larger and more ferocious with each passing year. The film certainly shows a lot of his trademarks and Gothic tones he would use in his solo work in a handful of years. Secondly, Caltiki is the Italian version of the classic 1950s monster movie and could easily fall right into the same categories as many of the Hollywood or Japanese films from the same period. Thus, fans of Bava or the 50s monster flicks are going to want to seek out Caltiki no matter how effective the film is as being either.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Dead or Alive 2: Birds (2000)

Director: Takashi Miike

Notable Cast: Show Aikawa, Riki Takeuchi, Noriko Aota, Edison Chen, Kenichi Endo

If a person were to judge the direction of Dead or Alive 2: Birds by the finale of Dead or Alive, then you wouldn’t be too much off the mark in the outrageous tone that it uses. However, the mistake in that line of thinking comes from believing that Dead or Alive 2 is a sequel to Dead or Alive at all. Outside of the title, being directed by Takashi Miike, and starring the same two leads, there is no actual story element or character that connects the two films. There are a few thematic elements that could be seen as carrying over, but they are some of the same elements that one sees in a lot of Miike films. Even with no connection, Dead or Alive 2 might just have the edge on its predecessor by embracing a lot of the quirky elements of its story and characters and delivering a phenomenal third act worthy of the Miike brand. It’s a strange film that doesn’t always feel cohesive, but that doesn’t stop it from hitting a lot of amazing moments with pizzazz.

Assassin, The (1961)

Director: Elio Petri
Notable Cast: Marcello Mastroianni, Micheline Presle, Cristina Gajoni, Salvo Randone, Marco Mariani, Franco Ressel, Giovanna Gagliardo, Paolo Panelli, Toni Ucci

As the second film from director Elio Petri that we are reviewing this month, The Assassin is also his debut and it’s a doozy. Playing out like a kind of murder mystery with noir elements, the film is not nearly as upfront with its layered commentary as the other film we just reviewed (the very awesome Property Is No Longer a Theft), but the effective way that it unravels its story in a leaping structure and the crisp manner that the film builds into its third act makes it one that we cannot recommend enough. It may not be the most original film out there, but the execution is immaculate and this Arrow Academy release belongs in any self-respecting cinephile’s collection.