Thursday, December 7, 2017

Sleepy Eyes of Death 5: Sword of Fire (1965)

Director: Kenji Misumi
Notable Cast: Raizo Ichikawa, Tamao Nakamura, Michiko Sugata, Sanae Nakahara, Ko Nishimura, Ryuzo Shimada, Koichi Mizuhara, Junko Kozakura, Toru Abe

Aka: Nemuri Kyoshiro 5: The Swordsman and the Pirate

By the time that the Sleepy Eyes of Death franchise hits its fifth entry, the series has already seen its fair share of quality shifts and unique approaches to its series formula. It started off on some questionable and pulpy ground, but found a balance between serious artistic merit and those pulpy entertaining pieces with the last few entries. This balance of the previous films is what makes the fifth entry, Sword of Fire, such an intriguing one. Mainly because it’s a film that strips back a lot of the more entertaining elements for a starkly serious thriller tone. Where previous entries use some strong faced characters, snappy dialogue, or dynamic settings, Sword of Fire opts for a ‘less is more’ approach to things and plays its script in subtle ways. For fans of the series, it’s perhaps one of the less memorable ones due to these choices even if the film itself is impressively handled.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Stratton (2018)

Director: Simon West
Notable Cast: Dominic Cooper, Gemma Chan, Austin Stowell, Tyler Hoechlin, Tom Felton, Thomas Kretschmann, Olegar Fedoro, Derek Jacobi, Connie Nielsen, Jake Fairbrother

There’s a part of me that sincerely feels bad that Simon West has essentially dropped into the straight-to-home-video realm. Sure, most of his films are glorious B-movies anyway like Con Air and The Expendables 2 with a few questionable ones to add to the mix (*glares at my copy of the When a Stranger Calls remake on my shelf*), but often enough he’s a much stronger director than people give him credit for. His latest film, after the disappointing Gun Shy that just came out, is the espionage film Stratton, which is based on the popular book series. Stratton is a shocking West film though. Shocking enough, that I had to watch it twice to truly appreciate what it was offering after I started it. For all of the great B-action movies that West is known for, Stratton is much more serious and grounded than expected. Reading the synopsis, it sounded like a low-budget James Bond film, but in reality, it takes its Bond-like concept and grounds it in a much more dramatic and subtle espionage thriller akin to Jack Reacher. Yes, Stratton is an effective merging of James Bond meets Jack Reacher. That’s not a sentence I thought I would be typing, but in the end it’s true.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Better Watch Out (2017)

Director: Chris Peckover
Notable Cast: Levi Miller, Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould, Patrick Warburton, Dacre Montgomery, Viginia Madsen, Aleks Mikic

If a person digs through the $5 bin or stumbles into the straight to home video section of their local Wal Mart, one is likely to see that Christmas themed horror films are a dime a dozen in the last couple of years. It’s an easy gimmick to grab and throwing on the word Krampus or a bad Christmas pun for a tagline guarantees a handful of impulse buys in box stores looking for some counter programing to the usual Christmas movies that bombard their TVs. Yet, it’s a sub-genre of horror that does have its merits when properly utilized. This leads to the hesitation and excitement for any new film that adheres to the Christmas theme. Better Watch Out, a rare horror release from our friends at Well Go USA who are known for distributing foreign films usually of the action variety, marks an intriguing spin on the Christmas horror film. It’s a film rooted in the Christmas film idea, at times even going as far as referencing a famous Christmas film that I will talk about here in a bit, but also spins it as a home invasion/survival film with a wickedly effective dark sense of humor. Better Watch Out is a film that somewhat takes its audience in different directions than expected and still presents a film that grows on repeated viewings. Some fans may not love that it doesn’t play its hands up front, but for those going into it with an open mind, Better Watch Out will become an instant holiday horror classic to revisit in years to come.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Swindlers (2017)

Director: Jang Chang-won
Notable Cast: Hyun Bin, Yoo Ji-tae, Bae Seong-woo, Park Sung-woong, Nana, Ahn Se-ha, Choi Deok-moon, Choi Il-hwa, Heo Sung-tae, Kim Tae-hoon, Jung Jin-young, Oh Tae-kyung, Cha Soon-bae, Jin Seon-kyu

With the popularity of heist films reaching some seriously outrageous heights at this moment, it’s hard to be truly surprised by any of them. Whether it’s the espionage slants of films like Mission: Impossible and The Adventurers or sleight of hand con films like Bitcoin Heist and Now You See Me, the films all have a tendency to be fairly predictable in their unpredictability. Audiences know that the film is going to trick them, through visuals, narrative, or out of left field spins and they automatically look for how the film is going to do so. This is the mindset that I went in with into South Korea’s next ‘rogue team of con men and women,’ The Swindlers. While the film certainly plays up its strengths of charm with its substantially effective casting and visual appealing look, The Swindlers takes the sleight of hand motives to whole new levels. This is a film built on tricking its audience, along with many of the characters in the film itself, but the layers upon layers of different angles and illusions make it something to admire. The Swindlers is a film that takes its title to heart and sprints with it to the finish unveiling one of the most fascinatingly complex and entertaining cinematic con films to experience.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Animal Factory (2000)

Director Steve Buscemi
Notable Cast: Willem Dafoe, Edward Furlong, Danny Trejo, Mark Boone Junior, Seymour Cassel, Mickey Rourke, Tom Arnold, John Heard

Animal Factory is one of those films that has crossed my path while researching films a handful of times, but I’ve never really bothered to dig into the whos, whys, and whats about the film in any serious regard. If I had, I would have seen that the film contains perhaps one of the most peculiar cast listings ever gathered on film. Directed by cult actor Steve Buscemi, Animal Factory takes its robust cast and goes for a slow burn and realistic story that’s more concerned with the characters and their interactions than a truly thrilling plot or dynamic narrative. At its core character drama, the film succeeds, but when it comes to being something that rises above that one foundational element it refuses to be nearly as entertaining or as dramatically effective with its narrative and story as it might have with the talents involved. It’s a film that certainly has its merits as a dramatic piece of cinema, but the more that it sits with me the more it feels like it could have been so much more.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Top 5 Modern Christmas Horror Classics

It’s now post-Thanksgiving here in the US and that only means one thing: Christmas has already been in our social conscious for four months. Seriously though, retailers have been prepping the masses for the Yule Tide cheer for months already. For most of us though, it’s not until after Thanksgiving and Black Friday that we really start to get into the Christmas spirit. For cult cinema fans, that means busting out the “non-traditional” Christmas classics from our collections. For many of us in particular, that means the popular Christmas horror sub-genre. We already all have our favorites for this genre, whether it’s Bob Clark’s nihilistic Black Christmas or the comedic scares of Gremlins, but for this article I wanted to dig into some of the modern films that deserve some love.

To qualify for the modern list, the film had to be released after the year 2000 and it had to be a horror film that embraced the tone and feel of Christmas. This can be a hard thing to define ultimately and I’m sure readers will immediately fill my inbox with suggestions of things I missed (which I wholly encourage since there are plenty of gems out there that I have overlooked), but for each film picked there is a little blurb as reasoning for its selection. As much as I loved this year’s Better Watch Out or the French extreme flick Inside, those films don’t quite embrace the Christmas time aura needed for it to make the list. Although I would love to hear otherwise from our readers.

So enjoy this Top 5 Modern Christmas Horror Classics list, spit some blood in the comments to let us know what we missed and why, and share it with your friends. Spread the cheer. Spread the screams. Cause it’s Christmas horror season.

05. Silent Night

It’s only natural that I start this list with the most controversial pick. Steven C. Miller’s much hated remake of the Christmas horror classic Silent Night, Deadly Night does do things in such a strange and often tongue-in-cheek manner that it’s one I always find myself watching this time of year. If you read my original review for Silent Night, I’m pretty harsh on it myself, but over time the film has grown on me with its outrageous concepts, fun visuals, and just hilarious moments of cheesy horror. In a way, this is the perfect viewing companion with the (also) very hated Black Christmas remake, but I think this one might just edge that one out as a fun classic that will ultimately find its devout cult audience.

04. A Christmas Horror Story

Anthologies right now are all the rage in horror (they come and go in spurts of popularity, really) and Christmas horror movies are also hitting a heavy stride in popularity, so it’s only natural to expect that there would be one to combine the two. Like many anthologies, the quality of segments wavers and as each segment attempts to bring a different kind of horror to the mix including a ghost story, a Twilight Zone-ish fantasy horror, and a monster story. Yet, it’s the inclusion of a segment where Santa must battle hordes of zombie elves that truly cements this on the list. Not to mention, it’s narrated by William Shatner? Yeah, A Christmas Horror Story a modern Christmas horror classic for those last two things alone.

03. Saint [Sint]

Dick Maas already defined his role as a cult horror director with his killer elevator films Lift and Down along with his cult classic Amsterdamned, which all recently were released on Blu Ray and I highly suggest picking them up or renting them on VOD, but his leap into Christmas horror with Sint – released in the US as Saint – is an instant classic for the season. One-part dark comedy, one-part fantasy, and all horror, Sint is outlandish and often perplexing in the best ways. Seeing a zombie European cloaked Santa riding a zombie horse on rooftops aside, the film has plenty of moments that are unforgettable and brilliantly executed and it remains one of my favorites for the season for a reason. This is one that is often overlooked by fans and shouldn’t be. It’s a genre bending and heartfelt film that earns its cult status.

02. Rare Exports

Another European film about the dark origins of Santa like the previous entry, Rare Exports, also released as Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, is the Finnish modern equivalent to classic family friendly fringed horror like The Goonies and Gremlins in tone and it’s brilliant to watch. It spins the narrative, uncovering an ancient and evil Santa, as it follows our young protagonist while it mixes a lot of childish fun with fantasy and some truly dark and horrific moments. Its themes about family and heart make it weirdly effective as a Christmas film on its own even outside of the horror aspects. Simply put, this is a must see in the next month or so.


This is the one film that was obvious to me that it was going to make the list, not matter what. Director Michael Dougherty set the standard for modern day horror that embraces the Halloween spirit with his film Trick R’ Treat and it’s impressive that he was able to do the same with Krampus. With only a PG-13 rating, he crafts a film that’s filled with laughs, scares, and just straight out strange things in it that – like the previous entry on this list – can actually work as a film for the whole family as much as it does a horror film. Just a couple of months ago I saw a kid, maybe 10 years old, watching this film on a plane and it wasn’t even close to being Christmas season. That’s impressive. Not to mention, this film has also spawned one of the worst trends ever of terrible, horrible Krampus themed films that litter the shelves of Wal-Mart. There’s gotta be something to a film that spawns that kind of weird phenomenon.

So now that you know my top five picks for best modern Christmas horror classics, what’s yours? Do you agree with the list above? What have we missed here at Blood Brothers? Spit some blood below and let us know what are your favorite films that deserve some recognition.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Chasing the Dragon (2017)

Directors: Jason Kwan, Wong Jing
Notable Cast: Donnie Yen, Andy Lau, Kent Cheng, Wilfred Lau, Felix Wong, Philip Keung, Michelle Hu, Raquel Xu, Chun Wong, Philip Ng, Kent Tong, Niki Chow, Bryan Larkin

There was a lot of hype around Chasing the Dragon. The ever-present director and producer Wong Jing along with director Jason Kwan were going to take superstars Donnie Yen and the everlasting Andy Lau and develop a remake of the award-winning Hong Kong film, To Be Number One. It’s enticing to say the least. This much talent wrapped into a Hong Kong dramatic thriller was bound to generate this kind of buzz. Enough buzz and hype that it was almost destined to disappoint on some level. Yet, Chasing the Dragon is an ambitious film nonetheless, utilizing its immense onscreen talents to generate a film that is built on some insanely effective moments of emotional power and striking imagery. It’s obvious though that Wong Jing and company take the film too far into its ambitious realms to be as strong as it might have, forgoing the ‘less is more’ mantra to create an epic tone for the film. It’s attempts at being the next Scarface, Godfather, or Battles Without Honor and Humanity are evident from the start and can ultimately be problematic for the film as a whole, but Chasing the Dragon still works as an entertaining and hefty piece of modern Hong Kong cinema.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Wu Kong (2017)

Director: Derek Kwok
Notable Cast: Eddie Peng, Ni Ni, Shawn Yue, Oho Ou, Zheng Shuang, Faye Yu Fei-Hong, Quao Shan, Yang Di, Wang De-shun, Quentin Zhang, Zhang Yi-Qian

The recent explosion of various Monkey King films from China’s film industry can be a bit overwhelming to keep straight. It’s not that there hasn’t always been an obsession with the Monkey King (and Journey to the West) stories in the market, but lately it seems even more intense. Animated films and two major franchises have seen releases in the last handful of years, so when a potential new franchise was announced for the character it was a bit yawn inducing. The Monkey King franchise covered the family friendly aspects of the character for his mischievous adventures and Stephen Chow’s Journey to the West films covered the more traditional stories nicely and with plenty of pizzazz in blending comedy, action, and heart. So what could the latest film Wu Kong, directed by Derek Kwok and starring A-lister Eddie Peng as the titular Monkey King, really bring to the table? As it turns out, much more than expected. Based on a popular online novel, Wu Kong forgoes the traditional dynamics of the Journey to the West story and goes for more of an origin of the character and the result is actually quite impressive. It’s executed in striking fashion and the film takes a more humane and emotional bent for the character that’s much more adult oriented than The Monkey King, which tried to pull off the same concept. For films that feature the Monkey King as one of the lead characters, I have to admit that Wu Kong just might be my favorite of recent memory which comes as a huge surprise to me.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Blood Splatter: 2017 Horror Vol. 4 [Raw, 1922, Jackals]

RAW (2017)
Director: Julia Ducournau
Notable Cast: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Nait Oufella, Laurent Lucas, Joana Preiss

The fascinating thing about Raw is that with all of its exploitative content (cannibalism, gore, sexuality) that it never treats itself like an exploitation film. It uses all of those elements to simply convey some of the themes of its story in heavy handed, but wholly cinematic ways. Themes about feminism, familial influence, coming-of-age youth pieces, communication, and the strange stresses that can break down students new to college are all seemingly fitted into a plot about a young woman who succumbs to cannibalistic urges, more or less. The balance and artfulness of how those themes congeal though is impressive to say the least. Raw is artfully done and it is the kind of horror film that will resonate much longer than many of its peers thanks to its layered and robust writing/execution that allows for lengthy cinephile analysis. In many ways, the film is much akin to early Cronenberg, albeit without the rough edges and fiesty 'be all, end all' energy, and for that I give it much praise.

Justice League (2017)

Director: Zack Snyder
Notable Cast: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, JK Simmons, Connie Nielsen, Ciaran Hinds, Joe Morton, Amber Heard, Billy Crudup

At some point, I should just know better. To get my hopes up at all that Justice League could pull off the ambitious task of continuing the plotting of where Batman V Superman left off, introduce three new heroes, and still manage to balance the tones and intents of the course correcting DC Cinematic Universe (DCCU) was just silly. Perhaps it was the heights that Wonder Woman actually reached as a heartfelt and interesting blockbuster that made me hope for the best. Perhaps it was the rumors and articles claiming Joss Whedon had to do extensive reshoots to try and produce a stronger film that made me hope Justice League would work. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter all that much because Justice League is a film that tries to cover its gaping holes and problematic issues with quips, cheesy moments, and the quickest pace of any DCCU film thus far. No matter how much fun the film tries to be, it’s built on extremely cracked and challenging foundations that undermine the experience of the film.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Black Butterfly (2017)

Director: Brian Goodman
Notable Cast: Antonio Banderas, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Piper Perabo, Abel Ferrara, Vincent Riotta, Nathalie Rapti Gomez, Randall Paul, Katie McGovern

Pairing up Antonio Banderas and Jonathan Rhys Meyers is this weird thing that I never expected and was somewhat excited to see. The initial trailers for Black Butterfly seemed to indicate that the film would end up being a more mundane thriller, relying on some kind of twist to carry the film more than anything else, but the powerhouse screen devouring talents of the two leads should make the film worth the watch. Fortunately and unfortunately, both of the above assumptions based on the trailer were somewhat true. Black Butterfly is carried by two fantastic performances that continually attempt to top the other, but it’s also a film that spends a lot of time being an above average, but not great, thriller that ultimately relies on a few key moments to hook the audience into its narrative.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Suspicious Death of a Minor (1975)

Director: Sergio Martino
Notable Cast: Claudio Cassinelli, Mel Ferrer, Lia Tanzi, Gianfranco Barra, Patrizia Castaldi, Adolfo Caruso, Jenny Tamburi, Massimo Girotti

Sergio Martino, like many of his peers in the Italian genre film industry of the time period, was not boxed into crafting one genre. He directed horror, science fiction, westerns, and many kinds of films. Sometimes, he would direct multiple genres in one film. While often The Suspicious Death of a Minor is labeled as a giallo, this film is a lot more diverse than just that one classifier would indicate. It occasionally has trouble finding its own momentum and narrative flow as it navigates the treacherous minefield of genre shifting, but it does leave the audience unsure of what to expect in the film as it unfolds and that does add to the experience of watching it. Through the newest Blu Ray release of the film, courtesy of cult cinema champions Arrow Video, it’s time to revisit one of Martino’s most subtlety odd and intriguing films just to see why it succeeds and falters at its own game.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Party 'Round the Globe (2017)

Director: Hirobumi Watanabe

Notable Cast: Gaku Imamura, Hirobumi Watanabe, Ringo

Premiering at this year's Tokyo International Film Festival, Hirobumi Watanabe's forth feature film, Party 'Round the Globe, trots familiar territory whilst also feeling somewhat fresh as it morphs into a celebration of cinema, music, baseball and really just life itself. Does it chart new ground? Not really, but fans of Watanabe's style will most certainly find themselves in for a treat as his gorgeous black and white, witty examination of life continues, this time in a electronics shop.

I absolutely adore Watanabe and his cinematic worlds, and for those who know me, have heard time and time again that Poolsideman, the filmmaker's previous, is easily my favorite film of 2017, and that still stands as we are quickly beginning to draw near the end of this year's cycle. That film took everything I loved about this previous two works and mixed them into something totally original and very impacting. Everything about that film clicked and just worked for me. The social commentary and character study Poolsideman examines crafts and timely and masterful piece of work by a director very early into his career, with his debut And the Mud Ship Sails Away, only having come out in 2013. Perhaps nothing will reach the heights of that film again for me, but going into Party I was excited, and ultimately it doesn't disappoint, though it may perhaps be my least favorite Watanabe outing to date.

A Taxi Driver (2017)

Director: Jang Hoon
Notable Cast: Song Kang-ho, Thomas Kretschmann, Ryoo Jeon-yeol, Yoo Hae-jin

Based on the true story of a Seoul-based Korean taxi driver, Kim Sa-Bok, and German reporter Jürgen Hinzpeter, A Taxi Driver is a cinematic retelling of a cowardly driver turned courageous as he escorts a foreign man into the hellish Gwangju, a city which was undergoing heinous violence and oppression from its dictator government during an uprising in the 1980s, that in which before these two men infiltrated the city, was being kept a big secreted and fabricated into a lie, broadcast to the rest of the country.

Right from the get go, Song Kang-ho has the power to allure even the snobbiest of film goer. He is the definition of a true star, but unlike most stars, at least in the Western reaches of cinema, Song can act like no one else of his caliber can. He's playing his typical goofy and sort of bumbling self, which he has gotten quite good at over the years, but as usual, he is very likable and charming in that offbeat way that only Song Kang-ho can do in the form that he does.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Jeepers Creepers 3 (2017)

Director: Victor Salva
Notable Cast: Meg Foster, Gabrielle Haugh, Stan Shaw, Joyce Giraud, Jordan Salloum, Ryan Moore, Brandon Smith, Gina Phillips, Jonathan Breck

For a little context, I’ve been a huge Jeepers Creepers fan since the original one came out in 2001 and even quite enjoy the second film. They are fun monster flicks with just enough oddities and dark humor to really run with the concept. Since Jeepers Creepers 2 came out, I’ve been anxiously awaiting the third film that has been rumored for years. Whether or not Salva was involved, I really wanted to see this series keep going. Ring in 2017, the year where things go horrifically awry, and Jeepers Creepers 3 ends up getting a one night theatrical showing in limited theaters and then premieres on the SYFY channel. It’s the latter where I was able to catch the film and…truthfully, it’s where it belongs. Not only is Jeepers Creepers 3 a terrible sequel to a surprisingly effective franchise, but it’s one of the worst films I’ve seen this year. To steal a common online phrase, it’s a dumpster fire.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Creep 2 (2017)

Director: Patrick Brice
Notable Cast: Mark Duplass, Desiree Akhavan, Karan Soni, Patrick Brice, Caveh Zahedi, Kyle Field, Jeff Man

Creep was one of those films that seemingly came out of nowhere, surprised the hell out of everyone that saw it, and created its own cult status through its ingenuity and impressive execution. It was also a film that, by the end, told the story it wanted to tell. Its strength was in its ability to ride a line where the audience didn’t know what was going to happen and who Duplass’ character really was, so when that is all covered by the end, the story was done. This is what made Creep 2 a wild card film. Sure, the first one was a low-key success and it received wide spread critical acclaim, but how do you pull out a sequel when the main contributing factor to the predecessor’s strength was its surprise?

You do it just like Creep 2 does it. It acknowledges that the audience is aware of the circumstances of the first film, continues to use its sense of unease and another stellar performance from Duplass as an anchor, and then spins those things back into creating that same sense of unease where viewers still don’t know how it’s going to end. Like the first one, it’s rather brilliant.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Let the Corpses Tan (2017)

Directors: Helene Cattet, Bruno Forzani
Notable Cast: Elina Lowensohn, Stephane Ferrara, Bernie Bonvoisin, Michelangelo Marchese, Marc Barbe, Marine Sainsily, Herve Sogne, Pierre Nisse, Aline Stevens, Dorylia Calmel, Marilyn Jess

Directors Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani have already established themselves as vulgar auteur artists. Their first two films, giallo inspired and mesmerizing horror films Amer and The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears, did divide horror fans with their intense modern manipulation of classic 70s Italian style, but in their efforts they have developed a devote cult following. A following that I subscribe to. When the chance arose to see their latest film, Let the Corpses Tan, at the Denver Film Festival, I was immediately there. The audience was new to the directors and their style, as indicated when the presenter asked who had seen their work and I was the only one to raise my hand, and, in all honesty, Let the Corpses Tan was a good way to introduce the audience to their work. It’s easily their most cohesive film when it comes to being consumable for viewers and while it still retains their often-abrasive moments of violence, eroticism, and dynamic narrative structures, the film has a lot more dialogue, plot, and defined characters than any of their previous work. And Let the Corpses Tan still soars as an artistic endeavor.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Red Christmas (2017)

Director: Craig Anderson
Notable Cast: Dee Wallace, Geoff Morrell, Sarah Bishop, David Collins, Janis McGavin, Gerard O’Dwyer, Bjorn Stewart, Deelia Meriel, Sam Campbell

Holiday themed slashers are all the craze right now and in indie, low budget horror it’s thriving. After watching films like All Through the House, A Christmas Horror Story, and having films like Good Tidings and Better Watch Out on my upcoming queue for the season, it felt proper to watch at least one during the Halloween binge I had in October. That film was the Australian film Red Christmas. Oozing with style, this controversial topic emblazoned slasher is pure exploitation (Ozploitation) and yet executed with absolute intent on being taken seriously as a horror film meant to stir a debate and it’s here that perhaps the film will either win its audience or lose them, as any truly effective cult film will accomplish. In that sense, it’s hard not to praise Red Christmas even if it has its problematic moments and pieces. Its intent is executed with style.

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Blood Splatter: 2017 Horror Vol. 3 [Creepy, Wish Upon, Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl]

CREEPY (2016/2017)
Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Notable Cast: Hidetoshi Nishijima, Yuko Takeuchi, Teruyuki Kagawa, Haruna Kawaguchi, Masahiro Higashide, Ryoko Fujino, Toru Baba, Takashi Sasano

When it was announced that auteur director Kiyoshi Kurosawa would be returning to the horror genre with his film Creepy, it was really, really hard not to get very, very excited. Between 1997’s Cure and 2001’s Pulse, the man had crafted truly artistic and effective horror films and it had been some time since he dabbled in the genre. Creepy not only lives up to the hype created by some of his previous genre outings, but it delivers some of the most unlikely unnerving moments of his career. The film is horrifyingly effective at developing a sense of dread and unease in its audience and it makes for one of the most satisfying horror watches I’ve had in a long time.

The Blackcoat's Daughter (2017)

Director: Oz Perkins
Notable Cast: Lucy Boynton, Kieman Shipka, Emma Roberts, James Remar, Lauren Holly, Emma Holzer, Peter J. Gray, Matthew Stefiuk

Oz Perkins is setting out to establish and conquer a niche corner of the horror spectrum. I was a massive fan of his previous (debut) film, I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House, and I was looking forward to see where he would go with his sophomore effort The Blackcoat’s Daughter. His first film was certainly divisive for those who watched it and while this one will most likely divide viewers again with its atmospheric and vague approach to plot, he improves on the style of his debut with a more complex narrative and even creepier unnerving tone that makes this film one of the best horror films of the year. This is a film that relies solely on execution to sell its concept and the execution is so effective that it didn’t need the plot, characters, or anything else to do the work for it. The Blackcoat’s Daughter is one of those statement films that earns its merits in that manner.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Broken Sword Hero (2017)

Director: Bin Bunluerit
Notable Cast: Buakaw Banchamek, Sornsin Maneewan, Nanthawut Boonrubsub, Pootarit Prombundal, Kochakorn Nimakorn, Rapeepat Ekpankul, Jaran Ngamdee, Nirut Saosudchart, Vannapoom Songsupap, Chutirada Junthit, Manop Aswathep

The martial arts quest film is one of the more popular formulas for the genre. Even if it comes as a part of the whole, having our heroes strive to learn more and better themselves through tests and challenges is a key part to the genre and one that fans usually celebrate with almost no regard to the actual quality of the quest itself. This is what makes the Thai period film Broken Sword Hero a rather fun twist on the usual tropes of the genre. It’s a quest film, certainly, but often times instead of just a series of montages showing growth or finding a single challenge they must overcome, Broken Sword Hero approaches it like a road trip film. There’s a destination and on the way our hero meets friends that become fellow travelers where they learn about themselves and the world around them as a vicious villain chases them down. It’s almost refreshing that the tone of the quest is different here and, in spite of some issues with the consistency of tone and some of the cheesier moments, it ends up being a highly enjoyable martial arts cinematic experience.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Creep (2014)

Director: Patrick Brice
Notable Cast: Mark Duplass, Patrick Brice, Katie Aselton

In the realm of Blumhouse films, Creep was one that they seemingly didn’t believe would generate box office buzz with more mainstream audiences and was eventually dropped to one of their straight to home video channels. In a way, it’s completely understandable. Creep is a strange film and one that isn’t nearly as exciting or wildly dynamic in its style that Blumhouse is known for catering in their theatrical horror releases. Yet, it’s also perhaps one of their more impressively executed films that takes the usual found footage elements and spins it on its head and delivers a film that accomplishes just what the title its audience tons of creeps. Sure, it was dumped to straight to home video, but it’s here where it will thrive.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Jigsaw (2017)

Directors: The Spierig Brothers
Notable Cast: Callum Keith Rennie, Cle Bennett, Matt Passmore, Hannah Emily Anderson, Mandela Van Peebles, Laura Vandervoort, Brittany Allen, Paul Braunstein, Joshiah Black, Tobin Bell

Saw was one of the first franchises that I felt like was connected to me. I was a freshman in college when the first one came out and I’ve seen every one in theaters, even going as far as defending it in many horror social groups as one of the truly iconic franchises of horror. Even then, the seventh Saw film – under whatever title you want to call it – ended the series on a low note. It was cartoonish and problematic. It, along with decreasing box office revenues, essentially killed the franchise. That is until rebooting everything became even more trendy than before and nostalgia started selling tickets even more. Thus, the return of ‘If it’s Halloween, it must be Saw’ with the 8th installment, Jigsaw. Let’s be honest though, this film has potential. The Spierig brothers in the director’s chair, time to not rush the film into production, and a new more cinematic look to the film all gave it a renewed sense of being a true ‘reboot’ without being a remake. Yet, as the credits rolled and the usual Saw music played after it revealed the usual spins and twists of plot, it was easy to feel underwhelmed. Jigsaw does indeed do what it wanted to by rebooting the franchise and still giving fans the pieces of the franchise they wanted, but it’s too safe. It adheres to its formula like it’s a religious reckoning, afraid to deviate too far and possibly alienate the inherent fanbase. In this effort, as a reboot it feels too much like a disconnected sequel and as a sequel it ignores the mythology too much to truly appease the super fans. Jigsaw is a fun Saw movie and hits all of those key moments and delivers on those goods, but is it so much to want more from it? Or has the franchise, even 7 years beyond the last entry, just too comfortable doing the same?

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Erik the Conqueror (1961)

Director: Mario Bava
Notable Cast: Cameron Mitchell, Alice Kessler, Ellen Kessler, George Ardisson, Andrea Cecchi, Jacques Delbo, Franco Giacobini, Raffaele Baldassarre, Enzo Doria, Gianni Solaro

No movie was safe from an Italian knock off, particularly if it was popular and made money. Almost every major genre film that made an impact in the 60s and 70s had its fair share of Italian rip offs whether it was Alien or Mad Max, Jaws or The Exorcist. In the case of this review, it was The Vikings that found itself the inspiration for its own brand of Italian spice. The trick of this one is that Erik the Conqueror, the film at the center of this review, just might actually be as good – if not better – than the film it was inspired by. Much of this has to do with its director, the iconic Mario Bava, who simply takes what could have (and rightly should have) been a carbon copy and injects a wickedly effective mesh of fantasy inspired visuals, charismatic performances, and occasionally surrealistic tones into an adventure film that rises well above and beyond the norm. Erik the Conqueror is more than a cash grab, it’s an artistically powered piece of cinematic entertainment that’s realized in all of the most amusing ways. No wonder this was on the list for a new Blu Ray release from Arrow Video. It’s a cult cinema dream and deserving of the attention of this release.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Leatherface (2017)

Directors: Julien Maury, Alexandre Bustillo
Notable Cast: Vanessa Grasse, Sam Strike, Stephen Dorff, Lili Taylor, Chris Adamson, Finn Jones, James Bloor, Jessica Madsen, Sam Coleman

All of the major horror franchises have had their ups and downs in quality. None of them are quite as intensely diverse or poorly constructed as a franchise as the Texas Chainsaw Massacre series though (although Amityville gives it a run for its money.) Starting off with one of the iconic films that continually influences the genre to this day, the rest of the series is a hodge podge of slashers that shift in style almost as much as they shift in quality. After the train wreck (but weirdly effective box office earner) that was Texas Chainsaw 3D, the series was in desperate need of an artistic overhaul. When they announced that French filmmakers Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo were going to take a stab at a prequel for the franchise, eventually titled Leatherface and not to be confused with Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, it was easy to get excited. While Leatherface is most definitely a unique spin on the usual Texas Chainsaw lore, it’s also a film that forces its hand a bit too often in trying to appeal to the fanbase and shock its audience. It’s a film with key moments of heightened effectiveness, but succumbs to the series’ lack of cohesion too.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Blade of the Immortal (2017)

Director: Takashi Miike
Notable Cast: Takuya Kimura, Hana Sugisaki, Sota Fukushi, Hayato Ichihara, Erika Toda, Kazuki Kitamura, Chiaki Kuriyama, Shinnosuke Mitsushima, Ichikawa Ebizo XI, Min Tanaka, Tsutomu Yamazaki

As it was very well publicized in the US as a marketing ploy for the film, Blade of the Immortal marks the 100th film by Takashi Miike (which, for the record and at the time of this review, he’s now in post-production of his 102nd film although that’s certainly a debatable number entirely based on the credits themselves, but I digress) and it’s fitting that this film would mark his transition into the triple digits. It’s not because Blade of the Immortal is his best film. When a dynamic director such as this gets to 100 films of such diversity it’s hard to make claims of what’s his ‘best’ simply due to the ground he has covered, but this film feels like one that’s decently consumable on a mass scale yet still feels like it pulls aspects from a lot of his various films for its execution too. It’s like a greatest hits of style and pieces of his long and illustrious career wrapped into one massively entertaining spectacle. While that sounds like perhaps the film is watered down overall, Blade of the Immortal is not. It’s a film that takes a rather simple core structure and builds a world of characters and gimmicks around it that never ceases to entertain and draw the audience into their lives. This is Miike at some of his most lavishly entertaining and it’s a celebration of his style that serves as a declaration of his continued momentum towards being one of the most ambitiously prolific directors ever in any worldly film market.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Brotherhood of Blades II: The Infernal Battlefield (2017)

Director: Lu Yang
Notable Cast: Chang Chen, Yang Mi, Zhang Yi, Olivia Wang, Tan Zhuo, Lei Jia-Yin, Xin Zhilei, Chin Shih-Chieh, Li Yuan, Mickey Yuan, Liu Feng-Chao, Wang Ren-Jun, Wu Xiao-Liang

Back in 2014, Brotherhood of Blades came out as a rather big surprise. For a modern wuxia, it had an impeccable sense of balance to its dramatic storytelling, old school Hong Kong style brotherly loyalty at its core, and a flashy sense of taking modern action and mixing it with classic wuxia elements. It was artistic enough to be effective and heartfelt, but entertaining enough to strike a chord with more mainstream audiences. It was also a surprise box office hit along with winning a few awards to add to its list of strong qualities. Fortunately, it was enough to warrant a franchise out of the film and this year we were given a prequel, Brotherhood of Blades II: The Infernal Battlefield, that tells the ‘origin’ story of Chang Chen’s character from the original film. As much as a prequel can horrifically backfire, in another round of surprises, Brotherhood of Blades II is just as impactful, fun, and effective as its predecessor. It’s inherently the same kind of film, a historically set wuxia surrounding a conspiracy with plenty of morally gray characters to fill out the tale, but it’s also one that strips the film back and refocuses itself on one key element: a love story. And it works brilliantly.

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Houses October Built 2 (2017)

Director: Bobby Roe
Notable Cast: Brandy Schaefer, Zack Andrews, Bobby Roe, Mikey Roe, Jeff Larson

The House October Built 2 was announced as a completed film only a few months before it debuted. Seeing as its predecessor built up a decent sized cult following of dedicated fans, a sequel was certainly one that was asked for, but not one that was wholly expected. Still, a franchise of building up a secret evil haunted house cult that hunted down people seemed intriguing and worthy of a expanded look through multiple entries. Even I got a bit excited at the idea and I didn't even even really like the first one. So with a returning director and the entire cast returning I was ready to see what The Houses October Built 2 was willing to take me. 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Cult of Chucky (2017)

Director: Don Mancini
Notable Cast: Fiona Dourif, Michael Therriault, Adam Hurtig, Alex Vincent, Elisabeth Rosen, Grace Lynn Kung, Marina Stephenson Kerr, Zak Santiago, Ali Tataryn, Jennifer Tilly, Brad Dourif, Summer H. Howell, Christine Elise

By the time that the fifth entry, Seed of Chucky, in the decades long Child’s Play franchise had arrived, the series felt wildly off track. This iconic horror franchise has always had its ups and downs, but the first ‘reinvention’ with Bride quickly fell stale and became a parody of itself without enough core horror elements to carry it. This left the stripped back and roots embracing sixth entry, Curse of Chucky, to become a breath of fresh air that displayed just why this series was so much fun to begin with. Now this little jaunt back in time for a couple of entries in the series may seem redundant for fans or those familiar with the Child’s Play franchise, but it’s important to remember now that the seventh one, Cult of Chucky, has been unleashed. That’s because this latest entry into the killer doll series is the perfect amount of traditional slasher and outlandish self-aware camp that we’ve all come to expect from Don Mancini and company. It’s delightfully aware of its own boundaries, maintains the pieces we all watch a Chucky movie to see, and still has no issue with breaking some new ground and pushing the series into some fresh feeling territory. It’s a film that covers a lot of territory and seemingly does it with relative ease to being one of the best of the franchise.

Don't Torture a Duckling (1972)

Director: Lucio Fulci
Notable Cast: Florinda Bolkan, Barbara Bouchet, Tomas Milian, Irene Papas, Marc Porel, Georges Wilson, Antonello Campodifiori, Ugo D’Alessio, Virgilio Gazzolo, Vito Passeri

Lucio Fulci will always be known as a godfather of gore with magnus opus films like Zombi 2 and The Beyond underneath his belt. Yet, the director was a much more diverse artist than just splattering the screen with death and violence and spent a large portion of his career dedicated to other styles and approaches. Of these other films, one of his most well regarded is his 1972 spin on the giallo genre, Don’t Torture a Duckling. Granted, giallo films are still firmly situated in the horror genre so it’s not a huge leap from his more wildly known material for readers of this site, but it’s one of those prime examples of how Fulci could handle horror with vicious elements without being necessarily in your face with it. Not only that, but Fulci accomplishes the task rather well by giving the film palpable tension and using the mystery murder plot to invoke some primal emotions through its thematic punch. It’s not one of his most upfront and thrilling films as Don’t Torture a Duckling does have some issues ultimately, but for fans of giallo films or those looking to dig into the genre, it’s one that deserves a look – particularly in the new jam-packed Arrow Video release.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Big Knife (1955)

Director: Robert Aldrich
Notable Cast: Jack Palance, Ida Lupino, Wendell Corey, Jean Hagen, Rod Steiger, Shelley Winters, Ilka Chase, Everett Sloane, Wesley Addy, Paul Langton, Nick Dennis, Michael Winkelman, Strother Martin

“I’m a deductible item. They write me off in the books!”

Perhaps the biggest thing that plays against The Big Knife is that it was released the same year as Robert Aldrich’s iconic film Kiss Me Deadly. While the former is not nearly as strong as the latter, for some reasons I’ll dig into here in a second, it’s not a film that should be as forgotten from the cinephile mainstream as it has been with time. It’s flawed, yes, but The Big Knife is also a film that provides a rather cynical and vicious look into the dark side of 1950s Hollywood ideals with its character study and dialogue focused framework that shines in its small details. It’s a film that may not interest the more casual film fan, but it’s a film that deserves to be viewed again with the brilliance of hindsight and this Arrow Academy release provides the perfect setting to do so. It’s one more moment where Arrow finds those hidden classics of cinema and brings them back into the light and with a film like The Big Knife it just might kick start a new found appreciation for a cult classic.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Babysitter (2017)

Director: McG
Notable Cast: Samara Weaving, Judah Lewis, Hana Mae Lee, Robbie Amell, Bella Thorne, Andrew Bachelor, Emily Alyn Lind, Leslie Bibb, Ken Marino

When The Babysitter was initially announced on the Netflix Original slate for October, I was intrigued by their commitment to horror comedies. First it was Little Evil, a surprisingly solid film in its own right, and then there was this one. Yet, the inclusion of McG in the director’s chair made me uncertain. Not that I inherently dislike McG, in fact I quite enjoy a chunk of his films, but he’s not necessarily known for his prowess in either the comedy or horror realms of film. It’s perhaps because of this that The Babysitter is so surprisingly fun and effective. It’s not the kind of film that’s going to be taking home awards or even go down as one of the best genre films of the year, but it’s a film that knows its quirks and embraces them rather spectacularly and in robust fashion.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Torso (1973)

Director: Sergio Martino
Notable Cast: Suzy Kendall, Tina Aumont, Luc Merenda, John Richardson, Roberto Bisacco, Ernesto Colli, Angela Covello, Carla Brait, Conchita Airoldi, Patrizia Adiutori, Luciano Bartoli, Gianni Greco, Luciano De Ambosis

Torso was one of those films that when I told my cinephile friends I hadn’t seen they would gasp in shock. ‘You really need to see it,’ they would say. ‘I know, I know. I’ll get to it eventually,’ I would reply. Yet, it took my sorry keister a decent amount of years to get around to it and if it wasn’t for the fact that it popped up to watch for free on my Amazon Prime account I would have probably waited longer. Even then, my initial plan was to put it on in the background as I folded laundry, so I didn’t plan to invest myself fully to the film. I’ll be damned though. Sergio Martino directs the hell out of it. Soon, I had forgotten my laundry and found the credits rolling and an hour and a half had disappeared. Torso was a much better film than the sleazy slasher/giallo hybrid concept made it sound and even though the film is flawed in many regards, Martino brings such a solid game to his direction that rarely did I get caught up in the problematic nuances while it was playing. It’s a film that was built to appeal to the more generic horror fans at its foundations of exploitation, but it’s shot and executed like it’s the best damn piece of cinematic art released that year and it’s that intent that carries the film through the tropes and clichés to being such a pleasant surprise.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Memoir of a Murderer (2017)

Director: Won Shin-yun
Notable Cast: Sol Kyung-gu, Kim Nam-gil, Kim Seol-hyun, Oh Dal-su, Hwang Seok-jeong, Gil Hae-yeon, Kim Han-joon, Shin Ki-joon, Kim Dong-hee, Kim Jung-young

After Well Go USA released the initial trailer for Memoir of a Murderer, I felt a tad underwhelmed. In many ways it looked like a less intense cross breeding of the phenomenally hard hitting I Saw the Devil mixed with the gimmicks of Memento. Yes, both of those films are fantastic, but considering the hype I had been hearing for Memoir, it did seem a tad underwhelming in the grander scheme of things. I guess I just have never learned my lesson. Never, ever underestimate the effective execution of a South Korean thriller. Not only does Memoir of a Murderer live up to the comparisons to both I Saw the Devil and Memento with the style and approach of its plotting, but it soars on its own powered by emotionally intense performances and one of the most engagingly shifty narratives to grace cinemas this year. Memoir of a Murderer is a thriller of the highest caliber ready to leave its viewers breathless and spinning in their own thoughts.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Gerald's Game (2017)

Director: Mike Flanagan
Notable Cast: Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood, Chiara Aurelia, Henry Thomas, Kate Siegel, Carel Struycken

In the attempt of being honest, I went into Gerald’s Game decently blind to the whole concept. I knew it was based on a Stephen King story, but beyond that the story and concept were not all that relevant to me. I knew that Netflix had given modern horror auteur director Mike Flanagan the reigns to the film (perhaps the one reason that I was truly excited to see it), but that was it. So when the film aptly came up and assaulted me with its sharp messages in its character study structure and fluidly crafted a film that blended dire realism with nightmarish blurred realities, it was a shock to the system. Not only is Gerald’s Game one best Netflix original films released by the increasingly fantastic original content from the streaming giant, it’s one of the best films of the year…period. It’s executed with the finesse of a craftsman at the height of his artistic talent and put together with the intelligence and fearlessness to not let it’s more ambitious portions stop it from going where it needs to. It’s a psychological horror film of the highest degree and it further proves the power of its creative foundations. Gerald’s Game is not a game at all. It’s a statement.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Director: Denis Villeneuve
Notable Cast: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri, Lennie James, Dave Bautista, Jared Leto, David Dastmalchian, Barkhad Abdi, Hiam Abbass, Wood Harris

The original Blade Runner has reached an almost God like status as a piece of cult cinema over the last 30 years. It was built on the recipe of such. It’s loosely based on a Philip K. Dick story, it’s a film meant to be outlandishly detail oriented, it’s science fiction that asks big questions and never answers them, and it has multiple cuts that fans can pick apart for its details and philosophical elements. For these things, it feeds into its own influential status in the science fiction genre along with being somewhat abrasive in its slow, stylish approach that often plays against the usual tropes which also makes it wildly divisive among cinephiles. It’s either worshipped or treated with disdain. Which gives it the ultimate cult status. When it was first announced that the sequel, ultimately titled Blade Runner 2049, would actually go forward with some of the hottest talent in the industry in director Denis Villeneuve and star Ryan Gosling, it was almost not believable. Could they pull off a film that retains the tone and style of the original (a divisive aspect of the film) to appease the long time fans, but find a way to advance the story 30 years after the fact? Oddly enough, the answer is very much yes to both of those. Not only does Blade Runner 2049 accomplish the feat of continuing the story without essentially remaking it, but it might even be more ambitious in its style and approach than the original. It’s also a film that may be even more divisive for the absolutely intense style and slow burn approach it uses, so like the original, it is not going to be for everyone.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Atomic Blonde (2017)

Director: David Leitch
Notable Cast: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Til Schweiger, Eddie Marsan, Sofia Boutella, Toby Jones, Bill Skarsgard, Sam Hargrave

It wasn’t that long ago that the action genre got a well-deserved injection in the mainstream consciousness from the first Taken film. It hit all the usual action tropes, but it struck a chord with audiences who bought into it with vigor. This same burst happened again with John Wick a few years ago, but this time it was less about fine tuning the action film style that was popular at the time and more about using style, simplicity, and an old school approach that made the connection with audiences. Call it what you will, but action right now is being propelled by the ‘John Wick Effect’ which itself was still riding a bit on the Taken and Bourne momentum. It has launched the creative careers of the members of 87 Eleven and made a stylistic impact. So when the two directors of John Wick decided to go their separate ways, it only meant that fans would get more. From Chad Stahelski we got the just as impressive John Wick: Chapter 2 and from David Leitch we got the graphic novel based film, Atomic Blonde. Now, the reason this brief recap of the events leading to Atomic Blonde is important is that it’s the measuring stick that this film will judged and it’s one of the reasons that it ultimately feels like more of a mixed effort. Atomic Blonde features some dynamic visuals, a fun classic action concept, and the usual impressive action, but it also suffers from one key problem: forced narrative, leaving the film feeling a bit more uneven than initially expected.

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Game Changer (2017)

Director: Gao Xixi
Notable Cast: Peter Ho, Huang Zitao, Guli Nazha, Wang Xueqi, Choo Ja-hyun, Jack Kao, Long Meizi

There is a cliché phrase used that says ‘there are two sides to every coin.’ Often, this is in reference to two separate ‘sides’ that are based on the same foundation or part of the same core. But I’m sure you know that. It’s why it’s a cliché phrase. Yet, this was a phrase that repeatedly slid through my head as The Game Changer played out in front of me. It’s a film that’s one part gangster drama and one part outlandish homage to John Woo action films, embedded in the same film. While both sides, the dramatic and the action packed, are part of the same film, they definitely feel as though they are on opposite ends of said same film. Both sides have their own fun details, including some concepts and visuals, but they feel disconnected. For what it’s worth, The Game Changer is still a lot of fun and has plenty of elements to admire, but as a cinematic whole is stumbles in trying to rise above being a silly action film leaving the results as two sides, enjoyable on their own, yet hardly connected.

Monday, September 25, 2017

The Ghoul (2017)

Director: Gareth Tunley
Notable Cast: Tom Meeten, Alice Lowe, Geoff McGivern, Niamh Cusack, Rufus Jones, Dan Skinner, Paul Kaye

When Arrow Video announced their release for The Ghoul, it was a little difficult to know what to expect. The collector focused company rarely releases newer films and when they do they usually pick unique if not provocative films to release under this arm of the company, so there is still something to be said about that. Partner that with an executive producer credit for Ben Wheatley and there is certainly some momentum the film has going for it. Yet, the lack of word of mouth in cult cinema circles seemed a bit concerning. The Ghoul, while certainly featuring some very strong elements that are popular in horror/thrillers, is a mixed effort. For all of its dramatic heft and intriguing ideas present in the film, it’s one that wavers with its slow burn narrative and struggles to make the connection with its vague portions. It’s a film that will definitely have its fans, but in a year where atmospheric horror thrillers are all the rage (and very impressive in quality) The Ghoul will not make the impact outside of its cult fan base.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

mother! (2017)

Director: Darren Aronofsky
Notable Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Domhnall Gleeson, Brian Gleeson, Kristen Wiig, Stephen McHattie

The artistic and atmospheric slant of horror films has seen a burst of activity in the last handful of years and it has garnered quite a bit of attention from critics AND the more casual film goer. This has seen a handful of films that normally would be pushed down to straight to home video status or limited release get a full theatrical drop. Some of these even have full backing support from studios. It’s this success, even on a small scale, that allowed mother! to get a much larger release than expected. It helps immensely when one considers the stacked casting and the appeal of artistic director Darren Aronofsky, but mother! is the kind of film that was definitely going to rub mainstream audiences the wrong way and it’s now well publicized ‘F’ Cinemascore from viewers solidifies that notion. Yet, mother! is not nearly as terrible as some critics and most audiences would have one believe. In fact, it’s an ambitious, provocative, and fully realized piece of cinematic art that pushes the boundaries. In a way, whether one agrees with the choices made in narrative or style of the film, it should be respected as a film that opens up an entire audience to an artistic version of horror film making that they may not have seen before. For that, mother! deserves some serious credit.

Ken and Kazu (2015)

Director: Shoji Hiroshi

Notable Cast: Shinsuke Kato, Katsuya Maiguma, Shuna Iijima, Kisetsu Fujiwara, Haruki Takano, Daisuke Ehara, Takuya Sugiwama

Every once in a great while, a film with real potential to become a great classic comes along, but it fails to be seen by enough people, thus rendering it into the obscurities of a sleeper hit. Ken and Kazu is that film in a nutshell. It's micro budget approach never hinders its big picture vision or execution. This is essentially a Best Picture nominee, without all of the fluff. In an ideal world, Japan would've chosen this film as its submission for the Academy Awards, and it would've been shortlisted, but it's always the gems like this that only get so far, but I digress. Ken and Kazu is a gripping tale of brotherhood, drugs, and redemption. Director Shoji Hiroshi crafts one of the strongest debuts in years, and sets him in a position to become one of contemporary Japan's cinema giants.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Shaolin Iron Finger (1977) / The Legendary Strike (1978)


Director: Wang Hung-Chang
Notable Cast: Carter Wong, Kam Kong, James Tin Chuen, Ricky Cheng, Woo Gam, Wai Wang, Yam Ho, Wan Chung-Shan, Yen Chung, Chin Lung

Outside of being a fan of Carter Wong, it was fairly easy to go into Shaolin Iron Finger with relatively no expectations. Yet, even with nothing to get my hopes up for expectations, the film tends to be underwhelming overall and finds itself the victim of a plethora of missed opportunities. It’s a shame too because the core story about a revolution imploding on itself is interesting and the fight work is decently done to be entertaining and fun, but the combination proves to be a mismatch. It’s awkward for most of its run time and not even some clever use of settings and a strong third act of martial arts action can save it.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Big Heat (1988)

Directors: Andrew Kam, Johnnie To
Notable Cast: Waise Lee, Matthew Wong, Phillip Kwok, Lionel Lo, Paul Chu, Betty Mak, Peter Lai, Stuart Ong, Robin Shou

There’s always a sense of shock and accomplishment when one discovers an overlooked diamond of a film out there in the black holes of the cinematic void. This is the feeling that overcame me when I sat down to watch the Hong Kong action flick The Big Heat with my brother the other day. As a fan of the cops n’ criminals genre of Hong Kong action flicks from the 80s and early 90s, I was also a tad shocked that this one has flown under the radar. Not only is this film good, but it’s packed with a phenomenal cast and co-directed by one of Hong Kong’s greatest directors, Johnnie To. The film itself is ripe with wonderful artistic direction, massively entertaining and vicious action sequences, and a darkness to its police team narrative that gives it an impressive depth. The Big Heat, despite its generic title, deserves to be listed among some of the best of the style and belongs up there in the ranks of classics from John Woo, Ringo Lam, and Tsui Hark.