Thursday, May 26, 2016

Iron Angels (1987)



Director: Teresa Woo
Notable Cast: Moon Lee, Alex Fong, Elaine Lui, Hideki Saijo, Yukari Ôshima, David Chiang, Hwang Jang Lee, Kwan Yeung
AKA: Angel, Fighting Madam, Midnight Angel

At this point in my life as a cinephile, I watch a lot of foreign films. I always have, generally speaking, but now it seems I do so with an almost fever pitch as cult cinema from around the world unfolds before me and I continually discover new films. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find a lot of foreign films that peak my interest at times and, in particular, the action films from Hong Kong in the 80s and 90s can be particularly troubling to find. Sometimes you just have to take what you are given like watching something online since you can’t seem to find it to purchase anymore. In this case, it’s the Hong Kong action spy film Iron Angels – also known as Fighting Madam, also known as Angel, also known as Midnight Angel. It’s known by a lot of titles, really, and the one that I found had the title Angel on its credits despite being labeled as Iron Angels which I’m sure complicates matters for newer releases. That’s beside the point, however, when we have a slick little cult gem of an action film like this one. The story is silly and it has the character depth of a child’s swimming pool, but the action…my, oh my, the action is sweet. For those looking for some 80s style Hong Kong entertainment, you could do a lot worse than Iron Angels which features enough intense action sequences to curb any action craving. You can certainly do better too, but that doesn't stop this one from being entertaining on its own grounds.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave, The (1971)



PART OF THE KILLER DAMES BOX SET FROM ARROW VIDEO

Director: Emilio Miraglia

Notable Cast: Anthony Steffan, Marina Malfatti, Rod Murdock, Giacomo Rossi Stuart, Umberto Raho, Roberto Maldera, Joan C. Davies, Erika Blanc

In an effort to set up a context for this review, I’ll admit – I made a mistake. Instead of watching the two films in the Killer Dames double feature box set in chronological order, I started with The Red Queen Kills Seven Times mostly due to its kickass title. I had little knowledge of either film prior to watching them, perhaps knowing that they were cult favorites for some of my giallo loving cohorts, and I was pleasantly surprised with the The Red Queen’s blend of gothic elements and giallo structures. Going into the previous film The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (which will be referred to as Evelyn from this point on) of similar style from director Miraglia, I had high hopes for another round of gothic giallo fun. However, The Red Queen was most definitely a more refined approach to this style. Evelyn is certainly a ballsy film at times, willing to sacrifice logic or narrative flow for the sake of a few shocks and revelations, but it sacrifices too much and it ends up feeling half cooked despite some strong visual elements and exciting concepts.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Red Queen Kills Seven Times, The (1972)



PART OF THE KILLER DAMES BOX SET FROM ARROW VIDEO

Director: Emilio Miraglia
Notable Cast: Barbara Bouchet, Ugo Pagliai, Marina Malfatti, Marino Mase, Maria Pia Giancaro, Sybil Danning, Nino Korda, Fabrizio Moresco, Rudolf Schundler

Being as this is the first year that I’ve really dug into the giallo genre with more than just a casual curiosity, I am finding myself starting to see the genre’s tones, patterns, and style that has set the sub-genre as a cult favorite for decades. It helps that Arrow Video has been intent on digging up not only the mainstream ones that everyone knows, but ones from the second tier level that are worthy of viewing as new releases for people like me who may not have gotten around to seeing them in previous formats. Their latest Blu Ray box set, Killer Dames, built with a double feature of giallo films from director Emilio Miraglia, sits right within that realm. The first film from the set I am reviewing, the awesomely titled The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (which will from this point just be referred to as The Red Queen) sports a slick mix of Italian gothic elements within the classic giallo structure and narrative approach. The film can be a bit scattered when it comes to drawing out a cohesive mystery to its plotting, but its flaws are made up for by a visual and auditory feast for giallo fans.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Return of the Sentimental Swordsman (1981)



Director: Chor Yuen

Notable Cast: Ti Lung, Alexander Fu Sheng, Derek Yee, Ku Feng, Ching Li, Choh Seung-wan, Lo Lieh, Ku Kuan-chung, Kara Hui, Tony Liu, Yueh Hua, Cheng Miu, Yuen Wah, Yuen Bun

“There’s no truth in the martial arts world. There’s only dead people, gold, and fame.”

After finally scoring the The Sentimental Swordsman trilogy to own, I was stoked to dive into this Chor Yuen directed wuxia series. They were huge box office smashes when they came out, they all feature robust casts, and I’m always a sucker for a franchise I haven’t seen yet. However, the original Sentimental Swordsman was a bit weaker than I was hoping (you can read my review HERE) and its eclectic approach and “too much material weakens the entire thing” writing left the film as a mixed bag. Its follow up, The Return of the Sentimental Swordsman, fixes a lot of the issues that arose in the original and delivers a truly thoughtful, engaging, and emotional Shaw Brothers style wuxia worthy of the franchise tag. Return is exactly what I expected from this series to begin with and it hits home with some great moments.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Hired to Kill (1990)



Director: Nico Mastorakis
Notable Cast: Brian Thompson, Oliver Reed, George Kennedy, Jose Ferrer, Michelle Moffett, Barbara Lee Alexander, Jordana Capra, Kendall Conrad, Kim Lonsdale, Jude Mussetter, Penelope Reed, David Sawyer, Angela Gerekou

“Murder, blood and paranoia are gonna make fine company where you’re going. ‘Cause ladies, you’re going to hell.”

As the credits rolled on Hired to Kill, I had an understanding of why Arrow Video might want to do a slick new Blu Ray release of this film. It’s bad. It’s really bad. Notoriously speaking, bad films have a fairly robust cult following and partnering that with such an odd ball cast and cult director Nico Mastorakis, it only makes this film ripe for cult film picking. However, even as a vulgar cinema auteur myself, it was hard for me to ignore just how bad it was and accept it for its entertainment value as a bad film. Particularly because Hired to Kill fails at having the two things needed to be a truly iconic B-movie: charm and style. The release itself is pristine, Arrow Video went balls out in its restoration and the behind the scenes material is remarkably fun, but the film itself is going to be horrendously hit or miss for action fans. Hired to Kill is the epitome of a love it or hate it kind of B-movie.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Baron Blood (1972)



Director: Mario Bava
Notable Cast: Elke Sommer, Massimo Birotti, Rada Rassimov, Antonio Cantafora, Umberto Raho, Joseph Cotton, Luciano Pigozzi, Dieter Tressler

Recently I held a discussion with some friends about the generally over used phrase ‘style over substance’ in cinema and its rather derogatory usage. Granted, I agree that substance always trumps style, but I would also make the argument that sometimes it’s perfectly fine for a film to have lots of style even if the substance part of its appeal is less than fulfilling. An archetypal example of this discussion and my stance on it is Baron Blood, one of director Mario Bava’s pre-slasher horror films that he was toying with in the early 70s. As you will see by the rating at the end of this review, Baron Blood is hardly a great film and the issues with its ‘substance’ certainly drag down a shallow script to what could have been a fascinating plot. However, the film is still very entertaining as it merges the cult and gothic tones of Black Sunday into what would end up being a slasher film form. Sure, its substance is a bit weak and the plotting horribly formulaic for someone 40 years later, but the style is so much fun that it carries a mediocre film into being rather memorable. ­­

Monday, May 9, 2016

Captain America: Civil War (2016)



Director: The Russo Brothers

Notable Cast: Chris Evans, Robert Downey, Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd, Emily VanCamp, Tom Holland, Frank Grillo, William Hurt, Daniel Bruhl

At this point, Marvel is a force of almost untouchable power when it comes to the summer blockbuster season. They are a cornerstone of modern cinema that earns praise and money in regular intervals. Whether you think they are overrated, underrated, or whatever, one cannot deny the powerhouse that the MCU has become in the cinema world. In a way, the Disney/Marvel money machine has made an interesting move to continually deliver what the audience wants (fun, action packed popcorn flicks), while pushing the boundaries of the franchise just enough to secure continued critic praise by occasionally fringing on new territory like space operas, political espionage, and heist tales. However, their latest entry into the MCU might be one of their most ambitious yet – taking the much praised comic book story of Civil War and translating it for their movie universe. It’s ambitious, dare I say impressively so at times, but it’s also not too far off from the proven formula to alienate the mainstream audience that earns the big bucks for them. While Captain America: Civil War isn’t quite as perfect as one might have hoped, it is mostly certainly a strong film in an already impressive series that earns its merits with charm, effective moments, and plenty of fan service.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Fantastic Four (2015)

Director: Josh Trank
Notable Cast: Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell, Reg E. Cathey, Tim Blake Nelson


It takes a lot of faith and execution to bring the Fantastic Four to the live action screen. It requires a lot of special effects, there has to be impeccable chemistry, and the story has to be one that will appease fans of the cosmic comic values, but be mainstream enough to sell to a bigger audience. This latest incarnation of Fantastic Four has essentially none of these things. The film’s horrific behind the scenes issues and the subsequent box office failure are both well documented in the logs of cinema history at this point, but it didn’t stop me from taking a gander at just what went wrong with this summer blockbuster. To be honest, it’s probably more precise to talk about what went…okay, more than just what went wrong, but needless to say Fantastic Four is a massive fantastic flop and worthy of a lot of the hate sent its way despite some intriguing concepts.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Dillinger (1973)



Director: John Milius
Notable Cast: Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Michelle Phillips, Harry Dean Stanton, Geoffrey Lewis, Richard Dreyfuss, Steve Kanaly, John P. Ryan, Frank McRae, Cloris Leachman

While there have been a handful of occasions where John Dillinger has been the focus of a film, whether it’s a fictionalized tale, documentary, TV movie, or the like, the 1973 film Dillinger from John Milius tends to be regarded as one of the best. This is my first time seeing the film personally and I was very excited going into it as I love the 1930s era gangster films. Tommy guns, fedoras, a general lack of regard for anything, but yourself. This era makes for great dramatic and action packed films. Dillinger does not disappoint in this regard. The film is remarkably artful in many regards, crafting a character from the historical bank robber that’s enigmatic and building a world around him that’s often as superfluous as his own personality is, and yet the film never actually strays from the formulaic main beats of the dramatic action film that the 70s really started to embrace in the wake of Bonnie and Clyde. Dillinger is an entertaining gangster, but it has a heart to it that beats in some unique ways.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Duel, The (1971)



Director: Chang Cheh
Notable Cast: Ti Lung, David Chiang, Wang Ping, Yue Wai, Chuen Yuen, Yeung Chi-hing, Ku Feng, Cheng Kang-hing

When it comes to Shaw Brothers fans, there is always those silly online debates about ‘who’s the best’ or ‘who’s your favorite Shaw Brothers actor’ that consistently go around. Of course, two of the names that repeated pop up in these discussions are Ti Lung and David Chiang. Let’s be honest, they are not only two of the most effective actors in the Shaw Brothers catalog, but they were popular at the time and the company capitalized on it. This capitalization on their success with audiences lead to The Duel, a film that was, more or less, commercialized on the idea that Lung and Chiang would be playing badass characters that would eventually take their fists to one another. While this sort of gimmicky concept seemed like a movie ticket sales gold mine to the Shaw Brothers, it helps when both actors have iconic director Chang Cheh to help them out. The results of this gimmick riddled idea? A movie that not only surpasses its concept, but leaves a trail of really impressive thematic material worthy of the time to dive into it.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Green Room (2016)



Director: Jeremy Saulnier

Notable Cast: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, Callum Turner, Patrick Stewart, Macon Blair, Mark Webber, Taylor Tunes, Eric Edelstein

Like most people that I’ve spoken with, my introduction to writer and director Jeremy Saulnier came with his critically acclaimed 2013 film Blue Ruin. While not directly horror in many regards, that film certainly left its mark in many ways and Saulnier almost instantly became one of the freshest voices in genre filmmaking. The film was so strong and so critically hailed that his follow up was almost guaranteed to be a film that met the unblinking and judging eyes of both critics and fans alike. So in a way, his latest film Green Room is going to disappoint on some level if it didn’t meet the sheer power and execution of Blue Ruin. To be upfront, it doesn’t and it’s hard to say that on some level I wasn’t slightly let down by Green Room too thanks to the lofty expectations I had going in. On the flip side though, the film is still a very effective and brutal horror thriller filled with tight tension and shockingly concussive twists that is going to please all genre fans on some level.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

High-Rise (2016)

Director: Ben Wheatley

Notable Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Luke Evans, Jeremy Irons, Elisabeth Moss, Sienna Miller, Sienna Guillory, Reece Shearsmith

I've been a big fan of Mr. Ben Wheatley for quite some time now. The 1st film I saw of his was Kill List. Love that one! Went back and watched Down Terrace. Quite like that one! Sightseers came out, fell in love with it as well, and the same could be said for A Field in England, which some people tend to take way too serious for some reason.

He got four films out in a span of just a handful of years and shot to fame and became one of the most well-known modern directors of the UK, alongside likes of someone like Edgar Wright. So Wheatley finds himself with his biggest budget yet, and makes what we have here, High-Rise.