Sunday, September 14, 2014

TOP TEN: Godzilla Films


Godzilla: King of the Monsters...and franchises!

With the home release of Legendary’s Godzilla reboot on the horizon, we felt it was high time to build another Blood Brothers top ten list for one of our favorite franchise of all time. Prior to the release of the latest installment (and second American attempt at kick starting a US franchise for Big G), I blasted through all of the Godzilla films in an attempt to relive my youth and refresh my memory. As I went through the films, I ranked each one to create this top ten list. Included with each entry is a brief explanation of why it deserves to make the list and the best Godzilla WTF Moment of the film. I hope that our readers enjoy this list as it was a hard one to finalize for me due to my life long relationship with the King of the Monsters. If you agree or disagree, feel free to spit some blood in the comments section below with your bloody two-cents. Until then, enjoy Blood Brothers’ Top Ten Godzilla Films!




10. GODZILLA AGAINST MECHAGODZILLA (2002)

             




Perhaps my favorite era of Godzilla is the 2000s series, where continuity finally seemed to matter, the special effects were top notch, and the series decided to push a few boundaries by moving Godzilla away from being a full on good guy or villain as a character. After the disappointing previous entry, the series returns to one of its other iconic characters with Mechagodzilla for another epic showdown. While the concept of this one is fairly ridiculous, the focus on stronger character depth adds a more humane aspect to the kaiju proceedings…of which the final act is pretty awesome anyway.


09. GODZILLA: TOKYO S.O.S. (2003)

             




This direct sequel to Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (and various other Toho films like Mothra) actually improves on many elements of the previous entry as it pulls further from some of the comic book lead characters and adds a bit more drama to the mix. Not to mention it’s always awesome to have Mothra involved again as a hero of sorts. The final act is ridiculously epic and worth the price of purchase alone.


08. KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1962)

            




Say what you will about the cheesy elements of King Kong Vs. Godzilla, but this film is a fucking riot from minute one. While I have only seen some shitty versions of the original Japanese cut of the film, even the American version (complete with the most watered down newscaster cut scenes known to man) is a blast to watch. Rarely does this film make sense thanks to some issues with the script and obvious attempts at just being outrageous, but this one has some of the most iconic moments of the series…even if that includes Kong being airlifted by weather balloons while drunk on berry juice. Not to mention you get to see Godzilla punch his way out of an iceberg.


07. GODZILLA: FINAL WARS (2004)

             




This is easily the most controversial choice from the series to make my top ten list for the Godzilla franchise, but I’ll be damned if I don’t have a blast watching Godzilla: Final Wars time and time again. It throws in everything into the mix. Relentless kaiju battles for the last half, all of the iconic Toho monsters and freak plot progressions, martial arts fight sequences, motorcycle chases, aliens, enemies that morph into different forms, and super cheesy CGI mixed with the rubber suit vs model madness. It’s crazy eclectic, but it succeeds in a B-grade film sort of way to be so entertaining that it rarely pulls off of the gas pedal. For that, it ends up being one of my favorites and one of the most interesting entries into this franchise.


06. GHIDRAH: THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER (1964)

AKA INVASION OF ASTRO MONSTER

             

I love the look and arch-nemesis status of Ghidorah from the original series, but too often he was thrown in with not enough back story or as a filler enemy in later entries. For his debut though, Ghidorah is treated as a truly vicious and world ending threat for humanity and thusly, kaiju all over. This film also succeeds in its structure as we see other iconic monsters (Rodan and Mothra) having to team together to defeat this latest threat in the final act. It’s almost like the film plays out as a morality tale about putting aside differences for the betterment of our world and despite its somewhat silly ‘alien’ plot thread, works impressively as a science fiction tale. 

05. GODZILLA (2014)

           

While the reviews originally came out mixed for this newest slab of kaiju destruction at the hands of Big G, I loved it. It teases with the audience and really brings Godzilla bravely into a modern era, throwing in just enough references to previous entries for the fans and adding in some new material for the young folks unfamiliar with the franchise. While it’s the only full CGI Godzilla flick to make this list, director Edwards knows how to shoot an action sequence with kaiju for this day and age and the film has one of the best fights in the last act. Critics can bitch about all the writing issues they want, but I'm guessing that they haven't seen many of the other films to see how it fits into the franchise. I'm guess none of them really remember the horrid Godzilla Vs. Megalon.

04. GODZILLA VS. DESTROYAH (1995)

             

For this entry, the series takes a darker and almost Lovecraftian turn. Destroyah might be one of Godzilla’s most vicious foes as he shifts and splits into various forms as unrelenting ass kicking. Not only that, but Godzilla is threatening to go all nuclear meltdown on us (giving him a smoky orange glow) and his now grown son – a story thread from the last few – is going to have to help him take out the new monster. The stakes are super high, the human element is one marked with panic, and the top notch costuming make this one a must see. This is one of the few Godzilla entries that even has a bit of a horror streak to it.

03. MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA (1964)

            


I’m not entirely sold on the original Godzilla series that lasted through the 70s, as one can see from this list, as that series focused more on making Godzilla a protector of Earth and heavily focused on science fiction aspects, but pitting Big G versus the ‘real’ protector of nature Mothra was an awesome idea. Mothra might have some hard to swallow fantasy aspects to it, but the resulting multi-tiered battles in the film make this one instantly memorable and well balanced with a human stance that would quickly get lost in the shuffle in later entries. It can be a bit cheesy, but the resulting mix of thematic moral lessons and kaiju throwdowns is worth it.

02. GODZILLA, MOTHRA, AND KING GHIDORAH: GIANT MONSTERS ALL-OUT ATTACK (2001)

           
Coming off strong from his 90s trilogy of Gamera films, director Shusuke Kaneko takes his entry into the Godzilla franchise in wholly new directions. For Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (often shortened to GMK,) he establishes Godzilla as the ultimate bad guy – powered by the ghosts of those killed in WWII nonetheless – and humanity must awaken the three protectors of Earth to stop him from annihilating all of Japan. This entry is substantially darker, more violent, and heavier than almost any of the previous entries as Godzilla is fucking ruthless (pure white eyes and all) to the point that you’re not sure who will win at the end. [Spoiler] Particularly when Godzilla fucking executes Baragon at the mid waypoint. Nothing is safe in this film and the resulting flick is awesome kaiju ecstasy through and through.

01. GODZILLA (1954)

             
The obvious choice for the best Godzilla film to be made thus far, the original Godzilla still reigns supreme as king of the monsters. With remarkably little screen time to actually destroy things, Godzilla remains a heavy presence through the strong character actions and interactions as the symbolism of Japan’s fear about the aftermath of the nuclear destruction in WWII. Godzilla is less of a monster and more of a symbol in this film and it works in spades to deliver a thoughtful film that parallels reality with a giant monster film onscreen. It also has a very memorable city destruction sequence for those looking for some kaiju action.

Agree or disagree with this list? Spit some blood below and let us know which films you think should have made the Top Ten Godzilla Films list!

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Replacement Killers, The (1998)


Director: Antoine Fuqua
Notable Cast: Chow Yun Fat, Mira Sorvino, Michael Rooker, Kenneth Tsang, Jurgen Prochnow, Til Schweiger, Danny Trejo, Clifton Collins Jr

With the upcoming release of The Equalizer, I felt it was high time to revisit director Antoine Fuqua’s debut feature film The Replacement Killers. As a young man just discovering the brilliance of Hong Kong cinema in the late 90s and early 00s I was obsessed with this film. The combination of flashy American action style and the badassness of Chow Yun Fat really hit the spot. Rewatching the film as an adult has lead me to a few conclusions: firstly, the film is not as great as memory would indicate and secondly, the film is still utterly badass in many ways. Sure it’s a pretty simple film and it lacks some cohesive narrative at times, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I still was massively entertained by the entire thing. It might not be as classic as other Chow Yun Fat action vehicles like Hard Boiled or The Killer, but it’s still a blast.

John Lee (Chow Yun Fat) is indebted to Mr. Wei and he owes him three assassinations. The first ones are easy, rival gangsters in the US that don’t sport any threat to the gun fu talents of his double wielding handguns. The third however is a kill he cannot bring himself to finish and Mr. Wei is not happy with that. Now John Lee must get help from a rogue forger (Sorvino) to get out of the country before his replacement killers find him and make sure he stays…permanently.

Having Chow Yun Fat at your side means you're already winning.
Antoine Fuqua’s debut is, generally speaking, a mixed effort. The script is rather plain and there isn’t a lot of back story to build on for the various characters to have the emotional impact that they could have. Chow Yun Fat plays the vicious hitman with a heart…again. Mira Sorvino plays an edgy document forger that seemingly never has time to put on a damn shirt under her jacket. Yawn. At its core, this film is a pretty by-the-numbers action thriller that rarely inspires the kind of dedication that it could have with a bit more connection and depth to the various characters to heighten the situational tension. The narrative is predictable too which doesn’t help matter at all. Oh jeez, he has a change of heart and decides he needs to put a stop to the violence. Tell me more, movie.

The reason that this film is utterly badass is that it feels like the bastardized child between a 90s music video and a John Woo film. First time film director Antoine Fuqua owes a lot his style to John Woo for this picture (either that or the producers forced his hand towards that direction) and the resulting combination of bullet ballets and the bright colors and quirky side characters is something of the perfect example of 90s style. The film is littered with gun fights, done with the delicate balance of a dance ala Woo and Chow Yun Fat films previous like Hard Boiled, and The Replacement Killers keeps the pacing so quick and dirty that its hard not to just enjoy it for what it is as it vomits style-over-substance right in front of you. This film also has the benefit of having one of the greatest B-cult secondary casts of all time featuring the likes of Michael Rooker as the main cop and a set of villains that includes Kenneth Tsang, Jurgen Prochnow, Til Schweiger, and the ever awesome Danny Trejo. Trejo and Chow Yun Fat have a great gun battle on a fire escape in the final act that makes The Replacement Killers worth the watch just by itself.

Michael Rooker is always awesome...gun or not.
While The Replacement Killers is not a perfect film with its cliché writing and often muddled script, it does have the benefit of feeling like a music video version of a John Woo film. It’s littered with fun and charming B-grade elements (seeing Chow Yun Fat stop himself from sliding in a car wash with the barrels of his duel handguns for example) and for those looking for a solid enough revenge action thriller it’s a decent choice. It still gets a big old recommendation from me.

Written By Matt Reifschneider


Sunday, September 7, 2014

November Man, The (2014)


Director: Roger Donaldson
Notable Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Luke Bracey, Olga Kurylenko, Bill Smitrovich, Amila Terzimehic, Lazar Ristovski, Mediha Musliovic

"This is my scenario."

Since leaving the world of James Bond after Die Another Day, Pierce Brosnan’s career has been a roller coaster one where he has refused to be cornered into doing Bond knock offs. When the trailer for The November Man hit online, I was shocked to see a Bond-esque film featuring the enigmatic Brosnan drop…theatrically on top of it. Don’t let those adverts fool you though; The November Man is NOT a Bond knock off. In fact, it’s relatively far from it. This film is a throwback style spy thriller that earns its ‘R’ rating with violence and some darker thematic material. It’s plot and character heavy and it came as a complete and utter pleasant surprise.

Devereaux (Brosnan) has been out of the game for five years or so living comfortably in solitude in Europe. When his ex-handler comes out to give him an op at the request of a Russian woman, he can’t say no. Unfortunately, the job is massively complicated and Devereaux is quick to find out that he might just be a pawn in a much bigger game. Now he’s on the hunt for a woman who knows information about an upcoming Russian President elect and he’s being hunted by his own protégé (Bracey). Shit has, quite frankly, hit the fan.

Bullets kill people. So does Devereaux.
The best part of The November Man – and perhaps the most surprising – is how much of an anti-hero Brosnan plays in the role of Devereaux. Seriously, this guy is charming, as Brosnan always is on screen, but he’s a cold son of a bitch at times and it’s a delightful role that Brosnan seems to revel in with the film. Whether he’s dropping f-bombs, brashly party crashing on a strip club, or holding his protégé’s girlfriend hostage (the latter resulting in some of the best intense moments of the film), Brosnan is wholly up for the entire gig and plays the balance between cold killer and thoughtful hero with remarkable ease. If only his later Bond films would have utilized this more serious side of his acting abilities then perhaps he wouldn’t have been such a Roger Moore clone in the end. Luckily, this film makes up for a lot of it.


From there The November Man, like many of the newer throwback thrillers in the vein of Jack Reacher or Dead Man Down, caters heavily to a twisting plot painted with darker content. At times I was wishing that they would slow it down just a tad to give a bit more character work for the slew of characters in the film (his protégé Mason, despite the focus on him in the advertisements, tends to be one of the weaker characters overall), but the film moves at such a quick pace that rarely did I have time to notice the small things until well after the film had ended. The November Man does throw in plenty of action-oriented sequences to keep that pacing up and they work ridiculously well in the cat-n-mouse chase aspect of the film. Director Donaldson seems to know what it takes to make an old school written thriller like this appeal to a modern audience and he injects just enough pizzazz to keep the film a high-octane entertainer. There is even a pretty impressive fistfight between teacher and student in the final act that impressed the action fan in me.

Say cheese.
The November Man is the kind of film that probably won’t attract a lot of massive attention from mainstream moviegoers, but it should. It’s a well-crafted action thriller that earns its merits from great characters and a relentless pacing punctuated with some action set pieces. While I’m sure Brosnan won’t see the Neeson bump that Taken gave him, but The November Man remains one of the biggest surprise of 2014 and one that hopefully earn Brosnan another franchise.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Friday, September 5, 2014

Fight, Zatoichi, Fight (1964)


Director:Kenji Misumi
Notable Cast: Shintaro Katsu, Gen Kimura, Shosaku Sugiyama, Hizuro Takachiho, Nobuo Kaneko, Ikuko Mori


“You call yourselves human beings? So long as you can fill your own purses, you don’t give a damn what it might mean to someone else. Not even to an innocent child.”

When it comes down to it and your franchise is sliding in quality at a decent rate like Zatoichi had been for the last couple of films then go back to basics and find your footing. That is exactly what Fight, Zatoichi, Fight does. Despite its silly grindhouse sounding title, the franchise whips back to have Kenji Misumi, director of the first film, to helm this eighth entry and it reverts the style back into the character driven dramatic territory. It might not be the thrill n’ kill style that fans will have gotten used to with the last few films, but the thoughtful writing and impact is a welcome change of pace.

Zatoichi (Shintaro Katsu) continues to wander his way around Japan, desperately avoiding assassins at every turn. When a young woman traveling with her young baby son is killed by ronin who mistake her carriage for Zatoichi’s, Zatoichi takes it upon himself to deliver the baby to his father come hell or high water.

Dark alleyways will not help against a blind man.
When I first read that Fight, Zatoichi, Fight would essentially throw in the gimmick that our heroic blind swordsman would be hindered by a baby, I was skeptical. I figured it would end up much like the previous entry with its comedic focus and silly fight sequences. This is not the case with this film though. Misumi decidedly takes a far more dramatic tone for the film focusing more on how the baby affects Zatoichi’s character than using it as a gimmick for entertainment. It’s shockingly effective. Katsu once again owns these various scenes milking them for those long dramatic beats and tugs on the viewer’s heartstrings as he makes a connection with another human being like we have never seen before. The addition of a ‘nanny’ – a thief hired by Zatoichi to help him – adds to the emotional impact too in the end of the film as this rag tag family fights their way to deliver this child.

That being said, the biggest thing that does suffer from the new focus on characters and interactions is the finale. While the film does move briskly with plenty of fighting throughout, the last few films have really set a new standard for an exciting last act and this is where Fight, Zatoichi, Fight struggles the most. While the film has a lot of emotional impact in the last 20 minutes, the actual final battle seems a bit brief and lacks some of the creative spectacle that the previous films had. I mean, outside of Zatoichi having to battle while partially on fire.

A patchwork family.
While Fight, Zatoichi, Fight might not be the most exciting of films as it lacks a bit of the thrill n’ kill style of the more grind oriented entries, the return to character driven dramatic beats is a welcome change of pace and ultimately makes this eighth entry better than the last few. The emotions run stronger, Katsu delivers another memorable performance, and the film is paced damn near perfectly. Had the finale been a bit more intense, then this one might have ranked up there with the best. As is, Fight, Zatoichi, Fight is a strong entry moving in the right direction.

Written By Matt Reifschneider


Monday, September 1, 2014

Need For Speed (2014)


Director: Scott Waugh
Notable Cast: Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Imogen Poots, Michael Keaton, Scott Mescudi, Ramon Rodriguez, Rami Malek, Harrison Gilbertson, Dakota Johnson

When it comes to film adaptations of videogames, I can’t say I necessarily have high expectations. When it’s an adaptation of a racing game, then color my expectations even lower than normal. These expectations might be the reason I was so pleasantly surprised with the quality of Need For Speed. It’s definitely not a perfect film, but when your core basis is a game where you simply outrace others and run from cops then most things are going to be an upgrade in quality. The film does tend to be a mixed bag at times as it blends the various aspects of race, drama, and action, but overall it does hold it’s own.

Tobey (Paul) has had trouble making ends meet for his garage and the late night races don’t quite do it. When an old nemesis Dino (Cooper) wants him to work on the a dream car for big money, he can’t say no…but things spiral out of control and it leaves Tobey convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. To prove his innocence when he gets out, he looks to challenge Dino to a race he can’t refuse…but he’s got a long way to go and a short time to do it in.

"Oh yeah, I'm in a video game movie."
I think the key to the success of Need For Speed lies in the hands of director Scott Waugh. As a former stuntman and stunt coordinator, he simply gets it when it comes to a film like this. Right away in the opening race sequence, it’s obvious that he has a knack for filming and owning action sequences with the night color palettes and smart camera work. None of that quick edit bullshit, he shows us objects moving through space and paces it perfectly. He does this consistently throughout the film, owning the car stunts throughout (explosions too!) no matter how ridiculous the script seems to get. By the finale, the biggest nod the namesake game franchise, I felt like he might be one of the best directors to hit the action scene in quite some time.


From there though, the film is a bit more hit or miss. Aaron Paul is given a character that’s almost too subtle with his under brow stares and lacking dialogue and many of the dramatic beats are a bit forced – particularly when it comes to his rivalry with Domic Cooper’s character Dino which includes a really awkward old girlfriend subplot that doesn’t really work. Luckily, Need For Speed seemingly knows this and doesn’t spend too much time with extensive character moments and keeps the pacing fast and furious (see what I did there?). The chemistry between Paul and Poots is fun and works much better than I would have ever expected and a silly running commentary from Michael Keaton’s reclusive racing host is B-grade hilarity. Where the film doesn’t succeed in deep thoughtful dramatic moments, it makes up for in fun charismatic streaks.

It's a car. It's a plane...nope, it's just a car.
While Need For Speed isn’t an Oscar contender, for a video game adaptation it’s one of the best. The pacing is strong despite being a bit overlong and Waugh takes a sub-mediocre script and makes it a fun and action oriented film that’s worthy of the namesake. This was definitely one of the bigger surprises for 2014 and one that comes with my recommendation for those who enjoy a good car film.

Written By Matt Reifschneider 


Sunday, August 31, 2014

Zatoichi's Flashing Sword (1964)


Director: Kazuo Ikehiro
Notable Cast: Shintaro Katsu, Naoko Kubo, Mayumi Nagisa, Takashi Edajima, Tatsuo Endo, Yutaka Nakamura, Bokuzen Hidari, Ikuko Mori

As my journey with Zatoichi continues, I have to be thankful for one thing: at least these films like to throw in some different styles and approaches to keep things interesting. Too much of the same thing can definitely be a bad thing. For the seventh film of the franchise, Zatoichi’s Flashing Sword, the film takes a duel identity to proceed with another adventure for our blind samurai hero. This entry is handedly the weakest thus far, continuing a downward slide for the series, but it’s saved by a strong third act and some fun set pieces throughout.

Zatoichi (Katsu) is still hunted by his enemies and when a young man shoots him while on the run, he finds refuge in a small river village where a young friend take him into her father’s home. There he finds that her father is at odds with the leader of another village across the river and the villainous yakuza has a deal with the local law enforcement to try and force him out of his business deal for trade on the river. Zatoichi’s presence complicates matters as he is forced to draw his impeccably fast sword once again.

Always keep your distance from a samurai.
Zatoichi’s Flashing Sword is a tale of two films, stylistically speaking anyway. The two halves go about continuing the story with some substantially different tactics that make the film feel a bit schizophrenic at times. The first half of the film is dedicated to approaching the origin of the plot with more a humorous twist. The opening sequence sees our blind hero sleeping an inn and when three pesky flies continually bother him, he whips out his sword to cut them down in mid-air haphazardly throwing in a ‘damn flies’ line to the stunned residents of the inn. This is an indicator to what the first half will be like and while the plot doesn’t necessarily follow the style (a tense chase in the opening that sees Zatoichi shot rarely carries the tension it needs) the film pushes the slapstick humor forward time and again – whether it works or not.

He'll light you up.
The second half is a different tone altogether. By the half way point of the film, Zatoichi’s Flashing Sword drops the humor for a more traditional samurai film style and it works much, much better. Here we are finally introduced to the uprising tension between the two businessmen and the plot starts to get a bit more complicated. Granted it felt like Zatoichi was a secondary character in his own film for most of the second act as it tries to establish the players of this swaggering samurai flick, but the turn in style works. This leads to perhaps the best portion of the film – the final act. At this point director Ikehiro struts his grindhouse stuff (much more aligned with his work in the previous installment Zatoichi and the Chest of Gold) and throws in all kinds of great badass material. Starting with an underwater sword fight (!) the movie moves to the final act that is back dropped at night during a fireworks show where Zatoichi proceeds to fight off an entire clan of samurai to the bright red and blue colors of the entertainment display in the background. It’s awesome and made the rest of the film worth sitting through.

It's gonna be a blood bath.
While Zatoichi’s Flashing Sword continues the downward slide of overall quality for the franchise, the film is almost saved by its last act – a brilliantly shot and well choreographed assassination that makes one of the best sequences in the series. The rest, however, tends to be lacking the characters and plot to be even considered one of the best. The humor is mostly forced and even the plot’s conveniences are not sold well enough for me to recommend it outside of fans of the series. Here’s to hoping that the next installment is a bit more cohesive.

Written By Matt Reifschneider


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014)


Directors: Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller
Notable Cast: Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rosario Dawson, Bruce Willis, Eva Green, Powers Boothe, Dennis Haysbert, Ray Liotta, Christopher Meloni, Jeremy Piven, Christopher Lloyd, Jaime King, Juno Temple, Jamie Chung, Lady Gaga

“Looks like Christmas.” –Marv

A part of me feels a bit bad for Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. Almost a decade after the original wowed and wooed audiences with its ‘ripped from the pages’ visual style and over the top grindhouse quirkiness, this film was almost destined for failure. Ten years is too long and the hype has since worn down as others films took the same concepts and went to new places with them. Match that with the faltering career of cult director Robert Rodriguez who has seen each of his films and/or franchise crumble over time and Sin City 2 was almost bound to fail. A little over $6 million on opening weekend simply proved it. While I still enjoyed my second trip to Basin City in a sort of B-movie way, word of mouth is not going to be pretty for this film either as it feels rushed, flat, and not nearly as charming.

Sin City has always been a boiling pot of corruption, violence, and sex. For a group of its citizens like gambler Johnny (Levitt), maniac Marv (Rourke), the disgruntled Nancy (Alba), or love drunk Dwight (Brolin), it’s a place where their talents can find a way to be used…and when its against some of the more powerful villains of the city like Lord (Green) or Roarke (Booth) then it might just turn brutal.

Poor Nancy.
For a film that took almost a decade to be released, A Dame to Kill For certainly felt rushed. At times it even felt like it might have been a straight to home video sequel to the dynamic original. It’s inferior in every aspect to the original one. The visuals are pretty up to par, but the film tends to almost play it safer this time around in how it uses them; lacking the thoughtful juxtaposition between the blacks, whites, and colors that I would have expected. Perhaps the awe of the style has simply worn thin in the time between the films. Truthfully though, the visuals are still probably the best part of this film and they really do work to pull the audience into the world of Sin City.


The main reason that A Dame to Kill For stumbles out of the gate is the much weaker script. When it kicked off with a brief intro story featuring Mickey Rourke as the iconic Marv from the first film (who actually makes an appearance in every story in the film, which sort of left me baffled to the timing of the stories compared to his fate in Sin City) one could already tell it was going to be rough going. Despite a slew of brilliant actors, the blend of extensive voice over narration and character beats inherently lacks the charm and pacing that would have made this film work. By the time we get to the different stories that wrap around one another, the stumbling structure doesn’t help matters either and the film lacks punch and pace to accomplish any kind of flow. Too much of the plot progressions feel forced and too many of the characters lack the subtle depth to their extreme exteriors. The one exception to this is the character Johnny, played with contagious charisma by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, whose original story plays out with relative ease and ends on a rather bitter sweet moment. Outside of that (and perhaps the scene eating abilites of Powers Boothe as the villain), the rest falls flat. How could an intriguing character like Dwight, played by Clive Owen in the first film, become such a lackluster caricature in this one? Especially with Josh Brolin?

Best surprise of the film: Christopher Lloyd!
While I still had a fair amount of fun diving back into the neo-noir world of Sin City with its vicious over the top violence and fruity one liners, the entire experience felt forced and rushed. Certain characters felt plugged in (Bruce Willis should have never spoken…it would have been a stronger punch) and even the stronger elements like Eva Green as the titular villain seem to drown in the stuttering structure. Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller must have felt it was necessary to make up for her lack of charisma onscreen with Josh Brolin by just making her nude 90% of the time. It’s choices like this that make A Dame to Kill For a massive disappointment – one of the biggest of the year. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Expendables 3, The (2014)


Director: Patrick Hughes
Notable Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Wesley Snipes, Mel Gibson, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Terry Crews, Kelsey Grammer, Glen Powell, Antonio Banderas, Victor Ortiz, Ronda Rousey, Kellan Lutz, Jet Li, Ivan Kostadinov, and a surprise cameo from Robert Davi

For me, The Expendables franchise is something of a gift. Years of money, time, and dedication to the B and A-grade action icons of three decades colliding in a fun series of films that worship the style and structures of an era that was mostly killed by the likes of Michael Bay and Paul WS Anderson. So when The Expendables 3 decided to add in a slew of young actors and actresses to the fold, I was a bit skeptical. It was deviating from what made me love the first two films. They weren’t broke, were they? Did they have to fix it? Did they really have to appeal to the youth with new hip stars and a PG-13 rating? The short answer is no. No, they didn’t. The resulting mixture of old and new school elements doesn’t always work for this third entry into the supergroup franchise. Yet even with all of the missed punches it’s hard not to have a fun time with the film. So it has that going for it.

After breaking out Doc (Snipes) from a vicious prison, The Expendables set out to finish their latest job – hunting down a guns dealer that turns out to be an old friend Stonebanks (Gibson), who was one of the founding members of the team. In a moment of fear, Barney (Stallone) decides to let his team go and recruit various younger members to help him hunt down his old adversary…but it’s going to take all of them to accomplish the mission.

Some motherfucker is always trying to ice skate uphill.
To an extent, I’m not sure why so many reviewers decided to shit on this entry of the franchise. Sure it’s a step down from both of the previous entries, but I had a massive blast with the film still as a whole…and let’s be honest, did they expect more? In the end, the basis of Expendables 3 is the same as the rest of the franchise: silly one liners, two big action set pieces, and the charisma of seeing your favorite action stars of yester year on screen. If you take it at the basics, then the film works. The one liners are funny, particularly when they note actor nuances like Snipes’ tax evasion punch or Harrison Ford remarking that Bruce Willis is ‘out of the picture,’ and director Patrick Hughes seemingly knows how to shoot an action sequence. The opening of the film and the final act are impressively balanced out when it comes to the action pacing.


A few things prevent The Expendables 3 from reaching the heights it could have.  Firstly, the PG-13 rating hurts. Not because they had to cut out all of the CGI blood, I actually approve of that, but because it hinders from some of the intensity of the performances. For Mel Gibson, he definitely felt hindered as the film’s villain as the character felt a bit muzzled and even when it comes to the final throwdown between him and Stallone you could tell that they were simply playing it safe.

Secondly, the new recruits add too many characters to the fold. The plot idea that the old guys get ‘let go’ because Barney feels like this job is going to get them killed isn’t terrible, but adding in so many new faces with too little to do and less character depth to build on sabotages the entire concept. The film spends damn near half of its time introducing them and getting them together for their first mission and I couldn’t tell you any of their names off hand. Don’t get me wrong I still think Lutz has potential to be an action star if he gets in a good film (see Java Heat and not Hercules), but the rest lack a lot of screen presence. In fact, Ronda Rousey is incredibly terrible in the film. It’s sad to think that because of the script the charismatic Snipes is sidelined for a third of the movie to make room for these folks. The only great thing that comes out of the second act in this movie is Banderas. Seriously, the guy EATS the screen and his ridiculously high-energy rambling and his action sequence at the end slathers on the fun.

The heavy artillery...armed with guns too!
The Expendables 3 is not a perfect film and it’s an obvious step down from the awesomeness of the second film. The first and third acts are still pretty fun (if you’re willing to overlook the horrible CGI) with lots of laughs and action to be had. Too bad the substandard script that features far too many characters and a dragging second act really does bog down the entire experience. I sincerely hope that the franchise survives the leaked copy and this weaker entry because there are a lot of great places for it to go.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Zatoichi and the Chest of Gold (1964)


Director: Kazuo Ikehiro
Notable Cast: Shintaro Katsu, Tomisaburo Wakayama, Shogo Shimada, Machiko Hasegawa, Tatsuya Ishiguro, Matasaburo Niwa

“See the joy on their faces? That’d be a pretty good trick for a blind man.” -Zatoichi

With Zatoichi and the Chest of Gold, this long running samurai series sees the film move further away from their arthouse beginnings and more towards a grindhouse ending. Not that the change can be seen as bad, in fact Chest of Gold is quite entertaining, but it does mean that we get to see our blind anti-hero with some new elements in store for him in this sixth entry. Like the previous entry, Chest of Gold is a not nearly as impactful as one would hope and even loses more of the emotional weight in favor of bigger thrills and kills. It might continue the downward slide of overall quality in the franchise, but it’s hard not to love this film still.

Zatoichi (Shintaro Katsu) returns to a small village to pay respects to a man he killed years earlier, only to find himself under suspicion from the farmers for being the man who stole their tax payment on its way to the magistrate. To clear his name, he will have to uncover a larger conspiracy involving an old yakuza friend and a few corrupt officials. Can Zatoichi accomplish his task before his head winds up on the cutting block?

Zatoichi. Hanging out. Being badass.
Zatoichi’s newest adventure is perhaps his most basic one yet, but that doesn’t stop the film from being some sword slashing entertainment. Chest of Gold adds in a slew of new tricks to make it more thrilling including a director who is less about the subtle emotions and more about big sweeping character gestures. This continues the entire ‘Zatoichi is a Badass’ theme from Zatoichi on the Road as he continually attempts to do his saintly work. This includes even more sword fighting, of which the series is adapting more complex choreography and for the first time in the series - gore, and a moment where Zatoichi outwits a rival ronin in speed to cut a coin in half. It also ends with a final showdown with the ronin (Katsu’s real life brother who would go on to play the lead in the Lone Wolf and Cub samurai series) that might be the most exciting and vicious one yet.

Despite the fun and increased amount of violence in the film, Zatoichi and the Chest of Gold does lack a bit of the depth needed to sell it. Outside of the continued brilliance of Katsu in the lead role and his scarred brother as the hired hand of the villains, not a lot of the characters actually stand out here. For a franchise known for its deep thoughtful characters and interactions, Chest of Gold is pretty flimsy with both as it introduces you to a ton of throw away characters and a hierarchy of villains that fails to balance out to Zatoichi’s badassness. Take it for what it is though because most of it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the picture.

Mysterious...
Perhaps the biggest concern I have with Chest of Gold is the continued slide of quality for the franchise. This film is still a damn fine samurai picture with plenty of great moments that Zatoichi/samurai fans will eat up, but the overall script quality seems rushed. It’s an entertaining film overall and the continued presence of Katsu sells it.

Written By Matt Reifschneider


Friday, August 22, 2014

Quiet Ones, The (2014)


Director: John Pogue

Notable Cast: Jared Harris, Olivia Cooke, Sam Claflin, Eric Richards, Rory Fleck-Byrne

Possession films seem to be all the rage at this point, but just how far can one go with creative spins on a genre that seemingly comes off as the ‘same old, same old?’ I had some decent expectations out of The Quiet Ones, not because it’s another possession film, but because of the logo in front of the film: Hammer. While the old school horror company disappeared for a number of decades, their resurgence has produced some solid old school feeling horror flicks. Unfortunately, The Quiet Ones is easily the weakest film of their new slate.

Joseph (Harris) is using his theories of parapsychology to try and cure Jane Harper (Cooke.) He assembles a small team, including cameraman Brian (Claflin,) to document and help with the process, but what they will find in Jane Harper may not adhere to scientific explanation. What they find may end up killing them all.

"Don't mess with me, son. I played Sherlock's evil counterpart."
Hammer’s last film, the enigmatic The Woman in Black, was a blend of modern style and old school atmosphere that rocked the blend and hit one home. Even though I didn’t give that film a great review when I first saw it, since then I’ve grown to really appreciate what they accomplished with it. The Quiet Ones attempts to go 2 for 2 with that same concept as it attempts to blend modern techniques and old school storytelling. The results are simply more awkward than effective. Writer/director John Pogue (known mostly for writing some fun B-grade horror flicks like The Skulls and Ghost Ship, but also for directing and writing Quarantine 2) doesn’t get the blend right this time around. There are moments of great atmosphere and subtle character work to be found particularly surrounding a fun performance from Jared Harris, but the rest tends to feel downright cliché and often illogical. An entire sequence where Jane disappears has the entire cast stumbling around in the dark from the viewpoint of the camera that Brian is holding and it utterly feels like a waste of time. Seriously? That’s the best scares you can come up with?


That being said, the film also misses out on the key to make this work – the characters. The title refers to the group of people performing this experiment and while the film does an admirable job creating a roller coaster character for Jane that the audience consistently hooks into, it’s the main character of Brian and his cohorts that get the shaft. His two fellow college experimenters feel like broad stroke characters and their interactions often result in exposition rather than real moments of connection. It undermines a lot of the doubt and atmosphere that The Quiet Ones attempts to create and the film has to jump massive logistical moments, particularly in the third act, to get us to the next scary sequence…which often comes off as more cliché than not anyway. Instead of the formulaic progression that the film uses, they should have pushed even further towards the spiraling tension between the team.

As I mentioned, the scares tend to be fairly cliché in the end. If you’ve seen a few possession films, you’ve seem a majority of The Quiet Ones. Occasionally the film succeeds in throwing in a handful of solid jolts, but even those seem illogical at times. A random connection between the doll and Jane indicated with a knife has a nice moment in the latter half, but it left me wondering why it happened at all as it never seems to be cohesive with the rest of the film and the scares it was giving the audience.

This was my reaction to Furby.
The Quiet Ones isn’t a terrible film, in fact it’s a perfectly serviceable possession flick that does step over many of the shitty straight to home video flicks of the same genre in the last few years. It just also so happens to be a scattered script that lacks the characters to sell the idea, the scares to hook the audience, and the atmosphere to feel like a classic Hammer flick. I didn’t hate it, but I certainly expected more out of it particularly with the potential of its concept.

Written By Matt Reifschneider


Thursday, August 14, 2014

All Cheerleaders Die (2014)


Directors: Lucky McKee, Chris Siverston
Notable Cast: Caitlin Stasey, Sianoa Smit-McPhee, Brooke Butler, Amanda Grace Cooper, Reanin Johannink, Tom Williamson

As a big fan of Lucky McKee’s films, I was eager to see what he would have his sleeve after the controversial (and astoundingly effective) The Woman. When I found it he would be co-directing a film called All Cheerleaders Die, I felt a little unsure. As a director he has always throw in subtext about feminism and the strength of women in his films, but this seemed like this might be the one time he sold out to the mainstream media. Shockingly though, for a movie about killer undead cheerleaders, All Cheerleaders Die contains all the elements that have come to make his films great – all the while paying homage to the unlikeliest of horror film eras…the 90s and early 00s.

Maddy (Stasey) is looking to make senior year her year. After the unlikely death of her friend Alexis (Cooper) the year prior, she is looking to right the wrongs that had happened and ends up joining the cheerleading squad. She has an underhanded plan though to make the guilty pay and nothing…not even death…is going to stop her from her goal.

Team is spelled with 'I' in this case.
As it would turn out, All Cheerleaders Die is technically a remake. It’s a remake of a 2001 film of the same name made by the same two guys, McKee and Sivertson. I have not seen the original film so comparisons will probably not happen in this review unless its an accident. It does, however, explain some of the stylistic choices of this film to homage the dark ages of horror in the late 90s and the 00s. The entire teens in high school plot focusing on cheerleaders and football players seems something that would have come right out of the flood of Scream knock offs that happened in this era, just ten years later. Luckily, the combination of McKee and Sivertson seem to understand a lot of how these tropes work and they throw in just enough dark humor and modern techniques that the film almost comes out as a parody of that time period. The opening sequence is done ‘found footage style’ but it builds a nice intro that quickly ends on one of the greatest deaths for horror in 2014 (and being quite hilarious at that.) While some of the pitfalls of that era plague this film (shallow secondary characters and a reliance on high school issues like how important image is and bullshit like that), the general strength of the execution helps out the film immensely and All Cheeleaders Die comes off as a charming film with much more subtext then expected.


It’s this subtext that really allows All Cheerleaders Die to be much more than just ‘another teen horror movie.’ Like most of McKee’s other flicks, it contains a substantial amount of exploration into issue that affect young women in today’s society. Everything from the use physical appearance as an expectation of quality of person to rape. In fact, the film spends a majority of its time exploring these young cheerleaders and jocks in an effort to really build this thoughtful relationship with the audience. The cheerleaders don’t even die until halfway into the film and the real horror doesn’t really start until that point either. From there though, it gets a strong dose of great campy horror elements that add a lot of fun to the proceedings including a fantastic third act that makes all of the character building worth it.

It's like "Charmed" but, you know, good.
All Cheerleaders Die is the kind of film that really grew on me. When I first watched it, I enjoyed it for its strong throwback elements and impressive execution by the directing team. The more it sat with me after the fact, the more I liked it though. Now that I have spun my copy twice I have to say it’s one of my favorite horror films of the year. It’s not a film for everyone with its dry, dark humor and weird cliché twists, but for those willing to go into it with an open mind I highly recommend it.

Written By Matt Reifschneider