Sunday, January 22, 2017

xXx: Return of Xander Cage (2017)

Director: DJ Caruso

Notable Cast: Vin Diesel, Donnie Yen, Deepika Padukone, Kris Wu, Ruby Rose, Tony Jaa, Nina Dobrev, Toni Collette, Samuel L Jackson, Nicky Jam, Rory McCann, Michael Bisping, Ariadna Gutierrez, Hermione Corfield, Tony Gonzalez, Neymar Jr.

Fifteen years is a long time. In the grand spectrum of things it’s not a super long time, but for a franchise like xXx, it’s long enough to create a James Bond meets X-games knock off, lose your key star who refuses to return, try and replace him in an inferior sequel, die, become a footnote in the history of the action films, allow said original star to revitalize two of his other franchises, and then recruit a series of new talent and the original star back for a surprise third entry. A third entry that, in all seriousness, is easily the best of the franchise. “How can this be,” you ask. “How can xXx: Return of Xander Cage exist?” Considering that Vin Diesel has elevated two of his other franchises (The Fast and the Furious and Riddick) from the bowels of hell, is it that odd? What does make it odd is that Return of Xander Cage is so much fun. While the first two entries have their merits as B-movie entertainment, they leave a lot to be desired, but Vin Diesel has learned a lot from the re-emergence of his other two franchises and takes those lessons to heart for this third entry. It’s not as good as either of those series, just in principal it lacks a sense of grounded seriousness, but Return of Xander Cage is outrageously entertaining. What can I say except that, despite some very distinct eye rolling at the first third of the film, I had a blast.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Shinjuku Triad Society (1995)

Director: Takashi Miike
Notable Cast: Kippei Shiina, Tomorowo Taguchi, Takeshi Caesar, Ren Osugi, Yukie Itou, Kyosuke Izutsu, Kazuhiro Mashiko, Airi Yanagi

While it’s not expressly said here on the site, Takashi Miike is easily one of the favorite directors by the writing staff here. For me, he’s one of my top five favorites and it was always unfortunate that a lot of his stuff has recently gone out of print or never actually makes it over to the US for a release at all (in reference to his entire robust career). Fortunately, Arrow Video must have seen this void recently as they announced a slew of Miike films will be getting the Blu Ray treatment. First up this year is the Black Society Trilogy. It’s a thematically connected set of films about crime that kicked off Miike’s career as film maker rising from the bowels of V-cinema. First up in this set (and the focus for this review) is Shinjuku Triad Society that sets the stage for the themes and style of the next two films – and perhaps lays a lot of ground work for the rest of Miike’s continuing career. It’s a film that’s gritty, often abrasive in moments of oddity, and completely effective at telling its story. It’s not perfect, occasionally showing its rough roots in smaller things like editing, but it’s still a fantastic modern spin on the yakuza films from decades prior in Japan.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Supreme Swordsman, The (1984)

Director: Keith Li
Notable Cast: Derek Yee, Jason Pai Piao, Ku Feng, Yuen Wah, Wong Yung, Margaret Lee, Lee Hoi-Sang, Ling Yun, Kwan Fung, Jamie Luk Kim-Ming, Austin Wai Tin-Chi, Huang Pei-Chih, Lung Tien-Hsiang, Cheng Miu, Wong Lik, Eva Lai Yin-Shan, Shum Lo, Wong Chi-Ming, Kong Chuen, Yuen Bun

I’m always down for some Shaw Brothers wuxia films. Even as the 80s rolled on and their wuxia films became crazier and stranger, most of them retained entertainment value with their fantasy aspects and polarizing tonal shifts. With the Derek Yee starring flick The Supreme Swordsman though, there is both classic wuxia set ups and the crazy off kilter wuxia that the studio became increasingly infatuated with as the years rolled on. While the film tends to receive a decent amount of praise from fans, it’s ultimately a mixed effort that sets up and ends on some phenomenal ideas and characters, but uses some questionable tactics to get there.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Outrage (2010) and Beyond Outrage (2012)

OUTRAGE (2010)

Director: Takeshi Kitano

Notable Cast: Takeshi Kitano, Kippei Shiina, Ryo Kase, Tomokazu Miura, Jun Kunimura, Tetta Sugimoto, Takashi Tsukamoto, Nideo Nakano, Renji Ishibashi, Fumiyo Kohinata, Soichiro Kiamura

Upon my second viewing of Outrage, I still feel a bit conflicted about the film. On one hand, Takeshi Kitano handles his "comeback" to the yakuza film with a very intense and precise touch. The film is very vague in its build, rarely giving exposition outside of assumed connections from the audience, and it bops around a variety of characters as it pieces together its plot about the rising internal strife of a larger yakuza family. To its benefit, Outrage is brimming with fantastic performances and the tone is suffocating in how it presents itself with surgical precision. Kitano might have branched out from yakuza films in recent years, but really this is the kind of comeback to the form and style that it was made out to be and in that kind of execution it’s right in line with expectations.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Iron Angels 2 (1988)

Director: Teresa Woo
Notable Cast: Alex Fong, Moon Lee, Elaine Lui, Chan Ting-Wai, Hsiao Yu Lung, Kharina Sa, Tak Yuen
AKA: Angel II, Angels 2, Fighting Madam 2

While many Hong Kong and Chinese films remain stuck in a purgatorial state to find a decent release in the US, there are many films that deserve a bit of attention that don’t properly receive it. The film Iron Angels (you can read my review HERE) and its sequels are a franchise that should be loved and yet remains strangely off grid. For the first sequel, Iron Angels 2 or many of the various alternate titles it was released under, I was able to watch the film via Amazon Prime in one of the more exciting finds I’ve had while digging through the underbelly of the streaming service. If you’re a Hong Kong action fan, then I highly suggest, if you have it, to go watch Iron Angels 2 immediately. It’s one of those films that doesn’t necessarily rise above being an entertaining action flick, but it doesn’t have to because it’s just so ridiculously entertaining. Win, lose, or draw, Iron Angels 2 is a blast to watch and it damn near matches the original in that category.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

One Armed Boxer, The (1971)

Director: Jimmy Wang Yu

Notable Cast: Jimmy Wang Yu, Yu Tien Lung, Yeh Tien, Hsin Tang, Hsiao Yu, Fei Lung

“Hell sent me back. It was too early.”

Recently, I have found myself looking back much more thoroughly at Jimmy Wang Yu’s career and revisiting a lot of the classics I initially threw to the side. It has been quite refreshing. However, there are still a handful of his films that don’t necessarily hit the mark with me like they do for so many other people. One of those films is his iconic classic The One Armed Boxer. Made for Golden Harvest in the early 70s when Wang Yu was really make waves in the industry as a star, writer, and director, The One Armed Boxer is something of a unique blend of styles – at times feeling a bit more like Shaw Brothers production, yet obviously pushing the boundaries like Golden Harvest liked to do at the time. I respect the film and find many set pieces and moments enjoyable. The film as a whole though, it falls a bit flat. It’s entertaining sure, but really The One Armed Boxer is just a mash up for two far superior films he was in previously – The One-Armed Swordsman and The Chinese Boxer – and the resulting mash up isn’t nearly as cohesive or effective as either of those.  It’s good, but hardly as great as its cult status as made it become for fans.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Blair Witch (2016)

Director: Adam Wingard
Notable Cast: James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Brandon Scott, Corbin Reid, Wes Robinson, Valorie Curry

When the trailer for The Woods first showed up online, I had a friend of mine bring it up in one of our movie discussions. “It looks like a Blair Witch movie,” he said. “Nah. Adam Wingard wouldn’t touch that franchise and why would they bring it back now? The second one killed any kind of hopes for a series,” I replied. Turns out I was wrong. Dead wrong. Never underestimated Hollywood’s new need to capitalize on nostalgia, I guess. The Woods was then revealed a short time later to be a secret Blair Witch sequel, cleverly titled Blair Witch, and was meant to reboot the franchise and bring back ‘one of horror’s scariest movies’ just a few years short of 20 years from when the original Blair Witch Project capsized the box office. Still, the first two films don’t necessarily hook my attention and even the addition of Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett didn’t perk my interest enough. Now that Blair Witch hit home video, the franchise whore in my just had to finish off my collection. Oddly enough, Blair Witch just might be my favorite one. It’s a bit tedious in the first half in its replication of the style and set up of the original, but when it finally picks up momentum it hits some of the potential this franchise has been missing. Who knew?

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Top 30 Horror Films of 2016

It’s fascinating how cinema goes through cycles. In recent years, the cycles seem to be getting shorter as a particular style, look, or genre becomes popular and quickly dies out to be replaced with the next trend. In the realm of 2015 horror, it was the horror comedy that finally took a hold and delivered some knock out films that blended the humor and the horror in some fun ways. For 2016, however, it was the atmospheric horror film. Granted, if you look back at the various lists I’ve crafted for respective years you may already know that I have a soft spot for atmospheric horror. That means that this year was one that delivered a lot of films that hit the sweet spot for me as a horror fanatic. The style is not for everyone, but this year there was more than likely one for each kind of horror fan that could fall under the umbrella of being an atmospheric horror film. It was just that kind of year. There is other kinds of films that made the list, but if you’re a fan of this kind of horror it was definitely your year too.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Underworld: Blood Wars (2017)

Director: Anna Foerster
Notable Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Theo James, Tobias Menzies, Lara Pulver, James Faulkner, Charles Dance, Bradley James, Clementine Nicholson, Peter Andersson, Daisy Head

There were a lot of problems with Underworld: Awakening, the fourth film in a series that has seemingly found a cult audience that continually shows up to make sure it survives. The budget ballooned to $70 million, it lost sight of the world building aspect that made the series fun and layered, and despite some silly fun action it had little foundation for taking the series in a new direction that worked. So, for the most part, the fifth entry, Underworld: Blood Wars, attempts to fix all the things it fucked up. It’s an admirable approach. They cut the budget in half and refocused the storytelling to try and get it back to basics while using the plot and characters from the fourth one as little as possible. Blood Wars is hardly a great film (hell, not a single entry in this series is), but for what it’s worth I was thoroughly entertained by it and admired what they attempted to take the series. Flawed, yes, but it’s a step up over the fourth entry and gets the Underworld franchise back on track. I call it a success.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Devil Lives Here, The (2016)

Directors: Rodrigo Gasparini, Dante Vescio
Notable Cast: Pedro Carvalho, Diego Goullart, Mariana Cortines, Clara Verdier, Pedro Caetano, Felipe Frazão, Ivo Müller, Sidney Santiago

I can honestly say I’ve only seen a handful of Brazilian movies and none of them were horror. Then again, that’s the benefit of a company like Artsploitation who digs through so many foreign horror films to release them in the US. Some of their titles can be hit or miss, but I’m bound to be entertained by what they have found recently. This includes seeing my first Brazilian horror flick, The Devil Lives Here. With no expectations going into the film, to be perfectly honest I had never heard of it until Artsploitation announced its release, The Devil Lives Here is a fantastic little low budget horror flick that blends cult horror with haunted house, slasher, and possession pieces. Running at a brisk 76 minutes, it never over stays its welcome, it builds a solid mythology, and keeps things moving. I’m not sure what else one could ask for from a film like The Devil Lives Here.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Top 30 Action Films of 2016

If you go back through my “Best Action Films of the Year” lists for the last few years, you will see that I do have a slight bias towards Asian cinema in the genre. While many people have voiced their disagreements with me on including too many films from those countries, I truly believe that their industry has a better understanding of the art form of an action film. This year, however, those people that let me know I cater too much to that style are going to pissed. Simply put, the Asian countries dominated the genre this year. Europe and Hollywood most certainly dropped the ball when it comes to the better action films of the year – particularly when it comes to being the best of the best. So take that into considering when going into this list.

Outside of that note, 2016 had some great action films although none of them quite stood out against the pack like Mad Max: Fury Road or John Wick did in the last couple of years. There are plenty of mainstream goodies to be had here, but as always I love to throw in a few ‘black sheep’ entries that will surely get me some hate mail and snide comments from all over the interwebz. As that goes, here is my disclaimer that this list is purely based on my opinion of the best action films that came out this year and we are open to hear about what you guys think we missed or gave too high of a ranking for. This is 2016, I hold no delusions that the internet will voice its opinion over a list like this one. So feel free to shed some blood in the comments section, send us an email, post on our Facebook wall, or Tweet us.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Lone Wolf and Cub: White Heaven in Hell (1974)

Director: Toshiyuki Kuroda

Notable Cast: Tomisaburo Wakayama, Akihiro Tomikawa, Junko Hitomi, Isao Kimura, Minoru Ohki

While the fifth entry marked the return of Kenji Misumi and an artistic quality to the Lone Wolf and Cub franchise, the sixth and final entry will see it hit the lowest point. Lone Wolf and Cub: White Heaven in Hell might be one of the most memorable films of the series particularly with its epic, snowy battle in the final act, but it’s also the one with the least amount of resonating effect after the film finishes. This is for a variety of reasons, including a new director in the fold and its writing, but in the end it’s a film that tries to survive purely on visuals and lacks any kind of emotional or artistic heartbeat underneath. It’s a fun movie and the visuals are strong. Yet, it just doesn’t have that knack for giving any of it depth beyond the basics leaving the final entry one that never wraps things up and never feels whole in itself.