Sunday, January 13, 2019

Hammered in the Neck: Hammer's Dracula Franchise Part I



There is a beauty, style, and look to classic Hammer horror films that only that studio contains. There are only a handful of times in the history of cinema that a studio has defined themselves so steadfast, even when they experiment, one can immediately tell who made it by the style and tone. Hammer is one of those. For this latest franchise article, we were asked to cover some of the major Hammer studio releases and it seemed only fitting to start with the one that most people recognize: Dracula. Spanning multiple decades, the Dracula series is often times as iconic as the original Universal series and it certainly helped solidify both Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee as genre cornerstones. Truthfully, it was a pleasure to be asked to go back and watch this franchise once again and write this series of articles. Not that my words do it much justice, but even if I can inspire one to revisit the films, then I will have done my duty.

Due to the length of this franchise, it only made sense to split it up into multiple articles to prevent having one massive piece that people will tire of reading by the time they reach the third or fourth film. Since there are nine entries, it made sense to evenly split the articles into three films each. Naturally, we will be going through the series in chronological order. Part I will cover the first three films.


Saturday, January 12, 2019

Into the Dark: New Year, New You (2018)


Director: Sophia Takal
Notable Cast: Suki Waterhouse, Carly Chaikin, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Melissa Bergland, Michelle Haro, Isabella Acres, Bianca Lopez, Mia Ella Clyburn

Hulu and Blumhouse’s horror anthology series, Into the Dark, has already provided a handful of fantastic little indie/intimate horror films through the last few months, but their latest “episode” (their first of 2019 that was technically released prior to New Year’s Eve in 2018) might be one of the best thus far. New Year, New You leans into a couple of interesting directions, looking to balance out an old school style with modern messages, and the results are overly impressive. It’s not a stretch that some horror fans may find the old school and very meticulous approach to building the film is a bit of a drag and there are a few choices that may seem a tag heavy-handed, but for my money, director Sophia Takal brings her A-game to this film and delivers a memorable way to continue this series.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Top 30 Horror Films of 2018



Normally, I try to get my articles for the best films of the year (both horror and action) out by mid-December, but 2018 was a strangely packed year. Not only for personal reasons, but there was a lot of material to watch and properly sift through. In fact, my queue is not quite finished by the time that I felt it was necessary to get these written and posted for our readers, but most of what seemed would make the upper echelons of these lists seemed covered. However, as with all of these articles, there are gaps and the ranking is meant to be a discussion starter more than a definitive ranking. If there are films missed, please, do not hesitate to reach out to us with comments, emails, and the like. Share with your friends too. Keep the discussion going!

For this article, it’s time to discuss the best horror films of the year. Despite what Vogue seems to think, there was plenty of great horror to dig through this year and, as there always are, there were some disappointments. As horror continues to make waves beyond the usual die-hard fan bases and into the mainstream, there is plenty of diversity to see this year and, while I certainly have specific tastes in what I enjoy in my horror films, I tried to cover a lot of ground in those various subgenres. As mentioned above, this article is meant to spur discussion about the quality and variety of films released in the horror genre this year and you are welcome to disagree with me. Keep the comments clean, be curious, and if we all agree to keep an open mind then 2018 could very well be one of the most interesting years in horror.

Without further ado, here is our list for Top 30 Horror Films of 2018:

Into the Dark: Pooka! (2018)


Director: Nacho Vigalondo
Notable Cast: Nyasha Hatendi, Latarsha Rose, Jon Daly, Dale Dickey, Jonny Berryman

It’s another month and it’s time for another review for the next film in Hulu and Blumhouse’s Into the Dark series. This time, it’s the highly anticipated Pooka! from the cult director Nacho Vigalondo. To recap where things have gone since the beginning of the series in October, you can read our reviews for The Body [HERE] and Flesh & Blood [HERE]. Despite a bit of a dip in quality in November’s Thanksgiving set second film, this third one was ripe to embrace the Christmas holiday time frame setting by having such a challenging director handle a concept that’s…pretty entertaining. Pooka!, focusing on the story of an actor who starts to lose his grip on reality after becoming the sole person to don the Pooka! character costume for a line of intensely popular kids’ toys around Christmas, is just as oddball as one might expect. Granted, the film does take some narrative shifts that can be a tad predictable in the third act for more attentive viewers, the ride is a splendidly dark and humorous one that trips heavily into Twilight Zone territory.

Josh Parmer's Top 15 Asian Films of 2018

TOP 15 ASIAN FILMS OF 2018


Best Short: Blue - dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul
[Thailand]

A hypnotic 10 minute piece by Joe that perfectly encapsulates the drifting in and out of sleep and various states of consciousness. Felt nightmarish to me in a sense and really envoked a sense of dread that I've not felt in a long time. I think this is one that everyone will experience and interpret differently.

15.) Swing Kids - dir. Kang Hyeong-chul
[South Korea]

Kang Hyeong-chul is perhaps one of the world's most underappreciated directors outside of his home country. Both Scandal Makers and Sunny are two of the finest comedies of the last 10 years and this year's entry into his ouevre will dance its way right into your heart. Some of the most spectacular dance choreography ever displayed in a motion picture. The war setting makes for a very unique backdrop for this hard hitting musical dramedy. Also, Gared Grimes is a tapdancing beast!

14.) Caniba - dirs. Verena Paravel, Lucien Castaing-Taylor
[Japan]

To be honest, I have no idea at all where this should or shouldn't rank, but I do know that I have never been this uncomfortable watching anything, ever! Issei Sagawa and his brother disturb me to no end. I am not sure which words to use to accentuate what I took away from this documentary other than to say it is a completely spellbinding experience. I frankly wanted to stop once I got going, but Caniba sank its claws into me and I couldn't look away. Not sure whom I'd recommend this too, but it is a fantastically well crafted doc.

13.) Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts - dir. Mouly Surya
[Indonesia]

An utterly unique and refreshing film to come out of Indonesia in quite some time. A western revene flick with supernatural and comedic elements that all blend into a one-of-a-kind experience that puts the viewer on the edge from frame one and doesn't let up. Marsha Timothy gives one of the year's strongest performances as Marsha. The score is also electrifying and the landscape is lensed so beautifully that even Abbas Kiarostami would blush.

12.) Neomanila - dir. Mikhail Red
[The Philippines]

Three films into to an already booming career, Mikhail Red continues to craft high quality entertainment and still enjoy his youthful 20s. Saw this one during my coverage of Osaka Asian Film Festival this year and it has stuck with me throughout. To echo what I said in my review months ago, Red has directed one of the best South Korean thrillers not filmed in South Korea. I mean that in the best way possible and I am thrilled to see him help pave the way for Pinoy cinema as a whole. A lot of gems are popping up from the region.

11.) Tumbbad - dir. Rahi Anil Barve
[India]

One of the most unique films I've ever seen come out of India, Tummbad is a supernatural fantasy horror steeped deeply in Indian folklore and culture. I may not know exactly the background of the Goddess used in the film, but I do know the opening is insanely intense and has to be one of the greatest openings in any movie this year. I think it falters a bit in the middle, but the character design and cinematography coupled with the perfect dreary atmosphere makes this one of if not perhaps the best horror film of the year. I cannot wait to see what the director does next. I do hope this gets the recognition outside of India that it most certainly deserves. A must see for horror enthusiasts all over the world.

10.) One Cut of the Dead - dir. Shinichiro Ueda
[Japan]

The hottest ticket in Japanese cinema and noe embedded in local pop culture, One Cut of the Dead is the little film that could, opening up on only two screens and going on to gross more than 1,000 times its budget and become a box office giant, making history for an indie film of that nature. Profit figures aside, it's easy to see why One Cut has been such a huge smash and is making waves across the world. It's a completely fun and bonkers flick with the heart of a giant. I have not had a more fun cinematic experience all year and I don't see a movie making feel quite this way again for a very long time. Pom!!!

9.) Cambodian Textiles - dir. Tatsuhito Utagawa
[Cambodia / Japan]

Going into this documentary I had no interest in the subject matter but given the film's beautiful cinematography and serene nature, despite the fact that its central man in focus, Kikuo Morimoto, is dying of bladder cancer. Spending so much time learning of traditional Cambodian textile weaving was a special treat that I hadn't realized I wanted. One of the most visually lush works of the year. It is a shame that this niche little picture more than likely won't reach the audience it most definitely deserves. I have my eyes wide open in anticipation of whatever director Tatsuhito does next. I absolutely cannot recommend this one enough. This year's most underseen and underrated film.

8.) The Day After - dir. Hong Sang-soo
[South Korea]

If you have seen any previous works of Hong Sang-soo, you more or less know what you are getting yourself into. If you have never seen a Hong Sang-soo film, this is just a good a place to start as many others. In all seriousness, I think The Day After is one of his absolute best works, alongside some of his earlest titles such as The Power of Kangwon Province or A Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors. It almost seems as if Hong films it in black and white and it's bound to be one of his finer outings. As with all his works, it's very personal and completely open and real no matter how awkward or alcohol infused that may get.

7.) Mukkabaaz - dir. Anurag Kashyap
[India]

A boxing dramedy fused with political overtones that never get in the way in the heart or fight of the movie. Anurag Kashyup delivers his most accessible work yet and within that lies its strength. It is 2.5 hours in runtime and never is there a dull moment. You spend great lengths of time with the main and even side characters and they all have fantastic arcs in some way or another. The two leads' romantic chemistry is spot on and the boxing is raw and quite a spectacle to behold. Some of the grittiness you'd expect from a film by the director is still present and won't shy away his die-hard fans. With Gangs of Wasseypur Anurag Kashyap crafted one of the finest gangster films of all time and I believe he has done the same within the boxing genre with Mukkabaaz.

6.) Burning - dir. Lee Chang-dong
[South Korea]

Getting into this last chunk of films, it was admittedly extremely difficult to choose what goes where, but there is no doubt that Lee Chang-dong has crafted one of the most intense Korean thrillers in years. It's not action-packed and in fact is quite a slow burn, no pun intended whatsoever, but it will have you holding your breath almost the entire time. Breathtaking visuals coupled with three stunning and morally ambiguous performances by the leads will have you questioning everything for the entirety of its runtime, well passed once the credits have rolled. Bound to spark many a great discussion. Also, maybe the greatest ending shot of the year. An absolute stunner.

5.) Your Face - dir. Tsai Ming-liang
[Taiwan]

An observational and brilliant look at the normalcy of the human being, in all entertaining varations on it. We see different people of varying ages and sex, sitting on front of the camera, each framed subtly different, looking at them up close and personal. Some choose to talk, while others sleep or drift off. It can be humorous at times and quite mundane at others, revealing behavioral patterns we all share. The people seem to be chosen at random but Tsai's partner in life, Lee Kang-shang makes his way into the picture and his segment is very fascinating, perhaps bringing to mind that other folks here have some purpose in Tsai's life, but I digress.  Your Face really pushes the form in terms of this style of filmmaking and I really haven't seen anything like it. I can see this being a popular art installation piece. It's hard to say exactly what it is that makes it work, but whatever it is, it does so in spades.

4.) An Elephant Sitting Still - dir. Hu Bo
[China]

A very bleak yet not entirely hopeless epic that drifts through the lives of four different souls, all torn and on the fringes of society. They are battered and worn by things such as school, work, home life and other factors that every individual on this Earth must endure. It is a cold tale and given the context of the director's tragic end to his life, it's hard to seperate the art from the artist at times. It has completely turned off some but I was hit hard by it all. Extremly poetic and a marvel to watch unfold, I was completely washed away into these young peoples' sad lives. It reminded me too much of my own personal past and gave me much to latch on to. It is one of the greatest cinematic offerings from anywhere this year and an utter shame that we will never know what Hu Bo might have brought to us film lovers for years to come. That said, this is certainly one riveting work that is sure to be embraced for years to come.

3.) Shoplifters - dir. Hirokazu Koreeda
[Japan]

The fact that an artist can be more than a dozen films deep into his career and keep churning out masterpieces is a complete testament to the artistic genuius of Hirokazu Koreeda. Humanistic in ever story he crafts, Shoplifters may have his most endearing characters of all thus far. A reflection on Japanese society and humanity as a whole, from the opening scene, full absorption is had as you are quickly swept away into the world of this incredible family. Things take turns in ways that will keep you on your toes. Sakura Ando gives the performance of her entire career at this point, and Lily Franky really ups his already solid game as well. Once more, a loving rest in peace to the late and great Kiki Kirin. Shoplifters deserves every accolade and award that can be hurled its way.

2.) Bad Poetry Tokyo - dir. Anshul Chauhan
[Japan]

And the best actress award goes to... Shuna Iijima. Seriously though, she completely knocks this leading performance into another world and never looks back. The last time an actress completely melted my brain like this was Jeon Do-yeon back in Secret Sunshine in 2007. This stands neck in neck with that performance and easily takes the finest of 2018 in my book. She is completely fearless and packs an emotional wallop hard enough to put you in a tear induced coma. Anshul Chauhan's remarkably stunning directorial debut is the film of 2018 that everyone should be talking about. I don't think there has been a drama more powerful this year. An extremely raw character study on abuse and the effects it takes on the soul. Anshul, if you are reading this, I want your next film in front of my eye sockets as soon as possible. Bad Poetry Tokyo is powerfully seered into my brain.

1.) Dead Souls - dir. Wang Bing
[China]

Without a doubt the most important piece of cinema in 2018 goes to this mammoth of a documentary. Clocking in at 495 minutes, yes... over eight hours, Dead Souls is a massive undertaking for any type of film lover. 12 years of recorded testimonies revealed by survivors of the 1957 Anti-Rightist campaign in China. My final bit from my review will be pasted here, as I'm not sure what more I can say to add towards my appreciation:

Sitting through 8+ hours of listening to these elderly men reflect back on the inhumane hardships they endured; the starvation, beatings, cannibalism and death they were surrounded with every waking moment, it's a wonder that any survived. Saddened and shocked in equal measure, the things humans put one another through never ceases to disturb me. These voices needed to be heard. Wang Bing was the perfect vessel to let these stories be told. May their souls rest in peace. A dark corner of history that had been told in an uncensored fashion. Easily one the most important pieces of cinema to surface in 2018.

Dead Souls truly is 2018's film that demands the attention of all who can see it. An utter masterpiece within a league of its own.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

The Blood Splatter: One Foot Crane (1979) and Black and White Swordsmen (1971)

ONE FOOT CRANE (1979)

Director: Wu Min-Hsiung
Notable Cast:Lily Li Li-Li, Lo Lieh, Sze-Ma Lung, Tsai Hung, Barry Chan, Miao Tian, Ko Yu-Min, Chinag Ching-Hsia, Cliff Ching Ching

When it comes to kung fu films from the secondary level production companies, it can be a crap shoot on the quality of the material. For the most part, it’s best to rely on word of mouth from the martial arts cinema community to be guide to which ones are worth the time. One Foot Crane is one of those films that came highly recommended, for better or worse. In a lot of ways, this ambitious little film has a ton of great scenes and fantastic elements to it. The cast is brilliant, starting with Lily Li-Li as the titular woman hell bent on taking revenge on the four men that slaughtered her family, and it features a lot of recognizable faces beyond that including a brief, but fantastic role for the always reliable Lo Lieh. Beyond that, many of the fight sequences are well executed, although the finale could have been tightened up a bit to create a more intense punch, and there is plenty to love about the broad stroke characters that partake in them. There’s a scene early on where our heroine kicks a sword up out of the hand of a henchman, bends him over, and let’s the falling sword impale him in the back. When the film is on, it’s a spectacularly fun watch that lives up to the hype.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Fengming, a Chinese Memoir (2007)

Director: Wang Bing

Starring: He Fengming

Continuing my exploration of documentarian Wang Bing's body of works, this time around I gave Fengming, a Chinese Memoir a go, and per usual with a Wang film, it completely put me through the ringer.

A three hour interview with He Fengming, an elderly woman who recounts her harsh life in China after the year 1949, having faced gruelling hardships as a falsely accused rightist during the Anti-Rightist campaign and the Cultural Revolution, spanning more than three decades.

He Fengming

He Fengming went on to write a book on her experience and apparently a reading of said book brought Wang's attention to her and he set out to meet and interview her in the mid-90s, conducting a 50 minute interview, which he would years later add on to, thus giving us the three hour interview we have in its final 2007 released version. It works flawlessly as I never realized a difference throughout.

The style here is remarkably stripped back, even for Wang, with a one camera set up that very rarely relies on a dissolve or cutting technique, mostly happening when He Fengming got an unexpected call on her home phone, or needed a quick restroom break.

He Fengming with her first husband,
and their two sons.

The depth and detail in which the interview explores is no less than heartbreaking and the stories told are exhausting and really wears on one emotionally. The things people went through during this time are beyond wretched and Fengming's own experience was no exception. The loss of family members and widespread famine due to food shortages are just the scratch of a surface that runs very deeply. By the end of three hours, I was a complete mess.

I do wonder if her book was ever translated into English, and I feel I must seek out more on this brave woman. Wang Bing's Dead Souls is the perfect companion piece to Fengming, a Chinese Memoir and I most certainly highly recommend both. I have yet to find a WB film that fails to impress me. Quickly becoming one of my very favorite filmmakers.

Written by Josh Parmer

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Mojin: The Worm Valley (2019)


Director: Fei Xing
Notable Cast: Cai Heng, Gu Xuan, Yu Heng, Chen Yusi, Ma Yuke, Cheng Taishen

To properly set up this review, particularly for those outside of China, we need to talk a little bit about where Mojin: The Worm Valley started and a brief history of what has happened. The Mojin ‘series’ is based on a collection of books first published in 2006 that became a wild success. The books were quickly purchased by two of the major studios in China, with half going to one studio (which made the film Chronicles of a Ghostly Tribe based on their titles) and the other half went to Wanda Pictures which developed their first film, Mojin: The Lost Legend in 2015. The latter film was a significant box office bit in China, even if the film itself was met with some mixed reviews (you can read my review HERE) and so a sequel was bound to happen.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Swing Kids (2018)

Director: Kang Hyeong-chul

Notable Cast: Do Kyong-soo (D.O), Park Hye-soo, Kim Min-ho, Jared Grimes, Ross Kettle

Set during wartime and taking place in a prison camp, Swing Kids decides to shake things up within the war genre confines by bringing life to the very real depressing times of the era by injecting life into the scene by way of tapdance and song. Does it work? Given that director Kang is at the helm, the answer is a confident yes.

There admittedly isn't a lot going on with the plot. It's things you'd expect given the setting but what we do get is a plethora of memorable and completely entertaining characters set to burrow their way into your heart. From the cocky but relatable lead, played extraordinarily by D.O of E-XO fame, to an overweight Chinese immigrant who is probably my favorite of the many side additions.


Clearly when going into a movie like this, one is there to see the dance moves on display and there is no shortage of song and dance here. Many classics from the era, both Korean and around the world are played here and admittedly I didn't know most of the songs, but that said, it grooves and gets you amped up the way a good dance movie should. I really wanted to go out and get my own tap shoes the moment the credits began rolling. Gared Grimes, a very renown tapdancer, just stole every moment here, both in terms of dancing and acting. A pleasant surprise. To further add to that surprise is the fact that all the English-speaking actors were great, perhaps a first for Korean cinema.

A possible turnoff and a bit of an annoyance to my viewing experience was how dark the film veered at times. Sure, it is war and the horrors of it can be felt, but I think the shocking, although completely effective outbursts of graphic violence and showing it very much like it is may hinder how wide of an audience this otherwise delightful and very light-hearted film extends to. Something like this should be enjoyed by the whole family but is most certainly not a child friendly feature given these hard to watch moments.

Any moments with these two guys is pure gold.

At the end of the day, Kang Hyeong-chul has once more reaffirmed himself as Korea's leading comedic director. He crafts brilliantly unique laugh fests with just the right amount of heartstring tugging drama and an over abundance of visual flair, making him one of the absolutel best. If you see one movie this holiday season to get you pumped, make it Swing Kids.

P.S. Name a movie with more impressive editing this year? I didn't think so.

Written by Josh Parmer

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Cam (2018)

Director: Daniel Goldhaber
Notable Cast: Madeline Brewer, Patch Darragh, Melora Walters, Devin Druid, Samantha Robinson, Imani Hakim, Michael Dempsey, Flora Diaz, Quei Tann

With all of the hype going into the film, one almost expected Cam – at least when it comes to its subject matter surrounding the culture and environment of cam girls – to be a more controversial. The fact that it ended up debuting on Netflix instead of a theatrical run via Blumhouse is a big indicator that perhaps Cam would be a more abrasive kind of cinematic experience and one that a more general audience would not be as open to appreciating. However, that is not necessarily the case with this film. For the most part, it does not intend to make huge bold statements in almost any direction about its content, but presents itself as a character study concerning the complexities of a variety of social issues concerning identity and the relationship between the physical and the digital. In these regards, Cam is massively successful and punctuates its sense of unease and spiraling collapse of reality with thoughtful vigor. It may not appease the average horror film fanatic with its Twilight Zone inspired concept, but for this reviewer it was a massive surprise. 

Monday, December 17, 2018

The Blood Splatter: Malevolent (2018) and What Keeps You Alive (2018)


MALEVOENT (2018)

Director: Olaf De Fleur
Notable Cast: Florence Pugh, Ben Lloyd-Hughes, Scott Chambers, Gerogina Bevan, Stephen McCole, Daisy Mathewson, Charlotte Allen, Nicola Grier, Cecila Imrie

Ghost stories are a dime a dozen in the horror genre, so when Netflix rolled out Malevoent as an original for the Halloween season it was a somewhat overlooked release. No real fanfare or Netflix red carpet, which is the shame of the entire release structure of the streaming giant as things tend to drop and quickly get buried in a thousand other releases. As it turns out, Malevoent is quite the little horror find. Not only does the film take its rather hum drum concept and execute it with a sense of purpose, but it takes a wild turn in the third act that ought to surprise a few fans (like myself) in the process.

The concept of a young team of “fake” paranormal investigators who go into a house only to find their schemes of making a paycheck are going to be messed up by some real ghosts is old hat at this point. Yawn. However, in the case of Malevoent, the film has a strange knack for creating a lot of interest in it. It creates a slew of intriguing characters, hardly original by any means but well executed and heartfelt, and the film’s subtle old school haunted house approach to scares and ghosts is impressive. There are moments where the film leans into an almost 70’s subtle and nuanced tone, less focused on jump scares and more about crafting tension and atmosphere than anything, that betrays its 1980’s setting. The performances and smaller character beats are popping with chemistry and the use of great detailing makes the experience somewhat immersive. More than I was expecting, to say the least.

Naturally, the film takes a fantastic execution and turns it on its head for the third act. It’s not all that unusual to expect the ‘twist’ in a film of this ilk anymore, but the direction that the film goes is somewhat shocking in its own way. To give up more than that is to spoil a big part of why Malevoent is so impressive in the end, so it’s best to leave it at that. Outside of a few predictable subplots that don’t quite get enough attention to add a lot to the narrative and some odd smaller details that didn’t set well with me (why the static screen shots in some of the edits in the second act?,) Malevoent is a great find on Netflix and comes highly recommended.


WHAT KEEPS YOU ALIVE (2018)

Director: Colin Minihan
Notable Cast: Hannah Emily Anderson, Brittany Allen, Martha MacIsaac, Joey Klein

Although I have enjoyed most of Colin Minihan’s films, particularly after having discovered It Stains the Sands Red earlier this year and just how quirky and effective it was, he is a director that I have always associated with a modern style that would not necessarily work as well with a concept like What Keeps You Alive. The idea of a relatively non-gimmicky and traditional psychological thriller in his hands was one that just didn’t feel like it sat well with me. Still, after a few friends sang their praise of What Keeps You Alive, I decided to leap into the film and just give myself over. I’m sure glad I did. Every year I always end up finding a super surprise gem that shakes up my end of year list and this year, this is that film.

Whether it’s the layered and powerful performances from the two leading ladies, who essentially have to anchor the entire film (only spending a bit of time with a couple of other characters for some brief moments,) or the meticulously paced and often dread soaked tension that just continually builds throughout the latter half of the film, What Keeps You Alive impresses all the way around. It’s the epitome of a film that takes a well-worn concept and delivers a fresh feeling film purely on execution, but that’s what makes it so good. When the film does take smaller twists, it is hardly all that surprising, but it was easy to find oneself sucked into the story and characters to still be drawn further down into the plot which uses the limited setting perfectly.

Yet, despite a well crated script, some powerhouse performances, and a great setting, What Keeps You Alive truly feels like a fully realized artistic film by the director. His knack for using space, long takes, and truly unique moments (particularly in the final act) not only makes this one of the best films of the year, but easily the best film of his career. Although I’m sure there are some people that will find the film to be a bit slow or perhaps predictable, the execution of What Keeps You Alive easily uplifts it to a level that is a massive surprise. It’s one of the best of the year and also highly recommended.


Written by Matt Reifschneider

Friday, December 14, 2018

Leprechaun Returns (2018)


Director: Steven Kostanski
Notable Cast: Taylor Spreitler, Pepi Sonuga, Sai Bennett, Heather McDonald, Emily Reid, Oliver Llewellyn Jenkins, Leon Clingman, Mark Holton, Linden Porco, Pete Spiros

To properly address Leprechaun Returns, we need to start by having a brief conversation about the Leprechaun franchise thus far. After the first film came out with a bang, utilizing the emerging direct to home video market and developing a video store cult audience, the series has seen its relative ups and downs. This is a franchise that was never meant to be taken seriously. The tongue is very, very firmly planted in cheek from the onset. Whether or not you are willing to ride the series through its waning issues of quality and over reliance on gimmick is more or less a question of how far you are willing to accept ridiculousness and horrific puns. When the series suffered a reboot back in 2014 with Leprechaun: Origins, it was a wild mistake and wholly misguided venture that left most people, even those who enjoyed the series, myself included, perplexed. Did we ask for a super serious, dark, and modernized manipulation that forgot everything that was core to series?

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Helios (2015)


Directors: Sunny Luk and Longman Leung
Notable Cast: Nick Cheung, Jacky Cheung, Shawn Yue, Chang Chen, Wang Xueqi, Janice Man, Ji Jin-hee, Choi Siwon, Yoon Jin-yi, Josephine Koo, Fen Wenjuan, Lee Tae-ran

After the success of Cold War, directors Sunny Luk and Longman Leung needed a worthy follow up. Cold War was a decent success, most effectively by taking in 9 different awards at the Hong Kong Film Awards that year including Best Film and Best Director. Naturally, that leaves a lot of pressure on the duo to follow it up with something just as strong. A film that still felt distinctly their ‘style,’ but perhaps pushed them in some new directions. After three years, the duo came back with Helios. Now, Helios came out in 2015, but it didn’t get a US release until the end of 2018 with it ultimately debuting as a Netflix release with little fanfare and no marketing. This isn’t necessarily an indicator of quality of the film, but it does indicate that, compared to Cold War and the directing duo’s return to that world with Cold War 2 post-Helios, the film just didn’t generate the buzz. That’s because, for better or worse, Helios is too much of the same as their other films and it just can’t quite match the complex narrative flourish that allowed those to work. When it does deviate and take some chances, the film is ambitious if not flawed in trying to do so. Helios ends up being a bit too much like Icarus and instead of being a sun god, flies a bit too close instead.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Being Natural (2018)

Director: Tadashi Nagayama

Notable Cast: Yohta Kawase, Atsushi Sekiguchi, Shoichiro Tanigawa, Kanji Tsuda, Kazu Akieda

Director Tadashi Nagayama completely threw me off guard last year (2017) when he sent me his previous film, Journey of the Tortoise, a road movie a about a strange uncle, his nephew, and a tortoise, in late December... which shook up my Top 15 Japanese Films of the Year list, which was pretty set in concrete at that point, in the end climbing to the #5 spot. Needless to say when I caught word that the up and coming director had a new film completed, I became excited. After months of unexpected delays, I finally had a chance to watch Being Natural, which was most certainly worth the unintentional wait.

Taka (Yohta Kawase), is a jobless and carefree spirit, who beats on his bongos and lives with his elderly uncle, who unfortunately passes away unexpectedly one night. When the home's new owner, Mitsu (Shoichiro Tanigawa) comes to realize Taka is without a job, he decides to offer him one as opposed to kicking him to the curb, a fear which is quickly alleviated in Taka's worrisome mind. Seemingly happy and content with his new and still very simple life, things are quickly uprooted when an estranged couple and their daughter show up one day from the city. They are trying to open up an 'all natural' restaurant, in an old house, seemingly set to push he and Mitsu out of their home. Things start off quirky and goofy and go completely off the the rails by the final stretch. Some will go for it and others won't. I was laughing the entire ride.

A Man and His Tortoise

While I think I prefer Tadashi's previous outing just a bit more, there is still plenty to love here. For starts, as with his last, the cinematography here is completely gorgeous, with nearly every frame looking like a beautiful photo. The color pallete, and framing in each shot is a feast for the eyes. One thing is certain, Tadashi Nagayama certainly has one impressive visual eye. The music throughout is fantastic too, playing to the narrative and comedy in equal measure. Characters are very memorable and well written, each having small, but fleshed out arcs and the story goes to many unexpected places. The drama is small, but impacting when it happens and the three leading men share the perfect chemistry with one another.

There is every type of comedy in here: light-hearted, dark, physical, visual gags, and so on. Some moments work perfectly and others are admiral missteps. Most of the time I couldn't stop laughing but certain moments seemed to fall a little flat, not damaging the overall experience too much. It has a ton of heart and craftsmanship put into it and the final product shows that. A complete work of love.


Tadashi Nagayama certainly is proving to be one of the most original voices working in Japan today. Only two features in and he has a style and humor all his own. Whatever he does next, I'll be sure to be there and in a much more timely manner. Being Natural is one of the weirdest movies you'll see this year and it certainly will find quite the crowd in due time. Just the right amount of heartwarming and bloodletting.

Written by Josh Parmer

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Unstoppable (2018)


Director: Kim Min-Ho
Notable Cast: Don Lee (Ma Dong-Seok), Song Ji-Hyo, Kim Seong-Oh, Kim Min-Jae, Park Ji-Hwan

When Don Lee came erupting onto the international scene, thanks mostly to his film stealing secondary role as the tough husband in Train to Busan, it was a breath of fresh air. Compared to so many of the boyish looks and thin frames of most South Korean actors that starred in the films that made it to North American shores, he was a stark contrast that proved he had true screen presence and immense talent. Lately, he has been a staple of many South Korean international releases, proving to be one of the best additions to the second Last 49 Days film and holding his own with heart and drama in the arm-wrestling film, Champion. His latest, Unstoppable, only cements him as THE leading man of South Korean cinema right now. The film itself benefits greatly from him as an anchor for everything to hang onto as the narrative and tonal approach can be somewhat sticky, but in terms of a cinematic vehicle for Don Lee, Unstoppable is justifiably effective.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Shoplifters (2018)

Director: Hirokazu Koreeda

Notable Cast: Sakura Ando, Lily Franky, Kiki Kirin, Mayu Matsuoka, Kairi Jyo, Miyu Sasaki

Going into a new Koreeda film is something to be excited about. Over the span of the dozen plus works of his I've seen, I've been impressed to varying degrees. One common thread spun throughout the entirety of his works I've seen thus far of his exploration of family and the core value of it. Others have done this before him, spanning entire careers, such as the always comparable Ozu, but none have done it in his unique way. This is a Koreeda picture, through and through, and it is one of his very finest to date.

The plot of Shoplifters is simple. A group of people, spanning in age groups from small children to elderly, all on the bottom fringes of the social stratophere, live in a small house together, getting by day to day, doing odd jobs and as the title explains, shoplifting to survive. During a trip home one night, the husband and wife of the family, played brilliantly by Lily Franky and Sakura Ando respectively, find a young girl, sitting out in the cold, obviously abused and without food. The two then discover the youthful girl's abusive parents and decide to take her under their wings.

Family.

That's all of the plot I wish to reveal, as the directions in which the narrative take are worth going in blind over. The majority of the film is typical Koreeda family affair, which is by no means a bad thing. The characters are brilliantly written and equally realized by powerhouse performances all across the board. Lily Franky really ups his already solid game as the father of the pack. He is funny as per many a Lily role, but he brings a pain not often felt in his other works. He drew out emotions from me that I was completely taken aback by. The two children of the film, Kairi Jyo and Miyu Sasaki give heartbreaking performances and their chemistry makes for some of the best I've seen in some time.

The real star of the show though is none other than the endlessly impressive Sakura Ando of Love Exposure and 100 Yen Love fame, who gives a career defining moment as she fully dives into my favorite on-screen performance of 2018. She is warm and charming and brings the full nuances and wide range of emotion that intricately unravels the complexities  of her character as her fascinating arc unfolds. Many moments from her have engrained themselves in my mind and I don't expect they'll be leaving anytime soon. Sakura Ando is on an entirely different level here.

The MVP of Shoplifters... Sakura Ando.

Before moving on, I will bring this review to a screeching halt and take the time to appreciate the brilliance of recently lost legend, actress Kiki Kirin, who gives yet again another marvelous turn as the family's grandmother. We see the pain without a doubt that Mrs. Kiki was going through here during her final stretch of life, but it doesn't get in the way of her brilliance on display. One of cinema's finest assets, gone on to the next part of this journey. We will all miss you greatly Kiki Kirin! Thank you endlessly!


Technically speaking, Shoplifters may be Koreeda's strongest to date. The cinematography is absolutely stunning and the set design of the house makes it feel truly inhabited. The layers of dirt and the sweat on the characters' bodies and faces as they carry on their daily lives, the changing of the seasons. Everything is so natural and lived in. The craftsmanship is something to truly commend. The score is another highlight, ranging from smooth and jazzy to subtly present during the heavier moments of the film. The accolades for this one are going to be non-stop and are truly worthy of every nomination and win possible.

Shoplifters is Japan's entry to the forthcoming Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film, and I truly hope it sees itself on stage being presented with a win. It is a deep examination of family and the core value and belief of what makes up one. It is safe to say that this is easily one of 2018's strongest cinematic offerings and perhaps Hirokazu Koreeda's best outing thus far. Do yourself a favor and see this film! Every type of cinena goer will find plenty here to love.

Written by Josh Parmer

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Dead Souls (2018)

Director: Wang Bing

"Beneath this Earth, rests bones."

For 12 years, spanning 2005-2017, documentarian Wang Bing trekked throughout China, interviewing various survivors of the Communist Party's Anti-Rightist campaign of 1957, where 3,200 men deemed "rightists" were held captive and sent to re-education through labor camps, where only a mere 500 would survive. Some of these remaining men share the horrors of their harrowing experience in one of the most monumental documentaries ever created.

Clocking in at a colossal 495 minutes, Dead Souls is a large undertaking for any type of film lover. Some may be put off by this initially, but I can attest to the importance of its runtime. Even at over 8 hours, some of the interviewed victims have been cut from the final film. There are so many stories told here, none lesser or more important than the others. There is a balance presented here, and the interviews take as long as they need. These lives and confession are extremely important, their voices worth every second heard. I am so thankful a work like this can even exist.


Most of the film cuts back and forth between 2005/2006 and 2016/2017. At times we hit a moment between the two but the bulk of it bounces around those timefames frequently. The video quality fluctuates due to the limitations of video equipment in the earlier years, but the aesthetic is never meant for flash. It maintains a camera that never intrudes or demands, but one that follows and let's the subject be the weight as it most certainly should be in this case. I admire the moments the director's arm slips into frame or his reflection is seen in a mirror hanging on a closet door as he peers through the viewfinder of his camera. It is as raw as it can get and nothing is shyed away from if it intervenes with the moment being captured or story being told. There are cuts but only presented in necessary moments, such as a person exiting the room for a break or of the interview is to be carried on the next day.

There is no use of score and to powerful effect. The emotional weight and resonance felt merely needs presented by those on camera. As said before, the visuals aren't really a highlight, by way of design, but the shots where the camera travels through the desert in more current times, over the camps, haunting abruptly to examine skeletal remains poking up out of the ground, before moving on only a few steps to the next pileof scattered bones. Haunting is an understatement. In addition to the more traditionally shot interview, moments like these or a hard cut to a note written by one of the deceased, there is just enough variety to a standard style of visual presentation to keep things fresh throughout.


Sitting through 8+ hours of listening to these elderly men reflect back on the inhumane hardships they endured; the starvation, beatings, cannibalism and death they were surrounded with every waking moment, it's a wonder that any survived. Saddened and shocked in equal measure, the things humans put one another through never ceases to disturb me. These voices needed to be heard. Wang Bing was the perfect vessel to let these stories be told. May their souls rest in peace. A dark corner of history that had been told in an uncensored fashion. Easily one the most important pieces of cinema to surface in 2018.

Written by Josh Parmer