Monday, February 20, 2017

Killing Machine, The (2010)

Director: Dolph Lundgren
Notable Cast: Dolph Lundgren, Stefanie Von Pfetten, Samantha Ferris, David Lewis, Lindsay Maxwell, John Tench, Bo Svenson, Katelyn Mager, Monique Ganderton
Also Known As: Icarus

The straight to video action genre is a crap shoot on almost any given day. Even having a recognizable name in the film isn’t necessarily a guarantee of quality, but there is something fun and enjoyable about digging through these films to find those diamonds in the rough. For whatever reason, I kept putting off watching The Killing Machine even though I had it on my watch queue in my Blu Ray collection for God knows how long. Now that I finally have gotten around to it, I must say that it’s one of the better films that Dolph Lundgren has put out in the later part of his career. This is saying something because he directs the film too and it’s his direction that comes off as shockingly effective at times and carries the film more than anything else. It’s one of those films that doesn’t strive too hard to be more than it is as a low budget actioner, but it does it all with decent intent and execution making it one of those surprises one hopes to find while sifting through the genre.

Mechanic: Resurrection (2016)


Aka "Mechanic 2"

The original 1971 Michael Winner actioneer “The Mechanic” is not only my favorite Charles Bronson vehicle but also one of my favorite action set pieces of the 70s. It was tough, cool and dripping with 70s goodness. With that said one would think I would automatically write off the 2011 remake with Jason Statham as complete drivel. Well that’s not the case as I found it succeed as both a worthwhile update of the classic film but simultaneously serve wonderfully as a Statham action vehicle who is, in my humble opinion, the only actor with the stoic charisma to step into the role of Frank Bishop. The one element that perturbed me was the slight change to the iconic ending of the original film no doubt setting the film up to be a franchise. And what we get is “Mechanic: Resurrection” a full 5 years after the fact and 5 years proves that good things don’t not always come to those who wait.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Psychomania (1972)

Director: Don Sharp        

Notable Cast: Nicky Henson, Mary Larkin, George Sanders, Beryl Reid, Roy Holder, Robert Hardy

Psychomania just makes sense. Perhaps not in its narrative because that is generally all over the place, but combining the thrills of the 70s biker movie with the 70s occult flick seems like common sense. You’re now hitting two genres with exploitative appeal and doing it at the same time. Psychomania does just that and does it with decent effect. The results can be a bit mixed overall, occasionally unfocused in how it wants to present its characters or even logistics when it comes to its hodge podge of occult/supernatural elements, but this film was ultimately much better than expected. It’s an enjoyable piece of cinema, powered by a lot of quirky pieces and an oddly engaging love story, but it touches on a lot of great concepts that span over the themes of both genre styles that ought to please a lot of cult cinema fans. Psychomania is the perfect addition to Arrow Video’s gems from the cult cinema past.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Cat vs. Rat (1982)

Director: Liu Chia-Liang
Notable Cast: Adam Cheng Siu-Chow, Alexander Fu Sheng, Kara Hui, Hsiao Ho, Lau Kar-Wing, Gordon Liu, Wong Ching-Ho, Lydia Shum Tin-Ha, Johnny Wang, King Lee King-Chu, Cheung Chin-Pang

It’s not surprising that when I was first looking into picking up the Shaw Brothers film Cat vs. Rat, I read a lot of mixed things about the film. Despite being directed by the legendary Liu Chia-Liang and featuring a regular slew of his actors, Cat vs. Rat is a wholly mixed effort even fringing on being one of the lesser films I’ve seen from the Shaw Brothers catalog. If there is anything that this film has going for it, it’s that the focus seems to be on being a ‘fun’ film over anything else, driving towards being a slapstick comedy in the vein of what was popular in the cinemas at the time. However, the sacrifices that the film makes with its narrative, characters, and overall approach for the sake of a joke is not worth it and it ultimately crumbles apart under a scrutinizing eye. It’s a silly movie and taken as such is rather inoffensive, but for those looking for another Liu Chia-Liang classic than this is hardly on that scale.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Love Witch, The (2017)

Director: Anna Biller
Notable Cast: Samantha Robinson, Gian Keys, Laura Waddell, Jeffrey Vincent Parise, Jared Sanford, Robert Seeley, Jennifer Ingrum, Clive Ashborn, Elle Evans

Truthfully, it wasn’t until some fellow horror critics started recommended The Love Witch to me that it jumped onto my viewing queue. The initial trailer didn’t quite hit me like I thought it would, seeming to be more gimmick than anything else. However, The Love Witch has received some substantial praise from critics and fans alike. While the film is one that uses its style to overcome some of its issues with silly plot devices or character traits (essentially using its 60s style and creative approach to acting and visuals as a stylistic choice overall), the film does dig a lot deeper than expected. After the first act settles in and the styles and approach are settled, the film really does do an admirably clever job in throwing in a lot of subtext about love, sex, and the roles that gender plays in relationships that give the film a modern feminist spin. By the end, The Love Witch is less about being a gimmicky horror thriller throwback and more about the artistic choices of cinema meant to spin the style on its head rather than use it as a crutch.

Friday, February 10, 2017

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)

Director: Chad Stahelski
Notable Cast: Keanu Reeves, Common, Laurence Fishburne, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ruby Rose, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, Lance Reddick, Peter Stormare, Franco Nero, Claudia Gerini, Peter Serafinowicz

John Wick was the kind of film that stood out in the sea of action cinema because it used its tropes and understood its history to present a film that was as artful in action as it was efficient in its narrative. It used subtle world building and a snowballing momentum of reveal and unleash the power of a classic action hero in a world that was over the top, but was presented in such a way that it was real to those involved. John Wick: Chapter 2 hones in what every action sequel attempts to do. It’s faster, bigger, and meaner. For all intensive purposes, it accomplishes, in spades, what so many action sequels attempt to do and generally falter at. This is world exploration, fresh and even more visually artistic than its predecessor, and it still understands why audiences connected with the first one. In many ways it’s the expansion of the universe that makes it so much fun to watch and it still delivers on all of the action fronts.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Cinema Paradiso (1988)

Director: Giuseppe Tornatore
Notable Cast: Philippe Noiret, Slavatore Cascio, Marco Leonardi, Jacques Perrin, Antonella Attili, Enzo Cannavale, Isa Danieli, Pupella Maggio, Agnese Nano, Leopoldo Trieste, Nino Terzo, Giovanni Giancono, Brigitte Fossey

One of the major changes that Blood Brothers has seen over the last couple of years is the inclusion of reviews for films outside of the basic genre niches to include more diverse “cult” films. The term cult is in itself much more diverse than most people give it credit for being and our writing staff is intent on exploring those facets. The Arrow Academy line, exploring more arthouse cinema than its sister label Arrow Video, is the perfect way to do this and they are finally coming to the US. Their slate for their March debut in the United States is jam packed, but it might be highlighted by the release of both the theatrical and director’s cut of the Oscar winning foreign film, Cinema Paradiso. It also happens to be first review we are going to focus on for the new Arrow Academy line up. It’s a great place to start as the film appeals on a lot of levels for cinephiles.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Snuff Bottle Connection (1977)

Directors: Richard Tung Chin-Hu, Lily Lau
Notable Cast: John Liu, Hwang Jang-Lee, Wong Yat-Lung, Yip Fai-Yang, Cho Kin, Phillip Ko Fei, Hsu Hsia, Roy Horan

There is a part of me that is saddened by Snuff Bottle Connection. Not because the film is bad, in fact it’s quite the opposite. This film is solid and a great entertaining kung fu flick. It’s about how the film has been essentially lost to time. My DVD copy is obviously a VHS transfer (complete with tracking problems) and this film is of high enough quality that it deserves a legitimate release to save it from the ravages of time and obscurity. Snuff Bottle Connection is a film that’s bursting at the seams with talented performers and its plot blends a lot of martial arts clichés with some heartfelt characters and an energy to sell it all. Yet, here I am watching it for review in a fuzzy, color bled and poorly dubbed version and it kind of makes me sad despite all of the great things that it has going for it as a kung fu flick.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Split (2017)

Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Notable Cast: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Betty Buckley, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula, Brad William Henke, Sebastian Arcelus

The M. Night Shyamalan story is going to be one for the books. At one point in his early career he was being called the next Steven Spielberg, but those diehard fans accumulated and endless amounts of praise started to waver with The Village, came into question with Lady in the Water, and were extinguished by The Happening. Since then, he’s almost been a blight on his own movies as his twist heavy writing and direction was called heavily into question by critics and fans and it fell as far as to even see his name mysteriously disappear on all marketing for After Earth. However, 2015 saw him go back to his roots with the comedic horror film The Visit and it indicated that perhaps his career wasn’t completely dead. By the time the credits had ended on his latest feature Split, I felt like perhaps he will be a phoenix rising from the ashes. This is because Split, for all of its gimmicks, is a remarkably effective thriller, fringing on horror and yet remaining impressively thoughtful at how it approaches its sensitive subject matter. It’s a film that delivers on its promises, going beyond that with strong characters and fantastic narrative, and establishes Shyamalan as a director who still has the touch to sucker punch his audience like he was known to do in his early career. Split is a rebirth.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

I Spit on Your Grave 2 (2013)

Director: Steven R. Monroe
Notable Cast: Jemma Dallender, Yavor Baharov, Joe Absolom, Aleksandar Aleksiev, Mary Stockley, Valentine Pelka, Georgi Zlaterev, Peter Silverleaf

There is a lot of love for the original I Spit on Your Grave (aka Day of the Woman) within the realms of cult cinema and it deserves a lot of respect. However, the film is flawed. As of the writing of this little review, I have taken a lot of flak from various fans, critics, and horror hounds for stating that Steven R. Monroe’s remake of I Spit on Your Grave is a better film than the original. I still stand by that. While it took me far too long to get to it, I finally was able to watch Monroe’s sequel I Spit on Your Grave 2 and now I’m prepared to take another round of abuse from fans because this sequel is even better than his remake. I know, I know. I must have gone mad. I liked a remake better than the original? Then I liked its sequel better than that?! Yet, as the credits rolled on I Spit on Your Grave 2, it was hard not to think this. Not only does this one pull away further from the cheesy moments that hindered its predecessor, but it throws in a variety of solid narrative shifts that expand on the themes and formula to make it feel fresher, leaner, and meaner.

Ley Lines (1999)

Director: Takashi Miike
Notable Cast: Kazuki Kitamura, Michisuke Kashiwaya, Tomorowo Taguchi, Dan Li, Show Aikawa, Naoto Takenaka, Samuel Pop Aning, Oh Far-long

To finalize his thematically connected Black Society Trilogy, Takashi Miike goes for a combination of the first two (Shinjuku Triad Society and Rainy Dog) for the third entry Ley Lines. While this idea seems very promising at its conception, the resulting mix that arrives in Ley Lines is a tad underwhelming particularly when the expectations are so high. The film is still an ambitious and artistic venture into the world of outsiders and their connection to organized crime and certainly deserves a lot of praise thrown its way, but it’s not nearly as entertaining in its grit nor is it as stylized in its characterizations as the previous entries. On its own, it’s still an accomplished work showing Miike’s directorial pizzazz at being able to weave exploitative elements with dramatic heft and thoughtful exploration of its themes, but at the same time the film tends to fall off balance with a few sequences that undercut the whole.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Mr. Six (2015)

Director: Guan Hu

Notable Cast: Feng Xiaogang, Kris Wu, Hanyu Zhang, Li Yi Feng, Xu Qing, Liu Hua

I typically don't go into a film expecting anything, but when a film is advertised heavily as an action / gangster film, I sort of believe I know what I am at least sitting down to watch and getting myself into. No. Not her... not with Mr. Six. Instead of a gangster flick or even action, what we get is the build up to said type of genre and then it is pulled from us to reveal a melodrama, and a pretty solid one at that.