Saturday, August 11, 2018

Shadowbuilder (1998)

Director: Jamie Dixon
Notable Cast: Michael Rooker, Leslie Hope, Andrew Jackson, Shawn Thompson, Kevin Zegers

I’m a bit of a sucker for late 90s horror. There’s something about the aesthetic of straight to home video or low to mid budget horror from the era that hits a nostalgic note for me, so when Bram Stoker’s Shadowbuilder (also known as Shadow Builder without the iconic author’s name attached) hit my review queue I was generally excited to dig into a film from this era that I had not experienced before. Needless to say, even though the film is hardly perfect by any definition of the word, it also hit all of the right marks for me. Shadowbuilder is an enjoyably off beat supernatural horror action flick with some fantastic casting. It’s a product of its time, particularly in its use of visual effects around its villain, but its combination of cult horror with supernatural slasher elements was charming and fun.

Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle (2018)

Directors: Kobun Shizuno, Hiroyuki Seshita
Notable Cast: Mamoru Miyano, Takahiro Sakurai, Kana Hanazawa, Tomokazu Sugita, Yuki Kaji, Junichi Suwabe, Reina Ueda, Ari Ozawa, Kenta Miyake, Kenyu Horiuchi, Kazuya Nakai, Kazuhiro Yamaji

As a huge Godzilla fan, it was a shock that I felt so disconnected and disappointed with the first anime film Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters. If you’re curious about those feelings, as they do set up the context for this next review, I would suggest just going and reading my review for the film HERE. In summary, the film went very far away from the usual core Godzilla material and was essentially crippled by its structure. While its sequel, or more fittingly it should be called next episode, Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle does help the first film by actually adding some character depth to the story, but it’s also a film that inherently suffers from the same problems and only adds a few redeeming qualities to make for a better film experience. Fans of the first film will definitely love what City on the Edge of Battle is offering, but for those hoping for a lot more (i.e. me) it’s only slightly better than the first.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Sleepy Eyes of Death 9: A Trail of Traps (1967)

Director: Kazuo Ikehiro
Notable Cast: Raizo Ichikawa, Nobuo Kaneko, Toshio Kimura, Haruko Wanibuchi, Mikio Narita, Naoko Kubo, Kayo Mikimoto

One of the things that keeps rising to my attention, at least while I am working my way through the rest of the Sleepy Eyes of Death series, is that often my opinion of individual films goes against the popular one. I found that Sleepy Eyes of Death 8 was surprisingly effective and cinematic, despite it being one that was generally unpopular with fans, and for the ninth entry, A Trail of Traps, my opinion once again swung the opposite direction.  Where fans tend to find this one massively entertaining and above the usual quality of the series, as the film rolled to a close, there was a feeling that the potential of the concept did not equal the film that was delivered. Despite some fantastic moments, a strong visual approach by director Kazuo Ikehiro, and another set of really strong performances from the cast, A Trail of Traps is a film where the meandering script has no real sense of purpose and seemingly strings together a half dozen plot threads in an attempt to layer a film that doesn't have the nuance and momentum to make it work. It is entertaining, for sure, but the fun concept isn’t enough to keep the film from floating off on its own trail of narrative traps.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Unfriended: Dark Web (2018)

Director: Stephen Susco
Notable Cast: Colin Woodell, Betty Gabriel, Rebecca Rittenhouse, Andrew Lees, Connor Del Rio, Stephanie Nogueras, Savira Windyani, Chelsea Alden, Alexa Mansour, Douglas Tait

After the breakout success of 2015’s Unfriended, which was a surprise box office success, it wasn’t that hard to imagine Blumhouse pumping out a sequel or two for the film. As with so many other found footage horror films, they were cheap to make and even if it had half a decent marketing campaign it was going to be profitable. The fact that it took three years for Unfriended: Dark Web to hit theaters is something of a surprise. Particularly when it was revealed that the film would not be a direct sequel to the previous entry, but a stylistically thematic one that dealt with the hideous corners of the Dark Web versus a supernatural entity. Still, the film is out now and while it has hit the headlines by being a surprise box office letdown (it only made under $4 million opening weekend versus the original one which banked in over $15 million on its opening weekend,) Dark Web is hardly the massive let down that would indicate. It’s more of the same stylistically, but it’s a bit different in tone and approach to the style which means that there will definitely be mixed feelings about the film. Overall, Dark Web is a few shades lesser than its predecessor, but it’s still an intense little low budget horror flick worthy of a watch for fans. 

Monday, August 6, 2018

The Bloodthirsty Trilogy (1970, 1971, 1974)

Japanese horror films have always fascinated me since Ju-On haunted my life for about a year when I was around 16 years old. Enough so that, when available, I try to snag a few here and there to fit them into my viewing schedule. When Arrow Video announced The Bloodthirsty Trilogy, comprising of The Vampire Doll, Lake of Dracula, and Evil of Dracula, for a new Blu Ray set, I was stoked. These were films that I was rather unfamiliar with and after hearing that they were essentially Japan’s brief attempts at replicating the Hammer horror style, I was completely bought in. Eventually, we started receiving quite a few requests at Blood Brothers to review the set and with the new Blu Ray in hand, I’m happy to oblige. Below you will find each film reviewed singularly, in order as they appear on the set, and after that there will be a recap of the films and the actual release itself. If you’re already interested in the set, I might recommend that you just go ahead and make the purchase, supporting these kinds of releases only means that we get more of them in the future, but if you’re still wary of whether or not the films are worth it, just crack open your coffin and keep reading about each of the films.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Unfriended (2015)

Director: Levan Gabriadze
Notable Cast: Shelley Hennig, Moses Jacob Storm, Renee Olstead, Will Peltz, Jacob Wysocki, Courtney Halverson, Heather Sossaman

Although the found footage genre of horror has essentially seen its 15 minutes of fame come and go, it’s a genre that will never be lost for all of the same reasons that it grew to be a juggernaut of style. It’s cheap to make and it is an easy way for an audience to put themselves in the shoes of the characters. Those are two things that horror films feed on. Now, more recently as technology advances, found footage has more opportunities to take different angles as the same style. Instead of mockumentaries or found tapes/records that are showcased in a narrative style, we have films like the Unfriended series. Sacrificing the shaky cam panic of a cameraman on the run from whatever horrors await them, Unfriended takes a slick and occasionally clever spin on the in-the-moment horror. Its narrative is told completely from the screen capture of a computer.  It’s as straight forward as that.

Escape Plan 2: Hades (2018)

Director: Steven C. Miller
Notable Cast: Huang Xiaoming, Sylvester Stallone, Dave Bautista, Jaime King, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Jesse Metcalfe, Wes Chatham, Titus Welliver, Lydia Hull, Chen Tang, Tyron Woodley, Pete Wentz

One of the more fascinating elements of American cinema is how the foreign box office has become a significant indicator of how successful a film is or isn’t. Not only in terms of the big blockbusters, but even for the middle of the road films. A film like Escape Plan, a mid-budget action thriller starring Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, stumbled at the domestic box office, but did surprising numbers overseas – specifically in China. It was enough that a sequel was announced later on and that it would be geared to appeal to that foreign market rather than the 80s meets modern action thriller that the first one meant to capitalize on. Thus, we have Escape Plan 2: Hades and the initial response from critics and fans alike were less than stellar. However, Hades is hardly just a throwaway sequel with a name attachment meant to continue a franchise. This film is an entertainingly silly sequel that truly attempts to create a more layered ‘conspiracy’ to further the events of the first film. Yes, to agree with most of the criticisms of this film, Hades is bad. I would never make the claim for it to be a good film, but it's going to find its cult audience in 10 years that thoroughly enjoys it for being so problematic and silly. I'll be waiting for you all to catch up with me.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Buybust (2018)

Director: Erik Matti
Notable Cast: Anne Curtis, Brandon Vera, Victor Neri, Arjo Atayde, Nonie Buencamino, Lao Rodriguez, Alex Calleja, Levi Ignacio, Ricky Pascua, Joross Gamboa, Sheenly Gener, Mara Lopez, AJ Muhlach

Filipino director Erik Matti has been around for much longer than most people know and his career has covered a ton of various genres and styles throughout the years. It wasn’t until the release of his dark and gritty thriller, On the Job, in 2013 that his name truly broke through into other currents of cinema. Although he has followed up On the Job with some diverse films, including a segment in the very entertaining ABCs of Death 2, it’s not until his latest film and the subject of this review, Buybust, that he has seen the same kind of hype. Sporting some fantastic marketing, including a brutal and intense trailer along with some strong word of mouth after it’s premiere at the New York Asian Film Festival, Buybust has created some lofty expectations going into the film.

The film meets those expectations with a hammerfist to the face.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Along with the Gods: The Last 49 Days (2018)

Director: Kim Yong-hwa
Notable Cast: Ha Jung-woo, Ju Ji-hoon, Kim Huang-gi, Ma Dong-seok, Kim Dong-wook, Lee Jung-jae

Late last year, South Korea released Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds throughout the world and it was met, generally, with solid praise. It was a raucous cinematic ride, blending genres almost willy-nilly into a provocatively entertaining experience that was equal parts morality tale, fantasy adventure, and franchise starter. It’s this last element of The Two Worlds that brings us to its (first?) sequel, Along with the Gods: The Last 49 Days. After the original film left off on an open ending meant to tease that the three guardians would continue their plight, it was only expected that a follow up film was imminent and, surprise, surprise, here we are less than a year later with the next one. Sporting the same genre bending style and outlandish popcorn entertainment meets message film, fans of the first one are definitely going to want to leap back into the world of afterlife trials and fantasy adventure. Granted, this sequel doesn’t quite find the effective balance of the first, it does have its own brilliant moments leaving The Last 49 Days as grand cinematic entertainment with a heart of gold.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Incident in a Ghostland (2018)

Director: Pascal Laugier
Notable Cast: Crystal Reed, Mylene Farmer, Anastasia Phillips, Emilia Jones, Taylor Hickson, Kevin Power, Rob Archer, Mariam Bernstein, Alicia Johnston, Ernesto Griffith, Adam Hurtiq

Trauma and emotional processing are the new gore in the modern age of horror. As a genre, we’re becoming more genuine, more cathartic, and more poignant in the way that we view and tell our stories. Many fans have flocked to the genre as a means of exercising their own traumatic demons and finding a way to make sense of their own experiences.

I should mention right now that I have no effective credentials outside of being an armchair psychologist. These remarks are largely introspective as well as general hypotheses flung into the pop psychology void.

The horror genre is gaining steam, gaining more production and higher quality than we’ve seen before. This horror renaissance is exploring new concepts and expanding the boundaries of what the macabre can accomplish, showing a diversity in concept, subject, and execution that is a breath of fresh air to a genre that is largely associated with bargain bin slashers and brain numbing gore fests. This is not to say that these don’t have their place - but the genre, as a whole, needs to be much more than a sliver of its content.

Incident in a Ghostland is another film in the line of traumatic family thrillers that are smart, scary, and well crafted. Director Pascal Laugier (Martyrs, Tall Man) tells a story that is dark, brooding, and intelligent. While the concept of this film is nothing new, the execution and message are something that (dare I say it) I haven’t seen before. I know that I’m likely getting berated in the comment section right now, but I’ll be honest: I don’t know if I’ve seen this film echoed in anything else, something that is incredibly refreshing.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Outrage Coda (2017)

Director: Takeshi Kitano
Notable Cast: Takeshi Kitano, Toshiyuki Nishida, Ren Osugi, Tatsuo Nadaka, Ken Mitsuichi

While it would seem that Takeshi Kitano’s return to the yakuza genre with his Outrage films has met mixed reaction from fans, since the release of Outrage in 2010, I have been quite the fan. Each of the previous two films, the second one being Outrage Beyond, has seen Kitano blend a fantastic homage to 70s exploitative yakuza films with that of a modern sense of uplifted artistry. He does it with a refined sense of drama and pitch-black humor. When it was finally announced that a third entry would seal off his trilogy of films, I couldn’t have been happier. To make matters even better, Outrage Coda is another impressive addition to the series that sees its protagonist Otomo, played once again by director Kitano, who is again pulled back into the sleazy world of the businessmen yakuza. This third entry retains the same qualities as the first two and finishes off the trilogy in the only way that it could possibly end with strong execution and a sense of self awareness.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Tremble All You Want (2017)

Director: Akiko Ohku
Notable Cast: Mayu Matsuoka, Daichi Watanabe, Anna Ishibashi, Takumi Kitamura

First love is a fickle concept – to an extent we have all experienced this at varying degrees of success. Romanticised over the years in many art forms, this intrinsic rite of passage is rooted in fantasy, usually with one party falling head-over-heels for the other without truly knowing them, rendering the former useless at expressing their desires as realizing their dreams runs the life-ruining risk of shattering the illusion into a thousand pieces and leaving all hopes tarnished and scattered. But you know this, we all do. Telling you this has been a pointless endeavor as it reinforces what we already accept. In much the same way, Akiko Ohku’s frustratingly bland endurance test that is Tremble All You Want covers the same ground as the words above whilst projecting itself as a quirky rom-com socially awkward millennials will find relatable.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Night Is Short, Walk on Girl (2017)

Director: Masaaki Yuasa
Notable Cast: Gen Hoshino, Kana Hanazawa, Hiroshi Kamiya, Ryuji Akiyama

One of the great things about a film festival is that a person is able to see a lot of films that they may not have been intent on seeing previously. For me, this is the case for the animated and fantasy focused romantic comedy, Night Is Short, Walk on Girl. As someone who is only just starting to get into the realms of anime and one that is not all that keen on romantic comedies, this was a film that I was hesitant to simply leap into without much warning. However, a brief search of the film online sold me that it was worth the chance. The film had already opened in Japan to success, received some accolades like the Animation of the Year at the Japan Academy Prize, and it is already slated for a select US theatrical release. Naturally, this perks my interest. Even then, Walk Is Short, Walk on Girl was not quite the film I expected. Instead of a straight forward take on any of its genres, it exists as a strange vortex of exaggeration of the elements, tonally, visually, and in narrative. It’s quirky as hell and is often as perplexing as it is engaging with its story, but Walk Is Short, Walk on Girl is also impressively confident with the material which makes it one of the most intriguing and dynamic cinematic experiences this year.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Violence Voyager (2018)

Director: Ujicha
Notable Cast: Saki Fujita, Shigeo Takahashi, Naoki Tanaka, Aoi Yuki

Exploding with destructive force alongside the ecstatic birth of visual kei, Psychedelic Violence Crime of Visual Shock quickly became a slogan associated with the extravagant and wild aesthetic of pioneers X Japan (named X until ’93). Their frenzied speed metal antics and legendary live performances would radically alter the Japanese independent music scene for decades to come. Hurtling out of nowhere like the band’s debut album Vanishing Vision, artist Ujicha’s grappling Geki-mation took the festival circuit by storm with his brutal and bizarre The Burning Buddha Man in 2013. Brandishing his paper cut-out trademark once again, and erupting in grizzly and mind-bending fashion, Uchija’s triumphant long-awaited return is heralded with the eye-popping Violence Voyager; the reins on his inventive style are off and reduced to rubble, committing all new crimes of visual shock.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Born Bone Born (2018)

Director: Toshiyuki Teruya
Notable Cast: Ayame Misaki, Eiji Okuda, Michitaka Tsutsui, Yoko Oshima

“Is this really Japan?”
“On paper at least.”

A strong majority of films deal with death in some regards. Whether it’s the absurd body count of action and horror films or how death represents such a strong dramatic shift for other genres, it’s a topic that often comes up in one way or another. Perhaps it’s not so unusual that the first two films I would see for Japan Cuts 2018 start off with a funeral sequence. However, Born Bone Born is not nearly as heavy of a cinematic experience as Blank 13 and instead opts for a more comedic slant to the familial drama that populates the dramatic cinema landscape. To its benefit, Born Bone Born features some solid performances, an intriguing balance between tone, and a fantastic sense of purpose and drive that keeps the audience hooked.

Blank 13 (2017)

Director: Takumi Saitoh
Notable Cast: Issei Takahashi, Mayu Matsuoka, Takumi Saitoh, Lily Franky

When starting a massive marathon of films for any kind of reason, particularly when it comes to similarly themed ones for a film festival, it’s always nice to start off with a strong film and that’s exactly what Blank 13 was for me. With no real expectations of the film going into it, outside of the brief description on the Japan Cuts 2018 website, my own blank slate was filled by a film that plays things in a crafty way to tell what might have been a casual, if not rather boring, familial dark and slightly comedic drama. Blank 13, directed by Takumi Saitoh who is more known for his modeling and acting career and sports his first feature length film here, is a rather fascinating ball of threaded stories meant to create a blurry flurry of feelings rather than a more straightforward narrative. Yet through the impressive execution, the sly tonal shifts make Blank 13 a film that strips and audiences and leaves its mark, even if the basic plotting comes off as par for the course.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards! (1963)

Director: Seijun Suzuki
Notable Cast: Jo Shishido, Tamio Kawaji, Reiko Sassamori, Nobuo Kaneko, Kinzo Shin, Naomi Hoshi, Asao Sano, Yuko Kusunoki, Kotoe Hatsui, Hiroshi Hijikata

Despite the almost cult cinema God-like status that he has risen to in the last handful of years, not all Seijun Suzuki films are outstanding works of art perfection. He certainly has moments where he gets there with the pop influence of Tokyo Drifter, the strangeness of Branded to Kill, or the noir tones of Take Aim at the Police Van. Of course, since he was a gun for hire director for Nikkatsu for most of his career, his filmography is going to be slightly hit or miss. For starters, let’s look at the latest Arrow Video Blu Ray release for the hilariously titled, Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards!. Now this film already has a fairly enthusiastic following, which is why it’s received multiple home video releases even in the US over the years, but despite some charismatic elements to the film, it’s ultimately a mixed bag of execution. Where some pieces of the film soar, others completely stumble through the end. It leaves the film feeling a bit too uneven to reach the heights of the best of Suzuki’s career, but it still features some charming and fun aspects for fans to enjoy.

Lady Street Fighter (1981)

Director: James Bryan
Notable Cast: Renee Harmon, Jody McCrea

When one things back to the 1970s, in the realm of low budget flicks, there are a variety of exploitation genres that come to mind and there are quite a few instant classics that rise above the midline to be classics in their own right. Then there is Lady Street Fighter. Yes, Lady Street Fighter. If there were ever a more obvious film that uses exploitation to appease fans, then I’m not sure what that film would be. Lady Street Fighter uses the subtlety of a 2 x 4 beating its audience in the face. It is truly the kind of film that only a very special kind of cinema fan would enjoy – probably the kind that reads our material, truthfully. Lady Street Fighter is silly, poorly crafted, cliché, spends way too much time on sequences that really don’t matter, and in the end feels more like a comedy than an actual action film. Oh, and did I mention, even though the film feels like a 70s exploitations film, it was actually released in 1981. It very much missed out on being part of that boom and was more of a reaction to it.

Let’s be honest, if you’re looking to purchase the new 2K remastered Blu Ray from AGFA, then you already know that this film is for you and will definitely be worth the purchase. If you have qualms with a film that’s so ridiculously awful that it’s hilarious, then you may want to skip out on this one.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Case of the Scorpion's Tail (1971)

Director: Sergio Martino
Notable Cast: George Hilton, Anita Strindberg, Alberto de Mendoza, Ida Galli, Janine Reynaud, Luigi Pistilli, Tom Felleghy, Luis Barboo, Lisa Leonardi, Tomas Pico

What’s brilliant about Sergio Martino giallo films is that, outside of a handful, they are not usually purely giallo. It has been mentioned on this site previously that Martino is a much more diverse and talented director than just what he contributed to the horror genre and that even when he was making a film that was restricted to certain elements like a giallo is, he would find ways to make it feel dynamic. This brings us to the focus of this review, The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail, his second giallo and one that just received the pristine Arrow Video treatment. While the film maintains a staunch adherence to the elements that make a giallo a giallo (right down to the leather clad gloves and knife), it’s also a film that finds the tight balance of being a smart and intricately woven mystery thriller that slides into horror elements when it needs a spark to keep the film moving forward. It’s not quite the genre mashup that is Suspicious Death of a Minor, but it’s also not the pure slice of giallo that Torso is either. It’s the best of both worlds and The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail is a must have for any fan of either Italian cinema or just great thrillers.

Monday, July 16, 2018

The Night Eats the World (2018)

Director: Dominique Rocher
Notable Cast: Anders Danielsen Lie, Golshifteh Farahani, Denis Lavant, Sigrid Bouaziz, David Kammenos

Going into the film, I had expectations that perhaps The Night Eats the World would be more like the French Extremism movement that dominated the 00s and gave us some fantastic and experiential films. Maybe it might be a bit more artful, knowing that the film was essentially carried by one actor, but that it would still carry the impact of the violence and nihilism of that movement. The French Extremism powered a lot of fantastic zombie and zombie-esque films (see The Horde, Mutants) so those expectations didn’t seem nearly out of the line going into the film as they did by the time the credits began to roll.