Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Going the Distance (2016)

Director: Yujiro Harumoto

Cast: Shinichiro Matsuura, Masahiro Umeda, Yumi Endo, Nobu Morimoto, Koji Mitsumizo, Sanae Ono, Mami Shimogaki, Maki Taki, Kyoko Fukuba

Asahi is a man from the Gotō Islands, who now resides in Tokyo, making his living as a boxing trainer. He is living with his fiancee, Kaori, whom he plans to be married to very soon. The two seem happy together as they are working on the wedding and making arrangements towards that very special day. Asahi invites his childhood friend Hiroto to Tokyo, to help him find a job, and surprise him with a wedding invitation. The two land a deal with a local businessman but we quickly find out they were scammed and Hiroto is in financial ruin. Things begin to quickly fracture in Asahi's daily life, presenting him with an nearly impossible choice to make, family of the past, or that of the future?

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970)

Director: Dario Argento
Notable Cast: Tony Musante, Suzy Kendall, Enrico Maria Salerno, Eva Renzi, Umberto Raho, Renato Romano, Giuseppe Castellano, Mario Adorf, Pino Patti, Gildo Di Marco, Rosita Torosh

At this point it has been over 40 years since Dario Argento’s debut film, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage was released. The film is iconic. It establishes a lot of the themes and style that Argento would utilize throughout the first portion of his career, it kickstarted Italy’s obsession with the niche elements of the giallo film in the 70s, and it continues to showcase just how effectively it was made to this day through the massive fanbase it has accrued. For the most part, everything has been said that needs to be said about the film in the cult cinema community and there are plenty of folks out there that have spent a brilliant amount of time embracing and celebrating this film. Like the folks over at Arrow Video. Not only is this film still iconic, but it has never looked better or received a more heroic package than the latest Blu Ray and DVD combo pack released by Arrow Video. If you want to save some time reading the rest of this review, then I will just say this: buy The Bird with the Crystal Plumage now and buy this version of it. If you are curious to why I say that then please, read on.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Madhouse (1981)

Director: Ovidio Assonitis
Notable Cast: Trish Everly, Michael Macrae, Dennis Robertson, Morgan Hart, Allison Biggers, Edith Ivey, Richard Baker, Jerry Fujikawa
AKA: And When She Was Bad, There Was a Little Girl

“Most people’s nightmares end when they wake up. Mine begin.”

It starts off with a very wide shot. Blackness with a vague picture in the middle and some slight movement. A slow, creepy and somber version of Rock-a-Bye, Baby is sung as the picture draws closer to the viewer. It shows two young girls, one pushing the other in a rocking chair, before it takes a drastic turn as she repeatedly bashes the other one in the face with a stone. The tone of this opening is engaging and symbolic for a lot of the themes that Madhouse will explore over the next hour and a half as its audience is slowly brought down into an increasingly shocking nightmare. At the core of what this Italian and American co-production offers isn’t necessarily one that will rock the foundations, but there’s an admirable quality to the approach that easily lifts it above so many of its peers. So it’s not all that surprising Arrow Video finally decided to give it the robust collector’s edition in the US and UK. It’s truly one of those films that time and the mainstream horror community has forgotten when it deserves more attention than that.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Au Revoir L’été (2014)

Director: Kôji Fukada
Notable Cast: Fumi Nikaido, Mayu Tsuruta, Kanji Furutachi, Taiga, Kiki Sugino, Tadashi Otake, Ena Koshino

A young woman named Sakuko (Fumi Nikaido), whom is studying for entrance exams to university, finds herself off to stay two weeks at a relative's house to do so. While there, her Aunt Kie (Mayu Tsuruta) provides her support as she naturally should. During her time there, she meets an old friend of her aunt's named Usagikichi, played wonderfully by Kanji Furutachi, and his daughter Tatsuko (Kiki Sugino) and nephew Takashi (Taiga). As the days pass, quite literally, we see into their daily lives and begin to learn about their past, in a film that takes its time to deeply develop its characters, both main and supporting in this breezy and brilliant drama, that definitely never got the international attention it most certainly deserved.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Blood Splatter: 2017 Horror Vol. 2 [Lake Bodom, The Bye Bye Man, Get Out]

Director: Taneli Mustonen
Notable Cast: Nelly Hirst-Gee, Mimosa Willamo, Mikael Gabriel, Santeri Helinheimo Mantyla
Also Known As: Bodom

The hype machine that I had tapped into was all about Lake Bodom since I first saw the trailer for the film well over a year ago. It looked like a sharp, fresh feeling slasher and seeing as I already was well aware of the local Finnish legend it was pulling from (thanks to being a huge fan of the band Children of Bodom) I was ready to dive right in. Thankfully, after some time waiting in North American distribution purgatory, Lake Bodom finally got a US release via Shudder. While the film is not necessarily one that is going to hitting truly unique marks for horror fans in originality, Lake Bodom is a pretty effective and fun slasher, bending tropes and modernizing the long repetitive genre with a modernity that fans will definitely enjoy. It’s not quite the immediate classic that I was hoping, but it satiates the cravings for a slick slasher that I wanted from it.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

By the Time it Gets Dark (2016)

Director: Anocha Suwichakornpong

Notable Cast: Visra Vichit-Vadakan, Arak Amornsupasiri, Apinya Sakuljaroensuk, Penpak Sirikul, Intira Jaroenpura, Atchara Suwan

The biggest surprise of the year so far comes by way of a cryptic Thai arthouse film that no one seems to be talking about, By the Time it Gets Dark. The continuing thread throughout this layered and fragmented narrative is a protest that occurred in October of 1976, by a group of young universities students attempting to stand for democracy under the weight of a ruling fist at the time. We see a group of students lying face down on a cold floor as soldiers with guns walk around them. Photographers appear and begin to take photos, though they are from our time. There is no time travel or anything, but the film has a meta-fictional approach from the get-go.

Sleepy Eyes of Death 3: Full Circle Killing (1964)

Director: Kimiyoshi Yasuda

Notable Cast: Raizo Ichikawa, Junichiro Narita, Yoko Wakasugi, Taro Marui, Kyooko Azuma, Saburo Date, Yuko Hamada, Takamaru Sasaki, Kenjiro Uemura

Aka Sleepy Eyes of Death: Full Circle Killing, Nemuri Kyoshiro: Full Circle Killing

When a niche genre becomes over-saturated, there tends to be a lot of lost classics in the mix. Unfortunately, the Sleepy Eyes of Death franchise – despite getting a nice box set release in the US years ago – has seemingly fallen into being one of those classics that have faded. I say unfortunate because even by three entries in, this series has solidified itself into classic status, forming a tight bridge between the more entertaining exploitative elements and a sharp artistic depth. The third entry, Sleepy Eyes of Death 3: Full Circle Killing continues on the path set up by the previous entry in blending the two sides of a chanbara film into an effective action film with quite a few messages to be said. While it doesn’t quite hit the heart and humanity of the previous one in that balance, it’s still impressive to watch and one that will not disappoint fans of the genre.

Mine (2017)

Directors: Fabio Guaglione, Fabio Resinaro
Notable Cast: Armie Hammer, Annabelle Wallis, Tom Cullen, Clint Dyer, Geoff Bell, Juliet Aubrey, Ines Pinar Mille

When it comes to household names, it’s not like Armie Hammer is a truly obscure one. The guy has been the star or co-star of some major films (some of them major flops like Man from U.N.C.L.E., but I digress) and I would consider him an A-list star or at the very least on the verge of being an A-list star. Which was why I was a bit perplexed that Mine, his latest starring venture, went VOD and then to home video via Well Go USA. It’s not like all star vehicles are instant theatrical releases as some of them love to do their indie productions, but this one was a dramatic military thriller and on paper would have been a solid choice for counter programming to perhaps a large family friendly animated feature or something. After finishing Mine though, I kind of get it. It’s not your usual military style film and its limited scope tends to breed a more artistic and indie film crowd than the usual big-boom-spectacle wanted from the genre. It’s also a mixed effort ultimately that attempts to do some lofty and grand things, but tends to get caught up in its own narrative. This, of course, lends itself more to the VOD structure and thus, the release style makes a lot more sense.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Railroad Tigers (2017)

Director: Ding Sheng
Notable Cast: Jackie Chan, Edison Huang Zi-Tao, Xu Fan, Wang Kai, Darren Wang, Jaycee Chan, Ikeuchi Hiroyuki, Yano Koji, Alan Ng, Andy Lau

Ding Sheng and Jackie Chan have already produced two solid films, the very impressive and effectively dramatic Little Big Soldier and the darker, underrated Police Story: Lockdown, prior to Railroad Tigers. The duo, while they certainly have their detractors against the style and approach to both films, had shown that they could vibe and be successful as a box office draw with mainstream movie watchers. So with that in mind, Railroad Tigers came with some decently lofty expectations. The film delivers on many of its promises, including a massively charming and fun approach to the subject matter that carries the most of the film’s weight, but it’s also the weakest of the films that Ding Sheng and Jackie Chan have made together. Fans of Chan’s slapstick silliness will appreciate a lot of the gimmicky comedic action situations that arise in the film and Ding Sheng certainly has a knack for visual flair that makes the finale a hilarious and heartfelt spectacle, but the film is undercut by many problematic writing issues and narrative flow hiccups that it can’t overcome. Railroad Tigers is undeniably charming. It’s also flawed in how it goes about it.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

At the Terrace (2016)

Director: Kenji Yamauchi

Cast: Kei Ishibashi, Kami Hiraiwa, Ryuta Furuya, Kenji Iwatani, Hiroaki Morooka, Takashi Okabe, Atsushi Hashimoto

Folding out like a stage play, Kenji Yamauchi's At the Terrace takes place all on one location, the terrace, attached to a large mansion, where the owners are hosting a party. A woman walks out from behind the curtains on to this terrace, slowly followed by a young man from another side of the house. He seems infatuated by her, trying to garner her attention, without being too obvious. After letting out a pathetic sigh, another woman, the owner's wife, walks upon the terrace and starts to call out the man for his desires. This is just the scratched surface of the confrontational banter to come between our seven characters who come and go from this particular place.

Casino Raiders (1989) and Casino Raiders II (1991)

Director: Wong Jing, Jimmy Heung Wah-Sing
Notable Cast: Alan Tam, Andy Lau, Ida Chan, Rosamund Kwan, Lung Fong, Charles Heung Wah-Keung, Hagiwara Kenzo, Kirk Wong Chi-Keung, Shum Wai

The interesting approach that Wong Jing and company take to Casino Raiders is that it combines two popular genres of HK cinema into one film: the gambling thriller and the heroic bloodshed action flick. The first two acts are almost solely dedicated to the former though as Alan Tam and Andy Lau play two gambling pros who help casinos catch cheaters and do a little cheating themselves to earn some extra cash. Their Chang Cheh style brotherly bond forms the heart of the film and as it goes it tends it add in a lot of material that seems irrelevant at first. A strange romantic triangle is formed with a rich beautiful young woman, they get into melodramatic fights, and eventually both of them end up on the short end of the stick as the film progressively gets darker as it goes. The flow at this point is a tad uneven as it adds in a lot of material about their relationship with one another, backstories, and the romantic plot and truthfully I wasn’t fully sold on the film even after the first two acts. It felt like Wong Jing doing his thing with some strong casting, but without a lot of weight behind it.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Evil Ed (1995)

Director: Anders Jacobsson
Notable Cast: Johan Rudebeck, Olof Rhodin, Per Lofberg, Cecilia Ljung, Camela Leierth, Danne Malmer, Mikael Kallaanvaara
Notable Voice Cast: Jim Friedman, Greg Roberts, John Thelin, Kara Killen, Joey Seisay, David Nerge, Bill Moseley

Horror comedies are a dime a dozen, although they certainly were not as prevalent as they are now it would seem, but even within that subgenre there are different approaches to the comedy and the horror elements contained within. One of the methods that varies the most in quality is the slapstick horror comedy, one of the more popular styles, and going into a film that takes this tactic can be a crapshoot. Even with a film that’s earned a significant cult following like Evil Ed there is an air of inconsistency that can be a huge detriment to the entire thing. While Evil Ed deserves the cult following it has accrued over the years, the film is not perfect. However, there is an impeccable kind of energy with a can-do attitude that partners with phenomenal special effects that makes this film the perfect kind of B-flick. Thus, also making it the perfect film for the Arrow Video audience.