Thursday, February 11, 2016

Sheba, Baby (1975)

Director: William Girdler
Notable Cast: Pam Grier, Austin Stoker, D’Urville Martin, Rudy Challenger, Dick Merrifield, Christopher Joy, Charles Kissinger

As I mentioned in some previous reviews, 2016 is the year that I start to explore some of the genres that I haven’t explored in more expansive ways. For an example, I’ve never been the expert in blaxploitation here at the site, but the cult appeal of this robust genre has always interested me. Luckily, Arrow Video just released a very slick new version of the Pam Grier film Sheba, Baby and considering my new resolution for the year it seemed like a good match. Well, perhaps it's not so great as Sheba, Baby seems to be a fairly awkward film overall. The release is great, the high definition transfer looks phenomenal and the special features are impressive for collectors of the genre, but the film itself leaves a lot to be desired.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Estranged (2016)

Director: Adam Levins

Notable Cast: Amy Manson, Simon Quarterman, James Cosmo, Eileen Nicholas, James Lance, Nora-Jane Noone, Craig Conway

If there is any genre that’s the most formulaic in its attempts to “trick” its audience than the psychological horror flick, I’m not so sure what it is. Whether it’s supernatural in essence or more of a grounded thriller, the psychological horror film is one that I immediately go into looking for the hook. When it comes to Estranged, I went into the film looking for a hook, but the film was executed so strongly that I ceased to solely look for clues and allowed the film to take me for the ride which was ultimately the best way to go into it. Estranged is atmospherically thick, brutal at times, and it unfolds in some great ways that showcase a style that’s an interesting mix of 70s horror in the vein of Polanski, but with a decidedly modern edge to it. The twist didn’t need to hook me, I was already hooked.  

Monday, February 8, 2016

Pray for Death (1985)

Director: Gordon Hessler

Notable Cast: Sho Kosugi, James Booth, Donna Kai Benz, Norman Burton, Kane Kosugi, Shane Kosugi, Matthew Faison

For cult film fanatics, there is an almost sacred place for the ninja movie boom of the 80s that will never be touched. In a way, this dedication to what results as a ton of mediocre B-movies is a special one that the films cater themselves towards. The recent re-release of the Sho Kosugi ‘classic’ Pray for Death by Arrow Video showcases this concept in full. Nothing about Pray for Death is all that special, nor is the film actually all that good even. It’s generic in many ways and yet the film knows that it is this way and it plays up its camp to some oddly serious levels which  in turn feeds right into the fan base for these kinds of films. As a film, Pray for Death rarely inspires awe (of the good or bad kind) and plays things in the most 80s-hollywood-interpretation of a ninja film as possible. Which, in its own way, is ridiculously charming in true B-movie fashion. As a fan of these kinds of movies, it’s hard to say that I didn’t enjoy every minute of the film, warts and all.

Land of Hope (2012)

Director: Sion Sono

Notable Cast: Isao Natsuyagi, Naoko Otani, Jun Murakami, Megumi Kagurazaka, Yutaka Shimizu, Hikari Kajiwara, Denden

On March 11th, 2011, a massive earthquake and following tsunami devastated the country of Japan. The entire nation suffered and a large chunk of its citizens continue the suffering caused by nature that very same day. It was a disaster no one expected, and sent shock around the world. Local filmmaker Sion Sono (Cold Fish, Love Exposure), was instantly inspired to make two films from this unfortunate event: Himizu, a more angry film about confused youth in this time, and this film, the quiet, desolate, but slightly hopeful (unavoidable), Land of Hope.

The story here is quite simple. An earthquake happens, causing a nearby nuclear station to explode, thus making the area and it's surrounding areas, inhabitable. The main characters, an elderly couple played wonderfully by Isao Natsuyagi and Naoko Otani, are set in their ways and wish not to move, so much so that they stay put, despite the evacuation line being put right across their front yard. The man is a farmer, and his business is his business, and he intends to keep it that way. The two stay, but their son (Jun Murakami) decides to bounce. The son's wife, played by Sono's wife and muse, Megumi Kagurazaka, nails her performance as usual. Her character finds out she is pregnant, and still staying in the infected zone with her in-laws.

"I ain't going nowhere!"

I quite enjoyed this movie. For some weird reason, this and Himizu tend to have a divided audience, no pun intended, of either one loves Land of Hope and hates Himizu, or visa versa. I personally do not understand the debate and division of such preference, as I find the films to be two completely different creatures, both with pros and cons, though both are minor in quantity of said cons. I will speak of what I like about the film first and foremost.

The cast here is excellent and all believable as the family in this dire and awful situation. From the constant bickering, to the more tender and subtle love, they truly give off a realistic family vibe, which is what had to be most believable in this picture, and it really is. As previously stated, the couple is perfect. The more subtle, quiet in nature mother, who wants to remember her youth and passions before the hazards take her into the afterlife, and the husband, a grumpy old pissed-off hoot that you just want to slap at times, but deep down sympathize with and understand his refusal to leave, no matter how crazy it may seem.

"Good ole' shopping in the hazmat day!"

Megumi (above), as praised above, really does quite well in her role. Most of her characters before this that she had played prior to this were really sexual in some way, whether more internal or openly, but none of that either way you view it is present in this film. What we get here is a subtle, but raw realistic portrayal of a woman who wants nothing more to live, and once she is aware, protect her soon to be child. She also sports a pretty dapper hazmat suit, so there is always something to shine on with that in a film.

There are some qualms with this film, though few and far between, and maybe only one to speak of that is worth it. The time. This film is quite long, clocking in at a hefty 134 minutes in total, and I really can see that being a turn off for some people. Now, length of film is in no way a problem for me, as long as it makes since within the context of the film, and to a degree it does here. Destruction, aimless wandering, but sometimes the slow air becomes a little too stale for its own good, and has you wondering when the next fragment of cinematic gold will happen. This guy (Sono) made Love Exposure, which sits in at around 4 hours and keeps you there the whole time, so obviously time isn't an issue, but it has to be done right, and at times this falters a bit within its own rhythms.

One of Sono's finest.

In the end I found exactly what I was looking for in The Land of Hope, a quality and more quiet film, from a quality and typically loud filmmaker. I cannot complain with his decisions to make this film (+ Himizu) when he did, as an artist often finds inspiration within some of the toughest times, personal or national. The result here in particular is a fantastic film, few issues aside, that has and will stay with me for the remainders of my days as a reminder, it could always be worse, but even when it is, keep true to your nature and carry on. I don't want to get into my personal philosophy and such, but this film speaks to the true nature of human beings, and that is something worthy of praise. Highly recommended.

Written by Josh Parmer

The Land of Hope is available on blu-ray and dvd courtesy of UK distributor Third Window Films.

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Q&A With Director Pang Ho-cheung

The Intro:

As promised, and I apologize to you, the reader, for taking so long. Here is the interview / Q&A with Hong Kong director Pang-Ho Cheung, but 1st I just want to give a shout-out and thanks to Veronica Bassetto for making this interview happen to the effect it did, with multiple translators helping to translate from Cantonese to English on their side of things. We had no one to help on our end, so high praise to Pang and his team for all their hard work. 


JP will refer to Josh Parmer, written in black, and red in bold for director Pang Ho-Cheung (PHC).

The Q & A:

JP: I think 2015 has been a great year for movies. What are some stand out titles for you, or just films you've been into recently?

PHC: The documentary, Batkid Begins, to me is the most outstanding film in 2015. It is a really touching film. Sometimes, I like the documentaries more than feature films, as it involves more true feelings. I think Batkid Begins is one of the best movies I’ve watched thus far.

Image from the documentary, Batkid Begins.

JP: Any local films that have stood out to you recently?

PHC: I prefer to differentiate the movies by their good or bad stories only. Whether it's a local production or not, to me, is not really important.

JP: So what made you want to be in the film industry? Where did it all start for you?

PHC: John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow Trilogy inspired me to join the industry. In the very beginning, I dreamed of becoming a movie star, but most of my attempts to be an actor had failed. So I shifted my goal and started off to be a television screenwriter, and eventually become a film director.

JP: I've recently revisited a lot of your films, and seen a few for the very 1st time, and one thing I noticed is how varied your catalog is. You do comedy, drama, violent thrillers, and you do them all well, with signature flair. You never seem to be bound by a genre and mix a lot of things up in all of them. What is the deciding factor in what type of projects you do?

PHC: I actually like including various genres in my film works, just as I preferred having a buffet than a specific cuisine when I was a kid. I concerned more with if the film is enjoyable than if it can suit a specific genre. We should always think out of the box and not be constrained by any genres.

Pang Ho-cheung sporting his favorite jacket!

JP: There has always been an edgier, darker side (usually in the humor) to your films. It helps set you apart from other directors working in Hong Kong today. You never seem to strive for doing what's popular. Do you have a particular desire to see other filmmakers (veterans and newcomers on the rise) to think outside of the box?

PHC: I think the Hong Kong industry is now under a transitional period. The quality of Hong Kong movie is not decreasing; only that Hong Kong directors have moved somewhere else to make their films. Although they are making movies outside Hong Kong, they are also bringing in various elements and style to the market, creating an impact to the local industry.

JP: Speaking as a fan of Hong Kong cinema, I think there has been a great decrease in the amount of quality films coming out, even in the more martial arts or thriller driven genres the country is known for. Where do you think the state of Hong Kong is right now, in terms of cinema?

PHC: In my opinion, Hong Kong’s movie is now under a transforming period. As I mentioned before, the quality of Hong Kong movie is not decreasing, but Hong Kong directors indeed make their films somewhere else. No matter where they produce/shoot their films, they still keep the Hong Kong essence in their films, and those movies still carry on the Hong Kong spirit.

JP: Though I am not able to read, due to the language barrier, I noticed when digging around on your site, that you have published a lot of your films in the form of paperback. Is this you converting your films to novel form at some point, or are your screenplays usually published for the public to read?

PHC: I am publishing my screenplay collection soon. As per I would like to show the original scripts and ideas to my audiences. This can also be a good reference for people whose career aspiration is to become a director. For example, everyone knows Columbus’ achievement, but if you got a chance to read his diary, Diario de Navegacion, then you will be able to further understand the reason behind his every decision.

Movie novels are usually a re-creation of the story from the film. I personally seldom re-write the movie novel by myself, instead they are usually written by my co-playwright or other writers. Unless it has an original novel, like one of my works Trivial Matters.

Collection of published Pang Ho-cheung screenplays.

JP: Aside from some of the more over-the-top delivery in some of your earlier works, for comedic effect, what made you want to bring a more naturalistic approach to the way your performers deliver dialogue? It's always so down to Earth, sometimes filled with vulgarity, but most importantly, it feels real. Now, I am sure I can't quite truly appreciate it, considering I know zero Cantonese, but when I watch a Pang Ho-cheung flick, I feel like I am just right there among the people. Was that a conscious decision early on, or is it just something that feels right?

PHC: When I design the dialogues, especially for comedy, I usually ask myself whether or not foreigners could also understand the humor too. The punch line can always be in verbal gags or local culture, thus can easily make Cantonese speakers laugh. Yet, despite from only depending on the punch line / gimmick, I also consider on how to enhance the comedic conflict, by actors’ gestures and other visual elements, as such for those who cant understand the language and could also enjoy the humor when they watch the film.

JP: You are an artist who likes to keep himself busy putting out content for the fans, and you do a lot of different things in the entertainment business. Acting is something you haven't really done a whole lot of. I read that you were co-starring alongside Derek Kwok in Chapman To's directorial debut, Miserable World. I haven't been able to find any real news on it,so I am assuming it hasn't begun shooting yet. How do you feel about taking on a new challenge as a leading actor?

PHC: It is indeed a pity that this project has been cancelled already due to investment issue, but there’s another film project in development, which I am planning to participate in as the main actor. I wanted to be an actor at the very beginning of my career, so I would say I still have the fantasy to act on screen.

JP: Going back to directing, which of your works are you most proud of and why?

PHC: I like Isabella the most. The leading actor and actress had excellent performances,  and you could see the excellent sparks between the two from their performances, and I put lots of effort to finish this movie. I seldom watch the movies I've directed, except this one.

Isabella (2006)

JP: What made you decide to pack up and open shop in Beijing? I think it was a smart move, and Love in the Buff proved to be a smash hit.

PHC: After the production of Love in the Buff, I wondered how I could further understand the mindset of Chinese youngsters if I want to continue to produce co-production movies. Obviously, it is easier for me to achieve if I live in Beijing.

JP: Speaking of the Love in a Trilogy (I don't know how to refer to it), you recently announced a 3rd film was being developed. Is there anything we can expect from it, or are the details still on the hush side of things?

PHC: Many are expecting this, but indeed I don’t have any plans so far.

JP: If you had to pick one specific genre of film you haven't gotten to dip your toes into and make something within it, which would it be?

PHC: As a fan of action movie, I’m pretty eager to make one in the future, especially since I have never tried the genre so far.

JP: What's been your favorite moment out of your entire career (on-set or off)?

PHC: I started off my career as a fiction writer, so I always like the process of writing. The most favorable moment to me are the times that I am developing on a new story, where I create everything beyond my imagination. Sadly, that imagination in the script usually got manipulated when the film production starts.

JP: Your most recent venture, Women Who Flirt, was your 1st time making a Mandarin speaking movie. What was that experience like, and were there any difficulties, if any, such as the possible language barrier?

PHC: To me, a story is a story, so a change of language does not create any obstacles to my way of telling the story.

Women Who Flirt (2014)

JP: Though I can't speak on a personal level about the movie, as I have yet to see it, tell us a little bit about your involvement in the recent film, Lazy Hazy Crazy. It isn't a Pang Ho-cheung film, per se, but it most certainly feels like something I could have seen you making.

PHC: Lazy Hazy Crazy is only a film that I produced and cannot be classified as A Pang Ho-cheung film. From the very beginning, I promised the Director, Luk Yee-sum, that I wouldn't interfere with the creative directions of this project when I took up the role as the producer. Director Luk and I have been working together for a long time. She was the screenwriter of many of my movies, including Love in the Buff, Vulgaria and Women Who Flirt, etc. I believe because of this, we share a lot of common ways of story telling.

JP: Finally, on a fun note (though not if you were really in the situation), if you were stranded on a remote island, and for some reason there was a nice HDTV with a magical non-realistically working media player attached, and the tv worked as well... what would be the absolute one film you just so happen to have on you, that you can watch on repeat for the rest of time, and be happy with, or at least until you get rescued?

PHC: I’ll bring Shawshank if I’m being trapped on an uninhabited island.

Actually I was talking to you, but it's over now Mr. Pang.
Thank you so much!

Written by Josh Parmer

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Top 20 Shaw Brothers Films

For Lunar New Year, we wanted to do another Shaw Brothers focused article like the one we did last year  and the biggest request was a sort of definitive ‘best Shaw Brothers’ list. While doing a top twenty list about the iconic Hong Kong company seemed obvious, if not necessary, I didn’t want to just throw down a list of my personal favorites. So in a moment of inspiration, we decided to pool our knowledge of the Shaw Brothers catalog with those super fans around us and other dedicated writers to create a Kung Fu Komittee. Members of this select group all submitted their own personal top ten lists for films from the studio and then the list was weighted (their top pick received ten points, their second pick received nine points, their third pick received eight points, and so on), and then the results tallied to present a Blood Brothers' Brethren Top 20 Shaw Brothers list!

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Curve (2016)

Director: Iain Softley
Notable Cast: Julianne Hough, Teddy Sears, Madalyn Horcher, Drew Rausch

Whether you love them or hate them, the Blumhouse production company is something of the face of mainstream horror currently. They produce low budget films that garner big budget returns like Sinister, Oculus, Insidious, and other films of the like. However, their track record is much more hit or miss when it comes to quality and even they know it. This is why the company dumped a handful of films straight to Netflix Streaming this month. While these movies are smartly pulled due to lacking mainstream appeal, that doesn’t mean they are terrible films. Just take Curve as a prime example. Sure, this little survivalist slasher flick ended up on the Netflix train due to some of its cliché elements and odd moments, but it’s still a decently entertaining film that horror fans will want to check out as a potential overlooked gem of 2016.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

31 (2016)

Director: Rob Zombie
Notable Cast: Sheri Moon Zombie, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Kevin Jackson, Malcolm McDowell, Meg Foster, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, Richard Brake, Jane Carr, Judy Geeson, Daniel Roebuck, Elizabeth Daily, Tracey Walter

Love him or hate him, Rob Zombie knows how to keep people talking. To say the least, his films are divisive and his style even more so within that same discussion. While I appreciate the love and style that Zombie brings to the table, it’s hard for me to say that I have ever loved anything he has done. His best, the often overlooked The Lords of Salem, was a huge step forward for him as it toned down his manic style, delivered tension, and showed an improvement in his writing – my main issue with his work. Needless to say, I was rather stoked for 31, his latest love letter to grindhouse 70s cinema, because if he could somehow combine the restrained thoughtfulness of The Lords of Salem with the energetic visual and brutal onslaught of his earlier work, it would be a grand success. That does not happen in 31. 31 is a step back. 31 is a film that knows no restraint. 31 will have its fans for its gratuitous gore, violence, sex, and vulgarity, but 31 is also something of a shit show when it comes to being a good film beyond its excessiveness. Take about disappointment.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Over Your Dead Body (2016)

Director: Takashi Miike
Notable Cast: Ko Shibasaki, Ichikawa Ebizo

One of the problems of being an international cinephile is that it will sometime take years for a movie to get a legitimate release in the US. If at all. For a director as prolific as Takashi Miike, who has recently been dropping two films a year, it can be somewhat grating to wait. Two years is how long it took for his horror flick Over Your Dead Body to reach the US, thanks to Scream Factory, but it’s here and it’s going to be a cult classic for sure. Atmospheric, haunting, and nightmarish are all very effective words to describe what you’re likely to latch onto in this film and while it may not find a widespread audience here in the US, fans of the director and his work are going to want to jump right in.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Extraction (2015)

Director: Steven C. Miller
Notable Cast: Kellan Lutz, Gina Carano, Bruce Willis

At one point in his career, having a movie with Bruce Willis in a smaller role would have been something to really get excited about. However, in the last decade Mr. Die Hard has done nothing much more than phone in performances and take bit roles in mediocre straight to home video action flicks. Even his bigger films like A Good Day to Die Hard are dragged down by his obvious I-Couldn’t-Care-Less attitude. In the case of a film like Extraction, we have two mediocre young action stars in a middle of the road movie that desperately needed a charismatic anchor to support them – and Bruce Willis is NOT that guy despite the fact that his name still seemingly sells films. In the end, the film is a lacking charismatic hook and that drags Extraction down – even when it has some fun moments for action fans.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Dragon Inn (1967)

Director: King Hu
Notable Cast: Lingfeng Shangguan, Chun Shih, Ying Bai, Chien Tsao

Since my interest in more art house films started to increase greatly over the last couple of years, I sort of let my 1st love of cinema sit on the back burner, which is the martial arts genre. I love any type of martial arts movie: old, and new; more grounded realism, or wu xia style, wire-work heavy films. That being said, I have also become a stickler for quality when watching said movies, so the ones I enjoy become fewer and fewer. At some point, last year, Eureka Entertainment said they would be releasing two of King Hu's Taiwanese wu xia films: Dragon Inn, and A Touch of Zen (which just came out as I write this). Having a recent interest in Taiwanese cinema, and the fact that Taiwan has been working on a ton of restoration of their classic films, I jumped at the chance to see them, and with Dragon Inn, I am very, very glad I did.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Ip Man 3 (2016)

Director: Wilson Yip Wai-shun

Notable Cast: Donnie Yen, Lynn Hung, Max Zhang (Zhang Jin), Mike Tyson, Patrick Tam, Danny Chan, Kent Cheng, Bryan (Beardy) Leung

As I sat in the theater, I began to think to myself... I've liked the Ip Man films since before anyone I had met knew what they were. Now, I don't mean that I'm cool or anything, but I spent a lot of my last year of high school showing everyone that I physically could, the very 1st installment of the trilogy. It blew peoples' minds. Donnie Yen kicking ass and taking names. His fists flying into peoples' faces at light speed. The chain punch. It was like finding a piece of rare 'something valuable inserted here', that I wanted to show to everyone. Well, you're not here for my backstory, so to the jump the gun and get this review started, Yen and Yip's Ip Man Trilogy has become the biggest thing in martial arts cinema history since Bruce Lee breaking out onto the scene all those years ago. To end this particular thought, I wondered, "Can they botch this up? Is it possible not to like a Donnie Yen Ip Man film? Should I be skeptical?". The subtle thought of negativity began to seep through me, but as the lights dimmed, the speakers increased in volume, and that familiar tune began to play, the worry washed away, and I knew I was in for something special, and the same genuine grin the 1st two films left on my face, found itself on full display for almost the entirety of this picture. Ip Man 3 just happens to be my favorite of the trilogy, and here's why...