Friday, June 30, 2017

Pale Flower (1964)

Director: Masahiro Shinoda

Notable Cast: Ryō Ikebe, Mariko Kaga, Takashi Fujiki, Chisako Hara

Muraki is a Yakuza member fresh out of prison after some years spent behind bars due to completing a hit for his boss. Once out, he returns to the city and settles back into his local gambling den, where he meets a young woman named Saeko, hard on betting all the cash she's got. He becomes infatuated with this alluring woman and the two form a very destructive relationship with one another, in this gangster film which is less about the action typically associated with the films of that time and rather a brilliant character study on the animalistic nature within us all.

Okja (2017)

Director: Bong Joon-ho

Notable Cast: Ahn Seo-hyun, Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Jake Gyllenhaal, Byun Hee-bong, Steven Yuen, Lily Collins, Yoon Je-moon, Shirley Henderson, Daniel Henshall, Devon Bostick, Choi Woo-shik, Giancarlo Esposito

Acclaimed director Bong Joon-ho (Memories of Murder), who sky-rocketed to international acclaim with his first international feature, Snowpiercer, which featured an all-star cast from all over the globe, told fans that due to its success that he immediately had two new features in the works; one being an even bigger feature with an international cast and crew in mind, and another being a tighter-knit, more intimate feature back in his homeland of South Korea. Obviously he chose to run with the former firstly, and that comes by way of the enormous streaming and entertainment service, Netflix. Now, I won't be getting into my opinion of the company, as that isn't the focus here, but only to say that apparently a lot of directors are finding comfort in knowing that they can do their next big project through this service, which has been producing films for a few years now, and have complete creative freedom and control. When I first heard that Bong of all people was going this route for his new film, I admittedly was against the idea, but alas, here we are, and let's just focus on the overall finished product at hand, no pun intended . . . Okja!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Sleepy Eyes of Death 4: Sword of Seduction (1964)



Director: Kazuo Ikehiro
Notable Cast: Raizo Ichikawa, Michiko Ai, Shinjiro Asano, Jyo Kenzaburo, Katsuhiko Kobayashi, Naoko Kubo, Ichiro Nakatani, Akemi Negishi, Shihio Fujimura, Jun Hamamura, Masumi Harukawa, Yoshio Inaba, Saburo Date
Also known as: Sleepy Eyes of Death: Sword of Seduction

After back to back entries that more than impressed, I feel like I was riding on a Sleepy Eyes of Death high, ready to consume more and see if the series could keep up its energetic and impactful run. The fourth entry, Sleepy Eyes of Death: Sword of Seduction, is a film that in concept should be ranked up there with Full Circle Killing and Sword of Adventure, but is held back by a scattered script. It’s one of those films that is overflowing with a multitude of fantastic sequences and ideas just begging for a cohesive movie to put it all together which it sadly never accomplishes. For fans of chanbara films or the series, there is plenty to adore about Sword of Seduction. The film as a whole, on the other hand, leaves something to be desired as it randomly leaps plots to be as entertaining as possible.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Urban Legend (1998)



Director: Jamie Blanks
Notable Cast: Jared Leto, Alicia Witt, Rebecca Gayheart, Michael Rosenbaum, Loretta Devine, Joshua Jackson, Tara Reid, John Neville, Julian Richings, Robert Englund, Danielle Harris, Brad Dourif

When Scream kicked off the slasher revival of the 90s/early 00s, it did it in a way that was both intriguingly left field and completely misinterpreted by production companies looking to capitalize on its success. While this era is hardly the pit of despair that so many horror fans claim it to be, many of those ‘nu-slashers’ are certainly mediocre to terrible at best and for that reason I haven’t even bothered to revisit many of them since they came out. However, at the request of some of our readers, Urban Legend came to be on my review queue and eventually I warmed to the idea of taking on this modern slasher that spawned its own franchise...the sequels of which I have yet to revisit since they were released either.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Bamy (2016)

Director: Jun Tanaka

Notable Cast: Hironobu Yukinaga, 
Hiromi Nakazato, Misaki Tsuge, Toshi Yanagi, Yuki Katsuragi

Ghost stories in Japanese cinema have sort of faded away for the most part, aside from trying to squeeze out every drop of profit that companies can from franchises like Ju-On or Ringu, but J-horror (as dubbed by Western culture) in general is a dying genreas a whole, or is it? No, all jokes aside, Jun Tanaka takes the romanticized stories of ghosts that the likes of Kiyoshi Kurosawa has done before during the boom of the genre, and resurrected it and made it all his own by way of indie film making, with the chilling and overall creepy, Bamy.

Reset (2017)



Director: Chang
Notable Cast: Yang Mi, Wallace Huo, King Shih-Chieh, Liu Chang

After seeing the original trailer for Reset, I was not sold on the film. Its concept seemed gimmicky and the look and tone of the film seemed off kilter a bit from that initial impression. The fact that it was produced by Jackie Chan didn’t really catch me either. Just this year Jackie Chan “presented” the terrible action flick Amnesia (a loose remake of Who Am I? with a silly and generic US re-title,) so I wasn’t sold on that either. The Well Go USA trailer for the film made it look slightly better, but I wasn’t convinced that Reset would be a great film by then either.  Yet, despite some massive flaws and a very, very rough start to the film, Reset wasn’t nearly as terrible as I feared. In fact, by the end of the film I was having a lot of fun with just how silly it was as a B-grade style action thriller. Now, I’m not going to say that Reset is a great film by any means in the rest of this review, but it feels like one of those movies that will garner a strange and dedicated cult following in ten years as a forgotten piece of highly entertaining popcorn cinema. For that, I must give Reset some credit.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons (2013) and Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back (2017)



JOURNEY TO THE WEST: CONQUERING THE DEMONS (2013)

Director: Stephen Chow, Derek Kwok

Notable Cast: Wen Zhang, Shu Qi, Show Lo Chi-Cheung, Huang Bo, Jiro Lee Sheung-Ching, Chen Bing-Qiang, Cheng Si-Han, Xing Yu

Stephen Chow made a name for himself with his oddball comedic talents initially, balancing heartfelt and awkward in even stride as both an actor and a director. As time has gone on though, he honed his abilities to craft films that not only delivered on the entertaining elements of his style, but ones that emotionally resonated well above and beyond the norm. In this regard, many people feel that the highlight of his career resides in one of his most well-known films, Kung Fu Hustle, but after re-watching his epic franchise launch pad, Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons, it’s hard for me to call it anything other than the best accumulation of all his talents as a film. Perhaps not a masterpiece, but very damn close.

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]



LAKE BODOM (2017)
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

JAPAN CUTS 2017:

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)



CASINO RAIDERS (1989)
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.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Waxwork (1988) and Waxwork II: Lost in Time (1992)



WAXWORK (1988)
Director: Anthony Hickox
Notable Cast: Zach Galligan, Deborah Foreman, Michelle Johnson, Dana Ashbrook, Micah Grant, Eric Brown, Clare Carey, David Warner, Patrick Macnee, Mihaly Mexzaros, Charles McCaughan, Miles O’Keeffe, John Rhys-Davies, Edward Ashley

A film like Waxwork can only have come from an era as overzealous as the 80s horror film scene. Seriously. While the approach to its style and tone may not be for everyone, it does make for a film that’s relentlessly quirky and, for all intents and purposes, loud. In this manner, the film is exponentially fun. There is no subtlety to this film whatsoever as it goes about telling its tale of a haunted wax work museum and the youths that are being tormented by it. The structure of the film allows it to do plenty of fun “side stories” as the various protagonists are zapped into the scenes and have to fight off a variety of monsters or villains and it gives director Hickox a chance to show off some great practical effects and the strange sense of over the top humor he likes to inject into his films. In this regard, Waxwork is a full blown hilarious and entertaining time at the movies.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Spotlight on a Murderer (1961)



Director: Georges Franju
Notable Cast: Pierre Brasseur, Pascale Audret, Marianne Koch, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Dany Saval, Jean Babilee, Georges Rollin, Gerard Buhr, Maryse Martin, Serge Marquand, Lucien Raimbourg, Robert Vattier, Jean Ozenne, Philippe Leroy

One of the beautiful aspects of writing about cult film is that, with an open mind, there is a lot of surprises out there in the historical landscape of the art and so much of it is overlooked. Spotlight for a Murderer is one of those films that creates a special moment of discovery for me. Arrow Academy is a label fairly new to me as Blood Brothers has mostly dedicated its time to genre films more often than arthouse cinema, but Spotlight for a Murderer is one that appeals to both the genre side and the arthouse side. A 1961 French murder mystery flick, this gem is at times a noir, a gothic horror flick, an Agatha Christie inspired thriller, and a satire on all those things. It adheres to the tropes, but does so in a manner that indicates it knows it is accomplishing just that and starts to toy with its audience in the meantime. The film is highly engaging and is practically self-aware which makes it the perfect kind of cult film, in the know but well executed enough to exist on multiple levels. Needless to say, for those who enjoy any of the above listed genres or styles, Spotlight on a Murderer is a film primed for your collection.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Wolf Guy (1975)



Director: Kazuhiko Yamaguchi
Notable Cast: Sonny Chiba, Etsuko Nami, Kani Kobayashi, Yayoi Watanabe, Harumi Sone, Saburo Date, Hiroshi Nawa, Kyosuke Machida, Hideo Murota, Hiroshi Kondo

Seeing as Wolf Guy had not previously had a US release (in any format that I’m aware of, although if anyone knows you’re welcome to comment,) I was going into this newest Blu Ray release from Arrow Video blind. Sonny Chiba is always a selling point for me and the idea of having a werewolf action thriller from the 70s certainly perked my interest. Beyond that, this was going to be a full on blind run. Although I certainly expected Wolf Guy to be strange from its concepts, I had no idea just how off center and bat shit insane it was actually going to be. This film is utterly and truly outrageous in every aspect. In this regard, Wolf Guy (the full title is Wolf Guy: Enraged Lycanthrope) is massively entertaining for those looking for it even if the film itself is horrendously hit or miss in its execution of such. It’s a give or take kind of scenario, but go into Wolf Guy with the right mindset and one is most certainly going to come away entertained if nothing else.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Alien: Covenant (2017)



Director: Ridley Scott
Notable Cast: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterson, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demian Bichir, Carmen Ejogo, Amy Seimetz, Callie Hernandez, Guy Pearce

Prometheus was a film that almost immediately divided its fanbase. There are those that love it, those that hate it, and those that didn’t see it. Despite its occasionally glaring flaws, I sincerely love that film. I like that Ridley Scott tried to take the Alien franchise in a new direction, piled on a strange artistic and often bleak intent, and made an ambitious film that struck a chord (for better or worse) with everyone who saw it. Perhaps it’s these reactions to Prometheus that made its sequel – and still Alien prequel – feel a tad generic. On one hand, Scott and team seem intent on continuing with some of the themes of Prometheus with its very bleak tone and injected philosophical undertones. On the other hand, Alien: Covenant seems desperate to try and appease the Alien fans that bitched about Prometheus being too ‘different’ and goes back to some key formulas to appease them. Both are legitimate approaches to the film and, truthfully, Scott’s intent is admirable on some levels, but it still seems like the film is stuck trying to be two different films and the results are a tad awkward at times. Covenant is certainly a solid science fiction horror flick that entertains well enough with some scares and concepts, but when it comes to Ridley Scott I tend to come in with high expectations and this film just doesn’t reach those.