Sunday, September 27, 2020

Fantastic Fest 2020: Action U.S.A. (1989)


Director: John Stewart

Notable Cast: Barri Murphy, Gregory Scott Cummins, William Hubbard Knight, William Smith, Cameron Mitchell, Ross Hagen, Hoke Howell

 

Although I have yet to actually attend a Fantastic Fest in person, I will admit that being able to see some of the films from this iconic film festival from the comfort of my home has been kind of nice. Don’t misunderstand that statement, I am a huge theatrical release supporter and once we get to a point in the pandemic that I feel it is safe for myself and others to go back to festivals I will be there in a heartbeat, but for the time being the ‘virtual festival’ is kind of convenient in regards to seeing the movies. Being able to partake in my first ‘Secret Screening’ at Fantastic Fest 2020 is still fun and the fact that they chose to showcase a new 4K restoration of the relatively unheard and lost action film, Action U.S.A., only deserves a round of applause. While the film will certainly play gangbusters with a crowd, even with a movie audience of 1 (and a couple of choice adult beverages) Action U.S.A. is a damn riot.

 

Black Test Car (1962) / The Black Report (1963)


There are quite a few directors that I’ve always wanted to dig into, but between lack of availability to their films, money, and time, I have yet to really work my way through their filmography. Yasuzo Masumura is absolutely one of those directors. A wild and very diversified filmography makes him a fascinating artist, but most of his material has yet to receive proper releases. Perhaps that will end soon. With a slick duel release of his films, Black Test Car and The Black Report, Arrow Video is making a claim to continue their daunting task of hunting down the great and often forgotten cuts of cult Japanese cinema. Both films come in the same package with the Arrow Blu Ray, so for the sake of consistency with the release, both films will be discussed here as the fantastic double feature it is. They also represent two films in the Daiei ‘Black series’ and perhaps there is hope that Arrow has the rights to the rest of the 11 films in that series. Nonetheless, let’s discuss the two films from this latest release.

 

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Random Acts of Violence (2020)


Director: Jay Baruchel

Notable Cast: Jesse Williams, Jordana Brewster, Jay Baruchel, Niamh Wilson, Simon Northwood

 

The boom of comedian type actors, writers, and filmmakers making the leap into horror lately is fascinating. Not that the change-up of genre is shocking, in so many ways comedy and horror have an incredible number of elements in common, but that’s more or less for a fully separate discussion. What makes it fascinating is that the industry is not only making the connections between the two, but it – in some regards – is fully embracing it. Between the rise of Jordan Peele as one of the faces of modern horror to the combination of David Gordon Green and Danny McBride on Halloween ’18, the combination has proven to be successful in quality and in the box office.

 

Perhaps this is why it was a bit shocking to see Jay Baruchel’s sophomore effort not garner more attention. Random Acts of Violence, also written by the long time Seth Rogan gang collaborator, sees the actor/writer/director strut into the slasher genre with a modern sense of style in spades. Telling the story of a comic book author Todd (Jesse Williams) who is struggling to write the last chapter of his slasher comic Slasherman, he takes his boo, his manager, and an intern on the road to promote the comic while desperately trying to come up with an ending to the series. When a real slasher killer, the inspiration for the comic, starts to follow them on the road and recreating the kills from the comic, the group and Todd will have to reckon with reality, fiction, and how the two eventual collide in bloody ways.

 

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The Honeymoon Phase (2020)


Directed by: Phillip G. Carroll, Jr

Notable cast: François Chau, Tara Westwood, Chloe Carroll, Jim Schubin

 

Why is it we are so happy early in a relationship, and why doesn’t feeling last? That’s the question that starts The Honeymoon Phase, and although it doesn’t necessarily persist through the film thematically, it does stand as an interesting launching point for a slow burn sci-fi thriller. There is a persistent, uneasy feeling throughout the movie making it clear there is more beneath the surface, though the film is mostly careful and glacial with revelations, the threatening aura feels laid bare early.

 

Tom and Eve (Jim Schubin and Chloe Carroll) are a young couple going through some financial difficulties, especially since Tom is a writer with a years-long case of writer’s block. Eve discovers a study offering fifty thousand dollars to newlyweds to stay in a home together for thirty days. Seeming simple enough, they decide to pretend to be married for the money. Everything seems to be going along well early, save a bit of uncharacteristic aggressive passion from Tom, until one-night Eve sees Julie, another test subject she met earlier, frantically pounding at her door begging to be rescued from her husband. The door won’t open and Eve is forced to watch as Julie’s husband attacks her and drags away the body. Even worse, no one believes that it happened. Even the security footage betrays Eve as she begins to think that maybe she’s under threat as well.

 

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Unhinged (2020)

Directed by: Derrick Borte

Notable cast: Russell Crowe, Caren Pistorius, Jimmi Simpson, Gabriel Bateman

 

There is a tendency in film where disaffected men forgotten by society rebel and make some grand statement that boils down to “I am here,” usually while spouting some sort of nihilist street philosophy. Some of our greatest films are in this mold, from Scorsese classics Taxi Driver and The Last King Of Comedy, to their strange love child Joker and everything in between, this is a reasonably well-tread trail. It’s not a bad thing, but the tendency towards making these disaffected men the protagonist created a certain personality of moviegoer that has had the effect of changing these characters into cultural heroes instead of the portrayal of tragedy that they’re supposed to be. More simply? Tyler Durden is a bad guy. Plain and simple. He’s a domestic terrorist and an emotionally manipulative sociopath. To say nothing of the aforementioned Joker. Both enjoy a weird cultural hero status that’s always sat weirdly with me. I think it’s the protagonist that’s the issue in this case, in the sense that these character studies tend to follow the character being studied. Unhinged takes a different and exciting angle with that character type by shifting the focus to the victim of insane, unhealthy rage.

 

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Peninsula (2020)


Director: Yeon Sang-ho

Notable Cast: Gang Dong-won, Lee Jung-hyun, Lee Re, Kwon Hae-hyo, Kim Min-jae, Koo Kyo-hwan, Kim Do-yoon, Lee Ye-won, Jang So-yeon, Moon Woo-jin

 

In 2016, South Korea fired one hell of a shot into the arm of zombie cinema. That shot was Yeon Sang-ho’s horror with heart film, Train to Busan. A loose sequel to his animated zombie flick, Seoul Station, Train to Busan came out with a bang. Immediately it was making lists for best zombie films, best modern horror films, and best films PERIOD for the year and the decade. I was a big fan myself and its international success only laid the groundwork to spawn a sequel. Fast forward to four years later and the follow-up, also directed by Yeon Sang-ho, has now been unleashed in theaters. Peninsula, or as it has been stylized for the US release Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula which I refuse to use as its title, is quite the fascinating next chapter of this series. It’s a high-octane shotgun blast of an action flick with a loose heist narrative based in the world of Train to Busan and, while mileage may vary for audiences going in, it never, ever, ever ceases to entertain.  

 

Monday, September 7, 2020

Gamera: The Complete Collection (2020) [Gamera: Guardian of the Universe, Gamera 2: Attack of Legion, Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris, Gamera the Brave]

Growing up in a Godzilla household, there was always the mindset that Gamera was just a Big G knock off. The flying, fire eating turtle certainly came out in the wake of Godzilla stomping through the Japanese box office, but for much of the Western cult film fans Gamera was seen as a joke. Godzilla’s first film received a Criterion release, but Gamera’s first film was mostly known because of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Yet, just in my lifetime, there has been a resurgence in viewing Gamera as its own merits and as a series with its own themes and tropes. There was certainly help from the strength of the 90s reboot trilogy, but even the original run has had a revitalization worthy of revisiting.

To give even more power to this reclamation of everyone’s favorite jetpack kaiju, Arrow Video has amassed a massive new collection of all 12 of Gamera’s films. With the original run of 8 films, the 90s trilogy, and the final film – Gamera the Brave from 2006, this collection features them all. This series of reviews for the set will go briefly through each entry and then recap at the end thoughts and opinions on the set itself. Considering the number of films included, this series of articles will definitely be as massive as Gamera but will serve as a guide to all the films.

Horrible Imaginings Film Festival: The Return (2020)


Directed by: BJ Verot

Notable cast: Richard Harmon, Echo Porisky, Marina Stephenson, Sara Thompson


Haunted house movies are one of the, if not the, oldest and most venerated sub-genres in the entirety of horror. From The Amityville Horror to Poltergeist, House On Haunted Hill to Paranormal Activity and everywhere in between. The hardest part of one of these movies at this point is doing anything even remotely interesting with them. The trouble with being the original effects genre is that you literally have to reinvent the wheel over and over again in order for it to be effective. Or, more simply, when you see someone looking in a bathroom mirror, you know the next beat is going to be some horrid specter staring out of the mirror as soon as the room vacates. Some of these scares are so completely ubiquitous you can see some variation at the haunted house your neighbor down the block throws together every year. It’s the reason The Return comes as such a pleasant surprise. It feels like a legitimately fresh take and marks an exceptionally auspicious feature film debut for Canadian director BJ Verot.

 

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Horrible Imaginings Film Festival: Luz: the Flower of Evil (2020)


Directed by: Juan Diego Escobar Alzate

Notable cast: Conrado Osorio, Andrea Esquival, Yuri Vargas, Sharon Guzman

 

There is a dreamlike quality to Luz: The Flower of Evil that many films aspire to and never quite achieve. In the effortless fashion of a David Lynch or Jodorowsky, Luz creates a world with internal, consistent logic that is both horribly familiar and terrifyingly alien. Every frame of it looks like an oil painting, like a sort of perverse lost Norman Rockwell “Hidden Columbian Religious Cult” collection. It’s almost hard to even call Luz a horror movie in a modern sense of the term, as it owes more to something like the original Wicker Man or The Holy Mountain than anything even close to a slasher movie. It means that it evokes a different kind of horror, something existential.

 

Friday, September 4, 2020

Horrible Imaginings Film Festival: Dead (2020)


Directed by: Hayden J Weal

Notable cast: Tom Sainsbury, Hayden J Weal, Jennifer Ward-Leland

 

Horror and comedy work well together because of a similar sense of pace and revelation. A dependence on surprise. They, whoever “they” are, even say that laughter is actually a type of expression of fear, our minds reacting to unexpected stimulation. A common route is the inherent violence of slapstick or an extreme childish humor, an effort to offset what’s happening on screen. New Zealand horror comedy Dead goes a different way, with light, character-based and situational comedy. It’s a refreshing mood and an interesting take on the otherwise fairly well-tread territory.

 

Marbles (writer Tom Sainsbury) is a low energy stoner making ends meet as a spirit medium, helping people’s loved ones communicate any final messages and pass on. This is presented immediately and factually, as Marbles takes a mysterious injection that grants the ability, and the film admirably wastes no time on any kind of dull subplot doubting his power. After one such session, he finds himself stalked by the ghost of an uptight cop, Tagg (Director Hayden J Weal, Love And Time Travel) who demands Marbles solve his murder, the seventh in a serial murder spree. After Marbles’ mother indicates she’s selling the house he grew up in, a home with memories tied to his recently departed father, he decides to help Tagg in hopes of reward, enough to buy his home outright.

 

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Red Peony Gambler 7: Here to Kill You (1971)


Director: Tai Kato

Notable Cast: Junko Fuji, Koji Tsuruta

 

As we reach the final stretch in reviewing the films in the main Red Peony Gambler series, it’s fascinating to see how each entry takes the basic formula, themes, and characters and then adds just enough individualistic pizzazz to set them apart from one another. Even if I was binge-watching them all in a row, there is a sense that many of the entries would pop due to these small and often unique tones. With that in mind and the general roller coaster ride that goes with the quality of the films (most are solid with just nuanced shifts of effectiveness to their storytelling,) the seventh entry of the series, Red Peony Gambler 7: Here to Kill You, is a shockingly impressive entry. The story is impressively relevant to this day, there are plenty of key sequences to appreciate, and there is an emotional journey in Oryu’s story that makes it one of the more poignant entries. It’s not without its flaws, but for fans, this one easily stands out as one of the franchises best.

 

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Horrible Imaginings Film Festival: The Brain That Wouldn't Die (2020)


Directed by: Derek Carl

Notable Cast: Rachael Perrell Fosket, Patrick D. Green, David Withers, Robert Blanche

 

Remakes are a tricky business at the best of times. You have to respect the original material, and try to put a spin on it to justify retreading the territory. That second part is more vital than it may appear on the surface, and luckily we have Gus Van Sant’s Psycho as shorthand that spares further explanation. The genre of the fifties and sixties sci-fi horror has been a fertile ground for remakes with its combination of earnest (if over the top) acting, high concept (if silly) stories, and low budget cheesy special effects. The Brain That Wouldn’t Die was certainly ripe for a new take, and freshman director Derek Carl puts his passion for the original on display in a satire on the era that maintains the existential dread Inherent to the concept.

 

Monday, August 31, 2020

The New Mutants (2020)


Directed by: Josh Boone

Notable cast: Maisie Williams, Anya Taylor-Joy, Alice Braga, Charlie Heaton

 

The New Mutants is one of those movies that people thought was cursed. Not in the sense of Poltergeist, but in the “finished but maybe never released” sense. The House Of 1000 Corpses, John Dies At The End, Roger Forman’s Fantastic Four kind of way. Two of those three came out eventually, and as of this week, it’s three out of four. A troubled production, reshoots far after principal photography, and the Disney buyout of Fox were all major factors at play here. None of this has any particular ultimate bearing on the quality of the movie. But any reviewer would be remiss not to mention it. That combined with the roller coaster flying off the rails feeling that is the year 2020 makes this movie a wild release. A theatrical only release when some major markets still aren’t allowing open theaters? (Full disclosure, I live in one such market, and saw this film at a drive-in). But how does it stack up as an adaptation of a beloved series, and more simply as a movie?

 

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Black Rainbow (1989)


Director: Mike Hodges

Notable Cast: Rosanna Arquette, Jason Robards, Tom Hulce, Mark Joy, Ron Rosenthal

 

“We steal if we touch tomorrow. It’s God’s.”

 

Quite frankly, when Arrow Video announced that they would be releasing a new Blu Ray release of Black Rainbow, I had very little expectations. Arrow has recently been tipping their hat in the direction of the slightly supernatural dramatic thriller, in particular, their release of Apprentice to Murder works as a perfect double feature with this one, and it’s something of a lost genre that deserves a bit more attention. Black Rainbow is a film that ably slides through the various elements of genre, delivering on just enough dramatic heft, thematic commentary, character study elements, and an assassination plot to be a thoroughly enjoyable film with just enough layers to mark its audience. It’s never a film that defines itself as the most stylish or most intense, but it’s subtlety in its depths and strength in its small moments make it an overlooked diamond film from the late 80s.

 

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Zombie for Sale (2020)


Director: Lee Min-jae

Notable Cast: Jung Jae-young, Kim Nam-gil, Uhm Ji-won, Lee Soo-kyung, Jung Ga-ram, Park In-hwan, Shin Jung-geun, Oh Eui-shik, Goo Bon-woong

Also Known As: The Odd Family: Zombie for Sale

 

Now that South Korea has solidified themselves as a place that delivers some fantastic zombie films, including the recently released Peninsula which is raking in some serious dough at the foreign box office, it only makes sense that a western distribution company would grab a zombie comedy (zom com) to capitalize on the boom. The subject for this review is Zombie for Sale and the distribution company in question would be Arrow Video. Now, as a preface to this review, I should mention that I am not the biggest fan of comedies, nor am I the biggest fan of zombie films. Thus, a zom com is not the kind of cinematic experience that I necessarily look forward to. Just go look at my review for Yummy from a couple of months ago. Yet, as soon as Zombie for Sale started marching through its familial caricatures, silly set up, and eventual eruption into zombie chaos, the film revealed itself as fully engaged with its material and charm oozing out of most sequences.

 

Through the charming execution of its broadly painted concept, Zombie for Sale is able to navigate so many of the usual tropes and pitfalls of the genre-bending style. The film is firmly rooted in its comedy first, a tactic that allows the story and narrative, about a questionably shady family who stumble onto a zombie wandering around their small town, to establish its characters and quirky setting. While the initial zombie appears immediately in the narrative and plot, the manner that he stumbles around, being chased by a dog for a large portion of the opening sequences, or haphazardly trying to kill people with little success, is fully played for comedic bits. The tactic works though since the cast and crew seem fully dedicated to selling the tensely humorous relationships for the family and the little world that they live in. Highlights of this portion of the film, prior to their discovery and attempts to capitalize on their newfound zombie and his powers, is all through their banter and interaction. Right down to how the film has one character explain zombies to his father by having him watch clips from another South Korean zombie flick, Train to Busan.




The horror of the film rarely rears its head until the final act, when the full out zombie apocalypse starts to spread, and even then the film is more focused on the dramatic impact of the family trying to survive and find a way out than it does on the horror set-pieces. There are some entertaining moments to the rising action of the film, but horror fans will probably not find a ton to love as the film focuses on its other genres. When it is aiming for horror and tension, it’s mostly the zombie basics of being swarmed and the potential of being devoured. Due to its strong direction, some great cinematography, and entertaining performances, Zombie for Sale gets away with far more than it should have in these regards. It's notable though that the comedy comes first, second, third, and the horror comes fourth. It's not inherently a terrible choice, particularly since the comedy and performances carry so much weight, but it's something to be aware of for people walking into this film for the first time. 

 

As with so many of Arrow’s releases, Zombie for Sale is a fairly stacked release in terms of features. The full list is below and for anyone interested in South Korean cinema, zombies, or comedies, then this release comes highly recommended. The most valuable feature I found was the fun video essay by Pierce Conran for his analysis on satire in South Korean cinema which adds a glorious layer to the film for multiple rewatches.

 

Ultimately, Zombie for Sale is a film utterly powered by charm and strong execution of its silliness and social commentary while using the zombie formula to explore its themes and ideas. There is very little true horror to the viewing experience which is something to note for fans looking for that perfectly balanced zom com, but it’s not a deal-breaker thanks to its strong sense of visual punch, entertaining set pieces, and relentlessly firing banter and jokes. Truthfully, while not a perfect film, Zombie for Sale is the best zombie comedy since Shaun of the Dead, just for the sheer energetic outpour of its style, tone, and delivery. It’s highly recommended.

 


ARROW VIDEO FEATURES: 

High-Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation

Original uncompressed Stereo and 5.1 DTS-HD MA options

Newly-translated English subtitles

Brand new audio commentary with filmmakers and critics Sam Ashurst and Dan Martin

Q&A with director Lee Min-jae from a 2019 screening at Asian Pop-Up Cinema in Chicago, moderated by film critic and author Darcy Paquet

Eat Together, Kill Together: The Family-in-Peril Comedy - brand new video essay by critic and producer Pierce Conran exploring Korea's unique social satires

Making-Of Featurette

Behind-the-Scenes footage

Original Trailer

Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly-commissioned artwork by Mike Lee-Graham

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector's booklet featuring new writing by Josh Hurtado



Written By Matt Reifschneider

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Gamera: The Complete Collection (2020) [Gamera Vs Jiger, Gamera Vs Zigra, Gamera: Super Monster]

Growing up in a Godzilla household, there was always the mindset that Gamera was just a Big G knock off. The flying, fire eating turtle certainly came out in the wake of Godzilla stomping through the Japanese box office, but for much of the Western cult film fans Gamera was seen as a joke. Godzilla’s first film received a Criterion release, but Gamera’s first film was mostly known because of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Yet, just in my life time, there has been a resurgence in viewing Gamera as its own merits and as a series with its own themes and tropes. There was certainly help from the strength of the 90s reboot trilogy, but even the original run has had a revitalization worthy of revisiting.

 

To give even more power to this reclamation of everyone’s favorite jetpack kaiju, Arrow Video has amassed a massive new collection of all 12 of Gamera’s films. With the original run of 8 films, the 90s trilogy, and the final film – Gamera the Brave from 2006, this collection features them all. This series of reviews for the set will go briefly through each entry and then recap at the end thoughts and opinions on the set itself. Considering the amount of films included, this series of articles will definitely be as massive as Gamera, but will serve as a guide to all the films.

 

Relic (2020)

Directed by: Natalie Erika James

Notable cast: Emily Mortimer, Robyn Nevin, Bella Heathcote. Jeremy Stanford

 

I've said before, both briefly in writing and many times broadly in my life, that the reason I love horror as a genre more than any other is that it's the only genre that can tell any kind of story. This is for a few reasons, it and comedy share pacing concepts, and it shares drama's allegorical abilities. It shares action's spectacle and still brings a flavor uniquely its own. It's why the genre ranges from titles like Gingerdead Man to The Silence Of The Lambs. I have always felt, however, that it's greatest strength narratively (there are psychological benefits to enjoying horror as well, as it's a safe space to explore the darker emotions of life) is that of metaphor. By exploring the horror that's generally popular at any given time you can see what society at large was afraid of. Relic uses horror as a lens to explore some of the most fundamental fears that exist, and I think that feat alone makes it worth viewing.

 

Blood Machines (2020)

Directed by Seth Ickerman

Notable cast: Elisa Lasowski, Anders Heinrichsen, Christian Erickson, Joëlle Berckmans

 

It would be both easy, and understandable, to want to call Blood Machines surreal, to say that's it's an experiment of style over substance. I don't even think you could call someone wrong for saying so, although I don't agree. For one, the plot is firmly rooted and consistent with its lore. Admittedly, it's exceptionally dense lore with no entry point, no exposition, only what you infer from itself and its predecessor (we'll touch on that momentarily), and what you osmose from official sources and a little bit online. In a way that would make it more in line with something like Primer, though not as pretentious or narratively satisfying. More emotionally so perhaps.

 

Monday, August 17, 2020

Bloodstone (1988)

 Director: Dwight H. Little

Notable Cast: Brett Stimely, Rajinikanth, Anna Nicholas, Charlie Brill, Jack Kehler, Christopher Neame

 

For those of you that grew up in the home video boom of the 1980s and early 1990s, there are going to be a handful of films that have a nostalgic power that trumps the actual quality of the film. For many, it’s films of their childhood or ones with strong memories attached to them. Sometimes it’s one moment, perhaps a man with a silly voice saying “The Bloodstone, please.” Perhaps that last example is more personal for me than a general one for the masses, but it’s the reason that Bloodstone always stuck with me. When the opportunity to revisit this childhood memory came about, thanks to a new Blu Ray release from Arrow Video, I was happy to leap into Bloodstone and see if it could live up to the fun feelings and brilliant cover artwork of my memories.

 

Memories can be tricky, huh?

 

Monday, August 3, 2020

Gamera: The Complete Collection (2020) [Gamera Vs Viras, Gamera Vs Guiron]

Growing up in a Godzilla household, there was always the mindset that Gamera was just a Big G knock off. The flying, fire eating turtle certainly came out in the wake of Godzilla stomping through the Japanese box office, but for much of the Western cult film fans Gamera was seen as a joke. Godzilla’s first film received a Criterion release, but Gamera’s first film was mostly known because of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Yet, just in my life time, there has been a resurgence in viewing Gamera as its own merits and as a series with its own themes and tropes. There was certainly help from the strength of the 90s reboot trilogy, but even the original run has had a revitalization worthy of revisiting.

 

To give even more power to this reclamation of everyone’s favorite jetpack kaiju, Arrow Video has amassed a massive new collection of all 12 of Gamera’s films. With the original run of 8 films, the 90s trilogy, and the final film – Gamera the Brave from 2006, this collection features them all. This series of reviews for the set will go briefly through each entry and then recap at the end thoughts and opinions on the set itself. Considering the amount of films included, this series of articles will definitely be as massive as Gamera, but will serve as a guide to all the films.