Sunday, July 31, 2011

Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx (1972)

Director: Kenji Misumi 
Notable Cast: Tomisaburo Wakayama, Akihiro Tomikawa, Kayo Matsuo, Minoru Oki, Shin Kishida, Shogen Hitta

This first sequel to the bloody successful (pun intended) rebel samurai film Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance is top notch, even bloodier and a cut above the original. Considering how good the original is, that's quite a feat, especially since this was pumped out the very same year!

Lone Wolf is hired by opprobrious Yagyu clan in order to assassinate a spy who has stolen some secrets about their plantation that harvests a precious dye. Lone Wolf's job is simple... kill him before he gets back to the Shogun. It's not going to be easy though as there are assassins all around him with a hit on his head as well as his son. The result is one of the bloodiest, most action packed samurai films ever made.

JCVD - 4/5

Well, what do you know? I've been a Jean-Claude Van Damme fan for a very long time and I have yet to see him truly 'act' and make it worth my while. He has done fine jobs before at getting it to work, but with "JCVD" you truly get to see a new side of Van Damme. One of dramatic irony and well placed humor. One that tells the world that 'hey! I am not just the action star you all know!"...oh yeah, and the movie's damn good too.

Jean-Claude Van Damme has hit some life troubles. His agent is wishy washy at getting him worthy roles, his child custody hearing went sour very quickly, and money is very tight. Just to pay his lawyer he is going to have to make a hefty withdrawal from a local bank in Brussels just to make it right. Unfortunately, he happens to walk into the bank as its being robbed. Now Van Damme is caught in a world where is on screen hero persona and real life tired man are going to clash and he hasn't slept for two days.

What a strange film. Jean-Claude plays himself in a fictional situation (that certainly pulls from real life in many aspects) where he has to face his own life in new and meaningful ways. Despite this rather awkward concept, the film rises above it all to give us an artistic and often comedic look at how the life of an 'action star' isn't all its cracked out to be. Van Damme shows us a side we have never seen before - one that can legitimately act. He delivers on all foundations for this film and really works the 'role' for what its worth, even giving a heart felt monologue that strikes all the necessary emotions. For this I was extraordinarily impressed.

To match Van Damme's enthusiasm for playing a fictional self, director Mabrouk El Mechri pulls all the strings to make this film work beyond a gimmick. Starting off with a self-referencing single shot action scene, Mechri establishes the documentary style with flair and vision really working some of the odd moments to their fullest and not shying away from dark humor that is brought to the forefront with its story (including some awesome self referencing moments about being an action star and Steven Seagal's ponytail). The film has a killer vibe to it with some great directing (although the color scene is a little drab for my tastes) and it rocks the plot to its fullest.

I highly recommend this film to any fans of Van Damme fans out there and even those looking for a great film to watch. "JCVD" works its gimmick to the heart and creates a film that rises above its own style and creates an emotional and tense thriller/comedy that is worth the time invested.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance (1972)

Director: Kenji Misumi
Notable Cast: Tomisaburo Wakayama, Akihiro Tomikawa, Fumio Watanabe, Tomoko Mayama, Shigeru Tsuyuguchi, Asao Uchida, Taketoshi Naito, Yoshi Kato, Keiko Fujita, Teruo Matsuyama, Yunosuke Ito

Revered director Akira Kurosawa created the samurai genre with his immortal Seven Samurai in 1954. By the time the 70s rolled around, things were getting bloody, real bloody as the 'slasher' versions of samurai films emerged with Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance being head of the pack shocking audiences with their extreme violence mixed with solid filmmaking. In other words this is the beginning of one of the most kick ass film series of all time!

Based on the popular Manga books at the time, Lone Wolf and Cub is a story about highly trained, noble samurai and son being wrongly accused by a corrupt Shogun. His wife in turn is murdered so Lone Wolf decides to turn to evil, killing without honor and roams the lands pushing his son in a baby cart, selling his skills as an assassin for 500 pieces of gold.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Zombi Holocaust [Doctor Butcher M.D.] (1980) - 2/5

In the late 70's zombie and cannibal films ruled Italian Horror cinema. Lucio Fulci's "Zombi 2" and Ruggero Deodato's "Cannibal Holocaust" shocked and awed cult audiences and in turn were huge underground successes. Well director Marino Girolami got the notion that he could make a helluva profit by combining the genres so he made "Zombi Holocaust" (sometimes spelled "Zombie Holocaust"), the unholy amalgamation of "Zombi 2" and "Cannibal Holocaust". The result, though silly fun, only nips at the heels of the two films it unsuccessfully tries to combine.

Like "Zombi 2", the film opens in New York with a cannibal, that somehow got a job working in a hospital (?!), stealing and eating various body parts. He of course gets caught so a local nurse, that just happens to have an interest in anthropology of cannibal tribes (what?!). So a university anthropologist (Ian McCulloch, playing a very similar role he did in "Zombi 2") teams up with our nurse (why is she going along again?) and a couple of reporters to travel to a remote Caribbean island (sound familiar?) to track down the cannibal tribe and a mad doctor that is creating zombies.

This is a real clusterfuck of a film but that's part of what makes it so damn much fun. How did a cannibal infiltrate into a job at a big city hospital? Why is a nurse so into cannibal anthropology and why would she risk her life to travel to a remote island? Why is a mad scientist creating zombies on a cannibal island? It's all given ridiculous explanations but again that just adds to convivial nature of the film.

Italian horror fanatics will definitely get a case of déjà vu as this royally rip-off Fulci's wonderful "Zombi 2". Everything from the plot to the damn cast. Hell Girolami even films in the same location and sets! I shit you not! There is even a quick stock footage shot of a driving scene from "Zombi 2" and even a short stock scene like this shows how much visual style Girolami lacks compared genre greats like Lucio Fulci. Yes sadly Girolami lacks a keen visual eye as the film does have a flat, cheap look about it.

Gore fanatics will get an eye full (no pun intended) as this is a blood feast. How could it not be with combining both the zombie and cannibal subgenres? Open skull surgeries, graphic cannibal eating and even a zombie death with a boat motor to the head. Yea, gore fans will find plenty to sink their teeth into. We even get to see the luscious Alexandra Delli Colli nude, with island locals painting flowers all over drool worthy body in a scene similar in nature to the nude painting of Ursula Andress in "Mountain of the Cannibal God."

"Zombi Holocaust" awkwardly combines both the zombie and cannibal Italian subgenre's and isn't wholly successful at it, mostly due to stealing far too much from Fulci's "Zombi 2" and for the fact that director Girolami lacks a visual eye. For what it is though (a bottom feeder that is only made up of shocking scenes done better in previous, better horror films) this is a still a must see for gore fanatics. U.S. distributors however didn't know how to market the weird cannibal/zombie plot so the film was retitled "Doctor Butcher M.D." with poster artwork and trailers that falsely made it look like a slasher film with a mad doctor making house calls and butchering patients.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Damnation Alley (1977) - 2.5/5

Giant super imposed scorpions, armored man-eating coach roaches, a monster armored vehicle and George "A Team" Peppard... sounds like perfect ingredients for a big budget 70s B post nuke movie to me. Thankfully, it is.

World War III breaks out (despite no one looking really concerned) and all the nuclear explosions knock the earth off its axis (I call bullshit!) so all the seasons and weather have gone bonkers. The radiation also has played hell with evolution, causing scorpions to grow to the size of compact cars and cockroaches to crave human flesh. We get a small group of surviving soldiers hiding out in a missile silo when they decided to build two huge, armored all terrain vehicles in order to travel across the country in order to reach survivors on the east coast. Of course it isn't easy.

Along the way our soldiers run into an array of weird shit that makes this large budget B effort loads of fun. Hillbilly cannibals, psychotic weather patterns...a nd of course my favorite is Salt Lake City being infested with flesh eating cockroaches. Nothing like killer bugs to get your blood pumping!

The cast for the most part is great for such an effort. George Peppard is one of the masters of cheese so it always brings a smile to my face to see him in a military leader role. Hell even the despicable Jan-Michael Vincent gives a likable performance as the cocky drone soldier, actually like he gave a shit about the film unlike his attitude in later pictures. "Nightmare on Elm Street" and "Watchmen" fans will also get to see a young Jackie Earle Haley as a foul mouth little boy that can throw a rock so accurately it could knock the wart off of witches nose.

The characters, however, are rather callused. First of all no one seems all that concerned that he world is at war in the beginning. They all really act indifferent to the situation. They also show no respect for any of their friends killed throughout the film. These guys aren't Mad Max or the Man With No Name so show some heart!

The special effects range from good to shoddy, but then again this was a really ambitious film in the 70s and much of the technology hadn't been invented yet to pull off the special effects effectively. The special effects still hold a charm for me so give me these practical effects any day over CGI.

"Damnation Ally" is the type of film I would have watched a lot as a kid. The idea of soldier's loading up in a kickass armored vehicle and charging across a post nuke landscape would have captured my imagination and it still does to this day. Though a large budgeted, studio film it feels like a low budget B movie and that aspect makes me enjoy the movie even more. It doesn't come close to other post nuke films of the day like "A Boy and His Dog" and the "Mad Max" trilogy but for what it is I found it to be a ball of nuked fun.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Friday, July 29, 2011

Source Code - 4.5/5

Duncan Jones is quickly rising to be one of my favorite directors. Proving that "Moon" wasn't a fluke of circumstance, the son of David Bowie returns with another kick in the teeth science fiction film that should have all the diehards rejoicing. It's intense enough to keep one glued to the TV screen and smart enough to make one think about things a little harder than before. The perfect combination for a science fiction film and a must see for any self respecting sci-fi fan.

Colter Stevens (Gyllenhaal) is not the man he used to be. Literally. This Airforce captain wakes up to find that he is in the body of a young teacher riding a train into Chicago. As it would happen, he is on a mission. The train he is on was bombed earlier that day and all the passengers died. It is up to him to discover who planted the bomb before the train explodes in 8 minutes. Tick tock. Piece it together and he won't have to relive the tragedy...over...and over...and over...

Taking the concept of 'time travel' (although here it's not quite time travel...but I won't even attempt to explain the 'science fiction' concept) and throwing it into a thriller isn't hardly new. In fact, I think "Source Code" owes quite a lot to films like "12 Monkeys", but the film does it with such finesse and earnest that it hardly matters if the concept makes sense beyond the circumstance. This is truly what makes "Source Code" work so damn well. Duncan Jones ably builds the atmosphere of desperation with lightning pacing (we are literally thrown straight into the story) and an eye to capture the nuances of this intelligent and intense script. Thought his subtlety was to die for in "Moon"? His ability to blend that with the thriller/investigation aspect is remarkable here too.

Duncan Jones handles the rather ridiculous concept with flair and ease, but his own craftsman ship is only heightened by a superior performance from Gyllenhaal. To be able to make that character so believable and heartfelt in his situation takes quite a bit of talent and Gyllenhaal handles it perfectly. The supporting cast certainly help (with particular nods to Farmiga as his coach/voice of reason who gives notable chemistry with the lead), but he is the one that carries this film and gives it the humanity it needed to really work its magic.

Although not quite as ballsy as "Moon" and not quite as user friendly as "The Adjustment Bureau", "Source Code" builds a fantastic tale that is expertly paced, acted, and directed that reestablishes why science fiction can be the best genre out there for films. It entertains and it sticks with the viewer long after the credits roll.  A one-two punch that is certain to please those of discerning taste.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Fighter, The (2010) - 4/5

Sports movies aren't necessarily my thing. Outside of the "Rocky" series and anything concerning football, I normally just don't really get into them. "The Fighter" earned so many accolades though that it simply had to be seen to see if the slew of Academy Award nominations was legitimate. They were. "The Fighter" is a film that is gritty and emotional with its execution on screen riveting for the audience. With an amazingly well casted acting ensemble and a director that ably brings the boxing film to modern style, this film is out to impress. Unfortunately, the script is rather predictable and by the numbers and brings the film down from a five rating to a four.

Micky (Wahlberg) and his psuedo-famous ex-boxer brother Dicky (Bale) have been training together all their lives. With their mother (Leo) as Micky's manager, he has been struggling to find himself working up in the boxing world. He fights in fights he shouldn't and his record is questionable at best. When his brother is thrown in prison and gets his brother's hand broken, Micky - with the help of new found support in his girlfriend (Adams) - decides to rift himself from his family and find new management to help get his career on track.

The number one reason to see this film: the acting. Wow. This almost makes one forget that Wahlberg was in "The Happening" (almost). He certainly does a hell of a job as the lead and carries a lot of the emotional vigor that thsi movie requires to work. That's why its almost a shame that he is almost completely overshadowed by his supporting cast. Bale and Leo earned their Academy Awards here and even Adams sports one of her best performances. Partner this with David O. Russell's pseudo-documentary style directing (including fight shots that look realistically like television shots of fights) and this film feels real.

The main problem with "The Fighter" is how it plot progresses. It feels rather cliche. Despite its setting and low life supporting characters, it's a basic 'rise to glory' tale for a boxer looking to make a name for himself. The dialogue is strong and the character work even stronger, but its predictable in the end. If not for the stellar on/off camera work by the cast and director, I would venture to guess "The Fighter" would have been pretty boring.

"The Fighter" certainly earned many of the accolades it won - particularly for Bale and Leo - but its not quite the film to leap up the ranks to be grouped with "Raging Bull" or "Rocky" due to some plot basics. For sports film fans, its a must see and even for the rest of us its at least worth the watch for some great performances.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Siren - 2/5

If a mythological siren calls out sailors to wreck their ships at sea, then "Siren" calls out horror fans to wreck their brains on semi-artistic nonsense. Although the cover makes it look like some cheap-ass straight to DVD slasher, the actual films desperately tries to create something more vivid and mind-screwy. In fact, its nothing really at all like a slasher, but more along the lines of a supernatural thriller. A film that goes for the out of the ordinary path, but ends up lost at sea with no direction to proceed.

A couple and their world traveling friend are going out on a loaned boat to get some well needed R&R and to catch up on old times. When they discover a man bleeding from the ears on an island not far from their sailing path, they try to help him only to have him die on their boat. As they return to the island to figure out who this man was, they encounter a young beautiful woman who seems to soothe their cares and arouse their desires. As time wears on though, the three find themselves uncovering a secret that has been at work for ages.

After watching the trailer, I was generally intrigued. A modern horror tale of sirens and people trying to survive? It looked slick and seemed inventive enough to get me to scoot over to the Red Box down the street and swipe my dollar to for the rental. Damn. I guess that's what trailers are for...making mediocre films look better then they are.

Not that "Siren" was all bad. In fact, the film gets a solid 'A' for effort and the cast and director get a solid hand for creating something that was relatively believable in execution. Unfortunately, none of this covers up the fact that "Siren" didn't make a lick of fucking sense. Particularly by the time it came to run to its conclusion. It starts off with some (odd) sexual preface about our couple that builds some solid character work and slows begins to delve into this mystery dead man and awkward woman. About half way through it just decides to jump ship. Odd violent dreams, multiple builds this 'I don't know what's real' style to it that could have been clever, but only accomplishes to confuse the audience to the point where they don't care. By the end I was so confused, I'm not even sure who died (if this was the purpose then they did it!), but I also wasn't sure if it mattered anymore.

"Siren" was a decent rental. It entertained. It's execution was much better than its foundation and it attempted to bring a smart modern take of a great mythos to life. It just doesn't make the cut though. It's directionless, over thought artistically, and just rather muddled. A fine way to spend a dollar, but not something that is going to wow the horror fans out there renting it.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Friday The 13th: A New Beginning - 1.5/5

If "Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter" was beggining to get redundant with little in the ways of redemption, then the unnecessary "A New Beginning" (also referred to as Part V although the film itself doesn't actually call it that) is repetitively redundant with even less in the in the ways of redemption. This new kick start to the series is lack luster from the get go and never really gets moving. Oh there is plenty of kills and random nudity to suffice its slasher brethren, but not much else to really claim its place among the franchise.

Tommy Jarvis (Shepherd and a brief cameo in the opening by Feldman reprising the role from "The Final Chapter") has been a little fucked up since he killed Jason at the age of 12. Now much older, he is in a halfway house for troubled teens when visions of Jason begin to haunt him. Soon the bodies begin to pile up and people are expecting Jason to show up - but is it truly Jason or is something more sinister afoot?

The fourth entry was saved by some clever directing and some pretty brutal special effects to counteract its underdeveloped (but potentially awesome) plot. The fifth entry has the same issue, not utilizing its smarter plot elements, but cannot be saved by its by the numbers slasher death sequences of which there are many or the even less enthusiastic directing. Even though this is known as a 'black sheep' amongst the series as its the first to not have Jason as the main villain, it's also by far the least memorable when it comes down to it.

The Tommy Jarvis story is still underdeveloped. This is the main issue with "A New Beginning". I just didn't care. Not that I cared in the previous entry, but I still don't care and probably care even less about Tommy Jarvis and his fucked up life. If that was supposed to be the heart of this picture, then I hope that the kills are decent enough to suffice my time.

Turns out, the kills are about has basic as possible. The brutality onscreen is left out for the most part and the 'clever' kills just don't spark the same fire they did prior (no pun intended for killing a guy with a road flare). We are never really privy to the 'mystery' of who is the new Jason (jump in the Mystery Van folks cause we'll get the full explanation at the end even if the clues don't add up!) and his rather extensive killing spree of motivationless kills gets to be boring by the end. He fucking kills every one. Why kill the kids on the road? Why the hell not?! Why kill the couple in the trailer park?! Cause they were onscreen as a supporting cast...that's why! It just gets ridiculous and never the good over-the-top ridiculous like it should have.

Despite technically not having a number in its title (it does now!) this film is extraordinarily by the numbers. Just like these kids were fodder for the slaughter for the Nu-Jason, then this entry is just fodder for the slaughter for boring slashers. At least this one didn't claim to be the end of the franchise like the rest. Yawn. Next!

BONUS RANT: This one couldn't even come up with an original title sequence. They just slightly rearranged the exploding title from the fourth one using a flying hockey mask at the screen. It was funny-dumb before, now its just dumb.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Adjustment Bureau, The - 4/5

Despite the slew of watered down and action oriented science fiction films that flood the mainstream cinema world in the US (here's looking at you "Skyline"), there occasionally comes a film or two that reestablishes my belief that the genre is not dead and, in fact, thrives with intelligence and wit. "The Adjustment Bureau" rides the line between the two worlds, providing a thought provoking science fiction twist on a rather basic to digest foundational love story. It's a line that's very fine in the end and does still create some oddities, but the film basically rides it perfectly for what it is.

David (Damon) is on the cusp of greatness. He's young, established, hard-working, charming, and best of all, he's on track to becoming the next President of the United States if he stays on his political path. His knack for being spontaneous occasionally gets him in trouble, but when he meets the girl of his dreams (Blunt) one night after a crushing defeat - he wants his life to change. He would do anything to be with her. This is not part of the plan though and now David must face the ominous men in hats that are willing to change fate to keep David on track.

The ultimate fight the system sort of film. Defy the odds, bat down the forces holding you back for love. Sounds sappy, right? Luckily, it is in all the right ways. The basics here are a well treaded style for cinema. It's a love story. One of chemistry, love on first sight kind of love story. This heart of the film works in spades here and the chemistry between Damon and Blunt is fun to watch and works to really make this film stick (even if towards the end their romance gets stretched a bit thin with scripting) and the film's focus on making this the heart is where "The Adjustment Bureau" truly stands out.

Of course though, this isn't your usual romantic tale of woe (this review wouldn't be on Blood Brothers if it was) because it's based - very loosely might I add - on a short story by Philip K Dick. You know the guy that gave us mind fucks like "A Scanner Darkly" or "Blade Runner". Thusly, this film has a penchant for anti-authority thinking and over the top concepts like door warps through space that are only available through hats (I know, right?!). These are, for the most part, down played though. The religious under tones are easily digested and the odder concepts are played right through as if it's not important to really understand. This works the majority of the time, but occasionally the film's time leaps and unexplained character motivations make for some bumpy flow for the film. With the focus on the main romantic plot though, more or less these science fiction details are only there to create a visceral experience for the foundations - which works more or less. They do water down some of the more Philip K Dick craziness (reprogramming a person's tendencies towards a decision for instance - which is sort of just brushed over), but that's okay. Sometimes its hard to dig into that heavy stuff.

I would have appreciated a film more had to played up to its crazier sides like really pushing the envelope with the concepts presented, but as is, "The Adjustment Bureau" is a light hearted romantic tale that just happens to occasionally delve into odd science fiction tendencies. It's well written, well acted, and well directed. Think of "Dark City", but with way less creepy visions of a dystopian future and a lead character that never seems bat shit insane.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

His Name Was Jason - 2.5/5

*Note: This review only covers the main feature of "His Name Was Jason" - not all the bonus material available on the 2-Disc version - which is a MUST HAVE for fans. 

What could be more fun than watching a documentary on the "Friday The 13th" franchise, right? We have a very long running series that has inspired all sorts of media frenzy with little effort expect in horrifying audiences with a slew of spectacular kills and a villain made hero by its fan base. This documentary should enlighten the fans to all sorts of fun knowledge and viewpoints from those involved.

"His Name Was Jason" certainly does all of a certain degree. We get great interviews with actors from the franchise, directors, writers, make up effect artists, and even 'experts' including Joe Lynch ("Wrong Turn 2") and Adam Green ("Hatchet") who enlighten the audience with how the "Friday The 13th" franchise worked it's magic on them. Not only that, but we get clips from the series, some clever quips, and information about why the franchise has survived as long as it has. All hosted by Tom Savini - a true master of the genre.

It's just not enough though. It's run time clocked in at around an hour and thirty minutes (for the main feature). Do the math. Hour and thirty and we have a dozen films to cover? Not to mention covering the outside aspects of the critics, media, and Jason as an iconic figure? This means that "His Name Was Jason" has to fly at the speed of light to only cover the basics. We get surface level things (for the most part) about the franchise with no time to really dig into the whys, whos, and wheres of why this series became a true cornerstone of the horror genre.

The documentary is fun, I loved seeing what the outsiders had to say bout it - particularly with new genre icons like Green and Lynch, but the limited run time with the amount of ground it needed to cover is simply not enough. What they do cover is a solid surface level run, but long time fans like us here at Blood Brothers are already going to know these things. So its a refresher course. Mostly for fans, but only for the die hards who will buy anything with Jason's hockey mask attached.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

One-Armed Swordsman, The (1967)

Director: Chang Cheh
Notable Cast: Jimmy Wang Yu, Lisa Chiao Chiao, Tien Feng, Angela Pan, Ku Feng, Lau Kar Leung, Lau Kar Wing, Yuen Woo Ping

The Shaw Brothers may have pumped out a slew of both low and big budget martial arts films in their time, but throughout the massive flood of kung fu and wuxia there are quite a few pictures that deserve the attention of film enthusiasts. Including the epic The One-Armed Swordsman, whose rather odd premise builds quite the dramatic character study for a film of this nature. Certainly one of the better films the Shaw Brothers put out, The One-Armed Swordsman rises above its cliche moments to give us one of the best martial arts films crafted at the time.

Fang Kang (Wang) watched his father die as he saved his master, a renowned swordsman Qi Rufeng, and left him with only his broken sword. Qi Rufeng swore to up-bring the young man in his house, teaching him to be a swordsman expert in the style of Golden Sword. When Fang Kang decides to leave many years later, a tragic accident leaves him with only one arm and lost in the wilderness. A young woman Xiaoman heals him and he vows to stay with her to live life as a farmer. When an evil brother team appears to exterminate Qi Rufeng and his disciples, only Fang Kang and his one armed swordsmanship can save them.

"He's unarmed!"
For a classic wuxia film, I love the fact that The One-Armed Swordsman is actually character focused instead of fully overblown in story. . Not that 'these characters are crazy' focus that many Shaw films can cater to, but legit character development and a personal struggle kind of focus. It's what makes this film work so damn well. Really, it's basic plot is the same old same old Shaw Brothers kind of story. Clans of martial artists at odds with one another and lots of fighting ensues. Yet the focus is on our hero Fang Kang and his growth as a person due to his disability. Rather than his disability seeming like a gimmick (it can seem that way with the martial arts book that only has the left side that he is given), it seems like a truthful struggle that creates this man who just wants to live a normal life and ends up becoming an anti-hero with his alliances. Add in a bonus romantic sub plot and it just works way better than it should have.

I was also surprised by the lack of significant fight sequences. Until the final throw down between the two martial arts masters and their disciples, the fights are brief and are used to further the plot rather than the generic 'random fight sequence' that happen way too often in a wuxia. Not to mention a good portion of the film focuses on sword fighting which is always fun to watch. Particularly when Fang Kang faces the Law brothers in the tea shanty. Great entertainment. When the fighting is used, its well done and relevant, just how it should be.

"What just happened?!"
The One-Armed Swordsman may seem like a gimmick riddled wuxia romp on paper, but the film rises above it and unravels a great character whose mythos would be greater than the film itself. It's focus on a classic and semi-epic plot generates a film that is more than just a swordplay flick, but a legitimately built classic with a great anti-hero character.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter - 2.5/5

"Oh God, he's killing me. He's killing me!" - Rob The Hitchhiker

By the time that the third "Friday The 13th" film was released, the series was already just going through the motions. The third one added the gimmick of 3D and was certainly over the top in its attack on the slasher formula (much to its benefit). Thusly, this 'final' entry of the series returns to a more serious and less ridiculous tone (not much to its benefit), but remains steadfast in its formulaic style. Creating a film that has some great moments, but fails to match its three predecessors.

The day after the events of "Part III", Jason is proclaimed dead and taken the the morgue...where he promptly isn't dead, slaughters a few medical practitioners and proceeds to head back to Crystal Lake for some reason or another. There Jason finds a family on vacation and a slew of young and immoral teens renting the house next door. Queue killing spree. Will the youth of Jason's final rampage be able to stop this killing monster man...again?

One of "The Final Chapter"'s biggest flaws is that it's afraid to run with its plot. The plot is basic, Jason kills more people as they fight to survive, but there are some smart moments of plot progression that the film fails to grab onto. The brother hunting down Jason for his sister's death (which is used as a main story line in the "Friday The 13th" remake) and even the Tommy Jarvis sub plot are horrendously underused and could have made for some heroic and interesting twists in the tale. As is, most of the major interesting plot points just seem random like Tommy's transformation at the end seems a bit out of the blue. These all take a back seat to boobs and blood though as the series struggles to keep its audience without pushing the limits too far.

That being said, the film seems even slightly more brutal than it's previous entries. Jason does some wicked shit (like corkscrews a guy to a door frame to hang there before ripping him down like a bad birthday party decoration) and gets nailed with some heavy blows. The knife shot that cuts down the middle of his hand is wicked and his eventual "death" at the end is pretty vicious.

"The Final Chapter" succeeds in some snazzy shots (like the death of the first twin done as that moving shot with shadows in the rain) and some brutal deaths, although it gets a bit tiring seeing people and dogs fly through windows in slow motion, but overall fails to captivate and grasp the plot where it could have. Not to mention it has some unfitting ridiculous moments that leave one laughing unintentionally that didn't quite fit the tone of the film. All in all its a standard slasher that succeeds on some levels but fails to go where it could have with its story.

BONUS RANT: I thought the title sequence to the third film was bad, but the fire exploding hockey mask for this one gives it a run for its money. Yipes that was ridiculous and intense!

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Deadline Auto Theft (1983)


If you've read my reviews for "Puppet Master: The Legacy" and "Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2" then you are aware that I DESPISE when filmmakers utilize shit tons of stock footage of other films to pad their pieced together monstrosities to feature length. Of all the stock footage filled films I have seen none is more guilty than "Deadline Auto Theft" which is only made up of 10 measly minutes of newly shot footage with the entire rest of the feature being made up of stock footage of 1974 chase classic "Gone in 60 Seconds" and it's 1982 follow-up "The Junkman".

Car enthusiast / daredevil turned filmmakers H.B. Halicki got the notion while filming his second full length feature "The Junkman" that he would go film 10 minutes of new chase footage with his extra time and then splice on the original "Gone in 60 Seconds" to pad it out. I don't mean to speak ill of the dead (Halicki died tragically while filming "Gone in 60 Seconds 2") but this is the biggest display of deception I have EVER seen by a filmmaker, including such stock footage kings as Roger Corman and Ulli Lommel. The worst is that the 70s style of "Gone in 60 Seconds" completely goes against the 80s style of the first 10 minutes. It's like editing apples and carpet together!

The new footage does portray impress car stunt work and chase sequences but for the fact it's ONLY ten minutes long truly pisses me off. I mean what a rip-off! If I wanted to watch "Gone in 60 Seconds" then I would have popped that film in instead! I also laugh that the DVD box artwork proudly proclaims this is "The third in the original 'Gone in 60 Seconds' trilogy". I ask thee WHAT FUCKING TRILOGY? According to Halicki's widow who provides an introduction to the 'film', "The Junkman" is the second in the trilogy and "Deadline Auto Theft" being the third. Trilogy? BULLSHIT. Even more strange is Halicki's unfinished sequel "Gone in 60 Seconds 2" is included in a double feature DVD with "Deadline Auto Theft." Would that have made "Gone in 60 Seconds 2" the fourth in the series? HA!

Halicki was deceptive on how me made "Deadline Auto Theft" and his widow continues to deceive audiences by calling this the third in a non-existent trilogy. They should have included the extra 10 minutes of footage filmed for "Deadline Auto Theft" and the 30 minutes of footage from the unfinished "Gone in 60 Seconds 2" as a bonus on the DVD release of "Gone in 60 Seconds". But why do that when they can screw more money out of fans?
Written By Eric Reifschneider

Battle Beyond the Stars (1980) - 3/5

Roger Corman tested the waters for a low budget "Star Wars" rip-off by distributing the wonderfully lame Italian bandwagon effort "StarCrash". It proved to be extremely successful so Corman pushed on to produce and distribute a rip-off he could call all his own and "Battle Beyond the Stars" was born, proving Corman had what it took to create an extremely entertaining space opera on a shoestring budget and good enough special effects to provide stock footage for umpteen productions of his to come.

The plot steals from the legendary Japanese film "Seven Samurai", so much in fact this could be considered an unofficial remake with a space setting. Perhaps a better comparison would be an unofficial remake of "The Magnificent Seven" as Robert Vaughn plays the exact same character he got famous for in that popular westernized remake.

So we get is a Luke Skywalker wannabe named Shade (Richard Thomas) having his planet threatened by "Darth" Sador (John Saxon). Needing help Shade seeks of the help of seven warriors, including and not limited to an elderly Han Solo cowboy played by George Peppared, a Valkarie woman warrior, a reptilian lizard man and of course Robert Fucking Vaugn.

As you can tell the cast is fucking great, no doubt most of the films low budget going to pay the salaries of George Peppard and Robert Vaugn to give the film some bankable names. Though it's obvious these two took their roles for a nice paycheck, it's still nice to have 'em and it gives the film a hair more respectability. Richard Thomas, though not totally likeable, has enough charm to him to hold the film together as our young, virginal lead. Being a male it's obvious that cult icon Sybil Danning stole the show for me with her gigantic bosom almost bursting through her lack of wardrobe.

Behind the scenes we get a fantastic special effects crew giving us impressive visuals. The guys who provided the laughable effects for its brother in crime "StarCrash" should take notes after watching this. The score is also impressive, it being the early work of famous film composer James Horner, a man who would provide amazing scores for such famous films as "Star Trek II" and "Avatar". His score actually brings flashes of "Star Trek II" to my eyes when I hear it... yea it's that impressive.

John Sayles script is not surprisingly predicable, I mean how could it not be being a rip-off of "Star Wars" and derivative of "Seven Samurai". Where it makes up for its predictability is that the whole plot has it's tongue firmly placed in its cheek never taking itself too terribly seriously. That is what I believe gives the film so much of its staying power, being as popular with the cult film crowd today as it was back in 1980.

The plot is insanely predicable but the imaginative characters, likeable actors, surprisingly good special effects, epic score and script that doesn't take itself too seriously makes "Battle Beyond the Stars" the crème de la crème of "Star Wars" rip-offs. So grab a bag of popcorn, a giant soda and sit down for a fun-filled space opera that helps define the drive-in popcorn era of films.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Sucker Punch - 3/5

Zack Snyder is a man after my own heart. He does a decent job updating "Dawn Of The Dead", makes a visual feast out of "300", and keeps it true with a capital 'T' on "Watchmen". That's why "Sucker Punch" was supposed to be an epic film of glitz and action. Key word: supposed. Not that the film is horrible, it certainly strikes out to visually captivate and stun, but it's lacking depth and coherency undermines the experience. It gets the job done with enough style and flair to showcase Snyder's visual directing strengths, but it also fails to deliver on the more intelligent scripting levels it needed to to be the film it desperately wanted to.

Babydoll (Browning) has little time to do what needs to be done. After accidentally killing her sister while trying to save her, she is committed to a mental hospital and sits on a list to be lobotomized...very quickly. So she plans to escape, but she can only do it with the help of some of her fellow femme fatale sisters who favor her plan. With the help of a grand scheme, some items, and a very vivid imagination that takes her to new realms of fantasy, Babydoll just might make it out....

The entire time I was watching "Sucker Punch", I felt disappointed. The story just wasn't where it needed to be for it to work like it wanted. The character development is weak, the acting is mediocre (particularly from our leading ladies), and the duel reality plot fizzes in and out with the detailing character play. For a film that needed this parallel universe gimmick to be its center (with the reality of her mental institutional prison and the brothel), the film rarely gives us enough time jumping back and forth between the two to justify its means. You understand what is happening, but the trick isn't as clever as the film seems to think it is. Partnered with the weak character arcs and interactions, the basic foundation of the film is rocky at best and not enough to build the epic film it wanted to be on top of it.

What does make "Sucker Punch" a fantastic watch is Snyder's style as a director. Even if his writing is mediocre at best, he knows what he wants it to look like and pours the fantastical elements on in heaps. The opening prelude of Babydoll's incarceration is artsy in all the odd modern ways with its focus on the music and limited on scene dialogue and, of course, the action sequences for the escape attempt are jaw dropping. When I was told Snyder threw everything in but the kitchen sink, they weren't lying. Twenty foot tall samurai with gatling guns, undead Nazi robots, exploding zeppelins, cybernetic soldier robots, a dragon/helicopter chase...damn...this guy knows how to pierce the cult film fan's heart! The robot fight on the train is wicked awesome with its limited edits and swirling camera shots and the the extensive CGI work is well done enough to even ice over my classic special effect loving soul.  Although many are yelling out about watching young women in tiny skirts blow up shit and kill more shit, I think Snyder knew that ten years from now, these kinds of moves would make this film a cult classic, even if the critics now hammer it with poor ratings.

The bottom line remains that "Sucker Punch" is just a mediocre film. Although as much fun as he must have had with the visual aspects of the film and its artsy cult presentation, the script is under developed and it hurts the film in some big ways. Even the ending (which I'm assuming is the 'sucker punch' of the tale) seems a bit of a missed target as it does seemingly come out of the blue and leave too many things untouched. "Sucker Punch" is certainly disappointing (from Snyder especially), but cult fans will find much to love in its fantasy elements. Undead Nazi robots....not near enough of those in film.

BONUS RANT: I accidentally caught the theatrical version of the film rather than its extended cut. From what I hear, the extended cut is much better. When I get around to watching the extended cut, I will post the reaction on the bottom of this review to see if it improves the overall quality of the picture.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Friday, July 22, 2011

Mimic 2 - 2.5/5

A direct to DVD sequel to a film that shouldn't have been near as good as it was sounds like an atrocious time for a science fiction horror franchise. That's the reason I had to see it. "Mimic 2" (sometimes subtitled with the irrelevant "Hardshell"), may not come close to reaching the balance and heights of its originator, but it certainly has its straight to DVD fun plot and ridiculous executions. It's not as bad as I expected, but it certainly didn't impress me much either.

Remi (Koromzay, reprising the bit part from the first "Mimic") is a bug scientist and teacher for an inner city school. When a series of deaths, all of whom had their faces ripped off, leads a detective to her, she comes under investigation that doubles as a reminder of her failed romantic life. Her discovery that her 'stalker' is an escaped and mutated Judas breed mimic gets her trapped in a blocked off high school makes her real nervous...and leads the military right after her and the big bug.

"Mimic 2" can be quite fun. It's over the top, the plot is rushed to get us to the scary/horror sequences where the mimic kills people, and its low budget lends itself to some clever ways to get around its constraints. First time director Jean de Segonzac does his best to recreate Del Toro's facinating style of the original - although amatuer mistakes certainly abound here - and the film does what it can with what it has. For that, I respect "Mimic 2".

This film is plagued with half cooked ideas though. It's major issues all stem from a plot that is ill explained and only half way executed. Things aren't explained and the audience is left wondering...what the hell just happened and why...far too many times to be a cohesive picture. Some of these highlights include major plot points like: why is the mimic stalking Remi? Why does it take people's faces to craft its own image? What's with the suitcase with the tiny Judas bugs that only appears a few times and is dropped from the plot like a hot potato? By the end of the film, I ceased to actually care about the plot and was just running with "Mimic 2" for the fun ride.

Nothing about this sequel is really all that great. Sans its plot hole ridden story, the film certainly works on that mediocre vibe. The acting, directing, and special effects are decent, but nothing to get overly excited for. This is a sequel that earns its merits by being a sequel to a massively underrated film and rides the wakes from the original's big splash. Mostly for fans or those willing to waste a couple hours on a mediocre film.

BONUS RANT: I want you to read the tagline on the cover art posted. This is one of the worst and most generic tags I've yet to see on a film. It's not clever. It's long. It's just a horrible tag line.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, The - 2/5

Let's be up front here. "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" remake was decent enough, but did it really need a prequel? We all know how it's going to work out. The only way that "The Beginning" was going to really work was how clever it would have to be with its details and attention to the small gimmicks. Luckily, it does this to some degree. Unluckily, it doesn't do it enough to raise it above being a cliche horror/slasher film. If you like these modern throwback slasher films, then its worth the watch, but not much more than that. It's basic and never really gets to be as memorable as it could have been.

Years prior to the events of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre", two couples driving on their way to deliver two young men to a flight to train in the military for Vietnam are stranded in a desolate town after their car wrecks. Newly 'appointed' Sheriff Hoyt (Ermey) finds the couples and decides to take them into his loving household. One of cannabalistic and sadistic tendencies that's fostering the ill intentions of a young and monstrous Thomas Hewitt...who would later be known as Leatherface.

When broken down, "The Beginning" is pretty much damn near the same as its predecessor/sequel. It follows the same patterns, same style protagonists, and director Liebesman tries damn hard to recreate the snazzy directing. For a film filled with brutal violence, tense moments of escape potentials, and horrifying villains - it gets rather boring. We've seen it before and we've seen it better already. Just cause the time period is different and we get to see Leatherface's grotesque birth doesn't make this film really worth all that much. Might as well go back to the remake and re-watch that. It's better all the way around.

Despite Liebesman's valiant efforts to give the film some spark of ingenuity behind the camera with how he plays out some of the sequences, the script for "The Beginning" really doesn't do him any favors. It tries. Oh dear, does it try, but in the end we get a lot of cliche things happening. The protagonists are pathetically ill tempered with their attempts for survival and we just don't quite care enough to really root for them despite some fairly solid performances. The Vietnam detail works to some degree to justify their situations and place it in time, but it never is used to its full potential as a plot motivator.

The only real thing that "The Beginning" has going for it is the little detail work that is fitted into the script that pops up (whether explained or not) in the remake. How Uncle Monty loses his legs or how the father loses his teeth. These little things make it worth while for the true franchise fan, but its not enough to justify the entire film. Some of these moments are even a bit predictable like how Leatherface comes about his chainsaw (with cheesy music and all). It might make it worth the watch for those of you out there that really enjoyed the remake, but for the rest of you, this is a skip.

"The Beginning" has its moments. Despite its abrupt ending, there is a sweet shot of Leatherface walking down the road and some of the detailing that links the two films is fun to see, but overall this film is a needless addition that just reworks the same formula while adding very little to the overarching concept. It's a basic slasher. That's pretty much the bottom line. Only for franchise fans mostly.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Monday, July 18, 2011

Gone in 60 Seconds 2 - 2/5

How the hell do I rate an incomplete film? The ill-fated "Gone in 60 Seconds 2" is a real conundrum in my reviewing method. I can't really rate it based on normal reviewing criteria as it is unfinished due to tragic circumstances. Well examining the 30 minutes of footage that was shot, it's easy to say that H. B. Halicki's long awaited sequel to his 1974 cult hit would have not outdone the original by a long shot so I will award it the same ill-fated star rating as the original.

The sad story behind why "Gone in 60 Seconds 2" was never completed is for the fact that director / writer / star H. B. Halicki tragically died an untimely death while filming, and surprisingly it wasn't while behind the steering wheel. During one of its impressive stunt sequences where a water tower crumbles to the ground, an anchoring wire snapped and cut through a telephone pole which fell on top of him, killing him instantly. Hence the film was never completed but for fans 30 minutes of action sequences were and this footage was finally unearthed on DVD in a double feature with "Deadline Auto Theft."

Those who have seen Halicki's previous films it comes to no surprise that Halicki filmed all the action sequences first before stumbling through 'plot' and 'dialogue' scenes. So basically the 30 minutes of film that was shot is the last act of the film... which means car wreck galore.

The footage starts with Halicki playing... what else... a car thief that hijacks a two trailered semi. He then decides to give the cops the chase of their life as he takes the semi on a wrecking path, destroying an insane number of cars in the process. Think of the opening to "Beverly Hills Cop" on steroids. After near capture he escapes and steals a prototype car known as the 'slicer', a pyramidal shaped automobile that easily slides under numerous cars, flipping them.

The editing is surprisingly fluent considering not all the footage was completed and the editors for the DVD release did a decent job trying to tie the sequences together. The production values are of course low, with it resembling a TV-made production in look.

Though I am not a huge fan of the first film, it is sad that "Gone in 60 Seconds 2" was never completed but then again dialogue and plot was never the main attraction of Halicki films of the past. Fans wanted to get to the twisted metal carnage as fast as possible. Well here you don't have to suffer though a insomnia inducing plot to get to the action... you're already there! Considering how much the DVD distributors tinkered with the DVD releases of Halicki's previous films it's a wonder they didn't try to finish the film... or worse edit scenes of the original "Gone in 60 Seconds" to pad it to full length, like that dreaded "Deadline Auto Theft."

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Gone in 60 Seconds (1974) - 2/5

Thanks to an amazing chase sequence in the popular Steve McQueen vehicle "Bullitt", a spectacular chase sequence became a staple in crime and action films of the 70s. The "chase film" became a subgenre in itself, sometimes mixing with drama ("Vanishing Point") and even comedy ("Smokey and the Bandit"). Out of all the chase films that overflowed drive-ins, only one proudly proclaimed to have the longest chase sequence ever filmed.... at an impressive 40 minutes with over 93 cars wrecked! That film would of course be the original "Gone in 60 Seconds" (no, not the overblown Nicolas Cage remake).

With a film that has a 40 minute care chase it's easy to expect the rest of the plot is moot.... and it is. The 'plot', if you want to call it that, is quite terrible and overly simple. We get a car thief who has the impossible task two steal 42 rare and exotic cars with in an insane time span of like a week. That's it.

Director / producer / writer / actor H. B. Halicki knows his cars and stunts but the rest of the film is a complete mess. It's literally like the film was shot with no script, just a short outline and the rest was made up on the spot. The first half of the film is as slow as molasses and it jumps around with pointless scenes and banal dialogue, which thankfully is kept to a minimum since our entire cast can't act.

After suffering through the first half the audience is finally given it's praise worthy car chase... but even it can get tiresome after a while. There's only so many smashups and car flips I can take before it becomes tedious. Sadly it does become tedious thanks to novice filmmaker H. B. Haliki being unable to craft any real tension during the chase.

The stunts however are jaw dropping, including a massive jump at the end where our thief goes careening 128' and over 30' feet off the ground, not surprisingly injuring Halicki in the process. He was also injured when he collided with a light pole at a 100mph in which the film had to be put on hold until Halicki healed. That amazing footage was thankfully left in the film. No CGI here... unlike the remake!

Halicki's passion was cars and it shows as the only thing worthwhile is the car chase and even it can get old after awhile. The rest of the film is almost unwatchable thanks to Halicki having no real idea on how to make a cohesive movie. I'm sorry but I prefer a little more workmanship into my chase films... give me "Vanishing Point" any day over "Gone in 60 Seconds." It may not have a record long chase but at least it's competently made. Gearheads and Speed Channel enthusiasts may only apply.

"Gone in 60 Seconds" not surprisingly earned a cult following but sadly all DVD incarnations of the film are what I like to call "tinkered" with. That means people went back fucked with the film, completely changing the soundtrack, end credits and even the sound effects. Though I was not a fan of the film, I completely understand why fans were so angry. Don't fuck with films! We love them they way they are, flaws and all!

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Bloodrayne: The Third Reich - 1/5

"Guten Tag Mother Fuckers!" - Rayne

Haters rejoice! The "Bloodrayne" series has yet to die! Even after the atrocity that was the second film (which basically had nothing going for it - not even excessive gore or nudity for the hardcore horror fans), Uwe Boll continues to push this franchise into a third entry. Technically, I would say that this is better than two, but that's like saying cutting off your head at the jaw is better than cutting off your head at the neck. Really the end product still is a rather horrid experience.

Rayne (Malthe) has now survived until the Nazi reign in Germany. She continues to hunt through vampires and has included the Nazi group within that category I guess (bloodsuckers!). Unfortunately, when she helps out a resistance force against some Nazi militants she accidentally turns one of their leaders into a vampire. Now this evil Nazi commander has powers and a desire to spread these new powers, but he needs Rayne to give Hitler the ultimate immortality.

Haters rejoice! They fixed the major problem with "Deliverance" for this third entry. The acting? No, that's still pretty awful (particular nods go to Malthe for her over acting issues). The directing? It's slightly more cohesive, but he tends to drag out many sequences to death and many of the edits and choices of scene changes makes no sense. The plot? It's basic and towards the end the film tends to make less and less sense as it seems to wander through the story to make sure to get to certain moments with little bumps as possible. Nope, its none of these essential building blocks of a great film. These may have been slightly made better, but not enough to truly make it better.

The problem that's fixed with "The Third Reich" is that is get's back to just catering to its young male audience. Lots of gratuitous gore and nudity. Most of it senseless and out of left field. The fighting sequences are poorly executed but oh well. The blood spurts from the sword slashes go sky high! The romantic sub plot is non existent - but that's okay...there are two sex scenes with Malthe doing some things that definitely pushed this into very hard R territory (very hard R).

It's not enough to kick it above its previous entries though, as it still is very random and purposeless, and nothing else in this film is strengthened enough to make it hold up against any sort of criticism. At this point though, I'm not watching these films looking for a good movie. It's still not good, but it certainly doesn't disappoint. How can you when you have a series like this?

Written By Matt Reifschneider

La Femme Nikita [Nikita] - 4.5/5

As a cult film fan, I hang my head in shame for just now getting to watch the mesmerizing "La Femme Nikita" (as its known in America). I've been a Luc Besson fan for far too long to not watch this tour de force of art house action that this film represents. Scoff at me if you will, but it eventually came around and "La Femme Nikita" has proven its cult status as a must have for action/drama films.

Nikita (Parillaud) has had it rough. When she kills a police officer in a drugged out rage after a brutal gun fight between police and her gang friends during a robbery, her life just gets a little bit worse. She is sentenced to some serious prison time and with no one in her life to care, her life with her troubled mind is not looking bright. That is...until Bob (Karyo) shows up. He gives her a chance at a new life. Train under him to be a special ops agent. Assassin, undercover surveillance, operations leader. Her sudden knack for chaos and mischief just got a meaning. Can she handle the sudden change of heart and life purpose though?

One of the reasons I kept putting off "La Femme Nikita" was the fact that the story just didn't really intrigue me. It seemed simple and silly. This is where Luc Besson really works this film to the edges and pushes it. The story is remarkably simple, but the rest of the film is extreme. The violence is high velocity and brutal (did I just see Jean Reno poor acid on a living man?!?) and the silence is deep, and dark filled with tension and sorrow. Actress Parillaud makes a rather basic role (that could have gone cheesy far too many times) and turns it on its head leaving us a protagonist that is both completely bat shit insane and yet completely understandable in her struggles. So that by the latter half of the film, as it changes tones and she begins to realize what life she missed out on for so long, we cry with her as it begins to crumble out of her hands.

The film also sports a stunning supporting cast, all of whom steal their respective scenes (including Jean Reno as a really brutal 'cleaner') and with the artful editing process and pacing, "La Femme Nikita" certainly takes a rather basic script and makes it a riveting watch that both entertaining and completely engaging of the full emotional range. As I said before, it's like an art house action film with no hold's barred.

Like "Hard Boiled", "La Femme Nikita" is an action film that rise above the standards with its stellar exectuion one and off screen. Besson works the heart strings for all their worth to surprising effect. The acting, special effects, and action sequences are all worth every second of their screen time. By the time the sudden (and rather frustrating) ending comes about, the audience is just as consumed with Nikita's story as they should be. And then some.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Bourne Ultimatum, The - 3.5/5

With the rather seething disappointment that "The Bourne Supremacy" left with me, it took me some time to work up the courage to wander into the third (and supposedly final one although its been announced that a fourth one will be released in 2012) installment. Could it really improve on the second with Greengrass as director? It does, for one, as Greengrass tones down his psychotic camera shakes for a majority of the non-action scenes and it continues to thrive on its realistic and often brutally quick paced plot. Although I still find plenty to love about "Ultimatum", I have yet to get accustomed to the aftertaste of the style of these films.

Continuing where "Supremacy" left off (and during as it would seem...we'll get to that), Bourne (Damon) is on the hunt for those connected with Treadstone that just won't leave him along and took the life of his love Marie. After narrowly escaping assassins in Russia, Bourne heads underground again to begin digging at his past eventually finding a journalist in London who is getting some very classified information from a CIA informant. Now Bourne must take on a ruthless branch of the CIA and get to some covert information about his past before they seal it forever. Will he die trying to find out how he lived?

To be perfectly frank with you, "Ultimatum" is pretty much the same as "Supremacy". Same style, same actors, same basic ideas all re-grounded into a slightly more cohesive and less shaky product. If you want, please go and refresh yourself on my review for the second film by clicking the link in the first line above. It's obvious that the same talent is invovled here because it is remarkably the same.

It's so the same, that they even decided to throw a few curve balls at you in odd ways. Like the fact that "Ultimatum" takes place during the same time period as its previous entry. It kicks off with a 'missing' scene with Bourne escaping Berlin and then about half way through the film we get to see the final scene from "Supremacy". The first time I watched it I pulled a double take and said "what the fuck?", but my second viewing made the snazzy twist of time line seem far more clever than I initially gave it credit for.

Once again, "Ultimatum" does rock in certain aspects. Damon gives a riveting portrayal as our rogue killer, the supporting cast is just as solid, and the story is cleverly twisted and brutal. All elements that make this an amazing piece of spy cinema. Even the action sequences are more solidified this time around and (despite the issues I have with the film) do seem more coherent. I could tell what was going on with the awesome motorcycle chase scene! A vital piece that notches this one over its predecessor.

Unfortunately, Greengrass is still the director. The cameras still do more shaking than Elvis' pelvis and its still irritating in the end. It's not quite as a bad, he seems okay with making it far more minute in the quieter more acting focused sequences even if the action sequences are more or less edited to death with his movie shaken syndrome.

"Ultimatum" is a good modern action film and benefits by improving on the major faults of the previous entry. It still suffers from the same faults, just not quite as badly. It still has an amazing cast to heave the film up there and an amazing plot and script to its benefit. Lucky though as Greengrass does his best to undermine all of that with his pseudo documentary style.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Friday, July 15, 2011

Storm Riders, The - 2/5

How does one go about even critiquing such an unusual film? "The Storm Riders" is like watching a live action anime that nods to the old school kung fu flicks of 60s all done with a focus on the fantasy elements. It's an odd film, particularly to my Americanized eyes, that seems to lack cohesion and logic throughout, yet remains awkwardly memorable and fascinating. It's based on a manga and seems to very much pull from the style so I'm guessing fans of that arena of Asian culture will find plenty to love here. I, on the other hand, found the film to be a bombardment of half thought ideas and relentlessly useless CGI. Not something I look for in my kung fu.

Cloud and Wind are orphaned young boys who are taken under the evil shadow of Conqueror, who plans to train them to be his warrior sons as he plots to take over as much as he can in a quest for global domination. After ten years of training in specific styles (suited for their names) the two close friends find themselves at odds when their love Charity is accidentally killed in a lover's fight by her father Conqueror. As they uncover a larger conspiracy to use them to his advantage, the two must put aside their disagreements to form the perfect storm of their powers or else die at the hands of their teacher.

I was certainly entertained by "The Storm Riders". I was expecting something a bit more serious from director Andrew Lau ("Infernal Affairs" and "Legend Of The Fist"), but the general ridiculousness of its plot and over the top melodramatic acting did play on my entertainment bone quite often. It was like watching "Kung Fu Hustle" when it wasn't intended to be funny. Throughout the entire film, people are shooting shit from their hands, flying around like Superman, and generally just doing random fantasy things like fighting a cave dwelling fire tiger/dragon. To this effect, the film is entertaining and its outrageous plot and characters (I do love how Cloud does practice martial arts under a waterfall) and I have to give it credit it.

That's about it though for "The Storm Riders". It's epic plot is hurried along at half way incomprehensible speeds, throwing in characters, places, and plot elements into the flurry of whirlwind story lines. It's focus is about has cohesive as scattershot can get and rhyme and reason have no place in this film. Characters pop up out of left field (enter medicine man and daughter) and random abilities (most of which are CGI) seemingly are used effortlessly int matches of wizard like magic.  Rarely does any sort of martial arts fighting appear as it focuses on their powers. A disappointing aspect if I do say so.

The story is tough to follow, filled with random plot holes and random characters that do random things. The acting and general look of the film is over the top, cartoonish, and ridiculous. It's incohesive and never follows logic. It's addicting to watch. I was glued. "The Storm Riders" is a horrid film to analyze, but a damn entertaining one to just soak in for what it is. Don't take it too seriously and it's a fun ride.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Bourne Supremacy, The - 3/5

"The Bourne Identity" may not have been intended to kick off a franchise as it worked so well on its own, but the style of the film and its general popularity solidified at least one sequel (it was a sequel in book form first, so they had the ground work if need be). Thusly we are given "The Bourne Supremacy", a sequel that not only succeeds in taking the series in a more serious tone (yay for dark movies!) but increases the acting, script work, and plot to new levels. "Supremacy" should be a 5 our of 5 kind of film. Should be. Too bad Greengrass' pseudo-documentary style of directing is annoying as hell.

Bourne (Damon) has been living out of sight with his love for two years now. Dreams of his past life keep him edgy as memories surge back in brief segments, but his life is moving in the right direction. When he is framed for the deaths of a few CIA agents in Berlin and a mysterious assassin (Urban) kills his lovely lady Marie (Potente), Bourne is thrust back into the espionage game with only one thing on his mind: vengeance for redemption. Now he has to solve a mystery to clear his name and take down the individuals responsible for Marie's death and his current situation.

Score one for dark vengeance films filled with action! With solid performances all around (including some stellar moments with Damon and his torn psyche and quest for redemption) and a great story of spy intrigue and kick ass revenge motives that gives a personal flavor to Bourne's tactics, "Supremacy" is a film that by all means should earn its way up there to one of the best spy films ever made. It's all there. Except that the directing, in all of its modern style glory, is so annoying, that by the end of the film I was ready to strangle Greengrass for taking the film in this direction.

Here's where the film gets messy:

Initially, the shaky damn camera. Although this tactic isn't new by any means, hell it was even utilized for some of the action sequences in "Identity", but the non stop use of it grates my nerves. Greengrass was hired for this ability so I guess he did what he was supposed to, but dammit man. It never stops! When Bourne is sitting at his desk looking in his journal...what does it need to shake?! Of course, it is more subtle here, but this is not a documentary. This is a spy movie and that moment should have a nice revelation feel to it. Yet my focus was on the camera and its jittery shakes. Same goes for the moment where Bourne meets the young girl to confess his sins. That moment should have been powerful enough to bring tears to a viewer's eyes but the relentless shaking ruins it. Damon should be pissed because his performance there is stunning. Too bad I got motion sickness watching it.

Finally, the action sequences. There are some very awesome action sequences in this film. It sort of started a new trend in action films for realistic fights in American action cinema. Too bad the shaky Mr. camera shakes so damn much that one can't tell what's really going on. Then of course, Mr. Greengrass (whom I'm sure you're getting the vibe that I love by now) decides to do as many close up shots on aspects of the action as possible. I get it, he wants us to feel 'in the action', but half the time I couldn't tell what was really going on. I couldn't see it. It was like having an ADD 8 year old with the camera half the time with its quick zooms and extreme close ups of random things like stick shifts and eye brows. So the very awesome knife fight with the assassin or the (could have been) awesome car chase in the tunnel are suddenly turned into a nightmare of lightning quick close ups, rapid fire editing, and seizure-seque handheld inspired camera work. Frustrating for action fans.

The potential for "Supremacy" is so huge and so many elements of the film support its structure that watching this film destroy itself with its pseudo-documentary style is almost too horrifying to watch without crying. If I could somehow make the screen on your computer shake violently as you are reading this review, I would do so just to show you the frustration I had with this movie. A fantastic film that's turned completely mediocre by a style that may please the younger viewers, but certainly alienated this action film connoisseur.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

[Rec]2 - 4/5

With "[Rec]" and its sudden world wide appeal (with help from the remake in the US "Quarantine"), it didn't seem like it should have taken as long as it did for a sequel to appear. Yet in the US the film took way too long to finally get released (its theatrical release in the US was pathetic), but when it did...wowza. Thusly, this review of "[Rec]2" is finally here and if you loved the first film, then this is a must buy now. The film is different that I expected, but still a riot to watch.

Only minutes after the events of "[Rec]" end, a SWAT team lead by a medical officer are sent into the quarantined building to investigate the events that have and are occurring and to follow orders from the medical officer to complete a mission not quite known to the tactical unit. Inside their discover the spread of an unknown contagion, turning the residents into aggressive maniacs, but what they finally uncover about this infection will blow their minds and perhaps lead them into realms not explored.

How far can one take the handheld camera style with a direct sequel? That question plagued my thinking until the film began to roll. Turns out directors/writers Plaza and Balaguero not only figured out how to change up the style into new and clever ways, but ways to take the plot to whole new and scary places. In fact, I was insanely impressed with the directions that these two took "[Rec]2" and their amazingly thought through effort is the highlight of this film.

The addition of a SWAT team as our lead protagonists certainly changes how the film paces itself and the directions it movies. "[Rec]" focused on realistic people and tensions as ground work for its horror style whereas "[Rec]2" moves towards a more frantic and, dare I say, violent road with the tale. It starts off in the middle of the action and the film never quite lets up from there. More gun play, more creepy zombie attacks, and more high adrenaline situations (including a very high anxiety trip into duct work with some creepy kid like zombies) make up for the films lacking atompshere and play it off in spades. It even adds in more camera angles (including jumping from the main camera to helmet cams on the SWAT team members and even a handheld by some kids who sneak into the building) to add to its more frantic leaping style.

Of course, one of the highlights of the original one was its well built and oddly subtle story line of this spreading infection. This film (just like its style) takes off where the last one left it and runs with some very odd and rather horrifying directions. I certainly don't want to give too much away here, as many of the revelations are really out of left field, but the religious undertones of the original give way to broad strokes of overtones here. To some pretty solid effect.

My one complaint with "[Rec]2" and the reason it doesn't quite make the same rating as the original one has to do with its actors. They just were not as strong or well rounded as ones previously. We don't quite get the arcs we need to really, truly give a rat's pajamas about them (the concept of starting right where the first one left off hinders this) and it does make for a film that isn't quite as impactful.

"[Rec]2" is still a more than stellar sequel that takes the series to new heights and different paths of horror. It's frantic and epic both in style and story and certainly one of my favorite releases of the year. Not quite as amazing as the original, but a sequel more than worth purchasing and watching again and again.

Written By Matt Reifschneider