Thursday, September 29, 2011

Taxi 2 (2000) - 3.5/5

"NINJA!" -- Daniel

As interesting as it is, "Taxi 2" is a rather odd move for the franchise. The first film was built on character chemistry and lots of great comedic moments but lacked some of the action one expects from a film written by Luc Besson. This film is the exact opposite. It has almost no character arcs, our two leads rarely spark the same fun moments as before, but the action and hilarity of situation are almost non-stop. Making it a more than an entertaining film to watch, but rarely as smart as the first one was with its dialogue or characters.

Daniel (Naceri) is still up to his old tricks. He continues to promote his taxi with his incredible driving abilities and his continued relationship with girlfriend is moving to the next level. When he must take her military father to meet the Japanese minister of defense for a drive around Paris, a group of rogue Yakuza step into to thwart his plans. Now Daniel must re-team with Emilien (Diefenthal) to get the Japanese delegate back and stop these evil gangs from causing strife between France and Japan.

Although this film isn't nearly as strong in its writing or characters, the laughs that erupted from me were non-stop. This film is really funny with its odd combination of offensive stereotypes (the fact he has to yell ninja to start the car for the minister makes for some great awkward moments) and ridiculous over the top action. Literally, ninja come bounding in out of random places and the plot moves in some of the most obscene ways for the sake of visual gags, like dropping his now 'floating' taxi out of the back of a plane, that its hard not to be impressed with how far they go for the sake of a joke.

"Taxi 2" does expect that you have seen the first film. It gives no explanation to how the main characters know each other or how their relationship works, so don't skip out. This film rarely builds the characters and expects you to just be in the loop, which is part of its problem. Sometimes it assumes too much and it hurts that we don't quite get the depth of feelings that the first one conveyed. That's okay, because its ripe with car stunts and ninja action to bury those obvious plot holes. Ironically it works out quite well as an entertaining piece of film.

This sequel ranks right up with the original in quality even if the focuses for the two films seem to be in completely different lights. This one is packed with gags and action and it leaves one crying with laughter, but doesn't quite stick as well after the play time is done. It does have some amazing moments of dialogue and action sequences though - which is enough for this reviewer.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

X-Men: First Class (2011)

Director: Matthew Vaughn
Notable Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Kevin Bacon, Rose Byrne, January Jones

The "X-Men" franchise might be significantly flawed (read my review of "X-Men III" to get the jist), but its really damn entertaining. The comics have transferred to film well and the cast of characters that they have developed in the ongoing series have been a riot to watch. Luckily, this prequel of sorts is not only another great entertaining film, but perhaps one of the best and almost topples "X2" as the best executed of the franchise. It rocks and rolls with all the mutant flavor we come to expect, yet retains that underlying intelligence that makes these stories ones to watch.

In the late 1960s as the US and Russia continue to threaten one another with nuclear war, a new line will be drawn in the events unfolding. A young holocaust survivor Erik (Fassbender) is out for vengeance against Sebastian Shaw (Bacon) for the atrocities he suffered in World War II only armed with his anger and an odd ability to manipulate metal. A young scholar Xavier (McAvoy) is recruited for the CIA for his telepathic abilities to help aid against the unseen powerful threat of the same villain Shaw. Together the two very different men must learn to craft their genetic abilities to stop this rival mutant league led by Shaw who is hellbent on starting another world war.

What really makes this "X-Men" film work so well is the back drop of its development. The setting of the Cold War in the last 60s blends a brief look at history with these fictional characters and how their actions and different viewpoints affected it. It's a fantastical blend of old and new as we see the birth of our beloved league of mutant heroes and the growth of two characters who would soon become regular arch-enemies. This look is perfectly executed as it gives us many of the 'whys' to the details of characters we have already seen in the future while retaining its own style and identity - a tough thing to do with prequels.

Matthew Vaughn also ably gives the film a great pacing of blended story and style. He throws in many comic book like moments (split screen, bright colors, and high octane shots), but grounds all of it with significant character work and interactions making it seem as real as possible for such an out there concept. This, blended with the great differing viewpoints on their stature in society as 'evolved' people of our two leads, gives the movie credibility in thoughtfulness and allows some of the great writing to show through.

It must also be mentioned that "X-Men: First Class" is stunningly well cast. McAvoy channels the young Xavier to aces and the supporting cast ably lifts the leads to new levels despite many of the smaller characters having poor back story work (including the rather poorly used Angel). The true highlight is a tie between the rather hard-to-hate sinister evilness of Kevin Bacon as Shaw and the great depth of darkness in the light of Fassbender as Erik aka Magneto. Both of whom steal their respective scenes and leave the audience dreading when they will meet.

Although "X2" still retains the spot for best "X-Men" film, "First Class" gives it a run for its money with its cleverly written story, great characters, and intelligent spin on a mutant team being crafted in historical context. It's entertaining with great action sequences and fun comic book like moments (Magneto's use of anchors to sink a ship being a highlight), but its still a well thought out film that really challenges the audience to think. A necessary for a great "X-Men" film.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Crank (2006) - 4/5

The modern age of action films is one of shaky cameras and all too serious motives. What happened to the days of needless violence, cheesy one liners, and ridiculous concepts? It's just not near as popular as it once was, but thanks to a few new action stars like Jason Statham - the trend is coming back. And thanks to films like "Crank", the modern style is taking a turn for the more ridiculous and straight back to what made those crappy action films so much fun to watch.

Chev Chelios (Statham) awakes to find he's been poisoned with some Chinese shit. He only has about an hour to live and his only way to slow the poison in his veins is to keep his adrenaline up. Between now and his eventual death, Chev must find the man who poisoned him, let his girlfriend Eve (Smart) know that he is not a video game programmer but a killer for hire, and get revenge on all those who betrayed him. Sounds like he's going to need to crank it up just to get it all done.

Neveldine and Taylor (our two directors for the film) certainly keep the tongue firmly planted into cheek for "Crank". Through its run time, they throw everything and the kitchen sink into this film. We have gang battles, gun fights, public displays of sex, a car chase through a mall - one of the highlights of the film, cross-dressers, endless running, and of course a helicopter fist fight. Honestly, just as the plot would indicate - this film never stops. Ever. It's as if its on coke and the pacing follows that.

The style seems to follow that same drugged out feeling. The obvious motif is that Neveldine and Taylor wanted it to almost feel like a video game and many of the choices coincide with this concept. The use of Google Maps to jump to different settings, the odd way it's edited, words play across the screen as momentary close captioning for certain characters, and awkward sound effects all make this film like a super offensive cartoon. Ironically, making it so damn enjoyable its hilarious. Who knew random sound effects and cartoonish effects would work so well in such an offensive film?

That being said, "Crank" is not for everyone. Either you get it or you don't. I, for one, had a riot with the film. It's a perfect balance of crazy, insane, and hilarious all rolled in a charismatic package with Jason Statham as icing on the top. It's easily one of the best modern action films and one worth watching just for the spastic experience. Blood Brothers approved!

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Visiting Hours (1982) - 2.5/5

A slasher in a hospital setting is a fabulous environment for a stalk and stab flick. "Halloween II" proved it so Canadian producers Pierre David and Claude Héroux decided to follow suit and make their own brand of 'killer in a hospital' film. Even with a good budget, eye catching poster artwork and a solid cast "Vistiting Hours" still manages to disappoint this hardcore horror fanatic, and many others, due to not going the extra distance to truly make a memorable example of the subgenre.

The beautiful Lee Grant is a TV newscaster that's had enough of violence against women and makes her opinion known on national television. This attracts the attention of a crazed lunatic (Michael Ironside) who gets his kicks from hurting and killing lovely ladies. After a failed attempt to kill her in her home, he decides to follower to the hospital where he fails again, again... and again. Seriously, how many chances does this psycho need?

What disappoints most horror fans is that this film fails to meet expectations that the entire picture is going to to take place in the hospital with the killer stalking his victims. "Halloween II" this is not. Our killer visits the hospital on numerous occasions (mostly resulting in failed attempts to kill our heroine) and he almost always manages to escape to scare prostitutes and stalk beautiful nurses in their homes.

To be honest I would have preferred it to take place more within the hospital walls as it does get a little ludicrous with the number of times killer attempts to murder our heroine and then gets away. I swear this hospital has the SHITTIEST security of all time! The film also fails to go the extra mile when it comes to suspense and, of course, on screen gore. I'm not asking for both... just one or the other and "Vistiting Hours" fails on these two basic ingredients that are a must in the Slasher genre.

The cast is TOP NOTCH for such a genre film. Lee Grant is a fabulous actress (an academy award winner) and she brings a sense of grace to a genre that is usually littered with amateur actors. Michael Ironside (one of my all time favorite character actors) is majorly creepy as our psychopath. He always plays great villains and he got this role for his memorable performance in "Scanners", which was produced by the same fellas behind this. Hell we are even given a hammed down appearance by William Shatner. I never thought I would see Captain Kirk in a slasher film, that's for sure.

The solid cast makes "Visiting Hours" worth visiting. It just lacks some of the essential ingredients that slasher fans crave, notably suspense and/or blood. The plot can get a wee bit ridiculous at times and the final confrontation with our killer is disappointing but horror fans have seen plenty worse slasher plots, trust me. "Visiting Hours" is definitely worth a onetime watch.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Monday, September 26, 2011

Children of the Corn: Genesis (2011) - 1.5/5

We all thought the horror was dead. It's been over ten years since the last entry into Dimension's overlong "Children of the Corn" franchise infected DVD shelves and with the recent TV remake it was safe to assume that the coffin was nailed shut for good. If anymore sequels were to emerge one would assume they would be a follow-ups to the remake. WRONG! Remember horror never dies, especially BAD horror and despite a remake we horror fans are 'graced' with the eighth entry into the original franchise run. Being a franchise whore I was destined to buy this trash though I despised most of the other films in the series so here I go again, reviewing another crummy "Children of the Corn" film.

Well "Korn Kids 8" (a title that my brother likes to call this film) has a young couple break down in the middle of no-fucking-where. Whose bright idea was it to take a desolate gravel road without telling a soul where they were? Needing help (of course they are out of cell phone range... something that has to be explained in every modern horror film) they knock on the door of religious nut Billy Drago and his Russian mail order bride. Predictably he, or more like "it", won't let them leave as the noisy wife discovers a child being held captive and a supernatural force wants the fetus growing in her belly.

The budget is EXTREMELY low so the filmmakers were forced to downsize their plot. Hence why the film takes place in California as opposed to the mid west and why there are only 8 people in the entire cast. You guessed it the production values are shoestring but director Joel Soisson does what he can to utilize the little money he has to work with (numerous crashes in the climax involving a car carrier semi was impressive though for such a low budget) but still the film is nothing that great to look at from a stylistic point of view.

The problem with this film, as with most of the other Korn Kids sequels, is the fucking plot. First of all the title has the word "Children" in it and to be honest there are hardly any children in the film so don't expect a mob of crazed murderous kids stalking our sinful adults. That I can get by as by the eighth entry into a franchise the plot needs to be a little fresh and different. The problem I have is that the supernatural element makes no fucking sense and the explanation our priest gives for keeping a child captive is mind boggling. To top it off the plot drags on and on with not much going on so I found myself almost snoozing at some points.

What kept me going, trudging through this half dead corn field was the acting as the cast is actually decent here and the acting is surprisingly good for direct-to-video fair. Of course the offbeat Billy Drago steals the show as he plays, what else, a fucking eccentric weirdo like he plays in every other film. It may be nothing new for Drago but he plays these weirdos so damn well that one can't help to break a smile every time his name pops up into film credits.

To be honest "Children of the Corn 8" was a hair better than I thought it was going to be thanks to the decent acting and cast. I mean this is from the director of "Pulse 2" & "3" so I was expecting nothing but complete dog shit. Other than the cast the plot is just nonsensical and the budget too low to make this pointless film nothing more than another forgettable direct-to-video sequel. Even though the TV remake was worse than having a corn cob shoved up the ass this eighth entry into the original franchise proved the original series wasn't worth plowing up again.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Clash (2011)

Director: Le Thanh Son
Notable Cast: Ngo Thanh Van, Johnny Tri Nguyen, Hoang Phuc Nguyen

Although the Vietnamese film industry has yet to really take off in a world wide market sense, the on screen charisma and sheer martial arts power of Johnny Nguyen are working towards that goal. His emergence with "The Rebel" was a strong one, but his work on "Clash" will throw him into a bit more spot light with its more modern style and combination of fist fighting and bullet flying action. Not a great film as it suffers some vital flaws of plot and execution. It's entertaining though.

A young woman (Ngo Thanh Van) is desperate to retrieve her kidnapped daughter from a vicious crime lord. To do so, she has been tasked to retrieve a lap top in any manner possible. She hires a group of mercenaries to help with the task, but only one of them (Johnny Nguyen) stands out as a strong enough candidate to truly help her even if their motivations are from opposite sides of the spectrum.

There are a lot of fun and exciting aspects to "Clash" that say good things about the direction  of the film. There is a distinct and viable John Woo style to the film with its well paced action scene flow and the use of of classic martial arts motifs done with some flash and bang gun fights and explosions. This is the biggest highlight of "Clash". The fights are brutal and well choreographed with some nice high flying leg work from Nguyen and Ngo and the quick pacing of the film benefits its sometimes lacking character work.

The film suffers from its rather generic story line though and the editing of the film can be down right annoying with its modern flare and sometimes over the top attempts at being slick. These are more or less fairly easy to over look for the films better qualities. The character flaws, for example, with the lead male role are drowned in Nguyen's mysterious performance which won't earn him any awards, but certainly adds a nice subtle tone to the film that many of the more cartoonish supporting cast and odd character back story revelations hinder.

In the end though, "Clash" rings true as a solid modern style action/martial arts film with some great stunt work and fight sequences that just happens to be built on a rather cliche and unbalanced script. The performances are hit and miss and the awkward edits make the Woo style of the directing a bit harder to digest than it should have been. Still it's a fun action flick that punches in many of the right places.

Written By Matt Reifschneider
You know you want to see "Clash", whether you agree with me or not. That's why Blood Brothers make it easy for you. Just click the link below and buy now! Help support us in the mean time!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Final Destination 3 (2006) - 2/5

The "Final Destination" franchise is a roller coaster of sorts, but at the time of "Final Destination 3" the franchise was on a downward spiral of doom. At this point in the franchise, if you were expecting clever then you might as well punch yourself in the face and be done with it. This film isn't clever. The worst part is that unlike "Final Destination 2", this film seems to rarely try for anything new and just purely focuses on the gimmick. Not the best way to keep fans of the franchise interested even if you come up with some fun death sequences.

Wendy (Winstead) has just done her friends a big disfavor. After a premonition that the roller coaster they were going to ride was going to crash, she gets a slew of her friends kicked off the ride. They watch the coaster crash and move on with their lives. But wait...there's more. Now death is out to get the survivors of the botched coaster wreck and Wendy must figure out how the pictures she took hint towards each one's eventual demise.

Yawn. I'm sorry. I fell asleep writing that synopsis because its the same thing I've written before. All right, I'll admit it that besides the change of characters they did try one new thing in part "3"...they added premonition hinted pictures! Wowza! That's just...kind of new. Unfortunately, it doesn't really work as a new twist in evading death's design because the characters always see the clues too late and director Wong rarely shows us the photos long enough for us to decipher them.

Besides that, "Final Destination 3" just runs through the motions for the series. Group of relatively unmemorable teens survive death and then piece together a simple puzzle that was figured out two films ago before going about helpless until a random twist ending. Even the deaths can be rather unmemorable. Hell, the initial death chain just pales in this movie. Roller coaster crash? After the massive and gory high way pile up in part "2", this one seems like child's play. Even though the film focuses on the death scenes many are just not near as good as one could hope for this series. A few here and there for unintentional humor (the weight room death for example), but not near as good as they could have been.

Despite having Wong return as director (who does add a bit more style to the mix) and the rather solid lead performance from genre regular Winstead (who has since been in the remake of "Black Christmas", "Death Proof", and the upcoming "Thing" prequel), this film will only be surpassed in silliness by the next installment. It's blah and boring with nothing new to add to an already stale formula. The death sequences can be rather unmemorable sans a few over the top moments and the final twist is visible from a mile away. Not a great entry into the long running franchise.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Fertile Ground (2011) - 2/5

My luck with the After Dark Originals had be decent. Not any great ones, but only one stinker (thanks "Banshee"). So I went into "Fertile Ground" with a hop and skip in my step expecting a little clever haunted house flick. What I ended up watching was an overly redundant and excruciatingly slow film that never went anywhere, let alone anywhere original. It had some well executed moments, but they were far too few and far too short to really save this film for drowning in its own melodrama.

Emily (Haily) and Nate Weaver (Harold) have a great marriage, but a recent miscarriage has kicked Emily into a depression. So the two move out to Nate's family home in the country to start a new life. Unfortunately, the ghosts of this haunted house keep appearing to the recovering wife and an unexpected new pregnancy makes things a whole lot more complicated. Even Nate seems to be acting differently...

Well what do you know...its like a less scary version of "The Amityville Horror" with less to be concerned about. That is not a compliment. The movie builds nicely in the beginning, giving us two very believable characters to put our faith in. It sets up the move and the general mindset well and gives us a great creepy farm home and isolated setting for a great haunted house movie. Then it decides to go nowhere and go nowhere fast.

The characters take ridiculous leaps of personality, the tension is only effective in moments, and worst of all - the film never scares. For a haunted house movie there is no jump scares and rarely any creepy things that happen at all. When they do, they are nonsensical and make the audience confused rather than scared. The actors are hit and miss and director Gierasch seems lost with what to do with the uneventful plot elements. He tries to build suspense with some great shots of the house, but after the first couple failures at giving us the punch to the build we just cease to care. Apathy is the biggest enemy of great suspense and the audience falls under its wicked spell.

There is some potential to the work here in "Fertile Ground", but the by-the-numbers "Amityville" knock off plot and the lacking scares ends up boring the audience to death rather than scaring them that way. Disappointment reigns here for this After Dark Original.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back - 4/5

It's hard for me to say this, but "The Empire Strikes Back" is a film that tears me a little inside. It's handedly the best of the series thus far (including the prequel trilogy), but on its own it suffers from being the middle of an obviously attempt at a trilogy. Luckily, director Irvin Kershner works some solid magic with the film and more confident actors make it a slight step up from the original...err...fourth entry. Whatever. This one is the best because it kicks ass with some great action sequences and utilizes its illogical leaps to an effectiveness that momentarily makes one think that they logical. Now that's industrial light and magic!

Luke Skywalker (Hamill) and his new found friends Han (Ford) and Leia (Fisher) are celebrating their victory against the hiding in the Hoth system buried in the ice. When Darth Vader finally gets a tab on their location, suddenly the rebels and our heroes are on the run. Han, Leia, and Chewy head for the safety of a cloud city run by Han's friend Lando (Williams) and Luke heads off to the damn swamp to study being a Jedi with master Yoda. Secrets will be uncovered and Luke's past will come to bite the hand that feeds (pun intended), but can our heroes continue to outrun the Empire?

My love/hate relationship with "The Empire Strikes Back" stems from its rather awkwardly built pacing and plot. It truly assumes that you have see "A New Hope" as it never keys the newbies into what happened before. You are literally throw into the chaos from minute one as you arrive in Hoth. From there it never really lets up. It blasts at light speed through various places and never really stops to delve into character work until at least half way through the play time if not further in. If you haven't seen the first one...err...fourth entry, then don't bother. You will be left playing in the snow. And jungle. And the clouds. And an asteroid worm. The film even ends on a rather odd note as its an obvious 'to be continued' moment for the third entry...err...sixth entry. It's as if you are watching the middle section of a film itself. Not something that works for a film on its own - usually.

This is also what makes "The Empire Strikes Back" such a fluke of chance. Despite its odd structures and poor pacing - the movie works. It's an entertainment roller coaster from minute one. We get giant fucking walking robots that look like steel camels, we get muppets with mind power, space yetis, laser fights, giant worms, and light saber duels. It's what I always wanted for Christmas wrapped up in better directing and with better acting! There might not be as much character development as one would hope, but the material that is there is ten times in quality as the last entry and its far more effective. There are even times when Hamill looks like a real actor...not always, but there are moments. Kershner works this movie and fills it with more thrills and spills and makes it all work surprisingly well.

Even though some of the dialogue is still poor and many things continue to be rushed (our awkward love triangle for example), "The Empire Strikes Back" is an efficient entertainment machine that fills every minute with excitement and credible thought. Still not a great film, but easily the best of the series.

DARTH VADER'S BAD ASS MOMENT OF THE FILM: My first thought had to go to the initial invisible choking instance in the film. I mean, the shiny helmeted guy chokes a guy to death with his mind through a fucking TV screen. They aren't even in the same room! But alas, the invisible choke was his bad ass moment for the last film. So for "Empire", the Darth Vader bad ass moment of the film goes to his encounter with Han Solo in the cloud city. Han opens the door. It's an all white room and there is as his soul. Not only that, but he's sitting waiting for them nonchalantly. That's not it though. Han fires his laser gun and Vader stops it with his fucking palm. Let me repeat that. STOPS A LASER BLAST WITH HIS PALM. Doesn't even flinch. Not that we can see anyway. He takes a blast to the chest and then stops a shot with his palm. That. Is. Bad. Ass.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

True Legend (2010/2011)

Director: Yuen Woo-Ping
Notable Cast: Vincent Zhao, Zhou Ying, Jay Chou, Michelle Yeoh, Andy On, with cameos by David Carradine, Cung Le, and Gordon Liu

I was pumped for "True Legend". Return of Yuen Woo-Ping to the directorial chair? This should be epic! Unfortunately, Woo-Ping's return isn't all it was cracked up to be. Despite the visual flair of fanciful kung fu magic that he brings to the picture, the film suffers from severe structural flaws and some hit or miss acting performances that simply bring the entire film to a halt in many areas. Not the epic modern/classic martial arts film I was hoping it would be.

Su Can (Zhao) is one of China's best generals, but his need to settle down has made him want to lead a new life with wife Ying (Xun). So he leaves his military role to his adopted brother Yuan (On) and begins to practice wushu intensly with his new family - which now includes Little Feng, his son. Years later, Yuan returns to visit his adopted family, but he seeks revenge for the death of his real father. He kidnaps Su's son and forces Su and Ying to flee to the mountains. Now Su must retrain himself to fight off Yuan and put his family back together.

Rain makes any fight sequence more epic.
One thing is for certain with "True Legend" and that's Yuen Woo-Ping and his wicked visual style. This film perfectly homages classic kung fu style and look, blends it with a fantastical element, and approaches it with a rather modern vision. Just the style of the film earns it merit for fans of the genre. Woo-Ping builds the film in unique ways mostly due to the fantastical element (including training sessions with the God Of Wushu (Jay Chou) that appear on giant CGI statues and the main villain who's Five Venom Fist style and metal plating make him a bit out there) and really focuses on the style of the fighting. For this, the film succeeds and with some decent acting it gets the job done.

Just from his look, you would NEVER guess he was the villain of the film. NEVER.
What hurts "True Legend" is the horridly used structure of the film. It starts off with a franchise like opening, indicating that this is the story of how Su became the legendary wushu master he was. There it kicks off into our main story of the loss of his son to the villain Yuan and his redemption as he goes to save his family. Oddly enough, this is only half of the movie. From there it leaps to further in time to when Su trains in drunken boxing and has to fight off a slew of westerners...WHAT? It already had a full movie worth of material that it speeds ass through. Thusly, many elements in both parts are brushed over. Our awesome villains are vaguely built, our hero leaps through emotions, and the plot has to bust its ass to fit it all in. It's frustrating to watch this film suffer from this flaw.

A Yuen Woo-Ping moment if I've ever seen one.
"True Legend" remains a solid film to watch for its visual prowess and stellar kung fu fight sequences (including a stunning fight between our hero and the main villain), but the entire thing is undercut by its lackadaisical pacing and horrible storytelling mechanics. It should have been split into two films, but as is, we get one mediocre film that finds itself rushing through the motions.  Not the epic I wanted to see.

Written By Matt Reifschneider
"True Legend" has to be calling your name. You have to see it to believe it and Blood Brothers has the links below to make it come true. Click. Purchase. Support the cult film scene. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Jason X (2002) - 1/5

After the sheer derangement of "Jason Goes To Hell", its hard to imagine that this franchise would have survived. It almost didn't. Thanks to a time period as everyone held their bated breath for a "Freddy Vs Jason" film to be released, they decided to move ahead with a tenth entry. How do you do that after you kill Jason once and for all to send him to hell? I don't know. This movie just ignores the last entry. More or less for the better, even if this entry to the "Friday The 13th" franchise struggles to be better.

Jason Voorhees (Hodder) has been captured. He is to be studied for his regenerative abilities. Unfortunately, during his transport the supernatural serial killer breaks free only to be frozen in a cryo-tube with Dr. Rowan (Doig). Hundreds of years into the future, the two are thawed out as archeological finds. Now Jason is loose on a space ship headed for Earth 2 and the young college aged crew ( that's a stretch) must find a way to end his little trip early.

That's right. Jason Fucking Voorhees in space. At least, its Jason slaughtering people in ridiculous ways with whole new gimmicks instead of a body leaping parasite that's supposedly Jason. To this effect, "Jason X" works the right formula. Bunch of rowdy kids and inept adults slaughtered in a confined area by a homicidal killer with a machete. The plot is stupid, the acting is poor, the special effects look like a SyFy weekend movie, and the directing is mediocre at best. Honestly, "Jason X" is just a rather poorly executed entry for this franchise.

Of course, just looking at the synopsis of "Jason X" should tell you that this is going to be a trial of will power to get through. Yet, there is something especially entertaining about it. Perhaps its just so far out there that even the film makers can't take it seriously (some of those lines of dialogue couldn't be written that bad unless it was on purpose) and the style of the movie is so far tongue in cheek that its hard not to laugh. This time though the film is laughing with you...which is a nice change of pace. Not to mention the concept does allow for some awesome death scenes (including a frozen ice face smash and atmospheric burn) which is fun at times.

Despite being quite an awful film, let me admit that I happen to enjoy this film. It's bad in all the right ways for an entertaining watch. Yeah, none of it makes sense and most of the execution is nails-on-chalkboard irritating, but there is a certain charm to how bad it is. Something that makes it worth the watch despite how much it tries to ruin it.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Drive (2011) - 5/5

There are numerous reasons one should see the film "Drive". Ryan Gosling is showing how impressive of an actor he is, the film is directed by one of the most interesting and best upcoming directors Refn (who gave us the modern classic "Bronson"), and quite frankly the film is just a stunner. From its opening narration and spanning camera shot to the final moments of silence on the empty road, "Drive" is a captivating film that engrosses the audience in its tale with subtlety and atmosphere. One that will have you holding your breath for long periods of time.

A young driver (Gosling) lives a rather humble life in Los Angeles. He drives stunt cars for movies part time, he works on cars in a little garage for the other part. Occasionally he works as a getaway driver for an extensive fee - but he's worth every penny. When his new found connection to a young mother (Mulligan) living down the hall suddenly gets him involved in a botched heist to get them out of trouble, the young driver must make some vicious choices with his life as it begins to all crumble around him. Ones that may shorten his lifespan significantly.

Despite its rather action film oriented plot, the beauty of "Drive" is how simple it makes everything feel. With impressively built characters and an atmosphere of tension that one can knife through (thanks to the clever and stunning work of director Refn), this film builds the excessiveness of its style in subtle ways. Our 'hero' rarely speaks through the first two-thirds of the film, most remotely with his new found love, and its many long takes of emotional eye shots are made poignant with a massively effective score that balances long spaces of silence with an oddly crafted almost dance like songs. The style of the film is as thick as it comes and it certainly adds to the rather sparse dialogue.

This leads to perhaps the film's biggest flaw - its poor marketing. Trailers showed it to be a fast paced action film when really its an atmospheric and rather depressing drama. For a film about a stunt/getaway driver - there is only a few chase scenes and the moments of intense action are cut and dry and very intense. The violence bursts through to give the atmosphere the needed break, but certainly pushes it to some extreme moments. All of which fit perfectly into the scheme of the film.

"Drive" is easily one of the best films of the year and gives my previous best film of 2011 (that being "13 Assassins") a solid run for its money. It's artistic enough to please the film connoisseurs, but intense enough to please a more general audience. Just don't go into it expecting "Gone In 60 Seconds" and you will be in for one hell of a ride with "Drive".

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Monday, September 19, 2011

Amityville: A New Generation (1993) - 2/5

Drunk off the surprise video success of "Amityville 1992", the same producers and writers quickly got their shit together to pump out another similarly themed "Amityville" film as quickly as possible. Well much like "Halloween 5" and "A Nightmare on Elm Street 5" the final results of this seventh entry show the flaws of the quick production not to mention the tired blood of an overlong franchise.

Whereas the fourth film had a possessed lamp and the sixth film had a cursed clock, this entry has a cursed mirror. Yes... a damn mirror. Originally having a cursed item from the iconic Amityville house spreading it's evil to new households was a novel idea but this third time around it's getting a little ridiculous. How many cursed items can there be... really? Well a young, starving artist is given a ghastly mirror from a bum on the street (don't ask) and of course it comes from the Amityville house and soon all of his artistic friends start dying grisly deaths. Can he defeat the evil mirror before he starts blowing everyone away with a shotgun?

Unlike many of the other sequels, at least the writers here try to tie the plot more in with the first two films by having our main character being the son of young Dafeo lad who murdered his whole family in "Amityville II". Still, with this story connection, comes a SHITLOAD of plot holes. First of all how did Dafeo have a son unless it was with his sister (if you've seen "Amityville II" then you know exactly the creepy scene I'm talking about) but this is not the case. Not only did he have a son but he was married! It's amazing all he got done in-between getting exorcised by a priest and then shipped off to the looney bin. Ridiculous plot holes like this makes me wonder what the real Ronald Dafeo would think if he were allowed to see some of these absurd sequels.

The cast is made of some truly colorful actors but it's not the main actors that are the highlights. Our main characters are rather forgettable Melrose Place types but it's Richard Roundtree, David Naughton and Terry "Stepfather" O'Quinn. Naughton and Roundtree are underused and deserve to be in much better films than "Amityville 7" but they make an impression. Roundtree especially as a bizarre artist that makes, get this, a recliner in front of a television equipped with a shotgun that's programmed to go off sometime before the year 2000 (remember, this was made in 1993). That is single handedly the most badass and most fucking stupid art project I have ever heard of! O'Quinn is solid as the nosey cop who knows something isn't quite right in the apartment building that is home of the Amityville mirror.

The part that doesn't make this entry as fun as it's predecessor is the lack of Tony Randall. Randall had just the right touch of over-the-topness to make "Amityville 1992" to be as entertaining and as visually stimulating as a "Nightmare on Elm Street" sequel. John Murlowski takes this sequel more seriously yet at the same time has less visual flare making this far from climbing out of it's direct-to-video limitations.

The plot is far too similar to the last entry and the director isn't equipped with the right weapons to make this a truly entertaining "Amityville" film. The colorful secondary characters makes it worth watching but the series is definitely overstaying it's welcome. Still one more sequel would come in the form of "Amityville: Dollhouse" before the series would be restarted with a remake.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Thor: Tales Of Asgard (2011) - 2/5

With the superhero film craze that has been dominating theaters for the last decade, its been Marvel for the win all the way. Their films have just simply been better (sans Batman - which seems to be the exception). When it comes the animated side projects being released to home video...well DC Comics has edged out Marvel far far and beyond. The latest Marvel production, a back in time look at Thor in his teen years called "Thor: Tales Of Asgard" is not an exception. It's an animated fantasy film that can't even touch the live action "Thor" film in any way that just slightly rises itself above a He-Man episode. Not quite what I wanted in quality.

Thor tires of being trained by the warriors in Asgard. He thirsts to prove his worth as an adventurer and warrior, but his father Odin forbids he leave the sanctity of home. Thusly, the teenage Thor decides to high tail it to frozen lands in search for the lost sword of Surtur - a vile demon that his father once slayed in battle. His quest may not be easy and even though he has the support of his magician brother Loki and The Warriors Three, his thirst for respect just may start a new war and bring out a hidden villain in the wake.

Having just watched the relative fun and quirky film "Thor", I felt it necessary to see this unnecessary companion piece about a quest for a magical sword from Thor's teen years. Did I mention this was an unnecessary release? It is. It really adds nothing new to piece together with the feature length film sans a rather oddly built backstory between Thor and Sif, his warrior lady friend, and never climbs above feeling like a really long and drawn out Saturday morning cartoon. The story is fun and basic, not pushing into more adult territory like the DC animated films do, and would be great family entertainment as the kids can watch it with little explanation. Beyond that though, "Thor: Tales Of Asgard" really did nothing but tell a basic fantasy tale.

The animation is decent, the voice acting better, but the true disappointing feature of the film is its lacking creative vision. What made the "Thor" film such a cheesy but fun watch was how it seemingly blended fantasy, myth, and science fiction. This animated feature simply grounds itself in fantasy. Unwilling to move away from the basics and certainly shying away from the science fiction portions. Not the fun artistic direction that I wanted it to take.

It's not all that surprising that "Thor: Tales Of Asgard" is a rather bland watch - most of the Marvel cartoons have seemingly gone that direction. Even though the feature length "Thor" live action film wasn't great, this companion piece never even touches the fun and creative pizzazz it catered. Leaving a family oriented and fun cartoon, but rarely anything beyond that. Certainly worth only a rental.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Assassination Games (2011) - 3/5

Jean Claude Van Damme may still be stuck in B-action movie purgatory, but with a little help from a director familiar with the territory and an up and coming action star like Scott Adkins (that's right, the guy from "Undisputed II" and "III") then "Assassination Games" might just be in the upper tiers for a B-action movie...and it is. Despite a rather cheesy action film plot, "Assassination Games" scratches and claws its way to be better than that which is more than respectable. It doesn't quite get there, due mostly to some poorly written moments, but the effort is more than worth the time for a Blood Brothers action film fanatic or those looking to see more Van Damme.

Vincent (Van Damme) is one of the world's best guns for hire when it comes to assassinations. When some crooked Interpol agents decide to plant a trap for rogue assassin Flint (Adkins) by releasing a ruthless crime boss (Kaye), the two efficient assassins find their paths crossing. The trap is set though and these two lovable killers are going to have to put their differences aside and team up if the job is to get done before they find themselves at the wrong end of a target.

When you have a film like this, you better hope that you get a solid cast even if they are on a slide in their careers. "Assassination Games" does it with flair. Van Damme owns his role, giving it some depth (even if it is by interacting with a prostitute and his pet turtle) where there really is none, and really solidifies the fact that he can act even if its not going to be some of the best you've seen. Partner him with the charismatic and often very awesome rising action star Scott Adkins and the duo is going to sell this movie for action fans. Hey, I got the damn thing, didn't I? Adkins does an admirable job as the driven and vengeful assassin, but the chemistry of the two together really sells the film. The few scenes where they really get to interact bring a big smile to the face and their differing styles of action hero make for some great exchanges (including a highlight scene where Van Damme blasts a guy with a shotgun).

Other than that, "Assassination Games" is a pretty standard B-movie for action fans. The plot is kick ass enough to grant some great actions scenes - including a meeting where our two assassins throw down - but gives enough drama and depth to try to be better than 'just another action movie'. Director Barbarash does the most he can with the hit or miss script and despite some obvious pacing let downs, the finale battle is rather brief anti-climactic, makes it a film that keeps the attention for its audience. The writing and execution is simply on par for the genre and not much more.

"Assassination Games" makes for a fun rental as the two leads carry the film for most of its run time, but the lacking budget and obvious script flaws hinder it from truly rising above to the potential the film could have had. It's fun to see Van Damme still kicking ass and Adkins is still a must watch for those privy to the action genre, but beyond their participation and chemistry the film is rather mediocre. Fun for a watch or so, not going to win any awards.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Final Destination 2 (2003) - 2.5/5

Isn't it inevitable? A low budget horror film like "Final Destination" earns a bit of money at the box office and BAM it's a damn franchise. 'Tis the way it works though and let's be honest...the horror community loves a good (or bad) franchise to praise (or criticize). That's where we end up with the first sequel, the simple and effectively titled "Final Destination 2". A film that finds itself no where near as clever or charming as the first, but certainly has its merits within the cheesy category that makes it a fun watch.

A young woman Kimberly (Cook) finds herself having a bad day. A little premonition prevents her and a line of cars on an on-ramp from going on the free way and being involved in an epic car pile up. Lucky streak, right? Wrong. Now that she has cheated death's design she realizes that death is stalking and exterminating those she stopped on the on-ramp. She has to figure out a way to beat death's may take a little help from someone who's done it before - Clear Waters (Larter).

You know what? "Final Destination 2" gets an 'A' for effort. It tries. It tries really really hard to be as clever as the first film while taking the already gimmicky concept to new heights. It's a hit or miss effort, but they try really hard. They even to the length of adding a new rule into the game (thanks to a clue from murder maestro Tony Todd) for our new set of protagonists to strive for. Bringing back a character for the original one also seem legit (although its poorly written in) to give weight to this film as a sequel and on its own ground. These reasons make it worth the watch.

Beyond striving for some solid ideas, "Final Destination 2" drags a bit when it comes to making it all work. The characters are even more cliche with worse development and the structure of the film seems to be in hyper-speed rush mode just to get as much as plot and deaths on screen as possible. It has some moments that work (how each of the new characters is related to characters in the first film is a fun little twist), but generally speaking this film simply works far too hard for such little payoff.

That's all right though, because this film is the first in the franchise to put everything on the back burner and focus down on the death sequences. Plot relevance? Who needs it when you have an epic car pile up to set off the new characters to their somewhat cleverly planned and linked deaths. The improved use of gore and violence heightens these sequences to the next level and makes some of the deaths quite memorable, including a final one to end the film in hilarious effect.

There is a lot of wasted potential in this film due to some lackluster writing and poor character work, but the idea is fun and the death sequences highlight most of the film's play time. This is the beginning of the downfall for the franchise though. Fun, but rarely more than that.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Friday, September 16, 2011

Amityville 1992: It's About Time (1992) - 2.5/5

Nothing dates a film faster than proudly displaying the year it was made in the damn title. It seems the distributors learned the errors of their way and removed the "1992" from the DVD release and not just on the box artwork. They actually went into the film itself and put in a blatantly obvious black box over the '1992' on the title card which just brings me to a chuckle. Despite the silly title and botched attempt to correct it on recent releases, "Amityville 1992: It's About time"... err.... I mean "Amityville [insert black box]: It's About Time" actually ends up being one of the better entries into the overlong haunted house series.

An architect shows up home bringing an antique clock which he found in some rubble of a house his company tore down in Amityville for a new housing development. Guess what house the clock came from? Of course our demonic clock takes our family on a thrill ride from hell as the Amityville demonic forces have found a new home in California and it's up to delinquent boy to stop it once and for all.

The plot is VERY derivative of the fourth film "Amityville Horror: The Evil Escapes" in which the Amityville curse was brought to a new house and family due to a possessed lamp. Substitute the lamp with a clock and you have the plot to this sixth entry. Unlike that film which had a drab look and made-for-television production values, "Amityville 1992" has the fun, stylistic and slightly over-the-top approach thanks to director Tony Randall, veteran of the celebrated sequel "Hellbound: Hellraiser II". The overall feel to this film is similar to a "Nightmare on Elm Street" sequel and thus makes it a HELLUVA lot more entertaining compared to the last few "Amityville" entries.

The cast is full of seasoned character actors including the gorgeous Shawn Weatherly and underrated Stephen Macht who gives a truly deranged performance as the architect possessed by the evil of the clock (it does seem a little ridiculous when you actually type it out). The luscious Megan Ward gives a saucy performance that is guaranteed to seduce all the male audience members.

Like a "Nightmare on Elm Street" film the special effects are really eye catching, including corpses, alternate dimensions, dog attacks and people melting into puddles. Like many horror films the special effects become the spotlight but for films of this nature it's all in good fun. Mix that with surprisingly solid production values for a direct-to-video production makes this for a good horror popcorn picture.

For a sixth entry into an overlong, mostly lame franchise I actually found "Amityville 1992" to be a lot of fun, even despite it's cop-out ending. Sure it's getting further and further from its "true haunted house" roots but at least it breathed new life into a floundering series.... plus it has glimpses of the infamous Amityville house, an aspect the fifth film "The Amityville Curse" sorely lacked. Highly recommend for fans of the "Nightmare on Elm Street" series.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Amityville Curse, The (1990) - 1/5

Well after the television made venture with "Amityville Horror: The Evil Escapes", filmmakers this time head straight-for-video with this fifth entry into the "Amityville" franchise. Well direct-to-video is a step in the right direction in that the production values will be better. But does that necessarily mean the film will be better? Oh that's a big hell no!

A couple decide to buy a house in Amityville with an 'evil' reputation in that a priest that lived there was murdered and the person wrongly blamed for his death hung himself. Well a skeptic husband ignores the stories and ignores his psychic wife (what an ass!) and invites a handful of friends to the house to fix it up and predictably some spooks start occurring.

Looking at the poster artwork horror fans familiar with the franchise will notice one glaring thing missing.... the fucking Amityville house! You know, the house with the eye windows peaking out from behind the chimney... yea nowhere to be fucking found in this movie. How the fuck can you make an "Amityville" film without even a quick glimpse at the iconic house? It's like making a "Halloween" film without Michael Myers...errrr....bad example but you get what I mean. Sure the forth film and sequels to come didn't all take place within the house but they at least featured it!

What's even more bizarre is that it is never made clear if this is supposed to be the same haunted house or not. I assumed the filmmakers were not allowed to film at the infamous house thus were forced to use a different location but I even question that. My guess is that it's supposed to be a different haunted house that just happens to take place in the town of Amityville. If it's supposed to be the same house then why would a priest move there? There's so many unanswered questions to the continuity that it's enough to make any horror fan that follows the series to burst an eyeball.

The plot is just more lame, cliché haunted house shenanigans that we've all seen a million times before and a million times better. Plumbing problems, ghostly whispering, and tarantulas.... yet like every other haunted house film the people refuse to leave!

The most headache educing aspect of this film is the ridiculous plot twist at the end. You mean one of the guys helping this dude fix up his new haunted house repressed his memory of killing a priest and when he sees the confessional in the basement (how the hell did it end up there?) it brings the memories back and then goes on a rampage? It's just laugh inducing!

The lack of the iconic Amityville house and all the continuity issues makes this film feel like it was made to be an entirely different haunted house flick but the powers that be decided to cash-in on the Amityville name. This, mixed with a dead tired plot, makes this easily the worst film in the entire "Amityville" franchise and thus far the only entry in the series NOT to get released on DVD in North America. Though I wasn't a fan I would still like to see it get released to complete my collection on DVD. Used VHS tapes of this go for a pretty penny so I was forced to watch it for free on

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Return Of The One-Armed Swordsman (1969) - 3/5

The original "One-Armed Swordsman" was a epic tale of loyalty and martial arts drama that focused on expert storytelling and great character work. It's a classic Shaw Brothers film if there ever was one. That's what makes the sequel to such a film, this one being "Return Of The One-Armed Swordsman" such a strange and rather unique watch. It's almost NOTHING like the first one. It's got a lot of fun things about it, but rarely does it reach the merits of the original one in its depth.

Fang Gang (Wang) has been living very happily with his wife Xiaoman as simple farmers away from the world of martial arts and swordsmen until a couple of messengers deliver an invitation to the fabled One-Armed Swordsman. He is invited to compete against eight sword kings who look to champion the sword world. When he learns the rest of the sword masters have been captured by these diabolical and themed swordsmen he joins their students in leading an all out assault to overthrow the villains.

The first film was character driven and story heavy. "Return" is all action with just enough cheesy plot to link it all together into one cohesive chain of sword fighting sequences. Don't get me wrong though, this sequel is entertaining as hell. It's still a riot to watch the hardened Fang Gang tear shit up and the clever ways he beats all of the gimmicky villains (of which there seems to be an endless amount of), but the film certainly lacks the depth of its writing and the amount of time. Our hero has relatively no arc or none that wasn't already treaded in the first film and many of our supporting cast get little time to be worthy of a viewer's emotional investment. To this effect, the film simply works as a martial arts film and rarely goes beyond that.

Luckily, Chang Cheh delivers the goods as a director, even if his script is rather weak. The fight sequences are non-stop and each one memorable with distinct villains and their style of fighting (the winner though is the Spinning Wheels King with his bladed shields). The camera work blends with the cheesy style of the script to maximize the effort and despite the budget Cheh makes the ending feel quite epic. Matched with the various quality of acting from the cast, it works to relative effectiveness.

Although the original film was much stronger as a film, its hard not to enjoy "Return Of The One-Armed Swordsman" for all of its cheesy and non stop martial arts madness. Fang Gang is still a wonderful character to watch and its obvious to see why he became a cult favorite for the Shaw Brothers studio (with a few more sequels and a couple of spin-offs). Not a great film, but entertaining nonetheless.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Final Destination (2000) - 3.5/5

With a return to form that "Final Destination 5" embraced, it was time to go back to the beginning of this franchise for Blood Brothers. This kick off the long running and gimmicky horror franchise is far better than the sequels for it would indicate. For the time it was a clever twist on the teen 'slasher' craze that was working its way through the mainstream and despite it being a decade later, the film holds up surprisingly well with some clever ideas and wicked pacing.

Alex (Sawa) and his fellow seniors are about to take the trip of their lives to France. A feeling of dread builds throughout the day and when a vision of their plane exploding sends him over the edge, he begs for the people on the plane to get off forcing himself and a handful of his classmates to be kicked off the flight. Seconds later the plane does explode. Now Alex is convinced he accidentally cheated death and that death will come for him and his friends - taking back what was rightfully cheated. Can Alex figure out death's plan before the rest of his living classmates bite the dust?

It's not surprising that this film was originally written to be an "X-Files" episode. It distinctly crafts an almost "Twilight Zone" or "X-Files" vibe to itself with who the story plays out as a supernatural mystery. This is the biggest redeeming quality about the film. It's relatively weak budget and hit or miss casting make it work, but the cleverness of the writing hits it home. It plays off as a 90s teeny slasher film with more thought than most and it will keep one guessing all the way to its impressively high tension climax. Although it does have its plot holes here and there (there seems to be a distinct sinister supernatural force in the first few kills that fades to coincidental happenings for the later ones), the film strikes out with a cleverness in story and writing that sets itself apart from the rest of the horror films released at the time.

It also helps that James Wong (long time collaborator on the "X-Files") seems hungry with his directing. Although Sawa and Larter seem to get the job done with their acting, the rest of the cast is borderline cliche at best. This rarely hinders Wong from crafting a film dire with tension and suspense - enough to actually care about who lives or dies in the film despite some hit or miss acting and oddly developed back stories. The death sequences are ripe with red herrings and quirky camera tricks to give the most mundane objects a sinister edge and the quick hearted pacing the film reaches by half way through only adds to the entertaining value of the film.

"Final Destination" doesn't jump horror films to new unseen levels or anything like that, but its diverse combination of storytelling and trendy teen slasher motifs works in spades for this first film. Although the rest of the franchise would see itself lose the cleverness to the realm of gimmick, "Final Destination" marks a moment where mainstream horror could actually be thoughtful in the late 90s and early 00s. Something that carries itself out even to this day. Worth the watch if one hasn't seen it.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Amityville Horror: The Evil Escapes (1989) - 2/5

Amityville lives! Yes the infamous "Amityville Horror" returns to the screen... the small screen that is as the third entry "Amityville 3-D" ensured no more "Amityville" sequels would be graced with a theatrical release so yes this fourth film (also known as "Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes") was made for dreaded TV. Can "Amityville" live on with TV production limitations? Well...

The film starts off running with a rag-tag S.W.A.T.-like team of priests heading in to the infamous house like a military operation to take down the evil once and for all. Black goo and electronics go berserk as the "evil" escapes into a horrific looking lamp. The lamp is then bought by an unknowing victim (Patty Duke) and soon evil infects her household when the lamp convinces a little girl that, get this, it is spirit her dead father. Never thought I would see a little girl believe a piece of furniture is a relative!

"The Evil Escapes" marks the first sequel of many to come in which the plot revolves around a cursed object from the infamous house bringing poltergeists down upon their unsuspecting owners. The idea of new people moving into the cursed house was growing old fast (as shown in "Amityville 3-D") so this new approach is a refreshing twist but thanks to poor execution and script makes this entry a dud.

The TV productions values rear their ugly head at every turn as this film looks cheap and made on the quick. To be honest the film really resembles a long, drawn out episode of the "Friday the 13th" TV series in which each episode revolved around a different cursed object. Whereas the show had enough plot to go on for 45 minutes, this film drags it's poorly paced plot out for an hour and a half.

The "scares", if you can really call them that, only involve electrical appliances going amok including chainsaws, blenders and stoves. That's about it. There is also a humorous scene where a women cuts her finger on the cursed lamp and dies from infection. The problem with the scares is this film was made for prime-time TV so not much was allowed in terms of violence, blood and horror so this is strictly PG TV material here. Due to this the film also overall has a very hokey and cornball feel to it, mostly due to its shit production values and cheesy effects. The effect of a demonic face in the lamp bulb is laugh inducing and not-the-least bit 'scary.'

Continuity is also thrown out the window as eagle -eyed viewers will recall that the house EXPLODED at the end of "Part 3" yet here the house is, in all its creepy glory. Then again continuity was never major concern for the "Amityville" franchise as the errors would only continue to grow with each sequel.

"Amityville Horror: The Evil Escapes" was the first "Amityville" film I ever saw as a child and I embarrassingly admit it scared me.... then again I was only 6 when I saw it! Much like "Superman III" it's a horrible way to get your cherry broke by a franchise as it's so damn tame thanks to being made-for-TV. The ending is left open but the franchise would surprisingly get upgraded to direct-to-video releases after this and just forgot about this entry all together. VERY passable and only for "Amityville" completists.

Bonus Rant: The title was always an annoyance to me. All the other "Amityville" sequels dropped the word "Horror" from the title and just added a number and/or a subtitle. The box artwork for this film always got it right with either the title reading "Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes" or "Amityville: The Evil Escapes" sans the number 4. However the title card on the actual film has the damn word "Horror" added in. Damn I hate title inconsistencies!

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Trollhunter (2011) - 4/5

Once again I found myself at the hopelessness of being bombarded by great comments about a 'found footage' film. Once again, I waited thinking 'found footage films suck'. Once again, I found myself completely engrossed with a found footage film that makes the format seem brilliant even though often enough it's horrible. This time around its the Norwegian film "Trollhunter" and its odd combination of fantasy, adventure, and humor rolls into a rather rambunctiously fun trip into the odd life of a trollhunter working for the Norwegian government in secret.

A group of college kids have decided to track an elusive bear poacher in the Norwegian forests. Their exploits, all caught on footage for a documentary, lead them to find Hans, a mysterious man who spends all night trampling through the woods. When Hans decides to let them tag along for the ride and film his job, the students realize that not all fairy tales are false and this bear poacher turns out to be a one man army out to exterminate trolls who collide with society.

By the time "Trollhunter" ended, my face hurt. This was because for the entire length of the film, I had an extensive smile plastered across my mug. This little indie Norwegian film simply rocked its concept. The film certainly has some structuring flaws to it, including an ending that seems to just cut off with little falling action, but the fact of the matter remains that the filmmakers and those on screen sell this movie as real as it could be. Utilizing the 'found footage' to its maximum capacity and a stunningly convincing performance from Hans the trollhunter, by the end of the film its hard not to believe what you watched was real even with its hit or miss CGI trolls. The execution of the film is pretty solid with only a few structuring problems and edits to take away from the experience and it just sells the movie as gold.

Partner the exquisite performances (Hans is hilarious in his tired and trodden look of a wore out man) with the stellar writing and "Trollhunter" just simply impresses. The way the film goes about crafting the realism of the trolls is both hilarious and fascinating. How Hans and the vet explain the various nuances of troll lives, culture, and biology is clever and witty combining the myth with the real. It works with relative ease to get the point of the film across and becomes a highlight for this picture.

"Trollhunter" may not be a perfect film due to some of its limitations, but the witty script and well versed performances contained in the film work the magic to make this entertaining romp fly. It's just such an unique experience that one can't help but be sucked into the film's gloriously real feel. It almost made me believe that trolls might be living in the woods behind my place...almost.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Shaolin Mantis [The Deadly Mantis] (1978) - 4/5

Director Lau Kar Leung may be known for some of his other films at great lengths (including "8-Diagram Pole Fighter") and his wickedly impressive fight choreography, "Shaolin Mantis" remains an underrated gem in the Shaw Brothers collection. It's a film that just shys from perfect, but takes some dramatic turns to raise the martial arts level of the film and give it weight. A move that makes "Shaolin Mantis" one of my personal favorites thus far in my collection.

Wei Fung (David Chiang), a man studied in both books and in martial arts, finds his family being held captive by the current dynasty. They will be killed unless he can infiltrate the Tien family and uncover their plot to overthrow the government. Wei Fung places himself as the new tutor of Chi-Chi (Huang Hsing-hsiu) the spoiled and martial arts savvy granddaughter of the head of the Tien family. When he is suspected of being a spy, Wei Fung must decide which of his families he will betray, his real family being held prisoner or his new family and new found love for Chi-Chi.

What makes "Shaolin Mantis" such a fantastic addition to any martial arts fan's collection is the combination of drama and plot to the obviously stellar fight choreography. David Chiang works some subtle magic with the lead role, but its the supporting cast that steals this film. Huang Hsing-hsiu starts off as an annoying character who grows on the audience as well as on our lead. Even the various 'villains' of the films - including the uncles and the grandfather - own the roles and give just enough characterization to their brief moments for weight of the plot to be added. This works as the first two-thirds of the film and builds a great drama and plot to finalize with the relatively relentless final act.

The final act owns too. When the fighting starts - its impressively choreographed, shot, and paced as our hero must fight his way out of the Tien house, train himself in a new mantis based style of kung fu, and fight his way back in for vengeance. Although I would have loved to see more of the fantastically crafted mantis fighting in the film (it really only appears in the final fight sans the rather pointless intro for the film), this finale is well executed and a great way to end the film.

If there was any complaints to have about "Shaolin Mantis", it would be that the plot is extensive enough and strong enough that it could have used another 20 minutes of build up. Instead of seeing our hero learn his new style in the final act to go back and throw down with the 'villains', it would have been nice to see it more in the middle of the film and this would have given more weight to some of the choices (like the oddly paced marriage that is rushed through in the film). Also the final "twist" of the film, in the final moments, is a solid idea, but oddly tacked onto the film that leaves it standing in a sort of purgatorial state of ambiguity for its last moment. Not a way to end such a well done film.

"Shaolin Mantis" may have its faults, with its pacing and odd ending, but the rest of the film is splendidly executed. It earns its audience with great characters and a standard, but well delivered plot. The fighting is stellar (particularly when the Mantis style comes to the screen) and the Shaw Brothers once again deliver a classic martial arts film that many will love and appreciate. A classic in any collection.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Blitz (2011) - 3.5/5

Jason Statham might be one of my favorite actors at this time, but let's just admit it...the films he is in aren't that great. Entertaining sure, but legitly good films? Hardly. This is one of the reasons that "Blitz" struck me as such a's actually quite an effective thriller. Statham gives one of the best performances to date and despite a fairly bland approach to the pacing of the story, its effective in its telling and delivers up some solid suspense and impressive 'tough guy' moments for our lead.

Brant (Statham) is the kind of cop you hate to love to have on your team. He's brash, brutal, and tends to want to beat his way through most problems with his fists and a solid glass of alcohol. This is why he doesn't get along with the well put together new inspector Nash (Considine). When the two are charged with finding a new killer hellbent on taking cops to the grave, they must put aside their differences and use their strengths to capture this deranged killer before he gets to them first.

As I've stated time and time again, thrillers rarely find an original plot or script, but have to rely heavily on the execution to be successful. "Blitz" does this to some surprising success. Director Lester does an amiable job keeping the pacing up and the atmosphere thick with the south London vibe and he single handedly makes many of the rather by the numbers sequences click with well timed intensity. He takes many of the basic scenes to a higher level just with his visual execution.

This, ironically, is not the highlight of "Blitz". Turns out, its the acting and casting of the film. This is strange considering that Statham plays the same character he basically does in every film. He just happens to have enough subtlety added to his character and some great monologues to give that he rises above his normal routine. The supporting cast also seems impressively placed and performed. Considine delivers a great supporting and balancing act for Statham and Gillem steals the film with his often edgy and riveting villain. This takes the otherwise basic characters and dialogue to new levels to match Lester's vision.

Certainly "Blitz" never feels all that original and the rather obvious twist ending never really seems to give the audience that last thrill, but the execution on this British cops n robbers tale is stellar. The acting is well done and Lester does some impressive things with what he is given. This throws the film up and above its own means. Mostly for Statham fans, but those looking for a great little rental should also check it out.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Amityville 3-D [Amityville III: The Demon] (1983) - 2/5

Dino De Laurentiis jumped on the trend for third films in a franchise at the time as this third "Amityville" film (released overseas as “Amityville III: The Demon”) followed the footsteps of “Jaws III” and “Friday the 13th Part III” and got released in 3-D. Icky Poo! Not only is the 3-D gimmicks predictably bad, but so is the tired, cliché haunted house plot which is the first in the series to be completely "fictional" based.

Well we have an arrogant, no shit taking skeptic (looking like the mixture of the Brady Bunch father and Will Ferrell) who unwisely decides to buy the notorious Amityville house, ignoring the stories and past history. Unlucky for him! Soon people start falling like flies around him.

This character that buys the house is so damn annoying. I mean people die around him left and right and he still refuses to leave. Skeptic or not... something is going on in the house SO GET YOUR FUCKING ASS OUTTA THERE!

The film introduces an aspect of a "Demon" (mentioned in the subtitle for the foreign release) but it's only vaguely hit upon. A women takes a picture, develops it and sees a demon head in the corner of the photo. Later we see a demon pop out of a well in the basement (so when did a well become an integral part of the plot? The continuity is shit in the series!) and humorously blows fire, melting a paranormal investigators face.

Dino De Laurentiis, in an effort to liven this tired sequel up, hired veteran director Richard Fleischer. Sadly here he seems as bored with the subject matter as the viewers are. Nothing exciting goes on... just the typical swarm of flies, black goo and ominous feelings visitors get. The only thing really “new” added to the plot is the gimmicky 3-D aspect but that is even done poorly. Watch out for the flies flying off the screen!

Typical with 3-D films of the era the 2D versions on home video are muddy and murky. What’s even more head-ache inducing is distributors never retitled it for home video releases and kept the “Amityville 3-D” title. The original Vestron Video release and the newer MGM DVD are both guilty of this so many people who rented or purchased the film expect it to be in 3D. I even know people who have boughten the film thinking it was a 3D version of the original "Amityville Horror". Lionsgate was even smart enough to retitle "Saw 3D" "Saw: The Final Chapter" on home video to avoid confusion.

Even with all these annoyances, there is still one that takes the cake. The filmmakers decide to go against the R ratings of the original films and opt for a PG rating, no doubt wanting to sucker in a younger crowd wanting to see shit pop out of the screen at 'em. Nothing like castrating your R-rated haunted house franchise huh Laurentiis?

"Amityville 3-D", despite having a veteran director and an opportunity for a script free of 'actual happenings', ends up an absolute waste. This could have been a scary good time and instead it's a bore intermittent with a few unintentional laughs. It's so bad that it actually almost killed the franchise and marked the final entry into the series to see a theatrical release. If you must see it then keep an eye out for a very young Meg Ryan in an early role... it's one of the few things to keep you watching.

Written By Eric Reifschneider