Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Road to Fort Alamo, The (1964) - 2/5

When I order a Spaghetti Western, I expect a lip smacking pasta dripping with tomato sauce, covered in parmesan cheese accompanied by a buttery breadstick on the side. When all I get is a plate full of plain noodles I get a little distraught especially if the dish is cooked by a master chef such as Mario Bava. I seriously got excited to finally sit down and watch a Spaghetti Western that was directed by one of Italy's finest and after finishing the film it's easy to see why Bava is nicknamed the "master of the macabre" and not "master of the western."

We open with a lonely soul (Ken Clark) coming across a dead wagon train of Union soldiers with orders to pick up a load of cash for payroll. He teams up with an outlaw gang and attempts to get the money while wearing the dead soldiers' uniforms. All backfires when the gang turns against him and his buddy and they are left for dead only to be rescued by another Yankee wagon train heading through dangerous Ozark Indian territory. Torn if they should take the money and run, they predictably decide to stay and protect the women and children from the Native onslaught.

"The Road to Fort Alamo" was made right at the dawn of the Spaghetti Western cycle being released the same year as Sergio Leone's trend setting "Fistful of Dollars." Sadly Leone's trademark styles of the genre are mostly missing here and the film is far too similar to an American western for my taste in both plot, characters and approach. Even Mario Bava's eye-catching style is downplayed which is a damn shame considering what a keen eye for style the man has.

To top it off with its tame is the film is over-all made rather shoddy. The night backdrops look like sets complete with poorly painted backgrounds and the absolute most fake looking cactuses I have ever laid my eyes upon. The Indians are also a joke as they are all highly decorated with bright, and very plastic looking bird feathers.

Ken Clark (better known for playing Dick Malloy in Italy's James Bond knock-off "Agent 077" trilogy) plays the stoic hero well but he's far too much of a goody two-shoes for my taste in a Spaghetti Western. He's all about protecting the women and children John Wayne style and righting his wrong decisions. A little more rugged "Clint Eastwood" anti-hero approach to the character would have been much appreciated.

Though tame for the genre, it still has its moments of Spaghetti Western goodness as it does fair a little more in the violence area than American westerns, especially during the robbery scene when a gang member brutally shoots an elderly woman for screaming. Hardcore!

After finishing the film it's easy to see that Mario Bava's heart wasn't into the project as it's definitely just a 'director for hire' gig. No doubt he would have much preferred to be on the set making a moody horror picture or Giallo than just another "spaghetti western". Out of his entire filmography, "Road to Fort Alamo" is one of the more obscure films of his no doubt because it's not that good... not horrible but only worth hunting down for the most die-hard Bava fans. Wild East released the film on DVD in a double feature with the Spanish western "A Place Called Glory" for those interested in seeing the picture.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Zombie Diaries 2: World Of The Dead, The (2011) - 1.5/5

Although mixed reviews got me to view the very disappointing "Zombie Diaries", it was my own franchise addiction that lead me to "The Zombie Diaries 2: World Of The Dead". This addiction has once again lead me into a crappy sequel to the crappy original. The problem with this sophomore effort is that is really never fixes what was wrong with the first one. It suffers from all of the same flaws, the biggest one being how completely boring it is.

Now that the world has completely gone to shit due an outbreak of zombie, a group of ragtag soldiers are bound determined to survive. Their encampment gets compromised so they turn to a random communication that states a few boats will be leaving the UK for safer areas where people are gathering to fight off the zombie menace. In between them and their salvation lies a horde of zombies, bad weather, and bandits looking to pillage. Will they ever make it alive?

I don't want to be too harsh on "Zombie Diaries 2", as it does have some redeeming qualties. Firstly, the general production value of the film is better. It simply looks better and seems a bit more thought out with its more straight forward storytelling. It also helps that directors Bartlett and Gates seem to have a stronger hand with their directing and focus their attentions with greater finesse.

That doesn't quite help it dig out of the massive hole it still creates for itself. "Zombie Diaries 2" will still bore you to death with its slow motion pacing. It moves as fast as the ridiculously slow moving zombies do (at some points its like they aren't even threatening despite how haphazardly people yell and shoot) and with the lackluster acting and awful dialogue to go with it, this film annoys with its half assed executions. It wants so desperately to be taken seriously that it even throws in some rape sequences (yes, that's plural) to try and evoke some kind of emotion out of its audience. It doesn't work. It just seems like it tries too hard at that point.

In all honestly, unless you have to see it because you saw the first one, don't bother with this second attempt at a serious zombie flick. It's boring, forces itself into corners, and can't execute itself on any levels that would make it worth the time invested. Skip it and move onto better zombie flicks.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Red (2010) - 2.5/5

There is a potential in every aspect of "Red" that should get genre fans excited. A fantastic cast, a quirky script, and enough action to shake a stick at. With tongue-in-cheek approaches to story I fully expected to love this film...but as it would turn out, "Red" loves to play it half way the entire time. It smarms its up with enough ridiculousness to tease that inner 'B-movie action fan' in me, but never fully commits to it and plays up some of the more mainstream qualities that would benefit a wider audience. A move that leaves the film hanging in the balance.

When a team of assassins appears on the door step of retired CIA black ops specialist Frank (Willis), the charismatic man of multiple talents has a decision to make. He flees to obtain the woman (Parker) with which he has built up a rather odd relationship with and proceeds to build a team of retired agents to help him unravel a mystery that will lead him into his past and head on with an ambitious new CIA agent assigned to kill him (Urban).

The plot and general idea of "Red" is a riot. Seeing Willis kick ass (as he always does) and partner that with the insanity of Malkovich and seeing Helen Mirren lug around a sniper rifle? This film does strike that fun vibe. When its over the top, its so over the top and its awesome. There is extensive gun fights with bullets spilling everywhere - including the assassination team who tear apart the house in the first gun fight - and the ridiculousness of many of the characters (let's give Malkovich more props here for hauling around a stuffed pig) charms the hell out of the audience. In terms of charm and stylistic action - "Red" is shooting for the kill. Or batting a grenade into a baddie...whatever.

Unfortunately, what happens from there is that it just gets too serious. There is a rather weakly built romantic subplot and the CIA mystery with political intrigue doesn't embrace the outrageousness of the action and characters as it seems like your average "Bourne" motive. The rather basic story undermines the humor and cheesiness by making the film so average and thusly rather unmemorable. It's still fun at times, but it almost makes you want to care about the characters but doesn't go far enough to actually make us care.

By the end of the film, I felt rather apathetic towards the whole thing. It didn't run with the "B-action movie" vibe enough to throw it up into the levels of "Shoot Em Up" or "Crank", but it didn't play the seriousness of its plot or romantic subplots  to levels to get us to care either. It just sort of goes through the motions, occasionally hitting the fun it needed to, but not consistently enough. It's a fun movie, but not something I would claim as one of the best of its genre at all.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Hero (2002) - 5/5

Although at times I feel Zhang Yimou's films are a bit too much art in martial arts (see "House Of Flying Daggers"), his true triumph in film making comes in the form of "Hero". This little wuxia film blends brilliant sword play, fantastical elements, artistic values, and some ideologies of classic China history into a mixture that's both beautiful and volatile. A lethal combination that leaves one stunned with visual prowess and intense fighting all done with a brilliant eye for balance.

A nameless sword master (Jet Li) has to accomplish the unspeakable for the King Of Qin (Chen Daoming) to receive massive acclaim and awards. He must defeat three of the world's deadliest assassins, Sky (Donnie Yen), Falling Snow (Maggie Cheung), and Broken Sword (Tony Leung) just to gain an audience with the King. Can this swift swordsman truly finish the task or is there something larger playing out?

There is so many great things that go on with "Hero" it's hard to find a place to start for this review. So let's start at the bottom with the foundations. The story for "Hero" is clever and immaculately structured. Told as a re-accounting of previous events via our nameless swordsman, the structure of the film leaps from present to various versions of the past. The various versions each have differing details as we get Nameless' tale, the King's impression, and the truth. These three versions each have intense moments of sword fighting, new elements to the intense and passionate characters, and discoveries that make you go "oooohhhh". Nothing like a good "ooooohhhhh" to get one into the film.

This is, of course, all heightened with Zhang Yimou's visual finesse. The brilliant shades of colors and fantastical elements of leaping add a flair distinct to each story that embraces the emotions of the moment and magnifies the eye gobbling epicness of the film. It envelopes the characters (and the audience) into the moment. With the strong casting and riveting performances of our leads, the on screen ferocity of the dramatic elements is out of this world.

The dramatic elements is all fine and dandy, but we also want some kick ass martial I right? Luckily, this is in full effect here too. There is sword fights up the ying-yang here. We get all kinds of ridiculous high flying fights including a fight while leaping off water, a richly textured sword fight in swirling fall leaves, and the highlight of the film: Jet Li and Donnie Yen duking it out on a rain drenched playing area. Martial arts fans will eat it up.

"Hero" is by far one of my favorite martial arts films of all time and its visually stunning look, impressive choreography, and amazing acting all create a film that's as potent as it is fun. Whether you agree with some of its themes or not, "Hero" is a beast of a film and one to be remembered.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Super 8 (2011) - 4/5

Although the viral campaign had me hooked into the concept of "Super 8", the film itself wasn't the monster flick that was hinted at with its trailers but it is more like the science fiction/dramas of the 80s that producer Steven Spielberg crafted. This lends a bit of disappointment at my end, but its hard to deny the impressive writing and directing that J.J. Abrams brings to the table with this family friendly alien monster film. It hits all the right emotional cues with its young cast and it entertains was massive action sequences. It's all around just another solid film for the new mainstream king of science fiction.

When a group of young teens desperate to finish filming their zombie film happen to see a massive train derailment in their small town, the entire city is thrown into some unusual circumstances. Electronics, engines, and microwaves begin to disappear along with some of the local town folk. The military has taken up to doing rounds in the area. It's beginning to look like something has broken free from the train...something that may not be of this world.

Strip "Super 8" down to the basic details and, yeah, its a monster/alien movie. Tons of special effects, a cleverly designed alien, and some great mystery surrounding the beast makes for an entertaining science fiction film. Sometimes it can be a little ridiculous (the train derailment is seriously one of the most extravagant and over the top train crashes I have seen EVER in a film) and it takes away from the plot of the film...but it is entertaining and it works for the most part and often times seems innovative with how it fits into the plot.

Believe it or not, for an Abrams film, the special effects and explosions are not the best part of the film. Of course his style as a director crafts some very awesome sequences (like the small town being overrun with tanks), but really its his writing that makes this film what it is. Our fantastically acted entourage of kid heroes invokes a childish view of the world  where the mystique of the film is fully realistic and their plight to save one another in a world where adults don't seem to always know what's best allows the audience to pull for them in full gear...cheering on their quest and believing in their friendships and young love with vigor. J.J. Abrams might be a director know for entertaining, but he has one helluva way of combining it with enough emotional attachment to make us believe. Something that mainstream science fiction rarely establishes anymore (...cough, Michael Bay, cough).

I wasn't quite as impressed as I thought I would be with "Super 8" as the Abrams loses some of his own style in the homage to the 80s childhood wonder of Spielberg's vision, but the execution of the film with its solid writing and great acting makes for a solid science fiction romp. Occasionally it runs into a few awkward plot moves (with Coach Taylor being able to escape military?), but overall its a fantastic watch. One that I fully recommend.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Humongous (1982) - 2.5/5

Back in 1982 the word "Humongous" was a rather new and proved to be good fodder for a horror film title thus this Canadian slasher was written around that term. So we get director Paul Lynch, hot off the success of "Prom Night", returning to give the slasher genre another stab with not as congenial of results despite a promising premises.

A group of dumb-ass teens crash their fathers yacht off shore of a mysterious island only rumored to be occupied by a senile old woman and a pack of wild dogs. Well it seems that the women was raped 35 years before and the residuum of that encounter was a deformed child that grows up to be a "humongous" wild haired madman. The thing dabbles in cannibalism and since his mother's demise roams the island looking for food.

A wilderness madman was nothing new in the genre thanks to "Friday the 13th Part 2" inspiring such slasher off-spring as "Madman", "The Burning" and "Don't Go in the Woods" but what makes this one stand-out in the bunch is the unique setting of a remote island. This adds to potential suspense as our group of young adults are trapped, with no-where to run.

The wild hairy monster itself is nothing special or unique and Paul Lynch wisely keeps the thing unseen in the shadows for the most part. Clever use of shadows is the name of the game for Lynch as he drapes the creep old house and woods in darkness again adding for potential suspense.

I use the word 'potential' as Lynch sadly misses many marks to make this truly scary. The climax, if you want to call it that, is unexciting without jumps or scars, despite the clever use of shadows.

The acting is nothing special and rather poor for the most part making the characters nothing more than cannibal fodder for the slaughter. Seriously this group of teens is some of the most unlikeable I've seen in the glory age of classic slashers. One jackass even aims a loaded gun at his brother, playfully saying he's going to blow his brains out. Fuck these guys... let them become cannibal food.

"Humongous" is worth hunting down for fans of the genre as it has been rather hard to find until it's recent DVD release by Scorpion. It had major potential to be a suspenseful thriller but mostly falls flat thanks to shit characters, bad acting and a director that is unable to craft true suspense. Don't expect a slasher among the ranks of "The Burning" and you will find some entertainment value to insure it won't be a 'humungous' letdown.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Strip Nude for Your Killer (1975) - 2/5

On one side of the Giallo genre you have the edgy elegance of the Hitchcock inspired thrillers among the works of Dario Argento and Mario Bava. On the other side you have... "Strip Nude for Your Killer". As one can tell from the 'in your face' title this firmly belongs on the trashy side of the Giallo genre along with the likes of such 'masterworks' as "The French Sex Murders". As a matter of fact "Strip Nude for Your Killer" very well might be the trashiest the genre has to offer... which can be a good or bad thing depending on what you look for in entertainment.

The simplistic murder mystery plot opens with a women dying during an illegal abortion procedure in which the doctor and an unseen assailant stage it as an accident. A few years later all of the friends and co-workers of the dead women are being brutally killed by a motorcycle masked killer. Now a photographer has to solve the murder before everyone in his agency ends up dead.

The plot is full of every cliché Giallo element known to fans. Main character tries to solve the murders without police involvement: check. Black gloved killer: check. Outrageous twist ending: check. Doses of bloody gore: check. Nudity: QUADRUPLE CHECK. Director Andrea Bianchi was never known for making art (his zombie film "Burial Ground" is a prime example) and he is far more interested in showing ample amounts of female skin over developing an engaging murder mystery.

Andrea Bianchi also injects plenty of odd comedy into the picture to me it just came off putting when sandwiched in-between violent murders and attempted rapes. Maybe it's a cultural barrier but I found most of the comical elements at odds with the rest of the film and rather annoying.

All of the actors are absolute mediocre but with a mediocre plot they fit right in. The sole person that shines is the gorgeous brunet Edwige Fenech, a veteran of many Gialli including "The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh" and "The Case of the Bloody Iris". Don't worry... we get to see plenty of her skin too.

Violence and nudity are an expected element in the Giallo genre but they are usually done with style and pizazz without overtaking the plot. The filmmakers here say fuck the plot, fuck subtlety and go overboard with the female skin in hopes that that exploitative element alone would sell tickets. It worked as many people choose to see this trashy picture due to its title and reputation over much better films the genre has to offer. As an engrossing Giallo this fails but if female nudity is your sole element to judge a films quality then dig in.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Cyberjack [Virtual Assassin] (1995) - 1.5/5

I have an insane, some might call unhealthy addiction for any film starring Michael "Dude"ikoff. Being a huge Cannon film buff I first saw such 'astonishing' Dudikoff performances in such films as "American Ninja", "Avenging Force" and "Platoon Leader". For the most part I haven't seen many films he did after Cannon languished... and "Cyberjack" proves it's for good reason.

The plot is nothing more than a lame "Die Hard" rip-off with healthy dose of that virtual high-tech bullshit that so many films in the early 90s tried to capitalize on. Dudikoff is a burnt out ex-cop that takes the job as a janitor for a computer virus facility. After grimacing through some sequences where he flirts with his boss's daughter, the building he works at gets high jacked by a psychotic albino (Brion James) that just happens to be the same guy that blew his partner away. Now it's time to go all John McClane on their asses.

So many plot elements are recycled from "Die Hard" that one will fill an head-ache inducing sense of deja vu waving over them. Crawling through ductwork: check. Killing guy to get machine gun: check. Hero clashing with police outside: check. Trust me, all the "Die Hard" cliché's are here.

Aside from the "Die Hard" elements the high tech futuristic portion of the plot is also completely ridiculous. Our head villain wants a computer virus injected into his body in order for him to go viral. Seriously, are we ripping off "The Lawnmower Man" also? Hell, I will admit the plot is more intriguing than "Lawnmower Man 2".

The production values are low and Dudikoff's performance is on caliber of stiff cardboard, but all this is to be expected. Veteran actor Brion James ("Blade Runner") steals the show as our villain but his appearance is so god damn hokey that he only induces laughter instead of terror. His white albino look and crazy 80's fountain hair is nothing more than absolute ludicrousness. Come on guys, this is the same guy that gave us the insane sadistic performance in "The Horror Show" so give him some dignity when he appears on screen!

"Cyberjack" is nothing more than an extremely low rent futuristic action film that serves nothing more than filler on the video store rental shelves. At the same time it proves that Dudikoff sorely misses the B-action magic of the Cannon film logo in order to make is drivel at least entertaining. My advice is to skip it unless you catch it on a midnight showing due to insomnia.

The film ironically was released under two separate titles no doubt wanting to fool people into renting such drivel twice thinking their getting a different film. The first is the more catchy and fitting "Cyberjack" and the other is the utterly generic "Virtual Assassin." The version I own on DVD is under the latter title from Lionsgate and it's obvious "Virtual Assassin" is not the original title as the font and cheap graphics look nothing like the rest of the opening credits.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Friday, November 25, 2011

Mafia (1968) - 4/5

The simply titled "Mafia" (aka "Day of the Owl") is first of three politically charged Poliziotteschi crime thrillers that Italian superstar Franco Nero teamed up with director Damiano Damiani. Out of all three that the two collaborated on (this, "Confessions of a Police Captain" and "How to Kill a Judge"), "Mafia" is my personal favorite despite being the most somber of the three with little action and by far the most difficult to locate on home video.

Taking place in the Sicilian countryside, the film focuses on a personal war between a newly appointed police captain (Franco Nero) and Mafia boss Don Mariano (J. Lee Cobb) who both abide by their own beliefs and ethics and loyalty. Caught in the middle is a beautiful peasant (Claudia Cardinale) who's husband served as an eyewitness to a mafia hit.

This early entry into the Poliziotteschi genre is among the first to deal with the mafia (though it is never mentioned by name) and manages to avoid many of the plot trappings of films to come. Like the other two entries directed by Damiano Damiani this is a somber moving film that goes into great detail about police procedure... an approach that guarantees not much action.

What makes me like this film than Damiani's other films in the genre is the beautiful look provided by visionary cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli, a veteran of films with Mario Bava and Dario Argento, which captures the rustic landscape of Sicily wonderfully. This beautiful look is draped perfectly with a dynamic euro score by Giovanni Fusco.

The cast is also tops with an amazing international cast. A young, mustache-less Franco Nero is assured as the Police Captain and Cardinale is as complex and gorgeous as she was in Sergio Leone's "Once Upon a Time in the West" which was released the same year as this. American actor J. Lee Cobb makes a surprise appearance as the Don proving the films antagonist is just as smart and determined as our hero.

The downbeat ending leaves a lot of questions open (as with most Damiani crime films) and the film lacks action but the amazing cast and professional look makes this a must see for fans of "A" level Italian entertainment that goes beyond the trappings of typical B-grade genre films. Wild East was nice enough to finally release the film on DVD, completely uncut, in a double feature with another politically charged crime outing entitled "I Am the Law."

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Blade (1998) - 4/5

Although I was never a huge comic book nerd, its films like "Blade" that make me want to be. I will admit I am fairly unfamiliar with the Blade franchise outside of the films, but if its anything like the movie then its gotta be kick ass. This film rocks almost every element to the core. It's dark and violent. Quirky. Stylish with directing and completely top notch with its casting. Although Marvel has come through recently with how good its films are, one has to give "Blade" credit as one of the films that started the ball rolling.

In a future not far from ours, the vampires that have survived in hiding so long have taken to the charisma of an up-and-coming Frost (Dorff) to ignite a prophecy to make the vampires the next species dominate over Earth. For every villain there is a hero and Blade (Snipes), a human/vampire hybrid deemed The Daywalker, is armed to the teeth with vampire slaying artillery. As it would turn out, Blade will be the key to defeat Frost or give him ultimate power...

When "Blade" was released, I was 13. I was obsessed with this film. Now watching it a little over a decade later, I still get those same feelings about the movie. The character Blade is simply bad ass. Snipes is the perfect casting for the day walker and Goyer's script may not be quite the A-list film many expect, but it embraces the darkness and comic book ridiculousness to its full benefit. Blade tears through baddies with guns, blades (including his sweet ass sword...err...pig-sticker) and spouts off cold-hearted one liners like no one's business...all while wearing shades and brandishing a badass vest - driving around in a black muscle car. Can you get cooler than that in 1998?

Stephen Norrington ably adds to the style with his modern flourishes. Fast paced action sequences galore with enough violence to please those looking for a bit of horror in the film are established right off the bat. He throws in some low end humor via Kris Kristofferson as Blade's mentor and weapon man Whistler that works for what it is and the rather basic "this is our story through someone thrown into the mix" plot gets it done with its swift pacing.

"Blade" isn't perfect though. It suffers from over use of that hodge-podge late 90s CGI and some rather awkward moments (including a fast-forward driving sequence) that halts the rather efficient pace of the film. Other than that though, its hard for me not to praise this violent extravaganza of comic book awesomeness. It's dark and fun at the same time. A great combination that works for this character that leaves us with one of my favorite action films of the 90s and one that makes Snipes' version of Blade one of my favorite castings ever.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Book Of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000) - 2.5/5

How do you make a sequel to a horror film that changes the landscape of horror films in the late 90s? Make it as cliche as possible is the only answer I can gather from "Book Of Shadows: Blair Witch 2". Although there is some interesting ideas here, buried in poorly paced horror formulas and mixed executions, this sequel to the revolutionary "Blair Witch Project" is even a disappointment to someone who thought the original was overrated.

A group of young folk, desperate to investigate if the myths behind the surprise hit "Blair Witch Project" hires a local man (Donovan) to take them on a tour to where the events of the film took place. Unfortunately, their night of fun and research turns awkward when they awake to find a serious chunk of their night missing from their memories and the tapes of their recorded visit to the site holding clues to what happened. Now the lines of reality are blurred and people are beginning to die...

There is something clever about "Blair Witch 2" in idea. A film about the hype of the original film? Interesting, pseudo-documentary twist on the concept (hey, Tom Six! That means this idea was done before "Human Centipede 2"!) where the general plot perks my interest. The odd way that things play out where its told in retrospective via interrogation and some of the more thought through scares work on me a bit. There is some very clever ideas at work here in this movie and some of the directions that the movie moves can be inspired...

...but...if concepts sold everything then there would be a lot of great movies out there. This one just never gets it across like it should have. The acting can be horrendous at times, the dialogue is forced, the scares are from left field and rarely impact like they could have, and the random directing (with leaps to our main local character in a mental asylum) will leave you scratching your head at times. Although our lead actor is charming at times and occasionally the plot plays off with surprisingly solid atmosphere, the rest is extremely lackluster. It sort of lingers in a pool of mediocrity - never delving into B-movie territory, but not reaching the height of its A-horror film release either.

I might be the minority here as I don't think "Blair Witch 2" is a complete train wreck, but the film certainly isn't good either. It rocks itself on some great ideas of which almost none of them are executed in the ways they should have been. It has its moments, a few charming moments here and there, but the overall film is just plain mediocre.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1, The (2011) - 2/5

Despite my rather mixed feelings about the watered down David Slade and his work on "Eclipse", it's this first part of the fourth entry that makes me realize just how good that the last film had it. "Breaking Dawn Part 1" is a rather rehashed and anti-abortion campaign of "New Moon". The love triangle never diminishes, the action is sparse, and the melodrama is slathered on in glorious tween-girl thickness. Everything a late 20 year old male like myself loves to see in his vampire/werewolf movies.

Bella (Stewart) and Edward (Pattinson) are finally going to get hitched. Although wolf boy Jacob (Lautner) doesn't take the news too well, the wedding seems to go without a hitch. Now the human/vampire couple is off to their honeymoon on an island outside of Brazil only to find things get complicated very quickly. Particularly when Bella begins to feel something moving around inside of her...

As we've discussed before, there is an audience for this film. That audience are those who read the books and like the books. I can't say that I'm either, but as a fan of vampires and fantasy films (and who has a wife that likes the franchise) I once again found myself at the mercy of "Twilight". Unfortunately, this film is only made for those who loved the books. Outside of that "Breaking Dawn" is a sappy love story that paces like snail and gives us almost nothing to truly grab onto. It also lacks explaining certain things well enough for those of us who haven't read the books. It brushes over "imprinting" by werewolves, the random island honeymoon, and some of the subplots are very poorly explained - like the weird "cousins" at the wedding.

Like the other films in this series, this one suffers massively from a few flaws. Uninspiring dialogue, hit or miss acting, a focus on the sappy love triangle (that by this time should no longer be relevant...but yet here it is) - it doesn't seem to matter how good of a director each film gets since the writing and performances are still sub-par. Stewart is predictably awkward. Pattison is as weepingly forlorn as ever. Lautner only takes his shirt off once, but is once again the 'tough guy' with his heart on strings. Nothing new. Nothing better.

What frustrates me the most about "Breaking Dawn Part 1" is the lacking 'epicness' that should go along with a two part finale for a blockbuster franchise. The last entry at least had a solid build to it with some serious consequences in it, but this one lacks that. Firstly because its the first half of a full film (so I didn't really expect it to be quite a finished thought) and secondly because nothing happens. Sans the entire anti-abortion theme that runs rampant in the main concept, the film drags on and on about the same old things. It lacks a good villain to kick it up a notch and although Condon does a decent job staging the entire thing - it certainly feels like the first half of a movie and not a movie itself.

Although "Eclipse" was a step in the right direction for the franchise, "Breaking Dawn Part 1" is a step back. Dull plot, sappy acting, poorly explained details, and poorly written dialogue plague the film from getting where it needs to be for its impactful moral struggles. Here's to hoping that "Part 2" brings back the Volturi with a vengeance and gives us the epic finale that this franchise needs.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Batman: Year One (2011) - 3.5/5

DC animated films have seriously been far better than their live action counterparts. No offense to Christopher Nolan and the very awesome directions he has taken Batman in his films, but these animated features that focus on our favorite Dark Knight are beyond well done. Even though "Batman: Year One" takes the character into some very interesting directions (it is based on the graphic novel co-written by Frank Miller of "Sin City" fame), this latest adventure of Batman doesn't quite touch on the previous one "Under The Red Hood". Doesn't mean this noir take on Batman's first year of kicking ass isn't a blast to watch for fans though...

Bruce Wayne has just returned to Gotham after a stint of training. He has decided to fight against the scum of the city with his own skills. At the same time, an idealistic Gordon has just been transferred to the police force with his newly pregnant wife. These two men are about to find out what it takes to do what is right when it comes to fighting the corruption in will take justice in his own hands as the other fights to make the people of this city want the justice for themselves.

There are some very unique aspects about "Batman: Year One". Firstly, the film takes a very dark and noir style to how it tells its story. The obvious Frank Miller style of writing is up front in this animated feature with a ton of voice overs for the characters and the very adult oriented themes. The film touches on prostitution, bribery, adultery, police corruption, violence, adult language....the list goes on. The PG-13 rating might be a little light (I know...CRAZY!) and the dark themes and concepts leave Batman in the dark storytelling that makes him my favorite superhero. This part of "Year One" is very well executed.

Secondly, the film does an interesting twist and makes Gordon one of the main characters. In many of the animated features he is left as a supporting character, "Year One" places him up front as a collaborator and comparison to the Batman origin story that we all know too well now. This is a hit or miss aspect of the film though as it takes away from the mysteriousness of Wayne/Batman and takes away from some of his screen time. It's an interesting take on mythos of Gotham and one that fans will enjoy, but it does take away from our favorite hero.

On top of that, the film does have a rather intriguing animation style. An odd combination of Anime and old school American, it gives the feature a rather mixed look too. At times it works, but some of the computer generated moments seem forced and make for awkward sequences. It does give the right feel for the script and general feel for the feature and that works for it.

"Batman: Year One" might not be the expertly executed and fantastic "Under The Red Hood", but its such a unique take on the Batman mythos that its hard for fans not to enjoy it even if the action is minimized and the the screen time shared with Gordon. It might be as hit or miss as "Gotham Knight", but its hard for the Batfan in me not to be stoked with this film. Mostly for fans only though...definitely not for kids.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Friday, November 18, 2011

Transformers: Dark Of The Moon (2011) - 2/5

My horrible disdain for the second "Transformers" film certainly played a role in how long I waited to watch this third entry with perhaps the worst sub-title known to man (dark WHAT of the moon?! Dark side? Dark hole? Dark stupidity? Dark what?!?!?!) and despite my sheer anger at the plot holes of part two, its hard to say that this third entry didn't improve on it. I wasn't angry, but then again, I really wasn't anything with this one. My fear in the first film turned to anger with part two and finally spun itself into apathy for part three. It doesn't help that a rather flat and over-epic script and Michael Bay's directing did nothing to reaffirm my interest in any of the characters or their fates. The simplistic word 'meh' aptly describes my experience with "Transformers 3".

Sam (LaBeouf) has been trying to restart his life since the epic world saving events of of the last film. He's got a new girlfriend (Huntington-Whiteley) and he is desperately looking for a new job. When his new job mysteriously links him to some information about a crashed Autobot spaceship on the dark side of the moon, he has to once again call upon his Transformer friends to thwart a Decepticon plan to revive their lost planet Cybertron.

It's hard to say whether I actually liked "Transformers 3" or not. I had no investment into it. To it's benefit, Michael Bay does what he does best (again). He has a lot of visually assaulting high octane action sequences where very big robots fight other bigger robots. Granted, much of the charm of watching these bots battle it out while wrecking cities has already started to get old and this film rarely adds enough new to capture the imagination again sans a rather odd use of a giant robot earthworm that seems poorly used by the Decepticons. At times there are some very cool moments with Bumblebee thrusting Sam from the front seat to turn into the robot only to catch him and turn into a car before he hits the ground, but the style of the film isn't enough to fill in the gaping holes of logic or poorly executed concepts in the film.

This brings me to what has plagued this franchise since film one. WHERE IS THE THOUGHT IN THIS MOVIE? Our characters are once again poorly developed (despite some being three movies now) and some characters are there in random moments - I'm looking at you John Malkovich - who mean nothing to the plot or give substance to the tale. The actual plot is kind of interesting with the history of the war between the Transformers coming to the present, but rarely makes a lot of sense. Government cover-ups? Massive Decepticon/human alliances? This film feels like it should have followed the first one as it rarely even acknowledges the events of the second film (that's okay, I try to forget it too) and never explains certain things that needed to be addressed for this plot to work.

"Transformers 3" at least doesn't throw in the frustratingly awkward moments like the second film did, but it didn't necessarily fix the problems that have plagued this franchise. It still has very weak characters (when you're best actor is CGI robot you know something is wrong), the humor is rarely effective, and the plot is still massively plot hole riddled. It has some good action pieces including a very long winded finale, but its not enough to win me over yet. Too much style over substance still. Maybe if they put Jason Statham in the next one I will be excited.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Diary Of The Dead (2007) - 2.5/5

Of all of Romero's "Dead" films, it's "Diary Of The Dead" that certainly evokes the most distress from me. Where as "Land Of The Dead" had a certain charm to it despite its flaws, this low budget "re-imagining" of the initial days during the end of the world has some of Romero's most intriguing ideas and some of the most idiotic moments...leaving a film that is as mixed as my reactions to it. I was either grinning like an kid or grimacing in pain.

When the zombie apocalypse begins to errupt across the world, a group of young college filmmakers lead by idealist Jay (Close) decide to film their journeys home so that others can learn from their successes and mistakes. Their road trip through hell will take them into all kinds of situations including rogue National Guard, militant survivors, and empty hospitals...all the while as they try maintain their own sanity in a zombie infested world.

Although the 'found footage' style of "Diary" certainly takes Romero and his franchise into some new territory, it never left me (as I watched the film) that he could have done it better without the stylistic choice. It hits home the concepts about truth through the eyes of those involved and how spin works in media (those good solid social commentaries that Romero seems oddly able to fit so perfectly into zombie films), but those wouldn't have been lost had he done it as a film without the style. As is, his work in the first person POV can be rather awkward even at its best.

Beyond the stylistic choice in going into the film, "Diary" is also spotty with its script and acting. Our heroes do some pretty silly things without the proper build up to the decisions and many of their trials and tribulations between each other (particularly between our camera man and his girlfriend) seem forced and oddly executed. There are some great moments in the film, just the last act is insanely effective, but for each one of those we have a deaf Amish person with a scythe. Or something equally as awkward and unintentionally funny.

I love the concept of "Diary Of The Dead" and the moments where it works are exceptional, but its too wishy washy in the attempts at getting to those moments. The pacing can be hit or miss, many plot progressions are forced, and the acting can be atrocious at times. Romero worked his way through with charm and commentary on the previous entry, but "Diary" simple fails to find the balance here. A disappointing aftertaste for a great director.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Monday, November 14, 2011

Child's Eye, The (2010) - 1.5/5

"The Child's Eye" is almost a relief to me. It's good to know that the US isn't the only country that is making shitty mainstream horror films. Whew! That's a burden off of my shoulders! This fourth entry into the "Eye" franchise (where each entry has nothing to do with one another sans being ghost stories) is perhaps the worst yet or at least gives the awful "The Eye 3" a run for its money in crappiness. It's silly, not scary, makes no sense, and worst of all - it was shot in 3D, making the Pang Brothers do all kinds of campy tricks. Fans of ghost films beware, let this one's not worth conjuring up.

A group of six friends (three couples to be exact) find themselves at odds when their Thai vacation comes under fire by protests that shut down the airport. Thusly they are dropped off at a random hotel in the middle of the riots which just so happens to be haunted by one pissed off lady. Can the friends solve the mystery of forlorn woman before she takes them all into the realm of the dead?

It's very hard for me to describe to you, oh dear readers, the complete idiocy of this plot. It hurts my head to think about it because there are so many plot holes, useless characters, poorly developed subplots, and poorly crafted sequences that it would drive any sane person to see spots. Where to begin? Our protagonists (which randomly appear and disappear throughout the film) are paper thin excuses for real people whose couple problems seem asinine and their actions silly and unprovoked. This only deepens the stupidity of the main plot, where dog boys are real, - oh I shit you not, there is a boy with a dog face that is completely unexplained in this movie - ghosts have no real reason to be doing things, and the ways to solve our mystery just sort of happen instead of build up. The Pang Brothers were never "great" writers to begin with, but this feels like a money fodder movie that was written in 15 minutes to bank on the franchise and the 3D gimmick. It simply never makes any sense.

The Pang Brothers, however, still have a knack for creating some intriguing visuals. That doesn't mean that any of them have to make sense though. We get weird leaps into a strange 'netherworld' where vines creep on things, objects fly at the screen, and a finale that's easily taken from the scrapped ideas of "Re-Cycle". There are some legitly creepy visual moments like the dog boy and his sniffing, but the lacking build to these moments and complete disregard for logistics in them rarely makes any of them scary.

"The Eye" franchise had never lived up to its amazing first entry and "The Child's Eye" caps off with perhaps it's weakest entry yet, despite some solid ideas here and there. It's idiotic, poorly built, and the 3D moments out of the blue and gimmicky. There is not much to love about this film and its so sad to see the Pang Brothers release another piece of garbage when we've seen how good they can be.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man (1976) - 4/5

Ruggero Deodato will always be a name synonymous with the controversial classic "Cannibal Holocaust" and the urban exploitation shocker "House on the Edge of the Park." Few seem to remember that he has directed films beyond those two monstrous efforts and a few commendable films at that. One of his good films prior to his gruesome twosome is the Poliziotteschi action police thriller "Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man."

What we have here is two young police officers that that seem just deranged as the criminals they are chasing. They live and breathe their job, sharing an apartment, ridding bitch to work on a motorcycle and even screwing the same women. What makes them just as deranged is that they brutally kill and maim criminals, breaking their necks after wrecks and even killing the scoundrels before they even commit a crime! Their boss doesn't agree with their methods but likes the results and must come to their rescue as they take on the biggest crime lord in town.

The action is fast and furious as we open with an absolute astonishing motorcycle chase in the busy streets of Rome with no permits. Typical in Deodato fashion the violence is also upped compared to the typical entry into the Poliziotteschi genre, which is hard to believe as it is a monumentally violent genre to begin with. We get goons riding over blind men's seeing eye dogs and even eyes gouged out. However these villains are so nasty they deserve to die horrible deaths.

Our two queer cops are captivating anti-heroes. Mixing their amoral attitude towards human life with their homosexual undertones of their partner relationship makes them really engaging and perfectly played by young Italian hotshots Marc Porel ("Don't Torture a Duckling") and Ray Lovelock ("Murder-Rock: Dancing Death"). Ex-Bond villian Adolfo Celi ("Thunderball") is surprisingly underplayed as their boss and I do wish his character was a little more fleshed out.

Famous Italian filmmaker Fernado Di Leo, popular for his Poliziotteschi "Milieu" Trilogy ("Caliber 9", "The Italian Connection", "The Boss"), pens the script. His "Milieu" Trilogy is the "Man With No Name" trilogy of the Poliziotteschi film genre but I always felt his directing style was subdued. In comes Ruggero Deodato who spices up his script with oodles of style, marvelous camera angles and utmost violence. Ruggero never makes a moment of "Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man" boring to look at.

Mixing the impressive talents of screenwriter Fernando Di Leo and director Ruggero Deatato makes for a visually stunning, thrilling and violent Poliziotteschi cop film. A few flaws get my goat, like their rather lifeless boss and awful freeze-frame ending, but overall one of the must see films of the genre and easily one of Deatato's best films of his career. I waited patiently years for this classic to reach stateside and patience finally paid when Raro, an Italian DVD company, decided to give the film an American release, despite the release date getting pushed back three separate times! It was well worth the wait.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Superman II - The Richard Donner Cut (2006) - 3.5/5

Decades before the whole "Exorcist" prequel ordeal, "Superman II" had the most tumultuous production of any Hollywood sequel in which original director Richard Donner was fired and replaced by director Richard Lester after having shot nearly 3/4 of the picture. Due to popular demand by fans Warner Bros. went back to the vaults, dug out and dusted off all of the footage Richard Donner shot and with the director overseeing, re-edited his original vision of "Superman II" as close as they could get with the materials provided. This edit was highly praised but I always question the opinions of die-hard fans. Sometimes due to the fact versions are more rare and/or controversial, fandom often blinds people into automatically assuming the rarer version is better. That and for the fact I was a fan of the Richard Lester's theatrical version of "Superman II". Now, after finally viewing Donner's cut I can honestly say that I prefer the Donner version by a small hair over Lester's theatrical counter part... but not without many reservations.

This new cut contains roughly 83 percent of footage originally shot by Donner with the rest being footage shot by Lester after Donner's firing which was only included in order to have plot fluidity. Much of this footage of Donner is first takes so many of the sequences tend to be overlong and the character development tends to be flawed... however if Donner had continued on with the film he would of done re-shoots of many key sequences and been involved with the final editing sequence which couldn't be accomplished with the compiling of this restored version.

There are also some scenes reused from the original "Superman", most notably the ridiculous scene where Superman turns back time by spinning the Earth in reverse. Apparently this resolution was intended for "Superman II" with an open-ended ending to the original film but the Salkind producers chose not to end the original with a cliffhanger. Due to this Donner wrote in Lois'death in which the 'turn time back' resolution would be used so seeing the sequence again in this version makes it a little redundant.

This cut also has plenty of plot holes and leaps of logic that even the Man of Steel can't fix. As this cut stands right now, Luthor would be in the Fortress of Solitude when Superman destroys it. Also Superman's revenge against a dinner asshole makes no sense as it occurs after the 'turn back time' sequence hence negating the whole confrontation. These of course are just the major plot holes that tend to irk me just a bit.

What I do like about this cut more than Lester's theatrical vision is Donner's understanding of the Superman universe. Lester's version introduced absurd powers that Superman never had before, most notably the asinine 'kiss of forgetfulness'. He also added a hair too much silly comic relief that clashed against the tone of Donner's original film, most notably the buffoonery during the final fight sequence, a town full of people with British accents and General Zod's introduction to the world. Donner's version is much more serious without the over-abundance of slapstick shit.

The reappearance of Marlon Brando is also worth noting. These scenes were left on the cutting room floor as Brando demanded a higher paycheck to appear in the sequel in which the producers were not willing to pay. Even if he was overpriced it's nice to see him back in the film.

Donner's version has plot hole issues abound and lacks the finesse of a final film product thanks to abrupt scene transitions, redundant scenes and all around rough edges but if Donner would have been able to finish his vision I have no doubt it would have ended up better than Lester's theatrical version. Donner's version is just more true to the Superman lore without the overly comedic overtones. Overall this ends up being a great curiosity piece of what 'could-have-been' and a must see for fans, but I am glad that the Lester version still exists as I do prefer the polished final film product of that version.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Friday, November 11, 2011

Eight Diagram Pole Fighter, The (1983)

Director: Lau Kar Leung
Notable Cast: Gordon Liu, Alexander Fu Sheng, Lau Kar Wing, Lau Kar Leung, Lily Li, Hsiao Ho
Also Known As: Invincible Pole Fighter 

The substantial amount of ass-whipping and tooth removal delivered in The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter is astounding. Even though the film falters on some of it's storytelling aspects, Lau Kar Leung packs in the action, filling this film to the brim with staff battles and an epic tale of betrayal and revenge (is there any other in Shaw Brothers' films?). This leaves a film that's not perfect, but certain to please martial arts' fans with classic sequences.

The Yang family has been betrayed. At a recent battle, the devious Pan Mei set up the seven siblings and their father straight into an ambush that leaves all by two of the loyal staff-wielding sons dead or captured. With sixth brother (Alexander Fu Sheng) slightly demented and unable to grasp the reality of the situation, fifth brother (Gordon Liu) must plot to unearth the traitor and devise the right time to come back and restore his family's name.

Ju-On: The Grudge (2003) - 4.5/5

There is very little that scares me. A few films earn their merit with suspense, but true scares? It's rare. Not unless you're talking about "Ju-On". This movie, whole-heartedly, creeps me the fuck out. The artistic style of the film with its leaping and weaving plot structure, the scant and effective score, the sound effects, the realistic all builds to one of the best ghost films out there and one that, to this day, I will not watch late at night.

Rika (Okina) is a volunteer social worker who is assigned to help a young family with their ailing mother. When she arrives at the house though, the married couple is nowhere to be found and she stumbles upon an unusual situation. A situation where she begins to see a ghostly young boy and a creaking woman who seems intent on hunting her down...

A culmination of popular made-for-TV short stories, "Ju-On" was crafted from bits and pieces of semi-related stories from director Shimizu. His ability to work the low-budget with artistic finesse and atmospheric build makes the weaving story and characters work to its benefit. It creates a memorable way of telling the tale as we watch the fates of numerous people interlock at the hands of this 'curse' and the two ghostly figures that gobble up lives whole. Although at times the time-jumping (and foresight in one case) may seem a bit sporadic, a few repeated viewings help one to piece together the rather scat clues to what happened and is happening. It's an artistic take on the haunted house film that really works in many ways, even if it seems a bit overwhelming in its simplicity at first.

"Ju-On" also succeeds in crafting some legitly scary moments with relatively nothing. Shimizu loves to manipulate tension with false builds and subtle shock moments that rarely use sound to give the audience the jump scare. The effective scoring and sound effects (the woman's croaking and snapping bone sounds are insanely nerve warping) add to the clever shots and the film's almost impressive lack of blood and gore makes the moments where they do appear so much more impactful. Even the relative simplicity and normalcy of the settings work in the benefit of the film's scare tactics.

Occasionally, the low budget does hurt the film (with some shadow effects coming off as poor) and the acting can be hit or miss in moments, but the general effectiveness of its storytelling techniques and tension scares overwrites so many of the flaws that they are hardly noticeable. This is the reason a rather simple film like "Ju-On" spawned so many sequels and works what it has so well that one misses what the film falters at. An impressive way to present a ghost film.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

I Am Number Four (2011) - 2/5

After seeing the trailer for "I Am Number Four" and the massive campaign to bring in the "Twilight" fanbase into this film, I simply had to see it. Call it gluttony for pain. Call it stupidity Call it a waste of time, but a silly romantic teen film set to the background of an alien war being fought on Earth in secret sounds like CW trash that has to be talked about. Particularly when Michael Bay produces. Thusly, "I Am Number Four" was requested for the site by one of our readers and I had the (dis)pleasure of watching this entertaining, but completely question ridden film.

John (Pettyfer) and his guardian Henri (Olyphant) are alien warriors who escaped to Earth from the Mogs, a vicious sharp toothed, gun toting race hell bent on killing all of the nine escaped Loriens like John. They have already killed three of the young super warriors and John seems to be number four on the list. When they catch up to him in Ohio, he might have to stay and fight instead of flee to protect his new found love (Agron).

The 'teens in love with extraordinary circumstances' might be silly to those not in that time of their life, but its hard to say that "I Am Number Four" didn't pull the best talent to make it work. Writers from "Smallville" and "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" craft the film and the stylistic way the film uses the script very much reminds one of those two television series and director DJ Caruso seems to handle the massive amount of cheesy moments and CGI special effects with relative ease. The young heart-throbs that grace the cast (no...not Tim Olyphant) are enough to make any readers of Tiger Beat magazine swoon. In these ways, its hard to argue that "I Am Number Four" doesn't do what it intended to do.

The problem is that, despite some valiant efforts, the film ultimately makes little sense and sincerely feels shallow. The chemistry of our cast is rarely seen (particularly between our two romantic leads), the subplots of high school rivalries and friendships aren't built enough, and many of the science fiction elements seem to come out of left field. A sudden relevance to a mysterious dog with massive CGI consequences seems completely random and the appearance of Number Six at the end (which was an obvious attempt at adding in more action and the threading of a franchise) leads to some great battles, but makes absolutely no sense. These odd science fiction moments are fun, but completely asinine. Not something fans of the genre want to see.

At the end of the film, Micheal Bay's aura is certainly felt on the film with its high octane action (that is a load of fun) and rather inept plot structures. It's certain to please those that love that teeny surface level quirkiness, but for the rest of us it's a rather interesting concept wasted on Hollywood fodder.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning (2004) - 2/5

If you follow Blood Brothers regularly then you know how we feel about prequels. If you don't, here's a recap: we already know how it ends, so it better be clever. Thusly I wasn't necessarily looking forward to this third "Ginger Snaps" entry despite my love of the first two. Many of my suspicions of the film were correct, as it seemingly just feels like a historically set first version of the film that tries to incorporate new elements into the tale of the werewolf terrorized sisters' lives, but rarely makes enough sense to legitimize it as a solid enough entry.

Ginger (Isabelle) and Brigitte (Perkins) are two sisters lost in the Canadian wilderness when their parents are killed in an accident. The 19th century woodlands is no place for two young woman and their luck turns when they stumble upon a trading post. Their luck seems thin though as they discover that the post has been repeatedly attacked by werewolves. The few survivors are suspicious of the two girls and when Ginger is bitten by a mysterious boy locked in the cellar...the two sisters may find themselves fighting off wolves on the outside and the inside.

Despite the modernity of their names, our two sisters are just antecendants of the protagonists in the original two films. Don't ask me how the bloodline works or even its relevance, because the film seems to want to skip over that too. Basically, besides the names and actresses, this is a film that could have stood out on its own as a werewolf film instead of one in this franchise. To my disappointment, it lacks the Cronenbergian "physical horror as symbolism for psychological horror" elements and more or less focuses on just being a straight up werewolf film in a timeline context. Not something one looks for in a "Ginger Snaps" film.

Even though it lacks the smarts and charisma of its two predecessors, "Ginger Snaps Back" holds its own as a werewolf film. The special effects are well done (sans the oddly misshapen half wolf boy that never explains why he is only half wolf) and the acting is decent enough to get one through the film. The plot tends to run into a ton of plot holes just in its progressions with the basics ignoring many questions left burning like why do leeches become monsters with the blood or why are the werewolves only prone to attack sporadically if one can claw through the wooden wall so easily. It's these basic plot holes and poor character builds, particularly withe the supporting cast, that leave one scratching their head in bewilderment rather than just enjoying the film for its good merits and rather interesting aspects like the Native American elements.

Is "Ginger Snaps Back" fun? Yeah, its still a blast to watch our two leads battle through werewolves and crazy people as always and, of course, the special effects are solid. Is it even as good as its previous two entries? Not even close. It lacks the smart clever writing and many of the solid acting performances. It feels more like a regular werewolf film than the smartly written and twisty tales that the first two represent. It's fun, but rarely more than that.

BONUS RANT: I also really despise the subtitle to this film. "Ginger Snaps Back" is kind of clever in its own way indicating the prequel nature of the film, but utilizing the word play that made it a great title for the first one. Why throw "The Beginning" on there? The audience are not idiots and we don't need to be told twice that its a prequel. Yeesh.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Monday, November 7, 2011

Little Big Soldier (2011) - 4/5

Jackie Chan's career has taken some unusual turns through the years. Stuntman, comedian, action star, Chinese films, American films...the list is extensive. His latest kick (now that he has been getting up there in age) is that of a more dramatic turn. "The Shinjuku Incident" played off with an almost "Scarface" like tale and his latest, "Little Big Soldier", combines his many faces into one film. Comedy, action, and drama all make this historically set film on that Chan fans will instantly love.

A grizzled and weary soldier (Jackie Chan) has to stay alive as all of China begins to boil over with warlords intent on unifying the country under their flag. This is why he fakes his death at a massive battle between two of these warlords. To his luck, he finds a wounded general of the enemy army (Leehom Wang) and decides to take him prisoner to earn a few acres of land for the capture. All he has to do is get him back without losing him first, which might prove more difficult with an unruly land full of enemies to go through.

At first glance, this rather slow paced and character driven tale is one of lackluster pacing and subtle dialogue. My initial reaction was disappointment at the lacking action and comedy compared to the dramatic storytelling. After a few days though, I kicked the film back in with new expectations and realized how well the film plays out in execution. It's not perfect, but it's certainly a film that grows on you.

Chan and his co-star Wang have a chemistry that really makes the film work. Even though "Little Big Soldier" throws in enough action sequences to keep those older Chan fans interested (including a fantastic fight between the two leads in a barn over the possession of a sword) and enough of Chan's distinct goofy humor for those who loved to be entertained (like seeing Chan ride a buffalo through a wall or hearing him sing about what he is going to do with his land when he gets it), the film strives for the heart and soul of the two leads' character arcs. The film nails it. By the end of the film, we have grown so attached to these two and their growth as characters that its hard to let go. An indication that this film easily accomplishes what it needs to dramatically.

As I mentioned though, the film is rather slow paced. It's very subtle with its first half, taking its sweet time to build itself with our two characters and one has to pay extra speial attention to the details to make sure that the few twists at the end are worth their weight in the punch. That's why it took two viewings for me to appreciate the film.

"Little Big Soldier" does tell this tale in fine fashion, only truly hindered by some unfinished subplots, like a woman who leaves them in the house only to mysteriously show up at artistic times, and some poor computer generated effects. Otherwise, it's a must see Jackie Chan film that ably blends all of the sides we have seen of this charismatic actor through the years.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Weekend Murders, The (1970) - 3.5/5

Giallo (noun, plural gialli): is an Italian 20th century genre of literature and film, which in Italian indicates crime fiction and murder mysteries including elements of horror fiction and eroticism.

Agatha Christie
: Pioneering British crime writer specializing in murder mysteries.

"The Weekend Murders" is a unique Giallo as not only does it include essential ingredients of the lovable Italian genre but also elements of Agatha Christie murder mysteries. As you can tell from the definitions above they are much alike and it's amazing that a film in the genre didn't include popular Christie facets before as "Weekend Murders" blends them together wonderfully.

A children of a wealthy Baron gather at his large rural mansion to witness the reading of his will. When a sole child receives all of his wealth, the others don't take too kindly and soon family members and local staff begin dying off one by one. A local buffoon cop and a big city detective have their work cut out for them as they try to unravel the mystery as people begin to drop dead at their feet.

The plot is a takeoff of Agatha Christie's "Ten Little Indians" and with a plot containing so many characters, they all need to be odd and unique and the script and casting ensure of that. The highlight is Eric Pollard (popular for the English television show "Emmerdale Farm") as a pervy adolescent with overbearing mother problems.

Director Michele Lupo, a veteran of popular spaghetti westerns, notably "Arizona Colt", takes his first stab at the rising Giallo genre and nails the feel of an Agatha Christie novel. Even with the little twist on the typical Giallo plot he still manages to include many of the genre's expected eccentricities, notably eroticism and stylistic camera work. Michele Lupo also brings with him composer Francesco De Masi , another veteran of Spaghetti Westerns, to provide a beautiful score to drape the film in

In a surprising turn, Lupo injects many moments of comic relief, an element rather foreign to the Giallo genre. I applaud him for this inclusion as I did find myself chuckle on more than one occasion mostly surrounding our bumbling bicycle cop that ends up doing a more competent job of the multiple murder investigation than his big city counterpart.

Diehard fans of Gialli may be a little disappointed that "The Weekend Murders" is not a typical entry into the genre. This is actually what I respect the film most for... trying something different. It may not have a shadowy figure running around murdering scantily clad women with a knife clutched in gloved hands but it's still thick with colorful characters, eye-catching directing and an alluring score. If you're sick of the typical Giallo then I highly recommend trying out "The Weekend Murders" but be quick about it as the Code Red DVD is currently out-of-print and the film will be a bitch to hunt down once retailers run out of stock.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

My Young Auntie [Fangs Of The Tigress] (1981) - 3/5

With stellar films like "36th Chamber Of Shaolin" and "Shaolin Mantis" under his name, my appreciation for director Kar Lau Leung and his ability to craft some of the Shaw Brothers most brilliant kung fu films was only growing. One of his films that seems to be a fan favorite is the often silly, but still kung fu packed "My Young Auntie". Although the film sports some great moments and some stunning choreography particularly towards the end, its rather oddly paced structure and hit or miss comedic sequences left the film lagging behind some of his others. One that fans are sure to love, but might not appeal to everyone.

A young woman (Kara Hui) ends up marrying an elderly man to help prevent his evil brother from inheriting his wealth and land. When her husband dies, she takes to living with her nephew (Kar Lau Leung) and grandnephew (Hsiao Ho) to avoid being bullied by the evil brother. Here she begins to learn a few new things from her westernized grandnephew and has to eventually team up with her new family to overthrow the evil brother.

Director Kar Lau Leung is one of my favorites from this era of Shaw Brothers martial art films. Even though "My Young Auntie" does throw in a bit more comedy into the routine than his more straight forward kung fu films (like "Shaolin Mantis"), its hard not to be impressed with how Kar Lau Leung handles the extensive fight sequences. The finale of the film is almost completely non-stop choreographed fighting dealing with all sorts of weapons/styles and easily highlights the film as our two leads stage a full on attack of the villain's house. Even the earlier fight sequences, although more or less tongue-in-cheek, have well choreographed fights that intrigue the eye like one done at a western themed masquerade ball and a street fight with our leading lady in high heels and a dressy gown on. This is the main reason one should watch "My Young Auntie" and fans of Leung's other films will easily enjoy this one in that aspect.

On the plot and style of the film though, I wasn't so easily impressed. The humor can be hit or miss, with tons of slap stick borderline sex comedy thrown into the mix (mostly through the grand-nephew character) and the plot can be a bit of a confusing stretch with its hierarchical family drama and who gets what for inheritance. The film seems to dabble quite a bit in the culture shock of the west and east of the time period and often seems to lose track of its focus and the direction of its goal by throwing in a rather random sequences that only seemed fitting for a background for fights. The masquerade ball is visually arresting but only serves as an elongated distraction for our villains to steal the will of the deceased husband. It fluffs the film up nicely, but rarely adds the needed nuances to give it weight.

Although "My Young Auntie" is one of the more popular pieces for the director and cast (even earning our leading lady a Best Actress award for that year in Hong Kong) with its unique tale of battling sexes and a changing landscape in China, the end result is a bit mixed. It never seems to find the right balance of humor and action to flow properly and its visual astuteness seems undermined by ill explained plot progression and often misdirected attention. Great choreography saves it through many of its longer sequences though and earns much of its merit that way. A Shaw Brothers classic perhaps, but not quite the film I was expecting.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Alien from the Deep (1989) - 2/5

Italian Antonio Magaretti is quickly becoming my all time favorite guilty pleasure directors. Unlike his director brethren Mario Bava and Dario Argento, Magaretti wasn't concerned about making critically acclaimed genre films. He was perfectly happy making B-movies and B-moves he made well. I can honestly say I was never not entertained by any of his pictures, no matter what genre. "Alien from the Deep" proves that even at the tail end of his career, even with the Italian film market floundering, that he was still able to craft likeable B-movie adventures.

Like a number of his later films "Alien From the Deep" takes an environmental slant when two members of green peace sneak onto an island in order to video tape footage of a corporation dumping toxic waste into a volcano (well shit, that can't be good). Out of nowhere an alien meteor crash-lands in lake near the volcano and soon an alien breaks loose, causing lots of explosions and death.

The plot structure of this film is extremely awkward. It starts off like typical Magaretti jungle adventure with Macaroni Combat influences sprinkled in then at the 45 minute mark, an alien shows up. I literally forgot there was even supposed to be an Alien in it all by the time it fucking made its appearance!

Due to the Alien not showing up until halfway through, the last half is on fast forward as all the plot elements about the Alien are quickly thrown at the audience. We literally learn that it's bio-mechanical, immune to almost everything and only harmed by hydrogen in a matter of minutes.

Typical with Magaretti films the special effects are rather shotty but loveable at the same time. We get poor miniatures and the Alien is mostly shown as a giant 'claw' that likes to squeeze people and then let it's slime mutate their skin. When the full alien is revealed in the climax it's obviously influenced by the final confrontation in James Cameron's "Aliens". Our sexy heroin clad in underwear (a tribute to Sigourney Weaver in "Alien") fights the beast with a construction loader, similar to the forklift battle in "Aliens".

The cast is all likeable, despite having silly dialogue to spout out at each other. Julia McKay is lovely to look at and her love interest Bob (Daniel Bosch), a snake farmer forced to aid her in her quest, is surprisingly charming. Of course veteran American actor Charles Napier steals the show as Col. Kovacks, the leader of the illegal dumping operation. He, like most bad ass American actors in Margaretti films, is underused and isn't given much to do other than bark orders over computer consuls.

"Alien from the Deep" is an enjoyable B-movie venture. Good? Hell no (mostly due to its odd story structure) but it has that loveable Magaretti charm that his films always endure. I put off buying "Alien from the Deep" due to its steep retail price on DVD ($26.99!) but scored a used copy for less than half that. For me it was worth the cash and it will be for you too if you enjoy Italian trash.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Grotesque (1988) - 1.5/5

After getting worldwide fame for her demonic portrayal as a possessed girl in "The Exorcist" that earned her an Oscar nomination, star Linda Blair found herself type-casted and couldn't get any acting gigs other than cheap B-movies and exploitation films. Through these films Blair earned herself a loyal fan base... hell even I have a soft spot for her as "Savage Streets" is one of my all time guilty pleasures. Sadly for every loveable trash effort she did, there's a polar opposite with "Grotesque" being on the other side of the spectrum .

"Grotesque" is a typical home invasion horror flick with a young woman (Linda Blair) and her best friend (Donna Wilkes) traveling up into the snow packed Rocky Mountains to spend time with her parents. When some sadistic splatter punks invade their home, killing many of the family members in order to find money, Blair's grotesque and misshapen step-brother decides to get vengeance.

What gets me about this film is it has so much fucking potential. Blair and Wilkes ("Angel") are exploitation goddesses and they are sorely underused. The plot of the grotesque brother is not given much back story and the film runs completely dry at the hour mark.

The punks themselves are so over the top and sadistic that one can't help but laugh. The best way I can describe them is the 'splatter punks' from the beginning of "RoboCop 3" with their wild spiked hair and pasty skin. They are so fucking nasty that you truly root for them to die in the absolute worst ways possible... the aspect the film sorely misses its mark on.

Other then Blair, Wilkes and our lead punks, the acting itself is quite atrocious. The worst is the two bumbling cops trying to solve the case. What did they do, cast two local yokel cops? The make-up effects also leave a lot to be desired, which is ironic as Blair's father in the film is a Hollywood horror movie make-up artist.

However these are just minor quibbles compared to the shit of all shit endings. You think the dream ending to Umberto Lenzi's "Nightmare City" was a cheap cop out... you ain't seen nothing yet! I had to restrain myself from throwing my Iron Maiden 'Eddie' bobble-head doll sitting on my coffee table through the television screen. I shit you not this is one of the worst fucking endings I have ever seen!

I wanted to like "Grotesque".... I really really did. The snowy mountain setting, the exploitation cast and the idea of a misshapen monster killing punks perks my interest but this was a poorly executed excuse of a horror film with the end-all worst wrap-up ever. What exactly Blair saw in the messy script to also serve as producer is beyond me.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Bandit 4: Bandit Goes Country (1994) - 1.5/5

What the shit... there's a "Smokey and the Bandit 4"? Before you pass out from sheer excitement you'll be even more exhilarated when I reveal that there are actually 7, get this, 7 of these damn movies as "Bandit 4: Bandit Goes Country" is the first of 4 television made sequels. What... made for television? No Burt Reynolds and no original characters? Yea... this isn't going to be good.

Well "Bandit 4" is part of an experiment Universal tried out in the early 90's called "Action Block" where they made multiple full length made-for-television movies in order to hopefully generate enough viewer interest to kick-start a television series. With the "Smokey and the Bandit" franchise being long dead for 10 years (and rightfully so after the train wreck that called itself "Smokey and the Bandit Part 3"), the "Bandit" franchise was ripe for revival. Sadly, these television films aren't very good and failed to generate a successful television series to follow.

Well this "Bandit" run of films has nothing to do with any of the original characters, hell there isn't even a Smokey (hence why that term was dropped from the titles). What we get here is another good 'ol Southern Boy actually named, no shit, 'Bandit' (Brian Bloom) and his semi drivin' buddy causing high jinks and getting into trouble while always following his morals and finding plenty of love along the way. In this particular film Bandit heads out on the highway in his Dodge Stealth (the Pontiac Trans Am was old news by this time) to go back to his home town to help his cousin, who's bootlegging music, haul a woodin' bear (you read right) to a town parade while trying to win back the heart of his old high school flame (Elizabeth "Showgirls" Berkley).

Hal Needham, director of "Smokey and the Bandit I & II", returns to direct but that hardly means a damn thing. First off all he's directed more shit than gold and with no Burt Reynolds or budget he has very little to work with in order to make an entertaining return of the "Bandit" with tedious plots, bland characters and unexciting stunts. He also gives the film a far more country feel and less southern good 'ol boy for my taste, even including a sequence of line dancing (the horror! the horror!) and a horrid title sequence featuring a suicide inducing country song, further showing how Universal was hoping this would generate into a full blown television series.

"Smokey and the Bandit Part 3" may have been awful but in a train wreck sort of way it was actually somewhat watchable due to its sheer badness. "Bandit 4" may be a 'better' film but it's strictly TV shenanigans and completely forgettable TV filler. The look, the plot and the acting all reek of "TV Movie of the Week" and it only will serve as a minor curiosity to fans of the franchise.

Written By Eric Reifschneider