Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Safe House (2012)

Director: Daniel Espinosa
Notable Cast: Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Brendan Gleeson, Vera Farminga

The problem with these mainstream thrillers is this: the concept is easy to sell to audiences, but its damn hard to perfect as an artistic or refreshing endeavor. This is mostly due to the fact that there are a lot of thrillers made every year, but without clever intuition from filmmakers or a really good plot twist...most of them just get bundled together and forgotten within a couple of years. Despite some great things about "Safe House" this is one of those films where I enjoyed it while watching, but I foresee myself never touching it again because it wasn't quite 'top of the line.' A film that thriller fans will love to watch for some great performances and non-stop pacing, but ultimately doesn't make it to the top percentile of the genre.

Matt Weston (Reynolds) has somewhat of a shit job for the CIA for too long. He's the house keeper of a safe house in South Africa and has yet to find a guest to let him prove himself. That is until Tobin Frost (Washington) decides to let himself get caught. Now Weston is caught between the viciously smart ex-CIA rogue and those looking to kill him. The race is on and Weston is beginning to question just who he can trust in his superiors to make sure his guest stays in custody.

Despite being the main protagonist for the film, it's obvious that Reynolds is still a back seat driver.
Perhaps the main charges for seeing this film are the actors involved. Anytime you have Denzel Washington playing a villain (or anything for that matter), then a movie should have your attention immediately. Honestly, it was worth the watch just for him. He owns the role of Frost in all of its asshole complexities with vigor and a screen presence he brings to everything. Even though he shares a lot of screen time with Ryan Reynolds, he easily becomes the main reason for keeping up with the film's often vague and forced plot progressions. That being said, I was also shocked with Reynolds performance. We've seen him do gold ("Buried") and we've seen him in garbage ("Green Lantern") just in the last handful of years, but the former actor is the one that shows up for "Safe House." When matched against a titan like Denzel, one has to simply keep up and Reynolds does just that - adding in enough emotional attachment to get us involved without overdoing it with his quirky humor and pretty boy attributes. A strong and surprising performance for sure from both parties.

"Holy moly, King Kong does NOT have shit on you."
Beyond that, "Safe House" runs a rather by the numbers spy thriller. The plot is expectedly high energy with plenty of octane driven action set pieces that range from act and mouse chases, to car chases, to gun toting chases (okay, there is a lot of chasing in this movie), and a fairly solid amount of good fist to cuffs. This latter element was a pleasant surprise in its solidity and a bonus for this reviewer. Unfortunately, the director has a real sweet spot from desperately imitating Michael Mann with gritty visuals and relentless shaky cam/quick edits for that in the moment style. The style does tend to ruin a lot of great tension particularly when it comes to the character build within said sequences. I know that the look is very popular now though, so I had that expectation going into the film so it didn't completely drown the film in forced modernity.

All in all, "Safe House" is a nice gritty high end thriller that took some pleasant surprises with its execution including a few good hand to hand combat sequences that really caught me off guard. Although I wouldn't go as far as to say it's one of the best thrillers I've seen, it's strong pacing and performances take the viewer on a ride that quenches any action/thriller thirst one might have developed between films.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Highschool Of The Dead (2011)

Here we go! My first series review, I toyed with this for awhile trying to decide if I should give an episode by episode grade or just as a whole. I decided as a whole, if you guys would like to see it done differently please share thoughts and comments.

If there were ever an anime that is perfect for American live action tv  adaption I think this would be it. This series is ripe with pop culture references that would certainly appeal to western audiences. It has lots and lots of zombies and who doesn't love zombies. So if you are a fan of the hit series from AMC's "The Walking Dead" this might be a series you would enjoy (it's true I do watch other kinds of shows). This is the English version that I am reviewing.

The story-
 Zombie apocalypse! A group of highschool students from Fujimi High must battle their way through the dead and destruction that has fallen upon them. The group includes:
Takashi Komuro- The Hero
Rei Miyamoto- The Ex-girlfriend
Saeko Busujimo- The badass with a sword
Saya Takagi- Spoiled rich girl and life long friend of Takashi.
Kohta Hirano- The fat kid with a crazy love affair with guns
Shizuka Marikawa- Idiot school nurse
Alice Maresato- orphan picked up along the way.
Other than the zombies in the series we also have a few different story arcs and enemies that show themselves through out. The character development is pretty dang good in this series. All of the main characters have some sort of connection with one another even if it is as minor as just being classmates. Think back to your school days or if you are still in school. I can remember and name pretty much everyone I ever talked to or sat next to

We have Takashi and Rei who as children made a pinkie swear to marry one another, but fell apart over the years due in large part to Takashi's inability to make decisions. Which added a bit of tension between the two made more so by the fact that Rei is dating his best friend. Then there is Saeko and Rei. Not sure the story here, but a few hints were made throughout the series that maybe there is more to their story (possible relatives?). Then there is Saya and Kohta, rich girl and fat kid. She picks on him throughout and he is head over heels for her, and is basically her protector from start to finish. Of course we then have the school nurse and the orphan. Both really didn't add much to the series other than Shizuka remembers she has a friend that happens to be a military type with a safehouse and weapons for them to use. She is basically the getaway driver.

I really like how this series gave pretty much every main character attention. As we follow these students we learn about their backgrounds, families and social orders. The action scenes are topnotch and I would really like to see this done in live action. The relationship between Takashi and Rei and then Saeko is pretty decent developement wise. Everyone needs a love triangle to follow and actually care about. I know I did. It's like the Peter Parker, Mary Jane, and Gwen Stacy triangle we all have our thoughts on who should be with who. There is so much going on in this series and it all ties up pretty good,  the exception being the Saeko and Rei story. I hope they touch on it in Season 2. Then there is Saya and Rei. While not as noticable from a story arc stand point, we the viewer are lead to believe there must be something here. Rei's father is a cop and Saya's father is a big powerful ruler of the Takagi family and ultimate badass. There is connections between the two but the story is playing coy with the viewers here.

Being faced with so much death and mayhem the students have to adapt and do it fast. Faced with endless problems from resources, to zombies, to more enemies such as thugs and main antagonist Mr. Shido a teacher from their school that is bat-shit crazy, from his first scene where he leaves a student to die due to a sprained ankle even goes as far to kick the kid in the face to make sure he stays behind. To a scene where he has turned students into sex slaves? Our heroes save Mr. Shido and several other students from certain death while escaping the school via bus.

Right away you can feel tension between Mr. Shido and a few students mainly Rei and Saeko. Which ultimately leads to Takashi and Rei off on their own for a bit. While this story arc basically goes away for most of the series it does get wrapped up in the final 3 episodes.

The first 3 episodes start out strong but from there it gets kind of slow. Which is probably meant to be more of a realistic point of view. I am not gonna lie I almost gave up on this series but the final 3 episodes really saved this series for me.
FAN SERVICE-My biggest complaint with this series is the fan service, there was so much it was driving me crazy. Don't get me wrong I love the female form as much as anybody but good God this series was out of control with boobs and ass shots. It was pretty impressive how many different ways the director found to use boobs. At one point Takashi is using Rei's boobs as a stabilizer for his AK-47. This almost killed the series for me it took away from a lot of great things going on with the series. 'Arg!!!' is what I felt every time they used sound effects for bouncing boobs , really is that how boobs sound? Nooooo... its not. Okay. I am done ranting.
The Art- Very stylish I loved the action scenes and there are plenty of them. I think every episode has at least one sweet action scene. Well done I say!

Final thoughts- You ever have something you want to love but no matter how hard you try it gives you reasons not too? That is "Highschool of the Dead" for me. I really wanted to love this series, but the over the top fan service just doesn't work in this series it is so unnecessary . The story is pretty solid, the art is good, and the voice acting is good. With Jessica Boone, Taylor Hannah, Leraldo Anzaldua, Maggie Flecknoe, and Mark X all doing better than average jobs. I was losing patience with series towards the middle like I said above but then Episode 10-12 really came together and made this a must see for anime fans or genre fans. Like Takashi says this series goes out with a fucking bang!

Written By John Price

Loved the review? You can purchase this and other recommendations from John Price at the links below!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Catwoman (2004)

Director: Pitof
Notable Cast: Halle Berry, Sharon Stone, Benjamin Bratt, Lambert Wilson

When a film is wildly considered by critics (and fans) was one of the worst film's ever made, you know you have something special. "Catwoman", the pseudo-spinoff of the DC Comics character, is just that. It's very special. So special that leading lady Halle Berry showed up accept the Razzie she won with her previously won Oscar in hand and stated in her acceptance speech, "First of all, I want to thank Warner Brothers. Thank you for putting me in a piece of shit, god-awful movie... It was just what my career needed." She definitely wasn't far from the truth and since "Catwoman" was released...her career tumbled with it. It's seriously that bad.

Patience Phillips (Berry) is a mess. She's an odd artist and graphics designer for a massive beauty company and beyond trying to keep her head straight, her personal life is in shambles. In a desperate attempt to keep her job, she ends up stumbling upon a secret about the new line of beauty product. It's addictive and upon stopping usage...it scars you for life! Upon learning said secret, the company goes to put Patience six feet down by throwing her down a sewer drain. Lucky for her, a mystical Egyptian cat gives he a new set of lives by breathing on her and gives her the powers of a cat and the mindset to make things right.

The claws say "I'm bad." Her eyes say "This film is bad."
Just reliving this film by typing that synopsis gave me a headache. This film is really that bad. It's hard to even know where to begin. So let's start with the foundational story and script. It's crap. Crap. Crap. Crap crap crap. I appreciate that the writers wanted to take it in its own original direction without stepping on comic book purists' toes. Had they done that, I'm sure people would have stormed theaters and burned prints of the film. As is, the film really tries to focus on a character I could care less about, surrounding her with characters I could care even less about, and throwing them into a situation that makes no sense. What does this beauty product actually do? If crappy villain Sharon Stone is proof...it turns you into marble? What?! And the forced romantic sub plot is about as cheesy as it can get. In all honesty, both the Ferris wheel and basketball sequence are abysmal. Throw in some poorly placed action set pieces in between the slices of crappy characters and crappy plot and you simply have a crap sandwich. Delicious!

Somehow they got away with calling lingerie a superhero costume in this film.
With no investment in story or characters, one could only hope that the film is entertaining. If you count unintentional humor, then I suppose "Catwoman" is. Multiple times I had to pause this film from laughter. Not intentional laughter mind you, but laughter nonetheless. The director, who goes by the name Pitof...and I'm assuming the last name is Despair because that's what he brings to this film, layers on the style, music video looking designs, and editing so thick...it's hard to see anything else. There are so many swooping camera zooms and shitty CGI Halle Berry's running on all fours that its just damn funny. The action sequences are almost unmanageable to keep focused and when I was sure what was happening it didn't make sense. Once again, the Ferris wheel sequence is a prime example of this. First person point of view for a type of 'cat sense' that allows her to save a falling child from the crappiest Ferris wheel ever made? Wow. You just went there "Catwoman." You just went there.

It's hard watching these relatively strong actors desperately try to push through the film by marionette-ing their bodies through the motions when its obvious they all knew this film was a joke. The action is edited to hell with way too much crappy CGI, the story is laughable, and the direction is all style and no substance. When critics said this was one of the worst films ever made...they were selling it short. It's not bad...it's abysmal.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Wind Blast (2010)

Director: Gao Qunshu
Notable Cast: Duan Yihong, Xia Yu, Franchis Ng, Yu Nan, Li Zhang, and the awesome Jacky Wu

Isn't it ironic that a handful of the best westerns in the last ten years have been crafted by Asian countries? Perhaps its because some of the best westerns initially were made by Europeans. Either way, when Well Go USA announced the release of the Chinese kung fu western "Wind Blast" I was stoked. Kung fu? Western? Sounds like it might be a great fucking combination! Unfortunately, the film wasn't quite matching the high expectations I was holding for it, but fans of a modern western or looking for a rather unique action film experience should definitely tune in.

A down on his luck hitman (Xia Yu) finds himself between a rock and a hard place when a group of lawmen lead by Leopard (Duan Yihong) finally catch up to him to take him into custody. The harsh desert terrain of China is not a friendly place though and the lawmen with their newly acquired target are going to have to fend off two rogue assassins (Francis Ng and Yu Nan) who seem to be after the same target. The bullets rain down as the two formidable forces collide with intent to undermine the other.

This is the face that scares everyone at the shooting range. "You're getting too into it," they say. Pfft.
The idea of a kung fu western is so tempting for someone like me. A delicious combination of rogues, vengeance, honor, and a heaping dose of ass kicking...all elements of both of these genres. Yet, "Wind Blast" takes a rather bleak and serious tone for a good portion of the film. Really delving down into a rather simple story made overcomplicated by its storytelling process. There's plenty of great chemistry between characters and we get just enough insight into their back stories to keep us interested, but not enough to make us care despite some great moments of acting and execution. The film does grow on you, particularly by the time you piece together just what is happening and who is really who, and its very particular western style of feeling makes for a unique viewing experience. It's tough to follow at times and many characters feel a tad underdeveloped, but its still fairly effective at doing what it does best...replicating a western film.

Cliche western picture? Perhaps, but its fitting here.
This allows "Wind Blast" to really latch onto mixing modern action with western set pieces. They throw in a ton of western style details to the film with plenty of horseback chases, gun fights in the desert, and even a raid on a police complex at the end complete with stampede. It's fun to see how the modern style directing blends with the classic motifs and over the top stunt work while the film's relentless action set pieces (including a killer stylized shootout with a massive truck) really make for a wild ride.

If the script with a little stronger with character work in some of its unusual structure (it has like 2 or 3 faux endings) and added a little more kung fu, I would have loved this film even more. As is, it can be a little confusing on the first watch and we only get one great fist to cuffs kung fu throw down between Jacky Wu and Yu Nan (which was awesome). Otherwise, the film dedicates a strong vision to style and the western motifs that really worked for me. Not perfect by any means, but a unique and enjoyable watch.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Rabies (2010)

Directors: Aharon Keshales, Navot Papushado
Notable Cast: Lior Ashkenazi, Danny Geva, Ania Bukstein, Manashe Noy, Ran Danker, Henry David, Ofer Shechter, Liat Harley, Yael Grobglas
Also Known As: Kalevet

As a cult film fan, its hard not to strive to dig up some rare material. At Blood Brothers we take a certain pride in it. That's why I simply had to see the Israeli horror film "Rabies." It was the only full length film I missed at the 2011 Mile High Horror Film Festival and I've regretted it pretty much every day til it was released on home video because I only heard great things about it. Now that I've finally watched this film...I don't regret missing it so much. The film is certainly unique in many ways as it toys with the cliche slasher elements and pushes away from them, but ultimately it left me apathetic towards the entire thing.

Two young folk (David and Harley) who are running away from home accidentally stumble through the woods and straight into a serial killer's trap. In an attempt to escape, they unwittedly involve a car full of more young folk, a ranger, and two cops into the worst day any of them can imagine where the paranoia between them and their own inhuman flaws may pose an even greater threat.

First of all, why the hell is this film called "Rabies?" Not only does it not have rabies in it, but it has nothing close to any kind of killer virus or related elements. Nor does it have anything to do with any sort of vampire/undead ideology like the cover would indicate. Sort of skewed my expectations right off the bat to find that the film would be more along the lines of a slasher...and even then a rather unusual one that doesn't follow those guidelines either.

So what kind of slasher is it, you maybe asking. Well, its one where the slasher serial killer is practically irrelevant. He makes sort of a brief appearance towards the beginning and then sort of drops off for most of the rest of the film. What this does do, is that it allows the film to really embrace its clever spin and ideology. We have all of the cliche elements in the film: isolated woods, teens, broken down cars, and all those great obvious personalities to go with it all. "Rabies" then takes this all throws it into "worst day ever" mode with heightened paranoia and extreme emotions then lets the characters boil over and do horrible things to one another. In a way, it takes the classic slasher and gives it a modern style that's not necessarily the overused and poorly defined 'torture porn', but something of a similar effect. It's people just doing awful things to each other.

The film does happen to go about it in some in some unique ways. The directors obviously have an eye for some visual style despite any kind of real setting besides a forest (the scene where our initial victim thinks he gets his revenge with a sledgehammer has a great silent moment that earns a memorable spot) and the film occurs completely in daylight which is splendid change of pace. It also happens to love to use some black humor to spice up the film. Characters say ridiculous things, some of the deaths are a blast (pun intended for my favorite), and the timing on a few things is really well established. Although at times it was hard to tell if the film was intending to be funny, upon reflection after a little more forefront humorous ending, it does it quite well at times.

The big concerns that "Rabies" left me with are generally about how much I felt invested. For horror to really work, particularly of the more standard types, it has to really work your nerves. Since this film rarely utilizes jump scares for those moments, it desperately needed for the audience to buy into the characters and the situation for the viewers to 'feel in the moment.' "Rabies" just doesn't quite work that out. Some of it is the humor, which is an obvious pull out of the situation, but most of it occurs from too many characters we just don't learn to care enough about. There's no real protagonist to root for and despite some of the great plot twists that these separate groups of characters create - it divides too much screen time between them. Even the strong acting can't quite divvy out the empathy.

"Rabies" was certainly a fun watch to see how they cut a new style into a rather run down genre. The humor is rather well executed and generally speaking I loved the direction and on screen work. Unfortunately, for this reviewer, much of it felt flat to me - neither kicking out the laughter or the horror and sort of meanders through without a real endgame sense of urgency. Definitely for those looking for a unique horror experience and still comes recommended for horror fiends.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Dark Knight Rises, The (2012)


Director: Christopher Nolan
Notable Cast: Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt

This is going to be a tough one to get through knowing the backlash from fan boys about this film. Firstly, it must be said that in the end I very much still enjoyed this epic finale in Christopher Nolan's "Batman" Trilogy and there are amazing things about the epic scope and nature of the film. Secondly, as I walked out of the movie theater I could not the shake the feeling of massive disappointment. Where some good friends of mine clamored about the film being Nolan's best, I was stricken by the thought that this was actually Nolan's weakest film and throughout the night I grappled with this thought...and this is the review that I came up with.

It's been 8 years since the death of Harvey Dent and the fall of the Joker. Batman has been in exile and Gotham's clean up on crime successful. This leaves Bruce Wayne (Bale) a recluse over the loss of his love Rachael and the lack of Batman in his life. His absence from his job and society is kicked into gear when a daring jewel thief Selina Kyle (Hathaway) breaks him his mansion to steal some pricy jewelry. Upon further investigation, Wayne discovers that this is only the beginning since she was hired by some powerful folks attempting to unleash the devastating mercenary Bane (Hardy) into Gotham. With a massive plan to hold Gotham to its own lie by unleashing dystopia, Batman will have to come back and rise to the occasion...but has it already been too long?

A man with a cane and a Caine.
As I always love to do, let's start with what is awesome about "The Dark Knight Rises." The film is damn epic. With Nolan's use of IMAX cameras and its massive 250 million dollar budget, he never lets any of it go to waste. From its wicked plane hijacking for an introduction to the film to its Gotham-seperated-from-the-rest-of-the-world military occupation of its finale, the vision of "TDKR" is one of grandeur. The plot is massively intricate as it navigates personal growth for characters, business manipulation, and finally holding an entire city in dystopian chaos with a nuclear device. There are a lot of things all going on at once and Nolan packs the film with enough thoughtful events and plot twists that it's guaranteed to keep one glued to the screen for the entire (almost) 3 hour run time. "The Dark Knight Rises" is also extraordinarily well cast (as is all of Nolan's films) with some stunning performances all around once again. Bale highlights the depth and despair/hope of his duel identity while Caine gives a rather blustery performance before he disappears in the second act. Even my most nerve wracking aspect of the film, Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle, owns the role and perhaps steals the show from all of the other actors for most of the film's play time. No pun intended. Nolan shows that he is a rather brilliant visual director with this film and his casting and designs for the film really do embrace the epic nature of this final piece.

"Two can play the skin tight black leather outfit game!"
The issues that arise for me with "The Dark Knight Rises" stem from issues that were present in both "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight." With both of those films, Nolan tried desperately to make a comic book world 'real' by grounding it all in more realistic situations and focusing on great character work. He damn near came close to perfecting the balance on the second film despite its somewhat over complicated plot. Here with the third film, the epic nature of its plot exponentially gaps the balance of real to comic book and gives us far to many scenes of ridiculousness and half hearted ideas. The writing, in itself, was too big for it's own britches here and the film succumbs to being less realistic and losing many of its great characters who drown in their own places within the bloated plot progressions.

This missed balance of how real the film needed to be really affects how it comes across. HERE THERE BE SPOILERS so if you haven't seen the movie feel free to quit reading now. Examples of such can be found in the first sequence. Although I give him that the plane hijacking is massively cool visually with awesome stunt work, but...why? Who hijacks a place like that? What a needless way to bring down an aircraft. And that's only the beginning. We get massive nuclear bombs made from potential Earth saving energy sources (whom my friend Matthew pointed out is the exact same plot from "Spider-Man 2"), a military controlled state lead by Bane who sort of just hangs out in the last half, and Bruce Wayne gets his back broken only to sort of hang on a rope in traction, get punched, works out, and then escapes an inescapable prison to somehow make it back to Gotham with no funds and no connections. The film tries so hard to be so clever with its epic plot that it somehow forgets that these films needed to feel real. I definitely think that the brothers Nolan should have pushed for a 'less is more' concept for the film.

"Wooly coats for EVERYONE!"
Not only that, but for the most part I felt like the plot easily took the focus away from the characters. Right from the get go, the film began to drag at times taking dramatic turns of detail and character motives that felt unneeded. Bruce Wayne needs a cane for a third of the film, gets a magic knee brace and its never mentioned again. Alfred wants him to move on and then when he's needed as Batman he scolds him a couple of times then he leaves in protest. Lucius Fox also appears a couple of times, really does nothing to add to Wayne's character, shows off the new Batplane in a sort of random occurrence, and then sort of takes a back seat. Even Wayne seems to have forced character growth. What was the ill developed love relationship with Miranda Tate? It didn't feel remotely real and how it concludes at the end lacks the necessary punch that it needed to work. In all honesty, the best two characters in this film are John Blake (played with a fierce realism by Gordon-Levitt) and Catwoman...errr...Selina Kyle. They actually have good solid growth and great moments in the film stealing most of their scenes and really adding to the missing character work.

It does massively help that the ending to the film was worth it. It makes up for a lot of the issues presented by the first two-thirds of the film. It has a delightfully tight ending and a few surprises that will have fans clamoring despite some of its ridiculousness. I definitely won't give that away here in this review, but know that its worth seeing the film just for its last fifteen minutes even if I felt like Bane (whom I loved as a villain through the first portions, despite his breathy Sean Connery impersonation) just sort of dwindles away.

It's hard to say any movie that Christopher Nolan has made is bad. His direction and his casting in the end save this film from a lot of its writing flaws both in plot and characters. In the end, I did enjoy the film for its visual prowess and glorious moments of great writing...but its easily one of the most flawed films he has done. It's simply too epic for its own good and has to cut corners in realism to make it all work. I'm sure that I'll take some heat and hate for this, but despite what I was told..."The Dark Knight Rises" is Nolan's weakest effort to date.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Lockout (2012)

Directors: James Mather, Stephen St. Leger
Notable Cast: Guy Pearce, Maggie Grace

I don't care how he's involved, but slap the name Luc Besson on anything and I'm there. With "Lockout", the prince of French awesomeness produces and co-writes a science fiction actioner that's both completely unoriginal and hilariously brilliant at the same time. Critics came out of the gate with mostly mixed to negative reviews and its hard for this cult film fanatic to disagree with many of their complaints. I have to admit though, the combination of "Escape From New York" and "Die Hard" on a space station simply appealed to me and "Lockout" does it with enough tongue in cheek and charm to ultimately win me over and then some.

Snow (Pearce) is an ex-CIA operative working on the outside of the system in the future. When a back-up sting goes horribly awry, the sarcastic and charming Snow finds himself in a very bad position on his way to be frozen in a maximum security space station in orbit around Earth. Unluckily for him, right about the time he is to be shipped off a break out on thus mentioned prison occurs and the President's daughter Emilie (Grace) is taken hostage. It's a volatile situation and there seems to be only one man who can go in there and save the day...it looks like its about to Snow.

I love the fact that the film points out how nobody smokes anymore. One more reason to love this character.
Normally I love to start with the good aspects about a film, but in the cast of "Lockout" I think I need to start on the flip side of the coin. The obviously stolen plot from "Escape From New York" is never really original. The film tends to move in a very cliche fashion with its odd focuses on horribly odd situations for our hero whose (naturally) a wrongfully accused man placed in one of the worst situations thinkable. His romantic subplot with the President's daughter is an obvious one that never really makes sense outside of being one we've seen a million times and the idealistic themes of the film about traitors, the greater good, and being humane have been done to death in films like this. Will the anti-hero grow a conscious? Will they fall in love? Will he even come close to failing? If you don't already know the answers to these, then you'll find "Lockout" refreshing and not cliche at all. For those of us dedicated to the action genre and all of its ridiculousness, then you already know how the film plays out.

You would think you would use your good eye to peak around a door. Just saying.
The trick to "Lockout" is that never, ever did I feel like I cared that it was formulaic and essentially a rip off of some of the greatest action films of all time. I just didn't care. The film sold itself so well with quirky characters, charming dialogue, and strong action sequences that these faulty foundational script problems were irrelevant. With some clever chase sequences (seeing our hero hit a window and NOT go threw it was amazing) and great fist-to-cuff fights, the action is strong enough that the faster than lightning plot progressions never seem out of place. The directors ably make us buy into its ridiculousness (using humor and characters to sooth our minds) and it just simply works.

"You said 'stick a needle in my eye'...and that's a PROMISE!"
That's not it though. Even with strong action, pacing, and humor there is one element that easily carries this film through its rough patches and cliche formulas. Guy fucking Pearce. His portrayal as the ever asshole Snow is impalpable in charm. Even though he's a guy that you really do hate on many levels its hard as hell not to root for him. It's an instantly classic anti-hero character. He's a dick to everyone with relentlessly smart ass comments and beyond that he's generally not a great hero. He hates heights. He gets shot. He can't really even stand the sight of blood spouting off "yuck!" when he has to change out a bandage. Yet we really do root for him the entire time, eating up every snarky comment, and really loving every second he's on screen. Even though this film bombed in theaters, film makers would be stupid not to franchise his character. Plain stupid.

"What do you mean this movie bombed in theaters! I never saw that coming!"
"Lockout" isn't a great film by any means as it really does play out the cliche elements way too much in its plot. It has some odd CGI moments (the unicycle chase through the city) and many of its 'surprise' twists aren't surprises. Yet the film is undeniable B-grade action gold with a spot on anti-hero played to full potential by Pearce and its top notch 80s inspired bombarding action pacing. This is a film that you are either going to love it or hate it and for Blood Brothers...it's an instant classic cult film.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Wrath Of The Titans (2012)

Director: Jonathan Liebesman
Notable Cast: Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Toby Kebbell, Bill Nighy, Rosamund Pike

It has to be said initially that I wasn't a particular fan of the remake for "Clash Of The Titans" to begin with. For a refresher, read my review HERE. The movie was a fun and visual feast, but it's lacking depth and formulaic plot progressions were a massive burden on the entire film. It's sequel, "Wrath Of The Titans", fares no better in these categories. I cannot say whether or not this film is worse than the last entry, but I can say with certainty that it isn't better.

Perseus (Worthington) has taken to the life as a simple fisherman since his defeat of the Kraken ten years ago. His wife has since past, but his dedication to keeping his son away from the gods and their affairs has lead him into this simple life. A problem has arisen though and the lacking prayers to the gods has weakened their powers and threatened to release the monster Kronos from his prison in the Underworld. Zeus (Neeson) finds himself at wits again with his brother Hades (Fiennes) and its up to Perseus to find another mystical weapon by fighting off hordes of mythological creates, so that he can rescue his father and slay Kronos.

"I'm here to slay anyone with any kind of acting ability!"
If you are one of those film goers that desperately craves to be entertained, one who craves that spectacle of film...then "Wrath Of The Titans" is a sure fire winner. As with its predecessor, this film simply boggles with its visual immersion. Top of the line CGI mixed with relentless amounts of mythological creatures/entities make for a wild ride of exploding dirt, fire breathing, exploding buildings, massive magma giants, warring gods, exploding trees, a random Minotaur (?), and exploding staffs. This film tries to rival Mr. Michael Bay in random things exploding and high octane action set pieces and does a damn admirable job at doing such.

No real titans were harmed in the filming of this movie.
Beyond its adrenaline pumping action and visual prowess though, "Wrath" topples under its shifty foundations. It's plot moves so quickly - hey it has to pack a lot of random fighting with random monsters into an hour and a half, you know - that it's a relative blur of poorly crafted characters with faulty motivations. Once again Sam Worth(less)ington panders about with some half assed emotions and a shaggy new anti-hero haircut leaving the audience rooting more for the monsters to put him out of his B-grade hero misery. On the other hand, our stunningly well casted secondary cast all try their best with the significantly underdeveloped depth and screen time. With as much awesomeness as it is having Neeson as Zeus and Fiennes as Hades would seem, they are (once again) horribly underused and underdeveloped which leads us to one of the least climatic throw downs for an ending that should have blown us all away.

Two of my favorite actors TOGETHER...in dresses!
Throughout the film, I felt as though they desperately needed to take the film in a more tongue in cheek direction. When they do, with snide comments and quirky supporting characters like Nighy and Kebbell who simply ear up their scenes with fun and smarm in goofy and ridiculous portrayals, the film just works better. If only they would have run with its ridiculousness in concept with its execution we might have had a much better B-movie watching experience.

As is, I was massively entertained by the film's visuals and action even if some it is quite unfulfilling with particular notation to the finale battle of our heroes teaming up against Kronos and the all too brief and silly Minotaur battle. Other than that, "Wrath" fails to execute with its half assed directing (Liebesman needs to knock off that shaky cam 'war movie' crap...this isn't a sequel to "Battle: Los Angeles"), half assed plot work, and half assed acting. I can't say it was all that worse than "Clash", but it didn't improve on any of its flaws either.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows (2011)

Director: Guy Ritchie
Notable Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law, Noomi Rapace, Jared Harris, Stephen Fry

The character of Sherlock Holmes has seen his fair share of film adaptions of varying quality (including the awesome "Great Mouse Detective!"), but never had it looked like what Guy Ritchie came up with for the 2009 version of the classic detective. He was borderline insane, yet a genius and the strong writing and performances of the film drove it to be one of the most unique and awesome films of the year. It didn't take some sort of psychic to see that it was going to be a formidable franchise with the talent involved and it wasn't long for the second film to arise to satiate our appetites in "A Game Of Shadows." Although the film still packs an intense mixture of chemistry, humor, action, and thoughtfulness to its place in a larger spectrum, this sophomore effort from Ritchie and company is a little long for its own good and loses some focus on what needed to be accomplished in its run time.

Sherlock Holmes (Downey Jr) is quite literally in the middle of the biggest case of his crazy career. His innate ability to remember details and put the pieces of a larger puzzle together has made him more paranoid than usual and his latest obsession seems to be transfixing the massive conspiracy to that of a criminal mastermind like Professor Moriarty (Harris). It's fate that brings Watson (Law) back into town for his wedding and Holmes uses the opportunity to set his own plan into motion. The game of chess between two of the world's greatest minds has begun...and each intend to make it personal for the other.

"Would you call this a Bro-mance, Holmes?"
The cast and crew of "Sherlock Holmes 2" make it really hard not to fall back in love with the entire concept. The chemistry is riveting. The films are funny, charming, high energy, and loaded with style. Ritchie really brings out his now quirky style for the character and the world that he occupies by littering the film with visual flair and plenty of detailing in the script. "A Game Of Shadows" can go a little far in this area as it bombards the viewer with almost too much style and its odd structuring (the former in the elongated slow motion run through the forest that sparks with unique style but runs thin quickly and the latter with some of the weird flashbacks with the train disguise as an example), but the end result is a massively entertaining film experience. Ritchie may not have found a tighter balance to his style, but its hard to deny that this sequel doesn't try its damnedest to be bigger and badder.

"That's a might fine beard you have, sir. And chalkboard."
Believe it or not, as the Ritchie fan boy I am, his direction is not the best part about "A Game Of Shadows." Like the first film, the highlight is the chemistry of how it all works together. The film spitters and spatters at moments as it tries to almost outsmart itself with red herrings and tangents, but none of that matters when the actors are doing their things onscreen. Downey Jr and Law could ably make a two hour movie of bickering  and it would have been just as entertaining as the film was. Not to mention the addition of the seething yet almost relatable Harris as Moriarty into the mix and the humorous Fry as Holmes' brother...it makes for a fun watch. My one complaint about the characters and casting is that once again, the female lead gets overlooked and underused. A great actress like Rapace and that's all you give her? Really?

Although my love for "A Game Of Shadows" wasn't as immense as my love for the first film, this still ranks as a personal favorite of mine and one that I will watch time and time against despite some of its gaping flaws. It's energy and casting simply make for a great film watching experience. Throw in a gloriously well shot and tense finale (taking the chess game literally with all kinds of pieces falling into place as our two rivals play out everything in their heads) and this second "Sherlock Holmes" film is a must see for anyone looking for a good way to kill a couple of hours. It's charming and highly recommended.

 Written By Matt Reifschneider

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Splintered (2010)

Director: Simeon Halligan
Notable Cast: Holly Weston, Stephen Walters

Going into "Splintered", I was hoping for a clever psychological horror film that would quench my thirst for high quality low budget indie genre films. What I got was a scrambled film whose strong production values only cover up some of its massively cliche moments and squandered concept. There is plenty to both love and hate in "Splintered", but when the credits began to roll it was hard not to feel apathetic about the entire experience.

Sophie (Weston) has been struggling her whole life and a distorted memory of her being attacked by a monstrous wolf like creature as a child haunts her. This is what drives her and her friends out into the woods to investigate a mysterious series of killings that have been linked to an animal like creature. What she discovers out in the woods is not the monster she remembers, but a whole new one...one that might be both human and animal.

Reach for it...reach for it...oh man, story flow is just out of reach!
What initially plays out to be a psychologically spun version of a werewolf film decidedly wants to take a few twists and turns to wrap itself into something completely different. Normally, I have the utmost respect for this idea and even with "Splintered" I admired their gumption to really push through and try something new. With some clever directing that highly utilizes the setting (its a dark forest and an abandoned church...not all that original, but expected when it comes to low budget horror) to build some solid enough suspense and tension and sleek looking production values sans some oddly placed poor stunt work and special effects, "Splintered: has things to love. Visually the film might run cliche at times, but its strong enough for what it is and for that I give the film credit.

It just doesn't work overall.

A typical Wednesday morning here at Blood Brothers.
The pacing of the film is hit or miss and so is the acting. For every solid moment of good terror or tension, there is an equally bad one of paper thin characters bickering. The lead actress carries the film decently, but her secondary cast can be terrible. The priest with a chip on his shoulder seems poorly written in and feels like obvious padding to "deepen" the plot and her friends are delightfully naive and change their moods at the push of a button. This adds nothing to the rather scrambled telling of the story that shifts its focus multiple times throughout the film. What starts off as a potential werewolf film kicks into something even more cliche (not giving out any spoilers here!) for modern audiences and it loses some of its potential there. "Splintered" tries to throw in enough twists and turns, but rarely are they effective or all that clever to take this film to the next level.

"Splintered" is far from being terrible in its own right as it simply succumbs to its own twisting plot and low budget priorities. The scares rarely scare despite its great atmosphere and the acting adds nothing new to the film to get it's viewer interested. Mostly recommended for those looking for an easy way to kill a few hours on a film and some nice bonus features on the Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack. Otherwise there are much stronger indie horror films out there.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Monday, July 9, 2012

Jade Tiger (1977)

Director: Chor Yuen
Notable Cast: Ti Lung, Lo Lieh

As my Chor Yuen kick continues on courtesy of Well Go USA and their delivery of his films on a regular basis, "Jade Tiger" easily has to be his best I've seen thus far. Where the detective fun of "Clan Of Amazons" and "The Duel Of The Century" was limited by some odd fantasy elements, "Jade Tiger" goes straight for the moral jugular. It breaks down its rather basic and quintessential revenge and clan feud plot into a series of mystery betrayals where the lines of good and evil blur heavily and the damn thing works with a significant amount of effectiveness. It's centered on a strong lead performance from Ti Lung and Chor Yuen's epic visual style only add onto its strong writing for a grand tale 'what the hell is going on' without succumbing to the fantasy world.

Two clans that have been at war for a hundred years find themselves in a wicked game of chess as their struggle against one another grinds down. When the son (Ti Lung) of the Chao clan has his wedding interrupted and a traitor in his family behead his father, he takes his personal vendetta to the next level. He vows to kill his father's killer by infiltrating the venomous Tang clan to find the traitor. Along the way he begins to see the moral gray of his situation as the lines of loyalty blur and the death toll rises.

"You laugh at my hat, but...no you're right. It's pretty funny."
Essentially, the reason this one comes across as one of Chor Yuen's best films is not the stellar performances or artistic touches he throws into its visual style. It has to do with its tightly wound script and dark streaks of moral ambiguity. Although Chor Yuen has always been known to have fairly epic stories with tons of characters and winding mysteries, the down to Earth focus and drive of "Jade Tiger" really strikes a note with its themes and style. Our hero is lead to believe one thing, but through his own persistence of goal he stumbles upon aspects of his 'enemy' that lead him to believe that the deaths and evil of his own actions lead to only more death and evil. It's this sacrifice for "the common good" issue that still runs universal today and hits a chord with modern audiences. It's a dark film with lots of very connectable characters too that really make it a riveting and heartfelt watch.

"Yes, a tiny net is a death sentence, it's a net and it's tiny!" (Quote from "Kung Pow")
This is, naturally, driven by some stunning execution on screen. Ti Lung is always a strong choice for lead and his self inflicted turmoil is apparent and natural while the well placed secondary cast is just as strong as he is and nods go towards some of the other characters that ride on the fence of their moral stances by delivering strong performance after strong performance. Chor Yuen's distinct and epic camera work builds on this (peeking through tree limbs and using some great sets for example) and gives the film his distinctly subtle touch of allowing the audience to feel like a fly on the wall of this tale. To top it all off, the fighting is remarkably stronger than many of his films (sans perhaps the ridiculousness of "The Duel Of The Century") with dazzling sword play and a big finale of traps and raids.

With "Jade Tiger", it feels like the best of all classic Shaw Bros elements are represented in full. Even with its somewhat confusing use of many, many characters, the film flows with an almost vigorous pacing that really pushes the strong performances and great battle sequences up a notch. "Jade Tiger" might not be a flawless film, but its strong story and impressive execution make it one of my favorites and Chor Yuen's best that I've seen.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Sudden Death (1995)

Director: Peter Hyams
Notable Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Powers Booth

Like all great film heroes of the 80s and 90s, Jean-Claude Van Damme did some great films and he did some trashy B-grade films. Then he also did some films like "Sudden Death" which is a combination of both...being a great trashy film. There is plenty to love about this movie from it's setting to its villain to its epic finale, but the film is built on such a rocky foundation that its hard to believe a script as awkwardly put together as this ever made it past the developmental phase. Yet here we are a decade and a half later, reviewing the film by request on Blood Brothers...and loving every minute of it.

McCord (Van Damme) lost his nerve to be the heroic firefighter years go. Now he's a bit of a head case and has been working at the Pittsburgh Penguins arena checking fire codes just to get by. This is how he comes about a couple of tickets for his kids. This is also how he gets caught up in a terrorist act to hold the Vice President hostage during the Stanley Cup finale for a huge ass sum of cash. This is how he finally finds the opportunity to overcome his fears to save his kids from certain disaster.

I can't count how many times I have sat watching a hockey game with my wife and thought to myself, 'wouldn't this make a great fucking setting for an action movie about terrorists, extreme parenting, and terrorist threats?' All right. That's a lie. After watching "Sudden Death" though, it seems like it was destined to be action film gold. There are just so many awesome things you can do within the setting (including the use of the term 'sudden death' for a title). This film doesn't let its ridiculous concept go to waste either. You guet a fist fight with an assassin in the Penguins mascot uniform. Giant explosions from score boards. A kick to a henchman's face with a skate and goalie pads. Hell, at one point Van Damme actually impersonates a goalie only to get into a fist fight on the ice and get expelled. Peter Hyams and company certainly didn't let the concept of its setting go to waste here and its the biggest and most fun aspect of the film even if its very silly.

This is a new martial arts style known as "Choked By Penguin."
Beyond its cheesy set up action set pieces, the film runs charming if not somewhat mediocre for story and execution. Van Damme does his best with the role (oddly enough one of his better times on screen), but his dialogue is quite limited and the depth of his character is underwhelming in psyche. The same goes for most of the secondary cast of cops, politicians, and kids. The kids are quite annoying really and it would have helped had Hyams not decided to throw extreme close-ups of their faces every chance that was available. The only redeemable part of the acting and character work is Powers Booth as the villain. Even though his character is rather thin and campy in his mysteriousness, he owns that role and snarls out the snide remarks and one liners with the grace of knowing to ham it up a bit.

"All right. You win. I can't kick my way out of anything. Here's a dollar."
Most movie goers of this day and age are going to tear "Sudden Death" apart for its weakly thought out story and dated look. Consider this asshole the devil's advocate that enjoyed its silly, nonsensical, and ridiculous plot for what it is...and that includes the anti-gravity epic finale. It's embrace of these elements is what makes it fun and entertaining. It stages the action set pieces with vigor for the silly concept and both Van Damme and Powers Booth make for great counter balances to one another. Swear at it all you want, but in the end...it's just another Damme movie! Ba da chah!

Written By Matt Reifschneider