Thursday, August 30, 2012

V/H/S (2012)

Directors: Adam Wingard, David Bruckner, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, Radio Silence

Found footage horror films are a dime a dozen right now. Anthology flicks seem to be garnering some heft once again too. "V/H/S" is the first, as far as I know, to really combine the two and after a pretty strong showing throughout the festival circuit, my curiosity for how these film makers pulled it off became almost over bearing. The positive comments streamed in about how scary and intriguing it was, so it was only natural that it would leap its way up the Blood Brothers viewing queue. Even though "V/H/S" is far from a perfect film, the general way that it goes about throwing together its concept is impressive overall.

A group of young men, of the hoodlum variety, have been given a very special job. A simply one. They have to break into a house while the owner is asleep and steal one VHS tape. Just one and they'll know it when they see it. Two problems though when they arrive. Firstly, the owner is dead in a chair surrounded by the glow of static televisions. Secondly, there are dozens of VHS tapes scattered about. So the men, decide they need to watch a few to figure out which one is the right one...

The film uses some interesting webcam shots with picture in picture.
The cynic in my had my doubts for "V/H/S". Even with ever awesome Ti West attached as one of the directors to the film, the idea of a found footage anthology flick just didn't quite sit well with me. The saving grace of this little film is the broad spectrum of genres it touches on. Each film is pretty unique and distinct with its genre and it helps the overall enjoyablitiy of the film. Love monster films? There's one. How about haunted houses? Got one of those too. Slashers, psychological horror, even a science fiction toned one. Even if the style of the film of a rather similar tone (not a whole lot of new ground to cover with found footage at this point), the broad strokes of the stories definitely highlights "V/H/S."

Those walls are getting handsy.
That being said, some of the execution of these tales are hit or miss. The threaded angle of the hoodlums watching the tapes is subtly creepy (keep an eye on the background elements...) and most of the actual short films are impressive on at least a few levels. "V/H/S" starts and ends with the highlights, that being our monster film to kick it off which has some great gore effects and a killer twist ending and the haunted house/satanic film that bombards the viewer with all kinds of crazy thing, and in between we get the other tales which are hit and miss ones. The writing is rather simple and relies heavily that the audience picks up on the small details which works to its benefit (the creepy if not somewhat forced slasher entry) and also to a fault (the confusing 'couple on a trip' entry that doesn't explain enough). Overall the acting and direction is pretty strong with a few stand out moments like the panic in the first monster tape and "V/H/S" utilizes its low budget and style to some solid enough surprises.

With the acclaim that was pouring in for "V/H/S" I had some high standards even with my own cynicism that it could pull it off. The mixture of styles certainly impressed and how the film really ties it all together worked like a charm for me. The execution on some of the stories was of top quality while the others were a bit mixed. All in all, I enjoyed the hell out of this found footage anthology horror but it is rather flawed in some of its tales. Highly recommended for horror fans though as it is a very unique experience.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Lionheart (1990)

Director: Sheldon Lettich
Notable Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Harrison Page
Also Known As: "Wrong Bet", "AWOL", and "Full Contact."

After a roundabout of successful low budget films in the late 80s, Jean-Claude Van Damme was ready to break out of the cult standings and into more mainstream work. Enter in 1990's "Lionheart." Where his previous films had him as some sort of godly fighter, the focus of this film gears towards a little more realistic and 'average joe' kind of mentality...if an average joe had some kick ass street fighting skills. Nonetheless, "Lionheart" grasps for a more dramatic and realistic tone and it does wonders to create a rather likeable film - even if it's very cheesy, suffers from a rather low budget, and has some amateurish execution.

When Lyon Gaultier (Van Damme) finds out that his brother was burned horrifically in Los Angeles, he decides he needs to help out his wayward brother and family by any means necessary. By any means necessary, I mean fleeing from his post in the French Foreign Legion stationed in Africa, jumping ship, and making it to America. Unfortunately, his geography isn't very good and he ends up in New York with no one to help him and no money. Luck will be with him though as he befriends a street wise homeless hype man Joshua (Page) who helps him earn some money by street fighting so he can make it to LA. But will the toll of his fierce fighting abilities get him into the wrong crowd or help him seek his lost family?

For a film essentially about a foreign street fighter, "Lionheart" has a lot of...well, heart. It really does focus in on Lyon's struggles against forces that want to desperately use him for those own cause. Some of the films more dramatic and serious moments, the time he spends with his brother's family for example, work quite well to really make the audience feel for his situation. Yes the film can be notoriously cheesy with some of its complications in his goals (including some Foreign Legion folk who are hunting him down that deliver some of the worst lines of dialogue in the film which says somethign when the dialogue is pretty bare bones and silly to begin with) and Jean-Claude gives a rather wooden performance, but in the end I would definitely give the film an 'A' for effort even if the execution is wobbly on its own feet with some awkward scripting.

As for the fighting, its hit or miss. The filmmakers and writers obviously wanted to throw in some unique and memorable sequences to try and push this film to A-list level action and most of it comes off as silly. Fighting a man in a kilt? An empty swimming pool for a street fight surrounded by people in high end clothing sipping champagne? It can very cheesy and for the most part the choreography is a bit slow for the actual fights as Lettich was mostly a screen writer before this and his work as a director is still pretty amateur here. Again I admire the fact that "Lionheart" goes for it and even when its a miss, the film charms itself out of the hole it digs.

For an early 90s romp into low budget action, "Lionheart" is fun and surprisingly charming with its dramatic bits. The relationship between Lyon and Joshua is quite intriguing and the familial tones work out. Jean-Claude is a rather wooden actor still and his performance lacks some of the luster he would gather later on, but its a fun film that tries very hard to do its best despite some of its odd plot twists and weird sexual undertones. It's a movie that I don't visit very often, but when I do its hard not to enjoy it on some levels.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Get The Gringo (2012)

Director: Adrian Grunberg
Notable Cast: Mel Gibson
Also Known As: How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Is there quite anything like a crazy Mel Gibson? I know, I know. He carries it over a little too much into real life, but he makes for a great crazy guy on film too. Whether its something iconic like "Lethal Weapon" or something massively underrated like "Payback", Mel is just a blast to watch when he's a crazy asshole. Which is exactly why "Get The Gringo" is a fantastic watch. It's gritty, quirky, and best of all - it has Mel being a crazy asshole! Perhaps the film isn't for some, as it certainly isn't perfect by any means, but I'm glad to see Gibson back kicking ass and generally being a dick to everyone.

When a robbery goes awry, a driver (Gibson) and his partner find themselves on the other side of the Mexican border, car totaled, and surrounded by cops. The corrupt law enforcement find the load of cash and decide to keep it, but to do so they take the driver and try to bury him in a village like prison. Here the driver works his way through odd society within a society, earning the trust and friendship of a young boy, and plotting to get out and get his money back.

Mel Gibson at his best: bat shit insane.
I previously mentioned the underrated "Payback" and in many places "Get The Gringo" certainly follows the foundations laid by that film. This little dark comedy is heavily reliant on Gibson's ability to be charming, relatable, and completely uninterested in the well being of others and then taking that character and throwing him into some completely bat shit crazy situations. In all honesty you can take this character, in this film its the driver, and throw him into any weird situation and the result would be both hilarious and painful...which is where this film succeeds.

Under the rather playful direction of Adrian Grunberg, "Get The Gringo" is allowed to do some pretty ridiculous stuff. Having never been to Mexico, let alone a prison there, the set up is over the top and often a bit silly. The prison works like a small village (or the world's shittiest mall as the Gibson snarlingly refers to it once) and here it allows the driver to do some odd things like raise a little destruction, steal guns and money, barter off cigarettes from a kid, and plan to collapse the hierarchy. It can be a far stretch for the imagination at times, the final act and Gibson's assassination plan come off as pure comedy mixed with some significant violence as he impersonates Clint Eastwood and blows up a building, but if you are willing to go with it - its a fun ride.

Can you call in a hit and run on yourself? #LifesToughQuestions
Believe it or not, the main character's growth really worked for me. His connection with the boy and his mother never felt forced and came about in a rather natural progression. This combined with the burrowing into the scrum bag hierarchy of the prison, kept me quite intrigued and often on the edge of my seat. A couple of solid action sequences (although I'm not sure anything could top the opening car flip into Mexico, but it does its best with a street shootout old school western style) are thrown in for shits and giggles that makes the combination something of a treat for those buying in.

The film is certainly quirky with its dialogue and characters, seemingly pulling from a modern Guy Ritchie place of thinking, and its balance of humor and gritty crime action comes off as potently put together. Of course the film is hard to swallow once one has time to really think about it and some of its supporting cast is a bit much, but in the end "Get The Gringo" is a ridiculously fun and awkward experience for any fan of Mel's off beat side. Highly recommended.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Haywire (2011)

Director: Steven Soderbergh
Notable Cast: Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor, Antonio Banderas, Michael Douglas, Channing Tatum, Bill Paxton, Michael Fassbender

Marketing can be a great thing. It gets people to see your movie. You make money. It builds hype. Sometimes, it's the perfect thing a film needs to be successful. In the case of "Haywire", it was a death trap. Marketed as a sort of action packed female version of the Bourne films (at least from what I can remember), this Steven Soderbergh action/thriller arrived fairly dead in the water in theaters. Critics seems to generally like it, but the public pretty much banished it at a rather quick pace. This is because the film was NOT the action packed stunt extravaganza most action fans expect nowadays. Nope, "Haywire" is more of a spy thriller than anything else and Soderbergh's old school style and artistic touches were certain to disappoint those with the expectations parlayed by the trailers.

Mallory (Carano) is Kenneth's (McGregor) best agent in the field. Specializing in all sorts of espionage, his private company is used for a lot of under the radar missions for anyone willing to pay up the bill. Life is looking good until Mallory decides she needs to leave the company. Thusly she is sent on one final mission to Barcelona with fellow spy Aaron (Tatum) to rescue a hostage. Eveything seems to go to plan, but after a fellow agent (Fassbender) tries to kill her she begins to doubt the plan to begin with. It would seem that someone is out for her life and she means to find the truth.

She's looking at you with a gun, but it is what's around the gun that should frighten you.
At its core, "Haywire" is a rather basic espionage script. Awesome agent goes rogue due to betrayal. Uncovers conspiracy within the ranks and seeks vengeance through the very specific skill set crafted over time. Pretty sure I've seen at least a dozen of these sort of films. So "Haywire" does come off as familiar territory that I was comfortable settling into and at times the film follows a rather predictable path with its plot progressions and limited dialogue (which I would have loved a bit more of).

What makes this film set itself out from the rest of the pack is Soderbergh's direction that he takes it. Instead of packing it with over the top action set pieces and 2D Bond inspired caricatures, he crafts "Haywire" to be very realistic and atmospheric. The dialogue is limited, the back stories are limited, the character arcs are not as dramatic. This does leave the film feeling a tad flat, but damn if the atmosphere isn't thick with a delightful 70s espionage tonality! To even ground up its realism more, the action set pieces are relatively simple and effective. Carano is new to the film game (only appearing in some small roles prior to this), but her MMA and Muay Thai skills are on ample display here as she goes fist to cuffs for a majority of the film. Those who follow Blood Brothers or know me, know that I love me some great fist fights in film and I loved what "Haywire" brought to the table. No big scores. No fancy stunts or rapid fire editing. Just two people, stunts, and lots of great fight acting. The throw down between Carano and Fassbender is one for the books as they face off and tear apart a hotel room. The action might not be bigger than reality, but its realism was so impressive that it instantly became the highlight of the film.

"This is for "GI Joe"!"
"Haywire" certainly carries some issues that it struggles with to overcome, including its vague storytelling with characters and a rather wooden performance from Carano (its her first big role though so I will give the benefit of the doubt here), but in the end its artistic 70s vibe and killer fight work won me over. It wasn't hardly at all what I expected from the film, but "Haywire" definitely has some great things about it and any action fan should see it for the previously mentioned elements. I still kind of hope they franchise the Mallory character as I think there is quite a bit more there for writers, directors, and Carano to work with. Here's to hoping!

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Boxer's Omen, The (1983)


Deciding to broaden my Shaw Brothers collection, I decided to purchase of few of their horror productions as opposed to their numerous period kung fu epics. Thoroughly enjoying their “Black Magic” series I was eagerly awaiting viewing “The Boxer’s Omen” as it had the reputation of being even crazier and more bizarre than all their other horror productions balled together. Well it does live up to that reputation but those descriptions don’t always prove to be a better movie as shown with this absolute mess of a film.
As with many other Shaw Brothers productions, I was oblivious to the fact that “The Boxer’s Omen” was a sequel before I purchased it. It is actually a follow-up to a film called “Bewitched” (which hasn’t been given a stateside release) which documented the account of a Shaolin Monk taking on an evil black magic sorcerer. It is touched upon in this film in a memorable flashback sequence but the film is easily viewed on its own.
A serious case of ache
The plot itself is an absolute mess of bizarre images and plot devices that vaguely tie together and make little to no sense. The basic plot has a kickboxer whose brother is paralyzed by a sadistic opponent. He promises his brother vengeance but his life gets complicated when he is visited by the apparition of a dead monk. Apparently he was a brother of the monk in a past life so he travels out of the country to visit his talking corpse (yes it’s as strange as it sounds) in order to train to defeat an evil black magician that could destroy his chances at beating his kickboxing opponent. That’s about as much as I could gather from its insane storyline.
Seriously, what the fuck is this?
Fans of outrageous scenes that will dazzle the senses will get an eye full as just about every bizarre aspect of every other black magic Asian horror film is upped ten-fold. We get flying magician heads strangling people with tendons, Fuzzy stuffed animal looking spiders piercing eyes (ala Lucio Fulci’s “The Beyond”), corpses raised from the dead in alligator carcass, attacking alligator skulls, bat crucifixions, bat skeletal dances, brain stirring in a skull and talking mummified corpses. Does any of this make sense? Nope but it would be more entertaining if the special effects weren’t so lamentable causing more unintentional laughter than shock value.
"This movie makes no flipping sense!"
“The Boxer’s Omen” may dazzle the senses with all its bizarre imagery but the film as a whole is a failure with its incomprehensible plot, pilfered music from “Alien”, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and “Phantasm” awkwardly placed throughout and shoddy special effects that induce laughter. Basically it’s entertaining for all the wrong reasons a horror film should be for. It’s worth a look for fans of the bizarre but cult fanatics are better off hunting down the Indonesian horror film “Mystics in Bali” for a more fun wild ride down Asian Black Magic lane.
Written By Eric Reifschneider

Monday, August 20, 2012

John Carter (2012)

Director: Andrew Stanton
Notable Cast: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Willem Dafoe, Mark Strong

Have you ever been really, really sick with vomiting and a horrible sweaty fever? And then you go to sleep and you have some really fucked up dreams where things rarely make sense and outrageous things become monumentally awkward? Those fever dreams are exactly how I felt while watching "John Carter."  The scale of the film desperately wants to be epic, but its goofy execution hinders it from ever feeling as such and its bombardment of fantasy/science fiction/historical elements is splattered in ways that rarely combine to paint the portrait that this film wanted to be. It's a great concept for a film franchise that seems about as disconnected from reality as its plot is. It's a fever dream of the worst kind plastered in film format and one that I wish would have stayed in developmental hell.

John Carter (Kitsch) is a Civil War veteran looking to find his way in the world. Lost and without a purpose, he ends up with a device purely by accident that transports him onto the planet Barsoon (or as we know it Mars). There he finds himself in the middle of yet another civil war between two of the planet's feuding clans with all kinds of indigenous creatures of the planet and other perils that lie in his way. Can the lost solider find his way back to Earth or will he choose to stay and fight for the rights of a people he has no connection to?

She's supposed to be red skinned in the movie. Really she just kind of looks like she comes from New Jersey.
Edgar Rice Burroughs' long awaited John Carter finally makes his way to the silver screen. It's an ambitious franchise to try and convert to film, but the fine folks at Disney try their hand at it with little in the way of success. Truly the only comparisons to how much this film fails to find its balance between the slew of different genres and elements it forces into its run time is that it's a cross between the original "Dune" and Disney's other franchise failure "Prince Of Persia." If the combination of those two films sounds atrocious...that's because "John Carter" is. It's simply a mess of a film and despite a few good things to laugh at unintentionally, it falls on its face repeatedly.

If the monsters didn't look so fake, they just might look real!
One thing I will say about the film is that the visuals are damn epic. Rarely do they make sense and often enough they come off as goofy (just take the weird dragonfly looking flying machines that fly on sunlight (?!?!?!) as a prime example of this), but its hard to deny the extensive amount of CGI isn't at times fairly cool. Perhaps this is because the director is Andrew Stanton who garnered his fame as a director of Pixar films like "Finding Nemo" and "Wall-E." He knows how to use CGI to some effective looking ways and here in "John Carter" its the only redeemable quality.

Once one tires of the copious amounts of CGI and visual spectacle of the film, then the rocky foundations come out to haunt. Kitsch is poorly cast in the lead (he just can't pull off the war torn widower if he was one in real life) and the script is about as cluster fucked as it can get. The film has to move at the speed of sound to fit in all the necessary plot points it needs to even try to be a fulfilling movie experience... and in its race to jam as much shit as possible into its excruciatingly long two hour run time it forgets to make any of it matter. Who cares if John Carter gets home or not? Who cares if this war creates a world of slavery? Who cares about the romantic plot that is integral to this franchise? I certainly didn't and "John Carter" forces it down our throats in such a hasty fashion that we gag on it and hate it for not tasting like it should. For a film to start off a franchise its far too complicated and far too poorly structured to make it work. Even its "trick" ending seems to be both cliche and out of the blue at the same time.

Believe it or not this thing becomes pivotal to the plot progression.
Then of course, the film has to battle itself in what it wants to be. Is it a family film? It tries with some goofy comic relief (and a horribly irritating CGI dog monster that just won't go away) and its simplified characters, but unfortunately for the story to work it needs to go into some more adult themes of slavery, civil war, and the death of the lead character's family. The balance is thrown off. The film either needed to embrace its darker streaks and focus on characters instead of ridiculous action set pieces of a CGI bounding John Carter or it needed to simplify itself even more and become the cartoon it desperately wanted to be. It couldn't do both.

I do have to admit that the unintentional hilarity of its poorly executed script and over the top forced action will make this a cult film someday just like "Dune" has seen itself become. It's one of those films that once we all get over just how bad it is with its unfocused attempts at being both a family friendly actioner and a serious themed franchise kicker, then we will learn to love it for being so bad. I foresee that in the future for this film and am looking forward to bitching about it in ten years time.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Expendables 2, The (2012)

Director: Simon West
Notable Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Scott Adkins, Yu Nan, Liam Hemsworth, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck "Lone Wolf" Norris

"Track em. Find em. Kill em." - Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone)

When it comes to action films, we are in a second golden age. With the help of newcomers likes Jason Statham and Tony Jaa in the early 00s, the genre has seen leaps and bounds in improvement which has lead us to 2012 where indie Indonesian films like "The Raid" get theatrical releases and "The Expendables" becomes a full on franchise. Although the original film was one with its flaws and relied a little too much on nostalgia to work (thusly it worked for me!), the sequel "The Expendables 2" is a full on riot of a film. With an enhanced budget, "The Expendables 2" is what a sequel should be: BIGGER AND BADDER in every aspect which leaves it as one of the best films of the year.

Barney Ross (Stallone) and his rag tag group of mercenaries are called upon for a massive favor by Mr. Church (Willis). Really the job is simple: go into a plane wreck and retrieve a small box. That's it. With a few new members to the group including sniper Billy (Hemsworth) and Maggie (Nan), it would seem to be an easy job. That is until international terrorist Jean Vilain (Van Damme) shows up and kills one of Barney's team. Now The Expendables are out for revenge and to achieve it they may have to rely on some outside help to get it done.

The Dream Team.
The larger budget for "The Expendables 2" definitely kicks the film to the next level. Not only are they able to get more action heroes pegged into the film, but the action is larger by three-fold. Just the introduction sequence of a raid on a building in Nepal is about twice the size of proportion (and ridiculousness) of the finale of the first film. Just this intro has the following: trucks, trucks that turn into tanks, swamp boats, jet skis, planes, helicopters, motorcycles that wreck into helicopters, rocket launchers, machine guns, knives, and frying pans. All of which are placed into the hands of a group of the world's deadliest weapons. If you're not smiling just at the thought of this: skip the film because it only goes up from here in cliches and outrageous moments. There is an ambush in a small village that leaves some hilarious memories ("Rest in pieces!") and the finale in the airport includes some of the most ridiculous gun battles one is likely to see any time soon. The action is only of the highest caliber here (pun intended).

Firepower. And I'm not talking about the guns.
Our heroes are more cut and dry than the first film too. Gone are most of the back story attempts and the focus has been built on just having strong actor chemistry which the film has in spades thanks to the writers and cast. There are two 'serious moments' in the film one which succeeds (Sly talking about the death of his man to Nan) and one that fails (Hemsworth's rather awkward recollection of Afghanistan) and a slew of moments that work better as plot progression than true character development - including a great moment where The Expendables bury their own only to quickly move onto the motivation for the last half of the film and the killer quote "Track em. Find em. Kill em." delivered by a rather pissy Sly Stallone. The rest of the team are allowed to do what they do best...kick ass and deliver cheesy moments of tongue in cheek humor. Lundgren comes off as the crazy comedic portion of the film, Crews and Couture deliver brawn and silly nuanced characters (love Crews' new cooking focused character work), and Statham does his best impersonation of Statham which is a character too hard not to love even when he's knifing and dicing in a priest robe. Unfortunately, Jet Li ends up leaving the film a little early for my tastes (but perhaps allows for motivation for future installments?), but he has a few solid gold moments even in the first act.

A 'Vilain' worth his merit to take on the Dream Team.
This all brings me to the new elements of "The Expendables 2": the increased cast. Although Eric Roberts was delightfully cheesy as the villain of the first film, Jean-Claude Van Damme simply EATS up the scenes he is in. He rarely takes off his sunglasses, he spin kicks knives, and with his gloriously awesome accent asks Sly whether he's a man or sheep for the final throw down. Norris gets in far more awesome music cues than his comrades and plenty of jokes are made at his expense (he's the 'lone wolf' of the film) and Arnold and Willis get plenty of their own action this time around including a Smart car shoot out in an airport lobby and a play on each other's catch phrases. The cameos here are simply more awesome and its obvious that the film makers had far too much fun with this portion. The only real complaint I had was the lacking presence of Scott Adkins in full on Yuri Boyka form here. The guy is a phenomenal action star and martial artist, but his fight with Statham is horrendously cut short. It's small beans in the big scheme of things, but something nonetheless.

All in all, its obvious that Sly and the gang at the stylistic and strong hand of director Simon West are once again at the top of their game. It's hard to imagine that the eventual sequel will be able to top this, as this film knows exactly what it is and executes it in almost perfect form. "The Expendables 2" is tongue in cheek, deliriously entertaining, and so packed with action that the film felt like it was only 15 minutes long by the time I left the theater. I wanted to turn around buy a ticket to the next showing and go back in and see it again, it was that much fun.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Dragon Eyes (2012)

Director: John Hyams
Notable Cast: Cung Le, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Peter Weller

The cast is stellar with both new and old school elements. It's got a classic action director. The hype is set. It's inclusion as one of the After Dark Action films gives it a little street cred. It won a few awards at Actionfest last year. "Dragon Eyes" should be one of the foundational stones in this second golden age of action films. Yet throughout its run time despite some very valid attempts at being artistic, this rather by the numbers action/crime piece simply misses the target on damn near every level. It killed me when the credits started rolling and I was left completely unfulfilled both as a B-grade action fan and as a fan of artistic film making. I want to love "Dragon Eyes," but the film does its best to make sure that it doesn't happen.

St. Jude is a place where the thugs and corruption run so thick, its hard to see anything else. Rival gangs battle it out for drug sales and the violence of the street has become a norm of everyday life. Hong (Cung Le) looks to change that. His eyes are set for his goal: to clean up the streets of St. Jude by any means possible even if it means using his fighting skills his crafted while behind bars under the training of Tiano (Van Damme). This does mean that he will have to come head to head with the force behind the corruption...a ruthless and sinister Mr. V (Weller).

"My contract was for 15 minutes of screen time and at least twice as many kicks!"
I knew going into "Dragon Eyes" that its main selling point, a Mr. JCVD, was essentially a glorified cameo appearance. Of which, it most certainly is and his time on screen is well spent except for a rather drawn out flash back sequence where it shows how his character ended up in prison. What I was surprised with in the film though was how well the quiet and determined Cung Le carried the film. Although I have seen him in various other films (the horrid "Tekken" and the solid enough "Bodyguards And Assassins") he was able to showcase enough charisma and acting ability to really push through the film. In all honesty, Cung Le is easily the highlight of this film.

...which leaves the rest of the film. Although far be it for me to criticize a film that has retread over territory done before in its script, in "Dragon Eyes" the by-the-numbers plot and half thought out characters are atrociously dry and two dimensional. If it wasn't for Cung Le's charm (and to some extent the swagger of villain Peter Weller) this film would have been boring in its plot. In-between action sequences the film simply drags on. The romantic subplot is missed if you blink, the connections to Tiano seem a bit randomly forced into the film on some sort of weird artistic merit, and every character is underdeveloped. The only real thing I felt the film had going for it plot wise was Hong's reoccurring regret over the death of a woman that seems to have a cliche but well timed twist. Beyond that it's the same old same old "stranger shows up to clean up the streets" kind of film.

Ironically, Cung Le wears that exact outfit for almost the entire film.
Which leads me to the actual action sequences. In real life, Cung Le has shown he's a beast and for the most part the film certainly shows off his powerful fighting techniques nicely. The opening fight highlights the film though as he throws down with some thugs over his car. That works for me. Then the finale shows up. A big fight between the hero and a monstrous Russian drug runner has been building along with Hong's eventual collaboration with the other two gang leaders. It really builds to this potentially epic finale! POTENTIALLY. It never goes there. The film seems to drop off here, killing random people without much closure, ending on a rather lackluster fist fight, and then the credits sort of pop up out of the blue. What the hell happened here?

As you can tell, my experience with "Dragon Eyes" was more than lack luster. A few strong fights and a charismatic lead simply couldn't save the film from its vicious cliche usage and horrible attempts at being artistic with the script and directing. Perhaps the biggest disappointment for me in 2012 considering all the hype I had going into the film. It's one that might be worth the rental or purchase later, but there are far better action films in rotation now that deserve your time.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Monday, August 13, 2012

Demon King Daimao 1-12 (2010)

Every once awhile I stumble across something unexpectedly that turns out to be a pleasant surprise.

I would very much consider Demon King Daimao one such find.
With a mixture of action, drama, comedy, and yes, fan service, this series pretty much has it all. At least from this fanboy's perspective. This series is brought to us by Sentai Filmworks which I might add has put some top notch series' out over the years. This series is well cast with the main charcaters being voiced by such anime mainstays as Chris Patton, Greg Ayres, Luci Christian, Maggie Flecknoe, and Melissa Davis. With that said here are my thoughts on this series.

The storyline: The series is about a young man named Akuto Sai, who is to be a new student at the Constant Magik Academy. While in a destiny deciding room filled with other students and a cigar smoking bird (think Harry Potter talking hat that picked his room) it is determined that Akuto is to be the future Demon King. With that all hell breaks loose for him. You see Akuto was hoping to become a priest, being raised in an orphanage since birth he was a good catholic boy. So you can only imagine how unsettling it was for him to learn that his future was the complete opposite of his dream.

On his first day he met Junko Hattori, whose family is the protectors of the empire. They had started out to be fast friends until the prophecy was spoken and now Junko feels as though she must protect everyone from the Demon King. Of course, there are a few comedic instances where Akuto accidentally unclothes her which of course she thinks he did to humiliate her which only adds fuel to her fire for destroying him. Akuto finds himself surrounded by many different characters throughout the series, some who want him dead others want to have sex with him. So many distractions for him while all he is trying to do is live a normal life as a student.

The series: There are 12 episodes in this series and each one actually serves a purpose to the story.
Unlike a lot of series where they throw in filler episodes, I think this is a pretty unique series in that regard. The series is basically broken down into 3 different films with the first 3rd being academy life and just trying to adapt to all this Demon King talk. The 2nd is a comedy in which a lot of fan service and sexual jokes play in. I will admit I am not a huge fan of unnecessary fan service but for the most part it really worked well in this series. There were several scenes and dialogue between Akuto and his surveillance agent Korone that are just plain funny.

The final act is an all out action film. It has everything from flying suits of armor, dragons, magic weapons, to machine guns. Tons of great fight scenes.

I also enjoyed the sound track, especially during the action scenes, it was very fast electro type music that really worked well within the series.

The artwork: Nothing new here really. The series looks great. The characters are very well done with some pretty cool backdrops. Great use of vibrant colors that seem to really pop with darker backgrounds.

Final thoughts: This was a surprise find for me. I had never heard of this series and was just checking through my Netflix and thought it looked cool. Sure enough it was a pleasant discovery. This series has plenty of nudity so be warned, lots of laughs, great action scenes and heavy religious references.

I strongly recommend this series if you like any of the above references. Be sure to comment back to me with your thoughts about this series. Check me out on Twitter as well @Pinlao. Thanks and until next time keep watching anime!!

 Written By John Price
Think you would like "Demon King Daimao"? Purchase it at the link below or check out other recommendations from John!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

YellowBrickRoad (2010)

Director: Jesse Holland, Andy Mitton
Notable Cast: Michael Laurino, Anessa Ramsey

It has taken me a while to really wrap my head around what I watched in “YellowBrickRoad.” It really is a thinking person’s horror film with how it goes about crafting its simplistic tale of paranoia and the spiral into madness. Yet, I distinctly felt disconnected with the film and its characters despite some strong elements that made it a very unique and interesting watch.

In 1940, the small town of Friar New Hampshire vanished. They all got up together one day, left their belongings and trekked down a trail into the woods where some of them froze, were slaughtered, or straight up disappeared. Now a group of researchers have discovered the trail and have built a little expedition to follow in their footsteps...but what they find on this mysterious 'yellow brick road' may not lead them to the answers that they want.

There is a brilliance to how simply the film makers made “YellowBrickRoad.” The story is very basic in how it structures itself and how the characters are introduced and built upon. What the film does massively succeed in is really making the little things matter. The details are just as important to this film as are the broad strokes of character development and plot twists. It might be fairly cliché in how predictable it was towards the end, but there were a lot of little details in the strong dialogue that made it full circle to work in the end including the odd movie theater references that kept popping up and the repeated references to “The Wizard Of Oz” where this film derives it’s name from. 

"I'd like to request some serious chapstick here."
With that as a foundation, its hard not to feel like the film still played it a little safe at times. With the massive amounts of building paranoia and its focus on how the characters were slowly drifting into insanity, I wanted it to push it even further. It seems to focus on certain details and forget others like how I kept wanting the psychologist’s questions and answers with each character to go for the throat instead of dropping off half way through and only getting a single pay off. I kept wanting to see the madness of these travelers take more creepy paths instead of rather basic ones.

Oh the times of content after eating a big picni...wait a minute!
The film also builds nicely to one moment of gruesome awesomeness with a clear cut reference to the Scarecrow from “Wizard Of Oz”, but after that the film almost dwindles into a relatively flat ending. It makes some great circles with details, but after the Scarecrow incident I wanted it to even go further. To really push the limits and yet, it seemed content with just playing the same atmospheric and character driven style to the very end. It comes off as an ending that is too artistic that loses some of its power through its lacking persistence to make the audience feel insane.

I do recommend watching “YellowBrickRoad” for many of its unique aspects and strong atmospheric touches (the music plot element is definitely a creepy and fascinating touch…were they all imagining it?!), but it could have been a film to redefine horror rather than just one to give it a neat twist. Horror fans might find some love in it, but its flaws come out glaring in the end. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Friday, August 10, 2012

Transporter 3 (2008)

Director: Oliver Megaton
Notable Cast: Jason Statham, Robert Knepper, Natalya Rudakova

Upon revisiting Luc Besson's "Transporter" series I was rejuvenated with my love for both ridiculous modern action films featuring amazing fight sequences and Jason Statham. That was, of course, until I finally made it around to re-watching "Transporter 3." Although there is plenty to love about its continuation of ridiculous moments in writing and the innate charm of Jason Statham to keep the franchise going, this film is handedly inferior to both of its predecessors. It's not near as intense in its over the top fashions as part two, not is it as effective in its storytelling as part one. It's just mediocre overall and its quite the disappointment.

Frank Martin (Statham) is back in Europe doing what he does best: transporting illegal packages with no questions asked. When he sniffs out a rather sticky situation and passes on it only to find a friend dead and his own head in the guillotine, its life or death for him to deliver a young Ukrainian woman across Europe on a tight deadline. It's a larger conspiracy of political intrigue that Martin finds himself connected to and his only choice is to complete this delivery...or it just might be his last.

Statham looks about as frightened as I was at this attempt for character development.
To be honest, the first two films were not great films and the ridiculousness of "Transporter 3"'s plot falls right in line with how the series is going. There is a fairly strong villain to hate here and the film has a few fun and clever twists up its sleeve to keep itself bombs attached to both Statham and his female companion that will explode if they move too far away from the car. These elements a lot a few outrageous sequences of Statham mini-biking to keep up with his stolen car and trying to survive when his car is sinking in a lake that might inspire some unintentional laughter but certainly do entertain first and foremost. Even Statham seems to be in full on charm mode with the character as he smarts off and beats the hell out of everyone who even remotely might be connected to those who stand in his way.

Yet, there are two things that very much crap a shit storm on my merry B-grade action parade.

1) Director Oliver Megaton. The guy has a slick music video style that promotes some modern twists and a visual eye for the outrageous. He also has no idea whatsoever how to handle action sequences without fucking them up beyond recognition. When you have a choreographer like Corey Yuen working on your film, with Luc Besson producing, and Jason Statham performing...this should have been a shoe in for awesome action of the decade. The inconsistent editing and epilepsy inducing zooms completely undermine any good fight choreography or stunt work that this film had going for it. You can't recognize anything that is going on and the editing is so quick and choppy in these sequences I felt like perhaps I would have been better off to just imagine it in my head with my eyes closed for more cohesive results. It's a damn disaster of action.

Only Jason Statham can make helmets UNsafe.
2) Actress Natalya Rudakova. Normally I wouldn't use one actor or actress as a reason to hate on a film, but Rudakova makes an exception. Her role as the package/love interest of Martin is abysmal. I use the term actress as lightly as possible. Reportedly, Luc Besson saw her on the street and asked her to come audition for the film despite not being an actress. It shows. And the writing doesn't help. She's whiny. Her character shifts moods at the drop of a pin. It's pulling teeth to watch her try and have chemistry with Statham on screen. It's all around a painful experience with her on screen both as an actress and in the severely poor character writing she is given.

Even though "Transporter 3" throws in a few new twists to keep it interesting, the fact remains that even for a B-action film its disappointing. It still has Statham going for it and its silly plot, but the action is butchered and the supporting cast (sans villain) are poorly executed and grating on the nerves. I hope that Besson has it in his heart to push ahead with a fourth film. I simply refuse to let the franchise end on this note.

Written By Matt Reifschneider