Monday, December 31, 2012

Godzilla Raids Again (1955)


Aka "Gigantis the Fire Monster"

Seemingly drunk off the towering success of their global hit “Godzilla”, Toho quickly put their sequel “Godzilla Raids Again” into production and had it shoveled into theaters within 6 months after Godzilla stomped through the screens. The result? Not as bad as it should have been but still not near the monumental fame their early effort proved to be making it one of the most forgettable entries into the mile long franchise.
A duo of pilots are forced to land on a deserted island witness a fight between the monsters Godzilla and Anguirus (a re-occurring monster in the franchise). They bring the news to the authorities and they prepare for the return of Godzilla which results in more miniature cities getting pummeled and toy tanks getting melted.
Oddly enough when “Godzilla Raids Again” got released in the United States it was retitled “Gigantis the Fire Monster” with newly filmed footage all referring to the beast as “Gigantis”. The producer claimed he changed Godzilla’s name in order to make audiences think they were seeing a different monster movie and later regretted the fact. You think?! Most monster movies would love to retitle their films “Godzilla” in order to make more money and this schmuck did the complete opposite. This American version is far worse than the Japanese version by adding an extremely annoying narration that explains the blatantly obvious in such detail that it mimicked John Madden commentating a football game (not to mention Godzilla’s trademark roar is replaced).
“Godzilla Raids Again” suffers extremely from its rushed production as it really has no plot to speak of and barely ekes out over an hour running time. The fight sequences also seem hastily put together, even being filmed at a higher film rate as opposed to the traditional slower rate for giant monster fights. The highlight is having Godzilla fight his first on-screen battle with another monster but it lacks the dark nature of the original and the campiness of the entries to come making it rather forgettable among the ranks of Godzilla films. It’s not the worst Godzilla film by a long shot but at the same time it lacks the loveable replay value.

Godzilla would return after a hiatus in “King Kong vs. Godzilla”

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Actor Review: Jean-Claude Van Damme

Jean-Claude Van Damme ("Hard Target" era)
The 80s and 90s birthed a lot of great action stars, but few were as memorable as Jean-Claude Van Damme - the high kicking, splits ripping European martial artist turned actor. Although his rise to fame came from roots in low budget fight films, eventually the actor found his way into mainstream appeal hitting the pinnacle of his career in the mid to late 90s with classics like "Timecop," "Hard Target," or "Sudden Death." Films like these showcased his charisma and fighting talents, but rarely showed a true actor able to rise above his 'action star' stereotype. That's okay though. To be honest, I love most of his work in this time period and clicking on the links below will reveal that.

Although a patchy personal life and limited role expansion lead to him being regarded as 'tough to handle' on sets, it was the demise of this golden age of action that dropped him into straight to home video obscurity in the 00s. It wasn't until he showcased a great understanding of humor and acting in the off beat drama/comedy "JCVD" in 2008 that people took notice of him again and a resurgence of his career began. As of the writing of this brief actor review, JCVD has established somewhat of a strong comeback - choosing to regain his action star motif by revisiting some classic franchises (a few strong sequels in the "Universal Soldier" series) and showcasing some scene stealing abilities as the villain in "The Expendables 2" with an all star action cast. Although I'm still out to see just how much of a true actor JCVD has become in recent years, the man is doing some of the best work of his career at this point and his future seems brighter than it has in decades - something reviewer in me is only happy to see happen.

(Last update: 12/30/12)

"Could you pass me the sugar, please?"

Selected Filmography:
*Last update: 3/31/13

1986 - No Retreat, No Surrender
1987 - Bloodsport
1988 - Black Eagle
1989 - Cyborg
1989 - Kickboxer
1990 - Death Warrant
1990 - Lionheart
1991 - Double Impact
1992 - Universal Soldier
1993 - Nowhere To Run
1993 - Hard Target
1994 - Timecop
1994 - Street Fighter
1995 - Sudden Death
1996 - Maximum Risk
1996 - The Quest
1997 - Double Team
1998 - Knock Off
1998 - Legionnaire
1999 - Universal Soldier: The Return
1999 - Desert Heat (aka Inferno)
2001 - The Order
2001 - Replicant
2002 - Derailed
2003 - In Hell
2004 - Wake Of Death
2006 - The Hard Corps
2006 - The Exam
2007 - Until Death
2008 - The Shepherd: Border Patrol
2008 - JCVD
2009 - Universal Soldier: Regeneration
2011 - Kung Fu Panda 2 (voice)
2011 - Assassination Games
2012 - Dragon Eyes
2012 - The Expendables 2
2012 - Universal Solider: Day Of Reckoning
2012 - Six Bullets

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Godzilla (1954)


Aka "Godzilla, King of the Monsters", "Gojira"

The 1950s was the era of atomic horror in cinema with giant monsters rampaging through various iconic cities throughout the world. At the head of the pack was the King of the Monsters himself Godzilla, also known as Gorjira in original Japanese. What better country to lead the way than one that experienced nuclear devastation first hand in less than a decade before. Inspired by recent “giant monsters running amok” fare like “The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms” and a recent re-release of “King Kong”, famed Japanese film studio Toho took these simple concepts and interlaced their experience with nuclear ruin to present a film uniquely their own showcasing the terror of nuclear warfare that resulted in an iconic film legend with it’s towering title character.

Recent hydrogen bomb testing in the South Pacific awakens a radioactive dinosaur in the form of Godzilla. This towering scaly bastard isn’t just content on stomping the living hell out of major cities on the Japanese coastline but also incinerating inhabitants with its atomic fire breath. Desperate to rid the land of this beast, the Japanese turn to a scientist that may have the key to destroying the seemingly invincible monster with an oxygen disintegrator.
Unlike “King Kong” and “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms”, Toho didn’t have the budget or time to showcase stop-motion animation thus they had to settle for “a guy in a rubber suit” stomping on miniature urban models, a staple for every entry into the franchise to come. Despite its lower tier special effects, director IshirĂ´ Honda does his best to hide the fact with atmospheric usage of black and white photography and low angles to make our titular beast look as massive as possible. Honda, mixed with a well written script, also reveals the beast at a nice pace, giving hints of the monster throughout the film before finally showcasing his rampage through Tokyo. The characters are also surprisingly well written (unlike its many sequels to come), complex and a love triangle is a welcome diversion to the carnage happening on the countryside.
“Godzilla” today is mostly known by its numerous cornball sequels and brings to mind guys in rubber suits fighting to the death. This original film is not like its numerous sequels that people have pre-conceived notions about. This version of Godzilla is serious, bleak and with a dread-like atmosphere about the horrors of nuclear warfare. Don’t get me wrong as I do enjoy what the series would evolve into but it’s a breath of fresh air to see the character be taken in a serious manner. “Godzilla” of course was a huge hit around the world (including an Americanized edit titled “Godzilla, King of the Monsters” having newly filmed scenes pointlessly added in with actor Raymond Burr to basically explain to English audiences what was going on) and spawned an impressive franchise for a total of 28 films and a crummy American remake in 1998. The sequels go as follows: “Godzilla Raids Again”, “King Kong vs. Godzilla”, Monthra vs. Godzilla”, “Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster”, “Invasion of the Astro-Monster”, “Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster”, “Son of Godzilla”, “Destroy All Monsters”, “Godzilla’s Revenge”, “Godzilla vs. Hedorah”, “Godzilla vs. Gigan”, “Godzilla vs. Megalon”, “Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla”, “Terror of Mechagodzilla”, “Godzilla 1985”, “Godzilla vs Biollante”, “Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah”, “Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth”, “Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II”, “Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla”, “Godzilla vs. Destroyah”, “Godzilla 2000”, “Godzilla vs. Megaguirus”, “Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack”, “Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla”, “Godzilla: Tokyo SOS” and “Godzilla: Final Wars”.
Written By Eric Reifschneider

Friday, December 28, 2012

Men In Black 3 (2012)

Director: Barry Sonnenfeld
Notable Cast: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Jermaine Clement, Emma Thompson, Bill Hader, Michael Stuhlbarg

The charm of the original "Men In Black" was something to behold. It might have been a silly movie that relied on some cliche buddy cop motifs, but it worked amazingly well. The second film...not so much. That's why I skipped out on "Men In Black 3" when it came to theaters. The premise just didn't quite catch me as all that unique and it had been a lot of time since the last one. Luckily, the film is much better than the second one and when I finally got around to catching it - I was taken back by how much I enjoyed it. It had some reinvigorated writing, a fun focus on action, and it made its time travel gimmick work. Something that doesn't always work.

Kay (Jones) and Jay (Smith) are still doing what they do best: busting aliens who break the laws here on Earth with the Men In Black. Something is odd about their latest case though. Kay is on edge about something, something secret from his past and his work with the MiB way back in the day, and when a old villain Boris (Clement) shows up, Jay has to try and get Kay to spill the beans. Too bad Kay has disappeared and no one seems to acknowledge his existence past the 1960s. Now Jay must leap back into time to stop Boris from killing a younger Kay (Brolin), before he ignites an alien invasion of Earth in the future.

This was my face after watching "Men In Black 2."
So here we have the basic "Men In Black" formula, Jay and Kay finding all kinds of weird aliens, dropping all kinds of funny one off smart ass remarks, and generally kicking a lot of butt to save the planet, but this time with the gimmick of time travel. We all know that trying to repeat the formula of the first film failed in the second, but here it fares quite a bit better. That's the thing about gimmicks, either they work or they don't, and the time travel spin in "Men In Black 3" does actually reignite some of the great chemistry and writing for the franchise.

Brolin steals this movie as a young Jones. And does it with pizzazz.
The two things that have always been a cornerstone of this franchise is the chemistry between Jay and Kay and the random clever aliens that they encounter. With Tommy Lee Jones' age now becoming a factor, they decided to throw in a young Kay played by Josh Brolin to bring something new into the mix. I was worried that the chemistry wouldn't be there. Will Smith, despite his hit or miss filmography, can be very charming, a great actor, and quite funny, but without that chemistry what would the film be like? Fear not, because Brolin steals this movie in every way. His impersonation of Tommy Lee Jones is never an impersonation. He NAILS it. He looks, feels, and sounds like a young Jones and his chemistry with Will Smith is spot on. Watching them run around in the 1960s with somewhat cliche humorous sequences is quite fun and the humor works way better than it should have. Having Smith being pulled over by cops for driving an expensive car and being African American is pretty damn classic for being off shoot moment but that's how "Men In Black 3" does it. The chemistry is there and the supporting cast is spot on with Clement owning the odd villain part (although he is quite underused) and Emma Thompson as Agent O is particularly interesting.

And of course, the aliens are a highlight of some of the clever writing this franchise desperately needed. Although I felt Rick Baker's alien special effects were massively underused for the amount of CGI that "Men In Black 3" was throwing at the audience, the ideas were awesome - particularly for the villain Boris.  What do you expect in this day and age though?

Now THIS is a villain.
For a film that began filming before its second and third acts were even written, I have to admit that the plot and progressions really had me hooked. Like the previous "Men in Black" films, there is quite a bit of heart to the film and a relatively shock twist at the end had me pleasantly surprised with the depth of relatively of the small character details. It plays off as a great action film much of the time, with plenty of unique sequences like a giant alien fish survival scene and an finale that really plays on its historical place setting with impressive finesse. 

All in all, I was massively impressed with "Men In Black 3." Yes there are moments that still feel quite forced in plot progression and gimmicks (the Warhol scene didn't work for me quite as well as it did for others) and sometimes the film wants to throw in actions sequences and oddities that feel out there even for a "Men In Black" film (the unicycle chase for example), but overall the film was a blast of fun and the chemistry made many of its flaws seem minute. It's a definite return to glory for the franchise and I'm looking forward to seeing what they come up with in "Men In Black 4."

Written By Matt Reifschneider

 If you want, I know that "Men In Black 3" is available like everywhere, but you can certainly follow the links below and pick up your copy. Please? I'll say thanks now!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Assassins, The (2013)

Director: Linshan Zhao
Notable Cast: Chow Yun-Fat, Yifei Liu, Hiroshi Tamaki, Alec Su

When Well Go USA announced their acquisition of "The Assassins", I was doing my ten second dance party. The reviews, although somewhat mixed, compared it to Zhang Yimou films ("Hero", "House Of Flying Daggers") and when you can make that comparison then you already have my attention. After watching it twice, I have to say that despite its rather oddball way of going about its historical plot and character development I did quite enjoy the film - more or less for some of its visual execution and its more than impressive performances from its actors. It's not quite Yimou quality, but it does try.

With China still divided as a land, Cao Cao (Chow Yun-Fat) remains a steadfast chancellor to the Han throne amid rumors of his plans to usurp the throne. Yet, the Emperor (Alec Su) is hesitant as the four stars align and prophecy states that a new dynasty will rise. He begins to set into motion a plan to assassinate Cao Cao using a strategy set in place a decade before to place well trained assassins (Yifei Liu, Hiroshi Tamaki) close to the chancellor.

Perhaps what makes "The Assassins" such an odd film is how it feels both rushed and subtle at the same time. The focus of the film is most certainly on building an atmosphere around a group of central characters and it does so with some great subtle acting performances and strong visual (but not over the top) style. It takes its time to really let these actors root themselves in their performances and allows them some vague, if not artistic, character dialogue to craft an almost philosophical feeling to why Cao Cao is both a villain and a hero. On the flip side, the film has to significantly rush through some of the historical context and prologue elements to get us to the 'end game' of this assassination plot. I found myself wishing that the film would have taken more time to flesh out some of the lesser characters (Tamaki's assassin, Cao Cao's son) and built up the time span to make the finale and many of its events in the big payoff feel more profound. It feels like too much is cut out for us to really dig into the plethora of characters and many relationships so that the character arcs suffer from its speedy leaps of plot.

At almost 2 hours the film does feel rushed. Perhaps it would have been better suited for a type of mini-series or a film that breached a three hour mark, considering how epic it could have been.

Structurally the film is flawed. These scripting issues and time constraints hinder many of its better elements at times, but that doesn't stop "The Assassins" from being jaw dropping at times. Director Linshan Zhao creates a thick atmosphere with his visuals that really embraces the time period and cold days of the winter before the assassination plots occur. The design of the film is damn near flawless with ornate lush costumes, gorgeous epic sets, and beautiful scenery that really utilizes the Blu Ray visuals I watched for some impressive moments. He uses the camera in unique ways, with some brilliant shots that create character development for Cao Cao with no dialogue or plot devices, and when there are the few battle sequences - he makes them feel epic and brutal. Now the film is definitely a drama and not some full on martial arts spectacle, which is what sets it aside from Yimou in its biggest ways, but the fights never feel out of sequence or added on for the sake of pacing. Visually, "The Assassins" impresses.

To be honest, this film is truly a vehicle for Chow Yun-Fat to strut his acting prowess though. Initially one is to believe that his character is the villain, but the film and Chow Yun-Fat do an amazing job adding shading to a character that could have easily been very black and white. Although he is not the 'true' protagonist or antagonist of the film, his performance had me on the edge of my seat - wondering just what his character was up to and whether or not he was planning to overthrow the Emperor. That speaks something when he steals the film as essentially a secondary lead.

I was hoping to be blown away by "The Assassins", but alas it was simply a strong visual and performance driven film. It's flaws in script and structure hinder it from reaching the heights that many other films of this ilk reach, but it does contain one of my favorite Chow Yun-Fat performances and an atmosphere thick enough to slice a sword through. It's far from perfect as it struggles to balance its multitude of characters, historical setting, and entertaining film pacing, but in the end I was impressed enough to give it a full Blood Brother recommendation.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Fan of this epic historical style? Perhaps you just want to see Chow Yun-Fat rip up the screen again? Either way you should click the links below to order your copy of "The Assassins" which debuts in the US on DVD and Blu Ray January 8th, 2013 from Well Go USA!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991)


With “Godzilla vs. Biollante” failing at the box office, Toho officials wisely decided the next entry into the “Heisei Era” of the franchise was to feature a recognizable foe from the original series, and what better than the ultimate Godzilla villain. That is of course King FUCKING Ghidorah! Yes that three-headed golden bastard makes a much needed return and his presence, mixed with an enjoyable and nifty storyline makes “Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah” one of the most entertaining entries into the entire franchise.

The film opens with in the 23rd century with a sub discovering the body of King Ghidorah (minus 1 head) deep in an ocean trench. Jump back in time and a UFO lands in 1992 Japan. The inhabitans are from the future and come back to warn how Japan will be destroyed in the future by Godzilla. They convince some scientists to travel back in time to 1944, deep in the heart of the raging war in the South Pacific. They kill the dinosaur that was to later to become Godzilla thanks to a nuclear blast, and in it’s place leave three bio genically made pets. Problem is these things mutate into King Ghidorah. Now in 1992 the Japs need to mutate Godzilla in order to fight King Ghodrah… but now they have to deal with Godzilla! They are fucked either way as no matter who wins, they lose.
The return of the ultimate foe...
The plot, as one can tell, is a little convoluted and mega cheesy with a bunch of science fiction plot devices clobbered together. Giant monsters, time travel, UFOs, androids and bio-engineered pets. Even with all these plot devices ramming into each other at warp speed, it still doesn’t hurt the overall enjoyable nature of the film. Remember we are watching a Godzilla movie so a suspension of disbelief is in the cards whenever viewing. The special effects, for the most part, are excellent. As in as good as a guy in a rubber suit can get. The English actors in the film, however, are atrocious with the dubbing even worse, with dialogue seeming written by a teenager.
The new, partial "mech" Ghidorah
It has its problems but overall “Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah” is an extremely enjoyable entry into the mile long series. The plot is a little over-complicated but at the same time it’s nifty and inventive. That mixed with plenty of destruction and legendary giant monster battles ensures any Godzilla fan is going to love this entry. There’s plenty of good here to outweigh the bad, especially the cornball running Android sequences (trust me, you’ll laugh at these scenes as much as I did.)

Godzilla will return in “Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth”.
Written By Eric Reifschneider

It's an epic rematch in this 1991 tale of "Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah", but you can get it in a double pack for wicked cheap by clicking the link below!

Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989)


After successfully rebooting the Godzilla franchise with the darker toned “Godzilla 1985”, Toho studios forged on continuing the second incarnation in the Godzilla franchise (the 17th Godzilla film overall) which is commonly referred to the “Heisei era”. Still it took a four long years to cobble a sequel together in which filmmakers decided to create an all new monster for Godzilla to face off against that hadn’t been featured previously in the original classic “Showa Era” of films. The final results, though not terrible, disappointed audiences with lackluster numbers at the box office.
After a quick recap of the ending to “Godzilla 1985”, we open with a scientific team collecting a clump of Godzilla flesh from concrete rubble. It seems scientists want to combine Godzilla cells with plant cells in order to make a super strain of wheat to feed the world. Of course this is a BAD IDEA (seriously why the fuck would they do that?) and they create a new creature called Biollante, a hellish looking plant with alligator teeth that fights the king of monsters when terrorists blast him from his volcano prison.
A Godzilla villain from the mind of H.P. Lovecraft
The plot is just a convoluted mess mixing scientists, terrorists, assassins, and giant monsters. They even throw a psychic girl into the mix to stir the plot into incoherency. I did like the continuation of the darker tone featured in the last film and I dug the idea of a plant based monster, but fans are going to be sourly disappointed by the extremely short battles between our to towering monsters that leads up to a hurried and almost laughable conclusion.
“Godzilla vs Biollante” is a little different than the typical Godzilla film and I do give it credit for that with its unique monster and dark tone but overall this is a disappointing entry into the franchise with its messy plot and short monster battles and audiences agreed with “Godzilla vs Biollante” failing to stomp the compitition at the box office. It also wasn’t even graced with an American theatrical release and it was the last Godzilla film to make a video debut state side for almost a decade. It may not have been the embarrassment the early 70s Godzilla entries were (I’m looking at you Megalon!) but it was dark days ahead for the Godzilla fanchise when it came to entries being released in the U.S.
Written By Eric Reifschneider

Feel like you need to see a giant reptile take on a giant reptile/plant hybrid in epic form? You can order "Godzilla vs. Biollante" at the links below! Pick it up on today!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Jack Frost (1996)

Director: Michael Cooney
Notable Cast: Scott MacDonald, Christopher Allport, Stephen Mendel, Shannon Elizabeth

With my work schedule being as hectic as it has been my focus for my holiday horror this year has had to be very particular, as in watching only films I haven't seen before. Which brings the question for this review, why the hell haven't I seen "Jack Frost" prior to this year? The cover art has a special slot in my memory as a kid looking through the video store rental shelves, but the film itself has escaped my viewing pleasure until this year. Despite the significantly low budget and the ridiculousness of its concept, "Jack Frost" is a guilty pleasure film that is sure to gear itself only to those of the "cult" taste. Never would I call it a 'good' film, not in any traditional sense of the word, but its obvious tongue in cheek mannerisms and outrageous ideas certainly sell it for those looking for a humorous horror holiday flick.

After capturing a horrendous serial killer Jack Frost (MacDonald), a small town sheriff (Allport) tries to return to his normal duties as a father, husband, and heartfelt law enforcer. When the killer seeming returns from the dead as a mutant shape shifting snowman hellbent on revenge, this sheriff and two shifty government agents will have to rely on their wits and instincts to stay one step ahead of the killer snowman...and somehow find a way to kill him in the process.

"There's snow way home, boys."
The killer Santa horror flick has become a sub-genre of its own in recent times, but rarely does one come across a 'mutant killer snowman serial killer' flick. Well, that's exactly what "Jack Frost" is and on many levels the film makers knew just how stupid the concept was even for a direct to video home release in the late 90s. They must have known because they do their best to make it as ridiculous as possible with a significant style that says "wink, wink, nudge, nudge" to the audience to make sure they are in on the joke. What this does is it creates a film that is by no means any good, but is incredibly fun to watch and entertaining as hell. Oh yes, it's cheesy. Oh yes, it's stupid. Oh yes, it's a blast.

I wonder why this wasn't nominated for any awards for special effects?
On its basic levels, "Jack Frost" is pretty inconsistent. His powers as a mutant snow man waver in and out as the film goes on (at one point he can shoot sharp icicles...which would have made his job much easier had he used it for more than one scene) and even the style of the film can be shaky at best. The acting is predictably low end, sans the killer snowman and his amazingly bad one liners that pop out nonstop, and the special effects can be sketchy even for a late 90s straight to home video release. The film rarely makes sense and the leaps of logic it has to perform to make things interesting or fast paced can be astoundingly silly. Just like I said, "Jack Frost" is simply not a good film.

That being said, its so damn out there that I was on the floor laughing through most of its run time. The film makers really focus on being as silly as they can with the script and more often than not it kept me entertained and chuckling. They were even willing to throw in a few "exploitation" moments into the film, most notably a rape sequence with Shannon Elizabeth that's both hilarious and oddly disturbing, to cater to that audience that is going to be fans either way. The kills are delightfully asinine and the plot gets to be borderline insane by the end as they repeatedly try to kill our monstrous snowman. "Jack Frost" knows how to have fun and it does it with charm.

If anything, this is the scene that will live in infamy long after we've forgotten about "Jack Frost."
If you are one of those people who is intrigued by the idea of a 'mutant killer snowman serial killer' flick, than there is a very good chance that on some level "Jack Frost" is going to be just what you are looking for. It's silly, very low budget, and often very cliche in how it progresses, but the amount of fun that I had while watching it made up for a good portion of the problems it has a traditional film. It's truly a B-grade horror film that earns its cult status with pure charm and absurdity.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Bunraku (2010)

Director: Guy Moshe
Notable Cast: Josh Hartnett, Gackt, Woody Harrelson, Ron Perlman, Demi Moore, Kevin McKidd, Mike Patton

"Bunraku" is one of those films whose impressive fall from grace had me even thinking that it had to be crap. The critics spit on it, the distribution went straight to home video, and no one I knew even thought about seeing it. The idea intrigued me, but for all of this shit to rain down on it the film simply had to be bad. When I received a request to review the film, I thought I might as well make a snack, pop out some root beer, and see just how bad it was.  Maybe it was the low expectations going into the film. Maybe it was the mood I was in when I watched. Whatever reason one could excuse my opinion with, the fact remains that I loved this fucking movie. The story might have been cliche and shallow with some overly overacted performances, but it felt like that was exactly how it was supposed to be and with its ambitious style and quirky combination of genres - I had a damn blast watching "Bunraku."

The world has succumbed to its own violence and hatred. After a devastating war all but annihilates the human race, the small pockets of civilization outlaw guns but that doesn't stop the corruption and violence from leaking its way back out. That's when a lone cowboy drifter (Hartnett) rolls into town. He's out to look for the tyrant Nicola (Perlman) and take him down from spreading his fear and iron fisted violence. With the help of a fellow wandering samurai (Gackt) hell bent on justice, the two will find allies in the town to help them succeed in toppling the man who has taken something from each of them.

I did love the detailing about The Drifter's smoking habits.
The concept of "Bunraku" was enough to sell me. Done in the style of 'bunraku theatre' (a type of Japanese puppet storytelling), the film combines a plethora of genres into one ball of stylistic balls out action. A little western here. A little samurai revenge film there. Some film noir for narration sake. Even a bit of comic book style just for shits and giggles. The style is seriously through the roof. It's lambasted in this weird almost origami like set design with fluid colors, folding edits, and weird sweeping cameras that really just pour on flair. Director/writer Moshe knows how to make things look interesting with his knack for camera tricks and outrageous concept designs and he layers "Bunraku" with them. The action is pretty top notch, with note for the odd flamboyant killing style of Killer #2 and a jail house break where Hartnett uses his one-hit-knock-out punch to lay out a couple dozen guards, and it just makes "Bunraku" a true spectacle to behold visually.

Just one example of the visual spectacle of "Bunraku."
The problem with the film occurs in the depth of its script. With so much focus on the quirkiness of the characters and the ridiculousness of its visuals, the film tends to forget that it has characters that we need to care about. The Drifter remains a little too subtle and undeveloped, the bartender tends to be used too little, and our samurai has too many of his unique concepts shoved aside to be as interesting as he should have been. The plot is your pretty basic revenge plot where are heroes must overcome your basic love lost/family disgraced angels at the hands of a larger than life villain who in this case where's Gandolf clothes and carries a big axe. I desperately wanted there to be more to the plot. More to the growth and pay offs for each character, but I rarely got it. The film has to move at a lightning pace to get it all in to begin with and too often it forgets to let us see the humanity of this over the top world for us to care.

Even if the fight is cool looking and well choreographed, it would be nice to care who wins.
That being said, "Bunraku" was a fucking blast to watch entertainment wise. The style had me with my jaw on the floor and the action was the edge of your seat kind that really slathered on the ridiculousness of the concept. I loved the idea of a cowboy with no gun and a samurai with no sword having to team up to defeat "the system" of a modern world too corrupt for its own good, even if the actual film itself rarely lived up to its own concept. This is a film mostly for those looking for a unique film watching experience or looking to be entertained for a few hours, not one that's going to earn any kind of real accolade. Still recommended despite some serious flaws.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

If you want to experience the unique world of "Bunraku", all you have to do is click the links below and purchase it yourself!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

[Rec]3: Genesis (2012)

Director: Paco Plaza
Notable Cast: Leticia Dolera, Diego Martin

After "[Rec]" tore me a new one with its simplistic take on the zombie genre, I was ready and willing for the franchise to take off. Even after the rather mixed feelings of "[Rec]2" and the ballsy moves it took the series, I felt like this was a film series that was destined for greatness with clever writing and strong execution. After watching "[Rec]3" a few times, I'm not so sure I buy into that ideology anymore. Not that this third entry into the Spanish zombie franchise isn't a solid one as it definitely has its moments, but the slide into mediocrity for the franchise seems to be quickening as "[Rec]3" rarely feels as clever or strongly executed.

Koldo (Martin) and Clara (Dolera) are about to celebrate one of the best days of their life: their wedding day. It's all going to plan too. Huge amounts of friends and family show up. It's being held in a massive church with all of the fixings. Including a few "infected" individuals who are ready to take a "bite" out of life. With hell breaking loose at the wedding and enough zombies to shake a stick at, the two love birds will have to find each other and find a way out of the quarantine before they come down with a bad case of the "zombies."

Infected? Possessed? They're all zombies to me.
There were two things that really took me by surprise with "[Rec]3." Firstly, the film is not entirely "found footage." After an initial rally of hand held footage to kick off the wedding (and the initial chaos of the infection spread), the film does something that no other "[Rec]" film has becomes a traditionally filmed movie. No hand held found footage. It becomes like a regular zombie film. I know that I'm the black sheep on this one, but I kind of felt like it was a cop out. What made the previous "[Rec]" films such a blast for me is that they took this highly "trendy" style and they made it great. They cornered themselves with this artistic choice, then they found ways to make it really creative without catering to the flaws of the visual style. I was expecting the same with "[Rec]3." That they would find some new and clever way to make it work, but then it kicks to a traditional filming and, honestly, loses some of the punch it might have had. So right off the bat, I felt the film pulled away from what made the first two strong films.

Secondly, "[Rec]3" then takes an "Evil Dead 2" approach to the entire matter. It injects quite a bit of ridiculous comedy into the mix. I wouldn't go as far to call it a zom-com or anything of the like, but it really does grab the outrageousness of the situations and throws the tongue into the cheek. Again, I felt like this deviation from the formula of the franchise was a miss. Not that I don't like some humor in my horror, but often enough it feels a bit forced for its own good and the one over the top sequence I was looking forward to, the wedding dress clad chainsaw wielding bride, was massively underused.

When their blood is what infects you, a chainsaw is not the best weapon. But you still look fucking cool hauling it around.
When the horror hits, it does come off nicely. I loved some of the new details to the mythos of the franchise particularly with the reflections of the zombies and how they react to the Biblical text and I definitely felt like there was some great shock moments with strong special effects to go with them. Unfortunately, "[Rec]3" tends to fall into far more generic moments then I would have hoped. For a regular zombie film, this Spanish one would be a strong contender with its quirky humor and penchant for extreme violence. It just happens to be in a franchise of other smart and impressively executed films.

So the final word I have on this film is this: it's fun and has its moments, but "[Rec]3" fails to inspire the same reactions and strong personality that the previous entries held. Zombie fans are sure to love the film overall, but it's hard not to be underwhelmed with it too.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

If you want to complete your "[Rec]" collection or just feel that you need another solid zombie film for your collection, then click below and pick up your copy now!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Sacred Blacksmith (2009)

At first I was reluctant to watch this series. Having seen other reviews and knowing it is based on a light novel by Isao Miura I put this series aside for awhile. Well as fate would have it I decided to go ahead and give it a shot, mainly due a very cool pic of one of the characters from the series that I came across in Neo magazine. I am glad I did for I have been pleasantly surprised. While it may not have the strongest characters or story, it still has a lot going for it. It is entertaining to say the least. Chock full of action mixed with a smear of romance, "The Sacred Blacksmith" is a good series by my standards. So here is my review on this medieval romp.

"The Sacred Blacksmith" is centered around the knight guard Cecily Campbell of the Campbell house. While out in the city one day she is called  to action by a strangely behaving man seeking his "salvation". Right from the start we see the many flaws of Miss Campbell. She is not strong enough to stave off the would be attacker and thusly put in the position to be saved by the handsome stranger known as Luke.  Luke has a katana for a sword and after seeing Luke use it so impressively, Cecily insists that Luke makes her one, he of course refuses to do so setting up the romance side of things. While pursuing his craftsmanship Cecily gets involved with a war that has been going on behind the scenes for 40 plus years. From here the story takes us on many journeys. The story itself is a fantasy drama with a little bit of comedy spread throughout. This series is loaded with a predominantly female group of characters, which does have its appeal for a larger audience of viewers. The main male character being Luke does help to even things out as he is a large part of the story.

I really enjoyed the side stories throughout the series, my favorite being the Demon Swords mainly Aria. There are several different Demon Swords and all have a part to play in the war. Basically a few of the  Demon Swords can take human form and all belong to a warrior. Ultimately Aria ends up with Cecily and a friendship is formed.
The character development is pretty decent here. We get to see Luke go from the mysterious stranger with a katana to being a potential hero. Cecily is the damsel in distress type character, however she does possess a will like none other. By this statement I mean she puts herself in situations that require her to be saved due to her unwillingness to give up. Which is pretty admirable in a character. As far as the basic story here it is nothing we haven't seen before but then again that can be said for pretty much every kind of genre. From the love story aspect to the man in black side story. It can be fairly predictable but enjoyable none the less.
If you are a big fan of fan service and boob jokes with a couple nude scenes mixed in, then you were not forgotten here. While not over done there is  more than needed to drive home the point. If you are looking for a series that is fun, action packed, and a little sweet in the middle. I would recommend "The Sacred Blacksmith" for many reasons. So do yourself a favor and watch it. Until next keep watching anime!

Written By John Price

If you want to check out "The Sacred Blacksmith" or other recommended anime, click on the links below and support Blood Brothers with your purchases!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Blood Brothers (1973)

Director: Chang Cheh
Notable Cast: Ti Lung, David Chiang, Chen Kuan Tai, Ching Li

From this era of martial arts films and more specifically from the Shaw Brothers studio, I'm a sucker for anything that has Chang Cheh's name attached to it. Partner that with fight choreography by Lau Kar Leung and a dynamic three way headlining cast featuring Ti Lung, David Chiang, and Chen Kuan Tai as the titled 'blood brothers' and this should be a film that would define the era. Although its not quite the rip roaring brutal throw down that I was expecting, "Blood Brothers" is a film that utilizes strong storytelling and pretty impressive performances to build a very epic tale that will have kung fu fans in a frenzy.

Two bandits (David Chiang, Chen Kuan Tai) happen upon a very determined man (Ti Lung) who tells them about his plan to dominate some other bandit groups to obtain greater power. The three of them pose a formidable martial arts force and quickly rise to the next level. Tensions rise between them as the wife of one of our original bandits begins to fall for our determined Big Brother and vice versa...and when their relationship threatens to derail Big Brother's plans for more power as a royal official, the outcome of their personalities might explode.

"Blood Brothers" relies heavily on the performances from it's three stars to work. The story is fairly complex for Shaw Brothers standards actually occurring in a flashback way that leaps from the present, where David Chiang's character is telling why he assassinated a royal official, to how the three men came to be cohorts in a struggle for power. This, where the plot's focus is on character interaction, is where "Blood Brothers" shines. The combination of our three male leads and the romantic triangle featuring Ching Li is a pretty riveting tale in it's own regard. The performances are impressive and how the plot unfolds definitely works its way into one's emotional traps too. For a Chang Cheh film, whose known for his violence and often over the top moments, "Blood Brothers" plays it relatively low key here and it can work.

Perhaps my biggest issue with "Blood Brothers" occurs in it being a "kung fu film" more than it's narrative storytelling. Although there are plenty of fight sequences spread throughout, most of them feel somewhat irrelevant. They make sense where they are at and within the plot progression, but they lack the dramatic flair that the rest of the film cakes on. The fights are strong with great choreography, but when it needs that intensity of emotion (the assassination sequence) they fall flat. It's rather frustrating at times and something I felt I would never say about a Chang Cheh/Lau Kar Leung combination.

"Blood Brothers" was a much better 'film' than I anticipated with its strong acting and great dramatic storyline, but when it comes to being a Chang Cheh kung fu flick - I was a wee bit disappointed. If anything, it is certainly a reminder of the strong chemistry of Ti Lung and David Chiang and it showcases their true acting talents. Outside of that, it tends to be mediocre at best with many forgettable fight scenes.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

You can always judge for yourself though! "Blood Brothers" is available in a ton of ways when Arc Entertainment was distributing Dragon Dynasty films, but here is a link for the single DVD of the film and it's pretty cheap!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Wrong Turn 5: Bloodlines (2012)

Director: Declan O'Brien
Notable Cast: Doug Bradley, Camilla Arfwedson

Far be it for me to say that I was expecting a whole lot out of "Wrong Turn 5." In my opinion the series might have been a decent throwback slasher series to begin with, but when Declan O'Brien took over as director and writer on "Wrong Turn 3" the whole franchise went to shit. And I mean shit. "Wrong Turn 3" and "4" were pretty bottom of the barrel when it comes to direct to video horror and when it was announced that O'Brien would be returning for the fifth entry my hopes were already shattered. I will say that "Wrong Turn 5" (whether you want to include the useless subtitle or not) is better than the last two, but that really says nothing in end as the film is still low brow horror at its best.

It's party time for a handful of college kids as they head to a rural mountain town in West Virginia to check out the local Mountain Man Festival on Halloween. They have their drugs, their youth, and a wild streak they need to get out and this seems like the perfect place to do it. That is until a group of inbred cannibalistic hillbillies decides to end their fun. When the "father" of the group (Bradley) is jailed by the local sheriff (Arfwedson) though, the three disfigured and malicious hillbillies descend upon the town killing everything in their sight.

The fact that I've seen this character die a multitude of times does not bode well for the logistics of this fifth entry.
There was one component missing that really makes "Wrong Turn 5" the atrocious direct to home video film it is: logic. I know that seems like something you don't necessarily need for a slasher (the original "Black Christmas" didn't have motive for example), but the writing and plot work that goes into this film rises above that. It becomes essentially just a series of brutal killings, poor effects, and horrible dialogue that rarely cohesively melds together to form a narrative. It rarely makes sense, the characters do the stupidest things, and attempts at being clever with the kills wears a little thin. Even with the horrible consistency of this series, "Wrong Turn 5" can't seem to finish a thought despite its rather interesting idea of having the cannibal hillbillies siege a police station.

And since O,Brien can't write to save his life, one would assume that he would be able to somehow save the film by strong and energetic execution...which is also not the case. The kills are forced and often far too nonsensical to work (as cool as it is to see someone buried to the neck get hit with some kind of large lawn machinery - it just doesn't fit in the plot or make sense in the narrative), the special effects are pretty simplistic and low budget, and the actors seemingly run around stiffly spouting lines that they look too irritated to say properly. There's not a whole lot of style to the film, its pretty by the numbers, and the film just looks cheap overall.

"I have such horrible franchises to show you."
In fact, the only reason I say that its better than the previous entries is that it Doug Bradley owns his role. The role is a fairly silly role (a father figure to the hillbillies that never existed before in the series) and he spends a good portion of the film in a jail cell, but man can he deliver some of the stupidest lines with a vigor that this film never deserved. There is a reason that he has lasted this long as an icon in the horror genre and his presence in the film easily kicks it to the next level.

The end result for "Wrong Turn 5" is as simple as this: if you were a fan of the previous two films, then you are going to love what this film has to offer. If you were disappointed with the quality of the previous two films like I was, then you are going to find yourself trodding down disappointment lane again. "Wrong Turn 5" is nothing we haven't seen before with the franchise and despite a top notch performance from Bradley, it remains a slasher of low quality. Not necessarily one that is going to be adding any new fans soon.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

If you are a franchise whore like myself, then its pretty apparent that you should probably own this film to complete your collection too. Just click the links below at your own risk!