Monday, December 30, 2013

Java Heat (2013)

Director: Conor Allyn
Notable Cast: Kellan Lutz, Ario Bayu, Mickey Rourke

With the upcoming inclusion of Kellan Lutz in “The Expendables 3,” I went to IMDB to figure out why he was cast in the film outside of his random popularity as the guy who rides on the back of a jeep in the “Twilight” films. There I discovered his rather intriguing filmography included a widely overlooked action flick “Java Heat.” Since the villain in the film also happened to be one of my favorite actors Mickey Rourke, I was quick to pounce on the film. While it’s easy to see why “Java Heat” might have been overlooked by the mainstream powers that be, it also happens to be a fairly impressive action thriller. Is it cliché and a bit too predictable? Perhaps, but it also sports a variety of charming moments and solid action set pieces that shouldn’t be overlooked either.

When a young marine (Lutz) heads off to Indonesia, his investigation of a bombing that killed the young Sultana seems to clash with a local detective (Bayu). As it turns out they are both looking for the same ‘terrorist’ Malik (Rourke) whose underhanded business dealings have seemingly taken something form both of them. Fighting against corruption, a villain with far too many resources, and each other’s cultural differences, the two heroes will have to cross a few lines to find the truth…and bring justice to Java.

"You've never seen "Twilight?!"
“Java Heat” owes its fair share of plot points and character beats to classic action films of the 80s. The buddy cop system, a foreign land for one of them, and corrupt systems all smack of something we might have seen in 1984 more so than 2013. While the plot itself, part mystery and part action, might be rather predictable and cliché at times – particularly in the latter half when our two heroes finally team up to take down the Bond-esque villain – it’s also fairly easy to digest for audiences. This might leave a bit to be desired originality wise, but it also allows the film to flourish on elements that raise it above being just another cliché action flick.

Roarke: Bond villain application?
Young director Conor Allyn does execute the film with rather high regard. The strong cinematography, musical cues, and atmosphere certainly help create a film that rises above its ‘straight to DVD in the US’ nature and he piles on enough charm impressive action bits to make the entire thing entertaining as hell. Lutz and Bayu spark with surprisingly effective chemistry, even if Lutz himself has a few cringe worthy moments, and their combined action efforts do not go unnoticed. A rather oddly edited motocycle chase through the alleys of an Indonesian night has some great stunt work and a rather funny armored car heist features some solid one liners and great physical moments. Allyn and company strike for gold here and while some of it doesn’t quite hit the mark, most of it does.

"I call shotgun!"
Ironically, the weakest element in “Java Heat” is Rourke as the villain. With his shifty French accent (at least I think it was French…), Rourke seems to phone in his performance for most of the film. Granted, he’s not given a whole lot to work with initially, but he’s easily the biggest hit or miss actor in the whole film and one that tends to hurt scenes more than add to them.

“Java Heat” was a pleasant little gem hidden from the world. It’s fun, easy to watch, and ultimately an entertaining action thriller that will probably end up overlooked by far too many critics and fans. Lutz holds his own as an action hero here showing some screen presence and charm and Bayu should earn himself some praise with his role here as the cop doing his best to only do good. For action fans, this is a film to dig up even if its for just a rental. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Bounty Killer (2013)

Director: Henry Saine
Notable Cast: Matthew Marsden, Christian Pitre, Barak Hardley, Eve Jeffers, Kevin McNally, Gary Busey, Kristanna Loken, Beverly D'Angelo

There are good films and then there are films that are good at being what they are. There is a very distinct difference in the definition. A film like "Bounty Killer," for example, will not win any kind of award in the near future. It is, however, one of the greatest B-grade action films I've seen in the last handful of years. It's not a perfect film, nor does it ever seemingly try to be, but "Bounty Killer" is a vicious and hilarious action packed ride of modern grindhouse magic that had me by the belt loops and hauled my ass across all kinds of ridiculous.

Drifter (Marsden) and Mary Death (Pitre) have a weird relationship. Both are Bounty Killers in a post apocalyptic world, where white collar criminals are the biggest prey and their celebrity status earns them a place among the elite...and they used to be partners. When it comes down that Drifter is the next name to come down for bounty, he has to trek his way across the desert to clear his name from The Council of Nine all the while dodging corporate assassins, gypsies, and his own protege - Mary Death.

A film like "Bounty Killer" is made for a specific group of people. It's foundations lie in 70s and 80s grindhouse and the film builds on this with homages to spaghetti westerns, post-apocalyptic films like "Road Warrior," and a low budget style and humor that Troma has been utilizing for years. What will probably make "Bounty Killer" hit or miss for some people is the fact that its a very modernized version of that classic grindhouse style, not unlike "Ninja Assassin" was for ninja films, and its comic book visuals and often cartoonish violence may not play up to some critics (and fans') standards.

For this reviewer, the combination of modern humor, genre blending, and classic grindhouse foundations is a sure fire winner. Director/co-screenwriter Henry Saine seemingly knows his shit with "Bounty Killer" and fills the film with as much random B-grade film shit as possible. The film is filled with everything that a B-movie fan could love. Outrageous amounts of violence, some solid gore, "Road Warrior" inspired scavengers that lead us to a massive western inspired stage coach chase, terrible one liners, Monty Python-esque corporate villains, and two heroes that rely on screen presence and Saine's visual charms over true acting ability. While the results can be a bitter scatter-shot (the horror inspired sequence in The Badlands comes off as perhaps the weakest moment in the film), the overall ability to entertain and blend genres cannot be understated.

While the film starts off with a lengthy and rather silly concept about post-apocalyptic world changes and evil corporations, it's easy to see that Saine and company mean to be very funny in a very serious manner. Saine has a very slick visual style and earns his merits by doing some very impressive action sequences with very little budget. An office raid at the end is done almost completely in the background in a very slick sequence and the previously mentioned western style chase hits every cliche in the book...with vigor and excitement. The characters can be a bit of a gamble, the obvious side kick can be wearing and Busey's villainous goon is underused, but dammit if newcomer Pitre doesn't steal this movie. While her rather silly costume seemed to be a reach at first, she shows incredible charisma onscreen and takes a 3 rated film up to 4 with just her presence and execution of the character. While she might not be the full "lead", she might as well have been as she dances circles around Marsden.

For those looking for a fun film experience or those who love a bit of B-grade awesomeness in their cinema diet, "Bounty Killer" is a sure-fire win in my book. It's funny, action packed, and charming throughout and it blends just enough random genres that there is something for everyone here. It's not a film for everyone, but for those who love some grindhouse throwback I can't recommend "Bounty Killer" enough.

Written By Matt Reifschneider


Thursday, December 19, 2013

All The Boys Love Mandy Lane (2006/2013)

Director: Jonathan Levine
Notable Cast: Amber Heard, Michael Welch, Anson Mount, Whitney Able, Edwin Hodge, Aaron Himmelstein, Luke Grimes, Melissa Price

In this modern age, those who are slightly internet savvy know when films happen and are privy to the hype for some of the independent flicks. This is where I first heard about "All The Boys Love Mandy Lane." An intriguing modern teen spin on the slasher flick, the film received some mixed reviews, but the reviewers that I trust seemed to be in love with the picture. So I got excited. And after waiting some five years to see it (I didn't hear about it until 2008 or so), my expectations for this mysteriously un-released film were very high. So I suppose it's not all that surprising that I was disappointed with the film when I finally got to see the anticipated horror film. While others praised the film for its blended genres, I found that it mostly fumbled through them and eventually found itself sinking into an identity crisis of sorts. "All The Boys Love Mandy Lane" was not the film I expected.

Mandy Lane (Heard) became the most desirable girl in high school over the summer. Enough so, that her friendship with Emmet (Welch) is strained. After a brutal accident leaves one of the jocks competing for her attention dead, their friendship seems done. Nine months later, a group of friends finally convince Mandy to come out to a small party at a remote farm. While she seems finally ready to break out of her shell, somebody seems intent on ruining the shindig by piling up the bodies.

Look how modern chic cool they are!
Playing off as one part "I Know What You Did Last Summer" and one part arthouse-teen-identity film, I see why many critics seemed to dig what "Mandy Lane" had to offer as a modern slasher. Heard seems to own the title character's awkward moments of new found attention and there is a definitely indie film vibe with the musical cues and "in the moment" discussions as these wayward teens attempt to discover themselves. Even director Jonathan Levine seems to understand how to shoot the style to make it visually interesting enough to carry the film. For a low budget indie horror flick, it seems to be a rather well shot and acted flick.

Generic slasher moment #27: Running through a field.
The inherent problem then sits on the weird flips between genres and the rather generic writing that the rest of the film is built on. The flow of "Mandy Lane" seems jumbled and halfway disoriented as we go from an awkward scene about penis jokes to a full on slasher kill. While both are decently shot and acted, the leap from the former to the latter is almost surreal. It takes the viewer out of the experience. Partner that with a ton of cliche moments from both genres (Oh no! A pot smoking sequence! Weird, a couple goes to the barn to have sex and ends up dead!) and some blue print style characters for the secondary roles and it never rises about either genre it tries to mix.

The film obviously tries to throw in a few twists into the mix to keep the audience guessing in true slasher style. Who's the killer? Wait, no they tell us who the killer is like half way through and its no big surprise at all. But wait, maybe someone's working with the killer?! If you haven't guessed most of the twists by the first 20 minutes then you obviously don't know your slashers. This film was as predictable as it gets when it comes to the horror plot progressions. The only twist, the final one at the end, that didn't seem predictable was so ridiculous and nonsensical that it wasn't a shock as much as it made my brain hurt from not making sense.

Warning shot!
To be honest, if my hopes weren't so high going into the film, I might have enjoyed it a bit more for its stronger elements instead of picking at all of the missed opportunities. For those who enjoy a rather mediocre slasher with shoe horned modern teen elements then "Mandy Lane" might be just for you. I, for better or worse, was expecting something a bit more ballsy from the film and less cliche which was essentially nowhere to be found here. Take it for what it is, "All The Boys Love Mandy Lane" is a run of the mill kind of film and one that was a massive disappointment.

Written By Matt Reifschneider 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Kick-Ass 2 (2013)

Director: Jeff Wadlow
Notable Cast: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jim Carrey, John Leguizamo

The first "Kick-Ass" was indeed a nice surprise. While I'm not familiar with the comic books that these films are based on, the blend of super dark humor, violence, and a 'finding your identity' story worked surprisingly well for the 'real super heroes' angle of the first film. I was heavily skeptical of "Kick-Ass 2" though considering Matthew Vaughn was replaced by "Cry_Wolf" director Jeff Wadlow and it lacks the screen eating talent of Mark Strong and Nicolas Cage from the first. For the most part, my cautions were correct as "Kick-Ass 2" substantially falls short of the original one in many ways.

After the events of the first film, Dave Lizewski (Taylor-Johnson) has grown bored. He gave up the super hero gig and tried to focus on just being in high school. He decides to start training further with Mindy Macready (Moretz) to truly garner some fighting skills. When she decides to give up the hero gig for the sake of a promise she made her father, Kick-Ass decides to team up with a slew of other heroes that have appeared in his wake...which on further spurs his arch nemesis Chris D'Amico to take on a new super villain identity, The Motherfucker, and start his own army of villains.

We can be heroes...just for one day.
While all of the elements remain that made the first "Kick-Ass" so...kick ass...the balance between them seems to be all sorts of haywire. The humor feels more forced as it tries to fit a lot of plot into one film and tends to have to sacrifice a lot of character work and subplots to do so. For starters, "Kick-Ass 2" tries to incorporate Hit Girl as a second lead with her own separate story. Trying to balance the two tends to come off as hit or miss...particularly when the Hit Girl story is far more engaging for the audience then Kick-Ass' even if they mirror many of the same themes. The overarching identity themes also seem redundant as we continue to look at finding ones individuality and purpose like the first film, just with lesser effect.

This leaves less room for the actually plot which revolves around some mainstay comic book hero themes like vigilante justice and the act of balancing good and evil that for every hero must face when a villain comes knocking. This also leaves less time for some of the more interesting (and stronger) secondary characters like Colonel Stars. While Jim Carrey is a significant asset to the film with his screen-eating abilities, a much needed and missing aspect with the loss of Mark Strong and Nic Cage from the first, his character is more or less left out to die as we only find out various little things about him and his screen time is severely limited. The rest of the secondary characters are left with even less to work with (including Donald Faison of "Scrubs" fame and the legendary character actor John Leguizamo). Some of them are completely cut, including the girlfriend from the first film, and some are changed for an even more 2-dimensional turn like Mintz-Plasse as the film's main villain. It's a sad, but true statement that "Kick-Ass 2," with all of this potentially awesome material, never finds a place for most of it.

Steal that scene, Carrey!
Luckily, there are moments. Most films have moments overall where it works and "Kick-Ass 2" isn't a complete disappointment. Hit Girl continues to impress as a character with Moretz in the role and Wadlow actually seems fairly competent with the action sequences throughout including the awesome Hit Girl seige on a van on the road that includes some of the most brutally violent moments of the film. I'm happy that they didn't shy away from people getting kicked onto an interstate. This franchise is known for that kind of violence and it should be there somewhere. Unfortunately, the humor is extremely hit or miss with the random writing and for every funny sequence (the shark in the tank in The Motherfucker's lair) there is an equally, if not worse, unfunny one (the sick stick is simply awkward).

Classic awkward school scene.
All in all, "Kick-Ass 2" entertains, but fails to find its footing to balance the humor, violence, and thoughtfulness of the first film. Too many characters, too much of a similar plot, and two leads waters down the entire experience. While rumors swirl of a third entry into the franchise, I can only hope that they go back to stronger writing and characters instead of focusing on jamming as much plot and random sequences as they did for this one.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Monday, December 16, 2013

Killer Clans (1976)

The original cover that misspelled the title.
Check the shitty fixed one here.
Director: Chor Yuen
Notable Cast: Chung Wa, Fu Keng, Yueh Hua, Lo Lieh

While Chang Cheh might be my favorite Shaw Brothers director and Kar Lau Leung might be one of the more memorable ones, Chor Yuen is not someone to overlook. Technically speaking, Chor Yuen might only direct one kind of Shaw film, the epic toned wuxia film more often than not based on an epic novel, but he's strong at it and makes the most out of even the weaker scripts. Take "Killer Clans" as a prime example. While the script for this very complex tale of two rival clans and an assassin caught between them could have used a few rewrites to strengthen some plot points and characters, it's still a very entertaining and addictive film.

When one of the martial world's greatest killers (Chung Wa) is hired to kill Uncle (Ku Feng) who is the leader of a massive clan known as the Lung Men Society. What he stumbles into is a massive conspiracy of intrigue surrounding the Lung Men and their rival clan the Roc Society. With no one to trust and a slew of betrayals for power hungry men, he must decide to choose a side and the choice may leave him a hero or a dead villain.

"Yes, I smell that bad too."
When "Killer Clans" first started, it was very rough going. There seemed to be a thousand characters populating dozens of mini-plot lines, and there seemed to be even a bit of exploitation elements added into the mix that certainly didn't fit. One of the lead female characters is introduced in an essentially soft core porn sequence. For the first third of the film, I sat in a relative stupor just trying to figure out what stories were meant to be priority and what characters I should give two shits about. While "Killer Clans" is surprisingly void of the fantasy elements that grace many of Chor Yuen's films, this first act plays out almost like a fever dream of way too much shit going on at once.

Hanging around.
Fortunately, after a significant amount of characters are killed off and some of the random red herring moments are worked through, "Killer Clans" pulls off a rather miraculous recovery and somehow gets the plots to tie together and the pace gets moving. The mystery of the film thickens and there are so many twists and turns to the plot (I had no idea who the villain was until the final act) that even with some sub-standard subplots, including a romantic one that seems a bit forced thanks to a rather lackluster performance from our lead killer and no chemistry, that it was simply a fun ride to see where "Killer Clans" was going to take you.

"Killer Clans" is not a perfect kung fu film. It's a very inconsistent one overall in pacing and acting (allowing Ku Feng to act circles around his co-stars as the brilliant chess player Uncle) and the random bits of nudity feel massively out of place. It is, however, very entertaining with its crazy complex story and some fun fight sequences choreographed by Yuen Cheung Yan (yes, that's the brother of legendary fight choreographer Yuen Woo Ping). It does earn some credit with its charm that makes some of the weirder elements less of a burden. For kung fu fanatics, "Killer Clans" comes recommended for its entertainment value even if Chor Yuen has done better.

Lo Lieh doing what Lo Lieh does best...being badass.
BONUS BLOODY PRAISE: Shaw favorite (and one of Blood Brothers' favorites) Lo Lieh has a brief cameo as a semi-crazy body guard who lives in the woods. He has a great moment where he decapitates an assassin with his hat and then takes blood and wipes it all over his face without saying a word. While he tends to have a rather weak fight sequence later, that moment earns him some praise....bloody praise.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Red 2 (2013)

Director: Dean Parisot
Notable Cast: Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Anthony Hopkins, Lee Byung-hun, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Neal McDonough, David Thewlis, Brian Cox

You can go back to read my review for the first "Red" if you so want, but I can save you some time and just recap it as 'fun, but flawed.' I wasn't necessarily sold on it as many of my peers and so when it came time for "Red 2" to hit theaters I gave it an almighty skip. Now that I've had time to view the rather by-the-numbers sequel, I have to say that it actually makes the first one better. While I still felt that "Red" was an overly flawed and somewhat spastic film, it could have been "Red 2" which is mundane, forced, and fights off horrible bouts of ADHD just to get through its run time.

Frank Moses (Willis) really just wants to have a normal life with his new girlfriend Sarah (Parker), but when you are considered RED (that stands for Retired Extremely Dangerous) things never really leave you alone. That's why when his friend Boggs shows up again (Malkovich), Moses knows that a shit storm is brewing. Now he's on the run from a couple contract killers (Byung-hun and Mirren) and trying to solve a mystery about a scientist (Hopkins) that he was personal protection for decades ago.

The Wild Bunch
Just like the first film, "Red 2" has a lot of talent behind it. The ensemble casting is to die for (including some secondary roles for McDonough, Zeta-Jones, Thewlis, and a surprise pop up from Brian Cox) and the idea of having an elderly spy action/comedy has its merits. I'm even going to admit that "Red 2" has its moments. Malkovich owns every scene he is in as do a few of the other characters like Mirren and Hopkins and a few of the action set pieces are impressive - including the choreography of Byung-hun's fight with the cops where he is handcuffed to a refrigerator door handle. I think if I was a much younger self, say 15 or so, I would have loved "Red 2" with its quirky humor and relentless pacing.

Get down, stunt doubles!
Outside of that, "Red 2" is a narrative typhoon of random plot twists and a terribly forced romantic subplot. The writing of "Red 2" can be utterly episodic as Moses and his team leap from one weird situation to the next following the plot which seemingly tries far too hard to be far too complicated. While I appreciate the paranoia approach of giving the audience a lot of characters that switch sides and loyalties while an extensive mystery is uncovered, "Red 2" takes it to a horrible inconsistent level. The action is more or less there for obvious visual appeal and the plot makes some of the most asinine twists this side of a M. Night film.  It's like riding in a car with a driver who continually slams the brakes and gas as fast as possible while swerving around and making quips about being old. While initially it might be fun, by the time the first 20 minutes has passed you just end up being nauseous and irritated.

To add salt to the wound, half of the actors are essentially phoning in their performances. Willis looks bored in the lead role, Parker's quirky girlfriend character seems to be more of a joke then previously, and Zeta-Jones is a useless character and she knows it. Nothing inspires good trust in your audience to just go with the ridiculousness of the film when half of your cast obviously doesn't give two shits about what's happening either.

Mirren going John Woo.
There might be some fun to be had with "Red 2" in some solid moments, but they are few and far between in a film that seems ill prepared to take itself to the next level of comedy and/or action. How do you have a scene between Hopkins and Cox and not use it for the greatest Hannibal Lector joke of all time? For fans of the first one, you might be able to dig into the film and find something to latch onto. For me, "Red 2" was a massive disappointment that lacked on almost every level.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

First Squad: The Moment of Truth (2011)

Hey all! Welcome back to the anime review section of Blood Brothers Film Reviews . After my recent review of "Fate/Zero" I had been feeling like I needed a few more history lessons. So I have decided to embark on a journey to the front-lines of World War II where the battle between the Russians and the Germans has come to a stand still.

In this stand alone film/ova we will follow around a gifted Russian clairvoyant named Nadya, who is the only agent left from the "First Squad" that can change the course of alternate history and stop the Germans from certain world domination.

 In the winter of 1941/42, an occult team of Russian teens called the the 6th Division set out to stop the Germans own occult division known as Ahnenerbe, who themselves are on a mission to raise the evil Baron Von Wolff from the underworld. Thusly turning the tides of war in the favor of the Germans.

This film is brought to us by Manga Entertainment in collaboration with Molot Entertainment and Studio 4degrees C. Directed by Yoshiharu Ashino  (Tweeny Witches) and starring American voice actor Cassandra Lee Morris (K-On) as Nadya. "First Squad" is a collaboration between Russian writers and Japanese animators, which sounds awesome, but someone was on the wrong page.

Right off the bat, this film makes sure you know it's not trying to be a historically accurate piece. Only using WWII as its back drop for over the top action scenes and no real story.

I am not real sure what the writers intended this movie to be, but I can't believe the final product is it. The idea is one that I for would love to see done right. I love WWII era films and action films, but trying to buy into this occult stuff just was not going to happen this time around.  The characters were as bland as dry toast without any sense of emotion and thus I had no emotion invested into them.  We, the viewer, are thrust into this film with little to go on and expected to know these characters and care about their outcomes. Reality disagrees. We get a little fake documentary type narration during random cut scenes and a little of Nadya's past through dream sequences. Otherwise we are on our own to follow this rocky road.

We like to party!

With very little to love about this film, I will say the animation is great. and I would expect nothing less from Studio 4 degrees C. It is clear they put a lot of effort into making this film look awesome.

I just wish they could have done this film with some decent writers and make it into something we could all enjoy. Instead we are left confused and wanting more. I feel like they just crammed everything together to spit out a film and the end result shows it. "First Squad" needed more time and structure to be a success or at least a complete film. If you want to check it out for yourself, you can snag a pretty cheap copy below. I will end with the fact that I actually watched this movie 3 times trying to find something I was missing but at the end I still feel empty. I give it:
Written By John Price

Monday, December 2, 2013

Horror Show, The (1989)


Aka "House III", "House III: The Horror Show"

I was a huge fan of the “House” franchise as a child with the original quickly becoming one of my favorite films of that time when my family rented it to watch on a Halloween night. When my Dad took me to a newly opened video store I was flabbergasted to see that they had “House IV” for rent. I didn’t even know they made a “House III”! Hell bent to see every entry into the series I searched every video store far and wide for what seemed like a non-existent film. None of the stores had “House III” in their database and none of the clerks had ever even heard of the film. It was litterly driving me mad as it seemed “House III” was missing in action, but if there was a “IV” then there had to be a “III”... right?! Please keep in mind this was before the internet so obtaining information on films was extremely hard and if it were today I would have found my answer with the simple click of a mouse. Determined to find this non-existent film I finally got an answer when I purchased a movie review book which included a list of alternate titles and it pointed me in the direction of a flick called “The Horror Show”, which was retitled “House III” for the foreign market release. My white whale had been harpooned and I set out to find a copy in which I succeeded at. After years of hard detective work imagine my disappointment upon actually seeing the film that it had NOTHING to do with “House” series, other than crew and behind-the-scenes members (like producer Sean S. Cunningham) and was only re-titled for the foreign market to capitalize on the success of previously established “House” franchise. Grrr....
The plot isn't about a haunted house, but a serial killer that comes back from the grave to torment the police officer that captured him after being fried in the electric chair. As one can tell the plot is almost identical to the Wes Craven film “Shocker” released nearly 6 months after the premier of this horror number and like that film "The Horror Show" suffers from many faults.
Putting aside my quibbles with its alternate title, let’s look at “The Horror Show” on it’s own without the shadow of the horror franchise it is connected to. The strongest part of this routine “killer comes back from the grave” plot device is the cast which consists of  veteran tough guy character actors Lance Henrickson ("Aliens", "The Terminator") as the cop and Brion James ("Blade Runner", "48 Hrs.") as our killer appropriately knick-named “Meat Cleaver Max”. This is hands down my favorite Brion James performance and he is downright menacing as our killer, especially his crazed eyes and high pitched snickering laugh. Seriously the cast makes the film. Director James Issac also goes extreme with the violence as the film is brutal and gory, but being released in 1989 the MPAA butchered the film much like Meat Cleaver Max carved up his victims. Even butchered by the MPAA the film is still plenty violent but the only way to see it in its completely uncut is a European DVD release under it’s “House III” title.
With the cast and violence being great, what kills the film? Let’s call it weak foundations: routine plot and some insanely asinine moments. The film just tends to drag in-between special effects sequences and raps up with a rather un”cleaver” ending. Also the film is full in insanely stupid moments climaxing with a scene where Brion James’ face appears on a cooked turkey. Seriously?! James is not an attractive man and is especially unattractive when his face is plastered on a piece poultry. The serious tone and these silly sequences mix like oil-and-water making the caterpillar dog in “House II” seem somewhat acceptable as that film at least had a goofy tone to match.
Since “The Horror Show” (not as deceptive as “House III” but still a terrible title none-the-less) is so similar to its partner in crime “Shocker” it’s hard not to compare the two and horror fans are constantly giving their reasons for why one is better than the other. For me they are pretty damn close and both are extremely flawed. I love the cast and violence of the “The Horror Show” but overall I would have to pick “Shocker” as I find Craven’s clever humorous style fit the film better. “Horror Show” just is too tedious and the insanely stupid moments aren’t matched by the serious tone and instead come out unintentionally funny. People looking for a good third entry into the “House” franchise… well I think you will get the drift as not only does the plot having nothing to do with a haunted house, but also the serious tone goes against the goofy nature of the previous two outings. Still a fourth “House” film would get released (considered by fans the ‘true’ third film) which honkers back to the tone of the first films yet somehow worsened the results.
Written By Eric Reifschneider

Quest, The (1996)

Director: Jean-Claude Van Damme
Notable Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Roger Moore, James Remar, Janet Gunn, Jack McGee

Jean-Claude Van Damme, through the 80s and 90s, most certainly did his fair share of bad films. I would venture to guess that by classical film critiquing standards he most definitely never did a 'good' film, even if I love his career that ranged from awesomely bad ("Cyborg") all the way to big budget awesome bad ("Universal Soldier"). Yet nothing in his career had prepared me for "The Quest." In my own quest to work through Van Damme's film career chronologically, not even the hilarious film atrocity that is "Street Fighter" prepared me for the terribleness of "The Quest."

Chris Dubois (Van Damme) has had it rough in his life. He lives on the streets trying to protect the young kids under his guidance and when a theft goes wrong he has to run from the mob to keep the kids safe. After being rescued by a high end con man/pirate (Moore), he ends up helping to devise a plan to win a massive martial arts tournament.

He's sad because he watched this movie.
Don't worry if that synopsis doesn't make sense. The film doesn't either. As much as it attempts to give rhyme and reason to the ridiculousness of its plot, none of it really makes sense as characters do very asinine things for the sake of moving the plot. To begin with, did we really need another hidden martial arts tournament film? Not only that, but the reasons for Van Damme's character to even be there are shoddy in structures and rarely believable. Add on top of that a terrible romantic subplot with the leading lady (who has a truly flat character) and a vomit inducing and supposedly funny sub plot featuring Moore and McGee as bumbling con men and you have a recipe for disaster even before it hits the screen. I mean seriously...street orphans?!

From there, it only gets worse. Van Damme must honestly be a terrible director because he couldn't even make himself look good. Not that acting has ever been a highlight of his early career, but even the action sequences are poorly shot with some of the worst pacing on the planet. Outside of seeing Van Damme in full clown make up running from cops on stilts in the opening, not a single action piece is memorable. The fights at the end are rushed and often poorly choreographed which only adds salt to the wounds. The acting might even be worse. Van Damme phones in his own performance, Moore is obviously disinterested in the film, and even the underground Blood Brothers favorite James Remar gives one of the worst performances of his career. It's like watching the film version of a car wreck. It's horrifying through and through.

This move is called 'awkward split kick.'
That being said, I do have to give this film a rating of one for the simple fact that its so unintentionally funny in its awfulness that I had fun watching it. Never did I find the humor in it funny, but the seriousness of its silly plot, the terrible lines delivered, the attempts at being "cool" in the's all a riot if you go into it with the right mentality.

Even as a big JCVD fan, I have to say this is one to skip. While "Street Fighter" might have been a horrid film in its own right, it was at least campy enough to feel like it didn't need to be good to be entertaining. Outside of the unintentional humor, "The Quest" has nothing going for it. Not a single thing. I only suggest watching this as a party favor for you and your friends to laugh at.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Grabbers (2013)

Director: Jon Wright
Notable Cast:  Richard Coyle, Ruth Bradley, Lalor Roddy, Russel Tovey

It's not some mystery that "throwback" films are a bit of their own genre now. Whether successful to the mainstream or not, the cult status of some of these films tends to be pretty high and for 80s style monster flicks like "The Host" and "Attack The Block," there are some beautiful films that should garner more attention then they probably do. "Grabbers," a nifty little Irish throwback 80s creature feature, is like the previously two mentioned films as an overlooked gem. While this one might not be quite as ballsy when it comes to storytelling or in its execution, "Grabbers" is still a blast to watch for those pining a bit for an older style.

When the local sheriff goes on holiday, he leaves the small Irish island community in the hands of his alcoholic officer O'Shea (Coyle) and an up-and-comer Lisa (Bradley) who volunteers for the assignment to help him out. Unfortunately, despite their initial differences on how to go about things, the two officers are going to have to mend their own issues when a local fisherman Paddy (Roddy) discovers a "grabber" in one of his lobster traps setting off an other worldly attack on the quiet town.

We could be heroes. Just for one day.
The premise for "Grabbers" is simple. Two different style cops have to team up to fight off an alien invasion. It's formulaic, oh yes, but the film comes off as sincere in its simplicity. Instead of wicked plot twists or over developed character nuances, "Grabbers" focuses on being fun and entertaining with its concept. While this kind of formulaic approach may not work for a lot of films which come off as watered down, for this little picture its simplistic approach comes off more as endearing and homage-like to those classic monster flicks of the 50s (and stylistically like the 80s) then it does as a weakness. While the romantic subplot is pretty predictable and the secondary characters more like caricatures then real people, it works for "Grabbers" to make it an easily digestible and fun to follow film.

It does help that director Wright and his band of merry men and women all seem to be on one page for what "Grabbers" is meant to be. The character arcs for our two leads (an alcoholic and workaholic respectively) might be blueprinted from the beginning, but our actors sell the little moments of comedy and chemistry so well that rarely did I roll my eyes at the predictability of it all. Coyle is extremely heartfelt in the role and Bradley perfectly compliment him onscreen to make the basic scenario work. Even the supporting cast while being niche roles (the drunk fisherman, the cynical bartender, the nerdy scientist) are played in ways that rarely feel that way and our actors and actresses own their moments.

To be truthfully honest, the weakest part of the film is the special effects. I loved the creature design for the grabbers themselves, but the lower end budget tended to weaken the overall flick. By the time we get to the finale where the most CGI and special effects are needed to sell the starfish from hell monsters, it didn't quite have the 'oomph' to get the process done to the caliber at which the rest of the film existed.

Now we just need a "Grabbers Vs Graboids" flick. Oh yeah.
All in all, "Grabbers" certainly works as a fun and entertaining homage film to the classic 50s monster flicks done in a full on 80s style. For cult film fans, it's a blast to watch and it works amazingly well considering its tried-n-true plot setting and basic characters. It may not inspire the love I felt for it in everyone, but for those looking for a great time then I highly suggest "Grabbers."

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Saving General Yang (2013)

Director: Ronny Yu
Notable Cast: Adam Cheng, Ekin Cheng, Yu Bo, Vic Chou, Li Chen, Raymond Lam, Wu Chun, Fu Xinbo, Shao Bing

While Ronny Yu’s career has had some twists and turns of it’s own, from a brief career as a director in China with “Bride With White Hair” to his horror leap in the US and back to his roots with the epic Jet Li film “Fearless,” my expectations for his historical (sort of) war epic “Saving General Yang” was high. He’s always been a dark horse director of sorts and each of his films tends to be fairly distinct from the others. For his latest, he harkens back to an old school feeling film with some modern flair and the results, while perhaps uneven, are entertaining to say the least.

When the kingdom’s peace is threatened by war, General Yang (Adam Cheng) is assigned to be the backing force for the main army to quell the mounting tension from a young and vicious villain Yuan (Shao Bing). Little does he know that there is an ulterior motive behind the attack and Yang is forced into hiding in the mountains. With no help on the way, his seven sons decide to take it into their own hands with a handful of soldiers to find their father and return him to safety…perhaps falling into the trap they set out to defend.

"We come bearing horses. And staffs. And soldiers. And armor. And grimaces."
Ronny Yu and company set out to make one hell of an entertaining film with “Saving General Yang” and they more than succeed. One issue that viewers might stumble into is having their expectations about what the film is because it’s not a “war epic” in the modern sense of the term. While the scale of the film does tend to be larger than most in some aspects, there is most certainly an opening sequence featuring full blown armies clashing on horses and what not, the film rarely plays out like “Red Cliff” or other films of that caliber. Instead, “Saving General Yang” plays out more like an old school Shaw Brothers flick – gimmicks and all. The combination of seven brothers (whom all have distinct personalities and talents that come out little by little as the film rolls on) having to trek through various obstacles and battles simply resonates with something that Chang Cheh and the Venom Mob might have cooked up in the 70s. The character work, while gimmicky with the brothers, worked well for me despite the fact that there is a lot of ground to cover for them. The various ensemble casting sparks with a fun and occasional heartfelt chemistry that makes the play time fly by and it makes for a sincerely fun and entertaining watch.

...and then, the grass attacked.
From there, Ronny Yu does encompass a rather modern and visual style for the film. The battle sequences might mostly contain some solid hand-to-hand combat and choreography, but he injects a few other action set pieces to satiate the spectacle driven modern audience. An initial battle features a silly, but very awesome looking medieval version of napalm and his tendency to paint in some darker tones with the film’s violence and visuals cannot be missed. There is a ridiculously dark and brutal sequence where the seven sons have to cross the original battle field to only find their comrades’ bodies staked on spears and hung as a sort of macabre grave yard. I knew that Ronny Yu’s days as a horror director would peek through occasionally.

For what it’s worth, I had a blast with “Saving General Yang.” It might not be the overtly serious and dramatic “war epic” that the term has come to mean in recent years, but the Shaw Brothers inspired plot and slightly gimmicky execution make for a film that I will watch over and over again. Some might not be able to buy into the cheesiness of the film, but I felt it only added to the entertainment that Ronny Yu and company deliver.

Written By Matt Reifschneider