Sunday, March 31, 2013

Godzilla 2000 (1999)


After the 1998 American remake monstrosity that called itself “Godzilla”, Toho seemed embarrassed by America’s attempted take on their legendary character. In what seems like a retaliatory response Toho decided to revive their franchise and within a year of the theatrical release of their American counterpart “Godzilla 2000” was released, the first of what would become the “Millennium Era” of the franchise and the 23rd entry overall. Though not a terrific entry in the series, it was a satisfying rebirth of the character and a nice “apology” for that ‘other’ Americanized film.
The plot is a reboot of a franchise and ignores all the other sequels except the 1954 original. All has been quiet for decades but surprise, surprise a new Godzilla appears out of the fog. This isn’t the only problem as the Japanese military has discovered a giant strange hollow rock in the ocean that humorously flies around Tokyo, crash-landing on buildings in order to utilize invisible tentacles to gather information on Earth (yes it is as strange as it sounds). Soon the alien becomes interested in Godzilla and gathers some G-cells to form itself into some bastardardized clone called Orga, that happens to be Big G’s biggest foe to date.
What’s interesting about this reboot is that it introduces a monster for Godzilla to fight, an aspect I didn’t expect as the 1984 reboot “Godzilla 1985” had Big G all by his lonesome. This new creature is also badass looking, big enough to even attempt to swallow Godzilla (a bad move on its part… BOOM!). The new special effects are, for the most part, spectacular for the time (especially for a Japanese film, whose budgets are meniscal compared to Hollywood productions). By this time most films utilized CGI effects so the mixture of traditional suits and a CGI is interesting. However there are a few scenes of tremendously awful CGI, including a computer generated swimming Godzilla and an atrocious looking alien when it first emerges from its hollow fling rock.
Overall “Godzilla 2000” was a satisfying return of the legendary icon and Big G’s new makeover is pretty cool with his super large dorsal spines. Fans of Toho’s mile long franchise should be satisfied with the outcome even if the plot is thin as a pancake. Hell even Tri-Star Pictures was impressed and gave “Godzilla 2000” a theatrical release in the United States (confusing many people into thinking it was a sequel to the American “Godzilla), the first for a traditional “Godzilla” film since the 1984 release of “Godzilla 1985”. Despite a theatrical release in the states it didn’t rock the box office and would be the last ‘true’ “Godzilla film to date to get the luxury of an American theatrical release.
Written By Eric Reifschneider

Black Water (2007)

Director(s): Andrew Traucki, David Nerlich
Notable Cast: Maeve Dermody, Diana Glenn, Andy Rodoreda, Ben Oxenbould

After watching the horrendous and mind numbing "Lake Placid 2", I had to find a better killer croc film for my "Croc Of Shit: Killer Croc/Gator Marathon" to redeem the genre. So I went to the friendly folks over at the I Love Horror Movies facebook group and asked them what I should watch. That's how "Black Water" ended up in this series and boy am I glad it did. Not only did this little low budget killer croc film redeem the genre, but it's the best film I've seen yet for it. Sorry "Rogue", but it looks like you were just replaced.

Lee (Dermody), her older sister Grace (Glenn), and her sister's husband (Rodoreda) seem to have it all planned out. A road trip around Australia seeing the sites and doing generally fun road trip things. You know, like a little fishing trip down a river by a little touring company. It sounded like fun. Fun until their boat is flipped by something under the water. Something that has made their guide disappear. Now the three of them are stuck fighting for their lives against the nature they were there to see.

Up shit creek without that paddle apparently
Simplicity. A term that Hollywood seems intent on destroying. Needlessly complicated plots, overzealous amounts of characters, dizzying spectacle. It's all fluff in the end. Not that its always bad, but films like "Black Water" sure do make you appreciate that saying 'less is more.' That's what this little man vs nature flick has going for it. It's a small cast whom you decidedly feel for and care about when it comes to peril and the settings amount after the initial set up. Seriously. I know it might sound boring that an hour of film is dedicated to three people hanging out in a tree and wading in water by an overturned boat, but directors Traucki and Nerlich cake on the tension and atmosphere to make it work.

...and work it does. "Black Water" had me on the edge of my seat for the last two-thirds of the film. The realism of the acting (with particular nods to Dermody who owns the film and had to) is matched by the realism of the execution to make this film feel real. The lack of CGI kept it grounded and the fact that we don't even see the damn crocodile until like 40 minutes into the film (and barely until the finale) makes it even scarier. Death lurking under the water where you don't know where it is? Yeah, that's scary. bad as a shark fin. Almost.
"Black Water" is a simple film and it is simply awesome. The directors keep it grounded and tension packed, the acting is top notch, and the limited budget is used for maximum effect for realism. Although I'm sure some of the less attentive movie watchers might be bored with the film for its lack of 'spectacle', I found the change of pace refreshing and inspired. This film gets a blood spattered recommendation as the best killer croc film I've seen yet.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Lake Placid 2 (2007)

Director: David Flores
Notable Cast: John Schneider, Sarah LaFleur, Sam McMurray

After revisiting the first "Lake Placid" with its fun and goofy take on the killer croc genre, it was only necessary that I continue on with the franchise for the third film in my "Croc Of Sh!t: Killer Croc/Gator Marathon." By necessary, I sure mean necessary because I sure as hell wouldn't know why anyone would ever want to watch a piece of shit film like "Lake Placid 2." This film was simply awful. The plot was essentially rehashed from the first film, the characters are all paper thin excuses for human beings, the scares are forced, and the special effects are utter bottom of the barrell SyFy material. Yes, in fact, "Lake Placid 2" is a SyFy channel film. That's okay though. I have the 'unrated' version...which essentially means more nudity and more stupidity.

For new town sheriff Riley (Schneider), his visiting son is the least of his worries when a man is found dead apparently eaten. This leads a Fish And Wildlife officer Emma (LaFleur) to come and investigate and the results seem to indicate that there is a giant crocodile once again living in the region and its hungry for people.

"No one will see this movie, right? It's going on SyFy?"
I would give you more of a synopsis than the brief one above, but it would probably prevent you from reading the rest of this review. Essentially, we have another killer croc (maybe more!) that's come back to Maine to kill more people. We are lead to believe that this is the same town/lake from the first film - not that I remember it actually saying that maybe it does or doesn't, I just assume because it has a character that happens to be the sister of Betty White's character from the first film doing crazy shit - and everyone has already forgotten about the incidents from before. Which is a stretch to start with, logistically speaking. The plot then essentially retreads the first film as they investigate the incident and ultimately decide they need to catch the croc themselves with the help of another 'croc hunting expert' this time in the form of a horribly acted and over the top big game poacher who flies in on the worst CGI sea plane I've ever seen. The plot is simply by the book uninspired crap that rarely makes sense beyond its predictable beats. What new elements they do add in, including a crocodile nest and the added terror of genetically altered crocs that have been fed government reject meat, are silly and add nothing to the actual film.

Get him! Get him, big guy!
"Lake Placid 2" then decides to take this obviously patched script and build horrible executions on top of it. The acting is atrocious, the direction is basic cable crap, and the special effects are "Sliders" era 90s grade bad. I mean, the crocodiles look like something that would have been a rejected concept for a Playstation One "Crash Bandicoot" game and the 'exciting' moments are utterly ruined by the effects. It's not scary when a jerky CGI croc suddenly appears and someone gives a silly yelp. Not at all. I didn't care for the people to begin with - including our trashy teen characters caught hiking in the woods with all of their terrible dialogue - and I ended up rooting for our poorly animated crocs to kill these bastards before I tore my own eyes out.

There was a reason I originally titled this series "Croc Of Sh!t Marathon" and "Lake Placid 2" exemplifies that title with the greatest of ease. This film is awful from the first second to the last frame and I highly recommend that no one watches this...ever. Like...ever.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Collection, The (2012)

Director: Marcus Dunstan
Notable Cast: Josh Stewart, Emma Fitzpatrick, Lee Tergesen, Christopher McDonald

I may or may not have had a few issues with Marcus Dunstan's "The Collector," but generally speaking I was a fan of the film. You can read my review here (CLICK HERE) if you so feel like it to refresh yourself on my thoughts. So I was definitely excited to finally get my hands on a copy of the anticipated sequel "The Collection." What makes this sequel so interesting is that it is a sequel that doesn't necessarily try to retread the same formula that the first film used. Instead it shifts the focus, using some of the same techniques, but replacing much of the tension and dread of the first film with intensity and aggression. At times, particularly towards the end, the film takes on an almost action film like vibe...and I have to admit, I really liked the change of pace.

The authorities have yet to capture the elusive serial killer The Collector after the disappearance of Arkin (Stewart) and the killer only seems to be picking up the pace with his elaborate killing traps. When he sets up an impressive slaughter of a high end night club, Arkin, who is used as bate for the next capture, escapes barely with his life and leaves a young woman Elena (Fitzpatrick) to be captured by The Collector. As it turns out, Elena happens to be the daughter of rich man hell bent on finding his daughter. A man who sends a group of mercenaries to find and kill The Collector. Now Arkin is forced to join this team and take them straight into The Collector's home turf...

As with any sequel, particularly one to a surprisingly successful independent horror film, "The Collection" promised to be bigger and badder film. One that remained a 'true' sequel where we delve into The Collector's home land of traps, oddities, and some seriously creepy shit. To be honest, "The Collection" certainly does deliver on that idea. Although the film tends to jump into some pretty weird ideas to up the ante (including coked out 'zombies' that infest the first floor of The Collector's abandoned hotel), director Marcus Dunstan does indeed push the film to some more intense places. The "traps" weren't necessarily as clever as I would have hoped, but they worked for what they were and it feeds into the focus of the film.

What made "The Collection" really intriguing to me was the general approach that Dunstan and company take the film. While the first film was built on darkness, tension, and sense of unease to deliver scares on a budget, "The Collection" opts for a completely different approach. It's aggressive and intense with its pacing, building a exponentially larger body count with more ridiculous idea like using a room sized rotating blade contraption to slaughter dozens of dancers. It's almost like an action film infused with horror elements. The added mercenaries and their tough guy antics, a slasher villain that wields a machine gun at one point, and even a bitchin' knife fight set to a background of flames makes "The Collection" almost more action than horror. I suppose if you don't want to re-tread the same successful elements of the first film, you take it to new places and that's just what they did with "The Collection."

Ironically for a film whose name promised to reveal some of the 'why' to The Collector as a villain, "The Collection" keeps his motives still rather vague. It adds to the mythos of the character while still keeping him an enigma of villainy and, although I was frustrated with the lack of progress we made in this area, I kept me glued to the screen too which was a nice change. I also appreciated that it was a true sequel by keeping Arkin as the lead (who once again is a great protagonist to root for here) while still changing the general dynamics of the film. In a way, this is definitely one of the better sequels that doesn't try to just simply rehash what worked before and does something new while keeping the idea intact.

Although the film tended to jump a little too far into the ridiculousness of its concept at times, throwing in random elements at whim, I felt "The Collection" matched its predecessor in quality. The more I think about the film the more I enjoy it and that says something about a film. It was entertaining as hell and unique in its blend horror and action. It comes highly recommended from me even if it's not perfect.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Cyclone (1987)


Fred Olen Ray is a name when I see in the credits on box artwork I instantly throw the DVD (or in some cases VHS) away as fast and hard as possible, hoping to shatter the damn thing against the nearest wall in order to save the next soul that haphazardly comes across one of his films. Some could compare him him as the American Uwi Boll but even that is an insult to Boll. Seriously this guy has directed well over 100 films and 99.9999% are pure unwatchable shit. When Shout Factory packaged two of his films (“Cyclone” and “Alienator”) with one of my all-time favorite guilty pleasures “Exterminator 2” in a DVD pack, I decided to give it a shot as I considered the two films as “bonuses” anyway. Low and behold I was actually served a rather entertaining trash platter proving Ray had some B-movie magic for a few of his 80s offerings.
The “Cyclone” of the title isn’t a tornado, but the name of a super high tech military motorcycle (that shoots lavender lazers!) that Jeffrey “Re-Animator” Combs is working on. Some capitalistic pigs decided they want to steal the cycle and kill off Combs when he’s at an 80s dance club with his mega hot girlfriend (Heather Thomas wearing a two piece dress… yowza!). Heart broke by her sweet hearts death, she decides to deliver the motorcycle to the proper authorities without it falling into the wrong hands… which proves harder than expected with tons of double crossing in the mix.
Heather Thomas isn’t only smoking hot, she's likeable as a tough female lead that takes no shit and doesn’t hesitate to beat the fuck out of redneck scum with motorcycle parts. Ray no doubt hired her for her ‘assets’ but she proves to be a competent actor for a B-sci fi-action thriller. The action, for a low budget film, is also impressive with plenty of shoot-outs and two spectacular car crashes that even big budget Hollywood productions would be proud of.
“Cyclone” was far more entertaining than I could have ever imagined. I was expecting complete unwatchable garbage with the name Fred Olen Ray attatched to the project and instead found a B-movie that was delightfully entertaining. Heather Thomas is both likeable and easy on the eyes and strong supporting actors in the form of Jeffrey Combs and Martin Landau makes the film have a little more class than it should. This is BY FAR the best Fred Olen Ray film I have ever seen but then again it doesn’t take much to beat out such crap as “Bikini Car Wash”.
Written By Eric Reifschneider

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Flying Swords Of Dragon Gate, The (2012)

Director: Tsui Hark
Notable Cast: Jet Li, Zhou Xun, Kun Chen

It would seem that Tsui Hark wasn't quite done with the "Dragon Gate" story in his produced remake from 1992, "New Dragon Gate Inn." So he decided to make a second remake (!) and one where he would also serve as a director rather than just a producer and writer like the last one. Honestly I've never seen either of the original films ("Dragon Gate Inn" from 1966 and the above mentioned 90s remake) so comparisons to those will not be a prevalent feature of this review, but I can say that I felt that "Flying Swords Of Dragon Gate" was a pretty big missed opportunity. The film feels oddly unfocused with far too many characters and random plot twists. Despite some fun high flying wire fights, Hark also tends to rely on CGI far too much. It just creates a rather awkward martial arts film that might please on a surface level, but rarely hits the dramatic tones it desperately strives for.

As China remains in a state of split attitudes, the Emperors eunuchs have gained too much power and influence and police the nation with vicious ways. This leads a group of rogue assassins under the guidance of Zhou (Jet Li) to start taking matters into their own hands. When the West Bureau head Yu Huatian (Chen Kun) gets caught in the path of Zhou while hunting down a pregnant concubine who holds one of the Emperor's children, the two will gather their own powerful allies for a massive showdown at the legendary Dragon Gate Inn...

"Look ahead! It's CGI!"
There is a lot going on in this film. Illegitimate love children, political assassination, treasure hunts for a lost city filled with gold, and a slew of characters all with pasts connected to one another. Oh and a double identity twist where one of the good guys looks just like the lead villain. It's simply far too much for one film. Half of the time I felt like I was watching a sequel where character interactions stemmed from some sort of previous story that I missed (including a significant back story between Li and another wandering assassin who seemed to share a romantic past?) and it left me feeling like there were significant chunks of the script missing. It derails the narrative and makes the entire storytelling process feel muddy and unfocused. "Flying Swords" tries to embrace it's epic nature far too much and leaves us feeling like an audience watching rather than engrossed in the film.

"I said hi five! Not high kick!"
Tsui Hark just has trouble with the general focus of "Flying Swords Of Dragon Gate." Not only is the script jumpy and too big, but his direction tends to think too much inside of said "epic box" too. He tries to weave all of these different style stories into one big ball. The first third of the film worked for me as we follow Jet Li in his killing spree of political intrigue. It kicks off with an awesome (and over the top) assassination sequence, but after that it tends to just lose the story and drive overall. I loved the casting of the film, but too many characters are left underdeveloped as it focuses on plots and plot crossovers. I loved the wire work too, but it cascades into a CGI visual escapade climaxing in a mid tornado sword fight that simply failed to inspire. Hark has already been using far too much CGI lately, but this is ridiculous here. It's as if Hark and company wanted to make a Hollywood style film out of a Hong Kong flick and the resulting combination fails to reach the height of either.

"Flying Swords" can be fun with some of its smaller supporting cast and there is plenty of great fighting to be had, but the film itself struggles to find a footing to root itself in to deliver the epic picture it could have been. As a long time Hark and Li fan, the duo has a miss on there hand with "Flying Swords." It's a fun and entertaining martial arts film, but it rarely rises above that.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Monday, March 25, 2013

Samurai Princess (2009)

Director: Kengo Kaji
Notable Cast: Aino Kishi, Dai Mizuno, Asuka Kataoka, Noriko Kijima

There is something to be said about 'splatter' films and, in particular, the Japanese side of them. They take a specific taste in cult film to enjoy as they truly embrace the ridiculousness of their plots and the extensiveness of their gore. In the case of "Samurai Princess," writer and director Kengo Kaji (known for writing "Tokyo Gore Police") goes for an even weirder, if not similarly themed, film. Even for a splatter film, "Samurai Princess" seems a bit weak overall with its nonsensical plot and often over emphasized sexual overtones.

In another version of history, Japan is still in a feudal like state with villages and anarchist like rule. There are cyborg like warriors that wander the land driven insane by their inability to cope with their torn existence. When a group of 12 young girls are raped and slaughtered, a mad scientist with the help of a spiritual woman creates a samurai princess from the body of one of the slain and puts the souls of her fallen sisters inside of her. Armed with a plethora of weaponry, she teams up with a guitar wielding nomadic solider and seeks revenge for the atrocity she endured.

Looks like his hobby as a pianist was short lived.
I'm not saying that splatter films are meant to be 'good' by any classical sense of the word. Troma certainly made a career out of producing low budget B-grade horror and exploitation films with this ideology...and they succeed at what they intend. It's just a different kind of art form. Even within that concept though, I felt like "Samurai Princess" struggled to find its footing. It has all the elements to make a splatter film...grotesque special effects with plenty of severed body parts, ridiculous concepts including boob grenades and mystery sword wielding 'soul arms', and a solid dose of silliness to ice it over with, but it has a bit of trouble getting it all to work together.

The shoulder. The most captivating of human features.
At times the film can be delightfully cheesy and out there. When the film decided to cake on the more outrageous moments, including a wandering warrior with the ability to kill a men with a guitar solo, it's hilariously fun. The acting is horrible (I suggest watching the dubbed version just because it adds a bit more to the outrageous-ness of the film) and half of the time the plot was so nonsensical that only someone on crack could piece it together to make a cohesive narrative, but it has it's moments...moments where you forget about its issues and realize just how fun it is. Seeing a person get shot and pinned to the wall with a rocket chainsaw leg, for example. Those moments are rare and sometimes are overshadowed by some of the low budget constraints of the film, but they are there and I'm sure splatter film fans will find something to love.

Believe it or not, there are a lot of body part piles just scattered throughout the forest in this film.
It's hard enough to rate cult films, but its even harder to rate splatter films like "Samurai Princess." Does it achieve it's intent by making a super gory over the top low budget action/horror flick? Sure it does, but the execution even in that idea is wobbly at best. Too often I wasn't sure if the film knew it was supposed to be silly (our two warrior detectives out to kill cyborgs) or be taken serious (the guitar players backstory and the weird romantic subplot) and the result is rather mixed. Only for splatter fans, if I were to recommend it.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Puppet Master X: Axis Rising (2012)


The “Puppet Master” franchise has put my cult movie loving emotions through the ringer over the past 25 years. From childhood nostalgia for the first few entries, absolute contempt peaking with the stock footage heavy eighth entry “Puppet Master: The Legacy” to utter disappointment from the supposed ‘return to form’ last entry “Puppet Master: Axis of Evil”. By the time this tenth entry (eleventh including the spin-off “Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys”) got announced my emotions were drained and I was left with complete apathy for the series. I seriously just didn’t give two shits anymore and the last thing I cared to ever watch was “Puppet Master 10”. After a year curiosity got the best of me and I decided to give it a shot and though still a mere shadow of the classic old entries, it’s still better than the last four sequels and for this franchise that’s saying a lot.
Taking place directly after the events of “Puppet Master: Axis of Evil” (and still a prequel to the very first "Puppet Master"), our hero young man with a limp and his girlfriend try to convince the American government that the Nazis are experimenting with living puppets in order to use their secrets to resurrect dead soldiers for battle. The government agrees and sends an aging G.I to aid in their mission but first they must defeat a small army of new killer Nazi puppets (Bombshell – a female Nazi with a rack to die for, Blitzkrieg – a tank with head, Weremacht – a werewolf SS officer and Kamikaze – a poltically incorrect Japanese suicide bomber.
One thing I have to commend this sequel on is the title which utilizes the Roman numeral “X” for “10” to great effect. It’s about damn time this series got back to using numbers, especially not pronouncing the Roman numeral “X” as the letter “X” like the makers of “Jason X” as they thought it sounded more “hip”. The poster artwork is also a nice return as its actual ARTWORK and not just a passable photoshop job. I digress as the title and poster artwork is cool… but what about the film? Well… it’s bad but not as bad as most of Full Moon’s catalogue is today. Thanks to Charles Band himself filling the director’s chair makes this sequel comes off better than the previous ‘return to form’ sequel “Puppet Master: Axis of Evil”. He does what he can to give the film some polish, and it works during the opening alley sequence, but the films ultra-low budget still shows through.
Much like the last few sequels the low budget hit’s hardest with the puppets themselves, which look like stiff, poorly made versions of their classic designs (not to mention the noticeable lack of the trademark stop motion that made the first entries so much damn fun.) The locations are also limited to seemingly only two locations and acting, especially our two young heroes, is especially lacking.
Even with all these limitations due to the budget, this is the closest Band and crew has ever come to capturing the magic of the original run of the franchise. For that I give Full Moon credit. I’ve just finally came to the acceptance that Full Moon films are never going to be as good as their classic era. This new mindset and Band’s veteran B-movie directing abilities finally gracing the franchise he helped create had me enjoying “Puppet Master X” better than I thought I would. Yes, finally a newer sequel that didn’t make me hopping mad! For that it makes this land mark tenth entry (officially tieing it with the original run of the “Friday the 13th franchise) worth at least a watch for fans of campy B-horror movies.
Written By Eric Reifschneider

Lammys 2013: Nominations!

Good day Blood Brethren! It is that time of the year when all of the award shows happen. A time to celebrate the best of the best. A time for you to nominate us at the 2013 Lammys! A time for Blood Brothers to shine.

The process is simple. First of all, educate yourself. Go to the website (CLICK HERE) about how the Lammys work. Then go to the nominations page (CLICK HERE) for a link to the actual voting. There is a list of all available entries for each blog and I highly suggest checking out each nominated blog as there are some great film blogs out there. Ones that redefine humor, horror, and all things great about independent writing.

After that make sure to vote for Blood Brothers: Film Reviews for its nomination as BEST NEW LAMB. We are striving to create one of the most comprehensive cult dedicated film sites out there and only with your help can we spread the word! You can visit the site full site here (CLICK HERE), you can follow us at Twitter here (@bloodbrothers13), or you can tag along for the ride on Facebook here (CLICK HERE) to keep up with all the bloody action. Hell, you can even email us if you like at!

For your consideration, vote Blood Brothers as a BEST NEW LAMB in the ballot. This is our time to shine!

LAMB #1344

The Bloody Management

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Double Impact (1991)

Director: Sheldon Lettich
Notable Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Geoffrey Lewis, Alonna Shaw, Bolo Yeung

With Van Damme's career on the upswing already with underground hits and a few mainstream successes (like the fun "Death Warrant"), it wasn't long until he made it to bigger films. His first of these happens to be the rather odd "Double Impact." Although the general approach to the film is about as cliche as early 90s action films gets, the film pushes itself by forcing the gimmick of having Van Damme play two roles (as twin brothers) to help keep us interested. Strangely enough, it works half of the time. Not that he showcases any kind of great acting prowess here, nor has much a character arc for either role, but watching twice as much Van Damme in a movie certainly carries a B-grade action fun to it.

When a deal goes bad between a few wealthy business partners in Hong Kong, the parents on the receiving end of the bullet leave their twin sons in the world. Alex (Van Damme) is raised as an orphan in Hong Kong to become a rather ruthless street fighter. Chad (also Van Damme) has been raised by his 'Uncle' Frankie (Lewis) at a prestigious Martial Arts school. When Frankie learns about the conspiracy behind the twins' parents assassination, he brings them together in Hong Kong to take down the ruthless drug lord and business man that ruined their lives.

"Who wrote this crappy film?"
Twins separated at birth unite as a spin-kicking duo to take down a ruthless Hong Kong drug lord and a crooked business man? If that doesn't sound like a great silly plot for an action film...then you need to get your head examined. The twins idea is just so ridiculous. I mean, they do the hair differently on each one. They even explain the same accent on each one as one was raised in a French orphanage in Hong Kong (?!?!) and the other was raised as a child in France by his uncle. This shit just keeps getting better! And not only that, but he plays an asshole..for each role! One happens to be a preppy Californian asshole and the other one is a street thug tough guy asshole...but they are still assholes! And when they start nagging each other, it's like B-movie heaven was just created. There is nothing Van Damme does better than half way act as a diva for his films and he does it with glitz here.

Flex. Roll. Flex. Shoot. Flex.
Yeah, that last line was wrong. He does do one thing better than half act as a diva tough guy. Spin kicks. Director/co-writer Lettich seems to understand this. He plods the film along sort of brushing over enough details to get the film going and putting our heroes in some bad situations (even throwing in a weirdly underdeveloped love triangle that culminates in one twin getting drunk, leering, and kicking things during an imagined and very creepy love making sequence plugged with needless nudity), but he does give Van Damme a copious amount of situations to spin kick people. Even if the rest of the action is hum drum at best including some oddly placed slow motion bits and a rather uneventful fight between Van Damme and Bolo Yeung, it's hard not to be entertained by just how often the film piles on the action cheese and then spices it with relentless spin kicking. It's like a catch phrase for Van Damme and "Double Impact" uses it endlessly.

Whatever you do, do not make a drinking game out of his spin kicks. It's suicide.
One thing that did impress was just how tight the film looked. Lettich might not have had the best script to work with here or the best actors to get the job accomplished, but the production values of the film seemed pretty expansive even compared to Van Damme's previous two 90s action films. The sets are relatively cool, in a B-action way considering its like an abandoned resort, some shanty ships, and a weird dance club, and when Lettich wants to add some fun and tension into the film it works. It's not the best, but I certainly wasn't expecting the best.

"Double Impact" is a cheesy action film that relies on us to just have fun with its two Van Dammes are better than one gimmick. If you are willing to ride with its outrageous concept and sometimes silly approach to it, the film is uproariously fun. It has a few great action bits, the comedy is awkward, and Van Damme being an asshole to himself is worth the price of purchase. This is not a film for everyone, but I sure had a blast with it.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Tormented (2013)

Director: Takashi Shimizu
Notable Cast: Hikari Mitsushima, Takeru, Shibuya, Teruyuki Kagawa

Takashi Shimizu certainly set the standard high for his career. When you reach early critical (and worldwide nonetheless) success with a film like "Ju-On", which essentially changed the landscape of how to do ghost horror films when it was released, then you have a lot to live up to. It's been a rocky road for him since then as people clamor for quality on par of "Ju-On", but something different. His last film before "Tormented", the intriguing "Shock Labyrinth" seemed to see Shimizu heading back in the right direction. "Tormented", a film that follows in the same paths of "Shock Labyrinth," is easily Shimizu's best since the epic "Ju-On" even if it might divide its viewers a bit.

Kiriko (Mitsushima) lost her voice when she was younger so it's made helping her younger half brother Daigo (Shibuya) tougher than it should be. After the death of Daigo's mother, their father (Kagawa) has become a recluse, sheltering himself in crafting pop-up books. When Daigo starts having nightmares about stuffed rabbit doll, both handheld and as a person in a suit, Kiriko begins to worry. There's something else to the nightmares...they seem too real. Too familiar.

As with all of Shimizu films, "Tormented" focuses on creating artistic visceral imagery and suffocating atmosphere rather than focusing on...say, a coherent plot. While the plot for "Tormented" is definitely more decipherable than in some of his other films, it definitely takes a back seat to the emotions and painted pictures that he sets out to create for the audience. Luckily, this has been a trend for his films and I knew this going into "Tormented" so the lacking narrative flow didn't bother me as much as it did other viewers. It is still a bit of hindrance to the overall storytelling of the film, but when the atmosphere is in full effect...the film is a disturbing and thoughtful character study.

As creepy as our bunny 'villain' is to the film, it doesn't take long to realize that this isn't a simple film about good vs. evil. It's much more of a character focused tale that is not meant to trick us or all out scare us. It has plenty of creepy moments (when the person in the bunny suit first appears, it's a pretty intense jump scare) to cater to those horror fans out there pleading for another "Ju-On", but the film has far more dramatic tension the deeper character work. Unlike "Shock Labyrinth", which has an appearance in this film during a theater scene and some shared settings/scares - almost as if this was some sort of sister film sharing the same themes like stuffed rabbits, spiral staircases, and abandoned hospitals, this film has a much better cast that carries it. Although the child actor of the film can be a bit hit or miss, the rest is made up for by some impressive performances from Mitsushima and Kagawa that carry the film and make it a bit more real than the blurred sense of dream and reality that Shimizu cakes on. This helps for many of the scares since we care about what is happening to this family.

Occasionally, the film seems to wander a bit too much into predictable territory and the narrative does get almost too vague towards the end. The latter issue is something that I felt Shimizu meant to do, to get the audience feeling like they don't know what's real anymore, but it ended up being almost frustrating at times instead of engulfing like it should have. "Tormented" tends to leave too much in the air without enough grounding to make it as impactful as it could have been.

All in all, I quite enjoyed "Tormented" as it was much deeper of a film then I expected. It's less about the horror and more about the mysterious journey of what happened to a torn apart family so keep that in mind when you go to watch it. The atmosphere is engrossing and when the film wants to scare you it does just that. Although I felt it could have been a bit more grounded and the narrative could have been tightened, "Tormented" was a much better journey into the realms of the supernatural than I expected...leaving me pleasantly surprised.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Fans of Shimizu or more thoughtful "ghost" films should definitely click below to pre-order their copy of "Tormented" for its April 2nd, 2013 release date from Well Go USA. Do it now. It's a great Easter present for the kiddies! Or something.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Man With the Iron Fists, The (2012)

Director: RZA
Notable Cast: RZA, Russell Crowe, Rick Yune, Lucy Liu, David Bautista, Jamie Chung, Cung Le, Byron Mann, Pam Grier, Daniel Wu, Andrew Lin, Grace Huang, Chen Kuan-tai, Bryan Leung, Telly Liu, Xue Jing Yao, Zhu Zhu, Terence Yin, Gordon Liu

I should have known better. I really should have. "The Man With The Iron Fists" was simply too good to be true. Quentin Tarantino lends his name as a presenter, it's co-written by long time kung fu advocate RZA and horror guru Eli Roth, it has a cast of great memorable B-grade stars (and a few A-grade), and its story is obviously riffed off of one of my favorite silly Shaw Brothers vehicles "The Kid With The Golden Arm." I mean, this spelled awesome...or it should have. As it turns out, RZA's homage to classic kung fu comes off as an awkward modernization of the style rather than a true homage. It flounders on trying to do too much and, unfortunately, RZA's skills as a writer/director/actor are not enough to carry the film above some of it's charming qualities. It ends up being a rather head-scratcher instead.

The Blacksmith (RZA) has been making his living in Jungle Village by supplying weapons to most of the vicious gangs around, but he dreams for a life away from it all with the woman of his dreams Lady Silk (Chung). The problem arises that there was an upheaval in the Lion Clan and a corrupt son Silver Lion (Mann) and his brother Bronze Lion (Le) and the two plan to steal a shipment of gold that is being delivered through the village. Now its up to The Blacksmith with the help of a ex-Lion Clan member (Yune) and a drunken British knife fighter named Jack (Crowe) to stop them before they tear the town to pieces.

Now with eye popping fight sequences!
If you are a martial arts fan, the above synopsis should sound fucking awesome. That's because, deep down in the core of the film, there is something very cool about "The Man With The Iron Fists." It has revenge, clans based on animals, conniving prostitutes, Shaolin monks, a drunken Russell Crowe, enough wire work kung fu to shake a stick at, and a fucking villain who can turn his skin into brass. Yeah, fucking brass. This movie has so many great elements to it that it quite literally should have been the American film to reignite the martial arts craze in the mainstream! And in concept, I love this movie. I really do.

I kind of hope this is what Crowe is like in real life. A knife toting drunkard.
Too bad the concept just didn't pan out. There can be a lot said about this film and why it fails to reach the levels it should have. In essence, one can dwindle down it's problems into two categories: the writing and the directorial choices. I have no issue with RZA. The man knows kung fu. He simply had trouble translating his love and knowledge onto film. The script is simply too big for its own britches and comes off as too complicated with too many characters. The film has to rush through way too many things, including why our lost Lion son X-Blade is where he is or The Blacksmith's slavery beginnings, and it drags out the film as it pummels you with an endless array of scripting fluff. Perhaps Eli Roth wasn't the best co-writer either as the film tends to be a little...soft...when it comes to dialogue and thoughtful character interactions.

Then of course, we come to the second issue of "The Man With The Iron Fists"...the artistic choices by RZA. Far be it from me to criticize him going modern with this film, but...well it didn't work. Too often the film comes off as an awkward bastard love child of Shaw Brothers love and catering to American audiences' love of crappy editing to create intensity. It helps that the fighting is rather impressively choreographed by legendary Corey Yuen. It doesn't help that it was edited so poorly. Then again, rumor has it that RZA's cut of the film was four hours long and had to be edited down to an hour and half version for theatrical release...something RZA strongly disagreed with. It's obvious watching the movie too.

Cat claw style!
Perhaps that 'uncut' film will eventually see the light of day. Perhaps "The Man With The Iron Fists" will find its cult audience in ten years and survive in that way. Either way, as of right now, this long time martial arts fan is not impressed. "The Man With The Iron Fists" was too epic, too clunky, and too silly to truly inspire the frenzy I so hoped it would create. All in all, its mostly for die hard fans...even if they might find themselves disappointed.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Rogue (2007)

Director: Greg McLean
Notable Cast: Michael Vartan, Radha Mitchell, Sam Worthington, Mia Wasikowska, John Jarratt

You can't always judge a film by whether or not it was a box office success. In the case of the Australian man vs croc film "Rogue"'s definitely the case. For my second film in my "Croc Of Sh!t: Killer Croc/Gator Marathon," I went down under to visit "Rogue" for the first time. Coming from the director of the brilliant "Wolf Creek", I had mixed expectations. I mean, what killer croc film is truly good? As it would turn out, "Rogue" is probably the best killer croc film I've seen yet and it comes off as a rather fun, vicious, and surprisingly tense ride through the rivers of the Outback.

The last thing travel journalist Pete (Vartan) really wants is some silly riverboat trip into the Outback to see some crocodiles. Yet there he was with a boat full of tourists and families being lead by the charming guide Kate (Mitchell). When a distress flare is fired off of the path, its up to the boat to go investigate the problem...but the horrors are not what they find. It's what finds them.

What surprised me the most about "Rogue" was that it took itself very seriously. Not only that, but it was done seriously enough that it worked. Director/writer McLean has an obvious talent for taking rather well worn genres and injecting this with a dark streak and seriousness that lifts them almost to artistic levels. Who thought he could do it with a killer croc movie? Not I, said the cautious reviewer.

Dark water is scary as is...whether or not it has something that wants to eat you in it.
By taking itself more seriously, not being an obvious piece of trash or the goofy elements of "Lake Placid", it allows McLean and company to really build some great tension and atmosphere. As silly as it would seem on paper, watching a group of stranded people on a tiny island in the middle of a river trying to outsmart a crocodile was a rather riveting experience. He keeps it paced tightly and uses some basic elements like darkness and character tension to some impressive effects. The acting might have been a bit hit or miss (Vartan tends to be overshadowed by Mitchell and some of his supporting cast...including a brief buy fun role for a young Sam Worthington), but with the talented McLean behind the camera, the chemistry worked for the best.

Of course though, this film wouldn't even be here in the reviewing queue if it wasn't for the villain of the film: a big fucking crocodile. Although the film obviously didn't have the budget for some big croc moments, "Rogue" does manage to instigate enough terror with only dark shadowy glimpses of the carnivorous beast for the first two-thirds of the film. The finale does take it up a notch by having a bigger more intense standoff between our hero and the croc in its den where, believe it or not, the CGI actually looks pretty damn good. It was impressive enough not to ever take me out of the moment (perhaps more is due to McLean's pacing and thoughtful lighting to help the situation) and it creates for a memorable finale that kicks the film into horror territory.

Smile for the camera!
Obviously, "Rogue" is not perfect. It's often quite predictable and many of the smaller characters seem to be fodder for the slaughter rather than memorable bits. A few scenes seemed to be irrationally written (including the rope climbing debacle over the river is almost funny in how ridiculous it gets), but overall the film has a one-two punch of taunt tension and pretty impressive croc scares that kicks it to being the best killer croc film I've seen yet.

Written By Matt Reifschneider