Director: Johnnie To
Notable Cast: Louis Koo, Sun Honglei, Michelle Ye, Huang Yi, Wallace Chung, Li Guangjie
It's a sad fact that director Johnnie To will be one of the greatest directors ever to touch film that 98% of Americans will never know even existed. His continued excellence at delivering some of the best crime dramas and action films from Hong Kong is almost unearthly in speed. With the release of the latest, Drug War, you can add another film to his impressive resume. His latest crime action drama is a densely vicious film, slathered in a realistic and nihilistic tone that is powered by some truly impressively subtle performances and anchored by two insanely nuanced roles for both Louis Koo and Sun Honglei. It's not the most action packed of his films, but it's smoldering intensity and in the moment urgency make for an unforgettable cinematic experience.
Monday, September 30, 2013
Sunday, September 29, 2013
Notable Cast: Jason Statham, Agata Buzak
AKA: Hummingbird, Crazy Joe
It's funny that the US is so deathly afraid of Jason Statham doing anything other than action. It would seem that if he does a film that's too much drama or too much thriller, it's instantly shot into straight to DVD territory. It happened with the great cop thriller "Blitz" and it happened again with "Redemption." While this film tends to find itself stuck in that awkward state of being too dramatic for action fans and catering towards too much action to be truly considered a drama, "Redemption" is something of an intriguing watch if only for a few strong elements that raise it above being your typical straight to home video fodder.
Jason Statham, in perhaps one of his strongest performances yet, turns in as Joe Smith, a solider surviving under the radar trying to escape his past and a court martial as a homeless man on the streets of London. After he stumbles into the apartment of a rich man who plans to be gone for most of the year, he decides to take this as an opportunity to right the many wrongs of his life and to get back on track...taking a path that his past might have made too easy for him.
|I've seen worse. I've seen "The Italian Job!"|
The film has a winding sort of character driven story that essentially deals with two protagonists (Statham's Joe as the main portion, but with a good deal of time delivered to his nun friend Cristina too) who find themselves having a bit of a 'crazy patch' in their lives. While both have very intriguing plots going and how they interweave as we look at the state of redemption in a modern world, "Redemption" does tend to find itself lacking focus at time. Joe finds himself working as a hitter for a Chinese gang in the first half, but it's dropped essentially in the second to focus on his relationship with Cristina for example. The obvious focus of "Redemption" is the characters growth and arcs, which are both subtle and dramatic enough to raise plenty of moral questions in the viewer, but the plot itself tends to take second fiddle to the characters and visuals...which tends to leave things a bit up in the air by the end of the film.
|Reminds me of last Tuesday...and every Tuesday.|
|Give the guy a break...NOT THAT KIND!|
Written By Matt Reifschneider
Saturday, September 28, 2013
Aka "Gang Wars"
“Devil’s Express” is one of those unique trashy 70s films that’s a weird amalgamation of genres – 1 part Martial Arts, 1 Part Horror and 1 part Blaxploitation. All this makes for a film that doesn’t quite gel for coherency but one can’t deny it is truly unique and one hell-of-a good time despite-the-fact it’s complete garbage all around.
We open with a group of monks over in China committing suicide after burying what looks like a coffin in a cave. Fast forward to modern day 1976 and we are introduced to two martial artists that travel to Hong Kong to complete their training. Once over there they discover an amulet hidden in a cave and jack it for themselves. This awakens a centuries old demon that hitches a ride in a unsuspecting victim and lands in the U.S., where it takes refuge in the subway system and seemingly randomly starts mutilating people Once the best friend of our afro-ed lead star (played by, I shit you not, an ‘actor’ named Warhawk Tanzania) gets nixed, Tanzania heads into the subway all dolled up in his yellow satin, bell bottomed jump suit to take the beast on.
For a martial arts flick, what surprised me is that the fight sequences were terribly choreographed, to the point of unintentional laughter and despite our lead’s kick ass name, he is completely wooden as our ‘hero’, annoying the audience instead of having them root for him. The plot, which jumps all over the place from Hong Kong, to the subways of the Big Apple, to some distressing cops trying to solve the case which they blame on ‘gang wars’, is also full of inconsistences. For one the devil-like-creature takes over a human body to sneak over to America on a boat but later on it demonstrates the ability to teleport and even shape-shift into humans. Tell me again why it had to possess a body? Then again I’m probably looking for too much logic in a film that is a martial arts/horror/Blaxploitation hybrid where there obviously is none.
“Devil’s Express” was retitled by some distributors as “Gang Wars” in order to cash-in on the gang fight film genre kick started by “The Warriors”. “The Warriors” it ain’t but for it is a must see for fans of 70s oddities in how entertaining a film can be by mish-mashing film genres together into an incoherent mess. It is the only “Chinese demon travels to the subways of New York to face off against a black fighter and inadvertently causing a inter-racial gang war” film I can think of offhand. Think along the lines of “Miami Connection”, terrible but insanely entertaining despite itself. Code Red spent years trying to find a 35mm print of this ‘lost’ film and they succeeded and released a high quality DVD for fans of 70s trash to enjoy.
Written By Eric Reifschneider
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Notable Cast: Ted DiBiase, Jr., Temuera Morrison, Lara Cox, Robert Coleby, Michael Rooker
By watching this franchise backwards and starting with the third film in a silly attempt to increase the quality of each successive entry, I sure as hell didn't expect what I got with "The Marine 2." To be perfectly honest about all of the talk of 'vulgar auteurism' that has been circulating the movie interwebz, director Roel Reine's name has popped up more than a few times. Since I'm only familiar with his work on "Death Race 2" and "3," my hopes for this film being one of the great 'straight to home video' action gems was rather low. It just shows you what I know because "The Marine 2" might be big, dumb, and ultimately a low budget straight to home video actioner, but Reine injects enough charm and clever energy to lift it above the terrible film it had every right to be.
A Marine sniper Joe (DiBiase) has finally earned his time at home and his successful wife (Cox) has just the treat for him - an all expense paid trip so she can do some marketing and assisting to an asshole millionaire on his new island resort. While his adjustment back to 'real life' is a little tough, his training is going to come in handy when a group of militant terrorists take over the island and hold everyone hostage. The police seem ineffective so its up to Joe to sneak in, kill some baddies, and save the hostages before the situation gets out of hand.
|Tragic backstory? Check.|
"The Marine 2" is certainly not a great film. The plot is another formulaic "Die Hard" on an island clone, DiBiase Jr. is wooden in the lead with little to no character writing to help, and the additional 'plot twists' that it springs are generic and unsurprising. The script to this film felt like something that was cooked up in a few minutes and the writing for the dialogue and characters only supports that claim. The foundational elements of "The Marine 2" are boring and formulaic while most of our cast sleep walks through the film. Well... outside of Michael Rooker as the ex-powder monkey friend who eats up the scenery like the great cult actor he is. He's a life saver in many scenes for this film. The terrorists are not all that terrifying, their motivations are often half thought through, and the various betrayals and side switching that come with these kinds of films are either completely out of the blue or terribly obvious. On paper, "The Marine 2" is the kind of film that should have never been green lit.
|New friend to help out in a pinch? Check.|
|Action packed conclusion? Double check.|
Written By Matt Reifschneider
Notable Cast: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd, Rick Yune, Dylan McDermott
While 2013 has brought about plenty of odd things from Hollywood, perhaps one of the most intriguing was the fact that we received two "Die Hard" in a White House films...and neither one was an Asylum film. While I missed "Olympus Has Fallen" in theaters, I did see the other film, "White House Down," first so it's hard not to make comparisons. I'll do my best to focus on "Olympus Has Fallen" even if the two films are remarkably similar. On its own, "Olympus" is a fun and brutal film. Even if it's an essentially formulaic and rather silly film overall, it overcomes its own pitfalls with 80s style violent action charm.
|Sit com gold right here.|
Written By Matt Reifschneider
Sunday, September 22, 2013
Director: James Wan
Notable Cast: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Lin Shaye, Barbara Hershey, Ty Simpkins, Steve Coulter, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson
WARNING: This review will contain spoilers for the first “Insidious.”
In what some may call ‘record time,’ “Insidious Chapter 2” hit theaters only a couple months after James Wan’s previous horror outing “The Conjuring.” While both “The Conjuring” and the first “Insidious” represent the true talents of the modern horror icon of directing, my skepticism for “Insidious Chapter 2” still ran strong. The first film was a story that wrapped up nicely and while I enjoyed it immensely, the writing for the film weakened in the second act with the introduction of The Further and astral projection. Assuming that the sequel would run further with The Further, it was hard for me to jump behind this sequel with as much enthusiasm as I would for any other James Wan film.
My skepticism was mostly justified as I meandered my way out of the theater. “Insidious Chapter 2” is quite frankly an extension of the first film providing a film that is altogether a sequel, prequel, and an alternate version to the first “Insidious.” Confused by this statement? That’s alright because I’m not even quite sure what the hell was going on by the end with all of the little new elements they added. We’ll to that a little bit later though.
To start things off, I have to admit that I had some solid fun with “Insidious Chapter 2.” This time around director Wan and writer Whannell decide to push the fantastical elements even further. When we last left the Lambert family the son was brought back from his demonic holding and the family was together again…until our cliff hanger hinting that perhaps the dad, Josh (played by the every diverse Patrick Wilson) had been replaced by another insidious ghost. This concept gives a great leaping point for “Insidious Chapter 2” to explore. What happens when the ghosts make it back from The Further? This allowsWilson to get his Jack Torrence on as the family sees him slowly change into something devious and sinister in front of their eyes. Strong performances from Rose Byrne and Wilson carry most of the familial portions of the film (she has a scared face that really sells many of the sillier moments) and Wan is once again the highlight of making this damn film tick – exploiting every possible jump scare to maximum effect including an inventive and relatively inspired use of the kids’ tin can and string phone set for a great moment. When “Insidious Chapter 2” wants to fright it does so handedly even getting a young girl to actually start crying in my theatrical screening.
|"Shhh...don't tell anyone about what's in the next paragraph."|
Yet, like the first “Insidious,” the writing is where the film tends to crumble. With the sequel, it crumbles much faster and much deeper. Wan and Whannell add more humor to the mix increasing the screen time of our bumbling duo ghost hunters and they increasingly explore the realm of The Further. The film opens with a flashback of the father’s childhood and his first “exorcism” by a rather oddly dubbed young Elise (voiced by Lin Shaye from the first film) and begins to indicate that The Further does much more than house the wandering spirits of pissed off dead folk. This prequel portion then leads us down a detective plot progression as our ghost hunters, new found clairvoyant, and the grandmother try to figure out who the evil witch is and how to force her ass back to The Further. This leads to a handful of sequences of ‘found footage’ moments as they investigate a haunted old house that’s intertwined with Patrick Wilson being creepy. The flow of the film stutters throughout most of this middle portion and struggles to find a balance of what the focus should be. To make matter even stranger (and harder to justify), “Insidious Chapter 2” even throws in some time travel elements here to link the prequel portion, unexplained events in the first film, and where this film wants to go altogether. This is where this sequel lost me. While The Further has tons of potential for exploration, they create a massive device for an essentially unending source of plot holes for any other films in the franchise (which they have already announced a third film at the time of this review). This ridiculous plot device allows our characters to enter The Further, change past events, visit other ghosts memories, and even destroy memories all in the name of creating a franchise of open possibilities…and asinine plot holes to get utterly lost in.
|Always hide when your dad goes "The Shining" on you.|
While I appreciate the ‘new ground’ that this sequel ambitiously covers, the film comes off as horrendously uneven overall. The scares, although quite effective, seem to be added in just for the sake of adding in jump scares, the duel plot of ghost hunting and Josh’s Jack Torrance collapse fail to flow with the ease Wan is known for providing, and the last act gets so fantastical with The Further (even having characters from the future become reasons for events in the first film) that it had the audience laughing at times. “Insidious Chapter 2” might not deter my love for James Wan, this is handedly his weakest film to date and one that doesn’t even touch the intensity and cleverness of the first film. It’s a fun sequel and it has its moments, but it’s a massive disappointment overall.
Written By Matt Reifschneider
Monday, September 16, 2013
Notable Cast: Luke Mably, Jimi Mistry, Pollyanna McIntosh, Chukwudi Iwuji, Nathalie Cox, Adar Beck, John Lloyd Fillingham, Gemma Chan, Colin Salmon
Going into “Exam,” I knew very little about the film. I had seen a trailer previously, thought it looked intriguing for a concept, but sort of forgot about the film until recently when I discovered it was available on Netflix Streaming. Just the cover art, with its blacks and reds and stark contrasts, perked my curiosity once again and there I was heading down impulse-watch-lane. Luckily, “Exam” fully lives up to its high concept and comes off as a smart and truly unique thriller. While its one setting and often-subtle use of clues might find some viewers yawning with anticipation, “Exam” had me by the edge of my seat the entire time.
In a realm of endless by-the-numbers thrillers, “Exam” is most certainly a breath of fresh air. While many thrillers tend to focus on ‘who’ for their mystery (Who killed? Who is the betrayer? Who is the mastermind?), “Exam” takes an intriguing high end concept for its mystery. Eight strangers competing for a high end position in a very powerful company are left in a bare room with a blank sheet of paper and told there is only one question and one answer. So “Exam” quickly throws our diverse characters, who are cleverly introduced with small traits of how they prepared themselves for this final exam, into the mystery of ‘what is the question.’ Yet the film does something remarkable with this idea. In true Agatha Christie form, which is reaffirmed with a reference to “Ten Little Indians,” the ‘what’ that is so important to these characters leaves the audience digging into the more important question of ‘why’ is the corporation taking such measures. It’s a brilliant move that makes every clue of dialogue or plot progression as our characters make choices all the more relevant.
|The room where it all goes down.|
|Paranoia runs thick in genre films.|
Written By Matt Reifschneider
Sunday, September 15, 2013
Aka "In the Line of Duty VII: Sea Wolves", "In the Line of Duty 7", "SeaWolves"
All good things must come to an end and the long running Hong Kong action franchise “In the Line Duty” finally calls it a day and in honesty it was due time. The series quietly began descending downhill since its pinnacle fourth entry with the last film “Forbidden Arsenal” being utterly disappointing in its mediocrity. Sadly the same can be said for “Sea Wolves”, the seventh and final entry, which was released the same year, no doubt resulting in its rushed production and lower production values.
The “Sea Wolves” of the title refers to the characters played by Simon Yam and Gary Chow. One is the member of modern pirate ship smuggling illegal items and the other is a drifter whom the ships picks up with other rafters escaping to a better life. The ships captain kills the other drifters and soon the two friends are on China mainland escaping for their lives, dodging the cops in the process.
The main problem in this film is that series star Cynthia Khan (being the lead character since “In the Line of Duty III”) has essentially been reduced to a supporting role while letting Yam and Chow run the show. Perhaps spoiled by the previous entries which graced us with an amazing action sequence within the first 6 minutes, “Sea Wolves” starts off rather slow and the fight sequences are rather unmemorable. However the film perks up around the halfway point when Khan becomes more of an integral part of the plot with the climatic fight sequence set aboard a ship featuring all three of our stars being quite good.
The climatic fight scene almost redeems the film as the ship setting gives the audience some interesting visuals and backgrounds but overall “Sea Wolves” is just as mundane as “Forbidden Arsenal” and the overall result is just a mere shadow of Parts III and IV. The ending offers some good fight scenes for Hong Kong action fanatics that can patiently wait but in the end “Sea Wolves” is a rather unsatisfactory ending to the franchise and Cynthia Khan's sexy gun totting character joins Dirty Harry with a disappointing film send-off.
Written By Eric Reifschneider
Friday, September 13, 2013
Director: Edgar Wright
Notable Cast: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Rosamund Pike, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan, David Bradley, Bill Nighy, Pierce Brosnan
Well it’s finally the end, “The World’s End” that is and the end of Edgar Wright’s three flavors Cornetto trilogy. It’s been awhile since “Hot Fuzz” came out in 2007 but we are finally treated with the flawless chemistry between Nick Frost and Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright in the director’s chair for at least one last time. Except there is already one big difference; the role reversals of our two leads. While Nick Frost usually plays the bumbling idiot, he is the reasonable character in this film. This makes for a nice switcheroo, separating the final film with the previous two. Being all comedy films, the Cornetto trilogy are all different flavors of genre. “Shaun of the Dead” is with zombie/horror, “Hot Fuzz” with action, and “The World’s End” actually fitting elements of both with sc-fi. But the question is can “The World’s End” live up to its two predecessors? Given the theater’s response, the answer is definitely yes.
“The World’s End” revolves around Gary King and his “entourage” of old high school friends when he decides to finish off a bar crawl that was never completed twenty years ago. King has never left those days, being a broke and chronic alcoholic with a “not a care in the world” attitude. He contacts all four of his friends which have established decent lives for themselves and ruses them all to attend, especially the one that gave up on drinking, Andy Knightley (played by Nick Frost). After plainly manipulating him and lying to him, King convinces his toughest opponent and the pub crawl is underway. They must make their way to twelve different pubs in order to finish the pub crawl with the last one being the film’s title which also fits the description of the film purposely. Just as things seem to be ending early with the others, most notably Andy, with Gary’s irrational behavior, the town’s secret reveals itself in the men’s washroom and things start to get even more interesting. Our unlikely heroes have to overcome a town full of robot replacements (much like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”) being run by aliens before it is truly the world’s end.
Much like the two previous films, our third entry doesn’t fail to deliver some excellent humor which shows its head in two ways; through dialogue and physical comedy. The dialogue is excellent, though at times fast paced, so this isn’t a lazy popcorn film at all which definitely gives it more merit. As a matter of fact, he seems to even steal the show at times. When the action kicks in, it’s absolutely a wonderful treat. The amount of dedication from cast and crew in these scenes is clearly there with everyone seemingly having to learn very impressive choreography and pulling it off flawlessly, especially Nick Frost whose character has his head on straight for a change. The film was actually under supervision of stunt coordinator Brad Allen, the only non-Asian to ever make it in Jackie Chan’s stunt crew, so the amazing work definitely shows. Given all of the film’s merits, there is however one thing that did get on my nerves; Gary King. Unlike the last two films where Simon Pegg plays a more straight character, Gary King is basically an immature adult teenager and while I understand his fitting into the film, he just got a tad on my nerves a few times. I’m not a fan of overly obnoxious characters, and oh boy is he ever obnoxious. Of course, having to feel this way is probably the point, but I felt it was just a little bit of overkill. The ending of the film is way more ambitious than anything in the last two and bares its teeth showing off the film’s budget which is definitely way larger than “Shaun of the Dead” or “Hot Fuzz.” I wasn’t big on the choice of ending, but everyone is going to have their preferences.
What makes the Cornetto trilogy stand out among the crowd is that it is absolute proof that a bigger budget does not equal a better movie. With the films growing in budget however, Edgar Wright shows that bigger productions are no problem for him as he can handle quite anything. Not only is the cast always exceptional, but the crew is also. What makes the films great in this trilogy is the excellent execution of all genres involved. It’s a comedic genre trilogy and each one is embraced. These are films made by fans for fans and the dedication is truly apparent. Even though I might favor “The World’s End” less than “Hot Fuzz” and “Shaun of the Dead,” it is still an excellent film that definitely deserves the praise. If only a huge bulk of Hollywood could take notes from these films, as we find our popcorn entertainment going a little stale. Edgar, Simon, and Nick, thanks for the ride. It was a good one.
Written By Elise Holmes
Aka "In the Line of Duty VI: Forbidden Arsenal", "In the Line of Duty 6"
This by far the hardest DVD I have ever had to track down in my DVD collecting days. After obtaining and enjoying the first five entries into the “In the Line of Duty” franchise I had to complete the series by locating the sixth and seventh films. The problem was is the Joy Sales DVD release of “Forbidden Arsenal” was already out-of-print and it seemed that no Hong Kong DVD website had it in stock. After weeks of searching and asking questions on forums and websites, I was finally pointed in the right direction of a seller who was selling the DVD for the ‘low’ Criterion price of $29.99. Though it ended up being entertaining enough for a typical early 90s Hong Kong action flick, it was hardly worth all the blood, sweat and tears it took me to hunt the damn thing down.
Cynthia Khan returns as the smoking hot police women with a gun as she crashes the party of a gun running operation. In the process she encounters two undercover cops, one from ‘proper’ China (referred to in the film as ‘mainlander’) and one from Taiwan. The three must team up, despite the clashing of their beliefs and ideals, in order to bring the entire operation down.
Though disappointing when compared to the first five entries into the franchise, “Forbidden Arsenal” is still entertaining for Hong Kong action film fans. Cynthia Khan is sexy as ever and owns her in own in the action sequences, one just gets saddened that the action and stunt sequences suffered a bit do to the low budget limitations causing the series to show it’s tired blood. This wouldn’t be the last entry into the “In the Line of Duty” franchise as the seventh and final entry “Sea Wolves” would be released the same year.
Written By Eric Reifschneider
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Notable Cast: Vin Diesel, Matthew Nable, Jordi Molla, Katee Sackhoff, Dave Bautista, Bokeem Woodbine, with cameos by Karl Urban and Keri Hilson
Outside of the odd ability for "Pitch Black" to takes its B-grade foundations and convert them to an A-grade film, the Riddick series stumbled when it tried to advance itself into an A-grade series with the second entry "Chronicles Of Riddick." Not that "Chronicles" was the atrocity that so many people make it out to be, it's not a great film by any means, but the Riddick franchise was firmly rooted in the over the top and often silly realm of action series of old. It's a style and focus that you either understand or you don't...which is what makes the third entry of the franchise such an intriguing one. "Pitch Black" might have risen above its means and "Chronicles" might have tried too hard to be something it wasn't, but "Riddick" knows and caters to the fan base with such intensity and ferocity that if you're a fan it's hard not to find something you love.
Don't misunderstand me, it's hard not to be torn about the qualities of "Riddick." On one hand, the film is a massively entertaining film that caters to 'vulgar auteur' in me with terribly cheesy dialogue, super violent action sequences, and characters that focus on fitting stereotypes more than real people. This was what was promised to us and I'll be damned if "Riddick" doesn't deliver on this promise. On the other hand, all of those previously mentioned aspects make for a film that can hardly be taken seriously or judged on a 'classic' scale of good or bad. Just know that going into this film that you should probably check your coat and brain at the door and just except the film for what it is.
|"Now it's your turn Urban to save a dying franchise with Dredd!"|
|Riddick with his tiger-wolf-horse-hyena thing.|
Outside of the cast, the film has a little trouble giving us a cohesive narrative. "Riddick" feels like three films threaded together. The first third, my favorite portion, has a lone Riddick struggling to survive on a harsh planet populated by pissed off CGI creatures. The narration here is fun and the pacing brisk as we watch Riddick do what he does best, rise to the occasion to kick ass. While it does have some odd moments (a naked Riddick walking on the rocks was a little awkward), this first portion really sets a standard that the rest of the film has trouble following. The second act focuses on our mercenaries who come to find Riddick. They bicker and banter for a while and its fun to see Riddick go into stealth mode, but the film tends to drag a little here. This portion does, however, add a nice connection to the first film which I didn't see coming. The third act then goes straight for "Pitch Black" mode as the few surviving mercs and Riddick have to escape the planet from the evil scorpion aliens who intend to kill them. This is perhaps the most action oriented portion of the film and is easily the most exciting even if it still lacks a bit of the charm of the first act. While all three have their pros and cons, sometimes the transitions between the three feel a bit forced.
Written By Matt Reifschneider