Sunday, January 26, 2014

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014)

Director: Christopher B. Landon
Notable Cast: Andrew Jacobs, Jorge Diaz, Gabrielle Walsh, Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat

Like most popular horror franchises, “Paranormal Activity” is divided amongst the horror aficionados. Love it or hate it, it still banks quite a bit for its production cost in theaters and they don’t seem to be slowing down. In fact, there is supposed to be two of them released just in 2014 alone. The first is the rather intriguing “Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones,” which is more or less a spin off on the series than a direct sequel concerning the events around our haunted sisters in the main franchise. Ironically, because it tends to cover new ground and go with a slightly different tone, “The Marked Ones” is handedly the best sequel in the franchise…one that might be surprising in many ways for both fans and detractors.

Jesse (Jacobs) just graduated high school and is flying high with loyal friends and a family that loves him. When a weird occurrence concerning his friend from school and the odd older lady that lives below him perks his curiosity, he finds himself marked for something evil…and it’s going to take all of his friends to help him find out just what is happening.

Bitten by the found footage bug, I see.
While “The Marked Ones” doesn’t necessarily strike itself as a full original entry, there are plenty of “classic” (read: mundane) “Paranormal Activity” moments to be had like things flying at the camera and long shots as the audience held it’s breath waiting for something to happen, it does happen to find a sort of renewed energy with its spin off tale. Instead of focusing on the “haunting” of said family/people, it focuses more on building stronger characters and a slightly different arc for the plot. Less about random ghost events and more about supernatural events that include super human abilities and a mystery involving the neighbor. Not to give too much away plot wise, but this allows the film to take some different routes including how the best friend becomes the protagonist in the latter half and having to deal with inhuman powers.

The film also benefits from a new setting. The Latino influence is something reinvigorating to the series and new elements like gang life-styles, which leads a massively entertaining finale when they go to siege a house with a couple of gun-toting gangsters, give the series a breath of fresh air. It may not always make sense, but dammit it was ten times more entertaining than the last few entries.

Finding these in your basement, prime bank for a script!
Occasionally “The Marked Ones” falls prey to the same predictable elements of storytelling and an ending that really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense (here’s to hoping that answer a few of those plot holes in Part 5), but overall I was pleasantly surprised with my entire experience here. It builds the mythology, adds some new elements, and still remains fairly true to the structure and style of the series. “The Marked Ones” is a reminder of how and why this series became popular to begin with.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Killers (2014)

Director: The Mo Brothers
Notable Cast: Kazuki Kitamura, Oka Antara, Rin Takanashi, Luna Maya, Ray Sahetapy

While I am somewhat ashamed to say that I have yet to experience the first Mo Brothers film "Macabre," I was lucky enough to score a ticket for their second full length feature "Killers" at the Sundance Film Festival. Outside of some short films, I didn't quite know what to expect from the new age masters of horror and I have to say that "Killers" was all sorts of visceral. One part brutal serial killer flick, one part atmospheric thriller, and one part character drama, "Killers" is the kind of film that rides the line between grindhouse and arthouse in all the best of ways. It's mentally disturbing, yet sort of beautiful in its weaving tale of two men connected by frustration in a modern world.

When Bayu, a man struggling to find justice as a writer and seeing his own personal life crumble, stumbles upon a serial killer uploading his kills online, he becomes somewhat obsessed with the idea. This killer, a Japanese man named Nomura, seemingly becomes obsessed with "his number one fan" too and when Bayu takes some vigilante justice and posts it online, a sort of rivalry ensues...culminating in two struggling men heading for a vicious ending.

There is most certainly an intriguing element to "Killers." It's the weird ability that The Mo Brothers have to craft a film that is essentially a schlock killing film about killers filming themselves and somehow pulling some significant social commentary out of it while keeping both lead characters fairly connected with the audience. Both leads are fantastic in their respective roles. Bayu, the character whom we are to connect far too easily with as his spiral into violence feels justified to correct wrongs with our world, essentially represents morality in a frustrated man. Nomura, the character that we struggle to understand but find ourselves rooting for redemption due to his irresistible charm, represents the immorality of the film and one we hope to see find his path. This humane essence of the film, partnered with a healthy dose of 'social media' criticism and the shortcomings of a justice system with too many flaws, makes "Killers" insanely deep for the brutal violence and horror tags it will receive.

On the other side, "Killers" is a brutal, brutal horror thriller too. Blending the story of two different men together, we are taken down a road that showcases some stunningly real death sequences. The Mo Brothers never shy away from the gore or the violence (giving the atmosphere some much needed release) and outside of one odd CGI moment towards the end, it's phenomenally unnerving how they go about it all. Each of the kills is something of a character growth point for our two leads (crazy how that can work in a great horror film) and while some of it is very hard to stomach it works in a stunning fashion to balance out the character acting and strong writing of the film.

All in all, "Killers" is a definite must see for those willing to submerge themselves into a striking piece of narrative horror storytelling. It's a focused and vicious film that's unrelenting in its strong acting, strong direction, and eye-popping special effects. Plus it has great streaks of dark humor (including a police discussion that might be the best comedic set piece I've seen in a long time) that are splashed throughout, something that helps break up the tension nicely. "Killers" is not a film for those faint of heart, but if you are willing to swallow the bitter pill it's worth the time.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Friday, January 24, 2014

Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon (2014)

Director: Tsui Hark
Notable Cast: Mark Chao, Feng Shaofeng, Angelababy, Lin Gengxin, Kim Bum, Carina Lau

Tsui Hark has become something of his own worst enemy when it comes to his big budget action flicks. While his early career made use of the ridiculous to create fun spectacle, his current handful of films have transformed into a parody that mimicks that idea with terrible CGI and nonsensical scripts. Sometimes it works (the first “Detective Dee”) and sometimes it’s fucking awful (“Flying Swords of Dragon Gate”). This turn of events lead me to be skeptical of “Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon.” The prequel to his big budget fantasy Sherlock Holmes-esque flick benefits and suffers from the same elements that made the first one such a hit or miss film…and all the while it falls just slightly short. 

Detective Dee (Mark Chao) is sent to help out a local police force in one of the major cities and when he arrives he finds out that a portion of the navy has been sunk by a "sea dragon" that the locals are scared shitless about. To add problems to the matter, local hot shot Detective Yuchi (Feng Shaofeng) only has ten days to solve the mystery or he loses his head. With a local courtesan (Angelababy) being haunted by a dragon man, mysterious assassins, and a monster in the sea these two detectives are going to have their hands full solving this one.

The new and young Detective Dee.
One thing that is for certain, it is that China is getting better and better at incorporating the ridiculous CGI elements into their big spectacle films. This might be the most cohesive special effects that Hark has used yet as there are only a few moments that made me cringe, including perhaps one of the best unintentional humor injected escape moments when Dee rides a horse across boat pieces to make it to the other ship. It’s not great, but it could have been the “Flying Swords.” While I still much prefer the practical effects, and there is some here like the dragon man, the CGI isn't quite as bad as I've seen if before in these kinds of films.

Hark does have a knack for visual strength.
The problem that does remains with “Young Detective Dee” is that the story is so utterly fucking ridiculous that it takes away from the interesting detective elements that form the foundation of the film. Mark Chao plays the younger Dee (replacing the phenomenal Andy Lau) and his charisma on screen helps, even if it's not quite as intriguing as his predecessor, but the plot is so out there that rarely do we get to see some of the solid acting that is on display here. We get dragon men, a giant sea monster, poisoned officials, and a detective rivalry that generally makes the film a little too overcomplicated for its own good. By the time we end up going to Bat Island (I know, I hope that's a real place too) I was a bit overwhelmed. In a way it’s a blast of cheesy fun if you are looking for that outrageousness in your films, but rarely does it make for the captivating mystery film that the premise of Detective Dee holds.

Luckily, Tsui Hark isn’t all spectacle and can still shoot a strong action sequence. While most of the action requires the high flying wire work and far too much CGI weaponry, it’s effective in the entertainment area. When Dee’s rival Yuchi gets mad and literally leaps through the roof to find him, I cried from laughter and had to rewind the scene. I don’t necessarily know that was the response that Hark was shooting for, but dammit it might be one of my favorite moments in one of his films in a long time. This is just an example of how Hark can still be fun.

Flying high again.
If you saw the first “Detective Dee” then you know generally what to expect here. The CGI is slightly better, the plot is more ridiculous, and the charm of the series remains even if half of it makes little to no sense (including the crazy doctor with an ape arm). Take it with a grain of salt and you might enjoy it as true pulp entertainment. Otherwise, you might be apt to visit a slightly more serious film.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Child's Play 2 (1990)

Director: John Lafia
Notable Cast: Alex Vincent, Christine Elise, Jenny Agutter, Gerrit Graham, Brad Dourif

After the first “Child’s Play” found some success in theaters, it was only a matter of time for the slasher series to be franchised and two years later we find ourselves with “Child’s Play 2.” Directed by one of the writers of the original, this sequel finds itself essentially retracing the footsteps of the second half the first film with moderate success. The overall concept might be more or less “the same” and the execution might be hit or miss too, but that doesn’t stop “Child’s Play 2” from being a fun slasher despite its flaws.

Andy (Vincent) has been placed into temporary foster care after the events of the first film as his mother “gets better.” Whatever that means. Here he is placed into a nice home with another foster kid in Kyle (Elise) with two foster parents doing their best for him. Unfortunately, his nightmare isn’t over as the villainous Chucky’s body is re-animated from a company looking to outrun the controversy over their killer doll. Now Chucky needs to find Andy fast to make sure he isn’t stuck in the doll form forever.

Chucky, ruler of the kill.
While the whole concept of “Child’s Play 2” isn’t a far cry from the last half of the first film plot wise, director John Lafia and company seem intent on keeping the film fun and running with the elements that fans clung onto from the first: mainly watching a killer doll kill people and letting Brad Dourif swear and scream. Even our hero, played again with surprising effectiveness by Vincent, goes through the same arch as before with new foster parents don’t believe him and escaping the clutches of Chucky. “Child’s Play 2” is not built on originality, folks.

What the film is built on is being a fun and charismatic slasher. While most of the darker horror streaks are already missing by this time, they are replaced with cartoonish and over the top moments that do add a bit of fun to the entire experience. A sequence where Chucky follows Andy to school and kills his overbearing teacher is completely irrelevant to the plot, but comes off as one of the more memorable pieces in the film that lets Chucky do more ridiculous things like add a kill in a colorful setting and drop some darkly funny one liners in the process. The missing horror does make for a rather mundane slasher overall, but it’s hard not to be caught up in the ridiculousness of the concept.

A silly kill, I see.
“Child’s Play 2” has a pretty distinct cult following 20 years after it’s release and it’s easy to see why. The film is fun, focuses on the elements that made the first one a cult classic, and it has some silly, but memorable moments. It is a step down from the original in the lacking horror elements, missing atmosphere, and unoriginal plot progression that follows a bit too close to the original. Nonetheless, fans are sure to love (or continue to love) the first sequel in this slasher franchise despite some obvious flaws.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

47 Ronin (2013)

Director: Carl Rinsch
Notable Cast: Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada, Rinko Kikuchi, Ko Shibasaki

If one word could describe the experience of watching “47 Ronin,” it would be a simple one…awkward. This isn’t a huge surprise for an Americanized retelling of Japanese historical lore, especially one that stars Keanu ‘Shaolin Wooden Acting Man’ Reeves in the lead role, and it wasn’t a huge surprise that it bombed at the box office. The critics panned it, the audiences ignored it, but in the end…it wasn’t all that bad. It wasn’t good, but I’ve seen far worse.

Kai (Reeves) is a ‘half-breed’ in feudal Japan. Shunned by his clan for his looks and rumors that he was raised by forest demons (?!), he takes solace in knowing that his Master and Master’s daughter truly do love him for him. When a rival clan plans to overthrow his and frames his Master, he must partner up with the head samurai (Hiroyuki Sanada) and his faithful warriors to uncover a dastardly plan by a rival Master.

In a sense, there is certainly a classic samurai film at the heart of “47 Ronin.” A revenge plot, clan rivalry, an anti-hero lead shunned by society, and plenty of sword fighting all grace the general plot of the film and it creates a certainly solid old school foundation for the rest. Hell, there are even plenty of great moments in the film. A colorful bout between the two rival clans (featuring the ever awesome Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as the Shogun) in the opening deserves some credit as does most of the epic siege style finale of the film. I would even go as far to say that outside of the cringe worth performance of Keanu, the rest of the cast is impressively suited for the film. Sanada owns as the most engaging character in the film and Rinko Kikuchi (also seen last year in the epic as shit kaiju film “Pacific Rim”) simply eats up as the ridiculously weird witch. It’s as if there is a truly unique and solid film at the core of what “47 Ronin” has to offer.

Keanu displaying every emotion he has!
This is, unfortunately, wrapped in modern shit blanket. Instead of focusing on the strong characters present, “47 Ronin” decides to try and engage the audience with way too much CGI “Avatar” and “Lord of the Rings” inspired monsters and a plot that needlessly focuses on a lead actor/character that is rarely engaging or interesting. Instead of a character driven action/drama that the foundation lays down, “47 Ronin” has a hard on for fantasy driven spectacle and the film crumbles because of it. Weird horse/lion monsters, bird monks, ogres, and even a dragon all show up for the action sequences and essentially destroy any great classic moments that could have been had. This is driven by a lead character, whom despite some solid intriguing ideas, comes off as totally un-relatable and wishy-washy as a hero played by the tree trunk emotions of Keanu Reeves.

On top of that, the film starts and ends with a very awkward explanation and recap of why this story is relevant. While I understand that the general American audience has no fucking clue about this tale or any of the cultural customs in the film, it still feels utterly tacked on for explanation's sake.

"Don't look at me like I don't belong!"
“47 Ronin” is not a bad film overall, it’s just a horribly executed one as it desperately tried to latch onto the wrong elements for an American audience. The structure and core of the film remain something interesting with its throwback moments to samurai film classics, but the rest is surface level drivel that leaves the film as forgettable nonsense. It all just ends up being so damn awkward.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Monday, January 20, 2014

Brave Archer, The (1977)

Director: Chang Cheh
Notable Cast: Alexander Fu, Tanny Tien, Ku Feng, Philip Kwok, and a cameo by Ti Lung

“The Brave Archer” was always a Shaw Brothers film that caught my attention. It had a rather extensively strong cast, directed by my favorite kung fu director Chang Cheh, and it’s based on the epic novel “The Legend of the Condor Heroes.” It had massive potential to be a rolling kung fu epic! Too bad, generally speaking, it’s one of the worst Shaw Brothers films I’ve had to go through thus far.

When two young boys are separated at birth due to their fathers being slaughtered in a political dispute, they are trained by two separate masters to do battle 18 years later to settle a dispute (?!). When Guo Jing (Alexander Fu) grows to be old enough, he sets off to prove himself as a warrior only to become mixed up with a slew of scary kung fu masters who use him to as a pawn in their own games…can Guo Jing come out as the true winner in the end with his newly found love?

I wish I could truly tell you what “The Brave Archer” is about because, quite frankly, I don’t have a fucking clue what the plot actually set out to accomplish. I know that wuxia films, particularly those based on epic novels, tend to be a little ridiculous with expansive plots and lots of characters, but “The Brave Archer” might just be one of the weirdest and incohesive transitions that I’ve seen. The plot progression is almost like it is being told to you by a four year old with little regard to coherency or flow. It starts off looking to be a political film about two brothers separated at birth only to forced to battle later on, but that plot is quickly dropped and forgotten for a new romantic subplot that includes various ancient kung fu masters. It’s as if there are three or four films all jammed into two hours with no end goal in sight.

The hair style is...almost the same.
To add to the outrageousness of the script, the film has WAY too many characters to justify their screen time. The opening cast list seems to take more time then most characters have on screen (which is little to none for the most) and their constant bickering and dueling gets old by half way through. By the time the end of the film comes about they start throwing in battles just for the sake of it to keep the audience entertained (a bridge battle between two kung fu masters occurs while our hero attempts to out duel his opponent by memorizing text…I shit you not) and it makes for a rather under whelming experience.

"Can we all just stand around and get paid?"
For an epic film from Chang Cheh, “The Brave Archer” is about as muddled and unfocused as one can get. The lead character is flat, the plot is far too complicated (and poorly explained) for the audience to give two shits, and the fights tend to be forgettable. Luckily, it does have a few choice great secondary characters to make it work like a claw fisted blind woman and a giggling beggar. Otherwise, this might be an utterly skippable film on all levels.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Friday, January 10, 2014

Man of Tai Chi (2013)

Director: Keanu Reeves
Notable Cast: Tiger Chen, Keanu Reeves, Simon Yam, Karen Mok, and a cameo by Iko Uwais

I’m still baffled by the continued existence of Keanu Reeves as a leading man in film. As I write this, his current film “47 Ronin” is crashing and burning before our very eyes as it bombs in the American box office, and outside of handful of films like “The Matrix” and “Bill & Ted” his previous films don’t spell out A-list star. So when it came to “Man of Tai Chi,” I’m sure I’m not the only one that held their breath considering it’s his debut directorial effort. Lucky for us, his work as a director is much more proficient then his ‘shaolin wooden man’ acting style and this low budget martial arts flick comes off as a surprisingly efficient and competent film.

Tiger (Chen) has been living the standard life. He works much too hard for so little pay, his romantic life is essentially non-existent, and opportunities seem scarce. He is studying to be proficient in tai chi, but his frustration with life is most certainly affecting his chi. When he receives a mysterious letter offering him a job working ‘security’ with Donaka Mark (Reeves) he can hardly believe his luck. Getting paid ridiculous amounts of money to fight? But not everything is as it seems and Tiger is about to learn the true meaning of strife when things start to take a slide for the darker.

Tai chi: not just for people in parks any more!
While Tiger Chen has had his fair share of praise as a stuntman in key films like “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and the two “Matrix” sequels, his first leading man performance here was something of a mystery to me initially. Yet, he ably handles the material well here. Despite some of the overzealous classic Yuen Woo-Ping fight choreography and some of the modern visual choices by director Reeves, the film relies a lot on the subtle character arch of Tiger Chen and he does it rather well here. Keanu Reeves plays the villain of the film and hams it up enough to counterbalance Chen when needed and, believe it or not, it works.

Every emotion that Keanu is capable of...
As for the plot, “Man of Tai Chi” does something rather interesting. There are plenty of films that try to blend modern cinema with classic kung fu themes to varying degrees of success, but “Man of Tai Chi” does both with remarkable extremity. The film pulls a rather modern punch with the televised underground fighting plot and the uber-modern Donaka as the villain, but it adds in a definite streak of classic kung fu mysticism into the picture with the classic style temple and the master/student relationship. Occasionally the film runs a bit cliché (deciding between selfish motives and stronger moral values) and it’s often a bit predictable, but with the style and fun fight sequences never does it come off as boring.

Fighting and dancing. One and the same.
While Keanu Reeves might not be a selling point as an actor for most critics, “Man of Tai Chi” proves that he might be a selling point when it comes to directing. His debut is a fun and intriguing blend of classic kung fu and modern action and even if the film runs a bit close to being run-of-the-mill, it does it with enough charm and finesse to sell the whole thing. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Badges of Fury (2014)

Director: Tsz Ming Wong
Notable Cast: Jet Li, Zhang Wen, Michelle Chen, Shishi Liu, Collin Chou, Wu Jing, Stephen Fung

“Badges of Fury” is a rather interesting film. Particularly because much of the hype surrounding the film focused on Jet Li and the action choreography staged by the legendary Corey Yuen. The truth of the film remains that action is one-third of what this film contains. The other two portions are a mixed bag of mystery cop drama and comedy. I certainly wasn’t prepared for the slapstick “Looney Tunes” inspired humor and it took a couple viewings to adjust myself to what Tsz Ming Wong and company were intending for the film. Once I did, I enjoyed it much more than I did the first time around.

After three mysterious deaths occur to previous boyfriends to an upcoming film star (Shishi Liu), a team of detectives find themselves in a quirky situation. The sergeant (Michelle Chen) needs the case solved, the grizzled cop (Jet Li) needs the paycheck, and the young over eager detective (Zhang Wen) needs the respect. Together they will have to uncover a villainous plot that continues to twist and turn.

I wish they used these glasses more as a gag...
Going into the film initially, I thought it was more of a straight up action/crime flick and the style, which can be accurately described as a combination of “Shaolin Soccer” and “The Naked Gun,” left me a bit cold. The humor is significantly cartoon and slapstick inspired, complete with over the top sound effects and visual gags, and it was most certainly a shock to the system. By the second watch, I knew what was coming and acclimated myself to it. That’s why the second watch I had a riot.

“Badges of Fury” is not going to be for everyone. It’s a wacky ride to say the least. There is all kinds of visual gags and silly characters involved (although the final height gag for Jet Li had me rolling) and the humor ranges from subtle spoof with some “Infernal Affairs” and “Once Upon a Time in China” moments to full on Three Stooges inspired physical bits like the young detective’s involvement in the Jet Li/Wu Jing throw down which includes a face to window flattening moment. Luckily, most of the humor is rather effectively placed for maximum effect. Even smaller moments (the lab coat janitor moment is pure Zucker Brothers) seem to be well set up for the best results.

Oh, slapstick. It's gotta hurt sometime.
From there the movie even succeeds as an action flick. While Jet Li’s character rarely has anything to do for the actual plot, he shows up for all the best action sequences and throws down some great stunt work with high flying wire work and strong fun choreography that’s provided by Corey Yuen. The humor is interjected throughout the action set pieces to link them all together (even if some of the CGI is less than stellar) and it works for the most.

Jet Li...jetting around?
The problem then that hinders the overall quality of “Badges of Fury” is the rather jumpity (is that a word?) story narrative. Yes, we get the classic style detective story with a damsel in distress, a hidden villain, and lots of plot twists, but there is a lot of random side stories that really don’t need to be there. Romantic subplots are more or less forced into the second half, there is a whole sequence with a fortune teller (while actually quite funny) that is irrelevant, and most of the red herrings aren’t strong enough to fool the audience and are dropped once it’s shown that they are false. It can be a bit wishy-washy when it comes to thorough story telling.

Overall, especially once I knew what to expect, I quite enjoyed “Badges of Fury.” It’s often quirky enough, action packed enough, and consistent enough in its craziness to sell the overall outrageousness of its style and concept. I wish the foundational story for the film was a bit stronger, but alas you get what you get here and it’s fun either way.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Child's Play (1988)

Director: Tom Holland
Notable Cast: Catherine Hicks, Chris Sarandon, Alex Vincent, Brad Dourif

When it comes to iconic slashers, one does not have to look much further than the "Child's Play" franchise. While "Child's Play" might not have seemingly found its audience when it first came out in the late 80s, the rise of villain Chucky from the film is a rather famous one leading him to be one of the biggest faces in horror history. For this review I am going back in time to revisit the classic slasher that started it all - the darkly comic and rather suspenseful "Child's Play."

Karen Barclay (Hicks) has her hands full as a single mother to the young Andy (Vincent) just making ends meet and being there for him. So when she finds that coveted Good Guys Doll from a back street peddler for cheap, she doesn't bat an eye at picking up the children's toy. Too bad this isn't your normal toy. His name is Chucky (Dourif) and he has a bone to pick with a few people...

By the time that 1988 rolled around, slashers were already a dime a dozen and most of them were already getting generic. The supernatural twist had already been done with "Nightmare on Elm Street" and the serial killer thread was about as tired as it was going to get. In comes an odd combination of the two with a killer doll twist on top of it (which wasn't all that original either seeing as Stuart Gordon's "Dolls" was released just the year before) and it comes off a relatively smart and high energy flick.

...still fucking creepy.
Director Tom Hollad, who struck some pretty awesome success with "Fright Night," brings a strong sense of classic horror suspense to the film which sells some of the ridiculous elements of the script. Even when the film starts meandering into different genres with its voodoo subplot and a rather action packed car wreck sequence, Holland keeps the darker elements up front and takes it all with a very serious tone which eventually sells it overall. Having the first half of the film focus on the creepiness of the doll and having the audience even question whether or not it was all party of Andy's imagination kicks it to the next level. A dark streak of humor occasionally shows its colors throughout, mostly provided from the villain and the brilliant voice work of Brad Dourif, but truthfully the film is far more of a horror flick than its concept would indicate. Strong performances from all of the principle actors helps (including a few impressive moments from our heroic kid lead) and it makes "Child's Play" feel much more cohesive than the script might have indicated.

One doesn't necessarily go into a "Child's Play" film though for the strong atmosphere and the impressive enough acting, particularly when we start talking about the sequels, so how does it work as a horror film? As a slasher, it's effective enough. The kills are remarkable diverse here with some strong stunt work occasionally used (the first kill has a lady flying out of a multistory window to her death) and the special effects are really effective here. Occasionally the person-in-the-Chucky-suit can be unintentionally humorous, but the other animatronic work and the death scenes can work much better than expected (even if some can be a bit of a stretch - including a shock therapy death that's rather forced).

One of the moments where it looks a little too real for it's own good.
It's not a huge leap of the imagination to see why "Child's Play" was franchised. The villain is charismatic and very memorable and the story allows just enough loop holes for shitty horror sequels to exist with little in the way of continued continuity if need be. It's been ages since I've see "2" or "3" so it will be a rather fresh look at the first series of entries for this legendary franchise. As is though, "Child's Play" stands on its own with remarkably sturdy feet even after almost three decades. It's fun and well executed and remains as a slasher staple for any horror fan.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Ritual (2013)

There was a little low-budgeted Indonesian film that came out sometime early 2012 I believe. It was so little talked about and hit the festival circuit so much under the radar, that I thought honestly that it'd never hit American shelves. So sometime around late November, I ran across the movie on the Playstation Store, under the title, "Ritual." Of course the title had changed, but my anticipation to see it had been restored. Payday rolls around and I almost immedeatley download the instant I wake up. Flash forward to today [last day of 2013], and I've finally got around to seeing it, and I'll say, it's definitely a mixed bag that will leave some isolated.

"Ritual" a.k.a "Modus Anamoli" opens up with a man pushing himself out of the ground, literally. Freaking out and not knowing who he is, our unnamed protagonist quickly finds his handy-dandy wallet to discover his true identity, John. After wondering around and trying to gather his memories, John stumbles across a cabin, to end up finding his dead wife inside. A video is played and he realizes he has two kids, a son and daughter, who have vanished from the house. To save his hide, and hopefully find and rescue, John quickly jolts out of the blood soaked cabin and journeys out into the hellish, seemingly never ending woods. And this is just the opening of the film.

Unfortunately, this is where the film will probably turn some people away. A big chunk of the film, probably an hour, is of John wondering about in the woods, screaming his head off, trying to find his kids and piece things together. For the most part, slow burners like this don't bore me, but I found myself spacing out at times and I probably missed a few little clues along the way. Another odd thing about the film is its cinematography. Sometimes its phenomenal and excellently framed and as gritty looking as you could possibly hope for, and in some moments, the camera is all over the place or you could tell where the cameraman got tired during a long take, and the camera finds itself panning down and all around before recovering back to the original intended position. It may not bother some, but I found myself going "Come on already!". The pacing is a bit of an issue but the film's strongest point, the payoff, will have you feeling glad you stuck through the whole thing.

One last thing to note, is that the film is entirely spoken in English, though the cast is Indonesia. An odd, but nice choice, though sometimes it really affects the acting, sometimes coming of as unbelievable, and at times, just plain bad.

That's not to say I didn't like the film, in fact I enjoyed it as much, if not more than I thought I would. The last 30 minutes are fantastic, and when the film places all the final pieces together, you wonder what would happen if the film carried on. This film, however, will more than likely never see a sequel, and that's a good thing. It's a great standalone experience that should be checked out if you can get pass the extremity of the slow burn pace and the sometimes out of place camerawork and acting. I'd say rent it 1st, to see if you like it.

Written By Josh Parmer

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Trancers: City of Lost Angels (1988/2013)


Aka "Trancers 1.5", "Pulse Pounders"

I was hell bent to hunt this down ever since my old college roommate discovered that Charles Band made a mini “Trancers” sequel in 1988 as part of an anthology film called “Pulse Pounders”. I soon found out this quest would be impossible when I read that the original rough negative of the film had been lost due to the collapse of Empire Pictures. When news hit that Band had found a rough cut of the film on an old VHS tape my interest perked up and the release of “The Evil Clergyman” (The first part of the “Pulse Pounders” anthology) only wetted my appetite to see this ‘lost’ “Trancers” sequel. Finally the wait is over as the 24 minute “Trancer” sequel segment from “Pulse Pounders” has made its way to DVD, re-christened under the title “Trancers: City of Lost Angels”  (though I prefer the humorous working title “Trancers 1.5”) for all “Trancers” fans to lap up.
Jack Deth (Tim Thomerson) is still hanging out in 1988 Los Angeles, clinging on to a pipe dream detective career while trying to save his rocky relationship with Lena (Helen Hunt).  Just when it can’t get any worse a Trancer he locked up from the future escapes and somehow manages to ‘jump down the line’ in order to take his arch nemesis out. Can Deth’s boss McNulty (Art Le Fluer returning) help save Jack and the entire space-time continuum in only 24 minutes?
The idea of making a sequel  to one of his popular films as part of an anthology was a really strange idea and Band even mentions that “at the time it seemed like a good idea” in one of the documentaries on the disc. This is a shame as the plot to this “Trancers” sequel feels tremendously condensed in order to fit into its short segment in the anthology. Everything just flies by making this seem like an episode of a Jack Deth television series and it only made me crave more, wishing Band had made a full length film instead of a condensed short for an anthology.
Even with its condensed plot there is still plenty of Jack Deth magic to be had as this feels and looks exactly like the original film and the plot fits nicely in between parts I and II. All of the lovable surviving characters return which is sure to bring a smile to any “Trancers” fans face. Fans need to be remember that the version Band released on DVD  is from a rough edit taken from a VHS source so it can look a little rough to High Def fanatics but Charles Band’s crew at Full Moon did their best to clean it up, adding a score and title sequence (why can't they go to this effort for the other films in the series?!). It just makes me wonder if the “Pulse Pounders” anthology got released at the time if there would have ever been other sequels to “Trancers”?  Well one should not dwell on hypothetical questions so don’t be a squid, slick your hair back, light up your cigarette and add this lovable long lost, albeit too short, sequel into your “Trancers” collection.
Written By Eric Reifschneider

Friday, January 3, 2014

Ninja II: Shadow Of A Tear (2013)

Director: Isaac Florentine
Notable Cast: Scott Adkins, Kane Kosugi, Tim Man, Mika Hijii

The duo of actor/fighter Scott Adkins and director Isaac Florentine has to be one of the most dynamic that action films have seen in the last few decades. When I first saw "Undisputed II" I knew there was something special happening. With "Undisputed III" and the first "Ninja" under their belts, they have become something of a magic pairing that far too many people overlook. For their latest film together, the long awaited sequel to the B-grade awesome "Ninja" called "Ninja II: Shadow of a Tear," the duo might have put together their best film to date - one that takes its silly concept to darker corners with even more action.

Casey and his wife are living happily after the events of “Ninja.” Casey has become the lead teacher in the family dojo and she recently revealed she is pregnant with their first child. Things take a turn for “oh no you didn’t” when a mysterious assassin kills her brutally in their home. Now Casey has to exact a little revenge, old school style, and he will uncover a mystery that leads him all the way to the jungles of Burma.

While most directors will take their films into more complicated and high art directions as they go, Florentine has done just the opposite here. “Ninja II” is a simpler and more straightforward film. Yes, there might be a mystery that Casey has to go on a wicked wild ride for, but the motivations and execution of the plot are much more focused than the previous film. Gone are most of the subplots of fantasy like value with cults and rivalry and they are replaced with a more vicious and classic 80s style revenge plot. One man against the world. Ironically enough, less is obviously more here and this simplified and straight forward path for the film only benefits the entertainment value of the picture.

Adkins in full on anti-hero mode.
While the character of Casey might be a simpler one here, the shades are all the more poignant. The first film had him as this goody two-shoes type hero and for “Ninja II” they take him towards a much more subtle, but effective arc that turns him into one of the best anti-heroes of the last ten years. When Scott Adkins, who has most certainly come a very long way acting wise from his early days and still gets my vote to be the next Batman, states off that these drug dealers and assassins are going to need a lot more graves, you can’t help but cheer for him. Scott Adkins has most certainly come unto his own as an action star and between this and his turn in “Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning” he can handedly hold a film on his own.

Yet, let’s be honest, it’s neither Florentine’s minimalist style nor Scott Adkins’ awesome anti hero that’s the true star of “Ninja II.” It’s the ridiculously awesome fights. As a martial arts fan, this film is a wet dream. Tim Man’s stunning choreography is in full display here as Adkins literally fights his way through all obstacles. Street fights, an unedited dojo throwdown, a police chase, jungle warfare, and a fiery finale personalized make “Ninja II” one of the best action films ever made. Adkins struts his speed and strength like it’s nothing and two key fights (Adkins v Tim Man and Adkins v Kane Kosugi) will have martial arts fan boys drooling on the floor.

"And that's for wearing mismatched socks!"
“Ninja II” might not be a film to win any awards any time soon (that is until the Academy comes to their damn senses and adds a stunt choreography category), but it’s handedly one of the best actions films ever made. It’s simple, effective, and loaded to the brim with some of the best hand to hand combat in decades. A must see for anyone that loves martial arts.

Written By Matt Reifschneider