Thursday, February 27, 2014

Byzantium (2013)

Director: Neil Jordan
Notable Cast: Gemma Arterton, Saoirse Ronan, Sam Riley, Caleb Landry Jones

While Neil Jordan has been hit or miss in his career since his horror days, the vision and atmosphere he drove into the vampire genre with Interview with the Vampire is something that changed how I looked at the monstrous creatures growing up. With Byzantium he returns to the genre with another atmospheric tale of immortality and the weight that it brings. Once again, he succeeds in spades here delivering a tale both horrifying in its concept and oddly enough heartwarming in a weird way.

When two “sisters” (Ronan and Arterton) arrive in the new city they have aspirations to be able to stay there for some time instead of moving again so quickly. The problem that seems to plague them is that they are both vampires and their need for human blood leaves quite the nasty trail of bodies in its wake. This time though Ronan has found an unlikely companion in a young man (Jones) and some missing pieces in her life seem to be falling into place. That is until the “sisters” find out they are being hunted…

Family will always be there...for eternity.
What I love about Byzantium is how it rides the line between drama and horror. Jordan has always been a master of taking genre concepts and making them artistic dramas that really focus on the human condition regardless if the lead(s) are human or not. Byzantium is another one of those films. While it might not quite be as impactful character wise as Interview or as crazy as the plot of Company of Wolves, the film does strike a rather solid balance between character driven interactions and high arcing concept plots as we follow our two “sisters” through various events remembered through history and how they became vampires and fugitives. The interaction between Ronan and Arterton might be (surprisingly) light in Byzantium, but it’s effective and strong in chemistry and many of the smaller supporting roles are well filled and add support to the overall story.

Don’t expect Byzantium to be a true horror film though. Very little of the film is spent on horror elements like tension or gore, although there are a few brutal moments, instead the film caters to an atmospheric and dark dramatic touch. Jordan is exceptional at crafting films in this sense and it works in spades here. You get a few shocking moments of violence and a pretty sweet blood waterfall at one point, but don’t go in expecting to be horrified.

High rise view.
While the film might not be the best of Jordan’s career, it is a pleasant addition to his spectacularly thoughtful horror films that he crafts. Byzantium has strong performances, an eye for the visually striking, and an atmosphere that ably spreads the lost emotional effects of its characters for the audience. This is not a film for everyone, but it’s certainly a film that hit all the right moments for me.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Out for Justice (1991)

Director: John Flynn
Notable Cast: Steven Seagal, William Forsythe

In this day and age, it’s hard to remember a time when Steven Seagal wasn’t the sort of joke he has come to be. Watching him phone in performances in direct to video actioners like Maximum Conviction, fight “real” crime on reality TV, or start babbling about running for office in Arizona has made it hard to remember why anyone even gives a shit about him to begin with. This is the reason I decided to go back and revisit the Seagal classics of my childhood. This is why I decided to review the brutal awesomeness that is Out for Justice.

As I sat there watching the credits roll (over a song that Steven Seagal co-wrote, for your information) I was perplexed by my latest visit to Out for Justice. The film is about as far as one can get from the mediocrity that Seagal has collapsed into in the last decade. It’s a vicious film, featuring some charming moments from Seagal, and really earns some of its action merits in its straightforward storytelling. Out for Justice is far from a perfect film, but I’m be damned if its not a kick in the nuts of awesome early 90s action.

Mr. Cool has arrived.
Seagal plays a down on his luck, super-street trained cop who happens to have made a few enemies when he left the slums of Brooklyn to seek justice as a police officer. So when an old friend (played with creepy effectiveness by Forsythe) decides to blast a fellow cop mid-day, he’s the one that knows how to find him and bring him the true justice he deserves. Essentially, it’s the basic action cop formula we’ve seen a billion times. Anti-hero cop with a marriage on the rocks and a kid who seems like an after thought in the scripting process has to go around and bend/break the rules to make sure that a cop killer is found. Shit, this is the ABC’s of Hollywood low budget action. Out for Justice also attempts to add a few needless subplots about an abandoned dog and some mafia ties, but really its mostly padding just to give the film a longer run time and Seagal more people to flip. At times, it’s a little obvious and silly how forced some of the plot lines become when it sort of meanders away from the main structure.

The saving grace for Out for Justice is not the script. In fact, I would say the film might have benefited from a simpler script. What makes Out for Justice so effective at being a low budget actioner is the dark atmosphere created by director Flynn and the relative screen persona of Seagal himself. The film tends to want to really focus on letting Seagal scowl at the screen for a majority of the time (when he’s not flipping guys into shit or slamming bar tops onto hands), but occasionally Flynn pushes for some intriguing monologues that Seagal is mostly successful at delivering, even if they sort of show up at random times. From there, the film really grinds into a realistic action feeling to create a darker and more violent film. Gore is on tap, so is some pretty brutal language, and some heavy sequences about the life in the underworld. This is not the Seagal you see on TV and it makes for a rather vicious film.

Mr. Cool's snarling nemesis, Mr. Awkward.
While Seagal would continue to put out some decent films throughout the 90s and even into the early 00s, Out for Justice remains one of his best with its unrelenting pace and dark themes. For action and thriller fans, it’s a great film to add to your collection and one that I will find myself revisiting for years to come. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Haunter (2014)

Director: Vincenzo Natali
Notable Cast: Abigail Breslin, Stephen McHattie, Eleanor Zichy, David Hewlett, Michelle Nolden

Ghost films. It’s like the oldest horror story in the book. People live on in spirit form and fuck around with the living in a house or some sort of location. As a horror fan, it’s hard not to assume at this point that I’ve seen it all when it comes to the sub-genre. When it comes to Haunter though, I have to admit that I was intrigued. How do you tell the tale from the point of view of the ghost? This little Canadian horror/thriller is a breath of life into the ghost genre in many ways (pun intended) and while it does suffer from a bit of predictability in the latter half, I was hooked into the story and the strong visual style of the film.

While the basic concept of the film is not very original (Oh look! We have to figure out how the girl was killed and then set her spirit free!), the idea of basing it around the ghostly young girl adds a bit of unique spin to the rather tried and true format. Abigail Breslin struts some pretty solid acting in the lead role as we follow her in her discovery that her family has been re-living the day they died over and over again for decades. Here is where director Natali (director of the oh so awesome Cube) shows his talents as he crafts a very solid mystery film concerning what happened to the family and why it seems to be covered up. The supporting cast is equally as fantastic with particular mention to the diverse moments for the father, played by Outerbridge, and the ever brilliant Stephen McHattie as the villain of the film.

From there to film does tend to fall into a few more cliché streaks as we are introduced to a serial killer and his many “collections” and our heroine has to stop him from taking another family into his haunted house of horrors. While Natali continues to lather up atmosphere with some strong visual choices and some intriguing use of color palettes, the film does suffer a bit as the writing gets predictable in the final act. Strong performances help as does Natali’s visual flair, but the film obviously loses steam at this point.

All in all, Haunter is still going to end up being one of those massively overlooked gems in the independent horror scene.  It’s smarter than 80% of the ghost films out there on the market and with Natali’s touch it certainly adds an aura of artistic panache that most of them lack. This might not be a film for everyone, it certainly lacks some stronger horror elements that are replaced with mystery thriller ones, but for this reviewer it was quite the pleasant surprise.

Written By Matt Reifschneider 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

I, Frankenstein (2014)

Director: Stuart Beattie
Notable Cast: Aaron Eckhart, Bill Nighy, Jai Courtney, Yvonne Strahovski

I, Frankenstein has to be some kind of miracle. Not the kind of miracle that you are thinking of, but it’s a miracle in the sense that someone out there in Hollywoodland read that script and thought to themselves “Let’s dump $65 million into this, it should be awesome!” Now that, my friends, is a fucking miracle. Even as a finished product, I, Frankenstein is something of a catastrophe on film. The worst kinds of dialogue. The worst acting from decent actors. The worst plot in the last five years. While this does lend itself to be unintentionally hilarious, I’m sure the audience around my sister and myself thought we were the biggest assholes for laughing the entire time, as a cinephile it’s hard to even justify most of what was seen on the screen.

After hundreds of years of wandering, Frankenstein’s monster (Eckhart) finds himself in the middle of a vicious war between demons and Earth’s protectors, the gargoyles. The demons desperately want the secret to immortal life for the dead and the gargoyles know they can’t win the war against an army of the undead. With the help of a random doctor (Strahovski) the newly named Adam must decide whether or not mankind is worth saving and if he can even do it.

Speaking poorly and carry a big stick you don't need.
If there is anything that I have to give to I, Frankenstein it’s that the film takes itself very seriously. All the way down to a fault. The plot itself is so ridiculous that it’s hard to think that they could have ever taken it seriously and with the strong cast that they have, it’s somewhat unbelievable to hear them spouting off the terrible lines of dialogue. Hearing the ever-charming Bill Nighy desperately trying to work his way through being a demon villain ranting about Victor Frankenstein or Aaron Eckhart scowl his way through being one of the most remarkably flat heroes of the last ten years is cringe worthy, particularly when you consider the talented actors that both are. Give them a plot that is as serious as it is nonsensical then you simply have a recipe for disaster.

Yet, I’ve seen plenty of ridiculously bad movies that were are least enjoyable due to style, action, and/or charm. Luckily, I, Frankenstein at least has some visual fun up its sleeve, but that’s about it. Director Beattie, in his sophomore directorial effort, has a knack for some strong fun visuals, but too often the mass amount of things going on in the action sequences blurs together in a mess of CGI. There are some rather cool moments (the bright orange burning of demons sent to hell versus the beams of blue light as gargoyles go to heaven seems cliché, but it works more often than not) and while some of the action might have you scratching your head – including an epic leaping punch to the top of a gargoyle’s head – it’s mostly entertaining in a bad sort of way.

I see a
While I have to say that I, Frankenstein is a ridiculous train wreck of a film, I do admit in a very unintentional and humorous way it was a blast to watch. It’s not good. Oh God, it’s far from good, but for those with the right sense of humor it’s probably worth the watch. Probably. Maybe. Okay, really it’s still fucking awful, but it’s better to laugh than cry at the movie theater.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Attack on Titan (2013) ep. 1-25

Oh I got this!
Welcome to another review from yours truly. This time around I embark on an impossible journey to the not so distant future where humanity has been all but destroyed. In a world where giant naked Titans run about devouring people like snacks for no apparent reason other than it's fun! So tighten up those boot laces and march along with me as I try to sum up this series in just a million words or less.

 Centuries ago our world was destroyed by Titans so we the people decided what better way to protect ourselves then to build some very large walls to surround ourselves with and keep the Titans out. All well and good until a giant Titan suddenly appears one day to knock a hole through one of the walls. This of course was problematic for civilization as the Titans began to enter the city for a feeding frenzy. Enter our hero Eren Yeager. Eren always dreamed of going outside the walls, to explore the other world and maybe one day join the Recon Corp., which is a military type group that explores the outside world and studies Titans. Along with Eren is his "sister" Mikasa. Like Eren's parents she is not receptive to his adventurous ideas, but all this changed on that fateful day when the wall was opened up.  After watching his mother being devoured by a Titan, Eren vowes to destroy all Titans.  It is his anger fueled passion that drives his decision to join the military in hopes of one day joining The Survey Corp.  An elite military group hell bent on destroying these Titans. This is no easy task as one can imagine. The Survey Corp. is pretty much the front line for this war on Titans and joining such a team is all but certain death.
Wanna know where the rest of my sword is?

 From the opening gut wrenching scenes all the way through out, this anime series will punch you in the face with non stop action. Its a revenge driven story for sure with a ton of story to tell. From our lead characters to lesser characters that still stand out among the masses, we get to see many views. There is more than adequate twists and turns to keep the viewers interested. This series came to me full of excitement. From  message boards across the internet to every anime and manga magazine hyping it up. The first time I saw the poster I was intrigued. After watching episode one I was hooked, I mean addicted.
Waiting for each new episode to hit Crunchyroll was painful. Often times I felt like a child a week before Christmas and a tree full of gifts just waiting to be opened. Could it be that "Attack on Titan" is the best anime of 2013?  Let me break it down for ya. You want action? Done and done. You want a hero that is slightly weaker than the rest with a tendacy to whine too much. Okay so Eren isn't your typical anime hero and that's just fine by me. How about stunning visual appeal? Yes! The action scenes are terrific. While the character design isn't glowing with greatness, it is certainly better than the source material. It has a unique feel to it, which really grew on me.

What would you say to a bit of drama and comedy mixed in with your action? Can I get a collective HECK YES PLEASE! It seemed like each episode ended with a punch to the gut cliffhanger that left me holding my breathe and begging for Saturday to arrive. Finally, how do you feel about strong story and great characters? All of these things are the reason I believe "Attack on Titan" is the top anime series of 2013. Here's to holding my breathe til season 2 arrives!
Sweet! Party at the wall. Bring a friend.
To wrap up this review I will say "Attack on Titan" is one of the finest series out there right now. It has such a great feel to it both in story and in animation. The music score is pretty great as well, it fits the show.  With that I say buy yourself a copy as soon as it streets or watch it on Funimation or Crunchyroll . I give "Attack on Titan":
Written By John Price

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Machete Kills (2013)

Director: Robert Rodriguez
Notable Cast: Danny Trejo, Charlie Sheen, Amber Heard, Michelle Rodriguez, Mel Gibson, Demian Bichir, Sofia Vergara, Walton Goggins, Cuba Gooding Jr, Antonio Banderas, Jessica Alba, Vanessa Hudgens, Alexa Vega, Lady Gaga, Marko Zaror, Tom Savini, William Sadler

I know that I might be in the minority here, but I felt Machete Kills was a significant drop off in quality from the first one. Yes, I understand that the film is technically funnier, far more over the top, and generally more “entertaining,” but the entire concept of this sequel sort of rubs me the wrong way. Occasionally the film does earn some solid laughs and some of the casting is inspired, but overall the film felt too much like a Looney Tunes cartoon for me to care enough.

The idea for a Machete series is one that I whole-heartedly stand behind though. Danny Trejo (now pushing 70 years old!!) is a cult favorite of Blood Brothers and he deserves to have his charismatic and utterly badass mug plastered onto a franchise. Once again this rugged man owns as the titular character for the film. This time Machete is “recruited” by the President of the United States, played in utterly straight faced humor by Charlie Sheen…errr…Carlos Estevez, to hunt down a revolutionary who has stolen a big ass missile and threatens to blow up the White House if the US doesn’t invade Mexico to relieve it from poverty and tyranny by the cartels. 

The concept starts off as a great B-grade grindhouse action flick as Machete watches his girl die, survives a hanging (perhaps the best sequence of the whole fucking film), and sets off to kill a split personality afflicted revolutionary. There is some fun action, despite the weird CGI in the film, and by the time Machete is on the run with the revolutionary Mendez the film starts cooking nicely.

However, the latter half of the film sort of turns Machete into a super spy, Bond style, and has him hunting down an egomaniacal scientist hell bent on Earth’s destruction. This weird two villain split, while adding to the entire ridiculousness of the franchise, feels like a forced joke. At this point, Machete Kills ceases to be homage to classic grindhouse action and becomes a spoof on a series of films. While a very fine line can divide homage and spoof, the resulting feel of the film is vastly different at this point and comes down slightly off kilter. They add in a face-changing assassin that only succeeds in adding random cameos for the film and there is even an entirely awkward subplot about creating a race of superior humans in outer space Drax style. Mel Gibson owns as the other villain with his crazy shenanigans (although topping Bichir’s duel personality from earlier couldn’t be done), but it’s not enough in the end.

Machete Kills is a fun film and fans of glorious bad flicks will appreciate some of the references and the stellar casting, but overall it felt like a forced comedic version of what the first one was able to accomplish. To be honest though, I do hope that they end up producing a third one to finish off the series…even if it looks to be even more cartoonish than this one. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

On the Job (2014)

Director: Erik Matti
Notable Cast: Piolo Pascual, Joel Torre, Gerald Anderson, Joey Marquez

While South Korea seems to have the thriller market cornered with unrelenting and emotionally driven films, I have to say that if the Filipino film industry can start making more films like On the Job then South Korea has some competition on their hands. While occasionally the film seems like it might have too much going on at one time, the resulting almost chaotic atmosphere and dark streaks of character study make for a film experience that any fan of ‘heavy’ cinema should partake in and one that leaves a mark for long after the credits roll.

The term ‘thriller’ might be a rather generic one that gets thrown around far too often in films that remotely has a sense of suspense to them, On the Job is the kind of film that really embraces the term without ever cascading itself into the action or horror film territories. When a young up and coming cop has to navigate some treacherous territory of corruption and politics to investigate a series of murders, he stumbles onto a hitman and his apprentice with nothing to lose.

Gun fu!
The concept is fairly simple at the core resembles some classic thriller films like Infernal Affairs or Eastern Promises in many ways in particular with its focus on the characters involved in some complex situations of gray moral areas. This is where On the Job succeeds in spades as it builds a plethora of very relatable characters that, while they do questionable acts, we understand the hard choices they are given and want them to fix the wrongs of their life. Acted with substantial force and vigor, the cast embraces their chances to fill these characters with realistic subtlety that details their often larger growth. While many play fairly recognizable parts (the older hitman with experience and guilt and his young idealistic protégé for example), they do it with enough power and refreshing honesty that rarely did I find myself feeling the cliché moments that do occasionally pop up.

The plot itself can be a bit muddled for viewers on the first viewing as On the Job rarely slows its roll with its expansive characters and twisting duel stories, but on my second viewing on found it to be an additional element to the rather intense atmosphere that director/writer Erik Matti crafts with his stark dire visuals and dire circumstances that our characters exist in. The violence might be fairly minimal for a film of this kind, but when it appears its brutal and emotionally effective for the sake of story too. The narrative only adds that artistic merit that too many thrillers abandon for the sake of exciting moments or a consumable product and while at first I was hesitant to praise, comes off as perhaps the best part of On the Job with repeated viewings.

Party time! Excellent!
For the love of film though, don’t assume that On the Job is the action or horror film that too many thrillers cater themselves to for the sake of earning a larger audience. It’s a thriller that’s much more substantial than that with its deep gray areas of plot progression and strong balanced characters that have to navigate through the fog of their situations. Truthfully, it’s a film that’s dark, understandable, brutal, and often too true in it’s depiction of the complexities of the human condition…and it earns every bit of praise it receives for being the kind of film that leaves a mark after viewing.

Comes with the highest of recommendations.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Monday, February 3, 2014

Shaolin Intruders (1983)

Director: Chia Tang
Notable Cast: Tung-Shing Yee, Jason Pai Piao, Phillip Ko, Yu-po Lio, Feng Ku

The Shaw Brothers production company might have spread themselves a little thin by producing such a massive amount of films in a short time period (most of which are of very similar style and execution), but it does create a rather wide array of films to choose from when sitting down to watch one. The choices are vast. It’s almost more fun to just randomly choose a title and sit down to experience it. This is how I discovered Shaolin Intruders. I didn’t recognize many of the names attached to it, outside of a few B-grade actors that appear in a slew of previous films, but I have to say that in the end I was massively impressed with the fun results of this film.

The clan disputes and vengeance motivation that is used as the basis for Shaolin Intruders is about as Shaw Brothers basic as they come. A couple of rogue swordsmen, both played with fantastic charisma by their respective actors, are drawn into a mystery plot as four major clans are being assassinated by four very powerful martial artists. With the help of a young woman, they find themselves at the Shaolin temple and in the middle of a conspiracy years in the planning.

Double trouble.
While it might be all that original, Shaolin Intruders has a significant amount of fun and charm to make it entertaining as hell. The narration can be a bit muddled as it spends very little time establishing the massive amount of characters needed for the film (and a very random flashback with some awesomely cheesy costumes does seemingly come out of nowhere), but that never stops the film from moving at a lightning pace and rolling with some of the more outrageous elements. Some of the characters come off as almost comical in their over the top mannerisms, including one of our leads and his addiction to gambling/alcohol, but it only adds to the fun of the film and the mystery.

On top of that, director Chia Tang and crew slam down some insane fight choreography to add to the fun. The first third of the film tends to be a little light on the fights, but when our two heroes have to go through three tests at the Shaolin Temple things get ridiculous in all of the best ways. Shaolin Intruders maximizes the wirework kung fu to some awesome limits that seem less fantasy driven and more choreography driven. At one point one of our heroes actually spins like a drill to escape being trapped by a cage of staffs and our two protagonists have to fight an Abbott on top of like forty benches all stacked up. If there is anything to be said about this film, it’s that the fight sequences in the latter half are stunningly well put together.

Road kill.
Shaolin Intruders isn’t the most complex of martial arts films nor is it one to leave a profound affect on the viewer, but it’s a damn entertaining one with some very impressive choreography and two of the most charming lead characters I’ve seen in some time. Kung fu fans will definitely want to hunt this one down even if it is one of the cheesier films in the catalog. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Sunday, February 2, 2014

LIST: Best Films of 2013 (The Mainstream List)

While Blood Brothers is dedicated to bringing you the best of cult cinema around the world, we also know that most of you are movie fanatics and love all kinds of film. In an effort to showcase the best of film, we brought on board a special guest to come up with our list of "Best Films of 2013." Andrew Kightlinger an independent writer/director whose first feature film "Dust of War" (featuring legendary cult actors Tony Todd and Doug Jones) is making its rounds on the festival circuit as we speak. He is a dedicated film fan who not only loves cult films, but great films in general. You can check out his IMDB page right HERE. Nonetheless, here is his list for ten best films of 2013 with some bonus features at the bottom. Enjoy!

1. The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza) --- A sumptuous exploration of modern society told with both subtlety and lavish style, and featuring the best male performance of 2013 by Toni Servillo. A stunning masterpiece. 

2. Blue is the Warmest Color --- A 3-hour love epic that lives and breathes its characters. It is quite possible the best coming-of-age movie ever made. 

3. 12 Years a Slave --- A lyrical cinematic achievement about the resilience of the human spirit against all odds. This is an important film made by a filmmaker with a very clear point-of-view. 

4. Hunger Games: Catching Fire --- Joins the rare list of sequels that eclipsed their predecessors. This is a true blue Hollywood blockbuster on every level. It’s smart, sassy, and simply awesome. 

5. Gravity --- I saw this three times in theaters. A stunning cinematic experience told with bold brevity. 

6. The Hunt --- A harrowing experience told with unpretentious honesty. 

7. Prince Avalanche --- an unexpected treat like grows with every viewing. Poetic and loose in its narrative approach. 

8. Blue Jasmine – Cate Blanchett delivers a career-best performance that deserves the Oscar. It is also one of Woody’s very best films. A melancholic comedy of the best kind. 

9. The Last Stand --- Yes, Arnold is back. This is the BEST time I’ve had a theater this year. I cheered and laughed through the whole thing. Don’t judge. 

10. Inside Llewyn Davis --- I’m a hit-or-miss fan of the Coen, but this is one of their very best. A fascinating, depressing character study. 

ALMOST MADE THE LIST: Philomena, Before Midnight, Captain Phillips, The Last Stand, Short Term 12, Nebraska, Wolf of Wall Street, Pacific Rim, The Place Beyond the Pines, The East 

PLEASANT SURPRISES: Ender’s Game, Don Jon, You’re Next, World War Z, Riddick, August: Osage County 

NOT GREAT, BUT STILL GOOD: Her, American Hustle, Prisoners, Frances Ha, The World’s End, The Conjuring, Dallas Buyers Club 

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENTS: All is Lost, Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Out of the Furnace, Elysium, The Great Gatsby, Saving Mr. Banks. 

WORST OF THE YEAR: Man of Steel, Paranoia, Jack the Giant Slayer, Gangster Squad, The Lone Ranger, Now You See Me, Only God Forgives, The Counselor, A Good Day to Die Hard

Written By Andrew Kightlinger