Sunday, March 30, 2014

Alyce Kills (2013)

Director: Jay Lee
Notable Cast: Jade Dornfeld, Tamara Feldman, James Duval, Eddie Rouse

Going into Alyce Kills, I had little knowledge of the film outside of a brief and fairly vague synopsis and some straight to home video quality cover artwork. Coming out of Alyce Kills, I’m pretty sure I have less knowledge of the film and even more confusion about what the film was actually doing. On one hand, it’s a visceral no-holds-barred horror flick and on the other it’s an indie arthouse drama about one woman’s detachment from reality. In between those hands, Alyce Kills is a whole lot of strange.

Alyce has been caught in a state of flux. Not the carefree young person she used to be and not quite feeling like the adult that works a boring and too stressful 9 to 5 job, her only friend is Carroll. After a night of partying, Carroll falls off of Alyce’s apartment roof. Unable to cope with a tragedy that might be her fault, Alyce succumbs to a whirlwind of drugs, sex, and increasing desire to ‘take control’ of her life from those who continually try to take it from her.

Waking up sucks sometimes.
There is a great, dark, and impactful film somewhere in Alyce Kills. In a weird way, it’s almost like one of those indie coming of age films from the 90s streaked with a bit of American Psycho for good measure. Unfortunately, the resulting combination tends to be a lot of hit or miss depending on the scene. After taking its sweet time establishing a bond between the two women Alyce and Carroll that tries to find a fine tuning between too much exposition and too little, the second act becomes a scattershot of style and focus that ends up being more confusing than telling. Director Jay Lee has an eye for the gritty elements and visually throws all kinds of interesting artistic moments into the film, but with little script to really be found and a main character that lacks purpose for the audience to care about it flounders about for the first two-thirds of the film.

Luckily, in another odd twist of narrative, the third act almost redeems the entire film from being one big missed opportunity. Here Alyce seemingly finds a deranged comfort in her drive to take control of her life and goes full on Patrick Bateman against those she sees as over controlling. While the first two thirds lack any kind of horror elements outside of a few visions of dead people, this last third goes full on slasher. Brutal gore and kills erupt here and with a sick sense of timing and some strong beats, this portion also slathers on a thick glaze of dark humor…and it’s hilarious. Where was all of this in the first two thirds? I spent an hour getting to this?!

A hard day's killing can leave you off your feet.
In the end though, a great final act cannot redeem the whole film and Alyce Kills falters as a thoughtful character study and as a horror film. With some fine-tuning and perhaps a greater focus that could be carried throughout the film it would have been good. Alas, Alyce Kills ends up being more disappointing as a whole then the sum of its parts.

The film is available on Netflix Streaming at the time of this writing though and I do suggest a viewing just for the great final act of the film. Outside of that though, I’m glad I didn’t end up buying it.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Sabotage (2014)

Director: David Ayer
Notable Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sam Worthington, Olivia Williams, Mireille Enos, Joe Manganiello, Josh Holloway, Terrence Howard, Max Martini, Kevin Vance

When it comes to the later career of Arnold Schwarzenegger, there has already been some highlights just in the short time he has been back. Cameos in The Expendables films, a punch line secondary character in Escape Plan, and a fun lead role in The Last Stand set him up to be that screen presence that was missing when he went to office, yet most of the roles were tongue-in-cheek material. His role in the latest action thriller from David Ayer is not the fun, tongue-in-cheek roles he has been getting as crowd pleasers. Despite the overall ridiculousness of the plot, Sabotage is about as serious as it gets with some very dark concepts and vicious moments.

Breacher (Schwarzenegger) and his team of elite covert DEA agents have a problem on their hands. Their plan to steal 10 million dollars from a Cartel bust has gone awry and the money is now missing. With the DEA sniffing around for the money and a pissed off Cartel, they are caught in a pretty hard place. Enough that when they start getting killed off, they need to take matters into their own hands...even if it's one of them that is behind it all.

Fire in the hole!
There is an interesting battle happening in Sabotage and I don't mean the gun battles that litter this action thriller. I mean there is an interesting combat of style happening in front of the audience. On one hand, Sabotage is handedly the kind of action thriller one might have seen in from the days of hard 'R' in the 80s with its anti-hero team inspired by the likes of film lore like The Dirty Dozen. On the other hand is the visual style and writing techniques of David Ayer with plenty of gritty modern shaky cam and 'in the moment' edits and zooms. When it works, the combination is rather explosive. A raid on a low end apartment complex which results in some oddly dark comedy and some striking tension. When it doesn't work it can be a bit of a forced effort. Luckily, it works more often then it doesn't and the film plays to some of its strong suits.

From there you have to give yourself a rather specific mindset to find a lot of enjoyment out of Sabotage. It's a very brash and brutal sort of film built on a loose fitting mystery of red herrings and plot twists that comes off thinking it's smarter than it probably is in the end. A few semi-interesting twists and a pretty impressive pacing did keep me interested even if it was more about the strong atmopshere and tension that Ayer creates to sell it then the foundational script. Oddly enough, Arnold comes off as the best actor in the film. This mostly has to do with the almost caricature nature of the supporting cast, whom each have their moments and deliver some banter that ranges from very awkward to inspired chemistry, but Arnold is given a pretty meaty and interesting role here. He owns the character of the older man with regrets and secrets with his grizzled stare and grim delivery. He eats up the scenery (like he always has) and it comes off as something pretty surprising considering the scene stealing abilities of his secondary cast.

No, this is not a Call of Duty review.
Sabotage is not a perfect film. It's brash and super violent with some substantially gory moments that's littered with protagonists that are all anti-heroes of sorts. Underneath that, it is a fairly interesting thriller that feeds off its dark streaks to deliver an intriguing ride. It's not great as the twists are fairly obvious from the get go and some the impact of character arcs are lost in having too many characters in the film. A strong performance from Joe Manganeillo is undermined by lacking screen time for his character shifts to work. For those willing to overlook some of the flaws, there is a rather notable film at the core here. One that should impress Ahhhnuld fans and thriller fans overall.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Kite (1996)

I cry because I kill you!
Hey guys/gals! Entering into this week's review I have brought about an oldie by my standards. I initially viewed this film back in the day. Well not this exact version as I had  viewed the more adult version if you will. So this time around I chose to watch the less sexy version. So slap on those bulletproof vests and meet me for an old fashioned shoot out.

Synopsis- Sawa is one messed up young lady! Sweet, caring college student by day. Ruthless, shoot you in the fucking face assassin by night. As all Japanese/anime school girls tend to be. Over powered by her son of a bitch mentor, Sawa is forced to do his bidding and kill anyone he tells her to. Then one sunny day it occurs to Sawa that killing people for reasons unbeknownst to her is for the birds. That my friends is when the shit hits the fan. Now Sawa and her assassin male counterpart are on the run for their lives.

Review - From the start, this film is a punch in the gut of a linear action film. Lots of blood, loads of violence. This is a story of a female assassin loaded with never ending ammunition to destroy her targets one bloody explosion at a time. With over the top action and a forgettable story "Kite" is certainly a product of its time. Anime Works brought this film and many others to us and this is not one of their better offerings. The characters all sound like they smoked 6 packs of smokes prior to recording. I can only assume  back in the 90's this gave both film and anime characters a more badass appeal. Or at least a villainous feel. I found it really distracting since every scene was Sawa blasting some phlegm slinging baddy in the head or other various body shots.Ultimately saving the sad sap from lung cancer.

How's that bullet taste MF!
Throughout this film our "hero" Sawa is faced with many adversities and hardships from physical sexual abuse to gun fights. Even through all of this she never seems too upset or broken down until the moment she loses an earring. What the hell!  Yea, this is the kind of crap that makes it very hard to relate to this film and the characters. To top it off she has to be one of the worst damn assassins ever. The whole idea of being an assassin is 'in and out' without being noticed. Not blowing up subway stations and entire city blocks for one dude.Throw in the fact that the animation isn't very good or realistic. I know this is anime and it probably isn't going for realism but every punch, kick or shot knocks down freaking buildings. It feels like it was meant to be an old porn script. Someone came across it grandpa's secret drawer and was like "SWEET let us animate this gem." The sad thing is there is more where this came from. Like "Kite: Liberator" or "Mezzo Forte" which also contains an adult version. Same ridiculous plots, same poorly executed crap. I can't for the life of me pick out one redeeming quality for this film. Maybe if you are into shitty scripts and animated boobs this would turn your crank. For me there are just way too many other titles for me to waste time on this crap. Don't get me wrong, I like action films/series and boobs as much as any red blooded man. I also like be entertained, and the overall vibe I got from this film was not entertainment . It felt excessive and creepy to sum it up. With that said I give "Kite" a:

Written By John Price

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Lost Bladesman, The (2011)

Director: Felix Chong, Alan Mak
Notable Cast: Donnie Yen, Jiang Wen, Betty Sun, Andy On

NOTE: Since the posting of this review, The Lost Bladesman has not gotten a US release from Anchor Bay. I must say that it's about time. I haven't edited my review of the film - including my complaints about how this film had yet to be released - for the sake of an update outside of the cover artwork. Just keep in mind that the film is now available on DVD in the US and I highly suggest the purchase.

Sometimes the international politics of film distribution baffle me, particularly when it comes to getting Asian films in the United States. Some films get edited to hell for American audiences (see Dragon), some films get ridiculously late releases (see Butterfly Swords), and in the case of The Lost Bladesman some great films never get a release…at least at this time. This last case is most certainly a shame as this dramatic action flick, or as I like to refer to them ‘dramaction,’ is pretty impressive overall. It’s not quite as artistic as say a Yimou Zhang film, but it’s a very strong blend of philosophical tones, dramatic pops, and vicious action set pieces.

The Lone Ranger (2013)

Here comes the BOOM!!!!
Every dog has to learn a lesson or so it goes. Some dogs are quick to learn while others, well they have to have their noses shoved in poop then thrown outside. I feel that this movie is the proverbial poop. I saw the box office crash, I read the crappy reviews. Heck I was warned by every person that even heard me mention the words "Lone Ranger". Did I listen? Did I once consider that maybe just maybe these people might be right?

Of course I did, however we all know that a devastating crash while gruesome and potentially upsetting is best  viewed with ones own eyes. So off I  went to feast my eyes on a film that has made every "what not to watch" list of 2013. So feel free to tag along if you have the nerve.

Directed by Gore Verbinski
Starring Johnny Depp as Tonto, Armie Hammer as John Reid/The Lone Ranger, Tom Wilkinson as Latham Cole, and Helena Bonham-Carter as Red

Synopsis - This is not your father's Lone Ranger! Most people reading this review probably do not remember the old days of Lone Rangerism. Nor do I want to bore anyone with a history lesson. Just let it be known that this film played out a heck of a lot differently than I expected.

This version of "The Lone Ranger" starts out with a retelling of events by a very old Tonto. Who was mistaken  as a statue in a museum by a young boy dressed as a Ranger. From there the story unfolds with a few random  humorous current day snap backs. We start out with Tonto walking us through how John Reid came to be "The Lone Ranger". His version seems a bit delusional to start with more than a few memory challenges. As if to say he is not sure of himself or the story he is trying to tell. Through this retelling we get to understand that John Reid was a good man, a lawful man.They first meet while Tonto is a prisoner on the train that John Reid is traveling on back to Texas. Also on this ride is the outlaw Butch Cavendish who has been arrested by John's brother Dan a Texas Ranger. Butch's gang comes to free him while on the train and abruptly derails the train and from there the action begins. Dan is a fearless Texas Ranger hell bent to take on the most awful of criminals known to 1850's. John and his brother are different in a lot of ways, with John being the intellect and Dan being the punch you in the mouth type of guy. After arriving to his hometown John meets up with the love of his life also known as his brothers wife Rebecca.  Put into a rough spot, Dan gets John to join him on his quest to stop the Cavendish gang of train robbers and bring about justice . After deputizing John the posse of lawmen set out to find the gang and finish what Dan had started. This is the point of the film where John Reid the man ceases to exist and "The Lone Ranger" begins. I do not want to give away too much and ruin it for those that have not seen it.

Let's be friends forever!
My review- I could probably sum this film up in one single word but that would not work to well for the site.
So let me start with imagine if Michael Bay directed a western. Now let that fester in your mind a bit. If you have seen any of the Pirates of the Carribean films you should know what to expect from Johnny Depp. I am not sure what he was trying to channel in his version of Tonto the spirit guide but it was an insult to the lore of the character. As for the main character Armie Hammer as John Reid/Lone Ranger I was never sold. He never seemed like a guy out for justice,or believable in the role of hero vigilante. The action was non stop but way over the top as one can expect from most recent Disney live action films. Its just more of the same as far as I can tell. I really didn't enjoy this film which is too bad, given how much I love the idea of "The Lone Ranger". I was hoping for something more story driven like the comic from a few years back from Dynamite Comics, but alas it was not to be. As a true and true popcorn film some might find this film enjoyable. Believe me I am just fine with that type of film but for me "The Lone Ranger" just didn't cut it. It was too darn hokey and while full of action, the characters didn't seem to believe their own roles. This film lacks the grit that, in my opinion, is needed to pull off a remake of this historical stature. If you want to check this movie out for yourself click on the link below to snap a copy.  All in all I would give this film a:

Written By John Price

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Raze (2013)

Director: Josh C. Waller
Notable Cast: Zoe Bell, Rachel Nichols, Tracie Thoms, Rebecca Marshall, Bailey Anne Borders, Bruce Thomas, Sharilyn Fenn, Doug Jones

Far be it from me to criticize the ‘women in prison’ sub genre of the grindhouse cinema for being too exploitative, but truthfully it’s a premise that simply works on one level. That is until I caught Raze. While the concept and throwback look of the film with its simple sets and basic gritty feel certainly owes to the ‘women in prison’ genre, rarely does Raze fall into the trappings of its exploitative foundations and instead reinterprets them for a new generation of film fans who expect more out of their grindhouse experience.

In a sadistic tournament of sorts, a devious couple (Fenn and Jones) has created a kill or be killed game for 50 women to be enjoyed by the lush and rich. Sabrina (Bell) is one of those women. They fight to the death against one another, refusal to fight or failure to win results in one of their family members being assassinated so most of them have little choice in the end. Can Sabrina find a way out before she’s forced to kill too many people?

School is now in session!
In the vein of what Tarantino has done with his homage films to grindhouse cinema, director and co-writer Josh C. Waller has taken the concept and lifted it to a realm where Raze is a little more accessible and serious in execution. Conceptionally the film is still a bit of a stretch as we learn about a family tradition of women killing women that seems to have no real meaning behind entertainment for the wealthy, a missed opportunity I felt to add something a bit more palpable to events of the film. From there we are introduced to a handful of women put into this dire position. We get to meet a slew of different characters of all kinds of personality, played with some impressive vigor by a rather remarkable supporting cast including the ‘villainous’ female fighter Phoebe who devours the scenes she is in. Yet, it’s easily Zoe Bell (known for her strong stunt work and leading role in Death Proof) that shines here as the heroine. While we get the idea that she’s not necessarily a ‘good’ person from some of the flashbacks and stories about her loved ones, she is the kind of anti-hero that you don’t mind following just to see them tear shit up against the greater evil.

From there the film only raises itself in execution. Waller is able to craft some decently atmospheric tension with very little before the film bursts into some super violent fight sequences. The minimalism of the sets and budget actually help with the gritty feel and 70s throwback elements of the film, which allows us to focus on what the film does best: ridiculously awesome fights. This is where Raze caters a bit more to its exploitative foundations. Brutal fist-to-cuffs occur in a small dirt floor and stone walled circle of death and all of the actresses seem game for whatever is needed here. Emotional impact can be found in damn near all the fights, a task not easy for many of these films, and by the time the last act arrives the viewer is ready to have Sabrina bring the entire fucker down brick by brick. One death in particular actually had me say “fuck” out loud. Waller most certainly succeeds in that aspect.

No holds barred means no bites barred.
A few twists at the end seem a bit forced, but until then Raze moves at such a brisk and effective pace that rarely did I find myself criticizing the smaller details. It’s a strong blend of tension and brutal action that ends up being something of an impressive surprise for a film that I expected to be just a modernized ‘women in prison’ flick. A strong cast, a director that keeps it focused, and some very striking fight sequences make Raze one of the better action films of the year. It comes with a strong recommendation.  

Written By Matt Reifschneider 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Death Duel (1977)

Director: Chor Yuen
Notable Cast: Derek Yee, Ling Yun, Candy Yu, Fan Mei Sheng, Ti Lung, Lo Lieh, David Chiang

When it comes to the lush style and epic standards of wuxia established by Chor Yuen for the Shaw Brothers studio, I have always been a bit torn. His films are certainly epic with his eye for visual fluidity and having stories based on epic novels. Yet, many of them tend to meander with too much plot, too many characters, and too much fantasy. So when I tell you that Death Duel is not only his most focused film I’ve seen thus far, but his best…you know that means something.

Derek Yee plays Ah Chi, a renowned swordsman who has shunned his fame and lives a humble life as a wandering beggar. When an aspiring and power hungry young woman demands to rule the underworld, she sends out a slew of assassins to find Ah Chi and end his life. Ah Chi must deal with the reality that his fame will not leave, even with a blooming relationship, and he has to fight his way to the end.

Which one burns brighter? Derek Yee or the candles?
The key to Death Duel’s success lies in the rather boiled down simplicity for a Chor Yuen film. Gone are most of the fantasy elements and in there place are stronger bits of dialogue, more kung fu, and a darker tone. It makes the film far more impactful and emotional with the torn feelings of our hero. Derek Yee is handedly capable of handling the duties of our hero Ah Chi in his first ‘real’ big role and he carries a good portion of the film. For a wuxia film, Death Duel has a fairly stream lined plot that allows Derek Yee to truly strut his stuff as both an actor and a fighter. He’s impactful when the plot needs it, vulnerable when the character calls for it, and utterly bad ass as the hero in him slowly comes to realize his calling.

As more and more films in the Shaw collection started gearing towards hand to hand combat in the 70s, the action in this wuxia film does try to blend swordplay and some solid kung fu. Fortunately, Chor Yuen and company make it more relevant as a character trait for Ah Chi as to when he decides to draw a sword or not. Partnered with some pretty strong choreography (including a great impactful finale), Death Duel slathers on great martial arts on top of a focused and driven plot.

It also should be noted that Death Duel contains a slew of great cameos too. David Chiang has a memorable role as an insane martial artist in the last act of the film and both Ti Lung and Lo Lieh reprise a couple of memorable roles from previous Chor Yuen films. Ti Lung shows up for a brief moment as his memorable role from The Magic Blade and Lo Lieh once again steals the show with his remarkably awesome Han Tang, the guardian with a bladed hat and a penchant for wiping blood on his face from Killer Clans. It’s not hugely impactful on the film, but the cameos are there as a very tasty treat for Shaw Brothers fans.

Death Duel is handedly my favorite Chor Yuen film I’ve seen thus far. It’s impactful, dark, focused, and well executed on all levels. Derek Yee proves how great of a lead he is in a film and the action is impressively effective in choreography and in plot impact. Hell, it even has those great cameos. For any fans of Shaw Brothers, I highly recommend Death Duel

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Special ID (2014)

Director: Clarence Fok
Notable Cast: Donnie Yen, Jing Tian, Andy On, Collin Chou

For martial arts fans, Donnie Yen has become something of the pinnacle for the genre. His acting abilities are sincere, he carries charisma in everything he does, and his action choreography and execution are ungodly consistent through every film. Luckily, he’s in Special ID. If it wasn’t for these previously mentioned abilities, I’m not so sure that this would have been a good film at all. It certainly tries in many regards, but the foundations that it is built on are shaky at best.

For an undercover cop like Chen (Donnie Yen), life can be tough as he rides the line between gang thug and the pursuit of justice of a policeman. When one of his protégés Sunny (Andy On) starts creating havoc in the underworld, both the police and his triad boss send him to investigate. With the help of a detective (Jing Tian), he will have to play his role close to the chest against a paranoid and ambitious criminal.

The baddies are outnumbered.
While Special ID certainly plays to its action cop drama clichés at times with double crosses, family hostages, and a man torn between loyalties, it does carry a certain charm with it. At times the film rolls out like a spin off entry of the long running In the Line of Duty franchise with its focus on action and mediocre plot progressions. It’s not to say that it’s a great film, but it has a balls-out 80s Hong Kong action charm that fans are certain to latch onto. Unfortunately, with films like Kill Zone (S.P.L.)and Flashpoint under his belt, I expect far more from a Donnie Yen vehicle in this day and age.

Special ID is built on some tired clichés and predictable plot leaps. Baddies are easily decipherable as baddies. The good guy has to go through all of the tests that a million other good guys in previous films have had to go through. Even the pseudo-romantic subplot between Donnie Yen and Jing Tian seems predictable and too often stale. Truthfully, the only dramatic element that seemed fresh and remotely interesting was Donnie Yen’s relationship with his mother in the film, which becomes one of the few heartfelt elements of Special ID. For those who are well versed in the Hong Kong crime genre, this film is about as by the book as they get.

Just because the dramatic aspects of the film fail to induce any kind of viewer response doesn’t mean that Special ID is a total loss. As I previously mentioned, there is one key that makes Special ID a must have for action fans: Donnie ‘Motherfucking-kick-your-ass-and-not-regret-it’ Yen. Not only does Yen sell his hero as charming despite the rather mundane writing, but he also packs the film full of some ridiculously awesome modern action sequences. As a choreographer, Yen has always been a visceral guy and the work in this film ably depicts those choices. Vicious street fighting style beat downs are relentless here. From a Mahjong game turned brutal, to a survival mode style throw down in a kitchen, to a high octane chase through the streets leading to the grand finale of a Donnie Yen/Andy On fist-to-cuffs, Special ID lays it on thick and its phenomenal to watch. Even Jing Tian gets into it with a brilliantly choreographed car fight with Andy On. The fight work and stunts are quite simply stunning here and it carries the film.

How about my head to your knee style?!
Special ID might not be the pinnacle of a modern martial arts film that I wanted, but I have to admit with just enough charm and amazing action set pieces it came out decent. Considering how the film missed on its dramatic moments and the weakness of the script, I am shocked at how well the film has stuck with me since I watched it. It’s not a great film, but it works for what it is…a slick modern action flick.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Wrath of Vajra, The (2014)

Director: Law Wing-cheong
Notable Cast: Xing Yu, Steve Yoo, Poppin Hyun-Joon, Jiang Baocheng, Ya Mei

The Wrath of Vajra is not a good movie. Nor did I expect it to be held to the standards of an award winning type film that makes you re-evaluate your life. What The Wrath of Vajra is as a film is pure entertainment. It might not be good by a classical film sense, but it sure is good at being an entertaining flick full of pure heroic characters, evil villains, and high concept fight work.

During World War II, the Japanese in an attempt to help win the war have decided to revive a controversial program called Hades - a program that kidnaps youth and adults and forces them to become killing machines of kung fu glory. Lead by a previous member (the bulked out and oddly charismatic Steve Yoo), they have started their vicious ways again. It’s up to another escaped member K-29 (Xing Yu) to return from his Shaolin teachings to bring Hades down brick by brick…but he’s going to have to defeat their three best fighters to do so.

Here comes the pain again. Err...I mean rain. No, I really do mean pain.
A Shaolin monk previously trained to be one of the ultimate killers returns to his “home” to face a child hood friend who has become a vicious zealot? He has to defeat three other worldly warriors to get there? Fucking count me in! The Wrath of Vajra is one part Shaw Brothers, one part Cannon Films, and one part modern Ronny Yu inspired action. While the film certainly misses some marks when it comes to the more serious themes of religious freedom, choice of the people, and even a missed opportunity for a parent/child running subject, it works just enough to keep the viewer engaged as it pummels its way through some very striking action sequences.  Plot wise, the film tends to just wear itself thin with too many underlying lessons. In the end it would have been better had it simplified itself even more and focused on one or two themes instead of the slew of different characters each with their own meaning.

Despite the fact that the script is only mediocre, The Wrath of Vajra is an impressively entertaining feat of celluloid. Director Law Wing-cheong does two things amazingly well with the film: pacing and action. The movie flies by at a lightning pace (despite only having three real big action set pieces) and even with some hit or miss performances never did I find myself looking at my watch to see how much of the film I had left. This wicked pace is created because the film very much segments itself in a clear manner. There is an intro, character build, action, build to next action set piece, action set piece, build up to finale, and finale. It works. The action is so damn good that the time between each set piece is spent to build up the next fight. It pays off each time. The highlight of the film happens to be a very impressively shot, stunt filled duel between our hero and the vicious cannibal fighter Crazy Monkey. It’s the must see, must devour, must worship kind of action that martial arts fans crave and The Wrath of Vajra delivers it.

This man has some Spidey skillz.
While this kung fu flick might not be the best I’ve seen and carries its fair share of flaws in the writing and some of the acting, the rest is so unbelievably entertaining and fun that rarely did I have time to dwell on those issues. From action set piece to action set piece, the film is built to be a rather efficiently paced piece of kick-assery. Could it have used a bit more meaning to the events? Sure, but who needs that when you this much awesome kung fu? I don’t. Neither does The Wrath of Vajra.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Commitment (2014)

Director: Hong-soo Park
Notable Cast: T.O.P, Kim Yoo-jeong, Han Ye-ri, Jeong Ho-bin, Jo Sung Ha

When it comes to rap artists leaping into the realm of film, don’t blame me if I’m skeptical. Outside of Ice T, it’s hard for me to claim that many rappers are able to make that jump. Well, that was until I saw Commitment. The young Korean rapper takes his turn as the lead in another riveting action/thriller from a place that knows how to make them and, despite my initial expectations, knocks one out of the ball park. All in all, Commitment is a great flick taking a surprise performance out of T.O.P. and using it as a launching pad for an emotionally packed ride.

As the tensions between North and South Korea continue to play their dangerous game the resulting turmoil in the North has made some rival spy networks in the South. T.O.P., as a rather wide eyed but focused young spy bent on offering his young sister back at home a life worth living, is sent to find a rogue assassin and put him down. Unfortunately, he has lots to contend with including his cover, the South Korean police force, a deadly assassin, and his own people.

Classic pose...go!
When Commitment started rolling out this ‘kid spy’ routine in the first third with our lead having to deal with high school bullies and a girl that fascinates him while kicking ass at night and generally doing violent spy things, I was not impressed. This is a the kind of concept that gave us terrible TV shows like Alias or family friendly flicks like Agent Cody Banks. Yet director Hong-soo Park, in his directorial debut, takes this overused foundation and truly builds something worthwhile from it in the second and third acts. Along with an increasingly strong performance from T.O.P. that builds with the tension and chaos of the scripted issues that arise, the film goes for broke with action and some dark twists. Never does it feel like Hong-soo Park caters to the initial concept and instead focuses on crafting strong narrative story telling as we follow our hero into an increasingly hopeless situation. Partner that with a relatively effective and genuine romantic subplot that is spurred by a strong chemistry and a subtle performance by Kim Yoo-jeong and Commitment plays out as a rather efficient and emotionally driven story to woo even the harshest critic in me.

On top of those sturdy foundations of acting and a strong script, this thriller packs on some decent action as well. Hong-soo Park does tend to cater a bit too much to the shaky-cam modern style of shooting for my tastes and a oddly placed diamond smuggling thread at the end is out of place, but the rest of the action elements are perfectly synced. T.O.P. proves to be a worthy action star and the fight sequences are particularly set up well. An impressive fist to cuffs between our hero and the assassin is delightfully brutal and the finale is explosive to say the least. Even action fans are going to find a lot to love here.

"I'd like a Big Mac with extra evil on the side, please."
Commitment is simply a film that had to earn its score against my expectations…and does.  T.O.P. proves to be a rather strong choice in the lead, the story is effectively emotional for a thriller, and the action is well paced and meaningful. This is the kind of Korean thriller we have come to expect and Commitment delivers on its title for the genre. A huge bloody recommendation from us.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Legend of the Bat (1977)

Director: Chor Yuen
Notable Cast: Ti Lung, Ling Yun, Derek Yee, Yueh Hua

When Well Go USA announced their release of the Chor Yuen epic Legend of the Bat, I was pretty excited. Another ridiculous wuxia film with the great Ti Lung? You can always count me in for that! Charismatic, ridiculous, and epic all can describe what one can expect from the sword battling tale, but even then sometimes it’s a bit hard to follow with as many characters and plot twists as this film spews out. Like most Chor Yuen films it’s a balancing act between the epic and the confusing and this one ends up being a mixed bag.

The rumors of Mr. Bat and his “buy anything” black market on Bat Island have been swirling for quite some time. Anything is possible on Bat Island, but when two of the martial world’s best swordsmen (Ti Lung and Ling Yun) discover a wrecked ship, a slaughtered house, and a swordsman with no memory they decide they need to get some answers from Mr. Bat himself. With the help of a handful of others looking to reap some vengeance, they will have to survive the traps of Bat Island and take on one of the deadliest foes they have ever faced.

It's like a dance...a dance of DEATH.
While Legend of the Bat might be the second one in the series, a sequel to Clans of Intrigue and followed by Perils of the Sentimental Swordsman neither of which I have seen, I don’t think it’s fully necessary to see those to enjoy what this film has to offer. I certainly still enjoyed it. Even with some flaws in its script and its overzealous approach to the story, Legend of the Bat is still a fun romp and stands on its own.

The film itself is one of the wuxia mixtures of martial arts, fantasy, and drama. Just the kind of film that Chor Yuen delivers, if that’s what you were thinking. The versatile Ti Lung, who puts on a charismatic and righteous performance as the hero, once again ably plays our main protagonist on a quest to right the wrongs of our mysterious villain. The film does tend to spread itself a little thin with its supporting cast and focuses on giving us a slew of red herrings which does make the film a bit bloated and overcomplicated. The plot itself keeps a rather straight track with its focus, building the mystery of Mr. Bat’s identity and having our hero find others to team up with along his journey, but it can be clunky as it jumps from dire situation to dire situation. Hell, we even get two trapped on a boat sequences which does come off as a little overzealous.

As for the action, the film is more focused on character and plots to truly have the best action. When it happens, it’s a blast to watch as Chor Yuen certainly has an eye for the epic. We see a shack torn wall from wall and are treated to a great finale where our heroes must finally confront Mr. Bat in his element: the dark. There is less hand to hand combat and the film really focuses on swordplay (I guess that’s why it was released under the Sword Masters collection) and it uses more of the fantastical elements with the swordplay for spectacle. The action is fun, it’s just not up to par with some of the other Chor Yuen films.

Look at those colors!
Legend of the Bat is the kind of film that you will either love it or hate it. It’s definitely a charming flick that highlights some of the ridiculousness of the plots and relies on some fun performances from Ti Lung and Derek Yee, but it can be a bit hard to swallow with its seemingly Lord of the Rings like journey to Bat Island. Fans of Chor Yuen or Ti Lung will definitely want to pick this up.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Carrie (2013)

Director: Kimberly Pierce
Notable Cast: Chloe Grace Moretz, Julianne Moore, Gabriella Wilde, Ansel Elgort, Judy Greer

While the remake train continues chugging along as if there is nothing wrong conceptionally with modern cinema cannibalizing its own history, the amount of unnecessary films are becoming a bit ludicrous. Take this Carrie remake as a perfect example. Here we have a coming of age tale wrapped in angst, social commentary, and a bit of horror and yet they do almost nothing to make it unique from the original film. All the same beats, most of the same subtext, and even some of the same sequences. It’s close enough that never are we reminded that this is a new telling of the story, but sit there comparing it to the far superior original for an hour and a half.

That being said, I also don’t believe that Carrie is the shit storm of a film that many critics panned it as with their comments. It’s a decent little film with some solid enough performances and it gets the point across. Trust me, I’ve seen far worse than this. It’s just hard not to be tougher on films that are mediocre and forgettable instead of bad and unique. This latest incarnation of Carrie is most definitely the former.

It's a trap!
Initially, I was sold with the casting. Chloe Grace Moretz has earned her own with strong performances in the Kick-Ass films and Let Me In. Partner that with Julianne Moore as her mother and the main two (and toughest) performances had some talent behind them. The problem then remains that never does the film rise above just going through the motions. Whereas the original Carrie had thick atmosphere and chilling moments, this one tends to be more of a standard affair. Moretz works some great scenes in the film, as does Moore, but the remaining cast tends to be a little weaker then expected and a drags the potentially heart wrenching moments of the film to a halt.

As the character Carrie starts to unravel her telekinetic powers, we are greeted to a lot of hit or miss CGI that sort of hurts the film too. Modern technology and a slightly bigger budget allows Carrie to show a bit more of the final act mayhem (even if seeing Moretz wave her hands around like a Harry Potter sequence is a bit humorous), but the film even seems to miss out on the emotional relevancy of what happens. In fact, the epic car wreck has almost a humorous vibe to it which kills the moment.

"Is something wrong with my make up?"
Carrie might be a slightly faster paced version of the classic original, but it’s hardly a match for the emotional punch and vulnerable performances. It tends to be more or less a film that simply retreads the same paths instead of taking chances and trying something new. It’s a decent film overall, but it’s hard to not compare it to the original. My final verdict: see the original and just skip out on this one.

Written By Matt Reifschneider