Monday, April 28, 2014

Brick Mansions (2014)

Director: Camille Delamarre
Notable Cast: Paul Walker, David Belle, RZA

As a person that identifies with the 'vulgar auteur' movement as something awesome, the original District 13 (as District B13 as it is known in the US) was always a personal favorite. Luc Besson crafted, semi-modern in visual style, and blasted full of martial arts, parkour, and 80s style ridiculous cheese. Naturally I was somewhat stoked for the US remake, Brick Mansions. Yeah, it looked exactly like the original film plot wise from the trailer but there was room for improvement and I have always secretly wanted David Belle to gain some momentum as an action star. What I should have expected was what I got from this remake: a film that desperately wants to be the same, but utterly fails at improving on anything from the original and losing the two ingredients to making it work - charm and fun action.

For Damien (Walker), the chance to finally go undercover to catch the notorious crime lord Tremaine (RZA) in the walled off section of Detroit called Brick Mansions was the chance he needed to avenge the loss of his father. Unfortunately, the bomb that is set to go off in the rough part of the city is going to make it a fast run. With the help of a convict Lino (Belle), who knows Brick Mansions and has an ex-girlfriend held hostage by Tremaine, the two will have to team up and burn through slums to make sure nothing blows up...or die trying.


As a fan of District 13 and underground action films, I have a slew of reasons to be pissed about Brick Mansions. And yes, you are going to get more of a rant than a review with this one so I'm going to start off with some of the things I enjoyed about this re-telling of the French actioner. Firstly, Paul Walker has just enough charm to pull off some of the terrible dialogue he's fed. While he is certainly not the physical presence of Cyril Raffaelli from the original, he carries a lot of screen presence here. Perhaps it's the fact that knowing it's his last full film holds a bit of weight, but he seems to be a natural fit for films of this nature. Also, the film is still fun. While it never effectively matches the charm of the original in any portion, for those who haven't seen District 13 it will be fun to see all of the stunts and action (particularly David Belle's escape in the opening sequence.)


From there the film is simply one massive disappointment. Firstly, the film is almost exactly the same and only changes a few aspects to the story to drive it in a few new directions including an approach with RZA's villain in the third act that feels out of the blue and forced. So naturally, it failed to be anything new to really latch onto. Secondly, the film obviously tries to play to Paul Walker's fan base with a few new driving sequences...that really fail to be much more than just seeing him attempt banter with Belle and failing to do so with some of the horrible dialogue that the film has (and some weird choppiness from Belle being very obviously dubbed to lessen his French accent). And lastly...

...director Camille Delamarre now ranks up there with Oliver Megaton as one of my most hated modern action directors. Had I known he was the editor for Megaton on the sloppily put together films Taken 2, Transporter 3, and Columbiana then I might not have gone to see this film at all. The same faults that haunted those films continue to plague Brick Mansions here. The editing is the quick cut/shaky cam/quick zoom bullshit that has ruined a lot of action films in recent years. So when it comes to seeing David Belle do his parkour stunts (which can still be impressive considering he's now 40) you actually don't see shit. Just lots of fake kinetic energy that any self loving action fan will loathe.

I'm surprised they could find a still shot in all of the edits.

When the credits on Brick Mansions rolled, I was fairly pissed off and disenfranchised. Perhaps the youth of today might find some fun to be had in this film, as there was some charming moments here and there, but as an action film fan and someone who loved the original District 13 this film was completely off the mark. The direction was terrible, the action redundant, and the changes made little to no sense. Take a bit of advice, see the original and skip this one.

 Written By Matt Reifschneider

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Protector 2, The (2014)

Director: Prachya Pinkaew
Notable Cast: Tony Jaa, Jeeja Yanin, RZA, Marrese Crump, Petchtai Wongkamlao

The career of Tony Jaa has been something of a roller coaster ride from the promising beginnings of Ong Bak and The Protector. Through the trials of his disappearance and the general clustering of Ong Bak 2 and 3, the guy really needed to put himself back on top. Yet the Thai action star can’t seem to get a break even now. His ‘return’ was supposed to be the epic sequel to the film that garnered him international fame in The Protector 2 (or Tom Yung Gong 2 for international audiences). More problems plagued the production of this film and the results for The Protector 2 are mixed. On one hand, it showcases some new elements for Jaa and on the other hand it’s a mess in narration with some ill-fitting attempts at being ‘cutting edge.’ It’s a film that’s sure to disappoint fans of the original.

Kham (Jaa) is trying to live a peaceful life in the Thai countryside with his elephant. That is until some questionable parties decide to kidnap is fucking elephant again. This time it’s the vicious gun smuggler Mr. LC (RZA) that seems to have plans for both Kham and his elephant.

The highly publicized martial arts team up...which sort of sputters.
If one man single handedly takes down a criminal syndicate in Australia in an attempt to save his kidnapped elephant then I don’t care how arrogant you are with your fighters and your schemes, but you don’t kidnap his fucking elephant again. I mean, the entire premise of this film seems half thought through and stitched together with some very weak plot progressions. Even with RZA’s best performance to date (it still isn’t good, but that’s because he was terrible in so many films previously) and some fun secondary characters, the entire idea for The Protector 2 is a stretch and it doesn’t flow.

Yet, let’s be honest, The Protector had a terrible story too. I don’t watch Thai action flicks for deep stories and thoughtful character development. I know this and went into The Protector 2 with this mindset that made the story less of a hurtful element then for most film buffs. I watch these films for the ridiculous action set pieces and heart felt execution. Even here The Protector 2 seems to be a bit of a miss. While there is plenty of hand-to-hand combat to be had here, the focus of this sequel tends to be more gimmick and stunt oriented and the results are mixed. Seeing Jaa tied to a bridge and go swinging through the air is fun, but it’s not jaw dropping and while the idea of shooting a motorcycle straight up into the air through the roof of a shack and having Jaa elbow the rider at the peak of their leap might sound awesome, the weird green screen effects tend to lessen the impact of such moments. A vicious fight with walls of fire looks great on paper and comes off as a bit awkward here.

When the film does go back to what worked in the first one, it’s a breath of fresh air. The hand-to-hand combat, while not quite as good as the first, is still pretty impressive. Jaa is his usual badass self for the film and the addition of Jeeja Yanin as one of the secondary characters adds a bit of spice for martial arts fans. Once again (like all of her films) she sort of gets the shaft by being given a terrible character with little arc and less impact as she sort of shows up randomly to help/hinder our hero and that is disappointing too.

Two big fans...of martial arts!
If there is any truly great aspect about The Protector 2 it’s Marrese Crump. While the man has only one other film credit (outside of being a stunt double for RZA in The Man with the Iron Fists) and almost no lines of dialogue in this film, he simply owns every scene. He has that brilliant action star thing known as screen presence and watching his fights with Tony Jaa single handedly made The Protector 2 worth the rental. He’s an action star in the making and his limited, but shining role here indicates that potential.

For action fans, The Protector 2 is a disappointment overall. The gimmicks don’t work like they should, Jeeja is underused (again), and the narrative is jumbled. It does have its moments of fun and Marrese Crump as the big surprise of the year, but moments do not make a good movie. Here’s to hoping that Jaa role in the upcoming Fast & Furious 7 will be a launching pad for a new era of his career outside of the mess.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Confession of Murder (2014)

Director: Jung Byung-gil
Notable Cast: Jung Jae-young, Park Si-hoo

The murder mystery story is not a new one. Hell, it was one that has been told since the dawn of theater in one-way or another and it’s one that truly seems to last the test of time. Now thrillers (particularly of the murder mystery flavor) are a dime a dozen and honestly I end up being picky about them even before I watch making sure it’s not a waste of my time. When Confession of Murder landed in my review queue, it shot up straight to the top. The film, despite some odd tangents of style, is a smart and effective thriller that builds suspense and mystery with an almost inhuman ease as it presents itself as another great South Korean thriller worthy of the trend.

After 17 years, Detective Choi (Jung Jae-young) knows the statue of limitations has allowed a serial killer to go free. A killer who left him scarred emotionally and physically. When a young man (Park Si-hoo) publishes a book called “Confession of Murder” claiming to be the killer from 17 years prior with detailed accounts of each victim, Detective Choi is reluctant to accept it as truth. As he begins to investigate the young author, a larger scheme comes to the surface as he begins to believe that not everything is as it seems to be.

"Let's get dangerous."
If you spend enough time watching these kinds of films you start to see patterns develop that make the twists and turns of thriller seem obvious from the beginning. I will say that Confession of Murder totally had me guessing throughout the film. Director/writer Jung Byung-gil and company craft a film that truly spins a web of intrigue that had me on the edge of my seat awaiting the next event to occur to add to the mystery. With strong performances from the two leads in the film (including a very charming and utterly subtle performance from Park Si-hoo as the young author) and the director’s ability to car wreck tension into the script, Confession of Murder works amazing as a thriller.

One element of the film that comes off as a little forced though is the action sequences. Don’t get me wrong, I love me a great fucking action set piece. The opening chase through the alleys is borderline brilliant and a high-octane car chase complete with flipping vehicles and car surfing were impressively staged outside of some shifty CGI. I think though that the film might have had more impact without them. The film’s subtext about media spin and ‘celebrity’ status had me hooked enough that I really didn’t need the action to keep my attention. At times it even comes off a bit forced, including the finale, but it works enough to be worth the time on screen. It’s not a huge detriment to the film, but I honestly don’t think most of it was needed.

Car battles have never been this literal.
South Korea is king of the thriller. Confession of Murder is another astoundingly well-crafted film to add to a rather impressive list of films. It’s a tight thriller that keeps the mystery on edge with some clever twists and when the action hits, it hits hard. It’s not perfect as some of the subplots tend to pull away from the seriousness of the concept, but the issues are small potatoes to the awesomeness you have in store for you with the film.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Friday, April 18, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Director(s): The Russo Brothers
Notable Cast: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Redford, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Frank Grillo

Marvel (and thusly Disney) has created some intriguing ideas with how they go about crafting their ‘universe’ in films. It has changed the film industry game in many ways. Crafting a network of individual films leading to crossover features where a variety of different elements all tie in together. Occasionally the films come off as mediocre summer blockbusters, like both of the Thor features, but as of lately Marvel seems to be hitting some impressive strides for franchise that probably shouldn’t be this damn good. I’m looking at you Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Working with SHIELD has provided Steve Rogers aka Captain America (Chris Evans) some drive as he adapts to a modern world. The world has changed though with technology and a global network economy. Even war has seemingly taken a new path and SHIELD seems intent on preventing issues with extreme measures. So when a cynical Nick Fury (Jackson) uncovers a sinister plan by individuals in SHIELD, it will be up to Captain American and Black Widow (Johansson) to uncover those ready to take control of SHIELD for their own means.

Captain America has always been a hard sell for Marvel (just look at all of the failures they achieved attempting to put him to film previously), but the first film did a fine job at presenting him in period context for his origin even if it still comes off as rather cheesy and a bit too formulaic. It worked though. The true test was going to be this second film, a film that sees the rather gimmicky super hero in a modern context with a modern audience and a modern world concept. I can safely say that not only has Marvel succeeded in modernizing the hero for the screen, but they deliver one of their best films to date too.

"How are we going to make a sequel work?"
Interestingly enough the main focus of The Winter Solider is not that of an action film, but one that cuts its teeth in paranoid espionage genre. Don’t get me wrong there is plenty of action to be had in this thoughtful sequel (more on that in a bit), but the focus is plot, character, and theme driven. A choice that seemingly works in spades as the audience is left desperately scrambling for whys, whos, and whens to some very sudden and brilliant plot twists. It works impressively as the audience learns to question the political and societal contexts of the faith we place in our leaders and one where Rogers proudly states “this is fear and not freedom” in a way that even those with little understanding of the modern state of the world can understand and seemingly side with no matter what your personal opinions of the matter lie. I won’t give too much away here when it comes to some of the intriguing threads that the film pulls from the first Captain America film and how it plays out, but understand that the film plays out on the formula of a thriller more so than a straight up action flick.

From there the surprising choice of the Russo Brothers as directors (seriously I had no idea that TV comedy directors could do a film like this) kicks in and slathers the film in charm. The writing might be tight and surprisingly relevant in today’s world, but the fantastic cast and a visual eye for spectacle helps to make sure that no one can really hate this film. The chemistry between Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson is fun and palpable, the addition of Falcon works extremely well (well enough that I never even questioned the ridiculous idea of the wings until well after the film was over), and the villains of the film rock. While I felt like the main Winter Soldier plot thread got a little overlooked by the larger conspiracy plot, he’s a great antagonist that the Russo Brothers use extremely well as the best counter-part to Cap that they could have.

Then to top it off, the action is stellar in the film. As a fan of old school action (and in particular Hong Kong style action), I was stoked when this film threw in a ton of hand to hand combat material. Of all the Avengers, Cap is the most suited for this style of action and they really added a ton of great choreography and fist to cuffs into the film for fans like me. Between car chases, explosions, aerial combat, the hand to hand brawls, and enough spectacle to make Michael Bay approve The Winter Solider delivers on those promises too.

"Shit, son. That's a wicked knife move!"
While I still probably enjoy The Avengers for its fun writing and the style of Iron Man 3 over this film – sue me, I’m a huge Shane Black fan – The Winter Soldier is another very, very impressive action film from Marvel. It’s smart, executed to near perfection, fun, and action packed. I had no idea that a Captain America franchise might end up being one of my favorites, but from the look of things that’s where it’s headed and it’s earning the praise every step of the way. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Chinese Zodiac (2012/2013)

Director: Jackie Chan
Notable Cast: Jackie Chan, Kwon Sang-woo, Lian Fan, Helen Yao, Zhang Lanxin, Oliver Platt
Also known as: Armour of God III, CZ12

I would list Jackie Chan as one of my favorite actors of all time. He has a wide array of talents as an actor and an action guy which has lead a slew of his films to be instant classics the world around. When he announced he was going to head back to one of his classic franchises for a third entry with Chinese Zodiac (which is the third Armour of God film, known in China as CZ12), I was stoked. Even though my love of both Armour of God and Operation Condor are in the silliness of the films and their Indiana Jones-esque knock off ways, I was hoping for some awesome material. What I got with Chinese Zodiac was…not so awesome.

JC (Jackie Chan) and his team of adventurers for hire are sent by a very rich company to recover twelve bronze heads based on the Chinese zodiac. The problem that arises is that the heads have been missing for years and no one seems to know where they have ended up. So its up to JC, with the help of some friends and wacky technology, to track them down before his corrupt employers put an end to his journey…permanently.

You could say he's an accidental spy...
To be honest, the first two films in this franchise aren’t great overall as the humor can be hit or miss and the stories are very cheesy. That being said, the action is phenomenal in them. I expect nothing less from Jackie Chan even 20 years later. Chinese Zodiac takes this to a whole new level or ridiculous and nonsensical though. Right away from the beginning with Chan’s roller-blading suit you know that you are going to have to suspend your belief system for the next hour and a half or else you are in for a shock. There is less classic action and far more spectacle and it can leave the viewer a bit cold. While there is (finally) a solid fight sequence in the last act and highlights the film with a fun camera shoot fight sequence that brings to mind classic era Jackie Chan, the rest can be almost too ridiculous including a sky diving scene that simply doesn’t work and feels tacked in.

The plot for Chinese Zodiac is ridiculously complicated for as basic as it is and most of it comes from the ridiculous amount of characters. As Jackie Chan just turned 60 this year, it’s obvious that he is stepping back from the high-octane action he used to do – and who can blame him? – and allows his team to shine for some good portions of the film. While the idea is sound, the execution of the team is hit or miss. The attempt at building these characters is done enough to get by, but not enough to truly care about what they have to offer. It does make some of the action set pieces more fun (including a pirate one that feels like it truly came from the cartoon Jackie Chan Adventures), but overall the results are wishy-washy at best.

Top this, XXX.
Chinese Zodiac is not a bad film, but it certainly lacks the charm and strong execution that made these films so much fun in the 80s and 90s for Chan. The action tends to be a little too much spectacle oriented, some of the green screen and wire work is awkward, and the story leaves a lot to be desired. It’s still fun in some ways, but overall this is one of Chan’s more disappointing films in the last ten years.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Macabre [Rumah Dara] (2009)

Director(s): Timo Tjahjanto, Kimo Stamboel a.k.a The Mo Brothers
Notable Cast: Julie Estelle, Arifin Putra, Ario Bayu, Sigi Wimala, Shareefa Daanish, Imelda Therinne

After the release of Gareth Evans' martial arts film, Merantau, I knew I had to seek out other talent coming from Indonesia. Well, to my surprise, there was almost no one I could find. I read up on Joko Anwar, but couldn't find any films he had done, and then I stumbled on to these two guys dubbing themselves Mo. Bros., and they, well Timo Tjahjanto, is good friends with the guy [didn't really know too much of him at the time] that made Merantau! Perfect! So I did some research and learned of a short they had made called Dara. I searched for it. Shit quality [online, not the short itself]. I passed. I looked for the film they expanded from it into a feature length, called Rumah Dara. Bingo. Anyway, long story short, a few years have since passed, and I figured with my brain recovering from the sheer epicness that was The Raid 2, I'd revisit an old favorite, and let me just say, it still hold up. I also want to note before going in, this film is streaming for FREE on Hulu. Only time I've ever used the site. So there shouldn't be any reason that those whom are interested can't find a way to, cause you can!

Macabre's set up is very simple, and very slasher typical, but it totally works. A group of people [check], are heading to the airport in Jakarta. When they go to take off, it starts to rain and they almost hit a woman. The woman, named Maya (Imelda Therinne) claims she has been robbed and needs a ride home. Seeing as how she appears to be an innocent woman stranded, they decide to drop her off at her home, which is pretty much on their way to the airport to begin with. When they arrive, she begs the group to come in and greet her mother. They agree and head into hell... I mean er... her house. So to cut the crap and get to the chase, you find out the family in the home is very Texas Chainsaw Massacre-esque and shit escalates quickly and a MASSIVE blood bath ensues.

Bitch is c-r-a-z-y!!!
So essentially the film follows all of these friends trying to survive in this how filled with crazy mofo's. I hate saying this so casually, but hey, it's a slasher film, and it delivers on that end. It's exactly what you want out of a film like this. Blood... Gore... and one Badass B**ch!!! Ladya, who is the heroine of the film, played by the wonderful Julie Estelle [Raid 2] is incredibly believe and when she flips her lid, she goes in to total warrioress mode. It's quite the sight to behold. Now note, she isn't like ex-black ops B.A, she's simply a woman trying to survive. Another character I'd like to point out is Adam, played by yet another person who would go on to be in The Raid 2 later, Arifin Putra. He's lean, creepishly handsome, and evil s.o.b!!! He literally is the tank of the villains and every scene he was in I was like he's so badass. He's the one who just won't die, literally! I will say everyone is solid, but I have one more person to note, the main villain... villainess... or whatever she should be tagged as. Ms. Dara herself. She is one of the creepiest, if not the creepiest baddies I've ever witnessed in a horror film. Her eyes are something else. She could suck the soul right out of you. And her line delivery and her voice gives me the chills. She's a force to be reckoned with.
The film sort of paces itself much like Audition [well not quite to the same degree] and The Raid 2. It has setup and mood and sort of just slowly burns itself until the pot boils over... and then the entire stove explodes, and your house ends up on fire, and chars down into the ground. Yeah. It gets crazy! Blood, blood, and then even more blood. The kills range from 'oooh...' to 'OH SHIIIIIT!'. And there is a body count by the end of the film. Also, to be told, there is a fair amount of black humor in there, but not until towards the last act of the film. Also, the film pays respects to all of the classic slashers of yester years but also keeps things fresh and chaotic, and original at that. Again, the premise has been done several times, but the execution is where the film really shine, but then again, who the honestly watches a slasher for the story? No? No one? Exactly.
Also this film has your typical could there be more???, without spoiling anything, and that's fine. I highly doubt there will ever be a Macabre 2, at least not anytime soon. It's kind of a typical thing for horror movies, and especially slasher flicks, but c'mon, it's something we all can get excited about. And I will say there is some real similarities between the Chainsaw Massacre family and Dara's family, but overall this is far more fun a film. What film can't be compared to another though?
"Here's to me murdering all of you!"
Like I keep saying throughout this review, if you want a bloody good time, just go ahead and seek out Macabre because you'll be glad you did. It's a lot of fun, and no, it's nothing like You're Next, which I loved as well, but I would say it ranks up there as one of the best slashers of the last 10 years. I can't wait to see what Timo does with Julie in The Night Comes for Us and to see what the Mo Brothers bring to the table in general. I am even more excited for their newest film, Killer(s), now. With as much blood that was spilled in the film, I think it's safe to say I'm willing to spill a few or more drops of my own.

Written by Josh Parmer

Friday, April 11, 2014

Raid 2, The (2014)

Director: Gareth Evans
Notable Cast: Iko Uwais, Arifin Putra, Oka Antara, Tio Pakusadewo, Alex Abbad, Julie Estelle, Cecep Arif Rahman, Very Tri Yulisman, Yayan Ruhian

There was a simplicity to the first The Raid film that worked. In a sort of grindhouse-esque Asssault on Precinct 13 sort of way it played up it's intensity and simple concept with strong execution and instantly memorable characters. I don't think it could have worked twice though. It would seem that director/writer/editor Gareth Evans was of the same opinion and for the long awaited sequel he did what most sequels do: make it all bigger. It still works though. My fear is that with the expansion of ideas and plot that there would be a loss of some of the charm of the simplicity of the original one, but for the most part that doesn't occur with The Raid 2. It's a slamming action film that blends classic martial arts structures, Godfather inspired mafia drama, and a whole lot of violence.

Rama (Uwais) has done what he can to bring the corruption to light from the events of the first film. He takes the evidence to an internal investigation unit who recruits him to go undercover to get close to the son (Putra) of a kingpin in the organization. Things go deeper than expected and start to spin out of control though and soon there is a potential gang war on hand with a local Japanese sect.

It's a thug life.
I will forewarn those who haven't seen the film that there are two things to expect: the film is long and it is ultra violent. I have no problems with either of these elements of the film (in fact as a vulgar auteur, violence tends to be something that sells a film for me), but these are two aspects that may shy off a few people. It was obvious in my screen that people were getting ancy an hour or so into the film so it's something to be aware of and judging from how many times my wife had to look away from the screen the violence can be a little much for some.

For those unafraid to invest the time and/or stomach for The Raid 2, then you are in for a treat. Gareth Evans seems intent on outdoing himself in every aspect of the first film. The story is exponentially deeper, the action is jacked, and the stakes are higher. No longer is it just survival for our hero, it's his family on the line. No longer is there one crime lord, but we have essentially three. We don't have one henchmen, but now there is three. At times it can consume a lot of brain power to establish the film's premise as it does start off slow getting us caught up and establishing a lot of characters. I feel like they probably could have trimmed a solid 10 to 15 minutes here or there to tighten the pace up a bit in the first act, but it works impressively well for as ambitious as it can be. The story itself is not original and my Godfather reference above seems fairly legit as a leaping off point for comparison, but Evans does inject enough character work to keep the audience glued to the screen.

From there, The Raid 2 does start boiling about 45 minutes into the film. Similar to a film like 13 Assassins there might be a lot of set up, but the pay off is glorious. As the betrayals start to build, the final act of the film becomes a full on action extravaganza. All of the hype about the action was ultimately correct. The Raid 2 delivers in spades. Not only is the martial arts phenomenal as the three henchmen start tearing shit up, but Evans and company add in gun fights and a stellar car chase sequence that will have your jaw on the floor. The violence is extreme at times (oh you see plenty of the red stuff and there are a handful of "OH FUCK" moments to be had), but it's fitting for the tone of the film which slathers on atmosphere early on with Evans' visual style and strong score. Yet, let's be honest, most of us will see it for the action and The Raid 2 delivers on all promises there. 

There are a few nit-picky things I have with the film as a whole that nag at my mind despite the awesome time I had seeing the film. While the acting is overall very solid, I felt like Rama's character doesn't get enough 'emotional' moments to truly have us connected with him. For a time, I actually felt more about the kingpin's song Uco then I did for Rama and that's because for the last half of the film it forgets about his family and why he is doing what he is doing (which leads to some odd character choices for his decisions that didn't quite sit as well for me.) I also feel like, unlike the original, The Raid 2 ended on a rather odd note and felt slightly unfinished. Those who follow my reviews on Blood Brothers will know that I hate when films feel unfinished or films meant to be seen in two parts and honestly I felt like this film ended on a "to be continued" note instead of a final beat which sort of set me off track a bit.

Batter's up!
Yet, despite those criticisms it's hard for me not to fully recommend The Raid 2. It's still the best action film I've seen thus far this year and my issues seem less daunting when compared to the aspects that are done so well in the film including the web like story and the action. Yeah, the pace could have been tightened a bit and they could have given Rama a bit more oomph for his character choices, but it still works in very impressive ways. The action is simply unbelievable and Evans built a fascinating world of corruption and justice that can easily add a few more entries into the series. For action fans this is a must see kind of film.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Cheap Thrills (2013)

Director: E.L. Katz
Notable Cast: Pat Healy, Ethan Embry, David Koechner, Sara Paxton

Roughly 95% or more of the films I watch are made outside of U.S soils. On a very rare occasion, a film made here where I live will peak my interest. The 1st 'Merican film to do that for me so far this year is Cheap Thrills, and holy s#!t... did it blow me away. I figured the film would be good, and by good I mean solid... but I had no idea what I was in for apparently.

A man of no luck, Craig [played to perfection by Pat Healy], has just lost his job and found an eviction note taped to the door outside of his apartment. Not feeling 'homebound' that night, he decides to venture out to a bar, where he can mind himself and enjoy the isolation over a cold beer. Just when his sinking gut can sink no more, an old high school buddy, Vince [Ethan Embry], shows up out of the blue. The two haven't spoken in 5 years and well, you guessed it, they're both not doing so well financially. After an hour or so passes, the two meet a rich couple [David Koechner & Sara Paxton], who are willing to through their money at Craig and Vince, if they are willing to provide the two with some cheap thrills. Both money hungry, the two decide to take on their tasks given, but the higher the value, the more twisted the thrill.

We got to meet the Anchorman guy!

Cheap Thrills is so far, and it is early yet, my favorite film of the year. It's been a little over three weeks I think since I have seen it, and it has not left yet, no even in the slightest. My favorite thing about it overall is how believable it is. I've personally been without and been down to the bottom of the barrel, and I too have wondered what I'd do for money. I don't know that'd I'd get anywhere as far as these guys, but the 1st few tasks I could probably swing. All 4 of the lead characters, and I say 4, because it stays with them the whole way through, are flawlessly played by their actors [and actress for Sara]. Pat Healy rocks the whole show by going from this little geeky man, who's just moping along to get by, to being this bat s**t crazy man who does 'whatever' it takes to get his cash. I don't want to spoil anything, but to say that the film goes from being 'haha' funny, to be one of the darkest films I've seen in a very long time. Also, Koechner, I believe, has never done a role like this, but he pulls it off very well. The guy even comes off as intimidating, a word I never though I'd pin to a Dave Koechner character. Embry sells the douchebag musclehead kind of guy very well, and you quickly realize how much he'll shove away to get personal gain, no matter who is affected by it. Lastly, not a lot to say on Paxton, but she gives a brilliant, very internalized performance. You never know what she's thinking, and in a good way.

Okay, enough praising the actors, let's talk about the content, without spoiling too much. This film is genius in how simplistic it is. The plot and idea behind the film is just to watch these two grown men go through the wringer for a little hard cash, well, sometimes a lot of hard cash. And they do so by completing these little tasks given to them by the rich couple, whether it be to be the 1st to down a shot for $50, or to slap someone unsuspecting's ass for $200. Of course, the dares get much crazier than that, but I HATE spoiling things for folks. Let's just say, by the end, you won't believe what they are doing for the green. The film never has a dull moment, and I haven't found myself entertained this thoroughly in a very long time.

I told you!

Cheap Thrills is a near perfect film. There were I think two moments in total where I was like 'that's an odd way of going about that', but nothing that can really be counted towards, mainly a thing with timing in one scene. The performances are top notch. E.L. Katz is top notch as hell, and this is his 1st flick. The gore, when it is there, is top notch. The pacing. Koechner tugging himself. All top notch! If you are looking for a film that is both funny and dark and twisted, look no further, cause Cheap Thrills is it! A hearty thanks to Drafthouse Films for bringing this out of the gate.

Written By Josh Parmer

Friday, April 4, 2014

Deadly Breaking Sword, The (1979)

Director: Chung Sun
Notable Cast: Ti Lung, Fu Sheng, Shih Szu, Feng Ku, Wai-Man Chan, Lily Li

I was excited for The Deadly Breaking Sword. An epic concept with the two leads (Ti Lung and Fu Sheng) who showed so much on screen chemistry in Avenging Eagle just the year previously? Unfortunately, the combined powers that be of a great Shaw Brothers cast and some strong direction from Chung Sun cannot save a film that seems to have a massive focus problem and some terrible ideas in motion. The Deadly Breaking Sword has some solid moments, but overall it comes off as simply disappointing.

A legendary swordsman (Ti Lung) known as the Breaking Sword - for leaving an inch of steel from his sword in each of his winning duels - finds himself at an odd place in a small town when a world renowned prostitute arrives in town and requests his presence. With the help of a money hungry gambler (Fu Sheng), he will have to solve a mystery years in the making and battle his greatest foe.

"I loved you in Avenging Eagle."
I am definitely torn about how I feel about The Deadly Breaking Sword. On one hand it presents a semi-solid mystery wuxia style film with some pretty well directed martial arts battles in it. The opening of the film is slathered in awesome atmosphere with a great (and cheesy) introduction to Ti Lung as the Breaking Sword. Yet from there the film starts to meander around. Director Chung Sun does what he can to add a lot of visual fun to the film and it works at times. The final battle has some great use of depth and camera placement to make the rather mundane sword fight a bit more fun, which is a lifesaver in many instances.

The Deadly Breaking Sword suffers from a lack of focus at times and occasionally comes off as a parody of wuxia than an actual wuxia. Fu Sheng, while occasionally owning as the money hungry gambler, is only in the film for comedic relief and pops up when the story gets too heavy or its convenient for the plot. While his obvious slap stick Jackie Chan routine does work once in a while, including a rather fun introduction in the gambling house, it tires quickly because of his one tone character. This is the issue with most of the film. It starts off atmospheric and serious, jumps to slap stick comedy, comes back to a mystery film, then leaps off again as a swashbuckling wuxia. It’s scattered. Half of the time I forgot to even be looking for clues of the mystery as it didn’t feel as it was important half the time.

The film also throws in a weird almost fantasy element into the third act when one of the villains from the first act reappears as a “super villain” (complete with dyed hair and unstoppable strength). Now far be it for me to say it wasn’t fun to watch Ti Lung and Fu Sheng team up to defeat this Super Halberd fighter, particularly with the strong camera work, but it’s also out of the blue and rather random and further goes into my complaint that the film is simply too ‘scattered.’

Go go gadget reflexes!
All in all, The Deadly Breaking Sword is a fun movie but not much more than that. While I am still perplexed by the massive amount of praise it seems to generate from fans, it does have some highlights in creative camera work and some fun sequences. Outside of that, it might be one of my least favorite Ti Lung films (as he seems to almost parody himself at times) and it just comes off too disjointed to work fully.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Occult Academy (2012)

Let the witching hour begin!
Hello people of the internet! I have been a busy little beaver of late and I am bring you another anime review.

This series is brought to us from NIS America via Are you ready to rock with me? Let's get it on!

Synopsis- In the year 1999, our leading lady Maya has returned to the Waldstein Academy (aka Occult Academy) to attend the funeral of her father. During said funeral, her father's corpse returns possessed by a spirit. Mood wrecker! After this little situation new school principle Maya decides the best thing to do is shut the school down. Only to have her plans stalled by a naked man falling out of the sky and right into her life. Bringing with him news of death and destruction from 2012 where the world has been overrun by aliens. At this point he begs her to help him find the Nostradamus Key and save all man kind.
She's an angel with a crossbow!!
Review - My first thoughts were 'wow a character named Maya a story based on the end of the world in 2012.' I chuckled to myself, but still felt the need to share this thought.  I will start with the animation which is clean and very appealing to the eyes. All the action scenes are very well done including the crazy magic battles.  I think viewers will agree with me here.

As for the story it plays out very similar to older TV shows like "X-Files" or "Scooby-Doo." Well not as silly or over the top like "Scooby-Doo," but similar.  As in most of the side story episodes involve Maya and the gang solving a mystery of sorts. Then it's bam!  Right back to the main plot which is saving the world. I really enjoyed a lot of the ways the writers incorporated different occult things into the series. Such as using a pack of chupacabras to try and stop the gang on one of their hunts for the Key.

Maya is a strong character, very smart, and a no nonsense kind of gal which makes for some great scenes with her male counterpart Uchida. Whom by all rights is quite the opposite of characters. Throw in the mix several side characters that add some uniqueness to the show. I think the cast is well done and the voice acting is pretty decent.
AW! The old twisted twister.

Final thoughts - If you are interested in the occult and looking for a solid anime series then I can say check this one out. Only 13 episodes long  and for the most part each episode holds it own in the series. Episodes 11-12 switched a gear a bit and offered up some stuff that was not seen throughout any of the others. Like most series, this one isn't perfect either. It's got a weak plot and while most of the characters are fun, they not the strongest. Maya is a lovable character and holds her own during the entire series though. She is classy, intelligent, strong willed, and determined. Uchida is funny in his own way. Quirky and awkward, but in a fun way.

I want to wrap this up with this. "Occult Academy" is enjoyable from many points. It offers a lot to many different kinds of viewers. I strongly recommend this series and if you are a collector of figurines as there is a very nice one of Maya out there. Remember kids keep watching anime. Until next time. I give "Occult Academy" a glowing:
Written By John Price

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Contracted (2013)

Director: Eric England
Notable Cast: Najarra Townsend, Caroline Williams, Matt Mercer, Simon Barrett, Alice MacDonald

When it comes to body horror flicks, the results can be varied. Early Cronenberg rocked the genre to the core (including the vicious and thoughtful The Fly remake), but usually if it’s a miss it’s a wide miss. Which is what makes Contracted such an intriguing film. I had heard some various reactions to it from friends, but the resulting film is a mixed bag through and through. Director/writer Eric England certainly has the right idea for Contracted with its strong visuals and tense moments, but the rest of the film comes off as a rather hollow and disconnected experience.

For Sam (Townsend), life has been a little rough. Her girlfriend has become distant, her friends seem occupied, and her career with gardening seems to far away to be real yet. So when a party goes sour with a rather unwanted one night stand, Sam feels like it couldn’t have come at a worse time. Then the symptoms start…

Mornings can be rough...
As an independent horror flick, there is still a lot to admire about Contracted. It has ridiculously high production values for its budget and the director seems to understand the core of what is needed to make the film work as a horror film. He cakes the film in some solid atmosphere, utilizing the lead actress’ acting abilities to a wide variety of angles to pull off her ‘deterioration’ for the audience. When the film gets intense, including a few gag inducing sequences as her body starts to decay, it works. By the time we get to the final act, I had a squeamish look for most of the time and in that sense Contracted works in spades as a body horror film.

The issue that remains then is that this indie horror flick ultimately feels disconnected from the audience. I’m sure I might feel a bit differently about it if I were a woman as there seems to be some strong underlying subtext about how a young women is treated by those around her, but even as a character Sam does some very silly things for the sake of the plot. By the end of the film, there were entire choices made for the story by characters that made little sense (most of which for the sake of pacing and keeping us grossed out) and I began to care less and less to see if she could overcome her “illness.” The same goes for a lot of the secondary characters. To often the supporting characters felt cliché and cut out rather than unique people to craft the story around. The inconsiderate druggie friend? The bitch girlfriend who ‘needs more space?’ How about the preachy mother who never listens? Check, check, and check.

"Oh God, do I have pink eye?"
Contracted fails to feel real despite the amazingly effective special effects and horrific tension. I was never disinterested with the film as it kept a solid atmospheric tension throughout and I was curious to see what was going to happen to Sam, but rarely did I care emotionally about the outcome and in the end it cuts this film short. This is not a film for the weak of stomach or those unwilling to buy into the forced plot progressions. If you are willing to overlook them, the film works on a variety of levels. It’s still disappointing overall. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider