Monday, June 30, 2014

Wolf Creek 2 (2014)

Director: Greg McLean
Notable Cast:  John Jarratt, Ryan Corr, Shannon Ashlyn, Philippe Klaus

After watching the long awaited sequel Wolf Creek 2, I realized just how fucking long it has been since the first one came out. Granted I never really got around to watching the wildly acclaimed slasher flick until 2010 (you can check out my review HERE) so there’s that, but dammit this film was a long time coming. Just like any good sequel, Wolf Creek 2 delivers on a variety of fronts – giving us similar beats to what made the first film such a success and piling on all kinds of new additions to keep it fresh.

A German backpacking couple has decided that their ‘great adventure’ is going to have to be across the Outback. They plan to experience each other and experience an adventure of hitchhiking across Australia. What they didn’t plan on was running into the path of ‘Outback legend’ Mick Taylor. Now they’re gonna have to get the hell out of dodge before he makes sure they never leave.

At its core, Wolf Creek 2 is a fairly simple film that does some crazy not-so-simple things. The first one crafted a script and atmosphere to the film that made it hard to stomach at times in the realism of its approach as it took on the slasher genre in a Texas Chainsaw Massacre sort of way. Wolf Creek 2 does like most sequels do: jacks it up to 11. Now some of the lacking atmosphere in the horror moments might disappoint fans of the first film, in many ways it’s hard for me to say that it was a better film at all, but there is a sort of charm and outrageousness to those moments that comes as refreshing and I had a blast with it.

Choke it down!
Greg McLean seems to have a lot more fun here with this entry. While there are some throwback elements to the first film, a vicious game of 20 Questions gets bloody in the final act with a bit of torture that will have you grating your teeth, the majority of the film is spent almost like an action thriller instead of a horror flick. What starts off like your basic horror film takes a wicked twist half way through (Oh, I’m not telling you what it is either!) and it leaps into a ridiculously awesome Road Warrior-esque chase sequence complete with stand offs, road kill, and semi truck leaving the ground. It might not have been your usual horror fare, but I was impressed with it. This sort of cat and mouse chase occurs throughout much of the second act and for this fan it was the highlight of the flick.

On top of the more action oriented style of flick at times, McLean also bathes the film in some serious dark humor. Since we all know Mick Taylor is already the bad guy, he instead uses the charm and quirkiness of the character for a slew of one liners and an increased insane malice. The opening sequence features our resident villain being pulled over by the police and while it didn’t add a whole lot to the plot of the film, it might have been my favorite scene from the film. Mick Taylor (played once again to perfection by John Jarratt) easily steals the film again and again with every scene he is in.

If there were two things that I could constructively criticize Wolf Creek 2 for it would be the lacking strength of a protagonist and the ending. Neither one really knocked the film over for me outright, but the lacking punch of a great hero in the film (despite Taylor actually calling the one protagonist hero throughout) and the sudden abrupt ending took it down a few notches. The first film also had an ending that came out of the blue and this one doubles down on it. So just be prepared for that.

Face the pain.
Wolf Creek 2 might not be the underground hit that the first one was with it’s legitimate scares and palpable tension, but I’d be hard pressed to say that I didn’t enjoy this second one more. It’s a blast to watch with its action oriented chase sequences and insanely creepy/hilarious humor and even though I wasn’t sold on any of our protagonists overall, it’s not like they could have outshined Jarratt as Taylor anyway. For the third one, here’s to hoping they up the ante with a hero that can truly give the Outback Legend a run for his money. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Chef, the Actor, and the Scoundrel, The (2014)

Director: Guan Hu

Notable Cast: Liu Ye, Zhang Hanyu, Huang Bo, Liang Jing

Comedies have never been my favorites overall, but I’m always willing to leap into one if the concept appeals to me. For a film like The Chef, the Actor, and the Scoundrel I was more than willing to take the dive. The idea of three semi-insane characters attempting to steal a secret formula from Japanese military folks in occupied China seemed like it could be full fun moments and comedic gold. The resulting film is more mixed than that considering it’s probably only half comedy overall and the blending of styles by director Guan Hu doesn’t necessarily work as well as it could have.

It’s the 1940s and the tension between Japan and China is at its peak. A vicious outbreak of cholera has swept through and left its mark, but hope is on the horizon. Two Japanese officials have just found themselves kidnapped at the hands of three insane restaurant workers…and they have decided that extracting information about a cure for cholera will be there shot at money and glory.

Go team crazy!
While I love quirky films as a general rule of thumb, occasionally quirky for the sake of quirky can run itself into the ground. That’s what happens here in The Chef, the Actor, and the Scoundrel and it’s strange take on blending war film, western, and comedy. While initially I loved the four lead characters and their crazy personas (yes, there is a leading lady in the film that the title mysterious leaves out), after about 10 minutes of the slapstick comedy and the circus like acts I was already burned out on it. This is already after the film has injected animation and silent film visuals into the mix, oh yes the first act of this film is everywhere, and it is borderline overwhelming on first viewing.

Granted, the film does have a purpose for this sort of cartoon like approach for the plot. I don’t want to give too much away, but the film takes a more realistic approach in the final half with serious and heavy character progressions as the film shifts into a more traditional war film scenario. While this shift certainly came with a sigh of relief from my overloaded brain, the film doesn’t abandon the opening style and sort of leaps from slapstick to serious in archaic fashion. Sure some of the comedy works (there is a decapitation sequence that had tears in my eyes) and some of the darker war material hits home (the final explosive finale actually has some great character beats), but the flow of the film suffers from the blended styles of the film.

Just hanging out.
All in all, The Chef, the Actor, and the Scoundrel is a film that will find its cult audience over time. It takes a few viewings to really latch onto the entire thing and too often that’s problematic for more casual fans of the style or idea who happen to rent the film or watch it on a whim. For this reviewer, the lacking flow of the script that fails to flesh out some of the subplots enough and the scattershot moments of humor didn’t quite make the cut. Perhaps with further viewings I will find my appreciation for the quirkiness grow, but at this time I’m only willing to shed:

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

New One-Armed Swordsman, The (1971)

Director: Chang Cheh
Notable Cast: David Chiang, Ti Lung, Ching Lee, Ku Feng, Chen Sing, Cheng Lei, Wang Chung

With two successful One-Armed Swordsman entries under his belt already, it would seem only smart to keep the ‘franchise’ going even if the Shaw Brothers were not always franchise oriented. So here comes Chang Cheh to revitalize the idea with the third entry, which in this day and age would have been called a reboot, with The New One-Armed Swordsman. This time around he calls upon his own ‘deadly duo’ to lead the film with David Chiang taking the titular role and Ti Lung in a meaty secondary role. Oddly enough, despite being a whole new story using some of the same concepts from the first two, The New One-Armed Swordsman is just as good as the original with strong characters, great dramatic moments, and a memorable finale. This series just keeps kicking ass.

Li Lei (David Chiang) displays his arrogance and skills in grandiose ways by using his twin sword technique to battle off robbers and general evildoers. When an evil villain, whom loves to stomp on upcoming martial arts heroes, beats him in a match, Li Lei is forced to cut off his own arm in disgrace and goes to live the rest of his days as a waiter in a small restaurant. There he meets another young hero (Ti Lung) who seems to be walking into the villains’ trap. Will he take up the blade once more to stop the evil lord once and for all?

"Oh yes. It cost me an arm, but not a leg."
Unlike Return of the One-Armed Swordsman, The New One-Armed Swordsman ditches a lot of the gimmicks and goes back to what made the original film such a great film to watch: dramatic character work. David Chiang handles the occasionally subtle and torn psyche of our lead with impressive care so that his journey from cocky swordsman to beaten waiter is something the audience feels and by the time he is forced to take up the sword again, we desperately want to see him kick some villain ass. This is countered by the ever-charming Ti Lung as his friend in the latter portion of the film who paints the character with broad strokes that still get the viewer invested in his role and how it will affect Li Lei. Partnered with a great secondary cast of a love interest (which never feels forced and works to add to the stakes of the third act) and some delightfully cheesy villains, The New One-Armed Swordsman blends all of the great elements of Shaw Brothers into an effective film experience.

From there Chang Cheh continues to create depth for the film with its simple, but well written and paced plot. Sure the ‘fallen hero must take revenge on those who continue to bully’ isn’t the most original concept and the Shaw Brothers certainly wore it thin, but it works here.  Chang Cheh is a great director who can blend serious concepts with occasional gimmicks (including the juggling aspect of this film and how that evolves to be a large portion of the film) and slathers it in some great action set pieces. While the film is full of fun bits of choreography with those brutal moments of violence that Chang Cheh is known for – you get to see a man chopped in half in mid air! – the finale is something to be admired. A massive bridge becomes a graveyard as our hero goes to face his nemesis and the combination of weapon work and some hand to hand combat flows damn near perfectly for the last act.

"Shave. Free of charge."
The Shaw Brothers studio might have pumped out a staggering amount of films at the height of their career, but the most impressive aspect is that there are films of this quality in the mix. The New One-Armed Swordsman is a sweeping and subtle character driven epic, fueled by great performances, thoughtful action set pieces, and a plot that drives home the humanity of old school kung fu flick. Like the original in this series, it comes very highly recommended as one of the best that the studio has to offer.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Monday, June 23, 2014

In the Blood (2014)

Director: John Stockwell
Notable Cast: Gina Carano, Cam Gigandet, Luis Guzman, Danny Trejo, Amaury Nolasco, Ismael Cruz Cordova, Treat Williams

I’m not one to completely write off athletes that become movie stars. Most of my favorite action stars were at one point “professional” athletes or martial artists, in fact. After seeing Haywire, I had high hopes for MMA fighter turned actress Gina Carano. She had some decent acting chops and she was able to hold her own when needed with screen presence. Her turn as a glorified cameo in Fast & Furious 6 was not something to write home about, but then again it was basically a glorified cameo. For her latest film as the heroic lead, In the Blood, I went hoping for the best from the straight to DVD action flick. I definitely didn’t get the best when it came to a film though.

While basking in the fun and sun of their honeymoon on an island in the Caribbean, a freak accident leaves Ava’s husband (Gigandet) in an ambulance on his way to the hospital. When she arrives though, there is no record of him ever being checked in. He has simply disappeared. With her particular set of skills though, Ava (Carano) is going to find her husband and it’s not going to be without a little blood shed.

"Dying sure looks like fun!"
In the vain of many other action/thriller’s featuring a missing loved one like Taken, In the Blood slathers a basic mystery thriller with some beat downs and action set pieces for a modern audience. Unlike films like Taken, it has trouble doing so due to a script that meanders through the concept like a person lost in a dense fog in the middle of a forest. It bounces from moment to moment unsure of how to really fit it all together or build in the details to make the ‘mystery’ aspect work. Of course, it certainly doesn’t help that the acting is pretty horrendous throughout and Carano has approximately ZERO chemistry with her on screen husband, which makes the first third of the film drag out beyond belief. Sure Carano gets to throw down in a few fun sequences (a club dance goes awry and leads to a bitchin’ leaping punch courtesy of MMA training), but the acting and the script leave a lot to be desired for a good action flick.

So what does In the Blood offer for action fans? Despite some terrible acting, the film has a glorified cameo from both Treat Williams (Deep Rising) and Danny Trejo (Machete) that will have fans pleased overall. The film also has a pretty decent third act when we finally learn why all of these plot progressions went down, which in itself is a rather weak reason, but it finally introduces us to the villain of the film who steals every scene he is in and propels the film into a gun toting cat and mouse chase. At this point, I was actually enjoying what In the Blood had to offer, but alas it was too little and too late by that time. One good act, does not make a great film.

"Let me trim that beard for you, sir!"
In an era where straight to home video action flicks have found their own path with fun and distinctive voices, In the Blood fails to be memorable in any way outside of disappointment. Sure it has some great casting and a fun third act, but the rest drags it down to the point where I almost didn’t make it to any of those elements. The acting is forced and awkward, the story leaps around erratically, and the film ultimately looks like it was shot to be a reality TV show. I’m all for low budget actioners with athletes in the lead, but even this one handedly missed the mark. Here’s to hoping that Carano moves up from here. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Thursday, June 19, 2014

In Fear (2013)

Director: Jeremy Lovering
Notable Cast: Iain De Caestecker, Alice Englert

The reviews for In Fear might have been a bit mixed, but I was still looking forward to the indie horror flick. Made for a micro budget, In Fear looked to be a minimalist and atmosphere driven horror flick. Those are some of my favorite kinds. So I went into the film with high hopes and some decent expectations. What In Fear ending up being was, more or less, pretty boring. Sure there were some decent moments of actor chemistry and director Jeremy Lovering brings some great subtle moments of suspense, but too often it takes far too long getting anyway and the audience feels like our two protagonists…like we’re going in circles.

Tom (De Caestecker) and Lucy (Englert) might still be figuring out where they are going with their relationship together, but a weekend away at a concert with a night in a motel together sounds like the perfect time to do just that. The problem is that their motel is pretty remote in the woods and their quick road trip together starts to become frustrating when they get lost. Then weird things start to happen…

"Look over here...AT NOTHING!"
The potential for In Fear was pretty large. Paranoia, a decent into a nightmarish situation, character driven dialogue. These are all elements that could have been elevated even more throughout the film for it to be even more taunt and haunting. As is, In Fear tends to play the minimalism card a little too heavy in the opening (despite some great dialogue and actor chemistry with our two protagonists) and it the film seemingly drags as we are treated to some odd occurrences that don’t quite inject the fear that the title so desperately promises. 

The latter half of the film takes an intriguing turn when our protagonists, who are already freaked out by the mysterious events occurring around them, meet another victim bloodied and stumbling in the forest. Without giving too much away plot wise, the film suddenly shifts focus to how he fits into the picture. While the actor playing our newly found victim struts some fun material, instead of propelling the film along to raise the stakes In Fear just sits on this and almost reboots the atmosphere and suspense factor. There is some subtle fun to be had with the interaction of the three parties involved, but rarely does it feel like its going anywhere with it and the film tries desperately to throw red herrings at the audience with it instead of pulling ‘the bomb under the table trick’ and allowing the audience to see what’s going to happen before the characters do.

"We got a long way to go and a short time to do it in."
By the end of In Fear, I ended up being very apathetic towards the entire film. It had some decent elements to enjoy including character chemistry and the atmosphere of the film, but it never felt like it was driving towards a purpose or conclusion. It meanders for most of the run time and while the final moments were a nice wrap around of events, it ended with a whimper. I can certainly see why many people loved the film, but I found it more or less a film that just existed. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Puncture Wounds (2014)

Directors: Giorgio Serafini, James Coyne
Notable Cast: Cung Le, Dolph Lundgren, Vinnie Jones, Briana Evigan, Gianni Capaldi
Aka: A Certain Justice

I have been anxiously awaiting for the film to really break out Cung Le as the action star he desperately wants to be, yet films like Puncture Wounds don’t do him justice. In fact, I’m not sure Puncture Wounds did anyone justice even if the title card was A Certain Justice rather than Puncture Wounds (?!). To be honest, this was a terrible fucking movie. I mean, I can see why they thought it might have made a decent low budget action flick. Too bad the execution of the film is some terrible new school attempts at gritty action that even I couldn’t get into.

John (Cung Le) is an ex-green beret finally come home from war. In an attempt to readjust to civilian life, he finds himself in a shit motel with little in the way of purpose. When he sees a prostitute being beaten in the parking lot one night, he takes it upon himself to show those guys what’s up and ends up killing a couple of them. When their boss Hillis (Lundgren) finds out, he tries to get John trapped and sets off a one man war against a massive drug and prostitution ring.

At the core of the film, Puncture Wounds really wants to be a modern First Blood. A solider who is dealing with his own internal issues comes head to head with crime tycoon? It’s a concept that could have – and should have – worked. It tries to work itself out too. The film touches on lots of potentially dramatic threads from PTSD to prostitution to child pornography to police corruption. Unfortunately, it’s a little much for the film to try and balance. We get a slew of characters with potential dramatic beats, like the main detective and his cancer stricken wife, that just don’t quite flow. Puncture Wounds needed to choose a few elements and strengthen them instead of spreading itself so thin on some many levels. It leaves the film feeling often scattered and lacking oomph for a lot of moments that could have had real impact.

It also doesn’t help that the writing for the dialogue can’t seem to figure out if it wants to be a cheesy action flick or a more serious thriller. For some pretty serious sequences, including an arc for Cung Le that starts off solid but flounders in the latter half when the film careens into resembling another entry into The Marine franchise, the actors seem intent on selling it, but the dialogue and content battles them. You end up having a decent action actor like Dolph Lundgren stroking his terrible looking mustache and spouting off generic lines about taking things to the next level. It doesn’t work.

…and then, to top it all off, directors Serafini and Coyne seemingly have no idea how to cut and shoot an action sequence. When the film opens with a later sequence of Cung Le throwing the beat down on a few thugs in an abandoned factory, I started to cringe at the modern zooms, rapid cuts, and attempted shaky cam. By the time he had his initial fight with the thugs to protect the prostitute, I gave up. That style might work for realistic thrillers and occasionally for bigger budget action films, it comes off desperate and poorly put together in a film like this. These new directors need to understand that grit and kinetic energy do not replace well choreographed action set pieces, but should be there to enhance them.

This is how I felt after watching this film.
Unfortunately, Puncture Wounds is one of those low budget actioners that give direct to home video flicks a bad name. It’s scattered in writing, the acting suffers from a script and amateur directing, and the action pieces are butchered by poor choreography and editing. Here’s to hoping that Cung Le’s next starring role is in a film that’s pieced together better than this. For now, this is a big skip even for action fans.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Friday, June 13, 2014

Kill Zombie! (2014)

Directors: Martijn Smits, Erwin Van Den Eshof
Notable Cast: Yahya Gaier, Mimoun Ouled Radi, Gigi Ravelli, Sergio Hasselbaink, Uriah Arnhem

While I might watch a ton of foreign films, rarely do I find Dutch films on my viewing queue. A few here and there, but not a whole lot considering the amount of film I watch. So when Kill Zombie! came in from the ever vigilant Well Go USA, I was a bit shocked to be watching a zom-com (Is that term for zombie comedy still popular?) from the Netherlands. While the film certainly owes its fair share to some of the modern comedic groundwork to the likes of Shaun of the Dead, it tries to really burn its own trail for the audience with some pretty fun gags and full-blown splatter. It’s not a wholly original experience, but it’s pretty obvious that everyone involved with Kill Zombie! was having a blast making it.

Two brothers (Gaier and Radi) are having a rough day. One of them gets fired from his job due to a blooming relationship with his coworker and they both end up in jail for the night with two petty criminals (Hasselbaink and Arnhem.) When they wake up, they find out that shit has hit the fan and a Russian space satellite has crashed in the city and spread an infection that leaves a majority of the city as green spewing, flesh hungry zombies. Can these four gentlemen with the help of a beautiful police woman (Ravelli) rescue a damsel in distress and make it out of the city alive?

Gang up!
While the comedic aspects of surviving a zombie apocalypse are rather well documented on film at this time, I still had a lot of fun with Kill Zombie!. This Dutch zom-com isn’t necessarily original even as a silly comedy when the film is filled with simplistic one-tone characters and a ton of gimmick riddled sequences, but there is definitely a charm to the entire flick that carries it through the various generic tropes. The entire cast and directors Martijn Smits and Erwin Van Den Eshof have a knack for strong comedic timing and quirky modern streaks of humor. Take the TV news reporter who finds himself fighting zombies with a machine gun while trying to report the news or the two martial arts chefs who drive around a car with zombie parts chained to it. They are silly gimmicks for exposition and quick plot progression in the film, but it works due to a straight-faced performance and some great timing. This is how Kill Zombie! utilizes it’s comedy to effective results.

As a zombie flick, Kill Zombie! has some intriguing quirks too. The green blood and saliva is a nice comic touch to get away some pretty intense violence without being too dark (although a first person head bashing scene might be the best comedic moment of the film despite its rather super violent nature) and the gore abounds as our troop of heroes have to rely on anything to get through the apocalypse. A zombie grandma sequence is hilarious with its gore and timing. Just as an example.

...when you absolutely have to kill every mother fucker in the room.
While the film is not perfect and tends to hit some of the most predictable plot beats that these kind of films use, Kill Zombie! is still a charismatic flick that uses some fun timing and great outrageous set pieces to sell its basic concept. While it’s not for everyone, I had a blast with this film. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Monday, June 9, 2014

Fire with Fire (2012)

Director: David Barrett
Notable Cast: Josh Duhamel, Rosario Dawson, Bruce Willis, Vincent D'Onofrio, Vinnie Jones, Curtis '50 Cent' Jackson

Randomly picking up straight to home video flicks can be a terrible idea at times, but for those looking for the underground cult gems it’s a chance that you have to take. Occasionally, one does find a film that is worthy of the time and/or money spent. Take Fire With Fire as an example. Sure, the film seemed to scream ‘terrible straight to home video action thriller,’ but it actually plays out with some relative effectiveness despite being rather mediocre in the writing. It’s not a great film, but I’ve certainly spent worse time on films.

Jeremy (Duhamel) is living a nice life as a well respected firefighter in Long Beach. When he witnesses a brutal killing from the vicious crime boss Hagan (D’Onofrio) though, he’s throw into the witness protection program by a local detective (Willis) under the supervision of Talia (Dawson). When shit hits the fan though and Hagan discovers where Jeremy is at, Jeremy is going to have to take matters into his own hands…and fight fire with fire!

"It's okay. This romantic subplot will save us!"
Fire With Fire was perhaps most surprising in its super high production values. Outside of a few shoddy CGI fire elements in the opening and ending, Fire With Fire has some solid special effects and some pretty high profile casting choices. While 50 Cent, Rampage Jackson, and Vinnie Jones only have cameos in the end (seriously they threw 50 Cent on the cover and he’s in the film for less than five minutes), the combination of Dawson and Duhamel works here as our two lead protagonists. They share some solid chemistry and for a straight to home video I actually cared about what would happen to them. Yet, it’s Vincent D’Onofrio’s turn as the neo-nazi villain of the film that made Fire With Fire so awesome. With his hissing and giant nazi chest tattoos I was utterly sold on his performance.

From there though Fire With Fire tends to fall more into mediocre territory. The plot has to rush a lot of elements into the mix to get where it needs to be for our hero to start pulling his vengeance stint and too often it lacks some of the darker streaks it needed to sell the concept. I mean, this is a sincerely good guy who starts torturing people to save the lady he loves. I kind of wish they would have gotten a bit grittier towards the end, but Fire With Fire plays it pretty safe there. It also tends to be very predictable with how things turn out. I pretty much called the entire third act beat for beat about a half hour into the film.

Bruce Willis phoning in another performance.
While it’s not the kind of film that is going to really going to make a splash as an action film or a thriller, Fire With Fire is a decent flick that lives in a ‘no hard, no foul’ sort of world. It’s predictable in its writing and progression even if the execution is much better than expected, so go into it with those expectations and you will find some solid entertainment.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

Director: Doug Liman
Notable Cast: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Brendan Gleeson

I’ve been stoked for Edge of Tomorrow since it was announced. While Tom Cruise might still be on the crazy train, his latest output of film work has always hit home here at Blood Brothers. Whether it was the thriller Jack Reacher or the well executed Oblivion, he’s been on a roll. Not to mention his choice in science fiction has always produced some stellar results. Does anyone hate Minority Report? So it’s not all that surprising that Edge of Tomorrow thrilled me. It wasn’t quite the thought provoking sci-fi tale that he last couple were, but it it’s a great fun flick that knows what it is and runs with it thoroughly.

Cage (Cruise) is not a solider. He is a media expert for the military and his work on keeping hopes up for the human race as they battle the vicious Mimics cannot be understated. When he finds himself in trouble, he’s sent to the front lines of a major invasion by man on the beaches of France, and he’s dead in five minutes of landing. He wakes up…

Power through!
I can’t tell you how many comments and reviews that I read that compare Edge of Tomorrow to Groundhog’s Day. Yeah, it makes sense considering the film is about a man how continually wakes up on the same day over and over again only to restart when he dies. Outside of that premise, Edge of Tomorrow tends to owe more to Aliens and The Matrix more than that classic comedy. Granted the film does play up some of the humor surrounding his ability to reset the day when he dies (oh boy, does he die A LOT and the timing of the editing and direction certainly play up the gruesome concept in funny ways), but that’s not the only thing that Edge of Tomorrow has going for it.

In fact, Edge of Tomorrow takes the gimmick of its tagline “Live. Die. Repeat.” and underscores it with some great character work. Tom Cruise handles the role with some precise acting as he (and director Doug Liman) blend humor, action tropes, and dramatic beats swiftly throughout the film. His growth from a cowardly, but charming media campaign man to mechanized soldier of fortune was a blast to watch and the subtle romantic beats with the ultimate bad ass Rita, played effectively by Emily Blunt, swirled right in with the high concept plot. Cruise’s work is perfectly balanced by stronger secondary characters including a great Kentucky turn for Bill Paxton and the caricatures of his squad. While the plot certainly carried some plot holes to be had (including an ending that was far too upbeat for my tastes), the characters and charm of the concept really pushed it through.

While the design of the mimics didn’t necessarily seem as awesome as I original thought they would be, truthfully I kept comparing them to the squids in The Martix, the action is pretty impressive. Doug Liman seems to know how to balance strong spectacle (the entire beach invasion) with some classic action skills. Seeing Emily Blunt wield her giant ass sword is a ton of fun and catching glimpses of Cruise pummel aliens with his mechanical fists is always a blast. While the film did lose a bit of momentum in the action for the finale where it takes a more suspenseful twist, I was more than happy with the results of Edge of Tomorrow as an action flick.

"The plan is 'not to suck.' Think we can stick to that?"
Considering most of the praise I heard for Edge of Tomorrow, it’s sad that it will probably end up being a box office disappointment in the US. It earns most of the praise it has received for its genre blending and off beat moments of quirky characters and high-octane action. It’s no Minority Report or Oblivion in quality of writing, but Edge of Tomorrow comes highly recommended from me.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Nurse 3D (2014)

Director: Doug Aarniokoski
Notable Cast: Paz de la Huerta, Katrina Bowden, Martin Donovan, Judd Nelson, Corbin Bleu

Looking back at the past five months of the year, it’s hard to say that it has been a stellar year in horror films. We’ve gotten a handful of home releases for films that hit Video On Demand late last year, but the new crop seems to be pretty thin as far as major films or even hyped ones goes. So when Nurse finally arrived in my viewing queue, I was stoked to see if this dark comedy slasher would have the balls to live up to the hype that surrounded its release. Unfortunately, it doesn’t. In fact, Nurse rarely scrapes by as something above a lowbrow slasher despite its seemingly big production values.

Abby Russell (Paz de la Huerta) is one of the nurses at a local hospital who clocks in and clocks out as one of the better employees that the place has to offer. She carries a few secrets though including her after hours activities… which just happen to be hunting down unfaithful married men and giving them their due punishment. Yet, a new young nurse (Bowden) becomes her new trainee and our killer nurse starts to unravel a bit as her hidden activities start to come to light.

The nurse brigade!
The failure of Nurse happens in a few ways. Initially, the concept of a nurse who hunts down unfaithful men appealed to that grindhouse fan in me and the first ten to fifteen minutes of the film builds up this black comedy dryness that would have worked had they run with it. If only they had. Instead, Nurse decides to opt out of this storyline for a game of “my mentor is a deranged killer” which runs the cliché slasher formula into the ground. Nurse collapses into so many tired and predictable turns that rarely did I feel engaged at all with what was happening let alone attempting to fill in the plot holes so it could make sense.

While the film retains a lot of grindhouse elements including massive amounts of needless nudity (even I was blushing) and some substantial gore, it most definitely lacks the charm for it to work like films of similar style did in decades past. While the kills were generally fun, although uninspired, Nurse tries to cover up its muddled narrative with these elements. Sometimes this works, most of the time it doesn’t. Having Paz de la Huerta parade around in little to no clothes simply does not make up for the surface level characters and mediocre acting that is also being paraded around.

Perhaps the one aspect that should have worked the best was the use of Abby Russell as our voice over narrator. In an attempt to pull an American Psycho (or to a lesser extent Fight Club), Nurse really does try to give the audience a few twists by having an unreliable narrator. Like most of the rest of the film, it just doesn’t have the writing or charm for it to work. It lacks the swirling out of control effect of the previously mentioned films and ends up being something of an annoyance as she simply narrates what we are seeing on screen instead of stirring up mystery.

"I saw that."
I’ve seen my fair share of terrible slasher flicks, I did review the entire Wrong Turn franchise, but Nurse is one of those films that despite some strong potential, utterly and completely collapses in on itself. The slasher elements are cliché, the dry humor is mostly left to die, and the grindhouse elements are there simply to cover up poor writing, phoned in performances, and two-dimensional characters. Truthfully, as far as 2014 goes, this is the biggest disappointment of the year.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Eastern Bandits (2014)

Director: Yang Shupeng
Notable Cast: Zhang Yi, Huang Xiaoming, Zhang Xinyi, Ni Jingyang

Take it for what it is, but sometimes companies like to skew marketing for certain films to appeal to different audiences. Sometimes it’s thoughtful marketing and sometimes it can create expectations that do not match the film. For the case of Eastern Bandits (also known as An Inaccurate Memoir in most other places), it’s a marketing gimmick that didn’t do the film justice. The cover and title most certainly indicate that the film would be a western even going as far as to include a tag like “Welcome to the wild east” and a quote on the box that said it was an homage to westerns and martial arts. Well, let me set the record straight. This is not a western and this is not a martial arts film. Sure you could stretch the concept to a point where someone could argue there are western elements, but it’s not a western. It’s actually more akin to a war film then either of the above mentioned genres. Luckily, Eastern Bandits is a pretty impressive film overall to make sure I wasn’t completely sullied by the skewed marketing.

Gao (Zhang Yi) finds himself in a pretty bad position. The Japanese military that occupies the area want him dead as resistance towards them increases and a group of bandits have taken him hostage for ransom from a family that doesn’t exist. The choices seem rough. Escape and find himself hunted by the military or stay with bandits lead by their charismatic leader Fang (Huang Xiaoming) and face a future underground.

"I've got a lady against this gun and she's loaded!"
Eastern Bandits is a rather eclectic film in its tonality. The film is built on the foundation of a war film, but Eastern Bandits only really gets into those elements upfront in the last third of the feature. The first two thirds is dedicated to our lead (a questionable protagonist himself) trying to deal with and earn his way into the titular group of bandits. There is not a whole lot of action to be had with Eastern Bandits as most of the films more intense sequences are done like thriller sequences with streaks of black humor. Take the bank robbery scene. What starts off as an intense gangster bank robbery suddenly takes a turn for humorous as Gao attempts to get them out of a sticky situation. This is the kind of quick turns of tonality that director Yang Shupeng makes work even when blending genres like this usually gets films into more trouble than not.

Yet the brilliance behind this film is that, despite some of its more complex plot progressions and plethora of characters, the film is very character driven. While most of the characters thrive in a gray moral area, I felt truly compelled to root for their ‘redemption.’ This is sported by some phenomenal performances from leads and secondary actors alike. Zhang Yi and Huang Xiaoming both expertly navigate the subtle acting material and the supporting cast only adds to the fun and depth of the script. A gimmick character like Lady Dagger or Fang’s right hand man with the stutter come off as detailed people rather than caricatures. It’s very impressive.

The gang's all here.
Sure the film might be pushed forward by some unique writing and some cleverly executed tonal shifts, but Eastern Bandits rides on the strength of its characters and performances. It’s not going to be a film for everyone with some of its quirky moments and oddities of structure, but this reviewer was impressed with the strength of execution and the film’s willingness to take chances. It might not have been the western I was expecting from the initial marketing, but it was probably better in the end.  

Written By Matt Reifschneider 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

King Eagle (1971)

Director: Chang Cheh
Notable Cast: Ti Lung, Li Ching, Cheung Pooi-Saan, Ching Miao

As a big Chang Cheh fan, I’m always excited to watch one of his films. Add to the mix Ti Lung as our leading hero and it’s already a recipe for greatness in my eyes. For his 1971 wuxia film King Eagle though, Cheh and company put together a great and effective flick that’s both action packed and surprisingly dramatic. Personally, I am used to Cheh’s almost gimmicky style (and there is some of that in here), but King Eagle carries some substantial character arcs and a really effective romantic subplot which comes as a big pleasant surprise in the end. It’s a flick that old school kung fu fans will have to see.

After the headmaster of the Tien Yi Tong group is viciously assassinated, the rest of the eight chiefs need to convene to promote the next in the line who just so happens to be the man (Cheung Pooi-Saan) who assassinated his boss. When a wandering swordsman known as King Eagle (Ti Lung) stumbles upon some information about this assassination, he finds himself fleeing from the vicious bandits…and right into the arms of the beautiful Yuk Lin (Li Ching).

King Eagle is one of those films where a good portion of the film is carried by the strength of its leads as actors. Ti Lung showcases a massive variety of skills in this film as our titular character including some great subtle acting. Partnered with a really impressive performance from Li Ching (who pulls double duty as the romantic lead and her own evil and vain twin sister) and King Eagle has a lot of heart in the mix. Wuxia films all sort of have that romantic subplot, but thanks to the great performances from our leads it works impressively here.
"Nice wagon, sir."
Earlier this week, I actually got into a discussion about the value of acting in old kung fu movies where I had to defend many of the actors in these kinds of films. I think

This is just one portion of the main plot though which for a wuxia film feels relatively subdued. It’s more or less a character driven epic that keeps a efficient pace between the dramatic character beats and the vicious fight sequences. Too many wuxia films tend to add a slew of characters that can’t possibly be supported in an hour and a half, but King Eagle has it perfectly balanced. Even for a film with four villains, each with their own motivation for the upheaval of ranks, never did I feel any of them got screwed when it came to fitting into the plot. It’s an impressive feat for Cheh and company to pull off.

Don’t fear Chang Cheh fans, his signature intensity is still present. The plot allows for some great moments of some crazy violence to be had and our ass kicking King Eagle seems quite competent for the job. Just in the first ten minutes or so we get into some serious body count numbers through the assassination and following chase, but it’s some iconic scenes that really utilize the action well. At one point, King Eagle is stuck holding a massive cart from running over a small girl which leads to some brutal crushing and a fight on top of the rolling wagon and the finale features a villain with clawed fingers who tears out the throats of his victims. This is just the top of the iceberg too. King Eagle pins a man to a tree with his sword, burns someone alive, and even drags a man to death behind his horse. Seriously I didn’t expect some of the deaths to be so brutal, but it’s completely fitting for the film.

"Ah yes, I see now. You painted your claws."
All in all, King Eagle took me by utter surprise. It’s remarkably subdued for a wuxia, focused on great character interactions with some true acting talent behind them, and exploding with some classic Chang Cheh violence. While I expected a fun little kung fu flick with one of my favorite actors in it, what I got was an epic film that might end up being one of my favorite Shaw Brothers films. It definitely comes highly recommended

Written By Matt Reifschneider