Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Two Champions of Shaolin (1980)

Director: Chang Cheh
Notable Cast: Lo Mang, Chiang Sheng, Lu Feng, Chin Siu-Hou, Wang Li, Yu Tai-Ping, Sun Chien, Ching Li, Wen Hsueh Erh
Aka: 2 Champions of Shaolin, Two Champions of Death

“Your dagger-throwing wife is dead. Tong Qianjin, you can join her in hell.”

It’s not a huge secret that Shaw Brothers films were built on very basic formulas and repeated elements that worked in their favor. Sometimes to a fault. This is where Two Champions of Shaolin tends to stumble. Even with the talented cast it has and under the watchful direction of Chang Cheh, this Shaolin vs. Wu Tang tale tends to be a little too predictable and a little too safe with a lot of its choices. Without the gimmicks that made a lot of later Chang Cheh flicks so much fun, Two Champions of Shaolin sort of exists as just another kung fu flick albeit with plenty of fun fights.

For Tong Qianjin (Lo Mang,) life is about to get a bit more difficult. The Shaolin school has taught him to fight for the cause and sends him out in the world to uphold the beliefs of his school. He teams up with a fellow Shaolin student (Chiang Sheng) and a brother and sister duo to form a sort of group to battle the villainous Wu Tang clan. When the Wu Tang clan kills his wife on their wedding day though, the war that is igniting may not leave anyone alive.

"Hey, we are Venom Mob. It's kind of like Shaolin."
There is an interesting subtext to Two Champions of Shaolin. Here we have an entire generation that are sent to battle to the death against an opposing force by an older generation and told to just follow orders instead of thinking for themselves. Only one young man (a key player in the plot twists in the third act) starts to think on his own. Unfortunately, this is all subtext and it’s rarely utilized to its maximum – and thoughtful – benefit in the film. In fact, Two Champions seems deliberate to only use it as a plot device to quickly brushes over it for the sake of keeping to the formula, which in the end is a real shame.

From there, Two Champions tends to play it by the book. The first act is generously cheesy with its set up as it speeds through to get us to main story (which is after the wedding party beat down) and then the film…drags. The second act, which is the biggest portion of the film and takes a twist towards an almost espionage tact, seemingly drags the ground by introducing a slew of new characters and focusing on a sort of chess match between the two clans as they plot against one another. While there is enough to keep the audience intrigued, the speed of the opening act certainly set up expectations that Two Champions cannot keep and it really does end up feeling like it’s moving at a glacial pace.

Sticks and stones...
Luckily, this is a Chang Cheh film so the final act almost redeems the rest. The set up takes fucking forever, but the final battle is mostly worth the time spent getting there. It helps that the film picks up to a pace similar to the opening act and starts moving at a lightning speed. The fight sequence is decently epic with multiple battles all happening at once and, in true Chang Cheh fashion, features some shockingly violent moments for a kung fu film. In fact, the final death sequence had my mouth agape for a second. Ah yes, gotta love Chang Cheh even at his most mediocre. 

It’s just too bad that Two Champions of Shaolin tends to be so mediocre overall. The first act moves too fast to set up a second act that moves too slowly. It’s a bit too safe in how it presents its rather intriguing premise and even though the final fight sequence and a previous wedding day brawl are great action set pieces, the resulting mix is just…disappointing. Particularly for a Venom Mob film by Chang Cheh.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Top 20: Horror Films of 2014

With Blood Brothers being dedicated to cult genres and the often overlooked films from all over the world, it was only fitting that here at the end of 2014 we deliver our top 20 horror films. There is a slew of different styles and sub-genres that made the list and quite a few great films that didn't quite make the cut. So feel free, look at the list, click on the links for full reviews if applicable, and leave us some comments on what we missed or what should have been cut.

The Top 20 Horror Films of 2014:

20. The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014)
            Horror remakes may carry some bad aura with them thanks to the sheer amount of them that pop up each year, but a flawed original and clever spin make this one worth the watch. In a weird way, it’s also a sequel to the 70s mockumentary styled horror flick as the original film plays a huge part in the plotting of the film. It retains some of the elements of the original (it even uses a lot of fun homage moments), but injects a modern twist on the slasher. Director Gomez-Rejon does slather it in a nice stylistic touch too with his consistent pans and clean color schemes, which adds to the fun.

19. The Possession of Michael King
            Possession films might be all the rage in the low budget horror genre and the found footage style is getting repetitive, but The Possession of Michael King gets props for some fun subtle elements (the ants!) and for some wicked strong pacing.

18. Beneath
            There were two films called Beneath released in 2014 and this one is NOT the giant fish flick. This one plays out more as a psychological horror flick as a group of miners get trapped in a mine and some individuals start kicking the bucket one by one. The reason this basic concept works is the sheer tension and connection the audience has with the miners that we care to see just what happens to them. Strong execution is what makes this film work so well.

17. Under the Skin
            While Under the Skin can often be described as a crazy ass arthouse version of Species, that description rarely does the film justice. It’s truly one of those films that must be experienced. It’s a bit of a slow burn and the lacking dialogue with vague plotting can be frustrating for some, but the overall experience of the film makes it a must see for the year.

16. Willow Creek
            Comedian Bobcat Goldthwait goes all sorts of Blair Witch Project for his horror film about Bigfoot and the couple that goes out to find it. While scrutiny surely abounds for the film for it’s slow pacing and rather uneventful plotting, but I’ll be damned if I wasn’t on the edge of my seat for the entire second half – even if we don’t see almost anything. There is a tent sequence that had me holding my breath for ten minutes straight. Talk about doing something with nothing.

15. The Taking of Deborah Logan
            Not only did one found footage possession flick make the list this year…BUT TWO! The Taking of Deborah Logan is, again, a film we have essentially seen before, but the thoughtful approach to storytelling and the pacing are expertly unrolled for us as we see Deborah Logan slowly drift towards a teeth-clenching finale.

14. The Sacrament
            Ti West might be one of those directors who divides fans with his low energy and big atmosphere style, but The Sacrament might be his most consumable film yet. It might not be strictly horror in many senses of the term, but the unnerving way that the story unfurls and the ridiculously strong acting that goes with it makes for a film that feels almost too real for its own good at times.

13. The Babadook
            Australia stakes a big claim to the psychological horror-or-maybe-its-real genre with The Babadook in some very intriguing ways. Buoyed on the stellar performances of the two leads, a mother and son must overcome grief and stress by fighting off a children’s monster known as The Babadook. The film plays out more as a horrific portrayal of mourning in many ways, but the stellar blend of nightmarish imagery and tension makes for an edge of your seat flick.

12. The Battery
            Made for what looks like $100 and a six pack of beer, The Battery succeeds by not relying on special effects and scares like so many zombie films do. In fact, it wholly presents itself as a low-fi character study about two ex-baseball players who must rely on each other to survive the post-zombie apocalypse. It’s less about plot and more about how two people would handle the kind of world ending catastrophe they have had to endure. Not to mention it loves to go into awkward situations with such dark humor that it’s hard not to appreciate its charm.

11. Honeymoon
            Another ‘atmosphere before scares’ flick that came as a huge surprise in 2014, Honeymoon is once again a small film with big execution. A couple heads up to a cabin in the woods to celebrate their honeymoon when weird things start happening to the bride and the husband becomes desperate to uncover the truth of what is happening. It’s simple. It’s built on the strength of the script where every detail comes back (whether it seems trivial or not) and the performances hook the audience. The twist might not be as satisfying to some, but the trip there is legit.

10. Wolf Creek 2
            Like what The Collection did to me last year, Wolf Creek 2 is a horror film that plays itself more like an action flick. While it certainly retains a few of the elements that made the first Wolf Creek such a massive hit and critical success (particularly in the first and third acts) the rest of this sequel is a bit more over the top and ridiculous. A massive chase sequence consumes most of the film and features the snarky villain Mick doing crazy things like running over kangaroos with a semi. It’s a strange film for sure, but it’s just the right amount of terrifying, hilarious, and outrageous.

09. Afflicted
            At this point, I have given up on trying to make ‘found footage’ horror go away and I just hope against all hope that they start making more ‘good ones’ instead. That’s what we get with Afflicted. The premise isn’t wholly out there or even overly clever after the main twist presents itself, but the execution of this minimal budget flick is impressive. The stunts and camera tricks to pull off some of the more outrageous beats make the film come off as far cooler than the script should have any right to be. That being said, it does create a rather intriguing universe for a franchise to be developed in…so here’s hoping for that.

08. The Canal
            Psychological horror is one of those subgenres that can be very tough to pull off. It’s very easy to be mundane. Not for The Canal though. This ripe and atmospheric flick blends the psychological horror of despair and grief with a slick and vicious ghost story that even goes as far as to steal a few elements from J-Horror to accomplish its tasks. The results are impressive to say the least.

07. Big Bad Wolves
            Perhaps not the strictest of horror films as the genre goes, Big Bad Wolves is one of the most devastating films of the year on this list. It plays out like a big dark mystery flick with just enough horrific events and perfectly placed dark humor that it leaves the audience riveted throughout…even if the concept is very, very simple.

06. Dead Snow 2: Red Vs Dead
            Horror comedy can be a subgenre that every one has a big ambitions with, but few people do it like Tommy Wirkola does. His long awaited sequel owes quite a bit to the early works of Peter Jackson in many ways – especially in its blend of outrageous violence, gore, and slapstick humor, but the resulting mix of Zombie Hunters versus an undead Nazi army is easily one of the best concoctions of horror and humor offered up in the last ten years.

05. Oculus
            Evil mirrors are not necessarily the most confidence boosting subjects for horror, but the clever story telling approaches with two parallel tales make Oculus a shockingly effect horror flick. It blurs the lines of reality and nightmare just enough that half the time the audience is unsure of the direction just as the two protagonists are…a move that makes the film work as a multi-watch too.

04. Horns
            Horns is the kind of film to really split fans of the genre in a lot of ways. It’s a film that blends so many genres (love story, horror, dark comedy, murder mystery, fantasy) that if you are not willing to buy into the approach there is almost no way that you will enjoy it. However, if you are willing to go along for the ride then Horns is a blast, crafted on fun performances, a winding tale of awkward and often uncomfortable situations, and some truly awesome visuals from the now legendary director Aja.

03. Rigor Mortis
            Another genre bender, Rigor Mortis is both an homage film to the foreign horror styles of Chinese hopping vampires and J-Horror ghosts and a strange and brutal telling of its own regard. It throws in violent gore, kung fu, comedy, and huge bits of fantasy to tell its story of a depressed man thrown in a battle with the forces of evil in a run down apartment complex. Needless to say, the combination is fucking awesome.

02. Killers
            The Mo Brothers have crafted a unique little niche of Indonesian horror and their film about two serial killers in competition with one another over online videos might be their best yet. The performances and narrative both create an atmosphere of sympathy and utter abhorrence for these two men for their mix of vicious violence and strange connection that will make you wonder…how many of us have a killer inside?

01. Starry Eyes
            Cronenberg and Polanski ought to be proud of their impact on the horror genre because their style and impact creates films like Starry Eyes. Atmospheric and character driven, Starry Eyes is hinged on one very, very impressive performance and a strange ability to blend cult elements with body horror and nightmarish slasher pieces. This was a black swan piece that came out of nowhere to take the reign on this list.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Taking of Tiger Mountain, The (2015)

Director: Tsui Hark
Notable Cast: Zhang Hanyu, Lin Gengxin, Tong Liya, Tony Leung Ka Fai, Yu Nan

In the last handful of years, Tsui Hark has been a very busy man. He has consistently released massive big budget films to big box office numbers in China. Unfortunately, the quality of his films has been anything but consistent ranging from fun and entertaining (Young Detective Dee) to just plain baffling (Flying Swords of Dragon Gate.) For his latest, The Taking of Tiger Mountain, Tsui Hark mixes his new found love of modern spectacle with a bit of his roots in heroic bloodshed for a massively entertaining film that works in some surprising ways while still being a rather oddly structured flick that lacks flow.

Right after the end of World War II, the military in China were having trouble keeping the massive clans of bandits under control. A small group of soldiers have been tasked with investigating and finding a way to bring down Lord Hawk (Tony Leung Ka Fai) and his vicious gang. The problem? The villains occupy a massive artillery stronghold on Tiger Mountain. Even with the help of an intense military spy like Yang (Zhang Hanyu) these young soldiers are going to have to muster up all their talents and strength to take down the eclectic gang leader.

Enough hair and bullets for everyone!
The Taking of Tiger Mountain is a decent film made up of a lot of great parts. Tsui Hark ably injects a lot of different elements into the film to craft a winding and entertaining ball of dramatic energy and big action packed spectacle. In many ways, The Taking of Tiger Mountain is a return to form for the enigmatic director. When the wartime story starts off, it builds on a very dramatic foundation with themes about loyalty, brotherhood, and the fight for good. Led by a larger than life cast portraying some larger than life characters (Lord Hawk might have passed as a Bond villain in the 70s,) it strikes a strong balance between the entertainment and dramatic punch. The large ensemble cast does tend to steal any legit character development out from under the strong actors and with a film that runs almost two and half hours I can’t blame them for cutting a lot of the smaller roles short.

This is partnered with plenty of gun fu and explosive action set pieces throughout that remind us of Tsui Hark’s days with John Woo and the heroic bloodshed films he helped establish. As the film starts garnering momentum in the second and third acts, Tsui Hark and company pick up the pace to deliver some massive battle set pieces. A bandit raid on a small village quickly turns bloody and the final siege of Tiger Mountain contains some Bond like charisma and spectacle to its proceedings – even if the film misses on some opportunities to play up the fights for the three or four gimmick henchmen to their proper levels. The film is shockingly violent at times in these action set pieces and some of the 3D gimmicks can be a bit too cheesy for their own good. This does, however, lend to the blend of modern spectacle and classic action that really does bring the best of both worlds for Tsui Hark films through. Fans are certain to enjoy these moments.

The big problems with The Taking of Tiger Mountain lie in the rather underutilized structure and length of the film. The film is actually told as a story by a young college grad in modern times. This sort of structure tends to be forgotten as the film rolls on (there is only one moment where the story and the storyteller overlap outside of the beginning and end) and it caters itself to a lot of logistical holes. The storyteller and his own character are significantly underdeveloped to be a true structure for the rest of the film and I would be hard pressed to say that The Taking of Tiger Mountain might have been better had this been completely cut out. It also allows the film to actually pull off two endings for the Taking of Tiger Mountain story – one where our undercover agent and the villain have a lackluster battle and one where they literally fight on a moving plane. Both are, strangely enough, rather awkward: one for being too quick and the other for being too drawn out and relying on some questionable CGI. Had The Taking of Tiger Mountain went with a more straightforward structure it would have eliminated some of these issues.

Three guns are better than one.
All in all, The Taking of Tiger Mountain is one of the better films Tsui Hark has delivered in his most recent career surge. Sure the film might have some issues with its narrative and structure, but the massively entertaining pieces overcome many of problems that arise with the CGI and character development. The action is pure spectacle and for those with a nose for fun, outrageous set pieces, you are going to find plenty to devour here. It’s not perfect by any means, but I was hooked in the first ten minutes and I never let go from there.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Zatoichi and the Doomed Man (1965)

Director: Kazuo Mori
Notable Cast: Shintaro Katsu, Fujiyama Hyakutaro, Kenjiro Ishiyama, Masako Akeboshi, Eiko Taki, Ryuzo Shimada, Koichi Mizuhara

“The ocean doesn’t have another side.”

Here we are eleven films into this iconic franchise and it’s impressive that the quality of each entry has held up as much as it has. Considering the short span between each entry (we are talking about multiple entries being released EACH YEAR), this is a feat in itself. While some entries obviously falter compared to other stronger ones, the overall quality is impressive. For this eleventh entry, Zatoichi and the Doomed Man, remains as one of the lesser entries although it still comes off as a relatively well put together entry even if it tends to be a bit less than memorable.

While imprisoned for a short while, Zatoichi (Shintaro Katsu) meets a panicky man who claims to be framed for crimes he didn’t commit. Not believing him, our wandering blind swordsman goes on his way only to discover through a series of events that the man may not have been lying. Through this set group of circumstances, he will uncover a new conspiracy that will have him a wanted man once more.

Shot through the heart...
To give Zatoichi and the Doomed Man a distinct value within the franchise, I do have to admit that the addition of being ‘self aware’ does make this entry a bit of fun. After Zatoichi learns of the doomed man’s predicament and heads down the road, turns towards the camera, and flat out states ‘boy, I sure do get into trouble when I help people. I better not this time.’ It’s this almost meta sensibility that allows this eleventh entry to toy a bit with the established formula without deviating too far from it. They even have a rather comedic new ‘side kick’ who steals Zatoichi’s name and mimics Katsu’s performace of the blind swordsman for funny effect in the film. That’s how far the film takes some of its self-aware moments.

Some of twists on the formula work in surprising ways. The plot itself starts off pretty scattered with seemingly endless subplots sprouting left and right. By about half way through, the film felt like it was going to train wreck in a spectacular way as it felt it had no direction or purpose to its seemingly random events. Then it, by some miracle, gets almost all of the threads to string together to make a more cohesive story. Just that tact, if anything, earns Zatoichi and the Doomed Man a watch from samurai aficionados.

Fog of war.
However, not all of the changes to the formula work for the best. Due to the rather complicated plotting of the story and the shorter play time of the film itself, Zatoichi and the Doomed Man tends to feel a bit sparse in its depth. Zatoichi’s character tends to be more surface level here than we have seen in many of the other films, he lacks a true villain to truly test his meddle against, and many of the artistic tidbits – like the running theme of the ocean and the beach – tends to feel brushed over too much. All of those elements are present in this film, but rarely are they a contributing factor to the overall film’s quality or enjoyment.

For Zatoichi fans, Doomed Man is a decent entry that plays up to fans of the series with its meta concept and toying of the standard formula. It does lack a bit of the heart and depth that makes many of the earlier entries so classic, but as a somewhat new spin for the franchise it works in many ways. In the end though, it’s still one of my least favorites of the series as I work my way through it. Zatoichi and the Doomed Man is mostly for fans.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Top 20: Action Films of 2014

It’s the end of 2014. While there were will be ton of ‘best of’ lists that litter the internet and consume some of our lives for a good two to three weeks, here at Blood Brothers we aim to look less at the ‘best of the year’ and more at the ‘most awesome of the year.’ Here we have the coveted Top 20 Action Films of 2014. This is a comprehensive list looking at films released in 2014 that have taken us for a wild ride with fist to fist combat, explosions, monster battles, and more. You can read official reviews of the films by clicking FULL REVIEW after the blurb.

Keep in mind that we don’t have time for every film during the course of the year, so if we missed something or overlooked a film – you should let us know in the comments below.

Without further ado, here is Blood Brothers’ Top 20 Action Films of 2014:

20. Batman: Assault on Arkham
            Being the only animated feature to make the list, Assault on Arkham is less of a Batman flick and more of a Suicide Squad flick. Don’t let the ‘animated’ status fool you, this is a pretty adult kind of film with plenty of sexual innuendos, violence, and heavy moments that may not be children safe. It also has a pretty solid story to go with it, snazzy voice acting, and some fun, solid twists. Yahtzee!

19. The Purge: Anarchy
            While the first Purge grated on my nerves with its rather watered down home invasion approach to its grindhouse concept, Anarchy gets it right. With John Carpenter inspiration throughout, a sense of claustrophobia in a big city, and a great anti-hero in Frank Grillo, this sequel is less of a horror flick and more of a B-grade action thriller…in all the right ways. Color me stoked for the third film.

18. The Wrath of Vajra
            In a way, this is a terrible movie. The characters are broad strokes, the story is silly at best, and the penchant for style over substance doesn’t help. It is however, gloriously bad and succeeds in packing a ridiculous amount of martial arts action punch. If anything, this film made the list out of sheer entertainment…and for one of the best kung fu action sequences of the year right smack dab in the middle of the film.

17. The November Man
            More of a thriller than a true action flick, The November Man does pull back a lot of old school thriller elements to work for us. Pierce Brosnan is delightfully dark and cold in the film and the fast pacing of the flick works for its own benefit. Not a film for everyone, this one does rely that one really buys into the film first. If you do though, it’s an edge of your seat ride.


16. Edge of Tomorrow
            Tom Cruise seemingly knows a good science fiction film to jump into. His track record is damn near immaculate and Edge of Tomorrow is another fine entry. The humor is surprisingly dark and often awkward, the combination of war action and science fiction mumbo-jumbo shockingly works, and the film is utterly slathered in charm. If anything, all I wanted for Christmas was a helicopter blade sword to swing around because of this film.


15. Raze
            Not often does a ‘women in prison’ flick make a best of the year list, but Raze does a remarkable thing with the exploitation genre – it takes it very seriously and runs with it. The concept is simple, the execution even more so, but the resulting (and realistic) beat downs and stripped humanity expressed in the film works for any self-respecting vulgar auteur. Zoe Bell needs more movies.


14. Fists of Legend
            One part inspiration sports movie, one part martial arts film, one part harsh critique of MMA and the reality show aspect of it, Fists of Legend is the first of many South Korean films to make the list this year. It’s a remarkable drama at its heart, but the rather continuous ability to punctuate it with strong fight sequences makes this one of the big underground cuts for this year.

13. Commitment
            With the almost ceaseless flood of North Korea news on social media and in the US film market right now, it’s probably fitting that a Korean spy flick makes the list. This one tends to be a bit more thriller than true ‘action,’ but the strong character work and a clever use of a beer can in disarming an assassin shoots this one onto the year end list.


12. The Suspect
            Third South Korean feature in a row! The Suspect with South Korea’s answer to the Bourne franchise and what a call-and-response it is. It does feature a bit too much of the ridiculous Bourne patented shaky cam for my tastes (otherwise it might have made the top five for the year), but the combination of realistic stunts, high octane action chases, and a strong spy plot makes this one a must see anyway.


11. X-Men: Days of Future Past
            I might still fight for how awesome I thought The Wolverine was, but Days of Future Past is truly a return to form for the X-Men franchise. Returning director Bryan Singer takes one of the most iconic stories from the comic and blends it into an action packed espionage thriller with enough strong character work and gimmicky X-Men action pieces to please any one of the fan bases. Sure, it’s full of plot holes, but the awesome spectacle of it all makes up for a lot of it.


10. Godzilla (2014)
            This one might not fall directly into the action film category, but as a long time Godzilla fan I loved it. Bitch all you want about the lack of Godzilla in the run time of the film, but I felt the film was highly overlooked by detractors and critics alike. Perhaps it was all the Spielbergian talk in the hype for the film, but for a Godzilla flick the human element worked, the special effects worked, and the final act truly encompasses why he is still ‘King of the Monsters.’ 


09. The Equalizer
            This would have been one hell of a Charles Bronson vehicle back in the early 80s. Sure the gimmick of the set up for this franchise seemed a little too obvious, but the combination of thriller spy elements and utter badassness of Washington had me grinning from beginning to end. Here’s to hoping that franchise really kicks it into gear with the second flick though.

08. Lone Survivor
            It’s not often that a war film would make this list let alone one that features both Taylor Kitsch and Mark Wahlberg, but Lone Survivor really caked on a nice sense of tension to go with its realistic gun battles and relentless pacing in the second half. I was utterly shocked by how much I enjoyed this film, particularly after I thought Peter Berg’s career sunk with Battleship.

07. Kundo: Age of the Rampant
            As a big martial arts fan, 2014 was generally a let down as many of the bigger flicks tended to deviate away from strong action and the genre’s roots in lay of fantasy elements and shoddy CGI. However, Kundo was a film that harkened back to its wuxia foundations and focused on epic story telling, a fantastic lead, and strong stylish battle set pieces. This was perhaps the biggest surprise of the year.


06. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
            If you told me that one of my least favorite Avengers in Captain America would be in one of the most thoughtful and relevant action films in decades, I would have laughed. Isn’t he a gimmick? Captain America 2 does just that though with its weird conspiracy theories and political undertones about information gathering. It does however, also feature some epic action set pieces and some fun banter. Which is what I came for to begin with…


05. Snowpiercer
            If you would have told me that TWO Chris Evans films would be in my Top 10 action movies of the year last year, I would have laughed you off the planet. For this Terry Gilliam inspired science fiction action thriller romp though, he earns his stripes. The idea might be ludicrous and buying into the sheer silly science fiction concept is a lot to chew, but the combination of brutal action, thoughtful social analysis, and quirky humor makes Snowpiercer a must see for cult film fans. It sure as hell isn’t for everyone though.


04. The Raid 2
            I expected The Raid 2 to be my number one film of the year, so in a way it’s drop to four is rather disappointing. The film is, however, one epic piece of modern martial arts awesomeness. It’s like the Godfather with Sammo Hung inspired fight choreography. It’s a viciously complex film, slathered in atmospheric tension, but the final act features some of the greatest action set pieces ever put to film. It has a few plot holes that do take it down a few notches, but kung fu fans will have to see it no matter what.


03. Guardians of the Galaxy
            In a weird way, James Gunn might have earned himself even more street cred in the cult film world (considering his films like Slither and Super…that’s a big statement in itself) with Guardians of the Galaxy. Marvel has been riding on the success of The Avengers thus far, but the hilarious banter and action of these rag tag group of heroic space scavengers hits all the right notes. It’s action focused and heart warming at the same time…and did I mention hilarious?


02. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
            Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a perfect reboot for this cult science fiction franchise. Dawn, however, takes that foundation and runs with it in all the right ways as a thoughtful critique on human behavior that features some of the most impressive mo cap acting that has ever graced the screen. The action is a bit light in the first two thirds, but the final act more than makes up for it with style AND substance.


01. John Wick
            Keanu Reeves has had one hell of a come back in his career. First it was his directorial debut in the martial arts flick Man of Tai Chi and now its his performance in the utterly fantastic and effective John Wick. On one hand, this film is utterly simple and to the point. On the other hand, it’s so utterly steeped with homages and style action film past (the John Woo inspired gun fu is phenomenal) that it knows exactly what it is and just stays with it. It’s that kind of dedication to the genre that really makes this film work.