Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Shaolin Rescuers (1979)

Director: Chang ChehNotable Cast: Lo Meng, Phillip Kwok, Ku Kuan Chung, Jason Pai Piao, Chiang Sheng, Kuo Chui, Sun Chien, Yang Hsuing, Yu Tai Ping, Tony Tam Jan Dung, Lau Shi Kwong, Wang Li

If there is anything you can guarantee about watching a Venom Mob movie, it’s that the charisma of the film is going to be top level stuff. While a lot of their films can be hit or miss overall, even the quality within a single film can be hit or miss. Two Champions of Shaolin failed to run with its thematic thread about sins of the father and Invincible Shaolin spent so long on the training sequences that it forgot about the two parallel storylines to flesh out. Luckily, there is always that charisma they can fall back on. Shaolin Rescuers, the topic of this review, is of that same vein. At times this film wants to be ridiculously epic and with a heart of gold, but too often it’s too epic for its own good and spreads itself thin. The film is still ridiculously charming and this makes it a fun martial arts film, but far from great.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Terminator: Salvation (2009)

Director: McG

Notable Cast: Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Anton Yelchin, Moon Bloodgood, Helena Bonham Carter, Bryce Dallas Howard, Common, Michael Ironside

With Terminator: Genisys just on the horizon, I went back and revisited the entire franchise. From its dark and gritty roots in 1984’s launching pad to the focus of this review, Terminator Salvation, the franchise does some intriguing spins. Some work and, in the case of the fourth film, some don’t. Granted, Salvation is hardly the stain on the franchise that so many fans claim it to be (I sure as hell think it’s better than the regurgitated third film), but the film’s attempt to truly reboot the series as a film with different tone and different approach hardly fit with what fans wanted…and it doesn’t help that it’s a fairly wishy washy film on top of that.

It’s now past the nuclear apocalypse and the human resistance against the machine horde is starting to formulate a strong strategy to win the war. John Connor (Bale) is a divisive figure in the group as many believe him to be the savior he is destined to be, but the military ranks are a little harder to convince. When a man (Worthington) awakes in a secret bunker after a Resistance strike, he befriends a young Kyle Reese (Yelchin) and starts on a path that will cross in front of the intense Connor. Do their destinies intertwine to bring down the machines?

This time it's war.
If anything, the biggest problem that Salvation runs head first into is the simple fact that it is far too ambitious. Judging from the massive amount of characters that pop up and the leap into a new timeline for the franchise, it’s obvious that Salvation was destined to be the kick off for a new trilogy that would tell the story of Connor’s rise to power and eventual victory over the machines. It’s this ambition that moves the film away from being a straight up actioner and further into the science fiction realm that has a war film feel. While fans revolted against this change of tone, quite frankly the film comes off as refreshing and new instead of the rehashed formula that was running stupid thin in Rise of the Machines. There is a sense of looming destiny in the film and the grungy feel (despite a more modern look) really works as a tone for what the film is. Bale tends to be a bit too one toned to be the iconic leader we had seen in previous entries (I’m guessing this was intentional as we are supposed to see his arc cover multiple films), but there is a lot of great things from the acting in other roles that work to build this aura.

Unfortunately, due to this intent to be a much larger universe – that would never come to fruition – the film tends to be wonky with its structure. It adds in characters haphazardly (Moon Bloodgood’s character shows up half way through for some unnecessary nudity and as a plot progression point) and the duel story line of Bale and Worthington tends to be far more drawn out then it needed to be. By the time they finally meet at the end of the second act, it feels like a relief instead of the tension that was intended by the script and director in the first of a few twists. Not to give too much away (even if the movie has come out over a half decade ago), but the twist is a bit too silly and only gets sillier as the film goes on. Terminator Salvation goes for epic with its tale of man and machine and often it feels like it tries too hard to make it work.

Action wise, McG actually holds his own. The style is far more modern than the previous three and occasionally feels a bit forced because they didn’t want to bore their audience with so much plot and story progressions. Specifically the giant machine that just happens to sneak up on the resistance group about half way through the film that feels like it didn’t need to be there at all, but a lot of it works. The finale is a fun spin on the industrial plant final acts of the first two films. Once again, fans tend to hate the action in this film for being too modern (and often too much like a war based science fiction film instead of classic action set ups), but Salvation is meant to change that tone so it didn’t seem as out of place to me as it did to others.

This is his 'heroic stance.'
All in all, Terminator Salvation is indeed one of the weaker entries of the franchise, but that is also because of how damn good the first two are. It’s a change of pace and a change of tone, which is a good reason for fans to be angry I suppose as it doesn’t really feel like the three Terminator films that came prior, but it’s still a step up over the redundancy of the third film. So as the fifth entry Genisys arrives this coming week, remember Salvation and how you reacted to it…and you’ll understand why this latest entry is the way it is.  

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Friday, June 26, 2015

Redeemer (2015)

Director: Ernesto Díaz Espinoza
Notable Cast: Marko Zaror, Noah Segan, Loreto Aravena, Smirnow Boris

Chilean entertainment seems to start and stop at Blood Brothers with both director Ernesto Díaz Espinoza and actor/martial artist Marko Zaror. To be honest, if they keep producing such entertaining movies, I don’t know if I need much more than that. Their latest film is the actioner Redeemer, which more or less continues on the same path that their previous films like Mandrill and Kiltro have been treading. Packed to the brim with martial arts, gun fights, and hoodies, Redeemer keeps things action oriented and the rest basic. It tries to be a bit more artistic and serious than say Bring Me the Head of Machine Gun Woman, but that’s not the films best qualities and it tends to be hit or miss. If it has Zaror flip kicking someone in the face however, then it seems to be doing all right and most of the rest can just take a back seat to that.

The Redeemer (Zaror) is a man on a mission. A mission for redeeming his soul. He acts like an angel of vengeance for the Chilean people, answering the corruption and violence of sin with his own brand of flaming sword. Too bad his latest gig has him going against a plethora of drug dealers. It’s only further complicated by a young mother trying to save her child and a vicious killer called Scorpion hot on his trail.

The hoodie makes him mysterious.
For action junkies, Redeemer is a big heaping flip kick of awesome. This actor and director duo has already proven they can craft some fun modern action with their previous work, but Redeemer has a grindhouse-esque flair to it that really piles on the silly and fulfilling concept. It starts off in mid jog by delivering the basic idea of this ‘wandering man of faith’ who uses his particular skill set of fighting to bring about justice in just a few minutes with both a fun and dire introduction to the character and a snazzy fight sequence. Within the first ten minutes, we are giving enough of the concept to just run with it and the film only picks up the pace from there. By the third act, its full steam ahead with gun fights, fist fights, and plenty of one on one battles to satiate any action fan. The action is strong, outside of the director’s repeated and unneeded use of slow motion in the fights, and Redeemer further proves that Zaror is one of the most dynamic action stars not being used in cinema enough.

Despite its gloriously cheesy concept and impressive fight work by the acrobatic Zaror, the film tends to find itself stuck on what it wants to be. As mentioned above, there is a grindhouse flair to the film with its concept and gimmicks. The weird manner that the Redeemer always wears a hood, the silly American drug dealer wanna-be, and the often relentless violence that is never hidden, all give the film a very early 80s vibe. This is punctuated by a rather fun synth score too. However, the script tends to want to be more serious and artistic. We have a time jumping structure that flashes back to The Redeemer’s past, there are themes of ‘right and wrong,’ and a running thread about family. The acting doesn’t quite stand strong enough to sell a lot of the deeper elements and the best part of the film, a villain known as Scorpion who is hunting down the Redeemer, is hammered back to being a subplot to the main family vs drug dealer story that comes off as predictable and hum drum. I appreciate the attempts to raise the film above its means, but the film would have been better to simplify its story further instead of adding in a lot of nuance that only feels tacked onto what could have been an even more efficient grindhouse action flick.

Bringing a Zaror to a gun fight? You win.
For more discerning film critics, there is going to be a lot of issues with its low budget and patchy script, but for B-movie action fans Redeemer is guaranteed entertainment. Like Kiltro, Redeemer is going to quickly find a very enthusiastic cult audience that praises its fight work and franchise spawning lead character and concept. They just needed to find a slightly better story to wrap around the rest. I, for one, was wonderfully entertained by the film and see the potential in running this film into a full on franchise.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Pit Stop (1969)

Director: Jack Hill
Notable Cast: Richard Davalos, Sid Haig, Brian Donlevy, Ellen Burstyn, Beverly Washburn, George Washburn

Arrow Video Features:

  • New High Definition digital transfer supervised and approved by director Jack Hill
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation
  • Original mono 1.0 audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)
  • New audio commentary with Jack Hill moderated by his biographer Calum Waddell
  • Crash and Burn! – Jack Hill on the making of Pit Stop
  • Drive Hard – actor Sid Haig speaks about his experience of acting in Pit Stop
  • Life in the Fast Lane – producer Roger Corman on the genesis of Pit Stop
  • Restoring Pit Stop – restoration demonstration by Technical Supervisor James White
  • Original trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Jay Shaw
  • Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic Glenn Kenny and musicologist and writer Gray Newell on the film’s soundtrack, illustrated with original stills and artwork.

  • Racing films have not seen generous coverage here at Blood Brothers and when they do, we seem to favor the ones that act more like action films then true racing films. Fast Five or Death Race, for example. Even with an iconic cult director like Jack Hill behind the film, it was hard to muster up any kind of excitement for the late 60s stock car racing film Pit Stop. However, leave it to this Roger Corman developed film to make me a believer in the art form of racing cinema. Brutally nihilistic with a dark subtext about the racing world, Pit Stop is more of a character film than a racing one. It’s a film where the character work sticks with the viewer much longer than the races or eventual car destruction seen on screen.

    The glare!
    For a lone wolf drag racer like Rick (Davalos) the road to the top was destined to be a rough one. With the help of corporate sponsor Grant Willard (Donlevy), he has a shot. He’ll have to go through the crazy Hawk (Haig) and the figure eight track to make it there. However, there’s more to be lost than just a race when you start putting everything on the line to win.

    For those looking for a racing film, you’re going to find that in Pit Stop. Whether it’s the genre tropes of unsure underdogs, corporate villains, extensive racing tension, or enough wrecks to shack a muffler at, those are all part of the film experience here. What starts off as a seemingly generic opening with drag racing and a bit of jail time for our James Dean-like rebellious hero, quickly moves the film into these classic racing film bits as he is introduced to the ‘real’ racing world and the various characters he will have to beat in order to be the best of the best. Hell, Pit Stop even throws in a nice little romantic subplot (which features the scene stealing charisma and subtle acting work of Beverly Washburn) that gives some proper depth to our hero and some stakes to be added to the rest of the racing sequences and character beats. From there it’s a lot of races, a bit of rivalry with fellow team mates, and plenty of crashes. While the film was only made for a measly $35,000, it never seems to hinder the overall style of the film. Thanks to a ridiculously cleaned up version of the film painstakingly touched up (which is featured in a nice special feature on this release), this Arrow Video Blu Ray shows it off too.

    However, it’s the direction and writing of Jack Hill that makes Pit Stop such a remarkable film on top of its tried and true structure. As was mentioned, this film is strangely (and sometimes horrifyingly) nihilistic in how it goes about the story of its characters. Throughout the entire film our hero Rick is always on the edge of the abyss, playing a game that not only could take his life during one of the vicious car wrecks, but potentially losing his soul as the prospect of winning becomes closer to being a reality. The stakes are raised for his spiraling decent into greed and pride thanks to the previously mentioned romantic subplot and the strange relationships he builds with his boss and his fellow teammates/competition. Crisp black and white visuals and the artistic balance of wrecks to thoughtful dialogue only further craft this nihilistic atmosphere for the film. Even characters that are meant to be fun and wild (Sid Haig’s rival Hawk is gloriously antagonistic throughout the runtime) feed into this tone.

    Sid Haig being Sid Haig.
    Pit Stop is not your usual racing film. This is how you should make a racing film. Jack Hill and his talented cast and crew craft a film that is artful grindhouse out of what should have been just another cash in for Corman. It’s not a perfect film, not that it was ever meant to be with its tone and characters, but the entertainment value and shockingly thoughtful approach make it a true gem of cult cinema. This film comes with the highest of recommendations.

    Written By Matt Reifschneider

    So jump on the track and race down to the links below and grab a copy of Pit Stop, courtesy of our friends at Arrow Video and MVD Entertainment!