Sunday, November 29, 2015

12 Rounds 3: Lockdown (2015)

Director: Stephen Reynolds
Notable Cast: Dean Ambrose, Roger Cross, Daniel Cudmore, Lochlyn Munro, Ty Olsson, Sarah Smyth, Rebecca Marshall, Matthew Harrison

While WWE Studios is noted for releasing some terrible films as vehicles for some of the stars in their Pro Wrestling ring, over the last couple of years the studio has almost refined the B-action flick to an art. Sure, most of them are far from good in a traditional sense, but the studio has figured out how to balance that out by making the films entertaining and fun despite some of their lesser qualities. 12 Rounds 3: Lockdown is one of those films that really works in this manner. While I had my share of fun with 12 Rounds 2 thanks to director Roel Reine, this film actually works in a lot of ways – coming out as the best of the series thus far. It’s hardly original and it’s rarely complicated, but it’s straightforward and simplistic approach to low budget action makes it a fun film watch for action fans.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Gallows, The (2015)

Directors: Travis Cluff, Chris Lofing
Notable Cast: Reese Mishler, Pfeifer Brown, Ryan Shoos, Cassidy Gifford, Price T. Morgan

At some point a trend has to seemingly slow down, right? I mean, you can only rehash the same technique, style, and approach so many times before expansion or evolution should naturally occur. However, the found footage style of horror films seems to be a resilient trend that refuses to evolve. You can argue until you’re blue in the face about whether or not it was all that effective to begin with, but it doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon. Perhaps it’s just an easy and cheap way to make a buck with horror, but something needs to happen. The Gallows, the latest effort from horror producer super hero Jason Blum, is a big sign post about why. Instead of running with its fairly interesting concept, the film instead regurgitates the same formula, style, and ineffective execution that has plagued the found footage genre for years now. It’s dumb, irritating, and worst of all – it’s boring.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Zatoichi's Conspiracy (1973)

Director: Kimiyoshi Yasuda
Notable Cast: Shintaro Katsu, Yukiyo Toake, Takashi Shimura, Eiji Okada, Kei Sato, Yoshio Tsuchiya, Rie Yokoyama, Tatsuo Endo

It’s with some sense of regret that I finish off the original Zatoichi series for review here on the site. It’s somewhat fitting, in a roundabout way, that there is a sense of finality to the series as Zatoichi’s Conspiracy, the twenty-fifth film in this run but hardly the last time Shintaro Katsu would play the blind swordsman, also features a rather somber tone. The film is hardly anything new for the episodic series and often succumbs to the formulaic approach, but it’s still a decent film and one that earns some credits in execution. Perhaps it’s just that I’ve spent so much time with the character that I’m sad about finishing off this box set from Criterion, but there is also a sadness to the way that this film plays out that also makes it feel a bit unique.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Exeter (2015)

Director: Marcus Nispel
Notable Cast: Kelly Blatz, Brittany Curran, Brett Dier, Gage Golightly, Nick Nicotera, Nick Nordella, Michael Ormsby, Kevin Chapman, Stephen Lang

The meteoric rise of director Marcus Nispel is something that probably angers horror fans to no end. A music video director initially, his first big film was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake – a film that itself earns quite a bit of love and hate. From there he has mostly worked on various big budget remakes to varied degrees of success (I have a soft spot for the dumb fun of his Conan the Barbarian remake myself), but his latest feature seemingly dropped out of the social conscious. An original film that Nispel actually was a writer on, Exeter also known as Backmask, is perhaps his weakest piece of film to date. The film is a whirlwind of clich├ęs hinged on terrible writing and too often it tries to replace any legitimate horror elements with style. In essence, it’s everything that fans bitch about with Nispel just ten times over.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Zatoichi in Desperation (1972)

“Blind man…do you want to see the color of your blood?”

Director: Shintaro Katsu
Notable Cast: Shintaro Katsu, Kiwako Taichi, Katsuo Nakamura, Asao Koike, Kyoko Yoshizawa, Yasuhiro Koume, Joji Takagi, Masumi Harukawa

For the 25th film in the long running blind swordsman franchise, Zatoichi in Desperation is one that really strips the series to its core – emotionally and in style. Shintaro Katsu directs the film and his innate knowledge of the character is matched stroke for stroke by the films often dark, violent, and heart ripping beats of narrative structure. It’s not a film with an extensive plot, nor does it need it, but it’s one that returns to the anti-hero aspects of the first films and then layers in a significant amount of artful grindhouse elements – making it one of the biggest surprises this franchise has to offer.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Christmas Horror Story, A (2015)

Directors: Grant Harvey, Steven Hoban, Brett Sullivan
Notable Cast: William Shatner, George Buza, Percy Hynes White, Olunike Adeliyi, Rob Archer, Jeff Clarke, Jessica Clement, Zoe de Grand Maison, Amy Forsyth, Adrian Holmes, Shannon Kook, Debra McCabe, Michelle Nolden, Alex Ozerov, Alan C. Peterson, Corinne Conley

The horror anthology film is not something that is all that new and the style has gone through spurts of popularity throughout the years. Since the (long awaited) release of Trick R Treat in 2009 though the style has seen an upswing of popularity. The ABCs of Death franchise, the V/H/S franchise, and just this year we had Tales of Halloween for the season of spooks to keep it moving. However, the latest horror anthology to feature a holiday theme, entitled A Christmas Horror Story, might be one of the better ones I’ve seen lately. Similar to Trick R Treat in its attempts at using the tone of a holiday as a launching pad for its four interweaving tales of Christmas terror, A Christmas Horror Story ably navigates a solid variety of different horror genres in its quick hour and a half run time and it effectively comes off as a fun and entertaining film that works on almost all levels.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Zatoichi at Large (1972)

Director: Kazuo Mori
Notable Cast: Shintaro Katsu, Rentaro Mikuni, Hisaya Morishige, Etushi Takahashi, Naoko Otani, Osamu Sakai, Renji Ishibashi

After a roller coaster series of entries in the last handful of films, the Zatoichi franchise needed a film to go back to its roots. A film that returned to the formula that established what fans loved about them to begin with. This is what Zatoichi at Large represents. A cleansing of the franchise from its oddities and a return to form. This is both a blessing and a curse for the film. The previous few entries shied away from this approach as it was becoming redundant and that redundancy shows its cracks in the foundational writing for this 23rd film in the blind swordsman series. However, Zatoichi at Large is largely saved by a director that knows dynamics in the visuals and a ferocious third act.So it's a mixed watch for fans.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Tenderness of the Wolves (1973)

Director: Ulli Lommel

Notable Cast: Kurt Raab, Jeff Roden, Margit Carstensen, Ingrid Caven, Wolfgang Schenck, Brigitte Mira, Rainer Hauer, Barbara Bertram, Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Occasionally and if you’re lucky, there will be a handful of films that stick with you long after the film is done. In the case of Tenderness of the Wolves, a dramatic character film that’s earned its cult following since its release in 1973, the film is one of those kinds. For me, Tenderness was rather boring during the actual watch, but hours and even days after it was done the film stuck to me mentally, seeping in with its subtle atmospheric touches and artful nuance of characters. Enough so that I ended up watching the film a second time before writing this review. It’s that second viewing that really hooked me with why this film is deserving of the praise it receives from its fan base and why it deserves such a wonderful new release from Arrow Video.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Spectre (2015)

Director: Sam Mendes

Notable Cast: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Monica Bellucci, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, Andrew Scott, Rory Kinnear, Jesper Christensen

The James Bond franchise will always see its ups and downs throughout each incarnation and each decade. Outside of the unmemorable and often un-Bond like film Quantum of Solace, the Craig era of Bond has been rather vibrant and pushes the series into new territory. In particular, the blend of classic Bond moments and a shockingly fresh and effective third act in Skyfall made it one of the best entries to date and it assured a new audience for the long time British spy with Oscar nominations (and win) and an artfulness that the series hadn’t seen in a long, long time. So it might come as a huge disappointment that Spectre, the second film to feature Sam Mendes as director, takes a remarkably throwback approach to its narrative and tone. No silhouette fights. No subdued finales. This is Bond 101 back on the screen warts and all. Like the rest of my James Bond reviews for the site, I’m going to break it down by “Bond Elements” for fans and newbies alike. Just know going into Spectre that it is handedly the most tongue-in-cheek and often silly Bond film of the Craig era…for better or worse.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Assassin, The (2015)

Director: Hou Hsaio-Hsien
Notable Cast: Shu Qi, Chang Chen, Zhou Yun, Fang-Yi Sheu, Satoshi Tsumabuki, Ethan Juan, Hsieh Hsin-Ying, Ni Dahong, Yong Mei

The hype machine was in full force for The Assassin. It’s Tawain’s choice for consideration in the upcoming Academy Awards, it's directed by the renowned Hou Hsaio-Hsien, and it has already taken the award for best director at a little festival called Cannes. However, by the time the credits rolled on the film, I was a torn audience member. On one side, The Assassin accomplishes what it set out to do with gorgeous visuals and an atmospheric spin on a classic martial arts film foundation. On the other hand, it’s boring as hell and just as vague when it comes to actually telling a story. The arthouse cinema fan in me appreciated what the film accomplishes, but the kung fu fan in me was sorely disappointed.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Encounters of the Spooky Kind (1980)

Director: Sammo Hung
Notable Cast: Sammo Hung, Chung Fat, Lam Ching-ying, Chan Lung, Huang Ha, Dick Wei, Yuen Biao, Wu Ma

As a director, Sammo Hung has touched on a lot of material. He’s done comedy, traditional martial arts, drama, and even an action war flick. Yet, one of his strangest (and still most fascinating) films comes in the form of the kung fu horror comedy Encounters of the Spooky Kind. Since October is always dedicated to reviewing and watching horror films at Blood Brothers, it only seemed relevant that I throw in at least one kung fu horror flick for the season even if it's November by the time it gets posted. Encounters of the Spooky Kind, also known as Spooky Encounters or Close Encounters of the Spooky Kind, is a blast to watch. It’s not always the most sensible of films as it tends to throw a lot at the audience, but the resulting mix of comedy, kick assery, and supernatural elements is massively entertaining to watch.