Friday, April 29, 2016

Phantom of the Theatre (2016)

Director: Raymond Yip
Notable Cast: Ruby Lin, Tony Yang, Simon Yam, Huang Lei, Jing Gangshan, Zhang Zifeng, Li Jing, He Yunwei

Director Raymond Yip has made his name in the last handful of years with a series of mid-budget horror films that have generated some serious box office bank in China. However, until Phantom of the Theatre, none of his films have made it over to the US for us genre fans. In a way, it created a hype for this film for me, a hype that had almost no basis and little in the way of realistic expectations. All I knew about Phantom of the Theatre was that it was a haunted theater movie directed by a guy who was making a decent sized splash with his last few horror films. It’s unfortunate that I found myself utterly underwhelmed with the film. Perhaps my own hype for the film set me up for failure, as the film itself has some very awesome elements, but it’s also a film that casts aside its horror elements by the second act and loses a lot of the more entertaining pieces in favor of a more dramatic and predictable approach. There are things to like about Phantom of the Theatre, but it also misses out on so many great opportunities.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Zero Boys, The (1986)

Director: Nico Mastorakis

Notable Cast: Daniel Hirsch, Kelli Maroney, Nicole Rio, Tom Shell, Jared Moses, Crystal Carson, Joe Phelan

For some odd reason, I seem to be the black sheep when it comes to disliking Nico Mastorakis’ Island of Death. Truthfully, I can’t stand the film and think it’s one of the most overrated exploitation films in existence. Don’t believe me? You can read my review for it over HERE. Because of my general hatred for that film, I have never delved into the director’s other work even when they came with friendly recommendations like The Zero Boys. With the latest Arrow Video release of The Zero Boys though, I found myself willing to try and set aside my bias based on the previously mentioned horror flick and go into it with a clean mind set. While The Zero Boys is hardly a perfect film, it is a massive step up in quality for the director and one that earns some praise for some well shot and executed moments. As a whole the film is horrendously hit or miss, but when it’s good, it’s great and cult cinema fans are going to find a buried treasure of strange with this film.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Police Tactics (1974)

Director: Kinji Fukasaku

Notable Cast: Bunta Sugawara, Tatsuo Umemiya, Toshio Kurosawa, Kunie Tanaka, Hiroki Matsukata, Akira Kobayashi, Nobuo Kaneko, Toshie Kimura, Harumi Sone, Asao Uchida, TakeshiKato, Shinichiro Mikami, Hideo Murota, Isao Natsuyagi, Sachio Miyagi, Mayumi Nagisa

There are a lot of intriguing nuances and slightly unique elements to each of the Battles Without Honor and Humanity films. While I tend to be in the minority in my critiques of Proxy War and its rather slow build and laser like focused dialogue, after seeing its direct sequel Police Tactics, it is understandable why people will stand up for these last two films as the best of the franchise. Police Tactics is an ambitious entry into the yakuza focused franchise and one that really brings the series full circle. It takes all of the build in Proxy War and wraps it up with plenty of bloodshed and tension breaking twists that really finalized what this franchise is all about – and it comes off as one of the best entries into the series.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Stuff, The (1985)

Director: Larry Cohen

Notable Cast: Michael Moriarty, Andrea Marcovicci, Garrett Morris, Scott Bloom, Paul Sorvino, Danny Aiello, Patrick O’Neal

When it comes to horror comedies there is a lot to be learned from a film like The Stuff. Particularly because this 80s satirical science fiction horror romp is about as eclectic as they get, scattered in its narrative, and often too quirky for its own good. However, every time I watch the film I am immediately caught up in it as it bounds with an energy and an excitement to its own beat with its fiercely awkward mannerisms. This is a film that is so confident in its own oddities that one cannot help but be swept up in the windstorm of its charm and its strange ability to be so significantly entertaining with its commentaries. Sure, on paper The Stuff is not nearly the perfect film and many times it specifically spins away from following the straight line of narrative. This is why The Stuff is brilliant. This is why enough is never enough. This is why I can’t get enough of The Stuff.

Outlaw: Kill! (1969)

Director: Keiichi Ozawa
Notable Cast: Tetsuya Watari, Chieko Matsubara, Eiji Go, Kenji Imai, Goro Mutsumi, Koji Wada

With this review of the sixth Outlaw feature Kill!, I will have finalized the series and it’s easy for me to say that I’m sad it’s done. Particularly because Kill! never has a finality to its tone as it covers another episodic chapter of Goro’s wandering tales of yakuza violence and loss. Like many of the sequels, this one is simply another episode of the series adhering to the formula and relying on the execution of its elements to carry the quality versus a fresh spin or unique story to tell. While the film is not nearly as artistic as the original nor is it as thematically strong in writing as the fourth entry, it is a durable entry that features some of the sturdier dramatic beats and better action set pieces of the series. While it may not have the punch that I would have hoped for the final film of this series, it is still an impressive film to end on and it comes with much appreciation.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Miss Lovely (2012)

Director: Ashim Ahluwalia

Notable Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Niharika Singh, Menaka Lalwani, Anil George, Zeena Bhatia

The Duggal brothers produce very sleazy sexploitation during the 1980s in Bombay. The older brother, Vicky, played fiendishly by Anil George, has run into some trouble with a distributor and his relationship with his partner in the biz, and his younger brother, Sonu, played to chilling perfection by Nawazuddin Siddiqui (Gangs of Wasseypur), quickly becomes chaotic and destructive. The two sell their brotherliness quite well, and when things quickly become fractured between them, they keep it believable and intense the entire time.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

100 Yen Love (2014)

Director: Masaharu Take

Notable Cast: Sakura Ando, Hirofumi Arai, Shinichiro Matsuura, Miyoko Inagawa, Saori Koide, Yozaburo Ito

Even though I wouldn't call myself a boxing cinema aficionado, I am very in to, and possibly even a sucker for, boxing films. That doesn't mean I think they are all good. In fact, I am not really a big fan of the Rocky franchise (save the 1st, and Balboa... still meaning to see Creed), but the world of boxing through movies, is something I've always been fascinated by, and very much look forward to diving back into whenever the opportunity presents itself. 100 Yen Love was the opportunity this time around, and I am very glad I took it.

Riot (2016)

Director: John Lyde
Notable Cast: Matthew Reese, Dolph Lundgre, Danielle Chuchran, Chuck Liddell, Michael Flynn, Renny Grames, Eve Mauro, Melanie Stone, DL Walker

Riot is the reason that I spend hours upon hours dredging through the straight to home video news and sections at movie stores. The low budget action genre is certainly one that doesn’t necessary promote lots of thoughtful execution and surprising quality as a whole, but there are always little diamonds to be found in the coal that entertain. Riot is one of those films. Truthfully, I picked up the movie because it had Dolph Lundgren in it. What can I say? I’m a sucker for Dolph. What I found in Riot though was one of the better B-action films of the year and one of those special finds that makes digging through the crap worth the time and money. Riot is a blast. It’s a heartfelt and surprisingly well made little actioner with enough charm and solid action set pieces to satiate any action craving fans might have. It’s hardly perfect, but hot damn if the intention to make a good movie isn’t there.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Outlaw: Black Dagger (1968)

Director: Keiichi Ozawa
Notable Cast: Tetsuya Watari, Chieko Matsubara

Now that I’m five movies into the Outlaw franchise, sometimes it’s baffling to think this franchise took so long to get a release in the US (and UK). Even in this fifth entry, entitled Black Dagger, the franchise remains a solidly entertaining romp, utilizing some of the best elements of the yakuza genre of the time and making enjoyable films. Black Dagger, while remaining one of the weaker films of the series thus far, is full of great action, effective performances, and fun story bends. Of course, it sacrifices a lot of the great themes and overarching concepts to be a bit more consumable, but that never stopped me from enjoying a film before. Black Dagger might not be one of the weaker entries, but dammit it’s still fun and dynamic still riding on the anti-hero antics of our protagonist Goro.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Hush (2016)

Director: Mike Flanagan
Notable Cast: Kate Siegel, John Gallagher Jr., Michael Trucco, Samantha Sloyan, Emilia Graves

When it comes to modern horror, Mike Flanagan might be one of the best and freshest voices in the industry. His first two films were the atmospheric suffocation of Absentia and the shockingly effective time blending of Oculus, films that rocked their concepts and effectively executed what could have been questionable ideas into modern classics. This is the reason why I was initially stoked to dive into his spin on the home invasion film Hush. Now, the fact that it was seemingly kicked straight to Netflix did give me hesitation, but don’t be afraid because Hush continues the trend of Flanagan nailing the horror genre down to a science even if the basic foundation is nothing all that original.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Magic Blade, The (1976)

Director: Chor Yuen
Notable Cast: Ti Lung, Lo Lieh, Ching Li, Tanny Tien Nim, Lily Li, Ku Feng

When it comes to the Chor Yuen wuxia films of the 70s for the Shaw Brothers, The Magic Blade usually comes highly recommended from those in the martial arts community. My first viewing of the film a few years ago left me a bit cold actually, as the film (like many other Chor Yuen wuxia films) tends to throw the viewer down into the middle of a fully developed world and expect them to keep up with its sprint like pacing. However, after seeing the film again just a few days ago in theaters, I felt like I was able to enjoy it much more for what it is versus what I wanted it to be. Instead of an epic and emotional tale of a man’s plight to dethrone a martial world super villain, I was able to enjoy it for its rather campy approach and off the cuff style. The film is rarely as good as the claims (or even as some of Chor Yuen’s other films), but the combination of its sprinting pace, eclectic narrative, and outrageous action set pieces it’s easy to love it for how entertaining it really is.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Outlaw: Goro the Assassin (1968)

Director: Keiichi Ozawa
Notable Cast: Tetsuya Watari, Chieko Matsubara

With the speed that Nikkatsu was pumping out these Outlaw films, it’s not terribly out of realm of possibility that they would continue to adhere to the basic concepts and formulas that made the series so popular to begin with. I touched base on this idea with the third film Heartless and its more episodic approach to the foundation, but with the fourth film Goro the Assassin it’s pretty much a solidified truth in what structure and emotional beats the audience is going to see. However, it’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s probably for the best for a film like Goro. The yakuza thriller further strips itself of a lot of the artistic moments and thematic material that the series used (both in successful and detrimental ways depending on the film) and instead throttles down on tight writing and more naturalistic character arcs. It might be predictable if you’ve seen the first few films, but that doesn’t mean it’s ineffective.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Sentimental Swordsman, The (1977)

Director: Chor Yuen
Notable Cast: Ti Lung, Derek Yee, Ching Li, Yueh Hua, Candice Yu, Ku Feng, Fan Mei-sheng, Norman Chu, Ngai Fei, Yuen Wah

While Chor Yuen has never really been my favorite director when it comes to Shaw Brothers films, I seem to find myself coming back again and again to a lot of his material. His ability to craft some dynamic (and ultimately insane) wuxia films makes his films a lot of fun to watch, even when they are of a lesser quality. The Sentimental Swordsman falls exactly into this category. The film is powered on some very silly concepts and made entertaining by its own outrageous moments, but it’s hard to overlook a lot of the deeper flaws of the narrative and the immense world building present. With a stacked cast of iconic Shaw Brothers regulars, The Sentimental Swordsman is going to have its following just on a fan level, but it’s a hard film to swallow for those unprepared for the ridiculous aspects that are presented.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Outlaw: Heartless (1968)

Director: Mio Ezaki

Notable Cast: Tetsuya Watari, Chieko Matsubara, Koji Wada, Miroshi Nawa, Isao Tamagawa, Eiji Go, Ryoji Hayama, Fumio Watanabe, Kaku Takashina, Asao Uchida

The initial worries that plagued my expectations for the third Outlaw film, Heartless, is that it the franchise would have already found and adhered to a very specific formula established by the first one. The second film already suffered a bit from trying to recreate the formula which undermined a lot of its greater elements and it wasn’t a huge leap of imagination to see this six film series already hitting a rut of expressive style. Fortunately, Heartless does not necessary stick to the blue print pointers of the franchise like the previous entry did. You will certainly see some familiar themes and even structures, a smart move overall that comes with formulating a franchise. However, it’s also a film that can be weirdly confusing because it’s supposed to be a prequel (I think) to the original film with no reference to the previous two films. Without this knowledge prior to going into the film (information about the film seems relatively sparse on the internet even in 2016) Heartless is a bit rocky at first, but the film is ultimately an entertaining and effective little action thriller.

Cabin Fever (2016)

Director: Travis Z
Notable Cast: Samuel Davis, Gage Golightly, Matthew Daddario, Nadine Crocker, Dustin Ingram

I’ve always tried to make it quite clear that remakes are not inherently evil/bad/dumb/awful. With the proper execution and a fresh voice behind it, remakes can actually be effective new movies that bring classics or overlooked stories to a whole new generation. With that approach in mind, even I had a hard time swallowing the announcement that Cabin Fever was receiving the ol’ remake treatment. The original is only a decade old, the style of horror comedy on display is still a relevant approach (if not more relevant now with the massive amount of successful horror comedies released just last year), and it’s essentially the same generation of people that will be the prime audience for it. There have been a lot of unnecessary remakes released in the last handful of years, like the new Carrie or Let Me In, but this latest Cabin Fever makes them look like glorified, shining gold. Cabin Fever ’16 is simply uninspired and irrelevant for most any horror cinephile. Perhaps if you are part of the 3% of horror fans that didn’t see the original, you might find a fun movie…but that’s really the only way I can see being impressed by this film on almost any level.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Bride of Re-Animator (1989)

Director: Brian Yuzna

Notable Cast: Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Claude Earl Jones, Fabiana Udenio, David Gale, Kathleen Kinmont, Mel Stewart

There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it – Re-Animator is a sure fire classic. The film is simply a phenomenal piece of horror cinema from its perfect casting, its pitch black humor, and its weirdly strong criticism of the medical field with its competitive approach. It’s a magical blend of all things awesome from 80s horror and it has a lasting effect even 30 years down the road. So it’s no wonder that the first sequel to such an iconic film would try to recapture the same blend and push it further down the rabbit’s hole of outrageousness. Bride of Re-Animator attempts to do just that, with more mixed results than success, and it comes off as an even loonier cocktail of humor, horror, and insanity. While the film is not nearly as good at pulling it off as the original, it is still an electric ball of energy and one that has fairly earned its own cult following in the years after its release. Enough so that Arrow Video has graciously put together this latest re-release of the film packed with extras and two newly restored high definition versions of both the R-rated and unrated cuts of the film.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Outlaw Gangster VIP 2 (1968)

Director: Keiichi Ozawa
Notable Cast: Tetsuya Watari, Chieko Matsubara, Izumi Ashikawa, Eimei Esumi, Jukei Fujioka, Shoki Fukae, Joji Hidehara, Seishiro Iwate, Meiko Kaji, Hatsuko Kawahara, Ichiro Kijima

To say that I was impressed with Outlaw Gangster VIP is to be putting it mildly. In essence, it’s one of the best yakuza films from that era that I’ve seen and it rises above its own formulaic moments to a sense of artfulness that genre films often sacrifice for the sake of entertainment. Outlaw Gangster VIP 2 looks to really run with the success of the original film by following a lot of the same blueprints. However, the film does suffer a bit from ‘carbon copy syndrome’ and things aren’t quite as effectively slick as they were the first time around. It’s still an entertaining (and hauntingly heartfelt) romp of yakuza action and drama worthy of a look from fans, but it’s not quite the one-two punch that knocked the wind out of me like the first one did. It’s a good movie that just misses out on being great.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Forest, The (2016)

Director: Jason Zada

Notable Cast: Natalie Dormer, Taylor Kinney, Eoin Macken, Yukiyoshi Ozawa

With a generic title like The Forest and some underwhelming trailers, I just went ahead and decided to skip seeing this little haunted forest flick in theaters. Even when it dropped on VOD, I was hesitant to use my credits to watch the film. However, impulsive renting certainly got the better of me and I decided to give The Forest a chance. Like its underwhelming title, the film is also quite underwhelming. The Forest is one of those films that has a rather intriguing basis and it’s far from being bad in many regards as it passes by with enough atmosphere, scares, and ideas to keep one watching at least. However, it succumbs to one of horror’s worst enemies. It plays it safe. Ultimately, it’s a move that undercuts what might have been a fun and creepy flick.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Outlaw Gangster VIP (1968)

Director: Toshio Masuda
Notable Cast: Tetsuya Watari, Chieko Matsubara, Mitsuo Hamada, Tamio Kawachi, Kyosuke Machida, Kayo Matsuo, Yasuko Sanjo, Sanae Kitabayashi, Michitaro Mizushima, Hiroshisa Toda

“You’re not really yakuza. You are yakuza, but in your heart you’re not yakuza.”

When Arrow Video announced the Outlaw: Gangster VIP series to be released in a box set, I was stoked. Firstly, the deal that Arrow Video has made with Nikkatsu films is a godsend for fans of cult Japanese film making. The films that they have released together for us in the US and UK have been pretty consistently awesome. Secondly, most of the writers here at Blood Brothers are franchise whores and we are always up for a new series to explore. Seeing as this series has six films, it only exponentially lifted the expectations for us. However, considering that this series seems to be far more underground than expected, there was also some hesitation about just how good it would be considering it remained a bit more obscure. If the rest of the series is nearly as good as the first entry though, every one of the films is going to be in for a fantastic cinematic treat. Outlaw: Gangster VIP, the first of the six films in this set, is a remarkably fun, heartfelt, and absorbing film that runs on charismatic performances and director Masuda’s knack for dynamic pacing. While the combination of Arrow Video and Nikkatsu have already shown us some overlooked gems, this one might be one of the best releases that they have dropped thus far and Japanese cinephiles are going to want this set if only for this film.