Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Neon Demon, The (2016)

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Notable Cast: Elle Fanning, Karl Glusman, Jena Malone, Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Desmond Harrington, Alessandro Nivola, Charles Baker, Jamie Clayton

“I don’t want to be them. They want to be me.”

Nicolas Winding Refn has always been one of my favorite modern directors. His style and blend of surrealistic and artful symbolism with gritty grindhouse concepts makes him one of the more unique visionaries currently working. However, his last film Only God Forgives left a substantial sour taste with me. His balance between the two seemed to flounder as he went extreme in both directions and produced a film that felt like the two worlds he was so spectacular at balancing were going to war. I know plenty of people that loved the movie for that very reason, but it didn’t sit as well for me. Going into his latest film, The Neon Demon, it was hard to necessarily wipe that sour aftertaste away from Only God Forgives so I kept my hype in check going into the film. Thankfully, The Neon Demon seems to be a return to form for the divisive director and it finds the balance between arthouse and grindhouse in some stunningly effective ways. It may not be his best film to date, but it certainly showcases why he is loved by cult cinema fans.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Final Episode (1974)

Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Notable Cast: Bunta Sugawara, Akira Kobayashi, Kinya Kitaoji Jo Shishido, Junkichi Orimoto, Kunie Tanaka, Shingo Yamashiro, Hiroki Matsukata

As far as original writer Kazuo Kasahara was concerned, the Battles Without Honor and Humanity series was finished after the fourth film Police Tactics. Truthfully, that film did feel like a solid ending to the story that was being told. Many characters reached their logical conclusion and the arrival of an agreement between smaller warring yakuza factions to create a political coalition that essentially ended their yakuza focus worked. End of story, right? Wrong. Popularity with the series led to there being at least one last film in the original run (there is a spin off series that would come soon after too), but original writer Kasahara did not come back. However, almost everyone else did including director Kinji Fukasaku. The results are the aptly titled Final Episode, a solid and entertaining installment into the Battles series that too often gets written off as an inferior and ‘tacked on’ ending to the series. Final Episode however fits the style and tone even if it occasionally lacks the depth and subtlety of its predecessors to make it a worthy sequel.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Blood Splatter: Fatal Flying Guillotine (1977) and Master of the Flying Guillotine (1976)

Fatal Flying Guillotine (1977)
Director: Raymond Lui
Notable Cast: Carter Wong, Sing Chen, Chen Shao-peng, Mu Szu-cheng, Cheung Lik
Also known as: The Fatal Flying Guillotines

Of all the Flying Guillotine films from this period, Fatal Flying Guillotine is perhaps the weakest. It is a film that is wholly enjoyable and entertaining in many ways, but its plot and narrative feel unfinished and rushed. Part of this is that the film attempts some weak conspiracy elements that don't meld with the main protagonist's plight against the villain and his dual flying guillotines. It takes away time (from its already short run time) to build better characters and more effective emotional beats for them. Carter Wong’s motive for trying to kill the villain is forgotten five minutes after it happens despite it obviously being the big emotional sequence in the entire film. What Fatal Flying Guillotine does accomplish is that it litters the film with over the top fights and bundles of decapitations. The fighting is fun, powered by the intense stare of Carter Wong and the wonderfully silly wig of the villain and his saw blade weapons that miraculously fly around like birds defying all known physics, and the film intends to entertain more than anything else. For martial arts and kung fu nerds, Fatal Flying Guillotine is effectively entertaining, but it's not much more than that.


Bodyguard, The (2016)

Director: Sammo Hung
Notable Cast: Sammo Hung, Jacqueline Chan, Li Qinqin, Andy Lau, Feng Jiayi, James Lee Guy, Tomer Oz, Hu Jun, Feng Shaofeng, Song Jia, Tsui Hark, Karl Maka, Dean Shek, Yuen Biao, Yuen Qiu, Yuen Wah, Eddie Peng

Sammo Hung’s career has always been much more diverse than many of his fans give him credit for. Even within the realms of his action films or comedies, Sammo has pushed boundaries and experimented with new techniques and genre shifting that has made his stuff feel fresh – if not occasionally hit or miss. I mention this in reference to the initial backlash of critique for his latest film The Bodyguard (known as My Beloved Bodyguard outside of the US) and how it wasn’t action oriented enough. Yes, Sammo’s first directorial effort since 1997 proves to be an uneven affair as it blends a variety of genres and he tries his hand at some modern techniques, but this was something that I was expecting going in and thusly, it didn’t irritate me the way that it did for so many. When The Bodyguard hits its stride, it’s something to behold. It’s just that it still has a very uneven narrative due to the genre blending and flow that it doesn’t always keep its momentum.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Tunnel (2016)

Director: Kim Seung-hoon
Notable Cast: Ha Jeong-woo, Bae Doo-na, Oh Dal-soo

Lee Jung-soo (Ha Jeong-woo) is a salesman for Kia Motors, making his rounds and traveling about one day. He's got a cake for his daughter, topping the car off with fuel, and heading home. On his way, he calls his wife to let her know how things have been, when suddenly a tunnel he is passing through (newly opened and everything) decides to cave in and trap him inside his car with nowhere to go. With that set up out of the way, let's dive in to one of my favorite films of the year so far, Tunnel.

Given director Kim's previous film, A Hard Day, I went into this new film with high anticipation. Add to that the fact that the trio of leads in the film are some of my favorite performers in the region, and you have a recipe for a delicious slice of Korean film goodness, and it most certainly is just that.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Blood Splatter: 2016 Action Vol. 1 [Code of Honor, Standoff, Jarhead 3: The Siege]

There is only enough time in the day to write so many reviews, edit them, and format them for the site. Yet we still receive a ton of requests to cover films that may not fit into the schedule. So Blood Brothers has developed a series called The Blood Splatter where our reviewers do three quick takes on various films for our readers that may have not fit into the full review schedule.

Similar to what I have been doing with earlier Blood Splatter articles, I wanted to cover some of the action movies I may not have had time to cover with full reviews. Well, some of these films also didn't deserve full reviews as you will see in this and/or future installments. For this edition of The Blood Splatter, we cover three 2016 straight to home video actioners with lots of action star power: Code of Honor, Standoff, and Jarhead 3. Enjoy.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Der Bunker (2016)

Director: Nikias Chryssos
Notable Cast: Pit Bukowski, Daniel Fripan, Oona von Maydell, David Scheller

At times, I like to think of finding strange and often abrasive new films is a challenge. This challenge is easy when the weird films come straight to you and there is no digging through the underground involved. Artsploitation Films did all the work for me. The hype around the oddity that is Der Bunker was already somewhat high, thanks to the film’s run of film festivals including Fantastic Fest, and when it arrived at my office for review I was decently excited to see what it was all about. Truly though, I think we have a winner for the award of “WTF Movie of the Year” because Der Bunker is a defiant movie. It defies to be categorized by genres, it defies a lot of logistical writing, and it defies conventional reason when it comes to some of its themes and approaches them at odd angles. The trick of its defiance? It’s really fuckin’ good at it. Good enough that the more I think about it, the more Der Bunker is going to end up ranking as one of my favorites of the year.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Observance (2016)

Director: Joseph Sim-Sennett
Notable Cast: Lindsay Farris, Stephanie King, Tom O’Sullivan, Benedict Hardie, Brendan Cowell, John Jarratt

Too often genre films like horror are overlooked as lower forms of cinematic entertainment, but there are a handful of companies that are digging up the best of independent horror to showcase the depth and range of the genre. Artsploitation Films does they best to find the unique and impressive films that lie under the surface of what gets released and they do occasionally strike gold. Their latest acquisition for release in the US is the Australian arthouse horror flick Observance and it’s a hum-dinger. The film is full of unnerving atmosphere, licked with an artful touch of vagueness and subtlety that’s too often ignored in the genre. Not only is it a thoughtfully unsettling film, but it’s damn good at it too as it pulls comparisons to Hitchcock and the classic thriller without deterring from its modern touches of surrealism.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Bloodstained Butterfly, The (1971)

Director: Duccio Tessari
Notable Cast: Helmut Berger, Giancario Sbragia, Evelyn Stewart (Ida Galli), Wendi D’Olive, Silvano Tranquilli, Carole Andre, Lorella De Luca, Gunther Stoll

The more time I spend with giallo films, the more the layered spectrum of what defines the genre opens up. When I first started into the genre with the likes of Dario Argento and his ilk, I felt that the over the top style was always key and that there were definite ‘rules’ for how the films played out. With experience though, the genre really has grown to showcase a lot more depth and diversity than expected. The Bloodstained Butterfly is one of those films that really breaths with the different tone than many of its brethren in the genre. At the core of what it is, this film is a giallo, but really it plays its story of a death and conspiracy in a much more grounded and realistic manner which is a lovely change of pace to some of the more lavish and spectacle driven films of the genre. It’s a smart film, packed with intriguing characters, and it really drives home the actual plot rather than style as a focus. This latest Blu Ray release from Arrow Video is a packed one too that delivers a strong set of special features that any giallo fan will want to have in their collection.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Microwave Massacre (1983)

Director: Wayne Berwick
Notable Cast: Jackie Vernon, Claire Ginsberg, Loren Schein, Al Troupe, Lou Ann Webber

One of the more difficult aspects of being a cult cinema fan is trying to decipher when a movie is just bad or intends to be bad. Once that aspect is decided, it’s looking at whether or not the film succeeds or fails at executing its intent. Even then, in the case of a film like Microwave Massacre, there may be a rift between its intent and how well it goes about it. It’s very obvious from the get go that Microwave Massacre is never meant to be a serious film and everything included should be taken with a grain of salt. Think of it as a Troma film like experience. That’s the mindset to take when heading into this horror comedy. Microwave Massacre never quite carries the energetic outpouring of a Troma film though and it hurts that too often the film sort of meanders around its subject matter instead of running with it. To its benefit, this latest release from Arrow Video does give the film the kind of treatment I would have never expected for a film of this caliber, so obviously there is a cult status and relevancy that doesn’t quite hit a chord with me, but to those interested in the kind of low budget horror comedy shenanigans that a film called Microwave Massacre can offer then this is the perfect release for you.

Suicide Squad (2016)

Director: David Ayer
Notable Cast: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Jay Hernandez, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Cara Delevingne, Karen Fukuhara, Adam Beach, Ike Barinholtz, Scott Eastwood, Ben Affleck, Ezra Miller, Alain Chanoine, Jim Parrack, Common

In the grand aspect of all things cinema, Suicide Squad is going to go down in the history books as one of the more fascinating films in the age of superhero film spectacle. With all of the behind the scenes drama, rumors, and confusion about what this film should be, what Warner Bros wanted it to be, what fans wanted from it, and what it is, it’s amazing that the end product is even as entertaining as it is. Of course, it’s not the kind of shit storm film that the stories and end product ended up being with Fantastic Four, so there is that for whatever comfort that gives its audience. Suicide Squad is entertaining on plenty of levels even if the end result is something of a scattered mess. In fact, when compared to its other DC Universe brethren like Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, it’s the best that Warner Bros. and DC have released thus far…which is not necessarily a good claim to be making considering the end product that made it to the screen.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Tiger, The (2016)

Director: Park Hoon-jung
Notable Cast: Choi Min-sik, Jung Man-sik, Kim Sang-ho, Sung Yoo-bin, Ren Osugi, Jung Suk-won, Ra Mi-ran

Sometimes, it’s hard to keep expectations in check when films are crafted by massively talented individuals. I did my best to keep my own hype down for The Tiger for just that reason. Director Park Hoon-jung delivered the jaw-dropping South Korean gangster flick New World just a few years ago and that was only the latest in a string of impressive films he has written and/or directed. Needless to say, even with tempered expectations there was a lot of hype behind this one, a film he wrote and directed, and with the powerful onscreen persona of Choi Min-Sik, it only went up. Fortunately, The Tiger not only lives up to these expectations, but easily surpasses them with a graceful flare as it delivers a dramatic film that entertains on the surface and layers itself so immensely that even days after the film had ended I feel like I’m discovering new things about it. Yeah, it is one of the best films of the year.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Star Trek Beyond (2016)

Director: Justin Lin
Notable Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Simon Pegg, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Idris Elba, Sofia Boutella, Joe Taslim, Lydia Wilson

When Star Trek Beyond was initially announced, I’ll admit that I was hesitant. I didn’t love Into Darkness like I thought I would, behind the scenes turmoil left this third film in the reboot series with writing issues, and JJ Abrams vacated the director’s seat to transfer franchises and make a Star Wars movie. Needless to say, it seemed like Star Trek Beyond was going to be lost in space. Fortunately, Paramount and company seemed to understand that this film needed an injection of new life and that they needed to go back to basics. Star Trek Beyond does just that – Doug Jung and Simon Pegg aptly embrace the episodic adventure formula of the original series and director Justin Lin pulls away from the overly complex attempts selling the science fiction and guns for a much more straight forward approach – and it works impressively at what it wants to execute. Color me captivated.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Female Prisoner Scorpion: #701's Grudge Song (1973)

Director: Yasuharu Hasebe
Notable Cast: Meiko Kaji, Masakuza Tamura, Yumi Kanei, Hiroshi Tsukata, Yayoi Watanabe, Sanae Hakahara, Akemi Negishi

It happens to every franchise. Eventually, they will have to have a significant drop off in quality. There is only so long an inspired artistry, no matter what genre or era, can last as time continues. With the third entry into the Female Prisoner Scorpion series Beast Stable, director Shunya Ito was done with what he wanted to say and moved on from the franchise. However, lead actress Meiko Kaji would stay on for one final film before her departure and for this fourth film in the series, #701’s Grudge Song, she brings on an old time friend to fill Ito’s shoes: Yasuharu Hasebe. Granted, this swan song for the Meiko Kaji era of the character is definitely a huge step down from the previous three – that drop off of quality that I mentioned – due to substandard script, a change of directorial focus, and a bit of a scattered narrative, but Grudge Song still remains a film that works on an entertaining level at least and has an ace up its sleeve when it comes to having the last word.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Female Prisoner Scorpion: Beast Stable (1973)

Director: Shunya Ito
Notable Cast: Meiko Kaji, Mikio Narita, Reisen Lee, Yayoi Watanabe, Koji Nanbara, Takashi Fujiki, Tomoko Mayama 

One of the fascinating things about the Female Prisoner Scorpion series is how each installment breaks just enough new ground to remain feeling fresh and unique on its own without sacrificing the style and blended pieces of genre that made them so uniquely impressive to begin with. Even though the third film in the series Female Prisoner Scorpion: Beast Stable is a slight step down in quality from the first two [you can read my thoughts on the first film HERE and the second film HERE], it’s also an ambitious and large step down a new path for the series that sets it aside. Like its predecessors, Beast Stable is the kind of film that rises above its more controversial pieces into a film of more artistic merit, although it doesn’t quite find the tightness of its writing to sell some of its higher end themes.