Friday, September 30, 2016

Slugs (1988)

Director: J.P. Simon
Notable Cast: Michael Garfield, Kim Terry, Phillip MacHale, Alicia Moro, Santiago Alvarez, Concha Cuetos

Spanish director J.P. Simon may not be known for making great movies, but he sure is known for making entertaining ones. This is the reason I was rather excited to dive into Slugs, Simon’s little creature feature that features more slime, gore, and explosions than one would ever expect a killer insect movie to ever have. Now I’m not saying that Slugs is a film that defies it genre and rises above it, rather I’m saying that it’s a film that certainly embraces its tongue-in-cheek aspects and runs with them instead of battling them. It’s hardly a great film in any sense, for a variety of reasons, but there is definitely a reason why Arrow Video deemed it worthy of a restoration and packed Blu Ray release. That’s because it is a film worthy of the cult classic tag that packs a punch in with its shiny, slimy titular stars. This is a film that ultimately entertains before anything else and for that it’s deserving of its status.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Hills Have Eyes, The (1977)

Director: Wes Craven
Notable Cast: Martin Speer, Robert Houston, Susan Lanier, Russ Grieve, Virginia Vincent, Dee Wallace, John Steadman, James Whitworth, Michael Berryman, Lance Gordon, Janus Blythe, Cordy Clark, Arthur King

Wes Craven’s quality of film might have taken a turn for the worse in the latter part of his career, but it’s easy to see why the man was an iconic master of horror film making through most of it. His earliest films, low budget horror flicks like this seminal classic The Hills Have Eyes, show a certain spark for abrasive creativity and insightful use of their low budgets. While the film is not perfect, at least not to the extent that some horror fans love to rave about it in the grander scheme of things, The Hills Have Eyes is definitely the cult horror classic it deserves to be too. It uses its obstacles to give itself a raw and desperate tone that works wonders to cover its occasionally flawed performances or narrative speed bumps. To top it off, this latest Blu Ray release of the film from Arrow Video is the home release that fans have been dying to get their hands on with a stellar new restoration and a slew of special features worthy of the purchase. Fans of the film or Wes Craven are definitely going to want to nab this one as both the film and release are worthy of note. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Sleepy Eyes of Death 2: Sword of Adventure (1964)

Director: Kenji Misumi
Notable Cast: Raizo Ichikawa

The first Sleepy Eyes of Death film was a decent sword and slash affair that found it a bit difficult to balance its thematic narrative with its entertaining aspects. It’s still a fun film, but hardly the iconic classic that I would have assumed it would be to spawn such a loved cult franchise. This is one of the reasons that it took me so long before getting around to the second film in the series, under the title Sleepy Eyes of Death 2: Sword of Adventure. However, the arrival of the massively underrated director Kenji Misumi to the series fold makes a world of difference for the tone and execution for this film. Instead of gimmicky villains and an almost tongue in cheek nihilistic approach to its characters, Sword of Adventure takes a politically charged approach and it creates a much smarter and streamlined affair that finds the balance between entertainment and depth of writing. It’s such a huge step up in quality that I’m now excited to see what the rest of this series has to offer.

Heroes Shed No Tears (1980)

Director: Chor Yuen
Notable Cast: Alexander Fu Sheng, Jason Pai Piao, Derek Yee, Ku Feng, Yueh Hua, Angie Chiu Nga-Chi, Lau Wai-Ling, Wang Sha, Cheng Miu

Truthfully, I kept setting aside Heroes Shed No Tears because I was under the impression that Alexander Fu Sheng was the lead in the film. Technically, he is and I am not a huge fan of films where he has to carry the burden of the emotional weight of the narrative. I know, I know. It’s blasphemy, right? However, this Shawtember I have been digging through most of Derek Yee’s filmography for the Shaw Brothers studio and I found myself staring at the Heroes Shed No Tears copy on my shelf… since he is the main villain of the film. To my surprise, not only is this film a wonderfully fun wuxia with plenty of gimmicks and classic characters, but it’s also a remarkably thoughtful film on the insight of fame, power, and manipulation. It also helps that it’s less of Fu Sheng’s film and more of an ensemble effort with some powerful performances. It gets to where it needs to be through its smart writing and entertaining set pieces which is how all great wuxia films should be and it makes Heroes Shed No Tears something of an underrated Shaw Brothers film.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Kickboxer: Vengeance (2016)

Director: John Stockwell
Notable Cast: Alain Moussi, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dave Bautista, Sara Malakul Lane, Gina Carano, Georges St. Pierre, Darren Shahlavi

As the remake and reboot train keeps chugging along, it’s going to continually reap the benefits of nostalgia for a lot of properties. For those of us that love the originals, we can only hope that they honor and recreate the same heart while giving us something decently fresh while doing so. Such is the case with the latest nostalgia-trip-reimagined Kickboxer: Vengeance. Don’t let the fancy new subtitle fool you, this is not a sequel to overlooked action franchise of yesteryear. Vengeance is a remake of the original Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle that set him on a road for stardom. In many ways, it’s one of those remakes that works because it understands why the original worked and retains that while bringing something different to the table at the same time. I’d be lying if I said that Kickboxer: Vengeance is a great film, at least in classical critiquing standards, but it’s also a film that inherently knows what it is and delivers on such promises. Perhaps it was my generally negative attitude going into the film, but Vengeance came out as something pleasantly surprising as a modern action flick.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre (1978) / Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre 2 (1978)

Director: Chor Yuen
Notable Cast: Derek Yee, Ching Li, Candice Yu, Cheng Lai-fong, Wen Hsueh-erh, Lo Lieh, Wong Yung, Ngai Fei, Lau Wai-ling, Karen Chan

Going into Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre, I’m not sure I knew what I was getting myself into. I’m a big fan of Chor Yuen as a director, I’m a fan of wuxia, and a fan of the Shaw Brothers, so I had a general expectation of what was going to happen in the film. However, I did not realize that going into this one that it would be one of Chor Yuen’s most epic wuxia films I’ve seen to date. So epic, in fact, that the first film ends on a ‘to be continued’ note and even goes as far as having teaser scenes and a narrator prod the audience about seeing the second installment. This is why I chose to actually review the first two Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre films together as it’s obvious that the two films were meant to be one long three hour wuxia epic. In a way, the films are easily better when watched back to back and they certainly make a bit more sense as the films flow in a manner meant to be watched as such, but even then neither one is on the upper echelons of Shaw Brothers wuxia nor even some of the better films from Chor Yuen. They are fun and packed with entertaining characters, but they are far too dense and rushed (even at three hours) for their own good.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Don't Breathe (2016)

Director: Fede Alvarez
Notable Cast: Jane Levy, Stephen Lang, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto

When the announcement of the Evil Dead remake came out (that it was actually going to happen, more than the announcement itself which had been speculated for years), there was a bit of an online surge that argued about who – and why – certain young directors should or shouldn’t be given the job. Yet, Sam Raimi and his producer cohorts chose a rather young new director to the helm the widely divisive project, Fede Alvarez. Fortunately, the young director showed a lot of skill to tight rope walk the line between new elements and throwback pieces for the project and did it with a strong visual flair. However, since that time Alvarez has remained mostly under the radar with no huge announcements for new movies or being courted for bigger franchises. This is what made Don’t Breathe such a dark horse for 2016. Under the production umbrella of Sam Raimi and his company Ghost House Pictures, Alvarez went for a smaller and original horror thriller that was less about namesake and more about execution. Don’t Breathe is easily the sleeper hit of the year, coming into the box office to win a couple weekends. It fully deserves it too because Don’t Breathe is easily one of the most intense and driven cinema experiences of the year. It’s got an inspired visual flair to it and it balances simplicity with vicious tension. It’s a film that truly leaves its audience breathless.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Hard Target 2 (2016)

Director: Roel Reine
Notable Cast: Scott Adkins, Robert Knepper, Rhona Mitra, Temuera Morrison, Ann Truong, Adam Saunders, Jamie Timony, Peter Hardy, Sean Keenan, Troy Honeysett, Amarin Cholvibul, and a cameo by Jeeja Yanin

“You have something that belongs to me.”
“A false sense of superiority?”

The mining of nostalgic franchises is not new to the realm of straight to home video. While people seem up in arms about theatrical movies rebooting/remaking/franchising classic series, this has been a very popular thing to do in the home video market for decades. So is it all that surprising that a sequel to Hard Target would be hitting store shelves, VOD, and Netflix 23 years after the original hit theaters? I, for one, am not inherently against the franchising of older films for a newer generation as long as the film works. In the case of Hard Target 2, it does. It works much better than I could have ever hoped for a straight to home video actioner. While the film is hardly perfect and certainly has that low budget ‘do what you can with what you have’ kind of tone to it at times, it’s such a focused and entertaining film that it hardly misses a beat to give action fans a bit of what they want out of a film like Hard Target 2.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Lady Hermit, The (1971)

Director: Ho Meng-Hua
Notable Cast: Cheng Pei Pei, Shih Szu, Lo Lieh, Fang Mian, Wang Hsieh

After reacquainting myself with King Hu’s seminal classic A Touch of Zen, I found myself eager to dig through some other 60’s and early 70’s female lead wuxia films that I have not seen in a long time. A great place to start is always with the combination of Shaw Brothers and the iconic Cheng Pei Pei. Most people may like to think that perhaps her greatest film for the legendary studio was Come Drink with Me, also directed by King Hu, but for my money I would be tempted to say that the often overlooked The Lady Hermit is at least as good, if not actually being an overall better film. In many ways, The Lady Hermit is a more distinctly Shaw Brothers film in its stream lined narrative and gimmicky  villain, but this kind of stripped down and more entertaining approach allows the film to really throw in some massively effective action sequences while not taking time away from its active character building. The combination of the two is a film that’s easy to consume, but filling for its viewers with its punchy storytelling and fascinating character interactions.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Dead End Drive-In (1986)

Director: Brian Trenchard-Smith
Notable Cast: Ned Manning, Natalie McCurry, Peter Whitford, Dave Gibson, Sandie Lillingston, Ollie Hail, Wilbur Wilde

Brian Trenchard-Smith is most definitely one of the kings of low budget and very entertaining cinema. His work in the 90s with Night of the Demons 2 and the Leprechaun series lives on as classics of the straight to home video market, but his work in the 80s is just as entertaining – if not more. This includes Dead End Drive-In, a Ozsploitation gem that blends post-apocalyptic action with popular 80s punk rock culture to deliver one of the most off beat and highly entertaining cult films of the era. Considering its stature as a cult classic, it was only a matter of time before it got an upgraded release and it’s nice to know that Arrow Video appreciates the film as so many of its fans do. The film itself is not necessarily a great one, it’s ambitious in its oddities, but hardly one that raises the bar for the era. Still, it’s hard not to love it for its charming quirks and its trashy low budget ambitions and that’s the key point that drives Dead End Drive-In to being the cult classic it is.

Friday, September 2, 2016

A Man and A Woman (2016)

Director: Lee Yoon-ki

Notable Cast: Gong Yoo, Jeon Do-yeon

Lee Yoon-ki is one of those directors that not a lot of people know about, sadly, but he has always been one that I get excited for every time he has a new project in the pipeline. Given that two of my favorite performers from Korea, Jeon Do-yeon (Secret Sunshine) and Gong Yoo (Silenced) were attached as the two leads, admittedly I began to quickly over hype myself for said film. It came out finally on Blu-ray in Korea, and well, I left the film, equally satisfied and annoyed.

A Man and A Woman is the story of... uh... a man and a woman (yep) that meet by chance in a foreign country. The two people are very lonely and that is quite apparent by their nature in general. Both, coincidentally, are sending their children off to a trip with a schooling group. Afterwards, the woman is without a ride, and grows worried for her child, as he has special needs, so the man offers her a ride to go to the place where their children will be staying, to allow her to have a since of relief, and during their car ride there, the two seem to hit it off. Essentially, a romance occurs, which is in no way a spoiler at all, and it is quite obvious where things are going, so nothing more is needed on the plot.

The Shameless (2015)

Director: Oh Seung-wook

Notable Cast: Jeon Do-yeon, Kim Nam-gil, Park Seung-woong, Kwak Do-won

I went into this film, excited, but not really knowing what to expect. I had heard some great things from one of my friends in Korea, who is a critic himself, so he had me sold on it, but even then his details and praise were pretty vague. All I know is that Jeon Do-yeon is my favorite actress, and so naturally, I am always down to see whatever film she stars in next. This fanboy loyalty (I worded that weird) led me to one of my favorite Korean films I've had the pleasure of seeing in quite some time.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Blood Splatter: 2016 Horror Vol. 3 [Holidays, Carnage Park, Baskin]

Directors: Kevin Smith, Gary Shore, Matt Johnson, Scott Stewart, Anthony Scott Burns, Denis Widmyer, Kevin Kolsc, Sarah Adina Smith

It would seem that the horror anthology is trending as a style now even more than ever and, as a subsidiary of that style, holiday themed horror anthologies is also trending. Between the most obvious Halloween focused films, there was a couple Christmas themed films that were worth their weight in celluloid, but it was only a matter of time before a multitude of holidays made it into one film. The aptly titled Holidays is that film. In a weird combination of holiday themed horror and the ABCs of Death, Holidays is a generally entertaining albeit roller coaster ride of quality for a horror anthology film. It certainly doesn’t reach the heights of the granddaddy of modern anthology films like Trick R Treat, but it’s not nearly as a mixed bag as the previously mentioned ABCs of Death or the horrific V/H/S/3. For horror fans, it’s a nice combination of diverse stories, but it’s also hardly one of the best that the style has to offer. In anthologies, it’s obvious that audiences are going to have some stories that hit home and others that flounder. With Holidays, it’s the same as the rest. If anything, at least all of the stories are entertaining to some degree even if that entertainment focus fluctuates between the various stories depending on their style.