Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)

Directors: Joachim Ronning, Espen Sandberg
Notable Cast: Johnny Depp, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario, Javier Bardem, Geoffrey Rush, Kevin McNally, Golshifteh Farahani, David Wenham, Stephen Graham, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Paul McCartney
Also Known As: Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar's Revenge

To give a bit of context to this review, my opinion of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is far from a positive one. Like most people, I was massively surprised by the quality of the first, but the second and third entries left me cold and/or irritated by the sheer and immense spectacle driven focus that they had quickly succumbed to. However, with dire expectations in hand, the fourth film was surprisingly fun. It stripped away a ton of the melodramatic set pieces for a much more efficient (and for some, boring) summer blockbuster formula that left me pleasantly surprised. That is not, however, a statement of On Stranger Tides’ quality as it certainly was not a film to challenge its viewers or was even executed in any kind of artistic fashion. It accepted itself for all its silliness and delivered a fun standalone feature.

This now brings us to the focus of this review, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, a somewhat hilarious title considering that at least half of its main returning characters have been dead or dead-like for at least some portion of this franchise. As the fifth entry into this franchise, it was mildly touted as a finale that would wrap up some threads left hanging while maintaining the classic concepts and even ‘returning to its roots’ to fix some of the issues that fans had with the fourth entry. True to its promises, it kind of does all of those things. Kind of.  And it still delivers a fun summer kick off blockbuster that fans will find enjoyable enough. Truthfully though, Dead Men Tell No Tales is something of a mess narratively speaking, sticking to the formula with almost vicious intent and failing to really add anything truly inspired or new, but not quite sinking to the depths of poorly crafted storytelling that the second and third entry hit. To put it simply, it’s a lot of the same old, same old. For better or worse.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Poolsideman (2016)

Director: Hirobumi Watanabe

Notable Cast: Gaku Imamura, Hirobumi Watanabe

Continuing in the beautiful black and white cinematography that I believe Watanabe will do the entirety of his career with, which I am okay with 100 percent, Poolsideman blends the slow moving, observational elements of 7 Days and injects it with the black humor of And the Mudship Sails Away..., creating a film that seems to work to the strengths of the filmmaker, and is his best work thus far in my mind, though I put 7 Days right alongside it. Let me explain...

Gaku Imamura makes his acting debut as a man working at an inside pool building, in a city north of Tokyo, that seems to avoid all the chaos plaguing the rest of the world. This poolside man, spends every day working here, going through his very set routine, bored out of his mind, slowly crawling through the days. The film really makes a point of showing just how tedious and dull his daily life is. 7 Days uses this same method of the mundane to showcase the realness of life and captures time in the same way that someone like Tsai Ming-liang (Stray Dogs) does so well. It is absolutely slow, yet visually captivating and ultimately rewarding. Here, we really feel for the man's turtle-paced life, desperately wanting to see him break out and move on to better things, but he, like many others, is completely trapped in his own world, though he seems to be completely unaware of how easy it would be to just... leave.

Gaku Imamura gives a haunting performance debut!
The film gets a lot deeper than that, when we see that he never talks to his very, very chatty coworkers who speak a million words a minute on their breaks. He just sits there, like a bump on a log, antisocial, and even though they are at the same small table, somehow, he feels miles away from the company surrounding him. I don't want to delve to deeply on this, as really there isn't much to the film, in terms of things that happen. Again, the days are repeated, with subtle variations on the same repetitions. Another plot point, which I can focus on, is that one fine day another poolside man comes to our bored lead's place of employment, and he is played very hilariously by the director himself, Hirobumi Watanabe (7 Days).

I believe the most memorable parts of Poolsideman are when the two are chatting in their commutes to and from work. Our lead drives, saying nothing as usual, and occasionally lighting up a cigarette, while Hirobumi's character rattles random thoughts off the top of his head, and he is a big manga and anime nerd, providing some of the funniest monologues I've ever heard, including one where he says it is impossible to communicate with younger people, especially One Piece fans. I can't remember the dialogue to a tee, but it was absolutely hilarious. Still, the main character never once speaks.

"I am from the Dragonball generation!"
The choice of no dialogue here has its purpose, though the reasoning here versus Watanabe's previous work, are for two totally different reasons. There is something bubbling under the surface, though what, I don't want to spoil. The character soaks himself in the most awful and disturbing news of the war and terror that is surrounding the world as we speak. It echoes and takes these real moments happening around us in real life, and throws them at you repeatedly throughout here, and is a sad reminder of just how dark our existence as a species is becoming. Again, I don't want to ruin anything, but the final act, and the last scene are really something powerful and will stick with you long after the credits roll.

Yes, Watanabe's adorable grandmother has
 a brief appearance in this film as well.
Poolsideman started up, and I really thought it was just going to be a rehashed 7 Days, just at a pool building setting versus a farm life setting, but as it goes on it morphs into something totally different, and in ways a lot deeper. It is sort of blatant in its political showcasing, but it doesn't really take sides. I mean that the hero has his beliefs, though they are sort of open-ended to an extent, but it just chillingly provides a large barrage of vileness that people seem to have become desensitized to. It's sad, but a reality. This film ended up being far more interesting that I thought it would be, and is a total unseen gem. Such a shame that his works, aside from his debut, are practically nonexistent outside of Japan. Hoping some brave indie label comes along and snatches up Watanabe's works. He really needs to be known, and here's to hoping that just that very thing happens one day.

Written by Josh Parmer

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Cops Vs Thugs (1975)

Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Notable Cast: Bunta Sugawara, Hiroki Matsukata, Tatsuo Umemiya, Shingo Yamashiro, Asao Sano, Akira Shioji, Hideo Murota, Mikio Narita, Takuzo Kawatani, Harumi Sone, Tatsuo Endo, Nobuo Kaneko

“It’s war. Go and get them.”

The 70s were about as prime as it gets for Kinji Fukasaku films. The man essentially could do no wrong. Whether it was his two stints of the Battles Without Honor and Humanity series (the second series called New Battles Without Honor and Humanity is getting a Blu Ray release here in the US in July and everyone and their dog should be very excited) or his various other stand-alone features, pretty much anything he did from this era is gold. This includes Cops Vs Thugs, a film he did in-between entries on the previously noted New Battles series. It was hard not to get my hopes up for this film going into it knowing that not only was it a Fukasaku film from this period, but it starred some of his regulars and was written by Kazuo Kasahara who penned the first four Battles films, and even with those hopes Cops Vs Thugs strikes out as another massively impressive film that dives into the complex humanity of law and crime. It’s a film that is both highly entertaining in an action oriented cops and robbers manner, but it also strikes a very effective chord about the gray areas of morality that being human straddles in a world that’s not nearly as black and white as it is made out to be. The results are another classic from an iconic director that needs a lot more love and a lot more attention.

Friday, May 19, 2017

God of War (2017)

Director: Gordon Chan
Notable Cast: Vincent Zhao, Sammo Hung, Wan Qian, Koide Keisuke, Kurata Yasuaki

When one looked at the sheer amount of talent that was being utilized for God of War, it could almost be scary. Between director Gordon Chan, Sammo Hung, and an impeccably crafted cast anchored by Vincent Zhao, this film should be the epic war film of decade from the Chinese market. While the film occasionally slips into some cheesy territory, God of War does not disappoint as an epic war film and goes a step further by including some impressive moments that I did not expect going into it. God of War is truly massive from its dramatic heartfelt characters to its engaging blend of entertaining popcorn moments to its larger than life battle sequences. This is a film that does not hold back and it’s two hours of pure dynamic and dramatic action entertainment and perhaps the best film Gordon Chan has developed in a decade.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Climber, The (1975)

Director: Pasquale Squitieri
Notable Cast: Joe Dallesandro, Stefania Casini, Benito Artesi, Ferdinando Murolo, Raymond Pellegrin

For a bit of context to this review, I’m hardly an expert when it comes to Italian crime cinema, but I was super excited to jump into The Climber as it came with solid recommendations from fans of the genre. Of course, it also helps when it gets a slick new release from Arrow Video (which includes a new 4K restoration) to get my hopes up. With these expectations, it’s hard not to feel slightly disappointed with the film itself as I sat with the credits rolling. The Climber is hardly a bad film, that is not my opinion at all, and for those looking for exciting action, questionable anti-heroes, and a story that runs the sequence on ‘young criminal with big ambitions’ then this film will certainly hit all the right buttons. However, The Climber is also a film that plays things fairly close to the chest and straight forward, only digging deeper than its plot to deliver a few commentaries. It’s entertaining, sure, but hardly the overlooked classic that so many seem to claim it to be.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Trivisa (2016)

Directors: Frank Hui, Jevons Au, Vicky Wong
Notable Cast: Gordon Lam, Richie Jen, Jordan Chan, Tommy Wong, Elliot Ngok, Stephen Au, Lam Suet, Wan Yeung-ming, Philip Keung, Frankie Ng, Lau Ka-yung, Hung Yan-yan, To Yin-gor, Zhang Kai, Le Zi-long, Thimjapo Chattida, Aoi Ma, Kam Loi-kwan, Huang Kai-sen

Trivisa stirred some pots when it first came out, thanks to its throwback style to older Hong Kong dramatic thrillers, but when it won the Hong Kong Film Award for best picture last year it solidified itself as a near instant classic that is being hailed as a forerunner for a second golden age of Hong Kong cinema. While the domineering force of Mainland Chinese cinema and its powerful focus on spectacle and entertainment makes me hesitant to say that Hong Kong is going to mark itself as a force to be reckoned with yet, it’s easy to see why people would think that when watching Trivisa. This film is good enough to almost convince me that the HK industry is on the brink of something grand too. Particularly because of the young directors involved with the film. While it’s not the action film that most people tend to think about when they think classic Hong Kong film, it’s a throw back film to the era of dramatic gangster thrillers that solidified the careers of John Woo, Ringo Lam, and Johnnie To in the late 80s and early 90s. Quite frankly, it’s a film that deserves to be mentioned with the likes of those iconic names and for those looking for redemption in the modern landscape of Hong Kong cinema then yes, Trivisa just might be the beacon for a movement to do just that.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Brain Damage (1988)

Director: Frank Henenlotter
Notable Cast: Rick Herbst, Gordon MacDonald, Jennifer Lowry, Theo Barnes, Lucille Saint-Peter, John Zacherle (uncredited)

Memory is a tricky thing, particularly when it comes to nostalgia. Often enough, I refer to distorted memories of love or hate for anything artistic from someone’s youth as ‘nostalgia goggles’ and that for one to see a film (or whatever) properly, you need to see through your nostalgia goggles as it really is. This was my intent going into the latest Blu Ray release for the cult horror comedy Brain Damage. I haven’t seen the film since my mid-teens and I had very fond, if not foggy, memories of loving this film, but I didn’t want my nostalgia goggles distorting my review for the site of the film. On one hand, this intent made watching Brain Damage feel refreshing. On the other hand, it was also somewhat disappointing because the film, under a bit more scrutiny, doesn’t quite live up to those feelings I had of it from my youth. Brain Damage is a fun and often entertaining film, spun on its strange concept with some shocking visuals and offbeat humor, but it’s always one that plays things remarkably straight forward. A move that makes it easy to consume as a horror film, for those willing to look past some of its more grotesque gore and occasional shocks, but one that doesn’t resonate nearly as much as it had the potential to.

7 Days (2015)

Director: Hirobumi Watanabe

Cast: Hirobumi Watanabe, Misao Hirayama

After having the unexpected pleasure of discovering Watanabe's debut work, And the Mud Ship Sails Away..., brought to my attention through a box set called New Directors from Japan (Third Window Films), I was wondering what he'd be doing next most out of the others that were featured. Some time passed and thanks to social media, I was able to find some of Watanabe's outlets to discover he had shot and was starring in yet another black and white feature, the serene looking 7 Days. Thanks to the man himself a couple of years later, I have had the honor of seeing this followup.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Eros + Massacre (1969)

Director: Kiju Yoshida
Notable Cast: Mariko Okada, Toshiyuki Hosokawa, Yuko Kusunoki, Toshiko Ii, Dajiro Harada

Almost immediately starting my journey with the director's cut of Eros + Massacre (still have yet to see the theatrical), I was taken aback by the language being projected. It's highly intelligent and offers a plethora of words spoken, and this being the first thing I highlight can tell you a bit about my experience overall. It's sort of highbrow in its thinking, without ever turning its nose up on its philosophies and continuing dialogue as it treads on.

The plot is about a woman and a man solving a murder, in a whodunit sort of procedural, though it sort of made me think of Rashomon towards the end by way of its seemingly endless approaches and interpretations, that juxtaposes two different periods of time. The time of the past, which is set in the 1920s, and now to the man and woman of the 60s, who are trying to piece all of this together.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Blood Splatter: 2017 Horror Vol. 1 [The Windmill, The Devil's Candy, We Go On]

Director: Nick Jongerius
Notable Cast:Charlotte Beaumont, Bart Klever, Patrick Baladi, Ben Batt, Fiona Hampton, Tanroh Ishida, Noah Taylor, Adam Thomas Wright, Kenan Raven
Also Known As: The Windmill Massacre

Ambition can be a great thing. However, in the case of The Windmill, it can also lead to disappointment. The concept behind The Windmill is fun and interesting. While I was lead to believe that it would be, more or less, a modern slasher, this film goes for a slightly more mysterious and supernatural slant for its slasher tropes. It takes its time to build the characters that end up on the broken down Holland tour that are stalked by a disfigured man from the nearby windmill and the use of visions, backstories, and tension is all great in idea. The film uses some nice practical effects as a basis for its kills and there are plenty of things to like about the film…on paper.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Rings (2017)

Director: F. Javier Gutierrez
Notable Cast: Matilda Lutz, Alex Roe, Johnny Galecki, Vincent D’Onofrio, Aimee Teegarden, Bonnie Morgan

It’s no secret that here at Blood Brothers we love The Ring franchises. I even went so far as to write an article about why this series is still relevant late last year before the release of Rings and the Japanese crossover Sadako Vs. Kayoko. Now that Rings has finally gotten a US release, no thanks to the numerous delays and postponements it received, it was an easy decision to say that it was going to get a full review here on the site. Unfortunately, I’m not sure Rings deserves a full review. This third entry into the American Ring series suffers from the ultimate sin: having no potential. In particular, the film feels like it is meant to be a sequel that is not only meant to reboot the franchise, but one that is perfectly content with just rehashing EVERYTHING we’ve seen before. It thinks it’s clever with some of its modern spins and new mysteries to solve, but it’s all been done before in this franchise in one way or another and for fans that have seen all of them, it’s even less inspired.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

Director: James Gunn
Notable Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Michael Rooker, Kurt Russell, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris Sullivan, Sean Gunn, Sylvester Stallone

After the disappointing leap into the mystic and psychedelic realms of Marvel with last year’s uninspired (but still fun) run at Doctor Strange, it is a much needed boost for my moral for this shared cinematic universe to be returning to James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy for Vol. 2. Initial reviews and reports seemed generally favorable, but with my sheer delight in the Ice Pirates-esque humor, heart, and spectacle of the film first film I was ready for whatever this film was going to throw at me. Truthfully, it throws A LOT at the audience too. Not only does this film attempt to rekindle the kind of action, drama, and silliness that made the first one a sleeper hit for Marvel, but it also goes by it in the classic blockbuster sequel approach: more is more. More jokes, more drama, more plots, and more characters. It even adds in more than that. It runs with the psychedelic nature that Doctor Strange used and gives it grounding, being bombastic in its designs and color schemes all the while delivering the fun movie that people want to see. The execution is not quite as efficient as the original Guardians was, but for a sequel that was attempting to find the same balance and figure out why the original one worked so well, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is still a major Marvel success and one that pushes the franchise within the franchise into new territory while still retaining its core.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Marine 5: Battleground, The (2017)

Director: James Nunn
Notable Cast: Mike ‘The Miz’ Mizanin, Anna Van Hooft, Nathan Mitchell, Taylor Rotunda, Heath Miller, Trinity Fatu, Sandy Robson, Tony Skinner, Joe Hennig

It’s been stated numerous times on this site how I feel about WWE Studios. I love what they are doing and where they are going with their set of films. They’re expanding their catalog, while at the same time delivering fun and highly entertaining straight to home video action flicks. Granted, the quality of these flicks does fluctuate drastically between franchises and lone wolf entries, but for those who enjoy low budget action flicks then they at least satiate a kind of B-movie craving. The spine of this development just so happens to be The Marine franchise. Starting as a theatrical film, it quickly moved to the home video release department and it hasn’t looked back since. This series has seen its ups and downs as it goes, scraping bottom with the third entry and The Miz’s first one as the new series lead, but the fifth entry just might be the best one yet. The Marine 5: Battleground is trimmed, fun, and sports a silly blend of action and thriller elements to be the highlight of the franchise. Yes, you read that correctly, the fifth film in a straight to home video action franchise from WWE is the best one yet. Weird, huh?

Monday, May 1, 2017

Donnie Darko (2001)

Director: Richard Kelly
Notable Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Mary McDonnell, Holmes Osborne, Katharine Ross, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Daveigh Chase, James Duval, Drew Barrymore, Patrick Swayze, Noah Wyle

When Donnie Darko first came out in 2001, I was entranced. I was a fifteen year old, genre movie obsessed young man and this film spoke to me like Frank the Bunny did to Donnie. It’s a film that’s artistic, fun, insightful, and was perfectly timed for my generation of blooming cinephiles. It’s dark, but still off beat enough in its presence and well executed that it stuck with me through the last decade and a half. As an adult now, the film might be even better as the layers of its distinctively odd Twilight Zone inspired coming of age tale start to open up with repeated viewings and one can see just how weirdly detailed it is at embracing its premise. Fortunately, I’m not the only one that sees the appeal of its artistic and cult cinema blending as Arrow Video have dropped the quintessential release of the film. Those who were fans of the early Richard Kelly work, those new to the film, or those perhaps willing to overlook the strange Hot Topic powered hype that kick started well after the initial release of the film should definitely take another look at Donnie Darko in this latest release. Not only does it properly showcase the film as the piece of cinematic art it is, but it’s a release to impress those who may not even like it .

The Long Excuse (2016)

Director: Miwa Nishikawa
Notable Cast: Masahiro Motoki, Pistol Takehara, Kenshin Fujita, Tamaki Shiratori, Eri Fukatsu, Keiko Horiuchi, Haru Kuroki, Maho Yamada, Sosuke Ikematsu

Dreams for Sale, Miwa Nishikawa's previous directorial, is in the top echelon of my favorite films ever made. I think it is a true masterpiece, in every sense of the word, and an amazing character study on what humans do in desperate situations for money. I could go on for hours talking of that film. Knowing just how highly I praise that piece of work, I believe Miwa may have just put herself out there with an even better slice of cinema with The Long Excuse.

Sachio Kinugasa (Masahiro Motoki | Departures) is an award-winning novelist who has recently lost his wife (Eri Fukatsu | Villain) to a tragic accident that occurred when she and her friend, Yuki, were aboard a bus that slid off road into an icy river. As tragic as this all is and the damage it does to the numerous other peoples' lives affected by this devastating event, our lead Sachio seems to be relatively unaffected whatsoever. He is thrust into the spotlight, which he is used to being in, and he gives it his all to act sad, but the tears never come.