Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Operation Red Sea (2018)

Director: Dante Lam
Notable Cast: Zhang Yi, Du Jiang, Hai Qing, Wang Yutian, Jiang Luxia, Huang Jingyu, Yin Fang, Henry Prince Mak, Guo Jiahao, Michelle Bai, Zhang Hanyu, Wang Qiang, Simon Yam

Dante Lam has risen to be one of the most recognizable forces in Chinese cinema. What makes this so impressive is that he has done it by making strong films in a variety of different genres. Cheesy Michael Bay influenced action, dramatic focused sports films, or the classic Hong Kong action thrillers. You name it. For his latest, Lam continues on where he left off with his worldwide hit, Operation Mekong, and fully embraces the moment to produce a full on military action thriller. Operation Red Sea, based on a true event, is a chaotic and action-packed ride into the events surrounding a vicious mission for a small team of Chinese Navy operatives as they try to evacuate some Chinese civilians out of an erupting war zone. The film is a unique blend of the Hollywood style military action drama with hints of Dante Lam’s own love of the Hong Kong style that is almost problematically focused on its plot and narrative sprint. Still, Lam delivers on his promises with action, tension, and a remarkably diverse set of sequences that will have action fans happy with the results.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Hellraiser: Judgment (2018)

Director: Gary J. Tunnicliffe
Notable Cast: Damon Carney, Randy Wayne, Alexandra Harris, Heather Langenkamp, Paul T. Taylor, Gary J. Tunnicliffe, John Gulager, Mike Jay Regan, Helena Grace Donald

The Hellraiser franchise has seen its ups and downs and, depending to who you talk to, has been on a downward spiral for decades. Personally, the franchise has always held a special spot for me as a genre fan, but even then, it’s easy to see its faults and some of them are unforgivable. When the franchise hit a new low with the last entry, Hellraiser: Revelations, which existed solely for the purpose of rights renewal for Dimension Films, it seemed as though the Hellraiser franchise’s days were numbered. When Hellraiser: Judgment was announced, the sour taste of Revelations remained, and then when the film met substantial delays - to the point where it seemed questionable that the film would ever get a release - it didn’t help out matters or initial opinions for fans. However, here we are in 2018 and Hellraiser: Judgment finally gets a release and, comparatively speaking to the last handful of entries, it’s not too bad. The film uses the Hellraiser formula, but gives it a slightly more updated tone and it tries to maximize its lower budget to give fans what they want to varying degrees of success. Judgment is not one of the best of the franchise, but it’s hardly one of the worst either.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Day of the Dead: Bloodline (2018)

Director: Hector Hernandez Vicens
Notable Cast: Sophie Skelton, Johnathon Schaech, Jeff Gum, Marcus Vanco, Mark Rhino Smith, Cristina Serafini, Lillian Blankenship

Another day, another remake of a classic and beloved horror film. Yes, despite the title having a colon and a pointless subtitle, Day of the Dead: Bloodline is not a sequel but a second remake attempt of George A. Romero’s flawed masterpiece. Second remake you ask? Perhaps everyone has put it out of their mind, but the horrid first remake attempt was released in 2008, sans a colon and subtitle. Being a fan of the original, I felt personally assaulted by the 2008 remake and was not keen on revisiting another attempt to cash in on past glories. However, when Lionsgate unleashed the trailer, I became more interested as, like trailers are supposed to do, it made the film look at least decent. Also, what grabbed me is that this version also attempted to follow the basic plot of the original film (military and scientists in a bunker) unlike the 2008 remake which basically takes the Day of the Dead title and makes an unrelated zombie film. However, like I should have expected, my hopes are dashed as even though it follows the plot of the original better, it somehow eclipses even the abyss of disappointment left by the 2008 version.

Friday, February 23, 2018

The Sower (2016)

Director: Takeuchi Yosuke

Notable Cast: Kentaro Kishi, Sozuno Takenaka, Tomumitso Adachi

At the tail end of 2017, a man on social media sent me a copy of his film to watch and as I was still looking for potential candidates for my best Japanese films of the year, I gladly accepted and gave this mysterious movie, The Sower, a blind watch and what a rewarding experience it turned out to be.

One of the most heartwrenching films of the last decade also proves to be one of the finest directorial debuts I've ever witnessed. Without drawing too into comparative directors or films of the nature, I can say in perhaps one of the greatest compliments I could give, there is another Lee Chang-dong out there and his name is Takeuchi Yosuke. That is not to say they are the sames as they by no means are but another master of raw human drama had surfaced and all eyes should be set on him.

Takeuchi Yosuke takes inspiration from the famous paintings of Jean-Francois Millet and Vincent Van Gogh sharing the same title as the film, The Sower focuses on the downfall of a close knit family when a tragedy strikes after the children's estranged uncle Mitsuo shows up one day. Without spoiling, what ensues is one the most beautiful and pure cases of naturalistic acting I've seen displayed. The acting comes to appear so real, it felt like a documentary at times. Not a single misfire nor mistep throughout the entire film.

The film is small and quiet but it paints masterfully a portrait of family and what it means to be one and the ups and downs that one can bring. An unfortunate event occurs that propels everything into motion, but its examination of trust and the effects said singular event can cause is something to behold. It is deeply sad but equally riveting and beautiful. I haven't felt this equally upset and happy at a film in equal measure as such in quite some time.

I think it goes without doubt that I find The Sower to be a truly rare cinematic experience and one that all film fans should seek out. I really am hoping that some boutique label out there gets ahold of this one and gives it a proper release. Belongs in the upper echelon of great human dramas. A genune portait of humanity, the dark and light side of it all.

Written by Josh Parmer

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Detective K: Secret of the Living Dead (2018)

Director: Kim Sok-yun
Notable Cast: Kim Myung-min, Oh Dal-su, Kim Ji-won, Kim Bum, Park Geun-hyung, Woo Hyun, Yoon Sang-hoon, Jang Yul, Kim Jung-hwa, Lee Min-ki, Ahn Nae-sang, Nam Seong-jin

There was a large part of me that didn’t even want to see Detective K: Secret of the Living Dead yet. I’ve been curious about the franchise for quite some time, thanks to my love of eclectic and historically set detective series like Sherlock Holmes or Detective Dee, but the first two films in the series have yet to get a US release and my budgets have not yet allowed me to import the first two films. That didn’t seem to stop Asian film distributor Well Go USA from throwing down some cash to get the third film a US release - and a theatrical one at that. In the end though, curiosity always kills the Matt, and I leapt into this film without seeing the first two...and I had a lot of fun. Granted, the film is obviously a film meant to appeal to a more mainstream audience with its bouncing humor and entertaining characters so don’t expect hard hitting thematic material, but for what it is the film is quite humorous and highly entertaining. Detective K: Secret of the Living Dead contains boundless energy and charm to spare. What more could someone want from a film like this?

Monday, February 19, 2018

Scalpel (1977)

Director: John Grissmer
Notable Cast: Robert Lansing, Judith Chapman, Arlen Dean Snyder, David Scarroll, Sandy Martin

Going into the latest Blu Ray release of Scalpel, there was only one expectation that I had in mind: that it was directed by the same man, John Grissmer, that gave us the highly entertaining slasher film Blood Rage (which also received a slick Blu Ray from Arrow Video.) With a name like Scalpel and knowing his work on Blood Rage, my expectations for the film were to have a highly entertaining and tongue in cheek film. That is not at all what style is used with Scalpel. Instead, the film is a subtle, atmosphere soaked Southern Gothic film meant to be more unnerving and morally vague than anything else. Still, the film is a cult cinema find for those not familiar with it or love their 70s style atmospheric fringe horror. Not to mention, the release itself is packed with plenty of features that cinephiles will love to dissect.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Black Panther (2018)

Director: Ryan Coogler
Notable Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis

As the Marvel machine continues to march on, there were plenty of questions to whether a) it could survive a saturation of the market as superhero films became blockbuster tentpoles in damn near every quarter and dominate the summer release schedule and b) whether the continuation of these entries could maintain the high quality of mainstream appeal. As the hype around Black Panther continued to skyrocket in the weeks leading to its release, it would seem that the answers to both of these questions would be answered. Not only is Black Panther one of the biggest releases of Marvel’s slate according to box office figures (with a February release and not a blockbuster summer release date nonetheless), but it’s one of their highest rated films from both fans and critics. The film is bold by Marvel standards, adapting the formula of another massive franchise to help differentiate itself from the normal Marvel machine, and its balance between action/comic book mainstream appeal and its social/political commentary is damn near perfect. Not only is Black Panther a film to dismiss the initial questions posed, but it’s handedly one of Marvel’s best.

Zigeunerweisen (1980)

Director: Seijun Suzuki
Notable Cast: Harada Yoshio, Fujita Toshiya, Otani Naoko, Okusu Michiyo, Maro Akaji

Zigeunerweisen is quite the enigmatic film. It's simple, yet incredibly complex, defying any concise description you try to pin on it. It is surreal, but also mundane; it is slow, but endlessly fascinating. These ambiguous feelings are the best way to describe the film, as odd as that may sound; Zigeunerweisen is the epitome of the film you have to see to understand what it is. Even then it refuses to completely reveal itself, but like any piece of art, this is a large part of its charm. Zigeunerweisen is both a departure from previous Seijun Suzuki films and the culmination of what had come before. After his firing from Nikkatsu in 1967, Suzuki spent many years blacklisted and floundering, and it was Zigeunerweisen that ended this period. It was nominated for nine Japanese Academy Awards and won four, and it began the critical re-assessment of the iconoclast director.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Monkey King 3 (2018)

Director: Soi Cheang
Notable Cast: Aaron Kwok, William Feng, Zanilia Zhao, Xiao Shen-Yang, Him Lo, Lin Chi-Ling, Gigi Leung, Tamia Liu Tao, Kingdom Yuen, Cecilia So, Sire Ma Choi, Pan Bin-Long

For starters, it’s really hard to get excited for another Monkey King/Journey to the West film. The various films and franchises that have had bigger than life budgets and huge names attached to them to come out of China recently is starting to wear thin. Granted, the quality of the films are not necessarily waning, thanks to the clever reinterpretation of the character with Wu Kong or the continued fun that is brought to the table with Stephen Chow’s interpretation, but the saturation of the market doesn’t necessarily spell great things. Still, these films do some serious box office cash in the Chinese film market. With the upcoming Chinese New Year, that only means we are getting at least one more and it happens to be the third film is the box office busting Monkey King franchise. For a bit of context, this series has left me with a lot of mixed emotions. The first film was a CGI train wreck that had no idea how to properly use the talents in it, but the second film took a very different tone and went much darker and used a borderline horror approach to take a few steps in the right direction. One could only hope that The Monkey King 3 would continue that uphill sprint and improve on the material that came before it.

Did The Monkey King 3 accomplish this? Well, that’s a tricky question to answer.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Inoperable (2018)

Director: Christopher Lawrence Chapman
Notable Cast: Danielle Harris, Katie Keene, Jeff Denton, Chris Hahn, Isabella Sofia Menna, Cher Hubsher, Crystal Cordero, Gene Michael, Michelle Marin

One of the more fascinating aspects of the horror genre is that, beyond any great kind of execution or originality, if a horror film has a sense of style and dedication to it than it can overcome a lot of obstacles and find its cult audience. Inoperable is an example of such. On the surface, Inoperable is another tricky psychologically powered horror film where our untrustworthy protagonist is thrown into a mysterious position and must unravel some kind of mystery to find her way out, but even with its low budget constraints and occasionally spotty execution, the film has a fun sense of style and entertaining approach that makes up for a lot of its faults. It may not be a horror film that will be a cornerstone of the 2018 slate, but it’s one that will find its cult audience in the end.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Pursuit of Vengeance (1977)


Director: Chor Yuen
Notable Cast: Ti Lung, Lau Wing, Lo Lieh, Paul Chang Chung, Derek Yee, Shih Szu, Wai Wang, Ku Kuan-Chung, Cheng Miu

The Magic Blade is a Shaw Brothers film that has accrued quite the devoted audience for its somewhat eclectic and energetic nature as a film. Deservedly so for the sure entertainment of its absurdity. In fact, there’s an entire article dedicated to why The Magic Blade works in its insanity on this site.  However, it’s not necessarily a well-known fact that the film had a sequel. This film is Pursuit of Vengeance and once again it sees Ti Lung’s unshaven, poncho-wearin’ wandering badass Fu Hong-Xue become involved in a complex conspiracy of the martial arts world where loyalties are thin and the body count is high. For a film meant to follow up The Magic Blade, I’m not sure I would expect anything more than wuxia insanity from this film.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Inside (2018)

Director: Miguel Angel Vivas
Notable Cast: Rachel Nichols, Laura Harring, Andrea Tivadar, Craig Stevenson, Maarten Swaan, Stany Coppet, Ben Temple, David Chevers, Richard Felix

The original 2007 French horror film À l'intérieur, released in the US as Inside, is one of the greatest horror films of the last decade. I’ll say as straight forward as possible in that manner. It’s a cornerstone of the brief and impactful extreme French horror movement of the time period and it’s one that will definitely carry on as a memorable and vicious example of just what that movement gave the genre. When it was originally announced that Inside would be getting a westernized remake, it wasn’t shocking but it also didn’t inspire a lot of faith. One thing about the original is that it’s very much rooted in a European style of horror and that may not be a style that can be replicated to appeal to western audiences. Still, hope was there when it was announced that it would also be a Spanish co-production and that one of the writers and directors of the original REC would be handling the writing and that the director of the intense, toe-curling experience known as Kidnapped would be helming it.

However, the mixture of styles between the Americanized concept and the Spanish use of atmosphere don’t always find the right balance. On one hand, Inside is a much stronger film than expected thanks to the direction and performances, but on the other hand it’s still too close to the original to not be constantly compared to it. When it’s a film as iconic and impressive as À l'intérieur, that’s a problem.

Black Wake (2018)

Director: Jeremiah Kipp
Notable Cast: Nana Gouvea, Tom Sizemore, Eric Roberts, Jonny Beauchamp, Vincent Pastore, Chuck Zito, Jeremy Fernandez, J.W. Cortes, Brett Azar, Rich Graff, David Gere, Kelly Rae LeGault

Often times, it’s the low budget films that present the biggest surprises for cinephiles willing to look beyond budgetary constraints. This is where Black Wake falls in the grander scheme of things. On the surface, the film suffers from its budgetary limits often trying to push them in ambitious ways and that creates a rift between the concept and the execution. However, if one is willing to look beyond some of the sporadic performances and spotty narrative shifts, Black Wake offers an intriguing blend of genres that lingered with me long after the credits rolled. For this story, the film attempts to blend the traditional zombie apocalypse with a science fiction/found footage approach and then enrobes the entire thing with a Lovecraftian sense of dread and otherworldliness that gives it a fun concept. The results might ultimately be mixed, but the dynamics are there and heartfelt conceptual approach carries it through many of its pitfalls.

Friday, February 9, 2018

RV: Resurrected Victims (2017)

Director: Kwak Kyung-taek
Notable Cast: Kim Rae-won, Kim Hae-sook, Sung Dong-il, Jang Young-nam, Jeon Hye-jin, Lee Ji-won, Baek Bong-ki

In the last few years, the South Korean market has started exporting some pretty intriguing genres. Horror, in particular, made quite the splash just two years ago. The Wailing and Train to Busan erupted from South Korea to take the international world by storm. When the first trailer for RV: Resurrected Victims slyly slipped online from Well Go USA, the same company that released the previous two films in the US, it looked like it would be a third film to add to the critical success of the other films mentioned. In fact, the tone and concept almost seemed to be a combination of the two films as it focused on resurrected dead people and what looked like a substantial amount of existential dread. These were the expectations that I proudly strapped on for my journey into the film. These were also the expectations that sabotaged most – if not all – my pleasure in watching RV: Resurrected Victims. Instead of a thorough examination of the social and cultural impacts of its concepts, victims returning from the dead to seek vengeance on those who killed them and were not punished by justice, RV stumbles through and ends up being a cliché riddled detective procedural that embraces the South Korean thriller formula with a ‘safe is better than sorry’ attitude rather than shooting for the stars. Compared to the heights of execution that made The Wailing and Train to Busan immediate critic and fan favorites, RV just rings hollow and hardly can even be considered horror to make those comparisons.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The Cloverfield Paradox (2018)

Director: Julius Onah
Notable Cast: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Oyelowo, Daniel Bruhl, John Ortiz, Chris O’Dowd, Aksel Hennie, Zhang Ziyi, Elizabeth Debicki, Roger Davies, Clover Nee, Donal Logue

One of the aspects of film consumption that has changed drastically in the last handful of years is the distribution of information. With the use of the internet, studios have been required to drastically change how they handle the release of information for films - either keeping it a heavily guarded secret or completely blitzing all channels to maximize social consciousness. This is what makes the Cloverfield films so fascinating. The first film used its mystery as a wonderful marketing campaign which lead to it being a huge box office success. The second film, 10 Cloverfield Lane, used mystery and a short marketing window to surprise audiences who had no idea a loosely threaded sequel was even being made. The third film, The Cloverfield Paradox and the focus of this review, went to a strange extreme. It used its own rumored existence to sucker punch fans by having its trailer premiere during the Superbowl before being released immediately to the masses on Netflix after the game. It was a brilliant marketing scheme that immediately drew attention from fans and curious cinephiles in droves to the streaming giant to find out just what the next Cloverfield film had in store for them.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Kill Order (2018)

Director: James Mark
Notable Cast: Chris Mark, Daniel Park, Denis Akiyama, Melee Hutton, Jessica Clement, Jason Gosbee, Reuben Langdon, Alain Moussi

For years, Blood Brothers has been standing behind the champions of direct-to-home video film making and, in particular, those who are making an artform out of the action films that are overlooked for theatrical releases and end up lost in the shuffle of the numerous films released each Tuesday. Directors like Isaac Florentine, Roel Reine, and James Nunn are all making waves in the genre as true vulgar auteurs. Now, you can add James Mark to that growing list.

James Mark’s debut film, Kill Order, is a modern low budget action classic. In its simplicity, the film shows its true colors and they brilliant and bold as a throwback action film brimming with martial arts and broad stroke gimmicks. It uses the tropes of the genre, spins them with a slightly science fiction spin, and then just delivers the thrills and spills that one wants from an action film without the spectacle of budget that too often gets in the way of core foundational strengths. It’s not a perfect film, but the better aspects of it are so strong and charming that they easily overcome the places where it stutters. Enough so that action fans are going to find one of the true gems of the genre this year.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

The Witches (1967)

Directors: Luchino Visconti, Mauro Bolognini, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Franco Rossi, Vittorio De Sica
Notable Cast: Silvana Mangano, Annie Girardot, Alberto Sordi, Toto, Ninetto Davoli, Clint Eastwood

Outside of being an anthology centered around witches, I tried to go into The Witches as blind as possible. The Arrow Academy label is known for finding some truly under the radar cinema classics for release and their recent slate had been ambitious and robust. With that in mind, there are certainly expectations that go with a release like this one. The Witches presents an intriguing film watch. As an anthology film, it’s often muddled and perplexing with a massive array of styles and approaches to the five stories that it covers. Yet, it’s perhaps one of the more fascinating slices of Italian cultural life from the late 60s that I’ve seen represented on celluloid. It’s a film so inherently rooted in its time period that it’s hard to necessarily pull it out for its commentaries and themes beyond that, but it’s one that within its context is still a fascinating concept – even if the execution is not nearly as dynamic as it might have been. For cinephiles, The Witches is one of those unique films to add to one’s collection if the time period interests them, but it’s not a film that the more casual film fan will necessarily buy into. It’s a curiosity piece more than anything.

Kickboxer: Retaliation (2018)

Director: Dimitri Logothetis
Notable Cast: Alain Moussi, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Hafbor Bjornsson, Christopher Lambert, Sara Malakul Lane, Mike Tyson, Ronaldinho Gaucho, Wanderlei Silva, Fabricio Werdum

When the Kickboxer remake, titled Kickboxer: Vengeance, was getting a release in the US, it was already announced that the sequel was in production and that it would actually be part of a trilogy. These days it's hard enough to get a low budget action film funded, even with mainstream names like Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dave Bautista, let alone an entire trilogy, so there were a lot of expectations that came in tow with the first film. Of course, Vengeance was a decent little actioner with enough charm to pull off its sillier scripting, but it was hardly a film that reinvented the wheel. Fun and entertaining, but hardly more than that. It’s sequel, Kickboxer: Retaliation and the focus of this review, is an even stranger beast. While its predecessor struggled with finding the balance between being a serious film and the cheesiness of being an entertaining modern B-action flick, Retaliation has none of these issues. Instead, it embraces its outlandish concepts with an obvious tongue-in-cheek approach that works to make it far more entertaining as it abandons most of its more serious moments. This can be problematic as Retaliation attempts to craft a much larger world and story, but when you’re having this much fun with how outrageous a film is...can it really be considered all that bad?

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Take Aim at the Police Van (1960)


Director: Seijun Suzuki
Notable Cast: Michitaro Mizushima, Mari Shiraki, Misako Watanabe, Shinsuke Ashida, Shoichi Ozawa, Ryohei Uchida, Toru Abe, Tatsuo Matsushita, Saburo Hiromatsu, Reiko Arai

Seijun Suzuki is one of those directors who was able to add a lot of depth to what should have been a straight forward film. Considering his status, particularly in his early career as a gun for hire for the Nikkatsu studio, it’s in a lot of his early films that one can see his strengths as a director in more subtle ways. One of those films is the occasionally overlooked Take Aim at the Police Van. While having a release through the Criterion Collection in the US certainly makes a statement to the sly artistic merits of the film, Take Aim at the Police Van is a film that is not nearly as upfront with its style as Suzuki would be known for by the end of his innovative career. The thoughtfulness of design is there though and even as the film goes through the motions with its noir meets yakuza film tone, there’s a lot of intriguing layering that cinephiles will definitely appreciate.