Saturday, March 31, 2018

Cold Hell (2018)

Director: Stefan Ruzowitzky
Notable Cast: Violetta Schurawlow, Tobias Moretti, Robert Palfrader, Sammy Sheik, Friedrich vn Thun, Murathan Muslu, Verena Altenberger

Shudder has been grabbing some unique films as of late, proving that they are a force to be reckoned with when it comes to genre streaming and exclusive releases. The German film Cold Hell, released under a variety of other generic titles, is one of their most recent surprises. With almost no expectations going in, Cold Hell comes ripping out as a stylish blend of various genres and punches its viewer in the face with a unique and layered cinematic experience. It’s executed on an impressive level and the blending of genres is naturalistic and effective. Oh, and it also features one of the greatest heroines to root for that I can think of in modern horror.

Tomb Raider (2018)

Director: Roar Uthaug
Notable Cast: Alicia Vikander, Daniel Wu, Walton Goggins, Dominic West, Kristin Scott Thomas, Derek Jacobi, Nick Frost, Jaime Winstone

As a long, long time fan of the game franchise, when Tomb Raider was rebooted for a much more serious, brutal, and darker game, it was a refreshing change of modernization for the games and it embraced a cinematic and emotional quality that could be translated to film. The original Tomb Raider films are silly fun, hardly anything worth noting outside of that, but a film version of this latest game reboot should be a fairly easy adaption, right? Judging by this latest attempt at jump starting a blockbuster franchise, it’s not. Tomb Raider is a rather lifeless spin on the classic character and series, failing to resonate on any level beyond mild curiosity, and simply goes through the motions of what some mid-level corporate entity thinks an audience wants from a watered-down adaption of Tomb Raider. There are moments where the film shows its potential, but most of those are hammered into the trailers and the film fails to utilizes some of its more interesting aspects. It’s not a bad film, not on the surface, but it’s a film that’s so bland that it will easily be forgotten within weeks or months past its initial release.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Empty Hands (2017)

Director: Chapman To

Notable Cast: Stephy Tang, Chapman To, Yasuaki Kurata, DaDa Chan, Stephen Au


One of my absolute favorite guys in Hong Kong, funny man (typically) Chapman To, continues his directing career with his sophomore effort, the karate focused arthouse drama, The Empty Hands, an uneven but ultimately satisfactory film about a downtrodden woman who rises back to strength through her martial arts outlet after her father (Kurata) passes away and an estranged man (To) shows up to challenge her in ways she never expected.

Right off the bat, to shine on the positives, The Empty Hands has a lot going for it: martial arts, sleek cinematography, a very unique sounding score throughout, and a very strong performance by Stephy Tang, who will win over some naysayers after this one. I really enjoyed (most) of Chapman To's direction and choices, but where the film shines more or less it also fails in the same departments: overstated symbolic shots, melodramtic orchestral swellng to sell emotionl beats and a few cartoonish acting bits throw this one off-kilter too many times to count.

It is sort of mind boggling to see the film show such skill in craft while simultaneously being jarred by some amateurish editing and fight choreography. In the same fight scene, I'd be wowed one moment and shake my head in embarrasment the next. It was a really odd mixed feeling felt througout the entirety of its short ninety minute runtime. I felt is if I knew as much about the characters as I did as little as well. Again, it's good, but so up and down with its quality.

Another great performance is by Yasuaki Kurata, who is able to deliver his entire performance in Japanese, as he is Japanese and the character of Stephy's is of Japanese ethnicity in the movie. The two shared some truly quiet and beautiful moments together. I also really enjoyed the element of karate and how serious the film took its philosophy, although a much better film on such a topic comes to mind, but that is for another discussion.

Ultimately The Empty Hands left me feeling mixed as I repeat myself here, but I did enjoy my time with the film. I think it could have used a little better craft and the screenplay could've been fleshed out to a stronger degree, but where it stands, the movie falls a little more than it stands and that's a real shame. I am still quite excited to see where To goes next as a filmmaker, as he most certainly has the potential to be great.

Written by Josh Parmer

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Underground (1995)

Director: Emir Kusturica

Notable Cast: Predrag "Miki" Manojlović, Lazar "Laza" Ristovski, Mirjana Joković

Winner of the Palme d'Or in 1995 at the Cannes Film Festival in France, Emir Kusturica's three hour historical satire dark comedy blew up to epic proportions in its popularity among the festival circuits at the time.  From what I understand though, there wasn't much English language coverage of the film for quite some time. Regardless, since the boom of intense film restoration for fancy quality discs for home media came about, Underground has went before the eyes of many and worked its way into the hearts of most. While I appreciate the large caliber of gags and insane camera work, I unfortunately didn't find much to latch onto whilst spending my time underground.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Bad Poetry Tokyo (2017)

 Director: Anshul Chauhan
Notable Cast: Shuna Iijima, Takashi Kawaguchi, Orson Mochizuki


Bad Poetry Tokyo is a somewhat obscure project that only came to my attention when a Facebook page suggestion popped up in my feed, saying that a friend has liked 'Bad Poetry Tokyo'. With virtually no interest I clicked out of boredom and found myself suddenly very curious about the film due to the constant updates and intriguing behind the scenes stills leading up to its premiere at another festival. When I realized I would be covering the film, I found my excitement peaking. What followed was a 2 hour masterfully shot and executed mental beatdown at the hands of first time director, Anshul Chauhan. With only a handful of short works under his belt, I was completely taken aback by the sheer craft and thought put on display here.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Neomanila (2017)

Director: Mikhail Red
Notable Cast: Eula Valdez, Timothy Castillo, Rocky Salumbides, Jess Mendoza


Being only his third feature, with a ripe 25 years of life under his belt, Mikhail Red is quickly making his name as one of the hottest Asian filmmakers to look out for, particularly with his previous work, Birdshot, being selected as The Philippines entry to last year's Oscar's Foreign Language competition. Young, yes, but there is no doubt that Red is a cinematic force to be reckoned with, and there is no question in my mind that if Neomanila is presented to the right set of eyeballs, it is bound to become an international hit. Going toe-to-toe with the giant industry known for cranking out the best modern thrillers, South Korea, Red and his crew crafts one of the finest thrillers to emerge out of Asia in many years.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Ichi the Killer (2001)

Director: Takashi Miike
Notable Cast: Tadanobu Asano, Nao Omori, Shinya Tsukamoto, Alien Sun, Susumu Terajima, Shun Sugata, Toru Tezuka, Yoshiki Arizono, Kiyohiko Shibukawa

Takashi Miike is the kind of creative force in cinema that pushes his audience into new levels. Whether it’s through his abrasive action thrillers, his intense angle on horror, or even his odd work in other genres like children’s films, musicals, and adaptations of other intellectual properties, he never shies away from something that may not sit well with audiences. Sometimes, this renegade approach to style can be problematic for some viewers. In regards to the focus of this review, it’s this ‘take no prisoners’ approach that makes a film like Ichi the Killer an immediate cult classic. Finally getting its 4K restored release on Blu Ray in the US, Ichi the Killer is one of those films that I will always love and appreciate for its insanity, even if the film is - generally speaking - very hard to say that I enjoy. It’s not a film meant to be enjoyed in the classical sense of the word, but it’s a film that takes its relentlessly bat-shit approach to artistic levels and delivers on many of the promises it makes with its dark and outlandish style. Ichi the Killer, for all intents and purposes, is the perfect cult classic.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

種をまく人 (2016)

Director: Takeuchi Yosuke

Notable Cast: Kentaro Kishi, Sozuno Takenaka, Tomumitso Adachi


私がここ10年見た中で一番胸がえぐられるような映画であり、同時に監督としてのデビュー作品の中で最高レベルの映画の一つだった。比較できるような他の監督や自然についての映画は別として、これは私にとっては一番の褒め言葉だが、この世にはイ・チャンドン監督のような人物がもう一人いて、彼の名前は竹内洋介だ。 これは彼らが同じであるという意味では全くないが、彼は真のヒューマンドラマの新たな達人として姿を現し、大衆から注目を浴びるべき人物だ。



どこかのインディーズレーベルがこの作品を見つけて正当なリリースをすることを本当に願っている。素晴らしいヒューマンドラマの中の上位にふさわしい作品。人間の影も光も全て、ありのままに描いた作品である。(翻訳 山口彩花)

Originally Written by
Josh Parmer

Translation by
Yamaguchi Ayaka

The Strangers: Prey at Night (2018)

Director: Johannes Roberts
Notable Cast: Christina Hendricks, Martin Henderson, Bailee Madison, Lewis Pullman, Emma Bellomy, Damian Maffei, Lea Enslin

The first The Strangers film has become something of a modern horror icon film. Its heavy, nihilistic, stripped down, gritty, and realistic approach to the home invasion flick has lasted the test of time, solidifying the film as a cult classic. Ten years later, the sequel seems to be a bit too little too late in concept because, while The Strangers remains a cult film, it’s not one that remains in the mainstream consciousness. Still, being that the film is directed by Johannes Roberts (the gentleman that gave us the suffocating direction for 47 Meters Down) and seemed to sport a very different look, I was intrigued. Even with tempered expectations, it’s easy to see why many critics gave it poor reviews. However, I am going to stand on the other side of this see-saw with my opinion. I had a damn blast with The Strangers: Prey at Night. Sure, the film has a mediocre to terrible script, but Johannes and entire cast/crew seem to be having the time of their life making an old school slasher. For that, I will handedly admit that I sincerely enjoyed the hell out of Prey at Night.

Have a Nice Day (2017)

Director: Liu Jian
Featuring the Voices of: Yang Siming, Cao Kou, Ma Xiaofeng, Zhu Changlong, Cao Kai, Zheng Yi

In 2010 director / writer / animator Liu Jian become the first filmmaker to create and unleash an animated feature from China upon the world, according to the internet. What resulted was a very dark debut feature film with a sharp social commentary and a bleak and unique animation style, Piercing I. While turning some heads during its initial festival run, both the film and its helmer, Liu Jian fell into an obscurity of sorts.

Seven (eight for U.S citizens) years later Liu returns with the highly anticipated follow-up animated feature, Have a Nice Day, a less dialogue heavy, more visually driven visceral experience that paints a similiar picture to its predecessor, this time his world inhabited by more vivid characters and a bit more budget and technical prowess resulting in a film that while a ride from start to finish, feels a little too familiar for its own good.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Gintama (2018)

Director: Yuichi Fukuda
Notable Cast: Shun Oguri, Masaki Suda, Kanna Hashimoto, Yuya Yagira, Hirofumi Arai, Ryo Yoshizawa, Akari Hayami, Tsuyoshi Muro, Masami Nagasawa, Masaki Okada

With Gintama, by the time the end credits rolled, I sincerely felt out of my element. There are a variety of reasons for this, but even within the first ten minutes of this cartoonish and comedic genre bending adaption of the popular manga/anime, Gintama makes it very clear that this is a film for fans of the style and the original releases and everyone else is just shit out of luck. Unfortunately, I’m part of the group that includes everyone else. I’m only educated on the rough elements surrounding anime and don’t actively dig into the genre. Gintama is a film dedicated to the style, tones, and general feeling for fans of the anime/manga. It’s two hours of outlandish slapstick style and randomized humor, impressive amounts of yelling, and a layered and often cartoonish sense of style that smashes together chanbara, science fiction, comedy, and action all into one genre. While I spent the entirety of the film in a state of perplexing confusion, it would seem that Gintama is made solely for the fans and rest are left on their own.

Tourism (2018)

Director: Daisuke Miyazaki

Notable Cast: Nina Endo, Sumire, Takayuki Yanagi

Last year Mr. Miyazaki, Daisuke that is, suprised me with his Japan Cuts selected film, Yamato (California), a film I went into completely blind and walked out of with his name on my radar of fresh talent to keep an eye on. In less than a year after seeing that lovely work, I'm honored to receive a chance to see his follow-up joint, Tourism, a carefree and chill travelogue video that breezes by in a quick 70 minutes as our two leading ladies keep us entertained on our brief but very memorable journey.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Puppet Master: Axis Termination (2018)

Director: Charles Band
Notable Cast: Paul Logan, Jean Louise O’Sullivan, Tania Fox, Lilou Vos, Kyle Devero, Tonya Kay, Kevin Scott Allen, Rob Vardaro, Nick Vernon, Alynxia America

It is hard to believe that Charles Band’s Puppet Master Franchise has made it to Part 11 (not including the spin-off tie-in flick Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys). This means it is officially the longest running horror franchise of all time… that is if you don’t count the Friday the 13th spin-off film Freddy vs. Jason and the Friday the 13th remake as well as the dreaded Witchcraft series which is more softcore porn than horror. Is the Puppet Master franchise worthy of such a coveted record? That would be a big HELL NO from me. Sure, the franchise was fun the beginning, but it has been mostly downhill since Part 5 with it hitting rock bottom with the clip-show insult eighth entry hiding under the title Puppet Master: The Legacy. It has been an ever slow uphill battle from that tar pit since. Hell, even my last review for Puppet Master X was positively negative, if that makes any sense. It was still bad, but it was a step in the right direction of trying desperately to grasp any of the old nostalgic fun of the Full Moon brand of yesteryear. Sadly, the same cannot be said about Puppet Master: Axis Termination, the supposed end to the “axis” story arc that began but the ninth film, as this is easily the worst since the… shutter… clip show entry.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Piercing I (2010)

Director: Liu Jian

Featuring the Voices of: Liu Jian, He Liebo, Yang Siming, Zhang Yu, Shao Min

Being dubbed as China's first foray into animation for a feature film, naturally director Liu Jian should have immediately drawn in quite the curious crowd with his directorial debut, but I never recall hearing anything of this film, though that could solely have been me living in the shadows, but I digress. Regardless, the debut at hand is the 2010 drama, Piercing I, a bleak and harrowing tale of a corrupt youth being drawn into the cesspool of a shady businessman, though I use that professional term lightly, and an equally corrupt cop as they all do whatever slimy deed they must for the almighty root of all evil, money.

The Ritual (2018)

Director: David Bruckner
Notable Cast: Rafe Spall, Arsher Ali, Robert James-Collier, Sam Troughton, Kerri McLean, Maria Erwolter, Paul Reid, Francesca Mula, Jacob James Beswick

One of the intriguing aspects of the Netflix model for distribution is how sneaky they are with it. They can use it to be a huge gimmick, as they did earlier this year with The Cloverfield Paradox, but more often than not they will drop something spectacular with little fanfare until after the fact. This is exactly how The Ritual came about. Even for horror fans, this film seemingly came out of left field and the resulting word of mouth seemed to power the film well above and beyond what it might have garnered with a theatrical release. Even with that hype, The Ritual lives up to it. It’s a film that’s stripped down to its bones, focusing on the human experience within the context of its world, and takes a slow and meticulous narrative to dig deep into an unnerving experience. It’s wonderfully crafted and very effective. Not to mention, it also features one of the coolest monster designs I’ve seen in years. That’s just icing on the cake though.