Monday, July 30, 2018

Outrage Coda (2017)

Director: Takeshi Kitano
Notable Cast: Takeshi Kitano, Toshiyuki Nishida, Ren Osugi, Tatsuo Nadaka, Ken Mitsuichi

While it would seem that Takeshi Kitano’s return to the yakuza genre with his Outrage films has met mixed reaction from fans, since the release of Outrage in 2010, I have been quite the fan. Each of the previous two films, the second one being Outrage Beyond, has seen Kitano blend a fantastic homage to 70s exploitative yakuza films with that of a modern sense of uplifted artistry. He does it with a refined sense of drama and pitch-black humor. When it was finally announced that a third entry would seal off his trilogy of films, I couldn’t have been happier. To make matters even better, Outrage Coda is another impressive addition to the series that sees its protagonist Otomo, played once again by director Kitano, who is again pulled back into the sleazy world of the businessmen yakuza. This third entry retains the same qualities as the first two and finishes off the trilogy in the only way that it could possibly end with strong execution and a sense of self awareness.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Tremble All You Want (2017)

Director: Akiko Ohku
Notable Cast: Mayu Matsuoka, Daichi Watanabe, Anna Ishibashi, Takumi Kitamura

First love is a fickle concept – to an extent we have all experienced this at varying degrees of success. Romanticised over the years in many art forms, this intrinsic rite of passage is rooted in fantasy, usually with one party falling head-over-heels for the other without truly knowing them, rendering the former useless at expressing their desires as realizing their dreams runs the life-ruining risk of shattering the illusion into a thousand pieces and leaving all hopes tarnished and scattered. But you know this, we all do. Telling you this has been a pointless endeavor as it reinforces what we already accept. In much the same way, Akiko Ohku’s frustratingly bland endurance test that is Tremble All You Want covers the same ground as the words above whilst projecting itself as a quirky rom-com socially awkward millennials will find relatable.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Night Is Short, Walk on Girl (2017)

Director: Masaaki Yuasa
Notable Cast: Gen Hoshino, Kana Hanazawa, Hiroshi Kamiya, Ryuji Akiyama

One of the great things about a film festival is that a person is able to see a lot of films that they may not have been intent on seeing previously. For me, this is the case for the animated and fantasy focused romantic comedy, Night Is Short, Walk on Girl. As someone who is only just starting to get into the realms of anime and one that is not all that keen on romantic comedies, this was a film that I was hesitant to simply leap into without much warning. However, a brief search of the film online sold me that it was worth the chance. The film had already opened in Japan to success, received some accolades like the Animation of the Year at the Japan Academy Prize, and it is already slated for a select US theatrical release. Naturally, this perks my interest. Even then, Walk Is Short, Walk on Girl was not quite the film I expected. Instead of a straight forward take on any of its genres, it exists as a strange vortex of exaggeration of the elements, tonally, visually, and in narrative. It’s quirky as hell and is often as perplexing as it is engaging with its story, but Walk Is Short, Walk on Girl is also impressively confident with the material which makes it one of the most intriguing and dynamic cinematic experiences this year.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Violence Voyager (2018)

Director: Ujicha
Notable Cast: Saki Fujita, Shigeo Takahashi, Naoki Tanaka, Aoi Yuki

Exploding with destructive force alongside the ecstatic birth of visual kei, Psychedelic Violence Crime of Visual Shock quickly became a slogan associated with the extravagant and wild aesthetic of pioneers X Japan (named X until ’93). Their frenzied speed metal antics and legendary live performances would radically alter the Japanese independent music scene for decades to come. Hurtling out of nowhere like the band’s debut album Vanishing Vision, artist Ujicha’s grappling Geki-mation took the festival circuit by storm with his brutal and bizarre The Burning Buddha Man in 2013. Brandishing his paper cut-out trademark once again, and erupting in grizzly and mind-bending fashion, Uchija’s triumphant long-awaited return is heralded with the eye-popping Violence Voyager; the reins on his inventive style are off and reduced to rubble, committing all new crimes of visual shock.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Born Bone Born (2018)

Director: Toshiyuki Teruya
Notable Cast: Ayame Misaki, Eiji Okuda, Michitaka Tsutsui, Yoko Oshima

“Is this really Japan?”
“On paper at least.”

A strong majority of films deal with death in some regards. Whether it’s the absurd body count of action and horror films or how death represents such a strong dramatic shift for other genres, it’s a topic that often comes up in one way or another. Perhaps it’s not so unusual that the first two films I would see for Japan Cuts 2018 start off with a funeral sequence. However, Born Bone Born is not nearly as heavy of a cinematic experience as Blank 13 and instead opts for a more comedic slant to the familial drama that populates the dramatic cinema landscape. To its benefit, Born Bone Born features some solid performances, an intriguing balance between tone, and a fantastic sense of purpose and drive that keeps the audience hooked.

Blank 13 (2017)

Director: Takumi Saitoh
Notable Cast: Issei Takahashi, Mayu Matsuoka, Takumi Saitoh, Lily Franky

When starting a massive marathon of films for any kind of reason, particularly when it comes to similarly themed ones for a film festival, it’s always nice to start off with a strong film and that’s exactly what Blank 13 was for me. With no real expectations of the film going into it, outside of the brief description on the Japan Cuts 2018 website, my own blank slate was filled by a film that plays things in a crafty way to tell what might have been a casual, if not rather boring, familial dark and slightly comedic drama. Blank 13, directed by Takumi Saitoh who is more known for his modeling and acting career and sports his first feature length film here, is a rather fascinating ball of threaded stories meant to create a blurry flurry of feelings rather than a more straightforward narrative. Yet through the impressive execution, the sly tonal shifts make Blank 13 a film that strips and audiences and leaves its mark, even if the basic plotting comes off as par for the course.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards! (1963)

Director: Seijun Suzuki
Notable Cast: Jo Shishido, Tamio Kawaji, Reiko Sassamori, Nobuo Kaneko, Kinzo Shin, Naomi Hoshi, Asao Sano, Yuko Kusunoki, Kotoe Hatsui, Hiroshi Hijikata

Despite the almost cult cinema God-like status that he has risen to in the last handful of years, not all Seijun Suzuki films are outstanding works of art perfection. He certainly has moments where he gets there with the pop influence of Tokyo Drifter, the strangeness of Branded to Kill, or the noir tones of Take Aim at the Police Van. Of course, since he was a gun for hire director for Nikkatsu for most of his career, his filmography is going to be slightly hit or miss. For starters, let’s look at the latest Arrow Video Blu Ray release for the hilariously titled, Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards!. Now this film already has a fairly enthusiastic following, which is why it’s received multiple home video releases even in the US over the years, but despite some charismatic elements to the film, it’s ultimately a mixed bag of execution. Where some pieces of the film soar, others completely stumble through the end. It leaves the film feeling a bit too uneven to reach the heights of the best of Suzuki’s career, but it still features some charming and fun aspects for fans to enjoy.

Lady Street Fighter (1981)

Director: James Bryan
Notable Cast: Renee Harmon, Jody McCrea

When one things back to the 1970s, in the realm of low budget flicks, there are a variety of exploitation genres that come to mind and there are quite a few instant classics that rise above the midline to be classics in their own right. Then there is Lady Street Fighter. Yes, Lady Street Fighter. If there were ever a more obvious film that uses exploitation to appease fans, then I’m not sure what that film would be. Lady Street Fighter uses the subtlety of a 2 x 4 beating its audience in the face. It is truly the kind of film that only a very special kind of cinema fan would enjoy – probably the kind that reads our material, truthfully. Lady Street Fighter is silly, poorly crafted, cliché, spends way too much time on sequences that really don’t matter, and in the end feels more like a comedy than an actual action film. Oh, and did I mention, even though the film feels like a 70s exploitations film, it was actually released in 1981. It very much missed out on being part of that boom and was more of a reaction to it.

Let’s be honest, if you’re looking to purchase the new 2K remastered Blu Ray from AGFA, then you already know that this film is for you and will definitely be worth the purchase. If you have qualms with a film that’s so ridiculously awful that it’s hilarious, then you may want to skip out on this one.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Case of the Scorpion's Tail (1971)

Director: Sergio Martino
Notable Cast: George Hilton, Anita Strindberg, Alberto de Mendoza, Ida Galli, Janine Reynaud, Luigi Pistilli, Tom Felleghy, Luis Barboo, Lisa Leonardi, Tomas Pico

What’s brilliant about Sergio Martino giallo films is that, outside of a handful, they are not usually purely giallo. It has been mentioned on this site previously that Martino is a much more diverse and talented director than just what he contributed to the horror genre and that even when he was making a film that was restricted to certain elements like a giallo is, he would find ways to make it feel dynamic. This brings us to the focus of this review, The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail, his second giallo and one that just received the pristine Arrow Video treatment. While the film maintains a staunch adherence to the elements that make a giallo a giallo (right down to the leather clad gloves and knife), it’s also a film that finds the tight balance of being a smart and intricately woven mystery thriller that slides into horror elements when it needs a spark to keep the film moving forward. It’s not quite the genre mashup that is Suspicious Death of a Minor, but it’s also not the pure slice of giallo that Torso is either. It’s the best of both worlds and The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail is a must have for any fan of either Italian cinema or just great thrillers.

Monday, July 16, 2018

The Night Eats the World (2018)

Director: Dominique Rocher
Notable Cast: Anders Danielsen Lie, Golshifteh Farahani, Denis Lavant, Sigrid Bouaziz, David Kammenos

Going into the film, I had expectations that perhaps The Night Eats the World would be more like the French Extremism movement that dominated the 00s and gave us some fantastic and experiential films. Maybe it might be a bit more artful, knowing that the film was essentially carried by one actor, but that it would still carry the impact of the violence and nihilism of that movement. The French Extremism powered a lot of fantastic zombie and zombie-esque films (see The Horde, Mutants) so those expectations didn’t seem nearly out of the line going into the film as they did by the time the credits began to roll.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Doom Asylum (1987)

Director: Richard Friedman
Notable Cast: Patty Mullen, Ruth Collins, Kristin Davis, William Hay, Kenny L. Price, Harrison White, Dawn Alvan, Farin, Michael Rogen, Harvey Keith, Steven G. Menkin

There are some films that take another genre and then embed horror within it. It can be very effective that way and it embraces that wolf in sheep’s clothing kind of cinematic element that can work impressively. Doom Asylum is not like that at all. In fact, it’s probably not too out there to claim it as a sheep in wolf’s clothing. On the outside, Doom Asylum looks like it just might be one of those genuine old school and off beat slasher gems that Arrow Video is known for putting out (see The Mutilator, The Slayer, and Blood Rage all come to mind.) It’s not. On the surface, it’s a slasher and hits all of the elements of the blueprint. In execution though, the film is more akin to a slasher spoof than anything else. It’s meant to be a comedy, naturally, but that doesn’t mean it can even do that well. To its benefit, the film is one that can be seen as a ‘so bad, it’s good’ piece of cult cinema, but even then, Doom Asylum can be a chore to work through.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Detective Dee: The Four Heavenly Kings (2018)

Director: Tsui Hark
Notable Cast: Mark Chao, Feng Shaofeng, Lin Gengxin, Ethan Juan, Ma Sichun, Carina Lau

Tsui Hark has been hit or miss for me when it comes to the quality of his films as of late. However, I will admit that the ridiculous fun that he has with the Detective Dee films is infectious. The previous two installments, the first featuring Andy Lau and the second featuring a young Dee portrayed by Mark Chao, are problematic when it comes to cohesive narratives and truly satisfying character development, but the strange things that one will see in the films partnered with charismatic performances make them effective popcorn entertainment. For this reason, it was still easy to be excited for the announcement of the third film in the series, a sequel to Young Detective Dee featuring Mark Chao reprising the role of famous detective, called Detective Dee: The Four Heavenly Kings. Fortunately, this third film does not disappoint. Detective Dee: The Four Heavenly Kings is pure cinematic energy, balancing the sheer charm of its wink-wink attitude with lofty and outlandish gimmicks. The film, like its predecessors, is infectiously fun. Taking a note from the last film, it starts at an ambitiously high level of silliness and entertainment so that by time it hits the finale it has blown the roof out to deliver some of the strangest and most delightfully batshit insane material that this series may ever see. Like the previous two, The Four Heavenly Kings is a film that is going to have a lot of hate thrown its way for its popcorn approach to fantasy wuxia, but with the right mindset then it’s hard not to fall for the charms of this latest Detective Dee film.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

The First Purge (2018)

Director: Gerard McMurray
Notable Cast: Y’Lan Noel, Lex Scott Davis, Joivan Wade, Mugga, Christian Robinson, Lauren Velez, Kristen Solis, Marisa Tomei, Patch Darragh, Maria Rivera, Chyna Layne, Siya, Melonie Diaz, Mo McRae, Steve Harris

The Purge franchise, for all of its faults and flaws, remains one of the more intriguing genre series to come out in the last handful of years. It had a very silly (and quite frankly, awful) first entry, but its surprise box office success allowed writer and director James DeMonaco to embrace the outlandish socio-political commentary with a vigor that made the following two sequels, Anarchy and Election Year, genre pleasures for many fans. Love them or hate them, they made money and DeMonaco did an admirable job at delivering fun genre action while adding in a less than subtle commentary about the current state of politics in doing so. The problem that came to be is that the third film, Election Year, essentially wrapped up the series leaving a bit of room for expansion, but hardly paved the way for a full follow up. Thus, we got The First Purge, a prequel about the first ‘experiment’ on Staten Island that would allow the New Founding Fathers the information to push the Purge to the full country.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Hereditary (2018)

Director: Ari Aster
Notable Cast: Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, Ann Dowd

The A24 phenomenon is something truly interesting to behold as a horror fan. The most recent wave of success in the genre is certainly not limited to the surprise success of A24 in generating arthouse horror films, but it is definitely a part of it. After The Witch came out to critical (and box office) success, the studio decided to roll with the punches and embrace their new found fame as an arthouse horror company - even if they release more films than just genre work. Fast forward to 2018 and A24 is releasing one of the most hyped horror films of the year, Hereditary. Fascinatingly so, this film is one that was garnering a lot of mainstream talk and not just from the usual horror outlets. This was a film that generated quite the buzz on the film festival circuit and everyone was talking about it. This is potentially disastrous though. A film like Hereditary, with its more meticulous approach to the genre, tends to create an intense divide in its viewers. It’s either the best film of the year (critics are raving) or it’s the worst film of the year (currently sitting at a D+ on CinemaScore) and there is very little in between. For this horror aficionado, Hereditary rests on the former end as one of the best of the year that’s brimming with some of the most intense performances and unnerving sequences that horror is likely to produce by the end of the calendar year. It’s truly effective and horrific cinema, boiling with dramatic heft. It’s a film that is not to be missed.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Sicario: Day of the Soldado (2018)

Director: Stefano Sollima
Notable Cast: Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin, Isabela Moner, Jeffrey Donovan, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Catherine Keener, Matthew Modine, Shea Whigham, Elijah Rodriguez, Howard Ferguson, David Castaneda, Jacqueline Torres, Raoul Trujillo, Bruno Bichir, Jake Picking

There were a lot of mixed feelings to be had about Sicario: Day of the Soldado even before the film was released. Particularly since the first film was, at least in my opinion, a tour de force as an artistic and nihilistic thriller about the inherent issues with the system in regards to America’s role at the southern border. It was not a film that begged to be franchised, but the fascinating characters it painted certainly did leave plenty of morally gray areas to be explored in further stories. After years of rewrites and announcements (originally both Emily Blunt and director Denis Villeneuve were announced for the film, but would drop off later on) we are left with an ‘interesting’ second entry into this surprise series. An obvious step down in execution – in essentially all areas – from its predecessor, Day of the Soldado still manages to craft an interesting and vicious film that tries desperately to take the series in something of a new direction while maintaining the style that made Sicario such a critical (and surprise box office) success. It’s a flawed film ultimately, but one that will solidify this franchise for further entries.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

China Salesman (2018)

Director: Tan Bing
Notable Cast: Dong-Xue Li, Mike Tyson, Janicke Askevold, Li Ai, Eriq Ebouaney, Steven Seagal, Zijan Wang

When China Salesman was first announced there was a lot of hype around the film. It was a Chinese film, but it would feature both Mike Tyson and Steven Seagal. They were also going to have a fight. Cause, why the hell not? As a person who grew up watching Tyson fight in the ring and Seagal flip people haphazardly on the silver screen, I was immediately intrigued. There was almost no chance that this film would be good, particularly when the synopsis was revealed and the big appeal to western audiences would be this battle of larger than life personalities. When the opportunity came to review this film, I leapt at it knowing full well that China Salesman would not be a great film. Nay, it wasn’t even going to be a good film. If it was a film at all, I was going to be pleasantly surprised.

Surprise, surprise, China Salesman is a film, but it is very terrible.