Saturday, September 29, 2018

Golden Job (2018)

Director: Chin Ka-lok
Notable Cast: Ekin Cheng, Jordan Chan, Michael Tse, Chin Ka-lok, Jerry Lamb, Eric Tsang, Kurata Yasuaki, Billy Chow, Alan Ng

Hong Kong action cinema is evolving. For many fans, it hurts. They don’t want the classic feel of the films to be changed in anyway, which is problematic in its own ways, and they don’t appreciate that the genre is starting to add in new influences to the mix. This is what makes Golden Job an interesting film. At its core, there are a lot of old school influences. Not only in getting the gang from the 90's Young and Dangerous franchise back together, but in how the film embraces its subject matter and some of the foundations of the script are a love letter to an older style. It’s also a film that is heavily influenced by the new Hollywood blockbusters that have been making huge waves in the Chinese market, most obviously the Fast & Furious series. The combination, while odd at times, is still fairly charming and extraordinarily entertaining. Golden Job is a perfect storm of old and new, taking modern action influences and grounding them in classic Hong Kong action tropes. It’s a flawed film overall, but Golden Job pulls a heist on all the entertainment and delivers on all the best Hong Kong cinematic cornerstones of action, heart, and comradery. 

The Blood Splatter: 2018 Horror Vol. 3 [Hell Fest, Hell House LLC II: The Abaddon Hotel]

HELL FEST (2018)
Director: Gregory Plotkin
Notable Cast: Amy Forsyth, Reign Edwards, Bex Taylor-Klaus, Christian James, Matt Mercurio, Roby Attal, Tony Todd

To kick off the October horror viewing schedule a little early, it seemed like Hell Fest might be the ticket. It’s a colorful film, takes place around Halloween, uses a great looking extreme haunt setting, and hark back to an old school slasher approach to things. In those regards, yes, Hell Fest is a fun way to kick off the season. Gregory Plotkin ably uses the visuals nicely, saturating the entire film in Argento like swashes of bright colors, generally having fun with its concept, and builds a great set for the events of the film to take place. The film spends little time outside of the haunt, opting for a brief introduction of a couple characters and then moving into the haunt, aptly named Hell Fest, within minutes of the film starting. From there, it launches itself into slasher territory as our young adults, a series of couples nonetheless, proceed to find themselves stalked and slaughtered by our masked man. Cut, slash, paste, repeat.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

The Baby (1973)

Director: Ted Post
Notable Cast: Anjanette Comer, Ruth Roman, Marianna Hill, Suzanne Zenor, David Manzy, Tod Andrews, Michael Pataki, Beatrice Manley Blau

The ‘Nurture or Nature’ debate is a long running one, often used to promote other beliefs about the human psyche that don’t necessarily have a place for a review of a 1970s cult piece of cinema that relies on one strange gimmick to drive home its narrative. Yet, when it comes down to it, that’s the strange hinge at the wildly swinging door that is The Baby. Now, the film is hardly as intelligent as starting a review off with this idea would seem, particularly since it plays things fairly upfront and center with its plot and narrative. Still, it’s a hard concept not to dwell on as an audience watches a social worker investigate a family who have a full-grown person with the mentality of a small baby. The ace in the sleeve of a film like The Baby is that it never fully leaps into the gimmick and exploitative elements of its story that many lesser film makers might have run with. Instead, this cult horror classic takes the subject matter with a very serious approach that carries a lot more weight to its proceedings than what it should. The results are, well, quite impressive.

Sleepy Eyes of Death 10: Hell Is a Woman (1968)

Director: Tokuzo Tanaka
Notable Cast: Raizo Ichikawa, Miwa Takada, Yaeko Mizutani, Takahiro Tamura, Eitaro Ozawa, Toru Abe, Yunosuke Ito

As I continue my stint in reviewing the seemingly unending entries into the Sleepy Eyes of Death franchise, it’s fascinating to see what themes and threaded narrative elements come seeping through the various adventures of Kyoshiro as I start to head around the final bend. One of those threaded elements is how the main character, once again played with robust nuance by Raizo Ichikawa, retains a very complicated viewpoint and opinion of women. Often enough, it’s not a very positive viewpoint and I’ve mentioned this in some reviews prior. This aspect of the series becomes a highlight of the tenth entry simply due to its subtitle, Hell Is a Woman. Considering how generally nihilistic and misogynistic the lead character is, a title like this sets up a pretty extreme reaction. On one hand, Hell Is a Woman is not nearly as bad as it might have been in these regards, but on the other it’s par for the course in how it treats its female characters which only solidifies it as one of the major problems of this franchise. In the end though, the biggest problem of the film is not that it doesn’t attempt to fix this as it bounds straight into the topic, but that the film doesn’t make a statement at all in almost any regard. This leaves Sleepy Eyes of Death 10 as simply an unmemorable entry.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

The Great Battle (2018)

Director: Kim Kwang-sik
Notable Cast: Jo In-sung, Nam Joo-hyuk, Park Sung-woong, Bae Sung-woo, Uhm Tae-goo, Kim Seol-hyun, Jung Eun-chae, Park Byung-eun, Sung Dong-il, Oh Dae-hwan, Yu Oh-seong, Stephanie Lee, Jang Gwang

The Great Battle is a somewhat deceiving title. Not that the action in this South Korean war film isn’t great, but there are so many battles and action sequences in this film that using a singular noun like ‘battle’ betrays the sheer amount of popcorn entertainment that is available to an audience who sees this film. Naturally, this is a small issue to have with a film, but when the credits rolled on this epic period piece, it was one of the first thoughts that came to mind. Granted, The Great Battle is not nearly the dramatic punch that many will expect from South Korean cinema that makes its way to the US, but at the same time it’s a film that perfectly captures the blockbuster spectacle it aims to achieve. The Great Battle is spectacular entertainment, wrapped in the usually impressive execution of South Korean cinema, and it powers through on its charm and relentlessly stylish battle sequences.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Pyjama Girl Case (1977)

Director: Flavio Mogherini
Notable Cast: Ray Milland, Dalila Di Lazzaro, Michele Placido, Mel Ferrer, Howard Ross, Ramiro Oliveros, Rod Mullinar, Giacomo Assandri, Eugene Walter

The first thing that should be mentioned about The Pyjama Girl Case is that, while it is often lumped together with the genre, this film has very little in common with most other giallo films. Granted, the term giallo is one that is broader that people often give it credit for, but there are certainly tropes that go with the genre that most fans recognize. Previously I’ve reviewed films that I would consider ‘fringe’ giallo, most recently I reviewed What Have They Done to Your Daughters? and Sergio Martino’s overlooked classic The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail both of which were released on Blu Ray from Arrow Video as is this film, but even those films have specific elements that would indicate at least some connection to the style and approach that the genre is known for. Mainly, through its use of villains. The Pyjama Girl Case has essentially none of those elements outside of being a murder mystery. No leather clad, sharp weapon wielding baddies. No amateur sleuths out of their element in a strange country. If anything, The Pyjama Girl Case actively avoids any of those tropes and focuses on delivering the most realistic version of the story possible with only moments of style that pop up. In this regard, it’s hard for me to even refer to the film as a giallo although it is often widely considered part of the genre.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Diamonds of Kilimanjaro (1983) / Golden Temple Amazons (1986)

There are a lot of cult cinema fans that love to talk about how films can be ‘so bad, they’re good.’ Naturally, the writing staff here at Blood Brothers do often use this phrase to describe our viewing habits, but like with most films even this is subject to personal taste. For many people, the films of Jess Franco fall into this realm of thinking and that is most certainly a valid opinion. No one is going to speak about his films as award winning fodder any time soon, but for me it’s even hard to say they fall into the category of being so bad they’re good. There might be a few that fringe on that line, but in the case of his jungle focused adventure sexploitation film, Diamonds of Kilimanjaro (or Diamonds of Kilimandjaro if you use the spelling on the film itself) or his other adventure flick Golden Temple Amazons, it’s not even close. These films are, for lack of a better description, completely incompetent.

Director: C. Plaut (Jess Franco)
Notable Cast: Katja Bienert, Antonio Mayans, Aline Mess, Albino Graziani, Javier Maiza, Olivier Mathot, Mari Carmen Nieto, Daniel White, Lina Romay

At the core of the film, Diamonds of Kilimanjaro might have been a fun adventure flick as it follows the exploits of some questionable hired guns and a crooked rich family that are looking for their lost niece in the jungles of Africa. With the right outlook, this might have been a fun idea if it had taken the tongue in cheek route of a Cannon Films project or perhaps a dark and vicious drama had the execution any artistry to it. As is, the film tries to be both. Diamonds of Kilimanjaro is completely outlandish and silly with its exploitation and strangely serious as it goes about it. It’s a combination made through sighs of disbelief and eye rolls of frustration while the tone and atmosphere succeed at being neither.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Horrors of Malformed Men (1969)

Director: Teruo Ishii
Notable Cast: Teruo Yoshida, Yukie Kagawa, Teruko Yumi, Mitsuko Aoi, Michiko Kobata, Minoru Oki

As a cult cinema addict, it is always fun to find the strange and off kilter pieces of film that exists. If you want strange and off kilter, then Teruo Ishii has to be a staple of your queue. That’s just how it’s going to be. A lot of his material has become hard to necessarily find over time though and when Arrow Video first announced that their Blu Ray release of his cult classic, Horrors of Malformed Men, would be the first of a handful of new Ishii titles, it was a welcome announcement. This title, which is generally regarded as one of his classics in many film social circles, is a great way to introduce someone new to his material. It’s an insane film, one that starts off half cocked then seemingly finds a more traditional story telling groove before leaping off the cliff of logic at the end, but it’s also a film that can be appreciated for its abrasive tone instead of being completely off putting. Horrors of Malformed Men is a strange film, but charmingly so despite many of its issues. Ergo, the perfect kind of cult film. It’s a film that perfectly aligns with fans of Arrow Video releases.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

The Nun (2018)

Director: Corin Hardy
Notable Cast: Taissa Farmiga, Demian Bichir, Jonas Bloquet, Bonnie Aarons, Ingrid Bisu, Charlotte Hope, Sandra Teles, August Maturo

There was a lot of talk about The Nun leading up to its release. Not only about the titular demon, which was featured as a villain in the fantastic The Conjuring 2, but about the marketing. There was little known about the plot, the characters, and what The Nun would actually be about leading up to the release. Most of the marketing featured jump scares centered around the piercing eyed monster and plenty of gimmicky one-liners. Hell, we didn’t even really get a true trailer for the film. It was mostly bits and pieces of teasers. At first, I thought this was rather clever. The villain was enough reason to see the film, combined with the overall success of the franchise, but now that The Nun is unleashed in the megaplexes it was almost necessary that the film never unveiled its plotting or narrative. Why? The one it has is a fucking mess. The Nun is a film that has its merits, at least in moments, but it does not live up to being part of The Conjuring cinematic universe. It flounders around with its concept and mostly delivers eye-rolls for the audience rather than scares. 

Big Brother (2018)

Director: Kam Ka-Wai
Notable Cast: Donnie Yen, Joe Chen, Jack Lok, Yu Kang, Bruce Tong, Chis Tong, Gladys Li, Lau Chiu-Kin, Dominic Lam, Alfred Cheung, Wu Fung, Felix Lok, Benjamin Au-Yeung, Billy Lau, Lee Fung, Koo Tin-Lung

Donnie Yen is a huge star. Large portions of the world have no idea, which is a shame, but he really is one of the hardest working and busiest actors out there. Because of his insanely busy schedule, he has his pick of a variety of projects and it was a bit surprising that Big Brother was one of the films he chose to focus on. A family friendly drama/comedy/action film? Of all of his options, he chose this one. Now that the film is out, both in the US and China, it does make sense why he did. For all of the kinds of films he has done, dramas, comedies, action, he has yet to really make a film like this and that variety can be appealing. His fans, however, may not be as welcoming to the film since it does have a largely different tone than the rest of what gets a US release. The film takes a decidedly family friendly tone with its material, focusing on a handful of kids in a struggling school more than anything, and it doubles down on the ‘you can do it!’ catch phrase that Donnie Yen’s character repeatedly says with a huge smile on his face and a self-reassuring fist pump. As much as the film plays things in very predictable ways, it’s hard not to enjoy its charms on some sort of level. Big Brother is shockingly fun and if I was a kid, I would have been obsessed with this film.

Monday, September 3, 2018

The Young Vagabond (1985)

Director: Lau Shut-Yue
Notable Cast: Gordon Liu, Jason Pai Piao, Johnny Wang, Wong Yu, Ku Feng, Kwan Hoi-San, Kwan Fung, Wong Man-Ying

One can tell that the Shaw Brothers studio was panicking by the time the mid-80s rolled around simply due to the unfocused films they created. The 80s did produce some of their most entertaining (and solidly crafted) films too, but the majority of the material being produced seems to pale in comparison to the heights of the studio in the 1970s. The Young Vagabond is a film that had so much potential. Whether it’s the stellar casting or the ambitiously fun concept of telling the origin story of one of China’s best folklore heroes, Beggar Su, The Young Vagabond could have been one of those cornerstone Shaw Brothers films that fans fawn over for decades down the road. It could have been. It should have been. Instead, the film tends to stumble over its own feet in finding a tone and balance. Leaping from some drawn out subplots to dramatic emotional material with little in regard of fluidity. The Young Vagabond has some very intense and well executed moments, but they all sit in a film that doesn’t quite know how to put it all together.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Tideland (2005)

Director: Terry Gilliam
Notable Cast: Jodelle Ferland, Brendan Fletcher, Janet McTeer, Jeff Bridges, Jennifer Tilly, Dylan Taylor, Wendy Anderson, Sally Crooks

Terry Gilliam is a director who rarely sacrifices his vision of a film for anyone. That includes the audience. Sometimes it lends itself to a critically acclaimed film that finds a dedicated and enthusiastic audience (Brazil), sometimes it results in a rather intriguing cult film like Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, and sometimes it results in a film like Tideland. Even though the director has always pursued eclectic and unusual films for his filmography, Tideland remains the black sheep that never really found its audience. There are those out there that love the film, certainly, but for the most part this was a film that fizzled out due to diverse reactions from both fans and critics. This is also the reason that it was so surprising when Arrow Video announced that they would be releasing a new Blu Ray for the film. Gilliam has had his fair share of material released in iconic collectors’ releases (even the hit or miss Jabberwocky received a prestige Criterion Collection release,) but Tideland represents a film in his catalog that really does draw lines in fans. It’s also a film that is very much deserving of a reassessment now that the film is over ten years old.

Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)

Director: Peyton Reed
Notable Cast: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Michael Peña, Hannah John-Kamen, Laurence Fishburne, Walton Goggins, Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, TI, David Dastmalchian, Abby Ryder Fortson, Randall Park, Michelle Pfeiffer

As much as I thought the first Ant-Man film was, you know, ‘just fine,’ the choice to drop the sequel, Ant-Man and the Wasp, after Avengers: Infinity War was inspired. The last Avengers film inherently took the Marvel formula and undercut it by inverting the role of the protagonist and taking the series into some shockingly serious and darker territory, but Ant-Man and the Wasp represents the polar opposite. This is a film that doubles down on the Marvel formula instead of trying to subvert it and the film changes the pace from the last MCU film. It's a welcome maneuver after the impact of the last film. Like the first Ant-Man film though, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a mixed bag of execution, once again being a film that’s certainly enjoyable, entertaining, and easy to consume, but it’s also a film that falters from some of the same problems that prevented its predecessor from hitting its potential heights. Fans will definitely find plenty of things to love in the light-hearted demeanor and outlandishly silly premise, but compared to some of the more intriguing paths of the MCU in the last handful of films it does pale in comparison.