Friday, November 30, 2018

Shoplifters (2018)

Director: Hirokazu Koreeda

Notable Cast: Sakura Ando, Lily Franky, Kiki Kirin, Mayu Matsuoka, Kairi Jyo, Miyu Sasaki

Going into a new Koreeda film is something to be excited about. Over the span of the dozen plus works of his I've seen, I've been impressed to varying degrees. One common thread spun throughout the entirety of his works I've seen thus far of his exploration of family and the core value of it. Others have done this before him, spanning entire careers, such as the always comparable Ozu, but none have done it in his unique way. This is a Koreeda picture, through and through, and it is one of his very finest to date.

The plot of Shoplifters is simple. A group of people, spanning in age groups from small children to elderly, all on the bottom fringes of the social stratophere, live in a small house together, getting by day to day, doing odd jobs and as the title explains, shoplifting to survive. During a trip home one night, the husband and wife of the family, played brilliantly by Lily Franky and Sakura Ando respectively, find a young girl, sitting out in the cold, obviously abused and without food. The two then discover the youthful girl's abusive parents and decide to take her under their wings.


That's all of the plot I wish to reveal, as the directions in which the narrative take are worth going in blind over. The majority of the film is typical Koreeda family affair, which is by no means a bad thing. The characters are brilliantly written and equally realized by powerhouse performances all across the board. Lily Franky really ups his already solid game as the father of the pack. He is funny as per many a Lily role, but he brings a pain not often felt in his other works. He drew out emotions from me that I was completely taken aback by. The two children of the film, Kairi Jyo and Miyu Sasaki give heartbreaking performances and their chemistry makes for some of the best I've seen in some time.

The real star of the show though is none other than the endlessly impressive Sakura Ando of Love Exposure and 100 Yen Love fame, who gives a career defining moment as she fully dives into my favorite on-screen performance of 2018. She is warm and charming and brings the full nuances and wide range of emotion that intricately unravels the complexities  of her character as her fascinating arc unfolds. Many moments from her have engrained themselves in my mind and I don't expect they'll be leaving anytime soon. Sakura Ando is on an entirely different level here.

The MVP of Shoplifters... Sakura Ando.

Before moving on, I will bring this review to a screeching halt and take the time to appreciate the brilliance of recently lost legend, actress Kiki Kirin, who gives yet again another marvelous turn as the family's grandmother. We see the pain without a doubt that Mrs. Kiki was going through here during her final stretch of life, but it doesn't get in the way of her brilliance on display. One of cinema's finest assets, gone on to the next part of this journey. We will all miss you greatly Kiki Kirin! Thank you endlessly!

Technically speaking, Shoplifters may be Koreeda's strongest to date. The cinematography is absolutely stunning and the set design of the house makes it feel truly inhabited. The layers of dirt and the sweat on the characters' bodies and faces as they carry on their daily lives, the changing of the seasons. Everything is so natural and lived in. The craftsmanship is something to truly commend. The score is another highlight, ranging from smooth and jazzy to subtly present during the heavier moments of the film. The accolades for this one are going to be non-stop and are truly worthy of every nomination and win possible.

Shoplifters is Japan's entry to the forthcoming Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film, and I truly hope it sees itself on stage being presented with a win. It is a deep examination of family and the core value and belief of what makes up one. It is safe to say that this is easily one of 2018's strongest cinematic offerings and perhaps Hirokazu Koreeda's best outing thus far. Do yourself a favor and see this film! Every type of cinena goer will find plenty here to love.

Written by Josh Parmer

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Dead Souls (2018)

Director: Wang Bing

"Beneath this Earth, rests bones."

For 12 years, spanning 2005-2017, documentarian Wang Bing trekked throughout China, interviewing various survivors of the Communist Party's Anti-Rightist campaign of 1957, where 3,200 men deemed "rightists" were held captive and sent to re-education through labor camps, where only a mere 500 would survive. Some of these remaining men share the horrors of their harrowing experience in one of the most monumental documentaries ever created.

Clocking in at a colossal 495 minutes, Dead Souls is a large undertaking for any type of film lover. Some may be put off by this initially, but I can attest to the importance of its runtime. Even at over 8 hours, some of the interviewed victims have been cut from the final film. There are so many stories told here, none lesser or more important than the others. There is a balance presented here, and the interviews take as long as they need. These lives and confession are extremely important, their voices worth every second heard. I am so thankful a work like this can even exist.

Most of the film cuts back and forth between 2005/2006 and 2016/2017. At times we hit a moment between the two but the bulk of it bounces around those timefames frequently. The video quality fluctuates due to the limitations of video equipment in the earlier years, but the aesthetic is never meant for flash. It maintains a camera that never intrudes or demands, but one that follows and let's the subject be the weight as it most certainly should be in this case. I admire the moments the director's arm slips into frame or his reflection is seen in a mirror hanging on a closet door as he peers through the viewfinder of his camera. It is as raw as it can get and nothing is shyed away from if it intervenes with the moment being captured or story being told. There are cuts but only presented in necessary moments, such as a person exiting the room for a break or of the interview is to be carried on the next day.

There is no use of score and to powerful effect. The emotional weight and resonance felt merely needs presented by those on camera. As said before, the visuals aren't really a highlight, by way of design, but the shots where the camera travels through the desert in more current times, over the camps, haunting abruptly to examine skeletal remains poking up out of the ground, before moving on only a few steps to the next pileof scattered bones. Haunting is an understatement. In addition to the more traditionally shot interview, moments like these or a hard cut to a note written by one of the deceased, there is just enough variety to a standard style of visual presentation to keep things fresh throughout.

Sitting through 8+ hours of listening to these elderly men reflect back on the inhumane hardships they endured; the starvation, beatings, cannibalism and death they were surrounded with every waking moment, it's a wonder that any survived. Saddened and shocked in equal measure, the things humans put one another through never ceases to disturb me. These voices needed to be heard. Wang Bing was the perfect vessel to let these stories be told. May their souls rest in peace. A dark corner of history that had been told in an uncensored fashion. Easily one the most important pieces of cinema to surface in 2018.

Written by Josh Parmer

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Sleepy Eyes of Death 11: In the Spider's Lair (1968)

Director: Kimiyoshi Yasuda
Notable Cast: Raizo Ichikawa, Mako Midori, Maka Sarijo, Ysuke Kawazu, Furnio Watanabe, Minori Terada

Going into the eleventh entry of the Sleepy Eyes of Death franchise, it was hard not to hope that the series could rebound a little bit from the previous two entries, which, while entertaining, were subpar overall. Perhaps it was the low expectations from the last two entries that allowed me to enjoy what Sleepy Eyes of Death 11: In the Spider’s Lair had to offer, but the film was quite fun and entertaining. This entry into the chanbara series pulls back and simplifies its story and narrative even further and instead of trying to find a balance of approaches, it aims to entertain and provide a consumable and gimmick filled Kyoshiro adventure first and foremost. I’m not saying that In the Spider’s Lair is the best of the series, hardly, but it’s silly streamlined focus on adventurous entertainment certainly hit a sweet spot for me.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

One Cut of the Dead (2018)

Director: Shinichiro Ueda

Starring: Takayuki Hamatsu, Mao, Harumi Shuhama, Yuzuki Akiyama, Kazuaki Nagaya

Struggling to get one of his main actresses in character during a film shoot, director Higurashi (Takayuki Hamatsu) snaps and storms off stage after an abundant amount of takes. We follow the crew during an unplanned break as the director trys to cool down and the actress tries to focus on her performance. In the midst of this behind the scenes meltdown, one of the extras in their zombie movie get up seems to be a little more than well made up and what ensues is a chaotic bloodbath of zombie action that unfolds in real time in one long unbroken 45 minute or so take, immediately stunning the audience from frame one.

One Cut of the Dead is easily the most exciting genre film of the year and an indie film rock star in its native Japan, raking in over 2000 times it's roughly micro $27,000 budget, opening on a mere two screens and with no money spent on an advertisement campaign. I am never one to even bring up box office, especially in a review, but it's an extremely impressive feat, regardless on your stance with the film. That said, I think One Cut is the unexpected cult film of 2018. The one that quickly snuck up and leapt to the top of the throne, standing firmly amongst the best midnight classics. The Shaun of the Dead of the 2010s if you will.

Characters are one of the many highlights of this zombie laugh fest. The angry director who keeps cropping up and yelling "Action!" as he shoves his camera into the fearful faces of his performers who have stopped acting and started attempting to survive. He keeps the chaos alive and well. Another fun character is the make-up artist, played to perfection by Harumi Shuhama, who is the one in these types of movie who practices self-defense as a hobby which conveniently and hilariously plays into the oncoming zombie attack. Pom!

The way the story unfolds and how the narrative is a play on structure, is surprising, and very refreshing. From an impressive technical and gory one-take that will impress every type of movie goer, to a shift towards a more conventional form of storytelling and overall tonal shift that completely works, One Cut manages to surprise at almost every turn. Little things that raise questions or seem accidental upon initial reveal are all handled and accounted for as things play out. On multiple occasions, I found myself envious with the choices being made, wishing I had come up with something similar myself.

I could go on extensively with praise and covering every angle of this movie, but there  is a simple way to pump the breaks and wrap things up here. One Cut of the Dead is a hilarious, bloody romp with enough heart to make any genre fan blush. It's easy to see why it's been such a huge success. Very hard not to fall in love with a little film as charming as this one. Wherever Shinichiro Ueda decides to head next, I hope it has even just a fraction of the passion on display here. The most fun I've had with a movie all year!

Written by Josh Parmer

The Marine 6: Close Quarters (2018)

Director: James Nunn
Notable Cast: Mike ‘The Miz’ Mizanin, Shawn Michaels, Rebecca ‘Becky Lynch’ Quin, Louisa Connolly-Burnham, Terence Maynard, Tim Woodward, Martyn Ford, Anna Demetriou, Michael Higgs

The Marine series has two things going for it that make me come back to it again and again. Firstly, it’s old school grounded and cheesy B-action. Secondly, it’s a franchise. I’m a sad sucker for both of those things. Even though I have never been a WWE fan, WWE Films has been doing some decent stuff on the straight to home video action market and I have no reason not to support them in their endeavors. Although The Marine franchise started off on a rocky road, requiring three different stars as three different characters in the first three films to mixed results, the series has strangely gotten better as it has gone on. Although The Marine 5 was met by mixed reactions from fans, it was easily one of my favorites thanks to its tongue-in-cheek attitude and solid direction from B-movie action director James Nunn. The Marine 6: Close Quarters does the smart thing and brings back The Miz’s Jake Carter for another round of beatdowns and bullet dodges along with Nunn in the director’s chair. While the results of this film are a bit less entertaining than the last for me, The Marine 6 brings another healthy dose of cheesy action to its fans and it’s another fun entry into this surprisingly enjoyable franchise.

Friday, November 16, 2018

The Blood Splatter: Illang: The Wolf Brigade (2018) / Final Score (2018)


Director: Kim Jee-woon
Notable Cast: Gang Dong-won, Han Hyo-joo, Jung Woo-sung, Kim Mu-yeol, Han Ye-ri, Choi Min-ho, Shin Eun-soo

For the record, I’m not all that familiar for the source material behind Kim Jee-woon’s adaption of what is highly considered a classic piece of modern culture. Perhaps he does a lot of unique things with it, spinning its core ideas and messages in fresh ways that inspire confidence in fans. I couldn’t tell you otherwise. Or, maybe, Illang: The Wolf Brigade falls short and comes off as a film that stumbles in reaching its lofty goals as a futuristic action flick with its social and political messaging. For my money, despite some great elements, Illang falls into the latter. Judging the film on its own merits, of course.

Mrs. Fang (2017)

Director: Wang Bing
Featuring: Fang Xiuing plus Her Family and Friends

Mrs. Fang is 68 years old and has an advanced form of Alzheimer's disease, and she is bedridden, accompanied with care and watched over by her daughter and son. Various family members and friends pop in and out on her, closely observing her last ten days of existence on this Earth. Death is inescapable and Wang Bing's examination of the final stage in life simply has no padding. For better or for worse, we see this woman lay through her final days and then fade into what ever lays beyond. It is a tough watch and will leave many a viewer divided.

I don't think there is much to really spoil here as there is no way to not know how things will turn out, but the way in which the film transitions into observation of Mrs. Fang's deteriorating health is abrupt and shocking. Things happen in life unexpectedly and a hard cut mere minutes into the documentary greatly reflect the cold possibilities that life may throw one's way. The Alzheimer's was there for some time, although the specifics are unknown, and at just the snap of a finger, only some months later, she is on her back, skin tightened and drawn in, her teeth protruding from her mouth indefinitely, appearing much thinner than before and it isn't known whether she is aware of much of anything going on around her or not at this point.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji (1955)

Director: Tomu Uchida
Notable Cast: Chiezo Kataoka, Ryunosuke Tsukigata, Chizuru Kitagawa, Yuriko Tashiro, Daisuke Kato, Eitaro Shindo

The Arrow Academy label, which covers the arthouse titles for the more cult focused Arrow Video, is not a label that we cover in full here at Blood Brothers. Occasionally they drop something of interest that ends up on our reviewing queue. Most recently, they released the 1955 Japanese film, Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji. Intriguingly enough, despite its fantastic new art on this Blu Ray release, the visceral title, and plenty of other indicators (like the original poster,) Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji is not an action film. Going into the film, I certainly had expectations that it would be an old school action film, perhaps, similar to some of the material that Criterion has put out from this same era, but that is not the case. This film is more fittingly a dramatic comedy or a comedic drama, depending on the scene. In these regards though, the film is actually a masterpiece in tonal balance, utilizing its road trip narrative to deliver some fantastic satire, tragedy, and its own oddities of storytelling. This may not be the brimming tense and action packed film the title would make an audience assume, but, quite frankly, it’s a brilliant film in its own way.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Communicating with the Dead: The American Pulse Franchise

After the success of The Ring (followed by the success of The Grudge,) the Hollywood money machine was emboldened to remake every J-horror or J-horror influenced film that they could find. It didn’t matter how good or bad the source material was, if it made money or was even warmly regarded critically, it was fodder for the Hollywood slaughter. This is where Kairo, also known as Pulse, comes into play. The original film is a stark and artistic horror film, intent on crafting vague messages about the relationship between society and technology, that has earned its fair share of mixed reactions since its release. For one, I am a massive fan of Kairo and you are welcome to dig into my review of the Arrow Video Blu Ray release of the film HERE for some more in-depth context to understand the rest of this article and review. There will often be comparisons to it through the next section that focuses on the first entry of the American Pulse series, but it felt necessary to address some of the context for the following. It’s during this time frame that Kurosawa’s Kairo was picked for a Hollywood adaption and the results are interesting at best and insulting at worst.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

12 Monkeys (1995)

Director: Terry Gilliam
Notable Cast: Bruce Willis, Brad Pitt, Madeline Stowe, Christopher Plummer, David Morse, Jon Seda, Christopher Meloni, Frank Gorshin, Vernon Campbell, Lisa Gay Hamilton

Time travel movies can, in a broader sense, be sticky. More often than not for them to work, the film either has to completely disregard trying to make sense and just plow through with its gimmicks or it has to make any plot holes irrelevant to the narrative. When it comes to a film like 12 Monkeys, it’s the sense of style and strange quirkiness to its proceedings that allows it to move above and beyond the normal trappings of the time travel focused science fiction flick. This late 90’s cult classic from the iconic Terry Gilliam is able to find that right balance between artistry and consumption, humor and horror, and the line between tongue-in-cheek and dramatic heft. Quite frankly, despite being one of the last (only?) true studio productions for the British director, it inherently features all of his style, but in a more packaged and easier to swallow product. It’s an effective combination. On top of being a brilliant film, this latest Blu Ray release for 12 Monkeys is a welcome upgrade for fans. It’s packed with features to add even more commentary and substance to the off beat and unique film and its context.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Deadbeat at Dawn (1988)

Director: Jim Van Bebber
Notable Cast: Jim Van Bebber, Paul Harper, Megan Murphy, Marc Pitman, Ric Walker

Diving into the new Blu Ray release of Deadbeat at Dawn from Arrow Video was something for an adventure for me. Mainly, I had never even heard of the film prior to its announcement by the cult cinema releasing label. When it was announced, my initial reaction was to not do any research on the film prior to seeing it and go in completely blind. It’s not often that I am able to do that with films – particularly those released by a larger label – so even the idea of a fresh experience was somewhat exciting. Intriguingly enough, what I found with Deadbeat at Dawn was the epitome of a DIY film that looked like it was made for $200 and a bottle of whiskey. Even with its incredibly raw and rough around the edges approach, it’s easy to see why the film has garnered a cult audience with its almost punk-like approach and energetic appeal to low budget cinema. This isn’t a film that reaches too far above its means, like The Driller Killer or something of that ilk, but it is a film that has plenty of admirable qualities that generally even out its rough patches.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Suspiria (2018)

Director: Luca Guadagnino
Notable Cast: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Chloe Grace Moretz, Angela Winkler, Ingrid Caven, Elena Fokina

Remakes are a contentious subject for movie fans. I don’t necessarily share most of the feelings, as I believe a good film can be a good film regardless of its connection to its source material, but after years of terrible remakes, it’s hard not to have some understanding for the hatred. When it comes to a classic film with a very rambunctious and vocal fan base like Suspiria, having a remake was already going to be a hotly debated topic even if it is a great film. This is what makes the multi-award nominated director Luca Guadagnino’s version of this horror classic such a fascinating remake. It’s a very good film. It’s shies of being great, for some reasons that will be further explained below, but 2018’s Suspiria is a massively fascinating and true reinterpretation of the original film. This is not Argento’s version simply modernized and watered down for mainstream consumption that traps so many horror films. This is truly a unique spin on the classic, incorporating its own key elements, loosely following the core plotting of the original, and developing some fantastically disturbing and refreshing themes. Even for fans of the original, if you’re a cinephile, you’re going to find plenty of things to respect about the film, even if you have a full-hearted love for the original.