Monday, May 27, 2019

Life Finds a Way (2019)

Director: Hirobumi Watanabe

Notable Cast: Hirobumi Watanabe, Takahori Kurosaki, Misao Hirayama, Riko Hisatsugu, Akitada Iso, Tomio Tsukui

Previously, indie filmmaking meistro Hirobumi Watanabe delivered the strong but all too familiar Party 'Round the Globe back in 2017, which being his forth feature film, whilst it did impress me overall, was starting to feel as if Watanabe was too comfortably sank down into his own cinematic world of sorts. With this fifth and newest offering, Life Finds a Way, Hirobumi Watanabe delivers his funniest effort yet via the sharply written metafiction that deconstructs the entirety of his being as an artist and personality in general.

As in his previous works, we see Hirobumi, playing himself here this time around, partaking in the mundane day to day activities that anyone can quickly relate to, although it is a decidedly hilarious focus on his laziness that bounds said regularity together. He takes plenty of jabs at himself in this film and having followed his career since the Mudship days and having a personal relationship of sorts with him through online conversations over the years, it's great just how much of it draws from reality and specific moments during his career thus far, albeit and for comedic effect, many things are exaggerated.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The Grand Duel (1972)

Director: Giancarlo Santi
Notable Cast: Lee Van Cleef, Alberto Dentice, Jess Hahn, Horst Frank, Marc Mazza, Klaus Grunberg, Antonio Casale, Dominique Darel

When you have a name like Lee Van Cleef attached to a film, there’s a solid chance that the film will be entertaining. Partner him up in a spaghetti western and you know you’re going to have a decent time. In a film like The Grand Duel, which in itself is a rather mediocre affair, Van Cleef devours the scenery with a nuanced and intense persona that immediately makes the film watchable, no matter how mundane the plotting is or how the tone of the film can shift. This is the experience an audience is going to have with The Grand Duel. Compared to the many, many other spaghetti westerns that Van Cleef starred in, this one does certainly falter in quality and engagement with its audience. Even with its issues, western fans will want to partake in the film for a handful of reasons and that’s on top of this latest chock-full Blu Ray release from Arrow Video.  

Sunday, May 19, 2019

The Red Peony Gambler (1968)

Director: Kosaku Yamashita
Notable Cast: Junko Fuji (Sumiko Fuji), Ken Takakura, Tomisaburo Wakayama, Kyosuke Machida,
Also known as: Lady Yakuza: The Red Peony Gambler

After finishing up the Raizo Ichikawa era of the Sleepy Eyes of Death franchise, it was time for us to look for a new series of action films to cover. Looking through emails and messages, one series stood out as both highly requested and intriguing, The Red Peony Gambler series. It wasn’t my intent to leap from one massive franchise to the next (this one features 8 films) but the idea of a ninkyo eiga or chivalrous yakuza film, based on a woman gambler from the classic era perked my interest. There were a lot of ways for the franchise to take this concept. With this first entry, simply titled The Red Peony Gambler, the series kicks off in a strong way, utilizing its layered characters and gender-focused thematic weight in some surprising ways. It delivers a thoughtful ninkyo eiga where heroism is never quite what it seems and a string of seemingly untethered events tie together. It’s a sharply written and well-executed film that easily ignites the franchise. Just judging by the first entry, no wonder this series was highly requested for coverage.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (2019)

Director: Chad Stahelski
Notable Cast: Keanu Reeves, Ian McShane, Mark Dacascos, Laurence Fishburne, Asia Kate Dillon, Halle Berry, Lance Reddick, Anjelica Huston, Jason Mantzoukas, Yayan Ruhian, Cecep Arif Rahman

There is a delight in knowing that the John Wick franchise exists. Each film, in its own way, exists as a love letter to classic worldwide action cinema. From the 70s style revenge plot of the original to the excess of style reminiscent of Seijun Suzuki’s later yakuza films of the second, each film wears its influences proudly on its sleeves while introducing a “new” audience in the US to what great action cinema looks like. The third entry of this series, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, is perhaps the weakest overall in terms of narrative, but it’s also one that gives the audience what it wants the most: a gauntlet of non-stop action, dark comedic moments, and bold characters. Chapter 3 struggles occasionally to stand on its own. Yet the sheer intensity of its wild pacing and punchy action set pieces are more than enough to keep fans hooting and hollering for more. John Wick is back and he’s ready to slap a horse into kicking his audience in the face.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Hammered in the Neck: Hammer's Dracula Franchise Part III

There is a beauty, style, and look to classic Hammer horror films that only that studio contains. There are only a handful of times in the history of cinema that a studio has defined themselves so steadfast, even when they experiment, one can immediately tell who made it by the style and tone. Hammer is one of those. For this latest franchise article, we were asked to cover some of the major Hammer studio releases and it seemed only fitting to start with the one that most people recognize: Dracula. Spanning multiple decades, the Dracula series is often times as iconic as the original Universal series and it certainly helped solidify both Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee as genre cornerstones. Truthfully, it was a pleasure to be asked to go back and watch this franchise once again and write this series of articles. Not that my words do it much justice, but even if I can inspire one to revisit the films, then I will have done my duty.

Due to the length of this franchise, it only made sense to split it up into multiple articles to prevent having one massive piece that people will tire of reading by the time they reach the third or fourth film. Since there are nine entries, it made sense to evenly split the articles into three films each. For this third and final part of the article, we will be covering the seventh, eighth, and ninth entries into the series.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Kung Fu League (2018)

Director: Jeff Lau
Notable Cast: Vincent Zhao, Andy On, Danny Chan, Dennis To, Ashin, Madina Memet, Jay Chou

Kung Fu League is one of those concepts that immediately makes martial arts cinema fans excited. Not only is it a film where they were going to, somehow, get four of the most iconic kung fu folk heroes to team up, but they managed to grab some iconic actors to star (or reprise) these characters – even if it isn’t the most famous stars from the roles. Still, the time travel concept of getting them to team up is just stupid enough to work.  There are some incredible stupid Chinese films that pull of ridiculous concepts, so the prospect that Kung Fu League would work was not out necessarily out of the realm of possibility.

Of course, Kung Fu League is also a film directed by Jeff Lau. Yes, that Jeff Lau that continually gives us some of the stupidest and most gimmicky films the last couple of decades. Just a couple years ago he directed Soccer Killer which went viral for its spoof of various superheroes playing the titular sport. If you haven’t seen that, I highly suggest trying to find that clip. It’s baffling.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

The Good, the Bad, the Weird, and the Wild: Adam Green

*The Good, the Bad, the Weird, and the Wild is a series of articles that will focus on one particular person, for example, directors, actors, producers, etc., that have had a strong career in genre, cult, and arthouse cinema. In these articles, our writers are asked to choose four films from their filmography. They will choose one of their favorites (the good,) one of their least favorites (the bad,) their choice for the oddest film (the weird,) and a fourth film which will be their ‘wild card’ pick. These articles are meant to be a way of discussing the work of these directors in perhaps a new and fun way for our readers - and our writers. Please keep an open mind, discuss, share, and send in your own suggestions for directors for us to cover.

The online community loves to debate the list of “new masters of horror” time and time again, citing new films, bold voices, or box office success in the genre. One of the more interesting talents that are brought up in these discussions is Adam Green. He erupted on the scene with his slasher throwback horror comedy, Hatchet, and has developed a plethora of unique films in a variety of roles. For this entry into The Good, the Bad, the Weird, and the Wild, my focus will be on Adam Green and is strangely diverse and intriguing filmography as a director – and I’m sure my choices for each category will surprise fans.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Asako I & II (2018)

Director: Ryusuke Hamaguchi

Notable Cast: Masahiro Higashide, Erika Karata, Koji Seto, Rio Yamashita, Sairi Itoh

Ryusuke Hamaguchi is continually proving himself to be one of the finest directors anywhere out there, and that is coming from someone who has unfortunately still yet to see his universally acclaimed Happy Hour. His latest offering, Asako I & II, where it stands at this point in the year, is my absolute favorite film experience thus far. Yes, it premiered in 2018 in many parts of the world, but its U.S release is this year, kicking off at the Metrograph this month (May), courtesy of Grasshopper Films.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Savage (2019)

Director: Cui Siwei
Notable Cast: Chang Chen, Liao Fan, Ni Ni, Guangjie Li, Huang Jue

The harsh tundra of Mount Baekdu in China is the backdrop for one of 2019's biggest surprises thus far, the taut, relentless crime thriller that is Savage.

Wang Kanghao (Chang Chen) is a detective who has been posted to work at a smaller town in the mountainous region, which has been in a swift economic decline since the banning of logging in their local forestry went into effect some years prior to his arrival. Instead of tending to the possible minute local disputes as one would imagine goes on in a town of its size, Wang instead finds himself thrust quickly into a deadly situation as a trio of outlaws rob a passing truck full of gold bars. What ensues is a blood-soaked, frostbitten descent into hell.