Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The Swindlers (2017) and The Island (2018) - BLU RAY REVIEW


The Swindlers was a film that took a little while to finally drop on Blu Ray. Blood Brothers originally ran a review for its theatrical release back in 2017. This is rather unfortunate because The Swindlers is a fun movie. It’s out there. It’s silly. It’s a popcorn flick that South Korea loves to make about charming characters doing outrageous things in a plot that is more inspired by Hollywood than anything else. Its charms do tend to wear off when the plot relentlessly pummels its audience with twists and turns that rarely make sense. The Swindlers hopes that its viewers are willing to take things with a grain of salt as the story unravels and that they not worry too much about the detailing or potential plot holes that arise. It does have a lot of fun set pieces and characters though which makes it entertaining enough for people who enjoy films like Mission: Impossible. For a more in-depth analysis of the film, please see our full review HERE.

Unfortunately, the latest Blu Ray release of The Swindlers doesn’t have any special features on it to speak of to entice viewers. The film itself, like most releases from Well Go USA, is presented impressively with great audio and visual aspects that will keep Korean movie fans happy. There is a slick Hollywood flair to it that is helped by the Blu Ray high definition which is how I would suggest watching the film, but overall the release itself isn’t spectacular. For those Korean movie fans though, it’s nice that The Swindlers did finally get that home video release and if you enjoy entertaining con man/heist mystery action flicks, it comes recommended. Plus, the release itself gets some brownie points for featuring a pull quote from our review on the cover artwork.



Of many of the recent films that Well Go USA has licensed for distribution in the United States, The Island was one that I was perhaps most excited to add to my collection. Although all of the writers here at BB tend to be franchise fools, The Island not only garnered some great word of mouth from critics, but the film looked like it was going to have tons of re-watchability. I can now verify this. The Island is a fantastic genre spinning film. It’s a wild mix of drama, comedy, adventure, romance, and whatever else director Huang Bo wanted to throw into the stew is just a strange and impressive concoction. It has strong visuals, great performances, varieties of style, and – like our previous review of the film for its theatrical release said (which you can read HERE) it deserves the love.

Despite some fantastic new artwork to grace the recently released Blu Ray of the film which does weirdly embrace the somewhat fantastical adventure tones of the film, the Blu Ray itself is not nearly as adventurous. Like the other portion of this review, this latest release is a movie only kind of release. That’s okay though. It might have been fun to have something to dig into the behind-the-scenes or conception of The Island, but the film itself is layered enough that it deserves a purchase to watch and tease out all of the great material here.


Sunday, July 28, 2019

Party Hard, Die Young (2019)

Director: Dominik Hartl
Notable Cast: Elisabeth Wabitsch, Michael Glantschnig, Marlon Boess, Markus Freistatter, Valerie Huber, Antonia Moretti, Hisham Morscher, Thomas Ortrok, Chantal Pausch, Alexandra Schmidt, Nikolaas Von Schrader, Ferdinand Seebacher, Fabian Unger, Michael Ostrowski

Slashers are probably the one genre that will never die. Once it was established, whether you want to argue that it was the late 70s or early 80s, the genre formula has been a cornerstone of the horror market. Even in the late 90s, when the horror genre started to waiver in the mainstream it was the slashers that took over. They are always there. As of lately, slashers are starting to garner steam again and so a part of me braces for the new wave. One of the first that intrigued me lately though was the Austrian film, Party Hard, Die Young which premiered on Shudder. Although the film has some issues foundationally, there is a lot of intriguing elements and style that should perk the interest of its viewers and fans of the genre. 

Mojin: The Worm Valley (2019) - BLU RAY REVIEW

The first Mojin film was a surprise to me. It was fun, it was a dynamic mixture of genres, and the chemistry of its cast carried it through some of the rough patches of the script. The sequel, Mojin: The Worm Valley, was less than impressive. Although I will not spend nearly as much time digging into the film for this brief update (you can read my thoughts on it in full HERE) it should be mentioned that I went in with high hopes, only to find some disappointment in the resulting film.

Now that Mojin: The Worm Valley has dropped on Blu Ray; it was worth taking another gander at it. Fortunately, with tempered expectations, it’s easier to enjoy what The Worm Valley has to offer is popcorn fantasy-driven adventure entertainment. The blend of genres isn’t quite as smooth and re-casting the film strips it of much of its chemistry, but some of the unintentional humor makes for a fun watch that I was willing to give the benefit of the doubt on a second viewing. The Blu Ray release itself is a barebones one in terms of features. It just features the film itself, presented in Mandarin with English subtitles, and no special features. In a distribution world where foreign films rarely get US releases, thanks to a general audience that refuses to support films that are not in English, it’s nice for fans of the source material or those with an open mind to be able to add this to their collection. In particular, I'm a franchise guy and having this side by side with the original gives me joy, even fi the film isn't one of my favorites. The picture, sound, and execution of the film on Blu is worthy of seeing it on Blu instead of DVD (The Worm Valley is special effects and spectacle heavy – even if the CGI itself in the film is spotty) and for that, it gets a recommendation.


Saturday, July 27, 2019

Akira (1988)

Director: Katsuhiro Otomo
Notable cast: Mitsuo Iwata, Nozomu Sasaki, Mami Koyoma

What does one even say about Akira, that could possibly replicate the feeling of watching it for the first time? I saw this movie, like many nerds in my age range, in my early teens. Fascinated by the idea of a cartoon that very loudly proclaimed that it was for adults. Lured by the twin sirens’ calls of violence and sex (because what else could “adult” possibly mean?), I don’t think any of us were quite prepared for what we were going to get. Violent, certainly, but adult in a way I certainly wasn’t expecting; philosophical, meaningful sci-fi, with a dash of body horror (a Japanese specialty), sharp political and social commentary, and stunning visuals, all while maintaining an undeniably punk sensibility. There is a reasonable contingent of people for whom Akira is the literal definition of cyberpunk. It was undeniably in the vanguard of the sub-genre, along with Blade Runner and books like Neuromancer and Snow Crash. It was defiantly not the hopeful retro-futurism of the 50s and 60s where technology exists solely for mankind’s benefit and our troubles came in the form of aliens, or worse, Russians. (pause for laughter) Instead, cyberpunk paints a future of giant mega-corporations and corrupt governments. Of technology run rampant and the devaluation of human life. It also deals with the next stage of humanity, be it psychics or transhumanistic technology. But more than anything, they tend to deal with trying to exist at the street level in such a horrorscape and looking for a little remaining humanity.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Crawl (2019)

Director: Alexandre Aja
Notable cast: Kaya Scodelario, Barry Pepper, Morfydd Clark

This may not be news to anyone, but Crawl is not a movie that exists in any kind of objective reality. It’s definitely within the director’s heightened sensibilities. Alexandre Aja exploded onto the scene in 2003 with the much, much-lauded High Tension, one of the movies that kicked off the French New Extreme Cinema movement, the same one that eventually brought us Inside, Martyrs, Frontier(s) and more. He has both helmed and produced a fair number of genre gems, if not a lot of classics (The Hills Have Eyes {2006}, Piranha 3D, Mirrors) and much in that same vein, we have Crawl, a serviceable, fun but ultimately forgettable creature feature.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Dark Phoenix (2019)

Director: Simon Kinberg
Notable cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Jessica Chastain, Sophie Turner

As a lifelong comic book nerd, and Marvel zombie specifically, I cannot understate the importance of the Dark Phoenix Saga to the landscape of my youth, especially the animated series’ take. Now, that doesn’t necessarily color my review the way you might think, as I’m also a deep believer in adaptation and some of the hidden beauty that can be drawn out of it. Say what you will about Constantine, for example, as a translation? Not even a little bit close. I mean… damn. They cast Keanu as a Brit. Again. At least he didn’t even try the accent this time, instead, they adapted it. And for my money, one of the finer action films of the aughts. So, what about Dark Phoenix, the deeply delayed swan song for Fox’s X-Men franchise? In a strange way, it serves as a great backdrop for a general post-mortem on the series as a whole. It’s extremely shaky with high highs, and low lows, and is better at the time than you remember it, albeit not necessarily good. There are less absolutely bad films in the franchise than you remember (X3, Origins: Wolverine, and Apocalypse being the only actually irredeemable ones).

Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019)

Director: Jon Watts
Notable cast: Tom Holland, Samuel L Jackson, Jake Gyllenhaal, Zendaya, Jon Favreau, Marisa Tomei

In a way, Spider-Man has always been the perfect superhero. He’s relatable in a lot of ways. Granted, most of us couldn’t have invented web fluid and shooters in high school… but we’ve all been a day late and a dollar short in our real lives, and that’s the thing that’s made him so endearing. He’s kind of a sad sack. For every success, something must go terribly wrong. As our third “Spider-Man 2” in twenty years, this accidentally proves true for the franchise. Again.

Getting out of the way immediately that Spider-Man: Far From Home is not actually a bad movie, especially in comparison to either of the “Amazing Spider-Man” movies, it is lacking a certain something. And I believe that ‘something’ is a fundamental misunderstanding of the character’s strength.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Darlin' (2019)

Director: Pollyanna McIntosh
Notable Cast: Lauryn Canny, Pollyanna McIntosh, Nora-Jane Noone, Cooper Andrews, Bryan Batt

Darlin’ was one of the films that I was most excited to see in 2019. Not necessarily because it was going to be the best film of the year, but the concept of the film as a follow up the incredibly dynamic and provocative The Woman was enticing. Add to the fact that the actress from the predecessor, Pollyanna McIntosh was both writing and directing the film made it even more fascinating. Although McIntosh does not quite have the steady hand and directorial skills that Ketchum and McKee brought to the table to make The Woman such a vicious film, Darlin’ is, indeed, a bold follow up that extends some of the themes of the original into new territory while still delivering the same kind of abrasive material expected. It’s also a film that struggles with some of its structure and getting over its budgetary restraints, but it makes some big swings and that’s worthy of praise.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Double Face (1969)

Director: Riccardo Freda
Notable Cast: Klaus Kinski, Christiane Kruger, Gunther Stoll, Annabella Incontrera, Sydney Chaplin, Barbara Nelli, Margaret Lee

When Arrow Video announced that they would be releasing Double Face, I really had no reaction. There is a sense of trust from the cult cinema community concerning what Arrow aims to accomplish with their releases and I share in that trust, but Double Face was a film I had never come across previously. Thus, I had no expectations for it prior to watching the film. I saw the cover, but I even refrained from reading the synopsis to go in with as fresh eyes and mind as possible. Not everyone will be able to see the film that way, but it made for a very different experience for me. Double Face is a strange and stylish spin on the usual murder mystery film. The narrative tends to get muddled underneath what it feels is a relatively clever premise, but the style is effective and a couple of key performances make it an interesting film even if its foundations start to crack under the weight.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The Andromeda Strain (1971)

Director: Robert Wise
Notable Cast: Arthur Hill, David Wayne, James Olson, Kate Reid, Paula Kelly, George Mitchell, Ramon Bieri, Kermit Murdock, Richard O’Brien, Peter Hobbs

The Andromeda Strain has always held a special place for me as a film. Growing up I was obsessed with the author Michael Crichton. After seeing Jurassic Park and I went back and read all of his books. His ability to be completely scientific within the realms of fiction writing was a style of writing and thoughtfulness I had never experienced before. The Andromeda Strain was one of my favorite novels. It was intense and detailed. Even though the book was well over 30 years old at the time I read it, it shook me with its realistic approach to apocalyptic procedures and space contagions. When I first saw the film, I couldn’t finish it. I wanted to, but ten-year-old me just wasn’t able to do so because I would fall asleep every time. I wanted to love the film, but the translation from the book to the silver screen was not necessarily the most exciting thing in the world.

Now it’s 2019 and Arrow Video has decided to tackle the infamous 1970s science fiction “thriller” with the usual gusto that they approach all of their titles with. It was a prime moment for me to revisit the film that defied me so long ago and see if, as an adult, I could at least finish it in one sitting.

I did but 10-year-old me wasn’t too off the mark on this one.

Starfish (2019)

Director: A.T. White
Notable Cast: Virginia Gardner, Christina Masterson, Eric Beecroft, Natalie Mitchell

 A random "best of the year in horror" list on social media from an acquaintance of mine is the reason Starfish ended up in my review queue. The author listed Starfish as his #2 slot. This is how I came to watch this film. If I had heard of the film in my previous excursions around the genre internet, it never made an impact on me to remember to keep an eye out for it. Even though it recently dropped on VOD, Starfish had almost no marketing and hype to it in my world. Partner that with the rather intriguing, but bland poster and I'm not sure I would have watched this film. Shame, really. Starfish is fantastic and it deserves so much more hype and discussion that I’m seeing it receive.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Red Peony Gambler 3: The Flower Cards Game (1969)

Director: Tai Kato
Notable Cast: Junko Fuji, Ken Takakura, Kanjuro Arashi, Teruo Ishiyama, Tomisaburo Wakayama

Although this was briefly discussed in my franchise reviews for both the incredible Zatoichi and fan favorite Sleepy Eyes of Death series, but the manner that the Japanese film industry would shotgun the release of entries into a popular series is something to be admired. The admiration extends to, but particularly includes, when it comes to maintaining a sense of quality while entries are both within the formula and giving each one its own identity. For the topic of this review, the next installment in the requested franchise coverage of the Red Peony Gambler called The Flower Cards Game is the third film of the series released within six months. Let that sink in for a second. Three films. Six months. Impressive? What’s even more impressive is the relatively minimal drop in quality over these three films. Although The Flower Cards Game is perhaps the weakest of the three, the film has its own unique tone that sets it aside from the previous two and still manages to maintain a strong narrative and solid execution.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Midsommar (2019)

Director: Ari Aster
Notable Cast: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Vilhelm Blomgren, Will Poulter, Ellora Torchia, Archie Madekwe

When the first film someone makes is one that comes down with a massive splash for both the genre and the cultural mainstream, the follow-up film needs to be something special. This is the situation that Ari Aster found himself in after the release of Hereditary. While his previous film tended to divide more casual audiences, it’s instant resonating impact with the horror community and critics could not be ignored. It’s not often that a director and writer is thrown into the category as a genre genius with one film, but that’s what happened. The instant success of that film allows Aster even more leeway in his second feature and distributor A24 is game to back it. This is where Aster’s sophomore effort, Midsommar, comes into play. The film might be bigger and brighter, but is that always better in horror? That’s the challenge that Midsommar attempts to hit straight on. Despite some of the brilliance that is being displayed here in the film, Midsommar also feels like a film that is trying to be that next step for the director and doesn’t quite hit its mark in the same amazing ways that Hereditary does (and still does). It’s bold and epic for what constitutes a relatively intimate horror film. There are things that Aster brings to the game that continues to impress in its execution and concept. However, the lacking balance to the art, horror, and set up/pay off makes Midsommar ambitiously flawed too.  

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Ghost of the Golden Groves (2019)

Directors: Aniket Dutta & Roshni Sen (Harun-Al-Rashid)

Notable Cast: Joyraj Bhattacharjee, Soumyajit Majumdar

Admittedly my knowledge of Indian cinema as a whole is almost non-existent in the grand scheme of things. I cannot speak to the overall state of Indian movies as a whole, however, I can say out the couple of handfuls that I have watched, both mainstream and more independent in nature, I have never quite seen a work like Ghost of the Golden Grove surface from the region. It's not just refreshing as a film confined within the scope of its own native cinema but a fresh new stroke of paint on the pallet of film, as a whole, making for one of 2019's greatest artistic offerings.

Directors Aniket Dutta and Roshni Sen have paired up to make their directorial debut collectively under the moniker Harun-Al-Rashid, a unified and singular voice that really does reflect their vision as a whole onscreen. A truly accomplished blend of artistic ideals that makes for not only one of the most thought-provoking works of the year but one of the most entertaining too. I don't wish to delve too much into the plot here, as going in blind is very beneficial in the end, but the film follows two separate characters, one during the first half and the other in the remaining time.