Saturday, September 28, 2019

The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil (2019)

Director: Lee Won-tae
Notable Cast: Ma Dong-seok, Kim Mu-yeol, Kim Sung-kyu, Heo Dong-won

It didn’t take long for The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil to start making some waves when it premiered at Cannes Film Festival. Between a blissfully brilliant concept and having actor Ma Dong-seok (aka Don Lee because I guess they are still trying to make that name change a thing) in the film, it was primed to have certain cinephiles sold on seeing it. However, it’s when Sylvester Stallone announced his plans to already remake the film that I think even more casual fans stood up to take notice. All of this hype around the film could potentially spell high expectations and a chance for disappointment, but the film itself hardly disappoints when it comes to being a bombastic action thriller. The film plays its concept more straight forward than expected so this is not the artistic serial killer thriller in the same sect as The Chaser or I Saw the Devil. However, the combination of scene-stealing performances, brutal action set pieces, and an effective third act makes The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil a potent action experience.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Rambo: Last Blood (2019)

Directed by: Adrian Grunberg
Notable cast: Sylvester Stallone, Paz Vega, Yvette Montreal, Óscar Jaenada, Sergio Peris-Mencheta

Author’s Note: It’s hard to discuss anything to do with the Rambo franchise without observing the politics therein. They are all inherently political movies and I think the best of the franchise has something real to say. Now, I don’t think Rambo: Last Blood is so much actively making a statement as it is using some of the horrors of human trafficking and Mexican crime cartels as a generic “boogeyman” and as motivator, but in the reality we’re existing in now, it’s also not unfair to say that using these real-world horrors as dressing in your film means that it needs to be handled with a tact and grace that Last Blood doesn’t manage. This film has both cartoonish, Eli Roth movie-like gore effects and brutally realistic sexual violence/torture, and the incongruity of that is a problem, even if the politics themselves weren’t. I am going to review the movie as it is and not make any more specific political proclamations, and furthermore, I’m going to review this movie on its narrative and intent alone. The above is worth mentioning because, for some people, this movie will be difficult if not impossible to sit through and it bears mentioning up top.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Midnight Diner (2019)

Director: Tony Leung Ka Fai
Notable Cast: Tony Leung Ka Fai, Deng Chao, Eddie Peng, Vision Wei, David Cheng, Liu Tao, Kingscar Jin, Tony Yang, Joynce Cheng, Hao Ping, Zhang Yishang, Liang Jingkang, Wang Jingwen

Tony Leung Ka Fai might be one of the greatest actors in the world. Not just from China or Hong Kong, but in the entire world. He automatically uplifts any film he is in, whether it’s pulpy action thrills, weighty drama, or, in the case of Cold War, both. He’s showered in accolades as an actor from both the Hong Kong and Golden Horse awards. Midnight Diner was going to be a film to see simply because he’s in it. What makes this film even more interesting is that it is his directorial debut too. It made me start to wonder if his talents onscreen could translate behind the camera and whether the omnibus style of the film’s concept could serve him well.  

All of this combined is what makes Midnight Diner such a wildly missed opportunity. Despite another solid performance from Tony Leung Ka Fai, the film lacks a sense of direction and its multi-story pattern eventually crumbles under the melodrama and lacking screen development for any of the characters. It has its moments of heartfelt ideas, characters, and charm, but they are fleeting in a film filled with unjustified emotional punch and lacking cohesion.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Tazza: One Eyed Jack (2019)

Director: Kwon Oh-Kwang
Notable Cast: Park Jung-Min, Ryoo Seung-Bum, Choi Yu-Hwa, Woo Hyeon, Lee Kwang-Soo, Lim Ji-Yeon, Kwon Hae-Hyo

After one of the writers here at Blood Brothers raved about the first two entries into the Tazza series from South Korea, I was rather ecstatic to be able to see the third entry in theaters. Although I have not, at this time, seen the first two entries of the series, the impression I understand is that the if there is any kind of direct connection then it’s minute at best. This third film, under the title Tazza: The One Eyed Jack, is a highly entertaining film. Like it’s gambling thriller basis, One Eyed Jack doesn’t win all of the hands that it deals out, but it wins the long game by playing all of the cards at the right times – folding when it starts to get off track and going all-in during the finale. It might not be the most efficient film in telling its story, but the message rings loud and true and the thrills of its swindling plot are a sure-fire bet.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Who Saw Her Die? (1972)

Director: Aldo Lado
Notable Cast: George Lazenby, Anita Strindberg, Adolfo Celi, Dominique Boschero, Peter Chatel, Alessandro Haber, Nicoletta Elmi

Director Aldo Lado surprised me with the bold and well-executed choices of his giallo film, Short Night of Glass Dolls. This is what made me excited to finally partake in his only other film of this type and the focus of this review, Who Saw Her Die?. The inclusion of a relatively stacked cast, including one-time James Bond George Lazenby, only perked my interest further. If the film was anything like Short Night, it was bound to be one of the best giallo of the era. Through Arrow Video’s latest (and incredibly stacked Blu Ray), Who Saw Her Die? finally found it’s way to my viewing queue. Despite some great executions from Lado and company, the film features a rather by the numbers plot that doesn’t quite have the hooks and angles that made his other film so great. Still, despite a more traditional plot, the film finds its niche in some stylish use of setting, great performances, and snazzy kill set pieces to appease giallo fans and horror/thriller fans alike.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

3 From Hell (2019)

Directed by: Rob Zombie
Notable cast: Sherri Moon Zombie, Bill Moseley, Sid Haig, Richard Brake

3 From Hell is a movie that requires some context to fully understand, so it’s necessary to briefly summarize how we got here first. Rob Zombie’s first movie, House of 1000 Corpses, tells us of the Firefly clan, a family of Texas psychopaths who trap tourists searching for the local spooky legend, an ex-Nazi scientist named Dr. Satan. In 1978, seven months after the killings depicted in the first filmSheriff Quincy Wydell leads a raid on the Firefly house. This kicks off the second film, The Devil’s Rejects, and the ensuing firefight kills most of the serial killing family and leads to the capture of the family matriarch who’s subsequently tortured to death by Wydell. Two members escape and act as our effective franchise protagonists. The first is Otis Driftwood, played by Bill Moseley (who’s own genre star-making performance in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 made him a natural fit in Zombie’s TCM inspired world) who is a murderer, rapist, and self-aggrandizing taxidermist with a nihilist streak. The other is Baby, played by the director’s wife, Sherri Moon Zombie in her signature role, who is a deranged, dangerous, childish, and a game playing killer with a tenuous grip on reality at best. The two are joined eventually by Captain Spaulding (Haig), an evil clown and purveyor of “The Museum of Monsters and Madmen”, who sent victims to the Firefly’s by spreading the legend of Dr. Satan and, as we also find out, is Baby’s father. After The Devil’s Rejects (a self-branded moniker) are finally captured and confronted by Sheriff Wydell, they escape again just to drive straight into a wall of police, and the firefight (set, reasonably on the nose, to ‘Freebird’) ends the violent, terrible lives of the three human monsters. It’s a neat, perfect capper to what is a horrid, unblinking examination of the human capacity for evil. There are no heroes in this story, only bad people and worse people, and most couldn’t imagine we would ever revisit anyone from the family.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Freaks (2019)

Directors: Zach Lipovsky, Adam B. Stein
Notable Cast: Lexy Kolker, Emile Hirsch, Bruce Dern, Amanda Crew, Grace Park, Ava Telek, Michelle Harrison, Matty Finochio

The mystery box film has been something I’ve always enjoyed. Even when M. Night Shyamalan essentially claimed the entire genre as his own for a while, I’ve always appreciated a film that toys with its audience on what it’s doing or where it’s going. With the way that modern marketing has gone though, these are a style choice that’s a gimmick more than anything else. Thinking back to how JJ Abrams has maneuvered the Cloverfield franchise or his own Super 8, the way that the film industry makes the questions such a punchline can ultimately undercut the experience of the film. Audiences are immediately looking for the twist. This is what makes Freaks relatively special. Even the trailer that Well Go USA released gave us just enough about the basics of the film, but the final product plays with the details throughout so that it takes two acts before the audience even starts to put things together. It’s an incredible and powerful experience of cinema. The film ultimately ends up going into some familiar territory, but the manner that it gets there is riveting and incredibly well executed. For a mystery box film, it’s a wallop.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Haunt (2019)

Directors: Scott Beck, Bryan Woods
Notable Cast: Katie Stevens, Will Brittain, Lauryn Alisa McClain, Andrew Caldwell, Shazi Raja, Schuyler Helford, Phillip Johnson Richardson

If you were to judge it based on its overall marketing, Haunt is the kind of film that should have dwindled away on VOD. There is a strong movement for “haunted house” horror films. Not the ones about ghosts, but the theme-park style haunted houses that people love to visit around Halloween time. Some of these have been good, Hell House LLC for example, and some have been less than good. Either way, there seem to be more and more lately as the genre continues to grow. When Haunt was announced it didn’t make much of a splash overall in most of my circles. It was getting a limited theatrical release which was the same day as VOD. Even though horror fans were most likely to see it, it’s the kind of film that to get a release without much fanfare.

There is one angle that made it a fascinating addition to that subgenre. Haunt was written and directed by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods and it’s produced by Eli Roth. The directors/writers proved they could modernize old school horror to a very successful extent with their written material for A Quiet Place and Eli Roth is relatively smart in the producer’s chair in bringing up talent. Fortunately, the combination proves to be very effective and Haunt ends up being one of the best films for the haunt movement and one of the best finds of the year.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Eerie (2019)

Director: Mikhail Red
Notable Cast: Bea Alonzo, Charo Santos-Concio, Jake Cuenca, Maxene Magalona, Mary Joy Apostol, Gabby Padilla, Gillian Vicencio

Initial trailers made me relatively excited for Eerie, the Filipino horror film that was recently picked up and released via Netflix in the US, but then the weird publications started to get a hold of it. Headlines that claimed it was too scary for regular audiences and how people had to sleep with the lights on started to make their way across social media and it immediately turned me off of it. Not that those kinds of claims indicate a film is good or bad – another Netflix release, Veronica, was a film I quite enjoyed that received the same treatment, but clickbait articles like those sour me a little. Having a bit of free time to review a few films for the year that I had not seen was the main reason I decided to partake in Eerie after some of that overzealous hype had worn down. Although there are certainly some creepy set pieces to be enjoyed in the film, the overly predictable nature of the plot and its adherence to so many tropes of the ‘ghostly girl’ sub-genre make it a rather mixed effort. For every interesting piece of execution, it follows it up with a mediocre one. For young horror fans, more casual film watchers, or those simply not versed in the sect of Asian ghost stories, Eerie might be appealing. For the rest of us, it’s a rather hum-drum addition to the genre.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

It: Chapter Two (2019)

Directed by: Andy Mucshietti
Notable cast: James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Bill Skarsgård, Isaiah Mustafa, Jay Ryan, James Ransone, Andy Bean

It: Chapter Two serves as a really good reminder of why people remember and celebrate the childhood half of the story. That may seem harsh, but if anything, this movie does deserve praise for making the material as interesting as it’s possible to make it. The adaptation of the story and some of its more esoteric elements are at the very least bold and interesting. I’m a long-time devoted King reader, and I grew up with the Tim Curry miniseries, but I’m going to take this film strictly on its own merit. For a record of my potential bias, the miniseries doesn’t really hold up, and probably wasn’t that good in the first place, and the book is definitely upper tier King but admittedly kind of a mess. Especially the ending…

Itsy Bitsy (2019)

Director: Micah Gallo
Notable Cast: Bruce Davison, Elizabeth Roberts, Arman Darbo, Chloe Perrin, Denise Crosby, Treva Etienne

Maybe it was just fate. Perhaps there's the snapback of quality that is happening right now that comes every decade or so, but the creature feature genre is getting a hefty dose of ‘hell yeah’ in the booming horror scene. Earlier this year Aja and Raimi dropped a fantastic and efficient killer gator flick to theaters with Crawl and just last month saw the release of the Kickstarter funded and Shout!/Scream Factory distributed killer spider flick, Itsy Bitsy. It’s the latter film that’s the focus of this piece and, quite frankly, it deserves the praise. Although the film has certainly been on my radar for most of the year, particularly after the very effective trailer dropped a few months ago, Itsy Bitsy hasn’t had the word of mouth response in my circles that it rightfully deserves since it’s release on VOD last week. The fact remains, Itsy Bitsy is an efficient and effective throwback creature feature that pours on the tension, spikes it with some grotesque moments, and delivers on its simplistic and intimate premise. In a world where the stupidity and self-awareness of SyFy original monster films reigns, Itsy Bitsy is a serious and well-crafted piece of genre cinema aiming to take back the sub-genre.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Don't Let Go (2019)

Directed by: Jacob Estas
Notable cast: David Oyelowo, Storm Reid, Byron Mann, Mykelti Williamson

Don’t Let Go is a Blumhouse Tilt movie that snuck into theaters last week to little fanfare. Much like other movies released under the Tilt name, this film has a lot of bold ideas and a reasonably young, fresh talent expressing those ideas. Like a couple of other BH Tilt movies, namely The Belko Experiment, The Green Inferno, and Upgrade before it, this plot is well navigated territory with a slight genre tint to help it stand out. Does it work as well this time as it did for those? Not quite and that’s too bad.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Red Peony Gambler 4: Second Generation Ceremony (1969)

Director: Shigehiro Ozawa
Notable Cast: Junko Fuji (Sumiko Fuji), Hiroyuki Nagato, Kyosuke Machida, Bin Amatsu, Hosei Komatsu, Shunya Wazaki, Tatsuo Endo, Shoji Nakayama, Hitoshi Omae, Kenji Takamiya, Misa Toki

“I wish you good luck from the shadows.”

By now the formula is established. The first three Red Peony Gambler films share a common structure and narrative that solidifies the identity of the series, but by the third film it was starting to wear thin – even if that film ends up being quite the impressive little period yakuza film. For the fourth film of this franchise, with the subtitle Second Generation Ceremony, the series takes a somewhat unique direction that differentiates it from its predecessors. One part of me enjoys the film for a relatively refreshing approach to telling the next chapter of Oryu’s saga as a wandering yakuza gambler. The other part of me found the film somewhat of a chore to sit through with its sluggish pacing and occasionally overbaked plot. Although it’s a flawed film, Red Peony Gambler 4 is still a decent film, but it doesn’t find the balance and effective thematic depth of the three films prior.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Ne Zha (2019)

Director: Jiao Zi
Notable Cast: Lyu Yanting, Cao Yalong, Wang Zheng, Chen Hao, Zeng Hongru, Yang Wei, Zhang Jiaming

One of the more fascinating pieces about the rise of the Chinese film industry over the last five to ten years is how incredibly unpredictable the entire thing is as a whole. Films that would seem to check off all of the boxes to soar in the box office flounder and yet other films come out as massive surprises. Of the latter category, Ne Zha might be one of the most astounding. China has been slowly putting together an animation film plan over the last few years to build an audience there and recent foreign box office successes like Disney’s Coco and a re-release of Spirited Away have laid the groundwork for a domestic giant to arise. As it turns out, that film is Ne Zha. Ne Zha took China by storm, generating astronomical box office numbers and becoming something of a legend seemingly overnight, enough so that international distribution label Well Go USA took notice and quickly generated a theatrical release for the film in the US. A surprising move since, well, it’s a foreign language animated family film. Still, now that the film his been unleashed on the unsuspecting US market, it’s safe to say that, yes, Ne Zha is a blast. The animation is fun and tight, balancing traditional cartoon choices with lush CGI detailing, and the story and narrative find a strong balance between the family-friendly moments and key fantasy action set pieces. This landmark animated film takes the best of the blockbuster formulas that China has learned from Hollywood and given it a delightful and distinctly Chinese spin. The results are a rip-roaring ride of laughs, action, and bigger than life fantasy morals.