Sunday, November 19, 2017

Wu Kong (2017)

Director: Derek Kwok
Notable Cast: Eddie Peng, Ni Ni, Shawn Yue, Oho Ou, Zheng Shuang, Faye Yu Fei-Hong, Quao Shan, Yang Di, Wang De-shun, Quentin Zhang, Zhang Yi-Qian

The recent explosion of various Monkey King films from China’s film industry can be a bit overwhelming to keep straight. It’s not that there hasn’t always been an obsession with the Monkey King (and Journey to the West) stories in the market, but lately it seems even more intense. Animated films and two major franchises have seen releases in the last handful of years, so when a potential new franchise was announced for the character it was a bit yawn inducing. The Monkey King franchise covered the family friendly aspects of the character for his mischievous adventures and Stephen Chow’s Journey to the West films covered the more traditional stories nicely and with plenty of pizzazz in blending comedy, action, and heart. So what could the latest film Wu Kong, directed by Derek Kwok and starring A-lister Eddie Peng as the titular Monkey King, really bring to the table? As it turns out, much more than expected. Based on a popular online novel, Wu Kong forgoes the traditional dynamics of the Journey to the West story and goes for more of an origin of the character and the result is actually quite impressive. It’s executed in striking fashion and the film takes a more humane and emotional bent for the character that’s much more adult oriented than The Monkey King, which tried to pull off the same concept. For films that feature the Monkey King as one of the lead characters, I have to admit that Wu Kong just might be my favorite of recent memory which comes as a huge surprise to me.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Blood Splatter: 2017 Horror Vol. 4 [Raw, 1922, Jackals]

RAW (2017)
Director: Julia Ducournau
Notable Cast: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Nait Oufella, Laurent Lucas, Joana Preiss

The fascinating thing about Raw is that with all of its exploitative content (cannibalism, gore, sexuality) that it never treats itself like an exploitation film. It uses all of those elements to simply convey some of the themes of its story in heavy handed, but wholly cinematic ways. Themes about feminism, familial influence, coming-of-age youth pieces, communication, and the strange stresses that can break down students new to college are all seemingly fitted into a plot about a young woman who succumbs to cannibalistic urges, more or less. The balance and artfulness of how those themes congeal though is impressive to say the least. Raw is artfully done and it is the kind of horror film that will resonate much longer than many of its peers thanks to its layered and robust writing/execution that allows for lengthy cinephile analysis. In many ways, the film is much akin to early Cronenberg, albeit without the rough edges and fiesty 'be all, end all' energy, and for that I give it much praise.

Justice League (2017)

Director: Zack Snyder
Notable Cast: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, JK Simmons, Connie Nielsen, Ciaran Hinds, Joe Morton, Amber Heard, Billy Crudup

At some point, I should just know better. To get my hopes up at all that Justice League could pull off the ambitious task of continuing the plotting of where Batman V Superman left off, introduce three new heroes, and still manage to balance the tones and intents of the course correcting DC Cinematic Universe (DCCU) was just silly. Perhaps it was the heights that Wonder Woman actually reached as a heartfelt and interesting blockbuster that made me hope for the best. Perhaps it was the rumors and articles claiming Joss Whedon had to do extensive reshoots to try and produce a stronger film that made me hope Justice League would work. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter all that much because Justice League is a film that tries to cover its gaping holes and problematic issues with quips, cheesy moments, and the quickest pace of any DCCU film thus far. No matter how much fun the film tries to be, it’s built on extremely cracked and challenging foundations that undermine the experience of the film.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Black Butterfly (2017)

Director: Brian Goodman
Notable Cast: Antonio Banderas, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Piper Perabo, Abel Ferrara, Vincent Riotta, Nathalie Rapti Gomez, Randall Paul, Katie McGovern

Pairing up Antonio Banderas and Jonathan Rhys Meyers is this weird thing that I never expected and was somewhat excited to see. The initial trailers for Black Butterfly seemed to indicate that the film would end up being a more mundane thriller, relying on some kind of twist to carry the film more than anything else, but the powerhouse screen devouring talents of the two leads should make the film worth the watch. Fortunately and unfortunately, both of the above assumptions based on the trailer were somewhat true. Black Butterfly is carried by two fantastic performances that continually attempt to top the other, but it’s also a film that spends a lot of time being an above average, but not great, thriller that ultimately relies on a few key moments to hook the audience into its narrative.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Suspicious Death of a Minor (1975)

Director: Sergio Martino
Notable Cast: Claudio Cassinelli, Mel Ferrer, Lia Tanzi, Gianfranco Barra, Patrizia Castaldi, Adolfo Caruso, Jenny Tamburi, Massimo Girotti

Sergio Martino, like many of his peers in the Italian genre film industry of the time period, was not boxed into crafting one genre. He directed horror, science fiction, westerns, and many kinds of films. Sometimes, he would direct multiple genres in one film. While often The Suspicious Death of a Minor is labeled as a giallo, this film is a lot more diverse than just that one classifier would indicate. It occasionally has trouble finding its own momentum and narrative flow as it navigates the treacherous minefield of genre shifting, but it does leave the audience unsure of what to expect in the film as it unfolds and that does add to the experience of watching it. Through the newest Blu Ray release of the film, courtesy of cult cinema champions Arrow Video, it’s time to revisit one of Martino’s most subtlety odd and intriguing films just to see why it succeeds and falters at its own game.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Party 'Round the Globe (2017)

Director: Hirobumi Watanabe

Notable Cast: Gaku Imamura, Hirobumi Watanabe, Ringo

Premiering at this year's Tokyo International Film Festival, Hirobumi Watanabe's forth feature film, Party 'Round the Globe, trots familiar territory whilst also feeling somewhat fresh as it morphs into a celebration of cinema, music, baseball and really just life itself. Does it chart new ground? Not really, but fans of Watanabe's style will most certainly find themselves in for a treat as his gorgeous black and white, witty examination of life continues, this time in a electronics shop.

I absolutely adore Watanabe and his cinematic worlds, and for those who know me, have heard time and time again that Poolsideman, the filmmaker's previous, is easily my favorite film of 2017, and that still stands as we are quickly beginning to draw near the end of this year's cycle. That film took everything I loved about this previous two works and mixed them into something totally original and very impacting. Everything about that film clicked and just worked for me. The social commentary and character study Poolsideman examines crafts and timely and masterful piece of work by a director very early into his career, with his debut And the Mud Ship Sails Away, only having come out in 2013. Perhaps nothing will reach the heights of that film again for me, but going into Party I was excited, and ultimately it doesn't disappoint, though it may perhaps be my least favorite Watanabe outing to date.

A Taxi Driver (2017)

Director: Jang Hoon
Notable Cast: Song Kang-ho, Thomas Kretschmann, Ryoo Jeon-yeol, Yoo Hae-jin

Based on the true story of a Seoul-based Korean taxi driver, Kim Sa-Bok, and German reporter Jürgen Hinzpeter, A Taxi Driver is a cinematic retelling of a cowardly driver turned courageous as he escorts a foreign man into the hellish Gwangju, a city which was undergoing heinous violence and oppression from its dictator government during an uprising in the 1980s, that in which before these two men infiltrated the city, was being kept a big secreted and fabricated into a lie, broadcast to the rest of the country.

Right from the get go, Song Kang-ho has the power to allure even the snobbiest of film goer. He is the definition of a true star, but unlike most stars, at least in the Western reaches of cinema, Song can act like no one else of his caliber can. He's playing his typical goofy and sort of bumbling self, which he has gotten quite good at over the years, but as usual, he is very likable and charming in that offbeat way that only Song Kang-ho can do in the form that he does.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Jeepers Creepers 3 (2017)

Director: Victor Salva
Notable Cast: Meg Foster, Gabrielle Haugh, Stan Shaw, Joyce Giraud, Jordan Salloum, Ryan Moore, Brandon Smith, Gina Phillips, Jonathan Breck

For a little context, I’ve been a huge Jeepers Creepers fan since the original one came out in 2001 and even quite enjoy the second film. They are fun monster flicks with just enough oddities and dark humor to really run with the concept. Since Jeepers Creepers 2 came out, I’ve been anxiously awaiting the third film that has been rumored for years. Whether or not Salva was involved, I really wanted to see this series keep going. Ring in 2017, the year where things go horrifically awry, and Jeepers Creepers 3 ends up getting a one night theatrical showing in limited theaters and then premieres on the SYFY channel. It’s the latter where I was able to catch the film and…truthfully, it’s where it belongs. Not only is Jeepers Creepers 3 a terrible sequel to a surprisingly effective franchise, but it’s one of the worst films I’ve seen this year. To steal a common online phrase, it’s a dumpster fire.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Creep 2 (2017)

Director: Patrick Brice
Notable Cast: Mark Duplass, Desiree Akhavan, Karan Soni, Patrick Brice, Caveh Zahedi, Kyle Field, Jeff Man

Creep was one of those films that seemingly came out of nowhere, surprised the hell out of everyone that saw it, and created its own cult status through its ingenuity and impressive execution. It was also a film that, by the end, told the story it wanted to tell. Its strength was in its ability to ride a line where the audience didn’t know what was going to happen and who Duplass’ character really was, so when that is all covered by the end, the story was done. This is what made Creep 2 a wild card film. Sure, the first one was a low-key success and it received wide spread critical acclaim, but how do you pull out a sequel when the main contributing factor to the predecessor’s strength was its surprise?

You do it just like Creep 2 does it. It acknowledges that the audience is aware of the circumstances of the first film, continues to use its sense of unease and another stellar performance from Duplass as an anchor, and then spins those things back into creating that same sense of unease where viewers still don’t know how it’s going to end. Like the first one, it’s rather brilliant.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Let the Corpses Tan (2017)

Directors: Helene Cattet, Bruno Forzani
Notable Cast: Elina Lowensohn, Stephane Ferrara, Bernie Bonvoisin, Michelangelo Marchese, Marc Barbe, Marine Sainsily, Herve Sogne, Pierre Nisse, Aline Stevens, Dorylia Calmel, Marilyn Jess

Directors Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani have already established themselves as vulgar auteur artists. Their first two films, giallo inspired and mesmerizing horror films Amer and The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears, did divide horror fans with their intense modern manipulation of classic 70s Italian style, but in their efforts they have developed a devote cult following. A following that I subscribe to. When the chance arose to see their latest film, Let the Corpses Tan, at the Denver Film Festival, I was immediately there. The audience was new to the directors and their style, as indicated when the presenter asked who had seen their work and I was the only one to raise my hand, and, in all honesty, Let the Corpses Tan was a good way to introduce the audience to their work. It’s easily their most cohesive film when it comes to being consumable for viewers and while it still retains their often-abrasive moments of violence, eroticism, and dynamic narrative structures, the film has a lot more dialogue, plot, and defined characters than any of their previous work. And Let the Corpses Tan still soars as an artistic endeavor.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Red Christmas (2017)

Director: Craig Anderson
Notable Cast: Dee Wallace, Geoff Morrell, Sarah Bishop, David Collins, Janis McGavin, Gerard O’Dwyer, Bjorn Stewart, Deelia Meriel, Sam Campbell

Holiday themed slashers are all the craze right now and in indie, low budget horror it’s thriving. After watching films like All Through the House, A Christmas Horror Story, and having films like Good Tidings and Better Watch Out on my upcoming queue for the season, it felt proper to watch at least one during the Halloween binge I had in October. That film was the Australian film Red Christmas. Oozing with style, this controversial topic emblazoned slasher is pure exploitation (Ozploitation) and yet executed with absolute intent on being taken seriously as a horror film meant to stir a debate and it’s here that perhaps the film will either win its audience or lose them, as any truly effective cult film will accomplish. In that sense, it’s hard not to praise Red Christmas even if it has its problematic moments and pieces. Its intent is executed with style.

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Blood Splatter: 2017 Horror Vol. 3 [Creepy, Wish Upon, Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl]

CREEPY (2016/2017)
Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Notable Cast: Hidetoshi Nishijima, Yuko Takeuchi, Teruyuki Kagawa, Haruna Kawaguchi, Masahiro Higashide, Ryoko Fujino, Toru Baba, Takashi Sasano

When it was announced that auteur director Kiyoshi Kurosawa would be returning to the horror genre with his film Creepy, it was really, really hard not to get very, very excited. Between 1997’s Cure and 2001’s Pulse, the man had crafted truly artistic and effective horror films and it had been some time since he dabbled in the genre. Creepy not only lives up to the hype created by some of his previous genre outings, but it delivers some of the most unlikely unnerving moments of his career. The film is horrifyingly effective at developing a sense of dread and unease in its audience and it makes for one of the most satisfying horror watches I’ve had in a long time.

The Blackcoat's Daughter (2017)

Director: Oz Perkins
Notable Cast: Lucy Boynton, Kieman Shipka, Emma Roberts, James Remar, Lauren Holly, Emma Holzer, Peter J. Gray, Matthew Stefiuk

Oz Perkins is setting out to establish and conquer a niche corner of the horror spectrum. I was a massive fan of his previous (debut) film, I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House, and I was looking forward to see where he would go with his sophomore effort The Blackcoat’s Daughter. His first film was certainly divisive for those who watched it and while this one will most likely divide viewers again with its atmospheric and vague approach to plot, he improves on the style of his debut with a more complex narrative and even creepier unnerving tone that makes this film one of the best horror films of the year. This is a film that relies solely on execution to sell its concept and the execution is so effective that it didn’t need the plot, characters, or anything else to do the work for it. The Blackcoat’s Daughter is one of those statement films that earns its merits in that manner.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Broken Sword Hero (2017)

Director: Bin Bunluerit
Notable Cast: Buakaw Banchamek, Sornsin Maneewan, Nanthawut Boonrubsub, Pootarit Prombundal, Kochakorn Nimakorn, Rapeepat Ekpankul, Jaran Ngamdee, Nirut Saosudchart, Vannapoom Songsupap, Chutirada Junthit, Manop Aswathep

The martial arts quest film is one of the more popular formulas for the genre. Even if it comes as a part of the whole, having our heroes strive to learn more and better themselves through tests and challenges is a key part to the genre and one that fans usually celebrate with almost no regard to the actual quality of the quest itself. This is what makes the Thai period film Broken Sword Hero a rather fun twist on the usual tropes of the genre. It’s a quest film, certainly, but often times instead of just a series of montages showing growth or finding a single challenge they must overcome, Broken Sword Hero approaches it like a road trip film. There’s a destination and on the way our hero meets friends that become fellow travelers where they learn about themselves and the world around them as a vicious villain chases them down. It’s almost refreshing that the tone of the quest is different here and, in spite of some issues with the consistency of tone and some of the cheesier moments, it ends up being a highly enjoyable martial arts cinematic experience.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Creep (2014)

Director: Patrick Brice
Notable Cast: Mark Duplass, Patrick Brice, Katie Aselton

In the realm of Blumhouse films, Creep was one that they seemingly didn’t believe would generate box office buzz with more mainstream audiences and was eventually dropped to one of their straight to home video channels. In a way, it’s completely understandable. Creep is a strange film and one that isn’t nearly as exciting or wildly dynamic in its style that Blumhouse is known for catering in their theatrical horror releases. Yet, it’s also perhaps one of their more impressively executed films that takes the usual found footage elements and spins it on its head and delivers a film that accomplishes just what the title its audience tons of creeps. Sure, it was dumped to straight to home video, but it’s here where it will thrive.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Jigsaw (2017)

Directors: The Spierig Brothers
Notable Cast: Callum Keith Rennie, Cle Bennett, Matt Passmore, Hannah Emily Anderson, Mandela Van Peebles, Laura Vandervoort, Brittany Allen, Paul Braunstein, Joshiah Black, Tobin Bell

Saw was one of the first franchises that I felt like was connected to me. I was a freshman in college when the first one came out and I’ve seen every one in theaters, even going as far as defending it in many horror social groups as one of the truly iconic franchises of horror. Even then, the seventh Saw film – under whatever title you want to call it – ended the series on a low note. It was cartoonish and problematic. It, along with decreasing box office revenues, essentially killed the franchise. That is until rebooting everything became even more trendy than before and nostalgia started selling tickets even more. Thus, the return of ‘If it’s Halloween, it must be Saw’ with the 8th installment, Jigsaw. Let’s be honest though, this film has potential. The Spierig brothers in the director’s chair, time to not rush the film into production, and a new more cinematic look to the film all gave it a renewed sense of being a true ‘reboot’ without being a remake. Yet, as the credits rolled and the usual Saw music played after it revealed the usual spins and twists of plot, it was easy to feel underwhelmed. Jigsaw does indeed do what it wanted to by rebooting the franchise and still giving fans the pieces of the franchise they wanted, but it’s too safe. It adheres to its formula like it’s a religious reckoning, afraid to deviate too far and possibly alienate the inherent fanbase. In this effort, as a reboot it feels too much like a disconnected sequel and as a sequel it ignores the mythology too much to truly appease the super fans. Jigsaw is a fun Saw movie and hits all of those key moments and delivers on those goods, but is it so much to want more from it? Or has the franchise, even 7 years beyond the last entry, just too comfortable doing the same?

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Erik the Conqueror (1961)

Director: Mario Bava
Notable Cast: Cameron Mitchell, Alice Kessler, Ellen Kessler, George Ardisson, Andrea Cecchi, Jacques Delbo, Franco Giacobini, Raffaele Baldassarre, Enzo Doria, Gianni Solaro

No movie was safe from an Italian knock off, particularly if it was popular and made money. Almost every major genre film that made an impact in the 60s and 70s had its fair share of Italian rip offs whether it was Alien or Mad Max, Jaws or The Exorcist. In the case of this review, it was The Vikings that found itself the inspiration for its own brand of Italian spice. The trick of this one is that Erik the Conqueror, the film at the center of this review, just might actually be as good – if not better – than the film it was inspired by. Much of this has to do with its director, the iconic Mario Bava, who simply takes what could have (and rightly should have) been a carbon copy and injects a wickedly effective mesh of fantasy inspired visuals, charismatic performances, and occasionally surrealistic tones into an adventure film that rises well above and beyond the norm. Erik the Conqueror is more than a cash grab, it’s an artistically powered piece of cinematic entertainment that’s realized in all of the most amusing ways. No wonder this was on the list for a new Blu Ray release from Arrow Video. It’s a cult cinema dream and deserving of the attention of this release.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Leatherface (2017)

Directors: Julien Maury, Alexandre Bustillo
Notable Cast: Vanessa Grasse, Sam Strike, Stephen Dorff, Lili Taylor, Chris Adamson, Finn Jones, James Bloor, Jessica Madsen, Sam Coleman

All of the major horror franchises have had their ups and downs in quality. None of them are quite as intensely diverse or poorly constructed as a franchise as the Texas Chainsaw Massacre series though (although Amityville gives it a run for its money.) Starting off with one of the iconic films that continually influences the genre to this day, the rest of the series is a hodge podge of slashers that shift in style almost as much as they shift in quality. After the train wreck (but weirdly effective box office earner) that was Texas Chainsaw 3D, the series was in desperate need of an artistic overhaul. When they announced that French filmmakers Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo were going to take a stab at a prequel for the franchise, eventually titled Leatherface and not to be confused with Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, it was easy to get excited. While Leatherface is most definitely a unique spin on the usual Texas Chainsaw lore, it’s also a film that forces its hand a bit too often in trying to appeal to the fanbase and shock its audience. It’s a film with key moments of heightened effectiveness, but succumbs to the series’ lack of cohesion too.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Blade of the Immortal (2017)

Director: Takashi Miike
Notable Cast: Takuya Kimura, Hana Sugisaki, Sota Fukushi, Hayato Ichihara, Erika Toda, Kazuki Kitamura, Chiaki Kuriyama, Shinnosuke Mitsushima, Ichikawa Ebizo XI, Min Tanaka, Tsutomu Yamazaki

As it was very well publicized in the US as a marketing ploy for the film, Blade of the Immortal marks the 100th film by Takashi Miike (which, for the record and at the time of this review, he’s now in post-production of his 102nd film although that’s certainly a debatable number entirely based on the credits themselves, but I digress) and it’s fitting that this film would mark his transition into the triple digits. It’s not because Blade of the Immortal is his best film. When a dynamic director such as this gets to 100 films of such diversity it’s hard to make claims of what’s his ‘best’ simply due to the ground he has covered, but this film feels like one that’s decently consumable on a mass scale yet still feels like it pulls aspects from a lot of his various films for its execution too. It’s like a greatest hits of style and pieces of his long and illustrious career wrapped into one massively entertaining spectacle. While that sounds like perhaps the film is watered down overall, Blade of the Immortal is not. It’s a film that takes a rather simple core structure and builds a world of characters and gimmicks around it that never ceases to entertain and draw the audience into their lives. This is Miike at some of his most lavishly entertaining and it’s a celebration of his style that serves as a declaration of his continued momentum towards being one of the most ambitiously prolific directors ever in any worldly film market.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Brotherhood of Blades II: The Infernal Battlefield (2017)

Director: Lu Yang
Notable Cast: Chang Chen, Yang Mi, Zhang Yi, Olivia Wang, Tan Zhuo, Lei Jia-Yin, Xin Zhilei, Chin Shih-Chieh, Li Yuan, Mickey Yuan, Liu Feng-Chao, Wang Ren-Jun, Wu Xiao-Liang

Back in 2014, Brotherhood of Blades came out as a rather big surprise. For a modern wuxia, it had an impeccable sense of balance to its dramatic storytelling, old school Hong Kong style brotherly loyalty at its core, and a flashy sense of taking modern action and mixing it with classic wuxia elements. It was artistic enough to be effective and heartfelt, but entertaining enough to strike a chord with more mainstream audiences. It was also a surprise box office hit along with winning a few awards to add to its list of strong qualities. Fortunately, it was enough to warrant a franchise out of the film and this year we were given a prequel, Brotherhood of Blades II: The Infernal Battlefield, that tells the ‘origin’ story of Chang Chen’s character from the original film. As much as a prequel can horrifically backfire, in another round of surprises, Brotherhood of Blades II is just as impactful, fun, and effective as its predecessor. It’s inherently the same kind of film, a historically set wuxia surrounding a conspiracy with plenty of morally gray characters to fill out the tale, but it’s also one that strips the film back and refocuses itself on one key element: a love story. And it works brilliantly.