Monday, February 19, 2018

Scalpel (1977)

Director: John Grissmer
Notable Cast: Robert Lansing, Judith Chapman, Arlen Dean Snyder, David Scarroll, Sandy Martin

Going into the latest Blu Ray release of Scalpel, there was only one expectation that I had in mind: that it was directed by the same man, John Grissmer, that gave us the highly entertaining slasher film Blood Rage (which also received a slick Blu Ray from Arrow Video.) With a name like Scalpel and knowing his work on Blood Rage, my expectations for the film were to have a highly entertaining and tongue in cheek film. That is not at all what style is used with Scalpel. Instead, the film is a subtle, atmosphere soaked Southern Gothic film meant to be more unnerving and morally vague than anything else. Still, the film is a cult cinema find for those not familiar with it or love their 70s style atmospheric fringe horror. Not to mention, the release itself is packed with plenty of features that cinephiles will love to dissect.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Black Panther (2018)

Director: Ryan Coogler
Notable Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis

As the Marvel machine continues to march on, there were plenty of questions to whether a) it could survive a saturation of the market as superhero films became blockbuster tentpoles in damn near every quarter and dominate the summer release schedule and b) whether the continuation of these entries could maintain the high quality of mainstream appeal. As the hype around Black Panther continued to skyrocket in the weeks leading to its release, it would seem that the answers to both of these questions would be answered. Not only is Black Panther one of the biggest releases of Marvel’s slate according to box office figures (with a February release and not a blockbuster summer release date nonetheless), but it’s one of their highest rated films from both fans and critics. The film is bold by Marvel standards, adapting the formula of another massive franchise to help differentiate itself from the normal Marvel machine, and its balance between action/comic book mainstream appeal and its social/political commentary is damn near perfect. Not only is Black Panther a film to dismiss the initial questions posed, but it’s handedly one of Marvel’s best.

Zigeunerweisen (1980)

Director: Seijun Suzuki
Notable Cast: Harada Yoshio, Fujita Toshiya, Otani Naoko, Okusu Michiyo, Maro Akaji

Zigeunerweisen is quite the enigmatic film. It's simple, yet incredibly complex, defying any concise description you try to pin on it. It is surreal, but also mundane; it is slow, but endlessly fascinating. These ambiguous feelings are the best way to describe the film, as odd as that may sound; Zigeunerweisen is the epitome of the film you have to see to understand what it is. Even then it refuses to completely reveal itself, but like any piece of art, this is a large part of its charm. Zigeunerweisen is both a departure from previous Seijun Suzuki films and the culmination of what had come before. After his firing from Nikkatsu in 1967, Suzuki spent many years blacklisted and floundering, and it was Zigeunerweisen that ended this period. It was nominated for nine Japanese Academy Awards and won four, and it began the critical re-assessment of the iconoclast director.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Monkey King 3 (2018)

Director: Soi Cheang
Notable Cast: Aaron Kwok, William Feng, Zanilia Zhao, Xiao Shen-Yang, Him Lo, Lin Chi-Ling, Gigi Leung, Tamia Liu Tao, Kingdom Yuen, Cecilia So, Sire Ma Choi, Pan Bin-Long

For starters, it’s really hard to get excited for another Monkey King/Journey to the West film. The various films and franchises that have had bigger than life budgets and huge names attached to them to come out of China recently is starting to wear thin. Granted, the quality of the films are not necessarily waning, thanks to the clever reinterpretation of the character with Wu Kong or the continued fun that is brought to the table with Stephen Chow’s interpretation, but the saturation of the market doesn’t necessarily spell great things. Still, these films do some serious box office cash in the Chinese film market. With the upcoming Chinese New Year, that only means we are getting at least one more and it happens to be the third film is the box office busting Monkey King franchise. For a bit of context, this series has left me with a lot of mixed emotions. The first film was a CGI train wreck that had no idea how to properly use the talents in it, but the second film took a very different tone and went much darker and used a borderline horror approach to take a few steps in the right direction. One could only hope that The Monkey King 3 would continue that uphill sprint and improve on the material that came before it.

Did The Monkey King 3 accomplish this? Well, that’s a tricky question to answer.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Inoperable (2018)

Director: Christopher Lawrence Chapman
Notable Cast: Danielle Harris, Katie Keene, Jeff Denton, Chris Hahn, Isabella Sofia Menna, Cher Hubsher, Crystal Cordero, Gene Michael, Michelle Marin

One of the more fascinating aspects of the horror genre is that, beyond any great kind of execution or originality, if a horror film has a sense of style and dedication to it than it can overcome a lot of obstacles and find its cult audience. Inoperable is an example of such. On the surface, Inoperable is another tricky psychologically powered horror film where our untrustworthy protagonist is thrown into a mysterious position and must unravel some kind of mystery to find her way out, but even with its low budget constraints and occasionally spotty execution, the film has a fun sense of style and entertaining approach that makes up for a lot of its faults. It may not be a horror film that will be a cornerstone of the 2018 slate, but it’s one that will find its cult audience in the end.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Pursuit of Vengeance (1977)


Director: Chor Yuen
Notable Cast: Ti Lung, Lau Wing, Lo Lieh, Paul Chang Chung, Derek Yee, Shih Szu, Wai Wang, Ku Kuan-Chung, Cheng Miu

The Magic Blade is a Shaw Brothers film that has accrued quite the devoted audience for its somewhat eclectic and energetic nature as a film. Deservedly so for the sure entertainment of its absurdity. In fact, there’s an entire article dedicated to why The Magic Blade works in its insanity on this site.  However, it’s not necessarily a well-known fact that the film had a sequel. This film is Pursuit of Vengeance and once again it sees Ti Lung’s unshaven, poncho-wearin’ wandering badass Fu Hong-Xue become involved in a complex conspiracy of the martial arts world where loyalties are thin and the body count is high. For a film meant to follow up The Magic Blade, I’m not sure I would expect anything more than wuxia insanity from this film.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Inside (2018)

Director: Miguel Angel Vivas
Notable Cast: Rachel Nichols, Laura Harring, Andrea Tivadar, Craig Stevenson, Maarten Swaan, Stany Coppet, Ben Temple, David Chevers, Richard Felix

The original 2007 French horror film À l'intérieur, released in the US as Inside, is one of the greatest horror films of the last decade. I’ll say as straight forward as possible in that manner. It’s a cornerstone of the brief and impactful extreme French horror movement of the time period and it’s one that will definitely carry on as a memorable and vicious example of just what that movement gave the genre. When it was originally announced that Inside would be getting a westernized remake, it wasn’t shocking but it also didn’t inspire a lot of faith. One thing about the original is that it’s very much rooted in a European style of horror and that may not be a style that can be replicated to appeal to western audiences. Still, hope was there when it was announced that it would also be a Spanish co-production and that one of the writers and directors of the original REC would be handling the writing and that the director of the intense, toe-curling experience known as Kidnapped would be helming it.

However, the mixture of styles between the Americanized concept and the Spanish use of atmosphere don’t always find the right balance. On one hand, Inside is a much stronger film than expected thanks to the direction and performances, but on the other hand it’s still too close to the original to not be constantly compared to it. When it’s a film as iconic and impressive as À l'intérieur, that’s a problem.

Black Wake (2018)

Director: Jeremiah Kipp
Notable Cast: Nana Gouvea, Tom Sizemore, Eric Roberts, Jonny Beauchamp, Vincent Pastore, Chuck Zito, Jeremy Fernandez, J.W. Cortes, Brett Azar, Rich Graff, David Gere, Kelly Rae LeGault

Often times, it’s the low budget films that present the biggest surprises for cinephiles willing to look beyond budgetary constraints. This is where Black Wake falls in the grander scheme of things. On the surface, the film suffers from its budgetary limits often trying to push them in ambitious ways and that creates a rift between the concept and the execution. However, if one is willing to look beyond some of the sporadic performances and spotty narrative shifts, Black Wake offers an intriguing blend of genres that lingered with me long after the credits rolled. For this story, the film attempts to blend the traditional zombie apocalypse with a science fiction/found footage approach and then enrobes the entire thing with a Lovecraftian sense of dread and otherworldliness that gives it a fun concept. The results might ultimately be mixed, but the dynamics are there and heartfelt conceptual approach carries it through many of its pitfalls.

Friday, February 9, 2018

RV: Resurrected Victims (2017)

Director: Kwak Kyung-taek
Notable Cast: Kim Rae-won, Kim Hae-sook, Sung Dong-il, Jang Young-nam, Jeon Hye-jin, Lee Ji-won, Baek Bong-ki

In the last few years, the South Korean market has started exporting some pretty intriguing genres. Horror, in particular, made quite the splash just two years ago. The Wailing and Train to Busan erupted from South Korea to take the international world by storm. When the first trailer for RV: Resurrected Victims slyly slipped online from Well Go USA, the same company that released the previous two films in the US, it looked like it would be a third film to add to the critical success of the other films mentioned. In fact, the tone and concept almost seemed to be a combination of the two films as it focused on resurrected dead people and what looked like a substantial amount of existential dread. These were the expectations that I proudly strapped on for my journey into the film. These were also the expectations that sabotaged most – if not all – my pleasure in watching RV: Resurrected Victims. Instead of a thorough examination of the social and cultural impacts of its concepts, victims returning from the dead to seek vengeance on those who killed them and were not punished by justice, RV stumbles through and ends up being a cliché riddled detective procedural that embraces the South Korean thriller formula with a ‘safe is better than sorry’ attitude rather than shooting for the stars. Compared to the heights of execution that made The Wailing and Train to Busan immediate critic and fan favorites, RV just rings hollow and hardly can even be considered horror to make those comparisons.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The Cloverfield Paradox (2018)

Director: Julius Onah
Notable Cast: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Oyelowo, Daniel Bruhl, John Ortiz, Chris O’Dowd, Aksel Hennie, Zhang Ziyi, Elizabeth Debicki, Roger Davies, Clover Nee, Donal Logue

One of the aspects of film consumption that has changed drastically in the last handful of years is the distribution of information. With the use of the internet, studios have been required to drastically change how they handle the release of information for films - either keeping it a heavily guarded secret or completely blitzing all channels to maximize social consciousness. This is what makes the Cloverfield films so fascinating. The first film used its mystery as a wonderful marketing campaign which lead to it being a huge box office success. The second film, 10 Cloverfield Lane, used mystery and a short marketing window to surprise audiences who had no idea a loosely threaded sequel was even being made. The third film, The Cloverfield Paradox and the focus of this review, went to a strange extreme. It used its own rumored existence to sucker punch fans by having its trailer premiere during the Superbowl before being released immediately to the masses on Netflix after the game. It was a brilliant marketing scheme that immediately drew attention from fans and curious cinephiles in droves to the streaming giant to find out just what the next Cloverfield film had in store for them.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Kill Order (2018)

Director: James Mark
Notable Cast: Chris Mark, Daniel Park, Denis Akiyama, Melee Hutton, Jessica Clement, Jason Gosbee, Reuben Langdon, Alain Moussi

For years, Blood Brothers has been standing behind the champions of direct-to-home video film making and, in particular, those who are making an artform out of the action films that are overlooked for theatrical releases and end up lost in the shuffle of the numerous films released each Tuesday. Directors like Isaac Florentine, Roel Reine, and James Nunn are all making waves in the genre as true vulgar auteurs. Now, you can add James Mark to that growing list.

James Mark’s debut film, Kill Order, is a modern low budget action classic. In its simplicity, the film shows its true colors and they brilliant and bold as a throwback action film brimming with martial arts and broad stroke gimmicks. It uses the tropes of the genre, spins them with a slightly science fiction spin, and then just delivers the thrills and spills that one wants from an action film without the spectacle of budget that too often gets in the way of core foundational strengths. It’s not a perfect film, but the better aspects of it are so strong and charming that they easily overcome the places where it stutters. Enough so that action fans are going to find one of the true gems of the genre this year.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

The Witches (1967)

Directors: Luchino Visconti, Mauro Bolognini, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Franco Rossi, Vittorio De Sica
Notable Cast: Silvana Mangano, Annie Girardot, Alberto Sordi, Toto, Ninetto Davoli, Clint Eastwood

Outside of being an anthology centered around witches, I tried to go into The Witches as blind as possible. The Arrow Academy label is known for finding some truly under the radar cinema classics for release and their recent slate had been ambitious and robust. With that in mind, there are certainly expectations that go with a release like this one. The Witches presents an intriguing film watch. As an anthology film, it’s often muddled and perplexing with a massive array of styles and approaches to the five stories that it covers. Yet, it’s perhaps one of the more fascinating slices of Italian cultural life from the late 60s that I’ve seen represented on celluloid. It’s a film so inherently rooted in its time period that it’s hard to necessarily pull it out for its commentaries and themes beyond that, but it’s one that within its context is still a fascinating concept – even if the execution is not nearly as dynamic as it might have been. For cinephiles, The Witches is one of those unique films to add to one’s collection if the time period interests them, but it’s not a film that the more casual film fan will necessarily buy into. It’s a curiosity piece more than anything.

Kickboxer: Retaliation (2018)

Director: Dimitri Logothetis
Notable Cast: Alain Moussi, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Hafbor Bjornsson, Christopher Lambert, Sara Malakul Lane, Mike Tyson, Ronaldinho Gaucho, Wanderlei Silva, Fabricio Werdum

When the Kickboxer remake, titled Kickboxer: Vengeance, was getting a release in the US, it was already announced that the sequel was in production and that it would actually be part of a trilogy. These days it's hard enough to get a low budget action film funded, even with mainstream names like Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dave Bautista, let alone an entire trilogy, so there were a lot of expectations that came in tow with the first film. Of course, Vengeance was a decent little actioner with enough charm to pull off its sillier scripting, but it was hardly a film that reinvented the wheel. Fun and entertaining, but hardly more than that. It’s sequel, Kickboxer: Retaliation and the focus of this review, is an even stranger beast. While its predecessor struggled with finding the balance between being a serious film and the cheesiness of being an entertaining modern B-action flick, Retaliation has none of these issues. Instead, it embraces its outlandish concepts with an obvious tongue-in-cheek approach that works to make it far more entertaining as it abandons most of its more serious moments. This can be problematic as Retaliation attempts to craft a much larger world and story, but when you’re having this much fun with how outrageous a film is...can it really be considered all that bad?

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Take Aim at the Police Van (1960)


Director: Seijun Suzuki
Notable Cast: Michitaro Mizushima, Mari Shiraki, Misako Watanabe, Shinsuke Ashida, Shoichi Ozawa, Ryohei Uchida, Toru Abe, Tatsuo Matsushita, Saburo Hiromatsu, Reiko Arai

Seijun Suzuki is one of those directors who was able to add a lot of depth to what should have been a straight forward film. Considering his status, particularly in his early career as a gun for hire for the Nikkatsu studio, it’s in a lot of his early films that one can see his strengths as a director in more subtle ways. One of those films is the occasionally overlooked Take Aim at the Police Van. While having a release through the Criterion Collection in the US certainly makes a statement to the sly artistic merits of the film, Take Aim at the Police Van is a film that is not nearly as upfront with its style as Suzuki would be known for by the end of his innovative career. The thoughtfulness of design is there though and even as the film goes through the motions with its noir meets yakuza film tone, there’s a lot of intriguing layering that cinephiles will definitely appreciate.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Zombiology: Enjoy Yourself Tonight (2018)

Director: Alan Lo
Notable Cast: Michael Ning, Louis Cheung, Alex Man, Carrie Ng, Cherry Ngan, Venus Wong, Chu Pak-Him, Chu Pak-Houg, Rosa Maria Velasco, Eco Tang, J. Arie, Terry Zou, Angie Shum, Anita Chui

To give this review a bit of context, I certainly went into Zombiology with tempered expectations. Most of the people I had previously spoken to about the film thought the film was just rehash of other zombie movie tropes and, outside of the truly insane horror films of decades past, Hong Kong isn’t a place known for producing great horror films – even if it’s mixed with comedy. What makes Zombiology: Enjoy Yourself Tonight such a strange and somewhat refreshing experience is that it has no qualms with using its tropes in abrasive parallels with one another. This film is an energetic shotgun blast of zombie cinema. It’s scattered, perplexing, and forceful with some of its heavy-handed themes. Yet, like its subtitle weirdly promised, I thoroughly enjoyed myself while watching it. It’s definitely a film that I can see rubbing its audience the wrong way in how it approaches some of its subject matter, but for those perhaps more versed in Asian and zombie cinema it might just be one of those overlooked gems worth digging.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters (2018)

Directors: Kobun Shizuno, Hiroyuki Seshita
Notable Cast: Mamoru Miyano, Takahiro Sakurai, Tomokazu Sugita, Junichi Suwabe, Kenta Miyake, Kana Hanazawa, Yuki Kaji, Daisuke Ono, Kenyu Horiuchi, Kazuya Nakai, Kazuhiro Yamaji

When Toho Animation announced that its next Godzilla feature would be an anime, it was easy to see how that would appeal to people. As the months rolled on, the information about this anime, titled Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters, didn’t necessarily seem to coincide with what I associate with a Godzilla film. Namely, the film was a post apocalyptic space film where the plot focused on humans returning to Earth after abandoning it thousands of years previous because of Godzilla’s presence. Other information certainly made me cautious and as time wore on I found my expectations for the film plummeting to the point where I almost had no desire to watch the actual film when it was finally unleashed as a Netflix original just recently.

Still, I’m a Godzilla fanboy and so I pulled myself up by my bootstraps and prepared for Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Deadly Knives (1972)

Director: Chang Il-ho
Notable Cast: Ling Yun, Ching Li, Lily Li Li-Li, Cheng Miu, Chen Yan-Yan, Chan Shen, Dean Shek, Lau Gong, Ku Wen-Chung, Chen Feng-Chen, Tang Ti, Lee Ho, Lee Wan-Chung, Lee Sau-Kei, Kim Ki-Ju, Hung Sing-Chung, Yeung Chak-Lam, Lee Man-Tai, Hung Ling-Ling
Also known as: Fists of Vengeance

Perhaps one of the best and worst things about the Shaw Brothers catalog is that it is so impressively large. There are always films that go under the radar, for better or worse. I’ve seen well over 100 films now in my journey through the catalog and there are always surprises along the way. The latest surprise is The Deadly Knives. Going into the film, I had expectations that it would be a film along the lines of The Chinese Boxer or perhaps more geared towards the traditional early Bruce Lee picture, focusing on the anti-Japanese sentiments of its time period and promoting its heroic protagonist. Yet, the film takes some increasingly interesting moments within its more formulaic foundations and goes to some very dark places that were unexpected. It’s not the most memorable of the Shaw Brothers films from the era, but it’s one that has some impressive moments that add a lot of layering and depth to what might have been a throw away film.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Showdown in Manila (2018)

Director: Mark Dacascos
Notable Cast: Alexander Nevsky, Casper Van Dien, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Tia Carrere, Mark Dacascos, Matthias Hues, Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson, Cynthia Rothrock, Olivier Gruner, Dmitri Dyuzhev, Robert Madrid

It’s not very often that one gets the opportunity to watch a Philippines/Russian co-production film that is an obvious love letter to the action films of Golan-Globus from the 1980s, but that’s one of the strange benefits of being a niche cinephile. For many people, that previous sentence sounds like torture as they would have to wallow through cheesy dialogue, broad caricatures that represent people, and the forced creativity of low budget film making, but for others – like me – a film like Showdown in Manila satiates the B-movie cravings that arise from exactly those things. Showdown in Manila is not what a traditional critic would call a ‘good’ film, but it’s a film that flexes its muscles when it comes to its A-list B-action cast and the throwback mixed formula that it utilizes. As a film on its own, it does crumble under any kind of legitimate critiques. However, with the right mindset and just a bit of nostalgia, Showdown in Manila works as a fun, cheesy, and entertaining 1980s throwback.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Paradox (2017)

Director: Wilson Yip
Notable Cast: Louis Koo, Wu Yue, Tony Jaa, Chris Collins, Gordon Lam, Ken Lo, Jacky Choi Kit, Stephy Tang Lai-Yan, Chan Hon-Na, Vittaya Pansingram
Also Known As: SPL: Paradox

Wilson Yip has become one of the more interesting creative forces to arrive in the modern era from the Chinese film industry. Both as a director and producer, he has had a hand in creating some of the most iconic franchises in the last 20 years from China and his work with the iconic Donnie Yen truly skyrocketed the talented actor and martial artist into stardom. Yet, he doesn’t necessarily play things safe with his films. His latest, released under the title Paradox in English, is a ‘spin off’ of one of these franchises, the popular SPL films. While Paradox has yet to receive an official US release - for the record, the SPL films were retitled as Kill Zone for the US release so it may or may not acquire that title too, it’s a film that certainly should. It’s perhaps the weakest of the three SPL films thus far, but it’s still a film that dabbles in a lot of interesting dark territory with some stellar performances and blisters its audience with impressive action courtesy of the legendary Sammo Hung.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Long Road to Gallantry (1984)

Director: Tang Tak-Cheung
Notable Cast: Kenny Ho, Kara Hui, Rosamund Kwan, Lung Tien-Hsiang, Lily Li Li-Li, Jason Pai Piao, Kwan Fung, Teng Wei-Hao, Chen Kuan-Tai

Truthfully, I went into Long Road to Gallantry with relatively open expectations. Various fellow Shaw Brothers fans online seemed mixed on the movie, either loving it immensely or writing it off as a fun, but expendable 80s Shaw wuxia. Outside of some of the strong casting, including a double dose of fantastic female martial artists in Kara Hui and Rosamund Kwan, the film had not crossed my viewing queue until recently. However, I’m always a sucker for some cheesy and outlandish wuxia and so when it popped up in my Amazon Prime recommendations it didn’t take much convincing to click the play button. Unlike much of the 80s wuxia that I had seen from Shaw thus far, Long Road to Gallantry is more in tune with the style of the genre from the 70s for the studio than that of the 80s. Tang Tak-Cheung, as a director and fight choreographer, is a bit of a throwback artist and doesn’t nearly embrace the special effects focused and outrageous fantasy that was getting popular by this time. Granted, the film does have plenty of silly wuxia elements and a pacing that’s borderline breakneck, so it’s quite entertaining in how it approaches its wuxia core.