Thursday, December 7, 2017

Sleepy Eyes of Death 5: Sword of Fire (1965)

Director: Kenji Misumi
Notable Cast: Raizo Ichikawa, Tamao Nakamura, Michiko Sugata, Sanae Nakahara, Ko Nishimura, Ryuzo Shimada, Koichi Mizuhara, Junko Kozakura, Toru Abe

Aka: Nemuri Kyoshiro 5: The Swordsman and the Pirate

By the time that the Sleepy Eyes of Death franchise hits its fifth entry, the series has already seen its fair share of quality shifts and unique approaches to its series formula. It started off on some questionable and pulpy ground, but found a balance between serious artistic merit and those pulpy entertaining pieces with the last few entries. This balance of the previous films is what makes the fifth entry, Sword of Fire, such an intriguing one. Mainly because it’s a film that strips back a lot of the more entertaining elements for a starkly serious thriller tone. Where previous entries use some strong faced characters, snappy dialogue, or dynamic settings, Sword of Fire opts for a ‘less is more’ approach to things and plays its script in subtle ways. For fans of the series, it’s perhaps one of the less memorable ones due to these choices even if the film itself is impressively handled.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Stratton (2018)

Director: Simon West
Notable Cast: Dominic Cooper, Gemma Chan, Austin Stowell, Tyler Hoechlin, Tom Felton, Thomas Kretschmann, Olegar Fedoro, Derek Jacobi, Connie Nielsen, Jake Fairbrother

There’s a part of me that sincerely feels bad that Simon West has essentially dropped into the straight-to-home-video realm. Sure, most of his films are glorious B-movies anyway like Con Air and The Expendables 2 with a few questionable ones to add to the mix (*glares at my copy of the When a Stranger Calls remake on my shelf*), but often enough he’s a much stronger director than people give him credit for. His latest film, after the disappointing Gun Shy that just came out, is the espionage film Stratton, which is based on the popular book series. Stratton is a shocking West film though. Shocking enough, that I had to watch it twice to truly appreciate what it was offering after I started it. For all of the great B-action movies that West is known for, Stratton is much more serious and grounded than expected. Reading the synopsis, it sounded like a low-budget James Bond film, but in reality, it takes its Bond-like concept and grounds it in a much more dramatic and subtle espionage thriller akin to Jack Reacher. Yes, Stratton is an effective merging of James Bond meets Jack Reacher. That’s not a sentence I thought I would be typing, but in the end it’s true.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Better Watch Out (2017)

Director: Chris Peckover
Notable Cast: Levi Miller, Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould, Patrick Warburton, Dacre Montgomery, Viginia Madsen, Aleks Mikic

If a person digs through the $5 bin or stumbles into the straight to home video section of their local Wal Mart, one is likely to see that Christmas themed horror films are a dime a dozen in the last couple of years. It’s an easy gimmick to grab and throwing on the word Krampus or a bad Christmas pun for a tagline guarantees a handful of impulse buys in box stores looking for some counter programing to the usual Christmas movies that bombard their TVs. Yet, it’s a sub-genre of horror that does have its merits when properly utilized. This leads to the hesitation and excitement for any new film that adheres to the Christmas theme. Better Watch Out, a rare horror release from our friends at Well Go USA who are known for distributing foreign films usually of the action variety, marks an intriguing spin on the Christmas horror film. It’s a film rooted in the Christmas film idea, at times even going as far as referencing a famous Christmas film that I will talk about here in a bit, but also spins it as a home invasion/survival film with a wickedly effective dark sense of humor. Better Watch Out is a film that somewhat takes its audience in different directions than expected and still presents a film that grows on repeated viewings. Some fans may not love that it doesn’t play its hands up front, but for those going into it with an open mind, Better Watch Out will become an instant holiday horror classic to revisit in years to come.