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.

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Houses October Built 2 (2017)

Director: Bobby Roe
Notable Cast: Brandy Schaefer, Zack Andrews, Bobby Roe, Mikey Roe, Jeff Larson

The House October Built 2 was announced as a completed film only a few months before it debuted. Seeing as its predecessor built up a decent sized cult following of dedicated fans, a sequel was certainly one that was asked for, but not one that was wholly expected. Still, a franchise of building up a secret evil haunted house cult that hunted down people seemed intriguing and worthy of a expanded look through multiple entries. Even I got a bit excited at the idea and I didn't even even really like the first one. So with a returning director and the entire cast returning I was ready to see what The Houses October Built 2 was willing to take me. 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Cult of Chucky (2017)

Director: Don Mancini
Notable Cast: Fiona Dourif, Michael Therriault, Adam Hurtig, Alex Vincent, Elisabeth Rosen, Grace Lynn Kung, Marina Stephenson Kerr, Zak Santiago, Ali Tataryn, Jennifer Tilly, Brad Dourif, Summer H. Howell, Christine Elise

By the time that the fifth entry, Seed of Chucky, in the decades long Child’s Play franchise had arrived, the series felt wildly off track. This iconic horror franchise has always had its ups and downs, but the first ‘reinvention’ with Bride quickly fell stale and became a parody of itself without enough core horror elements to carry it. This left the stripped back and roots embracing sixth entry, Curse of Chucky, to become a breath of fresh air that displayed just why this series was so much fun to begin with. Now this little jaunt back in time for a couple of entries in the series may seem redundant for fans or those familiar with the Child’s Play franchise, but it’s important to remember now that the seventh one, Cult of Chucky, has been unleashed. That’s because this latest entry into the killer doll series is the perfect amount of traditional slasher and outlandish self-aware camp that we’ve all come to expect from Don Mancini and company. It’s delightfully aware of its own boundaries, maintains the pieces we all watch a Chucky movie to see, and still has no issue with breaking some new ground and pushing the series into some fresh feeling territory. It’s a film that covers a lot of territory and seemingly does it with relative ease to being one of the best of the franchise.

Don't Torture a Duckling (1972)

Director: Lucio Fulci
Notable Cast: Florinda Bolkan, Barbara Bouchet, Tomas Milian, Irene Papas, Marc Porel, Georges Wilson, Antonello Campodifiori, Ugo D’Alessio, Virgilio Gazzolo, Vito Passeri

Lucio Fulci will always be known as a godfather of gore with magnus opus films like Zombi 2 and The Beyond underneath his belt. Yet, the director was a much more diverse artist than just splattering the screen with death and violence and spent a large portion of his career dedicated to other styles and approaches. Of these other films, one of his most well regarded is his 1972 spin on the giallo genre, Don’t Torture a Duckling. Granted, giallo films are still firmly situated in the horror genre so it’s not a huge leap from his more wildly known material for readers of this site, but it’s one of those prime examples of how Fulci could handle horror with vicious elements without being necessarily in your face with it. Not only that, but Fulci accomplishes the task rather well by giving the film palpable tension and using the mystery murder plot to invoke some primal emotions through its thematic punch. It’s not one of his most upfront and thrilling films as Don’t Torture a Duckling does have some issues ultimately, but for fans of giallo films or those looking to dig into the genre, it’s one that deserves a look – particularly in the new jam-packed Arrow Video release.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Big Knife (1955)

Director: Robert Aldrich
Notable Cast: Jack Palance, Ida Lupino, Wendell Corey, Jean Hagen, Rod Steiger, Shelley Winters, Ilka Chase, Everett Sloane, Wesley Addy, Paul Langton, Nick Dennis, Michael Winkelman, Strother Martin

“I’m a deductible item. They write me off in the books!”

Perhaps the biggest thing that plays against The Big Knife is that it was released the same year as Robert Aldrich’s iconic film Kiss Me Deadly. While the former is not nearly as strong as the latter, for some reasons I’ll dig into here in a second, it’s not a film that should be as forgotten from the cinephile mainstream as it has been with time. It’s flawed, yes, but The Big Knife is also a film that provides a rather cynical and vicious look into the dark side of 1950s Hollywood ideals with its character study and dialogue focused framework that shines in its small details. It’s a film that may not interest the more casual film fan, but it’s a film that deserves to be viewed again with the brilliance of hindsight and this Arrow Academy release provides the perfect setting to do so. It’s one more moment where Arrow finds those hidden classics of cinema and brings them back into the light and with a film like The Big Knife it just might kick start a new found appreciation for a cult classic.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Babysitter (2017)

Director: McG
Notable Cast: Samara Weaving, Judah Lewis, Hana Mae Lee, Robbie Amell, Bella Thorne, Andrew Bachelor, Emily Alyn Lind, Leslie Bibb, Ken Marino

When The Babysitter was initially announced on the Netflix Original slate for October, I was intrigued by their commitment to horror comedies. First it was Little Evil, a surprisingly solid film in its own right, and then there was this one. Yet, the inclusion of McG in the director’s chair made me uncertain. Not that I inherently dislike McG, in fact I quite enjoy a chunk of his films, but he’s not necessarily known for his prowess in either the comedy or horror realms of film. It’s perhaps because of this that The Babysitter is so surprisingly fun and effective. It’s not the kind of film that’s going to be taking home awards or even go down as one of the best genre films of the year, but it’s a film that knows its quirks and embraces them rather spectacularly and in robust fashion.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Torso (1973)

Director: Sergio Martino
Notable Cast: Suzy Kendall, Tina Aumont, Luc Merenda, John Richardson, Roberto Bisacco, Ernesto Colli, Angela Covello, Carla Brait, Conchita Airoldi, Patrizia Adiutori, Luciano Bartoli, Gianni Greco, Luciano De Ambosis

Torso was one of those films that when I told my cinephile friends I hadn’t seen they would gasp in shock. ‘You really need to see it,’ they would say. ‘I know, I know. I’ll get to it eventually,’ I would reply. Yet, it took my sorry keister a decent amount of years to get around to it and if it wasn’t for the fact that it popped up to watch for free on my Amazon Prime account I would have probably waited longer. Even then, my initial plan was to put it on in the background as I folded laundry, so I didn’t plan to invest myself fully to the film. I’ll be damned though. Sergio Martino directs the hell out of it. Soon, I had forgotten my laundry and found the credits rolling and an hour and a half had disappeared. Torso was a much better film than the sleazy slasher/giallo hybrid concept made it sound and even though the film is flawed in many regards, Martino brings such a solid game to his direction that rarely did I get caught up in the problematic nuances while it was playing. It’s a film that was built to appeal to the more generic horror fans at its foundations of exploitation, but it’s shot and executed like it’s the best damn piece of cinematic art released that year and it’s that intent that carries the film through the tropes and clichés to being such a pleasant surprise.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Memoir of a Murderer (2017)

Director: Won Shin-yun
Notable Cast: Sol Kyung-gu, Kim Nam-gil, Kim Seol-hyun, Oh Dal-su, Hwang Seok-jeong, Gil Hae-yeon, Kim Han-joon, Shin Ki-joon, Kim Dong-hee, Kim Jung-young

After Well Go USA released the initial trailer for Memoir of a Murderer, I felt a tad underwhelmed. In many ways it looked like a less intense cross breeding of the phenomenally hard hitting I Saw the Devil mixed with the gimmicks of Memento. Yes, both of those films are fantastic, but considering the hype I had been hearing for Memoir, it did seem a tad underwhelming in the grander scheme of things. I guess I just have never learned my lesson. Never, ever underestimate the effective execution of a South Korean thriller. Not only does Memoir of a Murderer live up to the comparisons to both I Saw the Devil and Memento with the style and approach of its plotting, but it soars on its own powered by emotionally intense performances and one of the most engagingly shifty narratives to grace cinemas this year. Memoir of a Murderer is a thriller of the highest caliber ready to leave its viewers breathless and spinning in their own thoughts.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Gerald's Game (2017)

Director: Mike Flanagan
Notable Cast: Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood, Chiara Aurelia, Henry Thomas, Kate Siegel, Carel Struycken

In the attempt of being honest, I went into Gerald’s Game decently blind to the whole concept. I knew it was based on a Stephen King story, but beyond that the story and concept were not all that relevant to me. I knew that Netflix had given modern horror auteur director Mike Flanagan the reigns to the film (perhaps the one reason that I was truly excited to see it), but that was it. So when the film aptly came up and assaulted me with its sharp messages in its character study structure and fluidly crafted a film that blended dire realism with nightmarish blurred realities, it was a shock to the system. Not only is Gerald’s Game one best Netflix original films released by the increasingly fantastic original content from the streaming giant, it’s one of the best films of the year…period. It’s executed with the finesse of a craftsman at the height of his artistic talent and put together with the intelligence and fearlessness to not let it’s more ambitious portions stop it from going where it needs to. It’s a psychological horror film of the highest degree and it further proves the power of its creative foundations. Gerald’s Game is not a game at all. It’s a statement.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Director: Denis Villeneuve
Notable Cast: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri, Lennie James, Dave Bautista, Jared Leto, David Dastmalchian, Barkhad Abdi, Hiam Abbass, Wood Harris

The original Blade Runner has reached an almost God like status as a piece of cult cinema over the last 30 years. It was built on the recipe of such. It’s loosely based on a Philip K. Dick story, it’s a film meant to be outlandishly detail oriented, it’s science fiction that asks big questions and never answers them, and it has multiple cuts that fans can pick apart for its details and philosophical elements. For these things, it feeds into its own influential status in the science fiction genre along with being somewhat abrasive in its slow, stylish approach that often plays against the usual tropes which also makes it wildly divisive among cinephiles. It’s either worshipped or treated with disdain. Which gives it the ultimate cult status. When it was first announced that the sequel, ultimately titled Blade Runner 2049, would actually go forward with some of the hottest talent in the industry in director Denis Villeneuve and star Ryan Gosling, it was almost not believable. Could they pull off a film that retains the tone and style of the original (a divisive aspect of the film) to appease the long time fans, but find a way to advance the story 30 years after the fact? Oddly enough, the answer is very much yes to both of those. Not only does Blade Runner 2049 accomplish the feat of continuing the story without essentially remaking it, but it might even be more ambitious in its style and approach than the original. It’s also a film that may be even more divisive for the absolutely intense style and slow burn approach it uses, so like the original, it is not going to be for everyone.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Atomic Blonde (2017)

Director: David Leitch
Notable Cast: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Til Schweiger, Eddie Marsan, Sofia Boutella, Toby Jones, Bill Skarsgard, Sam Hargrave

It wasn’t that long ago that the action genre got a well-deserved injection in the mainstream consciousness from the first Taken film. It hit all the usual action tropes, but it struck a chord with audiences who bought into it with vigor. This same burst happened again with John Wick a few years ago, but this time it was less about fine tuning the action film style that was popular at the time and more about using style, simplicity, and an old school approach that made the connection with audiences. Call it what you will, but action right now is being propelled by the ‘John Wick Effect’ which itself was still riding a bit on the Taken and Bourne momentum. It has launched the creative careers of the members of 87 Eleven and made a stylistic impact. So when the two directors of John Wick decided to go their separate ways, it only meant that fans would get more. From Chad Stahelski we got the just as impressive John Wick: Chapter 2 and from David Leitch we got the graphic novel based film, Atomic Blonde. Now, the reason this brief recap of the events leading to Atomic Blonde is important is that it’s the measuring stick that this film will judged and it’s one of the reasons that it ultimately feels like more of a mixed effort. Atomic Blonde features some dynamic visuals, a fun classic action concept, and the usual impressive action, but it also suffers from one key problem: forced narrative, leaving the film feeling a bit more uneven than initially expected.

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Game Changer (2017)

Director: Gao Xixi
Notable Cast: Peter Ho, Huang Zitao, Guli Nazha, Wang Xueqi, Choo Ja-hyun, Jack Kao, Long Meizi

There is a cliché phrase used that says ‘there are two sides to every coin.’ Often, this is in reference to two separate ‘sides’ that are based on the same foundation or part of the same core. But I’m sure you know that. It’s why it’s a cliché phrase. Yet, this was a phrase that repeatedly slid through my head as The Game Changer played out in front of me. It’s a film that’s one part gangster drama and one part outlandish homage to John Woo action films, embedded in the same film. While both sides, the dramatic and the action packed, are part of the same film, they definitely feel as though they are on opposite ends of said same film. Both sides have their own fun details, including some concepts and visuals, but they feel disconnected. For what it’s worth, The Game Changer is still a lot of fun and has plenty of elements to admire, but as a cinematic whole is stumbles in trying to rise above being a silly action film leaving the results as two sides, enjoyable on their own, yet hardly connected.