Saturday, August 31, 2013

Last Tycoon, The (2013)

Director: Wong Jing
Notable Cast: Chow Yun Fat, Sammo Hung, Francis Ng, Huang Xiaoming, Yolanda Yuan, Yuan Li, Monica Mok

While Chow Yun Fat might not be doing the action packed films he was doing 15 years ago, he consistently thrills every time he appears onscreen. Well outside of "Bulletproof Monk," where he might have been the one saving grace, he usually appears in only top tier films. You can add "The Last Tycoon" to that last too. While this epic historical drama might not have as much action as I would have hoped to cater to the 'gun fu' fan in me, the riveting tale of a poor man rising to the top allows for some of his best work in a film that deserves more accolades in the world wide scene then it has been receiving.

Cheng Daqi (Chow Yun Fat) has had a rough battle in his life. Growing up poor, he lost the love his life when her father made her move to find a better life and in an attempt to make something of himself he joins the criminal underworld under the guiding arms of Hong Shouting (Sammo Hung). There he rises quickly to become one of the most powerful men in Shanghai only to find himself at the mercy of a war against Japan that could ruin everything.

A brilliant shot of how the sets work for character tone.
As I sat watching "The Last Tycoon," I kept having a recurring thought. Why has this film been so massively overlooked? While it has gotten to the point that Well Go USA has been delivering unique and fantastic Asian films over and over again, why wasn't there more coverage of "The Last Tycoon" at the various film festivals and international markets when it was first released? As is, it leaves this intense drama as a relative precious gem undiscovered for many fans and if it wasn't released by a mainstream distribution company like Well Go to get it into our hands.

Now I'm sure you are left with the question, why is this film such a gem? Let's start with its challenging plot. While the structure of the film tends to leave a bit to be desired as it leaps between two time periods (one that explains how he rose to power as a young man and the other his fall from power at the onset of World War II), the journey there as a character study is strongly expressed. "The Last Tycoon" is beautifully shot to maximize its sets including a 1930s Shanghai and the film is grounded with phenomenal performances from Chow Yun Fat and a rather impressive performance from Huang Xiaoming who plays a perfect younger Chow Yun Fat. While the secondary cast tends to always play second fiddle to our leads, there is some very impressive performances there with Sammo Hung and Francis Ng delivering instantly memorable roles even with little in the way of full character development.

Huang Xiaoming steals every scene he is in.
"The Last Tycoon" also has a few solid action set pieces that really impressed me. While I wasn't necessarily expecting them, I was far more focused on the great character study and historical placement, fans of gun fu era of Chow Yun Fat will be surprised to find a couple moments tucked into the film. A massive street fight has some brutal knife fights, there is a John Woo inspired church shootout, and the finale is both heart-breaking and epic in its scope as our lead Chen Daqi decides to step up to be the heroic man we've seen him as outside of his rise to power using illegal means. Even if none of these moments are the focus, they are a welcome addition to a film with solid foundations.

If anything, any of the structural flaws or underdeveloped sub-plots (including a love triangle that feels like it needed a bit more meat at the end) is that this film is too large for its play time. Most of it is great when it happens, but it's hard not to crave a little more. When "The Last Tycoon" delivers its A+ material from its story to its character work to it's impressively shot action moments. It's not perfect (is there any film that's truly perfect?), but dammit this is truly a gem of Chinese modern film making that should have garnered much more attention then it has thus far. If you are a Chow Yun Fat fan, then you have to purchase this film. "The Last Tycoon" is a highlight film in his career.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

"The Last Tycoon" gets its official release from Well Go USA on September 17th, 2013. The links below can be used for purchase and pre-order. Support foreign cinema. Support Well Go USA. Support Blood Brothers. Order your copy right now!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Ten Tigers Of Kwangtung (1980)

Director: Chang Cheh
Notable Cast: Ti Lung, Ku Feng, Fu Sheng, Sun Chien, Lu Feng, Wei Pai, Kuo Chui, Lo Mang, Chiang Sheng

The fact that “Ten Tigers Of Kwangtung” had an essential all star cast of Shaw Brothers A-list martial artists and was directed by the illustrious Chang Cheh instantly sets it up for failure in many ways. While one might want the film to be an “Avengers” like accumulation of charm, action, and awesomeness, the film comes off more like an “Ocean’s Thirteen” with far too much talent that’s essentially wasted on throw away characters and an overly ambitious plot that seems unsure of what to do with half of them anyway. While the film is saved to some extent by its star power with a few strong performances and a strong sense of action sequence pacing, the rest of “Ten Tigers” stumbles to get it right overall.

When a young man and corrupt leader combine forces to extract revenge on five young ‘brothers’ they set into motion a plan to bring the legendary “Ten Tigers” out of hiding to finish a plan that failed years prior when the Ten Tigers originally joined forces to establish a rebellion against the authorities.

The guy with the stick obviously doesn't know the stance yet.
The idea behind “Ten Tigers” is quite simply…fucking epic. Ten legendary fighters teaming together to kick start a rebellion against the authorities? A cast of legendary Shaw actors like Ti Lung and a handful of the Venoms mob make for a film that any self respecting Shaw Brothers fan needs to see and under the direction of Chang Cheh, “Ten Tigers” does sport some charismatic performances all the way around as each member comes packing with a gimmicky kung fu style to help out including a man whose fingers are unbreakable and immensely strong. While the action is impressive, particularly towards the end, it’s the cast that’s the most impressive of all.

"Rock, paper...STOOL!"
“Ten Tigers” isn’t the perfect film though. Despite all of the elements it has going for it with cast and director, the concept of “Ten Tigers” is simply too big for the film. It’s almost like there was a “Ten Tigers” and a “Ten Tigers” sequel that were mashed together to try and make one large epic film. The main story is actually about the Ten Tigers’ sons who are being killed off one by one by the vengeful son of a corrupt leader whom the original Ten Tigers had to kill in their rebellion. So the film jumps back with elongated flashbacks to the original Ten Tigers (this is where are amazing cast resides) and how they came together outside of their differences to kick ass. It then jumps back to the present to continue the main story. The leaping back and forth tends to be a little jarring at times and while most of the character development is left for the flashbacks, the sons of our heroes tend to be left with little in the way of development. There are far too many characters to begin with in both stories, but combing them leaves even less time for anything outside of a few to be fleshed out.

"Where's my character arc?!"
On the plus side, the film has enough action and crazy martial arts sequences to satiate any kung fu fans’ hunger. In the flash backs, our heroes settle their differences with a solid amount of fist-to-cuffs and in the “present” sequences, the sons have to team up to fight ridiculously gimmicky villains and their assassination weapons. The latter leads to one of the most epic decapitations I have ever seen on film let alone in a kung fu film. Oh Chang Cheh, you always did know how to jack the violence of your films to the next level.

“Ten Tigers” is still a massively entertaining film and despite flaws in trying to jam two movies worth of material into one and rather broad stroke characters, the charming cast and vicious fight sequences fill in for many of those issues. As a Shaw Brothers fan, it’s a great film for my collection even if I’m occasionally dumbfounded by the lacking cohesion of the film.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

BTooom! episodes 1-12 (2012)

Let the games begin! 
Hey gang! I am excited to bring you all another anime review and it hasn't even been a month. Somebody has actually had a bit of free time lately and I have filled it with some pretty awesome anime titles.
This anime title is another in the fine line of titles brought to us by Sentai and Madhouse studios. Which, by the way, has put out some of my favorite titles hands down. "Btooom!" is yet another adaptation from a manga series which is kind of like American comic books, meaning that there is basically an endless supply of stories to pull from and I am totally fine with it.  So here it is, my review of "BTooom!"

Story- After waking up dangling from a tree strapped in a parachute our lead character Ryouta Sakamoto quickly realizes he ain't in Kansas anymore. Upon freeing himself he learns that he is on a tropical island and all the other inhabitants are trying to kill him. Within the first battle Sakamoto starts piecing together that this life or death game is oddly similar to a mega popular video game he was playing back home. "BTooom!" which is played by throwing bombs at your opponent. Last one standing wins sort of thing. Through a series of flashback scenes we learn how and why these people were chosen for this game.

Review- Do you like an action packed anime series plus have a soft spot for all things video games? Well then "BTooom!" is the one for you. This series was one helluva good time. From non stop bomb exploding action, to the coming together of teams, to figuring out you just can't let your guard down. No one is to be trusted. The plot really isn't anything new or original but if you think it is anything like "SAO" or "Hack/" you would be mistaken. Yes, there are similar elements with the whole battle in the video game/virtual reality thing but this is different. They bring the video game to real life and when you die you die . Of course you have several players that are very familiar from the VG version which help to aid them in real fights. The aforementioned Sakamoto is the #1 Japanese player and 10th best in the world. However it isn't just gamers that are stranded on this fantasy island of death, it is low lifes and even a member of high society looking to win this game and get back to their old lives. Visually, the whole series looks great. Lots of cool action shots and explosion scenes that really pop (no pun intended). The music for this series really set the mood for me too. Fast pace rock themes really played into the style of the series. Overall I enjoyed this series. I only real complaint is it ended so abruptly, I feel it could use a second season just to really wrap up the story holes.

So I will end with this. "BTooom!" has great action, a bit of romance mixed with violence and gore. The plot/story is solid not great. For my entertainment buck "BTooom!" brought it all. My rating is a healthy...

Written By John Price
 Be sure and comment if you have something you would like me to review.

Return To Nuke 'Em High (Volume 1) (2013)

Director: Lloyd Kaufman
Notable Cast: Asta Paredes, Catherine Corcoran, Zac Amico, Vito Trigo

Ahh Troma. The film distribution and production company where debauchery, nudity, gratuitous violence and musical numbers all go hand in hand. Troma has released a lot of movies but nothing beats the heyday of the 80s and the 90s with classics like “The Toxic Avenger,” “Tromeo and Juliet,” and “Terror Firmer.” Now it seems like Troma is revisiting those days with a late sequel, “Return to Nuke ‘Em High.” Yet, those who have seen “Kill Bill” would be familiar with how this film rolls out as it’s only “Volume 1” with “Volume 2” still in the works. The “Class of Nuke ‘Em High” films are very beloved by Troma fans, being a huge favorite delivering on all fronts of what Troma is known for. But the questions remains, can they do it again? Well so far the answer seems to be yes.

“Return to Nuke ‘Em High (Volume 1)” is exactly that; a return to the school that was once condemned thanks to radiation. The school is open once again. Students have to be scanned before entering and the now defunct nuclear power plant is taken over by a health food company. Of course, it’s not Nuke ‘Em High without some radiation! The irresponsible food company who is more concerned with profits than contamination gets their junk in the school cafeteria where it’s eaten by some unsuspecting students, hence we are back in Nuke ‘Em High again. The film itself follows the new rich girl, Lauren, and her encounter with another student that runs a blog against the food company, Chrissy, who also seems to be questioning her sexuality. But it’s also not a "Class of Nuke ‘Em High" without the Cretins! A staple of the franchise, the Cretins are back but probably not the way you’d expect. They are a product of the contaminated tacos that make their way into the school cafeteria.

“Return” starts out with a bang, with some sex and gore that is all very familiar with Troma, setting the tone for the rest of the film. You have your occasional farting, overacting, nudity, debauchery, violence, musical numbers, violence, Lloyd Kaufman, low budget effects, and just plain weird, random, and ridiculous. Well, that just so happens to be a recipe for an entertaining popcorn Troma flick when executed properly which this one mostly is. What really makes the film work is the humor that comes from our two leads and the Cretins. I am very much a fan of the choice of wardrobe and makeup for the Cretins, which perfectly catches the feel of the ones from the original yet also have their own twist. One of the things that I enjoyed the most about “Return to Nuke ‘Em High” is the music. I’ve always been a fan of Troma’s soundtracks and this film is no exception. The film is also unpredictable since you never know what to expect in this film, as it doesn’t seem to follow an exact plot line. But it’s a Troma film so who cares? It actually kind of adds to the film.

Being a film that is actually more like half of one, I can’t say that I’m a fan of the “Volume 1” and “Volume 2” format. The end of “Volume 1” is a little sudden, and I didn’t think it was even ending by the time it rolled around. The poster for the film is really not for “Volume 1,” but for both Volumes so you’ll notice that there are images on it that don’t occur in “Volume 1” at all. Maybe I would have been more of a fan of the idea if I liked the ending more, but in retrospect it isn’t terrible. It’s just not anything exciting. Either way, “Return to Nuke ‘Em High Volume 2” has a lot to deliver with what the film’s poster promises, which makes the wait ever so long! Troma is back to their old selves again so at least we all know that there is more to come. 

Written By Elise Holmes

Assassin's Bullet (2013)

Director: Isaac Florentine
Notable Cast: Christian Slater, Mariana Stanisheva, Donald Sutherland, Elika Portnoy, Timothy Spall

Isaac Florentine might not be a A-list director, but it’s hard not to love the fully embraced B-grade awesomeness of his previous films like “Ninja” and the “Undisputed” sequels. When I discovered it was the same Isaac Florentine that was behind this straight to video action thriller “Assassin’s Bullet,” the film went up my viewing queue pretty quickly. While the film was more of a thriller than action, it still very much catered to that same ridiculous vibe that the rest of his films do – albeit without as much of the charm.

When an Embassy worker (Slater) in Bulgaria is asked to assist local law enforcement hunt down a vicious assassin who has been targeting terrorist cells, he reluctantly agrees despite vowing to never do law enforcement again after the death of his wife and his retirement from the FBI.

I had the same face when I found out Slater was still alive.
In an interesting twist on my expectations of the film, there is actually two leads to “Assassin’s Bullet.” While the cover art work and synopsis above might indicate Mr. Christian Slater as our lone hero on the case, he mostly splits time with the female lead Portnoy. While the Slater plot provides most of the basic thriller elements as he investigates some deaths and haphazardly sifts through a generic anti-hero character depression about his wife’s passing and overcoming it, the Portnoy plot adds a more dramatic spin. Unfortunately, she has a bit of trouble carrying the film with her acting and the “twist” of the film is so ridiculously obvious that I failed to even consider it as an option thinking it to be far too cliché for someone like Florentine. It does create some unique plot crossovers that give the charming Slater a bit to work with, but even the best efforts to create intrigue seem to fall flat on this thriller portion.

Donald Sutherland just found out Slater was still alive too (and sitting next to him.)
To add a bit of insult to injury, “Assassin’s Bullet” seems a bit light on the action too. Florentine is known for his action work, so when it does rear its silly head it’s a welcome return to ridiculousness that the film desperately needed to keep its pacing. We get a few assassination moments of intensity including a one person raid and towards the end our hero and villain collide in a brief fist-to-cuffs before there is a bit of gun toting destruction. If it wasn’t for the finale though, it would be hard to call this film even remotely action though which in itself is going to disappoint Florentine fans.

Never judge a person by the quality of their wig.
All in all, “Assassin’s Bullet” entertained for an hour and a half as a cheap thriller, but it wasn’t even near being Florentine’s best or even most entertaining film even if you are a Slater fan. Luckily, Florentine seems to know this and his next film will be “Ninja 2” as he returns to directing Scott Adkins. I think the results might be a little better then this.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Willow Creek (2013)

Director: Bobcat Goldthwait
Notable Cast: Alexie Gilmore, Bryce Johnson

Being another found footage/handheld filmed flick in the wild, “Willow Creek” is a movie that will set off alarms with moviegoers real quick with comparisons with “The Blair Witch Project.”  Both feature aspiring filmmakers trying to capture proof of a local legend out in the wilderness so of course the comparisons will be made. The real question though is, is “Willow Creek” as good as “The Blair Witch Project” or even better. With director Bobcat Goldthwait in the director’s chair, this film marks unfamiliar territory for the well-known comedian, with previous efforts such as “World’s Greatest Dad” and “God Bless America.” “Willow Creek” is a very low budget film with minimal cast and crew so there isn’t much in the special effects department to look forward to. Much like “The Blair Witch Project,” it relies more on cast performance and inciting fear through showing almost nothing at all. 

While “Willow Creek” is similar to “The Blair Witch Project” and other related films, it does differ as well in many ways. There are only two actual cast members in the film as the rest are all actual local residents that live around Willow Creek.  It sort of gives it that authenticity, making the documentary type footage seem more real than it really is. To add on to this, very little of the actual film is scripted, allowing the two actors to use improvisation to fill in the gaps. The first half or so of the film is set in the town of Willow Creek. The basic interviews with townsfolk and exploration of the town occurs. But it’s never a Bobcat Goldthwait film if there isn’t any comedy. We are treated to our main character’s sarcastic sense of humor plus the awkwardness of the small town mentality. Our filmmakers visit various attractions in the town such as a restaurant that is home to the Bigfoot burger, a Bigfoot museum, and a Bigfoot expert.  The film however goes from comedy to horror as the duo find their way to the forest and camp out in hopes of finding their Bigfoot.

The transition from comedy to horror is pretty smooth and this is where the film takes a huge turn. We now go from the town to the woods as the couple go to the campsite where the famous Bigfoot footage was filmed. They are alone and isolated with no means of communication or refuge. What seems like a simple trip to gather evidence and footage slowly quickly turns into a frightening nightmare that threatens to end their lives. At this point of the film, Goldthwait opts in to show absolutely as little as possible to leave the events up to the imagination of the viewer. What is most notable is one very impressive long take that is done flawlessly with no moment of mistake or fault by both the crew and the actors. This however has its pros and cons. The scene is very impressive and captures the fear and emotion of our two leads very well but on the other end it becomes at least a little bit too drawn out. Viewers may find themselves yawning after awhile as the scene gets a little tedious and repetitive. I know that this wasn’t the case for everyone at Fantasia this year but personally I felt that it could have been shortened a little. 

At the end of the film we are treated to a climax that is simple yet we are still left to make up our own minds. Viewers who have been paying attention might find themselves making links to information known previous to going in the woods. Overall, as a person who is not a fan of “The Blair Witch Project,” I feel like “Willow Creek” shares some of its cons but is mostly a better film with more entertainment value. It is a true genre film and has its mix of comedy and horror blend perfectly. Bobcat Goldthwait may be known more for his black comedy, but he is definitely welcome in the horror genre.

Written By Elise Holmes

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Headless Eyes, The (1971)


Aka "Headless Eyes", "Bloodthirsty Butchers"

Taking a trip to the video store as a child was always a treat as my family allowed each of us kids to pick out one glorious film to help us pass the time. During these trips I was always drawn to the horror film section as the tapes in this genre generally had the most “eye popping” (sorry for the pun) cover artwork. Out of these films in the horror section, “Headless Eyes” was one that always grabbed my attention first with its graphic and stellar poster spread across a ‘big box’ with a store made, type writer sticker warning potential renters that they “Must be 18 to rent”. With this warning on the tape I knew my parents would never go for letting me rent the damn thing but it’s eye piercing box artwork burned its way into my retinas and I knew one day I would watch this 70s exploitation horror flick that no doubt would never match the goodness the poster artwork promised.
Despite the box artwork claiming “too gory for the silver screen”, in fact the film was given a small theatrical running in the early 70s with a self-imposed “X” rating (though it was never rated by the MPAA). The film quickly disappeared from grindhouse cinemas only to reappear on home video in the 80s thanks to Charles Band’s shady Wizard Video home entertainment label. In fact if  it weren’t for his ingenious cover artwork design the film probably would have faded into oblivion as, like I suspected, the film isn’t nearly as clever or ‘good’ as it’s glorious cover artwork and pales in comparison to the plethora of other exploitation films that filled grindhouse cinemas at the time of its release.
In order to the pay the rent, a starving artist in New York City attempts to rob an apartment. While in the process, the female resident gouges his eye out with her tea spoon (!!!). He somehow crawls away, eye gorily hanging from his socket by a nerve strand. This experience drives him insane and soon he’s tormented by visions of disembodied eyeballs and takes his frustration out by killing women and collecting their eyeballs in his freezer.
This film is the brainchild of writer/director Kent Bateman (father of Jason and Justine Bateman) and it’s obvious he is out to make a quick buck as opposed to an entertaining exploitation horror flick and he should have took notes from genre favorites Hershell Gorden Lewis (“Blood Feast”) or David E. Durston (“I Drink Your Blood”). Despite the short running time the film just lacks spunk and failed to draw me in as a viewer, no matter how many fake eyeballs Bateman tries to throw at the screen. Despite his lack of enthusiasm behind the camera he is able to capture the griminess of New York much like the decade later, and far better, exploitation horror film “Maniac”. Actually the tone of “Headless Eyes” actually reminds me of “Maniac” but unlike the brilliant William Lustig, Bateman isn’t able to make a captivating lunatic and without that essential element the film wallows in its own fecal material and quickly loses the interest of the viewers. The grating musical score didn't help matters either.
After finally seeing “Headless Eyes” after all these years of patiently waiting, it’s easy to see why it was so quickly forgotten on its initial theatrical release as it plain and simple sucks compared to other films of the same ilk released at the same time. If it weren’t for its VHS release popularized by the amazing poster artwork then it would have faded into oblivion for good. Its VHS release became a collector’s item for fans of the “big box” and Charles Band finally unleashed  it on DVD part of his “Full Moon’s Grindhouse Collection” line. Much like other films in the collection, the DVD is simply a VHS transfer but it’s fitting for a film this bad in nature. Forgiving exploitation film fans and people feeling VHS nostalgia might  want to check this out or else they would be better off purchasing much better films made in the similar mold, like "Maniac."
Written By Eric Reifschneider

You're Next (2013)

Director: Adam Wingard
Notable Cast: Sarni Vinson, AJ Bowen, Nicholas Tucci, Wendy Glenn, Joe Swanberg, Barbara Crampton, Rob Moran, Margaret Laney, Amy Seimetz and cameos by Ti West and Simon Barrett

Although I don't have a review up for it, I will start this review off by saying that I've had mixed feelings about Adam Wingard's film career after seeing "A Horrible Way To Die." It certainly didn't inspire a devotion to me overall as a modern classic like some claimed, but his last three short films that were included in "V/H/S," "V/H/S/2," and "ABCs Of Death" had me impressed. So I was tentative about "You're Next" even after the slew of great reviews its garnered in a long (very long) festival run. This is why it brings me great pleasure to say that "You're Next" is a fun and inspired modern horror film that delivers on most of its promises.

When Crispin (Bowen) and his girlfriend Erin (Vinson) accepted to meet his parents and all of his siblings for an anniversary dinner in their summer home in the woods, they knew it was going to be a bit of an awkward get together. While they have never really gotten along, they were willing to try and put it to rest. Unfortunately, a set of three masked villains have other plans for the family...and they want to put them all to rest too.
Rough day? Try self defense!
It's no secret that home invasion flicks have become a cornerstone of the horror genre. Everything from modern classics like "The Strangers" to disappointments like "In Their Skin." The problem with the genre, like most thriller type horror films, is that they tend to be repetitive and then solely rely on execution or gimmick to work. When it works, it's a beautiful thing. In the case of "You're Next," Wingard and company take the home invasion foundations and add enough nuances of various other genres that the film comes off as massively entertaining without losing what makes this particular sub-genre a blast to watch.

Right away from the get go, "You're Next" sets itself out to be more along the lines of a slasher. Just in the opening sequence, we get sex, nudity, and death along with a couple of great moments of tension. The film then sets about to establish itself as a slasher of sorts when we are introduced to are basic "home invasion" premise with a family get together of awkward moments that's interrupted by a sudden and seemingly well planned out killing spree. While this is not anything new to the genre, Wingard makes it qutie effective by dabbling in a bit of humor and really focusing down on the tension and the 'who's next' horror guessing game of the audience betting on who bites it. While the execution is damn near spot on, the film tends to play it pretty formulaic to this point.
Then something magical happens with the film. Writer Simon Barrett with Adam Wingard adding in a strong visual focus, starts to twist the "home invasion" tale. What starts off as a classic slasher premise and formula suddenly starts taking on more modern 'trap' elements albeit with a slightly "Home Alone" home crafted variety as our survivors with a surprise leading character begin to fight back. The film almost kicks off into a tense thriller path with nods to films like John Carpenter's original "Assault On Precinct 13" vibes (which is then thrown back more so by a great 80s synth like score that pops up in the film's latter half). While the plot does take some rather predictable twists that I will leave open for those wanting to see it fresh, the strong gore special effects and dark, dark, dark streaks of humor fully bloom in this second half to kick the film to a next level.
Wingard's directorial style blends a bit of old school with a bit of new school (he still tends to shake the camera a bit too much for my tastes), but with some strong performances from our leads, some solid secondary performances - some of the characters don't even have time to fully develop before they start dropping, and a cleverly crafted script, "You're Next" takes a rather mediocre time at the movies and injects a fresh feeling of smart and entertaining fun to the slowly decaying 'home invasion' sub genre. It's definitely not a perfect film as I felt the plot twists were a bit too obvious and there were some moments that didn't quite work as a lot of the tension in the second half was sacrificed as the twists were busted on the audience too early, but it's hard for me not to still qualify "You're Next" was one of the best horror films of the year and one that I massively enjoyed seeing in the theater.

 Written By Matt Reifschneider

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Avenging Eagle, The (1978)

Director: Chung Sun
Notable Cast: Ti Lung, Alexander Fu, Fu Keng

Just recently The Weinstein Company announced that they had made a deal with Celestial Pictures to remake two classic Shaw Brothers films. One of those films was "The Avenging Eagle." While I have owned the film for quite some time thanks to Dragon Dynasty, I had never gotten around to actually seeing the film and this news made me curious to why the film would be one chosen. Now I know. "The Avenging Eagle" is both a classic kung fu film with its themes and relentless martial arts set pieces, but it's also a fairly dynamic film visually and in conception. While the film might not have garnered my attention to begin with, "The Avenging Eagle" has it now as an instant Shaw Brothers classic.

When a wandering man in black Chik Ming-sing (Ti Lung) is saved in the desert by another mysterious nomad (Alexander Fu), they find themselves at odds at first. When it's revealed that Chik Ming-sing is one of the murderous Thirteen Eagles, an assassination clan raised from birth to be killing machines for a vicious gang, the two realize that their goals may not be all that different. Particularly since Chik Ming-sing has denounced his killing ways and looks to kill his master (Ku Feng) for all of his sins.

It takes two, baby!
What makes "The Avenging Eagle" a rather unique experience for me is that it's the first film I've seen directed by Chung Sun. While he would go on to direct two other Shaw classics in 1979 ("The Deadly Breaking Sword" and "To Kill A Mastermind" respectively), this was my first experience with him and wowza does he deliver. His style is reminiscent of a mixture of Chang Cheh and Chor Yuen. He allows the fighting to really develop in some violent and emotional ways, but his camera angles and thoughtful visual dynamics are much more epic (like Chor Yuen). While his use of slow motion and odd pauses can be a slight momentum killer, his long angle shots and clever energetic angles make for a film that simply feels more dynamic and it adds a whole new energy and freshness to the Shaw Brothers style.

Sticks and stones may break your bones...and yeah they will.
To add to this, the duo of Ti Lung and Alexander Fu as hesitant partners makes for some great on screen chemistry. While the film does some interesting leaps in time, having two significant flash back periods involving Chik Ming-sing's life, both actors are up for much of the emotional subtext that's needed to make the film work. While it would have been nice to see some of the supporting roles get a little more meat to their bones, including a romantic subplot done in flashback that occurs within a minute span, our two leads and conniving villain make for some great moments.

While a strong director and cast do make for a better film all the way around, "The Avenging Eagle" definitely knows that it has to be filled to the brim with action and just a hint of cheese. It delivers on the Shaw Brothers promise too. Right away we get some fun fist bickering between our leads that culminates in a great fight over a torch, but when the first of the Thirteen Eagles show up clad in bright color coded outfits and each sporting a unique weapon we finally understand just what the film is going to give us. The fights are all memorable and unique in this manner, gimmicky perhaps with some odd weapons including hidden shoe daggers and a finale featuring our villain with Brass Eagle Claws on his hands, but the choreography is quite impressive and the flow is superior. Kung fu fans will not be disappointed.

"I'll get you next time, Gadget."
While I wasn't sure why this film was chosen for a remake at first, it's quite clear now. The story of loyalty, betrayal, and redemption is one that is quite universal and the characters with their chemistry can be updated with relative ease considering the strength of the film's foundations. Not only that, but the story leads to some great villains and fight sequences that ought to bring out all of the kung fu fantatics. "The Avenging Eagle" is a true hidden gem for this reviewer and one that I will not soon forget.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Hatchet III (2013) [Elise's Review]

Director: BJ McDonnell
Notable Cast: Danielle Harris, Kane Hodder, Zach Galligan, Caroline Williams, Derek Mears, Cody Blue Snider, Rileah Vanderbilt

The third and final installment in the over the top 80s inspired slasher, “Hatchet III” goes out in a bang while trying to top its predecessor. While Adam Green is not in the director’s chair this time round (which is filled in by BJ McDonnell) Green wrote the screenplay and his touch is still very apparent in part three. Kane Hodder is back as the unstoppable Victor Crowley and Danielle Harris also reprises her role. What really stands out in “Hatchet III” in comparison to parts one and two is the cast. With stars like “Gremlins” and “Waxwork”’s Zach Galligan and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2”’s Caroline Williams to name a few, the film continues to pay homage to the decade of horror where slasher films went rampant. The addition of such cast members puts “Hatchet III” in the right direction as it’s indeed a worthy cap to the end of the franchise. The series ends before the franchise goes well past its due date and becomes stale, something that the “Saw” franchise should have taken note of. While this is true, it seems to be my biggest complaint as it seems it is now time for Victor Crowley to take his leave.

While any viewers who have been caught up may be wondering how they could possibly continue from part 2, we are treated to the classic supernatural twist that keeps “Hatchet III” going on and on its legs. It is absolutely ridiculous, but it’s good news in this case as if a bunny rabbit is being pulled out of a magic hat. There is no room for common sense in the “Hatchet” franchise and rightfully so, making the twist excusable and just an addition to the campy feel of the film. Danielle Harris is not as prominent in her role this time around as she takes a back seat during the middle of the film to let the rest of the cast get some screen time. They all do a great job including series regular Parry Shen who is just another staple of the trilogy. Other notable actors like Derek Mears (“Friday the 13th” 2009) and Cody Blue Snider (son of famed singer Dee Snider) and Sig Haig brings in great entertainment value and clash well with the rest of the cast. But of course, our real shining star is none other than Kane Hodder. 

In comparison to the last two films, “Hatchet III” has by far the highest body count which is accomplished in an even more over the top fashion of the previous two films. Since Victor Crowley is now a more established character, we are treated to less of a typical slasher much like the first with its more 80s roots and more of an all out gore fest. At this point, it’s safe to say that Adam Green wanted to let Victor Crowley run loose for his big finale. Kane Hodder doesn’t disappoint, especially in one montage where I’m sure the lens ran red with blood more than a few times! Not to say that we aren’t treated to some comedy as well though it isn’t overly abundant. The effects team does another beautiful job on the practical effects, especially at the very beginning and end, which is sure to please gore hounds. 

Overall, “Hatchet III” is a fun gory slasher that is even better than the previous entry. Yet nothing will touch the spirit of the first. BJ McDonnell does a fairly good job of filling in Adam Green’s shoes and you can feel the enthusiasm of the cast flowing through the screen. Slasher fans can now rejoice as we bring an end to another horror legend. Will Kane Hodder return to the big screen as another legendary boogeyman haunting oblivious individuals in the dark? Only time will tell, but for now we will always have Jason Voorhees and Victor Crowley to look back on.

Written By Elise Holmes