Thursday, December 31, 2015

Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens (2015)

Director: JJ Abrams
Notable Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Harrison Ford, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Andy Serkis, Max Von Sydow

For the record, I’m not a huge Star Wars fan. Outside of growing up with the original trilogy and suffering through the prequel trilogy for the sake of nostalgia, I can’t say I was wholly sold on the entire thing. They are a fun film experience, sure, but not necessarily the great film making that others seem intent on telling me they are. (For further reading, feel free to jump over to my reviews of the other films on this site). So the hype for Episode VII: The Force Awakens didn’t quite resonate with me like it did for so many of those around me and thus, I took my sweet time seeing it in theaters. I have to admit though, despite my hesitations, The Force Awakens is easily my favorite film in the franchise. It’s not perfect, we’ll get to that in a second, but the amount of fun in the spectacle is matched with some shockingly heartfelt moments to make it one of the better blockbusters this year.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Hiroshima Death Match (1973)

Director: Kinji Kukasaku
Notable Cast: Kinya Kitaoji, Sonny Chiba, Meiko Kaji, Bunta Sugawara 
Also known as: Battles Without Honor and Humanity: Hiroshima Death Match, Deadly Fight in Hiroshima

Director Kinji Fukasaku and writer Kazuo Kasahara really knocked it out of the park with their gritty and complex yakuza story in the first Battles Without Honor and Humanity, so when that one ended up being a commercial success it was only obvious that a second film would quickly follow. Hiroshima Death Match, also known as Battles Without Honor and Humanity: Hiroshima Death Match and Deadly Fight in Hiroshima, continues fairly faithfully in the style and tone that made the original film such a success. Any fans of the first one are definitely going to latch onto what this film has to offer. However, the writing this time around is a bit more focused and centered which is both a blessing and curse to differentiate the film from the previous one. And depending on your stance about the style, the film is either better or worse.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Top 20 Horror Films of 2015

Perhaps the greatest (and most concerning) thing about the horror genre is just how ravenous their fan base can be. Horror is an oddly divisive genre and one that encompasses a shocking amount of ground and style. Mainstream, underground, found footage, slasher, etc. And every person has their opinion about the genre and it's usually fairly strong. This year, I tried to keep an open mind to the newer films, setting aside a lot of my own expectations and pre-determined tastes to go into films with a blank slate. With over 60 films watched in the genre, not nearly all of them that were released, here is my top 20 horror films of 2015:

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Love in a Puff + Love in the Buff (2010, 2012)

Director: Pang Ho-cheung
Notable Cast: Shawn Yue, Miriam Yeung, Cheung Tat Ming, Sharon Luk, Charmaine Fong, Xu Zheng, Yang Mi, Vincent Kok, Ekin Cheng, Huang Xioaming
Original Cantonese title(s): 志明與春嬌 / 春嬌與志明

The Love in a Trilogy (that's not what it's officially called, but we'll go with it; the third has yet to start shooting) is one of my favorite series of films, not because of the ambition and scale (like a lot of Hollywood franchises thrive on), but because these are great hang out films. The lead characters of Jimmy and Cherie (played to perfection by Shawn Yue and Miriam Yeung) are two of my favorite characters in all of cinema. Again, they aren't overly written or that unique, but they are very much real, so much so, that I often forget when watching them, that I am watching people act. They (aside from how nice they look visually) both [films] have this almost documentary quality to them, especially the 1st one. Love in a Puff has an interesting element of interviews with each of the characters for a documentary that is being made in the film. Fantastic!

Cherie and Jimmy

To keep things organized, and to not bounce back and forth between films constantly, I am going to primarily be reviewing Love in a Puff, with a little add-on paragraph below on Love in the Buff, which feels like more of an expansion to the film, rather than a sequel that takes us into a very, very different place, despite the actual setting be different (Beijing instead of Hong Kong). With that out of the way, let's get to it and talk about one of my favorite Hong Kong films of the decade, the quick-witted, always vulgar and yet charming, Love in a Puff.

2010 marked an awesome year for me. I discovered a new (to me) director working in my favorite area of cinematic gold (Hong Kong was my place at the time), Pang Ho-cheung. I saw two of his films that year, both very different films: Dream Home (維多利亞壹號), and the subject of this review. I was completely blown away by both films as they were both so different from each other (one a slasher film and the other a love story), and yet similar in how they handled real characters and very realistic dialogues. Now, I will say, I am no speaker nor even an understand-er (new word) of the Cantonese language, but what I will say is my ears can differentiate that over-the-top theatrical dialogue that films have (no matter the language spoken) versus a more naturalistic approach. This film has so much swearing in it, that it sort of reminded me of a Kevin Smith film, without going in to that so far-fetched that it feels fake territory that Smith films often do. Pang and his dialogue felt to me like the closest thing I'd get to hanging out with local Hong Kong people than actually being right there in the country. It was something fresh that I hadn't really gotten with other films from the area, and it excited me.

Love in a Puff, as said before, is quite the simple tale, in which two people meet up and begin to fall in love, with the backdrop to the romance being the smoking situation in Hong Kong that had began around that time (smoking at designated posts in public). The two lovebirds to be, Jimmy and Cherie, have some of the best chemistry as a couple of any romance film I've seen. They are completely real and believable. I think to this day, this is still the best character Shawn Yue has played. He's so loose and comfortable and never once does his star image ever seep through. He is Jimmy. The exact same praise goes for Miriam and her character.

Singing in the red room!

Some of the best scenes in the film are the interactions between their group of friends, whether it's just a more mundane story, or something more exotic like the pubic hair caught on the wristband of Jimmy's ex-girlfriend, whilst the gang was eating at a very fancy restaurant one night. It always kept me intrigued and constantly sporting a goofy grin on my face for most of the entirety of the film. To add to that, and to transition a little, the film also goes into more serious areas later on, nothing crazy or dark, but true to life nonetheless. The film greatly shows that human relationships are equal parts simple and complex. A 'romance', no matter which way you approach it, is a very layered thing to even attempt. Two humans having to put trust in to one another and try to slowly begin to understand, appreciate, and bond together, despite differences in personalities and viewpoints on life, is something that it is very difficult to convey realistically in cinema, and I think Pang has done an excellent job in doing so whilst also juggling that this movie has mainstream appeal. I'm not saying the film is much deeper than it leads us to believe, but I am saying it has a certain depth in its naturalism that it showcases within people's everyday lives, and I think that is a beautiful thing.

I won't blab on too long, for fear of a 50 paragraph review, but if I had to pick one romance film that could appeal to anybody, it'd be Love in a Puff. It's genius!

Love in the Buff, the 2012 sequel to one of my favorite films, now sees Jimmy in Beijing with his job, working mega hours and being stressed out. He has also developed a relationship (which we see unfolding throughout) with a local woman, Youyou Shang (Yang Mi), a person whom he seems to enjoy time with. By chance, and sort of the thing about the film that annoyed me [though I understand it needed to happen for the film's sake], Cherie magically shows up in Beijing due to her work as well. The two bump into each other and that old flame reignites. They can't seem to get out of each others' lives, both mentally, and now physically. Things seem to start picking up for the two, but Jimmy's current relationship with Youyou seems to make things complicated, and all the while Cherie seems to have something going with a man named Sam (Xu Zheng). Will the two lovebirds of yesteryear reunite and finally fall truly in love with one another? Have they been in love this entire time? Well, you'll have to see and find out.

Cherie and Jimmy: Strikes Back

I really don't want to go too much into the sequel, other than to sort of give a small two cents on it. I think the film is fine. I don't think it is a strong as the 1st, but a nice continuation it certainly is. Ekin Cheng (of, well... he's Ekin Cheng, fame) has a small, but awesome role as a crush of Cherie's, and he is fantastic in the film. I'm usually not a big fan of the guy, but he totally works here. Everyone's acting is fine, the cinematography is fantastic as usual in a Pang film. The writing is fresh, but sometimes feels too familiar. It's nice seeing familiar faces pop up, whilst also developing and having new characters to enjoy and get to know.

New Area, New Lover?

I have only seen Buff once, but it is an effective movie. The relationship and previous feelings between Cherie and Jimmy from the 1st film, is what keeps this film's momentum going. You just want the two to get together, but you know it is subtly more complicated than that. Knowing that there is a 3rd film now in the works, I really hope we get to see where their relationships will ultimately lead them. Love in the Buff is a fantastic follow-up, but not one I am sure if was absolutely necessary to come out when it did. I don't feel enough time had past for me to really, really invest back into what was going on between the two, but it still got me in the end, and it's a solid watch.

Written by Josh Parmer

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Blood Rage (1987)

Director: John Grissmer
Notable Cast: Louise Lasser, Mark Soper, Julie Gordon, Jayne Bentzen, Marianne Kanter, James Farrell, Chad Montgomery, Lisa Randall, William Fuller, Doug Weiser, Gerry Lou, Ed French, Ted Raimi
Also known as: Slasher, Nightmare at Shadow Woods

Often enough, we talk about the fine line between the ‘so bad it’s good’ and ‘so bad it’s bad’ here on Blood Brothers. It’s certainly an issue of taste overall and one that tends to only be debated in the realm of cult cinema. When it comes to slashers though, it’s easily one of the biggest elements that can be debated without end. In the case of Blood Rage, or any of the other hundred titles it’s known as like Slasher and Nightmare at Shadow Woods, it’s in our opinion that the film falls in the former rather than the latter. Don’t worry, I’m going to talk about the film in both regards, looking at it from a traditional filmmaking aspect and from the cult appreciation aspect too, but know that this is the kind of film that truly entertains more than anything – and will sacrifice most any element to do so.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Top 12 Home Video Releases of 2015

As the home video release side of the film industry quickly becomes a niche market for collectors, various new releases of classic and modern films are getting more and more luxurious. Yet, there is always some releases that seem to spoil collectors out there. Josh is here to give you his top 12 home video releases of 2015 to really see who makes the cut. So check out his video complete with outrageous holiday sweater.

What are your favorite home video releases of the year?

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Close Range (2015)

Director: Isaac Florentine
Notable Cast: Scott Adkins, Nick Chinlund, Jake La Botz, Tony Perez, Caitlin Keats, Madison Lawlor, Scott Evans, Randy Hall

This year has seen its fair share of ups and downs in the direct to home video action market (perhaps bottoming out with Chain of Command), but it’s always a pleasure to partake in the latest Isaac Florentine/Scott Adkins action flick. This director and actor duo has produced some of the greatest low budget action films of the last decade – I would even argue that Ninja II: Shadow of the Tear deserves to be on any best action list, let alone one about low budget films – and their latest offering is no exception. Close Range is a no holds barred adrenaline rush of an action film that is sure to please most any fan looking for an entertaining and rather mindless film experience. It’s hardly one that will resonate with the test of time, but it’s effective at a lot of things and it makes for a great action flick for those looking for it.

Aberdeen (2014)

Director: Pang Ho-cheung

Notable Cast: Louis Koo, Miriam Yeung, Eric Tsang, Gigi Leung, Ng Man-tat, Carrie Ng, Chapman To, Shawn Yue, Dada Chan, Jacky Choi, Lee Man-kwai

Original Cantonese Title: 香港仔

This is one ambitious film. Aberdeen tells the stories, and there are a lot of them, of a ton of people in a pretty broken family. Louis Koo plays a well off, handsome man, with a daughter who he loves, but help can't but think that she won't succeed in life, due to her size and her physical appearance. He's sort of a dick, even if he doesn't mean to be. Gigi Leung plays as the mother of said ugly kid, who is a model and an actress who is down on her luck as age is starting to work against, well, her work and particularly how much of it she is getting. Eric Tsang plays a doctor who has a fling with a young nurse (Jacky Choi), and is a good man at heart, just full of sexual angst. Miriam Yeung plays as Tsang's wife, a woman with the past of her Mother's death constantly haunting her and causing her to have major writer's block. Lastly, Ng Man-tat and Carrie Ng play another couple, set with their own personal problems as well. Essentially, in a nutshell, this movie is about the hardships that people face and the ways they can stay hidden even from the people your are very close too, and sometimes those hardships, as difficult as they can be, can truly bring people together. That's a lot of set up, I know, but this is a difficult movie to describe.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Mojin: The Lost Legend (2015)

Director: Wuershan
Notable Cast: Chen Kun, Shu Qi, Huang Bo, Angelababy, Xia Yu
Also Known As: The Ghouls

The continued momentum that the Chinese market has propelled itself with to Hollywood heights is getting more impressive by the day. With each passing blockbuster, the results are a bit more spectacular and a bit more cohesive in their approach. This is why I was pretty excited to dive into the latest attempt at franchise expansion from the East with the film Mojin: The Lost Legend. Interestingly enough, unlike the new approach to Hollywood, Mojin doesn’t seem intent on appealing largely to an international audience with its strong cultural elements. Outside of that though, the film runs on some strong tropes for the action adventure film and even goes into a bit of 80s charm to get things down. It’s not nearly as fun and effective as I expected, but it’s still a blast with plenty of outrageousness to be had.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Isabella (2006)

Director: Pang Ho-cheung

Notable Cast: Chapman To, Isabella Leong, Anthony Wong, Josie Ho

Original Title: 伊莎貝拉

The 5th film in Pang Ho-cheung's filmography, Isabella, is hands down absolutely one of his best. It's a slow, subtle, and moving character study on two broken people who bring themselves together in a most unusual scenario. I don't want to go to into the plot or specifics of the movie, as I think this one is best to go into with little to no knowledge of the film. All the slower and artier than most of Pang's other films, this shows a mature side to the filmmaker that I honestly didn't knew existed. That's not to say his films aren't good, I clearly wouldn't enjoy doing a film series on a director I disliked, but the films of his I had seen prior to this, all sort of have this rock 'n roll swagger to them, and this film has none. It reminded me that even the loudest of people have their quiet moments. I don't want to start comparing this and contrasting that, as I am not here to lecture, but instead I will focus on the film at hand.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Krampus (2015)

Director: Michael Dougherty
Notable Cast: Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koechner, Allison Tolman, Conchata Ferrell, Emjay Anthony, Stefania LaVie Owen, Krista Stadler

Writer and director Michael Dougherty made a massive splash with his debut film Trick R Treat that both crafted a terrifically dark and humorous horror film and celebrated the Halloween season with remarkable ease. So when it was announced that he would be taking a turn at delivering a Christmas horror flick, it was hard not to get excited. Krampus, while not quite as good as Trick R Treat, is still a whimsical film that works both as a classic fantastical horror romp and a Christmas film, continuing the streak of strength in delivering holiday themed horror. It’s not quite perfect, but the entertaining value of the humor, horror, and holiday themes makes it one that will remain a Christmas time film for any self-respecting horror fan for a long, long time.

Battles Without Honor and Humanity (1973)

Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Notable Cast: Bunta Sugawara, Hiroki Matsukata, Nobuo Kaneko, Kunie Tanaka, Tamio Kawachi, Tatsuo Umemiya, Tsunehiko Watase, Goro Ibuki, Toshie Kimura, Eiko Nakamura

Also known as: The Yakuza Papers Vol. 1: Battles Without Honor and Humanity

Battles Without Honor and Humanity has to be one of the most requested movies for Blood Brothers to review. Not only was it repeatedly requested, but it was also a film highly suggested by fans and friends as one of the best cult films that Japan had to offer in their expansive catalog. With the release of the massive box set of all five Yakuza Papers films in one convenient place from Arrow Video, it was finally destined that we would not only be able to experience these captivating yakuza films, but they would be reviewed for our readers. The first of the series, the previously mentioned Battles Without Honor and Humanity, is just as unbelievably memorable and effective as it was hyped up to be. It’s a film that shies away from more traditional structures, but the magnetic performances, gritty visuals, and oddly satiric streaks make it one of the most visceral yakuza films I have ever seen. Worthy of the blessed treatment it has received in this latest Blu Ray edition.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Wake Up and Kill (1966)

Director: Carlo Lizzani

Notable Cast: Robert Hoffmann, Lisa Gastoni, Gian Maria Volonte, Claudio Camaso, Renato Niccolai, Ottavio Fanfani

Also Known As: Wake Up and Die, Too Soon to Die

I’d be lying if I said I was a Euro Crime film expert by any means. For the most part I’m not even the most qualified write for the genre that contributes for this site, but as a cinephile that tries his hand at most genres once or twice I decided to dig into Wake Up and Kill as one of my first reviews for the genre. While Wake Up and Kill certainly has its merits with a very modern and artful approach to its narrative, it also tends to be a bit long and often unfocused as it goes about telling the tale of real life jewel thief Luciano Lutring. It’s a mixed bag overall and one that wasn’t nearly as campy or violent as I was expecting, but one that will definitely find its cult audience with this new Blu Ray/DVD release from Arrow Video.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

You Shoot, I Shoot (2001)

Director: Pang Ho-cheung
Notable Cast: Eric Kot, Tat-ming Cheung, Wai Man-chan, Lam Suet, Sui-man Chim, Siu Yam-yam

Original Title: 買兇拍人

You Shoot, I Shoot (YSIS) is a sharp, crazy, sometimes cheesy, but nonetheless fun debut from Hong Kong auteur Pang Ho-cheung. YSIS tells the story of a killer named Bart (Erik Kot), a hitman who is as open about his job as a door greeter at a store. Everyone knows it, and he gives no cares. He takes money from a rich woman to kill people selected by her, but that isn't good enough anymore, now she wants people dead and recorded proof of this heinous deed to for her awful viewing pleasure. That's where Bart meets Cheun (Tat-ming Cheung) a down on his luck assistant director who isn't finding any work, instead finds himself desperately looking for people to buy weed off of him during his first day as a petty drug dealer. Let's just say without spoiling too much, the two quickly come to terms with one another, and thus begins a 90-some-odd minute ride of blood and laughter.

The ultimate lens protector!

The dialogue and gags go at 100mph in this film and it never stops, which is its greatest strength, and to a degree, its weakness. I found myself laughing more often than not, but some of the jokes just did nothing for me. Sometimes the over-the-top music and acting works, and other times it falls flat on its face. That said, this is one of the best concepts I've seen for a comedy, and I love just how dark the humor gets at times. There are also great moments and little glimpses of a serious beat or two, although they usually only last a fraction of a second. This movie isn't meant at all to be taken serious and it is very self aware of that. The performers facial expressions are so loud and theatrical, I found myself constantly grinning.

The constant banter between Bart and Cheun is one of the highlights of the film. I don't want to go too much into the jokes, because that ruins the experience, but a scene that cracked me up is one where Bart and Cheun are eating a meal with Bart's wife and his in-laws. They all openly keep talking about Bart and his murderous job and sometimes they would be secretive about it at the same time, between one another, but moments later, Bart and Cheun are in the kitchen when in enters the father in-law. I won't spoil, but it is one of the funniest bits in the film. The entire scene is great, and Siu Yam-yam steals it.

The sexiest killers around...

The cinematography, one of the great staples of a PHC film, is fine throughout, mixing wide angle close-ups on certain characters, particularly used to great effect in a small but memorable role by the always solid Lam Suet, and an MTV music video editing style that occurs throughout, surely a product of the time (early 2000s). It works with this film and adds to the zaniness of the overall story. The sounds are obnoxious and in your face, at times even in sync with some of the quick editing. I really like the way the film would cut to the poor video quality of the camcorders Cheun gracefully wielded throughout. The very first time they present their 'movie' to the rich woman is one of the greatest moments in the entire movie. It hit home as a person who has made movies since an early age. The film seems to be reflective of Pang and his passion for movies in general, as we have a director for a lead character and many, many posters thrown up throughout his lair. The references to Scorsese throughout are genius.

Does this gun match my outfit?

As much as I enjoy this film, I do think it stumbles at times, as I had previously mentioned, with some of the jokes or ideals just flat out not working. I thought most of the stuff with the Michiko character didn't really add anything to the film, but there is one great scene (which I won't spoil) that makes her presence worth while. Again, it's meant to be laughed at and that's what I spent the majority of the running time doing. The entire third act of the film is by far the strong point of it all. The set up, the jokes, the timing, the editing, the pay-off and punchlines are all very strong. In fact, I like the last 20 minutes or so much, I think it raises the rewatch value greatly. 

I do fancy a good black comedy from time to time, and You Shoot, I Shoot delivers almost constantly. While not a perfect film, and sometimes it shows its age, I think it is one of the better films from Hong Kong of that period. It certainly is an excellent debut film, and it shows a strong sense of style and wit from Pang that would continue to help mold him into one of the finest directors from the region working today. A healthy start to a strong string of films.

Written By Josh Parmer

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Chain of Command (2015)

Director: Kevin Carraway

Notable Cast: Michael Jai White, Steven Austin, Max Ryan, Allen Yates

There is a fine line between being so bad it’s awesome and so bad it’s awful. When it comes to straight to home video action films, that line can easily sway one way or the other depending on a slew of factors. For Chain of Command, I was hoping that it would be the kind of film to lean towards being awesome. The combination of Michael Jai White and Stone Cold Steve Austin as opposite sides of a drug conspiracy in the military simply sounds awesome. Unfortunately this is anything BUT awesome. In fact, Chain of Command is something of a super awkward film filled with amateurish executions and failed concepts. It is, quite frankly, one of the worst action films I’ve seen this year.