Sunday, July 31, 2016

Female Prisoner Scorpion: Jailhouse 41 (1972)

Director: Shunya Ito
Notable Cast: Meiko Kaji, Fumio Watanabe, Kayoko Shiraishi, Yukie Kagawa, Yuki Arasa

There is no series of films quite like the Female Prisoner Scorpion films. They are unique, impactful, and layered to the point pure density. While I reviewed the first film for our Meiko Kaji celebration earlier this year [check out that review HERE], Arrow Video has been kind enough to package all four of the original Female Prisoner Scorpion films in a new box set for collectors and this vulgar auteur could not be happier with the results. So it’s with great pleasure that the next three installments of the series will get official reviews here on the site and hopefully, in all seriousness, these reviews convince someone to purchase and experience these films for the first time – or again – so that the legacy of their artful approach to exploitative cinema can only grow. The films are all worthy enough that they deserve that much.

This leads me to the focus of this review, the second film in the series and the widely acclaimed Female Prisoner Scorpion: Jailhouse 41. In many circles, this is the considered the best of the series and for legitimate reason. Jailhouse 41 is not only a film that continues on with the themes, style, and story that the first film established, but it takes each one to the next level and punches it through with a thoughtful (and forceful) impact that simply cannot be ignored. This is the kind of film, like its predecessor, that nimbly elevates itself to a high art level of creative cinematic purpose where the exploitative elements on its surface only help to craft a foundation for the art to exist on. This is a film that entertains ultimately with its prisoners on the run plotting, but it leaves such a resonating message and feeling that it lasts well beyond its time frame and might even be just as relevant now as it was in 1972.

Jason Bourne (2016)

Director: Paul Greengrass
Notable Cast: Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander, Vincent Cassel, Julia Stiles, Riz Ahmed

Before I dig into this review for Jason Bourne, I would like to set up some context for my opinions on the Bourne franchise. I don’t love it to begin with. It’s overrated. I know, I know. Everyone that thinks it’s the best action franchise in the last few decades is probably foaming at the mouth right now, but I’ll stand my ground. The films have great moments and some smart writing, but director Paul Greengrass undermines a lot of it with his style which devours everything in full becoming a distraction. For Jason Bourne, Greengrass comes back to help with writing duties along with directing and brings Matt Damon back with him – ignoring the events of The Bourne Legacy in the mean time – and delivers the most lackluster and incomprehensible Bourne film yet. Perhaps my expectations were lofty considering how much I enjoyed the trailers leading up to it (which I’ll mention again in a second), but Jason Bourne is a mess. Writing, directing, narrative. It’s a goddamn mess.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Perfect Husband, The (2016)

Director: Luca Pavetto
Notable Cast: Bret Roberts, Gabriella Wright

I will admit it now. The Perfect Husband had me. It had me tricked and the final scenes of the third act took me by surprise. Normally, this is a good thing. A film has you looking one way and it hits you from the other. For this little low budget horror film, it’s not necessarily a positive thing as that’s not quite how it works in the film, but the final portion of the third act most certainly saved it in some regards. However, I’m getting ahead of myself. For now, what you need to know for this introduction is that The Perfect Husband is a mixed bag of artful approaches to what boils down to an exploitation film. While the finale made me go back and watch it again (immediately when I was done the first time, I just hit replay) to see some of the detailing, this horror film still doesn’t quite knock things out of the park. Those looking for an ambitious movie are certain to find some things to love by what The Perfect Husband has to offer, but those looking for a movie that executes its ambitiousness may have to look a bit further – or just accept that this film comes with some significant flaws and run with it.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Saving Mr. Wu (2016)

Director: Ding Sheng
Notable Cast: Andy Lau, Wang Qianyuan, Liu Ye, Wu Ruofu, Lam Suet, Zhao Xiaoyue, Vivien Li, Cai Lu, Yu Ailei

Ding Sheng has quickly arisen to be one of the most talented and refreshing voices from the Chinese film market. He crafted a Jackie Chan double impact with Little Big Solider and Police Story: Lockdown (yes, I will defend the latter as a strong thriller, even if I am in the minority) so partnering up his gritty and grounded thriller style with the true story about an actor kidnapped for ransom along with the acting powerhouse of Andy Lau only rocketed his latest film, Saving Mr. Wu, into my ‘must see’ list. Fortunately, the film never disappoints either as Ding Sheng channels a modern spin on the classic thriller foundations of the film. It’s a gripping film, moving with a gritty yet graceful speed, that spins a smart and impactful thriller worthy of the talent behind it.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Cold War II (2016)

Directors: Longman Leung, Sunny Luk
Notable Cast: Aaron Kwok, Tony Leung Ka-fai, Chow Yun Fat, Charlie Young, Janice Man, Eddie Peng, Aarif Rahman, Tony Yang, Chang Kuo-chu

In preparation for the release of Cold War II, I recently went back and revisited the award winning first film. You can read my review HERE if you are so interested. The film holds up surprisingly well and it fueled a fire within me to see the box office crushing sequel. So it’s pleasing for me to be able to say that not only does Cold War II hold its own against its thrilling predecessor, but it might actually out maneuver it in a few ways. Considering how effective the original Cold War is as a thriller, the sequel has action that hits harder, conspiracies that run deeper, and performances even more layered. It’s not quite the same in many ways, but it certainly carries the same surefire intensity and writing depth that makes it one of the more unique thrillers one is likely to see anytime soon (outside of perhaps a third film, considering its worldwide box office success.) Hold on because the Cold War franchise is just getting warmed up with this latest thrill ride.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Train to Busan (2016)

Director: Yeon Sang-ho
Notable Cast: Gong Yoo, Kim Su-an, Jung Yu-mi, Ma Dong-seok, Choi Woo-shik, Sohee, Kim Eui-sung, Kim Chang-hwan, Jang Hyeok-jin, Kim Yool-ho

Earlier this year I was having a discussion with a fellow writer about the state of South Korean cinema with a focus on genre film making. I criticized the industry for its lacking attempts at crafting and supporting talent in genres other than thrillers and dramas. At this point though, I’m starting to think I may have spoken too soon. While South Korea still seemingly focuses on thrillers and dramas as the main staple of its entertainment industry (and it does them well, might I add,) they also released two of the best horror films of the year including The Wailing and the focus of this review, Train to Busan. Sure, horror has never been a huge staple for the industry outside of the serial killer focused thriller styled ones (see Bedevilled or I Saw the Devil), but their backing of a zombie film has me impressed. Even more impressive, Train to Busan is successful at crafting a riveting and emotionally charged film that also features hordes of the undead. Train to Busan is a non-stop ride of thrills, kills, and chemical spills that hits all the right horror themed aspects while executing a film that features a strong human element. Zombie films might be a dime a dozen at this time, but Train to Busan is worth a whole lot more than that.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Crimes of Passion (1984)

Director: Ken Russell

Notable Cast: Kathleen Turner, John Laughlin, Anthony Perkins, Annie Potts, Bruce Davison

Director Ken Russell has always been known for pushing boundaries with his films. It's why his film The Devils has been buried by Warner Bros for so many years. Despite this key trait... and I’ll admit I’m not nearly as educated in his films as I ought to be, but I was excited to dive into Crimes of Passion and its recent (and packed) new Blu Ray release from Arrow Video. The film itself is something of erotic thriller, in the same vein as artistic ones akin to Dressed to Kill at times, but don’t go expecting it to be too artsy or too exploitative. Expect it to be both. It’s the blend of powerhouse performances and edgy approaches to its subject that make it stand out from many of its peers and it’s the strong execution, both onscreen and off screen, that makes Crimes of Passion such a robust piece of film to watch. It’s occasionally an uncomfortable watch, at times sliding into the realms of exploitation, but it’s such a well done film that it’s hard to deny it doesn’t express itself in a way that makes a connection.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Chinese Boxer, The (1970)

Director: Jimmy Wang Yu
Notable Cast: Jimmy Wang Yu, Lo Lieh, Wang Ping, Chiu Hung, Fang Mian, Cheng Lui, Wang Kuang-Yu, Chai No, Kong Ling, Wong Chung, Chan Sing, Wong Ching, Tung Li

Jimmy Wang Yu’s career, both as a director and as an actor, was one that had to grow on me. When I was first starting to explore the martial arts field (and Asian films in general) I felt he was overrated. He wasn’t nearly as entertaining as the Venom Mob, his chemistry didn’t spark like the Ti Lung/David Chiang duo, and he seemed to lack the on screen finesse of those who worked with Lau Kar Leung. With time though, I’ve come to really appreciate his subtlety and strong screen presence in a lot of the earlier Shaw Brothers film. This is the reason that I decided to revisit The Chinese Boxer. My original viewing of the classic ‘basher’ film was undermined by my expectations and a dubbed version, but this most recent viewing seemed to strike a chord with me. The Chinese Boxer is not only a film that was ahead of the curve, it’s a fantastic directorial debut for Jimmy Wang Yu and it works on a variety of levels to be more than just another kung fu flick.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Blood Splatter: 2016 Horror Vol. 2 [The Pack, The Abandoned, Bite]

There is only enough time in the day to write so many reviews, edit them, and format them for the site. Yet we still receive a ton of requests to cover films that may not fit into the schedule. So Blood Brothers has developed a series called The Blood Splatter where our reviewers do three quick takes on various films for our readers that may have not fit into the full review schedule.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)

Director: Leonard Nimoy
Notable Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Christopher Lloyd, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, Robin Curtis, Merritt Butrick

Let’s do a quick recap of the Star Trek theatrically released film series to this point in time. One: snooze fest. Two: Massively entertaining adventure. Oh man, that didn't take nearly as long as I thought. All right, so really, is it to anyone’s surprise that the third entry, a direct sequel to Wrath of Khan, would be somewhere in the middle between massive disappointment and massive entertainment? Star Trek III: The Search for Spock sees our lovable crew return after the events of the second film to deliver a thoughtful, but somewhat safe third film that will satisfy the Trekkies but hardly remain as lovable and fun as the previous entry. There is a lot to admire about Search for Spock, but it’s also a somewhat flawed film that lacks the insight to delve too much into the deeper layers of its narrative as it focuses on delivering a robust plot.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Cold War (2012)

Directors: Sunny Luk, Longman Leung
Notable Cast: Aaron Kwok, Tony Leung Ka-fai, Andy Lau, Charlie Young, Gordon Lam, Chin Kar-lok, Andy On, Terence Yin, Grace Huang, Aarif Rahman, Jeannie Chan, Eddie Peng, Ma Yili, J.J. Jia, Alex Tsui Ka-kit, Michael Wong, Byron Mann

I’m not sure I have ever experienced a political police thriller quite like Cold War. The police thriller is something that is pretty common and it’s one that that has been a staple of Hong Kong cinema since the 80s with directors like Johnnie To and Dante Lam continuing to carry the brunt of the artistic load of the genre, but Cold War is a bit different. While the previous two mentioned directors side heavily on subtlety (To) and the bombastic (Lam), Cold War approaches the style with speed. Thrillers aren’t necessarily known for their speed, but this one is a sprint. The execution is strong enough to carry a lot of the logistics to keeping a pace like this film uses and it crafts a memorable film with enough twists and shifts to keep even the most educated cinephiles rocking on their heels.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Blood Splatter: Ju-On: The Beginning of the End (2014) and Ju-On: The Final Curse (2015)


The Ju-On series was one that didn’t necessarily need a reboot. The Black Ghost/White Ghost combination of spin off stories proved that the extension of the curse concept could work on some level. However, after watching the reboot of the franchise subtitled The Beginning of the End, I can’t say that the film itself was nearly as bad as some of the reviews lead me to believe. Ju-On: The Beginning of the End is still a creepy and occasionally clever entry into the series and one that ought to appease the more open-minded fans of the series. At times it can be a bit awkward, there are a few sequences where the execution doesn’t quite sell the idea (like seeing a giant vision of your dead friend on the subway train as a giant head), but the rest of the film retains a lot of the same atmosphere and creepy moments that the series is known for albeit from a slightly modern angle. The film is also told in the same broken segment structure that made the original ones work so well. Once again, the way that it’s told makes for a stronger mystery for the film and how it reveals its plotting as it jumps around a bit gives the audience a task to put the pieces together. Better yet, instead of being just a straight forward remake, The Beginning of the End also tries to re-establish some of the storyline that fans will already be familiar with. Instead of Kayako being the main antagonist, the film focuses more on the son Toshio as the horror driver and how his influence was the one that brought about the curse that plagues the house. While explaining the back story a bit more can be too revealing for the normally vague style of J-Horror, the new spins and twists on the plot are a welcome change of pace for the reboot that gives it some life instead of repeating the same thing again and again. Ju-On: The Beginning of the End is far from perfect and it is occasionally awkward, but still it’s nice to see Kayako and Toshio back in the haunting business. 


Seeing as the first reboot film wasn’t nearly as bad as I was expecting, particularly from reading some of the reviews, I went into its sequel – called The Final Curse – with a decent amount of hope. The Final Curse, or The Final as I have seen it called at times, is a solid follow up to The Beginning of the End and works as both a continuation of the evolved story and as a direct sequel. At this point, it’s pretty obvious that these films are going to feature certain kinds of characters at the helm – the curious school girls, the amateur detective, etc. so it’s not so surprising that this one retreads some of the same ideas. It doesn’t quite have the weaving reveal to the various stories that The Beginning of the End worked out, but the further exploration of the new narrative that features Toshio as the main antagonist leads to some fresh feeling moments that work better than anything in its predecessor. The film also tends to pull away from some of the cheesier kill sequences, although there is one in a karaoke bar that’s kind of random, so that helps create a slightly more cohesive atmosphere that works. There are a handful of scary sequences that are very well shot including a scene with a mother and daughter in the kitchen that has some great set ups and pay offs. The Final Curse is slightly better than The Beginning of the End and it still shows how much life there is in the Ju-On franchise. It’s sad that this one seems to be the end of it for now (with the recently released Kayako vs Sadako that works outside of the franchise) as I quite enjoyed this one too…even with some of its cheesier awkward moments. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Swinging Cheerleaders, The (1974)

Director: Jack Hill

Notable Cast: Jo Johnston, Rainbeaux Smith, Colleen Camp, Rosanne Katon, Ron Hajek, Ric Carrott, Jason Sommers, Ian Sander, George D. Wallace, Jack Denton

At this point, I feel somewhat ashamed that I never dug into the cinema of Jack Hill at an earlier point of my film life. I knew of him, knew of Taratino’s almost god-like worship of his work, and I had seen bits and pieces of some of his films, but really it wasn’t until late last year and my exploration of his film Spider Baby that I started to develop an interest in what he had to offer. Through some of Arrow Video’s other releases of his work (a particular nod goes to the robust release of Pit Stop here) a love bloomed for his ability to create smart exploitation cinema. Even then, I wasn’t so sure about his film The Swinging Cheerleaders. Sex comedies are certainly not my thing and the idea behind this film seemed gimmicky at best, schlock at worst. However, never doubt what Jack Hill will bring to the table because even though The Swinging Cheerleaders is both gimmicky and schlocky at times, it’s also fairly ambitious and occasionally funny for a sex comedy.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

Director: Nicholas Meyer
Notable Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Ricardo Montalban, Kirstie Alley, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, Bibi Besch, Merritt Butrick, Paul Winfield

So remember all the things you loved about the Star Trek television series that the first theatrical film conveniently left out? Adventure? Fun? Characters? Pacing? Well, it’s almost like the film makers of the second film, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn, had heard you because they rectify ALL of those things for this smaller budget, but massively superior sequel. While it’s not the perfect film that many of my Trekkie friends and colleagues might claim it to be (don’t get your underwear bunched up, we’ll discuss that in a second) it is easily one of the best science fiction adventure films to exist. It’s a film that knows its audience and knows its strengths, and plays into them. Even if you haven’t seen the episode of Star Trek that this is also a “sequel” to, this film is remarkably effective at almost everything it does and remains perhaps one of the biggest leaps of quality for a sequel over its predecessor in cinema history.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

Director: Robert Wise

Notable Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Stephen Collins, Persis Khambatta, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei

With the third Star Trek reboot film on the way, it was requested that we cover the original film series for review. It has been a good ten years since my last Star Trek marathon, so the timing seemed right to revisit them and take a gander at a series that has been part of my life since, well, essentially birth. To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to reviewing the first film of the franchise, aptly called Star Trek: The Motion Picture, because it was never a film that interested me outside of kick starting the franchise again. Now I remember why I disliked the film so much. It’s a mediocre episode of the show elongated with needlessly artsy elements that desperately wants to be a theatrical movie going experience without the writing or pacing to make it a positive experience. The film is certainly one with its own positive features, but Star Trek: The Motion Picture is a boring and dragging cinematic experience that almost completely misses the mark.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Suture (1993)

Directors: Scott McGehee, David Siegel
Notable Cast: Dennis Haysbert, Mel Harris, Sab Shinmono, Dina Merrill, Michael Harris, David Graf, Fran Ryan, John Ingle, Sandy Gibbons, Mark Demichele, Sandra Lafferty

One of the beautiful things about doing coverage for cult cinema is that one gets to dig into the lost films. Films that are forgotten, overlooked pieces of ambitious and often edgy material. Sometimes they are forgotten for legitimate reasons, but sometimes they seem to be forgotten simply because they didn’t make a splash in the historical placement of film. Suture is one of those forgotten films, perhaps due to its lacking foundations as a film, but it’s one that carries such a strangely fantastical concept and an artful approach to it that it seems shocking that it hasn’t been one mentioned more often in the cinephile circles. The film is flawed, as many debut features from ambitious film makers are, but it’s something of an intriguing experience and one that more artful cinephiles will want to take another look at – particularly with this new Arrow Video Blu Ray that really presents it in such a strong manner. If anything, Suture is the kind of cult cinema that deserves to be uncovered…warts and all.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Killzone 2 (2016)

Director: Pou-Soi Cheang
Notable Cast: Tony Jaa, Wu Jing, Zhang Jin (Max Zhang), Simon Yam, Louis Koo, Ken Lo, Jun Kung, Dominic Lam, Unda Kunterra Yhordchanng
Also known as: SPL II: A Time for Consequences

The original Killzone (also known as SPL outside of its US release) is a film that only gets better with time. My original viewing was good, but the repeated viewings since then have proven that the Wilson Yip directed action thriller is a layered, complex, and robust film worthy of the mass praise it receives. When it was announced that it would receive a sequel, titled SPL II: A Time for Consequences overseas and Killzone 2 for the US, it was a bit odd. Particularly because it would star two people of the original film as new characters and have no connections to its predecessor. Truly, this is a film that is sequel in spirit and theme only. It’s also a sequel that matches the same kind of thoughtful, action packed layering that Killzone utilized and brings the series into a new and modern light. Once again, it’s a film that also seems to strengthen with repeated viewings and my latest one seems to be the best one for me yet.