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.

Monday, September 25, 2017

The Ghoul (2017)

Director: Gareth Tunley
Notable Cast: Tom Meeten, Alice Lowe, Geoff McGivern, Niamh Cusack, Rufus Jones, Dan Skinner, Paul Kaye

When Arrow Video announced their release for The Ghoul, it was a little difficult to know what to expect. The collector focused company rarely releases newer films and when they do they usually pick unique if not provocative films to release under this arm of the company, so there is still something to be said about that. Partner that with an executive producer credit for Ben Wheatley and there is certainly some momentum the film has going for it. Yet, the lack of word of mouth in cult cinema circles seemed a bit concerning. The Ghoul, while certainly featuring some very strong elements that are popular in horror/thrillers, is a mixed effort. For all of its dramatic heft and intriguing ideas present in the film, it’s one that wavers with its slow burn narrative and struggles to make the connection with its vague portions. It’s a film that will definitely have its fans, but in a year where atmospheric horror thrillers are all the rage (and very impressive in quality) The Ghoul will not make the impact outside of its cult fan base.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

mother! (2017)

Director: Darren Aronofsky
Notable Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Domhnall Gleeson, Brian Gleeson, Kristen Wiig, Stephen McHattie

The artistic and atmospheric slant of horror films has seen a burst of activity in the last handful of years and it has garnered quite a bit of attention from critics AND the more casual film goer. This has seen a handful of films that normally would be pushed down to straight to home video status or limited release get a full theatrical drop. Some of these even have full backing support from studios. It’s this success, even on a small scale, that allowed mother! to get a much larger release than expected. It helps immensely when one considers the stacked casting and the appeal of artistic director Darren Aronofsky, but mother! is the kind of film that was definitely going to rub mainstream audiences the wrong way and it’s now well publicized ‘F’ Cinemascore from viewers solidifies that notion. Yet, mother! is not nearly as terrible as some critics and most audiences would have one believe. In fact, it’s an ambitious, provocative, and fully realized piece of cinematic art that pushes the boundaries. In a way, whether one agrees with the choices made in narrative or style of the film, it should be respected as a film that opens up an entire audience to an artistic version of horror film making that they may not have seen before. For that, mother! deserves some serious credit.

Ken and Kazu (2015)

Director: Shoji Hiroshi

Notable Cast: Shinsuke Kato, Katsuya Maiguma, Shuna Iijima, Kisetsu Fujiwara, Haruki Takano, Daisuke Ehara, Takuya Sugiwama

Every once in a great while, a film with real potential to become a great classic comes along, but it fails to be seen by enough people, thus rendering it into the obscurities of a sleeper hit. Ken and Kazu is that film in a nutshell. It's micro budget approach never hinders its big picture vision or execution. This is essentially a Best Picture nominee, without all of the fluff. In an ideal world, Japan would've chosen this film as its submission for the Academy Awards, and it would've been shortlisted, but it's always the gems like this that only get so far, but I digress. Ken and Kazu is a gripping tale of brotherhood, drugs, and redemption. Director Shoji Hiroshi crafts one of the strongest debuts in years, and sets him in a position to become one of contemporary Japan's cinema giants.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Shaolin Iron Finger (1977) / The Legendary Strike (1978)

SHAOLIN IRON FINGER (1977)

Director: Wang Hung-Chang
Notable Cast: Carter Wong, Kam Kong, James Tin Chuen, Ricky Cheng, Woo Gam, Wai Wang, Yam Ho, Wan Chung-Shan, Yen Chung, Chin Lung

Outside of being a fan of Carter Wong, it was fairly easy to go into Shaolin Iron Finger with relatively no expectations. Yet, even with nothing to get my hopes up for expectations, the film tends to be underwhelming overall and finds itself the victim of a plethora of missed opportunities. It’s a shame too because the core story about a revolution imploding on itself is interesting and the fight work is decently done to be entertaining and fun, but the combination proves to be a mismatch. It’s awkward for most of its run time and not even some clever use of settings and a strong third act of martial arts action can save it.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Big Heat (1988)

Directors: Andrew Kam, Johnnie To
Notable Cast: Waise Lee, Matthew Wong, Phillip Kwok, Lionel Lo, Paul Chu, Betty Mak, Peter Lai, Stuart Ong, Robin Shou

There’s always a sense of shock and accomplishment when one discovers an overlooked diamond of a film out there in the black holes of the cinematic void. This is the feeling that overcame me when I sat down to watch the Hong Kong action flick The Big Heat with my brother the other day. As a fan of the cops n’ criminals genre of Hong Kong action flicks from the 80s and early 90s, I was also a tad shocked that this one has flown under the radar. Not only is this film good, but it’s packed with a phenomenal cast and co-directed by one of Hong Kong’s greatest directors, Johnnie To. The film itself is ripe with wonderful artistic direction, massively entertaining and vicious action sequences, and a darkness to its police team narrative that gives it an impressive depth. The Big Heat, despite its generic title, deserves to be listed among some of the best of the style and belongs up there in the ranks of classics from John Woo, Ringo Lam, and Tsui Hark.