Mini-Reviews!!!!!!

Posted by
/

Every once in awhile I’d find myself in a dilemma. I might want to review a movie, but it didn’t really fall under the Martial Arts or Horror umbrella. There was a time when I’d go ahead and do it- Longtime fans might remember that somehow “Once Upon a Time in America” ended up in the martial arts section, because…because-, but I’m trying to compartmentalize my time on the web. I don’t want to do a full written review every other day and want a little more credibility as a genre critic. So I decided to dedicate an entire page to doing mini-reviews of other movies. Expect links to reviews of movies that aren’t really martial arts or horror based to be added in the future (or past, depending on when you’re reading this) and I’ll also include re-posts of lost reviews on here. I had put a lot of thought into what I’d call this page…some titles being “MartialHorror Vs the Clap” (I dunno why, I just want to use that title), “MartialHorror reviews…EVERYTHING!” (kinda misleading) “Will MartialHorror ever shut up!?” (valid question, but NOPE) and “MartialHorror reviews video games, except replace the video games with other movies that aren’t based in martial arts or horror…“(Hmmmmm….).

MARTIALHORROR REVIEWS VIDEO GAMES, EXCEPT REPLACE THE VIDEO GAMES WITH OTHER MOVIES THAT AREN’T BASED IN MARTIAL ARTS OR HORROR!!!

Best Title Ever!

300 (2007)– King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) leads 300 Spartans to face the entire army of Persia, who seek to conquer the entirety of Greece, in this fictional version of the historic battle. I remember being unimpressed with the trailers for “300”, as it looked incredibly hokey, but the early reviews managed to get me a little pumped up. I was still not expecting this to be one of my favorite films of 2007 and it seemed like all of my fellow plebeians agreed with me, as we quoted all of the lines to the point where they quickly went from ‘cool’ to ‘obnoxious’. Furthermore, who didn’t apply ‘spray on abs’, run around in their underwear and occasionally kiss Hercules?

…Wait…

Er, um, that’s not the point! “300” had a huge impact on pop culture and I swear I don’t own a copy of “Meet the Spartans”. I swear! As popular as this movie was though, I remember it received a backlash for its historical inaccuracies, as if the Spartans defending their realm against zombies, Mortal Kombat rejects and an assortment of freaks didn’t already reveal the filmmakers intentions when it came to authenticity. I am assuming that these same detractors went on to criticize “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” for it taking liberties with the real story, for every fool knows that the Union were the vampires, while the confederates were the werewolves. “300” is all about testosterone fueled posturing, bad-ass visuals and quotable lines, but it also takes the time to make you invested in the characters. Maybe I should be a little disturbed that I cheer whenever the Spartans do something especially twisted to their enemies, but hey, these mad men are very charismatic. The cast all deliver their lines with passion and intensity, but their chemistry holds the narrative together, so I was invested even when swords weren’t making sweet love to flesh. The choreography is excellent though and Zack Snyder uses slow motion incredibly well, making sure we see the gory details and the slick maneuvering when we need to, without the action ever becoming redundant for it. The score is perfect for this kind of flick, as it pumps you up and makes you want to join the battle itself, but it’s also unique- especially in the context of 2007. Snyder stylizes every visual as if it’s a comic book come to life, so the digital aesthetics really do work. The special effects serve his vision, although the grotesque makeup for the hunchback looked pretty phony to me. “300” is not for everybody and you might condemn it for trying too hard to be cool, or maybe you just think it’s silly. For me, it’s just a thoroughly entertaining action flick that I can sit down and watch at almost any time, although I still need to purchas- Okay, I admit it! I own a copy of “Meet the Spartans”! I don’t know why! IT JUST HAPPENED! I’M SO SORRY!

Rating: 3.5/4 ★★★½ 

10,000 BC (2008)- Apparently set in 10,000 B.C, a bunch of tribes are harassed by a much larger tribe. When his love is captured by this tribe, a hunter must become a warrior and travel through the desert…a lot, to save her. “10,000 B.C” is another big budgeted blockbuster from Ronald Emmerich and even though everyone seems to hate the guy, I have always been indifferent towards his body of work. They’re fine if you just want state of the art effects and eye popping visuals, with the story only existing as a template to promote the effects and visuals. But if you want anything of substance, then you should probably criticize yourself as much as Emmerich, because you should know what you’re getting into right now…and that’s probably why I dislike “10,000 B.C”, because all of Emmerich’s weaknesses are on display, while his strengths appear to be largely absent.

The CGI in “10,000 B.C” is merely…adequate, if not uneven. The only special effect I can honestly remember is the Sabre-tooth Tiger and that was only because it looked really bad. Everything else is…fine, neither worth praising or condemning. I think Emmerich was trying to broaden his horizons as a filmmaker, maybe trying to focus on substance over spectacle? That’s the only reason I can fathom why he’d choose this setting and story, as his specialty is destruction and buildings worth destroying hadn’t been built during this time period. The visual style is underwhelming, although it occasionally becomes distracting when Emmerich is ripping someone else off (“300”, “Apocalypto”). The actors are all glaringly miscast. Steven Strait (D’leh) isn’t a bad actor, but he lacks the charisma to carry this kind of role, so is rather boring to watch. Camilla Belle (Evolet) has absolutely nothing to do except look pretty and that is also kind of the problem. These leads are far too…attractive? Modern? They just don’t look like they belong in this kind of period piece! Instead of viewing them as characters from 10,000 B.C, I saw them as actors dressed up as characters from 10,000 B.C. Maybe the makeup and costuming department are more to blame, as the movie lacks any sense of authenticity and the actors sometimes look comically out-of-place. Once again, Roland Emmerich is usually reliable when it comes to casting charismatic performers who are allowed to have as much fun as they want with their roles. This might lead to some hammy and ridiculous performances, but they balance out the effects and can be fun. Maybe Emmerich was trying to be taken seriously and restrained his actors, because only a few of the supporting cast members seem to be enjoying themselves. Everyone else just looks bored, like me when watching “10,000 B.C”.

Speaking of which, was it just me or did it seem like there were a lot of scenes of just people walking through the desert…Maybe he was trying to channel “Lawrence of Arabia”, but the digital aesthetic keeps the cinematography from standing out as exceptional. Most of the big visuals are computer generated, while what made “Lawrence of Arabia” special was that we were seeing real locations. The script suffers from a lot of the usual cliches, such as the hunters being easily overcome by the baddies during the first battle, but our hero pretty much being able to take out their entire army in the next. The ending is safe, the characterizations are thin and the dialogue is cheesy, but in a stale, crusty kind of way. The action scenes aren’t as plentiful as you would think, but even the ones we get are bogged down by excessive shaky camerawork and tight editing. I couldn’t make out a lot of it. “10,000 B.C” is just not an entertaining movie, even by Roland Emmerich standards. Yet it’s just as dumb, especially by Roland Emmerich standards. I say it’s not worth your time or money.

Rating: 1.5/4 ★½☆☆ 

The Admiral: Roaring Currents (2014)– Based on a true story where 12 Korean ships valiantly stood up against a vast Japanese fleet, Admiral Yi Sun-Shin (Min-sik Choi of “Oldboy” fame) must defy his superiors and keep his increasingly discontent underlings in line when preparing an ambitious defense against a much larger enemy. Does he have a legitimate strategy? Is his failing health getting in the way of his judgment? Or is this some form of grandiose suicide? “The Admiral” spends its final hour showcasing incredible effects, stuntwork and choreography, which unite to make this one of the coolest Naval Warfare flicks of all time. But there are too many characters with indistinguishable personalities and appearances, making it difficult to tell ‘who is who’ and what their purpose is. Some scenes which are intended to be dramatic and inspirational end up being hokey and “The Admiral” seems to lack an emotional core. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it for the spectacle.

Rating: 3/4 ★★★☆ 

Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams (1990)– One of the final films by legendary director Akira Kurosawa, this is a collection of short stories, apparently dreams experienced by Kurosawa himself. Those poor souls who endure my writings will notice that “Dreams” is not the kind of movie that I’d usually review, even though Kurosawa was mostly famous for his Samurai features- such as “Yojimbo” and “Seven Samurai”. This is an arthouse feature, neither belonging in the martial arts or horror genres, but when I initially reviewed the movie, I was critiquing…everything I wanted to critique because I had too much time on my hands. At one point, you could find the likes of “Once Upon a Time in America” and “Once Upon a Time in the West” in my martial arts index, because where else could I put them at the time? This is a re-review, which is why it’s here in the first place. Moving on to the subject- “Dreams” is not my kind of movie, even though its self indulgence is visually striking and unique. Each short is too…eh, short…to properly review, so don’t expect any individual ratings or deep analysis’s.

  • Sunshine Through the Rain: A boy wanders into a magical forest, where he witnesses a ceremony being conducted by kitsune (mythical foxes). This story does closely resemble a childs’ dream (or nightmare) and boasts incredibly colorful, eye popping imagery. However, it puts the S, L, O and W in ‘Slow’. In many ways, this sets the tone and will test your capacity to remain awake throughout the duration of this film.

  • The Peach Orchard: Spirits of a destroyed Peach Orchard confronts a boy whose family chopped down their tree. Once again, visually appealing, but the dance ceremony goes on way too long. I found the pacing to be tedious, although I also am conceding that I’m not the target audience for this kind of filmmaking.

  • The Blizzard: Out of all the stories, this one pissed me off the most. It’s about a group of mountain men trying to get to their camp in a blizzard. While the atmosphere is unnervingly chilling at points, there is just too much walking as the cast struggles against the snow, which almost immediately becomes monotonous. I had to fight sleep for this one. I don’t remember who won.

  • The Tunnel: A Japanese officer returns home after World War 2, only to be confronted by the soldiers of his dead platoon. Ishiro Honda (“Godzilla”) had a hand in directing this one, although it’s unclear whether he helmed the entire short or merely served as a co-director. I thought this was a very unnerving experience, thanks to the spooky sound design and creepy ghosts (that dog is terrifying!). This is the first ‘nightmare’ portion of the film.

  • Crows: “Dreams” has been a strange combination of ‘fascinating’ and ‘boring’, but “Crows” alone makes the entire feature worth watching. A man (who resembles Kurosawa) finds himself inside a painting of Vincent Van Gough. This short is BREATHTAKING, with the scenery resembling a live action painting. The gorgeous and haunting visuals carry “Crows“, but unlike its predecessors, they never grow stale. This is also the only story that isn’t bloated with excessive dialogue or mundane actions (like walking), so the slow burn pacing actually enhanced the experience for me. Martin Scorsese cameos as van Gough.

  • Mount Fuji in Red: The second nightmare in the film is about four characters experiencing the apocalyptic aftermath of a nuclear meltdown. This one appears to be shorter than the other segments and even though it’s very talky, it never bored me. I liked how Kurosawa made the eye popping colors look sinister and foreboding, which gave it a strangely surreal atmosphere.
  •  The Weeping Demon: A man finds himself wandering in a post-apocalyptic landscape, where he encounters a tormented demon- who reveals that a nuclear holocaust is responsible for the world ending. The third nightmare sequence has moody atmosphere, but suffers from rambling dialogue and uneven pacing.

  • Village of the Watermills: Now this was a nice way to end the movie. The same man stumbles upon a beautiful village, which has chosen spiritual health over convenience. It’s very uplifting, poetic and beautiful. Despite being talky, it moved at the right pace and made a powerful emotion connection with me. I liked how “Dreams” ended on a positive note, in contrast to the often dreary, bleak and chaotic previous shorts. It made me a lot happier as the film ended.

Dreams” was clearly a very personal project for Kurosawa and one has to wonder what his mental and emotional state was throughout production, as he has no interest in developing a cohesive narrative or following the basic rules of cinema. In fact, one can argue that this is such an intimate insight into the director that the movie becomes alienating, not really designed for anyone else. Considering that Kurosawa was entering the final chapter of his life, I think Kurosawa just wanted to do what he wanted and not what he thought other people would want- and he had certainly earned this right. Each short is interesting because you’re getting a glimpse into the mind of a genius, even if us plebians aren’t likely going to understand it. The visuals are amazing and I loved the emphasis on color, mood and spectacle, but I will admit to getting bored…a lot…The philosophical ramblings and scenes of excessive walking got old pretty quickly. This is the type of movie that I’m glad to have experienced, but I don’t think I’ll want to experience it again. I respect “Dreams”, even if I’m not sure I like it. It’s not for everyone, although I think arthouse enthusiasts and passionate cinephiles should check it out.

Rating: 3/4 ★★★☆ 

Alien 2: On Earth (1980)– Cave explorers encounter an alien, who kills them and inhabits their bodies. This unofficial sequel to the Ridley Scott classic, “Alien”, beat James Camerons’ equally classic sequel, “Aliens”, by a whole 5 years! I found this title at a nearby video store and am curious how a United States distribution is even legal, although perhaps the name ‘Alien’ is too vague to copyright. “Alien 2: On Earth” is an Italian production that sometimes made me feel a little nostalgic, as I recognized some of the voice actors doing the dubbing and I dug the synthesizer score that seems to appear in all of these spaghetti horror features. Not only is “Alien” ripped off, but you’ll also recognize ideas stolen from “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, “Jaws” and “Scanners“. The movie is pretty bad, but I have to admit that I enjoyed myself because I found its failures to be fascinating…especially as you can really tell that the filmmakers are trying their hardest to make an effective thriller. The cinematographer struggles with murky lighting, but sometimes the caves look really sinister thanks to the excessive darkness. Every once in awhile, the stars would align for the director, cinematographer and editor and they’d create a rather eerie mood, even though this feels less like the result of creative decisions and more like they’re trying to hide the minimal budget. The build-up tends to go on for too long and the pay-off was unsatisfying, because you never get a good look at the alien, but there were a few times where they (accidentally?) delivered a few chills. During the finale, instead of showing us the alien, the attacks occur from the POV of the inside of the aliens’ mouths. I have to praise the filmmakers here for being imaginative, even though these scenes are framed so poorly that you can barely tell what’s going on. The protagonist has psychic abilities, because…I dunno, her powers appear to be f@cking useless considering she can only warn people of an impending attack…while they’re being attacked…Did her powers ever forward the story? I don’t think so, but I could be wrong as the audio quality is so poor that I had difficulty understanding what anyone was saying. Yet the only thing unique about our heroine is that she has psychic powers, so at least the writer is trying to make her a little compelling. “Alien 2: On Earth” is not a good movie by any stretch of the imagination and outside of a few cool gore effects, it will probably bore you with its meandering pace and lack of climax…Yet I was drawn to it, both for its failures and succes- er, attempted successes…Yeah, I’ll just go with that.

Rating: 2/4 ★★☆☆ 

Alien Outpost (2014)– Also known as “Outpost 37”, I chose not to do a full written review because it’s not really a horror story. It can be spooky and intense, but I’d describe it as a suspense thriller/actioner/war drama/science fiction hybrid, packaged as a mockumentary. I liked it more than the critics did, as the filmmakers were pretty creative in covering up their budget limitations. In fact, the minimal production values means that they must rely more on building suspense and this worked in the films favor- at least that is my opinion. There are a lot of flaws though and most of them appear during the finale. Brace yourself for disorienting editing, shaky camerawork, flimsy effects and an inability to tell who is dying. I also felt that pretending this was a documentary siphoned some of the tension from the narrative, as you have an idea how it will end…But the filmmakers tried to make a great movie and not just some direct-to-DVD cheapie, so I appreciate their ambitions. Furthermore, it continuously kept me engaged up until the ending.

Rating: 2.5/4 ★★½☆ 

Andromedia (1998)– Takashi Miike’s surreal, sci-fi romance is about a teenage girl (Hiroko Shimabukuro), whose mind is uploaded into her boyfriends’ laptop after she dies in a car accident. This movie was just…weird, even by Takashi Miike’s standards. Miike might be the only filmmaker who can lure me into genres that I’d usually avoid like the AIDS, because why else would I spend any time on this fluffy, poorly received chick flick? But I love watching the intense mating sessions between his imaginative style and exceptional skill, regardless of whether he’s doing grotesque horror or childrens’ drama. Unfortunately, “Andromedia” tends to be among the more overlooked entry in Miike’s catalog, generally being regarded as one of his lesser works. I actually am one of the few people who liked this movie, even though I also understand that I am in the minority.

Takashi Miike is no stranger to working with abstract and often hole ridden scripts, but “Andromedia” takes this to alienating levels. The plot makes little sense, the villains’ motives are never really explained and there were a lot of unanswered questions. The most notorious scene surrounds a random J-pop performance, because apparently the studio wanted to promote the band. Miike probably wasn’t thrilled with this production, because he doesn’t even try to weave this into the narrative. It just comes and goes, without any build-up or pay-off. On the other hand, I made an emotional connection to the protagonists, so cared about them and their plights. The cinematography is really good and Miike’s visual style kept everything more exciting. I also thought the pace was surprisingly swift, which helped make things go down more smoothly. Finally, this was pretty f@cking weird…and that is what makes Takashi Miike one of my personal favorite directors. I can’t call “Andromedia” a good movie, but it did entertain me.

Rating: 2.5/4 ★★½☆ 

Argento’s Dracula (2012)– Dario Argento tries…tries…to adapt Bram Stoker’s famous “Dracula” novella and he fails miserably…at trying…and doing. Wow…I am a huge fan of Dario Argento, so I am willing to forgive his missteps, but this was so horrendous that I even began to second guess the badness of his “Phantom of the Opera” adaptation- and that had its titular phantom sexing up rats. “Argento’s Dracula” looks cheap, from the sets to the costumes to the camera he used to shoot the movie and I don’t know what possessed him to rely so much on shitty CGI. Every time there is an allegedly ‘scary’ scene, there will be a visual effect that will ruin the mood, which admittedly didn’t exist in the first place. Argento snagged a decent cast, such as Rutger Hauer (Van Hellsing), Thomas Kretschmann (Dracula) and Asia Argento (Lucy), but they all look miserable, embarrassed, bored and uncomfortable, although they still turn in the ‘better’ performances. Everyone else just can’t act, at least based on what we see here. The dialogue is laughable and there are so many awkward pauses, where you start to wonder if an actor has missed his or her cue and the editor simply forgot to trim those out. The story makes no f@cking sense either, even though “Argento’s Dracula” goes through the same beats as its predecessors. I should not be confused when I’ve witnessed this same plot unfold many, many times before. I was initially amused by the badness, thanks to certain scenes like when Dracula appears to mount Jonathan Harker (Unax Ugalde) from behind, but eventually the lifeless performances and the even deader dubbing started to wear me down. I grew so bored that I began to fall asleep. There is some gore, which is decent in a schlocky, cheesy way and there is some nudity. But these are brief respites from a lot of nothingness. “Argento’s Dracula” was a pretty miserable experience that I could’ve lived without…Then again, Argento did gift me with the image of Dracula turning into a giant Praying Mantis, so there is that…

Rating: 1/4 ★☆☆☆ 

The Avengers, Assemble (2012)– 4/4 stars.

Avengers 2: Age of Ultron (2015)– The Avengers unite to finish dismantling Hydra, who have developed their own pair of super villains, but Tony Stark (Robert Downy Jr) realizes they can’t do this forever. He develops Ultron, an artificial intelligence program designed to protect humanity, but it backfires when Ultron develops its own consciousness and goes insane. What follows is a fight of their lives and a highly entertaining sequel, which brings back everything I loved about “The Avengers Assemble”- awesome special effects, exciting action and a hilarious sense of humor. Everyone has wonderful chemistry together and the large cast was well utilized. It’s not perfect, as the narrative does hit a few pacing snags and the love story failed to connect, but it was a lot of fun.

Rating: 3.5/4 ★★★½ 

Avenging Fist (2001)– In the far future, The Government has developed a combat tool known as the ‘Power Glove’, which boosts the wearers abilities to super human levels. Nova (Leehom Wang) is a delinquent, who was taught the ‘Avenging Fist’ style of fighting by his Father (Yuen Baio)- who vanished when Nova was a child. But it turns out that Daddy was experimented on in order to master the original ‘Power Glove’ and his children have inherited…abilities…I think. Now the nefarious Combat 21 (Roy Cheung) wants to make the kids join his elite army…maybe…and Inspector Dark (Sammo Hung) is trying to stop him, I guess. Based on the plot summary, could you guess that this was conceived to be a live-action adaptation of “Tekken”?! Allegedly, they even entered production with the video game title, before realizing they had failed to secure the rights for its namesake. You can see traces of the source material, as Iron Surfer (Stephen Fung) is an obvious homage to Hwoarang and Nova’s character journey sometimes parallels with Jins’, even though the “You killed my Mother, I will have revenge” motivation is hardly exclusive to the game. Otherwise, I don’t see how this could’ve ever called itself “Tekken”, so I have to assume many changes were made. Nevertheless, director Andrew Lau styles a lot of the visuals after videogames, although I found them to be more distracting than cool.

The Avenging Fist” relies a lot on CGI, which is wildly uneven in quality. Sometimes the CGI is pretty damn solid, considering that this was made in 2001 by a country that had yet to become renown for their special effects. At the absolute least, the backgrounds were surprisingly elaborate and ambitious. Other times the CGI is embarrassing though, with the actors looking confused as to what they’re supposed to be reacting to- occasionally even staring in the wrong direction. Sometimes the effects are surprisingly imaginative, especially when it comes to showing us the weird technology of this dystopian world. Other times the effects are derivative, blatantly stealing from “The Fifth Element”, “Blade Runner” and “Star Wars”, among others. Most of the time though, they’re just…bizarre. Granted, this might be a reflection of the plot, which is so absurd and convoluted that I’m not entirely sure I understood it. Everything is reliant on the dodgy special effects, from the martial arts (Cory Yuen is the choreographer, whose talents are wasted) to the comedy (the gags are based around them) to even the story-line (which makes stuff up as it goes along just to serve a single visual). It’s…so bad, with plot holes, lame dialogue, silly posturing, hilarious attempts at being dramatic and tear jerking attempts at being funny. The relationships are frustratingly superficial and irrelevant, but we’re expected to want these people who barely know each-other to hook up, because…they’re attractive? I guess? But despite being terrible…I kind of liked it…Or I at least respected it, as “The Avenging Fist” is incredibly energetic and you can tell everyone involved was really trying their hardest with very little material to work with. I might’ve laughed ‘at’ the movie, groaned when the badness became overbearing and not given a shit about the characters or their plights, but I was never bored. Bad movie, but not really a bad experience…and it’s still more of a Tekken movie than “Tekken 2: Kazuya’s Revenge” was.

Rating: 2/4 ★★☆☆ 

Backtrack (2015)– Peter Bower (Adrien Brody) is a psychiatrist who is mourning over the death of his daughter, but starts to question his sanity when he starts encountering a mysterious girl- who might be a ghost or a hallucination. Is he losing his mind? Or is he being haunted? This is more of a psychological thriller/drama than a horror flick, so brace yourself for meandering pacing and Adrien Brody’s mopey face. To his credit though, Brody does an admirable job carrying the bulk of the movie and he is one of the few actors who can convey legitimate fear. Writer and Director Michael Petroni has a compelling story to tell, but he only seems to have put any thought into the (admittedly stellar) set-up and resolution. The entire middle block seems comprised of gratuitous nightmare sequences and telegraphed hallucinations. This padding got old very quickly and even if some parts were unsettling and the acting was good, it wasn’t enough to consistently keep my attention. Uneven.

Rating: 2.5/4 ★★½☆ 

Blood Father (2016)– Link (Mel Gibson) is an ex-con, working to repair his broken life by staying sober and severing ties with everyone from his criminal past. But when his estranged daughter Lydia (Erin Moriarty) appears, messed up on drugs and fearing for her life, he realizes he’s going to have to pull out his violent side in order to protect her. It has the plot of an exploitation film, with the only sign of legit production value coming from the impressive cast (which also includes William H. Macey and Michael Parks). It’s violent, gritty, sometimes unpleasant and doesn’t have a lot of variety in its locations, but these points add to the films’ almost-apocalyptic atmosphere. The cinematography emphasizes the isolation of the desert landscapes and you can see traces of “No Country for Old Men” and “Sicario” in the direction. I felt the tension, cringed during the brutal action sequences and even felt nostalgic, as there is definitely a “Mad Max” vibe going on. The dialogue is surprisingly good and the actors all look like they’re having a blast in their roles. Mel Gibson in particular is a bit too convincing as the aggressive, chaotic, grumpy, quasi-racist, recovering alcoholic. I also appreciated how Gibson and Moriarty have chemistry as the Father-Daughter pair and they even avoid the obnoxious ‘bratty, hostile daughter’ tropes. I’m partial to this genre and “Blood Father” functions as an effective throwback and as its own entity.

Rating: 3.5/4 ★★★½ 

Bone Tomahawk (2016)– Set during the Wild West- A vicious tribe of cannibals abduct Samantha (Lili Simmons), prompting her crippled husband (Patrick Wilson), the local Sheriff (Kurt Russell), his deputy (Richard Jenkins) and a highly skilled gunslinger (Matthew Fox) to mount a rescue expedition. This western-horror utilizes a s-s-s-l-l-l-o-o-o-w-w-w burn style of suspense, which builds tension as much as it will alienate many viewers. I did think that some scenes needed to be trimmed down, as the camera wasn’t close enough to show the nuances of the performances, nor were the visuals wide enough to show off the scenery, restricting the mood. But despite this arguably amateurish direction, I remained invested thanks to the interesting characters, strong performances, snappy dialogue and grim atmosphere. The sound design was creepy, although the silence which accompanied the attacks upstaged the eerie background horns. The gore was also very intense, adding a heavier layer of suspense, as you wouldn’t wish this nastiness on anyone. The ending does have some eye brow raising moments of questionable writing and I felt “The Burrowers” (similar genre hybrid with a similar plot) was a lot more haunting, but this was still a pretty good movie.

Rating: 3/4 ★★★☆ 

Braddock: Missing in Action III (1988)– Col. James Braddock (Chuck Norris) has married a Vietnamese citizen (Miki Kim), but before he can take her to the United States, she is apparently killed in an explosion. 12 years later, Braddock is a shell of his former self…even though he already kind of was a shell of his former self…until he discovers that she is alive. He also learns that he has a son, named Van (Roland Harrah III). He must return to Vietnam once more to rescue them, but the dastardly General Quoc (Aki Aleong) is determine to foil his plans…for some reason. “Missing in Action 3” boasts solid production values, but director Aaron Norris (brother of Chuck) doesn’t really know how to use them. The action is strangely dull and the narrative lacks excitement, although I’d describe his direction as mediocre instead of bad. He attempts to insert family drama into the story, which ends up being horrendously cheesy, drawing attention to Chuck’s limited range and relying far too much the acting chops of his even worse co-stars. In fact, the acting is terrible by the majority of the cast, with the kid being the reigning King of horrible. The director deserves a lot of the blame though, as he apparently thought these takes were acceptable. General Quoc is a recycled version of previous “Missing in Action” villains, except he’s a bland caricature, lacking the attributes that made his predecessors interesting. Why was he so obsessed with Braddock anyway? The story doesn’t explain a lot and it feels like the writer was going through the motions of relying on cliches, not even providing decent motivations for the characters. I’m not even going to get into how this contradicts the continuity of the first two films, or how corny the music is, or how it was a mistake to attempt to screw with the formula, or how it tones down the violence and strips away the only reason why these movies worked…They were exploitation and were fun as such. Braddock himself was interesting because he always seemed like he was on the verge of a psychotic breakdown, but he’s just a colorless hero here. “Braddock: Missing in Action III” takes itself way too seriously and its attempts to be taken seriously failed miserably.

Rating: 1.5/4 ★½☆☆ 

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)–  (The following is a cleaned up, re-uploaded version of my original writing): Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is a frail-but-passionate, young adult who wishes to serve during World War 2, but can never pass his physical. Yet his courage makes him the subject of scientific experimentation and he becomes a super soldier in the process. But the Nazi’s have acquired an advanced level of technology, throwing the war into further chaos. Can one man make a difference? “Captain America: The First Avenger” is not a great movie. In fact, it’s barely even a good movie if it’s a good movie at all. But I still find myself applauding it. You see, I never thought a movie based on Captain America would work. Everything about the character is too cheesy and over-the-top, which I couldn’t see appealing to audiences of “The Dark Knight” generation, which now found even the Tim Burton “Batman” features to be campy and ‘uncool’. Of course, they had tried to make a “Captain America” movie back in 1990, but few people saw it and fewer people liked it. So at least a reboot would have THAT going for it. After all, “Batman Begins” was probably so highly received because all it had to do to be moderately successful was be better than “Batman and Robin“. Is “Captain America: The First Avenger” better than its 1990 counterpart? I dunno. I never saw the original one. But I imagine so because “Captain America: The First Avenger” is a decent film. It’s not one of the better entries within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but stylistically it is the most unique amongst them.

The problem with “Captain America: The First Avenger” is that the script is too…..breezy? Unfocused? It does a good job at establishing the titular character. Steve Rogers is very likable and Chris Evans plays him well, although his (too deep) voice doesn’t sync with his scrawny body. His desire to enlist is so earnest that it’s hard not to like him. Unfortunately, when he becomes Captain America, he loses all traces of being a character. Instead, he just beats up the villains and when they do try to ‘deepen’ him, they rely on stale cliches. You know a certain character is going to die, because those kinds of characters always die in these movies, but they aren’t in “Captain America” enough for us to care. You know that Cap’ is going to fall in love with Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), because the gods of narrative formulas demand such a subplot exist. There’s even a scene where a girl suddenly kisses Rogers and OF COURSE Peggy will walk in, because that’s how these kinds of love stories play out. Padding is bad enough, cliched padding is far worse.

Furthermore, Captain America is TOO good of a hero. While Weaving is intense as Schmidt, the villain himself was never threatening enough. It seems like Captain America ALWAYS wins with only modest difficulty. The film, especially in its 2nd half, is literally just about Captain America kicking ass. Yet the worst fault of the film is that it poorly manages its time, a criticism I seem to be using a lot lately. In a sense, I’m reminded of “The Green Hornet” in that the first half seems largely devoid of action (there is one action scene), so we’re forced to endure the film showcasing the people we don’t care about while ignoring the more interesting characters (I wanted more Neal McDonough). Then the film becomes too action oriented and all of the characters lose their texture. They are now props, designed to make things go boom. I’m not a fan of erratic pacing and “Captain America” starts off too slow, then suddenly hits the gas and flies forward at full speed. It’s exhausting! The script does contain some impressive substance though and I really liked how the namesake and outfit were utilized. The idea of Captain America selling war bonds is funny, but also justifies the inherent cheesiness of the gimmick. I even bought it when Rogers decides to continue playing ‘the character’, even after he stops being the mascot of the U.S military.

But for all of the problems I have with the movie, I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE how “Captain America: The First Avenger” differentiates itself from the rest of the pack. The films’ visual style feels more akin to a classical war story than a comic book adaptation, using a grittier color scheme, bleak cinematography and a more somber tone. The action feels very old fashioned, containing more traditional choreography and practical effects, which has become a rarity within this genre. There is still quite a bit of CGI, but it usually is only used when the context absolutely requires it. Generally, the battles surround Captain American throwing his shield, kicking people and sometimes using a gun. The spectacle just felt toned down, which means “Captain America: The First Avenger” might underwhelm you, but at least it’s different and this gives the film its own identity. “Captain America” is just an OK flick, but it is unique and more importantly, made me take the character seriously- something I never thought was possible. Steve Rogers would become more compelling in subsequent flicks, so “Captain America: The First Avenger” was merely a starting point for the character.

Rating: 2.5/4 ★★½☆ 

Castle Freak (1995)– Recovering alcoholic John Reilly (Jeffrey Combs) discovers that he has inherited a castle, so moves his estranged wife Susan (Barbara Crampton) and blind daughter Rebecca (Jessica Dollarhide) in with him, until he can sell it. Unfortunately, a deformed, deranged lunatic lives in the bowels of the castle and he starts killing people, making John the prime suspect. I’m a big fan of director Stuart Gordon (“Re-animator”), so have been clamoring to check this out for awhile. I love castles, freaks and Jeffrey Combs’s, but I f@cking hated this movie with an intense passion. The makeup effects for the titular freak are really good and I liked how he is a tragic figure, who is just desperately trying to be a human, while his troubled history and childlike innocence lead him to misunderstand certain human interactions. He sees Jeffrey Combs eating a girl out and…decides to take that to its most literal extreme. “Castle Freak” is messy with its gore and Gordon does an OK job at making the location look menacing. The cinematography is pretty impressive, although the editing was horrible. I hated how the film would suddenly skip forward in time, as it just killed the flow of the transition and looked choppy.

But my hatred stems from the abysmal script, where everyone acts cruel and stupid, all the f@cking time. I pretty much gave up on the movie when Susan informs John that she wished he died in place of their son, in response to him expressing anguish over what happened…F@ck you! Yet John is such a pathetic whiner that you can’t feel too bad for him either. Susan blames John for being neglectful and she’s kind of right, but we later on see that she can be just as bad. Obviously these troubled family dynamics were intended to be uncomfortable and vitriolic, but that didn’t change the fact that I spent the bulk of the movie wishing Godzilla would show up and knock this castle down, killing everyone in it- except the cat. I love Jeffrey Combs, but he’s clearly miscast here, with his manic mannerisms being more annoying than endearing. At times, it’s difficult to take the drama seriously because of all his ticks and quirks. The film reaches a new low when a cop strikes John, so the other policemen are forced to pull him away…letting John escape from the police station with alarming ease…and how the f@ck did the cat and the titular freak survive so long without any real food? And why didn’t Godzilla show up and knock the castle down, killing everyone in it- except the cat? UGH!!! “Castle Freak” is adequate from a visual standpoint, but horrible when it comes to everything else. Am I overstating its badness? Maybe, but the entire experience left me angry.

Rating: 1/4 ★☆☆☆ 

Close Range (2015)– Colton MacReady (Scott Adkins) is a rogue soldier who rescues his niece from a Mexican Cartel, but they finally him home and put his ranch under siege. Considering that this is a collaboration between Scott Adkins and director Isaac Florentine- who usually produce gold together (“Undisputed 3“, “Ninja 2“, among others) this was somewhat disappointing. The action is good and I’m pretty sure the mayhem never stopped, but the dialogue is lame, the plot is minimal and the attempts at style are hokey.

Rating: 2/4 ★★☆☆ 

Code of Honor (2016)– Robert Sikes (Steven Seagal) is a Steven Seagal- a race of super human ex-elite soldiers who seek to punish the wicked. In this case, Sikes is a super-vigilante who is relentlessly hunting various criminals, baffling the police. Special Agent William Porter (Craig Sheffer) has a history with Sikes though and is determined to catch him. I actually liked this, as Seagal is playing a much darker interpretation of his usual persona, while Sheffer’s character is seedy enough to be an untrustworthy hero. Who is the good guy? Who is the bad guy? Are they both good guys? Or are they both bad guys? I liked not knowing and there is a pretty crazy twist that’s ways too ambitious for a Steven Seagal movie. It makes absolutely no sense, but at least it’s something new for Mr. Seagal. Interestingly, Seagal doesn’t speak a single word for the first 45 minutes, wisely leaving the acting in the hands of his supporting cast- primarily Craig Sheffer. Sheffer is at his best when playing unhinged characters and he’s a lot of fun here.

The action is mostly standard shooting, with some crappy CGI and limp sound effects keeping the excitement relatively low. But there are a few really good shots, flashy lighting, and the final fight between Seagal and Sheffer was surprisingly good. I liked the neon colored backdrop and there was more drama than usual, even though Seagal is still always one step ahead of his opponents…because only another Steven Seagal can defeat a Steven Seagal. The film is trying its best to function on multiple levels with nuanced characters and heavy stakes, but it’s still clumsily written. I’m just glad that everyone involved tried their best, making this a surprisingly enjoyable direct-to-DVD Seagal flick.

Rating: 2.5/4 ★★½☆ 

Cold Prey (2006)– Five young adults go on a snowboarding vacation in Jotunheimen, opting to have their thrill seeking fun in an isolated, dangerous area. Predictably, one of them gets injured and the group are forced to take refuge in an old, abandoned hotel…where a killer lurks…This Norwegian slasher was a huge hit in its home country, enough to spawn a sequel AND a prequel, but I’m not entirely sure why I should regard it as special. “Cold Prey” is a rather ordinary slasher, albeit dressed in a different location. Admittedly, I am partial to snow glazed landscapes and the cinematographer captures some chilling exterior shots of the hotel, which seems to be drowning in winter. The writer seems to want to use our expectations against us with some cliché defying characterizations (the slutty archetype is actually…the virgin!?), but his efforts are wasted when the cast starts making the usual idiotic decisions. I appreciate the attempts at adding nuance to the characters, but I didn’t find the majority of them to be particularly likable. Even our resourceful heroine kind of lost me when she revealed that she knew a friend of hers had ‘feelings’ for her, yet still engaged in carnal relations with her boyfriend…in the same room as him…cold! There are some ideas that lead nowhere, like how the killer will occasionally knock someone out when they could’ve easily murdered them. There is no indication that he’s sparing anyone for a reason, so this felt like cheap writing because said characters were required to be alive for future plot developments.

Cold Prey” does certainly have redeeming value though, as the location is awesome and the killer is very imposing. The director does build up suspense pretty well and even if the kills lacked creativity, they still had a brutal edge to them. I can’t judge the cast, because I watched the dubbed version and I would strongly recommend you watch this in its native language. The dubbing was BAD and the casts’ constant chuckling in particular stood out as awkward. “Cold Prey” is a solid slasher, but it’s too reminiscent of other slashers. Characters will split up, investigate strange noises, find expository newspaper clippings, have sex when it’s inappropriate, hesitate when they should be rushing, rushing when they should be hesitating and doing something abnormally stupid so that the killer can end them in a gruesome fashion. The music sounds familiar and the visual style embraces that cold, washed out aesthetic that was all the rage during this time period. Am I criticizing “Cold Prey” for traversing through explored territory? No, because I am a slasher fan and “Cold Prey” is a solid slasher. Solid, but ordinary. I’m not an expert on the Norwegian film market, but perhaps this genre was relatively new in 2006, so it didn’t seem quite as formulaic to them.

Rating: 2.5/4 ★★½☆ 

Contract to Kill (2016)– Steven Seagal does his usual routine, kicking ass in choppily edited, uninspired action scenes, seducing women in traumatizing love scenes and mumbling uninspired dialogue. He plays an agent who has been activated to disrupt an alliance between terrorists and a drug cartel. The supporting cast is trying their hardest to make the crappy material work, but they cannot overcome the nonsensical writing, laughable production values and the fact that the director seems only concerned in hiding Seagal’s weight. I’m still trying to figure out why certain characters did certain things, like when one of the good guys uses a drone to blow up Seagal’s partners’ car…He seemed to know who Seagal was and was quick to join him, so f@ck me if I got that…The best thing I can say about “Contract to Kill” is…Seagal has done a lot worse.

Rating: 1.5/4 ★½☆☆ 

Dance of the Drunken Mantis (1979)– Sam Seed (Siu Tin Yuen), the master of Drunken Boxing from “Drunken Master”, discovers he has a son in the form of the dim witted Foggy (Shun-Yee Yuen). He reluctantly agrees to train him, but the duo must contend with Rubber Legs (Jang Lee Hwang), who also studies Drunken Fist and might even be superior to Sam. The story is a mess, even by kung fu movie standards, such as when a new master is introduced late into the movie…Why did he need to exist? Why couldn’t the narrative have just focused on Sam Seed? I don’t know and…honestly, I don’t really care either, because “Dance of the Drunken Mantis” is all about awesome choreography and awesome bad dubbing. I spent the entire movie laughing or marveling at the displays of athleticism, form and techniques. Admittedly, the film is not politically correct by todays standards, so you might be offended by some of the content. Sam Seed is also kind of a dick, but every time I started to frown, “Dance of the Drunken Mantis” would offer action, a bizarre line or a goofy voice and I would smile once more.

Rating: 3.5/4 ★★★½ 

Dead Rising: Watchtower (2015)– Intrepid reporter Chase Carter (Jesse Metcalfe) finds himself trapped in a quarantined city, filled with flesh eating zombies and rampaging nomads in this live-action adaptation of the popular “Dead Rising” videogame. I’ve never played the games and from what I can tell, this is supposed to be take place within their continuity. I’m sure fans of the source material will get some enjoyment out of it, but I thought this was pretty f@cking bad. “Dead Rising: Watchtower” isn’t necessarily the worst video game adaptation out there, probably because there are signs of genuine effort. The production values are stellar for a direct-to-DVD flick, the acting is fine, the makeup effects are good and there are a few cool moments. I liked the makeshift weapons, which I remember being the primary gimmick of the games, but they aren’t used very often. Finally, the badness never really jumped at me the same way that it did when watching the lesser video game adaptations- such as “Mortal Kombat 2“, “Tekken 2: Kazuya’s Revenge” and “Bloodrayne 3“. You can even argue that it’s more mediocre than anything, as it’s acceptable from a technical perspective, but I was bored…and I tend to react to boredom with hostility, so “Dead Rising: Watchtower” sucks.

The problem is that the filmmakers don’t seem to know what kind of movie they want to make. Is it intended to be funny or dramatic? One scene will be designed to make you laugh, while the next wants you to cry. Virginia Madsen giving a sincere performance as a Mother suffering through PTSD is not really funny. A prolonged, violent attempted rape is not particularly humorous. Yet most of the content is obviously not taking itself very seriously, with cartoonishly stupid character decisions, snarky one-liners and comical zombies. I will admit to enjoying the news footage segments, where (video game protagonist) Frank West (Rob Riggle) gives his advice on how to survive a zombie apocalypse. Those scenes were very comedic, but they were spliced into inappropriate places, drawing even more attention to the disjointed tone. Contributing to this bi-polar identity is the visual style, which sometimes resembles a live action video game, but other times wants to appear gritty and grounded-in-reality. Director Zach Lipovsky was a contestant on a show I watched years back called “On the Lot” and he showcased an eye for eye popping imagery, with his submitted shorts being a major reason why I watched the entire season. But if it weren’t for imdb, I wouldn’t have made the connection because the direction here is flat and uninspired, with even the more ambitious scenes being derivative of other works. The pacing is clunky and the running-time is too long, a combination that ensures I will not be entertained. “Dead Rising: Watchtower” just kind of bored me and failed to stand out in any way, for better or worse. Very forgettable, but probably worth risking if you’re a fan of the games.

Rating: 1.5/4 ★½☆☆ 

Dead Rising 2: Endgame (2016)– Intrepid reporter Chase Carter (Jesse Metcalfe) continues to investigate the shady actions of the military in regards to how they deal with the living dead. But when he learns of a horrible secret surrounding their plans for the infected humans, he and his comrades sneak into the zombie quarantine zone in order to stop their nefarious plot. I preferred this over “Dead Rising: Watchtower“, as it’s faster paced, shorter, the story isn’t as convoluted and the tone is a lot more consistent. There is even a little bit of intensity and suspense, but it’s not going to win over any of the first films’ detractors. To like this, you had to have been invested in the characters and the story of “Dead Rising: Watchtower“. One can also argue that this feels less ambitious, probably due to a reduced budget. The dialogue tends to be repetitive as well. You also might miss its predecessors’ sense of humor, as “Dead Rising: Endgame” is much more serious and dramatic- although I didn’t. I wouldn’t describe this as good or fun, but it is tolerable.

Rating: 2/4 ★★☆☆ 

Dead Zone (1983)– Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken) wakes up from a 5 year coma and learns that he has developed clairvoyant abilities, which he uses to save lives and hunt a vicious serial killer. But when a vision reveals nuclear holocaust, he is faced with an incredible moral dilemma. The episodic narrative makes it difficult to care for the majority of the supporting characters and their relationships with our (admittedly interesting) protagonist, but this is based off a novel by Stephen King- and from what I hear, is a very faithful adaptation. The movie plays out like a live action novel, for better or worse. While not my favorite Chronenberg feature, this dramatic thriller does have some incredibly terse and suspenseful moments. The acting is exceptional too, although would we expect any less from a cast of this caliber? Er, actually, the answer is yes…But “Dead Zone” was made before Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen and Tom Skerritt learned the craft of sleepwalking through their roles.

Rating: 3/4 ★★★☆ 

Diablo (2015)– Jackson (Scott Eastwood; yes, Clint is his Daddy) is a notorious veteran of the Civil War, who attempts to settle down with his wife (Camilla Belle), only for her to be abducted by a Gang. He journeys to rescue her and encounters strange characters and bizarre obstacles along the way. Despite the almost arthouse-styled description of the plot, this is very much an action-thriller-adventure. Nevertheless, the cinematography is breathtaking and the plot actually goes into territory that I wasn’t expecting. There are flaws, such as awkward exposition which could’ve been weaved more seamlessly into conversations, erratic pacing and unexciting shootouts. But “Diablo” has ambition and boasts a creative spin on a classic formula. Eastwood looks so much like his Father that it almost becomes distracting, but there are times when he is able to shine or at least adequately emulate his Clints’ mannerisms. He is a bit too young for this part though, lacking the world weary presence required to make him convincing. I suspect that a lot of content was removed during the editing process, as something about the second half feels rushed, but I did enjoy what remained. Walton Goggins, Adam Beach and Danny Glover have supporting roles.

Rating: 2.5/4 ★★½☆ 

End of a Gun (2016)– Decker (Steven Seagal’s toupe, accompanied by the ‘Belly of the Beast’ himself) rescues a stripper (Jade Ewen) from her abusive boyfriend, killing him in the process and the two conspire to steal his hidden drug money. This was one of the worst Steven Seagal movies that I’ve seen in a long time, which is funny because this was the most of Steven Seagal that I’ve seen in one of his movies in a long time. Whereas recently Steven Seagal has favored a formula where he plays glorified supporting roles to younger leads ( who carry the bulk of the work), “End of the Gun” casts Seagal as the definitive protagonist- for better or worse (definitely worse). He is the focus of nearly every scene and even when he’s not on-screen, he is probably the center of a conversation. Unfortunately, he turns in the same monotone performance as he normally does, although the dialogue tries really hard to make him look hip…as it normally does (and fails). “Back when you were young, dumb and full of cum” is a line I never want to hear come out of Seagal’s mouth. Ugh, there was one line that jumped out at me as particularly atrocious because of how badly the English language was butchered, but now I can’t seem to remember it. I had suspected that Seagal bungled the line, but no one wanted to do a retake, because nobody involved with this production cared. Don’t even get me started on the ego-stroking gems like how the villain says “You got balls, man” and Seagal quips back “Thank you for noticing. My girl knows that for a fact”. This is not the only line dedicated to the sexual prowess of the godman known of Steven Seagal either, so have fun getting those images stuck in your head. The writing is constantly trying to be funny too, when it’s…it’s just not. I felt embarrassed for the cast for the various gags and jokes they had to work with.

End of a Gun” is technically a heist thriller, complete with genre staples such as split screens and an eccentric score, but the filmmakers either can’t commit to this concept, lacked the time to explore it or are too inept to do anything with it. The ‘heist’ surrounds them breaking into an evidence lot, where they must maneuver around…two security guards to get the cash…how exciting…Seagal rambles about honor, but this doesn’t stop him from kicking one of the guards in the balls and throwing another off a ledge that would’ve killed him if various obstacles didn’t happen to break his fall (good stunt though). Some of the editing is bizarre, as there will be a cut that made it look like he killed a man in cold blood, until we see afterwards that the man had drawn his gun. Why confuse us like that? The writers try to throw in a shocking swerve near the end, but besides being somewhat predictable, the resolution just draws attention to the hollowness of the narrative. The ‘twist’ renders everything we had endured as pointless, with the sudden upbeat tone mocking anyone who bothered to emotionally invest into the characters. Also, they build up this overarching villain, whose appearance they keep hidden in shadows and they make him out to be the ultimate evil, but then he just…disappears, as if they- the characters and filmmakers- forgot about him. There are a lot of scenes that lead nowhere, or go on longer than they need to. At one point, I was expecting the end credits to begin, but it just kept going and it became apparent that they’re desperately trying to stretch out the running-time (it’s only 86 minutes long!). I’d argue that 70% of this film is comprised of filler, so it’s pretty f@cking boring. I was already feeling sleepy around the 20 minute mark!

I guess “End of a Gun” is not as technically inept as the kinds of movies Seagal was infamous for putting out a decade ago, as the lighting is adequate, Seagals’ stunt double isn’t as noticeable and at least his voice isn’t being dubbed. I can’t say the action scenes were any good or that the attempts at style felt natural, but Keoni Waxman’s only skill as a director is his ability to draw attention away from Seagals’ weight- primarily by filming the upper half of his body. This didn’t stop him from giving us a Seagal love scene though, which only draws even more attention to his weight and age. But after so many years, I’ve become accustomed to the stomach of Seagal. Now my eyes are drawn to his head of artificial hair, which has crossed into uncanny valley territory. I’m constantly expecting it to display its own arsenal of Aikido techniques and become disappointed when this does not occur. GIVE THE HAIR ITS OWN MOVIE, DAMMIT!  Generally, when the dialogue (or the ‘funky’ music) weren’t getting on my nerves, I was just bored. “End of a Gun” was a very dull experience that almost made me wishing for the more hilariously terrible projects Seagal made between 2005-2010. This was such a chore to sit through that I found myself questioning why I continue to watch his films, as “End of a Gun” was not clearly not conceived out of inspiration. It’s just trying to kill time between the opening and ending credits, with even the heist idea probably being designed to save money by having fewer shoot-outs and hand-to-hand fights. Ugh, “End of a Gun” didn’t just make me angry because it sucked. “End of a Gun” made me angry at myself for wasting time on it. This was easily one of the worst cinematic experiences of 2016, perhaps even being the worst.

Rating: 0.5/4 ½☆☆☆ 

Enemies Closer (2013)– Henry (Tom Everett Scott) is an ‘ex-soldier turned forest ranger’ who is confronted by Clay (Orlando Jones), a convict with a murderous grudge. Unfortunately, their squabble is interrupted when a psychotic drug dealer (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and his cartel arrive looking for a downed plane. They must unite to survive. There is some good stuff here, such as solid martial arts choreography, a somewhat intriguing story and good performances by our key actors. Van Damme looks like he’s having a blast playing an Environmentalist killer and Orlando Jones is shockingly convincing as the vengeance seeking criminal. But the writers must think their audience is stupid, as the ‘message’ is spelled out in the most annoying way imaginable. The lighting is also so murky during the finale that it becomes difficult to tell what is happening, ruining the inspired concept of Van Damme fighting in a tree. Directed by Peter Hyams (“Time Cop”). Very rough around the edges, but still surprisingly entertaining, if sometimes frustrating.

Rating: 2.5/4 ★★½☆ 

The Enforcer (1976)– “Dirty Harry 3“.
Clint Eastwood reprises his role as the iconic Harry Callaghan, a cop on the edge who must track down the Eco-terrorists who killed his partner. But things get complicated when he is forced to work with a rookie female Inspector (Tyne Daly). While not regarded as the worst entry within the franchise, “The Enforcer” is often the most forgotten, containing little worth remembering. That isn’t to say it’s bad or even mediocre, it just doesn’t stand out as much. Yet I think it’s a thoroughly entertaining Dirty Harry feature, which boasts a brisk pace, cool stunts, interesting effects which add depth to the action and some very funny moments. Clint Eastwood might be phoning it in, but he’s still incredibly charismatic and has great chemistry with Tyne Daly. Admittedly the funky music undermines what should be an intense chase, some ideas aren’t thoroughly explored and the movie is unintentionally sexist. Maybe the ‘strong female lead’ shouldn’t be so clumsy, awkward and wear HIGH HEELS on the job. The villains were also very underwhelming, which is a shame as its predecessors boasted memorable ones. By this point, there isn’t much suspense as Harry has become too large for life, while his opponents have become interchangeable. Nevertheless, his exploits continue to entertain and “The Enforcer” is an amicable, breezy watch. Just don’t expect to remember it. For more thoughts on this movie, read here: https://www.facebook.com/blake.moore.1293/posts/10205753743507467

Rating: 2.5/4 ★★½☆ 

The Fifth Wave (2016)– Chloë Grace Moretz stars as a survivor of the first four waves of an alien invasion, who’s determined to locate and rescue her brother in this post-apocalyptic wasteland…which resembles a normal forest…yeah…The locations in this movie are annoyingly bland, but so is everything else about “The Fifth Wave”. I actually found the initial attack to be somewhat enjoyable and the pacing seemed to be moving swiftly until around the half way point, when a tedious romance slows things down to a crawl. The narrative- which was already all over the place- is never able to recover. I got bored and it didn’t help that the story becomes increasingly nonsensical and stupid as it’s fleshed out. This is apparently based on a book, which makes sense as the narrative feels like it was designed for a novel format, not for cinema. Even if the source material is a masterpiece and I highly doubt that it is, not every book will translate smoothly into a movie format. This is one of those cases, although “The Fifth Wave” is pretty crappy anyway. The cast looks bored. I was bored. You are probably bored reading this. Boredom everywhere.

Rating: 1/4 ★☆☆☆ 

The Final Girls (2015)– Max (Taissa Farmiga) is struggling getting over the death of her Mother (Malin Akerman), who was infamous for starring in an 80’s slasher movie, so reluctantly attends a cult screening with her friends. But bizarre writing leads to them all being drawn into said 80’s slasher movie, where they must use their knowledge of the film to stop the Jason Voorhess-esque killer. The PG-13 rating is very distracting considering the subject matter, which leads to some very vague and unsatisfying kills. Yet I have to admit that I thought this was clever in a “Tucker and Dale Vs Evil” kind of way, with funny jokes, stylish direction, psychedelic cinematography and a strong emotional core. Apparently the filmmakers had to choose between an R-rating or the Mother-Daughter subplot, so while I wish there was more violence, that story arc was worth it. Rumor has it that the final scene between the final girls made me…um…shed…*sniffles*…manly tears…*sniffles*…But it’s just a rum- BWAAAAH! *runs away crying*.

Rating: 3.5/4 ★★★½ 

The Fly (1986)– Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) is the scientist who has learned how to teleport inanimate objects and his love interest, Veronica (Geena Davis), is recording the experiment. But when he tries to teleport himself, a fly gets in the machine and their DNA is spliced together, causing Brundle to mutate into something…monstrous. “The Fly” is arguably Cronenberg’s most famous feature and it certainly deserves that fame as it’s pretty phenomenal. The special effects are amazing and even as of 2015, are horrifying to behold. You might find the idea of a man-fly to be silly but trust me, once you see what Brundle becomes, you will be enthralled and repulsed at the same time. Underneath the awesome effects lies a pretty good story, with characters who develop over the course of the film. I thought it was interesting seeing Brundle’s personality change along with his body- especially when his humanity begins to leave him. It’s very tragic, especially as he is fully aware of what is happening to him. Yet the token asshole ex-boyfriend actually seems to realize he’s an asshole ex-boyfriend and works to make himself a better person- something you don’t see often from this kind of character. Caught in the middle is Veronica, who also aspires to become a better person thanks to her relationship with Brundle, but finds herself in an impossible situation. “The Fly” accomplishes a lot, despite its relatively short runningtime. I almost feel it should’ve been longer, as some transitions felt…abrupt. Nevertheless, it’s a very powerful film with a heartbreaking and intense finale. “The Fly” is more of a dramatic romance, heavy on science fiction and body horror, but it doesn’t start stepping into thriller territory until the third act.

Rating: 3.5/4 ★★★½ 

The Four (2012)– The Divine Constabulary is a mysterious unit of mystical warriors who solve cases in the shadows, recently taking on a puzzling counterfeit operation. This catches the attention of Division 6, a department who functions as the Imperial police force and they don’t like the rivalry. Coldblood (Chao Deng) is one of the best warriors within Division 6, but is ordered to infiltrate the Divine Constabulary and both solve the case and ensure that the Division 6 has no rivals. I liked “The Four”, because I find its world to be fascinating, its mystical martial arts styles to be fun, its visual effects colorful and its characters to be intriguing. From the protagonists to the antagonists to the minor characters, everyone caught my interest on some level…but f@ck me if I had any idea what was going on half of the time. The cast is so large, their relationships with each-other so poorly defined and the plot is so dense, as there are conspiracies within conspiracies within other conspiracies and everyone seems to be manipulating everyone else. I did my absolute best to keep up with all of these political maneuverings, which is a testament to how much I enjoyed the film, but “The Four” is definitely not easy to follow.

Rating: 3/4 ★★★☆ 

The Four II: Lawless Kingdom (2013)– The Celestial Constabulary is put to the test once more when an assassin starts targeting warriors who share a past with Zhuge Zhenwo (Anthony Wong), making him the primary suspect. Much like “The Four”, I was surprised at how much I was entertained despite having difficulty keeping up with who was who and who was also betraying who while betraying another who, while also being betrayed by a who…I think that’s how it went? These characters are just too charming and I enjoy their colorful, fantasy-fu styles. My only real complaint is that Ji Yaohua’s (Jiang Yiyan) character development from the first film has been thrown out of the window, as she’s once again allowing herself to be a pawn. While I think “The Four” was a little bit better, “Lawless Kingdom” works for the same reasons it did…and it struggles for the same reasons too, so only check this sequel out if you liked the first one.

Rating: 3/4 ★★★☆ 

The Four III: Kingdom of Blood (2016)– I can’t really explain the plot of this one without spoiling the conclusion of “Lawless Kingdom”, but it functions as a ‘Part 2’ to that story. For once, I was able to tell who was who and who was betraying who, while who was also betraying whose sister…Admittedly, I can’t brag about this, as the story is very streamlined and the only mystery at this point is whether certain characters will end up being good or evil. There is an awkwardly executed bait-and-switch right before the finale that was a little confusing, but I was able to adjust and figure out what was happening pretty quickly. Nevertheless, this was a satisfying conclusion, providing lots of crazy fantasy-fu battles and resolutions to the character journeys. I’m not sure you’ll get anything out if it as a standalone feature, but I enjoyed it.

Rating: 3/4 ★★★☆ 

Frankenstein’s Army (2013)– “Frankenstein’s Army” is a Dutch-American-Czech found footage survival horror flick that takes place during World War 2. A Russian squad stumbles upon a ghost village…or perhaps I should say ‘undead village’, as the only remaining inhabitants are living corpses, stitched together with robotic implants. I like the premise and to the credit of “Frankenstein’s Army”, it moves at a faster pace than most found ‘footage flicks’, there are a few unpredictable moments and the creature effects are good. I loved the steampunk influence of the ‘zombots’. Unfortunately, “Frankenstein’s Army” never reaches its full potential because the camera never stays still enough in the light to let us get a good look at these bizarre concoctions. I know that the whole point of ‘found footage’ is the illusion of authenticity, but my eyes were constantly battling the screen, leaving me too exhausted to enjoy myself. Plus, the characters are such unlikable caricatures that the ‘illusion of authenticity’ is lost anyway, so why not just keep the f@cking camera still? And maybe use adequate lighting while you’re at it! “Frankenstein’s Army” isn’t bad though and is a nice change of pace for this style of film-making, even if it’s also a wasted opportunity. Movies with robotic, zombified nazi’s should be a lot more entertaining.

Rating: 2/4 ★★☆☆ 

The Funhouse Massacre (2015)– Five maniacs, each with a different gimmick, ranging from murderous taxidermist (Clint Howard) to a giant, wrestling…killer…clown…(Mars Crain)…somehow the actors name is the most absurd part of that sentence…escape from a mental institution and terrorize a nearby carnival. Even though Robert Englund gets the center of the poster, he only has a cameo as the doomed warden. This is a reasonably entertaining splatter flick thanks to a fast pace and surprisingly stellar production values. The funhouse sets are colorful and twisted, while the (mostly practical) gore effects are ambitious and gruesome. The cast are having a lot of fun and are quite talented, although their material sometimes works against them. There are some good laughs to be found, but the movie isn’t quite as funny as it thinks it is and can be outright annoying. The bumbling deputy (Ben Begley) in particular torpedoed every scene he was in, although I blame the characterization more than the actor. At times, they’d set up a potentially hilarious sight gag or joke, but wouldn’t follow through with it. “The Funhouse Massacre” is a horror-comedy and I thought it was more successful as a horror, as the kills were cool and sometimes even intense. As a comedy…it’s not necessarily bad, but the humor hurt the movie as much as it helped it. Nevertheless, this was a surprisingly enjoyable, if disposable, experience for a direct-to-DVD feature.

Rating: 2.5/4 ★★½☆ 

Ghostbusters (1984)– Three parapsychology experts (played by Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis) start a company that specializes in removing ghosts. But something unnaturally sinister is brewing in their city…This comedy/horror has all the ingredients to be an awesome franchise, complete with cool monster designs, interesting props, eye catching vehicles, an iconic score, and memorable characters. There are even some scary moments, even if some of the effects have not aged well. “Ghostbusters” is also hilarious, but you really have to pay attention to absorb everything, as the (dry) comedy is very quick witted and you can easily miss the jokes during the first viewing.

Rating: 4/4 ★★★★ 

Ghostbusters II (1989)– The Ghostbusters have disbanded in disgrace, but are brought back to together when spirits start plaguing New York City once more. The phenomenon seems to surround a mysterious painting. The much anticipated sequel was regarded as a disappointment, primarily because it rehashes the narrative of its predecessor and tones down the edginess in order to appeal to kids…even though the humor is occasionally raunchier! While I agree that this is a noticeable step down in overall quality and the comedy isn’t rapidly firing at the audience this time around, I still thought this sequel was pretty funny. The first half is much stronger than the second half, as the dialogue seemed snappier and the set pieces were more eye popping. The finale is ridiculous and doesn’t make a lot of sense, but the cast has such great chemistry together that they make it work.

Rating: 3/4 ★★★☆ 

Goosebumps (2015)– The spooky tales of R.L Stine haunted me throughout my childhood, with my personal favorite being “The Beast from the East”, although most of his books captivated me on some level. Yet the franchise seemed to have been forgotten in the wake of Harry Potter, Twilight and the Lord of the Rings, so imagine my surprise and confusion when they FINALLY brought Goosebumps to the big screen- years after being relevant. But also imagine my surprise when this turned out to be an entertaining, fast paced trip down nostalgia lane. The plot doesn’t follow a single book, but deals with R.L Stine’s (Jack Black) creations coming to life and causing havoc. A bit too silly for my tastes and more action/fantasy than horror, but it was fun.

Rating: 2.5/4 ★★½☆ 

Hard Target 2 (2016)– Scott Adkins plays Wes Baylor, a disgraced MMA fighter who is tricked into being the target for a game of human hunting in Burma. I don’t really remember the first “Hard Target”, other than the fact that it was a collaboration between Jon Woo and Jean-Claude Van Damme, but I was confused as to why a mostly forgotten JCVD flick from the 90’s would get a sequel in 2016. Maybe it has a stronger cult following than I thought? Anyway, “Hard Target 2” is OK, even if the writing is pretty bad. There are a lot of eye brow raising moments, such as Adkins never taking any of the weapons of fallen foes with him or letting some of his hunters go with minor injuries. The villains are also prone to plot induced stupidity though, so at least everyone is equally dumb. There are some weak, contrived plot developments and clunky dialogue, although I’m probably making the script out to be much worse than it really is. It’s mostly generically subpar, no better or worse than most.

Balancing this weakness is a pretty solid cast, although I can’t help but notice how far Rhona Mitra has fallen since her last star push during the mid 2,000’s. She’s not only appearing in a direct-to-DVD sequel, she’s not even playing an important part within said direct-to-DVD sequel. Scott Adkins does good though and Robert Knepper is fun as the villain. The cinematography is gorgeous, with seemingly every location boasting eye popping colors. The wide shots are great, emphasizing the size of this hellish jungle. The hand-to-hand fights are a little underwhelming, but this is more of a traditional action-thriller that happens to have a martial arts twist to it. The narrative is comprised mostly of violent and entertaining confrontations, while it also knows when to take a brief breather, so I was never bored. “Hard Target 2” isn’t anything special, but it was an easy watch. The director is certainly no John Woo, but he is…oh wow, Roel Reine (“The Man With the Iron Fists 2“), the master of mediocrity. This is a better example of his works, I guess.

Rating: 2.5/4 ★★½☆ 

The Hateful Eight (2015)– Shortly after the Civil War- Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) hitches a ride with John ‘The Hangman’ Ruth (Kurt Russell), a bounty hunter who’s transporting the nefarious Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to be hanged. But a nasty blizzard forces them to take refuge at a stagecoach lodge, which is inhabited by a handful of eccentric strangers, except John suspects that at least one of them is in cahoots with Daisy. Is it paranoia? Or is someone not who they claim to be? The second Quentin Tarantino western (following “Django Unchained”) is much quieter and methodically paced compared to his other works, but the slow burn tension is masterfully realized and the actors- armed with excellent dialogue- kept me hooked. Breathtaking cinematography and a haunting score by Ennio Morricone elevate “The Hateful Eight” into greatness, making this one of Tarantino’s more underappreciated efforts. The flashback segment was unnecessarily drawn out though, especially considering we know how it will end.

Rating: 3.5/4 ★★★½ 

The Hidden Blade (2004)– I am a little embarrassed about my original review of “The Hidden Blade“, because it’s…pretty fucking bad by my current standards, even though I guess it’s a little better than my earliest works (faint praise). My critical vocabulary must’ve been very limited, as I keep repeating words and phrases, although this could’ve been forgivable if my writing didn’t feel so choppy. My sentences did not flow well together at all…But what causes me to cringe the most is my apparent compulsion to critique “The Hidden Blade” as an actioner. The movie is a romantic drama that simply chose the Samurai era to tell its story, so I shouldn’t whine about the lack of sword fighting- even if the title is a little misleading. I did acknowledge in my previous critique that its intentions and my expectations had little chemistry, but I was somewhat dismissive towards its strengths, with my tone implying disapproval because there weren’t any decapitations. “The Hidden Blade” is good, boasting strong performances, complex characters, a moving score, gorgeous cinematography, sharp direction and intriguing thematic material surrounding the end of an era. But the tone, visual style and methodical pacing are too reminiscent of the directors’ previous masterpiece, “The Twilight Samurai“. When I saw this in 2010, I kept thinking about how similar this was even before I realized they were both directed by Yoji Yamada, but “The Twilight Samurai” is just…a better drama and period piece. I think “The Hidden Blade” is a little too long and a little too slow, while “The Twilight Samurai” managed its running-time more smoothly. Yet I acknowledge that this isn’t really my preferred kind of samurai flick and “The Hidden Blade” has won enough accolades to overcome anything bad I have to say about it. But my old review was just me whining about the lack of sword fighting, so only read it if you’re curious.

DISCARDED MATERIAL (the original review)

The Hidden Blade” is definitely the kind of movie you want to avoid if you’re expecting a samurai action film. Not only is it a samurai drama, it has even less action than most samurai dramas. I can admire a samurai drama. I loved “When the Last Sword was Drawn”, “Rashomon”, and many more. But I have to admit, my preference is for action and “The Hidden Blade” has less action than both of those films. It’s not fair to criticize a movie for this, but the title does sound like it belongs to an action film. Luckily, at least it succeeds at being a good drama, although the movie still isn’t as great as people tend to say it is. But I can see why people love it, even if I don’t.

The story follows Katagiri (Masatoshi Nagase), a low class samurai who doesn’t enjoy fighting. He is secretly in love with Kie (Takako Matsu), a servant who ends up marrying some merchant. The merchant abuses her and Katagiri rescues her. Despite their obvious feelings, their class differences make an actual relationship impossible. But unfortunately for Katagiri, he’s learned than an old friend, Hazama (Yukiyoshi Ozawa), has been arrested for treason. Hazama escapes and openly challenges the Government, while holding some peasants hostage. Katagiri is ordered to kill him, but will he be able to?

This obviously sounds like it could make for a decent action film, but it’s not. The whole Hazama subplot happens late in the movie and the result is that the structure feels too slow paced. Little seems to happen, despite the movies 2+ hours of length. But what keeps it from being flat out boring is that the characters are endearing. I sympathized with everybody, from our main couple, to Katagiri’s sister, to his friend, to even that poor guy who has to train country samurai in the art of using firearms. Oh yeah, the movie does have a subplot/theme about how the samurai ways are becoming obsolete. The clash of old vs new might seem irrelevant to some, but it makes Katagiri’s plight more effective. It’s a nice touch, and fit’s the setting well.

But my main problem with the movie has to be that it reminded me way too much of “Twilight Samurai” in tone, structure, and even plot. Both movies are about samurai- who despite being skilled, don’t like to fight- struggling against the times and are forced to kill long after they’ve decided not to do it again. The only difference is that “Twilight Samurai” focuses on the mans relationship with his daughters while “The Hidden Blade” focuses on the forbidden love. They’re filmed and photographed alike, and as I said: The tone is identical. Granted, this just might be because both films are directed by Yoji Yamada, although I didn’t know that while I was watching this. The result though is that this movie feels almost redundant. “Twilight Samurai” did just about everything here first and did it better.

But I can’t deny how well made the movie is. The directing, photography, score and acting are all top notch. The emotions hit hard and I found myself caring about every event and even every scene. As I said, it does work as a drama. But I turned off the DVD feeling like I had just watched a lesser version of “Twilight Samurai”. As that is a great movie, at least “The Hidden Blade” is borrowing from the top. But that is a great drama, this one is a good drama.

Rating: 2.5/4 ★★½☆ 

Hitman: Agent 47 (2015)– Katia (Hannah Ware) finds herself talked by two Agents, one named John (Zachary Quinto) and the other called ’47’ (Rupert Friend), but one is an ally and the other is an enemy…But which one can she trust? Hint: Who is the movie named after? The only reason I’m hesitant to give an “F” rating is because the action scenes are pretty good, but not good enough to make up for the shit writing and shockingly bad acting (considering the cast). I hated the attempts at banter between the titular 47 and the girl, which balanced ‘forced’ and ‘cliched’ masterfully.

Him: “They want to make more of me.
Her: “Who would want more of you?
Me: “Ugh…

Seriously? You’re going to say that after all the times he’s saved your life? This wasn’t charming in the slightest. I also love how she gets bored and chooses to dismantle his guns while he’s sleeping (!!!), which only exists so that villains will arrive and he won’t be able to defend himself properly…except he kills them all anyway, rendering it pointless and making him seem invincible and her look idiotic. I guess I can see why they’d think that having the girl be rescued by the villain (Zachary Qinto; who’s miscast) in a “Terminator“-esque fashion would be a clever twist in theory, except we know from the video games or the last live action adaptation that 47 is the protagonist…so why bother trying to surprise us with such a ‘shocking’ revelation when the only people who might be surprised are the ones who aren’t likely going to watch your movie in the first place…

On that same note, why would you hire the same writer who penned the last failed attempt at doing a “Hitman” movie? That would be like if Universal rebooted “Jaws” and gave such an important task to the guy who scripted “Jaws: The Revenge“.  Speaking of which, is this better or worse than the first “Hitman” flick? Eh, I’m going to say worse, as I remember being more dismissive of the original. I can’t recall feeling any anger. As I said, the fights and shoot-outs were pretty well done and I did like how violent the deaths were. But even though it was relatively short, I thought the pacing was sluggish and I was fighting sleep throughout most of the experience.. It’s just a bad movie.

Rating: 1.5/4 ★½☆☆ 

In the Blood (2014)– MMA fighter Gina Carano stars as Ava, a newlywed with a mysterious past who must find her husband when he goes missing on a Caribbean vacation. “In the Blood” is what happens when you combine the formulas of “Taken” and “Haywire”, but then drown the flavor with lots of mediocrity. The script is disjointed and aimless, boasting characters whose personalities change based on what the plot requires of them- which also demands that they do stupid things. The entire final act could’ve been avoided if SHE JUST KILLED THEM LIKE SHE HAD BEEN DOING BEFORE. Danny Trejo, Luis Guzmán, Treat Williams and Stephen Lang are all wasted in bit roles, but Carano does handle herself well as an action starlett. She’s not a great actress, but she’s not bad- easily better than Ronda Rousey- and delivers in the action department. There aren’t enough martial arts, shoot-outs or stunts to satisfy my cravings, which only leaves the flimsy script more vulnerable, but there is some redeemable material. The scenery is gorgeous, the finale is entertaining- if dumb- and there is some genuine suspense. I did feel like the characters could die, but the whole movie is just average. Only bother if you really want to see another Gina Carano vehicle, but expect a step down from “Haywire”.

Rating: 2.5/4 ★★½☆ 

Infini (2015)– In the far future, a Rescue Team is sent to a Space Mining Colony to rescue Whit Carmichael (Daniel Macpherson), the only survivor of a mysterious catastrophe. But something threatens their existence. While you could pan the movie for being unoriginal, as it seems to intentionally evoke “Alien”, “Aliens”, “Event Horizon”, “Pandorum” and nearly every space thriller ever made, at least they don’t often make these kinds of movies (space-horror) any more. The budget was small, but the filmmakers created the illusion of lavish production values, particularly with the detailed set design. The Labyrinthine Corridors were menacing, the cinematography was eye popping and the sound design functioned to build up a feeling of impending doom. The cast sold me on the claustrophobic atmosphere, properly conveying fear and paranoia, often without losing their bad-ass credibility. I really liked the first half…

Unfortunately, it starts to drag in the middle and become very repetitive. Characters will seemingly spend forever arguing over the same thing, using almost the exact same dialogue and I was under the impression that the writers weren’t entirely sure how to progress the story. Their solution? Having characters hallucinate, where the SAME DIALOGUE from TWO SECONDS PRIOR echoes in their minds. I liked the mystery, but once you figure out what’s going on, you realize you have seen this exact same story done before…many…many…times. The ending, while sappy, was a refreshing change of pace for the genre though. “Infini” is more ‘suspense thriller’ than ‘horror’, but can be argued as either and the genres balance nicely with Science Fiction. But it is a pretty solid watch, even if your expectations should remain low.

Rating: 2.5/4 ★★½☆ 

Inglourious Basterds (2009)– In Nazi-occupied France during WW2, Hitler decides to attend a movie premiere and just about everyone wants to kill him. This includes a group of vicious American soldiers, a vengeful Jew, a movie critic, and a German actress…Seriously, only Tarantino can make this up…”Ingourious Basterds” is a spaghetti western in style, but a World War 2 thriller in setting, something else only Tarantino could pull off. I love this film because the characters are just as vibrant and memorable as the visual style, with every shot, action, reaction and line of dialogue capturing my interest thoroughly. The cast is exceptional, each actor and actress being able to stand out in a film where everyone stands out. Brad Pitt is having a blast and even Eli Roth does pretty damn good, but Christoph Waltz was easily the best and has become the breakout star of the movie. Yet they all owe a lot to Tarantino’s prose. The editing and cinematography are exceptional, even by Tarantino movie standards and Tarantino uses the Ennio Morricone tracks effectively. I’ve seen a lot of people imitate Sergio Leone, but Tarantino is able to capture the spirit of Leone’s work and fuse it with his own eccentric style. Tarantino masterfully builds up the suspense as well, with the films’ greatest scenes being the slower paced, terse interactions that have high stakes. They build up to an exciting climax, but it’s the build up which left an impact on me. “Inglourious Basterds” is thoroughly entertaining and I find it strange that Tarantino’s actual westerns, “Django Unchained” and “Hateful Eight”, have less of a spaghetti western atmosphere than this one did.

Rating: 4/4 ★★★★ 

The Invasion (2007)– A Space Shuttle is destroyed upon re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere, spreading an alien contagion throughout the planet. If infected, the human body will be taken over by this mysterious entity once they fall asleep. A psychiatrist (Nicolle Kidman) believes her son is immune and can possibly save the human race. “The Invasion” is the fourth adaptation of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, but it’s about as bland as its updated name. I understand why they did this, as there is something cheesy about the presentation of the previous films (and title) and ‘grounded in reality’ was the favored theme of 2007, but the charm found in its predecessors was lost in the process. Furthermore, as corny as the previous adaptations occasionally were, they were much more experimental and daring than this remake was (which plays it very safely). Throughout my viewing experience, I kept thinking how it seemed like the director had filmed a slow burn, psychological thriller, but the studios forcefully converted it into a more action oriented story. I was correct and the segments- which are competent on their own- don’t work very well together. You can tell the difference between the original content and the reshoots based on the style and context. The claustrophobic visuals don’t mesh with the hyper-kinetic editing, which seems like a desperate attempt to make the events more exciting. Interesting Note: The Wachowski’s apparently helped out with the new footage.

The Invasion” really wants to be taken seriously, with its ‘deep, philosophical discussions’, but I just couldn’t bring myself to engage with the movie on an intellectual level. The dialogue lacked subtlety, so instead of making its audience ponder ‘what it is to be human‘, the movie is just telling you what you’re supposed to think. The ambiguity of the resolution lacks any weight, because it’s strongly implied that the aliens are just as violent natured as humans and yet no one brings this up. A cooler twist would’ve been the aliens realizing that humanity has taken THEM over- corrupting their nature, which would’ve given the ending more resonance. But “The Invasion”, for all of its scientific jargon, relies too much on cliches and stupid writing. The infected act too robotic for anyone to be fooled by them, when this concept would be so much scarier if you truly did not know who to trust. The aliens only seem to get the advantage whenever a human does something baffling stupid, such as an expert carelessly handling potentially contaminated debris with his BARE HANDS. I found it especially funny how our protagonists were apparently the LAST PEOPLE IN THE CITY who figured out they were overrun. Hell, everyone else has apparently caught onto the aliens’ habits and how to fool them, so why wouldn’t the story focus on the more savvy minor characters? Finally, if you want to be taken seriously, maybe tone down the campy vomiting segments? I snickered whenever they spewed out their green sludge, which feels so out of place against the remainder of the flick. The CGI also didn’t quite work for me either, not because it’s bad, but because it’s too flashy compared to the rest of the film. “The Invasion” is just kind of average, featuring an impressive cast who deliver mostly uninvolving performances (Daniel Craig looks like he’s regretting this decision, maybe because he was just cast as Bond?). It moves pretty quickly and there were a few effective moments, but it’s nowhere near as good as it thinks it is.

DISCARDED MATERIAL (the original review)- I had previously reviewed “The Invasion” in the past, but it’s an old, crude work that has only been included here for historical purposes.

The Invasion” was a hit and miss in the theaters. Generally, the reviews were quite average, the box office run was quite forgettable, and other movies that were more interesting than this were already out. Hence, I missed watching this in theaters. Luckily, now after seeing the movie, I can’t say I’m dismayed, although it’s not a bad rental. I will give some credit to this movie. The acting is stellar, the buildup is nice, and some of the stunts are cool. The movie has some brains, as well as some energy. Hirschbiegel gives a very claustrophobic film as the director. He also injects some style, but mostly serves the script, which is kind of the issue.

The movie simply came across as kind of generic. The character development was passable, the commentary was passable, the action was passable, but that’s just it. Everything was merely passable . It just wasn’t action-packed enough or intelligent enough to be anything special. The perfect word too describe this film is ‘Fluff’. It simply felt rushed, and the social commentary was over-the-top and felt way too preachy. Nicole Kidman (Carol) gives a focused performance. She carries the film admirably. Daniel Craig (Ben) underplays it, and does fine I guess. Jeremy Northam (Tucker) is credible as the villain. Jeffrey Wright,(Stephen) does fine in his limited screen time. Jackson Bon (Oliver) is a typical kid actor. I wasn’t a fan. “The Invasion” is not a bad film, it is just a forgettable film. Watch it if its on T.V or if nothing else is out on DVD, but keep your expectations low.

Rating: 2/4 ★★☆☆ 

Kung Fu Vs Yoga (1979)– Two kung fu rivals (Yuet Sang Chin and Alan Chung San Chui) embark on as quest together to find three valuable items, in order to…get laid? This might be the greatest storyline of all time, although the title is disappointingly misleading. I’m assuming the ‘Yoga’ is coming from the contortionist, although I can’t recall ever hearing his style named and Yoga isn’t a combat art. This is one of the few cases where I’d recommend you embrace the bad dubbing, which is so terrible that it practically goes full circle and ends up being amazing. The stiff delivery of these absurd lines kept me entertained, even when the narrative was suffering from low stakes, a lack of plot and unlikable characters- who once again, are beating up mostly innocent men in order to get laid. The last scene in the movie reveals that apparently years have gone by over the course of the film, even though there is no indication that this was taking place more than the span of a couple of days! “Kung Fu Vs Yoga” also might be offensive by todays standards, as it engages in racial stereotypes, and transphobia, but…it was 1979, I doubt ‘transphobia’ was even a word back then. Whether or not any of this questionable content will upset you obviously comes down to your sensibilities, so consider yourself warned. There is a lot of kung fu action, with most of it being decent (if a bit safe) in the choreography department…up until the bizarre yet awesome finale. The contortionist’s limb manipulation was so impressive and unnatural that it kind of grossed me out, but the choreographer excelled with designing the fight around his abilities. “Kung Fu Vs Yoga” was fun in the traditional ‘chop socky’ kind of way, where you embrace the things you normally criticize. I mean, come on, a guy says “Balls… BALLS! I shall beat you both!”. I’ll leave the context of the line to your imagination.

Rating: 3/4 ★★★☆ 

Kung Fury (2015)– Kung Fury (David Sandberg) is a super powered, kung fu cop who travels back in time in order to catch Adolf Hitler (Jorma Taccone), who used time travel to survive World War 2 and wants to be…Kung Fuhrer… This 30 minute short is designed to be ‘so bad, it’s good’ and perhaps even embodies the idea, except it’s f@cking incredible at being so hilariously terrible. “Kung Fury” is an over-the-top, campy 80’s-styled actioner, except it also includes dinosaurs, gods, Nazis, killer robots, ninja, machine gun wielding vikings and David Hasselhoff. I love how progressively absurd it becomes, which only made the laughs hit even harder…You can watch it HERE, although you might want to check out the trailer first, as it accurately reflects the style and tone of the project and it’s possible you won’t get the joke.

Rating: 3.5/4 ★★★½ 

Last Knights (2015)– When the noble Lord Bartok (Morgan Freeman) is executed due to the meddling of a corrupt Government official (Aksel Hennie), his loyal warriors- lead by Commander Raiden (Clive Owen)- swear vengeance. A VERY loose adaptation of “The 47 Ronin”…So loose that the 2013 flop with the sorceresses, Keanu Reeves and dragons might be a more accurate portrayal of the real life story. Nevertheless, I liked the bizarre cultural blending of “Last Knights“, even if everyone from the same Kingdom seems to have different accents. The pacing is a bit awkward and the actors sometimes struggle with the overly flowery dialogue, but I found the bleak atmosphere, stylish action and the gritty drama to be compelling.

Rating: 3/4 ★★★☆ 

Laura (1944)– Laura, a woman who everyone seems to be falling in love with, has been murdered. As a detective tries to piece things together, he realizes that he is falling in love with her too! When it comes to whodunit murder mysteries, I consider myself to be a connoisseur…or should I say…Carnosaur?! BWAHAHAHA, I am the first reviewer to plug “Carnosaur” in a review of “Laura”, which is why you probably should not be reading my writings…cause you should be watching “Carnosaur”…Anyway, I was taken aback when my considerable movie-deduction skills were being bested by “Laura”…again…and again…and it kept playing me like a fiddle all the way up until the final revelation came and robbed me of any chance of redeeming myself. I am great when it comes to solving mysteries in film, yet the twists of “Laura” kept surprising me and I was forced to concede defeat to a film that was made in the 1940’s….and I loved it.

I think a large part of the scripts’ success is that so much was continuously shrouded in ambiguity, so we’re left guessing what is real or not all the way through the ending. Even the titular character, Laura, is a complete enigma because everyone seems to be reinventing the woman in their own minds. Is she a saint? Is she manipulative? It depends on who you believe and because we are learning about her through the eyes of her biased suitors, we have to come to our own conclusion as to what kind of person Laura really was. No one can be described as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ here, as everyone is defined by their shades of grey. They’re all believable as people, but their dialogue is continuously sharp and witty, a necessity for any good murder mystery. “Laura” is technically an example of film noir and director Otto Preminger uses the traditional framing and moody lighting to evoke the style, but he mostly serves the script and his cast. Nevertheless, there are a few eye popping moments of surrealism and the score is strikingly poetic. The cast is excellent and I can’t praise the likes of Mark McPherson, Clifton Webb, Vincent Price and Gene Tierney enough, as they all play their roles to perfection- each standing out without necessarily stealing the show. Laura” is a classic, an exceptional film in every way that satisfies my murder mystery cravings, while not being limited to its own genre. It’s one of those movies I believe that everyone should watch at some point, just like “Carnosaur 3: Primal Species”.

Rating: 4/4 ★★★★ 

Legendary (2013)– Travis Preston (Scott Adkins) is a scientist who specializes in tracking, researching and capturing rare or mythological creatures. His team is tasked with stopping a series of attacks by a giant lizard in a remote Chinese village, which is complicated when Travis’ rival Harker (Dolph Lundgren) shows up with the intention of killing it. Despite Lundgren and Adkins co-starring in what appears to be a Chinese co-production, this contains no material arts. “Legendary” is an adventure-fantasy-thriller designed for younger (but not too young) audiences. Ignoring some questionable writing here and there (why are they camped so close to the water?), I think this could’ve been a good monster flick if it weren’t for the awful CGI effects. The cast does a great job, showing a lot of charisma and chemistry with each-other. Adkins and Lundgren in particular are a blast to watch, especially when they’re sharing the screen. The Chinese landscapes are gorgeous and the cinematography treats them with respect and awe, while the editor keeps the pacing brisk. I enjoyed myself…as long as I wasn’t being distracted by that horrendous fake looking lizard.

Rating: 2.5/4 ★★½☆ 

Legion (2010)– “Legion” boasted a somewhat creative concept, albeit at the expense of potentially alienating Christians around the world…The idea is that God has become disillusioned with mankind, so sends the angels to exterminate us, much to the chagrin of Archangel Michael (Paul Bettany). Michael decides to sever his wings and protect a pregnant waitress named Charlie (Adrianne Palicki), who may be carrying the second coming of Christ…Sounds kind of offensive to those who believe in the religion, right? Well…not really…If anything, I think the filmmakers of “Legion” were afraid of the backlash and were too safe in their execution of this concept….and this is coming from someone who identifies as a Christian. The resolution to the central conflict was kind of lame and dumb, but to be fair, it wasn’t like the writers had crafted a particularly smart story leading up to that point. The script is strangely uncreative with its central idea, having Angels wield mundane weapons like blades and guns, while the narrative unfolds like a traditional zombie picture. Everyone seems guilty of the usual dumb moments which plagues the genre, so while “Legion” might be dressed with an imaginative concept, it’s just to distract us from how conventional it really is. This isn’t to say it’s entirely devoid of merit, as the movie does have an impressive cast, such as Dennis Quaid, Paul Bettany, Charles S. Dutton, Tyrese Gibson and Lucas Black. Even better, they all showed up with the clear intention of working, as each of their performances are really good, even to the point of elevating the rest of the film. Furthermore, there are some fun creature effects and the exciting action scenes. As long as you accept “Legion” as dumb entertainment, it’s passable, if a bit underwhelming considering its potential.

Rating: 2/4 ★★☆☆ 

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)– The “Lord of the Rings” saga takes place in the fictional setting of Middle Earth, a mystical land full of Elves, Wizards, Goblins and an assortment of other fantastical beings. Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) is a hobbit, which is an isolated race of little people, who’s forced to go on a perilous adventure when he’s given a ring has the power to unleash a terrible evil unto the land. A group of heroes and friends form a fellowship in order to escort him to the ‘fires of mount doom’, the only place the artifact can be destroyed. Danger lurks around every corner, but the real threat is the corruption that the ring can bring out of people, including young Frodo. Unfortunately, I currently cannot find my original review of “The Fellowship of the Ring“, but I’ll keep looking! In summation, I LOVED this f@cking movie, which can be exciting, terrifying, soothing, whimsical, funny, tragic and adventurous, journeying through all of these various tones masterfully. This world is imaginative, the colorful and epic set pieces are stunning, the score is memorable, the special effects have aged reasonably well and the cast adds depth to characters who were somewhat flat in the source material. Despite the long running-time, I was left wanting more! “The Fellowship of the Ring” is a personal favorite of mine, probably even having a place in my list of ‘Top 10 Movies of All Time’.

Rating: 4/4 ★★★★ 

Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)– One of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to ‘critiquing’ is when the critic spends the entirety of their video or essay complaining about the subject, only for them to seemingly retcon their own opinions and admit that they were a fan all along. I bring this up because even though I consider that to be garbage reviewing, I myself will be guilty of this critical sin for my writing of “The Two Towers”- the second entry of the acclaimed trilogy. I simply cannot view or discuss this film without using it to prop up my enthusiasm for “The Fellowship of the Ring”, which I find to be vastly superior in every way. Every time I’ve watched “The Two Towers”, my mind will automatically start comparing and contrasting these works, leaving me unable to judge “The Two Towers” for its own merits. The dilemma is that…I think it’s a good movie, but the arch of this review won’t be “Why “The Two Towers” is a good film” as much as it’s “Why “The Two Towers” isn’t AS good as “The Fellowship of the Ring””. So if it feels like I’m complaining too much and you don’t like that, then take solace in knowing that I agree with you.

The Two Towers” was obviously a grand production, boasting creative set and creature designs, an emotionally driven score, convincing special effects, exciting choreography and epic battle sequences, with Peter Jackson’s direction being stylish yet moody. The tone has become a lot bleaker thanks to the edgier material and grim cinematography, although I’d say the cast are primarily responsible for selling me on the darker content. The “Lord of the Rings” trilogy was incredibly well acted, but I think “The Two Towers” had the strongest performances, because the characters are put in multiple, seemingly hopeless situations and you can see it in their faces. “The Fellowship of the Ring” and even “The Return of the King” balanced the scales of good and evil, with the emotional highlights being the inspiring speeches and the conquering of inner demons. “The Two Towers” gives evil the clear advantage, while the ‘good’ seems resigned to the likeliness that they’re probably going to fail. Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) spend the entire film at the mercy of other beings, while Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) leads the remainder of the alliance into a desperate final stand against a much greater force. The exception is Frodo (Elijah Wood) befriending Gollum (Andy Serkis), which offers a ray of hope for the redemption of the latter, but doesn’t necessarily end on a happy note. Gollum is easily the most memorable part of the trilogy, as he’s a complex, pitiful character brought to life by the combination of phenomenal motion capture technology and a powerful performance that shines through the CGI. But I think the acting stands out as superior here because the script challenges the cast a lot more than the other films did. So there is a lot of good to be found, but where does “The Two Towers” struggle?

The Two Towers” focuses more on the human lands, which are less interesting than the most fantastical settings of the Dwarves and Elves. “The Fellowship Of the Ring” felt like it took place in Middle Earth, while “The Two Towers” feels like it takes place in New Zealand, even though we still get plenty of beautiful scenery and some cool sets. This is arguably a petty criticism, but sometimes I found myself wondering if the filmmakers were cutting corners, as the forests and plains resembles normal forests and plains this time around. To be fair, this is a problem with adapting the book, as “The Fellowship of the Ring” spends a large chunk of its story taking place in its world’s more exotic locations- from Rivendell to to the Shire. It wouldn’t make sense for Rohan to carry the same majestic aura, so this is a flawed complaint, but it’s a reason why I found the first film to be a lot more interesting. These sets and locales just aren’t as imaginative, but if they were, that would screw with the story. It should be noted that the majority of critics don’t seem to agree with me, as they apparently to find this film to be even more visually arresting than its predecessor, so take that as you will.

The Fellowship of the Ring” had the tightest narrative of the trilogy, as the story followed Frodo, whose group is constantly expanding and falling apart, but the focus was always on him. His entourage had their personalities fleshed out and many even undergo character development, but it was always Frodo’s story. “The Two Towers” was always going to be difficult to adapt, as the fellowship splits up and now the narrative has adopted an ensemble format, trying to balance its time amongst them all. If memory serves, the book more cleanly separates these story threads, with the second half being dedicated to Frodo, Sam (Sean Astin) and Gollum, while the first half surrounds the remainder of the cast. This wouldn’t have worked for a movie format, as the battle for Helms Deep is too much of a climax to appear at the half way point, which would’ve made the remainder of the movie tedious to sit through. Peter Jackson and his screen-writers did the best they could with adapting the source material and for the most part, I agree with the changes. But the problem is that there is too much going on, as there are now three groups of characters instead of one, each participating in their own quests and encountering different people. There just isn’t enough time to flesh out the new characters, so when one of these quests relies on the new additions, they aren’t quite as interesting. Sometimes this would even cause friction within the narrative, as some of these POV’s are a lot more compelling than others, which hurts the pacing. “The Fellowship of the Ring” was so compact and focused that by the end credits, I couldn’t wait for more. “The Two Towers” eventually runs out of steam and I started to become impatient with it, but what could’ve the filmmakers done differently? I have no idea, as “The Two Towers” is just not as friendly to the movie format as “The Fellowship of the Ring” was. The only way to ‘fix’ the narrative is to drastically change the plot of the book, which would’ve been significantly worse.

The Two Towers” expands upon the world and lore of Middle Earth, but because there are so many stories and the overarching conflict has escalated, it becomes difficult to process a lot of this information. I read the books, but never studied them so even I couldn’t remember a lot of the names or locations. There are also some plot holes within the timeline, presumably because they had to condense a lot of these events. Are all of these segments supposed to be taking place at the same time? Am I really going to believe that Frodo and Sam will be taken to Osgiliath that quickly? Was their progress in Mordor that slow? Is Isengard right next door to Helms Deep? How else can an army of 10,000 foot soldiers reach them in a day? The book can afford to take place over a long period of time, as new chapters can indicate that months have passed, especially when the POV has changed. You can’t really do the same with movies, although the Faramir (David Wenham) conflict was added exclusively for the film, as Frodo and Sam needed some sort of climax. Speaking of Frodo, Sam and climaxing, there was some serious sexual tension going on there. It’s sometimes hard not to snicker at their interactions, because the homoerotic subtext was obviously not intended…or was it?

Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” is a good movie. The acting is great, the characters likeable, and the visual effects were ground breaking for 2002 (and they’ve aged nicely). But “The Fellowship of the Ring” is a lot better. This one is paced very erratically, so I’m wary to revisit it whenever I’m in the mood to experience the trilogy once more. I want to emphasize that I do still like the movie, but I also think it’s the weakest of the three. Amusingly, “The Two Towers” is my favorite of the book trilogy, but some books just don’t want to be adapted into movies. I will end this review by complimenting the cast and crew for ultimately overcoming this obstacle, as “The Two Towers” is still a worthy sequel and many viewers even consider it to be an improvement over its predecessor. I strongly disagree, but that’s just my opinion and what matters is “The Two Towers” shares in the acclaim of the trilogy.

Rating: 3/4 ★★★☆ 

Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)I remember back in 2003, when “The Return of the King” concluded the “Lord of the Rings” saga, I had difficulty getting up from my chair. I had to hold back a sniffle and wipe a tear from my eye, as I tried to catch my breath. You see, few films can have awesome, mind-blowing effects, creative set pieces and yet STILL manage to connect with you on an emotional level like the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy did. I was clearly showing the physical repercussions of its visual and emotional impact…or maybe the 3 and a half hour long running time was finally getting to me, but either way, it was a good movie.

I actually got a lot of flack for preferring “The Fellowship of the Ring” over the other two sequels, while everyone else generally believes that each one was a slight improvement over the last. But personally, I think the first explored the more compelling parts of Middle Earth, had the steadiest narrative because it follows a small group of people and was the best paced, maybe because it’s also the shortest. Each sequel got bigger in scale and the action scenes reflected that, with the climaxes surrounding epic battles between armies. But I prefer the more intimate battles where the focus is on a smaller group of participants, because it’s easier to become emotionally invested in their struggle. “The Return of the King” is so big that it arguably becomes bloated, but these are still incredible set pieces, with the CGI being at its most polished and the action scenes at their most stylized. Peter Jackson and his editor do a great job at balancing the wide shots- which emphasizes the spectacle on display- and the close ups- so we make a connection with the characters during the battle. The designs of the orcs and other creatures were top notch and it’s nice that the villains are finally showcasing personalities. The locations are also a step up from “The Two Towers”, as Gondor is a much more interesting looking Kingdom than Rohan was. The costuming department excelled as well, providing some memorable outfits to even the extras. The music continues to be incredible and “The Return of the King” possibly even gets more out of its score than the previous two films did. Even though the cast of characters is far too large by this point, I did experience an emotional catharsis with how their fates are handled. I teared up when someone whom I previously did not care about perished and shared in their joys when they would achieve victory.

The problem with “The Return of the King” is that it’s just too damn long, with far too many false endings, presumably because they wanted to be as faithful to the book as possible. The source material is actually at fault for a few of the flaws, as Tolkien relied on some cheap writing devices to move his story forward. I’ve always hated the arrival of the Eagles, but to Jackson’s credit, he does make a valiant attempt to foreshadow their presence, lessening the contrivance. But the ‘Army of the Dead’ subplot was silly, robbing a major set piece of its suspense and feeling shoehorned in. Jackson apparently agreed with me, but didn’t cut it out in fear of alienating the fanbase of the books and I can’t blame him, for this would’ve certainly happened. But despite the obese running-time, the army of false endings and contrived subplots, they f@cking edited out the resolution to the Saruman (Christopher Lee) storyline! That bothers me to this day. Nevertheless, “The Return of the King” might be excessiveness incarnate, but I do think it’s a worthy conclusion of the trilogy. I believe these films are meant to be enjoyed as a trilogy, not necessarily as individual entities. This one gives a firm pay-off to its predecessors, but I only watch it when I’m in the mood for all three.

Rating: 3/4 ★★★☆ 

Mad Max (1979)– I’ve noticed that every plot synopsis tends to spoil the ending, probably because up until the third act, there really isn’t any plot. Society has broken down for ambiguous reasons, although contrary to popular belief, “Mad Max” is not a post apocalyptic flick- “Mad Max 2: Road Warrior” would go down that path. Violent and psychotic biker gangs roam the roads and towns because the police force is no longer properly funded. Max (Mel Gibson) is an idealistic cop who begins to worry that if he spends too much time out there, he will become just as mad as the criminals he is pursuing. “Mad Max” is crudely made in every sense of the word, constantly battling budget limitations and having plenty of loose ends in the script. There is so much unnecessary filler that you get the impression that they were writing the story as they went along- although it sounds like this wasn’t true. Max himself doesn’t seem all that relevant at first, with his partner Goose (Steve Bisley) getting more screen-time and characterization.

And yet…”Mad Max” somehow managed to convert its apparent weaknesses into charming quirks…This movie is kind of awesome.

While I don’t know if this was intentional, I often felt like the film itself was going mad. The story is so chaotic that I never really knew what to expect. The film constantly topped itself in the weirdness factor, although my favorite aspect was the over-the-top, bizarre mannerisms of the villains. They’re just so fascinatingly bat-shit insane that it’s easy to both giggle at them while also being wary of the monstrosities they are capable of. I’d usually criticize the score, which tends to be edgy when nothing is happening and upbeat when something terrible is occurring, but even that seems to fit into my idea that “Mad Max” is a film gone mad. The stunts and effects are exceptional though, making me miss the era before CGI. I also felt the suspense whenever someone was in peril. Anyone can make a good argument as to why “Mad Max” is either bad or good and I will understand both sides, but I thought it was entertaining and unique. My only true complaint is that the ‘revenge’ itself was a bit rushed. 3.25/4 stars

Rating: 3/4 ★★★☆ 

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)– The apocalypse has happened, leaving the world a desert wasteland full of murderous savages. Max (Mel Gibson) has learned to survive by isolating himself from everyone, but is reluctantly dragged into a feud between bloodthirsty psychopaths and a colony who might be able to rebuild civilization. Improved sequel can best be described as one big action sequence, filled with awesome stunts and effects. Yet the real star is the setting itself, filled with so many eccentric characters, costumes and vehicles. Truly an iconic cult classic.

Rating: 3.5/4 ★★★½ 


Max Max (3): Beyond Thunderdome (1985)– Max (Mel Gibson) continues to survive in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, but finds himself drawn into a conspiracy within a town that has acquired power. Many reviled the change in formula and tone, but I think it would’ve been a mistake to just rehash the narrative utilized from “Mad Max 2”. This is a very different sequel, with little stunt driving and more character development. Yet the tone is also a bit lighter and softer, which is a strange contrast to its predecessors. The Thunderdome fight was awesome. I liked how it expanded on the character of Max himself, but I understand why it has detractors.

Rating: 3/4 ★★★☆ 

Mad Max (4): Fury Road (2015)– “Mad Max” gets the reboot treatment, although it’s difficult to tell if this is a remake or a sequel. Max is now played by Tom Hardy, who amplifies the insanity plaguing the character as he hardens himself to the rest of the world. The apocalypse has left Earth a wasteland run by bloodthirsty gangs. Max, haunted by the death of his daughter, reluctantly finds himself assisting Furiosa (Charlize Theron) as she attempts to smuggle the wives of a warlord to safety. Unfortunately, everyone and everything wants to kill them. “Fury Road” has a similar structure to “The Road Warrior” in that it can best be summed up as ‘one, big-ass chase scene’…But it is an amazing big-ass chase scene, filled with style, color, practical effects and funktastic stunts. I also thought this had some surprisingly good character development.

Rating: 3.5/4 ★★★½ 

Mercenaries (2014)– The Presidents’ daughter is kidnapped by an ambitious warlord Ulrika (Brigitte Nielsen), whose base is an impenetrable fortress. Mona (Cynthia Rothrock), who appears to be the director of the CIA, quickly assembles a team of bad-ass criminals (Zoe Bell, Vivian A. Fox, Kristanna Loken and Nicole Bilderback) to infiltrate her hideout and rescue her. This was the Asylum’s mockbuster of “The Expendables 3”, starring washed up female action stars. This is a difficult movie to review, as it is technically bad, but it’s not as inept as most Asylum Productions. Furthermore- it’s a fun kind of bad, where the filmmakers allow themselves to make the content as absurd and cheesy as possible. But what makes this truly enjoyable is watching all of these women interact, as they are all having a lot of fun, even if some of their acting is just as bad as everything else. Zoe Bell probably turns in the best performance, although Kristanna Loken is also putting in way too much effort in such a picture, but I love the variety in acting styles. Bell is amusing because she’s taking the role too seriously, Fox is amusing because she’s being so hammy and Nielsen is amusing because she’s so bad. How can anyone hate a movie with such an exchange as: “What’s the plan?“. “We go PMS from hell on this place”. Amazing.

Rating: 2.5/4 ★★½☆ 

Missing in Action (1984)– Colonel James Braddock (Chuck Norris) is a disgruntled army veteran convinced that American POW’s are being held in Vietnam after the infamous war has already ended. He sets off on his own quest to locate and rescue them, because he’s played by Chuck Norris and that is what Chuck Norris’s do. “Missing in Action” is cheesy, shallow, tasteless, trashy, offensive and a little on the stupid side, being a low rent “Rambo: First Blood Part II“- even though this was released first…and yet, I kind of love it. This embodies everything good and bad about the 1980’s B-action flick, so you have to decide based on that statement whether or not this will be for you. Action lurks around every corner, ready to bombard you with old school explosions, car chases, violent shootouts, impressive stuntwork and titillation. This must’ve been produced before Chuck Norris became religious (or at least he’d yet to incorporate that side of him into his works), because “Missing in Action” is shockingly sleazy! The production values are impressive as well, with some of the set pieces looking both dangerous and expensive (the collateral damage!). I like how the first half focuses on building up suspenseful situations, whereas the second half is sheer spectacle. The direction can be crude at times, but there are some memorable visuals (Norris emerging from the water, armed with a machine gun) and the lush, green scenery provides nice eye candy. Norris himself doesn’t perform a lot of material arts, but he gives us one of his stronger performances. He comes across as an unstable, anti-social, morally ambiguous asshole, even though his cause is an admirable one. I liked the ambiguity surrounding his apparent ‘war crimes’, as I was never entirely sure whether or not I could trust him. This is definitely not the usual Chuck Norris protagonist, even if “Missing in Action” is probably his most famous movie. Interestingly, this was filmed back-to-back with “Mission in Action II“, except THIS was supposed to be the sequel. The producers decided to switch the order after deciding that this one was the superior effort. I must remind you that “Mission in Action” has absolutely no substance and isn’t necessarily an artistic accomplishment, but it a very fun actioner that knows exactly whom it is made for.

Rating: 3.5/4 ★★★½ 

Mission in Action II: The Beginning (1985)– This is a prequel to “Mission in Action“, covering Col. James Braddocks (Chuck Norris) confinement in a Vietnam Prison camp, even though the war has already ended. Colonel Yin (Soon-Tek Oh) wants to break him and the other American POW’s, with his methods becoming increasingly sadistic, so Braddock plots to escape…presuming he can survive long enough…This was filmed to be the first chapter of the Braddock story and was shot back-to-back with its intended sequel, but the producers felt that this was inferior, so the order was switched and this became the sequel- with the sequel becoming “Mission in Action“.  I imagine a lot of viewers were disappointed, as “Missing in Action 2” is very different from its predecessor in tone, structure and intent. “Missing in Action” was an action flick and its violence was designed to entertain you. “Missing in Action 2” is a (Vietnam) prison survival flick and its violence was designed to disturb you. This is a much bleaker experience, is paced much more methodically and is much more about the psychological torment that our protagonists experience. Yet I thought it was still very well done, primarily because I found the characters to be interesting. I enjoyed their interactions and dynamics, with the acting being shockingly good. When bad things happened to them, I felt sad. When their spirits are lifted, I felt happy, even though I knew it would lead to tragedy. Throughout the film, I kept wondering what the ‘War Crimes’ Braddock had supposedly committed were, but they’re never revealed and it becomes apparent that the narrative surrounds a battle of pride. Maybe there were no war crimes and Yin just wants to strip away Braddocks’ pride as a soldier, but Braddock refuses to be broken, even at the expense of his comrades. I like the moral ambiguity of Braddock’s refusal, but I can’t help but feel it was unintentional. Wouldn’t the story be more compelling if this was presented as a flaw and maybe Yin does legitimately believe Braddock to be a monster? Maybe they weren’t so different, except as time moves along, it becomes more apparent that Yin is a human cartoon (although Soon-Tek Oh is awesome in the role). I then remembered that at its core, “Missing in Action 2” is exploitation which doesn’t even have enough intelligence to know how absurd it is to perch a flame thrower on a wooden bridge. But Chuck Norris does good and gets to show off his martial arts skills in a surprisingly decent final fight scene! Whereas “Missing in Action” had a solid, but generic score, this prequel has a few memorable tracks that I wish were more readily available. I thought “Missing in Action” was more entertaining, but “Missing in Action II” accomplishes its own goals admirably.

Rating: 3/4 ★★★☆ 

The Monkey King (2014)– Sun Wukong (Donnie Yen) is the titular Monkey King, whose incredible mystical talents are only matched by his ego. He gets drawn into a feud between the Jade Emperor (Chow Yun-Fat) and the Bull Demon King (Aaron Kwok), who are battling for control over heaven. This fantasy is an adaptation of (the early chapters from) “Journey to the West”, the classic Chinese literature that has seemingly inspired…everything in the East. It’s not particularly faithful to the source material, changing a lot of the characterizations and themes, along with introducing a love interest for the Handsome Monkey King. To be honest, I’m not sure if “The Monkey King” is good or bad, because it seems to be a strange concoction of both. Sometimes the visuals are breathtakingly awesome, boasting eye popping CGI, stunning backgrounds and imaginative designs. Other times the actors look like they’re performing in front of a green-screen, interacting with bad special effects that have already aged horribly. Sometimes I found the Monkey King himself to be so annoying that I would root for the villains to destroy him. Other times I’d feel a great mount of sanctification seeing him troll everyone and would find him to be very funny. I didn’t like the majority of the changes from the novel, but the real problem is that it moves WAY TOO QUICKLY. The pacing is so fast that my mind had difficulty keeping up with what was going on. “The Monkey King” is just very uneven and I’m not sure if the good was able to conquer the bad in the long run. Very uneven.

Rating: 2/4 ★★☆☆ 

The Monkey King 2 (2016)– Sun Wukong (now played by Aaron Kwok- who oddly played the villain in the previous film), the titular Monkey King, is finally released from his Mountain Prison by Tang Seng (Shaofeng Feng), a naive monk tasked with journeying to the west to retrieve Buddhist scriptures. Wukong is forced to protect him, which is good because lots of demons wish to devour the Monk, particularly the White-Boned Demon (Gong Li). The special effects are pretty bad, but I actually prefer this over its predecessor because it captures the spirit of the source material- “Journey to the West”. Even though there are changes and expansions, I found myself approving of the majority of them. They did a good job at developing the main protagonists and the ending genuinely moved me. If I have any complaints, it’s that they play up Zhu’s (Xiao Shen-Yang) bumbling antics too much and Brother Sha (Chung Him Law) contributes very little. In fact, both almost feel pointless as they’re significantly weaker than their literary counterparts, but the anchor is the relationship between Sun Wukong and Tang Seng (which works!). I even prefer Aaron Kwok’s wearier portrayal of Wukong over Donnie Yen’s turbulently childlike version from the first one, although this might be because the material serves him better. “The Monkey King” provided more eye popping visuals, but I’d say this sequel is better paced and benefits from superior storytelling, even if the CGI quality has dropped in the process. If you’re not familiar with “Journey to the West“, you might be a little confused when it comes to the backstory though.

Rating: 2.5/4 ★★½☆ 

The Monster (2016)– Kathy (Zoe Kazan) is a troubled and irresponsible Mother taking her daughter Lizzy (Ella Ballentine) to her Father’s house, but an accident leaves their car stranded on a lonely road deep within the woods…where ‘something’ is on a prowl…Spoiler Alert: It’s a monster. “The Monster” is not for everybody, but even detractors would probably concede that it’s ambitious. Writer-Director Bryan Bertino (“The Strangers”) uses its titular monster to be an allegory for abuse. The relationship between our Mother-Daughter duo is complex, as both parties are prone to destructive and disturbing behavior, aggravating an already ugly domestic situation. But you can also tell that buried underneath all of this animosity, they do genuinely love each-other and Kathy seems bitterly aware of her own weaknesses and her inability to overcome them. Both Kazan and Ballentine turn in excellent performances, which is a necessity, as “The Monster” is arguably more of a drama than it is horror. This will alienate some potential viewers, even if I did feel like the movie struck a nice balance between the two genres. But for me, Bertino’s vision did come with some drawbacks, such as how neither character is particularly likable. Kathy is definitely a bitch, even if she’s more nuanced and human than most abusive parents (in film). Lizzy’s plight is worthy of our sympathy, but the character is constantly yelling and whining, as a normal kid in this situation would…knowing this didn’t stop me from wanting the monster to eat her any less…But what else can you do? This story requires leads who will often be unpleasant to follow. “The Monster” utilizes flashbacks to explore their relationship, which is a double edged sword. Their placements align with the attacks, which is the source of the allegorical interpretation. This enhances the substance, making the story a lot more meaningful, but it also kind of kills the flow of the narrative. The pacing isn’t just slow, it’s choppy, often because of the flashbacks. Once again, an integral part of the movie’s identity is also a little bit cancerous. Nevertheless, even with its flaws, I appreciated what “The Monster” strived for and accomplished. The cinematography is bleak, but also carries a strange, alluring beauty with it. The monster design is simple, but freaky and the practical effects used to bring it to life were mostly convincing. There are definitely a few ‘eye brow’ raising moments where the characters do something daft, but “The Monster” was still pretty good.

Rating: 3/4 ★★★☆ 

Mothra Vs Godzilla (1964)– A Typhoon washes up a giant egg on a Japanese Beach, which draws the attention of Godzilla, who apparently wants to eat it. But it turns out that the egg belongs to another titan of a monster named Mothra, who will defend her off-spring with everything she has. This is one of Godzilla’s earlier exploits, as he is still in his villain phase and was getting second billing. The franchise had yet to settle on him as the main character, although his rampages are the highlights. “Mothra Vs Godzilla” is a solid monster flick, with good miniatures, optical compositing and some pretty ambitious stuntwork from the man in the Godzilla suit. Godzillas’ design is a little more menacing than usual, although I often found myself wondering what his motives were. His first appearance is bizarre but awesome, where he emerges from…the ground? He looks cranky and his stumbling around reminded me of myself before I had my coffee. I found it odd how he seemed to want to eat Mothra’s egg, but after his fight with the titular Moth, decides to leave it alone. He also appears to be fleeing the twin caterpillars, or at the absolute least, has no desire to face them. Maybe he just wants to be left alone? My theory is that the Typhoon blew him to shore, buried him and he woke up feeling all disoriented and irritated- explaining his clumsiness. The onslaught by the military only sours his mood further, but outside of diverting for some ‘breakfast’, he just wants to return to the Ocean. Mothra is as gorgeous as always and I liked the use of color, with Infant Island boasting a creative and flashy design. Their fight is a little short and anti-climactic, although this was before Toho would perfect the Kaiju Battles. The human story is pretty bland as well, but “Mothra Vs Godzilla” is still one of the more sophisticated Godzilla flicks, even if it’s not among my personal favorites.

Rating: 3/4 ★★★☆ 

Ouija (2014)– This story about a group of friends accidentally awakening an evil entity when they use a cursed Ouija board to communicate with a dead friend was inexplicably a box office smash, despite receiving some of the worst reviews of the year! I was dreading this viewing experience, as I have recently developed some tastes and had no desire to see something that had been so reviled and yet had seemed to generic based on the marketing campaign- bed fellows that never work well together for me. For what it’s worth, the movie is bad, but not notably bad. It’s watchable thanks to a short running time and a steady pace, along with adequate (if mediocre) acting and cinematography. While you feel like the writers were trying to be a little creative when it came to the character development, as some whom you think are nice will end up crumbling under pressure and some whom you are sure will be antagonistic end up being helpful (without anyone being reduced to living cartoons), the script is about as conventional as you would expect from the writers of “The Possession”. Characters are prone to doing stupid or unbelievable nonsense in order to progress the plot, or…die…The director fails at building any suspense or atmosphere, nor did he ever make me jump. “Ouija” is bad, but it’s neither laughable, boring or unusual. It resembles a normal bad movie…that somehow drew in $100,000,000 worth of audience…Sometimes humanity just fails that way.

Rating: 1.5/4 ★½☆☆ 

Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016)– A prequel set in the 1950’s, Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser) works as a spiritual medium, but the twist is that she’s a phony, using her daughters Paulina (Annalise Basso) and Doris (Lulu Wilson) to help stage her seances. Because Ouija boards have become the new popular taboo, Alice decides to incorporate one into her readings, but Doris accidentally makes contact with a spirit who claims to be her late Father. Initially, this brings harmony to the family household, as the spirit assists them financially and emotionally, while taking their seances to a whole new level…But Paulina begins to suspect that this entity is not her Father, especially when Doris starts to act strangely…Could they have let something evil into their home? No one thought “Ouija” could ever produce a good sequel, yet “Ouija: Origin of Evil” ended up being the movie “Ouija” should’ve been…Seriously, don’t even bother watching the first one, as it will only spoil the ending to this one and why dampen the experience? Director Mike Flanagan (“Oculus”) weaves a fairly spooky atmosphere, but for me, the films’ greatest strength lied within its characters. I made an emotional attachment to this family and their interactions were always intriguing. The cast deserves a lot of credit, as the majority of these scenes required them to showcase a variety of different emotions at once. While there is plenty of freaky imagery on display, the scariest part was when Doris is describing what it’s like being strangled to death. Lulu Wilson’s innocent delivery, her co-stars nervous reaction and the well-written dialogue got under my skin and stayed with me for quite some time. I wouldn’t call “Ouija: Origin of Evil” great, and it’s possible that its’ acclaim owes to the negative reception of its predecessor, but I still thought it was good and deserves a watch.

Rating: 3/4 ★★★☆ 

Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)- Earth is becoming so technologically advanced that they’re on the verge of creating a weapon that will destroy the entire universe, so extra-terrestrials respond by resurrecting the dead to take over the planet…I think? This is the movie that ‘the worst director of all time‘ Ed Wood is most infamous for and it’s a contender for ‘the worst movie of all time‘. I’m not sure I agree with either sentiment, but I can’t deny the terrible…everything. I can’t really describe this, as every single aspect of filmmaking is bad, from the nonsensical story to the hilariously cheap production values to the bizarre editing where day and night alternate multiple times in a single scene. Bella Lugosi filmed some random footage before he died (in real life) and it’s inserted into the plot, but they use a body double that looks NOTHING like him whenever he interacts with our protagonists…who during the finale, act strangely like antagonists. But do you know what? “Plan 9 from Outer Space” is fascinating because of how bad it is. There are some dead spots where characters will stand around talking for long periods of time, but usually I was drawn into the awful performances and the absurd lines that come out of their mouths. The dialogue is strange because you can tell that Ed Wood tried his best to come up with snappy banter and meaningful speeches, but simply cannot write…at all…Or can he? Ed Wood entertained me more with “Plan 9 from Outer Space” than most allegedly competent filmmakers, so maybe he was some sort of special genius.

Rating: 2/4 ★★☆☆ 

Police Story: Lockdown (2014)- Zhong Wen (Jackie Chan) is a Chinese Police Officer whose dedication to the job has estranged him from his daughter, Miao (Tian Jing). During a terse meeting where she introduces him to her criminal boyfriend, Wu (Ye Liu), they’re all taken hostage by a group of ruthless thugs. But it becomes apparent that they have an agenda and the captives are all there because of their pasts. Zhong must solve the mystery and save everyone, or else the place will blow. I liked this movie, primarily because it had interesting characters and an even more interesting core story. The “Rashomon” angle was really cool too. This is a dramatic thriller, but while the excessive slow motion adds an unhealthy amount of cheese to the tears, I felt the tension and found myself chewing my nails at times. Even though Jackie Chan is the lead and ‘Police Story’ is in the title, it is not comedic, only contains two real fight scenes and has nothing to do with the other “Police Story” entries. I disagreed with a lot of the editing choices, as I found the flash-backs and ‘what if’ scenarios to be disorienting. There is a lot of filler too, with too much re-used footage and the first 30 minutes seemed mostly comprised of unnecessary information and red herrings. Nevertheless, the film made the right emotional connection with me and I was eager to see how it would play out. Jackie Chan does really good in his darker-than-usual role, having improved significantly as a dramatic actor since “New Police Story”.

Rating: 3/4 ★★★☆ 


Portrait of Hell (1969)– Known “Jigokuhen” in its native country, Tatsuya Nakadai (“Sword of Doom”) stars as a troubled painter (named Yoshihide) whose estranged daughter (Yôko Naitô) is captured by Lord Hosokawa (Kinnosuke Nakamura). The Lord wants the artist to paint something beautiful and heavenly, but Yoshihide is a cynic who only sees beauty in suffering. Eventually he’s challenged to make an accurate portrait of hell, with his daughter being the promised reward. What follows is a mental duel that will drive both men insane. While the slow pacing and redundant dialogue will alienate many viewers, I was enthralled by the imagery, which is simultaneously haunting, gorgeous and yet always means something. Amazing use of color, lighting and experimental editing. The characters are complex and I loved how the only scene that doesn’t have sinister undertones is the romantic interactions between the daughter and her love interest. The visuals at that moment are innocently serene, whereas the rest of the movie bathes in its hellish atmosphere.

Rating: 3.5/4 ★★★½ 

Predestination (2015)– From the directors of “Daybreakers” comes this strange dramatic thriller about a mysterious agent (Ethan Hawke) who was/is/will become (?) a bartender. He listens to the tragic tale of John (Sarah Snook), while a mad bomber causes the world to fall apart around them. I made the mistake of expecting something like “Looper” or “The Source Code”, but while they share similar ideas with “Predestination”, this one is much more of a slow burn drama. But that is okay, as I thought the performances were strong, the characters were captivating and the film goes into some…very shocking territory during the second half. I never really knew what to expect! “Predestination” is for viewers who can appreciate cerebral and existential mind twisters. Don’t expect much action or suspense.

Rating: 3.5/4 ★★★½ 

Regression (2015)– Bruce Kenner (Ethan Hawke) is an exceptional but sour detective who is assigned to a child molestation case, where Angela Gray (Emma Watson) accuses her Father (David Dencik) of raping her. He says he has no memory of the event, but concedes that Angela isn’t a liar, so it must be true. Kenner begins investigating using ‘regression therapy’ and discovers that this might be part of a conspiracy involving satanists. This movie was shredded apart by critics, but throughout the first hour, I was confused by the lashing as I thought that this was an exceptional movie. The director does a phenomenal job at building paranoia using unsettling camera angles, minimal music, spooky sound (and set) design, the media (nice touch) and a great performance from Ethan Hawke. Every time I thought I knew where the story was going, it would play its hand in a way that would derail my expectations and there are even a few genuinely scary parts. But then the ending occurs and I realized why so many people hated this, as…it’s not a very satisfying conclusion. I liked what it was going for and it was a fitting resolution, but something about it felt…off. The unnerving slow burn buildup was ultimately wasted by the big revelation. I still enjoyed “Regression” though, as it kept me chewing my nails in anticipation the entire time.

Rating: 3/4 ★★★☆ 


Scanners (1981)– Vale (Stephen Lack) is a psychic recruited by a mysterious organization to hunt down a psychotic with similar powers (Revok; played by Michael Ironside). “Scanners” is the type of movie that I respect more than I enjoy, although admittedly the hype certainly affected my viewing experience. The special effects are really good and it’s stunning how much is accomplished despite the limited budget. There are a lot of creative ideas that makes “Scanners” stand out and Cronenberg shows off his ability to develop iconic imagery. If it’s not the final duel, it’s the infamous exploding head that will stay within our minds. The pacing is inconsistent, constantly speeding up and slowing down so rapidly that I grew exhausted around the half way point. I also couldn’t get behind the acting- which ranged from too hammy to too stale. While Ironside is excellent as the villain, I thought Lack was…lacking… as the protagonist. His wooden performance was actually intentional in order to emphasize the contrast between the dull Vale and charismatic Revok, but it worked too well as he ended up boring me. Nevertheless, “Scanners” is the perfect definition of a ‘cult classic’ and even its apparent weaknesses help add to the films identity. I’m sure I’ll remember it, even after I’ve forgotten better Cronenberg flicks. I don’t think I’d go for a second viewing, but it was worth the first. “Scanners” is science fiction mixed with action, although the gore can convince some viewers that they are watching horror.

Rating: 2.5/4 ★★½☆ 

The Secret of the Urn (1966)- A loyal Samurai (Kinnosuke Nakamura) is betrayed by his clan and left for dead, losing an eye and an arm in the process. He becomes a disgruntled ronin, changing his name to Tange Sazen, drinking and killing his life away until he stumbles across the titular Urn, which is being hunted by samurai, ninja and thieves alike for different reasons. This is another Chambara masterpiece by Hideo Gosha, who has also helmed “Goyokin” and “Sword of the Beast”. What makes Gosha so great? His movies all seem to share similar strengths- exceptional editing, cinematography, soundtrack, choreography, acting, set design, etc. He’s a master when it comes to framing eye popping, memorable visuals, while also making sure that we make a connection to the characters. His movies are ripe with emotion and often anger, sadness or warmth will even drive his visual panache. I also love the use of technicolor, as it just makes every image look significantly prettier. But I believe the most interesting attribute of Gosha’s works is how his movies are always so different from the masses. The locations and sets have an exotic flavor, thanks to their odd and cool design choices. Even the stories tend to boast unique heroes, primarily because they desire to be villains.

Tange Sazen is a fascinating character, even though I’m still not entirely sure why he was betrayed in the first place, as he seemed like a loyal and dedicated samurai. When he’s reintroduced as the one armed, one eyed bad-ass, he’s a complete asshole, but a very endearing asshole. Kinnosuke Nakamura is incredible here, as his Tange Sazen is menacing, sinister and sometimes even outright scary. Yet there is something gratifying about watching him troll and outsmart everyone else. He’s entertaining as hell, but his development is quite moving. He might not want to acknowledge his hidden heart of gold, but he does inspire those around them to better themselves. He eventually confronts a rival and realizes that this man is just like how he used to be, sparking a very compelling character journey that had a perfect pay-off. The scene where he educates the little kid on why he doesn’t need to wield a sword is so heartwarming, a complete contrast to their previous vitriolic interactions. “The Secret of the Urn” also boasts a great supporting cast, filled with characters you either love or love to hate, while the actors and actresses are given lots of room to perform. The dialogue is memorable, the humor is hilarious and the action scenes are exciting (and plentiful). The story is also very well written, with the dueling clans providing an intriguing backdrop for our heroes’ adventure. I also loved the quirkiness, such as the constant appearances of dogs, which is a nice little historical addition for those familiar with the time period (in real life, the Shogun banned the killing of dogs, so Japan was overrun with them). “The Sword of the Urn” was just great, a movie I would recommend to both genre fans and as a gateway entry for newcomers!

Rating: 4/4 ★★★★ 

Seventh Son (2015)– Master Gregory (Jeff Bridges) mentors the talented Tom Ward (Ben Barnes) in the art of witch hunting, but has to speed things up when a dangerous witch (Julianne Moore) threatens the world. After constantly having its release date pushed back due to a troubled production, everyone expected “Seventh Son” to be a complete disaster…and it kind of was when you consider box office intake and critical consensus. But honestly, I think general audiences won’t find it to be that bad. The script is highly formulaic and riddled with holes, but the action scenes were nicely choreographed and the special effects were pretty good. I did like the monster designs as well, particularly that demonic looking dragon with the skeletal, steel tail. The actors are all having fun and their energy redeems the otherwise stale characterizations. As delightfully over-the-top as Jeff Bridges is though, he’s arguably upstaged by Julianne Moore- who is so insanely hammy that misguided fools might call her performance ‘bad’. The narrative does eventually run out of steam though and I had to fight sleep during the final act. But overall, “Seventh Son” is dumb, surface level entertainment.

Rating: 2/4 ★★☆☆ 

Shivers (1975)– A fancy apartment complex is plagued by a parasite, which turns people into sexually charged psychopaths. The only reason this did not get the full written review treatment is because I felt like I had already covered this when I had talked about the other works of David Cronenberg- especially “Rabid”. You see a lot of familiar actors, witness a lot of familiar scenes and contemplate a lot of familiar ideas. Identical tones, acting styles, story structures…it’s as if “Shivers” was Patient Zero and it spread the formula throughout the rest of Cronenberg’s ‘body horror’ exploits. Even though the gore isn’t as pronounced (presumably due to the incredibly low budget), Cronenberg knows how to make us nauseous and uncomfortable. But I loved the foreboding music, experimental camerawork and haunting exterior shots, which unite to create an almost apocalyptic, dread-soaked atmosphere. I’d say it’s definitely rough around the edges, had a boring leading man and can be cheesy, but I felt the tingles of suspense. Fairy fast paced too. And weird. Very, very weird.

Rating: 3/4 ★★★☆ 

Sicario (2015)– Emily Blunt stars as an FBI Agent whose ideals are tested when she’s recruited by a Government Task Force to participate in the ‘War on Drugs’ near the border of Mexico. She suspects something even more sinister is occurring all around her, not helped by the presence of the mysterious Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), whose allegiance is unclear. This was actually a lot better than I thought it would be…Er, to clarify, I figured it would be a very well made movie that would be too slow for my tastes. While “Sicario” is certainly a slow burn suspense feature, I didn’t feel like any time was wasted. Even the ‘bar’ scene, which at first I thought was filler, ended up seamlessly leading into something important. Those long takes of the scenery really built up the atmosphere, albeit with assistance from the excellent score and sound design. The tension never seemed to go away either, but at times became almost unbearable. The characters and their interactions were engaging, with the performances all standing out as awesome. This was a great movie and I’m glad it met the hype, at least from my POV.

Rating: 4/4 ★★★★ 

Sniper: Special Ops (2016)– Sergeant Vic Mosby (Tim Abell) is sent with his Special Ops squad to help protect, repair and escort a cargo truck, while super, special, awesome, sexual tyrannosaurus, Steven Seagal of a man, Sgt. Jake Chandler (Steven Seagal) sits around, waiting for someone to rescue him. Tim Abell does good as the real protagonist and Rob Van Dam is surprisingly decent as his co-star, but it REALLY feels like additional footage of Seagal was shot in post-production, with the editor having the difficult task of weaving it into the narrative. Seagal isn’t in the movie a lot, spends 90% of the screen-time sitting down and doubles are required whenever he’s interacting with…anyone. He’s even more lethargic than usual, with his wheezing line delivery almost resembling self-parody. I found it amusing how nonchalant he seems, such as when he must stealthily retrieve some supplies for his wounded buddy. He just casually walks up and takes them, not moving briskly or even in a crouch. Steven Seagal does not need to be cautious. Cautious needs to be Steven Seagal. He also apparently doesn’t know how to carry a gun, although neither does the token female Janet (Charlene Amoia), who is also supposed to be a sharp shooter.Oi…

The story is odd, because it begins with Seagal and a fellow soldier being left behind at a village after a rescue operation gone wrong. Vic (the real hero) wants to rescue him, but is denied and he’s put in a separate mission involving him repairing and escorting a supply depot. They seem to be building up some big conspiracy involving a Congressman and a Taliban Leader, with Vic casting suspicion on seemingly everyone he encounters. His story does not tie into the Seagal subplot at all, but every once in awhile, the film will cut to Seagal lazily sitting around, exchanging dialogue with his wounded buddy. The ending does connect these stories, although it’s obvious that Seagal wasn’t present with his co-stars. The entire conspiracy angle? Completely dropped without any kind of resolution. I find myself wondering if the original ending was scrapped, while Seagal spent a day or two filming his scenes and then they re-edited everything. At times, someone will react to one of Seagal’s actions, but it doesn’t really look like they’re actually reacting to him. While in many ways, this is a tolerable action film, primarily thanks to Tim Abell’s performance and a solid use of limited production values (the lighting, editing and sets were adequate when it came to the action scenes), there is too much wrong for me to forgive. The aforementioned Janet was annoying and the fact that she can apparently shoot more accurately than her better armed, better trained SPECIAL OPS allies made me facepalm. Steven Seagal doesn’t do any real fighting…or work, other than staring through his sniper scope. Rob Van Dam is one of the Special Operatives, but why cast a professional wrestler known for his athleticism if you aren’t going to take advantage of it? “Sniper: Special Ops” is bad, but it is easier to swallow than some.

Rating: 1.5/4 ★½☆☆ 


Standoff (2016)– A little girl (Ella Ballentine) witnesses a cold blooded hitman (Laurence Fishburne) carry out a handful of executions, making her his next target. She flees to the home of a disgruntled, suicidal war veteran (Thomas Jane), who is resolved to protect her. I actually liked a lot of the atmospheric lighting and effective composition, while I also thought the dialogue and excellent performances made this a lot more intense than it normally would’ve been. But little seems to happen during its short runningtime, leading to some pacing issues and the attempts by the filmmakers to add excitement using the most idiotic cop ever were lame. Overall, it’s not bad though.

Rating: 2.5/4 ★★½☆ 

Stage Fright (2014)– A slasher-comedy-MUSICAL (!?) about a masked killer who preys upon a musical theater camp. I was drawn to this bizarre mating of genres, but the final product confirmed my suspicions that they weren’t meant to be together. That is not to say that “Stage Fright” is bad. In fact, in many ways, it’s much better than it should be thanks to the ‘above average’ production values. It boasts a technical polish that is lacking in most slashers and the cast is great. There are some good songs, some good kills and some good laughs, but the key word here is ‘some’. The pacing is clunky because much of the music comes from them rehearsing the same song for their show over and over again, so it starts to become redundant. There are only two deaths throughout the first 40 minutes and not many occur afterwards, although the special effects surrounding them are pretty gruesome. The killers’ identity was so obvious that part of me wondered if the filmmakers were satirizing the whodunit formula, but “Stage Fright” is too broad for me to believe the filmmakers were being clever. There are a lot of holes in his/her motivations as well, although I still figured out the ‘why’ along with the ‘who’, long before the big reveal. There were some odd creative choices as well, like having the killer sing hard rock, in contrast to the operatic motifs of his victims. I found it to be kind of silly and annoying, although I respect what they were trying to do. I was disappointed with the final act, as the deaths seemed lackluster in comparison to the earlier kills (either they must’ve been threatened with an NC-17 rating or they ran out of money) and there wasn’t much closure for certain subplots. Finally, while I can forgive CGI being used for the bloody effects, it didn’t seem like the actors always knew how to react to the attacks. They will lose limbs and seemingly shrug off the injury. But I appreciate the ambitiousness of this project and at the absolute least, “Stage Fright” was a unique experience. You don’t see too many slashers or musicals like this and there is an admirable attempt to develop its victims. I appreciate the effort, if anything.

Rating: 2.5/4 ★★½☆ 

Stonehearst Asylum (2014)– In the late 1800’s, a med student travels to an isolated mental institution, but discovers a horrifying secret…which is revealed by the end of the first act. I found this viewing to be strange because the movie is set up like it’s a gothic horror flick, only to morph into a psychological thriller, but then goes into dramatic romance territory before discarding the idea of genres altogether. Brad Anderson constructed a well made film with an excellent cast- Ben Kingsley, Jim Sturgess, Kate Beckinsale, Michael Caine and others, but it starts to run out of momentum once the ‘horrifying secret’ is brought out into the light. “Stonehearst Asylum” then proceeds to focus on pushing its philosophies, which feel somewhat naive and poorly thought out. In the end, I wasn’t sure whom this movie is for…But even if Brad Anderson’s unconventional ideas didn’t quite work out this time around, he does succeed on a technical level- and I always admire a little genre experimentation.

Rating: 2.5/4 ★★½☆ 

Sudden Impact (1983)– “Dirty Harry 4”.

Dirty Harry Callaghan befriends a dog, dodges Mafia Enforcers, clashes with apathetic bureaucrats and investigates a series of murders committed by a mysterious woman (Sandra Locke). It quickly becomes apparent that she seeks vengeance against her scummy victims, causing quite the moral dilemma for our beloved cop-on-the-edge. While most of the Dirty Harry movies have utilized a somewhat episodic structure for their narratives, “Sudden Impact” feels the most disjointed. So many story threads, such as the dog and mafia, could’ve easily been omitted. Furthermore, these ‘episodes’ create problems with the tone as a ‘rape revenge’ subplot scene will be followed by a dog comedically pissing in random public places. “Sudden Impact” wants to be dark and edgy, sometimes succeeding, but then something goofy will occur and it becomes difficult to take the movie seriously. Much to my surprise, Sondra Locke delivers a powerful and intense performance as the vengeful anti-heroine. Unfortunately, Clint Eastwood just looks bored as Harry.

Rating: 2/4 ★★☆☆ 

Taken 2 (2012)– 2/4 stars

Taken 3 (2014)– The final (?) entry in the “Taken” trilogy makes the same mistakes that ruined “Taken 2”- the reliance on reminding us why “Taken” was so much better. By now, the formula has gotten stale and the narrative is encumbered by half-baked, unnecessary subplots. The suspense is thin, the action is uninspired and the padding slowed things down even more. Liam Neeson has played similar- but more interesting- roles in better movies since striking gold with “Taken”, so this sequel feels like a pointless afterthought in comparison.

Rating: 1.5/4 ★½☆☆ 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (2016)– The titular Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have been consistently fighting crime since the events of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”, but now have to contend with a freed Shredder (Brian Tee). He has created his own pair of Mutant animals named Bebop and Rocksteady, thanks to the help of a mad scientist named Baxter (Tyler Perry). His plan is to assemble a teleportation device, so an alien invader known as Krane can transport his War Machine to Earth…Casey Jones (Steve Armell) is also here, because there isn’t already too much stuff going on. “Out of the Shadows” is technically pretty bad, with weak acting by a lot of the human performers and gratuitous, blunt exposition. The plot is overcrowded with new characters, even though most of this cast did NOT need to be here. Yet I also prefer this over its predecessor, because the film embraces the absurdness of the concept and has fun with it. There is so much bizarre content that will stick in my memory. Watching Shredder say something along the lines of “Four Brothers will try to stop me…Turtles” with the straightest face imaginable is just…amazing…The action scenes are a lot more martial arts oriented, the set pieces are wild and the special effects are colorful. It’s a bit too silly for my tastes, but “Out of the Shadows” is a lot more faithful to its source material and provided ‘some’ entertainment value- along with a minor headache.

Rating: 2/4 ★★☆☆ 


Thor (2011) (The following is a cleaned up, re-uploaded version of my original writing):  Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the arrogant god of Thunder, is cast from his realm onto Earth, where he must find redemption amongst ‘lowly’ humans. But his enemies are conspiring against his Kingdom…I have to confess, I thought “Thor” was going to blow at one point. There were many trivial things which worked against it, such as me being against the idea of a god being a superhero. Wouldn’t he be significantly more powerful than the Avengers? They would make this aspect work in subsequent entries within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but back in 2011, “The Avengers” was barely entering production. I also found the trailers to be underwhelming, but it always seems to work that way, doesn’t it? When the trailers feel ‘meh’, it’s possibly a sign that the movie will be good. But when the trailers look good, it’s a sign that the movie will be ‘meh’- ironically, a fate suffered by “Thor 2”. My hopes were raised when the reception was enthusiastic, and I began to anticipate the film more and more. This lead to a mild case of ‘hype backlash’, as I thought “Thor” was pretty solid, but not great.

The first act of “Thor” was amazing, primarily because the Kingdom of Asgard itself is such a…marvel (pun tots intended yo)…to behold. The eye popping colors, the epic sense of scale, the otherworldly design and uncannily polished CGI unite to create a realm worthy of celestial beings. This is scenery porn at its finest and while Marvel would go on to produce bigger, better films, I don’t think any of them achieved the breathtaking imagery present during the first 30 minutes of “Thor“. The sweeping cinematography only enhances the power of the visuals. The action scenes during the first act are also phenomenal, showcasing unique battle styles, cool monster designs and exceptional CGI effects. I even found the campy characterizations to be highly entertaining, so I was looking forward to watching their eccentric dynamics unfold. The problem is the first act is so impressive that it becomes impossible for the remainder of the film to live up to its greatness. Once Thor is cast down to Earth, we move from the jaw dropping Kingdom of Asgard to…an old, desert town…riveting. A lot of time was set up establishing Thor’s powers, but because he has been stripped of them, the action scenes never feel quite as explosive or awesome. To aggravate things, they will occasionally cut back to Asgard and these brief scenes only made me miss the location that much more when the story would return to Thor. Director Kenneth Brannagh keeps things stylish and even experimental during the first half, but the 3rd act feels lazily directed and the cinematography is surprisingly flat. There is still enough intensity to keep me engaged, but the drop in quality is very noticeable. My guess is they were either running out of money or time.

Story-wise, “Thor” tries to build a mystery, but if you have seen any movie ever made, you will be able to tell where it’s going. Thor’s companions from the first act are demoted to extras, wasting all of their personalities and they are replaced with less interesting human allies (who aren’t boring, but aren’t as fun). The romance was pretty mediocre, but Chris Hemsworth (Thor) and Natalie Portman (Jane) at least have decent chemistry. Thor’s character development was…alright. The problem is that “Iron Man” was still fresh on our minds in 2011 and that film did such an excellent job of showing us how Tony Stark evolved over the course of the film. Thor changes in a single scene, although Hemsworth’s acting did ultimately sell me on his transformation. His personality is very inconsistent though, as he alternates between brash and sweet even before he undergoes character development. Finally, was it just me or did “Thor” draw a disturbing amount of inspiration from “Masters of the Universe“- the Dolph Lundgren flick? I noticed A LOT of similarities within the narrative, which sometimes became distracting. But for all of these flaws, I did think “Thor” maintained a great sense of humor. I loved the ‘fish out of water’ gags, yet I also teared up at some of the drama. There is a great cast here who probably are responsible for their underdeveloped roles being so interesting. Chris Hemsworth was the perfect choice to portray the titular hero and this made him a star…sort of…He’s yet to really break the box office or blow our minds outside of this franchise, but at least we know who he is. He’s got presence and Thor brings out the best of his charisma. I never felt that “Thor” ever fell beneath OK-ness and usually it was pretty good, but the first 30 minutes set my expectations way too high. The sting of disappointment nearly upstaged the remainder of the film! Overall, this was a solid- if really uneven- Marvel flick.

Rating: 3/4 ★★★☆ 

Train to Busan (2016)– A Zombie Outbreak occurs in South Korea, although the focus is on the passengers of a train heading to Busan, as they struggle against the hordes of the Undead. “Train to Busan” shows off one inventive, suspenseful and exciting action set piece, followed by another inventive, suspenseful and exciting action set piece and then another inventive, suspenseful and exciting action set piece and another and another and another, all the way until the end f@cking credits, fueled by a seemingly endless amount of creative energy. It also boasts a strong emotional core, nearly driving me to tears multiple times. “Train to Busan” is one of my favorite movies of 2016 and one of the best zombie flicks ever made.

Rating: 4/4 ★★★★ 

Victor Frankenstein (2015)– Igor (Danielle Radcliff) is a hunchback who serves the circus, but finds himself rescued by the eccentric Victor Frankenstein (James McAvoy), a scientist who plans on conquering death. My expectations were low for this period pace/drama/horror, but I ended up being entertained. I enjoyed the quirky sense of humor, the swift pacing, the surprisingly nuanced characterizations and the chemistry amongst the actors. Yeah, it seems like it’s trying too hard to emulate “Sherlock”, the love story falls flat and the 3rd act was a complete letdown, but its heart was in the right place.

Rating: 2.5/4 ★★½☆ 

Videodrome (1983)– In the future, the masses have become desensitized to sex and violence in the media, forcing television stations to become even more exploitive with their content in order to keep ratings high. Max (James Woods)- the president of one of these stations- discovers a video that might revolutionize the industry, as the violence seems unnaturally real, but something about the tape has distorted his reality. Plagued by visions, he becomes involved in a deadly conspiracy that may or may not be a product of his own mind. “Videodrome” is awesome, boasting all the strengths of “Scanners” and none of the weaknesses. The visual effects are terrifying, mesmerizing and incredibly inventive. But beyond looking cool, they have a certain depth to them. They all mean something, tying into the protagonists psyche without the movie spelling it out for us. “Videodrome” manages to blend in style and substance so seamlessly that it’s hard to tell the difference. Max is very likable and sympathetic despite his questionable tastes, thanks to the charming performance of James Woods. This is probably Cronenberg’s best work, an easy masterpiece. “Videodrome” is a science fiction themed, psychological thriller that relies a lot on body horror. I strongly considered doing a full written review, but I couldn’t think of anything more to say.

Rating: 4/4 ★★★★ 

The Wailing (2016)– Jong Goo (Do Won Kwak) is a bumbling police officer, lazily performing his duties in a remote Korean village. A murder occurs, with the assailant being covered in grotesque boils, apparently having gone insane without any warning signs. More cases pile up, with similar symptoms and deadly results, all surrounding a mysterious Japanese man (Jun Kunimura)… “The Wailing” was excellent, even though the long running-time (2 and a half hours), lack of clarity and the eccentric tone will certainly alienate some viewers. The first act resembles a comedy, complete with quirky characterizations, amusing sight gags and hilarious banter. But around the 45 minute point, “The Wailing” becomes bleak and TERRIFYING. I would usually criticize this sudden shift in tone, but for some reason, it works here. I think I love it because the humor disarmed me, leaving me unprepared for the horrors I was about to endure. There is a lot of haunting imagery, with the methodical pacing soaking up a lot of atmosphere. I think the movies’ greatest weapon is its unpredictability, as every time I thought I knew where it was leading, it would throw me a curve ball. “The Wailing” was constantly tricking me into following false leads, so I spent the majority of the running-time in the dark…unsure what would happen next. This doesn’t happen often and is a great recipe for suspense. The cinematography deserves special mention as well, as the visuals strike the perfect balance of foreboding and breathtaking. The sound design enhanced the mood, while the director uses clever symbolism and subtle implications to get your mind working. There aren’t any memorable jump scares and to be honest, I can’t even recall many individually terrifying moments. Yet every scene is designed to make you feel a little more uneasy, collectively building up to a bone chilling finale that has stayed with me for weeks.

The Wailing” is pretty confusing and probably requires multiple viewings to understand it, as there is a lot of ambiguous content surrounding the lore and motivations of various characters/entities. I don’t want to discuss my theories, as it would probably spoil too much of the story, but there is a lot left to our interpretation. I’m still trying to piece this puzzle together, but this is great because I want to watch the movie AGAIN. just to find answers. You can argue that the director had no real structure to his vision and gave us a lot of nothing, disguised as as mystery. I disagree, but even if this is true, cinema has always been a sleight-of-hand medium. If we are caught in a films illusion, we are witnessing characters participate in a story. If the spell fails, then we are watching actors playing with props in a set. When I accuse certain arthouse flicks of using smoke-and-mirrors techniques to trick the audience into believing there is a deeper meaning in the work, it’s because said arthouse flick has failed to capture my interest…Therefore, all that’s left is for me to critique and analyze. But “The Wailing” kept me fascinated and nervous throughout the entire experience. Amazing!

Rating: 4/4 ★★★★ 

Wanted (2008)– Wesley (James McAvoy) is a loser, trapped in a crappy job, relationship and life, but everything changes when he learns that his Father was part of a league of elite assassins, before he was murdered by a traitor. The same league recruits Wesley, who vows vengeance. In the context of 2008, I wasn’t a major fan of Timur Bekmambetov, whose works I found to be somewhat incoherent and self indulgent, but his “Wanted” ended up being one of my favorite films of its year. The movie has all sorts of zany visuals and solid special effects, with Bekmambetovs’ creativity and imagination elevating the action set pieces to mind blowing levels. I also found myself attached to the story, which occasionally enters unpredictable territory, while providing well-written characters. I was moved by some of the characters’ decisions, because I was so invested in their development. The humor also won me over with its energy and wit. There were a lot of amusing, memorable situations and lines.

The cast deserves credit for making “Wanted” more than just spectacle, as their interactions and dynamics were a lot of fun to behold. James McAvoy (Wesley) is spectacular, being convincingly insecure and weak, but also selling me on his development into a bad-ass. Angelina Jolie (Fox) emphasizes her mysterious and physical presence, but there is nuance in her delivery. Morgan Freeman(Sloan) is always classy, and he’s no exception here. Thomas Kretschmann (Cross) is awesome in his limited screen time. Fans of “Night/Day Watch” should be pleased to see Konstantin Khabensky (The Exterminator) in a supporting role. He played Anton in those films. Overall, “Wanted” is an exciting, exhilarating action flick that boasts style, imagination, a cast with great chemistry and a strong script. It’s only regrettable that it was saddled with such a generic title like “Wanted”, although this is because it’s adapted from a comic of the same name. I eventually read the source material and was taken aback by how different it was, as the league of assassins was originally a league of…super villains(!?)…who have conquered the world and all of its super-heroes. That version of Wesley was NOT sympathetic in the slightest either, so the “Wanted” movie could’ve probably just changed all of its names and functioned as an original story. Nevertheless, I prefer the movie, as I found myself wishing that every character in the comic would die- even though it’s technically well made itself.

Rating: 4/4 ★★★★ 

The Way to Fight (1996)– Takashi Miike directs this Japanese coming-of-age story about two brawlers and the people around them. There isn’t really much to say about “The Way to Fight”, other than…solid film! I had grown attached to Miike because of his forays into exploitation and horror, but he also knew how to handle drama. “The Way to Fight” is funny, touching and the story kept me interested. The characters are well-written, played by strong actors and Miike injects just enough style to give the film its identity. But he also shows restraint, usually allowing the emotions of the characters to carry the narrative. There are fight scenes, but they are just brawls, so don’t expect a lot of elaborate choreography. The finale was awesome thanks to the score, which just fit so perfectly and I’m disappointed that I can’t find it online. If I have any complaints, it’s that the DVD transfer sucked so badly that the subtitles occasionally stopped working, so hopefully there are more pristine prints out there. “The Way to Fight” isn’t necessarily an exceptional film and I have to remind you that this is a coming-of-age drama, not the normal Takashi Miike fare. But I still thought it was good and it’s a shame that even his fans often don’t realize how diverse his body of work is.

Rating: 3/4 ★★★☆ 

Wolf Warriors (2015)– A Sniper (Jacky Wu) joins en elite squad within the Chinese Special Forces known as the Wolf Warriors, who compete with branches of the Chinese Military in War Games. But it turns out that our hero has an enemy, who hired a group of mercenaries (lead by Scott Adkins) to infiltrate the ‘battleground’ and eliminate him. Written, Directed and Starring Jacky Wu- “Wolf Warriors” is…entertaining enough… boasting good production values, decent pacing, impressive stuntwork and solid action sequences. You don’t see many military-themed action flicks like this, so at least we got something a little different. However, the plot becomes increasingly convoluted as time moves along and eventually I had difficulty understanding the extent of the villains’ motivations. Something about a chemical weapon? I’m not sure! This might be because 25% of “Wolf Warriors” was filmed in English, while the rest is Cantonese, so no one bothered to produce a dubbed version for us westerners. The subtitles move so quickly and don’t work well with the bright lighting, so I just couldn’t keep up.

While the Chinese Nationalistic Pride message is heavy handed, I thought it was unintentionally hilarious because a handful of Caucasian Mercenaries can apparently kick the crap out of an entire Chinese squadron and would’ve even won if not for the efforts of a single man. If you’re going to do Propaganda, at least try to make your military look good. I couldn’t decide whether or not “Wolf Warriors” was also misogynistic, but some of the jabs towards the female Commander (Yu Nan) made me uncomfortable. Admittedly, I attribute most of this to weak and inconsistent character writing, but I groaned when everyone started giggling when she confessed to not having a boyfriend. Yet while “Wolf Warriors” is hardly one of the finer examples of Chinese Cinema, it got the job done where it counts. I was usually entertained and sometimes I would even be caught off guard by some of its loopy ideas, like when the Wolf Warriors are attacked by actual wolves. I’m not entirely sure why that needed to be there, but I was amused. Even better, who couldn’t love that scene where the villain is casually smoking his cigar as bullets fly all around him? Stupid? Yeah, stupidly awesome! “Wolf Warriors” as a whole isn’t stupidly awesome, but it’s not a bad rental. For the record- even though there is some martial arts on display, this mostly relies on gunfire and explosions, so know what you’re getting into if you’re intrigued.

Rating: 2/4 ★★☆☆ 

Woochi (2009)– Woochi (Kang Dong-won) is a novice Tao Practioner known for his egotistical and mischievous personality, although he means well and is talented enough to battle demons. 500 years ago, he was framed for the murder of his Master, who held half of a magical flute that could potentially destroy the world if falls into the wrong hands. Woochi managed to snag his half before being imprisoned in a painting, but is released in present times when demons resurface once more…This South Korean fantasy relies more on CGI than choreography, but the visuals are flashy and imaginative. I enjoyed the lore of this world and the mystical powers were pretty cool too! I found the comedy to be funny and the cast excellent in their roles. Kang Dong-won is too cool as the titular Woochi, while Im Soo-jung was charming as his love interest. As superfluous as their romance arguably is, I thought they had great chemistry, so I enjoyed their interactions. I liked ther movie, but I also thought it was a bit overly ambitious, as there is too much information to process and some of the twists only convoluted this ‘epic’ saga. The end result is a bloated running time, although “Woochi” was endearing enough to keep me interested.

Rating: 3/4 ★★★☆ 

Wushu Warrior (2010)– “Wushu Warrior” might be a kung fu flick that takes place within Chiba, but it is also a movie made by white people…about white people in China…We know this because the Caucasians get the vast majority of prominent roles, including both the protagonist (Tod Fennell) and antagonist (Matt Frewer), while the Asians get to be the usual caricatures that Hollywood likes to stereotype them as. I can accept Matt Frewer’s presence as the dastardly Lord…Lindsey…who I presume is dastardly because his name is Lindsey, because his character is surprisingly well written and Frewer excels in the role. He’s such a doting Father that you could almost buy a redemption arc, until you remember that this is the same monster who won’t only have you executive for threatening to expose him, he’ll go after your children as well. Frewer was a great casting choice, balancing sophistication, menace and charm, being over-the-top just enough to steal your attention without derailing the tone. But Todd Fennell lacks the charisma to carry the film as our protagonist and it doesn’t help that he’s playing a flat anti-hero with a stale character arc. He’s also the victim of the majority of the script’s cliches, from the ‘mighty whitey’ trope to the awkward confrontation when your love interest walks in on you kissing a girl. The supporting cast isn’t very good either, with the performances ranging from too hammy to too wooden, with those kids and small Chinese roles standing out as especially terrible. The audio doesn’t do anyone any favors though, as it sounds like everyone was dubbed, but it’s neither a good dubbing or an amusingly bad dubbing. The lip syncing is OK, but the post-production line delivery seems more over-the-top than their body language and mannerisms suggest, so it just seems ‘off’.

From a production standpoint, the cinematography is passable, occasionally stumbling upon an impressive shot. The fight choreography is fine and Fennell might lack the screen presence to be a lead, but he handled himself well enough with the physicality of the role. But the direction is mostly uninspired and there isn’t a single memorable set piece. The CGI in particular sucks and “Wushu Warrior” has this ‘made-for-TV’ aesthetic, as if it was produced for USA or the Scyfy channel, albeit before TV productions started becoming respectable. The pacing is pretty clunky too, sometimes moving too fast, sometimes moving too slowly, sometimes gliding at the right speed and sometimes just stopping dead into its tracks. The climax is very unsatisfying, so the overall pay-off just didn’t seem worth it. With all of this said, I’m not sure I would describe “Wushu Warrior” as a bad film. It’s simply so generic and mediocre that it might as well be bad, because nothing about this viewing experience is worth your time, money or attention…except maybe Matt Frewer as the evil, Terrible, MONSTROUS Lord…*snickers*…Lindsey! When I reviewed this back in…2010?…I gave this a 2/4 star rating, because I’m partial to kung fu adventures and an overdose of Steven Seagal movies caused my tastes to drop during that time period…But looking back at my original review, I’ve come to the conclusion that I was too soft. Maybe “Wushu Warrior” isn’t especially bad, but it’s bad enough.

Rating: 1.5/4 ★½☆☆ 

Yellow Fangs (1990)– Based on the Sankebetsu brown bear incident, a killer grizzly known as ‘Red Spots’ terrorizes Japanese villages in the early 1900’s, slaughtering the family of Yuki (Mika Muramatsu). She swears vengeance, much to the disapproval of the local bear hunters, which includes her childhood friend Eiji (Hiroyuki Sanada). Sonny Chiba directed this ‘killer bear’ flick and financed the project himself…which forced him into bankruptcy when the movie bombed. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting experiment of a film which deserves praise for its ambitions, even though its flaws keep it from being great. They do an excellent job with the sets and costuming, both usually looking authentic for the time period and the acting is great. The cinematographer and Chiba crafts lots of striking imagery, which is gorgeous and resonates on an emotional level. The impending attacks are suspenseful and nerve-wracking, while the gore is nasty enough to leave an impact, but not to the point of being sleazy. Unfortunately, the bear alternates between being footage of a real animal and a man in a suit, so the scale is often inconsistent and there are many awkward shots because of this. Sometimes the ‘man in a suit’ is used for good effect, such as when the bear lifts up a woman by her neck, but usually it just looked bad. The narrative is pretty sloppy as well, filled with too many subplots that only distract us from the primary conflict. Did we really need the love triangle, especially as it’s resolved in the easiest way imaginable? Did we really need the copper prospecting? I think they were trying to imply that man screwing with nature lead to these attacks, but Chiba also presents the bear as a f@cking serial killer, so the subtext was devoured before it could even blossom. In real life, the bear was probably starving, so the copper prospecting would make sense with that context. But this fictionalized version makes a big point that it only wants to feed on women, so the subplot just feels empty and random…and were they striving for pathos during the ending? I wasn’t aware that I was supposed to be feeling sympathy for Jason Bearhees. Weird. They also don’t tell the story in chronological order, for…um, reasons. “Yellow Fangs” does a lot wrong, probably because Chiba was a novice director, but what it did right captured my attention more firmly and even its missteps were interesting to me. I was expecting something a lot more craptastic, so this was a pleasant surprise. Also known as “Rimeinzu: Utsukushiki yuusha-tachi”.

Rating: 2.5/4 ★★½☆ 

Zatoichi and the Fugitives (1968)– Blind swordsman Ichi (Shintaro Katsu) wanders into another town that is run by a corrupt and vicious gangster named Matsugoro (Hôsei Komatsu), who is being forced to shelter an even more corrupt and vicious band of fugitives. Ichi befriends the local Doctor Junan (Takashi Shimura) and wishes to live in peace, but their bloody ways will draw him into a conflict once more. I really liked this entry in the long running franchise, as the titular fugitives add a new dynamic to the ‘Ichi Vs Gangster‘ formula and they are so thoroughly deplorable that you can’t wait for Ichi to finally dice them into ribbons. Even better, they are presented as a legitimate threat, as each member seems to have their own specialty (knife throwing, gun slinging, etc.) and they’re collectively rather crafty. One of their members fulfills the ‘honorable, rival ronin, whom Ichi must ultimately face‘ role, but he turns out to be just as underhanded as his comrades. The supporting characters whom Ichi must protect were also interesting, partially because they’re well written, but also because of the excellent cast (Takashi Shimura owns!). I was invested in their plights and took satisfaction in seeing Ichi stand up for them.

This is one of Shintaro Katsu’s darker portrayals of the blind swordsman, as there are scenes when Ichi is outright scary. The use of shadows and empowering angles, mixed in with Katsu’s chilling performance, reminds us that Ichi is a killer who can evoke terror when he wants to. The fight scenes are more visceral and intense than usual, as if Ichi REALLY wants his enemies dead this time around. Yet contrasting this is a vulnerability that you don’t see with Ichi very often. He’s critically wounded, but doesn’t get a lot of time to heal, so he spends the remainder of the finale clearly struggling with his wounds. Furthermore, even though the director prefers showcasing Ichi in darker, more menacing lighting, he also has an eye for colorful, breath-taking, wide shots. The choreography is top notch too and I loved how the sets would often fall apart around the fighters. There are also multiple sight gags where Ichi displays his skills, such as when he cuts through a snake or enemies’ clothing. “Zatoichi and the Fugitives” might be a little slow and sombre for some fans, but I thought it was an exceptional entry in the franchise.

Rating: 3.5/4 ★★★½ 

Zodiac (2007)– In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, the Zodiac killer terrorized Northern California, but would subsequently vanish, his identity remaining a mystery. A newspaper cartoonist (Jake Gyllenhaal) becomes obsessed with solving the case.. I would almost describe “Zodiac” as an epic, as it encompasses so many different genres, dabbling in period piece drama, romance, murder mystery, police procedural and journalism thriller, with many characters who could each be the protagonist of their own movies and it’s 3 hours long. You can argue that the narrative feels bloated, but I thought it balanced all of its story-threads and would-be protagonists surprisingly evenly, the majority of them getting enough attention to be compelling. Despite the lengthy runningtime, “Zodiac” consistently kept my interest, but it’s more about the investigation into the crimes and the subsequent media frenzy than it is about the killings themselves. This movie is carried by its cast, which includes Jake Gyllenhaal (Robert Graysmith), Mark Ruffalo (Inspector Toshi), Robert Downy Jr. (Paul Avery), Brian Cox (Melvin Belli) and a few other recognizable faces, with each performance standing out as exceptional. Despite limited screen-time, everyone seems to have their own quirks and arcs, so the actors have a lot of tasty material to work with. The editing, direction, cinematography and music are all excellent, perfectly recreating the time period, but their function is primarily to showcase the actors. Does “Zodiac” have any flaws? Sure. Melanie (Chloe Sevigny) is the token love interest and her story thread isn’t as interesting as the others, although it was handled adequately. The narrative does start to run out of steam during the third act, but I don’t know how they would’ve fixed it, for the conclusion makes sense in giving the characters closure. The unsatisfying finale might’ve even been intentional, reflecting how the Zodiac killer became irrelevant after people moved on to new reigns of terror. You are being forced to experience the same emotions as its characters, so I was cool with its resolution- especially as the final confrontation was perfect. I think “Zodiac” is a very good movie, even if it’s the kind that’s in danger of being overrated. I’ve always struggled with rating this, as I can’t decide whether it’s a 3/4 or 3.5/4 experience. For now…

Rating: 3.5/4 ★★★½ 

Zombeavers (2014)– A group of horny and wild teens have a weekend getaway at a lakeside cabin, only to be attacked by zombie…beavers…This is the kind of entertainment that “The Gingerdead Man“, “ThanksKilling” and every Scyfy original ever made SHOULD provide, but lack the money, talent and effort, for true art is often described as ‘zombified beavers’. Just ask Michelangelo or Orson Welles. They know. “Zombeavers” appears to have at least had a decent budget for its kind, as the special effects are elaborate and the movie never tries to cut corners to save money. There is a lot of action, with practical effects being used for the zombeavers and gore. You know that this was someones passion project, as I’m sure it would’ve been a lot easier to use crappy CGI. Yet I love how the effects aren’t overly polished, looking just fake enough to be charming and funny. “Zombeavers” usually made me laugh and even plays with our expectations of horror clichés, but I will admit that occasionally the ‘humor’ went too far. Or the acting became too…good? I was surprised how realistic the portrayals of heartbreak were, which sometimes screwed up the tone.. But I loved how crazy and absurd “Zombeavers” is, especially as it only gets crazier and crazier by the time the end credits roll. “Zombeavers” is a lot of fun, but you have to know what you’re getting into. It’s a campy, silly, splatterfest about zombie beavers.

Rating: 3/4 ★★★☆