Monday, March 31, 2014

Film Review: Firestorm (2013)

Firestorm (Review)
China/2013
Format Viewed For Review: Blu-ray (Edko Films Ltd. HK)
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"If you enjoy action films, Firestorm does not disappoint in the slightest."

Hong Kong senior police inspector Lui Ming-chit (Andy Lau) sets his sights on a crew of professional criminals terrorizing the city with several high-stake and violent armored car heists.

Firestorm can be split into two types of films. The first half of the film is a procedural cops-and-robbers action film, while the second half of the film, despite its plethora of action, delves into the morality of the issue at hand. The film follows Lui, who wants to capture some daring and dangerous criminals, especially the notorious Cao who uses the law to his advantage. At the same time, To Shing-bong (Gordon Lam), an ex-con part of Cao's crew, eventually begins to see the trouble in his work -- I emphasize eventually because his character doesn't really change until the final act. The climax of the film, explained bluntly, is basically urban warfare. The cops and robbers explode, quite literally, into the main streets leaving carnage and devastation as the aftermath; the ending is bittersweet, and works very well with the rest of the film's tones.

Concerning the plot, Firestorm is a bit convoluted in its storytelling. The story is actually really simple, but the storytelling unnecessarily complicates it. Some of the editing contributed to the confusion, as it jumped from scene to scene; at the same time, some of the editing was really unique and creative, adding to the "wow" factor. The main dish, though, is its action. Firestorm is filled with chases, shootouts, and explosions -- all on a very large scale. If you enjoy action films, Firestorm does not disappoint in the slightest. For action fans, the climax of the film is worth the price of admission alone. On top the fantastic and consistent action sequences, there was some very unexpected emotional depth to the film -- it really dares to enter some very dark and provoking territory.

Andy Lau is great as the lead -- the character isn't really new or daring, but his performance is spot-on. Gordon Lam also stood out -- the character is hard to root for, regardless of the filmmaker's attempts, but he plays it very well. In general, the entire cast was really good. The musical score fit the mood perfectly, creating some very epic moments. The cinematography was also great. Some of the special effects, like a few cars flipping without believable physics, were merely decent; however, I really did enjoy the vivid particle effects. Writer and director Alan Yuen crafts a consistent action and an occasionally powerful police drama; although it doesn't deeply look into its characters, it does craft some deeply emotional dilemmas.

Overall, Firestorm is a great action crime film. The plot may be unnecessarily convoluted, but I really enjoyed the focus on both action and morals. And, the action is superb, versatile, and consistent -- there aren't many better action films out there. Action fans should hunt this one down; if you're looking for more variety and character, though, I strongly recommend The White Storm.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, some gore.

Friday, March 28, 2014

More TV-MA, Less R-Rated

The quality of television has increased exponentially. TV shows have reached the standard of big-budget Hollywood films – maybe even better. Recently, I've noticed an increase in violence, drugs, and sex on television, and I've also noticed an odd decrease in the film industry. So, what's going on?

First of all, in 2014, January had four nationwide R-rated releases – one of which was a nationwide expansion. February had one R-rated comedy. While March will likely end up at three. That's actually not many when you consider how many nationwide films release per week. The point is: R-rated films are slowly dying off. Some of these films have brought in modest box office returns, others were complete duds. Some of these films were rated decently, others were poorly received. Regardless, the box office, the critics, and the fans seem to be at odds with R-rated films. (I know, you'll watch any film that your interested in, regardless of rating, as will I.)

Meanwhile, television has seen an increase in everything that makes an R-rated film – and certain elements that have previously condemned the release of films. For example, Hannibal is very violent and disturbing (and, it's a fantastic show, too), much more violent than Ridley Scott's Hannibal back in 2001. Hannibal on TV has been well received by critics and general audiences, and has garnered a dedicated audience. Hannibal as a film was a box office success, with mixed feelings from critics and controversy surrounding it's violence. Another example would be Breaking Bad – award winner and fan pleaser – which focuses on the distribution of drugs from an up-and-coming drug kingpin. Similarly, Scarface focused on a gangster as he moved up the drug game. Breaking Bad is already an iconic show and a testament for quality TV, as is Scarface for film – but Scarface was rated X when it first released. Why is that?

This is really just me thinking out loud. As an audience, are we becoming more welcoming to violence and drugs, at least to the point where it's perfectly fitted for prime time TV? Or, are filmmakers treating an R-rating as a stigma? Maybe the MPAA has lightened their outlook on the content of films? I personally am not offended by any content on TV or film, I care more about the quality of the product. I'm just curiously observing.

What do you think about TV and film rating nowadays? Back in January I wrote about the MPAA Bias, you think that has something to do with it? Please leave a comment and let me know! Thanks for reading!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Film Review: Carrie (2013)

Carrie (Review)
United States/2013
Format Viewed For Review: Blu-ray (MGM)
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...plays out like a high school drama... never really felt like a horror film..."

Carrie (Chloe Grace Moretz) is a shy, passive teenager nearing her high school graduation. Aside from having an overly-religious and disturbed mother, Margaret (Julianne Moore), Carrie is also viciously tormented by her classmates...

Carrie follows the titular character as she tries to survive high school, her mother, and her bullies, while most of the class prepares for prom. At this time, Carrie begins to realize she has psychic powers and begins to hone her special abilities. Eventually, she gets a sympathetic but honest invitation to prom by a popular student, which angers her bully who has been suspended -- so, she plans her revenge. At prom, all hell breaks loose after a "bloody" incident. The final act is decent -- the computer effects are overwhelming, but the scale is epic -- but the actual ending scene was really weak; they add a final touch that comes off as really cheesy.

I'll be honest and I won't pretend like I've seen every film known to man: I've never seen the original Carrie, or the 2002 TV movie, or even read the novel. I knew it was a remake beforehand, though, and I am familiar with the iconic plot, anyway. It really plays out like a high school drama with some action towards the end -- never really felt like a horror film -- in fact, the final act feels more like Michael Bay's Carrie than anything else. Regardless, I like the plot, despite being a little light and uneventful. The characters are mostly irrational, illogical, and annoying -- but they're comprised of mostly high school girls, so that's about right. (I'm kidding.) The biggest problem character was Margaret: instead of being a frightening and disturbing religion fanatic, she comes off as cheesy, cliché, and humorous -- and not the good kind of humor, either. If you can get past the annoying and generic characters, Carrie offers a disturbing plot of bullying and vengeance -- it doesn't necessarily address bullying today, but you can pull a message out of it if you try; it's not horrifying or deep, but it is enough to keep you interested and even entertained. The buildup to the final act, particularly the prom which adds some likable character to the formula, is also very good.

Chloe Grace Moretz, or maybe we should call her Chloe "Saving Grace" Moretz because she's a saving grace for the film, takes the lead as the iconic character, and she's fantastic; her appearance doesn't really fit the typical high school outcast, but her performance does. Much like her performance in Hannibal, Julianne Moore was left in the oven for too long -- her performance is way overdone and almost laughable. Computer effects are something you rarely want to see in any horror film, and they're overused during the final act of the film; they don't look too bad, but most of the effects look like they could've been done better with practical effects, and likely for less money. Director Kimberly Peirce is serviceable enough for most of the scenes; but, it feels like a remake without its own identity, and I haven't even seen the original film(s) or read the novel -- it just never really feels distinct and really plays it safe.

Overall, Carrie offers a fantastic lead performance from Chloe Grace Moretz and an entertaining and interesting story, as well as an epic climax. But, it never feels like a horror film, the action is too reliant on computer effects, the story often feels uneventful, the ending was weak, and Julianne Moore offers a poor performance. This film probably would've been more tolerable as a short film -- and without Julianne Moore.

Score: 5/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and gore.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Film Review: Apartment 1303 3D (2012)

Apartment 1303 3D (Review)
United States/Canada/2012
Format Viewed For Review: Amazon Prime
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: Yes (expiring soon!)

"The "horror" is terrible, and the drama is atrociously developed..."

Janet (Julianne Michelle) moves into apartment 1303 of a Detroit apartment building after a dispute at home. Meanwhile, Janet's sister, Lara (Mischa Barton) stays at home with their single, alcoholic mother, Maddie (Rebecca De Mornay).

Apartment 1303 continues as Janet stays in her new apartment. Immediately, she begins to hear ominous noises, see spooky apparitions, and meets her creepy neighbor and perverted superintendent. She's told about the people who lived there before her, and she's told to leave, but she doesn't listen. She calls her sister and boyfriend for help, and that's about it for the first half. Then, spoiler alert, she dies. (I considered avoiding this spoiler, but it's on the Wikipedia, and it just doesn't feel like a twist or shocker, either.) Her sister shows up to bring her stuff home and begins to experience the same haunting. The climax isn't really shocking or effective, the ending was as bland and boring as the rest of the film.

Apartment 1303 is a remake of a Japanese horror film I am not familiar with. The story attempts to develop its characters and plot, but it really hinders the experience -- it's never really effective enough. Anyway, the characters consists of an alcoholic, seemingly-medicated family of bipolar people, and an undercover cop with marriage issues. Janet monologues for everything since she's alone most of the time, and she always tells the audience how she feels: "Time for some whine," "I love this apartment," "I'm so scared," and so on. She has absolutely no subtlety in her character. Lara is off her meds and insincere, I can't tell who she really is. And, Maddie is a washed up superstar. Oh, and the undercover cop is simply there as a guardian or something, and he seems completely incapable of anything. I couldn't care for the characters, so the attempts at character development not only were flawed, but they were futile. Instead of focusing on this set of characters, the film would've been more effective if it had focused on the apartment itself and the ghosts that inhabit it -- gives us something interesting and spooky, something entertaining, at least.

As for horror, Apartment 1303 severely lacks it. In fact, I'm not even sure there was even a shred of horror in the entire film. No suspense. No scary visuals or ghosts. No jump-scares. No dread. No emotion. No realism. There's nothing scary about this film. It doesn't even feel like a horror film, it feels more like a half-baked drama, which probably explains the odd focus on ineffective subplots and boring characters. I can usually find at least one decent scene or scare in a film, but I fear this has none. Both its plot and horror are completely forgettable within minutes after finishing.

The acting is mediocre. Julianne Michelle was surprising decent throughout most of her performance; I think the writing of her dialogue and character were more detrimental, all the monologues really hurt her performance. Mischa Barton was barely serviceable; she's decent when she only has to speak, but when the role becomes demanding, she falls apart with an ingenious, over-the-top or too bland performance. Rebecca De Mornay plays a drunk, she probably could've just showed up drunk for her performance, she probably should've; the "drunk" performance, much like the "stoner", is hard to nail, it more often than not feels fake and and like a bad impersonation, like it does in this film. The score is your basic horror movie music. The film is mostly shot competently; some scenes have terribly lighting and special effects, which might be because of the 3D. Director Michael Taverna is ineffective and inconsistent; bad performances from his cast due to writing and direction, bad dialogue, no suspense or actual horror, and completely ineffective drama.

Overall, Apartment 1303 3D is a complete waste of time. The "horror" is terrible, and the drama is atrociously developed; the characters are boring and occasionally annoying and irrational; the plot is never consistent, often uneventful, and the ending was weak. Julianne Michelle could've been a saving grace, even in the slightest, if the writing wasn't so bad. This isn't a case of "it's so bad it's good" this is just bad.

Score: 1/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Film Review: Jurassic Park (1993)

Jurassic Park (Review
United States/1993 
Format Viewed For Review: Blu-ray (Universal Studios)
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...has that special magic that many films are missing nowadays."

John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) has created a theme park called Jurassic Park on Isla Nublar, filled with cloned dinosaurs. In order to appease his investors, John invites paleontologist Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and paleobotanist Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), along with a mathematician, Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), and the investors' lawyer, to evaluate the park's safety.

The first half of Jurassic Park takes the time to introduce the characters and the park, along with the science behind it. There is a great sense of wonder and excitement during the first half, especially during the arrival and even the tour, despite a couple of hiccups. The second half of the film, on the other hand, is an incredibly suspenseful thrill ride as everything that could go wrong goes wrong, and those left on the tour have to fight for survival. The climax of the film is the definition of intense, and the ending, no matter how predictable, is great -- even reassuring and heartwarming.

I love the story in Jurassic Park. Like I already explained, it's kind of like watching two different films, with the same characters, settings, and themes. The two halves compliment each other well. The first half, like I said, is enchanting and magical -- for lack of a better word -- and it helps buildup the second half of the film. When it hits the fan for the second half, it feels so much more effective thanks to the first half. If you're looking for an enchanting SciFi film with the suspense and intensity of an all-out thriller, look no further than Jurassic Park. Oh, and there are some very humorous moments, as well as some scary scenes that also blend well with the film. Jurassic Park really is the complete package.

The cast is wonderful and there is always a sense of excitement and wonder in their eyes and facial expressions, although they do occasionally overact. Richard Attenborough is charismatic as the lead. Jeff Goldblum has some charisma and charm in his performance, as well. The special effects are great, although some computer graphics occasionally feel out of place -- I easily forgive it due to the film's age and since they aren't overused. The animatronics are spectacular, they really add life to the film and create a viable threat. The music is adventurous, thrilling, suspenseful, enchanting... it's superb! The film is also shot beautifully, and the film has stood the test of time. Steven Spielberg's direction is fantastic, he's created a consistent, immersive, and versatile film.

Overall, Jurassic Park is a wonderful and mystifying SciFi film. It has that special magic that many films are missing nowadays. I can't see anyone absolutely hating this film as it offers so much, and that so much is perfectly executed. If you haven't see it, watch it as soon as possible -- you won't regret it.

Score: 10/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood, some gore.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Film Review: Ip Man: The Final Fight (2013)

Ip Man: The Final Fight (Review)
China/2013
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Streaming
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...bits of information are appreciated, and I did enjoy the story..."

The story of the elder Ip Man (Anthony Wong) as he moves into Hong Kong to start anew.

Ip Man: The Final Fight is part biopic, part martial arts action flick. The story follows Ip Man in his older years as he live in Hong Kong -- still physically capable, but also chronically ill. We see him teach Wing Chung to his students, we see him spread wisdom, we see him loss and love again, we see him fight, and so on. But, as far as a biographical film goes, these are bits and pieces of information compared to what could've been offered. The information of Ip Man's late life is further diluted as the film tends to follow his students and their personal lives just as much. And considering the final fight has little buildup, this really should've been called Ip Man and Friends. The ending of the film was great, though; it was sentimental and offered some info on the Ip Man-Bruce Lee relationship.

The action is great, too, showing Ip Man's masterful skill continued to the very end. Since the film can't decide between biopic or action movie, Ip Man: The Final Fight seems very confused, so the action is inconsistent. One action sequence here, then a plethora of somewhat informative scenes, then another action sequence. The information seems authentic, but the action can be heavy-handed and occasionally cheesy; so, these two elements really keep clashing throughout the film creating an inconsistent mood and atmosphere. What I'm saying is: this can be seen as half a biopic or half a martial arts film, but it never fully becomes either, unlike the original films, and even the prequel.

Anthony Wong is great as Ip Man. He embodies wisdom and tranquility, and has the fighting skills to portray the character, regardless of stunt doubles and so on. The rest of the supporting cast is great, too, creating a likable bunch of characters; but there are so many of them, they hardly had a chance to really perform. The set designs and costumes are fantastic, the setting especially felt authentic and immersive. The fight choreography was also great, especially the final fights; I just wish the fighting had more consistency. The music fits the setting, but it's not very distinct compared to other films in the same setting. Herman Yau directs The Final Fight, but lacks focus this time around; not informative enough to be an all-out biopic, and lacks the consistent action to be an all-out martial arts film; it feels like it's jumping around trying to avoid picking a single genre or style, but it could've been both, right?

Overall, Ip Man: The Final Fight is a good film. The bits of information are appreciated, and I did enjoy the story; the focus on the students hindered the experience a bit, though. The action sequences are great, too, but they are far and few between. It's a good film that could've been great or even fantastic. The series can be revitalized with better, more consistent writing and more unique, creative, and realistic fight choreography; or, at least, the return of Donnie Yen.

Score: 6/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Top 10 Best Chinese Crime Films

The crime genre has delivered some of the best films of all time – The Godfather trilogy, Scarface, Se7en, The Silence of the Lambs, and so much more. But, as so much of the world seems to be winding down, China continues to capitalize the genre with hit after hit after hit – Hard Boiled, Infernal Affairs, and Election just to name a few. So, here's my list of my all-time favorite Chinese crime films; whether they be Cantonese or Mandarin, oldies or newbies, these are the very best. (As usual, I haven't seen every film in the genre, but more than enough to justify a list. If you're favorites don't make it, I either haven't watched, forgot it, or didn’t like it as much as these.)

10. On The Edge
Read On The Edge (Review) Here!
The first of many on the list, On The Edge is a undercover thriller. But, instead of focusing on the cop's undercover duties, On The Edge focuses on the aftermath of his duties when he returns to work. His fellow cops don't trust him, and he may not be able to shake off his criminal ties...

9. Flashpoint
Watch this film on Netflix Streaming!
Donnie Yen makes an appearance on this list with the mixed martial arts action flick Flashpoint. The story is interesting and captivating, but the vicious action choreography steals the show.

8. Cold War
Read Cold War (Review) Here!
Aaron Kwok stars in Cold War, a film about loyalty, betrayal, and conspiracy within the Hong Kong police. Although it often moves too fast and it can be overly complicated, the patient will be rewarded with a fascinating and suspenseful story.

7. Breaking News
Read Breaking News (Review) Here!
Johnnie To directs this action-packed and surprisingly meaningful crime film about the police, and the criminal they sought, manipulating the media for their benefit. A battle of wits and guns, Breaking News is unique and entertaining.

6. Punished
Anthony Wong steals the show in this vicious revenge-crime thriller. Punished has action, drama, and raw emotion with a stellar performance from Wong, and it never lets loose. A little different from the typical crime thriller, but that's more reason to enjoy.

5. The White Storm
Read The White Storm (Review) Here!
The White Storm is another undercover cop film blending elements of brotherhood into the mix. The White Storm sees a Hong Kong narcotics team tracking an infamous drug war lord. What we get is a suspenseful, action-packed film in the vain of Hard Boiled.

4. Election & Triad Election
Election and Triad Election share a slot; not only to make room for one more film, but to also signify how important it is to watch both films – you can't watch one without the other. These two films offer an insightful and darkly entertaining look into the triads, much like The Godfather's look into the mafia.

3. Hard Boiled
Read Hard Boiled (Review) Here!
The original action extravaganza, Hard Boiled is an action-packed, stylish shoot em' up with innovative and explosive action sequences around every corner. It has it's fair shares of clichés, but it's unstoppable force of action, regardless.

2. The Stool Pigeon
Read The Stool Pigeon (Review) Here!
Watch this film on Netflix Streaming!
The Stool Pigeon is a mixture of Infernal Affairs, Heat, and a pinch of Fast and Furious. It's a suspenseful undercover film with thrilling action and chase sequences and breathtaking climax.

1. Infernal Affairs 
Read Infernal Affairs (Review) Here!
The film that inspired The Departed, Infernal Affairs is an incredibly engaging and stupendously suspenseful undercover cop thriller. Every scene is masterfully crafted for maximum effectiveness. It's short runtime, fast pace, and deep story make this a fantastic time-killer.

What are your favorite Chinese crime films? Leave a comment and let me know, I'm always looking for something to watch. And, if you like this list, please share it on Facebook, Twitter, and all that social media stuff. (click the button in the gray rectangle below.)

Want more of my lists? Try one of these:
Top 10 Best Thai Horror Movies
Top 10 Best Chinese Movies on Netflix

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Film Review: Out of the Furnace (2013)

Out of the Furnace (Review)
United States/2013
Format Viewed For Review: Blu-ray (20th Century Fox)
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...Out of the Furnace is one of the most overlooked and underappreciated films of 2013."

Hardworking and honest Russell Baze (Christian Bale) spirals into a criminal underworld, led by the vicious Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson), when his younger brother, Rodney Baze (Casey Affleck), goes missing...

Out of the Furnace follows Russell Baze and his brother. From the beginning, we're introduced into their lifestyles and their relationship. Russell is hardworking and honest, while Rodney looks towards the fast track, regardless of the danger. Russell works as much as possible in the mill to provide for himself and his brother, while Rodney gambles and sees a startup in underground fighting. Unfortunately, and not until the middle of the movie or so, Rodney gets into a messy deal with the psychopathic Harlan DeGroat and his gang up in the mountains -- a place with its own justice system and out of the certain jurisdictions. The second half of the film follows Russell as he tries to piece together the event of his brother's disappearance and as he attempts to confront DeGroat with his own brand of justice. The conclusion is setup perfectly to leave you on the edge of your seat.

Out of the Furnace is a character study disguised as a thriller. The characters are carefully developed through dialogue and action, especially Russell and Rodney. And, as the film progresses, both characters evolve -- some great character arcs. It also helps that the characters feel so real and relatable; I know the performers aren't part of the lower working class, but the characters they embody are very honest and recognizable. Don't let the term "character study" scare you, though, Out of the Furnace offers much more, as well. There is great tension amongst the characters that's developed through dialogue and performance, and that's a fantastic accomplishments. The tension is often dreadful and masterfully developed, creating a dense and immersive atmosphere. I'm not a film student or a professional film critic, but I like to call it "action dialogue" as it creates a sense of action and thrill through, well, dialogue. The story occasionally feels compressed, though, as there are many significant events, especially during the first 30 minutes, and the film weighs in at a light hour and 50 minutes.

The entire cast is magnificent. Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, and Woody Harrelson are outstanding showstoppers with their fantastic performances. Willem Dafoe and Forest Whitaker play smaller roles but offer great support. Next to Prisoners, Out of the Furnace is one of the best acted films of 2013. The music is superb in creating both a distinct identity and great emotion -- whether it be somber or tense, the music amplifies the feelings of the film greatly. The film is beautifully shot, as well, capturing a great setting and mood. Director Scott Cooper helms Out of the Furnace and delivers a multilayered thriller with great character depth; he also pulls so much out of the superb cast.

Overall, Out of the Furnace is a fantastic thriller. The film's focus on character help amplify the tension and thrills tenfold, and create a more effective film overall. It's incredibly entertaining, technically superb, and magnificently performed. There is some compression during the first 30 minutes, since it has so much to tell, but it's not too detrimental to the experience. Considering it's mediocre box office draw and decent critical reception, Out of the Furnace is one of the most overlooked and underappreciated films of 2013.

Score: 9/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Film Review: Empire of Silver (2009)

Empire of Silver (Review)
China/2009
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Streaming
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"This Empire of Silver is more like an Empire of Bronze."

The story of the Wall Street of China. The carefree third son, known as the Third Master (Aaron Kwok), of a banking clan must adopt the family's business when tragedy strikes the family...

Empire of Silver continues to focus on the trials and tribulations of the Third Master. He's not greedy and can see the suffering in the poor, and the banking business often conflicts with his beliefs. He doesn't want his father to mold him in his image, but he wants to please and respect his family. At the same time, the Third Son has love for his stepmother, and the feelings are mutual. It is a lot of information to digest -- too much, in fact, for its short runtime; a longer runtime would give the plot and characters more time to flourish, but, unfortunately, neither do. Empire of Silver also has a decent yet underwhelming ending.

Empire of Silver is a sprawling historical epic. It has so much it wants to tell, but so little time. The story and storytelling are convoluted, as well. It drops you into the middle, then jumps from location to location, situation to situation, with odd flashbacks that do little to differentiate themselves from the main plot; the unnecessary narration wasn't helpful, and it felt out of place, especially at the end. The story never really focuses on one issue at one time, it's all over the place. I'm not extremely familiar with Chinese history, but, if this is an authentic piece, Empire of Silver does offer some interesting information through its plot.

Furthermore, although the Third Master is the main focus of the story, he really isn't focused on. His character is underdeveloped, despite being the only character with a character arc. The love subplot also feels underdeveloped and bland; it becomes more of a burden when couple with the already complicated main plot. With the little character and unnecessary subplot, Empire of Silver feels further diluted. It is disappointing considering the masterful crafting of the world; it feels authentic thanks to the wonderful set and costume design.

Aaron Kwok take the lead with a mixed performance -- occasionally spot on, Kwok is too often over-dramatic, as well as bland with his performance; he's usually very charismatic with his performances, like Floating City and 2000 AD, but he missed the mark this time around. The music is great, the sounds are familiar, but mesmerizing, nonetheless. The cinematography is beautiful, even better when coupled with the elegant setting and costumes. According to IMDB, this is Christina Yao's directorial debut; unfortunately, despite crafting a wonderful world, there is a lack of efficient direction -- there is no graspable plot, focus, or character, and it's muddled by odd editing and a pointless subplot.

Overall, Empire of Silver is a merely decent historical epic. It is somewhat informative and moderately entertaining, but fails to deliver the goods -- when you hear "historical epic" you want something with life and plenty of information, and this film has neither. This interesting plot is poorly executed due to inefficient direction and poor writing, as well as a barely decent performance from the usually outstanding Aaron Kwok. This Empire of Silver is more like an Empire of Bronze.

Score: 5/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood, sex and nudity.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Film Review: A Night in the Woods (2012)

A Night in the Woods (Review)
United Kingdom/2012
Format Viewed For Review: Amazon Prime
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: Yes

"I'd rather spend a night in Aokigahara – Japan's infamous suicide forest – then spend another night in these woods."

Brody (Scoot McNairy), his girlfriend Kerry (Anna Skellern), and her cousin Leo (Andrew Hawley) go on a camping trip on the legendary grounds of The Huntsman, a folklore urban legend who carves crosses into the foreheads of sinners...

The first half of A Night in the Woods can be explained as pointless camping videos. Some would argue it's character and plot development, I would argue otherwise. So, to save you sometime and considering nothing remotely horrifying happens, let me explain the first 45 or so minutes: the group arrive in the woods and setup camp, smoke some weed and tell a campfire tale; it turns out, Kerry actually disguised her ex-boyfriend as her cousin to bring him on the trip, and Brody also suspects foul play; Brody continues to be insecure, the cheating Kerry plays the victim whenever she's confronted about it, and Leo turns out to be a creeper. Eventually, they all end up separated, and that's the first half. Now, the next 40 minutes is your typical found-footage horror where a character runs around the woods from something she can't see. The ending looks like it's heading somewhere, but ends abruptly – a terrible ending for a terrible film.

Okay, so nothing happens during the first half, and the second half resembles horror – I emphasize resembles because it was never actually frightening. Some time after the 45 minute mark, you get a loud noise scare. Then, you get some running and heavy breathing, a break, some more running, some silence, and another jump-scare. Suspense is at a minimal. The jump-scares may be effective depending on how high you have your volume. These are very loud jump-scares – and I mean VERY loud – I didn't find them scary, though, they were more like obnoxious and cheap. On that note, the characters are annoying and obnoxious, as well, which makes this film even harder to get through. You absolutely cannot root for any of the characters. I mean, you want me to root for the blatant and cowardly cheater, the insecure, cowardly cameraman, or the obnoxiously loud douchebag?

The acting is as boring and bland as it gets. The cast are playing some generic characters that do not demand any skill. Scoot McNairy was decent, but the final act has him shouting obnoxiously. Anna Skellern plays the most annoying character in the film; at least she confirms the myth, though: women can be douchebags. And, Andrew Hawley plays a douchebag, too. Not a single performance is demanding or original, you've seen these performances in other films if you've watched any other found-footage horror films. I like the setting, and it was captured decently; and, when they weren't running, the camerawork was a little better than the usual. Director and writer Richard Parry delivers a carbon copy of the last man's found-footage horror film; not a shred of originality, or even a shred of horror, to be found.

Overall, A Night in the Woods is a bad horror film. It's generic, cliché, and even obnoxious. There is very little horror in this film, aside from the weak jump-scares. It doesn't even use it's urban legend effectively. The first 45 minutes are a waste of time, and, if you want suspense or actual terror, the second half fails to deliver. I'd rather spend a night in Aokigahara – Japan's infamous suicide forest –
then spend another night in these woods.

Score: 2/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Film Review: Fast and Furious 6 (2013)

Fast and Furious 6 (Review)
United States/2013
Format Viewed For Review: Blu-ray
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...if you love Blockbuster action, this film delivers tenfold..."

After a successful $100 million heist, Dom (Vin Diesel), Brian (Paul Walker) and the rest of the family come out of retirement to aid Secret Service agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) in capturing an international criminal.

Fast and Furious 6 follows a similar formula to the previous installment. Dom and the crew witness the strength of this elusive and dangerous international criminal, and begin planning their own assault. In exchange, the family will receive full pardons and information on a long lost friend, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez). It boils down to this: big action sequence, more planning, some humor, big action sequence, rinse and repeat. Some plot points, especially with the Letty subplot, may have you rolling your eyes, like "oh, how convenient." There is one surprising twist, but it's only surprising because it comes out of nowhere, which is easy to implement. The actual ending is bittersweet, and the in-credits scene is promising.

Fast and Furious 6 has an interesting enough story, but the action is the main dish. The action is taken up another notch from the last film with bigger, more explosive set pieces; most scenes are breathtakingly unbelievable, like having adrenaline injected straight into your veins. This series has never exactly been an authentic, super realistic action franchise, but this installment pushes the boundaries; the action is so over-top, your eyes may be stuck in the back of your head from all of the eye rolling. (Call a doctor!) Anyway, the point is: if you love Blockbuster action, this film delivers tenfold, just remember to turn off your brain for two hours, no one wants to hear about how that's not possible.

Dwayne Johnson, Vin Disel, and Paul Walker are charisma-hounds, especially Johnson. These are the stars of the film with action-star presence and charisma. The rest of the cast returns, and they are a likable bunch, as usual. Gina Carano is a new addition; she's perfectly fit for the action sequences, but she's bland and wooden otherwise, she has one facial expression throughout the entire film; fortunately, she has the best "exit". As for the other technical aspects, the film has blockbuster productions; fantastic action choreography, great cinematography and camerawork, and a booming, epic score. Justin Lin does a great job as director, as well, despite being more of the same.

Overall, Fast and Furious 6 is almost everything action fans want. It's an explosive, thrilling action film from beginning to end, with some genuine humor and a charming cast. Some of the plot points were dull, like its unnecessary twist and one performance is boring and disappointing, though. As a side note, the franchise won't be the same without Paul Walker, unfortunately. (RIP)

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood.

Friday, March 14, 2014

TV Review: Hannibal (Season 1)

Hannibal (Season 1) (Review)
United States/2013
Format Viewed For Review: Amazon Prime
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: Yes

"...the insanity was successfully transmitted to the audience."

Gifted criminal profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) is recruited by Special Agent-in-Charge Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) to investigate the disappearance of eight young girls. When Crawford worries for Graham during the investigation, Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) is recruited to aid and supervise Graham... unknowing of Lecter's own literal taste for blood...

The season continues to follow Graham, Lecter, and Crawford as they investigate other serial killers. Graham has a special gift of being able to recreate the design of the serial killers; he goes into the head of the serial killer, but also lets them into his own. Throughout every case, Lecter sees this as an opportunity to manipulate and push Graham, while using his deep insight to commit his own heinous murders. The cases this group investigates are mostly disturbing and unexpected, like turning victims into angels by tearing and hanging their backs from a ceiling or cutting a victim open while he is still awake and slowly pulling out his organs. It's a deep, psychological slow-burn leading to a great finale – devastating and chilling, and promising for the future of the series.

As far as specific episodes go, I though the first and second episodes were incredible – a great hook for the show. The season does slow down a bit during the third and fourth episodes, but they offered enough to keep me invested. Afterward, the show picks right up with a shocker, and continues to disturb the audience with the cases and the psychological aspects; the psyhocological aspects build-up well over time, as well, making it really effective. In fact, the psychological aspects are so well done, the grasp of reality felt distorted for both the characters on screen, and even as the audience – the insanity was successfully transmitted to the audience. (no, I'm not really crazy.) The fourth episode, titled “Œuf” was really the weakest link, in retrospect; it's an episode, or more like a case, that you'd expect from Law and Order – not something that's necessarily bad, but it felt out of place.

I liked the focus on character. Every character in the main cast gets fully developed over time, and it makes it much more effective show. In fact, the main cast was likable, in general. However, some characters, like Abigail Hobbs (Kacey Rohl), were written very stereotypically; she's a bland teenage character who's dialogue consist of: “I'm so different now, I'll never be the same. No one understands me. Like I'm so different, like OMG.” (that's not a literal translation or transcript, but you get it.) Also, you have Freddie Lounds (Lara Jean Chorostecki) the intrusive and obnoxious tabloid journalist; I mean, really, TV seems to make journalist the most annoying people on the planet.

The performances are excellent. Hugh Dancy is fantastic as the lead character. Laurence Fishburne is also great, especially when things get heated. Kacey Rohl was serviceable; her character may have been lazily written, and she has one of those cliché drug performances (you know, like when people act drunk and it's so cheesy), and she overacts quite a bit, but she's mostly serviceable. Lara Jean Chorostecki plays the sleazy journalist very well – the performance you love to hate. But, the real show stealer is Mads Mikkelsen who plays the titular character with fantastic charisma and charm – a more than worthy successor for Anthony Hopkins. Otherwise, the show is technically well made. The cinematography is fantastic, the music is ominous and creepy, and the writing is fresh and creative. It's better than most movies, nowadays.

Overall, I can't recommend Hannibal enough. Fans of the films will appreciate the psychological aspects the most; in fact, I think most audiences will love the psychological slow-burn in Hannibal. Fans of crime series, particularly those who can tolerate graphic violence, will find themselves entrenched in a fascinating and daring series. Definitely a must-watch show.

Score: 9/10
Parental Guide: Strong graphic violence and blood, and gore.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Film Review: Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon (2013)

Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon (Review)
China/2013
Format Viewed For Review: Blu-ray (Well Go USA)
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"I liked all of the action sequences..."

After several warships are obliterated by a sea dragon, young detective Dee (Mark Chao) arrives at the Imperial Capital to become an officer of the law only to find traces of another sea monster haunting the city...

Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon follows detective Dee, the competitive detective Yuchi (Feng Shaofeng), and former prison doctor turned Dee's assistant Shatuo (Lin Gengxin) as they set out to find the sea monster who's oddly attracted to the courtesan, Yin (Angelababy). Their investigation consists of interrogation, old friends and resources, and quick wits. They're able to link both creatures -- the sea monster of the city and the suspected beast that attacked the ships -- to one mastermind criminal with sinister plans. Filled with slick and stylish action sequences, the lengthy Young Detective Dee eventually reaches a satisfying conclusion -- the mystery is solved, but it's never really effective -- I've seen more surprising resolutions in episodes of Law & Order and Scooby-Doo.

Young Detective Dee is a mystery-action film. A great mystery makes you want to take a notepad out and participate, a good mystery keeps you wondering and engaged but not fully invested -- Young Detective Dee is the latter. I wanted to see where it was going, but the mystery never really felt like a mystery. The story is interesting enough, as is the mystery, though, and it has plenty of action and some humor to keep you hooked. The action is very fast -- fast movements and different styles of combat, like swordplay and martial arts. And, I liked all of the action sequences, especially the final action sequences. What I didn't like about Young Detective Dee was the complicated introduction; also, the first act of the film feels sloppy, it has a lack of consistency and flow; some of the odd and cheesy editing choices also make it feel Direct-to-TV.

Mark Chao is a capable actor, but lacks charisma for such a quick-witted character. Feng Shaofeng is also great in his role. The cast was generally great. The set and costume design were beautiful, but the cinematography, which isn't half bad, didn't really let them shine. The special effects range from fantastic to mediocre; up-close and when it's blended with live-action sequences is when the computer effects look bad; from afar, the special effects can match with some blockbusters. Tsui Hark is great in capturing the action, but the film lacks effective direction and vision during the first act.

Overall, Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon is a very good action-mystery film. The action is mostly fantastic and creative, and the mystery offers enough to keep you interested -- it won't blow your mind or shock you, but it'll keep you, at the very least, interested. It just falls short of greatness, but it's worth watching.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Some strong violence and blood.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Film Review: Rurouni Kenshin (2012)

Rurouni Kenshin (Review)
Japan/2012
Format Viewed For Review: Blu-ray (Deltamac HK)
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...plenty of story to enjoy and even more fast-paced action..."

After the Battle of Toba-Fushimi, expertly skilled Hitokiri Battōsai abandons his sword for the life of a wanderer. A decade later, the former Battōsai, now calling himself Himura Kenshin (Takeru Satoh), wanders rural Japan offering help and aid through the use of his reverse-blade sword...

First, I'm not at all familiar with the source material -- I've heard of the manga beforehand, but I've never actually read it -- so, please bare with me if I mess anything up. Rurouni Kenshin starts with a lot of information to digest, and it continues like this for a bulk of the film. The story follows Kenshin, who has vowed never to kill again, as he helps Kamiya Kaoru, who runs her late father's dojo. Meanwhile, Takani Megumi escapes from the drug lord, Takeda Kanryū, who has forced her to make opium. Their paths cross when Kanryū wants and forcefully attempts to take Kaoru's dojo, where Megumi has secretly found refuge. Kenshin is willing to protect them, but he will not kill. But, certain actions from Kanryū may lead Kenshin to kill once more. It all leads to an action-packed third act and a fantastic ending.

Rurouni Kenshin has a very interesting and entertaining story. And it will keep you hooked considering how much you have to digest. In fact, I skipped quite a few plot points for the sake of keeping this review as short as possible. Regardless, there's plenty of story to enjoy and even more fast-paced action; there are plenty of quick sword fights, with great speed and skill. The final act features a great variety of action, including fist fights and sword fights, 1 on 1 and 2 vs dozens. And, there are plenty of fights throughout the story to keep you further engaged. The story itself is great, and it's even a bit on the meaningful side; Kenshin is explored deeply, and the fight of morality is evident. I did feel like the story was a bit compressed, though. There are certain characters, like Jin-e and Sanosuke, who barely get the light of day, but feel like they should've had much strong roles, especially considering their use in the ending. It feels like the plot skimped on some significant character development. Rurouni Kenshin is one of those films that's already on the lengthy side, but it would've benefitted from a longer run time.

The whole cast is fantastic. Takeru Satoh is great as the titular character, he has a strong screen presence and he has plenty of charm. The production values are very high, with incredible set designs and costumes. These are further amplified by the beautiful cinematography and slick camerawork. The musical score is also fantastic, fitting the setting -- it really helps create some thrilling and epic action sequences, as well. The action choreography is fresh and creative; the action is really different from the traditional samurai movies, and it feels refreshing. The English subtitles for the Hong Kong Blu-ray are great -- grammatical and spelling issues are kept at a minimal and never hinder the experience. Director Keishi Ōtomo captures the manga/anime mood without sacrificing any film qualities; although the plot feels compressed, you can see he fits as much as possible into the film, and the action sequences are also superbly directed.

Overall, Rurouni Kenshin is a fantastic samurai film. The story is engaging and entertaining, the action is fantastic, the style is distinct and refreshing, and it even manages to deliver some subtly strong messages. I did wish it delved deeper into some of the characters it introduced, though, the story does ultimately feel compressed.

Score: 9/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Film Review: Kidnapper (2010)

Kidnapper (Review)
Singapore/2010
Format Viewed For Review: Amazon Prime Instant
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: Yes

"...an adrenaline rush many blockbuster films can't offer nowadays."

Ah Huat (Christopher Lee), a taxi driver, is a working class father with a close-knit relationship with his son. One day, his son is mistaken for the son of a wealthy, rich man and he is subsequently kidnapped...
 
Kidnapper continues as Ah Huat races to save his son. The kidnapper doesn't care about his mistake, and he demands $1 million from Ah Huat within 36 hours. Everyday he doesn't deliver the money, the kidnapper will send Ah Huat a bottle of his son's blood. The lengths Ah Huat goes to make the money is powerful -- it really shows his love for his son. But, it's not enough, and the plot thickens when an unexpected third party enters the dilemma. There are plenty of twists and turns to keep you on the edge, although many are plot contrivances, and it offers plenty of surprises. The ending of the film is bittersweet -- like many foreign thrillers, Kidnapper doesn't sugarcoat its subject.

Kidnapper is a dark, ferociously paced thriller. It goes from 0 to 60 almost immediately, and continues to move at this pace up to the end. This is one of those thrillers that just doesn't lose its momentum. It's a dark film about a dark subject, and it really creates some genuine emotion, especially for parents. It's a thrill ride, but not exactly a happy amusement park ride. In other words, I enjoyed the plot, I enjoyed the dark atmosphere, as well -- it didn't sugarcoat the subject, it felt real. However, there are many plot contrivances -- you know, those oh so convenient moments that make you roll your eyes. They make for some thrilling and emotional moments, but they're clearly lazily written. Also, there's this divorce subplot, which adds very little to the film, and could've been developed much better, Otherwise, if you can get past that, you're in for an adrenaline rush many blockbuster films can't offer nowadays.

Christopher Lee delivers a fantastic performance -- you see him as a genuine, caring father and as a frustrated, angry father, but a very real father, in any case. The rest of the case is great, including the child stars. The music fits the genre -- nothing particularly outstanding, but it helped build the mood and get the heart pumping. The film is also shot competently. Director Kelvin Tong builds a tense and suspenseful thriller with such a simple brilliance; no need for guns, explosions, or epic car chases, just genuine suspense and tension through plot and performances.

Overall, Kidnapper is a thrilling kidnapping film. One of the best simple adrenaline rushes I've had in a while, and one memorable experience. It's clearly not without flaws, though, like the plot contrivances and one useless subplot, but it's entertaining, nonetheless.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, including violence towards children.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Film Review: All Is Lost (2013)

All Is Lost (Review)
United States/2013
Format Viewed For Review: Blu-ray (Lionsgate)
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...a barebones survival film."

In the Indian Sea, a man (Robert Redford) begins his fight for survival after his boat hits a stray shipping container snowballing into a series of misfortune...

All Is Lost is a fairly simple narrative. The world's most unluckiest man, who remains nameless throughout, struggles to survive in the middle of the Indian Sea. Beginning immediately with his ship clashing with a shipping container, his ship is aesthetically damaged, and most of his electronic equipment is sabotaged; his week gets worse as he faces a ferocious storm immediately after repairing his boat. But, he triumphs over the storm and continues his fight for survival by salvaging his boat and any supplies before departing into his inflatable life raft. From there on, the battle for survival continues in the same vain until it finally reaches its conclusion -- a rather disappointing ending to be honest.

All Is Lost is a barebones survival film. The plot is paper thin, and the dialogue is extremely limited. If you've seen any survival films in your lifetime, All Is Lost will feel very familiar -- that's because it is. All Is Lost plays out exactly how you'd expect it to without any surprises or innovations. By its own standard, All Is Lost is an interesting enough film to keep you, well, interested. All Is Lost offers several set prices, usually massive storms, that keep you on the edge with pure thrills and suspense, and even terror in some cases; the rest of the film focuses on the main character's survival. Unfortunately, it feels very uneventful and drawn out; it helps develop the character in a masterfully subtle and often ambiguous manner, but it really slows down an already slow film -- it almost becomes dreadfully slow paced -- I mean, you don't have to show every frame of the man changing clothes, shaving, eating, writing every single word without narration, and so on.

Robert Redford is great and holds the show on his own; he has very subtle characteristics and develops an honest character without much dialogue -- an impressive performance. The stunts, which were mostly performed by Redford, are breathtaking. In fact, the storms and the choreography of these set prices is wonderful. The film is beautifully captured, the cinematography is magnificent. The score is also mesmerizing in amplifying the emotion; although it's often not used at all or used subtly, the score was very effective. J. C. Chandor is a great director and writer, but the film feels stretched out and unfocused.

Overall, I liked All is Lost. I really did enjoy it. Redford is fantastic, and it is technically masterfully made. But, it's often uneventful, it often moves at a dreadfully slow pace, and it suffers from the "been there done that" curse, consequently making this hour and forty minute feature feel like a two hour thirty minute film. In other words, this would've been much better as a short film, or at least a shorter film.

Score: 6/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Top 10 Best Thai Horror Movies

Asian horror has delivered some of the most iconic films of all time. If you're a fan of Asian horror, you know about Ringu and its technology scare, Ju-on and its spooky visuals and sounds, and Whispering Corridors and its classic setting. And, there are so many more – some just as known and some a bit more obscure. But, as Japan and South Korea sizzle down, delivering crud like Sadako or Dark Forest respectively, Thailand steps up with some of the best horror films of the last decade. Here's a list of my favorites so far. (keep in mind, I haven't watched them all, I'm still trying to get my hands on Alone and the first Phobia, which look promising.)

10. The Sisters 
Read The Sisters (Review) Here!
This is a flawed horror film. Why is it one the list of the best? Well, The Sisters features one of my favorite scenes in the genre: the air duct ghost introduction, which was incredibly satisfying and memorable. The rest of the film also continues to offer more creepy visuals, but nothing like the air duct scene.

9. The Unborn Child 
Read The Unborn Child (Review) Here!
The Unborn Child is another a flawed horror film. The story is generic, and it sometimes lacks the most important ingredient: THE HORROR! But, it has some redeeming elements in some surprisingly chilling visuals.

8. The Screen at Kamchanod 
Read The Screen at Kamchanod (Review) Here!
A scary film that's lacking in story. The story is unnecessarily confusing and often dull, but this movie will try to scare you the entire way through. It delivers nonstop horror.

7. Bangkok Haunted 
Read Bangkok Haunted (Review) Here!
This is a good horror anthology. It has one great story, one good story, and one mediocre story, so I average the whole film to simply being good. The storytelling is often confusing, and it sometimes lacks horror, but it has a great horror atmosphere and I'm a sucker for horror anthologies.

6. Long Weekend (aka Thongsook 13)
Read Long Weekend (Review) Here!
Long Weekend is a homage to classic horror films – a satire of sorts, although it does get lost in its own satire elements. The film has slick visuals and plenty of terror, including suspense, jump-scares, and gore. Definitely a fun film for the weekend.

5. Laddaland 
Read Laddaland (Review) Here!
Laddaland is your simple haunted house plot, but with a little more focus on character, making the horror much more effective. If you love a consistent horror film, this film will throw it all at you for its complete runtime.

4. 9-9-81 
Read 9-9-81 (Review) Here!
This is a horror anthology, although it feels more like a compilation. 9-9-81 offers a sad story with many different horror styles, from the jump-scares to the visuals, and it's coated in an ominous atmosphere.

3. The Unseeable 
The Unseeable is a horror film with a classic vibe. It's such a traditional horror film, yet it manages to terrify through its amazing blend of horror – slow-burn, suspense, visuals, and jump-scares – and it impresses through its amazing cinematography and setting
.
2. Phobia 2
Read Phobia 2 (Review) Here!
Phobia 2 is a versatile horror experience. A terrifying anthology of horror with a pinch of laugh-out-loud humor, and a incredibly entertaining film overall. As a big fan of horror anthologies, this is one of my favorites.

1. Shutter
Shutter is likely the most known Thai horror film. Shutter is an atmospheric and creative horror film with a great concept, bone-chilling suspense, and a shocking, unforgettable conclusion – it even had an American remake a few years back.

What are your favorites? I would love some recommendations! Also, if you like the list, please share on Facebook, Twitter, and all the other social media stuff. I really appreciate it, and I'll have another list up in two weeks, as I usually do. Thanks for reading!

Looking for other good lists? Check out my last two lists:
Top 10 Best Chinese Movies on Netflix
Top 10 Best South Korean Movies on Amazon Prime Streaming

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Film Review: The White Storm (2013)

The White Storm (Review)
China/2013
Format Viewed For Review: Blu-ray (Universe Laser HK)
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"I'd measure it up near Hard Boiled..."

The lifelong relationship of a Hong Kong narcotics team comprised of the captain, Ma Ho-tin (Sean Lau), a dedicated and loyal cop, Cheung Tsz-wai (Nick Cheung), and an undercover cop, So Kin-chow (Louis Koo), is strained when they target drug dealing warlord Eight Faced Buddha (Lo Hoi-pang).

The White Storm follows Tin, Wai, and Chow as they continue to pursue Eight Faced Buddha in Thailand. Keep in mind, Eight Faced Buddha is an incredibly elusive warlord -- and as a warlord, he has a large army and supply of weaponry behind him. On top of that, Tin has heavy choices on his shoulder regarding undercover cop Chow, who wants out, and the optimistic Wai, who wants to keep everything friendly. Can the trio take down a drug warlord while keeping their brotherhood in tact? The plot keeps you surprised with unexpected twists and turns at every corner; I was genuinely surprised less than an hour into the film. This explosive action blockbuster leads to a superb action sequence -- the ending is a bit cheesy, but it works out.

The White Storm is a mixture of some Infernal Affairs, like the undercover aspects, and plenty of Hard Boiled, like the blazing shootouts and trembling explosions. What we get is a very consistent action film blending edge-of-your-seat suspense with exhilarating firefights; remember, their target is a warlord, so expect huge action set pieces; also, aside from shootouts, there are plenty of chase scenes and fist fights, as well as pure suspense from dialogue, to keep you on the edge. The story features some cheesy moments and some blatant attempts at creating sentimentality between characters, but I felt like they ultimately worked out for the film. The fantastic action and the above elements made the film feel like a refreshing throwback to 90s actions films. The plot is something we've seen before, but its something that has life this time around.

Sean Lau, Nick Cheung, and Louis Koo are fantastic as the lead trio. Each actor delivers a strong performance, regardless of clichés, and the cast share genuine, believable chemistry. Treechada Malayaporn stars in this film, as well, my only complaint was her (or his?) voice was really screechy; it even looked like it was dubbed. The cinematography is superb; the film looks absolutely beautiful with amazing use of vivid colors and lighting, as well as engaging camerawork. The soundtrack is also well-fitter, ranging from epic to sentimental. The action choreography is fantastic, as well. Director Benny Chan has created a mesmerizing action film, keeping me hooked from beginning to end.

Overall, The White Storm is an exhilarating blockbuster action film. This is a film that keeps you on the edge throughout, either through its many superb action sequences or its suspenseful dialogue exchanges. It's a fantastic throwback to the classic action films from the good ole days, and I'd measure it up near Hard Boiled in terms of entertainment and technical skill.

Score: 9/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Film Review: Rigor Mortis (2013)

Rigor Mortis (Review)
China/2013
Format Viewed For Review: Blu-ray (Deltamac HK)
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"Rigor Mortis is elegantly terrifying..."

Chin Siu-ho (Chin Siu-ho), a washed up actor at the end of his career, moves into apartment 2440 in a public housing apartment complex where his attempted suicide is disrupted by the supernatural...

Rigor Mortis continues as Chin Siu-ho gets familiar with the building and the other tenants. Although he doesn't believe in the supernatural, the other tenants do and some have a history with such a subject. For example, the former tenant of 2440 has been haunted by the room since her husband, who was a tutor, attacked his twin students... which lead to bloody consequences. At the same time, a seemingly honest and likable tenant seems to be messing with black magic to revive the dead. Although he's not technically a vampire hunter, Siu-ho harnesses his movie skills and teams up with a fellow vampire hunter to cleanse the haunted building. The ending of the film is ambiguous yet haunting -- it may not automatically click with the audience, but I really enjoyed the sense of ambiguity.

Rigor Mortis is a very effective horror film. Based on Chinese folklore and blended with elements of Japanese horror, Rigor Mortis is an intriguing and insightful horror film. There are a few effective jump-scares and plenty of tension, but this film excels more at using its stunning visuals to horrify. Rigor Mortis is elegantly terrifying, where every scene is absolutely beautiful yet haunting; the vampire and ghosts/spirits are creepy and ominous, and their movements are mesmerizing. I really haven't seen a horror film reach this level of beauty. It's a slow-burn film, but it is also moderately paced -- I felt like it ended quickly as I was hooked from beginning to end. The plot focuses on character, including the building, and reaches some unexpected emotional depths. Oddly enough, Rigor Mortis feels like a very effective throwback to 80s and 90s horror much like The White Storm, which I also loved, was for 80s and 90s action.

Chin Siu-ho is apparently playing himself in this film, and he does a fantastic job with a powerful and believable performance -- never hitting too high or too low. The rest of the cast is on par. The cinematography and camerawork is beautiful; the film is absolutely stunning with elegant visuals of terror; the use of vivid, colorful lighting was also wonderful. The set designs are also beautifully crafted with great attention to detail. Rigor Mortis is pure eye candy, so sweet you may get diabetes of the eyes. There is quite a bit slow-motion, but it works well for the film and the visuals. The score is fantastic and well-fitted for the genre, its music I wouldn't mind listening to without the film. Director Juno Mak is a true visionary -- he carefully and elegantly crafts a mesmerizing horror film, going back to the old days without completely sacrificing contemporary characteristics.

Overall, Rigor Mortis is a masterpiece from debut director Juno Mak. It's a beautiful horror film that will be unbelievably attractive to fans of the culture and the folklore, and even to those who are simply interested -- this film will satisfy this interest tenfold. Don't miss this film, it's a gem.

Score: 10/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, some gore, and a brief rape scene. (the scene lasts a minute and consists of thrusting; not graphic, but you can definitely see what's going on.)

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Film Review: The Haunting of Helena (2012)

The Haunting of Helena (Review)
Italy/2012
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Streaming
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"Usually stupidity and plot contrivances can be excusable ... but these were laughably bad."

A single mother, Sophia (Harriet MacMasters-Green), moves into a new home with her daughter, Helena (Sabrina Jolie Perez). After her first tooth falls out, Helena is haunted by the tooth fairy...

The Haunting of Helena mainly follows Sophia as she tries to find out the sinister history of their new home and as she tries to save her daughter -- that's about it. The plot is very thin and inconsistent, and filled with clichés and tropes from other films; in fact, it feels more like a compilation of the director's favorite clichés, if you can believe that, rather than a full standalone film. The inconsistencies in the plot come from the storytelling; for example, a scene will present an issue, continue into a jump-scare, abruptly end, fading out into black, then a new scene starts completely ignoring the significance of the last. This repetitive formula continues up to the end. The ending itself had a nice surprise regarding our haunting tooth fairy, but it was also underwhelming.

I found it odd that despite the film being titled The Haunting of Helena, the story focuses much more on Sophia and her haunting. In fact, sometimes Helena is simply a backdrop for Sophia. Also, there are some really stupid scenes in this film. Usually stupidity and plot contrivances can be excusable, especially in horror film, but these were laughably bad. There's a scene where Sophia and Helena are running away from The Tooth Fairy but a piano is blocking the hallway horizontally; instead of easily climbing over the piano, Sophia tries to squeeze through a microscopic crack on the side; I almost died of laughter. These often hilarious scenes also riddle the film's plot.

As for the horror in the film, The Haunting of Helena is almost solely reliant on loud noise jump-scares. Only a few of these jump-scares are accompanied by effective suspense, so most are duds. The Tooth Fairy has a creepy design, and the first time you see her is great, but she is underutilized in this form. In fact, it shines most when it focuses on its eerie visuals, but the film would rather throw countless jump-scares at the audience than build a creepy atmosphere. Unfortunately, any little bit of horror this film offers can't redeem the story and the other flaws it has.

Harriet MacMasters-Green takes the lead with a serviceable performance. Most of the time she's okay, but when the performance demands emotion, she fumbles into bad territory. In fact, anytime her character scream, a stock scream is used instead! (you've hears it before, the female version of the Wilhelm scream.) Sabrina Jolie Perez isn't all great, either, often wooden and boring, but she has more promise than Harriet. I initially enjoyed the music, until I noticed it becoming repetitive. The film is shot well, though, and I enjoyed the cinematography and camerawork as it helps develop some style -- it's a saving grace for the film. Some of the special effects are surprisingly great, really better than most horror films. Director Christian Bisceglia fails to deliver a comprehensible plot and also fails to conjure any horror.

Overall, The Haunting of Helena is a bad horror movie. It has some decent jump-scares and some spooky visuals, and it moves at a fast enough pace, but the plot is terrible and the lead actress is barely mediocre. If you want something with better jump-scares, a more consistent story about The Tooth Fairy, and generally a funner film, I recommend Darkness Falls.

Score: 3/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Film Review: Resolution (2012)

Resolution (Review)
United States/2012 
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Streaming
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"I enjoyed the trip, but was disappointed at the destination."

Michael Danube (Peter Cilella), a graphic designer from the city, visits his former best friend, Chris Daniels (Vinny Curran), a junkie, back at his hometown with the intention to save him...

Resolution follows Michael as he visits Chris at a run-down house where he has been smoking crack, shooting at birds, and working on a novel with a stray dog. Chris refuses to go to rehab, so Michael knocks Chris out and cuffs him to forcefully stop his addiction. Michael's own sanity is tested when he continues to find different types of media that is telling a story. Who's leaving this content behind? Is it all in their heads? The film follows this path of mystery until it reaches an intense climax, but fails to deliver a satisfying ending -- understandable and open-for-interpretation, but unnecessarily ambiguous and unfulfilling.

Resolution plays more like a slow-burn psychological mystery than a horror film, which is what it is categorized as by the distributors. The story moves at a slow yet engaging pace, and keeps you wondering from beginning to end. There are some spots where the film lost its grip on me, but it would eventually capture my full attention again and again. The story seemed to lack some focus and clarity, especially during the end. I enjoyed the trip, but was disappointed at the destination. As for horror, it wasn't particularly frightening in any sense; it wasn't psychologically scarring or a jump-scare gallery, it really wasn't scary at all.

The acting is competent enough. Peter Cilella is good as the lead, but lacked screen presence and charisma, a bit bland. Vinny Curran delivers a mediocre performance, partly due to his actual performance and the writing; he's not a believable addict, every line involves the word "crack" as if addicts actually speak that way. (Michael: "Want some coffee?" Chris: "Does it have any crack?" and so on.) The film is nicely shot, the camerawork was a bit sloppy, though. The direction is consistent, and the writing, for the most part, is great. Not really much to discuss on the technical side of the film, though.

Overall, Resolution is a great film with an ill-fitted resolution. I believe I understand what it's trying to get at, but it just doesn't really sit well. The mystery and psychological aspects, the slow-burn, and the first two acts of the story are great, but the finale is too ambitious for its own good; the two lead actors are barely decent, as well.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood, and some drug use.