Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Film Review: G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013)

G.I. Joe: Retaliation (Review)
United States/2013
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: Yes

"...you should probably turn the brain off for two hours and enjoy the explosions and visuals."

The Joes are framed for stealing nuclear warheads by Mystique Zartan, who is impersonating the President of the United States, and subsequently killed off...

G.I. Joe: Retaliation follows the survivors of the attack, Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson) and two other Joes, as well as Snake Eyes, as they try to find out why they were framed and avenge their fallen comrades. They have to gather any resources available and work with anyone who will help, like General Joe Colton (Bruce Willis). As expected, it turns out Cobra Commander is behind the attacks and has this sinister plot for world domination, so they have to stop him. Oh, and Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee) seeks revenge for the past. It's a really predictable and cheesy story; in fact, the ending was the definition of corny -- I'm not sure if that was purposely or otherwise, but it was cooorny!

G.I. Joe: Retaliation has some great action sequences, but a lackluster story. Great shootouts, cool gadgets, booming explosions around every corner, sweet swordfights, and so on. But, the story was just mediocre. It's a very basic plot to takeover the world, and its spreads to almost two hours. Despite great charisma from leading man Dwayne Johnson, the characters aren't all that great, either. Any attempts at comedy that weren't from Colton fell flat, too. I'm not familiar with the source material, so it really doesn't have the opportunity to benefit from nostalgia. If you're not a fan of the source material or characters, you should probably turn the brain off for two hours and enjoy the explosions and visuals. At least the pacing was decent -- some spots felt a bit slow, but the action moved at a ferocious pace.

Dwayne Johnson is as charismatic as ever with a likable performance. Byung-hun Lee also stands out with the most demanding performance of them all. Bruce Willis adds some life to the movie with some actually humorous dialogue. The visual effects were great. The music was oddly fitted -- might as well have added some Linkin Park. Technically, it's a standard Hollywood blockbuster action movie. Director Jon M. Chu, who has directed TWO Justin Bieber movies (FYI), takes a page from Michael Bay's playbook -- really, this could pass for a Michael Bay film.

Overall, G.I. Joe: Retaliation has some great action sequences, but a bad story. The story is easily forgettable, the humor mostly falls flat, the characters are bland, and it has a few clichés and a whole lot of corniness. The action is satisfying enough to justify at least one viewing -- rent or stream it on Netflix.

Score: 5/10
Parental Guide: Violence and some blood.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Film Review: The Dinosaur Project (2012)

The Dinosaur Project (Review)
United Kingdom/2012
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...the first two acts are actually decent... the third act slips into a different genre..."

After several reports and eyewitness accounts of the so-called Mokele Mbembe, a mythical creature, a group of explorers and cameramen set out into the Congo to confirm its existence...

The Dinosaur Project follows this group, mainly expedition leader Jonathan Marchant (Richard Dillane) and his son Luke (Matthew Kane), as they record their experience -- this is a found-footage film. Anyway, Jonathan and the group set out into the Congo via helicopter with Luke somehow hiding in the storage since he wasn't invited on the trip. The helicopter crashes and the group must find a way to survive until they find a safe way out or until rescue arrives. Well, it turns out there are some dinosaurs in the area, some innocent and some lethal, which adds to their adventure. The third acts loses some steam and becomes a huge cliché, and the ending leaves unanswered questions.

The Dinosaur Project is an interesting premise with decent execution. First and foremost, the found-footage style adds little to the film. On one hand, it makes it distinct from films like Jurassic Park. On the other hand, it adopts many of the found-footage flaws we've grown to hate; the many cuts, the shaky cam, the malfunctioning cam, the blurry or lost footage, the "too dark to see" footage, and all the bad stuff. Also adopted from the genre: the stupid and annoying characters. Luke is supposed to a technology genius, but his actions are illogical, irrational, and downright stupid. There's another character who comes off as annoying, as well, and he's also responsible for sabotaging the ending. Piggybacking off of that, the final act loses its momentum and becomes dull. It also leads into a different genre; the typical serial-killer/slasher genre many modern horror films slip into.

However, the story itself and some of the execution was surprisingly decent. The Dinosaur Project often feels like an exhilarating adventure, there are moments where I had a nostalgic-like feeling, like the first time I saw Jurassic Park. There are some moments where it feels like a genuine adventure with suspense and tension, and a feeling of discovery. I'd say the first two acts are actually decent with its use of these elements. Like I said, the third act slips into a different genre, but the first two really kept me hooked despite the dreaded found-footage style.

By found-footage standards, the acting was good. Despite disliking many of the characters, Richard Dillane and Matthew Kane do well as the leads. Peter Brooke was good, too, but he's completely off during the final act. The computer effects were surprisingly great; from the cover, the film looks like it was produced by The Asylum, but it has better production values than that. The art style was also great, the film often looked... beautiful? I feel odd saying it, but I thought it often looked amazing. Director Sid Bennett's biggest flaws are using the found-footage style ineffectively, and failing to end the film is a more satisfying way; otherwise, the film develops a great sense of adventure for the bulk of its short runtime.

Overall, The Dinosaur Project is a good SciFi/Adventure film. It feels like a genuine adventure during most of its runtime; but, the found-footage style is unnecessary and detrimental, and the final act is mediocre at best. I love Jurassic Park, I though Dino Crisis was great, and The Dinosaur Project is simply good; if you're the same for the first two, maybe you'll find something good in The Dinosaur Project.

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

Monday, April 28, 2014

Film Review: The Grandmaster (2013)

The Grandmaster (Review)
China/2013
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"The story is large in scale, but miniscule in detail..."

The story of legendary Wing Chun grandmaster Ip Man's (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) life from the 1930s to the early 1950s.

The Grandmaster continues by chronicling Ip Man's rivalry with Gong Er (Zhang Ziyi) -- daughter of a northern martial arts master -- the Japanese invasion and its impact on his life and family, his transition to Hong Kong, and more. Aside from a few aspects of his life, for the most part, The Grandmaster treads familiar grounds for fans of Ip Man films. The story is large in scale, but miniscule in detail, gleefully gliding over the major events of Ip Man's life. A highly-stylized bout here, some details about what's going in his life, another fight, and so on. The Grandmaster leads to a surprisingly expected ending -- who would've thought it would end with Bruce Lee?

First, you should know I watched The Weinstein Company cut of the film, which is the version available on Netflix Instant and cuts about 20 minutes -- I have no idea if the other versions are better. Anyway, The Grandmaster suffers from a classic problem: too much story, too little time. It's a film that wants to tell you two decades worth of Ip Man's life and teachings in less than two hours. Furthermore, the latter half of the film completely abandons Ip Man for large detour regarding Gong Er; in fact, the focus is so strong on Gong Er's pointless subplot, I actually forgot I was watching a movie about Ip Man for a moment; it's not to say the subplot is terrible, but it offers very little relevance to the main plot. Really, the film should be called "The Grandmasters With A Special Appearance by Ip Man" -- emphasis on the plural -- as it doesn't really care to develop Ip Man. Or, maybe it should be called "Gong Er: Guest Starring Ip Man." I can sit here for days coming up with better suited alternate title, but the point is: it doesn't focus on Ip Man, so why not call it what it is?

Aside from these issues, the story also features some convoluted storytelling, it occasionally feels uneventful, and it has one too many music videos. The highlights for the film are the breathtaking visuals, the beautiful and well-fitted music, and the superb action choreography. There quite a few superb fight sequences in the film, and they are very stylized. The slow-motion can be a bit too overwhelming at times, but it is the one thing in the film that helps differentiate it from others based on the same content. If it weren't for the slow-motion and creative fight choreography, you'd have a montage of all the other Ip Man films.

Tony Leung Chiu-Wai does well as the martial arts icon; he really embodies the character, and he is physically capable. Zhang Ziyi is also great, a very powerful and stern performance in both her character and action. The acting, in general, was superb. The cinematography is stunning; The Grandmaster is one of the best looking films of 2013 next to Only God Forgives. The music is also perfect in creating the world were immersed in. The costumes were beautiful, very elegant and accurate. Wong Kar-wai crafts a beautiful film, an audiovisual masterpiece, but a severely disjointed and unfocussed story.

Overall, The Grandmaster is a good film. But if you've seen the first two Ip Man films and the two spinoffs, this film offers noting new regarding the martial arts icon. The fight sequences are superb, but the frame is poorly constructed. As previously stated, it's difficult to even call this an Ip Man film. Furthermore, I'd call it the art house version of Ip Man -- you can decide how much weight that holds.

Score: 6/10
Parental Guide: Violence and blood.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Wishmaster In Retrospect

First and foremost, the basic concept of Wishmaster remained unchanged for all four films in the series. So, let me explain this once fresh turned stale and cheesy concept all at once. The Djinn – basically an evil genie – is unwittingly unleashed from a gem, he must grant three wishes to the person who summoned him, then he can unleash his brethren on Earth and cause chaos. I loved it's originality the first time around, but imagine watching the same formula four times... yeah, it gets stale.

The original Wishmaster, produced by Wes Craven, is by far the best installment. The introduction and ending to the film are very gory sequences where chaos reigns – probably the most memorable introduction and finale in the horror genre. The story in between isn't bad, either, with plenty of gory death sequences to keep the film alive (ironically). The lead actress was mediocre, as are most lead actresses in the series, but this film features plenty of cameos from some of horror's most regarded icons.

The second installment of the series, Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies, changes the formula a bit. The Djinn ends up in prison and, only for this installment, has to capture 1000 souls and grant three wishes to the person who summoned him. This film features some gory sequences and some memorable scenes, but due to the heavy presence of cheesy comedy and poor one-liners, the film comes off as ineffective. I didn't absolute hate the film, but I didn't like it, either.

Wishmaster 3: Beyond The Gates of Hell was the worst installment. This film lacks both horror and humor, and adds a cheesy good versus evil subplot. In this film, Saint Michael the Archangel is summoned to fight the evil Djinn, and they literally fight – I mean, they have a sword fight. The film goes to hell (but not really) with a bizarre chase scene – ripped straight out of Terminator 2 – and an abrupt and poor ending. I said it lacked humor, but you'll probably laugh out loud at the poor quality of this installment.

Finally, Wishmaster 4: The Prophecy Fulfilled promises something great off its title: Hell on Earth. Really, the title itself tells you the prophecy will be fulfilled. But... it isn't! The film should have been titled The Prophecy Almost Fulfilled. You see, as the final wish is made, the Djinn is forced to make his summoner fall in love with him! Sounds like the plot of a bad romantic comedy, right? This film probably features the best acting, excluding the first, and there are some redeeming special effects.

Overall, there isn't a viable reason to watch anything except the first film. Every film after the great first installment comes off as a poorly executed cash grab. I loved the concept of the first film, but after watching the rest of the series, I kind of dislike it. The last two films leave a terrible taste in your mouth, and it's unfortunate and disappointing. I guess the point is to warn you: Watch and love the first film, and don't spoil it by watching the rest.

Anyway, what did you think of the series, if you've seen it? Do you like it? Am I too harsh? Let me know by leaving a comment, and thanks for reading! I really appreciate it!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Film Review: Wishmaster 4: The Prophecy Fulfilled (2002)

Wishmaster 4: The Prophecy Fulfilled (Review)
United States/2002
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Streaming
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: Yes

"...it should be called Wishmaster 4: The Prophecy Almost Fulfilled..."

As her relationship crumbles and in the midst of a lawsuit concerning her paraplegic boyfriend, Lisa (Tara Spencer-Nairn) unwittingly unleashes the evil Djinn, who needs to grant three wishes for his summoner in order to unleash his evil brethren...

Wishmaster 4: The Prophecy Fulfilled is the same formula as the three previous films. The film begins with Lisa and her boyfriend moving into their new home together -- this plays out like a pointless and dragged out music video, though. Then, it leaps forward three full years where Lisa's boyfriend is now a paraplegic due to an accident, and Lisa is fighting his legal battle with a lawyer who has a crush on her. Anyway, the Djinn awakens and takes the body of the lawyer. The same formula occurs for the first half of the film until, unexpectedly, Lisa makes the third wish! A first for the series! Oh, but nothing actually happens... The second half follows the Djinn as he tries to fulfill the last wish, so he has to make Lisa fall in love with him. (A horror film, or a romantic comedy?) The ending of the film was mediocre -- unfulfilling and abrupt.

Wishmaster 4: The Prophecy Fulfilled was almost a decent film. The first half of the film was the same old formula, so you know what to expect, but then there's the promise of the prophecy being fulfilled -- this really got me excited -- is hell really about to break loose? Unfortunately, it should be called Wishmaster 4: The Prophecy Almost Fulfilled cause it falls flat on any potential and *spoiler alert* the prophecy isn't fulfilled. The concept is flawed, the story is boring, and the horror is nonexistent. Honestly, it feels much more like a romantic drama than a horror film. There are some gory death sequences, but the rest of the film is bland and almost pointless. And, like the previous film, there's that whole subplot of an Angel spawning to fight the Djinn in some cheesy sword fight.
Hey, at least this may have the best acting in the series -- not really saying much, but it's something.

Tara Spencer-Nairn is serviceable for her performance -- her shouting and screaming reeks out of place, though. Michael Trucco, who plays the lawyer, is also decent. The special effects and makeup are also good, but they are underutilized -- there's not much gore in this film. Everything else -- the cinematography, the music, etc. -- is simply serviceable. Director Chris Angel fails to deliver any horror or even a decent plot -- he just didn't do the series or cast any justice, delivering a cheap cash-in. Writer John Benjamin Martin is also to blame for such an inconsistent story.

Overall, Wishmaster 4: The Prophecy Fulfilled is almost as bad as it's predecessor, and worst than the second and first films. This entry offers a bit of a twist to the formula, but that ends up failing anyway. The acting is decent and there are two death sequences that were solid, but everything else was bad. If you've seen the first, you've seen them all -- and, you don't shouldn't put yourself through anything after the mediocre second entry.

Score: 3/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and gore, sex and nudity.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Film Review: Wishmaster 3: Beyond The Gates of Hell (2001)

Wishmaster 3: Beyond The Gates of Hell (Review)
United States/2001
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Streaming
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: Yes

"...no suspense, no jump-scares, and barely any gore."

College student Diana Collins (A.J. Cook) unwittingly unleashes the evil Djinn, who takes the body of her professor, Barash (Jason Connery), to wreck havoc and unleash hell on Earth...

Wishmaster 3: Beyond The Gates of Hell is practically the same as the last two films. The evil Djinn is once again unleashed, and, in order to unleash hell on Earth, he must get the person who summoned him to make three wishes. (In the second film, he also had to gather 1001 souls, but I guess that doesn't matter anymore?) Anyway, Diana Collins runs around campus telling her friends about the Djinn and studying and having those visions of death... you know, the same thing that happened in the last two films. However, this story becomes much cheesier towards the third act when Diana summons Saint Michael the Archangel to fight for her (and, he has that "cool voice" from that Jake and Amir Episode.) The ending was quick, ridiculous, and terrible -- the worst of the series so far.

Wishmaster 3: Beyond The Gates of Hell is a waste of time, especially if you've seen the first two installments -- in fact, it's even a waste of time if you've only seen the first film. This movie tells the same story, but replaces the characters and settings. The lead character is still bland and boring, due to both the writing and performance; the setting had potential, but it's completely ignored. Unlike the second film, this film has little comedy -- a few attempts at "witty" one-liners that fall flat, but it never tries to be as funny as the second installment did. And, unlike the second film, Wishmaster 3 lacks every single factor of horror possible -- no suspense, no jump-scares, and barely any gore. There are two death sequences that were decent, but the rest were terrible. And, the final act is unbearably cheesy, cringe-worthy Direct-to-TV, SciFi-channel-a-few-years-ago bad. Come on, there's a high speed chase ripped from Terminator 2, a battle between the Djinn and Saint Michael, and a few explosions.

A.J. Cook is bad whenever the role demanded more than a boring blonde student -- she's probably the most tolerable lead so far in the series, but she's still bad. Jason Connery lacks screen presence and charisma for the role, as well. The rest of the cast is equally mediocre. The music is bad, it doesn't match the horror mood at all -- which might've been done purposefully since the film lacks horror to begin with. The special effects are mediocre -- vomiting blood is basically the worst the film gets. The Wishmaster appears in his true form only for a few minutes -- he looks and sounds more like an alien than a demon, which is bad. Director Chris Angel really doesn't direct anything as there is a severe lack of efficient direction -- the acting is bad, the concept is poorly executed due to the story being a mess, and there is zero horror to be found -- what was he doing?

Overall, Wishmaster 3: Beyond The Gates of Hell is the worst film in the series so far. It's the same tired concept that once glowed with originality but butchered by an incompetent filmmaker and studio. Aside from two death sequences and my love for the concept, this film offers absolutely nothing redeeming -- no entertainment and no horror or gore. If you've seen the first two, or even if you've only seen the great first film, I'd recommend staying far away from Beyond The Gates of Hell.

Score: 2/10
Parental Guide: Some strong violence and blood, some gore, some nudity.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Film Review: Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies (1999)

Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies (Review)
United States/1999
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Streaming
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: Yes 

"I love this concept, but the execution this time around is severely flawed."

During the attempted robbery of an art museum, Morgana (Holly Fields) accidentally unleashes the evil Djinn (Andrew Divoff) from the fire opal she attempted to steal...

Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies continues as the Djinn is sent to prison, and Morgana begins to have nightmares of the Djinn's actions. The rules have changed a bit from the first installment: this time around, the Djinn must collect 1001 souls, then have Morgana make three wishes, in order to unleash Hell on Earth. So, the Djinn grants the wishes of his fellow inmates, while Morgana tries to find out what's happening and how to stop it. Really, it's pretty much the first story with half-baked attempts at making it different, and with less gore and horror, and more cheese and attempts at comedy. The ending of the film has a gory sequence reminiscent of the first film's introduction and conclusion, but not nearly as memorable. The rules also change during the ending, I guess the Djinn was trying to stop the same loophole from the first film; but, it still feels cheap, feels like a typical cop-out.

Wishmaster 2 is more like a black comedy with some horror elements, whereas the first film was a gory horror film with dark humor. So, off the bat, expect less gore and more attempts at humor. Unfortunately, I didn't really find this film all too funny. Some of the kills are unexpected and darkly humorous, but those are outnumbered by the boring death sequences. There are some jump-scares, but there is no suspense, so they're ineffective. And, if you want practical gore effects like the first, this installment has one gory scene throughout the film, then a gory ending, but that's about it. The story is the same as the first; I love this concept, but the execution this time around is severely flawed.

The acting is all around mediocre. Much like the first, the leading lady, Holly Fields, is bad; she's b-movie at her best, she's just has no screen presence or actual emotion. Andrew Divoff, who reprises his role, is awkward; he always has that smile on his face, like if it's supposed to be scary or creepy, but it's more like awkward -- looks like a bad Jim Carrey impression. Deebo, you probably know him as Tommy 'Tiny' Lister, makes an appearance, though, but there aren't many cameos this time -- probably due to the lack of Wes Craven. The special effects, practical and computer, are limited; the gory kills, all two of them, are great. Writer and director Jack Sholder is ineffective as both -- really, it feels like a copy-and-paste cash-in.

Overall, Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies is a mediocre horror film. It's occasionally funny, but rarely scary. There is one scene I probably won't forget, maybe two; otherwise, it's a forgettable time-killer. Don't expect much gore, or don't watch the first film, and you might come out impressed. But, if you haven't watched the original, stick to that one.

Score: 4/10
Parental Guide: Some strong violence and gore, some sexual references.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Film Review: Wishmaster (1997)

Wishmaster (Review)
United States/1997
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Streaming
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: Yes

"...a unique concept with great execution, and fantastic special effects."

Alexandra Amberson (Tammy Lauren) unwittingly releases a djinn, an evil genie whose goal is to grant three wishes and unleash his evil brethren across the world, from a jewel she was supposed to appraise...

Wishmaster continues as the djinn is released, killing one of Alexandra's friends. Alexandra doesn't know all of the details, so she conducts her own research on the jewel, while the djinn starts wrecking havoc. The djinn can only use his unlimited power when a wish is made, and, fortunately, he can easily persuade his victims into telling him their desires; it's a bit too easy for the djinn, and it can be seen as a plot contrivance. Anyway, the djinn has to get Alexandra to make three wishes; if she makes the wishes, the djinn can release hell on Earth; if she doesn't make three wishes, she'll be tormented by the deaths of the djinn's victims. Like its introduction, Wishmaster ends with a fantastic, gory set piece; the ending itself feels like a bit of a cop-out, it's not really playing by its own rules.

Wishmaster is a gory 90s horror film. The concept is creative, interesting, and very entertaining -- it's a breath of fresh air. Fortunately, the execution is also great. The story focused on both Alexandra and the djinn, and gives some insight on these powerful demon-like genies. The story is neatly packaged and very well paced, too. The convenient plot contrivances may hold more weigh for others, but they didn't bother me much. Although it has plenty of loud-noise scares, Wishmaster's main attraction is its practical gore effects. The introduction and ending have plenty of gore, with some disturbing visuals and "wow" moments. The in-between also features some very interesting kills, or rather wishes, that show off the special effects.

The biggest detriment for Wishmaster is its leading actress. Tammy Lauren is mediocre during most of her performance, but she often delivers terrible scenes -- she's either serviceably bland, or ridiculously over-the-top. Her character has scenes where she has visions of the djinn's victims, so she yells and yells; the overacting is so exaggerated, these scenes are laughably bad. However, the bulk of the cast consists of great cameos, especially for horror fans, so not all is lost. The special effects and makeup are the next highlight; these effects are spectacular for fans of old-school gore, delivering some cringe-worthy death sequences. The computer effects are mediocre, but it's a film from the 90s, so I can't fault it, especially since its not used much. Aside from those terrible shouting scenes, director Robert Kurtzman delivers a fresh and creative horror film.

Overall, Wishmaster is a great horror film. It's a unique concept with great execution, and fantastic special effects. It's fast paced and very entertaining. Leading lady Tammy Lauren is bad, but the cameos are awesome. Definitely check this film out, it's one of my favorites from the 90s.

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

Friday, April 18, 2014

Top 10 Best Japanese Movies on Netflix Instant

Top 10 Best Japanese Movies on Netflix Instant
I've only recently started getting deeply into the Japanese film industry, maybe the past year or two. Sure, I've seen dozens of Japanese anime movies (I like to think of myself as one of the first to celebrate #MiyazakiMondays) and plenty of Japanese horror films, but I really hadn't seen what Japan really had to offer. As usual, I have to thank Netflix for helping in breaking another barrier, and now I want to help you. Here's my list of the best Japanese movies on Netflix Instant.

10. Ju-on: The Grudge
Read Ju-on: The Grudge (Review) Here!
Watch it on Netflix!
Likely the most iconic horror film from Japan and the most recognized name on this list, Ju-on: The Grudge follows a set of characters who are cursed after entering a grudged house. The storytelling is sloppy, but the film delivers terror in so many ways, including a barrage of jump-scares, creepy visuals, and eerie sounds.

9. Time Traveller
Read Time Traveller (Review) Here!
Watch it on Netflix!
Akari must go back in time to 1972 in order to wake her mother from a coma, but lands in 1974 instead. Time Traveller is a very fun and adventurous SciFi film, and it's also very positive and lighthearted.

8. Beyond Outrage
Read Beyond Outrage (Review) Here!
Watch it on Netflix!
A war is being instigated between the East's and West's strongest crime syndicates. Beat Takeshi's sequel just barely topples the original, in my opinion, with a very engaging Yakuza plot, and some very creative violence.

7. When The Last Sword is Drawn
Read When The Last Sword is Drawn (Review) Here!
Watch it on Netflix!
When The Last Sword is Drawn is a character-drive samurai drama. It follows the rivalry between the cold and heartless Saitō Hajime and the shameless but skillful Yoshimura Kanichiro. Thanks to the focus on character, this epic samurai drama becomes a very effective film.

6. Cold Fish
Read Cold Fish (Review) Here!
Watch it on Netflix!
After his daughter is caught stealing, tropical fish shop owner Nobuyuki Syamoto meets Murata, who is in the same trade. However, Murata and his wife share some very bloody secrets. Blending some disturbing serial killer violence and some very dark humor, Cold Fish becomes a very entertaining and unforgettable film. 

5. Tokyo Godfathers
Read Tokyo Godfathers (Review) Here!
Watch it on Netflix!
Tokyo Godfathers follows three homeless people who find a baby in the garbage and decided to find its birth mother. Tokyo Godfathers wasn't what I expected from an anime movie, but I still found it to be extremely entertaining and very compelling -- it has very strong themes of family and hope, and more, that I think anyone can appreciate.

4. Hara-kiri
Watch it on Netflix!
After requesting sacrificial suicide at the house of a powerful lord, Hanshiro is told the cautionary tale of the last man who requested a "bluff suicide". I haven't seen the original, although I plan to, but Takashi Miike still masterfully crafts a beautiful samurai tale.

3. Battle Royale
Watch it on Netflix!
Probably the most well-known on this list, Battle Royale follows a group of students who are forced by their government to kill each other. Battle Royale has a creative concept and slick execution, and it's a film worthy of discussion for more reasons than one.

2. 13 Assassins
Read 13 Assassins (Review) Here!
Watch it on Netflix!
Takashi Miike delivers an epic film following Shimada Shinzaemon as he gathers a elite group of assassins to stop the sadistic brother of the Shogun from gaining higher political power. The climax is unforgettable, and the slow-burn leading to it... is pure satisfaction.

1. Departures
Read Departures (Review) Here!
Watch it on Netflix!
After his orchestra is disbanded, fate leads Daigo towards a new career as a mortician. Departures is a beautiful tribute to life and death, as well as family, and a deeply yet subtly insightful film about Japanese culture.

Thanks for reading. If it missed the list, it either was eliminated to keep the list varied or I haven't seen it. Let me know your favorites in the comment section below. Or tweet them to me @JonathanCA_KMR

Looking for more of my lists? Check out my last two:
Top 10 Best Asian Horror Movies on Netflix Instant
Top 10 Best Chinese Crime Movies

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Film Review: Beyond Outrage (2012)

Beyond Outrage (Review)
Japan/2012
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"Beat Takeshi's direction and performance are spot-on."

As the Sanno-kai transitions into its new leadership, all-out war erupts between East's Sanno and West's Hanabishi crime syndicates...

Beyond Outrage is a sequel to 2010's Outrage; in this case, you should watch the first before watching the sequel as there is a lot going on. The story starts off a bit rough with a lot of information to digest. Eventually, it irons out. The Sanno-kai is still in the process of transitioning power to its new leader, Kato, after the events of the previous film. Meanwhile, the police attempt to instigate a war between the two largest crime syndicated in the East and West, respectively. The cherry on the top is the prison release of Otomo (Beat Takeshi), a former yakuza who may be useful in this war. Much of the film consists of deception, careful planning, then the execution. The film's ending is great -- definitely an extremely satisfying ending for fans of the film.

As I previously stated, you'll be completely lost if you haven't seen the first film; in fact, I recently watched and reviewed the first film and I was even a bit overwhelmed by the plot. The film has so many characters and organizations to memorize, it's just... complicated. Don't fret, though, you'll eventually ease into the film. I really liked the plot, it feels like something is always going on. The dialogue alone makes this feel like an action movie since it's so quick and strong, for lack of a better term. The violence is very creative this time around; it's not extremely graphic, and I don't think it topples the tongue scene in Outrage, but it's more versatile and creative. The use of dark humor is also welcomed -- the dark humor is often hilarious and blends seamlessly with the rest of the film. Ultimately, I think this sequel barely topples the great first installment; its just does almost everything slightly better than the first.

Beat Takeshi is great, he plays the badass yakuza well -- I really enjoy how he keeps his composure throughout most of the performance, really making a believable gangster. Ryo Kase plays Ishihara and his character and performance is the stereotypical "angry Japanese man" -- there is maybe one scene where he isn't shouting. Otherwise, the acting is great. The cinematography is also great, I really enjoyed the different tints in the lighting. The camerawork was also immersive and engaging. The music stood out, very unique for the genre. Beat Takeshi's direction is great, he has mastered the gangster film genre.

Overall, Beyond Outrage is a great gangster film. Beat Takeshi's direction and performance are spot-on. The plot may take a while to iron out, but when it does, you're in for an engaging, entertaining, and even slightly insightful gangster epic. Although I rate both the same score, I think this sequel is a little better than the first film. Oh, and I wanted to make the review a little longer, but I also wanted to keep the spoilers out for those who've only seen the first or haven't seen either.

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

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Film Review: Time Traveller: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2013)

Time Traveller: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (Review)
Japan/2010
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: Yes

"...a very fun, warmhearted adventure..."

After a car accident leaves her mother in a coma, Akari Yoshiyama (Riisa Naka) travels from 2010 to 1972 in order to wake her mother, but lands in 1974 instead...

Time Traveller: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is fairly simple for a SciFi film, especially for a time traveling film. Here's how it goes: Akari uses a liquid her mother created to leap through time. She simply has to drink the liquid and wish for the time she wants to visit; but, Akari incidentally messes it up. So, she ends up in 1974 where she has to look for her mother's first love and give him a message. In the past, she befriends Ryota (Akiyoshi Nakao), an aspiring filmmaker, and they work together to find this elusive young man. A bit longwinded, Time Traveller is a fun, often bizarre SciFi film that leads to an emotionally-effective ending.

A bit of a SciFi-comedy hybrid, Time Traveller is a very fun, warmhearted adventure -- I enjoyed the SciFi, I laughed and smirked at the quirkiness and jokes, and had a great time. It doesn't have as many references to the 70s as expected, but it offers enough to distinguish itself. The time traveling really isn't explained deeply; you can poke some holes here and there, and there are many questions you'd probably like to ask, but it really isn't a problem for this movie. It's more about the adventure; I mean, really, it's great to watch Akari and her new friends trying to find this mysterious man -- and, basically, live life. Akari helps with their film, and they develop a relationship, which makes the film work on more levels than one. Even at two hours, though, it did feel a little longer than expected -- there were a couple of moments were it really wasn't moving.

Riisa Naka is fantastic as the lead -- so much charm and charisma, she's lovable. (she doesn't get points for this, but she's also beautiful!) Akiyoshi Nakao was also great with his quirky and occasionally awkward performance. All in all, I love the enthusiasm in this cast, it really amplifies the fun I was talking about earlier. The score is good, but it doesn't really have a strong presence; the Jpop, on the other hand, has a stronger presence. The film is shot nicely, the special effects were great, too; there's obvious use of green screen, but that added to the quirkiness of the film. Director Masaaki Taniguchi delivers a fun adventure -- a versatile adventure with humor, SciFi, and pure fun -- and with some unexpected emotional depth.

Overall, Time Traveller: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is a great SciFi adventure. If you love bizarre stories that break typical conventions, then this is for you. It is a bit bloated, though, leaving some moments feeling uneventful, and I wish the environment had a bit more personality.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Some partial nudity. (you briefly see the side view of a man taking a bath in a sink.)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Film Review: Departures (2008)

Departures (Review)
Japan/2008
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: Yes

"...a superb tribute to life and death."

After his Tokyo orchestra is disbanded, fate leads cellist Daigo Kobayashi (Masahiro Motoki) back to his hometown where he becomes a nōkansha, or simply a mortician...

Departures follows Daigo as he pursues his new career as a nōkansha, similar to a mortician, or better explained as one who affectionately prepares the dead for burial. Never seeing a corpse prior to, Daigo's new job begins with some understandable queasiness, but as his experience grows, so does his understanding of the job. Also, the job seems to be frowned upon by those from the outside looking in -- this is more evident as his life progresses and we see the reactions of said people. A deeply emotional, effectively meaningful, honest and genuine, and occasionally humorous film, Departures leads to a predictable yet moving ending; I could honestly see it coming from a mile away, but it still managed to hit me harder than most films.

Departures is a superb drama. The themes of life and death, as well as family and fate, are meticulously crafted to be genuine and honest. The film delivers a powerful message regarding what most of us consider taboo -- many of us don't want to take about death, yet this film does so in an honest, genuine, and direct manner. The subject alone is enough to get me thinking deeply, but the character and story ultimately kept me hooked long after the conclusion of the film. There is some humor, as well, which helps create a great consistency in the film; some of it was a little dark and unexpected, but it was actually humorous. Departures is a film with many moments of happiness and sadness -- moments where you'll smile and rejoice, moments where you'll cry -- it's a superb tribute to life and death. Aside from its plot, themes, and messages, I found Departures to be deeply insightful to the Japanese culture; it's a film that allows you to soak up so much, and I honestly appreciate this.

Masahiro Motoki delivers a great performance; a great character arc with many ups and downs, and he's great at capturing these moments. The rest of the cast is great as well. The film is beautifully shot, capturing every with incredibly elegance. The music is superb, Joe Hisaishi, once again, crafts a beautiful score that matches the beauty of the film. Technically speaking, Departures is a masterfully crafted film, overall. Director Yōjirō Takita creates an uncompromising, honest, and reassuring film about life and death; Yōjirō pulls great performances from the cast, and delivers a consistent film.

Overall, Departures is a magnificent film. It's a film that hits on many levels -- it can make you smile, laugh, and cry; it's a film that may even allow you to reflect on your own life, a film that can make you think. At face value, Departures is a fantastic emotional drama; beyond the surface, Departures is a beautiful philosophical look at life and death. And, as I previously stated, Departures is a real crowd pleaser for those interested in different cultures.

Score: 10/10
Parental Guide: Generally a safe film for all audiences. There is one scene with partial nudity, and the

Monday, April 14, 2014

Film Review: When The Last Sword Is Drawn (2003)

When The Last Sword Is Drawn (Review)
Japan/2003
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: Yes

"...leading to a more effective drama."

Late one night, Saitō Hajime (Kōichi Satō) brings his ill grandson to a doctor. When he finds a picture of an old adversary, Saitō begins to reminisce...

When The Last Sword Is Drawn is a story told mainly in flashbacks, particularly set during the fall of the Tokugawa shogunate. Saitō Hajime is a traditional but heartless samurai, while his eventual rival, of sorts, Yoshimura Kanichiro (Kiichi Nakai) is a money-grubbing but emotional and loyal samurai. Yoshimura joins the notorious Shinsengumi clan in order to support his starving family, which explains his money-grubbing personality. But, he still earns respect as a loyal and honorable samurai, and Yoshimura also begins to extend his character onto others. As the pair rise through several conflicts, eventually they face their greatest challenge as the Shogun falls and the Emperor rises. The ending is powerful and very well executed; a bittersweet ending.

Despite a few well choreographed action sequences, When The Last Sword Is Drawn is better defined as a drama and character study. The characters are complex and well developed, leading to a more effective drama. Yoshimura and Saitō are completely different characters and they clash often, but they end up being more alike than expected -- and not in a cheesy or predictable way. I also liked the focus on honor, loyalty, family, and sacrifice. The themes, despite the setting, are relevant and relatable today. And, the few action sequences in this film are well-executed, feeling very authentic and believable. I didn't think it was absolutely perfect, though. The storytelling can be occasionally convoluted. Sometimes it felt like there were flashbacks within flashbacks, which never really sits right with me. I think you can be especially confused if you're not familiar with the setting. I wasn't dumbfounded, but I'd be lying if i said it was user-friendly.

Kiichi Nakai delivers a wonderful performance -- very versatile, often humorous, occasionally emotional. Kōichi Satō also does well as the heartless samurai -- not overplayed, hitting the character just right. I wasn't familiar with most of the cast, but they hit the mark perfectly. The music from Joe Hisaishi is superb -- the score adds to every emotion in the film, whether somber or epic, and everything in between. The cinematography is also fantastic, the film looks beautiful, especially during the snow scenes. The set and costume designs are also beautiful and authentic. Director Yōjirō Takita crafts a wonderful character study, but the film suffers from some minor storytelling flaws.

Overall, When The Last Sword Is Drawn is a great samurai character study. I thoroughly enjoyed this approach and felt it amplified the emotion; it really made the final act much more memorable and effective. However, the amount of story it wants to tell can be overwhelming and the storytelling is somewhat detrimental to the experience. Regardless, it's a film worth watching.

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

Friday, April 11, 2014

Video Game Review: Dino Crisis (DC/PS1/PSP/PSV)

Dino Crisis (DC/PS1/PSP/PSV)
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom
Genre: Survival Horror
Platform Played For Review: PS Vita

This is my first video game review. Let me know if you like it and want more!

A Secret Operation Raid Team (SORT) is assembled to investigate Doctor Edward Kirk, a world-renowned scientist who was reported dead years prior, as he is believed to be leading a secret weapons project in a remote island research facility.

When you land on the remote island, you begin playing as Regina. The story, aside from the above, basically has Regina investigating the seemingly abandoned facility. Going room to room searching for clues while you try to survive the dinosaurs who stalk those very same halls and rooms. The story hooked my in the beginning with a slow but tense introduction, then kept me hooked through the investigation and tough gameplay. It does become a bit repetitive and exhausting towards the end, but the interesting plot points, like the portal and vortex talks, kept me further invested.

This is old-school survival horror gameplay. There is a fixed camera and some stiff character movements; moving the character alone takes some time to get used to, but it eventually comes naturally. It did also adds a bit to the tension. Furthermore, the enemies are tough and pose an actual challenge, and I like this gameplay mechanic. It's more often better to run than to stand your ground, as the survival in this “survival horror” is taken seriously. But, there is a lack of variety, and you'll find yourself fighting the same type of enemy over and over, with slight variants towards the end.

The deserted laboratories and offices are great, but they become a bit repetitive and bland as you progress. The claustrophobic hallways added more challenge to the gameplay. In general, the graphics are great considering the time of release. The character models are blocky, though. The cut scenes look great, and are a great throwback. The voice acting was cheesy, very B-movie; not a bad thing if you like that, but it can be detrimental if you don't.

Overall, I really enjoyed Dino Crisis. Thanks to the great setting and difficult enemies, as well as other factors such as limited ammo and med-kits, Dino Crisis is a tense and fun video game. I played my game on the Playstation Vita and didn't run into any technical flaws or glitches. During my first play-through, I beat the game in 6 hours. If you're going digital, it's only a $6 game on PSN so it's a great deal. There is also a New Game+ mode to bring you back, as well as multiple endings.

Score: 8/10

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Film Review: Frankenstein's Army (2013)

Frankenstein's Army (Review)
United States/Netherlands/2013
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...a wicked concept aimed at having a great time."

After receiving a distress call from a fellow battalion, a group of Russian soldiers stumble upon a seemingly abandoned village... and an army of half-human, half-machine creatures...

Frankenstein's Army follows this battalion of Russian soldiers as they answer the distress call, and as they film their mission -- this is a found-footage film. They end up at this abandoned village and, upon further inspection, find a secret Nazi facility. Apparently, using Dr. Frankenstein's work, the Nazis were creating creatures from different metals and the body parts of their dead comrades -- no need for lightning thanks to generators. There's a little twist in the story, but most of it is basically the soldiers trying to survive this army of monsters. The final act picks up the pace and explains a lot, and features some great chase sequences. I like the ending of the film -- doesn't take itself too seriously, but it's a satisfying ending.

Frankenstein's Army is an interesting concept with great execution. Okay, the found-footage style isn't necessary and can be occasionally detrimental, but it ends up working more than serviceably. Otherwise, the slow buildup to the first monster reveal is great. There are a few jump-scares, none of which are particularly effective, but worth noting. Also, there are a few great chase/escape scenes in this film that create a sense of being surrounded and overwhelmed; they remind me of the first person sequence at the end of the Doom movie. The creatures range from awesome to eerie -- regardless, their nightmarish designs are creative and even frightening -- a genuine highlight for the film. The gore effects are great too, a little cheesy, but a well-appreciated throwback. The story isn't deep or well-developed, but it offers a good enough frame for the fascinating concept. Really, this is more for fans of practical special effects, creature features, and throwback horror films -- it's a film with a wicked concept aimed at having a great time.

The acting was decent; there are no standout performances, or any terrible performances, either. As previously states, the found-footage style makes it hard to see what's going on; it's unfortunate since the style really isn't necessary and I would really like to see these creatures a but more clearly. The practical designs for the creatures are fantastic; it really helps the film develop it's own distinct style, and it really brings you into this insane world. Writer and director Richard Raaphorst crafts a great creature horror film; he develops a fascinating world with amazing creatures, but the found-footage elements feels like nothing more than a useless gimmick.

Overall, Frankenstein's Army is a very good creature feature. The creature and costume design are fantastic -- I really loved this world I was dropped into. The plot isn't fully developed, something felt like it was missing, and the found-footage style hurt the film a bit. Regardless, it's one of the few found-footage horror films worth seeking.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and gore.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Film Review: The Wrath of Vajra (2013)

The Wrath of Vajra (Review)
China/2013
Format Viewed For Review: Blu-ray (Well Go USA)
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...succeeds in delivering consistent, adrenaline-filled action..."

The Temple of Hades, a Japanese death cult, re-emerges to destroy the spirit of China by kidnapping their children and training them to kill for Japan...

The Wrath of Vajra follows former member of the clan, K-29 (Yu Xing), also known as the King of Vajra, as he visits the Hades shrine to rescue to kidnapped children and avenge the brother he lost years ago. In order to do so, K-29 must defeat several master martial artists and his lifelong nemesis. Oh, there are also some prisoners of war who are forced to fight for their freedom, sign to join the Hades, or die. Not really heavy on story, especially considering the one hour-forty five minute runtime, Wrath of Vajra leads to great, highly-stylized fight sequence, and a predictable ending; the "twist" during the final act was predictable, and, for some reason, the film feels the need to explain it during the ending -- as if it needs to cover all holes or answer the questions no one was going to ask.

The Wrath of Vajra has great action, but a mediocre story. First and foremost, the plot takes the easy, lazy, and cliché way by making Japan the super-villain of the film; I know Japan doesn't have the brightest history for the time period, but it just comes off as lazy and overwhelming -- at least make it a challenge or even plausible like Ip Man. Next, the plot fails to explain several major concepts, like Vajra -- is that the main characters name or title? What does it mean in either case? Also, aside from K-29, none of the characters are really explained or developed, even in the slightest, which makes it really hard to care for any of them. Also, there were some conflicting moods where at one pint if feels like a badass, throwback kung fu flick, like when K-29 fights the humongous Tetsumaku, but then it later feels like it wants to be a serious drama.

After so many complaints, though, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't entertained. Wrath of Vajra still managed to keep me hooked from beginning to end, no matter how ineffective or cliché the story was. The forgiving pace and the well-balanced and versatile action helped the film's overall delivery. The action choreography was creative, with some very unique and satisfying action sequences. The use of slow-motion and different zooms also helped the film create a distinct style; it also helped make the fights feel authentic, as if you could feel the force of the different blows. If you can ignore the story's flaws, or if you don't see them as flaws like I do, then Wrath of Vajra is a thrilling and creative action film.

Yu Xing is great in his first leading role -- much like Tiger Chen in Man of Tai Chi, Yu Xing delivers an unexpectedly solid performance with action star charisma. Not all was great in the acting, though. Whenever an actor spoke English, it felt very odd, wooden, and out of place, and I'm talking about the English-speaking cast -- the prisoners of war, in particular. The film is shot nicely, the camerawork stood out; some of it was a little over-edited, but it really wasn't too detrimental or even noticeable. The music was epic, a bit overwhelming, but well-fitted during certain action scenes. Director Wing-cheong Law creates a consistent and entertaining action film, but the story is definitely lacking.

Overall, The Wrath of Vajra fails to deliver a competent story -- it's overall cliché, occasionally boring, a little inconsistent, but, worst of all, it's not at all daring. But, The Wrath of Vajra succeeds in delivering consistent, adrenaline-filled action through creative action choreography and editing; and, it creates a star out of leading man Yu Xing. If you only care about action, this is a gem. If you're looking at the complete picture, The Wrath of Vajra is worth a rental at most.

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

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Film Review: The Gangster (2012)

The Gangster (Review)
Thailand/2012
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Streaming
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...a viciously entertaining crime thriller."

In 1950s Bangkok, friends Jod (Krisada Sukosol Clapp) and Daeng (Somchai Kemglad) are skilled fighters and aspiring gangsters looking to move up in the criminal underworld...

The Gangster mainly follows Jod as he moves up the rankings and becomes a well-known and feared gangster -- inspiring others like him to follow in his path. However, Jod enters an internal conflict as the violence surrounding him increases, and as the rules to the game change. As the gangster population increases, and as the knife era transitions into the firearm era, Jod finds himself facing off against his inner-demons, other gang affiliates, and the country's army. The plot is similar to many "up-and-coming gangster" films, but it still manages to differentiate itself a bit. The ending feels a bit underwhelming and rushed -- there's an entire subplot that works for developing the plot and progression, but comes up shorthanded -- but it is decent and doesn't sugarcoat the subject.

The Gangster is similar to many gangster films we've seen before; off the bat, if you're exhausted by the genre, this film probably shouldn't be at the top of your watch list -- save it for later, when you need your gangster fix. The plot is interesting, though, and the setting helps differentiate it by a small margin. There's plenty of tension, especially during showdowns, a few grizzly fight sequences, and several gunfights. Although some of it looked computer, the film doesn't hold back in terms of blood and violence -- characters usually end up soaked in blood after confrontations. I really enjoyed the main plot and its focus on Jod. The subplot follows a similar pair of aspiring gangsters and it helps push the story and the era shift, but the ending for this plot was shorthanded -- it's not as effective as it thinks it is. Otherwise, if you're looking for a well-paced, grizzly up-and-coming gangster flick, The Gangster delivers.

Krisada Sukosol Clapp is great as the lead; really a fantastic leading man with great emotional depth, both blatant and subtle. Somchai Kemglad shares less screen time, but plays the slick gangster well. The rest of the cast is really great, too, really embodying the rock-and-roll gangster well. The setting really stood out as well developed; although I'm not familiar with the history of Bangkok, the setting felt authentic. The rock music really contributed to the authenticity of the film, as well. Director Kongkiat Khomsiri, who's had his hand in Art of the Devil and it's sequel, plays it safe with a procedural approach to the gangster genre, but delivers a well-paced and balanced film, regardless.

Overall, The Gangster is a viciously entertaining crime thriller. It moves over a large period of time with great focus on it's lead character and his moral and legal troubles. It really had me hooked from beginning to end. The ending felt a little too over-the-top, though, and the subplot also dwindles towards the end.

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

Monday, April 7, 2014

Film Review: 2000 AD (2000)

2000 AD (aka Gong Yuan 2000 AD) (Review)
China/2000
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...fantastic shootouts, a few fluid chase scenes, and some old-fashioned kung-fu."

Peter Li (Aaron Kwok), his girlfriend Janet and her brother Bobby (Daniel Wu) are pulled into a cyber conspiracy when Peter's brother is mysteriously assassinated...

2000 AD focuses on Peter and his friends as they are pulled into a conspiracy being orchestrated by a corrupt CIA agent. It particular focuses on Peter and his quest for the truth and vengeance. The story doesn't really hone in on the fear of a mass cyber attack, and it never really capitalizes on its plot. However, it's many well-executed action sequences and it's interesting concept are enough to keep the film going to a great, albeit abrupt, ending.

2000 AD is basically a brainless popcorn action flick. The plot had promise, but it's never quite fulfilling enough to satisfy that promise. The story really ends up being by-the-books and plays it safe. Regardless, it is interesting and offers a few twists and turns. The characters are also very likable. The action sequences are great, including some fantastic shootouts, a few fluid chase scenes, and some old-fashioned kung-fu. There's also some very effective, warmhearted comedy. All of this blends to create an entertaining experience; although it was released in 2000, the story, the editing, and the direction scream 90s action – and that's a good thing. The oldie special effects, like the obvious computerized blood, isn't so welcomed, though; fortunately, it's not overused.

Aaron Kwok is very charismatic – his character is a bit childish, and Aaron Kwok can't quite hit the deeper emotions (something he is able to do now, like his performance in Floating City) but the performance is very likable. Daniel Wu shares less screen time, but has an equally likable performance – his is based much more in comic relief. The rest of the acting is good. The music is great, I really like the tone it sets. The film is also shot well, especially during action sequences. The editing really creates an old-school Chinese action vibe – it's kind of cheesy, but entertaining. Director Benny Chan creates a great action film, but doesn't really focus on the plot.

Overall, 2000 AD is a fun and enjoyable action film. The action may not reach Hard Boiled status, but it is great on its own terms. It fails to capitalize on the plot, but it is still interesting and offers a great frame for the action and humor. If you have Netflix Streaming, I don't see any reason not to watch it, so check it out for a fun time.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Top 10 Best Asian Horror Movies on Netflix Instant

Top 10 Best Asian Horror Movies on Netflix
The horror genre isn't at the center stage in terms of output and box office, at least in the mainstream. We get plenty of indie, straight-to-DVD and limited release theatrical horror films every year, though. But, how many are fantastic, or at least good? If there is any region we can count on for horror, it's Asia. A few of you out there may immediately think of the long, black-haired ghost, and some of you may be sick of it, but Asia continues to deliver some of the creepiest, most disturbing, and most startling horror films to date. It's also a fantastic distinction from other regions – a breath of fresh air for horror fans. And, many of these gems are available on Netflix Streaming now, so here's my list of the best Asian horror films on Netflix!

10. The Curse of February 29th
Read The Curse of February 29th (Review) Here!
Watch it on Netflix!
A creepy urban legend-like story that follows a tollgate employee who continuously receives bloody tickets during blackouts at her booth – tickets connected to murders at other tollgates. A slow-paced, but creepy horror film definitely worth watching.

9. 23:59
Read 23:59 (Review) Here!
Watch it on Netflix!
Procedural but spooky, this by-the-books supernatural horror film plays out like a traditional campfire ghost story. The ominous atmosphere, subtle and creepy images, and jump-scares are more than enough to warrant a viewing.

8. The Road
Watch it on Netflix!
The Road tells three different stories that interlink – all of the surrounding an ominous road. This spooky tale blends several elements of horror, but the most memorable is its very spooky, spine-tingling visuals and great suspense. Not an anthology per se, but it delivers the same amount of versatile horror you've come to expect from one.

7. Ju-on 2
Read Ju-on 2 (Review) Here!
Watch it on Netflix!
A sequel to one of the most iconic horror films of all time, Ju-on 2 comes just short of matching the first film. The story is a bit difficult to follow, but the spooky visuals, the eerie sounds, and the jolting jump-scares make a return, along with the iconic ghosts.

6. Dumplings
Read Dumplings (Review) Here!
Watch it on Netflix!
This isn't your traditional Asian horror film. Rather, Dumplings delivers a bone-chilling (or bone-crunching) concept with great execution. It follows a retire actress who wants to keep her beauty, so she resorts to eating some dumplings with a special ingredient – unborn fetuses...

5. White: The Melody of the Curse
Read White: The Melody of the Curse (Review) Here!
Watch it on Netflix!
White takes an old ghost story formula and spices it up with a pinch of Kpop. A girl group copies and performs a catchy tune they found in their new studio, which catapults them to stardom. But that tune turns out to have a haunting history... A creative concept, great suspense, surprising jump-scares, and haunting visuals – a real treat for Asian horror fans.

4. Ju-on: The Grudge
Read Ju-on: The Grudge (Review) Here!
Watch it on Netflix!
Not quite the first in the series, Ju-on: The Grudge may be the most iconic Japanese horror film to date. This film follows a group of characters who meet bloody endings after they enter a seemingly normal house; but, the house is haunted by vengeful, meowing, croaking, and bone-popping ghosts...

3. The Host
Watch it on Netflix!
Not to be confused with U.S. film The Host based on the tween novel, The Host is a Korean creature feature following a family attempts to save a young girl from a mutant creature who emerged from the Seoul's River Han. It's technically a fascinating film to watch, and it's equally entertaining.

2. The Unseeable
Watch it on Netflix!
A beautifully-shot horror film with great suspense, a plethora of jolting jump-scares, and a great sense of folklore, The Unseeable is a fantastic Thai film with a familiar yet shocking climax.

1. Hansel and Gretel
Read Hansel and Gretel (Review) Here!
Watch it on Netflix!
A Korean twist on the classic tale of Hansel and Gretel. Lost in the pitch-black woods, Eun-Soo is led by a mysterious girl to an odd house in the middle of the woods. The only problem is an ominous presence in the house and Eun-Soo's inability to leave... Creepy, ominous, beautifully-shot, and incredibly entertaining, Hansel and Gretel is also one of my favorite films of all-time and a must-watch.

What are your favorite Asian horror film? If it's on Netflix and it missed this list, let me know, I'd love to check it out. Oh, and please share this list with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, and your other favorite social media sites. (you can use the buttons in the gray rectangle below.)

Want more of my lists? Check out these:
Top 10 Best Chinese Crime Films
Top 10 Best Thai Horror Films

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Film Review: The Locker 2 (2004)

The Locker 2 (Review)
Japan/2004
Format Viewed For Review: DVD (Geneon Entertainment)
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...more accessible and enjoyable for the typical horror fan than the first installment."

Picking up directly after the event of the first film, Rieka's student, Ayano (Maki Horikita), begins to explore the mysterious locker in Shibuya that is said to grant your loving wish... but is is enchanted or cursed?

The Locker 2 is more of the same. The first twenty minutes of the film move at a very slow pace and setup the new plot -- but it moves at an unnecessarily slow pace and it's filled with flashbacks to the previous film. At about the 20 minute mark, though, the film becomes more of a traditional horror film. Ayano wants to know what happened to Rieka and her friends, as do the doctors that treated them, and they are lead back to an ominous locker. Said to be enchanted and lucky, the locker is actually cursed and causes the users a nightmarish experience. The ending of the film is great -- it's a bit abrupt and a little unfulfilling, but it's also eerie and ominous.

As I previously stated, it really doesn't feel like anything happens during the first twenty minutes other than a recounting of the first film and some setup for this installment. Afterward, the film throws everything it can at the audience: eerie sounds, creepy visuals, jolting jump-scares, and some disturbing violence. It's horror is less atmospheric and less slow-burn, and more mainstream and traditional this time around. So, The Locker 2 feels like it'll be more accessible and enjoyable for the typical horror fan than the first installment. Personally, I did enjoy this type of horror, especially how consistent it is in this film, but found the first film had a longer lasting effect and more proper organization. Regardless, most J-horror fans will feel right at home.

The acting is good. Maki Horikita does very well as the lead -- none of the characters are really fleshed-out, but Horikita does very well, regardless. The music is also great whenever it played, some ominous and lively tunes. The film is shot competently. I like the makeup on the ghost, a bit more original than your typical Asian ghost. There's one scene with some bad computer graphics, fortunately it only lasts a second or two. Kei Horie does well as the director, bring more variety into the horror this time around -- some scenes lacked suspense, though, and it's noticeable because it occasionally feels like nothing is going on.

Overall, The Locker 2 is a very good J-horror film. The first twenty minutes are barely decent due to the flashbacks, but the rest of the film is a consistent and versatile horror ride. And, despite lacking some of the burn of the original, this installment feels more enjoyable and entertaining. It's a great piece of pair with the first as they both offer different types of horror and are based on the same urban legend.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Some violence.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Film Review: The Locker (2004)

The Locker (Review)
Japan/2004
Format Viewed For Review: DVD
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"A very traditional Japanese horror film..."

Coming home from a camping trip, six friends stop by a locally legendary locker said to fulfill the users romantic wishes, but they incidentally unleash a different nightmare...

The Locker mainly follows Rieka (Asami Mizukawa) as the nightmare unfolds. Slowly, her friends begin to disappear after hearing the cries of a baby. When they reappear, they seem out of place or drugged out of their minds. Rieka and her remaining friends from the camping trip then must find out what is haunting them and how to stop it. A very traditional Japanese horror film and an interesting take on a creepy urban legend, The Locker is a short but entertaining movie that leads to a satisfying and promising ending.

There isn't much to discuss about the story. It's a familiar, run of the mill Japanese horror film. The urban legend is interesting -- it could've been explained a bit better or a bit more thoroughly, though, as it was occasionally confusing. Otherwise, the horror in this film consist of eerie audio and creepy visuals, both of which I really enjoyed. There is some light suspense and a few jump-scares, but it's just that -- light. I didn't find it particularly frightening, I won't lose any sleep at night, but I was entertained, especially due to my love for urban legends and Asian ghosts.

The acting was good from the entire cast. Asami Mizukawa stands out with a great performance. Some of the acting is overdone, but that's more of a character trope. The soundtrack wasn't anything special, but it did help create the ominous atmosphere; I do like the rest of the audio, like the baby crying, it really amplifies the overall creepiness. Visually, it's not overwhelming, but the few ghost we do see are great. Director Kei Horie creates a decent horror film -- he doesn't stray far from the J-horror formula, but he creates an entertaining installment in the genre -- not really a distinct style, but he uses it well.

Overall, The Locker is a good Japanese horror film. Those familiar with the region and its output of horror may find themselves exhausted by the similarities to other films; but, if you're not familiar or exhausted by the genre, this is a short and entertaining treat -- a very effective time killer.

Score: 6/10
Parental Guide: Some violence.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Film Review: We Are What We Are (2013)

We Are What We Are (Review)
United States/2013
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...the drama may be good on its own, but it never really compliments the horror."

After the mysterious death of their mother, Rose (Julia Garner) and Iris Parker (Ambyr Childers) are forced to fill her shoes by their controlling father, Frank Parker (Bill Sage), who intends on keeping their family's sinister traditions alive...

We Are What We Are is a film that is likely more effective if you know less before watching -- so, I'll keep the plot details at a minimal. The film mostly follows Rose and Iris, and their family, over the course of a long weekend. Iris, being the oldest, is given the responsibilities of their late mother. And, those responsibilities turn out to be much more sinister than expected. We see how the family operates and soon find out why they are so reclusive and isolated. Meanwhile, a storm begins to flood their town, sending what seem to be human bones downstream, consequently sparking an investigation from the local coroner. We Are What We Are leads to a dark and bloody yet satisfying climax -- an unexpected ending.

We Are What We Are isn't a traditional horror film. Instead, the film is more like a drama-horror hybrid, much like The Exorcist and Bug, but less effective. Despite being a remake of a film I've never seen, the plot is at least original. The first two acts of the film are dramatic and character-based, really working on creating the situation at hand; all in all, it works well as a drama. I think the main issue of the film is it feels so slow but lacks the burn needed to make the pace effective. Also, although the bulk of the film works as a drama, some of it is forgettable and ineffective, almost making it feel a bit uneventful. So, the drama may be good on its own, but it never really compliments the horror. That is, until the final act where the pace builds up, the suspense becomes dreadful, and the climax delivers a devastating blow -- I really enjoyed the ending. I don't think the first two acts really did justice to the final act -- their good, but the buildup, the suspense, and even horror really isn't there.

The acting is great from the entire cast. Bill Sage has a smaller role than expected, but he does the role well and effective; he's a believable recluse and religion fanatic, unlike Julianne Moore laughable performance in the Carrie remake. Ambyr Childers also does well. I think Julia Garner really outshined the rest of the cast with a much more dedicated performance, though; really looks like she put a lot into the role. The cinematography is great, the film looks beautiful. The score is a bit more subtle, but it helps build the ominous atmosphere. Director Jim Mickle does well in creating the drama for the film; but, Mickle fails to blend the genres seamlessly, unfortunately.

Overall, We Are What We Are is a great film, but I do recommend you stray away from spoilers and adjust your expectations a bit. As a drama-horror hybrid, both the drama and horror are effective on their own, but they don't quite blend as well as they could've -- if they did blend well, you'd have a terrifying experience, like The Exorcist or Bug, both masterful horror-drama hybrids in my eyes. A film with few technical flaws, We Are What We Are only really suffers only in failing to exceed those that came before it.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, some sex.