Thursday, July 31, 2014

Anime Review: Knights of Sidonia (Season 1) (TV)

Knights of Sidonia (Review)
Japan/2014
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...an action-packed anime with an engaging and interesting story."

On the brink of extinction, humanity lives on a spaceship called Sidonia and attempt to survive encounters with a deadly alien species called "Gauna."

I'll try to keep the story details short for the sake of this review. Knights of Sidonia follows under-dweller Nagate Tanikaze when he's captured stealing food and brought to mainland Sidonia. Soon thereafter, captain Kobayashi promises guardianship to Tanikaze as long as he becomes a pilot for Sidonia to fight off the Gauna -- of course, Sidonia hasn't been attacked by the Gauna in over 100 years. As you'd expect, Sidonia eventually faces their first encounter and Tanikaze's journey to becoming a Knight of Sidonia begins. There's plenty of action packed into these 12 episodes, as well as some surprisingly effective romance and humor elements. The climax is epic, and the ending leaves you wanting more.

Right off the bat, Knights of Sidonia shares a handful of similarities to an anime I recently reviewed, Attack on Titan. A highly skilled and "special" protagonist, a mysterious enemy who attacks humanity for no apparent reason, 100 years since the last attack... the Gauna even have to be killed in a similar manner. Fortunately, Knights of Sidonia differentiates itself through different action sequences and a greater focus on a specific set of characters. The latter, in turn, I think makes Knights of Sidonia slightly more effective than Attack on Titan, at least during certain moments.

But, enough comparisons, Knights of Sidonia is an action-packed anime with an engaging and interesting story. The story kept me hooked from beginning to end, especially the very interesting background information. In fact, I was so interested in the background story and the characters, I wished the season was longer. Every time an episode ended, I wanted to jump right into the next. The only aspect of the story I didn't like was the cliché rivalry subplot -- fortunately, it's short-lived and actually becomes refreshing during the ending. The action is very fluid and thrilling. The pilots fly out into space in their mechs and weave and dodge through several types of Gauna -- its exciting, fast, edge-of-your-seat style action. If you want loss and emotion, there's plenty of that -- fortunately, the melodramatics are limited.

I watched the Netflix Instant stream, which features both Japanese and English dubs. I opted for the Japanese because it never disappoints. The Japanese voice acting is as genuine and as enthusiastic as ever. I'm not certain because I'm not a huge anime fan, but Knights of Sidonia seems to blend computer and traditional animation for its style, and it doesn't skimp on animation. The series looks amazing with fluid movement and a very vivid use of vibrant colors and amazing particle effects. The music is also fantastic in creating an epic mood and atmosphere. Directors Kobun Shizuno and Hiroyuki Seshita are great in crafting their vision with minimal filler.

Overall, Knights of Sidonia is a fantastic anime. This first season is epic and thrilling, with a balanced blend of character development, action, humor, and some romance -- all of which are very effective. Aside from a few striking similarities, Knights of Sidonia is also original and refreshing. (That may be because I'm just getting back into anime, though.) There was only that one subplot that I didn't like; otherwise, it was an amazing experience.

Score: 9/10
Parental Guide: Violence and blood. Some brief nudity. (you really never see anything "specific", but most characters in this series must be nude for photosynthesis -- I forgot to mention that in the review, but that's how they adapted to stay nourished.)

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

TV Review: True Detective (Season 1) (2013)

True Detective (Season 1) (Review)
United States/2013
Format Viewed For Review: Blu-ray (HBO Home Entertainment)
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...truly fantastic television."

Louisiana state homicide detectives Rustin "Rust" Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Martin "Marty" Hart (Woody Harrelson) hunt a demented serial killer across 17 years.

True Detective intertwines the past and present. In the past, Rust and Marty track an elusive and sadistic serial killer -- their characters clash, often frustratingly and violently, but they get their work done. In the present, a similar case causes two new detectives to interview Rust and Marty about their previous work. The story is overall very atmospheric and dark, in fact getting darker and darker as it progressively spirals into madness. The investigation and mystery is engaging, it really kept me hooked from beginning to end. And, the ending is great, I thought it offered enough closure and closed up most loose ends -- it was even contemplative.

Although I loved the story, I loved the focus on character more. True Detective is a provocative character-driven crime drama. The characters, particularly Rust and Martin, are intricate and complex; they have realistic personalities, whether you like them or not. It's the type of well-developed character where you actually feel like you personally know said character. Furthermore, their relationship is also very well crafted. The standalone characters and their relationship make the story so much more effective; it amplifies what could've been just-another-crime-drama.

The acting is phenomenal. Matthew McConaughey, who I loved in films like Killer Joe, is superb as the pessimistic Rustin "Rust" Cohle. Woody Harrelson is also fantastic, giving McConaughey a run for his money. What I like about most of the acting is that it is very genuine and subtle, it doesn't feel overacted. The cinematography is superb; the series is beautiful despite its horrific subject, and the style is mesmerizing. The music is subtle, blending well with the show. Writer Nic Pizzolatto is superb, as is director Cary Joji Fukunaga; the dialogue really stood out, it really hits you hard.

Overall, I loved True Detective. This is truly fantastic television. The story is dark and engaging, the characters are riveting, the dialogue is provocative and contemplative, and the show is a technical feat. Also, Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson deliver magnificent, must-watch performances. I love crime films like Se7en, Silence of the Lambs, and shows like Hannibal; if you like any of the above, I think you'll love True Detective.

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

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

TV Review: House of Saddam (2008)

House of Saddam (Review)
United States/United Kingdom/2008
Format Viewed For Review: Amazon Prime Instant Video
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: Yes

"Yigal Naor delivers a tour de force performance..."

The ruthless rise and inevitable fall of the President of Iraq, Saddam Hussein (Yigal Naor).

The miniseries goes over several significant events during President Saddam Hussein's reign. It begins in 1979 as Saddam intimidates himself into presidency and cleans house -- that is, brutally executing the suspected traitors and promoting the loyal. It briskly skips to 1988 for the Gulf War after a conflict with Kuwait. Fast forward to 1995 and we have the United Nations' weapon inspection and a cat-and-mouse game. And, finally, the story ends with Saddam's evasive maneuvering and hiding during 2003 as U.S. forces fiercely hunt him.

The main focus of House of Saddam is of course Saddam Hussein, and it mostly succeeds at crafting his character. From what I gather: Saddam Hussein was ruthless, demanding, power-hungry and even deluded. And, it does seem fairly accurate. I wish it had more background information, though. House of Saddam abruptly drops you into Saddam's rise to power with very little buildup. Also, the story seems to be somewhat hollow as it skips over some key events or barely even mentions them. We get four key dates, but there is so much more to this story to be told. This story would've feel more in-depth as a full series, at least ten episodes.

Although Saddam is the main focus, we also get a decent look at Uday and Qusay, Saddam's sons, as well as other members of the family. Again, not all that in-depth, but decent. Thanks to the focus on character and the interesting story, the miniseries works very well as a drama. There's some great dialogue, great tension and suspense, as well as a firefight or two. All in all, it's a very entertaining and honest look at Saddam, his family, and his house. It might not be 100% accurate depending on which side of the fence you stand by, but I think it's as close as a TV show meant to entertain can get.

On the technical side, House of Saddam is great. The cast is all-around magnificent, but you have to hand it to Yigal Naor. Yigal Naor delivers a tour de force performance as the vicious yet charismatic dictator. The cinematography is great, as is the music. It's television that looks and sounds like Hollywood. The writing is fantastic; like I said, although the story is somewhat hollow, the characters and dialogue are very well written and engaging. I can say the same for the direction.

Overall, House of Saddam is a great drama miniseries. The story is very interesting and engaging, the focus on character is refreshing, and the drama works -- I guess that's the best way to put it -- it works. However, the first episode is a bit abrupt and the story can feel hollow overall due to its short length and moderate details. In other words, this could've been better as a full series instead of a miniseries.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Some strong violence and blood.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Film Review: The Raid 2: Berandal (2014)

The Raid 2: Berandal (Review)
Indonesia/2014
Format Viewed For Review: Blu-ray (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...Infernal Affairs meets The Raid."

Surviving SWAT member Rama (Iko Uwais) is sent undercover to weed out major police corruption and take down the major crime families.

The Raid 2 follows Rama immediately after the events of the first film. Rama joins a new task force that takes him undercover for a tough operation: get in, get close, and gather evidence. Of course, Rama's exemplary fighting skills will be used to join a family and partake in the "dirty" work. The film does well in balancing its story, character and action. The superb climax is unforgettable -- a breathtaking achievement in action. The ending, albeit abrupt, leaves me hoping we see at least one more film.

The Raid 2 blends a great crime story with exhilarating and brutal fight scenes to deliver an engaging, balanced, and unbelievably entertaining film. It's kind of like Infernal Affairs meets The Raid. The refreshing focus on story does give us a few more breathers from the action, unlike the original film which is practically nonstop action. However, the focus on story and character makes the film much more effective and balanced. A handful of characters in this film will become iconic because of this focus. Also, the undercover aspects add a new layer of suspense and subtle action.

I'd even argue that despite having a few more breathers than the original, The Raid 2 has just as much action, if not more, than its predecessor. And, the action is scaled up tenfold. Rumbles in the yard, rumbles in the halls, high-speed chases, hammers and baseball bats. The action is simply superb. It's ferocious and exciting, it's action that literally gets your blood pumping. I can go on and on about the action, but that's all I really have to say: it's superb. 

Iko Uwais is not only an incredibly talented martial artist, but a great actor, too. Iko Uwais is as charismatic as he is vicious -- and he's plenty vicious. The rest of the acting is also top-notch -- no complaints. The film is shot very well; thanks to the array of locations, the cinematography gets a chance to shine, and shine it does. The camerawork is very engaging, keeping up with every blow; it can be occasionally nauseating, particularly if you have sensitive eyes, though. The camerawork during the car chase stands out as exemplary. The fight and stunt choreography is magnificent. Writer and director Gareth Evans masterfully crafts a superb blend of crime and martial arts; instead of all-out action, Evans focuses on amplifying its amazing set pieces through an engaging story and memorable characters -- and it works.

Overall, The Raid 2 is a fantastic crime martial arts action movie. The story is engaging and entertaining, the characters are unforgettable, and the direction and writing are superb. The action sequences, though, are fantastic. It's difficult to use words to explain how much I loved the action, so let me try to form a comprehensible yet cliche sentence: The Raid 2 is one of the best actions films of all-time. Don't miss it.

Score: 10/10
Parental Guide: Graphic violence and blood, some nudity and sexual references.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Film Review: The Raid: Redemption (2011)

The Raid: Redemption (Review)
Indonesia/2011
Format Viewed For Review: Blu-ray (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"One of my favorite films of the last decade, action or otherwise."

An elite police squad plans to stealthily infiltrate an apartment block owned by a crime lord. When their plan is foiled, the police must fight to survive.

The Raid: Redemption mostly follows rookie Officer Rama (Iko Uwais) in this simple yet engaging and exciting plot. The police get spotted during their raid and must fight to either escape or complete their mission, which is to arrest the crime lord. Well, the survivors opt to finish what they started. And, this leads to a bloody barrage of fights through several floors of gangsters with martial arts skills, firearms, and machetes. Although every fight offers an unbelievable level of intensity, the climax is truly the most unforgettable. I really enjoyed the simple crime story, and the great ending -- a promising ending for the future of the series.

The Raid: Redemption is a pure action film. The story is interesting and has some minuscule background information -- information that will likely connect to the sequel(s). But, at its core, The Raid: Redemption aims to be all-out action film, and it succeeds. The action sequences are fantastic. Refreshing, exciting, exhilarating, intense, brutal... I can go on and on. And, there are so many amazing scenes. It's practically nonstop action. I loved it. It subtly plants its roots to develop into a deeper crime/martial arts series, yet it focuses on pure action.

Iko Uwais, who also stars in Merantau, is great as the lead; something about him is very human-like and genuine, despite the character being fairly simple. The dark style is great. I also really liked the cinematography. The settings are memorable; I feel like these apartments will become iconic. The music was also great in pumping up the mood. The English subtitles on the U.S. blu-ray are spot-on. Writer and director Gareth Evans masterfully crafts this epic action film; the pacing is ferocious, the action is consistent and versatile, the editing is great, and the story offers enough to hook and tease for the future.

Overall, The Raid: Redemption is an action-packed masterpiece. It's one of the greatest martial arts action films of all-time. I know it sounds overwhelming, but I genuinely loved it. One of my favorite films of the last decade, action or otherwise. If you love martial arts films, especially the fast, contemporary type of martial arts, The Raid: Redemption is for you.

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

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Film Review: Sanctum (2011)

Sanctum (Review)
Australia/2011
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...the sense of adventure is great."

An expedition into Esa'ala Cave, led by master diver Frank McGuire (Richard Roxburgh), becomes a fight for survival when a storm hits.

Sanctum is fairly straightforward and simple. The story follows Frank and company, which includes his son Josh and the expedition bankroller expedition bank-roller Carl Hurley (Ioan Gruffudd), as they attempt to survive and escape these uncharted caves. That includes bickering between father and son, exhilarating swims, and deadly climbing. There really isn't much more to the story, otherwise. Sanctum leads to a decent ending -- the final act has a few genre clichés, but it works out for the ending.

Sanctum, despite its attempts at character and story, is a barebones survival-adventure film. The story is simple, which is both good and bad. On one hand, it's simple and easy to jump into. On other hand, the story feels hollow and uneventful. Also, there are a few problem characters. For example, Josh is excessively self-righteous and Carl's girlfriend, Victoria, is stupid; I was going to be nice and call her ignorant, but she's borderline stupid. (she does the opposite of what she's told all the time.) Fortunately, the sense of adventure is great. It's an exhilarating and exciting battle for survival. Sure, it can feel repetitive, but it's refreshing and lively. I loved this great feeling it invoked.

The acting is decent and mediocre. Richard Roxburgh was decent. Ioan Gruffudd and Alice Parkinson are mediocre. Maybe it was the writing or the delivery, or both, but the dialogue feels unnatural. I watched the 2D version on Netflix, but the film looks like it should be watched in 3D. (i.e. The 3D set pieces stick out like a sore thumb.) Otherwise, I though the film looked great. The music was also fantastic; the music is really helped in building the sense of adventure the film invoked. Director Alister Grierson builds the atmosphere and sense of adventure well; I think the hollow and often generic writing is more to blame for Sanctum's downfalls.

Overall, Sanctum is an exciting adventure film. The film has more than a handful of breathtakingly thrilling scenes. The cinematography and music are also great. However, the story is uneventful, the characters are irrational, the runtime is bloated, and the acting is merely decent. It could've been so much more with better resources and writing. As it is, it's worth watching for thrill seekers.

Score: 6/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood, and very brief nudity.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Film Review: La Ultima Muerte (aka The Last Death) (2012)

La Ultima Muerte (aka The Last Death) (Review)
Mexico/2012
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...engaged from its eerie beginning to its surprising climax."

When a young, amnesia-stricken man (Kuno Becker) stumbles near his cabin, Jaime (Álvaro Guerrero), a doctor, attempts to recover his lost memory.

La Ultima Muerte mainly follows Jaime as he tries to piece together this young man's life. This young nameless man is injured and scarred, but can't remember why. He doesn't have any identification, either. As Jaime gets deeper into the mystery, he realizes he's being followed and he's not safe. The truth is much darker than expected, and the ending is satisfying -- it does feel a bit abrupt, but I did enjoy it.

La Ultima Muerte, also known as The Last Death, is much deeper than I explained. The mystery keeps you engaged from its eerie beginning to its surprising climax. There are twists and turns at every corner -- it keeps you guessing and guessing. There are a few chase scenes to help the pacing, too. And, it all takes place in a cool but subtle SciFi world. There aren't any floating cars or androids, but there is some cool technology and visuals. If you like mystery films and SciFi settings, this slick blend is for you.

Kuno Becker is great as the nameless man, but I think Álvaro Guerrero steals the show. Guerrero is very genuine and even powerful with his performance. The film is often poorly lit, so you can't see what's going on. Other than those few scenes, the film has a slick style and cinematography. The music is great; it really amplifies the thrills and suspense, and also matches the mood and setting. This is a Spanish film, and the English subtitles are great. Director David Ruiz pulls great performances from his cast, and expertly crafts an engaging and mysterious thriller -- it's a mystery that's actually mysterious!

Overall, La Ultima Muerte is a great film. The story is engaging through a great mystery and solid suspense, the performances are impressive, and the film is technically well-made. There are a few minor issues, but fans of mystery-thrillers will find a great film in La Ultima Muerte.

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

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Film Review: Homefront (2013)

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

"...just another action movie."

Former undercover cop Phil Broker (Jason Statham) moves to a small town with his daughter and soon runs into trouble...

Homefront is a simple story. After his daughter fights a bully at school, an angered mother sends her drug dealing brother Gator Bodine (James Franco) to mess with Broker. And, so he does. Eventually, that spirals into more violence as Broker's identity is revealed and used as leverage. That's about it. The film ends as you'll likely expect, although it leaves some room for future installments.

But, I don't think you'll be watching Homefront for its story, or at least not solely for the story. The action, although somewhat limited at times, is exciting and thrilling. You get your signature Jason Statham fighting, which is still thrilling and vicious. You get a few bloody shootouts. And, you get a great chase scene towards the end. There are some tense and suspenseful scenes, too, which are built more off of dialogue than action. The story may be underdeveloped and even disappointing, but the action is great.

Much like Safe and any other movie he stars in, Jason Statham plays Jason Statham -- its the same performance we've seen time and time again. I thought most of the acting was really stale, none of it really felt like the backwoods. However, I thought James Franco was really good. Otherwise, the film looks and sounds like a Hollywood action film. The editing a bit choppy at times, particularly during some of the action scenes. Director Gary Fleder doesn't seem to have a distinct vision, and he doesn't pull much from the cast -- he's barely okay as director. The screenplay by Sylvester Stallone is a little sloppy, too.

Overall, Homefront had great potential to be much more than just another action movie. But, it's just another action movie. Fortunately, the story offered enough to keep me interested and the action was satisfying enough to make me feel like I didn't waste my time. Worth a rental for action or Statham fans.

Score: 6/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, some drug use, and a very brief sex scene. (the sex scene is less than 5 seconds long and you don't see anything.)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Film Review: Wolf Creek 2 (2013)

Wolf Creek 2 (Review)
Australia/2013
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...one of the most exciting horror films in recent memory."

Psychopathic marksman Mick Taylor (John Jarratt) ravages the Australian outback...

Wolf Creek 2 is a really simple horror film. The story begins by introducing Mick Taylor with a mind-blowing sequence. Then, it introduces us to a young German couple backpacking through the outback. After some gruesome fun, we're introduced to a friendly Brit, Paul (Ryan Corr). Regardless of who the story focuses on, the story is basically Mick Taylor trying to kill them. Fortunately, it's well-paced and well-balanced with different "brands" of horror. It leads to a great ending, too.

Getting past the hollow story, Wolf Creek 2 is a gruesome throwback horror film. There's some genuine tension build through dialogue, great suspense during the many chase scenes, and some ridiculous violence. And, it all blends very well to create a consistent and balanced horror film, as previously mentioned. I especially enjoyed the thrilling chases; there's also a pinch of disturbing torture, if you're a fan of that. Mick Taylor is to thanks for the brutality and tension of the film, but we also get to thank him for the black and cheeky humor.

Although none of the characters are particularly in-depth, the acting is good all-around. Ryan Corr does well in showing fear and pain, so that's something. John Jarratt, on the other hand, steals the show with energetic and irreverent performance; a performance you hate to love, but you have to. The music is mostly run-of-the-mill thriller music, but I loved the use of its licensed music. The film also looks great; loved the scenery. The special effects are mostly superb, I loved the gore and makeup; some of looks out of place, though. Director and co-writer Greg McLean may have a weak and hollow story, but he sure knows how to build suspense and execute thrilling set pieces.

Overall, Wolf Creek 2 is a great horror film. In fact, I think it's one of the most exciting horror films in recent memory. It filled to the rim with tension, suspense, thrills, and gore, and it's covered in a throwback style reminiscent of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and other similar classics. Well worth purchasing for those that do not mind a hollow story and horror movie logic.

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

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Film Review: Haze (2005)

Haze (Review)
Japan/2005
Format Viewed For Review: Amazon Prime Instant Video
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: Yes 

"...a film with nightmarish visuals that you can interpret for yourself."

A man (Shinya Tsukamoto) wakes up in a claustrophobic concrete maze and subsequently attempts to escape and recollect the moments prior.

Haze is a very short film, or at least the original 25 minute cut that I viewed for this review is short. So, I'll try to keep the review short. The story follows this nameless man as he moves through this bizarre maze. He experiences nightmarish visions and brutal torture. He attempts to recover his memory and find out why he's trapped. Is he a war prisoner? A victim of a sick pervert? A victim of a cult? What we get is a story and visuals that I believe are open to interpretation -- and I loved that aspect. The ending is very effective and haunting in this manner.

This is far from a traditional Japanese horror film, like Ju-on and Ringu. It's a film that builds an ominous and engaging atmosphere. It's a film with nightmarish visuals that you can interpret for yourself. It's a film with minimal story and character that has more contemplative value than most feature length films nowadays. The maze itself was a little complicated to follow, I don't really think it follows the rules of gravity. It still effectively creates a dreadful claustrophobic feeling, though.

Shinya Tsukamoto is good in showing pain and fear, and his monologues sound genuine and natural. The film is as dark in cinematography as it is in subject-matter. Sometimes it's hard to see what's going on, which is why I got momentarily lost in this maze. Some of the shaky camerawork was also occasionally nauseating. I like the industrial sounds its uses for music; I'm a big fan of Silent Hill, so I love these sounds. Director Shinya Tsukamoto, who also plays the lead, does well in crafting the horror in this film; the focus on atmosphere, visuals, and psychology is refreshing.

Overall, Haze is a great short horror film. The horror is very refreshing, especially for the region. The story and character, despite being minimalistic, are engaging and thought-provoking. It's all-around a very effective horror film. There are some technical aspects I did not like, though. Definitely worth seeking for fans with an open-mind.

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

Monday, July 21, 2014

Film Review: Stitches (2012)

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

"...this one might leave you in stitches."

Six years after being killed at Tom's 10th birthday party, irreverent clown Stitches (Ross Noble) returns from the dead to exact vengeance on Tom (Tommy Knight) and friends.

Stitches is a very simple slasher/black comedy. The story continues to follow Tom during his 16th birthday. Of course, he reluctantly has a big birthday bash when his mother leaves, filled with sex and alcohol, and Stitches eventually shows up. Consequently, Stitches targets and kills any of Tom's friends who attended his 10th birthday party -- most who are partly responsible for Stitches' death. After several gory kills and plenty of wordplay, Stitches ends with a decent ending -- no complaints on my end.

This is by no means a horror film that's supposed to scare you, or at least I didn't think so. It's more of a fun horror film. The over-the-top gore and violence is ridiculous, and a treat for fans of special effects. There isn't a shred of suspense leading to the kills, but the execution is ridiculously funny. The humor is mostly irreverent and black, with a few jokes and some slapstick. But, it's mostly reliant on wordplay and puns. Unfortunately, the wordplay and puns are really hit-or-miss and used way too often.

The roles don't demand much from any of the cast, but they all perform competently. Ross Noble is the only standout, though. Otherwise, the film looks and sounds like a standard slasher. It doesn't do anything on the technical side to stand apart from other genre offering. Well, aside from the gore, at least. The special effects are great, blending practical and computer to deliver a bloody treat for gorehounds. Writer and director Conor McMahon crafts a very fun and bloody slasher -- you can just tell it was a fun film to make -- it doesn't try to be more than what it is, and I can appreciate that every now and then.

Overall, Stitches is a fun slasher. It's not the type of "fun" you'd want to have with your children or younger siblings, more like the offensive, "adult" type of fun. It's very black and extremely violent -- not realistically violent, but very violent. If you like horror-comedies, this one might leave you in stitches. (I know, I complained about wordplay and ended with a cheesy punchline, sue me. Actulally, please don't.)

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and gore, some sex and brier nudity.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Film Review: Haunter (2013)

Haunter (Review)
Canada/2013
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...it's mild in all of its genre elements."

Lisa Johnson (Abigail Breslin) is a teenage ghost trapped in her home and living the same day over and over. Lisa eventually begins to unravel the mystery surrounding her death, while trying to help Olivia, the current resident of the home, avoid her own.

Haunter is creative and interesting, or at least it begins as such. The formula -- living the same day over and over -- becomes tired and repetitive after the first act. Lisa then attempts to find out more about her death, but really doesn't do much investigating. She gets help from Olivia, but Olivia has a very minor role in the film, so the character is practically obsolete and serves more as a convenient aid for the mystery. The film comes full circle way before the ending, yet Haunter still manages to drag its feet to the finish line. The ending itself is understandable, but there isn't much explanation to how it happens.

Haunter is a decent horror-mystery-thriller film. The suspense it creates is mild. The jump-scares help in capturing your attention if you've drifted off, but they're not really scary. The mystery is interesting, but the nonexistent investigation makes it difficult to fully captivate. In fact, that's one of the problems with the film: it starts off interesting, sure, but it never really hooks you. And, that becomes a bigger problem when the story continuously repeats itself, pounding you over and over with a simple mystery like if it's the Black Dahlia investigation. The best way to explain the film is as mild -- it's not a full-blow mystery, a heart-pounding thriller, or a terrifying horror film -- it's mild in all of its genre elements.

Although most of the supporting cast is decent, I thought Abigail Breslin was mediocre. Breslin's dialogue and delivery feel very unnatural and insincere. I was expecting more due to the fanbase hype, but Breslin disappoints, especially as a leading lady. The film looks fantastic, though, I loved the cinematography. I also really enjoyed the music and how well it compliments the film. Together, the cinematography and music create a decent atmosphere -- an atmosphere much more engaging than the actual story. Director Vincenzo Natali does well on the technical side, but his direction quickly loses steam after the first act and has trouble recovering.

Overall, Haunter is an ambitious yet familiar film. I don't fault it for being familiar, not at all. I do fault it for being disengaging, repetitive and occasionally boring, though; I also fault it for Abigail Breslin's disappointing performance. Otherwise, it does offer some entertainment value, such as the atmosphere, cinematography, and the music, and a very solid introduction. I recommend a rental, a purchase for fans of the lead or genre. (at a low price, of course)

Score: 5/10
Parental Guide: Some violence.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Film Review: The Seasoning House (2012)

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

"...a bleak and effective thriller all-around."

Angel (Rosie Day), a young deaf and mute girl, is forced to prepare young girls who are kidnapped and forced into prostitution in a bleak brothel.

The Seasoning House follows Angel. The first half of the story jumps from past to present often to tell us Angel's background, and to show us how the brothel operates. It was interesting, but I felt some of the artistic choices slowed the film down more than it should have. The second half of the film focuses on Amy as she takes revenge and attempts to escape the brothel. I had mixed feeling about the ending -- some aspects are too contrived and familiar, while others are great.

So, I liked the story in The Seasoning House -- it's bleak, effective, and interesting. However, there are many scenes were everything seemed to move slow -- it feels like everything is moving in slow-motion for no particular reason. The film would've been a slow-burn anyway, but this stylistic choice cuts into the flow. There were a few times during these scenes were I drifted momentarily.

The Seasoning House becomes more of a traditional thriller during the second half of the film. It becomes very violent and very bloody. In fact, I was actually surprised at the level of violence this film reaches; at least one scene had me cringe. If the first half loses you, this second half will shake you up. The vicious violence is accompanied by great suspense and tension, too.

The acting isn't very demanding for most of the cast. Rosie Day, who doesn't speak, does well through facial expressions, though; really, most of her performance is squeaking like a stereotypical Japanese girl. (I'm very okay with that. *wink, wink*) The cinematography is a little cluttered, but the dark and bleak atmosphere is well developed. The music is good, too. Director Paul Hyett, in his debut film, does well in building up the film and delivering a bloody and suspenseful climax; there are some glaring pacing issues during the first half, though, and some uneventful areas in the plot.

Overall, The Seasoning House is a very good thriller. Despite my issues with the first half of the film, I think this is a bleak and effective thriller all-around. The style is too ambitious and comes off as unnecessary, but the film redeems itself during the latter half. Definitely worth watching for fans of bloody revenge-thrillers.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, drug use, sex and nudity.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Film Review: From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

From Dusk Till Dawn (Review)
United States/1996
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...creative, sexy, and action-packed."

After a deadly bank robbery, brothers Seth (George Clooney) and Richie (Quentin Tarantino) head towards the Mexican border with hostages...

From Dusk Till Dawn starts as a traditional crime film. The brothers -- Seth, a professional criminal with restraint, and Richie, a violent and often spontaneous criminal -- kidnap a small family heading to Mexico in a RV. After the dipping and dodging the authorities and some small family disputes, the group end up at a strip club in Mexico. Here, at its climax, the story takes a bizarre turn. This strip joint ends up being a den for vicious vampires. The latter half of the film follows the survivors at the club as they attempt to survive the night. The ending is great -- the final scene leaves some room for sequels, which I think will please those who enjoy this film.

From Dusk Till Dawn is great. The first half may be traditional, but it works very well. It develops the Seth and Richie characters well, and features some tense and suspenseful scenes. It also works amazingly in showing restraint -- if you don't know the premise before hand, the climax will be surprising. The latter half is creative, sexy, and action-packed. (If you're a fan of Salma Hayek, have a bottle of water nearby and try not to faint.) The action scenes are well executed, and the practical gore effects are amazing during these scenes, too. There is also some humor spread throughout the film; I laughed out loud a few times. There are some slow moments, but it moves at a fair pace most of the time.

The acting was mostly good. George Clooney is as charismatic as ever, even as a criminal. Quentin Tarantino is usually hit-or-miss with his acting -- fortunately, he hits it this time. Juliette Lewis and Ernest Liu, who play the teenage kids of the kidnapped family, are the worst part of the acting -- they're bad, even by b-movie standards, especially the former. Otherwise, the film is up to standard. Shot very well, great music, and fantastic special effects -- fans of old school special effects will enjoy them the most. Director Robert Rodriguez nails it with his distinct vision; most importantly, Rodriguez aims to entertain, and he succeeds.

Overall, From Dusk Till Dawn is a great film. The story is creative and the climax is unforgettable. The suspense is genuine, the action is great, and the special effects are impressive. There are some pacing issues and some of the acting is surprisingly bad, though.

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

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Film Review: Nightmare Detective 2 (2008)

Nightmare Detective 2 (Review)
Japan/2008
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...a frightening horror film that's difficult to get into but rewarding to complete."

Haunted by nightmares of her classmate, Yukie Mashiro (Yui Miura) seeks out Kyoichi Kagenuma (Ryuhei Matsuda), who is capable of entering other people's dreams...

Nightmare Detective 2 continues as Mashiro tries to convince Kagenuma to help her. Mashiro's friends had suffered from similar nightmares and have ended up dead, and Mashiro fears she may be next. Reluctant at first, Kagenuma eventually agrees in order to alleviate his own nightmares -- in order to understand his mother's death. But, this case takes a larger toll on Kagenuma, taking him into the darker corner of the dreamscape. The story is often convoluted, partly due to the storytelling, as well as the general concept. However, it kept me interested and engaged to the end. And, the ending was good, too; actually, it was a surprisingly-effective emotional ending.

Far from a traditional Japanese horror film, Nightmare Detective 2 delves deeply into a nightmarish and original concept. I have not seen the first film, but was perfectly capable of soaking in the gist of it; however, as previously mentioned, there is some confusion to be found, as well -- the film is drenched in ambiguity. On one hand, it's somewhat confusing and often difficult to sink you fangs into; on the other hand, it adds to the overall engagement of the story, as well as the ominous atmosphere. On that point, this slow-burn horror film is a slick blend of jolting jump-scares, great suspense, and nightmarish visuals. In other words, it's a frightening horror film that's difficult to get into but rewarding to complete. I have very few complaints with the film: it often moves at an unnecessarily slow pace, it loses some momentum towards the end, and the ambiguity is just slightly overwhelming.

The acting is great from the entire cast. Yui Miura is good, and Ryuhei Matsuda is great. The film is shot well; some scenes are a little too dark to see, but it's mostly very stylish. The music is also great; I especially loved the ominous track that played during the nightmare sequences. The English subtitles in the Netflix Instant stream are great. Director and writer Shinya Tsukamoto is very stylish and great at building horror; some of the writing could've used some fine-tuning, but the direction is overall great.

Overall, Nightmare Detective 2 is a very good Japanese horror film. It's a different experience, and it is complicated and ambiguous, but it's also surprisingly scary, engaging, and even somewhat thought-provoking. It's definitely a film that warrants a second viewing. In other words, it's a frightening horror film that's difficult to get into but rewarding to complete -- maybe more with more viewings.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Some violence, and some disturbing visuals.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Film Review: Erased (aka The Expatriate) (2012)

Erased (aka The Expatriate) (Review)
United States/2012
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...contrived to the point of being unintentionally humorous."

Former CIA agent turned technology expert Ben Logan (Aaron Eckhart) and his estranged teenage daughter Amy (Liana Liberato) are on the run after Ben is erased from the system.

Erased follows Ben and Amy as they try to find out why Ben's information was erased and why they're being targeted by expertly-trained hitmen. So, Ben fights, shoots, and runs through his pursuers, all while the pair investigates this conspiracy. That's really about it, though, as not much happens. The conspiracy details are interesting, but not fully utilized. It also sort of just ends -- it's not a terrible ending per se, but it is abrupt and underwhelming.

The biggest flaw in Erased is its lazy and contrived writing. The only way the film moves forward is by Amy's irrational actions -- whether it's screaming up a storm for a miniscule reason or ignorantly disobeying orders. There was one scene with Amy towards the end where I actually laughed. The plot contrivance is so ridiculous, I laughed. And, the story is completely reliant on Amy's stupid actions, it makes for many roll-your-eyes moments. A side note for Amy: she's also ridiculously annoying, complaining during every other scene for any reason.

With that out of the way, Erased does offer a decent conspiracy plot. Well, it feels more like a subplot since the film mostly focuses on Amy's stupidity, but I digress. It's not a phenomenal or mind-blowing conspiracy, but it was interesting enough to keep me hooked. The film doesn't skimp on the action, either. Some great close-quarter-combat, great shootouts, and thrilling chases. They do get a bit repetitive, but they're fun and redeeming for the film.

Aaron Eckhart is great -- I think he fits the super-soldier role well. Liana Liberato overacts this role; considering her decent performance in Haunt, Liberato disappoints with this over-the-top, melodramatic acting. The film looks great. The music is mostly forgettable; some of it did stick out, though, feeling out of place. Director Philipp Stölzl captures the action well, but writer Arash Amel's screenplay is too contrived -- its riddled with way too many plot contrivances.

Overall, Erased, also known as The Expatriate, is a decent film. I liked the conspiracy elements of the film, but felt the story was heavily flawed. It's contrived to the point of being unintentionally humorous. However, action fans may find the action redeemable enough for at least a rental.

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

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Film Review: Madhouse (2004)

Madhouse (Review)
United States/2004
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: Yes

"...offers some decent horror elements."

Psychiatric intern Clark Stevens (Joshua Leonard) arrives at Cunningham Hall Mental Facility to fulfill his medical school graduation requirements, but finds himself fighting his own sanity...

Madhouse is a procedural psychological horror film. The story follows Clark Stevens as he meets the patients and staff, and completes his tour. He also meets a potential love interest. When a violent murder occurs, Clark begins to investigate all of the possibilities. Was it an inmate? Was it the staff? Or is the hospital really haunted? As more violence occurs, and as his visions become more vivid, Clark begins to question everything, including himself. This tightly-packaged, moderately-paced, and clichéd-riddled horror film leads to a messy and predictable ending -- the predictable part I can forgive, but I wonder how something so simple and cliché can become so convoluted.

So, as you can see, Madhouse is nothing new -- the plot plays out and ends like every other film in the genre. But, it's not a terrible thing. The setting, albeit familiar, is spooky and effective. The patients are also very creepy -- the mental illness is ridiculously over-the-top, but it managed to be eerie, regardless. This is a film that relies more on suspense and visuals for horror than anything else. The suspense can come off as weak and fabricated, but the imagery is surprisingly chilling and consistent. There's also some wicked gore. So, despite being so generic and procedural, at the very least, Madhouse offers some decent horror elements. The ending even delves into the slasher genre, as many horror films tend to do when they're out of options. In fact, the final act really felt out of place, illogical, and irrational -- I didn't really enjoy it.

The acting is also decent. Occasionally coming off as wooden and boring, Joshua Leonard delivers a serviceable performance. The supporting cast, particularly those that play the mental patients, are great. In general, the acting was good for a 2004 direct-to-DVD horror film. The cinematography and music are by-the-books; nothing really special or noteworthy, simply competent. William Butler directs and assists in the writing, and I think he does well in creating horror through imagery; but, there is a severe lack of ambition and originality in the story.

Overall, Madhouse is a good horror film. It has some very eerie visuals, some decent suspense, an ominous atmosphere, and surprisingly decent acting. But, the plot is too familiar -- too cliché and too generic -- to really recommend hunting this film down. If you have Netflix Instant, then it may be worth viewing on a night in, especially for fans of the genre or setting. Maybe if I saw this film in 2004 I'd be surprised by the climax, but, by now, this twist is burned out.

Score: 6/10
Parental Guide: Some strong violence and gore, some partial nudity and sex.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Film Review: Banshee Chapter (2013)

Banshee Chapter (Review)
United States/2013
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...most of the jump-scares work thanks to some carefully crafted suspense."

Journalist Anne Roland (Katia Winter) tracks the disappearance of college friend James Hirsch, who was investigation the government's Project MKUltra.

The story continues to follow Anne as she retraces James' steps prior to his disappearance, which includes investigating his sources. Particularly, a source who acquired a drug used in Project MKUltra. This source being foul-mouthed, anti-social author Thomas Blackburn (Ted Levine). So, Anne, along with Thomas, decide to get busy and solve the mystery. Looking back, it's not really an in-depth story, but it is distinct for the genre. The ending took a bit to fully understand, and a little clarification research was required afterward, but it was generally decent.

The Banshee Chapter is a very good horror/thriller film. The film is mostly traditional filmmaking, with some mockumentary and typical found-footage horror blended in. The horror is mostly reliant on loud-noise jump-scares and some spooky visuals. Fortunately, this is a case where most of the jump-scares work thanks to some carefully crafted suspense. A few are duds that fall flat, but most will jolt you. These are jump-scares, though, so they may not be as scary if you watch the movie a second time around -- one of the major flaws for jump-scares. Banshee Chapter is also well balanced and paced, it ended before I knew it.

The acting was all-around good. Katia Winter is good as the lead, although the role doesn't demand much. I thought Ted Levine was really good, though. The film looks and sounds great, too. However, despite only having a few found-footage sequences, the camerawork is reminiscent of the found-footage genre; in other words, it occasionally gets unnecessarily shaky. Director Blair Erickson does well in crafting suspense and delivering jolting climaxes; the story is good, too, but could've used both clarification and more depth.

Overall, I really enjoyed Banshee Chapter. It's a very good horror film. The blend of traditional, found-footage and mockumentary is great, the story is interesting, and the suspense and horror is well crafted. There is room for improvement, though, and the jump-scares may be less effective upon further viewings. Worth watching for fans of the genre.

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

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Film Review: Dream Home (2010)

Dream Home (Review)
China/2010
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...this is not for the lighthearted."

Cheng Lai-sheung (Josie Ho) has an obsessive dream of owning an ocean-view apartment and will do anything to get it...

Dream Home follows Cheng as she goes on a murderous rampage in an apartment complex. The story is not in chronological order, so that's not necessarily a spoiler. Instead, we witness part of her vicious rampage, then a flashback to the events prior, which works well in balancing the slasher elements and the plot, then another scene of her rampage, and so on. This formula continues up until a bloody but extremely unlikely climax; I mean really, these are either the most incompetent characters on the planet or Cheng's luck just got much, much better. The ending is satisfying in a sense, but I was left wanting a bigger hit.

Dream Home has mixed storytelling. On one hand, it balances the slasher and plot points so it's never lopsided. On the other hand, it is inefficient and unnecessarily complicated; for example, one scene goes from slasher to flashback, then into a flashback within a flashback, then back to the original flashback, and finally back to the slasher. Aside from the storytelling, there's not much to discuss with the story, it really boils down to: "I can't have it my way, so you can't have it yours." This, in turn, may make you hate Cheng since her actions aren't justifiable; I didn't find her unbearable, but it did notice the character development failed to make me sympathize or empathize with her.

However, as a horror film, Dream Home redeems itself with great suspense and unexpected shock value -- and this is coming from a hardcore horror fan. Dream Home is unbelievably shocking, with cringe-worthy violence at every corner. The introduction alone shows us a brutally realistic and creative strangulation and a splatterfest of blood. Depending on your outlook, it either goes uphill or downhill after that as the violence is turned up tenfold. The graphic violence is unforgettable -- this is not for the lighthearted. There's also a pinch of some very dark humor.

Although I don't think her character was developed efficiently, Josie Ho delivers a wonderful performance as the lead. The rest of the cast is also fantastic by contemporary horror standards. The film is shot well, great cinematography and camerawork. The makeup and special effects are superb; I love the practical effects, and there is only one scene with very noticeable computer effects. Although the storytelling was a bit inefficient in developing the character, I think director Pang Ho-cheung did a great job in creating suspense and terror; this is a daring horror film with high production values, and I applaud the director for his uncompromising vision.

Overall, Dream Home is a great slasher. I did enjoy the story, but I felt like the character and storytelling were flawed. However, Dream Home makes up for it with its unbelievable shock value, and Josie Ho saves her character from completely mediocrity.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Extremely graphic violence and gore, sex and nudity.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Film Review: Bangkok Revenge (2012)

Bangkok Revenge (Review)
Thailand/France/2012
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"The story and writing are by far the worst parts of the film..."

After parents are brutally murdered and he's left for dead, Manit (John Foo) is raised and trained by a martial arts expert.

Bangkok Revenge continues as Manit seeks revenge for his parents' murder a few decades prior. So, uh, he leaves and seeks revenge. I mean, that's really everything. Manit briefly teams up with a journalist to investigate, but, really, most of the film is Manit fighting anyone who crosses his path. Eventually, he finds the conspirators who slaughtered his parents and it ends. The final fight was really good, but the actual ending was merely decent.

The story in Bangkok Revenge is bad. Not only is it unbelievably generic, but it's also contrived, illogical, and repetitive. For example, Manit can't feel emotion, like happiness or sadness, but has the passion to seek revenge. Another laughable hole was after a subway fight scene where a character magically teleports to Manit's locations. Also, the story never seems to connect -- it doesn't flow. Then, there's Manit's characteristic. The film tries way too hard to make Manit some cool action hero, filling his dialogue with cheesy one-liners. This corny character comes off as annoying and arrogant, instead of charismatic and heroic. It's kind of like a normally likable person trying to be a douchebag because it'll make him more popular or cool, which makes him worse than a natural born douchebag.

The fighting is mostly decent. There are some genuinely exciting and enthralling fight sequences in Bangkok revenge. Unfortunately, some of these fight scenes are over-edited, which makes them feel choppy and unnatural -- makes the fights lose their ferocity. Also, there's a fight around every corner. This may be great for those who only want action, but it got dull for me. Without an effective story or characters, the fights also feel ineffective. It feels like there's nothing to root for, like there's nothing on the line.

The acting is bad. John Foo has potential, but his performance is hindered by the bad writing and the bad character he plays. He's definitely physically-capable for the role, though. Thr rest of the acting is cringe-worthy bad. Everyone sound out of place and unnatural, partly due to most actors speaking English instead of their native language and partly due to the bad writing. The cinematography is mediocre, and the music is mostly ill-fitted. The fight choreography is good, but the camerawork and editing is sloppy. Writer and director Jean-Marc Minéo fails to deliver a great experience; the story is a throwaway, the characters are bad, the dialogue is laughable, and the action is somewhat hindered by technical flaws.

Overall, Bangkok Revenge is a bad martial arts action movie. It starts off somewhat promising, but the story quickly loses steam and becomes bad. The story and writing are by far the worst parts of the film, and the annoying characters don't help, either. There are some decent fights, though. I wouldn't recommend buying, but if you're a die-hard fan of martial arts movies, then I'd recommend streaming on Netflix or renting. (emphasis on die-hard.)

Score: 3/10
Parental Guide: Violence and blood, brief sex and nudity.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Film Review: Creature (1985)

Creature (aka The Titan Find) (Review)
United States/1985
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: Yes

"...the bad type of b-movie with few redeeming qualities."

A crew of astronauts land on Titan, one of Jupiter's moons, and fall prey to an extraterrestrial creature.

Creature is very simple. The crew have trouble landing and need assistance from a German crew, who has already been attacked. Soon thereafter, they realize they are not alone and they encounter the dangerous creature. The creature itself is intelligent and can control its victims after death. Afterward, they attempt to survive and escape. The ending was cheesy, but decent; unlike the rest of the film, it's the only part that feels like good b-movie.

Creature is a SciFi horror film with a familiar story. It starts off somewhat strong with an interesting back-story, but quickly loses momentum. In fact, the first half of the film was a bore -- nothing really happened. Around the middle, the film spruces up with some gory and exciting scenes. But... it slows down again shortly afterward. I can tolerate a been-there-done-that as long as it's entertaining, but this was mostly boring. The suspense was mostly nonexistent, the surprisingly decent gore was underutilized, the story quickly becomes boring and repetitive, and so on. Even with its short runtime, the film felt way too long.

The acting was mediocre all-around. Klaus Kinski was good, but is limited to a cameo appearance. The music was also good, although it sounded familiar. (especially the sound effects) The props and settings look good whenever the film has proper lighting. Unfortunately, most I'd the film is drenched in darkness making it difficult to appreciate the set. It's not bad enough for director William Malone to lack a distinct vision, he also fails to create an immersive atmosphere or any suspense.

Overall, Creature is a bad SciFi horror film. It's not scary or suspenseful, the story is boring, and the film is poorly paced. It has its moments, especially during the middle, but not nearly enough to justify the hour thirty runtime or redeem the rest of the film's downfalls. It's the bad type of b-movie with few redeeming qualities. Stream or rent before purchasing.

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

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Film Review: That Demon Within (2014)

That Demon Within (Review)
China/2014
Format Viewed For Review: Blu-ray (Vicol Entertainment Ltd. HK)
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...one of the most stylish, entertaining, and refreshing crime films of the region.."

After he unwittingly saves notorious criminal Hon, The Demon King (Nick Cheung), stubborn cop Dave (Daniel Wu) suffers from a severe mental breakdown.

That Demon Within follows Dave during his explosive meltdown. Tormented by visions of his past and the image of Hon, Dave sets out for redemption. He sets out to capture Hon and kill his gang. Along the way, his colleagues attempt to delve into his troubled mind. What is Dave suppressing and why? It loses some steam during the second half as it begins to focus a little less on the psychological aspects and more on the traditional crime elements, but it still kept me hooked. The ending is great, too.

That Demon Within is a unique crime thriller/drama. China has pushed out many crime classics (I even made a list dedicated to the best Chinese crime films), but they are frequently more of the same. That Demon Within breaks out and blends classic crime elements with deep and effective psychological aspects. The story is interesting and entertaining, but the main focus is on character -- particularly, Dave's troubled character. And I loved it. This blend is something that's not done often, and it's fortunately masterfully executed.

Other than the fantastic psychological elements, That Demon Within offers great action in the sense of stylish shootouts and exciting chase scenes. The use of slow-motion during some of the explosions is a welcomed addition. There's also some great tension and suspense, much of it impressively built through dialogue. Finally, That Demon Within is also visually impressive. Dave's mental breakdown is riveting and effective thanks to the wild visuals.

Daniel Wu is a great leading man - it's incredible to watch his character deteriorate. Nick Cheung shares less screen time, but he's also very impressive -- one of my favorite actors. The film has a very distinct and attractive style. The use of vivid colors is refreshing, it makes the cinematography pop. The music is also very unique for the genre; it sounds like it's ripped out of a horror film, and I loved it. The Hong Kong Blu-ray (Region A) has superb picture and audio quality, and great English subtitles. Director Dante Lam, who is also responsible for my personal favorite The Stool Pigeon, crafts a magnificent psychological crime film; it's one of the most stylish, entertaining, and refreshing crime films of the region.

Overall, That Demon Within is a fantastic film. Although it does briefly lose momentum during the second half, I loved every second of That Demon Within. It's a visually beautiful film with a creative and entertaining narrative. If you love Chinese crime films but want something fresh, check this film out.

Score: 9/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, some gore, and some sexuality (an attempted sexual assault.)

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Film Review: Barricade (2012)

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

"...cliché premise and delivery feel so much more forgivable."

A father, Terrance (Eric McCormack), and his kids Cynthia (Conner Dwelly) and Jake (Ryan Grantham) vacation in a cabin in the woods and fall prey to something malevolent...

Barricade is very simple. A year after his wife's death, Terrance takes the kids to a cabin in the woods during the winter. All is well for a night, then they start to see strange figures outside and begin to feel a dangerous presence surrounding them. So, they barricade themselves in the cabin and try to survive the storm and the mysterious force. This cliché yet entertaining story leads to an underwhelming ending; the story has great buildup, but the execution for the climax causes more confusion than it should.

Barricade is a very familiar horror-thriller movie. The film borrows a lot from many films in the genre. But, as I said, it is surprisingly entertaining regardless. Barricade builds up some decent suspense, it has a handful of jolting jump-scares, and some creepy visuals. The film also stays on its feet keeping the story moving, without any unnecessary subplots. (I'm looking at you Haunt.) And at its compact runtime, the film's cliché premise and delivery feel so much more forgivable. It's far from the scariest film of all time and I won't lose any sleep at night, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't have a fun time with Barricade.

The acting was good. Eric McCormack was good as the father, he was believable during most of his acting. Ryan Grantham was a little robotic with his delivery, but good for a child actor. Conner Dwelly was better, though, much more natural. The film looks good; I like the cinematography during the outdoor scenes. The music is run-of-the-mill for the genre, but it works. Director Andrew Currie does well in building some suspense and an attractive atmosphere; however, much of the horror feels like a copy-paste procedure.

Overall, Barricade is decent. It may not be the most original film around, but it's an entertaining time-killer. I had a good time watching the film despite its flaws. It's definitely worth a rental, at least, for fans of the genre.

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

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Film Review: Once Upon A Time In Shanghai (2014)

Once Upon A Time In Shanghai (Review)
China/2014
Format Viewed For Review: Blu-ray (Universe Laser HK)
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"The climax alone is worth the price of admission..."

Skillful martial artist Ma Yongzhen (Philip Ng) moves from his hometown to Shanghai in hopes of earning an honest living.

Once Upon A Time In Shanghai is a simple but effective martial arts tale. The story continues to follow Ma as he develops a brotherly relationship with up-and-coming overlord Lung Qi (Andy On), who is also a very skilled martial artist. Fortunately for Ma, who doesn't want to be a gangster, Lung is quite righteous and only hopes to defeat the other gang bosses, who happen to have Japanese connections. The film builds up well to an action-packed climax and great ending.

Once Upon A Time In Shanghai is a great action film. Hell, it's a fantastic martial arts action movie. The fights are vicious and filled with adrenaline, and there are fortunately many. The climax alone is worth the price of admission for hardcore action fans. The story and characters are simple, though, which can be both positive and negative. This is one of those films that could've been more effective with more depth. It's one of those movies where you wouldn't mind a longer runtime. Aside from the would've could've, Once Upon A Time In Shanghai is a film with very few flaws.

The acting is good, too. Philip Ng is great, he has some surprising charm and charisma. Aside from his laughing, Andy On is also very good. The style and cinematography make the film standout, and in a good way; there are some beautiful scenes in this film. The music was also fantastic, I loved the credits song, which is also a recurring track. The fight choreography is superb, and the editing keeps up with the action. Director Wong Ching-po captures the wonderful action perfectly and with such style.

I watched the Hong Kong Blu-ray for this review. The picture and audio quality are excellent as far as I can tell. The English subtitles have a few spelling and grammatical errors, and they often move by too quickly, but the simple story is easy enough for anyone to digest.

Overall, Once Upon A Time In Shanghai is a great film. It's a superb action film to kill a night thanks to its consistent and often breathtaking action, the simple story, the fast pacing, and the short runtime. Like I said, though, this is a film that would've benefited from a longer runtime and more character. Regardless, if you're a fan of martial arts films, this film is definitely worth seeking.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Violence and blood.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Film Review: The Last Tycoon (2012)

The Last Tycoon (Review)
China/2012
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...has its share of shortcomings, but it also has plenty of exemplary elements."

The rise of young gangster Cheng Daqi (Huang Xiaoming), his life as a prominent mob boss in Shanghai (Chow Yun-fat), and how a historical event would change his character...

The Last Tycoon tells the story of Cheng Daqi. The first half of the story jumps frequently from past to present. It'll show you Daqi's uprising and his past relationships, then jump to the present to follow Daqi in Japan occupied Shanghai -- and how he chooses to deal with it -- then back to the present, and so on. The second half focuses more on Daqi as a mob boss, especially when the war begins to take a toll on his personal life and relationship. The first half is an entertaining but run-of-the-mill gangster flick, while the second half differentiates itself for a more personal drama. The ending was great, but I felt some elements were unnecessary -- said element kind of made the film drag a bit.

First and foremost, my first issue comes with the unnecessarily convoluted storytelling. The jumping from past to present helps keep the audience engaged, but for the wrong reasons; instead of focusing on the story and characters, you're trying to piece this together like a puzzle, and its far from a mystery film. Also, the story felt very compressed; Cheng Daqi's life is so interesting, but we get minuscule details because it moves so fast over decades of his life. And, I also found it to be disjointed. One moment the character would be doing this or saying that, then it leaps to a different scene or completely change the mood -- it never got into a smooth flow.

However, despite the miniscule details, I liked Cheng Daqi's character; I mean, I don't praise gangsters or idolize the lifestyle, but I appreciate the story's focus on character. Although the romance elements also feel half-baked, I liked the love-triangle; sure, it can come off as corny, but it also felt surprisingly genuine. If any of the elements came up fully developed, I'd say it's the action. By no means is this another Hard Boiled, but it has a handful of exciting shootouts and vicious melee action sequences. And, what else can I say, I'm sure like many of you, I'm a sucker for a gangster flick, especially film's like this, with old-school settings.

Huang Xiaoming plays the younger Cheng Daqi, while Chow Yun-fat plays the older Cheng Daqi. The former is very good, but Chow Yun-fat stole the show with his charismatic and genuine performance; I feel like he really redeemed the half-baked romance plot. (Also, the man must've found the fountain of youth, he never ages!) I loved the cinematography, I'm a big fan of the use of vibrant colors, and this film is very vivid. The music was also great; it had a Godfather-vibe, with a pinch of the culture. Director Wong Jing is decent; the film's lack of flow and consistency makes it feel like a TV show stitched together.

Overall, The Last Tycoon is a very good gangster crime film. It has its share of shortcomings, but it also has plenty of exemplary elements. I disliked the inconsistent flow of the film, but I actually enjoyed the story, especially the latter half, and the character. I also loved the film's visual style and music, which is at least worth noting. Definitely worth a Netflix stream, and even a purchase for die-hard fans of the genre.

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

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Film Review: Haunt (2013)

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

"...it's scary sometimes but it's also boring during others."

Teenager Evan Asher (Harrison Gilbertson) and his family move into the infamous Morello home -- home of a curse that killed off most of the Morello family one-by-one...

A very simple and straightforward haunted house story, Haunt follows Evan as he settles in. Eventually, he meets his neighbor, Sam (Liana Liberato), and they start their cheesy relationship. Afterwards, Evan and Sam use a box to contact the dead and unleash a malevolent spirit in the home. And... that's really most of the story. The film starts to pick up its pace during the final act, but also abandons logic and reason -- it is a horror movie, after all. Although very predictable, the ending was decent.

Haunt is an old-school haunted house horror film. It focuses more on its slow-burn pace and atmosphere than it does jump-scares. Unfortunately, the slow-burn pace is too often ineffective, and the atmosphere is often lost due to some of the story. In other words, it's scary sometimes but it's also boring during others. The biggest flaw with the film is the corny romance subplot; Evan and Sam lack chemistry, and their dialogue is cheesy and unnatural -- it's a hopeless romantic's dream. It also becomes a problem because rather than adding to the horror, it takes away from it. Maybe if it were well developed I'd have some emotional attachment, but it isn't.

The acting is all-around decent. Harrison Gilbertson and Liana Liberato are good on their own; their dialogue is often cheesy and they lack chemistry, but they're decent. The film is beautiful; it's a fantastic looking film, I really liked the photography. The music is also great -- I love ominous soundtracks, and this one is occasionally chilling. Apparently this is Mac Carter's directorial debut. He crafts an often spooky film and can occasionally capture an amazingly ominous shot, but the film lacks balance and consistency; the romance subplot is too overwhelming, which is bad since it doesn't offer much to the horror and can't stand on its own.

Overall, Haunt is a decent horror film. I liked the slow-burn pace (whenever it worked), I liked the ominous and spooky atmosphere, and there were at least a handful of decent jump-scares. It's also a beautiful film in terms of cinematography and music. The problems with this one come from the poor and overwhelming romance subplot, the often uneventful story, and some pacing issues. It also lacks originality -- its a been-there-done-that film. I'm caught in the middle.

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

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Film Review: Grand Piano (2013)

Grand Piano (Review)
Spain/2013
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"... short and simple yet moderately entertaining..."

Master pianist Tom Selznick (Elijah Wood) is secretly held hostage in front of the audience of his comeback performance by a man (John Cusack) with a sniper.

The Grand Piano is a fairly simple film. Tom Selznick, who suffers from stage fright, is having a comeback concert. As he starts playing, he finds notes warning him of death if he plays the wrong piano note. And so, Tom Selznick tries to keep his composure during the concert, and tries to save himself and his wife. There's an interesting reasoning for the sniper's actions, but it's not really delved into all that deeply. The ending is decent; it kind of just ends -- you know what happens, but it doesn't go any further.

First and foremost, I mentioned I appreciate stylish and thoughtful intro and ending credits in films such as Hwayi: A Monster Boy. In this case, the introduction and ending credits are generic and take up nearly 16 minutes of the film's very short runtime. That leaves the actual film at approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes. In this short runtime, we get a short and simple yet moderately entertaining story. The suspense is often very light -- it gets you engaged, but you likely won't be biting any nails. There really isn't much to discuss when it comes to the story, though... I suppose I'll leave it at that.

Elijah Wood is great as the lead. Wood is really the only actor who gets to shine, though. John Cusack is mostly a voiceover -- he's also good, not spectacular or terrible. The film looks beautiful; the lighting really stood out, and the cinematography is generally great. The music plays a large role in the film; fortunately, it's great. Director Eugenia Mira knows how to put a beautiful film together; however, the suspense is merely decent and the story could use much more depth.

Overall, Grand Piano is a decent film. It's simplicity is attractive, there are some suspenseful moments, and Elijah Wood is great; the film also looks and sounds beautiful. However, the story also lacks depth, there are a few pacing and balancing issues, and the suspense occasionally fails to conjure. It's at least worth a rental.

Score: 5/10
Parental Guide: Some violence.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Film Review: The Detective 2 (2011)

The Detective 2 (Review)
China/2011
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...a good time killer, but not as great as the original."

Private investigator Tam (Aaron Kwok) once again joins his police friend Chak in solving a string of bizarre serial murders....

Glowing with celebrity from his last successful case, Tam joins Chak in investigating a bizarre case of murder. Although they know the cases are connected, the murder uses bizarre and inconsistent methods to kill, and does not leave fingerprints or other conclusive clues. So, as the murders pile up, Tam begins to delve deep into the mind of killer. The story is fairly simple this time around, moving at a slow pace and just barely keeping me engaged. The ending is decent -- the final scenes are a great tease for the future.

The Detective 2 is a good mystery film. The mystery is definitely interesting, but not so much engaging. This is likely because the investigation isn't in-depth. There are less interviews and interrogations, and less hands-on investigations -- the information is just handed to the audience. Compared to the first, there is also less excitement and thrills. I did like the characters, though, and the many possibilities Tam runs through. I don't want to spoil to the film, but I will say the general concept surrounding the killer was also good. It doesn't have a slick twist like the first, but the concept and execution is at least good.

Aaron Kwok is very good as the lead -- again, he's very charismatic. The rest of the acting was good, too. The photography is better this time around, too. The cinematography is much easier on the eyes; I did sort of miss the muddier style of the first, though. The music isn't special, but it works. The English subtitles on the Netflix Instant stream have some errors, but you'll always know what's going on. Director Oxide Pang is good, but loses personality with this film; it feels very safe and procedural, and it also has some pacing issues.

Overall, The Detective 2 is a good film. It offers an interesting mystery and an interesting resolution, and it's all-around entertaining. However, it does occasionally lose momentum, the runtime is bloated, and the film lacks raw investigation work, especially compared the The Detective. It's a good time killer, but not as great as the original.

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

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Film Review: The Detective (2007)

The Detective (Review)
China/2007
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...becomes more and more interesting as the story progresses."

Partially-blind private investigator Tam (Aaron Kwok) is hired by Lung to find a young woman, Sum, he believes is trying to murder him...

The Detective follows Tam as he begins to investigate this woman. The trail is cold, though, as Sum hasn't been seen in weeks and his leads dry up quickly. So, Tam resorts to his procedural investigations, such as interviews, as well as his friend Inspector Chak for information. What starts off as a fairly simple mystery eventually spirals out of control for Tam, though. Mysterious suicides, possible murders, money, stock trading, and assaults on his life leave Tam tangled in a web of conspiracy. This engaging mystery leads to a great climax and ending -- the ending also helps the film differentiate itself.

I really liked The Detective. The mystery starts off as simple and becomes more and more interesting as the story progresses. I also really liked the investigative work. Tam's resources are limited -- there are no tracers or supercomputers -- he only has his quick thinking and a helpful imagination. So, I really enjoyed the use of interviews and tactics such as using a toothpick to track door usage. Aside from the mystery and investigation, The Detective keeps the story moving with thrilling and exciting sequences such as car and foot chases. It's not the perfect film, though. There's a subplot regarding Tam's long lost parents that was very underdeveloped, and some of the dialogue seems out there.

Lead actor Aaron Kwok is great. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Kwok is pure charisma. The rest of the acting is good, too. Some people may not like it, but I actually enjoyed the dark and muddy cinematography; sure, some scenes are dark and have inconsistent lighting, but most of it contributes to its distinct style. The music was also great. The English subtitles on the Netflix Instant stream were good, had only a few spelling and grammar errors; it's also available in High Definition, which helps the distinct style pop. Director Oxide Pang of The Pang Brothers does very well in crafting this stylish mystery; a few subplots come up shorthanded, but Pang's vision is consistent and strong.

Overall, The Detective is a great mystery-thriller. The mystery was engaging and offers a unique spin on the genre, and the thrills offer genuine excitement. Some of the dialogue was off and the parents subplot was weak, though. Definitely worth seeking for fans of the genre or Aaron Kwok.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, including grizzly images of death, and some brief nudity.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Film Review: Citizen X (1995)

Citizen X (Review)
United States/1995
Format Viewed For Review: Amazon Prime Instant Video
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: Yes

"...a stupendously overlooked, masterfully crafted film."

The hunt for Soviet serial killer Andrei Chikatilo (Jeffrey DeMunn).

Citizen X follows forensic specialist Viktor Burakov (Stephen Rea) who is promoted to detective and assigned to a serial murder case by Colonel Mikhail Fetisov. Due to the Soviet's ignorance and arrogance, as well as Fetisov's reluctance to openly aid, Burakov's investigation is constantly hindered. Meanwhile, Chikatilo viciously murders his victims one-by-one with little interference. A by-the-books yet immensely engaging investigative thriller, Citizen X leads to a superb ending. (okay, there is one glaring continuity error, but it's otherwise very satisfying and insightful.)

Citizen X plays it safe for the most part. It's not super stylish, ultra-violent, or filled with twists and turns. Regardless, the investigation is incredibly engaging. I always mention this with mystery films and I'll do it again: a decent mystery keeps your attention, a superb mystery has you with a notepad taking notes -- this is the latter, maybe not literally but figuratively. Furthermore, the story is down to Earth and honest. Everything feels grounded and realistic, which makes the story so much more haunting.

The story seems like an honest representation of the facts, which is also a big plus. I know it's not 100% accurate, but it's as close as it can get without sacrificing entertainment. Also, it's not a melodramatic or twist-filled thriller, as I previously mentioned. But, the honesty sinks further into the setting, as well. This subtle representation of the Soviet Union's ignorance and arrogance was also very interesting, and added to the tense atmosphere of the film. It's also seamless transitions as the investigation progresses into the 90s. If your skimming this review, let me get to the gist: Citizen X is a realistic investigative thriller with genuine tension throughout its entire runtime -- there isn't a single dull moment in this haunting film.

Stephen Rea is a great leading man, keeping his performance genuine and honest. Jeffrey DeMunn shares less screen time, but delivers an equally impressive performance; again, he feels like a sick and despicable person, but not a super villain or anything melodramatic. The film is beautifully shot, despite its horrendous subject. The music fits the fine of the film perfectly; I loved the soundtrack. I watched this film on Amazon Instant through the Prime service, and it's a great experience; this stream has great audio and is available in High Definition. Director Chris Gerolmo crafts a magnificent investigative thriller; it's perfectly paced and balanced, and builds a haunting atmosphere to harbor the disturbing story.

Overall, Citizen X is filmmaking at its finest. It's a stupendously overlooked, masterfully crafted film. This is a made-for-TV that sets the benchmark, a made-for-TV that bests some of Hollywood's greatest. In fact, and I may get some flack for this, Citizen X is a better film than The Silence of the Lambs -- it stands closer to Memories of Murder than anything else. I can't recommend this enough.

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

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Film Review: Assault on Wall Street (2013)

Assault on Wall Street (Review)
United States/Canada/2013
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...simple enough to sink your fangs into..."

Hardworking Jim Baxford (Dominic Purcell) is struggling to keep up with his wife's medical bills, and the issues are amplified as the market crashes...

Assault on Wall Street is a very simple yet engaging story. The story follows Jim as he tries to pay his wife's medical bills. As the bills pile up, so do his financial issues: the health insurance has reached its limit, he's in the middle of a $60,000 lawsuit, and his broker has lost his funds. Eventually, an event occurs at home that causes Jim to take the law into his own hands. So, he loads up and assaults Wall Street. Conveniently, Jim has military training and weaponry, so he does what he does best. I didn't like the ending; much like the rest of the third act, it just doesn't seem believable at all -- just a pinch of reality, at least, would've made it more tolerable.

The first two acts of the film, or more like the first 50 minutes, are very good. The story is simple enough to sink your fangs into, and there is a surprising amount of character and emotional depth. It's a very solid buildup. Unfortunately, I didn't think what it built up to was all that great. After the hour mark, it starts to repeat itself with montage scenes of Jim walking and thinking, with a killing scene blended in, then repeated. This slows down the momentum, and makes the climax less effective. Also, the final act becomes contrived and unbelievable. I know, I know: it's a movie. But, the first half of the film is grounded in reality, and it works. The second half of the film suspends that and becomes a cheesy revenge flick. Especially the final line of dialogue, it was really corny.

The acting was okay. Dominic Purcell has strong screen presence, but often comes off as wooden -- a little more energy would've gone a long way. The supporting cast is good, though. The music was hit-and-miss; it seems very out of place at times, but well-suited during others. Otherwise, it's an up-to-standard film on the technical side. Writer and director Uwe Boll does a good job; the first two acts are surprisingly engaging and entertaining, and it's overall a good film, despite losing some ground and momentum during the final act. I know he's had a bad run with his mediocre and terrible video game adaptations, but his original work is at least decent.

Overall, Assault on Wall Street is a good film. The first hour of the film is a very good drama, the final actor is a barely decent action film. Surprisingly, this is a film that loses a lot of stream when it focuses on the action. Also, expect the unbelievable during the final act and ending, and maybe you'll be able to tolerate it better than I did.

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