Cat’s Cradle (Review)

CAT’S CRADLE

 

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Actor/Writer, Tawny Sorensen for allowing me early access to an online screener of her 15 minute, Drama short “Cat’s Cradle”, Directed by David Spaltro. Cat’s Cradle focuses on young adult couple, Amy and Jim (played by Sorensen and Nabil Vinas) who’ve been luckless so far in their attempt to conceive. With Jim’s regimented nights for the two always pre planned, a crisis of self-identification arises along with certain truths that threaten the couple’s core foundation. It doesn’t happen all that often, but every now and again I open my email to find random screeners that have been sent in for review, as was the case with Tawny’s debut short.

THE GOOD

The plot synopsis for Cat”s Cradle is fairly thin and in this case that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I had no idea what to expect and was pleasantly surprised with some of the topics and themes on display in Tawny’s writing. The film looks to open a line of communication on that exact thing, communication, particularly between couples and partners. The dynamics of the man woman relationship in modern society have changed significantly over the years, so much so that many things go unsaid during the development of relationships, crucial things that end up being a problem later in life. Sorensen analyses sex, and where it fits into married life once children enter the fold, as well as looking at the severity in the responsibility required when you bring a child into the world. These are all relevant topics for discussion and make for an interesting narrative (even if you’re like me, single with no kids). The film is nicely framed and well shot, the audio levels are crisp too. The soundtrack is lively, utilizing some really smooth reggae guitar at the beginning and sweet blues notes later in proceedings. Both, Sorenson and Vinas (who I must say closely resembles fellow actor Jeremy Piven) have solid chemistry together and their dialogue flows organically.

THE BAD

There’s not a lot to pick at in the short 15 minute running time, but there were a couple of momentary focus issues during the back and forth between Amy and Jim. Some of the background music (which is low in the mix anyway) didn’t really seem to fit, tonally speaking, especially as the argument escalated. Tawny’s commentary on the state of the world right now and what it means to bring someone into it, is a good thing. It only further highlights the issues we have with population and our ever dwindling resources, but it is perhaps a little heavy-handed during the monologue.

Cat’s Cradle is an engaging, thought-provoking and important Drama from first-timer, Tawny Sorensen. It’s well shot, most of the soundtrack shines through brightly and each of the performances command your attention. It has a couple of minor issues but you’ve got to look hard at them and ideally you’ll be drawn into the discussion, making your own judgements of the situation and where you’d stand if put in a similar position. In a perfect world this film is shown to new couples and people thinking about starting a family. As a whole, people don’t truly have a grasp of the seriousness of it all and this film could help with that. At the very least, this should open the discussion for us all.

My rating for “Cat’s Cradle” is 8.5/10

 

Leaf Blower Massacre (Review)

LEAF BLOWER MASSACRE

 

THE SETUP

Firstly, I ‘d just like to say thank you to Writer/Director, Anthony Cooney for allowing me access to a screener of the 80’s inspired, 12 minute Horror/Comedy short “Leaf Blower Massacre”. Leaf Blower Massacre sees a mysterious killer wielding a leaf blower, target hapless victims on the streets of a small town in Illinois. Theater goers and poker playing buddies are among the casualties of this madman. The film stars Anita Nicole Brown (from TV’S Boss and Chicago Fire), Shavar D. Clark, Anthony Cooney, Martin Sean Cooney and Karla Shaw. I’ve been tracking the movements of Leaf Blower Massacre since it wrapped way back in 2013, and it was strange because it seemed like it was going to be one of those films that just never came out. It’s taken me until mid 2017 to finally get the chance to check it out, So was it worth the wait?

THE GOOD

Do I even need to state the obvious? Clearly it’s the memorable B movie title  “Leaf Blower Massacre” that tells you everything you need to know about Cooney’s debut short. The 80’s SOV (shot on video) inspired poster art, with its complementary pun-filled tagline is certainly eye-catching to a fan of the genre. I was pleasantly surprised with the high standard of cinematography from first-time DP, Josh Stephenson (who also wrote the screenplay). There’s a number of good establishing shots as well as a range of different setups and angles to keep things looking professional. Given this is a micro-budget short, the audio is quite good when natural. However, Cooney does rely heavily on obvious ADR (additional dialogue recording), probably due to a chunk of the film taking place outside, where you can get a lot of background noise. The standard of performance ranges somewhat but everyone is serviceable in their specific roles. The villain lays down a couple of fun and cheesy one liners and the weapon of choice is nothing short of hilarious (although the comedy isn’t so overt). There’s a humorous nod to the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre in here as well, good stuff.

THE BAD

My issues with Leaf Blower Massacre are equal parts technical related and creative choice based. The aforementioned re-recorded audio is the most discernible one, but there’s an oddly framed sequence where a couple walk the streets and talk about the movie they’ve just seen. It’s a relatively short scene and you’d usually just see a common two shot as they walk, or even a wider shot, but Stephenson opts to frame the individual who isn’t talking at the time of the shot and alternates, it’s a little distracting. Sections of the dialogue are a bit too “gangster” for me, considering most of the characters are white. The music is definitely the weakest aspect in Leaf Blower Massacre. I was hoping for some old school synth to accompany the 80’s themed plot line, instead, we get a piano ballad during the intro and a lot of scratchy background strain during other times. To make matters worse, there’s a boring and repetitive jazz theme with bass and guitar that plays almost the entire length of the poker sequence.

I’ve been highly anticipating Leaf Blower Massacre, and while not necessarily offering up anything special, it still provided solid entertainment value on its very small budget. I love the cheesy puns and the killers look, clearly an homage to 80’s B movies like “Nail Gun Massacre” and Umberto Lenzi’s “Nightmare Beach”. The camera work and audio are much better then in some of its counterparts and the performances are fun. Not so good are certain chunks of the dialogue and most of the music choices. The one thing largely absent from Cooney’s short is the blood and gore, though that can somewhat be excused due to the small budget. He’s currently in post production on the sequel, which is going to be a feature-length. I, for one, look forward to what will hopefully be a more violent and bloody entry. Though it does beg the question, How does one go about massacring with a leaf blower? On that note, I’ll leave you to ponder. Keep an eye out for a review of Cooney’s second short film “The Dirty Sanchez” which will be coming soon!

My rating for “Leaf Blower Massacre” is 6/10

Blood Hunters (Review)

BLOOD HUNTERS

 

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Elder Martinez over at Elderfanfilms Blogspot for gaining me access to an online screener of the Horror/Thriller “Blood Hunters”, Written by Corey Brown, Directed by Tricia Lee. Blood Hunters follows single mother, Ellie Barnes (Lara Gilchrist of Battlestar Galactica) who wakes up in a medical facility, pregnant, with no memory of how she got there. With the entire staff killed during testing gone wrong, Ellie finds herself reliant on Henry (Benjamin Arthur), another patient in the facility and Marion (played by Torri Higginson of Stargate: Atlantis), a security and data expert. The film also stars Julian Richings (Wrong Turn), Mark Taylor (TV’s Flashpoint), Peter Blankenstein and Samuel Faraci. Elder is a Colombian born, film aficionado who promotes a lot of independent horror content via his own blogging website. His site is centered primarily around news on the latest releases and details on distribution and such. I’ve been fortunate enough to do a handful of reviews for the site, Lee’s film being the latest.

THE GOOD

I remember seeing the initial fund-raising campaign for Blood Hunters way back when, but with funds all dried up at the time, I couldn’t back the film. I did, however, track its progress for a while and not long ago an email with the press kit attached was sent to me. The poster art was the first thing that caught my eye, the creatures having an interesting mix of vampire and alien about them, as well as human characteristics. Ryan Knight’s cinematography is the driving factor behind the high production value aesthetics of what is ultimately a low-budget feature. Knight’s extensive work in the short film medium no doubt helped equip him with the knowledge required for undertaking something bigger. The framing looks great and a series of early focus pulls aided in conveying Ellie’s unfamiliarity with her surroundings and the situation at hand. One of my favourite shots is the aerial view over the top of the operating table. Aaron Gilhuis has scored all three of Lee’s feature films and in Blood Hunters he introduces a moody, bass filled score really early on that helps build the suspense. Gentle piano themes slowly work their way into some of the flashback sequences and more dramatic moments. The audio is clean, and given the films setting, it’s effectively lit. In particular the flickering technique used to represent the dwindling power supply.

It was great to see some familiar faces in Blood Hunters, I had no idea who had been cast (if anyone) back when I first heard about the film. Overall, the performances are pretty solid. Gilchrist has been acting for over a decade now and she holds things together nicely. Ellie is certainly the most fleshed out character in the film and you should be able to relate to her struggles (at least on some level). Higginson made a name for herself as Dr Elizabeth Weir, a part of the Atlantis crew on TV’s Stargate. There may have been a propensity to cast Torri as a Doctor in Blood Hunters and I’m pleased that they went a different route. Her character of Marion occupied the grey area while serving as somewhat of a mother figure to the rest of the group. I thought Benjamin Arthur, who I must say looks a hell of a lot like Jason Sudeikis, had lapses with staying in the moment and did take a while to even out his performance and I think that was the reason I didn’t care about his character as much. To those who watch a lot of horror, Julian Richings has long been seen as a genre talent. Unfortunately he just doesn’t get the same exposure and accolades as heavyweights like Robert England, Kane Hodder, and the like, tend to get. I, for one, would love to see Julian as a Freddy Kruger type somewhere down the line. The remainder of the supporting cast are serviceable too. There wasn’t a great deal of action in Blood Hunters but practical effects are a plus and the gore toward the end looks good.

THE BAD

Writer, Corey Brown is another member of the crew who’ve worked with Lee on all of her films thus far. It’s nice to see core groups working together on multiple projects, I think it’s potentially a great formula for making consistent films. That said, not all of Brown’s dialogue is great. Some of the interactions aren’t always smooth and the few lines tossed in for comedic relief, clash, tonally speaking. I was hoping that Brown would write Ellie having the mandatory “freak out” moment in correlation with awakening to find that sizeable baby bump. Being pregnant is one thing, but then there’s finding out the specifics of the conception weren’t exactly conventional, to which Ellie still doesn’t react in a way you’d expect from a woman in that type of scenario. Some of those specifics weren’t as well refined as they could’ve been. Like most films set in a facility, you’re probably going to see the direction it’s all heading shortly into the proceedings. Experiments are bound to have taken place and all that’s left are the ramifications, that and of course plenty of questions surrounding the details of the testing. Maybe it’s because I knew what I was in for (more or less), that I found considerable chunks of the 90 minute running time lagged. Downtime definitely has its place, but it’s usually best after you’ve been hit with intense imagery or suspense, something Blood Hunters severely lacks. I suppose you could chalk that up to how the creatures look, at least in part. They’re most threatening when lurking about in the shadows, but the uncertainty in who or what they are remains, and is highlighted when they step out into the light (they don’t because they can’t but figuratively speaking). A lot of the patchy digital effects work doesn’t help the cause.

Blood Hunters feels a little bit like 2005’s “The Descent” meets the far less remarkable “The Hospital”. I was really impressed with the cinematography, the lighting, and the sound design which includes an atmospheric score. There’s adequate exposition throughout the film although it comes on in fits and starts, and the performances are generally pretty good. This one does contain some practical effects and the blood and gore is serviceable taking into account the style of film. Some of the dialogue’s a miss and our key characters responsive manner doesn’t always pass for plausible. Brown needed to include that reaction based conduct in order for Ellie to be fully believed. The downside here is that almost everything in Blood Hunters is predictable, and when you don’t have more prominent action, and or a greater memorable creature/hybrid/person (whatever you choose to call them) there’s always going to be lulls throughout the run time. If you enjoy films set in facilities then I think you’ll have fun with Blood Hunters. Though not the best of its kind, it’s a polished product that will surely entertain fans. I’ve had Tricia Lee’s, “Silent Retreat” for a while now and I’m looking forward to checking it out, as well as any future films of hers. Check out the trailer and if you want to purchase the film it’s now available from the link below!

My rating for “Blood Hunters” is 5.5/10

https://www.amazon.com/Blood-Hunters-Blu-ray-Lara-Gilchrist/dp/B07146XW59/ref=sr_1_2?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1499908037&sr=1-2&keywords=blood+hunters

One Night Of Fear (Review)

ONE NIGHT OF FEAR

 

THE SETUP

Firstly I’d just like to say thank you to the people at  Four J’s Production, Caisson Films and 316 Productions for sending me an online screener of “One Night Of Fear”, Co-Written and Directed by Brian Troxell. One Night Of Fear is a Florida made Horror/Thriller about a trio of campers in the Ocala National Forest who are hunted by a deranged psychopath (played by Jason Sutton). Katie (played by Jessica Sonneborn of Bloody Bloody Bible Camp) and her boyfriend, Rob (Jimmy Dempster) have planned to meet up for a day of hiking with another couple and friend, Jaclyn (played by Suzi Lorraine from Pinup Dolls On Ice) *see review* https://adamthemoviegod.com/pinup-dolls-on-ice-review/. After Jaclyn escapes the madman and warns the couple, the trio take refuge in an abandoned cabin, but it’s not long before he tracks them down to finish what he started. The film also stars Russ Forga, Megan Sweet, Joel D. Wynkoop and Mel Heflin.

THE GOOD

There’s no second guessing the intent behind One Night Of Fear, and that was simply to make a slasher film for fans and the like to revel in. I hadn’t heard of Troxell, despite him having worked as a film maker since 2008, nor was I familiar with Dempster. None the less, I’m always open to the slasher sub-genre of horror and I enjoy supporting the little guy as much as I can. Troxell’s backwoods slasher (although this is not your garden variety hillbilly romp) is certainly a paint by numbers entry, which is not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just that a dash of ingenuity often goes a long way when you’re building on a formulaic foundation. The Florida swampland and the cozy cabin in which the film are set, make for great locations and give off a higher production value then the films price tag would suggest. Paul Steward’s cinematography is generally pretty clean, with neat framing and gentle pans and raises via a glide cam. Some of the tracking shots looked impressive and there’s a few gorgeous shots at dusk which are probably the technical highlight. Most of the lighting looks good and the score is strongest when the main piano theme is present during the more dramatic scenes. There’s some cool 80s inspired synth thrown in here but I think it suffers due to some of its sequencing.

There’s not a lot here in the way of substance, particularly regarding our three key protagonists. Over the course of the short 72 minute running time we learn nothing of any real importance about them. We’re essentially just witness to a bunch of backhanded comments between Katie and Jaclyn, taking cheap shots at each other wherever possible between the killers repeated advances. I suppose it’s revealed quite early on that the couple don’t know Jaclyn that well, so Troxell does in a way cover his bases. The best piece of exposition comes in the form of two or three flashbacks depicting a young boy witnessing his grandfather (Joel D. Wynkoop) torturing and abusing his mother. It’s some rather cliché, albeit intense imagery that shows us that the now, killer, never really stood a chance. I think the two best performances in the film come from Russ Forga as Elmer, the park ranger (who closely resembles the late John Candy) and Jimmy Dempster as the leading male (who reminds me a hell of a lot of fellow actor, Jason Isaacs). I found their characters quite likeable, that and they were the only ones who made any sound decisions (relatively speaking). I enjoyed some of the action on display in One Night Of Fear and I give credit to Brian for throwing in some early nudity and a good kill, both within the opening five to ten minutes. There’s lack of logic in a lead up to one particular kill in the barn, but it can be forgiven somewhat considering they save face with practical effects during the kills. The highlight of which involves a decapitation and a bloody aftermath, good stuff!

THE BAD

One Night Of Fear has its fair share of technical inconsistencies, and some of the creative license taken wasn’t necessarily to my liking. The general dialogue audio levels are quite low (though keep in mind it’s just a screener and will differ depending on the quality of your speakers), but it’s the louder and more shrill screams from female characters that will have you reaching for the volume dial on more than one occasion. Most of the cinematography is solid but some of the macro shots are blurry, most notably when there’s action in the scene. Focus pulling can work wonders when implemented in beneficial places, unfortunately they don’t have much effect here. The practical effects were serviceable but the makeup depicting the battered and bruised protagonists wasn’t (namely Jaclyn). I think it’s the music that stood out as being the most poorly established aspect. Off kilter tones transition abruptly a number of times throughout the film. The beginning employ’s a rhythmic guitar with a western vibe, and then out of nowhere switches to synth. Suspenseful score cues when there’s nothing suspenseful happening, and at one stage the music drops out completely before the scene has even cut. Moreover, bizarre choices are made, like total room tone silence, backed with the sounds of middle eastern flute as Rob and the girls navigate the cabin upon their arrival. Overall the soundtrack and its mix are both a complete mess.

Sadly, it was the editing that I found most frustrating about One Night Of Fear. The final cut is jarring and sporadic in a number of places and I’m most disappointed that Troxell and Steward couldn’t see that. Maybe it’s just me but I’ve always believed that for the most part you stick with a scene for its full duration, particularly in low-budget film making. Just about every time One Night Of Fear gets something solid building (suspense wise), there’s a cut to something unrelated or something lacking activity. I understand it’s a technique that can sometimes be effective in creating relevant drama, but this isn’t the setting for it and it doesn’t make any sense to constantly quash any tension you’ve built, especially not in a Horror film. Little continuity inconsistencies are usually par for the course in the genre and One Night Of Fear is no exception. The ranger refers to the trio as “kids” when it’s obvious they’re adults, Jaclyn’s top gets covered in blood and in the scene that follows she’s got a clean shirt on, yet it’s been revealed that the cabin is completely void of amenities (as it’s a guest house). The opening scene intercuts between the killer whose killing at night, and the park ranger whose wandering the grounds during the day. That’s a sizeable continuity flaw unless they were supposed to have occurred on separate days, though why you’d join the two together I don’t know. I’ve seen both Jessica and Suzi in other independent films where I think they delivered stronger performances. I thought Sonneborn and Dempster lacked chemistry and therefore her line delivery suffered. A big part of their inconsistencies lie with some of the writing, but it’s Lorraine’s first scene that required an emotionally charged response and it just wasn’t at the level it needed to be in order to be believed.

One Night Of Fear is a little known independent slasher film comparable to the likes of 2013’s, “Axeman” aka (Axeman At Cutter’s Creek) and Drew Barnhardt’s, “Blood Cabin”. As a huge fan of the genre I can always get behind a slasher that decides to play it straight. I dug the Florida location, the set design and the crisp lighting. Most of the cinematography looks really good, most notably those couple of scenes at dusk. The 80’s esq synth works in certain places and the two male performances are decent. Troxell gives us a peek at the origin of the dirty, overall clad killer but it doesn’t make him any less nondescript. The best part of the film is the practical effects and a couple of the stand out kills, special mention to actress, Lowrie Fawley for her cameo and willingness to show off some nudity, I was impressed. The audio levels were up and down, so much so that some of the dialogue I couldn’t hear properly, certain shots lost their bearing and the music was poorly sequenced and badly mixed. Sizeable chunks of random editing killed any real shot at suspense and only further highlighted continuity issues for mine. I thought two of the three lead performances were below par, and in the end I think there’s a struggle to find enough material here to warrant a feature-length film and that’s perhaps why it only clocks in at 70 minutes (not including credits). I’m sure the cast and crew learnt a lot from the film and even though it’s not a slasher I’d really recommend, I applaud Brian and Co for getting this off the ground on such a small budget. If you enjoyed the aforementioned films or you’re a hardcore fan of the sub-genre, feel free to check out the trailer in the link below!

My rating for “One Night Of Fear” is 4/10

Jasmine (Review)

JASMINE

 

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Writer/Director, Dax Phelan for allowing me early access to an online screener of his debut feature film, “Jasmine” from 2015. Jasmine is a Mystery/Thriller set in Hong Kong, about once-successful business man, Leonard To (played by Jason Tobin of “The Fast and Furious:Tokyo Drift”) who is still dealing with the stresses of an ongoing investigation into his wife’s murder. After seeing a mysterious stranger (Byron Mann of TV’S “Hell On Wheels”) at her grave, Leonard becomes obsessed with proving that the man is guilty of the crime. The film also stars Sarah Lian, Eugenia Yuan and Grace Huang. I didn’t know a lot about Jasmine prior to contacting Dax, I’d only seen a brief part of the trailer but it looked interesting. I was surprised to find that it was made back in 2015, but due to personal reasons the release was delayed. The post production phase saw it go through several transformations to end up with what you see here in 2017.

THE GOOD

Let’s get straight into it. Phelan himself, said that he constructed Jasmine with two sets of ideals in mind and that multiple viewings were paramount in order for one to fully appreciate this world he created. I’m a huge fan of bold films and confident film makers with a willingness to openly disclose their intent. At the end of the day it’s all subjective, but as a critic who looks at all facets of the film before critiquing it, I feel like your average movie-goer doesn’t really comprehend intent. Jasmine is almost entirely shot handheld and that makes the high production value cinematography all the more impressive. The framing is consistent and Phelan employs an effective close shooting style for the full duration. Constant shots looking over Leonard’s shoulder and through his eyes and face help to put the audience in his shoes as he deals with the frustrations of being stifled at every turn. Shie Rozow’s dramatic and ambient score feels perfect for the films mostly somber tone, but there’s definite echoes of Polanski (A Knife In The Water) and Hitchcock (Vertigo) in there too. Jasmine is the type of independent film that’s all too rare and sneaks up on you in a wonderful way.

The key to the film rests on Jason Tobin’s performance, and he handles it very well. Leonard is present in basically every frame of the film and there’s not that much dialogue in the 75 minute run time considering, therefore Tobin has to constantly toe the line of perception and reality through mostly his facial expressions as he wanders the streets of Hong Kong. Both actresses, in Lian and Yuan, do a nice job of grounding the film given they have limited screen time. In regards to the script, Phelan has layered Jasmine with such subtle nuances you won’t even realize the proverbial wool being pulled over your eyes until it’s far too late, and much like me, you’ll be left wondering how the hell it happened (in the best possible way). Leonard’s depression and frustrations mount as the film progresses. Old wrist wounds illustrate past self harm, his wife’s fading voice often creeping into his thoughts, though his affinity for cocaine may just play a part in that. He shows no signs of making headway with the authorities who won’t even return his calls, and even when he tries to join in on a random conversation at a bar, he’s barely acknowledged. What does it all mean? If anything.

THE BAD

I don’t like to complain about copyright watermarks that come imprinted on screeners because I understand they won’t be there when the film is officially released, but it’s a nuisance particularly if they don’t disappear for at least a period of time. The audio levels were a little low in places but I was watching the film through standard Logitech speakers that aren’t that great (so I’m sure the hard copy will be fine). I enjoyed nearly all the music but there’s a section of drum orientated score toward the end that becomes somewhat repetitive after a short time. The inconsistency of the accents was the biggest thing that threw me off in the film. Leonard often sounded Australian but I don’t think he was supposed to be. On occasion he comes across more American than anything else, and on that note, at one point Anna (Sarah Lian) actually says to Leonard that she’s not from the states but it’s evident her accent is as American as they come, so I’m not sure about all of that. I’m looking forward to watching the film again with the hopes of getting a little more clarity on Leonard’s contact, Grace (Yuan). Now, I say contact because their connection was never really clear. I don’t know if that’s pertinent but I’m still curious if she was she an old friend/flame? Co-worker? Sister-in-law? I’m not sure.

A cross between Bong Joon Ho’s, “Mother” and Nolan’s masterpiece “Memento”, Dax Phelan’s debut feature film is a modern masterclass in slow burn, tension based film making. Jasmine is guaranteed to sneak up on viewers, it’s a film that seemingly just rolls along and then out of nowhere, stuns you with the one two before you even know what’s hit you. With shades of Denis Villeneuve’s “Enemy” about it, Phelan wraps you up in Leonard’s web of fixation and forces you to follow him down the darkest of rabbit holes. The production value is impressive, the score fittingly moody and the performances are as even as I’ve seen in a low-budget film. The screener audio was a little low, some of that music in the final act gets a bit tedious and the accents are slightly uneven in places. The gripes I have with it are very minor and I can only see this getting better upon multiple viewings. I love that clues aren’t clues until you know there’s a puzzle, and the fact that Dax could pull the rug out from under my feet without me knowing it, given all that I’ve seen, surely makes this the best independent film of the year so far. Brilliant Stuff! The film hits VOD and DVD in July.

My rating for “Jasmine” is 8/10

Karate Kill (Review)

KARATE KILL

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Judrina Kymantas and Petri Entertainment for allowing me early access to an online screener of the Japanese Action/Exploitation film “Karate Kill”, Written and Directed by Kurando Mitsutake (Gun Woman). Karate Kill is about loner and kung fu master, Kenji (played by Hayate) who after discovering that his little sister Mayumi (Mana Sakura) has disappeared in the US, heads to Los Angeles where he’s confronted with a corrupt restaurant owner (Gun Woman’s, Noriaki Kamata) and a mysterious cult called Capital Messiah, led by Vendenski (played by Kirk Geiger). The film also stars former adult star, Asami (Rape Zombie Series and Dead Sushi),  Katarina Leigh Waters (of the WWE), Tomm Voss and Toshiya Agata.

THE GOOD

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve never really been all that interested in the martial arts sub-genre of Action films. It’s not that I can’t appreciate the stunt work or the careful construction of the choreography, it’s just that in what I have seen, the story telling aspect has been well off the mark. Some would argue that’s trivial because the selling point is purely the fighting and perhaps those writers aren’t necessarily out to tell a great story. Call me old-fashioned but I need the narrative, hence why the closest thing to a successful kung fu movie in my opinion is Brett Ratner’s, “Rush Hour” (I know, I know, not a kung fu movie). I’ll assume we’re not counting the cheesy but fun, “3 Ninjas” franchise that I used to watch when I was a kid or even the classic “Karate Kid” films. With all that said, I’m fairly open-minded and with Mitsutake behind it, I was happy to give this one a go. The cinematography is surprisingly good for a film of this nature (given I didn’t know what to expect). There’s plenty of establishing shots that help transition scenes, along with tight framing and an unusual rotating camera shot during one of the fight sequences in the restaurant, that was cool. The soundtrack was another aspect that caught me off guard. There’s a neat keyboard theme at the start that reminded me of some of the music from 2008’s, “Never Back Down”. All of the synth music gives off that intentional mid 80s vibe and there’s even a unique homage to the Western genre, in particular Takashi Miike’s “Sukiyaki Western Django”. The performances from the key cast are mostly pretty good. I liked Asami and Sakura but most notably, Hayate, the lead. This is his first time behind the camera and you wouldn’t know it, so kudos to him.

Kurando’s script has sufficient back story for each of its characters and that’s something you don’t see a lot of in Kung fu films (at least the ones I’ve seen). The bond shared between Kenji and Mayumi, like any brother and sister, is a special one. The film was definitely aided by the inclusion of a few flashback shots to when the siblings were younger, allowing the audience to feel that natural protection from Kenji and chemistry with his sister. The villain of the piece, Vendenski is one of the few Americans in the film (speaking in English) along with his henchmen/women. He, too, is fairly fleshed out in terms of showcasing a supreme mindset over the Capital Messiah and its hapless victims. I wasn’t sure if he was supposed to be an ex-Vietnam vet or not, but there was enough there to see where he was at mentally. He certainly looked the part with the whole DeNiro “Deer Hunter” wardrobe, but the timeline doesn’t add up for any war to come into play. I don’t have much of a body of work to make comparisons but the fight choreography and stunt work in Karate Kill was impressive. What boosts the enjoyment of those action sequences further is the well-timed foley effects, every sound matches the corresponding hit and that’s a rare feat. Karate Kill’s revenge aspect could be akin to what you’d see in the Exploitation genre. Fans of said genre will be pleased to know that there’s adequate nudity in here and some good practical blood and gore. The film has a few darkly comedic moments that are fun but the highlights are a couple of gruesome gags involving a hand smash and an ear rip. There’s also a couple of sword deaths that utilize practical effects too.

THE BAD

Karate Kill contains English subtitles as the primary language spoken is Japanese. The subtitles aren’t always perfect, and in turn, the phrasing can appear a little disjointed. The language barrier sees certain chunks of dialogue feeling as though they’ve been too Westernized. Mitsutake implements the use of some POV cameras (point of view), and surveillance like shots during Capital Messiah’s advance on the restaurant and its employees. The technique is fine and adds another element to the film, but the placement of a number of shots from the staff point of view don’t actually make any sense because they aren’t shown to be wearing cameras. Some of the secondary cast members aren’t quite as consistent in their performances as the leads are, at times even Geiger (as Vendenski) becomes rather cartoonish. The film only runs about 85 minutes (minus credits) but the second half does lose a bit of steam and that’s underlined in the disappointing final showdown between Kenji and Vendenski. The effects quickly turn cheap, due to the excessive amounts of on-screen CG blood spray. On the upside, the body count is plentiful (mostly via gun) and some of the after effect prosthetic work was a welcomed addition, but sadly it doesn’t quite revive that final act. Ever since the likes of extreme filmmakers in Yoshihiro Nishimura (Tokyo Gore Police) and Takashi Miike (Audition and Ichi The Killer) among others, Asian cinema has become somewhat of a benchmark for ambitious practical effects, so it’s a little disappointing to see Karate Kill not live up to its full potential in that area.

Karate Kill isn’t the type of film I’d actively seek out but Mitsutake’s exploitative throwback to kung fu films of the early to mid 80’s turned out to be an entertaining experience. This could be likened to 1983’s “Revenge Of The Ninja”, with a trace of Kurando’s last film “Gun Woman” about it as well. The camera work is pretty solid, the foley crisp and the soundtrack quintessentially 80’s with its driving synth and bass. There’s the odd tip of the hat to the Western genre and its revenge facet, and each of the key characters have enough of an arc to get by. Most of the performances are good, the fight choreography surpassed my expectations and when the practical effects are present, they look pretty impressive. Some of the dialogue is a little clunky and several of the secondary players go in an out of character in places. I think the climax of the film ends on a down note, it’s just too CG heavy given what comes before it. Historically, Asian cinema has set the bar high when it comes to blood flow and this gore hound wasn’t fully satisfied with the result here. All that said, Karate Kill is more than serviceable and fans of the sub-genre will surely enjoy it, especially those fight sequences. I look forward to more extreme film making from our friends in Asia! Keep an eye out for the July, Blu ray release of Karate Kill and feel free to check out the trailer below!

My rating for “Karate Kill” is 6/10

 

Pickup (Review)

PICKUP

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Director, Jeremiah Kipp for allowing me early access to an online screener of his 15 minute, Drama short “Pickup”, Written by Jessica Blank. Pickup shows a day in the life of bored mother and housewife, Megan (played by Mandy Evans). Her constant desire for some form of tangibility has led her astray on more than one occasion in her marriage to husband, Ben (played by “The Wire’s” Jim True-Frost), a driven business man. With young son Liam to take care of (Griffin Robert Faulkner) and a need to feel something, anything at all, her carefully constructed web might just come unstuck. The film also stars Elena McGhee and Christopher Piccione. I initially reviewed a few of Kipp’s short films back in 2014, but haven’t heard about much from him since. “Painkiller”, “The Minions” and “Berenice” aka “Creepers” were the three that I was sent *see reviews* https://adamthemoviegod.com/painkiller-the-minions-berenice-review/. As a whole, I thought each were pretty well made and now that Jeremiah’s had plenty more experience (something like 35 credits), I was interested to see what his latest had to offer.

THE GOOD

At its core, Blank’s script is a psychological drama about a mother and wife whose grown tired of the daily grind. Megan lives quite a comfortable life financially speaking, but it’s anything but comfortable when it comes to her emotional state. I really like that Blank is willing to stop dead in its tracks that whole misconception of money equates to happiness. How many times do we hear about personal struggles with actors, musicians, athletes? The list goes on and it’s far too frequent to be passed of as just an anomaly. Megan resorts to adultery in an attempt to fill the void in her life but I don’t think it’s out of spite, it comes from a place of loneliness and that will be relatable for some. Blank ties it all in with Megan’s ever-growing but spontaneous addiction, as well as delicately shining a light on the ease with which we can satisfy our urges thanks to technological advancements like social media. I’ll be the first to admit that those developments aren’t all good. Technology is often a distraction from one being present and in the moment, and we’re all guilty of failing that at least to some degree. Kipp’s DP (director of photography), Eric Giovon does a good job with the cinematography. There’s some gentle zooming in certain shots and everything is nicely framed. The highlight for me is where the camera moves with the shopping cart, that was effective. The audio levels are consistent and the score is made up of some smooth piano and bass. For a drama short there’s not a great deal of dialogue but the performances are all still quite good.

THE BAD

On the technical front there was only the one minor complaint I had. In one scene with Megan and Ben in the bedroom, there’s a couple of blurred lights that hit the frame momentarily and it’s a little distracting (probably happened due to the lighting position). In hindsight, the brief sequence in the local bar was somewhat inconsequential, given Megan’s waiting for someone and her addictive personality has already been made quite clear from the outset. I know that it probably acts as a lead in to the final scene of the film but I think it slows the pacing down just a fraction. Ben annoyed me simply because he was so oblivious toward picking up on any of Megan’s signs. Men as a whole are not very good at the attention to detail part, but he in particular failed to read any of her body language, so is often the way, but that was frustrating as a viewer (though not technically a flaw with the film).

Pickup sees Jeremiah foray into something completely drama based, which I haven’t seen him do before. Jessica Blank’s script has shades of Steve McQueen’s “Shame” about it, with its neat handling of addiction and depression. I particularly enjoyed the inclusion of the technology theme and how that figures into modern-day life. It’s a well shot, well acted film with a nice moody score. I think perhaps one or two moments could have been cut to shorten the run time (the bar scene comes to mind) and Ben made for a frustrating character, though one true to life. I’m not sure if there’s value to be gained in multiple viewings but this is an important one watch for a multitude of people, especially those detached from their own lives and those around them as well as anyone that’s having a hard time coping.

My rating for “Pickup” is 7.5/10