Film Review: Commando Ninja (2018)

Release Date: November 18th, 2018 (Effets Stars Film Festival – France)
Directed by: Benjamin Combes
Written by: Benjamin Combes
Music by: Thomas Cappeau
Cast: Eric Carlesi, Philippe Allier, Stéphane Asensio, Anaëlle Rincent, Charlotte Poncin, Thyra Hann Phonephet, Cécile Fargues, Thémann Fagour, Olivier Dobremel

Benjamin Combes, Melbas 801, 68 Minutes

Review:

“50% Commando, 50% Ninja, 100% American” – tagline

Like Kung Fury before it, as well as some other similar films, this was a crowdfunded motion picture. I didn’t contribute to it or even know about it until a week ago but once I got wind of it, I had to check it out, as it is certainly something that is right up my alley.

Commando Ninja draws its inspiration from ’80s American action films, even though it is a French production. It works as an homage to CommandoPredator, the American Ninja series, Rambo: First Blood Part II, The Terminator and just about anything put out by Cannon Films.

This was a hell of a lot of fun for fans of ’80s action. It really seemed to understand the source material and is a solid parody and homage to it all. Watching this churned up the same sort of feelings I had renting Cannon movies as a kid.

The acting in this is pretty funny. It’s not good acting but it’s not even trying to be and doesn’t need to be. The actors intentionally ham it up and it works in a similar fashion to Samurai Cop or any of the films by Amir Shervan.

For what this film intended to be, it is near perfect. And I’m sure it is something I will revisit on a semi-regular basis.

Between this and Kung Fury, I’m glad that the Europeans still have a love for these type of films, as here in the United States, our culture has gotten too sensitive and would put up a big stink if someone where to actually put out a film like this in 2019. Hell, even Hobo With a Shotgun and Turbo Kid weren’t American production either and they hit very similar notes with quite a bit of success.

Mark my words, this will be a cult film years from now.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Kung Fury, Hobo With a Shotgun and Turbo Kid.

Film Review: Beastmaster II: Through the Portal of Time (1991)

Release Date: June 8th, 1991 (Japan)
Directed by: Sylvio Tabet
Written by: Jim Wynorski, R.J. Robertson, Sylvio Tabet, Ken Hauser, Doug Miles
Based on: The Beast Master by Andre Norton, characters by Don Coscarelli, Paul Pepperman
Music by: Robert Folk
Cast: Marc Singer, Kari Wuhrer, Sarah Douglas, Wings Hauser, James Avery, Robert Z’Dar, Michael Berryman

Les Films 21, Republic Pictures, New Line Cinema, 107 Minutes

Review:

“He who defies Arklon, shall be destroyed… by Arklon!” – Arklon

This is such a shitty movie but it is a wonderfully entertaining shitty movie.

Where the original Beastmaster is truly a sword and sorcery classic, this film is pretty much just a “fish out of water” comedy with some sword and sorcery elements.

I’m not sure what the filmmakers were thinking with this. It wasn’t like they rushed out a sloppy sequel because this came nine years after the original. But it is very cheaply made and it completely lacks the superior craftsmanship of the previous film’s director, Don Coscarelli.

What saves this film, at least in my eyes, is the over the top performances of its cast. Marc Singer is dry when compared to his cast mates but he’s still enjoyable as Dar and I’ll always be a fan of his version of the character.

However, Singer is pretty much overshadowed by the energetic cuteness of Kari Wuhrer in one of her earliest film performances. He’s also usurped by the charismatic Wings Hauser, as his evil brother Arklon. Plus, you have Sarah Douglas as a sorceress and she’s always fantastic. But the real scene stealer is James Avery, who isn’t in this as much as the other actors but you’re always locked on him when we walks on screen. Avery is used as comedic relief and he’s a master of that but I can’t discount the fact that this entire movie really is comedy.

This lacks the edge and darkness of its predecessor and if I’m being honest, I would have preferred a proper sequel. However, I still like this strange movie for all of its batshittery. It’s a very smudged up gem but it’s still a gem. But you also have to be the right sort of film fan for this movie to click for you. The average person isn’t going to find much value in the picture and that’s fine. All this shit is subjective, anyway.

Beastmaster II already had its work cut out for it, as the first film casts a big shadow. But all things considered, this is bizarre and unique enough to justify its existence and at least it wasn’t just a rehash of the previous movie.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: other sword and sorcery movies of the time, most notably the Conan films. It’s also fun to watch with the other films within its own series.

Film Review: Solomon Kane (2009)

Release Date: September 16th, 2009 (TIFF)
Directed by: Michael J. Bassett
Written by: Michael J. Bassett
Based on: characters by Robert E. Howard
Music by: Klaus Badelt
Cast: James Purefoy, Max von Sydow, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Pete Postlethwaite, Mackenzie Crook, Alice Krige

Davis Films, Czech Anglo Productions , Wandering Star Pictures, Metropolitan Filmexport, Optimum Releasing, 104 Minutes

Review:

“If I kill you, I am bound for hell. It is a price I shall gladly pay.” – Solomon Kane

At times, this felt like two different films. I liked a lot of the stuff in this movie but it had issues with pacing and tonal shifts.

Still, this had some real badass moments and I loved the character design between Solomon Kane and the two big villains, Malachi and the Masked Rider.

The opening ten minutes or so of this film were great and got me excited for what was to come. However, after the intense and fantastic opening, things slowed to a crawl for quite awhile. The energy didn’t really pick back up until the Masked Rider appeared and started doing some evil shit. Man, he just looked sinister and cool as hell, almost like a powerful Sith thrown into a Robert E. Howard story.

Malachi also added a lot to the picture and was a nice antagonist for Solomon Kane, a hero that walks the line with one foot in Hell and the other on the side of God.

The ghouls were also pretty cool and provided a lot of intense moments, as did the ghosts in the mirrors and the big demon beast in the big finale.

I thought that the cinematography was good and the film is very well shot. It looks great, even in the moments were CGI is very prevalent.

I just wish that the film wasn’t bogged down by some of its inconsistencies.

Every part in the picture was well acted, though and that certainly boosted the overall quality of the film. James Purefoy was perfection as Solomon Kane and even if he’s not a widely known star, I can’t think of a bigger one that would’ve pulled off the character as well as he did. Frankly, I wish this had done better because I would’ve liked to have seen him return to the role for other movies. And maybe it’s not too late but it’s been almost a decade since this came out and I haven’t heard anything about a follow up. It’ll probably be rebooted sometime in the future.

I wasn’t sure what to expect before watching this. On one hand I was pleasantly surprised and on the other, I was bored for half the film. But the positives definitely outweigh the negatives.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other films featuring Robert E. Howard heroes: all the Conan movies, Kull the ConquerorRed Sonja and other sword and sorcery films.

Film Review: Eyes Without a Face (1960)

Also known as: Les yeux sans visage (original title), House of Dr. Rasanoff (alternate title), The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus (US dubbed version)
Release Date: January 11th, 1960 (France)
Directed by: Georges Franju
Written by: Georges Franju, Jean Redon, Pierre Boileau, Thomas Narcejac, Claude Sautet
Based on: Les yeux sans visage by Jean Redon
Music by: Maurice Jarre
Cast: Pierre Brasseur, Édith Scob, Alida Valli, Juliette Mayniel

Champs-Élysées Productions, Lux Film, Lux Compagnie Cinématographique de France, 84 Minutes

Review:

“My face frightens me. My mask frightens me even more.” – Christiane Génessier

Eyes Without a Face isn’t what I would call a scary horror film, as much as I’d call it a chilling one.

It’s sad, it’s tragic, it has great atmosphere, solid cinematography and incredible performances and all that is really just the tip of the iceberg.

There is something deep and introspective in this motion picture. It’s unsettling but it’s somehow sweet in a very twisted way. Yet that sweetness comes naturally and while you should hate the antagonists of this film, you understand that the horrible things they do is out of love. That doesn’t excuse their horrible acts but for a horror film released in 1960, it makes you sympathize with evil, which wasn’t too common back then.

That being said, it’s still great to see the bad guys get their comeuppance in the end, especially since it comes at the hands of the one they loved most.

The story revolves around a surgeon and his daughter, who has had her face completely destroyed. In an effort to restore his daughter’s beauty, he has his female assistant lure in young girls only to abduct them and steal their face. A lot of the scenes are terrifying, as all the girls seem sweet and innocent, as you know that they are being pulled into something horrible.

What makes things more difficult, is that the disfigured daughter, Christiane, is also a sweet girl who exists within very tragic circumstances. She becomes aware of what’s happening and it’s a sad realization and hard to watch unfold on the screen. But Christiane’s face is obscured by an almost faceless mask for most of the film. Édith Scob was able to convey Christiane’s emotions quite well though, considering that all she had to work with were her eyes and body language.

The surgeon’s assistant is played by Alida Valli, who you will recognize from the original Suspiria, as well as the near perfect film-noir The Third Man. Valli gives a stupendous performance here as she uses her charm to trap the young girls and deliver them to the mad surgeon.

The film also has an incredibly effective and very unique score done by Maurice Jarre. It has a real contrast to the tone we see on screen, as the music is lighthearted and almost comical in certain moments. I think that it was used to make things purposely disjointed and more unsettling in specific scenes. It may seem out of place and strange at first glance but by the end of the film, it works amazingly well.

There are also a lot of really stellar shots in the film. The scene where we get a bit of the face reveal of Christiane, when she comes face to face with one of her father’s victims is incredibly powerful and creepy. Also, the scene of Christiane walking outside, after releasing the savage German Shepherds and caged doves is beautiful.

Eyes Without a Face is more of an experience than a movie. It probably won’t resonate with modern audiences as well as it did with people in 1960 but if you love a film with an interesting atmosphere and something with real emotional depth to it, then you’ll probably dig this picture.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: it’s pretty unique but I like watching this with 1962’s Carnival of Souls.

Film Review: Vampyr (1932)

Also known as: Adventures of David Gray (alternate original title), Castle of Doom (US dubbed version), Not Against the Flesh (US), The Strange Adventure of David Gray (Brazil English title), The Vampire (US copyright title)
Release Date: May 6th, 1932 (Germany)
Directed by: Carl Theodore Dreyer
Written by: Christen Jul, Carl Theodore Dreyer
Based on: In a Glass Darkly by Sheridan Le Fanu
Music by: Wolfgang Zeller
Cast: Julian West, Maurice Schutz, Rena Mandel, Jan Hieronimko, Sybille Schmitz, Henriette Gerard

Carl Theodore Dreyer-Filmproduktion, Tobis-Filmkunst, Vereinigte Star-Film GmbH, 73 Minutes

Review:

“Why does the doctor always come at night?” – Gisèle

Just as Nosferatu was the quintessential vampire movie of the silent German Expressionist era, Vampyr is probably the quintessential vampire movie of German Expressionism once it moved into sound.

This film has aged incredibly well for what it is. It is still quite terrifying, at its core, and it has an ambiance that is chilling and rich with dark folklore.

It’s unsettling as it rolls on and the plot develops. It’s well written and strange, as it doesn’t necessarily follow the typical vampire fiction template. It feels as if it were ripped from old folk tales, as opposed to taking its cues from Bram Stoker’s Dracula like nearly all vampire fiction.

I thought the performances were very dramatic and very reminiscent of the silent era but they were all pretty good. This feels like a stage show put to celluloid, as things feel very confined like the walls are always closing in. I’m not sure if that was the intent of the filmmakers but the scale of the film works to serve the main character’s story, as he keeps falling deeper and deeper into the darkness.

While German Expressionism isn’t really associated with films after the silent era, the style is alive and well here or at least the spirit of it is, as it has evolved. But this does, in my opinion, fit well with the more famous silent horror films that Germany was pumping out in the 1920s.

Vampyr is definitely worth your time if you like films like the original Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: NosferatuThe Cabinet of Dr. CaligariThe Golem and the Swedish film The Phantom Carriage.

Film Review: You Were Never Really Here (2017)

Also known as: A Beautiful Day (Germany, France, Italy)
Release Date: May 27th, 2017 (Cannes)
Directed by: Lynne Ramsay
Written by: Lynne Ramsay
Based on: You Were Never Really Here by Jonathan Ames
Music by: Jonny Greenwood
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Ekaterina Samsonov, Alex Manette, John Doman, Judith Roberts

Film4 Productions, British Film Institute, Why Not Productions, Page 114, Amazon Studios, 90 Minutes

Review:

“Where you spend your time? What do you do?” – Joe’s Mother

I heard a lot of exceptional things about this film and it sort of came and went without much fanfare, even though it premiered last year at Cannes. It’s an Amazon Studios film and they’ve been putting out a lot of great indie pictures, as of late.

While I enjoyed this, it didn’t blow me away like it seems to have for so many others.

To start, Joaquin Phoenix is damn good in this. He plays this character almost in monotone and it’s an understated performance but it works so well that it gives the character more depth and meaning than being overly emotional or rampaging against the vile scum in the film.

Phoenix is almost sweet even though he becomes a one man killing machine in his effort to save a very young girl from high profile sexual predators. The film is similar in a lot of ways to Taxi Driver but the main character is almost the antithesis of Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle. Granted, both men are damaged but Phoenix’s Joe is a lot less outwardly emotional.

Young actress, Ekaterina Samsonov, was also pretty stellar and her performance was understated, as well. It makes me wonder if things naturally flowed this way or if it was the director’s choice to have her two leads perform in a more subtle style. Whatever the case, it works for both characters and the tone of the film, as it feels more organic and natural than what’s typical in these types of pictures.

I thought that the cinematography and mise-en-scène had an enchanting quality from shot to shot. There was a lot of detail to absorb but the stylistic choices really supported the narrative and the overall tone.

All the parts came together quite nicely but if I had to nitpick, I’d say that this did lack some excitement. It’s hard to see a picture like this and not expect some good action. There almost is none, really. This is more about the emotional journey of the characters within the story than being an uber violent revenge flick.

I’m all for artistic license but I really wanted to see Pheonix actually go ape shit on the evil bastards in the film. But I’m also a child of the ’80s and devoured ’80s action films like an old lady at a bon bon buffet.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other modern vigilante films: the Death Wish remake, the Taken films, Death Sentence.

Film Review: Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (2016)

Also known as: Resident Evil 6, Resident Evil: Insurgence, Resident Evil: Rising (working titles)
Release Date: December 13th, 2016 (Tokyo, Seoul premiere)
Directed by: Paul W.S. Anderson
Written by: Paul W.S. Anderson
Based on: Resident Evil by Capcom
Music by: Paul Haslinger
Cast: Milla Jovovich, Ali Larter, Shawn Roberts, Ruby Rose, Eoin Macken, William Levy, Iain Glen

Constantin Film, Impact Pictures, Davis Films, Screen Gems, 106 Minutes

Review:

“We’ve played a long game, you and me, but now it’s over.” – Dr. Issacs

I think that the things I’m looking for in these movies are different from what others are seeking. The reason I say that is that I’ve heard really bad things about this chapter in the series yet this was the best movie out of them all, as far as I’m concerned.

I think that the extended break mixed with the experience of what worked and what didn’t over the course of the five previous films, allowed Paul W.S. Anderson to weave his best tale yet and frankly, this one surprised me and took things in a direction I wasn’t anticipating.

Also, I watched all of these movies over the course of a week and didn’t have a decade and a half to ponder this series, its direction and the reveals that each chapter brought to the series as a whole.

As an action movie with a lot of horror and sci-fi thrown in, this was satisfying. Also, it did give the audience fan service but it didn’t trip over itself like the previous movie, which was bogged down by too many cameos and a mostly incoherent plot.

By this point, I’ve accepted the flaws that bothered me in the earlier movies. Six deep into this series and some of those flaws have really become tropes. Especially the Hong Kong style wire work during fight scenes, the imperfect CGI and the overabundance of green screen scenes. In regards to the CGI, it does get better with this movie.

I liked how this film was structured and the longer running time gave it a bit more room the breathe. It felt like it had more of a three act structure than the other chapters. First, you have the beginning where Alice wakes up in D.C., gets her mission and then runs into trouble on her way back to Raccoon City. Then you have a second act where she and a group of heroes defends Raccoon City from a literal zombie army. The third and final act sees Alice and some of the survivors storm the Hive to end the Umbrella Corporation once and for all.

The plot isn’t complicated but it’s well layered, is more dynamic than some of the other RE films and it has a good MacGuffin with a satisfying ending that leaves the series on a hopeful note, as opposed to the doom and gloom each previous film left you with. To be honest, I’d like a seventh film featuring Alice on her last adventure before the Earth resets. But the ending is still fine on its own.

Seriously, I am baffled by this movie. It shouldn’t have been as good as it was, all things considered. Maybe the fifth one set the bar really low and I didn’t expect much from its follow up. But again, this is my favorite Resident Evil film in the series.

Also, zombie dragons.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Resident Evil films, as well as other horror video game films from the same era: the Silent Hill series and Doom.