LATITUDE ZERO: Japanese sci-fi producers Toho augmented their cast staples Akira Takarada and Akihiko Hirata with some familiar Hollywood faces (Joseph Cotten, Richard Jaeckel and 60s era Joker Cesar Romero) for a Jules Verne’esque foray into battling subs, hidden utopian societies, and mutant monsters. I liked it.
THE LAST KUNG FU MONK: Star Li Ping Zhang is a former Shaolin monk turned actor and filmmaker who put together this case of missed opportunities, about a monk who comes to take care of his nephew when the boy’s parents die. Very little running time is spent on this storyline, with the narrative instead focusing on cliche’d disputes with local thugs. Acting is at about the level of a faith-based film, but Zhang’s kung fu is strong and impressive.
OUT OF THE BLUE: This 2002 documentary about the UFO phenomenon presents the topic in an even handed and entertaining manner, but adds little to the discourse, if you’ve been following it for a while.
BLOODSPORT 4: THE DARK KUMITE apparently has nothing to do with the last two Bloodsport sequels, which had nothing to do with the first. Daniel Bernhardt is stuck in a film which is so poorly made it can’t be incompetence–thus leaving utter contempt for the audience on the part of its makers. Re-watch the original instead.
FRANKENSTIEN’S ARMY: The found footage sub genre has reached a saturation point, and with any luck, is on its way out. However, this entry transcends the genre on so many levels it stands with more the traditional narrative structure. For one thing, it’s not shot on video, but rather, being set during the end of WW2, on film. Gory, weird, and genuinely scary.
EVENT HORIZON: One of my faves from the 90s found its way back onto my screen one night when I was feeling nostalgic. I can’t say it held up exceptionally well, but I’m willing to bet a first time viewer would be satisfied.
TACTICAL FORCE: “Stone Cold” Steve Austin leads a cast that includes Michael Jai White and former MMA contender Keith Jardine in a fairly standard action yarn in which Austin’s police special ops team locks horns with Russian and Italian mobsters looking for a super secrety special briefcase. No big surprises but I can’t say it wasn’t entertaining.
NOMADS: Bond-to-be Pierce Brosnan lent his talent to this thriller, about an anthropologist studying a malevolent force that takes the form of stereotypical Hollywood eighties punkers, before his star rose. Stylish but dated. Listen for guitar strains from a pre-insane Ted Nugent.
IP MAN: THE FINAL FIGHT: Hong Kong producers continue to churn out highly embellished Ip Man bio-pics. If you didn’t know, Master Ip was the kung fu instructor of Bruce Lee. This one, about the master’s later years, is not as strong as the earlier, Donnie Yen starring entries, but still worth a look.
BRANDED: Posits that advertisers have discovered an insidious method of creating invisible parasites that make us addicted to their products, but our hapless hero, formerly an ad man himself, can now see these entities. Sounds better than it actually is, but still worth a look.
SECRETS OF THE VIKING SWORD: Relics of a type of sword called “Ulfbehrt” once used by Norse conquerors have been discovered that are of a mysteriously higher quality than other weapons of the era. Modern swordsmiths attempt to recreate the sword using then-available technology in this fascinating doc.
WISHMASTER(S): I committed myself to binge watching the entire series (four films) in this late comer to the horror villain franchise sub genre and was entertained well enough. Two different actors portray the titular djinn and with wildly different acting techniques, but it would be reasonable to argue they were different beings of the same race. At any rate, the films are not without their charms, especially when the djinn spends several minutes of convoluted conversation with his victims, tricking them into wishing for their own demise, which is usually some sort of gory visual pun.
CROCZILLA: Chinese filmmakers take on the nature run amuck/giant reptile subgenre found so often on SyFy but manage to do it with a sense of humor and heart that is missing from those cookie cutter Lake Placid spin offs and sequels and imitators and reboots, or whatever. Great takes on familiar characters and a relatively multi-dimensional main monster elevate this one into the “recommended” pile.
MONSTER: Not to be confused with Gareth Edwards’ superior “Monsters”, this is an Asylum produced “mockbuster” that hopes to get a piece of that “Cloverfield” money but without the creativity or production quality. Found footage format of course, and one of the lesser attempts in even that low-ball sub-category.
MANIAC: Elijah Wood takes over the role once filled by Joe Spinnell in this disturbing, beautifully shot remake of the eighties splatter clas-sick. Pretty faithful to the original, including a moody eighties style synth score.
THE WOMAN: Adapted from the novel of the same name, this interpretation likely skips a lot of exposition, as many many questions go un-answered. Still packs a powerful punch though, with a good mix of gore and suspense that serves well the story of an uncompromising indictment of human nature.
THE ASSAILANT: Brazilian made action drama highlighting the acrobatic martial art of capoeira, which really hasn’t had its day in the sun yet, as a cinematic martial art. The locations are beautiful, as is the central love story, or what there is of it. Mostly a typical but well-handled oppressed hero tale, with satisfying action presented in an almost hallucinogenic style.
Anyone who knows me will attest that, among my many and varied interests, Godzilla and other Japanese sci-fi icons (sci-ficons? Did I just invent a geek-culture term, ala Forry Ackerman?) occupy a lofty space. I’ve been a fan of the The Big G, as we “Otaku” (nerds) affectionately call him, since I was around five, and that interest has never left. It was because of Godzilla, I would say, that I came to be obsessed with Asian culture/martial arts (a Godzilla/Green Hornet double feature introduced me to Bruce Lee), weird cinema (doesn’t get much weirder than Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster) cryptozoology, and hell, probably heavy metal, if one were to make the connection between that Blue Oyster Cult song and the musical genre that grew up around BOC, Sabbath, etc.
If you haven’t heard, Legendary Pictures and Warner Brothers, with some help from Roy Lee, who has brokered deals leading to remakes of several Japanese properties, including The Ring, Dark Water, The Grudge, etcetera, have secured the rights to create a big budget Hollywood film featuring Godzilla, directed by Gareth Edwards of the indie hit Monsters, to star Bryan Cranston (you’ll always be Malcolm’s dad Hal to me, Bry), Ken Watanabe, Juliette Binoche and even Akira Takarada–star of the very first Godzilla film, way back in 1954.