Seoul Station (2016)

Yeon Sang-ho and the studios were wise to capitalize on the running juggernaut that was the success of “Train to Busan” in 2016. Often times studios or directors wait two to five years for a prequel or a sequel, but “Train to Busan” gets an almost immediate prequel that helps expand the story and mythology of the live action film. One of the best zombie films of the last fifteen years, and perhaps of all time, “Train to Busan” was an action packed blockbuster disaster film set to the tune of the zombie apocalypse. The animated prequel is a bit more downbeat but still maintains the same social relevance and commentary that “Train to Busan” did so well.

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Kairo/Pulse (2001)

Kyoshi Kurosawa’s “Kairo” is a film dripping in terror that deliberately paces itself as a slow burning end of the world tale. Rather than an all out orgy of gore and carnage, “Pulse” eventually explodes in to something of a last gasp of humanity, and a civilization that ends in a whisper and somber whimper. “Kairo” is written as something of a two act structure where Kurosawa opts for a film that’s episode in the vein of “Pulp Fiction,” and then smashes together in the stunning climax. Much of what we see seems and feels random in many places, and events collide allowing for a cogent unfolding of events that doesn’t just make sense but feels so meticulously planned from square one. What makes “Kairo” so haunting even when the credits have drawn to a close is the way the director opts less for splatter and gore, and more for a requiem that depicts mankind as a stain and nothing more.

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Fists of Fury (2017)

The beautiful but deadly Cynthia Rothrock is back with another of Full Moon’s great compilations entitled “Fists of Fury.” At a little over a hundred minutes, “Fists of Fury” features clips to a ton of famous and infamous martial arts films that tackle all kinds of topics far and wide. There’s “Female Fighters,” the funny but awkward “Brucesploitation,” and “Deadliest Weapons,” movies with some of the most unusual and dead weapons in all of action cinema.

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Ocean Waves (2016)

Another very rare Studio Ghibli film is finally coming to the states as director Tomomi Mochizuki’s “Ocean Waves” is opening for audiences anxious to visit the lesser known entries in the Ghibli catalogue. “Ocean Waves” is described as one of the very few movies not made by Isao Takahata or Hayao Miyazaki and has rarely ever been seen outside of Japanese television. Adapted from a novel of the same name by Saeko Himuro, “Ocean Waves” is a short (At barely eighty minutes) but very well realized teen drama about two teenage boys hopelessly enamored by a gorgeous young girl named Rikako, who is often given to flights of fancy and adventurousness that allow the two friends Taku and Yutaka a chance to break free from the monotony of their busy school lives.

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Deer Flower (2016)

deerflowerWhen you consider the cultural context behind “Deer Flower,” director Kangmin Kim’s short animated film is an interesting if horrific look at remedies from the East. Told through what essentially looks like origami, “Deer Flower” is a stark and pretty unusual tale about a family seeking a cure for their son’s ailment. Traveling a long distance and paying a lot of money, they take their son behind a farm, where a reindeer is held down by a machine and has its antler cut.

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The Short Films of Ithaca Fantastik 2016 [Ithaca Fantastik 2016]

curveAs only a few short films were seen, here are mini-reviews for each of these titles.

Curve (Australia) (2016)
A young woman wakes up sitting on a curved surface, clinging to it for dear life.  This short is very simple in concept, yet possibly one of the most grim and dark short seen this year.  There is not clear, or unclear, way of the situation this young lady is in and signs are accumulating that others did not have any luck in her position.  Written and directed by Tim Egan, the film has no dialogue and only one character, making the most of its location and the situation the character is in.  The star, Laura Jane Turner, gives a very good performance and keeps the viewer on the edge of their seat as she tries to get in a better situation.  The film is grim and her performance suits it well, showing desperation and a need to survive.

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The Handmaiden (Ah-ga-ssi) (2016)

handmaidenPark chan-wook is no stranger to delivering some of the best character studies that also pack a sense of sexual perversity, and pain within its seams. “The Handmaiden” is one of his most epic in scope dramas that also manages to be one of the most erotic romances I’ve seen in a while. “The Handmaiden” is pure ambition that succeeds in delivering something of a labyrinthian narrative of crime, salvation, and romance that begins as a simplistic drama. It takes a brilliant artist like chan-wook to handle a film that morphs in to various themes and experience various tonal changes without it completely falling apart, but Park chan-wook handles it by making each new turn around the corner absolutely suspenseful.

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Karate Kill (2016) [Philadelphia Unnamed Film Festival 2016]

karate-kill-posterKenji, a karate master who keeps to himself, learns of his little sister’s disappearance so he flies to the US to find her and kill anyone who gets in his way. Writer/director Kurando Mitsutake builds a crazy fun action film.  His film not a character study and that is perfectly fine.  It’s build like an 80’s action film on steroids which mean the characters are okay, the bad guys are really bad and the good guys are not so numerous.  However, the fight scenes are many and highly entertaining.  The film is built to showcase the fighting and the action, the kidnapping of the little sister is only a reason for the lead to go nuts and fight everyone in his path to get her back.  The film is in both Japanese and English adding an angle to Kenji’s travel to the US as he does not speak English and must rely on other Japanese people for most of his communications.  The cultural differences are there from that but also seem to be exaggerated for the sake of entertainment.

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