Deadly End (2005)

Deadly End (2005)
AKA Neighborhood Watch

Starring Jack Huston, Pell James, Nick Searcy, Terry Becker, Anina Lincoln, Meredith Morton, John Ennis, De Anna Joy Brooks, Irwin Keyes, Randall Bosley, Gil Glasgow, Janice Davies, Tim Devitt

Directed by Graeme Whifler

Expectations: Low.

On the general scale:

On the B-movie scale:

Like Vengeance of the Dead, Full Moon picked up Deadly End for distribution and re-titled it. The original title was Neighborhood Watch, and it is much more fitting than whatever Deadly End is supposed to signify. Regardless which title you prefer, Deadly End is probably the strongest film to be released by Full Moon during the 2000s. I know that isn’t saying much because of Full Moon’s relatively lackluster offerings during that time, but I’m confident that Deadly End would shine in any of Full Moon’s eras. The film’s budget is minimal, but the ingenuity and the craft on display is anything but. It’s really a shame that director Graeme Whifler — who also wrote Sonny Boy and co-wrote Dr. Giggles — didn’t go on to make any other features, as Deadly End is a strong, memorable debut.

Bob Petersen (Jack Huston) and his wife Wendy (Pell James) have moved across the country to a seemingly normal neighborhood in the Californian desert. One house has multiple “Keep Out” signs and barricades, and another has derelict appliances in the front yard, but as someone who lived in that area for about 30 years, I can attest to this not being too far outside the norm. But nothing is normal or innocent in this particular film, and things get dark fairly quickly. Before that turn, though, we meet Bob and Wendy during their first night in their new home. In their underwear, they crawl on the floor around a maze of boxes, flirtatiously meowing to each other. Not your average foreplay, but hey, it’s their house and they can do what they want. When they’re done playing cat and mouse cat, the couple passionately makes love. In these moments, the precious, deep love they have for one another is tangible. The scene is surprisingly affecting and erotic, not so much in a titillating way, but in accurately replicating the reality of a moment’s passion between two loving people. It is undeniable, and it is pure, and for the remainder of the film, this innocence will be systematically attacked and tested.

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Stephen reviews: Strait Jacket (2007)

Strait Jacket [ ストレイト・ジャケット] (2007)
AKA Strait Jacket – Legend of the Demon Hunter

Starring Ai Maeda, Kei Shindou, Shinichiro Miki, Akira Sasanuma, Asami Imai

Directed by Shinji Ushiro

Do you like Full Metal Alchemist, but wish it had a bit more angst? Then Strait Jacket is the movie for you. I don’t mean this as an insult, but there is a good deal of similarity between the two. Both feature a scientific use of magic that’s heavy on mystic symbols and big suits of armor in a world with somewhat modern technology and an ample supply of mutated human monsters rampaging about.

Where the two stories differ is that Strait Jacket‘s main character, Reiot, doesn’t get involved with changing the course of nations. It instead focuses on a more personal scale, exploring his sense of overwhelming guilt for the mistakes of his past. He is a hunter of demons, who are former humans mutated into deranged monsters by unprotected exposure to magic. It is Reiot’s recognition that these demons are, or at least were, humans that makes him see himself as a mass murderer.

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Stephen reviews: Attack Girls’ Swim Team Vs. the Undead (2007)

Attack Girls’ Swim Team Vs. the Undead [女子競泳反乱軍 Joshikyôei hanrangun] (2007)
AKA Undead Pool, Inglorious Zombie Hunters, The Girls Rebel Force of Competitive Swimmers

Starring Sasa Handa, Yuria Hidaka, Ayumu Tokito, Hiromitsu Kiba, Kiyo Yoshizawa, Hidetomo Nishidia, Sakae Yamazaki

Directed by Koji Kawano

I approached this film with a bit of trepidation. Anything with a title like Attack Girls’ Swim Team Vs. the Undead has to be either really awful or really fantastic. And things were looking pretty worrisome there at the start. But a few minutes in, a wonderfully awkward stabbing left me giggling and hopeful for the future of the film.

Attack Girls’ Swim Team Vs. the Undead is pretty much what you would expect from the name. There are lots of zombies, gore, and naked ladies to go around. If you were expecting something thoughtful and enlightening, I think you need a better grasp of the English language. Or the Japanese language as the case may be. But even though the title is revealing as to the nature of the film, it’s not all that accurate to the content. The swim team doesn’t do much of anything in this film, and most of what they do do is a little underwhelming. Details are sparse, but maybe the translation of the title is a bit off as there are a variety of different titles for the film.

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The Vault (2000)

Starring Leopoldo Mandeville, Ted Lyde, Shani Pride, Michael Cory Davis, Kyle Walker, Austin Priester, James Black, Parris Washington, Java Benson

Directed by James Black

Expectations: Low.

On the general scale:

On the B-movie scale:

The Vault sees a group of students and their teacher taking a trip to Washington High School. This field trip is not along the usual lines, though, as Washington High is rundown, boarded up and set to be demolished. The teacher, Mr. B (Ted Lyde), wishes his students, who are all delinquents in some form, to appreciate their opportunities and their education, and he thinks that taking them to visit his old school will do this. But it’s not Washington’s place in Mr. B’s history that draws him to it, it’s more because of its history before it was a school. During the 1800s, it served as a way station for the slave trade, and so in connecting to this history he hopes his students will leave with a newfound respect and outlook on their world.

Of course, The Vault is a horror movie, so you know things are not going as planned. Before we meet the teacher and his students, we are clued in that something supernatural is afoot in the school — particularly behind a locked door in the basement: the titular vault. It’s common for B-Movies to start with something to grab your attention, but I think in this case, it would’ve been more effective to have placed the confidence on the audience and the strength of the premise. But The Vault is barely longer than an hour as it is, and I don’t know that the main portion of the movie could withstand more fattening. It’s already kind of slow as it is, so I guess I should stop now and just concede that the film is in its best state as it was released. Hahahaha.

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The Brotherhood IV: The Complex (2005)

Starring Sebastian Gacki, Graham Kosakoski, April Telek, Aleks Holtz, Brody Harms, Brett Viberg, Adam Dodds, Andrew Butler, Emrey Wright, Mike Cleven, Charlie Marsh, Matts Aasen, Chad Rook

Directed by David DeCoteau

Expectations: Hope it’s not like the 3rd one.

On the general scale:

On the B-movie scale:

On one hand, The Brotherhood IV: The Complex is derivative of the original film, albeit with less interesting characters and milder sexual energy. But on the other hand, it hits all the notes I want out of a Brotherhood sequel, and it does it with style, methodical pacing and a healthy dose of dudes running around in their underwear. DeCoteau may have been off his game for The Brotherhood III, but he came back with a vengeance for the 4th entry. The Brotherhood IV: The Complex is a solid, well-told film about homoerotic Naval cadets, and who doesn’t want to see a film like that?

As is standard for the Brotherhood films, a new kid comes to school and is immediately singled out by the resident brotherhood: the Black Skulls. They are a long-running secret society founded at Port Nathan Naval Academy (AKA The Complex) and rumored to exist in small groups around the world. I’m not sure how true these rumors are, though, since we see a list of the group’s alumni and it’s literally no more than 8–10 people. 🙂 Anyway, Lee Hanlon (Sebastian Gacki) arrives at school a few days after a student has gone missing. The faculty can’t explain his disappearance, but it is the subject of the film’s prologue, so we know that he was consumed in a flurry of lightning while pledging the Black Skulls.

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Stephen reviews: Escaflowne: The Movie (2000)

Escaflowne: the Movie [エスカフローネ Escaflowne] (2000)
AKA Vision of Escaflowne: A Girl in Gaea

Starring Maaya Sakamoto, Tomokazu Seki, Jouji Nakata, Shinichiro Miki, Ikue Ohtani, Minami Takayama, Aki Takeda

Directed by Kazuki Akane

I have only seen Escaflowne: The Movie once before, back when I first got a hold of the DVD set, which must have been around 15 years ago by now. In that time I had forgotten pretty much everything about it, except that it had disappointed me all those years ago. The TV series has long been one of my favorite anime series, and I felt like the movie just couldn’t compare. A big part of this was because Escaflowne is a mecha series, and the movie only has one fairly short giant robot fight. I’ve wanted to revisit this film for a while now without having the series fresh in my mind to color my expectations, and that day has finally come.

The movie is drastically different from the TV series, and the first time I saw it, those differences were the main thing I was upset about. This time however, those differences were what I found to be the most fascinating part of the story. I’m actually glad the film isn’t just a simple rehash of the show. Instead it gave me brand new things to see, which makes it much more worth watching than simply retelling the same story I’ve already seen. Even better, because events are so different, there are no spoilers of the show inside the film, so it can be watched all on its own and still leave the series as a fresh experience for later viewing.

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The Forbidden Kingdom (2008)

Starring Jet Li, Jackie Chan, Michael Angarano, Collin Chou, Liu Yi-Fei, Li Bing-Bing, Ye Xiao-Keng, Wang De-Shun, Morgan Benoit

Directed by Rob Minkoff

Expectations: Curious. I don’t remember it being very good.

The Forbidden Kingdom is far from great, but it is worthy of respect and attention. It is an American-produced fantasy wuxia, and I’m having a hard time thinking of any other film that fits that bill. For that alone it is interesting, but it’s also the first (and so far only) film that stars both Jackie Chan and Jet Li. Martial arts fans will no doubt want to see that, especially since the film contains a great fight between the two Hong Kong legends. Jet Li even plays the Monkey King during the film’s intro and finale! There’s so much I enjoy about this movie, but no matter how much I want to love this film for what it is, its missteps are hard to overlook.

The major problem is that while it features Jackie and Jet, neither of them are the lead. That honor goes to Jason Tripitikas (Michael Angarano), an American teenager obsessed with Hong Kong movies. His room is adorned with posters of Shaw Brothers films and Bruce Lee, The Monkey Goes West plays on his TV, and he even has a Sega Dreamcast. It’s almost like the character was based on my own teenage years! I wouldn’t ask the shopkeeper for an “early Shaw Brothers movie featuring a guy doing leopard style,” though. I’ve also never said, “Sick! Ten Tigers of Kwantung,” although if I did find a copy of the Shaw classic in a secondhand store, I would say something like “Oh shit! Ten Tigers of Kwantung!” so perhaps they weren’t too far off the mark. 🙂

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