Skiptrace (2016)

Skiptrace [絕地逃亡] (2016)

Starring Jackie Chan, Johnny Knoxville, Fan Bing-Bing, Eric Tsang, Eve Torres, Winston Chao Wen-Hsuan, Yeon Jung-Hoon, Kira Shi Shi, Michael Wong Man-Tak, Dylan Kuo Pin-Chao, Zhang Lan-Xin, Na Wei, Charlie Rawes, Mikhail Gorevoy, Sara Forsberg, Jai Day, Richard Ng

Directed by Renny Harlin

Expectations: Pretty low.


Skiptrace was released a couple of years ago, and if I was a competent film reviewer doing a Jackie Chan series I might have reviewed it back then. I chose not to for a simple reason: Skiptrace didn’t look great, in fact it looked like a film that I didn’t mind waiting to see whenever I reviewed my way up to it. That time has finally come, and I can’t say that I was wrong to wait. Skiptrace is as bad as I thought it would be, but somehow knowing exactly why it’s bad just makes it seem worse than before. I’m not a fan of the Shanghai Noon films, and that’s what this film most closely resembles, so I imagine if you like those you might like this one, too.

We begin in the past, where Bennie Chan (Jackie Chan) scales a dock structure to help his friend (Eric Tsang) with the giant bomb strapped to his chest. Eric Tsang, knowing he is beyond help, jumps into the water below and explodes, leaving Jackie with the guilt and the responsibility to care for Eric’s daughter, Samantha (Fan Bingbing). Meanwhile, Connor (Johnny Knoxville) is a scumbag hustler who happens to meet Samantha in a Macau casino. While there he sees a man murder a woman; the same man who Hong Kong policeman Bennie Chan has tried to convict since he killed Eric Tsang. Somewhere in there Connor and Bennie meet up and the chase is on, with Chinese drug runners and a group of Russians in hot pursuit. It’s hard to describe, but it doesn’t play so disjointed while you’re watching it.

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Ravenwolf Towers (2016)

Starring Shiloh Creveling, Evan Henderson, Maria Olsen, Michael Citriniti, George Appleby, Sonny King, Jesse Egan, Rosemary Brownlow, Arthur Roberts, Robert Cooper, Nihilist Gelo, William Paul Burns, Tarashai Lee

Directed by Charles Band

Expectations: Not much. Perhaps a variation on the Evil Bong store format.

On the general scale:

On the B-movie scale:


Usually I try to keep up with the latest offerings from Full Moon, but Ravenwolf Towers slipped through the cracks. It originally debuted as an episodic series in December 2016, with new episodes to be released every subsequent full moon. My intentions were to review the complete series, like I did with Trophy Heads, their previous episodic release, but Full Moon stopped releasing new episodes after the third came out in February 2017. For a while I assumed they were just behind schedule — it happens to the best of us — so I continued to wait, and in November 2017 they released a feature-length version combining the three released episodes. My intentions were to review it ASAP, but then I got behind schedule myself and now here we are in the latter half of June 2018 and I’m finally reviewing Ravenwolf Towers. Why do I relate this long-winded history of putting off Ravenwolf Towers? Well… because Ravenwolf Towers is fantastic, a real achievement for Full Moon, and I’m sorry I ever waited to watch it. I imagine there are others who were similarly waiting to watch it, and I hope by relating my story I might get people off the fence and onto their favorite Full Moon streaming platform to watch it!

Ravenwolf Towers takes place in the titular building, a rundown hotel in Hollywood that’s been around since at least the 1920s. Jake (Evan Henderson) is hired on as an assistant manager, and things get weird before he even has a chance to settle in. The entire top floor is leased by a single family, access to this floor is only available via a special key to the elevator, and the family is not to be disturbed unless absolutely necessary. Ivan Ivanoff (George Appleby) — a character from the Decadent Evil movies and, most recently, Puppet Master: Axis Termination — rents a room and pays cash to avoid the standard forms and questions. His presence suggests a supernatural evil is afoot, but perhaps a better clue is the deformed monstrosity of a man who hides in a wardrobe and rips off a man’s arm during the film’s intro! 🙂

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Top 10 Film Discoveries of 2016

As always, over the course of the year I run into a number of fantastic older films that I had previously never seen. In 2016 there were more than usual because I watched a TON of stuff, more than I had in many years, and I dug hard into my favorites genres of martial arts and horror. I figured if I was going to focus on watching movies in my limited free time, I might as well further explore the genres that truly excite me. You gotta do what feels right, and nothing feels more right to me than Hong Kong movies and horror.

So here ya go: my top 10 films I saw in 2016 that were new to me. Maybe you like them, too?


#10 Navajo Joe (1966)
Directed by Sergio Corbucci

Sergio Leone is the most well-known director of Spaghetti Westerns, but everyone should know about Sergio Corbucci, too. He made Navajo Joe just a few months after releasing the genre classic Django, and Navajo Joe just might be the better and more entertaining film. Burt Reynolds stars as Navajo Joe, a Native American out for revenge. The film is taut, lean and action-packed; if you’re a fan of westerns, this is a must-see film. And it might even make a non-believer think twice about the genre’s possibilities.

#9 The Grandmaster (2013) – HK Version
Directed by Wong Kar-Wai

In any obsession or addiction, there is always a feeling of chasing that initial high achieved during the discovery phase. When I was first getting into Hong Kong movies in the mid/late ’90s, I watched all of Wong Kar-Wai’s then-released films and really enjoyed them (even though I don’t think I ever really “got” them). I was so excited to watch The Grandmaster when it was first released that I ordered the Hong Kong Blu-ray as soon as it was available. But it sat on my shelf for something like three years because I had heard middling things about it and I couldn’t muster the desire to watch it. But then I did, and not only did I love The Grandmaster, it made me once again feel the rare, sweet bliss that defined my discovery of Hong Kong film. It’s not a martial arts film by the traditional definition, but it is a beautiful film about the martial arts, the philosophies at their foundations, and the difficult pursuit of reaching the pinnacle in a skilled art.
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Killjoy’s Psycho Circus (2016)

killjoy5_1Starring Trent Haaga, Victoria De Mare, Tai Chan Ngo, Al Burke, Robin Sydney, Stephen F. Cardwell, Lauren Nash, Tim Chizmar, Victoria Levine

Directed by John Lechago

Expectations: Moderate to high.

On the general scale:
onestar

On the B-movie scale:
twostar


John Lechago’s Killjoy films have been the shining star of Full Moon’s modern efforts, easily outpacing just about every one of the studio’s other recent efforts. I was so taken with Killjoy 3: Killjoy’s Revenge (and to a lesser extent Killjoy Goes to Hell), that I made it a point to check out all of Lechago’s other films. I really enjoyed them all — especially Blood Gnome — and they exhibit the same low-budget ingenuity and ambition apparent in his Killjoy films. So I definitely went into his latest film, Killjoy’s Psycho Circus, with an expectation to enjoy it. Instead I came away hoping it’s the end of the Killjoy series (although I know it won’t be).

Killjoy’s Psycho Circus sees the clown (Trent Haaga) in his new semi-mortal state achieved at the end of Killjoy Goes to Hell. He’s hosting his own talk show called Killjoy’s Psycho Circus, and Batty Boop (Victoria De Mare) has tired of his antics and left him. Meanwhile, Beelzebub (Stephen F. Cardwell) is put on trial for losing Killjoy in the last film, and now he’s tasked with bringing Killjoy’s soul back to hell. He simply requests one thing to do this job: a massive space ship! Why? Who cares? Killjoy’s going to space!

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The Bodyguard (2016)

TheBodyguard_1The Bodyguard [特工爺爺] (2016)
AKA My Beloved Bodyguard

Starring Sammo Hung, Jacqueline Chan Pui-Yin, Andy Lau, Feng Jia-Yi, Zhu Yu-Chen, Li Qin-Qin, Tsui Hark, Karl Maka, Dean Shek Tin, Tomer Oz, Du Yi-Heng, James Lee Guy, Sergio Deieso, Maksim Manylov, Avetyan Karen, Hu Jun, Yuan Ting

Directed by Sammo Hung

Expectations: Very high! I’ve been stoked for Sammo’s directorial return since it was announced a couple of years ago.

threehalfstar


The Bodyguard marks the return to the director’s chair of one of Hong Kong’s greatest treasures: Sammo Hung. It’s been 19 years since he released his last two films (Mr. Nice Guy and Once Upon a Time in China and America) on consecutive days in 1997, so to call The Bodyguard “long-awaited” is an understatement. The last time Sammo Hung directed a movie I was in the 10th grade trading 5th generation bootleg VHS tapes to see Hong Kong movies! Times have certainly changed, and as a result The Bodyguard is as much a modern film as it is a product of Sammo’s incredible experience and skill.

Ding Hu (Sammo Hung) was a decorated policeman in his day, but now he’s known as Old Ding to his neighbors. His health is failing him, specifically some form of dementia that is heavily affecting his short-term memory. His neighbor’s daughter, Cherry Li (Jacqueline Chan Pui-Yin), is the only bright spot in his life, but even her upbeat presence is a reminder of Ding’s painful past. Some years before, Ding was babysitting his granddaughter and she got lost, never to be seen again. His daughter refused to speak to him again, so he moved back to his hometown on the border of China and Russia. He bides his time there, waiting to die, living life without joy and with the memory of his granddaughter ever-present in his thoughts.

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Evil Bong: High-5! (2016)

evilbong5Starring John Patrick Jordan, Sonny Carl Davis, Robin Sydney, Amy Paffrath, Mindy Robinson, Jacob Witkin, Chance A. Rearden, Rorie Moon, Circus-Szalewski, K. Harrison Sweeney, Noelle Ann Mabry, David DeCoteau, David Del Valle, Luke Hutchie, Skin Diamond, Adriana Sephora

Directed by Charles Band

Expectations: Zero. I hope to enjoy myself, though.

On the general scale:
onehalfstar

On the B-movie scale:
twohalfstar


Reviewing the Evil Bong films seems kind of pointless; if you don’t know on your own whether you want to watch the sixth movie in this franchise, you’re probably too high to operate any kind of machinery, heavy or otherwise. Yes, this latest Charles Band joint is another one that will only appeal to their most ardent fans, although I’m sure more than a few bros and doods will stumble upon it on Hulu (where it is available for free!), while looking for a movie to go with their 420 festivities.

Starting my review with, “Hey, this review is pointless!” probably isn’t one of my better decisions, but in the case of Evil Bong: High 5, it’s kind of representative of the experience. I’ll assume you’ve seen all the previous incarnations of this franchise, and therefore will be aware that multiple films in the series have used the “We’re selling stuff in a shop” script formula. Even if you haven’t seen the films, you’ve been to a store and you know the drill. Customer comes in, converses with the clerk and leaves. Repeat. I didn’t like it in Evil Bong 3: The Wrath of Bong, I put up with it in Gingerdead Man vs. Evil Bong, I grinned and bore it in Evil Bong 420, but with Evil Bong: High 5 I’m drawing the line. What’s even more annoying is that many of the same customers from the other movies come in and have slight variations on their previous encounters. Sigh. I just hope Band doesn’t make the “Evil Bong Retail Quartet” into a quintet, but honestly, I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what Evil Bong: 666 is going to be. I gotta be honest, these movies are so similar to one another that they all kinda run together for me. If not for my reviews to refer back to, this review would seem a lot less informed! Thanks, former self!

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