Azumi is a colorful and fun Japanese action flick, based on a manga by Yū Koyama, that is directed by maverick Japanese director Ryuhei Kitamura. The story tells of young Azumi (Aya Ueto), who is orphaned as a child and taken in to be trained as an assassin for the Shogun, by master Gessai (Yoshiro Harada). She and nine other orphans are split into 5 teams of two for an extensive decade of training. Azumi is paired with handsome Nachi (Shun Oguri) and the two fall for each other over time…until the day they have finished their training and Master Gessai orders each student to fight their long-time partners to the death, as a final test. Having slain the man she loves, Azumi now goes out with the other four survivors as part of a team of hardened and skilled killers on their first mission…a mission bathed in blood and death.
True to it’s roots, Azumi is a comic book-ish and action packed period adventure as directed by Kitamura (Versus, Godzilla: Final Wars) from a script by Mataichiro Yamamoto and Isao Kiriyama. Kitamura makes most of his trademarked over-the-top style with spectacular action, beautiful visuals, outlandish and colorful villains…such as the flamboyant Bijomaru (Joe Odagiri) or the monkey-like Saru (Minoru Matsumoto)…and a beautiful but deadly badass as our heroine. Azumi is the perfect killer with the look of sweet young girl and the skills of a seasoned assassin. While she has been hardened by her training and having to slay the person she loved most, there is still a beating heart in the chest of this warrior and Ueto plays the struggle between assassin and young girl nicely. The film is filled with some very energetically choreographed sword fights, but nothing can prepare one for it’s massive action finale where swords…and swordsman…fly and blood spills generously. It’s a battle of one against an army and it doesn’t disappoint. There is also a rousing score to support the action by Taro Iwashiro and beautiful cinematography to capture the visuals and action by Takumi Furuya. Sure it may get melodramatic at times, but it’s a real treat for fans of these movies and has an epic feel to go along with all the action and Kitamura brings his energetic style to the proceedings, full blast. It’s an old-school samurai flick with some very contemporary cinematic touches and it doesn’t skimp on the blood and guts either.
There is a very large cast here of colorful and stylish characters who are all portrayed well by the cast with the right amounts of restraint and over-the-top when needed. It’s pretty Aya Ueto’s show though and she portrays both a strong woman warrior with nerves of steel and lethal skills, but at the same time, gives us a young girl with a heart and a conscience. There is a bit of a conflict within Azumi and Ueto balances it well. She makes a very endearing and memorable heroine. Beautiful and badass.
I really like this movie. Sure the script could have been a bit tighter, but Kitamura splashes the screen with spectacular and colorful action, interesting and stylish characters and gives us a very likable heroine to root for. The settings and costumes are sumptuous, as is the visuals and cinematography and the action, relentless. At over two hours it’s never dull and has a fast pace propelled by it’s maker’s energetic direction. It also gives you a bang-up, non-stop finale where Azumi racks up quite the impressive body count. Followed by a sadly disappointing…though not all that bad…sequel Azumi 2: Death or Lovedirected by The Gamera Trilogy’s Shusuke Kaneko.
When pretty teen Kelly (Kaya Scodelario) sneaks into her boyfriend’s house, she has no idea what trouble she’s going to get into. A group of four armed men break into the home and take boyfriend Mark (Daniel Boyd) and his parents hostage. They need Mark’s step-dad (Andrew Brent) for a robbery scheme and now only the hidden away Kelly stands between the thieves and a likely horrible fate for the family.
Directed by Thomas Daley and written by Simon Lewis, this is a familiar, yet entertaining enough, thriller. Kelly is locked in the high security house with the men and plays a cat and mouse game with them to try and release their hostages. It could have had some more intensity and one character’s change of heart seems like a contrived plot device to get Kelly out of trouble here and there, but Miss Scodelario makes a solid and very likable heroine who can hold her own and kick a little ass when she needs to. Sure, it could have been better and the big reveal was not much of a surprise, but watching Kelly outwit these guys in a limited space and with little to work with, was entertaining. Not great, but an amusing enough diversion for 90 minutes and star Scodelario earns extra points for her resilient and street-smart Kelly. Also stars Ed Skrein (Deadpool) and Dougray Scott (The Vatican Tapes).
THE DIABOLICAL (2015)
Directed by Alistair Legrand, who co-wrote with Luke Harvis, this haunting story finds a pretty, single mom (Ali Larter) battling an increasingly hostile entity in her home. As she starts to investigate the haunting, she finds a connection between it and a mysterious research facility. This takes her already nightmarish situation on an even more bizarre…and personal…turn.
Flick starts out as a routine, but well enough made, haunting scenario with innocents in an apparently haunted house. What earns it a few extra points is an interesting science fiction twist about two thirds of the way through and a very strong performance by Larter, as the mom dedicated to protecting her kids. The make-up effects are also well done and presented effectively and there are some solid spooky sequences. The big reveal at the climax was a surprise and also added a little emotional weight to the flick after a familiar start. Director Legrand does give it some atmosphere and there are a few legitimate scares. Not a great movie by any lengths, but entertaining enough to pass the time on the couch if there is nothing else going on TV-wise.
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Ho ho ho-hum horror is a Yuletide-set anthology that tells four stories that take place all at the same time on Christmas Eve. One tale has a group of students investigating a campus murder, from a year before and not liking what they find. Another has a family reunion, of sorts, ending in a deadly encounter with Krampus. A third has a family going where they don’t belong, to cut down their Christmas tree and paying the price. The final tale has Santa (George Buza) himself battling his own zombified elves. The stories are loosely tied together by a DJ (William Shatner) on his Christmas Eve show.
Flick is directed with equal blandness by three filmmakers, Steven Hoban, Brett Sullivan and Grant Harvey. The script by five people, no less, has all four stories occurring at the same time and thus we cut back and forth between the four tales constantly. This gives the film a very disjointed narrative and keeps any of the individual stories from building any momentum they might have. Regardless, the direction is very by-the-numbers with only Santa’s battle with his zombie elves having much impact, thought the final moments of the Krampus story and the film’s reveal finale are somewhat effective, too…not enough, however, to save the movie as a whole. The FX and gore in the segments are actually pretty good, but the fact that none of the episodes stand out, or have any real memorable style, neuters any effect the well-done bloodshed might evoke. It’s kinda dull, when all is said and done and only the old pro Shatner gives his performance any life…and he is actually fairly restrained as Shat usually goes. As directors Hoban and Harvey have worked on the Ginger Snaps series, they set the little horror in the same town of Bailey Downs…and that’s about as interesting as this flick gets. It’s overall very forgettable, with what moments that do work being few and far between.
Not really much to recommend here. The direction is all fairly wooden and it’s disjointed narrative kills any momentum that the by-the-numbers stories might have built. The film looks good and the FX are well done, but aside from being set in the same town as the classic Ginger Snaps, there really isn’t much of interest going on in this disappointing Yuletide horror anthology.
Supernatural thriller takes place in NYC on Halloween with busy dad Mike Lawford (Nicholas Cage) taking his young son Charlie (Jack Fulton) to a local carnival, after getting home too late to take him trick or treating. Charlie mysteriously disappears without a trace while standing right next to Mike and thus begins a year long quest to find out what happened to his son. Mike and his wife Kristen’s (Sarah Wayne Callies) search leads them to believe there is something supernatural involved, that links back to a Celtic legend that started hundreds of years before. As Halloween again approaches, is there any hope of finding Charlie alive?
While Pay The Ghost is actually well directed by Uli Edel and the performances from the cast are also pretty good, the flick is ultimately very routine as these thrillers go and Dan Kay’s script comes to a very hokey conclusion that wraps everything up in a nice little bow. There are some legitimately spooky bits here and there, but they can’t overcome the same tired old plot elements from most recent missing child and haunting flicks and the same old CGI phantoms. Using Celtic lore could have made this interesting, but it is carried out in a very bland and standard manner that could have used any cultural background without making a difference. An OK thriller if there is nothing else to watch and at least Nicholas Cage dialed it back a bit. Also features Stephen McHattie.
Ho-hum supernatural thriller finds couple Max (Josh Holloway) and Roxanne (Sarah Wayne Callies) participating in a kidnapping of eight year-old David (Blake Woodruff) after being turned down for financing on their dream project of opening a diner…makes sense! The boy turns out to be quite the little demon…literally…and soon Max, Roxanne and their partners (Joel Edgerton and Michael Rooker) find the tables turned on them, as the little monster uses his unnatural powers to off them one by one.
Written by Christopher Borrelli and directed by Stewart Hendler, this is a by-the-numbers ‘bad seed’ movie that is fairly predictable and it’s reveals are really no surprise. There is little suspense, though it is directed competently and the cast are…aside from vet Rooker…destined for better things and do perform well here. Young Woodruff is fairly creepy in the role of David, too and the cinematography is by the legendary Dean Cundey, so the movie looks great. Nothing really to recommend, though there is much worse you could watch and fans of certain cast members, like Callies and Edgerton, may want to see one of their earlier roles.
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The Gravedancers is a 2006 horror that concerns three friends (Dominic Purcell, Josie Maran and Marcus Thomas) who reunite at another friend’s funeral. A night out for drinks after, leads to a subsequent drunken visit to the cemetery where they find a mysterious envelope which instructs them to dance on graves…and they do. Their graveyard hi-jinx result in a curse in which they will be haunted for a month by the occupants of the graves they danced on…then sent to their own graves unless the curse is broken.
Gravedancers, as directed by Mike Mendez (Big Ass Spider), has some nice atmosphere and truly spooky effects and sequences despite it’s silly plot. There is also a lot of silly stuff, too and it doesn’t help any of the tension the spookier stuff builds. Some of the dialog also sounds laughably bad despite the all-round good performances by a solid cast and silly becomes the magic word here as a somewhat decent horror flick drowns in the goofiness of it’s story and script by Brad Keene and Chris Skinner. The overblown CGI chase finale is also laughable, not fear inducing or suspenseful. Somehow though, the film still remains entertaining and as Mike Mendez usually incorporates some humor in his movies, he takes the silly parts of the screenplay and runs with them without turning the film into an outright comedy. The film may be a mixed bag, but it is never boring and keeps one amused till it’s goofball finale. The FX are well rendered and the film looks good with David A. Armstrong’s cinematography.
Overall, this film does entertain despite mixing some very spooky stuff with some very silly material. Director Mike Mendez has a flair for humor laced horror, so he takes the more ridiculous moments from the script and just goes all out and has a good time with them. It makes for a very uneven flick, but one that is never dull and even unintentional laughs are a form of amusement. Also stars genre favorite Clare Kramer (Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s Glory) as Purcell’s wife and vet Tcheky Karyo trying to keep his dignity in the Van Helsing role of paranormal investigator Vincent Cochet.