Movie Review – The Secret Life of Pets (2016)

The Secret Life of Pets
Directed by Chris Renaud & Yarrow Cheney
Courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Release Date: December 6, 2016

secret

Several years ago, my wife and I bought our children a toy poodle. The kids named him Butters, but not because he was a dork like the South Park character; this dog was Butters because he had a sibling named Biscuit. Such is the mentality of children, so we decided to go along with it.

Butters was an extremely playful dog, and he would always greet me at the door with growling and barks and several three-foot high jumps. I often wondered, though, if he did this because I was about to catch him in the act of something mischievous upon my arrival home. This got me to thinking: what do pets do while we are away?

THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS offers a comedic answer to this question with a glimpse into the everyday life of Max, a terrier living with his owner in New York City. When Max’s perfect world is shattered by the arrival of another dog, humorous chaos erupts. And while THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS is not perfect, it is still entertaining and visually arresting.

If you are not familiar with THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Universal Pictures:

Comedy superstars Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, and Kevin Hart make their animated feature-film debut that finally answers the question: what do your pets do when you’re not home? When their owners leave for the day, pets from the building gossip with their friends, satisfy their sweet tooths, and throw outrageous parties. But when a pampered terrier (C.K.) and his unruly new “roommate” from the pound (Stonestreet) get lost in the urban jungle of New York City, they must put aside their differences to survive the epic journey back home.

THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS is one of those films you’ll want to watch a couple of times, just to make sure you catch everything. Chocked full of crazy animal characters and one perilous situation after another, it is a frenetic joyride into the absurd, and that’s a big part of what makes it so much fun. Unfortunately, it is also part of its downfall.

On the positive side, the film is filled with a kaleidoscope of energetic, off-the-wall characters portrayed by some of today’s hottest talent. Louis C.K. and Eric Stonestreet do a great job as the main characters, Max and Duke. Likewise, Kevin Hart shines as the psychotic bunny, Snowball. They are supported by an excellent cast that includes comedic veterans Albert Brooks and Dana Carvey, along with Hannibal Buress, Bobby Moynihan, Lake Bell, and Jenny Slate.

The imagery in THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS is rich and vibrant, particularly with the 4K transfer. If you have the chance, I highly recommend watching it this way. The 4K color scheme is amazing, and the scenery bursts off the screen in larger-than-life detail. I love the shots of the city; it is mind-blowingly beautiful in HD.

The plot starts off simple, but it quickly spirals into a chaotic race for survival. The two dogs endure a slew of insane situations, with each getting crazier and crazier. This is fun at first, but it quickly devolves into several minor subplots that do nothing to add to the story. This aspect is the negative I mentioned before; thankfully, it does not detract so much from the film as to force the viewer to stop watching.

Despite its flaws, THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS is still vastly entertaining and definitely worth the watch. I will not say it is as good as DESPICABLE ME, but the film still has merit. It hits store shelves next week and will be available on 4K, Blu-ray, and DVD.

MSB

Blu-ray Movie Review – C.H.U.D. (1984)

C.H.U.D.
Directed by Douglas Cheek
Courtesy of Arrow Video & MVD Distribution
Original Year of Release: 1984
Blu-ray Release Date: November 22, 2016

chud-blu-ray

When someone mentions the movie title C.H.U.D., I am immediately reminded of my ten year-old self and the myriad of nightmares the film caused me. I’m not sure what about it spooked me so bad, but I have a feeling it was the creatures’ glowing eyes; those stand out in my head for some reason. As a result of these night terrors, C.H.U.D. literally “haunted” me for a couple of years.

Later, in my teen years, I saw the film again, but this time I loved it. Granted, by that time I had become pretty desensitized to a lot horror had to offer, but I still considered the movie a good time. So when I heard Arrow and MVD were releasing it on Blu-ray, I decided to give it yet another look. I’m happy to report the film stands the test of time, and although it is pretty tame compared to today’s standards, it’s still a worthy addition to any horror library.

If you are not familiar with C.H.U.D., here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Arrow Video & MVD Distribution:

THEY RE NOT STAYING DOWN THERE, ANYMORE!
From the subterranean depths it crawls! Finally making its long-awaited debut on Blu-ray, director Douglas Cheek’s cult 80s favorite C.H.U.D. is the ultimate underground movie experience.

In downtown Manhattan, a police captain’s hunt for his missing wife leads to the discovery of a series of mysterious disappearances in the area. Extending his search into the tunnels and sewers below the city streets, it soon becomes clear that something monstrous is lurking in that subterranean world and it won’t stay there much longer…

Starring John Heard (Home Alone) and Christopher Curry (Starship Troopers) alongside an early appearance from John Goodman, C.H.U.D. has justifiably built up a huge cult following in the years since its release in 1984, with one of the most iconic creature designs of the period.

I find it curious that C.H.U.D. is the only film director Douglas Cheek made. I would be interested to know why. I understand C.H.U.D. was met with mixed reviews back in ’84, which perhaps kept Cheek from doing anything else. Regardless, he is responsible for a pop cultural iconic acronym that can still be translated by the majority of the mainstream public above the age of 30.

The HD restoration of C.H.U.D. looks very good. I saw the DVD version a year or so ago, and this upgrade looks miles better. As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, the darker scenes still look a bit grainy, but I understand this happens sometimes in restorations, as the color black is harder to restore for some reason. This is not a detractor from the film, however, just a simple observation.

The acting is pretty solid, with John Heard, Daniel Stern, and Christopher Curry sharing the spotlight for lead characters. I was very interested to see Stern doing serious drama, as I’m used to him in comedic roles.

The special effects in C.H.U.D. are unfortunately minimal, due to budget constraints. We only get a few glimpses of the creatures, but what we do get to see is still decent. You have to look at the time period and the money with which the production crew had to use; practical effects were very expensive. The special effects team does a great job utilizing their funds, and the resulting mutants are campy yet terrifying.

C.H.U.D. is an excellent trip down memory lane, and it’s a great creature feature to add to your collection. I highly recommend this iconic piece of 80s cinema, and I suggest you give it a look soon. I only hope C.H.U.D. 2: BUD THE C.H.U.D. is on Arrow and MVD’s radar in the near future! The Blu-ray’s Special Edition contents include:

• Brand new restoration from original film elements
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
• Original Uncompressed Mono PCM audio
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
• Audio commentary by director Douglas Cheek, writer Shepard Abbott, and actors John Heard, Daniel Stern and Christopher Curry
• Brand new crew interviews
• Original Theatrical Trailer
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Dan Mumford
FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector s booklet featuring new writing on the film

The film is available now.

MSB

Book Review – Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere Collection by Brandon Sanderson

Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere Collection
By Brandon Sanderson
Courtesy of Tor Books
Release Date: November 22, 2016

sanderson

As an avid fan of Brandon Sanderson and his imagination, I find myself almost giddy with anticipation every time he announces the upcoming release of a new book. His novel ELANTRIS is one of my top-five favorite fantasy titles of all time, and WARBREAKER is a definite honorable mention. He has an uncanny knack for serving up exactly what his fans want, and as such, he is a vastly entertaining storyteller.

ARCANUM UNBOUNDED: THE COSMERE COLLECTION is his first foray into publishing short stories, however each tale is tied to one of his existing universes. This brilliant concept opens new doors for readers to venture through, offering new treks into already traveled worlds. Whether you are already versed with Sanderson’s work or just starting out, this collection of shorts will make a perfect addition to your journey.

If you are not familiar with ARCANUM UNBOUNDED: THE COSMERE COLLECTION, here is the book’s summary courtesy of Tor Books:

An all-new Stormlight Archive novella, “Edgedancer,” will be the crown jewel of Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere Collection, the first book of short fiction by #1 New York Times bestselling author Brandon Sanderson.

The collection will include nine works in all. The first eight are:
“The Hope of Elantris” (Elantris)
“The Eleventh Metal” (Mistborn)
“The Emperor’s Soul” (Elantris)
“Allomancer Jak and the Pits of Eltania, Episodes 28 through 30” (Mistborn)
“White Sand” (excerpt; Taldain)
“Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell” (Threnody)
“Sixth of Dusk” (First of the Sun)
“Mistborn: Secret History” (Mistborn)

These wonderful works, originally published on Tor.com and elsewhere individually, convey the expanse of the Cosmere and tell exciting tales of adventure Sanderson fans have come to expect, including the Hugo Award-winning novella, “The Emperor’s Soul” and an excerpt from the graphic novel “White Sand.”

Arcanum Unbounded will also contain the Stormlight Archive novella “Edgedancer,” which will appear in this book for the first time anywhere. It is a story of Lift, taking place between Words of Radiance and the forthcoming Oathbringer.

Finally, this collection includes essays and illustrations for the various planetary systems in which the stories are set.

The Cosmere

The Mistborn series
Mistborn: The Final Empire
The Well of Ascension
The Hero of Ages
Alloy of Law
Shadows of Self
Bands of Mourning

The Stormlight Archive
The Way of Kings
Words of Radiance
Edgedancer (Novella)
Oathbringer (forthcoming)

Collection
Arcanum Unbounded

Other Cosmere Titles
Elantris
Warbreaker
Rithmatist

The Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians series
Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians
The Scrivener’s Bones
The Knights of Crystallia
The Shattered Lens
The Dark Talent

The Reckoners
Steelheart
Firefight
Calamity

Each story is carefully crafted and presents a riveting narrative. The tales flow with Sanderson’s signature style, intricately laying out the plot with subtle ease. The author’s smooth writing style is a big draw for me, and it allows for deep immersion into any story he puts onto paper.

My favorite short in this collection is “The Hope of Elantris”, where Sanderson revisits one of my favorite worlds. This story actually takes place during the events of the climax in the book, therefore it won’t make much sense if you haven’t read it first. But if you are already familiar with it, this tale will certainly put a smile on your face, as it answers some questions you probably never knew you had.

ARCANUM UNBOUNDED: THE COSMERE COLLECTION is a huge win for me, and I can’t recommend it enough. If you’re not familiar with Sanderson and his works, GO PICK UP ONE OF HIS TITLES NOW! Start ANY of his series, and I’ll bet you’ll be hooked. Personally, I recommend my aforementioned favorites, either ELANTRIS or WARBREAKER. But regardless of where you start, make sure you finish here, with this superb collection of shorts. Just be ready to invest some time, as the author’s storytelling with enthrall you and draw you in completely…but it will be time very well spent.

ARCANUM UNBOUNDED: THE COSMERE COLLECTION hits store shelves next Tuesday, so make a note!!

MSB

Movie Review – Vampyres (2016)

Vampyres
Directed by Victor Matellano
Courtesy of Artsploitation Films
Release Date: October 18, 2016

vampyres-cover

I have to confess I’ve never seen the original 1974 version of this film that shares the same title. I’ve heard good things about it, although several comments did claim it was quite tame compared to today’s horror movie standards. From what I’ve read, it seems director Victor Matellano’s remake of VAMPYRES is a faithful but gorier adaptation; this suits me just fine, as I believe a hearty does of carnage can greatly aid almost any horror movie. But regardless of whether it’s a decent compliment to its predecessor, Matellano’s VAMPYRES is a hell of a good film, and I highly recommend it.

If you are not familiar with VAMPYRES, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Artsploitation Films:

Faithful to the sexy, twisted 1974 cult classic by Joseph Larraz, VAMPYRES is an English-language remake pulsating with raw eroticism, wicked sadomasochism and bloody, creative gore. Victor Matellano (Wax, 2014; Zarpazos! A Journey through Spanish Horror, 2013) directs this tale set in a stately English manor inhabited by two older female vampires and with their only cohabitant being a man imprisoned in the basement. Their lives and lifestyle are upended when a trio of campers come upon their lair and seek to uncover their dark secrets, a decision that has sexual and blood-curdling consequences. Infused with eloquent and atmospheric cinematography, impressive special effects makeup from master Colin Arthur (THE NEVERENDING STORY, CONAN THE BARBARIAN, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY) and starring screen genre icon Caroline Munro (THE GOLDEN VOAYAGE OF SINBAD, AT THE EARTH’S CORE, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, MANIAC, SLAUGHTER HIGH), “VAMPYRES remains faithful to the original while creating its own neck-biting, sexually violent tale.”

Now…when discussing this version of VAMPYRES, you have to look at the film for what it is: a deeply visual and atmospheric horror film, rife with sensuality and raw violence. This is not a jump-scare film, nor is it a straight-forward tale, like many modern movies in this genre. The concept here is simple, but the execution is excellent.

VAMPYRES is shot very well and expertly uses the cinematography and sets to create a foreboding backdrop on which the story plays out. I viewed the decrepit house as a purposeful contrast to the primal beauty embedded in the sexuality exhibited by the vampires as they feed. This confliction enhances the power of those scenes and forces an uncomfortable air upon the viewer as they unfold.

The acting is honestly not very good overall, although it’s thankfully not downright awful. But the two actresses portraying the vampires are vivacious eye-candy, sensuous lovelies with beautiful bodies, which allows a lot of leeway for most audience members in the acting department.

The special effects in VAMPYRES are outstanding. There are many blood-bursting throat slashes throughout the film, and they all look excellent. My particular favorite comes from a girl that is hung above a bathtub; the vampires slit her throat and then take an erotic bath as her lifeblood pours all over them. This is a lengthier scene, so the effect has to remain in motion for a while; as such, it looks amazingly real, and I loved every second of it.

VAMPYRES probably won’t appeal to everybody, but I loved it, and I recommend giving it a look if you are a fan of Jess Franco or Tinto Brass, or just erotic horror in general. Well-executed with a lot of heart, this visual feast should definitely earn a place in your film library soon. It is available now.

MSB

Documentary Review – The Trail of Dracula (2016)

The Trail of Dracula
Directed by David Mitchell & Jamie Lockhart
Courtesy of Intervision Picture Corp. and CAV Distribution
Release Date: October 25, 2016

trail_drac_300dpi

I’ll wager I’m not alone when I say I am fascinated with the myths and legends behind some of our favorite horror icons of today. Whether its demons or werewolves, djinn or sea monsters, there’s usually a story associated with the creature’s origins. Obviously, one of the most popular legends is that of the vampire. Blood-suckers have been in our history for as far back as records go, granted they might have gone by a different name.

Bram Stoker’s book, DRACULA, introduced probably the most recognized vampire of all time. The titular character has been personified in countless tales, books, and films, as has his origin story…but who is the real basis for this alluring, aristocratic figure? THE TRAIL OF DRACULA delves into this enigma and offers a bit of academic insight.

If you are not familiar with THE TRAIL OF DRACULA, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Intervision Picture Corp:

Diabolical. Seductive. Immortal.
Vampires have been an icon of evil in folklore and popular culture for more than three centuries, yet only one name still personifies the ultimate aristocrat of bloodlust. Now join the world’s foremost experts on Dracula including academics, authors and horror historians as they explore the untold story of the Transylvanian Count, from the legend of Vlad the Impaler and Bram Stoker’s celebrated novel through its landmark stage productions and classic movie adaptations. It’s a crimson trail of twisted archival materials, startling film clips and rare interviews featuring Bela Lugosi, John Carradine and Christopher Lee plus Bonus Materials that include additional interviews with Udo Kier and Werner Herzog, over 90 minutes of Dracula movie trailers, and more!

I will state up front that I enjoyed this documentary, however it is rather short (clocking in at about 63 minutes), and it offers up more questions than answers. Still, it does a good job of crossing off a few suggested theories that have been around for a while.

THE TRAIL OF DRACULA is shot well and looks good overall. The film weaves archival film footage with interviews of professionals who have studied the history of Stoker’s book and its origins. I like how the film footage is used, as it helps keep the mysterious atmosphere elevated while the study unfolds.

I also found it interesting that many scholars now do NOT think Dracula is based on Vlad the Impaler. I have heard this theory for many years, and it always sounded logical. But new evidence presented in this documentary sheds a bit more light on Vlad and discusses why he would not be a logical choice.

THE TRAIL OF DRACULA is a thought-provoking look into a mythical figure that the majority of the world is familiar with in one way or another. Although it only scratches the surface of what is sure to be a lengthy and thorough analysis for future generations, this documentary is an excellent starting point on which to base your own fact-finding. It is available now.

MSB

Blu-ray Movie Review – The Initiation (1984)

The Initiation
Directed by Larry Stewart
Courtesy of Arrow Video & MVD Distribution
Original Year of Release: 1984
Blu-ray Release Date: November 8, 2016

the-initiation

Watching these old 80s horror flicks really takes me back to my youth. I had an emotionally rough childhood (don’t ask), therefore my mom was content to frequently drop me off at the movie theater on Saturdays with enough money to watch two or three films. Thus, I got to experience many of these glorious titles on the big screen.

THE INITIATION is a classic slasher flick that eluded me, however, therefore I didn’t get the pleasure of viewing it until this past weekend. And I have to admit: it is definitely one of the better entries into the genre for its time period. But besides that, it’s simply a lot of fun. The film doesn’t try to be anything other than what it is, and it offers decent acting, some nice special effects, and a clever twist. If you’re looking for a good, vintage 80s horror flick, give THE INITIATION a try.

If you are not familiar with THE INITIATION, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Arrow Video & MVD Distribution:

HERE’S TO BEING YOUNG… STAYING YOUNG… AND DYING YOUNG.
Marking TV star Daphne Zuniga’s debut in a leading role, The Initiation ranks amongst the finest of the college-based stalk-and-slash flicks now finally restored in glorious High-Definition!

Kelly’s new sorority has a special initiation ritual in store for her: an after-hours break-in of her father’s department store. But what begins as a night of harmless college fun turns sour when, once inside the enormous mall, Kelly and her fellow pledges find themselves locked in for the night… with a deadly intruder stalking the corridors.

Arriving in 1984, The Initiation might have been late to the slasher party, but, alongside the likes of The House on Sorority Row and The Mutilator, it remains one of the stronger entries to emerge in the latter days of the slice-and-dice boom.

THE INITIATION is shot well and looks good onscreen. As with most of the Arrow films I’ve reviewed, the HD transfer looks excellent for the most part; there’s just a couple of grainy scenes, and they are primarily low-light shots. Surprisingly, the credits sequences (both at the start of the film and the end) are pocked with small particle flashes and such. I’m not sure why these weren’t corrected in the HD transfer…perhaps because they are white letters against a black background. This doesn’t detract from the film, but is more of a personal inquiry.

The acting in THE INITIATION is good, above average for slasher flicks of this period. Daphne Zuniga, who will forever be Princess Vespa in SPACEBALLS to me, does a great job as the lead character, Kelly. She is joined by screen legends Clu Gulager and Vera Miles, who are both always a joy to see in any film. Zuniga is likewise supported by a great cast that includes Marilyn Kagan, Robert Dowdell, Hunter Tylo, and James Read.

The special effects are well done, and we are given a nice dose of gore here and there. I particularly like the scene where one of the guys is stabbed in the neck with a small rake. This is gruesome and funny.

The plot of THE INITIATION is typical of an 80s slasher: a group of college students are hunted down by an unknown assailant and killed in a variety of manners. But the “whodunit” aspect of this film is particularly clever. Granted, it does seem to come from out of left field, but it certainly works. I actually caught myself grinning as the big reveal was disclosed.

THE INITIATION is a great slasher flick, and fans of 80s horror will definitely find this a worthy addition to their libraries. Arrow and MVD once again deliver the quality entertainment that genre fans have come to expect. I can’t wait to see what they bring us next. THE INITIATION has some slick Special Edition features that include:

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
• Brand new restoration from original film elements
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
• Original Uncompressed Mono PCM audio
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
• Brand new audio commentary by The Hysteria Continues
• Brand new interview with actor Christopher Bradley
• Brand new interview with actress Joy Jones
• Original Theatrical Trailer
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Justin Osbourn
FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector s booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic James Oliver

MSB

Movie Review – The Id (2016)

The Id
Directed by Thommy Hutson
Courtesy of Hutson Ranch Media & Panic Ventures
Release Date: October 25, 2016

the-id

I’m not sure why, but back in my college days I was a Psychology major for a while. I guess I thought if I could understand the average person’s mentality, then maybe I could understand a little more about life. Interestingly, my major and my theory never panned out. But I did take enough introductory Psych to discover the Ego, the Superego, and the Id. We glossed over each term in a couple of sessions, and I left with a basic knowledge of each.

For those that are not familiar with the terms, the Id is the basic, impulsive, instinctive part of our brains; it handles base desires, such as the sex drive (the need to reproduce, or continue the species), and the pleasure principle, which states every want should be satisfied immediately. The Ego develops as we age, and it acts as a mediator between the unrealistic Id and the real world. The Superego integrates the morality and values we learn at a young age, and basically controls the Id’s impulses.

Thus, when I first got the press release for THE ID, I was very intrigued. A situation where a woman is dealing with her overbearing father is tense enough, but when a concept like the Id is thrown in the mix…I knew this was going to be a Must See film. And I’m happy to say, I was not disappointed in the least. THE ID is a clever, tension-filled horror-thriller that entertains on several levels.

If you are not familiar with THE ID, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Hutson Ranch Media and Panic Ventures:

For decades, Meridith Lane (Amanda Wyss, A Nightmare on Elm Street) has felt trapped in her home. Thriving on memories of youth, she watches the years slip by while caring for her abusive father…until a figure from her past makes a surprising return. In order to live the life she desires, Meridith must confront her father’s monstrous cruelty and attempt to escape his tyrannical grip. But the man who controls her every move won’t let go without a fight, leading father and daughter into a series of desperate and irreversible acts.

I have to tell you: there are parts of this film that made me squirm. The first half of the movie shows the abuse Meridith endures at the hands of her father. The second half, however, ratchets up the tension and turns the film into a wonderfully intense and uncomfortable thriller.

THE ID is shot fairly well and looks good onscreen. I didn’t like a couple of the shaky camera shots, as they came off TOO shaky. But otherwise, the film looks good as a whole.

The acting is very good, with Amanda Wyss giving an excellent performance as Meridith. I haven’t seen Wyss onscreen in a while, however I know she’s been continuously working over the past few decades. She is joined by Patrick Peduto, who plays Meridith’s father. Peduto has only been working for a few years (per his IMDB page), but he does a great job here. The onscreen chemistry between the two is believable, and I had no problem seeing them as father and daughter.

The story in THE ID is fresh and intriguing. I love how the plot unravels, and there are a couple of nice turns that sent things in a direction I wasn’t expecting (I won’t use the word “twists” because there are no “A ha!” moments here). I am very impressed with the script and the direction here, as this film could have been a bomb were it made any differently. But as it is, it is a top-notch thriller that grabs you from the beginning and never lets go.

THE ID is a big win for me, and I highly recommend it. It’s crammed full of suspense, so be ready to nibble your fingernails a bit. The film is available now.

Special Features include:

• Featurette: Needs, Wants & Desires: Behind The Scenes of The Id
• Audio Commentary with Director/Producer Thommy Hutson and Actress Amanda Wyss
• Deleted & Alternate Scenes
• Behind-the-Scenes Footage
• Audition Clips
• Photo gallery
• Trailers

MSB

TV Show Review – Black Sails, Season 3

Black Sails, Season 3
Courtesy of Starz & Anchor Bay Entertainment
Release Date: November 8, 2016

black-sails-s3-3d-pack-shots

I had the privilege last year of reviewing Season 2 of BLACK SAILS, and I am very appreciative for the opportunity to do another review for Season 3. BLACK SAILS is probably the greatest show you are not watching right now. And for fans who are following it, I’m sure you will sing its praises along with me. It is epic in scope, and I rank it right up there with GAME OF THRONES and THE WALKING DEAD. If you’re looking for intense action, cutthroat intrigue, and stark realism, give BLACK SAILS a look.

If you are not familiar with BLACK SAILS, here is the plot synopsis for Season 3, courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment:

In the wake of the burning of Charles Town, all the New World lives in fear of Captain Flint. But when his campaign of terror crosses over into madness, and new threats emerge to challenge his supremacy, it falls to John Silver to locate the man within the monster, before Flint’s war against the world consumes them all. Meanwhile, on the pirate island of Nassau, it’s a new day. With Eleanor Guthrie facing judgment in London, Jack Rackham sits atop a fortune in Spanish gold, hoping to secure his legacy as a king among thieves. To do so, he’ll have to compete with the return of one of history’s most notorious captains, who holds a different vision for their home, as well as a complicated past with Rackham’s chief ally, Captain Charles Vane. All will be tested when a new opponent arrives to claim Nassau, one the pirates could never have anticipated. It knows them. It understands them. And in the blink of an eye, it will do the one thing they never thought possible… turn them against each other.

This series keeps getting better and better. Just when I think I cannot be any more impressed, the show finds a new way to blow me out of the water.

BLACK SAILS continues its tradition of excellency with a gritty and grim portrayal of how real-life pirates probably fared and lived back in those days. Last year, I mentioned this dark realism is a big part of what makes the show so good, and that continues here in Season 3. This allows for a full immersion into each episode, and it makes for an excellent viewing experience.

Toby Stephens once again shines as Captain Flint, as does the rest of the cast. I have to confess I particularly like Zach McGowan’s performance as Captain Vane the best, though. For some reason, his onscreen presence seems to tower over everybody else.

The action is intense, and the plotline keeps the viewer enthralled. Even the smaller subplots are interesting, which is impressive, as some shows tend to wane when it comes to “filling time”. That is thankfully not a problem here.

BLACK SAILS Season 3 is another epic win for Starz, and I cannot wait to see how the series concludes next year. The conclusion will be bittersweet because I hate to see the show end, however it might as well go out on top. Regardless, pick up Season 3 and catch up on everything while you can; it hits store shelves tomorrow.

MSB

Movie Review – Reign of Assassins (2016)

Reign of Assassins
Directed by Su Chao-Pin
Courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment
Release Date: November 1, 2016

reign-of-assassins

If John Woo is attached to a film, you can bet it’s going to be an interesting ride. The man knows just what action fans want, and he knows how to deliver it. I’ve seen many of his films over the years, and I have yet to be disappointed.

Such is the case with REIGN OF ASSASSINS, a recent release from Anchor Bay. Woo was the producer for this film, but that doesn’t make it any less epic. Crammed full of intrigue and insane martial arts battles, REIGN OF ASSASSINS is an action feast that will fill even the hungriest of fans!

If you are not familiar with REIGN OF ASSASSINS, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment:

Produced by John Woo and Terence Chang, this epic martial arts action thriller promises to be FACE/OFF meets MR. AND MRS. SMITH. Set in ancient China, the film stars Michelle Yeoh as a skilled assassin who is on a mission to return the remains of a mystical Buddhist monk to their resting place. The remains are believed to hold a powerful secret. Along the way, she falls in love with a man named Jiang, whose father was killed by her gang. Unaware that he also is a trained martial artist, their love blossoms but tensions arise as the truth of her past unravels. Soon, a lethal triangle surfaces between her, Jiang and the team of assassins that are after the monk’s remains.

REIGN OF ASSASSINS is shot well and appears to have a decent production budget. The sets depicting ancient China look great, as do the costumes and accent pieces.

The acting is very good, with Michelle Yeoh heading up a talented cast. Yeoh is always a joy to see onscreen, and I’ve been a fan of hers for quite a while. She is joined by Woo-sung Jung, who plays her husband, Jiang; Xueqi Wang, who shines as the devilish Cao Feng (The Wheel King); Barbie Hsu, as fellow assassin Turquoise; and Shawn Yue, who plays Lei Bin. The whole cast meshes well, and their martial arts skills are just as enjoyable as their acting performances.

And speaking of martial arts, there are plenty of battle scenes in REIGN OF ASSASSINS. The fighting is fast and furious, and the atmosphere abounds with the crunching of bones and the cracking of skulls. My sole complaint about the action is that some of the wire-work looks a little too obvious. This is forgivable, though, as it does not take the viewer out of the scenes, thankfully.

REIGN OF ASSASSINS is a big win for me, and fans of martial arts flicks should love it. I was thoroughly entertained with this one, and I’ll bet you will be, too. It is available now in a variety of formats.

MSB

Movie Review – Pandorica (2016)

Pandorica
Directed by Tom Paton
Courtesy of The Film Label
Release Date: October 11, 2016

pandorica-usposter

Originality in genre cinema is becoming harder and harder to find, and when it is discovered, many critics tend to bash it for one reason or another. These films are usually misunderstood, which is why critics tend to be so, well, critical. I personally find myself looking less toward mainstream titles these days and more toward indie films because most seem to have a spark that many Hollywood films cannot touch.

Such is the case with PANDORICA, a recent release from The Film Label. PANDORICA is a vastly entertaining post-apocalyptic movie that is rife with originality and imagination. And what it lacks in budget, it makes up for with heart.

If you are not familiar with PANDORICA, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of The Film Label:

PANDORICA is set in a world that’s plunged into a new dark age where humanity devolves into a vicious, primal state. A trio of youths, Eiren, Ares and Thade, have been selected to take part in the leadership trials of The Varosha Tribe, with the winner claiming the tribe for themselves. They must battle dark and mysterious forces if one of them is to win, but not everyone is worthy of becoming a leader, and the trio soon learn that fighting each other may be the only path to victory.

I am surprised at the low ratings the film has received on IMDB. I read a few of the reviews, and the sticking points the reviewers noted didn’t make much sense to me. This is a perfect example of why I don’t let ANYONE’S opinions influence my own.

PANDORICA is shot well and looks great on the big screen. The cinematography does a great job of capturing the scenic landscape, which presents a believable PA locale for the story to take place.

The acting is good, with a small but talented cast. Jade Hobday does a great job as the lead character, Eiren. Likewise, her male counterparts, Marc Zammit and Adam Bond, do their roles justice as well. I have not seen any of these folks onscreen before (to my knowledge), but I hope to see them in future projects soon.

The storyline is unique and interesting. The plot ensnared me from the start, and it never let go. I am particularly impressed with the world writer/director Tom Paton created. Although we only get a snippet of what it is like, I can see many more stories stemming from this world, in addition to another movie or two. I would particularly like to see a follow-up movie to this one, but with an even bigger budget.

PANDORICA is a definite win for me, and I recommend it. The film is available now in a variety of formats on Amazon.

MSB