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Dragged Across Concrete

S. Craig Zahler (Brawl In Cell Block 99, Bone Tomahawk) scores again with this brutal tale of two recently suspended cops (Gibson, Vaughn) who look for their lost wages in an unconventional way.
   Between Brawl In Cell Block 99 and Bone Tomahawk, I thought writer/director S. Craig Zahler might have a miss with Dragged Across Concrete. Not because I don’t think he’s talented, moreso because he’s already entered his career throwing haymakers (Tomahawk, 99) and this would be the one where he would get lazy. Not so. Not even in the slightest.
  We meet Brett (Gibson) and Anthony (Vaughn) on the fire escape of an apartment building. Their interaction with each other is glib. They’ve been here before and have seen it all. They are about to arrest a suspect on narcotics charges. The suspect tries to escape through a window where Brett and Anthony have been the entire time, having said glib conversation. They quickly subdue the perp. Brett keeps his boot on the back of the suspect’s neck. Applying pressure when needed if he feels his (Brett’s) questions aren’t being answered properly. Near perfect dialogue written here. We’ve been privy to this conversation in films prior but Zahler, Gibson, and Vaughn present it in a manner that feels fresh. Brett and Anthony execute the bust. It feels like a successful bust. However, shortly after the bust they receive a call from their Lieutenant telling them to get back to the precinct immediately. Lt. Calvert (Don Johnson) explains that there was a problem with their most recent arrest. A civilian using their phone filmed the exchange between Brett and the person suspected of narcotics distribution. Filming specifically the boot to the back of neck. While Lt. Calvert isn’t particular bothered by the video, he has no choice but to suspend them. Excessive force by a police officer. 6 weeks, no pay. Brett and Anthony hand over their badges.
   Brett’s home life isn’t good by any stretch. His wife, Melanie (Laurie Holden-The Walking Dead) plagued by injury, in constant need of medication struggles to keep it together. His daughter has been assaulted 5 times in the last two years at school which Brett attributes to living in a poor neighborhood with a poor school district. The recently shelved detective needs a change for his family and fast. Brett only knows one thing the past 27 years. You could say (in Liam Neeson’s voice), “He has particular set of skills, skills he had aquired over a very long career…” I feel It should be noted here, Dragged Across Concrete is not in the same tone as Taken. Moving on. He calls his partner Anthony and asks him to pick him up. Brett asks him to drive to a specific location. In turns out he has information that the person’s place the two are parked outside of is dabbles in heroin trafficking. Anthony thinks it’s a bad idea. “Bad like lasagna in a can.” The illegal stakeout continues carried by Gibson and Vaughn’s acting. Seasoned veterans of their craft. Ultimately, Anthony says “he’s in until he’s not.” They have the skills to aquire compensation and looks as if they may. What starts out as routine surveillance turns into a complex chase at something bigger than a heroin dealer.
The plot is slightly more complex than my garbage synopsis suggests. It’s interesting enough to keep you invested and guessing. With a finale just as good as any. A testament to some top notch writing and direction by S. Craig Zahler. The performances by the cast are strong and true. Exemplary work by Mel Gibson, Vince Vaughn, Tory Kittles, Thomas Kretschman, Michael Jai White, Jennifer Carpenter, and Don Johnson. Excellent production design by Brian Davie. Solid work by the special and visual effects department. And bravo to often unsung heroes who did masterful work in this film, the sound department. From the mixers to the editors.
   See this film because I told you to. Or see it because it has the realistic brutality (with practical effects, which makes a film so much better) and moral darkness of Brawl In Cell Block 99 with the firepower of Michael Mann’s Heat.

Sister Street Fighter Collection – Arrow Video Bluray Review

Following the monumental success of The Street Fighter, the Toei Company (a Japanese film, television, and distribution corporation) decided to move forward in a shockingly progressive way by erecting a new karate series centered around a female lead. Toei opted to cast a young actress who was no stranger to The Street Fighter, her mentor, Sonny Chiba. Still in her teens at that time, Etsuko Shihomi burst on the scene in her first leading lady role. And thus, Sister Street Fighter was born. Creating a new type of character: a resilient fighter who was ferocious, valiant, and affable. Even more progressive, Toei decided to take a non-sexualized approach. Quite the antithetical retreat from their traditional formula.

Sister Street FIghter 2
Disc 1:
Film:
Sister Street Fighter (1974)
When her brother Li Wan-Qing is kidnapped by a drug lord, Li Koryu seeks vengeance. The drug lord’s bizarre and eccentric collection of murderers includes a group of Thai boxers called the “Amazon Seven,” along with representatives of almost every martial art. Li Koryu brings the drug lord’s compound down with the help of Seiichi Hibiki (Sonny Chiba) and other members of the Shorinji Kempo dojo.
 
Special Features:
Sonny Chiba: A Life In Action, Vol. 3
In an interview shot exclusively for Arrow Video in Tokyo in September 2016, legendary actor and martial arts movie star Shinichi “Sonny” Chiba talks about his role in discovering Etsuko Shiomi and her training as part of his Japan Action Club. Chiba discusses Shihomi and her growing up under his tutelage. He reflects on how much he loved her performances and just how special an actress she was. Out of 10,000 actresses, he knew right away that she was the one. He also ponders how big a superstar she could’ve been if she didn’t give up acting for marriage. And more.
 
Kazuhiko Yamaguchi: Kick-Ass Sisters
Director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi speaks about his work in crafting three unique, female-led action series for Toei Studio and his work with Etsuko Shihomi. Yamaguchi discusses being introduced to this first-rate stuntwoman Etsuko Shihomi by Sonny Chiba. At first he didn’t know if he wanted to make a female-led karate film. But soon after Yamaguchi saw just how capable Shihomi was. He talks how he mentally prepared her to work with all men. Also discussed, the decision for her to use Kempo instead of Karate. And how by the third film she had grown significantly as an actress.
 
Masahiro Kakefuda: Subversive Action
Screenwriter Masahiro Kakefuda discusses his work with director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi and co-screenwriter Norifumi Suzuki in writing the first three entries of the series. Kakefuda discusses how he preferred writing erotic films but remembers just how fun he had writing the karate films. And how strong women are interesting subjects that you can come up with all sorts of ideas for. He talks about how initially he wanted to write contemporary dramas for Toei Studios. Also the adjustment it was for him to give Toei Studios what they wanted. Yamaguchi chuckles at the memory of wanting to destroy the traditional image of the historical drama. 
 
Isolated Score Highlights
Original Trailer
Still & Poster Gallery
International Releases
 
Disc 2:
Films:
 
Sister Street Fighter: Hanging By A Thread (1974)
After a detective is killed, Li Koryu is assigned to look into the case. The case involves the diamond smuggler, Kazushige Osone (Hideo Murota), who lives in Japan. After arriving in Yokohama and meeting her sister Li Ban-lan (Tamayo Mitsukawa), Koryu immediately finds herself on the bosses’ “silence list.” The boss carries out a scheme involving the trafficking of diamonds from Hong Kong to Japan, transported inside the bodies of “ladies of the night.” Which are then brutally removed. Koryu’s friend, Birei (Hisako Tanaka), is included in this dark form of trafficking. Koryu is now has no alternative but to fight an endless barrage of fighters and henchmen aiming to stop her. The mysterious Shunsuke Tsubaki (Yasuaki Kurata) arrives on the scene. In wonderment if she can trust him or not, Koryu continues taking on the thugs to stop their crazed trafficking scheme.
 
Return Of The Sister Street Fighter (1975)
A friend of Like Koryu (Etsuko Shihomi) is murdered. Now in pursuit, she travels to Japan to find her missing cousin that has disappeared into the Japanese underworld. Taking the girl’s daughter Rika (Miwa Cho) along with her friend Michi (Mitchi Love) helps introduce her to Shurei (Akane Kawasaki) whom is the sister of the girl. Together, they’re able to piece together her disappearance back to a shadowy figure in the underground, Oh Ryu Mei (Rin’ichi Yamamoto) who operates a special smuggling ring protected by a plethora of deadly fighters. Koryu gets deeper into the smuggling ring and faces danger at every turn from an assortment of henchmen and the mystifying Go Kurosaki (Yasuaki Kurata) that continually interrupts her mission. Koryu using everything but the kitchen sink will stop at nothing to bust up the ring and save her friend.
 
Sister Street Fighter: Fifth Level Fist (1976) (completely unrelated to previous three films)
Trying to please her mother, young Kiku Nakagawa (Etsuko Shihomi) continually leave their successful Kimono shop business in order to take martial arts at a local dojo. Her friend at the dojo, Michi (Mitchi Love) becomes anxious about her stepbrother Jim (Ken Wallace) who goes missing one day. They eventually learn that he’s been in the employ of movie studio owner Fujiyama (Nobuo Kawaii), who’s been using the studio as a base for a series of smuggling operations. The film sets/shoots are the front for the illegal activities. Taking the situation up with police, detective Takagi (Tsunehiko Watase), things take a dark turn when Jim gets murdered and Michi is kidnapped for investigating the drug ring, forcing Kiku to take a secret role in the studio’s latest production in order to recover her friend and put an end to their operation.
 
Special Features:
Isolated Score Highlights
Trailers
Sister Street Fighter Arrow Bluray Crop

Dolcezza Extrema

In a galaxy 30 million parsecs from our solar system, no star is similar to the sun… Inhabitants of some planets in the galaxy survive due to radiation branched from the core of the globe. Others live in the coldest environments imaginable. To survive, they use “Kalamajids,” also known as a “sunlamp.” To maintain body heat, they are forced to do continuous physical activity. The activity being religious worship… They worship monarch, King Grigorio XXII.   

The empire, galactic. The cult, fitness and beauty. In memory of personal trainer, Elfisio Masciago whom was electrocuted by a sunlamp ten years prior; monarch Grigorio orders tanning showers to be delivered to all places of assembly on every planet. But who will be tasked with this very important mission. A pirate ship called the Dolcezza Extrema. The ship is manned by a has-been rock star, an ex-con named Pixws, and a crew of recovering drug addicts. Once the ship and crew travel to the planet Nemesis, Pixws questions the soundness of his orders. A mutiny ensues. Will the Dolcezza Extrema make it home or will King Grigorio destroy them for their insolence?

Dolcezza Extrema from outer space

From the mind of Massimo Vavassori and direction of Alberto Genovese comes Dolcezza Extrema.  Dolcezza Extrema (original title: Sick Sock Monsters from Outerspace) is a bizarre epic set in every corner of the universe.  Socks, Drugs, and Rock and Roll From Outerspace. Think Aliens. Think Danny Boyle’s Sunshine. Think Team America World Police. Combine all of those with some LSD and you have Dolcezza Extrema. Are you ready for it?   

Amongst the many positives the movie exudes, production design and special effects were the standouts.    

I briefly spoke with Alberto Genovese: What I was convinced were miniatures (the sets) being used to create the environment, turned out to be digital effects, said Genovese. He went on to say everything was digital but the socks! Which, once you see it, you will come to the same realization that I did: Alberto Genovese and Loboarts Productions are going to go on to bigger things in the realm of cinema. If they could produce the sights and sounds they did on Dolcezza Extrema, on a shoestring budget (quite possibly less than that), then I’m excited to see what they can do with more than a nominal budget. And they can’t do that without your streams and/or hard copy purchases.   

While the film was released in 2015, it wasn’t until 2016 that Troma Entertainment acquired it for U.S. distribution. From their site you may choose to stream it or purchase the bluray. Your humble correspondent kindly suggests you get a hard copy.

Dolcezza Extrema Cover

Audition Bluray Review

Fans of horror need no introduction to this one.  Fans of Takashi Mike need no introduction to this one.  But for those of you in the dark…

Audition is about widower, Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi), whose son proposes that he finds a new wife.  Aoyama agrees.  So, he and a friend stage a bogus audition to meet a prospective new partner to share the remainder of his life with.  After several “auditions” Aoyama becomes connected to Asami (Eihi Shiina) who shares the mutual admiration.  As their relationship grows, so does the darkness that surrounds Asami.
   
Arrow Video’s release of one of the most notorious J-horror films ever does not disappoint.  This special edition bluray has some of the best and most informative contents I’ve ever witnessed.  Given the type of collector I am, you know I don’t make the statement from the hip.
   
Special Edition Contents include:
• Brand new 2K restoration of original vault elements
• Original 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
• Optional English Subtitles
• Audio commentary with director Takashi Mike and screenwriter Daisuke Tengan
• Brand new commentary by Miike biographer Tom Mes examining the film and it’s source novel
• Introduction by Miike
• Ties That Bind: A brand new interview with Takashi Miike
• Interviews with stars Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina, Renji Ishibashi and Ren Osugi
• Damaged Romance: An appreciation by Japanese cinema historian Tony Rayns
• Trailers
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matthew Griffin
Audition Bluray cover

Alita: Battle Angel Review

Robert Rodriguez and James Cameron usher in a new sci-fi epic with Alita: Battle Angel. Expertly crafted. Superbly paced. Visuals so good, the audience is emerged into the environment immediately. Hopefully fans can put their love for Star Wars, Star Trek, etc. aside and make room for a new franchise that truly embodies the genre.

   Based on the Japanese cyberpunk series created by Yukito Kishiro, Rodriguez and Cameron spared no detail to bring this manga series to life.  Alita: Battle Angel was originally announced back in 2003 but was constantly being delayed so Cameron could work on the Avatar sequels. And I’m kinda glad that it was. I just don’t know if audiences would’ve been ready for it.  Not to say that audiences are unintelligent, but I think back then the allegiance to sci-fi epics like Star Wars could not be shook.  Even now, to an extent, I feel audiences think there can be only one sci-fi epic to rule them all. If it isn’t Star Wars, Star Trek, Marvel, or DC, it seems fans are quick to write it off.  Sad, really.  Given the numbers Alita is generating, it looks like we (the audience) is coming around. And I couldn’t be happier.
   The year is 2563. A catastrophic war known as “The Fall” has left Earth in shambles.  We open on a man rummaging through a junkyard the size of Texas.  The doctor, Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz), stumbles upon the upper torso of a female cyborg.  Clearly by the look on his face, this is a great lost treasure that is priceless.  The doctor brings the cyborg back to his clinic and realizes she has a completely intact human brain.  Ido now begins to repair the cyborg. And does so successfully. Then he names her after his now deceased daughter, Alita.
   Alita, now awake, can’t remember who or what she is.  After some character introductions, we are now ready to explore Iron City.  Alita befriends a boy named Hugo.  Hugo has dreams of leaving the poverty stricken Iron City to the sky city of Zalem.  He thinks he can do this by way of Motorball; a battle royale race where cyborgs fight to the death.
   Soon after, Alita discovers that Dr. Dyson Ido is a Hunter-Warrior.  It is here where Alita begins to discover who she really is.  When Ido is wounded, Alita, out of instinct, attacks the cyborgs hunting the doctor.  She destroys all except one, Grewishka.  Grewishka retreats to the underground.  To defeat the cyborgs, Alita realizes she has been programmed with an ancient martial art called, “Panzer Kunst.” Now armed with this knowledge, Alita wants to become a Hunter-Warrior like the doctor.  Even though Ido adamantly discourages it.  Shortly thereafter, Alita discovers, or rather is drawn to a sunken ship on the outskirts of Iron City.  She finds, brings home, and asks Ido to install the new suit.  A suit that Ido calls a Berserker body.  Ido refuses to install the body fearing what Alita may become.
Alita
 I’ve given you more than enough to whet your appetite. It’s on you to get the rest of the story.  And hopefully you get out to the theater to see it too.  If you don’t, it doesn’t bode well for sequels being made in a timely fashion.
   So many things to love about this movie.  Let’s start with the environment created by WETA Digital. As aforementioned, they spared no expense in every detail of the environment.  For example, every layer of the city landscape was busy. And in the best way possible.  You could look at background as far as the eye could see, and see that every layer was “alive.” I couldn’t begin to list all the talented souls that helped in that aspect. Bravo.
  The cast was top notch.  Almost everyone that had screen time made an impact.  Which is also a rarity to do successfully when there are so many characters.  Rosa Salazar (Alita) flawlessly portrays an ancient weapon (for lack of a better word) with such a vulnerability to it, sometimes you forget just how much of a badass she really is.  Christoph Waltz (Dr. Dyson Ido) was fantastic. As he has done in his past films, he is doing these HUGE things on screen with a subtlety to his performance that just can’t be taught.  Easily one of the best actors working today.  Jennifer Connelly (Chiren) is just stunning. And her veteran status can’t be ignored.  Almost every scene she is in, she steals it.  A testament to her being in the game as long as she has been.  Mahershala Ali (Vector) switches from ruthless business owner to possessed (by way of “patching”) slave (to Nova) effortlessly.  I truly am so happy that he’s been getting role after role.  Been a fan since The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.  Keean Johnson (Hugo) plays the love interest of Alita. He nails the conflicted but relatable boyfriend with a heart of gold that realizes in Act III what’s really important to him. Ed Skrein (Zapan) plays another solid villain, perhaps more realized in Alita than his character in Deadpool 2.  I could go on.
   Alita: Battle Angel is definitely worth the fee of the ticket and popcorn. So, go. Go now.  It has all the makings of our next sci-fi epic franchise…if you, the audience, will allow it.

Best of 2018

My Must-Sees of 2018

 

1) First Man
2) A Quiet Place
3) Widows
4) Mission Impossible: Fallout
5) A Star Is Born
6) Isle of Dogs
7) Game Night
8) The Night Comes For Us
9) Avengers: Infinity War
10) First Reformed
11) Suspiria
12) Black Panther
13) Annihilation
14) Mandy
16) The Sisters Brothers
17) Hereditary
18) Upgrade
19) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
20) You Were Never Really Here

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