All a Broken Family Needs to Mend is a Demented EVIL Backpacker! “Mind Games” reviewed! (MVD: Rewind Collection / Blu-ray)

***Note: the following screen caps are not from the MVD Blu-ray release.

On the surface, the Lunds are picturesque of everything that represents the perfect family. Under the surface, Rita and Dana Lund can barely skim the surface with their marriage dangerously ebb and flowing toward sharp, jagged rocks. In an effort to save their relationship, they take their preteen son on a RV camping trip along the coast line of California to try and rekindle their affection for one another. In one of their trip’s initial stops, a hitchhiker named Eric befriends Dana and the boy; they’re fondness for the charismatic and young Eric is so great that he’s invited to ride along with the family on their vacation. Rita’s suspicions of Eric are blinded by her immense loathing for Dana, suppressing Eric’s true maniacal, psychopathic behavior as he infiltrates the Lunds to conduct his only psychological behavior experiments by shifting the boy’s jovial persona, exploiting Rita’s sexual regression, and further alienate Dana from his family.

As if a fable that warns the dangers of picking up hitchhikers no matter how friendly and beautiful they appear to be, “Mind Games” dug into the psyche and had continued the trend of violently unstable roadside travelers that yearn to harm the hospitable, the compassionate, and just the plain old lonely. In Bob Yari’s first of two directorial efforts, the 1989 “Mind Games,” also once titled as “Easy Prey” is a thriller from the mind of screenwriter Kenneth Dorward and co-produced by screen actress turned financier Mary Apick, teaming up with Bob Yari after their work together on the sovereign nation standoff drama, “Checkpoint,” under the MTA/Persik Production Company banner. As the idyllic project for a low-budget thriller with a limited cast and barely any special effects required, “Mind Games” wound up being the first entry for the MTA/Persik affair that sought to stir conjugal strifes with outsider influence and how sometimes the grass is not always greener on the other side.

For an independent film with such a small, sharpened cast, well known actors from the 80’s step into the humblings of lesser grandeur, starting with Maxwell Caulfield. The young, promising star from the sequel to John Travolta’s “Grease” had his career nearly derailed with the critically panned big budget “Grease 2”, but luckily for horror genre fans, the English born actor channeled his talents toward such films as “Waxwork II” and “Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat.” Yet, “Mind Games” was essentially his second break into the film business that opened doors for the former titles and being the unhinged hitchhiker Eric couriered a necessary change from his stage performance to his ability to be warped-minded person looking through the eyes of a totally different and charmed individual. The role absolutely challenges the actor who, from analyzing his performance across the screen, finds breaking in the role more difficult than presumed. Edward Albert is a name you might not remember, but his face will strike some chords as “The Galaxy of Terror” actor steps into the self-deprecating husband role of Dana. Dana is just one of those individuals worth slapping across the face to wake them up and Albert amplifies his unintentional waning from his wife and child with such dismissal and disassociation, I, myself, found Dana’s lack of courage to be unsettling, but his rouse-less attribute fades slowly into man searching, if not clinging, for what’s left of his life. Caught between Eric’s snarky sensationalism and Dana’s lofty air is Dana’s angst wife, Rita, played by “Shadowzone’s” Shawn Weatherly. The blonde hair, blue eyed former Baywatch beach lifeguard sure knows how to be a wild card, an unknown friend or foe in this mental game of chess, as Rita staggers between hating to being extremely amicable with her husband, Dana. This is where Dana and Rita’s son, Kevin, fits in as the deciding factor pending the successfulness of Eric’s testing. Matt Norero didn’t have nearly the extensive career as his co-stars, but deliveries some great, if not zealous, scenes and cold-hearted glares that break up the sometimes monotonous tone of “Mind Games” would routinely find itself stuck.

To frankly put it, “Mind Games” bares the prosaic essence of a run of the mill thriller with a thin strip of riveting tension to cling onto. The film impresses comparably with a cheap suspense novels you’ll find multiple copies of collecting dust bunnies on Dollar Tree shelves where the paperwork backs lavished in a cheap bait title and cover art only provides a quarter of the entertainment value of its marketed worth. However, for a low budget production, Yari manages to pull off impressive aerial shots, eerie dim lit atmospherics of a fog machine heavy night scenes, and tack on flashes of so bad, it’s good meme worthy moments – i.e. the garbage day kill scene in “Silent Night, Deadly Night: Part 2” to reference what I mean. The score is conducted by “Night of the Comet” composer David Richard Campbell with an uncharacteristic upbeat and happy-go-lucky number weaving in and out of the film’s storyline, and coarsely out of place during the RV stop-a-long montage that proceeds after setting up Dana and Rita’s turbulent marriage and Eric’s understated malevolencies, but rather speaks to the overall spirit of the film that’s a rated-R labeled PG-13 thriller, hard on the language, but soft on the violence with more of an implied application of offscreen kills and virtually no blood from an anemic plotline.

Still, “Mind Games” can be considered a cauldron of cynicism and now that the release receives the royal treatment with a full HD, 1080p special collector’s edition Blu-ray from MVD’s Rewind Collection label spine #21. The retrograde cardboard slipcover harnesses a powering transfer that supplies vitality into the well-preserved 35mm source material and presents a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Perhaps the best this transfer looks to date, a plush matte that’s pleasing and without the drab bleakness that typically coincides. Natural grain remains upon a softer side delineation that’s not heftily indistinct and, in fact, adds to the glow of the product’s decade. The English LPCM 2.0 stereo audio mix has inviting qualities, but taper more on the lossy side of the spectrum. The soundtrack is powerful, especially on “The Writing on the Wall” single by Raven Kane. Dialogue is clear and untarnished, the range is adequate, and the depth is sound. No audio or video hiccups or blights to note nor any dubious enhancements detected. Option English subtitles are available. Special features are aplenty including a new MVD exclusive, retrospective look at the Making of Mind Games that clocks in at 108 minutes of interviews with director Bob Yari, producer Mary Apick, and stars Maxwell Caulfield, Shawn Weatherly, and Matt Norero. Also included a featurette on the producing career of Bob Yari who helmed award winning films such as “Crash,” and concludes with the original theatrical trailer, a reversible sleeve with alternate art, and a collectible mini-poster in the insert slot. “Mind Games'” message to the world is never knowing how good you have something until nearly being ripped from your hands. Director Bob Yari finagles the point across with an unexceptional joyride, but a solid first film from an indie startup hungry enough to take a chance on a practical psychological thriller.

“Mind Games” looks gorgeous on Blu-ray! Check it out from MVD!

EVIL’s a Face-Off to the Death! “Guns Akimbo” reviewed! (Saban Films / Screener)


Miles, a thirtysomething video game developer, remains stuck in an unfulfilling and lonely existence where being an internet troll gives him his only taste of dominance over those who normally succeed above him in all other life aspects. When he pokes and prods a popular and sadistic underground death match known as Schism, the virally trending sensation sweeping the internet nation comes knocking at his apartment door to officially install him into the next melee bout. With guns crudely surgically bolted to both hands, Miles, whose used to running from just about everything, now has to nut up against Schism’s most prolific killer, Nix, and save his kidnapped ex-girlfriend from the deviants behind the game.

Social commentary runs amok in this grisly balls to the wall, gunplay stimulating action-comedy, “Guns Akimbo,” from the New Zealander, “Deathgasm” writer-director Jason Lei Howden. Trading in doom metal horror for a crass bullet ruckus, Howden barrels down with an on fleek supercharged story like a runaway freight train or a 6,000 round per minute minigun, shredding through a high body count like in a high occupancy round of a first person shooter. Under the production wing of Occupant Entertainment and distributed by Saban Films, who released films such as “The Girl with All the Gifts” and Rob Zombie’s “31” and “3 From Hell”, “Guns Akimbo’s” edgy dystopian air gangling along nerdy humor scraps “Robocop” utilitarian veneer for a fresh coat of millennial trivialities, fleshing out, in a ream of firepower, relevant societal topics and facing their adversarial shades head on in a barrage of blood soaked bullets.

Spearheading “Guns Akimbo” is Daniel Radcliffe, who seemingly continues to distance himself from the world of wizardry of “Harry Potter” and focusing his current career on off-Hollywood and chic films that has gained Radcliffe a cult following alongside his cache of wizards and witches fandom. Feeling content stagnant, Miles lounges comfortably in the power of being a keyboard warrior and Radcliffe leads the non-exuberant charge until pushes comes to guns bolted to my and someone is trying to kill me-shove. Opposite Radcliffe is Samara Weaving as a brashly confident and hard-hitting character of familiar skin that’s similar to her Melanie Cross role in Joe Lynch’s “Mayhem.” Instead of being a mild-mannered woman infected to be a savage, floor-clearing combat artist, Weaving bares no dissuasion embodying another uncaged killer becoming the nitty-gritty, tattooed, and uncouth Nix, hard-nosed with violent tendencies stemmed by the fiery murder of her family. Together, Weaving and Radcliffe make engaging adversaries and friendlies who both end up on working on themselves while working with each other in a do-or-die game. Ned Dennehy plays the creator of Schism and overall bad guy Riktor. The Irish actor, who recently had a role in Nicholas Cage’s “Mandy,” finds himself just as tatted up as Nix, waving a nihilistic-revolutionist banner like its something to be proud of, but despite Dennehy’s best efforts in alleviating his cynical nature with a few sarcastic quips, Riktor comes off as bland and unfulfilled as a story’s aortic villain; instead, I found myself more curious about his fascinating short-lived henchmen played by Mark Rowley as a Zangief Street Fighter doppelganger, Racheal Ofori shelling out with double barrels, and Set Sjöstrand as a gimp mask wearing Fuckface. The international cast rounds out with Natasha Liu Bordizzo (“Hotel Mumbai”), a once in a lifetime hilarious homeless man act by funny man Rhys Darby, Grant Bowler, and Edwin Wright (“Turbo Kid”).

“Guns Akimbo” could have been pulled straight from the crimson flashy illustrated pages of a popular graphic novel and, most definitely, would have worked as one too, soon to come for sure, but as a feature film is concerned, as fun as Howden drapers it with explosions, expletives, and executions, “Guns Akimbo” ultimately shakes at the knees with acute breakneck, 24-hour speed that clocks in at a 95 minute runtime. While that’s the standard runtime of choice for movies, average around 90 to 100 minutes, consequences from flying through backstories (Miles, Schism, Riktor, Nix) in a blink of an eye at the story’s expense to hastily push for gun blazing glory puts all the pressure on the viewer to keep up. The story’s non-linear moments also factor into being an onerous barrier for audiences which are shiplapped together egregiously just for the sake of going against the atypical plot structure design and interspersed with flash backs and wishful thinking near death pipe dreams all jam and crammed packed into the sardine can that is the very eye-candy combat of “Guns Akimbo.” Yet, enough time was mustered for symbolism where Miles finds himself ensnared in the sticky negativity that is the social media sludge, fueled by the sadistic voyeurs enjoying the show in a violence-porn tapestry. From troll to titan, Miles rises as the unlikely gladiator presence in Schism, pushing him toward being a viral sensation from which he can’t escape despite the lack of enthusiasm to anything related to Schism and his skyrocketing social media status. The whole showdown thrusts him into controlling his own life whether he likes it or not, a kick in the ass for a lack of a better phrase, to get him motivated.

Come February 28th, Saban Films’ “Gun Akimbo,” produced by Occupant Films’ Joe Neurauter, Felipe Marino, and New Zealand film producer Tom Hern, will go full blown trigger happy into select theaters, on demand, and on digital. Since this movie is yet to be officially released, is a screener, and doesn’t have a home video release just quite yet, there will be no audio and video critique portion of this review nor were there bonus material. There have been many great dual wielding action heros in our lifetime, including John Weston from “Equilibrium,” Selene from “Underworld,” and even that Counter-Strike terrorist avatar with the option to wield Dual Berettas. Now, we have Miles from “Guns Akimbo,” an immense ball of New Zealand vitality, un-tapered exploitation, and twofold in gun fun.

Pre-Order “Guns Akimbo” on Amazon Prime!

Adolescence isn’t Innocence. Adolescence is Evil! “We” reviewed! (Artsploitation Films / Blu-ray)


Four teenage boys and four teenage girls decide one summer to live free, without inhibition, and to make as much money as possible. Discovering an abandoned caravan in the middle of nowhere, they set up their home away from home where doing what they want, and who they want, becomes a way of life. Sexual freedom and adolescent independency quickly leads the friends down a path of miscreant wandering and sordid pornography and prostitution. When one of the teens accidently dies, four accounts of what happened are told aloud to the court and with each version, the truth becomes indistinct amongst the slander, exploitative sex work, and their anarchist ways that surround a seemingly corrupt politician.

Debased youth bored with the common fabrics of society stitch their own downfall into extreme moral degeneration in Rene Eller’s 2018 dramatic-thriller from the Netherlands entitled “We.” Also known as “Wij” in the Belgium tongue, Eller tackles the cinematic adaptation of an Elvis Peeters’ novel of the same name from 2009 with not only directing a compelling and frightening image of idle hand youth, but the filmmaker’s also credited as penning the non-linear script told in four chapters that highlight four out of the eight teens’ versions of events and how that fateful summer not only saw their ethics become shattered, but also their close-knit friendships. Eller also co-produces the film, working alongside production companies Pragma Pictures and New Amsterdam Film Company.

“We” consists of a young cast, in age and in experience, bred from the Netherlands and though virtually credit-less, powerful performances from the lot all around that touch not only the venereal stimulators, but also reaches the twisted knot inside the gut of how being human equals being depraved. The four chapters begin with Simone, a young man smitten by the Femke (Salomé van Grunsven) who becomes a catalyst for the trial, played by an Anton Yelchin lookalike, Tijmen Govaerts. Govaerts gleams in Simon’s adolescent jubilee of love, sex, and carefree attitude. His story is followed by Maxime Jacobs’ Ruth, a 16-year-old who can’t seem to step beyond the line into total reckless abandonment, Yet, Ruth’s game for risky her own body to gain approval from her friends and for her shadowed love for Simon. Jacobs gapped teeth act as imperfect perfection upon her slumping figure sheathed in plaid, screaming purity inside her outcast shell, but Jacobs proves she can be more naughty in her character than that of her co-stars. Liesl’s third chapter paints a more grotesque picture of her friends summer. Pauline Casteleyn acts in the role of Liesl, an aspiring artist with that tough inner and outer shell Ruth aspires to but ultimately lacks. Casteleyn can cast a deadpan stare with the best of them that offers more of a chilling vibe off of Liesl, but neither of these roles could outwit, out-dominate Thomas. Aimé Claeys concludes the fourth chapter as the ringleader of the friends, or, more accurate, as the pimp and the kingpin. Thomas’ manipulate hand fosters questions about his past left purposefully open for a subjective opinion on whether his actions were that of his own boredom or being pushed to his limit by external forces. “We” rounds out with Friso van der Werf, Folkert Verdoorn, Laura Drosopoulos, Lieselot Siddiki, Gaia Sofia Cozijn, and Tom Van Bauwel.

Let me start off by saying that when the teens’ entrepreneur pornography ambitions comes to fruition, these reviewers’ eyes widened at the surprising site of explicit penetrations and fellatios; however, the unexpected hardcore isn’t the act of our already very naked actors who probably stood out for stand-ins as the story leads the friends to think of using masks for anonymity and all explicit scenes of sex involve masked performers or implied scenes are angled just right from the cruel and smart tactics of Rene Eller and cinematographer Maxime Desmet. “We’s” unreserved sexual boot up the censorship’s tight behind is this junkie’s drug of choice that gets the blood pumping in all the right places; yet, “We” garnishes a heavy topical subject serrated with generational and societal gaps of corrosive virtue and speaks in volumes of what entitlement entails for a body of minors spoiled by the very community that either nurtured or tormented them and then, finally, turn on them all, parental or not, with harsh repudiation. As a sincere compliment to director Rene Eller, “We” belongs in the maladjusted family tree that also bears the rotten teenage fruit of Larry Clarks’ “Kids” and Catherine Hardwicke’s “Thirteen” and harks back to the Golden Age of Dutch Cinema with the Dutch Sex Wave from the 1970’s which produced controversial erotica with “Blue Movie” and “My Nights with Susan, Sandra, Olga and Julie” from Scorpio Films. “We” has a friendly look and feel of a 70’s film despite modern devices, making the resemblance to the Golden Age that much striking.

From the Netherlands’ festival circuit comes the highly engrossing, explicit drama “We,” distributed stateside by the Philadelphia based Artsploitation Films onto an unrated director’s edition Blu-ray home video release. Presented on BD-25 in full HD and in a widescreen, 2.65:1 aspect ratio, impressive textures flourish every inch of skin of the actors and in the panning ariel shots, which are, at times, hard to obtain. Despite some early on aliasing during the opening scene and a bit of warm washed coloring that doesn’t pop with a colorful hue range, I’ve still become satisfied with the end result that sells the illusion of Summer (you can see the hot breath during some outdoor scenes), the immense use of natural lightening, and the skin tones announce a fresh feel for the flesh aplenty. The Dutch language DTS-HD Master Audio mix holds nothing to ill speak of with a rendered clear dialogue, ample range and depth, and subtitles that sync fine with clear delineation and no mistakes. Other than a static menu, the only other bonus on this feature is the explicit reversible Blu-ray cover that displays the bare ass(ets) of half the cast from one particular scene. There’s also the PG cover that you’ll see below to not offend any sensitive souls. Coinciding with being a great story, “We” is also an important film of human callousness hidden within the prospect of free love, an age-old infiltration and exploitation concept captured by Rene Eller’s subversive eye and Elvis Peeters sage mind.

“We” Available for Artsploitation Films!

 

The Dead Don’t Stay Dead in EVIL Burial Grounds! “Pet Sematary Two” reviewed! (Scream Factory / Blu-ray)


After the accidental and traumatizing death of his beautiful actress mother, happening right before his eyes, Jeff Matthews and his veterinarian father move from Los Angeles to his mother’s quaint hometown of Ludlow, Maine to start over. The father and son are met with small town hostility from an arrogant, abusive Sheriff and the high school bully, but the ease of settling into their new surroundings with a new veterinarian business going well and Jeff gaining friendship with the Sheriff’s stepson, Drew, provides some inkling of comfort after their loss. When the Sheriff’s hot-headed temper murders Drew’s dog, the disconsolate Drew, along with Jeff, buries his beloved best friend in a sacred Indian burial ground with a smidgen of hope of the dog’s return, as the town’s urban legends suggest, but the dog becomes the first to return in a series of deaths and catastrophic returns that stagger to a family reuniting climax Jeff and his father won’t ever forget.

With Stephen King removing his name and separating himself from the overall project, the sequel to the 1989 “Pet Sematary” raised a few eye brows from the general public, and I’m sure some anxious investors, of how just would a non-adapted sequel to one of Stephen King popular novels would pan out come release. “Pet Sematary Two,” released three years after first film, would follow the predeceasing story a few years later with an entirely new cast of characters while still evoking the presence of the first film to linger about with director Mary Lambert to return to the director’s chair and helm a script by a relatively unknown writer, Richard Outten. Yet, Lambert’s return didn’t necessary equate to the reimplementing a broody, ominous, darkness facade as the well versed music video and television director flipped the script on a film she might not have any control over albeit financial backers did. Instead, “Pet Sematary Two” garnishes a scoffing rock’n’roll polarity that’s a raiper-like obverse approach of merriment morbidity doused with flammable fun and demented delight.

Hot off the presses of his first major role as a young John Connor fighting man-killing machines from the future in “Terminator 2: Judgement Day,” Edward Furlong stars as the scathingly broody Jeff Matthews. While Jeff Matthews isn’t as punk, off the street, as the delinquent turned hero John Connor, Furlong is about to turn Jeff back into being a kid with real life problems such as bullying, father-son quarrels, and dealing with the death of a parent. That screeching cry, those sunken eyes, and that bad boy attitude from “T2: Judgement Day” convinced thousands of young teenage girls that Edward Furlong was a desired heartthrob and “Pet Sematary Two” continued to showcase those attributes even further. However, in my humble opinion, Clancy Brown is the real heartthrob of the sequel with his over-the-top performance in the abrasive Sheriff Gus. The New England twang instantly sells Gus’s malignancy and crimson temper without even lifting one ill-fitting moral finger. From another King adaptation in “Shawshank Redemption” to being a bug hunter Commander Zim in “Starship Troopers,” Brown’s distinguishable deep and resonating voice, square jaw, and tall with broad shoulders has made the veteran actor the picture of law enforcement and military type and while “Pet Sematary Two” played into that typecast, Brown, who didn’t want to venture into horror, saw the laughter in the darkness and came out on top with a stellar exaggerated and unforgettable Sheriff Gus as a full blown undead maniac. Furlong and Brown stands out immensely over the rest but the remainder of the roles are just a grand with performances from “Revenge of the Nerds'” Anthony Edwards, Jared Rushton, Darlene Fluegel (“Freeway”), Jason McGuire, and Sarah Trigger.

“Pet Sematary Two” might have been profane against all that is (un)holy from the Stephen King’s novel and Lambert’s first film, but truth be told, the sequel is a whole lot of fun, a shell of the name worth watching, and provides substantial brutality with gory leftovers including skinning stark white rabbits, shredding the face off a young punk with the back wheel of a motocross bike, and an electrocution that ends with a head eruption. The Steven Johnson effects had range and bite, but unfortunately, the full brunt of the “Videodrome” and “Night of the Demons” effects artist’s work was perhaps not entirely showcased with some hard cuts to obtain a R rating, even unfortunately keeping the age-old rating with the new collector’s edition from Scream Factory that’s also the feature’s Blu-ray debut. Lambert certainly wanted the sequel to bask in a different kind of darkness that’s more comedic than gloomy and the schism between the two gulfs compares like a night and day, but the core principles of what makes “Pet Sematary” “Pet Sematary” remains faithfully intact. In hindsight, the sequel should have been labeled something else other than “Pet Sematary.”

Back from the physical media graveyard comes Paramount Pictures’ “Pet Sematary Two” onto a full 1080p, High Definition, collector’s edition Blu-ray from Scream Factory, hitting retailers February 25th. The release sports a new 4K scan of the original 35mm camera negative and presented in the original aspect ratio, 1.85:1 widescreen. The fact the source material remains unblemished becomes a plus that renders the newly scanned transfer with complementary darker shades of Autumn foliage and outerwear, delineating the burial ground and town nicely, and offering a range over hues that amplifying the perilous circumstances ahead. Still leaving some natural grain, the scan chisels through the softer portions and really does offer some nice details toward facial finishes, even in the dog’s mangy and matted blood stained fur. A few select poor edit choices, such as slow motion techniques, counteract against the detail naturally by disrupting the frames per second and causing a bit of a smoother finish than desired. If the English language 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio could be described as one thing, that would be a menagerie of ambient gratification. The crinkling of leaves and the subtle cries of wildlife really set the primal and augury atmosphere. Dialogue clearly comes through and Mark Governor’s score shutters as a gothic western, an oddity for sure, mixed with wolf howls and Native American percussions, that fits the in the film’s black argyle pattern. All new special features accompany the single disc release, sheathed in an Laz Marquez illustrated cardboard cover, including a new audio commentary by director Mary Lambert, new interviews with Edward Furlong, Clancy Brown, Jason McGuire, special effectors advisor Steven Johnson, and composer Mark Governor, and a standard edition theatrical trailer. While not a fully uncut, “Pet Sematary Two” for the first time on Blu-ray is paramount to the genre the feature serves, swerving far from the antecedent, and evolving into a promising guilty pleasure.

Zowie Wowie! Check Out Pet Sematary Two on Blu-ray come Feb. 25th!

Death Fears No EVIL in Takashi Miike’s “First Love” reviewed! (Well Go USA / Blu-ray)


Orphaned boxer Leo grows up to be an up-and-coming star in the sport. After losing a match by TKO from a soft punch, Leo is diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor that sends himself into despair. In another part of town, the established yakuza and the imported Chinese mafia boil toward an inevitable war over turf and drugs. When Kase, a junior enforcer, betrays his yakuza family, scheming with a crooked cop to steal drugs for profitable gain, the tide turns blood red as the yakuza naively blames the Chinese. Caught in the middle is a drug addicted prostitute named Monica, a slave to the yakuza for her father’s past mishaps, who is kept locked away in a small apartment overseen by a yakuza lackeys, romantic couple Yasu and Julie, that also use the apartment to control drug flow. When Kase plan to raid the apartment and steal the drugs goes array, Yasu winds up dead and Monica escapes, running into Leo who has nothing left to live for except to protect Monica. A distraught-induced psychotic Julie, the deadly yakuza, the Chinese Mafia, a double-crosser and his crooked cop partner, a delusional girl of the night, and one apathetic boxer clash in a single night’s ultraviolet web.

Extreme Japanese auteur Takashi Miike fastens a lively tongue-and-cheek and supremely savage crime thriller in his latest mad yakuza film, amiably entitled, “First Love,” also known “Hatsukoi.” “First Love” is anything but friendly and pleasant as the street of Tokyo run red with blood or else the 2019 released film wouldn’t be a Takashi Miike trademark special. Penned by Miike’s long time collaborator, Masa Nakamura, the filmmaker’s affection for horror eludes this title that hones more toward the unpleasantries of clan betrayals, snarky criminal shenanigans, and, of course, a flavor for mega violence that become a maelstrom angrily surrounding a demoralized boxer and the victimized forced-into-prostitution young woman he aims to selfishly protect while in his mental clout regarding his mortality. Produced by OLM, Inc production company headquartered in Tokyo takes a step away from manga with “First Love,” a step that has been evolved over the last few years, but may have contributed to some of the illustrated content that seemingly has infiltrated into the third act with an initial explosiveness in the beginning portions of a car chase scene.

Cast as Leo Katsuragi, the boxer, is Masataka Kubota, a familiar face from another Miike film, “13 Assassins,” and most recently from the heavily Japanese cultured specter feature, ‘Tokyo Ghoul.” Leo’s lighter weight physique and fresh face has Masataka look the part of a promising fighter whose positioned for fame early into the story, but that framework comes to a screeching halt when he’s destined for a tumorous death. When Leo is coupled with Monica, a drug addicted forced in prostitution plagued with crippling hallucinations side effects, the repressed Leo finds himself sheltering someone with more burden on her shoulders than upon his own. Monica’s portrayed by Sakurako Konishi in what’s essentially her first major role and being paired as a scared, lonely, and crazy character coupled with a stoic vet in Masataka makes for an easy dynamic. Shôta Sometani’s chin deep in trouble Kase goes without saying that Sometani’s unfathomable range and charisma adds an aloof comic relief along with Kase’s dishonest detective slipped covertly into by “Ichi the Killer” himself, Nao Ohmori and pursued by a retribution spirited girlfriend, Julie, of her slain yakuza boyfriend; a role spearheaded with such energy and gusto from Rebecca Eri Rabone, credited solely as Becky, who has a slight Cynthia Rothrock vibe. “First Love” is no slave to boorish performances from Takahiro Miura (“Shin Godzilla”), Cheng-Kuo Yen, Sansei Shiomi, and Mami Fujioka.

“First Love” emerges as a smart and fun battle royal of decimation in the anarchist criterion. One would think a prolific director such as Takashi Miike would wear out his welcome with tired and stale filmic bread, crumbling with every soggy rinse and repeat. That’s not the case with “First Love.” Why is it entitled “First Love” anyway, you ask? The question’s open for viewer interpretation, much like most of Miike’s suggestive elegant style, and presents an illuminating unexplored journey in itself. A ventured guess would be that Leo and Monica have never experienced the feeling previously in either content or a labored life with Leo being an impassive athlete and Monica an escort since high school. The corollary of bumping into each other by chance results in the unorthodox dismantling of two rival criminal organizations, baring then an age-old theme of love conquers all and renders the mystics of destiny fueled from from within all the way easter egging sexual taboos inside his brazen, sometimes insane, transgression storyline. Either way, Takashi Miike helms a tremendous brutal-comedy that brands him as being the Martin Scorsese of Japanese filmmaking.

Blades, guns, and a fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes, “First Love” has mainstream aptitude with a carnage driven crime syndicate finesse and is now available on a two-disc, dual format Blu-ray and DVD release from Well Go USA Entertainment. Encased in a slipcover, the not rated feature is presented in full HD, 1080p, and in a widescreen, 16:9 aspect ratio. This review will focus it’s review on the Blu-ray quality. Much of Miike’s style is neo-noir basking in very grounded color palette that’s occasionally adorned by the neon brights of Tokyo. Often does Miike composite in his work and “First Love” is no exception with a brief manga nearly a rallying ending; the illustration is super sharp, a visual pop of blue and white, and, obviously, clean. Ultra-fine details add to a prizing fatalism and even the tasteful gore, on a granular level, passes the screen test. Some scenes appear sleeker than others inside a dark scope coded with darker shades of green and yellow, but the overall result smothers any kind of inconsistency. The Japanese and Chinese 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks savor every last audiophile morsel. The clear dialogue renders nicely, big effects and action sequences offer a wide range, and the depth covers more than enough ground surrounded by hustle and bustle of the urban element. Kôji Endô’s enchantingly lethal score will immerse you right into the mix and provide a slick culture twist upon classical composition. The English subtitles are well paced and mostly accurate as I did catch one grammatical mistake. Incased inside a slight embossed titled cardboard slipcover, the release also offers a teaser and a theatrical run trailer. Cynical on the surface and romantically submersible to the core, “First Love” is a Takashi Miike instant favorite of amusing antagonism and shorn almost completely of genial garments.

Own Takashi Miike’s “First Love” on Blu-ray+DVD combo set!