Money is the Root of All EVIL! “Beasts Clawing at Straws” reviewed! (Blu-ray / Artsploitation Films)

A middle-aged man working a meager job at a gentleman’s bathhouse finds a Louis Vuitton bag full of money when routinely checking the storage lockers at closing.  Unsure about what to do with the money, he stows the bag away in the backroom and continues a moral, yet pauper’s, life while dealing with financial and family troubles at home.  Meanwhile, a border customs agent finds himself in severe debt with an unstable loan shark after his girlfriend skates and disappears with a large borrowed sum.  With a week to come up with the money, plus interest, he calls upon his distant cousin to assist in scamming a scammer who illegally came into some money, but things go awry when an overly friendly and clingy cop begins to snoop around.  Lastly, a prostitute grinds tirelessly to work off a large debt her abusive husband continues to blame her for with night after night beatings.  She jumps into bed with a young, handsome foreigner and her eager to support female boss to off her husband and collect the insurance money.  Yet, these troubled souls find that sticking to their convictions doesn’t always bode well as the unexpected happens in a blink of an eye.

The Asian film machine has mastered the art of the crime thriller from a proven track record that began with Akira Kurosawa films, if not even before that, and has chronically grown stronger, and sometimes more peculiar, with choice stylistic elements, suggestive themes, and extreme violence that has garnered, to much disdain, Westerner attention over the last 20 years with films like Park Chan-wook’s “Oldboy” and Andrew Lau and Alan Mak’s “Internal Affairs” being Americanized with a Hollywood remake.  With that being said in an upward trend of remakes spilling over the edge, there would be no eye-brow raising surprise if the introductory film, the tri-narrative crime drama idiomatically titled “Beasts Clawing at Straws,” from South Korean filmmaker, Kim Yong-hoon, will one day grace the English silver screens in a diluted variation of a Brad Pitt featured carbon copy.  Based of the Keisuke Sone neo-noir novel of the same name, Kim Yong-hoon’s pulpy impression of against-the-wall misdeeds is dog-eat-dog dark comedy gold.  “Beasts Clawing at Straws” is produced by Jang Won-seok (“The Gangster, The Cop, and The Devil”) and is a production of Megabox Plus M films (“Zombie for Sale”) and B.A. Entertainment.

The three prong, greed-catapulting narrative converge characters separately at first and then string them linearly together when the picture becomes clearly what exactly each one of them is chasing, but every story is magnetized to a single focal point, a person under immense pressure, stress, and the malice forces that thirst for their humility, kinetically embarking on the bad choice choo-choo steaming toward the station of vary bad things.  Bae Seong-woo stars as a downtrodden Joong-man, a middle-aged man stuck in the rut of poverty with a geriatric, browbeating mother, a fatigued wife, and busting his rump in a dead end job.  Seong-woo combats himself as a man tight rope walking the thin line of ethic principles when opportunity knocks at his door, but his ill-timed strike to grab life by the balls blows up in his face in a farce of instant karma leaves him less than what he had before.  Then there’s a Tae-young, a comfortably Governmental positioned customs agent facing a different kind of hardship when his ex-girlfriend, Yeon-hee, disappears with a borrowed lump sum of a gangster’s money and he’s left on the fence.  “Illang:  The Wolf Brigade’s” Jung Woo-sung plays into the desperate stench of the superstitious and ambitious customs agent.  Slightly cradling the severity of the situation, Jung amply positions Tae-young’s dilemma that resembles spearfishing in a barrel and he’s the fish.  The last story follows the abused wife Mi-ran, played reservedly by Shin Hyun-bin as a desperate woman looking to bank her soon-to-be dead’s insurance money.  When Mi-ran is abetted by motive-dueling pair of instigators, she finds that paying her debt can be more severe than ever imagined.  While sitting back and basking in the stir-craziness of the leads’ turmoiled chaos, the best characters of the film are the supporting roles of Kim Jun-han as an intestine devouring, fanny-pack wearing henchman, Park Ji-hwan as Tae-young’s bumbling, but begrudgingly loyal distant cousin, and Jung Man-sik as a breezy mobster with a cherry, yet malevolent disposition.  Youn Yuh-jung, Jin Kyung, Jung Ga-ram, Bae Jin-wong, and Heo Dong-won round out the cast.

Non-linear yet interconnected in story, “Beasts Clawing at Straws” hawks a Tarantino layered thriller with colorful deplorables from all walks of life and luxuries.  Kim Yong-hoon nourishes the unbridled, free-for-all nature of diving into the murky, shark-infested waters uncaged and tethered with cuts of raw steaks dangling from the pelvis area in this two wrongs don’t equal a right account of mistrusting desperation and misguided optimism.  Kim’s style echoes the likes of the popular “Pulp Fiction” filmmaker along the lines of shooting techniques and a frank view of violence to tell the frantic clutching of hanging onto what is left of tattered lives and borrowed time while disavowing pure, unadulterated nihilism by at least giving characters a grain of hope.  With any non-linear, multiple moving part films, individual aspects tend to become lost in order for pacing and “Beasts Clawing at Straws” doesn’t fall into the excluded category as factors that play into the main quandary are left hanging, such as in Yeon-hee’s circumstantial results of jetting off with a mobster’s money as the assumption is there, but nothing is fully concrete in her storyline.  The same indiscernible spousal battery stemmed from Mi-ran and her husband’s severe debt that leads to transgressions beyond marital misuse isn’t privy to the audience of how circumstances come about surrounding their predicament and we’re forced to speculate and shoulder an explanation that doesn’t quite feel justified.  However, neither of the slapdash developments hinder “Beast Clawing for Straws’” steamrolling posture to get that desirable bag full of problem-solving, filthy lucre. 

Artsploitation Films delivers a stylish and avaricious South Korea crime drama with “Beasts Clawing for Straws” into the U.S. Blu-ray home video market. The not rated BD25, high-definition 1080p release is presented in a widescreen, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, and nears the epitome of flawless. Aside from the picture slightly flickering, more noticeably on solid colored backdrops, the hue palette is absolutely gorgeous with the neon lights of South Korean cities, the breathtaking silhouettes of the natural mountains adjacent to a lifelessly still lake, and the variety of settings from an airy fish house to a modern, symmetrically designed bordello denote a keen eye by Kim Tao-sung. The South Korean language 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio surround sound couldn’t be any better with a crystal clear aptitude for strong dialogue balanced in front of a robust soundtrack accompanied by deep range of ambience from fire crackling to the faint hint of rain drops audible from inside a restaurant, solidifying the depth package as well. English subtitles are available along with an English dub track in a dual channel Dolby stereo. What’s lacking with this release is bonus material as there is virtually nothing besides four Artsploitation trailers and the film’s own theatrical trailer. Parlous and deadpan funny, “Beasts Clawing at Straws” amazes as Kim Yong-hoon’s first time effort with the technical grace and the story construction that has been a paradigm for only a handful of notable directors able to execute an impeccable result.

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Evil Surpasses Decades and Has Never Looked So Good! “Francesca” review!

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Fifteen years after the kidnapping and disappearance of Francesca, the young daughter of renowned poet and stage performer Vittorio Visconti and his wife Nina, a string of brutal murders by a relentless psychopath links itself to the case of missing Francesca and sparks community outrage with the deaths that are connected with Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy. Detectives Moretti and Succo eagerly take on the case, that’s heavy with burden, to quickly apprehend the murderer but to also solve a more than decade old missing child case. As the bodies pile up and Moretti and Succo attempt to get closer to a resolution in the midst of grave public panic, a web of past dark secrets depict a convoluted picture surrounding the private Visconti family that may or may not be directly involved in what really came of poor young Francesca.
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The sweet, bloody sweet giallo genre is not dead! The crime mystery thriller with shockingly grisly murders is alive and well and embodied in the soul of Luciano Onetti’s 2015 sophomore directorial that’s co-written with his brother, Nicolas Onetti. The Onetti brothers’ “Francesca” release gets a treatment deserving of kings with a gloriously and beautifully illustrated cover and inner lining that contains powerfully-packed 3-disc Blu-ray and DVD combo set distributed by the artistic gorehounds Unearthed Films and the multifaceted MVDVisual. Complete with an inscrutable and deranged killer that’s greatly diabolical in their own insane world built upon the Buenos Aires born director’s passion for Italian horror, every giallo loving attribute has been meticulously applied to “Francesca” from the shrouded killer to the use of characterizing the antagonist with simply their leather bound, throat-gripping hands high above the clicking of offbeat high heals not casted far from a creepy doll used to motif the killer’s ominous presence. Blood red violence streaks of eye disfigurements, or any facial disfigurement, throughout a script that’s much attuned to the structure and content, reigniting a flame of hope in a declining genre to which the 33-year-old Onetti appears to hold very dear to his heart.
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In addition to the inner mechanisms and the ivory gears that constitutes a giallo film, Luciano Onetti takes his feature that one step further by reducing hues and adding an Italian post-production dub track, overlaying the assumptive Argentinean dialogue, to zip back to the past for a time hop location that’s purposefully set in 1970’s Rome. With props true to the time period, “Francesca” has undoubtedly a budget that delivers the malevolent charm of a Dario Argento slasher with a slightly modern taste for the Michele Soavi ghastliness, working seamlessly together to compile an apt tribute of surging giallo birthed right out of South America. “Francesca” is a stunning visual, a clear marker of filmmaking inspiration inspired by classic filmmaking that’s specific in it’s venture from familiar Italian editing techniques to capturing or creating the menace in even the most mundane of filler scenes.
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“Francesca” is certainly a film that glorifies the anti-hero with a killer wreaking havoc amongst the public’s most disparaging people who got off the hook easily. When considering the depth chart, this vigilante psychopath exploits Dante’s work as a means of justification where one’s person journey to the gates of heaven must first travel through the gates of hell, providing a similar Charon’s obol of sorts where a metaphorical coin is viewed as a bribe for the gatekeeper or ferryman of souls. Even if considered an anti-hero, the murderer still manages to appeal as the villain because so much of the story’s focus is on Moretti (Luis Emilio Rodriguez) and Succo (Gustavo Dalessanro) and both Rodriguez and Dalessanro make their first on-screen film debut, suitably connecting with “Francesca’s” elderly ambiance.
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The Not Rated Unearthed Films and MVDVisual 3-Disc Blu-ray and DVD combo is 77 minutes of pure fanboy gold, presented in a widescreen 2.35:1 in a vary of purposefully pruned coloring and intended faux film stock imperfections to recreate a 1970’s Italian giallo. The Italian dialogue track doesn’t quite synch and, again, that’s deliberate to fabricate a past ideal. My only gripe with this release is with the English subtitles as there were a few issues, including some key mistakes in spelling and with the pace of the subtitle that were way too quick. That shouldn’t sway anyone from this awe-striking and gorgeous limited edition release that comes complimentary with a booklet of an in-depth review from Ultra Violent Magazine’s Art Ettinger. The third disc rounds out the release as the film’s soundtrack, scored by Luciano Onetti and his progressive rock that’s a slight modernization of the synch-prog rock of this particular genre’s decade. “Francesca” comes straight out of a forgotten 40-year time capsule, looking to violate the eyes, minds, and ears of a younger generation and stimulating the nearly flatlined Italian giallo genre.

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Hurry! “Francesca” is a Limited Edition release! Won’t be around forever!

Sometimes Evil Needs a Little Fix! “The Treatment” review!

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Inspector Nick Cafmeyer has a past constantly haunted by the abduction and the unknown whereabouts of his brother Bjorn. Nick always knew who took his beloved brother, a neighbor named Ivan Plettinckx, who relentlessly harasses and leaves clues about missing Bjorn, sometimes leaving clues right under Nick’s front door. Simultaneously, a young boy has gone missing when the parents are discovered in their home handcuffed to the fixtures for a number of days. Nick uses his tragic past and anger as extreme motivation in finding the missing boy and conducts a grand manhunt, ensuing to track down a dangerous and disturbed pedophile that is only known by the monikers of The Biter and The Troll. When Nick believes his missing boy case and his sibling Bjorn are connected, Ivan Plettinckx becomes his number one suspect and while Nick continues to investigate and target Plettinckx, another innocent family comes under siege by The Troll and the family’s time is quickly running out.

“The Treatment” is a captivating crime thriller from Belgium with a controversial and complex subject matter perhaps too explicit and bold for American taste. Not many films can pull off severe child mistreatment without the American ratings board slicing and dicing content and leaving difficult and displeasurable scenes on the cutting room floor. For director Hans Herbots, the cutting room floor serves at only his will as he chooses what stays and goes from his film “The Treatment.” Herbots has an incessant delivery of darkness that will clutch tightly and not release your attention, causing a disorientation in the story; a certifiable understatement when going deeper and deeper into this grim pit of child perversion. Just when you think the story starts to become bright and soft, Herbots slightly navigates around the rim of the positive portions and abruptly thrusts us back into that disturbing world with the homemade movies encoded in VHS video tapes, dead children with rectum bleeding and bite marks, and a story so heinous, bathing in sanitizer won’t thoroughly clean the body nor soul.
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Aside from Inspector Nick’s dual and intertwining plots, a plethora of parallel character story lines supports the main artery, attempting to divert the focus toward a more “whodunnit” crime mystery: a swimming instructor whose awfully suspicious around police and seemingly uncomfortable around children, a father with an abusive past but supposedly victimized by The Troll, and a mentally unstable junk collector who happened to be dumpster diving during the police search for the missing boy. These characters are lead in various directions with no clear evidence or stability toward their role. The genius behind these characters are from the pens of “The Treatment” novelist, a British crime writer and bestselling author, Mo Hayder and the film adaption screenwriter Carl Joos. The particulars in molding the ambiguous characters are hard to detect, leaving one to guess these characters’ intentions and creating tension and determination on finding out just who is and who is not the child killing creep.
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I have not kept up on Belgium actors and am not in the loop of their skill or fame, but theater actor Geert Van Rampelberg as Inspector Nick Cafmeyer engrosses the character by being a reckless and driven man unhinged by his past. Rampelberg might oversell here and there in certain scenes, but his shortcomings are overshadowed by the fire in his eyes and the repulsive subject matter of the story. If in the vengeful shoes of Nick, there is an expectation that one might act the same as Nick, aggressing for truth and striving to save the world no matter the cost even if that means putting the law on the back burner. I also like the aspect that Nick has no love interest; he ties himself to no one, embracing his cause all the more. However, there lies an unspoken companionship between him and his supervisor Danni. Their professional interactions seem personally close, but Nick also keeps himself at a distance, keeping her from becoming to close and that separation keeps him, if any, focused on the task at hand.
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Artsploitation Films scores big with the Eye Works Films production and taboo-ridden film “The Treatment” and as an extra bonus, the Blu-ray release sizzles with a stunning 2.35:1 widescreen ratio presentation and a 5.1 surround sound in Dutch language with English subtitles. The subtitles don’t miss a beat with the dialogue and the composing by REC Sound company broods through the dark scenes. Amongst the technical portions, the bonus features contain trailers of various Artsploitation films, a featurette, and deleted scenes. The flawless picture catches every detail which will surely leave a dastardly seared imprint of immoral wretchedness in the whites of eyes.

All Evil Plans End Tragically. “Reckless” review!

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Ex-cons Victor (Tygo Gernandt) and Rico (Marwan Kenzari) kidnap a young woman named Laura (Sarah Chronis) in hopes to extort a four million dollar cash payout from her wealthy father. The two men are methodical, precise, and focused on their task, constructing a sound proof room, buying burner cell phones, and keeping one step ahead of their captive’s thoughts on escape. Keeping her tied to the bed in a vacant apartment, Victor and Rico don specific roles in their plan; Victor leaves the apartment to negotiate the ransom while Rico oversees their money making hostage. When Laura cleverly works on getting the upper hand on one of them, she discovers that there might be a secondary plan involving her willing participation and leaving the other ex-con high and dry without a payday. Victor and Rico hold a surprising secret amongst themselves as well, making this crime thriller a cat-and-mouse game between the three where tensions are high, trust is low, and the end game won’t be pretty.
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The Netherlands thriller directed by Joram Lürsen seems to be the polar opposite from the director’s previous directorial work. The “Reckless” niche focuses on being tight and concise. The film only credits three actors: Tygo Gernandt, Marwan Kenzari, and Sarah Chronis. That’s it and there isn’t even a voice over from a phone call or anything else of the sort, forcing the actors to only work off each other instead of being able to pick and choose who to bank off their banters and abilities. Secondly, the majority of the setting is in this small apartment that has become Laura’s cell which becomes another tight spot, literally. Finally, the story focuses on minor details with strict guiding dialogue that pieces together the story’s outcome and doesn’t make the plot wander into oblivion.
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The story, which is a remake of the 2009 British thriller “The Disappearance of Alice Creed,” strives off being simplistic; a kidnapping for ransom gone awry. However, there lies a mid act twist that keeps the situation fresh where constantly guessing to the real intentions of the characters is more fun than actually watching the ploy play out. Tygo Gernandt perfectly fits into the shoes of Victor by portraying the role extremely well of a hardened and a rule rigorous ex-con. Marwan Kenzari as Victor’s accomplice Rico relieves the other half of the tension Tygo’s aura emits with his soft eyes and gentle appeal toward Laura, but Rico scrambles to keep Tygo under control and that creates nail biting scenes between the three actors. Sarah Chronis as Laura offers so much to the table being the golden nugget for Victor and Rico, being their ticket for a new life in another part of the world. Chronis conveys being naive, conniving, and afraid well and acts upon her forced nudity with proper accordance to the situation and also uses her nudity, seductively and convincingly, to plan her intended escape.
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However, where “Reckless” strives on being a successful crime thriller, it’s also the film’s ultimate downfall and suffers sequentially from “Psycho” syndrome. Remember when Gus Van Sant remade Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” nearly shot for shot and critics condemned Van Sant’s film? The same situation happens upon “Reckless” where nearly every character quality has become a carbon copy from “The Disappearance of Alice Creed.” Yes, “Reckless” is a true to form remake and a good reproduction as well, but for the Lürsen film to stand out, to be something more, “Reckless” doesn’t break the established mold. Instead, the film relies on it’s actors to accomplish a more riveting appeal and that’s hard to do when Eddie Marsan, Martin Compston, and Gemma Arterton already made a great first impression in the original.
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The Artsploitation Films distributes “Reckless” in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio with super clear picture quality. The 5.1 Dolby Digital audio mix clearly appropriates the dialogue from the ambience form the soundtrack. The optional English subtitles sync well with the Dutch language track. I’m a little disappointed in the DVD cover as it resembles something that Dimension Films would have produced back in the early 2000s and doesn’t really speak to the film’s thrilling storyline. Overall, “Reckless” is a quality remake release for Artsploitation Films and for production company Topkapi Films that gave alternative, yet still quality, actors a chance to redo a role already grounded and established.

Sushi Never Tasted so Evilly Delicious. Sushi Girl review!

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Sushi. A Japanese delicacy which numerous people fear to digest because the fish is raw and cold and that which is raw and cold usually disgusts us. I should know – I was one of those ignorant people. However, being exposed to sushi for four years now, I’m confident in my opinion that sushi is exceptionally tasty and good for you without all the mayo-like sauces that are sometimes put on top of the rolls. But I can not say that I’ve had the pleasure of dining with a sushi spread laid out among the smooth and creamy body of a young naked woman. Though the idea sounds novel and sexually stimulating, the idea that someones dirty body touching my sushi makes me more nauseous than the raw and cold of the sushi itself.

This brings me to Sushi Girl from first time director Kern Saxton and Saxton has become an impressive director just from his work on this revenge crime thriller. Fish has spent six years, five months, and 17 days in prison for diamond heist crime. In all that time, he did not rat out his accomplices and in return, Duke, the ringleader of the heist, holds a special naked girl sushi dinner for Fish and also invites the rest of the gang. After the pleasantries are quickly established, the truth becomes clear among them that bad blood on the botched crime those many years back have spoiled their beliefs in one another and each wants a cut of the diamond profits and they suspect that only Fish knows where the diamonds are since he was the sole bag man.

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Sushi Girl doesn’t pull any punches and his with such ferocity you’ll inch to the edge of your seat to figure out how the situation will all turn out. The trust is thin among the group and rightfully so as the characters in this game of chess are personally all different. Six years ago, Fish is a rookie looking to score big, but when he does his stint in prison and is released, all Fish wants to do is go home and wash his hands clean of the everything. The other characters don’t see it that way. Max is the hasty muscle of the group and can barely maintain his psychotic nature, most likely caused by his mountain of daddy abuse issues. Crow is also a psychotic individual, but a different kind of species; Crow’s wit, flamboyant, and sadist qualities make him a sheep and wolves clothing. Francis is like Fish by trying to come clean, but this former coke addict doesn’t have the fortitude to save anybody nor save himself from his addiction. And then there is Duke. Duke is educated, suave, a con man, and a killer. He can control the wound up Max, he can out wit the wolf Crow, and he can get under the skin of recovering druggie Francis. Fish is the only character who can stand up to all three of them, but the scenario is nothing as it seems.

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I never thought Mark Hamill could be a character actor. Hamill, to me, will never break away from being Luke Skywalker – I mean he is even rumored to be in J.J. Abrams Episode VII – but Crow could be Hamill’s saving grace. Hamill’s range as an actor has expanded two folds and I have a theory that Robot Chicken and the animated superhero movies have helped Hamills out by utilizing his voice talents. The character has become the most unique character I’ve seen in a year. Good for Hamills as he has earned my respect as an actor. As for the other cast, well they’re a bit overshadowed by Crow, but they’re still worth mentioning. I’ve always had a soft spot for James Duvall ever since I saw him play another drug addict named Jimmy in Cornered! Duvall is like Tracey Walter in the sense that Duvall is a great supporting actor for any film – big or low-budget. Candyman himself Tony Todd, also executive producer, handles the role of Duke with ease. The man is a pro at being heartless, ruthless, calm and collective. His tall stature and baritone voice doesn’t hurt either. Plus, Courtney Palm, the sushi girl, has a drool-over body to die for.

Don’t be fooled by advertising that state this film has the Robert Rodriguez line up of stars like Michael Biehn, Jeff Fahey, and Danny Trejo in it and though the statement is true, their total screen time is about three minutes at the most..? I did read on IMDB’s trivia page that Biehn waved his acting fee due to a favor for smoking hot actress and Sushi Girl producer Electra Avellan (aka Babysitter Twin in Planet Terror). But these brief scenes of great actors don’t make Sushi Girl the greatest cult crime thriller since The French Connection, no. Saxton creates tension between the main characters, in a small room, with sushi on top of a naked woman and he delivers such a twist at the end, you won’t see it coming. You know there will be one, but what exactly the twist is will be unexpected.

Sushi Girl is brutality at it’s bare-bloody-knuckled best and really does resemble a sort of Reservoir Dogs feel with the trust issues amongst the group and the terrific torture scene goes without saying. Magnet Releasing has yet another winning release. Pick up your copy today!