For four years after the initial zombie outbreak, a unified Korean peninsula is completely quarantined from the rest of the world with the remaining survivors having to fend for themselves. A former Korean Captain, Jung Seok, who was one of the last survivors to escape pre-quarantine and now lives in Hong Kong, is hired for a four man team to return to the peninsula and retrieve an unmarked and abandoned truck stowed with $20 million dollars in U.S. currency. With a promise from a Hong Kong mafia boss to keep part of the loot for their recovery services in order to start a new life, the team agrees to the terms and embarks on the seemingly succeed mission only to find survivors who have gone mad, pillaging their mission and conscripting them into a malicious betting game of survival in a watery pit full of zombies.
The highly anticipated sequel to South Korea’s 2016 sleeper zombie hit, “Train to Busan,” docks into U.S. theaters and VOD services on August 21st and is entitled simply, “Peninsula.” From the bullet train rails to the a devastated Korean port, the predecessor film’s director, Yeon Sang-ho, returns with a zombie overrun post-apocalypse that completely metastasized Korean derived from a biological agent quickly spreading throughout the two cinematically unified, North and South Korea. Joo-Suk Park returns as co-writer alongside Yeon to provide heart clenching, brutal action-horror suspense and a human sense of selfless compassion that won the hearts of many genre fans with “Train to Busan.” Zombie hordes rampage down streets, alleyways, and toppling over cars, fences, and other structures as a collective flesh easting unit that specializes in dominating and ravaging for the pure motive of infection and while that sounds all hip and cool that the “War World Z” and “I Am Legend” running zombie pandemonium makes for a glitzy entertainment feedbag, the Next Entertainment World and RedPeter Film production punches down on the gas pedal of gaslighting audiences with more of a “Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift” with zombies, revving more to the tune of an exasperated exhaust rather than finishing strong with gripping storytelling.
As a standalone film, the story doesn’t return the surviving characters from “Train to Busan.” Instead, a whole new set of characters reset the parameters of expectations, starting with the guilty conscious of the grief-stricken ex-soldier, Jung Seok, played by Dong-won Gang, who will star in Scott Mann’s upcoming disaster film “#tsunami.” Seok’s a reserved and stoic individual whose good a gun play, but isn’t the thinker when a plan is needed in place and while Dong-won Gang gives a par performance, the overall package of the lead character is sorely two-dimensional. This leaves room for other characters flourish, such as the mother and children Seok attempts to save on a second go-around. The mother, played by Lee Jung-hyun, has more grit that clearly defines her underlining hope for not only her salvation, but also her children who’ve known nothing but death, destruction, and meaning of being devoured growing up in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. On the slim change of success, she implements a plan to infiltrate Unit 631, former military turned murderous scavengers, to steal back a satellite phone and a truck full of cash while not becoming zombie chow or get caught in Unit 631’s sadistic survival methods. That brings us to the villains, the real villains, where are not the zombies, but the section 8 soldiers of Unit 631, Captain Seo (Koo Kyo-hwan) and Sergeant Hwang (Kim Min-jae). Though Seo and Hwang bring internal tension to the table, a mental game of cutthroat chess, they’re inevitably soft against the main threat, a combined effort of Jung= Seok and Min-jung, and don’t spill enough blood and craziness onto the screen to make them worthy of the antagonist position. “Peninsula” rounds out the cast with Kim Do-yoon, Lee Re, Lee Ye-won, Moon Woo-jin and Bella Rahim.
As almost methodical as it is with any second film in a series, “Peninsula” failed to be a rejuvenating and transcending sequel to “Train to Busan,” abandoning the first story’s benevolence for CGI flair that extends to not only the zombie hordes, but to the car chases. As excellent as the rendered zombies are slammed against the drifting cars can be represented, in what “Peninsula” can be described as an “Escape from L.A.” meets “Land of the Dead” meets “Mad Max: The Road Warrior,” the cars themselves are a product of computer imagery with little authentic driving happening. While the effects are not bad (they’re pretty good chiefly obscured by dim lit night scenes), the sensation of being scammed can’t be ignored as the vehicles operate unnaturally and maneuver in impossible situations without blowing a tire or upending or just frankly be dead in the water with an overheated and stress tussled engine that frags zombies left and right, becoming a collective character to have the highest kill count. That disingenuous feeling also spreads to the overly long-winded ending that tries really, really hard to capture a courageously defiant and heroic moment of family and personal redemption and much of the blame lies on director Yeon Sang-ho with a drawn out awkwardness and edit that made it seem satirical. In light of some positive words for “Peninsula,” the zombies are a greater, gigantic force that swarm on a colossally epic scale more so than the much more compact “Train to Busan” and, as aforementioned, the structured CGI isn’t of the degraded detail variety so the hordes never look cheap or obviously artificial alongside the more palatable, practical versions. What’s also interesting about “Peninsula” and what makes it separate from “Train to Busan,” which perhaps laid the foundation for, is “Peninsula” has integrated the western counterparts as English speaking actors chime in as U.S. Military, U.N. peacekeepers, or English mafia bosses based in the U.K. This challenges the Korean actors to speak a few different languages, especially English, inclining “Peninsula” as more of a global problem than an isolated Korean one.
The zombie genre isn’t just defined by the ungodly amount of undead bodies reaping the world of every living soul, but is also defined by the diversity of chaos-driven social structures people find themselves confronted with in the action-heavy “Peninsula,” arriving into U.S. theaters on August 31 and distributed by Well Go USA Entertainment. This review will not contain the A/V aspects of the release as it’s a theatrical screening of the feature, but the theater specs will look something like this: projection is in scope lens format at an aspect ratio of a widescreen 2.39:1, a surround sound 5.1 stereo mix, Korean/English/Cantonese language with English subtitles, and has a runtime of just under two hours at 116 minutes. I will note that some scenes are very dark, but this only adds to the complete blackout of a civically desolated Korean peninsula. From fast trains to fast cars, “Peninsula” has retained the adrenaline popping rampant style with weaving, bobbing, and chassis chucking zombie bodies like the ball in a pinball machine despite a facile approach, but is ultimately missing that down-to-Earth social context complexity aimed to provoke thought and shed a few tears as an inferior part two of the “Train to Busan” universe.
Yossi Ghinsberg yearned for more than the comfy, cushy life he was born into and being young and adventurous, Yossi travels abroad to backpack in Bolivia to pursue self-discovery and beauty in places far less travelled despite his father’s wishes. He quickly befriends fellow backpackers Marcus and Kevin and together, they lay tracks through the eclectic terrain of the breathtaking Bolivian landscape, but wasn’t until an Austrian geologist named Karl approached Yossi about a promise of unearthing gold and experiencing hidden tribes deep inside the lush jungle. After some convincing, the three friends venture into the jungle with only Karl to guide them and, at first glance, the wilderness is an escape from the noise and pollution of human corrupted inhabitations, but a drastic realization quickly washes over them when they’re force to separate and that the jungle is a cauldron of constant survival. Along with captivating beauty, fire ants, poisonous snakes, symbiotic organisms, jaguars, and torrential rains tip the iceberg of everything that embodies the sequestered jungle and Yossi must endure the trials and tribulations alone in order to make it out alive.
Based off the book of true events from Yossi Ghinsberg comes the motion picture retelling of Ghinsberg harrowing tale of survival in “Jungle.” The 2017 biographical adventure-thriller is penned by Justin Monjo (teleplay writer for TV hits like the sci-fi odyssey “Farscape”) and directed by “Rogue” and “Wolf Creek” director Greg McLean. “Jungle” showcases the night and day environment of one of the world’s most beautiful, yet deadliest locations, cascaded with awesome uncharted landscapes with an augmentation of great mortality once man is introduced. However, the thing with the jungle is that no matter what man’s objectives may be with the rainforest, whether it’s to destroy it or to embrace it as were Yossi’s intentions, nature treats all with the same merciless brutal as it’s kill or be killed. Yossi is in the midst of a man versus nature thematic element where Darwin’s survival of the fittest lays all well true and from his book, Yossi Ghinsberg went through a nearly three weeks of severe isolation, stomach-devouring starvation, and vigilant hyperawareness against the local wildlife. Yet, somehow, he survived.
To play such as downtrodden character needed an actor committed wholeheartedly to the story and, luckily for McLean and the rest of the crew, Daniel Radcliffe encompassed Yossi Ghinsberg and his plight with passion and dedication. So much dedication that the Harry Potter famed actor lost about 14 to 15 pounds in order to mimic starvation and really put his body close to the hazards Yossi had faced. “Jungle” has certainly solidified his range as an actor inside the genre of not only fantasy films, but also thrillers as well. From “Horns” to “Imperium,” the English-born, 5’5”, 28-year-old actor has placed a major footprint in the industry that stretched from low-budget to Hollywood stardom and doesn’t seek to stop in the near future. Radcliffe is joined by a pair of Australian actors in Alex Russell (“Chronicle” and “Bait”) as American photographer Kevin Gale and Joel Jackson as Swiss teacher Marcus Stamm on sabbatical. A standout performance, one that really rivals Radcliffe in cliffhanging suspense with cryptic intentions, is that of Thomas Kretschmann (“Blade II”) playing the Austrian geologist Karl Ruprecther. Fantastic chemistry between all four men with spot-on performances, especially not portraying their native heritage.
While Greg McLeans has no fear in getting gritty where gritty needs to be get, “Jungle” has a tame nature about it for a director well-known for Outback cruelty. McLean doesn’t exact the right amount of perilous attitude that was unfortunately bestow upon Yossi. Much of Yossi Ghinsberg’s book was not translated to screen such as his rectum being impaled by a large stick when he falls down a slope. The hard stop editing and pivot bounces the viewer around being out of control on a trampoline. When we meet Yossi for the first time and he encounters Marcus Stamm, a cascading event of one jointly pursuit with another that string along and attach Kevin Gale to a web of awkwardly editing scenes of traveling through Bolivia in what felt like a slapdash montage with the sole purpose of setting up the trio’s friendship in an unsympathetic way. Another issue with the editing was that the film had to keep reminding the viewers about previous events, such as when Yossi was bitten by a fire ant, and those scenes ended up being a redundant time filler that points audiences to being naive and inattentive to cherry pick previous actions.
Umbrella Entertainment releases “Jungle” on a rated mature, region B Blu-ray with crystal clear full high definition, 1080p presented in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Image quality bares no marks of compression issues nor any flagrant fouls in the coloring, whether natural or generated. Aliasing is also a non-issue. The 5.1 DTS-HD English soundtrack has moments of low fidelity at the beginning of the film where making out the dialogue can be challenge, but the jungle ambiance and the Johnny Klimek (“Land of the Dead”) score bring alive the eclectic atmospherics of the wild, wildlife. Bonus features include a featurette that extends up Danial Radcliffe becoming Yossi Ghinsberg, the making of the Yossi Ghinsberg story, cast and crew interviews, and the theatrical trailer. “Jungle’s” adventurous first half sets up the catalytic downfall into desperation and despair of a man versus nature thriller in the latter half, splitting Daniel Radcliffe into two auspicious roles of enchanting self-discovery and a fight for survival. The movie most certainly encourages one to read the book of Yossi Ghisbergs edge of death misadventure.
Four sorority sisters embark on a isolated cabin vacation for an all girls’ weekend in the quiet woods. Through all the booze and the trips to the lakeside beach, Sloane, Abby, Margot, and Lulu reap the benefits of solitude and sisterhood and just when everything seems to be going delightfully swell, even when Sloane’s perverse boyfriend and his friend show up unexpectedly, trouble brews beneath their feet, under the leaf-riddled surface, when Abby unwittingly unleashes three space originated, pint-sized ghastly ghouls. As the miniature and ferocious creatures rip through unlucky victims, nobody knows how to stop, let alone escape, their woodland carnage, especially when they’re being aided and abetted by human caretakers.
In the filmmaking fashion of Brett Piper (“Queen Crab”) or Mike Lyddon (“First Man on Mars”), Brett Kelly offers his low-rent talents in construction an 80s-esque creature feature on a pygmy scale in more ways than one. The Ontario born director has helmed a vast amount of independent b-horror prior to, including such great titled credits as “The Bonesetter,” “Attack of the Jurassic Shark,” and “Raiders of the Lost Shark.” Now, released for the very first time on any format, anywhere, is “Ghastlies,” a “Gremlines” or “Critters” creature feature that aims to rain down terror when all hell breaks loose with ankle biters running around and while the low budget production or creature value doesn’t par with the more popular Joe Dante or Stephen Herek films, the heartfelt attempt in this modern day feature accomplishes the intended effect of a 1980’s horror comedy, complete with synthesized score and era correlating attired.
“Ghastlies'” lineup consists of Brett Kelly regulars such as Jessica Huether and Kendra Summerfield from “Raiders of the Lost Shark.” Huether’s and Summerfield’s performance as the nerdy, yet overall good girl Abby and the snobby, superficially rich bitch Lulu, instilling the yin and yang personas of the group, and their joined by Julie Mainville and Kim Valentine as the unforgettably clueless Margot and the sisterhood leader in Sloane. Mainville more memorable out of the four sisters as she has spot on timing and delivery with the witless and likable Margot. John Migliore, known more for slabbing on the prosthetics and makeup to be a zombie, has a minor costarring role as a dimwitted bike cop Officer Vinnie and Migliore, whose donned zombie wear in films like “Land of the Dead” and “Ninjas vs Monsters,” filled multi-faceted shoes for the Kelly film by dappling into the spaceship special effects and providing the Ghastlies puppetry. Migliore’s Officer Vinnie is paired with another similar goofy character in Peter Whittaker as Officer Frank as well as Joel Elliott “Countrycide,” Eric Deniverville, Stephanie Moran, and Kyle Martellacci who also co-star in the zany trope-ladened homage. As his first feature credit, Chris Bavota’s script creates no real dynamic between the characters who all pertain to a self-serving purpose under a guise of slapped together dialogue that’s no more substantial than a boulder in outer space.
And there in lies the rub. “Ghastlies” inability to click together to fulfill the allusion of was what-once-was is the film’s weakness. The cartoonish hand puppets, the implausible effects, and the technical inconsistencies can all be overlooked as campy charm, passed aside to enjoy “Ghastlies” for what it’s worth, but what can’t subside is the wonky connection between the cast that doesn’t favor well that’s diluted at the end by the starkly questionable and abrupt editing, resulting in a presumed unfinished film that seeks to either be an open ended invitation for a potential sequel, defined by one of the characters standing up with a makeshift mini-gun and garbed in Rambo-like gear, or a hasty cut that provides a lukewarm, satisfactory, and budget friendly finale that actually invokes more confusion than viewership appeasement. Shortly following the live-action wrap up, a short animated comedy, illustrated by the multitalented John Migliore, in the same vain as the quirky Looney Tunes but with Ghastlies.
The lovely, cuddly, and ghoulish “Ghastlies” is released onto DVD and Blu-ray combo from Camp Motion Pictures. Image quality for the Blu-ray format is by far stunning for a low-budget feature presented in 1080p encoded MPEG-4 AVC BD 25. The coloring naturally displays and even the darks had great depth without distortion or inconsistencies. The English Dolby Digital 2.0 is another story as, unlike the image quality, the presentation is inconsistent with imbalanced levels that make a few scenes difficult to comprehend. Clarity isn’t necessarily an issue with no blights on the tracks, but the technical placements could have been smoother. The electric score score by Tomb Dragomir, the composers first score ever, manages to engross and re-illuminate the decade that inspires “Ghastlies.” Bonus material includes a special effects interview with john Migliore’s helping hand into Ghastlies’ FX, Tomb Dragomir discusses his experience scoring his first feature, “Ghastlies'” music video, the trailer and Camp Motion Pictures’ trailers, and an audio commentary with director Brett Kelly. “Ghastlies” is part “Gremlins,” part Lovecraftian, and all borderline shlock-y fun, but the loose character interactions and out of kilter editing embargo the full bodied experience.
Daryll, a New York City night shift janitor and decorated Vietnam war veteran, becomes obsessed with beautiful female reporter and wealthy socialite Tony Sokolow. When Daryll claims to be a key witness to a murder of one his business building’s high profile tenants, a once in a lifetime opportunity opens up to meet Tony when she’s assigned to cover the murder and as Daryll pours his heart out to the reporter, he’s also torn by his claim that could place his war buddy friend Aldo, a hapless former employee of the recently deceased and the prime suspect in the murder investigation, in jeopardy even more. Is Aldo the killer or is the mystery much deeper, tied to a world unforeseen by Daryll whose working in the depths of the building’s janitorial confines?
Hot off from her success from Ridley Scott’s “Alien,” Sigourney Weaver goes from sci horror-thriller to mystery-thriller and alongside her is up and coming co-star William Hurt in Peter Yates’ 1981 mystery drama “Eyewitness.” The film sparks a string of obsession suspense features that would span a decade and firmly place the genre into a popular notoriety among audiences who couldn’t get enough of the peeping tom debauchery. A hefty roster of talented actors also co-star, some on the verge of stardom to the likes of Hurt and Weaver, including Christopher Plummer (“The Sound of Music”) in the prime of his career, the crazy eyes of James Woods (John Carpenter’s “Vampires”), an un-grayed Morgan Freeman (“Se7en”), Kenneth McMillan (“Dune”), “Mission: Impossible” television series’ Steven Hill, and Pamela Reed (“Kindergarten Cop”).
Performances all around are phenomenal as every actor and actress cultivates their character’s purpose in the story and you can surely experience the humble beginnings to some of the biggest A-list celebrities of today; however, Hurt’s performance was one of the only concerning factors. Hurt’s portraying a modest, perhaps slightly traumatized, Vietnam veteran with an afar obsession toward an attractive public figure and his presentation was overly awkward and certainly creepy too the point where I even felt embarrassed and uncomfortable. What made the situation more bizarre was the verbal and facial exchanges between Hurt and Weaver’s characters. Tony didn’t quite seem affected by the oozing creepiness this supposedly good man seeps from every pore of his skin and she, in fact, embraces his forward, if not crossing the line, affections that would certainly warrant a restraining order in today’s society. Maybe social interactions vary from generations and decades, but this type of relationship building dialogue and scenes didn’t produce the appropriate type of chemistry between Weaver and Hurt reducing the strength of their bond.
The Steve Tesich script strummed the strings reminiscent to my viewing experience of George A. Romero’s “Land of the Dead.” Yes, you read that correct – “Land of the Dead” – and what does this zombie horror film have in common with “Eyewitness?” Well, in the 2005 film about the continuous decline of humanity in a zombie apocalyptic world, Romero had written a social commentary about the separating of social classes where, even in a dying world, the rich stayed safe in their loft, sustaining an obsolete lifestyle, and the poor suffer below their feet living in the present, but in the end, anyone and everyone is fair game for being unprincipled and for the undead. Tesich’s script does the same without being lavishly upfront and without the hordes flesh eating zombies. Beneath the obvious murder mystery lies the merger of the classes as Dyrall and Tony eventually fall for each other, but their friends and family on either side condemn the relationship, making the statement numerous times that a janitor absolute can not fall for someone as wealthy as Tony. James Woods’ Aldo becomes just another example out of many where a court-martialed and discharged Marine with erratic behavior and struggling with living a middle class life becomes suspect number one in a murder case, but with a victim whose profession was international trading, the pockets might be a bit deeper and with a laundry list of ill-will individuals.
Signal One Entertainment releases “Eyewitness” in the UK for the first time on Hi-Def region B Blu-ray anywhere with a 1080p presentation in a widescreen 1.85:1 format. The video quality is far superior than, of course, it’s DVD revival with the restoration of much of the natural color tones without a hint of compression artefacts or obvious image or edging enhancements from the 35mm stock footage. The English LPCM audio 2.0 track is fair, full-bodied, and well balanced with really no issues, especially not with composer Stanley Silverman’s lively score. Signal One Entertainment certainly knows how to treat a classic film providing a slew of extra features including an audio commentary with director Peter Yates and film historian Marcus Hearn from 2005, an audio only conversation with the director along with film critic Derek Malcolm and another conversation with another film critic Quentin Faulk on a separate extra feature. Composer Stanley Silverman discusses his approach to scoring “Eyewitness” and there’s also an alternative VHS presentation of the film under one of the original titles “The Janitor.” Original trailers and TV spots round out this robust bonus feature cache. “Eyewitness” on Blu-ray is a must own with a clean and refreshing version of a this classic whodunit thriller from Signal One Entertainment!