Life is seemingly pleasant and happy-go-lucky when two fully loaded coach buses of high school girls travel down a forestry passageway toward a lakeside hotel until sudden violence and gore turns Mitsuko’s classmates into minced meat. Overcome with shock and fear, Mitsuko escapes the terror only to find herself in another horrifying scenario. The vicious cycle continues as Mitsuko is thrusted into one chaotic, blood-splattering world after another, quickly losing her identity with each threshold crossing, and with no clue of what’s going on and how she got into this limbo of hell, Mitsuko must stay alive and unearth the truth behind the surreality of her being.
Nothing is more terrifying than being in a heart-pounding situation and not having one single clue why bodies are being sliced in half like corks popping violent out of champagne bottles, why childhood mentors break their professional oath and slaughter students with a ferocity of a mini-gun, or why being chased by a tuxedo-decked out groom with a gnarly pig head is in tow ready to drop kick anything, or anybody, standing in the way. Writer-director Sion Sono manifests that very chaos entrenched world in the 2015 action-horror “Tag” and, once again, the “Suicide Girls” director puts Japanese school girls back into the harrowed ways of gore and death over salted with an existential surrealism based off a novel by Yûsuke Yamada entitled Riaru Onigokko aka Real Game of Tag. Yamada’s story is followed more closely to that of Issei Shibata’s 2008 “The Chasing World” that involves a Government influence and parallel universes, “Tag” serves more as an abstract remake that Sono masters a soft touch of irrational poetry bathed in gore and strung with chaos rectified with a tremendously talented cast of young actresses.
Actresses such as the Vienna born Reina Triendl. Being Japanese doppelgänger to Mary Elizabeth Windstead with soft round eyes and the picturesque of youthfulness, Triendl transcends tranquility and innocence when portraying a content Mitsuko in the midst of many of her classmates boorishly bearing the typical, low-level adolescent anarchy. When Mitsuko’s thrusted into phantasmagorical mayhem, Triendl steps right there with her discombobulated character in an undried eye panicky frenzy whose character then spawns into two other fleshy vessels, a pair of recognizable names of J-Pop fandom in Mariko Shinoda and Erina Mano, when Mitsuko enters another zone in her fictional world. Though different in all aspects of their appearance and in name – Misuko, Kieko, and Izumi, the three women share the same existence and fathom a unbroken entity of character that hacks her way through the brutal truth. The remaining cast, Yuki Sakurai, Aki Hiraoka, and Ami Tomite, sport the high school miniskirt wardrobe and garnish a bubbly-violent J-horror persona very unique to the genre.
“Tag” is a plethora of metaphors and undertones likely to be over-the-head of most audiences, but if paying close enough attention and understanding the subtle rhythmic pattern of Sono’s direction, the gore and the fantastic venues are all part of an intrinsic, underlining message of feminism and sex inequality that’s built inside a “man”-made, video game structure thirty years into the future. Sono points out, in the most graphic and absurd method, how men treat women like objects or playthings. There’s also a message regarding predestination with white pillow feathers being the metaphor for fate and being spontaneous is the key to break that predestined logic and all of this corresponds to how Misuko, the main character, needs to break the mold, to choose her path, and to remember her past in order to free all the women trapped inside a male-driven purgatory of pain, punishment, and pleasure. Supporting Sono’s ability to disclose an epic survival-fantasy horror in such a way comes from multiple production companies, one of them being NBCUniversal Entertainment, providing the cash flow that allows Sono to flesh out the gore, to acquire massive amount of extras, and to scout out and obtain various locations.
Eureka Entertainment presents a dual format, Blu-ray-DVD combo, of “Tag” for the first time in the United Kingdom. However, the disc provided was a feature-only screener and a critique on the video, audio, and bonus material will not be conducted, but in itself, “Tag” is a full throttle encephalon teaser warranting a need for no supplementary content aside from conventional curiosity into what makes Sono’s “Tag” tick. When all pistons are firing, from the visual effects of Satoshi Akabane to “The Walking Dead” familiar score, “Tag” is no child’s game with a heavily symbolic, touch-and-go and bloodied pro-feministic essence that would serve as an abrupt and acute wakeup call to all the Harvey Weinsteins in the world that women are not to be simply playthings and that their gender destiny lies solely with them despite the misconstrued male manipulation.
Entombed under the volatile sands of what’s now the Iraqi dessert, an ancient Egyptian princess Ahmanet, who made a pact with an evil God named Set, lies and waits for more than 500 years to rise again and fulfill a destined promise to birth hell on Earth and rule the world. Ahmanet resurrects after being mistakenly unearthed by loose cannon treasure seeker Nick Morton and curses a reign of archaic terror over Nick and all of modern day London in search for a gem cladded dagger to make good on her pact. With the help of a well-funded secret organization called Prodigium ran by mysterious physician Dr. Henry Jekyll, and skillful researcher Jenny Halsey, the cursed Nick will need all the help he can muster to save himself and humanity from a mummified, hellbent she-devil.
Alex Kurtzman’s “The Mummy” is the gateway reboot that’ll give life once again to Universal’s classic monsters and place them in Universal’s newly established realm known as Dark Universe, think what Marvel accomplished with Marvel Comic Universe but with monsters. The kickoff action-horror has the delectable adventure wit seen from the Stephen Sommers directed, Brendan Fraiser starred trilogy from 1999 to 2008 while channeling the Boris Karloff mysticism and menace that made a frightening black and white classic. So, how did Kurtzman exactly provide new breath to an ancient, decrepit mummy that’s been redone two times over and has been spun off more ways than wrapped? One major way was to be the inaugural launch of Universal’s Dark Universe that opens the door for other classic monsters such as Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Creature from the Black Lagoon. In fact, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde makes a brief appearance as the head of the Prodigium, the ringmaster that’ll be the epicenter connecting creatures together. In another aspect, Kurtzman isn’t afraid to use practical effects, such as Ahamanet’s mummy minions, while also lighting up the screen with some brutal thrilling moments, such as murdering a baby and killing pilots with a murder of crows, that clearly separates the 2017 film from it’s 1999 predecessor, but watch for the quick scene easter egg that pays homage to the Fraiser film.
Upon first hearing Tom Cruise would star in a reboot of “The Mummy,” a long moment of hesitation washed over like a cold wet blanket as the “Mission Impossible” star hadn’t tackled a horror film since the adaptation of Anne Rice’s 1994 Lestat film “Interview with the Vampire” during a time when Cruise bathed in dramatic thrillers and added quite a bit of finesse to his characters. However, with every passing year, Cruise becomes more and more involved with not only his love for acting, but sides heavily with the unquenchable need to a part of action films and “The Mummy” promised to display his enthusiasm for accomplishing his own rigorous stunt work and the script provided the heart-throbbing intensity that’ll sure to awe audiences. Cruise’s performance as a shoot first, ask questions later Nick Morton snugly fits the razor sharp mold the megastar has equipped himself ever since the first “Mission Possible” film over two decades ago, but as a selfish knucklehead, Cruise short sells the charm with a flat expressive tone and doesn’t progress his shell of Nick Morton to a enlightened savior battling for the fate of humankind. Yes, there are other actors in “The Mummy” other than Cruise. Russell Crowe fills the mighty big shoes of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, splitting his personalities into two and fulfilling both characters to the very epitome they’ve been classically scribed. Love interest Annabelle Wallis (who was also in John Leonetti’s “Annabelle”) sparked little-to-no chemistry with a overpowering Cruise and she felt rather like a Robin sidekick in a Joel Schumacher Batman film, but Wallis did a fine job as a historical researcher with a lifelong goal of discovering ancient artifacts. Algerian actress Sofia Boutella as the titular character was almost non-existent until the filmmakers had to scramble to redesign the villain due to similarities in another film, but the dark features of Boutella and her elegant performance made Ahmanet lustfully scary with dual irises and body-riddled tattoos, like a wild animal with deep blue eyes, and she sinks into Ahmanet’s malevolent soul and embraces the darkness that is the mummy. Jake Johnson (“Jurassic World”), Courtney B. Vance (“The Last Supper”), and Marwan Kenzari, who will star in Guy Ritchie’s upcoming “Aladdin” film, costar.
Now while “The Mummy” is overly successful and generally positive, an itch of amiss pains a slimly slithering way nearly through the entire runtime. Perhaps because the premise involving a mummy sets itself more in the dank and dark allies of London rather than in the hot Egyptian sands where thirst, heat, and isolation provide a slew of dangerous possibilities. During multiple scenes, a looming sensation that Jack the Ripper would pop out with blade in hand ready to strike at Jenny Halsey’s non-prostitute neck, but like a good adventure film, the story’s progression goes through numerous UK hotspots such as the Natural History Museum and tries to blow up London with every Mummy superpower. Ahmanet compounded concerns about her powers such as the introductory prologue of her characters, told in flashback scenes, where after she obtains all this evil power, the princess is easily taken down by Egyptian guards with blow darts and spears. You figured a Demigod like Ahmanet would be able to summon creatures to her aid, mold the sands of Egypt to free her, or resurrect other Egyptian dead, but none-the-less she was mummified alive and buried thousands of miles away under a giant crypt.
“The Mummy” is a win for the first of many Universal reboots under the Dark Universe label. The September 12th release of the 2-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo set, with also a digital copy, clocks in at a hour and 50 minutes and is presented in 1080p High Definition 2.40:1 aspect ratio with no flaws in the image, quality is crisp, and the coloring is naturally lively. The digital effects don’t exhibit an amateur hour complexion that was more attuned to the 1999 film, a different time two decades ago. The Dolby ATMOS is booming with LFE action that reverberates nicely with every nail-biting mummy scenes; certainly balanced with the surround sound. The dialogue is coarse at times during these intense sequences but overly prominent and clear for the most part. Extras on the release are about as monumental as the antagonist with deleted and extended scenes, Cruise and Kurtzman: a conversation, Rooted in Reality – a behind-the-scenes look at the making of “The Mummy,” Life in Zero-G: Creating the Plane Crash, Meet Ahmanet – the stark villain, Cruse in Action – a segment involving Cruise’s action in the film, Becoming Jekyll and Hyde, Choreographed Chaos, Nick Morton: In Search of a Soul, a graphic novel about Ahmanet, and featured commentary. “The Mummy” is all Cruise, all the time, but lives and breathes like a true Universal classic monster movie in modern day, providing superb visuals, an engrossing storyline, and delivers an action-topping-action ferocity. A whole new line of respect must be bestowed upon star Tom Cruise for his insane work ethic and his dedication to any project, especially a one half horror film that redesigns the gender of the iconic villain while maintaining the values of the original.
Elliot, Sasha, and John move into an old manor home just off the university’s campus. The tight knit three friends stumble upon a tattered nightstand with scribbled nonsense inside the drawer and underneath the incoherent writing and scratched into the wood is The Bye Bye Man. Once you hear the name, a searing imprint has been made into the mind, opening up a layer within the universe that invites a grim reaper-like figure to come horrifically collect individuals who have been infected with the name. The mysterious malevolence will impose hallucinations, or tricks, upon the mind to induce others to commit evil acts on another and will stop at nothing until those who know his name are either end up dead or spread his vileness. For Elliot, Sasha, and John, their close relationships will be tested, they’re bodies will be challenged, and their minds will be altered in a race against the clock in order to beat death, to defeat The Bye Bye Man.
“The Bye Bye Man” is an Universal Pictures and STX Entertainment distributed boogeyman concept from 1995’s “The Last Supper” director Stacy Title. Title, who hasn’t been active for about ten years since her last directorial, helms the project written by her husband, an appropriately named Jonathan Penner, who also had a co-starring role in “The Last Supper.” The inspiration stems from a collection of horrific tales from Robert Damon Schneck’s “The President’s Vampire: Strange-but-True Tales of the United States of America,” but “The Bye Bye Man” borrows heavily from well-crafted horror brethren too, birthing a mythological personification of death that doesn’t wield a scythe, but rather being a master, underneath a dark hooded cloak, to a hellish beast that munches on the faces of The Bye Bye Man’s victims. “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” “Final Destination,” and a little bit of “Scream” become the selected examples that are the genetic makeup of TItle and Penner’s film, but doesn’t grossly rip from the said works, two of which are the late Wes Cravens masterpieces. Instead, Jonathan Penner reconfigures the nightmare man, a modern day Freddy Krueger type stalking every soul during the day and night hours, whom establishes his own brand of Rube Goldberg deaths through deadly vision inflictions that pray upon a human’s moral subconscious. “Don’t say it. Don’t think it” sets as the 2017 film’s tagline with the notion that perhaps little white lies are, literally, lifesavers or that the truth can be hurtful, and or knowledge can be powerful, but can also lead to your own demise.
“Ouija’s” Douglas Smith succumbs to his lead role of Elliot, an educated and patient young man who seems to have everything despite tragic misfortune that’s whisked through the character development. From friends, to a supportive brother, to a loving girlfriend, Smith transition seamlessly to languishing burden during a spotlight scene with co-star Carrie-Anne Moss (“Matrix”) that’s raw and cuttingly empathetic. The story centers around Elliot, but Sasha and John have pivotable relationships to Elliot, two essential roles given to two British actors, former girl of Prince Harry, Cressida Bonas, and television actor Lucien Laviscount. Both Bonas and Laviscount expensed drab performances, mechanically and, often, monotonically coming and going from scene-to-scene without mingling well into the rest of the film’s grim and dire trimmed overalls that basically left Smith out to pick up the slack. Along with Carrie-Anne Moss, who always seems to be typecast in a women of power role and, in this case, a detective, “The Bye Bye Man” sports other veterans of both horror and general film, but; instead, take a backseat to a younger generation of actors. “HellBoy’s” Doug Jones silently strolls through one of the easiest prosthetically garbed performances of his illustrious career as the titular character, genre stable Leigh Whannell (“Saw”) commits to a haunting performance as a murder-suicide martyr, and the legendary Faye Dunaway portrays a longtime widow of the aforementioned madman. Michael Trucco (“Wishmaster 4: The Prophecy Fulfilled”), Jenna Kanell, Cleo King (“Hood of Horror”), and Erica Tremblay round out the supporting cast.
Universal picking up a horror title resembling an infantile kids feature and releasing it theatrically might with relatively unknown, mostly non-American cast, will scratch some questioning heads, but with a well oiled supporting cast consisting of many years of guild service, a director, despite being inactive for many years, maintaining a sensible and visionary eye, and a story, aside from a few underdevelopments, that captivates with edge of your seat scares and with next moment eagerness, “The Bye Bye Man” has great potential. With smoothing out details of Elliot’s and The Bye Bye Man’s backstories and construing more of a slow burn method when getting the characters involved with the ‘don’t think it, don’t say it’ villain name, Universal would have increased their gross profits by double and the world would be happy once again. Unfortunately, that scenario was not the case as credits bombarded “The Bye Bye Man” as about as borrowed and as hokey as any low-budget horror film can be, but “The Bye Bye Man” surpassed the production budget by triple and to me, someone who generally has the same stance as most credits, that’s a win for Stacy Title and company.
The Intrepid Pictures and Los Angeles Media Fund production “The Bye Bye Man” makes a Universal Pictures Home Entertainment debut on a two-version unrated Blu-ray and DVD combo. The MPEG-4 AVC, 1080p Blu-ray disc contains a razor sharp image in the 1.85:1 presentation. Depth and shadows phenomenally define the space, especially in closer quarters and the ariel shots. A motif of bleak black and grim grey is consistent throughout, creating a tone through the darker shades, with vivid hues to gloriously fend for themselves amongst the achromatic reel landscape. The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound doesn’t feign in the balance category with dialogue prevalence not short of excellence and, much like other atmospheric horror, the spooky elements are outlined in various levels from a coin dropping to a train horn. Bonus features are surprisingly zilch with no extras on either format; I guess there wasn’t much to say during or post-film. In all, “The Bye Bye Man” is a total hack with plot holes. A completely borrowed and revamped product with a terribly childish title promising nothing to the genre, but that doesn’t necessarily mean “The Bye Bye Man” can’t be entertaining, providing a wicked sense of humor and a morbid final destination outlook with unexpected casting choices and a barely bordering PG-13 horror rendering.
In the dystopian America of 2050, commercialism presides over the middle and lower classes in the constructed wasteland that is United Corporation of States led by an impeccable and blood thirsty Chairman. A popular, carnage-laden sport known as the high octane Death Race has become beloved by all Americans, giving them an escape from their mundane and pitiful existence. The Death Race is simple: war-modified cars trek across the United Corporation of States in a 3-day race to score points by running down citizens of an overpopulated nation as an encouraged way of resetting the out of control producing rate and racers can also seek glory to reach the finish line with best time. Four-time champion, Frankenstein, is the returning crowd favorite and seeks to win a fifth crown, unless the powerful and conniving Chairman decides otherwise.
Under Universal Studio’s filmic sequel and reboot sublabel, Universal 1440 Entertainment’s “Death Race 2050” is a rip-roaring start toward 2017’s best intense action cinema and despite being pre-labeled as just another diluted and benign remake of the Roger Corman produced, Paul Bartel directed “Death Race 2000” from 1975, the modern day G.J. Echternkamp directed and co-directed film with Matt Tamashita honorably doesn’t lose the rich, yet full of cheap thrills, heritage that makes the original “Death Race” so fun, so entertaining, and so campy keeping the pandemonium on four high-performance, face-shearing tires. Even though Death Race has been quiet for over thirty years since 1975, the last decade has been riddled with Death Race films produced by the legendary low-budget filmmaker Roger Corman and all have been complimentary exclusive in their charm, mayhem, and versions of the lead character Frankenstein to thrill audiences, but it’s “Death Race 2050” that revs in true remake fashion of similar plot structure that changes all but one character.
New Zealander Manu Bennet carries the torch in portraying the original character Frankenstein, a four time champion with a leather covered body that’s been ravaged and cybernetically repaired from previous race crashes. Manu’s charisma and rugged image will win over audiences as he perfectly embodies a conflicted champion on the brink of doing what’s right; a tone very similar in all “Death Race” films. Manu is paired with actress Marci Miller, as Frankenstein’s passenger proxy, who dishes out the good girl sex appeal with a self-reliant rind. Beyond these two characters, even with a moniker like Frankenstein, the remaining characters make Mike Judge’s “Idiocracy” a college course of rocket science! Deliveries were timely, actions were precise, and performances couldn’t have been more meticulous in scenes with Jed Perfectus, the genetically engineered and ambiguous pretty boy played by Burt Grinstead, Minerva Jefferson, the wealthy ghetto rapper forged to life by Folake Olowofoyeku, and with Tammy the Terrorist, a cult leader with a celebrity high power portrayed by 2007’s “The Signal’s” Anessa Ramsey. The relatively unknown cast is whole-heartedly glued together by the flamboyant performance of “Clockwork Orange’s” and “31’s” Malcolm McDowell as the Chairman.
One could take a good stab in the dark on what the quality of the effects would be like for any Roger Corman produced film. In this instance, “Death Race 2050” channels much of Corman’s style with Echternkamp and his visual effects supervisor Anthony J. Rickert-Epstein (“Sharktopus vs. Whalewolf”) supplying rotoscope blood and dismemberments that pin-pricks a visual stimulate into the vein of the snobbiest of film aficionados and can be on an everlasting high. The simple, but effect, gasoline based pyrotechnics attest to the dedication of the crew and to the stunt work to know that if they miss their spot, they’re literally toast. However, the sometimes choppy, rapid editing drains some of the juice from the kills that attempt to piece coherent death sequences with humor and action. In fact, “Death Race 2050” redlines just like the modified, manslaughter vehicles used to rundown babies and the elderly to score points by quickly jumping to the next segment in order to sustain all the gory story’s girth.
“Death Race 2050” is adrenaline flowing wildly adjacent with gasoline, exploding with gore, and is terrifically enjoyable. Echternkamp’s script bares no sense with the sensitivities, secreting American wealth, greed, and stupidity in an environmentally degraded America filled with large high fructose corn syrup soda, an addictive cheese whiz byproduct, and borders that are named after corporate conglomerate of brands such as Walmart or Texaco. Universal’s R rated Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD release of the New Horizon film is an 1080p of the 1.78:1 widescreen presentation that makes the film look cheap due it’s hi-def attributes. The image quality is sleek and vibrant with a wide range of rainbow hues and the definition doesn’t ever thrown in the towel. The three option audio selection that consists of an English DTS-HD Master Audio has a lossless appetite that delectable distinguishes the channels where explosions are bombastically LFE and the gory parts are viscerally squishy. The dialogue is surprisingly clear through the amount of chaos. Bonus features include “The Making of Roger Corman’s Death Race 2050,” “The Look of 2050″ featurette,” a closer look at the cars in a segment entitled “Cars! Cars! Cars!,” a cast car tour, and deleted scenes. Even if the story’s timing is a spastic, “Death Race 2050’s” a guilty pleasure from start to finish line under the caustic cinematic eye of Roger Corman!