NOTE: Before I begin this edition of The Best, I want to give you a quick update on the Martial Arts Kid 2: Payback IndieGoGo campaign. As of this writing, the amount raised is currently at $8,188. That’s incredibly impressive considering the campaign has been going only 1 week so far and we’ve got 2 months to go. If that kind of momentum can be kept up for the next 2 months, The Martial Arts Kid 2 will be in great shape. So…let’s keep it up. I’ll post a link to the campaign at the end of the post.
For this edition of The Best, I want to go over some truly top-notch independent films that I’ve seen over the years. So, what is an independent film? The textbook definition of an independent film is a feature film that has been made outside of the major movie studio system as well as being produced and distributed by independent entertainment companies. In my opinion, based on what I’ve seen, the independent film is not a genre, but rather a philosophy or a mindset into how a movie is made. The independent film scene has been around just as long as regular movies have. From the days when movie studios held a stranglehold on the industry to the modern era when anybody can pick up a smartphone or a video camera and start filming, the independent film has evolved and changed over the decades. A lot of the big-name film-makers like George Lucas and Sam Raimi started out in the indie film scene and have since seen their careers skyrocket. In this day and age of social media like YouTube, Facebook and Instagram, it’s become a lot easier for amateur film-makers to share their work with the rest of the world. This can be both a good and bad thing. Bad, because anybody can pick up a camera-phone and start shooting without a plan or any kind of structure. These are the worst kinds of indie films to the point I wouldn’t even call them that. But every once in a while, you find somebody that has the patience, the talent, and the passion to create something that will make waves in the right way. The independent films that I will cover here, are among the best.
The Martial Arts Kid
While the sequel is currently in pre-production, it wouldn’t have existed without this one. If I had to pick between this and The Karate Kid, I would take this one over that film any day of the week and twice on Sunday. Not only is the film promoting a positive message about martial arts, it also deals with an issue that really is plaguing some of our schools throughout the world: Bullying. With some strong performances from Don “The Dragon” Wilson, Cynthia Rothrock and Jansen Panettiere, The Martial Arts Kid is the kind of action film that really is family friendly in nearly every way. It’s honest in its approach to the subject matter and it’s very satisfying to watch. It’s definitely worth checking out.
Lord of Tears
This one is special to me, because it’s one of the first movies that I got a screener for. Shot entirely on location in the highlands of Scotland, Lord of Tears is a slow-burn horror film that is both beautiful and haunting to behold. The attention to detail here is astounding. It’s more of an atmospheric kind of film than a jump-scare movie. The Owlman that shows up periodically throughout the film is one of the creepiest things I’ve ever seen. If you can find it, it’s absolutely worth a look.
Weapon of Choice
There are a number of reasons why I put this one here. 1. Hapkido master Jino Kang. Why? For one, this guy is a phenomenal martial artist, but more importantly, he’s really good at making action movies. To be honest, the film’s low-budget nature can show sometimes, but that doesn’t get in the way of the film’s honest approach to the material There are no superficial twists in the film. It goes from A to B to C without any deviation. It can be a slow at times, but that’s because there is more to the film than just the action. Master Kang’s films are influenced by some of his personal philosophies and ideas. That doesn’t mean he’s a slouch in the action department. Far from it. Once the action starts, it keeps going and it’s really good. The choreography is solid and infused the right amount of tension. This one is definitely a must-see.
This one is truly unique. A Reckoning takes place in a world where only one man is alive, as far we know. No explanation is given for what happened, even though there are clues throughout the film that point towards what MAY have happened. The film isn’t interested in what happened to the world, but rather how one man reacts to such an event. Made on a $10,000 budget, A Reckoning is more thought-provoking and emotionally engaging than a lot of crap that you’ll see on the big screen these days. It’s just too bad the film never found a distributor, because this is a great movie. This is a character-driven film that really deserves to be seen by more people.
I absolutely love Westerns. It’s a grand and epic genre that explores a specific period in our history. Westerns are even better when Kurt Russell is in them. Bone Tomahawk is one of those rare indie films that looks, sounds, and feels like a major studio film without it actually being one. It’s about a few folks who go after a group of savages that abducted a number of townsfolk. This is a film that has one surprise after another. It is a slow-burner, but like any good slow-burner, the payoff is worth the wait. The film does veer into horror movie territory suddenly and it’s pretty brutal. Fantastic performances as well as stunning cinematography make this movie a fantastic Western….if you like a side of horror to go with it, of course.
I honestly love movies that throw you for a loop, but Donnie Darko is a special kind of mind-job. I couldn’t even begin to tell you what it’s about. I have to watch it again. It’s equal parts funny, thought-provoking, creepy, and “What the f***?” Honestly, this movie is bonkers on so many levels. From the creepy rabbit-guy to the insanely bizarre visual effects, this movie will have you scratching your head long after the credits stopped rolling. I don’t know whether you should be sober, drunk or stoned when you watch this movie. It’s really out there.
The Evil Dead(1981)
This is about as independent as a horror film gets, and yet, what The Evil Dead managed to do was scare the pants off of everybody who saw it. Or grossed them out. When you want to talk about guerrilla film making, this is a perfect example. You can tell that these guys were inexperienced in making movies, but the desire to make a real horror movie was obvious, and it worked. The visual effects, though extremely dated, are still charming and gross at the same time. This movie helped launch the careers of both Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell.
The second Western on this list, Forsaken features some very strong performances by everybody involved, especially Kiefer Sutherland and his father Donald Sutherland. Great movies are often character-driven, and this film is no exception. Seeing Kiefer and Donald act against each other for the first time is pure magic. Both are amazing actors in their own right, but when you have father and son playing father and son, something special truly happens. It’s a genuine shame that this film never got a huge theatrical release. I loved every minute of it.
Boyka: Undisputed 4
Every bit as hard-hitting as the previous two entries in the series, Undisputed 4 features a surprisingly thoughtful story and character development for one Uri Boyka, played to perfection by Scott Adkins. While the previous film was titled Redemption, this is the film that actually allows the character a certain level of redemption. Outside of the story, the action and fight sequences are some of the best that you will ever see in a movie like this. No wires. Just sheer brutality. This one is easily the best in the series by far in terms of fighting and story. It is absolutely worth the entry fee.
While there are many decent independent films out there, these are the ones that stood out to me the most. Any one of these films is worth taking a look at. These films are some of the reasons why the independent film scene is getting stronger. That concludes this edition of The Best. Thank you for reading and I hope that you will find these movies as entertaining as I did.