Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Prey For Us All: Prey (2022) Review

Director: Dan Trachtenberg

Notable Cast: Amber Midthunder, Dakota Beavers, Dane DiLiegro, Stormee Kipp, Michelle Thrush, Julian Black Antelope, Stefany Mathias

 

The Predator has become a cinema icon for those of us in a specific age range. Not only because the original Predator film was a massive success and a staple of VHS rentals or purchases, but because the villain character is just so fuckin’ cool. The lore around the alien hunter was only built in the discoveries of the films’ main characters, the design was both awe-inspiring and horrific, and the manner that the Predator has evolved with time evokes visceral emotions from its viewers (both good and bad). Enough so that the series, to wavering effect, has struggled to find a protagonist to match the titular walking slaughterhouse since Arnold went bicep to bicep with it. 

 

Until Prey, that is. But we will get to that. 

 

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Sticks N Stones May Break My... Teeth: The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter (1983) Review Update

With the massive box set that Arrow Video released of Shaw Brothers films, named Shawscope Vol. 1, one might have expected that most of the titles they grabbed would come that way. However, they have dropped two singular titles in the wake of that set and prior to the release of Vol. 2. The first was the quintessential and historically significant Come Drink with Me. You’re welcome to read my updated review for that HERE and the second is the subject of this piece, The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter

 

Although my initial response to The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter was more or less lukewarm, particularly in the wake of watching so many Lau Kar Leung-directed masterpieces, it’s a film whose massive effect on the kung fu cinema fanbase has always intrigued me. I know, I know. The fact that I don’t adore this film automatically makes kung fu fans want to defang me like a wolf. Still, it’s a film that often stretches itself thin with its ambitions in some small ways.  

 

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Bronze and Bronze Again: The Return of the 18 Bronzemen (1976) Review [Cinematic Vengeance Box Set]


Director: Joseph Kuo

Notable Cast: Carter Wong, Polly Shang-Kuan, Tien Peng, Ko Yu-Min, Mark Long

 

It’s not that difficult, really. Making a sequel to The 18 Bronzemen is as simple as it gets when it comes to kung fu cinema. All one would need to do is choose a new character or characters, send them to the same temple that featured the Bronzemen littered challenges, and voila. Instant sequel. In its own way, the loose sequel that did eventually come out, The Return of the 18 Bronzemen, does exactly that. New character, new Bronzemen challenges, new movie. 

 

Yet, there are so many strange choices buried in this film that it’s both a film that is superior AND inferior to its predecessor. In its own way, The Return of the 18 Bronzemen is a film that leans into the tropes of the kung fu movie, playing on the expectations of the original or other films of its ilk, and then taking a massive leap by undercutting expectations as it goes - particularly in its final act. It creates a film that feels as though it’s at a tug of war with itself. One end pulling towards mainstream fan appeal. One end pulling towards subverting it. 

 

Monday, July 25, 2022

In a Pinch: Shaolin Mantis (1978) Updated Review

When it comes to director Lau Kar Leung, his ability to create charming, action-packed, and humanistic martial arts films is almost unmatched. As the recent Shaw Brothers burst of releases continues to pour out onto collector’s edition Blu-Rays, it’s a stark reminder of just how impactful his films were on the whole, even if he wasn’t nearly as prolific as some of his peers at the studio. With a recent string of his movies getting brand new editions on the shelves, it’s time to look at one of his best. Put your index fingers and thumbs together, it’s time to revisit the Shaw Brothers classic, Shaolin Mantis

 

Although this film is a regular watch in my rotation for kung fu flicks, revisiting this latest 88 Films Blu-Ray of Shaolin Mantis re-solidifies many of the opinions I carried back when I originally reviewed the film here at Blood Brothers (please see that review HERE). Shaolin Mantis is one of the most intimate and effective films he’s ever made. Sure, everyone will have their favorites, but there is a simplicity and honesty to the Shaolin Mantis that so many of his other films sacrifice for more complex plots or ensemble casts. 

 

Friday, July 15, 2022

Space Bugs, Gut Bugs, and Squirrel Bugs: Macross Frontier: The Wings of Farewell (2011) Review

Director: Shoji Kawamori

Notable Cast: Aya Endo, Megumi Nakajima, Yuichi Nakamura, Aya Hirano, Katsuyuki Konishi, Sanae Kobayashi, Kikuko Inoue, Megumi Toyoguchi, Rie Tanaka, Tomokazu Sugita

 

Although I already had my ticket loaded for Macross Frontier: The Wings of Farewell after seeing the first Macross Frontier film two weeks prior, my gut feeling was not the most hopeful. Despite its highlights, the predecessor was something of a mess and a missed opportunity in my book (you can read my full review over HERE if you would so like) and it relatively dashed my expectations for the second film. Did I really want to see if they could piece together the shattered remains of tones and narrative left in the wake of The False Songstress?

 

With that in mind, The Wings of Farewell is, surprisingly enough, a substantial step up from Macross Frontier: The False Songstress. It fixes so many of the issues that plagued the previous one in its tonality and general character development. It’s not a perfect film, particularly in its stuttered narrative, but it’s entertaining enough and features some significantly fun set pieces to catch both old and new fans of the Macross world. 

 

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Please Leave a Message: The Black Phone (2022) Review


Director: Scott Derrickson

Notable Cast: Mason Thames, Madeleine McGraw, Ethan Hawke, Jeremy Davies, E. Roger Mitchell, Troy Rudeseal, James Ransone, Miguel Cazarez Mora, Rebecca Clarke, J. Gaven Wilde, Spencer Fitzgerald

 

Walking into the theater, I had to double-check the ticket on my phone. My significant other looked at me and said, “This film is just over an hour and a half.” No way. I checked. She was right. It was a buck and 42 cents. Even though modern horror tends to pace itself faster than the cinematic bloat that has dominated the megaplexes for the last handful of years, there was a part of me that expected The Black Phone, the latest from director Scott Derrickson and Blumhouse, to be more akin to other kid-focused period horrors as of late. I.e. way too long for my enjoyment. Thanks, Stranger Things and the two It films. 

 

Quite frankly, in its own way, The Black Phone represents the stylistic antithesis of the two previously mentioned slices of intellectual property. Both of those properties succeed in feeding the nostalgia while delivering their horror stories, but there is a sense that the nostalgia is weaponized. “Remember when we were heroes on bikes? Free to learn about life and fight our demons while making friends along the way?” 

 

To an extent, those films had a gloss to them that shined the candy coating for easier consumption by the mass. There's nothing wrong with it, but it’s a very modern choice for movies that intend to ape their period for nostalgia rather than wrestle with it. 

 

This is why The Black Phone is different. Yes, it technically hits many of the same ideas or themes about empowerment for kids to tackle their own horrors while learning valuable lessons, but Scott Derrickson (and co-writer C. Robert Cargill) are not nearly as content in caking the film in Spielbergian cinematic sheen. There’s a grounded and gritty element under the skin in this one that allows it to play more in the shadows, with complicated relationships, and opaque morals that those others may toy with but never grasp. And, instead of taking a whole day to tell it, The Black Phone does it in 102 minutes. 

 

Monday, June 27, 2022

Weighted Yet Unbalanced: Story of Woo Viet (1981) Review

Director: Ann Hui

Notable Cast: Chow Yun Fat, Cora Miao, Cherie Chung, Lo Lieh, Gam Biu, Homer Cheung, Lam Ying-Fat, Tong Kam-Tong

 

Story of Woo Viet is a powerfully told, albeit at times unbalanced feature by Hong Kong legend Ann Hui, featuring a subtle but searing performance by Chow Yun-fat, to whom the title Hong Kong legend most certainly applies to as well. This is the story of a Chinese-Vietnamese immigrant looking for a better life when entering Hong Kong, but of course, he and others around him are brought into a world of crime and suffering. Woo Viet will do whatever it takes for a better life. As he says, "Killing here is a lot easier than it was during the war!".

 

Ann Hui pulls together an impressive string of performances by Chow Yun-fat as the titular Woo Viet, Cora Miao as the soft-spoken and emotionally passionate Li Lap-Quan, and even Shaw Bros. badass Lo Lieh gets to brush up his dramatic chops here as Sarm, a co-worker who befriends Woo as they dive deeper into the life of contract killers. Cherie Cheung is fine here, but she doesn't have much to do as Shum Ching, Woo's love interest in the piece.

 

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Tears of Blood: The Sadness (2022) Review

Director: Robert Jabbaz

Notable Cast: Berant Zhu, Regina Lei, Ying-Ru Chen, Tzu-Chiang Wang, Tsai Chang-Hsien, Lan Wei-Hua, Chi-Min Chou

 

If there’s one film released this year that ought to create a divide amongst its viewers, it is most certainly The Sadness. Although comparisons are being made online to a comic series Crossed regarding its content, The Sadness is one of those films whose themes and execution are bound to fester under the skin in one way or another. If it isn’t for the visuals one is about to experience, then it’s the nihilistic streak in its themes that simmers underneath its frantic and abrasive surface. Either way, audiences may have trouble digesting what’s in store. 

 

Conceptually, it’s as if director Robert Jabbaz took the idea of 28 Days Later, mixed it with The Crazies remake, and then proceeded to run it through Hong Kong Cat III lenses (a relatively notorious rating due to its use of graphic violence, sex, and absurdity for those new to the term) for two decades. The Sadness maintains this intriguing balance of classic “zombie” survival storytelling that just happens to feature some of the most brutal gore, violence, and sexual depravity on the screen in decades.

 

Friday, June 24, 2022

Gonna Take More Than Killing Me to Kill Me: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022) Review


Director: Sam Raimi

Notable Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Xochitl Gomez, Benedict Wong, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Jett Klyne, Julian Hilliard

 

Although I am not the biggest fan of the first Doctor Strange, a Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) film that continually seems to garner and convert fans year after year, even I was hyped for its sequel, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. The combination of director Sam Raimi at the helm and the fact that it was reportedly a direct continuation of the events from WandaVision (a show that easily ranks as one of the most fascinating and best uses of the MCU formula to retcon characters that were horrifically misused or underused in previous films), made this sequel a must see for me. Not that I would have skipped an MCU movie in theaters, but the stars seemed to align with this one. The question remained, how much would Disney and Marvel try to water down the film to get it to mix with general audiences?

 

Fortunately, for this reviewer, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, which will just be referred to as Doctor Strange 2 from this point on - although I am tempted to call it 2 Strange 2 Multiverse for the sake of being ‘that guy’, is one that hits its mark. It’s not necessarily the best film for MCU fans, but it might be one of the more entertaining ones in the franchise and it delivers in some surprising ways that allow it to overcome its faults. Although the film requires some stretching and formula establishment to get moving, the latter moments of the film Doctor Strange 2 have so much energy and oddities under its cloak that it does find its voice. 

 

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Wild Ride to Hell: Dashcam (2022) Review

Director: Rob Savage

Notable Cast: Annie Hardy, Amar Chadha-Patel, Angela Enahoro

 

After taking the horror world by storm with his Zoom séance nightmare known as Host, director Rob Savage became an overnight sensation in the genre cinema world. If he could pull off that kind of effective horror filmmaking in 60+ minutes with minimal resources in the middle of a pandemic where all of the stars were quarantined, what could he do with more? It’s the question that often gets asked of stylistic and bold indie filmmakers and many of them flounder under the expectations of larger studio pressures or other external factors. The follow-up to a blank check guarantor is always exciting.

 

With his follow-up, Dashcam, Rob Savage partnered up with Blumhouse to dig back into the “found footage” end of the genre, and, quite frankly, it’s easy to see why he would. His technical prowess in delivering some shocking visuals and moments within the confines of the style is impressively bombastic with this film. If anything, Dashcam knows that it doesn’t want to deviate too far from the style that worked in Host, but it also wants to expand on it in some immense ways. The combination, while occasionally at odds with one another, provides one of the more fascinating horror experiences of the year. 

 

This Song Has Me Buggin': Macross Frontier: The False Songstress (2009) Review

Director: Shoji Kawamori

Notable Cast: Jun Fukuyama, Aya Endo, Megumi Nakajima, Yuichi Nakamura, Aya Hirano, Kikuko Inoue, Megumi Toyoguchi, Hiroshi Kamiya, Kenta Miyake

 

The entire release strategy for Macross and/or Robotech in the United States is a fascinating endeavor to unravel. Although that history is fairly well researched and written about in a variety of places by incredibly knowledgeable fans and cultural writers, it remains one of the cornerstones of understanding the relationship between Japan and the United States through the lens of anime. It’s complicated and the two industries often mistranslated the appeal of these kinds of shows. Yet, with anime now being one of the biggest industries in the world due to more avenues of access, the time is ripe to re-evaluate the relationship as the tides rise. 

 

Although I am hardly an expert, only recently starting my journey through the anime landscape, the release of the Macross sequel series and its film, under the banner Macross Frontier, piqued my interest. Although the series and films had been obscure for western audiences since its debut in 2008 (with the final film dropping in 2011), the two films were finally getting theatrical releases in the US in 2022. For Macross fans in the US, what a time to be alive, right?

 

Yet, as I walked out with my family from seeing the first of the two films, Macross Frontier: The False Songstress (great title, might I add - considering the themes of music within the Macross series), a thought crossed my mind. Perhaps the release of Macross Frontier was influenced by the fact that this film is a messy barrage of self-praising referential moments, a combative combination of traditional animation and computer-generated material, roughly 200 thinly drawn themes, and main characters that waver between the traditional Macross love triangle and cringe worthy teen horniness. Compared to the other Macross films, which already have their highs and lows, The False Songstress is a wildly uneven and problematic ride. 

 

Sunday, June 12, 2022

No Bones About It: Jurassic World Dominion (2022) Review

Director: Colin Trevorrow

Notable Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Laura Dern, Sam Neill, Jeff Goldblum, DeWanda Wise, Mamoudou Athie, Isabella Sermon, Campbell Scott, BD Wong, Omar Sy

 

One should always carry a suspended sense of disbelief when going into a Jurassic Park film (or in the case of the latest ones, Jurassic World.) Even the original, which remains a bonafide grade-A slab of cinematic brilliance in the realm of blockbusters, requires its audience to not question its many coincidences or shortcuts to set up its premise. Still, the latest entry into the series, the sixth one overall, is a film that requires its audience to fully lose consciousness to even attempt at following along with its bloated story. 

 

Jurassic World Dominion is a spectacle through and through, although certainly not in the way that the ending of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom promised. Crowds are apt to respond to director Colin Trevorrow’s occasional visual wonder, cheap heroic one-liners, and ham-fisted nods to the original run of Jurassic Park movies, but all of those are at the expense of any kind of narrative weight. If anything, Jurassic World Dominion proves to be the most perplexing film of the franchise in how poorly everything is constructed despite the fact that it should have been the easiest film to deliver on all levels. 

 

Friday, June 3, 2022

The Fist of Preboot: Fist of Legend (2019) Review

Director: Liu Chun

Notable Cast: Tiger Xu, Huang Weiting, Xu Shaohang, Wang Jiusheng, Wang Hongqian, Ye Xinyu

 

As of recently, the online, streaming exclusive releases in China have been plentiful. I briefly mentioned it in my piece on The Emperor’s Sword HERE, but properly conveying the number of titles being unleashed on various services can easily rival the breaking dam of titles in the US. Fortunately, a handful of streaming services in the US and other western countries have picked up a few of these titles for release, and, after seeing some overall positive reactions to Fist of Legend, I dove into Hi-Yah! to check out this kung fu flick. 

 

At a wickedly fast 70+ minutes, Fist of Legend is precisely what the doctor ordered. It’s not one of those films that genre fans will feel like they missed out on because they didn’t see it in theaters - thanks to its smaller scale and limited budget. However, it’s still a relatively solid film, entertaining enough, and features plenty of ass-kicking beatdowns to keep kung fu fans appeased. 

 

Friday, May 20, 2022

Some Bear Out There: Girls Nite Out (1982) Review


Director: Robert Deubel

Notable Cast: Julia Montgomery, James Carroll, Suzanne Barnes, Rutanya Alda, Hal Holbrook, Lauren-Marie Taylor, David Holbrook, Laura Summer, Carrick Glenn, John Didrichsen, Lois Robbins

 

There’s a moment in Girls Nite Out where the film bounces between a radio DJ giving out clues for the campus scavenger hunt, a sorority girl putting on lipstick, and the mysterious killer taping together steak knives and putting them through the mitt of the bear mascot for the school basketball team. Welcome to 1982 and the slasher boom is already in full swing and if those three things mentioned being done in sync doesn’t give you everything you need to know about this forgotten slasher, Girls Nite Out, then it’s time to go back to Slasher Basics 101. 

 

For their latest unearthed slasher, Arrow Video has dropped another collector’s item for slash-fans and overall horror nerds to add to their collection. Girls Nite Out, in true 1982 fashion, runs through the tropes with relative ease and most slasher fans will find aspects to love about it. However, it’s rather slow pacing on the front end and run-of-the-mill kills (run-of-the-kill?) make it far more generic than it could have been with its clever set up and angle on the killer. 

 

Thursday, May 12, 2022

A Mali-Boo Shockumentary: Malibu Horror Story (2002) Review [Panic Fest 2022]

Director: Scott Sloan

Notable Cast: Tommy Cramer, Dylan Sprayberry, Rebecca Forsythe, Robert Bailey Jr, Jacob Hughes, Veno Miller, Hector Gomez Jr, Valentina de Angelis

Also known as: The Malibu Tapes

 

The term ‘mockumentary’ can be deceptive. Although the genre may regularly apply to the style or tonality of comedies like The Office or any of Christopher Guest’s films like A Mighty Wind, it has more to do with the replication of a documentary than it does satire or spoof. For example, Malibu Horror Story is most certainly a mockumentary for its first two thirds as it replicates the feeling of a ghost investigation show one might stumble upon on YouTube. Yet horror fans might be immediately turned off by that idea as so many found footage flicks have already used that angle to tell their story - ala Grave Encounters

 

Still, it’s the can-do attitude to remarkably strong execution of films like Malibu Horror Story that remind us of what a mockumentary can do as a filmic style. Maybe the term shockumentary is more fitting. Not only does this film properly create a fake documentary feel for most of its run time, but it ends up being a decently fun and horror film that pushes the boundaries of its budget and adds just enough artistic merit to its proceedings to lift the whole beyond its parts. Malibu Horror Story might seem like “just another found footage horror flick.” It’s not and there is a creative flow to it that sets it apart from its peers. 

 

Monday, May 9, 2022

My Head Is Raining: The Outwaters (2022) Review [Panic Fest 2022]

Director: Robbie Banfitch

Notable Cast: Robbie Banfitch, Angela Basolis, Scott Schamell, Michelle May, Leslie Ann Banfitch

 

The sight of a silhouetted figure on the desert landscape, holding a very well defined ax as the vista of light fades behind them is the kind of image that many horror films would stake their entire concept on. It’s frightening, dynamic, and memorable. For The Outwaters though, that image comes at the beginning of one hellish trip. It’s at this moment that the film shifts gears from its ultra-realistic set up towards the found footage hellscape that would constitute the visuals of insanity. 

 

In what may be the utmost found footage horror film to define the term ‘found footage,’ The Outwaters is essentially one of those giant water slides at a massive amusement park. It’s a hell of a climb to get up there to the top, a chore of tedium while burning one’s feet on the ground and dealing with a lot of people that all share the same questions about the worthiness of the climb, but once you get on that slide… It's a quick trip through a somewhat suffocating and discombobulating mixture of fear, thrills, and confusion before finding your destination. It just starts with that image of a person silhouetted with an ax right before jumping in the tube. 

 

A Tale of Madness and Screaming Ants: Masking Threshold (2022) Review [Panic Fest 2022]


Director: Johannes Grenzfurthner

Notable Cast: Johannes Grenzfurthner, Ethan Haslam

 

Putting an audience into the mindset of a character, mainly the protagonist, is script writing and filmmaking 101. The fastest way to instill empathy is to see through the eyes of that character. Any film student or casual viewer knows this to be true. Even when the protagonist is, essentially, the villain of the story. This choice is not one that will often make for an easy watch, but one that can explore some fascinating depths of the character. 

 

Masking Threshold, from director Johannes Grenzfurthner, fully dives into this approach. It’s a character study which attempts to fully immerse its audience into the world and thoughts of its protagonist, unfolding like a type of visual diary, as they begin their descent into a madness driven by obsession. It’s experimental to the max, making it one of the more unique watches of Panic Fest 2022, and fascinating to a point that it’s hard to deny that it doesn’t encapsulate its concept in full - even if it demands a lot of patience from its audience. 

 

Monday, May 2, 2022

A First Driver's Test: Intimacies (2012) Review

Director: Ryusuke Hamaguchi

Notable Cast: Rei Hirano, Ryo Sato, Mikio Tayama, Ayako Ito

 

Intimacies is a 4-hour multimedia docufiction journey through the creation and delivery of a stage play called 'Intimacies'. As a person who enjoys lengthy, slow-moving films, I assumed this would be an easy sit for me. Admittedly, I felt the discomfort the characters felt during some of these meetings leading up to their performance while watching the film unfold. It really felt like it was dragging its feet at times, even though I got the point and intention behind it. I know, for a fact, that Hamaguchi masters this exact concept and feeling with Drive My Car, nearly a decade later, but this definitely acts as a prototypal piece to that staggering work. 

 

Here the experimental element is what sets it apart. That may appeal to a certain type of filmgoer, but for me, it just fell apart at times. While you certainly get very familiar with characters and spend a lot of time with them, by the end some of them felt just as distanced as they were to me in the beginning, but again, that very well may be the point. I do think the standout characters, however, will stick with me for some time to come, including the leading couple that creates the play themselves. Their arc is so satisfying, but in ways, I wish to keep a secret for whichever curious reader may not yet know themselves.

 

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Questions of Intimacy: Dawning on Us (2021) Review


Director: Kenji Yamauchi


Kenji Yamauchi's fourth feature film, Dawning on Us, is definitely a film made during the COVID pandemic, as it is directly addressed and incorporated throughout the film's dialogues and even in a key scene near the end. You are reminded throughout that this is a product of our times and it feels very relevant and relatable in that sense.

 

Once again, like with At the Terrace, what we get here is a filmic stage play essentially. Very sparse in terms of location and with film techniques on display, but that is by no means a slight against the film as it is directed quite beautifully and is effective emotionally from start to finish. The play-inspired feel makes sense as Yamauchi has a background in theater. His dialogue here is natural and provides just the right amount of snap to give us plenty to chew on as the drama, and perfectly timed dry humor, plays out before us.


A Parasitic Sense of the Past: The Tag-Along (2015) Review


Director: Cheng Wei-Hao

Notable Cast: River Huang, Tiffany Hsu, Yin-Shang Liu, Yumi Wong, Chang Pai-Chou, Mario Pu, Pai Ming-Hua, Mei-Man Jin, Basang Yawei

 

It wasn’t until the third film in the franchise that I started to pay attention, but when I finally looked up a way to watch The Tag-Along my curiosity was full-blown. Not only was this Taiwanese horror flick well regarded in my horror circles (at least to the degree to pique my interest), it was - at the time of its release - the highest-grossing horror film in Taiwan. Although the film has seemingly floundered to find a mass audience outside of its home, The Tag-Along is a remarkably adept horror experience that blends its culturally ripe urban myth concept with classic ghost story thrills into an atmospheric, jump scare littered ride. Don’t assume it’s just another Ring knockoff. The Tag-Along hangs on with some fascinating depth and still delivers the scares. 

 

When so many ghost stories are birthed from older urban legends or stories from historical texts, it’s always somewhat refreshing to hear a relatively modern one. Usually, when they occur, it’s because a film is attempting to cash in on the 15 minutes of internet fame of a new ‘creepypasta’ trend, ala Slenderman. The Tag-Along, however, is a blend of the two. The origin of the urban myth only kicks back to the 1990s when a video featuring a little girl in a red dress following some hikers was discovered, went viral online, and then created entire new “experiences” of people seeing the ‘tag along spirit.’ It’s just intriguing enough in its unusualness to perk interest and yet vague enough to be imbued with layered meaning for artists to use.