Sunday, January 16, 2022

The Complications of the Interwebs - Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021) Review


Director: Jon Watts

Notable Cast: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jacob Batalon, Jon Favreau, Jamie Foxx, Willem Dafoe, Alfred Molina, Marisa Tomei, Benedict Wong, Rhys Ifans, Thomas Haden Church, JK Simmons

 

The final of four Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films in 2021 just happens to be one of the safest ones. In a year filled with giant question marks around new heroes like Shang-Chi and Eternals or the long-awaited, and still very mediocre, Black Widow, Spider-Man: No Way Home seemed like the one that audiences could devour with the most ease. It was a hero in his third solo film of the franchise, one with a deep history in pop culture, and audiences were craving a bit of comfort food in the wake of a new wave of pandemic after a long and tumultuous year. 

 

Marvel understood the need and so did Sony, considering it was a cooperative effort between the two studios in the most obvious ways possible. 

 

The box office numbers reflect this choice as audiences still repeatedly flock to theaters to see this third Spider-Man solo flick.  It’s not shocking. That’s what No Way Home is built to be as a film. It’s pure crowd-pleasing popcorn material through and through, almost to a fault. Nonetheless, through its dynamic action and charming performances, it’s hard not to love Spider-Man: No Way Home to some degree even if its reliance on nostalgia overpowers so much of its run-time and material. 

 

It's A Scream '22, Baby: Scream (2022) Review


Directors: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin,Tyler Gillett

Notable Cast: Melissa Barrera, Jenna Ortega, Jack Quaid, David Arquette, Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, Dylan Minnette, Mason Gooding, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Mikey Madison, Sonia Ben Ammar, Marley Shelton, Kyle Gallner

 

Over the last couple of decades, the Scream franchise has seen its fair share of praise and detractions. The original Scream was unleashed when I was 11 years old - and depending on your age in comparison that makes me either a baby or ancient but never betwixt, and it’s been a part of my horror history throughout. The meta commentaries, the satire, and the status as kick-starting a multitude of trends has cemented the Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson film and its subsequent sequels as one of the most iconic modern (post-modern?) horror series ever. 

 

In a day and age where the slasher is slowly but surely rearing its head once again, it’s not shocking that a new Scream film, tenaciously titled Scream - and from this point on will be referred to as Scream ‘22 for the sake of clarity, would also be coming back to theaters to take another stab at reigniting the franchise. 

 

It’s a new horror era though and the fresh minds of Radio Silence are slicing the line between modernizing the series and staying true to its core values with surgical expertise. Granted, the meta nature of its satire practically makes the series critic-proof to a certain degree, but it’s hard not to appreciate a legacy sequel that actively maintains the values of the legacy sequel while simultaneously running a cold, sharpened blade to its impracticalities. You know, as we all expect from a Scream film. 

 

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Two Drunk Worlds: The World of Drunken Master (1979) Review [Cinematic Vengeance Boxset]


Director: Joseph Kuo

Notable Cast: Jack Long, Lung Fei, Mark Long, Chen Hui-Lou, Lung Tien-Hsiang, Li Yi-Min, Jeannie Chang, Yu Sung-Chao, Chien Te-Men, Simon Yuen

 

In the martial arts cinema landscape, one could easily argue that there are films “pre-Drunken Master” and “post-Drunken Master.” Not only in the general combination of kung fu and comedy but in the sheer amount of knock-offs that arrived on the scene after the massive success of the Jackie Chan and Yuen Woo-Ping masterpiece. Although there are plenty of forgettable ones, there are also a handful of these films that impress on a surprising level. And then there are those films that fall right down the center - like The World of Drunken Master

 

Featuring some of the same kung fu comedy as its namesake would imply, this cult classic of the genre does a lot of things right and then promptly follows them up - or proceeds them - with some baffling choices. As a whole, it’s hard not to love the sheer entertainment present in the film with its relentlessly paced latter half and strangely long developing character work of the first half, but it’s also a film that doesn’t quite reach the loftiness of the originator. 

 

Thursday, December 23, 2021

The Matrix Resurrections (2021)


Director: Lana Wachowski

Notable Cast: Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jonathan Groff, Jessica Henwick, Neil Patrick Harris, Jada Pinkett Smith, Priyanka Chopra, Christina Ricci, Lambert Wilson, Chad Stahelski

 

There’s a joke somewhere where I sarcastically connect the term ‘reboot’ between a computer being reset to cleanse itself of running programs and the idea that this long awaited sequel, The Matrix Resurrections, serves as both a sequel and a reboot to the series as it attempts to enter into its next phase of existence. It’s an easy joke to make and I spent a stupid amount of time sitting in the theater prior to the start of the movie trying to craft the wording and introduction to this review. 

 

Too bad The Matrix Resurrections beat me to the punch. 

 

This fourth film in the series, although one might consider it the fifth since the Wachowskis consider the spin off film, The Animatrix, as canon in the series, knows exactly what purpose it serves. This is a film that’s meant to recapture the delights of the original 1999 genre-bending classic while pushing the franchise into a new age for possible new sequels and IP creation while feeding into an audience’s nostalgia. It’s the quintessential reboot. That’s the definition. That’s what a reboot is and does. 

 

Saturday, December 18, 2021

King Boxer (1972) [Shawscope Volume 1 Boxset]


King Boxer
, or as it may be more widely known in the US as Five Fingers of Death, is such a seminal kung fu film in the history of cinema that it absolutely had to be the first film featured in this latest boxset from Arrow Video, Shawscope Vol. 1. Now I won’t review the film in whole here, as I have said what I had to say over in an article on the impact and strength of the film at the 36 Styles website (link below for those interested), but I did want to make mention that it’s one hell of a way to kick off a box set. 

 

Not only is this the best the film has looked in release in the US, although my Dragon Dynasty DVD certainly holds up, but it has a ton of fantastic features worth mentioning. In particular, the Tony Rayns commentary about the history of the Shaw Brothers studio as it led up to the release of King Boxer - including a fantastic discussion on its director, is one of the highlights of the entire box set. 

 

It also features a slick little documentary about the Shaw Brothers studio, the first of three parts, that covers a ton of ground and is a nice feature to add to the mix. A plethora of interviews, alternative titles to feature the US titles, and commentary by David Desser cap off the features and all of them are worth the examination if you are cinephile - and not just ones interested in kung fu. 

 

As mentioned, if you want to read my full review of the film, please visit the 36 Styles website here: 

PLEASE CLICK ON THIS LINK



Written By Matt Reifschneider

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Disciples of Shaolin (1975)


Director: Chang Cheh

Notable Cast: Alexander Fu Sheng, Chi Kuan-Chun, Chen Ming-Li, Wang Ching-Ping, Lu Ti, Chiang Tao, Fung Hak-On

 

There are an epic amount of kung fu movies that start off with a demonstration of the martial arts that will be shown in the upcoming film, performed in front of a starkly colored backdrop. It’s a commonplace occurrence in many of these films, particularly from a specific time period, that fans of the studio’s output will be familiar with. 

 

With Disciples of Shaolin, there is a specific tone to how the film starts in this style. The bright yellow background allows a shirtless Alexander Fu Sheng to pop, as he runs through a series of kung fu movements. There is no score. The sound of the metal rings on his arms clank and jingle. His face is dour and intense. He moves to practice on a set of Shaolin poles as a soundtrack finally sneaks in for the last portion. 

 

This routine carries on for almost five minutes before the film leaps into its main story, following a bullheaded and cocky young fighter, played by Alexander Fu Sheng, as he attempts to make a name for himself on the hard streets while befriending another mysterious fighter played by Chi Kuan-Chun. 

 

Saturday, December 11, 2021

The Monkey King Reborn (2021)


Director: Wang Yunfei

Notable Cast: Bian Jiang, Cai Haiting, Su Shangqing, Zhang Lei, Zhang He, Lin Qiang, Liu Sicen, Wang Chenguang, Song Ming, Feng Sheng, Zhang Yaohan, Bai Xuecen, Qiu Qiu

 

At this point and time, with the boom of the Chinese film industry still refusing to slow down, bolstered by the emergence of new avenues like straight-to-streaming and animation studios, it’s always good to know that there will now be an exponential amount of Monkey King movies to flood my viewing queue. I mean, there was already an entire industries’ worth that has already been released, but now there are further avenues to make even more.

 

Yay.

 

The latest is the animated feature, The Monkey King Reborn, which is granted a very gracious US release via our friends over at Well Go USA on both DVD and Blu Ray. It’s not the first animated feature of the Monkey King to drop in the US, although I’d be hard pressed to find anyone that remembers Monkey King: Hero Is Back from five or six years ago (even with Jackie Chan voicing Wukong in the English dub). And, quite frankly, Monkey King Reborn may not quite find its American audience either. 

 

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Antlers (2021)


Director: Scott Cooper

Notable Cast: Keri Russell, Jesse Plemons, Jeremy Thomas, Graham Greene, Scott Haze, Rory Cochrane, Amy Madigan, Cody Davis, Sawyer Jones, Arlo Hajdu

 

Back in early 2018, Guillermo del Toro made a phenomenal speech after winning the Golden Globe for Best Director. He spoke about how his dedication to telling stories about monsters was driven by their meaning beyond scares and fear and how their representation of our flaws as the human race made them incredibly provocative and meaningful. 

 

With a speech like that, it’s not shocking that most of the films he produces, even when wavering in quality, tend to aim for that same layered storytelling. That’s why when it was announced he would be producing the Scott Cooper-directed horror film, Antlers, it was hard not to get excited. Unfortunately, a pandemic and some studio delays made sure that the film didn’t get released until the latter part of 2021 for the Halloween season, but strong trailers and an interesting combination between producer and director crafted one of the most hyped films of the year. 

 

Unsurprisingly, I suppose, audiences and critics panned the film. 

 

Antlers does represent an intriguing mixture of balancing and tones underneath a film that is both perhaps too mainstream for the A24 crowd and too vaguely layered in its offbeat artistic choices for the mainstream crowd. It walks an achingly wound tightrope of expectations and the results were going to disappoint at least one of the two sides of the audience it was aiming for. However, Antlers is hardly the tragic misfire of talents that so many of its critics and fans claimed it to be. While it does make a variety of perplexing decisions with its material, there is such a daunting and haunting undercurrent of its themes that deserves far more credit than it was given. 

 

As the film follows its main characters, led by schoolmarm Julia and her local sheriff brother Paul, it does play itself on two levels. The surface level is the classic “nature fighting back against the grievances of man” where a Wendigo is unleashed upon a small town in Oregon due to the results of over-foresting and mining. Julia, played with the now natural ability of Keri Russell to feign confidence and capability over a traumatic character’s past - mostly likely refined by her stint on The Americans, starts to investigate a young boy in her class who she sees signs of domestic abuse. It doesn’t take long to escalate as the Wendigo the young boy is trying to keep at bay, releases its fury at people in the small community. 

 

For this level, Antlers hammers into the formulas of the creature feature in some interesting ways. The film avoids showing the ravages of the incidents on the town as a whole, avoiding some of the cliches of the townsfolk up in arms about murders or disappearances, and instead focuses on the tale of the two main families - that of Julia and her brother and the young boy tormented by the Wendigo. Cooper cakes the film an atmospheric visual fog, utilizing impressive cinematography to create a fairytale-like tonality to this story. The performances are impressive enough between its three leads - strongly using Jesse Plemons to balance out Keri Russell in a thematic way (more on that in a second) and benefiting from a screen stealing performance from Jeremy Thomas as the young boy, Lucas, which garners an uneasy relationship with film’s viewers in his blank, vaguely sad eye acting and emaciated physical performance. 

 


It’s ultimately an intimate film in how it approaches its story, something that doesn’t necessarily lean on the spectacle of its monster that people might have been expecting, and it tends to leave a lot of its backstories and explanations vague and subtle. At times this can be frustrating, particularly how the film leans heavily away from the Native American roots of its creature and only brushes by those in a way that feels like it might have been a studio note on the script, rather than a fully realized thematic element. Yet, it’s hard for me not to buy into the larger choices that Cooper is making for its narrative and the overall creature feature of its surface story. It’s enough to capture my attention with some strong visuals and entertaining horror sequences that build on the accumulating dread of its mysteries around the Wendigo. 

 

Yet, it’s the thematic elements and allegories that are the reason Antlers hung with me long after its credits had rolled by. It should be notable that the film brushes along a slew of various themes from the previously mentioned resource mismanagement or the Native American lore, but it also touches on a couple of key ones with the human condition like alcoholism or addiction and the circular cycle of domestic violence. It’s in these latter themes that Antlers thrives. The manner that it ties these thematic ideas into the Wendigo lore and how the characters interact lifts the film above the usual creature feature material. There’s a lot to chew on in these portions and it’s worth noting for its layered approach to the material. 

 

Perhaps Antlers was just a film that could not live up to its own hype created by its strong marketing and balancing act between cinematic approaches. At least in the public’s eye. Its allegories are layered in multiple ways and its tale of a creature is far more concerned with its themes than consistency in narrative.  That’s the trick of the film, ultimately. Its unique choices and bold topics are not necessarily in the best balance, but it's through those choices that Antlers finds its voice - in between the styles and in between the tones.  

 


Written By Matt Reifschneider

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City (2021)

Director: Johannes Roberts

Notable Cast: Kaya Scodelario, Robbie Amell, Hannah John-Kamen, Neal McDonough, Tom Hopper, Avan Jogia, Donal Logue, Nathan Dales, Josh Cruddas, Lily Gao

 

After grossing an insane amount of money and making it one of the biggest box office horror franchises of all time, Sony wasn’t going to take long to reboot the Resident Evil franchise. It’s not like Sony has a lot of load-bearing franchises to begin with under their belt and letting this one stay dormant for too long would be asinine. 

 

To their benefit, this reboot of the long-running video game series does go back to the source material roots and away from the Matrix-knock-off action meets the inescapable silliness of Paul WS Anderson throwing random shit at his audience. Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City, while still sporting one of the worst titles I can think of in recent history, is a fantastic idea on paper. Go back to the horror. Go back to the much-loved characters. Go back to the fear that the Resident Evil game series used to launch an entire subgenre of gaming.

 

It’s a shame that Resident Evil - I refuse to use its full title from this point on - is a middling effort. 

 

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Shock Wave 2 (2021)


Director: Herman Yau

Notable Cast: Andy Lau, Sean Lau, Ni Ni, Philip Keung

 

After the first Shock Wave blew me away (I apologize) with its blend of tension, thrills, and weirdly effective emotional weight, waiting for sequel, Shock Wave 2, to finally receive a release in the United States was a bit of torture, a burning fuse that just kept burning and never reaching its end (I apologize again). After being released in 2020 to some decent box office numbers and word of mouth in China, the lack of interest in releasing the internationally well-regarded sequel - with significant star power behind and in front of the camera - didn’t bode well for its quality. Was Shock Wave 2 just aftershocks to the big shock of its predecessor? I won’t apologize for that joke. Nope. 

 

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Eternals (2021)


Director: Chloe Zhao

Notable Cast: Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Lia McHugh, Brian Tyree Henry, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan, Ma Dong-seok, Kit Harington, Salma Hayek, Angelina Jolie, Bill Skarsgard, Harish Patel

 

Disney and Marvel have always been very particular with how they expand the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The introduction of mysticism was in a wholly generic and formulaic origin film with Doctor Strange, the leap with Thor into the cosmos happens mostly on Earth, and the introduction of the multi-verse took two entire Avengers films to pull off. The latter is a choice that will now seemingly dominate the entirety of the franchise for the foreseeable future and allow for MCU to exist until mankind burns to the ground.

 

For Eternals, a full-on expansion of the MCU into epic cosmos insanity, Marvel and Academy Award-winning director Chloe Zhao attempt to ride that fine balance once again by introducing an entire new squad of Space Avengers. They are not the Guardians, for the record, but they do ask the hard questions to each other like “who will lead the Avengers now?” to make sure we don’t forget the film is part of the franchise, I guess. These Eternals have been patiently waiting on Earth to receive the call from Space Dad, a six-eyed stone-looking red space god named Arishem, to go back home. Naturally, not all is what it seems and the Eternals’ natural enemy, animal-like bundles of tendrils named Deviants, arise on Earth once more as a pending disaster looms on the horizon. 

 

The Emperor's Sword (2021)


Director: Yingli Zhang, Haonan Chen

Notable Cast: Fengbin Mu, Yilin Hao, Qihang Zhao, Qiyu Yang

 

The pandemic changed a lot of things in the film industry. At this point, discussion about the box office and the explosive expansion of streaming services are well-known discussion topics. To be fully honest, I’m a bit tired of talking about the birth of streaming, the death of ‘cinema’, and whether or not films that are released straight to a streaming service count as TV movies or Movie movies. I can only get into so many fights on social media before it ceases to be interesting. Let’s not forget though, that this change is happening all over the world. 

 

Case in point, The Emperor’s Sword was released to the Chinese streaming service Youku was picked up for distribution in the US via Well Go USA where it received its premiere on their streaming services, Hi Yah, before receiving a full-fledged Blu Ray release. It’s not the first film of this ilk to receive this kind of treatment and, yes, there is a cheaper look to the film and budgetary restraints that tend to limit the film’s tonality and approach, but The Emperor’s Sword is a much better film than expected. Perhaps I was just craving a newer wuxia film that doesn’t bombard its audience with bullshit CGI monsters and wanna-be Hollywood blockbuster spectacle, but there is a simplicity and classic tone to the core of this flick that hit me just right. 

 

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Yokai Monsters Collection: Along with Ghosts (1969)

After unleashing the Daimajin on collectors with their three-film box set only a handful of months ago, Arrow Video continues their Daiei run with the Yokai Monsters Collection. Complete with the original three film run of the Yokai Monster trilogy and auteur director Takashi Miike’s love letter to those films, this collection brings together four films that were not regularly available (if at all) to Western audiences. Whether you’re a fan of supernatural monster flicks, strange genre-bending slices of cinema, or Japanese film history, it’s hard to go wrong with this boxset as a collector.

 

The mileage that one gets from the films included in Yokai Monsters depends on their ability to roll with the shifting genres and a sense of artifice within their stories. This review covers the third film in the series, Along with Ghosts, but stay tuned for more reviews for the rest of the series. 

 


ALONG WITH GHOSTS
(1969)

Directors: Kimiyoshi Yasuda, Yoshiyuki Kuroda

Notable Cast: Pepe Hozumi, Masami Burukido, Toura Sakiichi, Yoshito Yamaji, Bokuzen Hidari, Kojiro Hongo

 

After bouncing through the second film of the series, Spook Warfare, with all of its comedic elements and humorous and heartfelt yokai monster chemistry, the third film Along with Ghosts causes some significant whiplash. While all three films lean into the period set horror-tinged supernatural basics, this third and last (of this original run) of the series finds itself as the most cohesive and cinematically sound in its storytelling. It may not feature nearly as many yokai as the previous entry - or, quite honestly, as the first film, but it makes up for it by being a better film. 

 

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Last Night in Soho (2021)


Director: Edgar Wright

Notable Cast: Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, Diana Rigg, Michael Ajao, Terence Stamp

 

At this point, I'm feeling a bit out of the loop. I adored Edgar Wright as a director in decades previous, but his last two films - including Baby Driver and Last Night in Soho, have left me oddly cold. I think it’s because I feel like Wright has started to write his scripts to match visuals versus crafting visuals to fit the depths of the script. It's a small and nuanced change in approach, but one that I feel undercuts many of the interesting elements in his latest film, Last Night in Soho

 

With his love letter to giallo and the murder mysteries of the 1960s (some serious Mario Bava vibes here which is always a plus), Last Night in Soho is a gorgeous piece of cinema, and its direction and editing are impressive. The use of dream-like flow and fading with the narrative is artfully done. If anything, Wright is definitely soaring with his visual pops, use of mirror tricks, and creating that sense of "parallel" timelines that evokes a sense of fantasy that slowly seeps into nightmares. 

 

Monday, November 1, 2021

Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin (2021)


Director: William Eubank

Notable Cast: Emily Bader, Roland Buck III, Dan Lippert, Henry Ayres-Brown, Tom Nowicki, Colin Keane, Jill St. John, Alexa Shae Niziak

 

Paranormal Activity is back. It’s a franchise that has always held a special place for me that was fascinatingly created almost completely in retroactive continuity between entries. In fact, just this October the Blood Brothers cousin podcast, No Franchise Fatigue, spent three entire episodes digging through the films of the series. You can listen to those episodes at the following links: Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 3. Nonetheless, it’s a series that is far more interesting as a whole than people usually give it credit for even when the quality of individual films waivers immensely. 

 

However, after an unmemorable and misguided “finale” to the Katie and Kristi Meet Tobi the Demon saga of the first six entries, Paranormal Activity was in desperate need of an injection of life. After six years, the seventh entry, under the title Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin, has been uploaded to the streaming service Paramount+ for our enjoyment. The latest entry represents an interesting shift in style and an entirely new story as a reboot of the series. It’s ultimately a mixed effort, but it does showcase the potential of the future for the long-running series. 

 

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

The Medium (2021)


Director: Banjong Pisanthanakun

Notable Cast: Sawanee Utoomma, Narilya Gulmongkolpech, Sirani Yankittikan, Yasaka Chaisorn, Boonsong Nakphoo, Arunee Wattana, Thanutphon Boonsang, Akkaradech Rattanawong

 

After spending a large portion of this October revisiting classic found-footage horror films and series for the Blood Brothers cousin podcast, No Franchise Fatigue, it seemed like a coincidence that Shudder’s latest exclusive film, The Medium, would utilize the format. The 00s and early 2010s trend of found footage horror is hardly dead, but it certainly has taken a step back as dramatic arthouse horror and slashers have started to make strong comebacks to dominate the genre lately. 

 

Despite its generic title, The Medium not only understands how to maximize the striking power of the found footage style, but its pacing, balance, and grounded execution make it one of the most terrifying films of the year. It’s a film that works on the surface as a slow-burning story of possession but also manages to embed a thematic religious layering that deepens the experience in some fascinating ways. Not only is it one of the best of the year, but The Medium may also just be one of the best found-footage horror films in the history of the genre. 

 

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Legend (1985)


Director: Ridley Scott

Notable Cast: Tom Cruise, Mia Sara, Tim Curry, David Bennent, Alice Playten, Billy Barty, Cork Hubbert, Peter O’Farrell, Kiran Shah, Annabelle Lanyon, Robert Picardo

 

It’s no secret that Ridley Scott is one of the most prolific directors still working. At the age of 83, the man is releasing two films in the final quarter of 2021 (The Last Duel and House of Gucci for those wondering) and his career is just as diverse in subject matter as the gap between those two films. However, while his directorial trajectory over the decades has had its roller coaster moments of quality, his early work is essential viewing. Genre fans, in particular, owe a great deal to the semi-auteur director.  Whether it’s Alien, Blade Runner, Thelma & Louise, or Gladiator, Scott has produced films that have a significant legacy to them. 

 

Of course, then there’s Legend

 

Scott’s 1985 fantasy opus, starring an up-and-coming who’s who of young talent and featuring a truly ethereal sense of whimsy, darkness, and adventure, was actively met with disdain or apathy at the time of its release. It was often compared by critics and audiences to his previous film, Blade Runner, as a film lost in technicality and missing real characters or plots. Keep in mind that the mentioned science fiction epic was also met with disdain and/or apathy on its release. Yet, just like that film, Legend has garnered a vivacious cult fan base since then for all of the same reasons it was dismissed. Enough so that Arrow Video has deemed it worthy of a luscious new 4K restoration and collector’s edition package. 

 

Friday, October 22, 2021

Yokai Monsters Collection: Spook Warfare (1968)


After unleashing the Daimajin on collectors with their three-film box set only a handful of months ago, Arrow Video continue their Daiei run with the Yokai Monsters Collection. Complete with the original three film run of the Yokai Monster trilogy and auteur director Takashi Miike’s love letter to those films, this collection brings together four films that were not regularly available (if at all) to Western audiences. Whether you’re a fan of supernatural monster flicks, strange genre-bending slices of cinema, or Japanese film history, it’s hard to go wrong with this boxset as a collector.

 

The mileage that one gets from the films included in Yokai Monsters depends on their ability to roll with the shifting genres and a sense of artifice within their stories. This review covers the second film in the series, Spook Warfare, but stay tuned for more reviews for the rest of the series. 

 


SPOOK WARFARE (1968) 

Director: Yoshiyuki Kuroda

Notable Cast: Yoshihiko Aoyama, Akane Kawasaki, Takashi Kanda, Hideki Hanamura, Chikara Hashimoto, Hiromi Inoue, Mari Kanda, Gen Kimura

 

Although the first film in the Yokai Monsters series, 100 Monsters, told its story in full, that has never stopped a franchise from kicking forward. The first sequel, Spook Warfare, aims to take the same basic concept, people who accidentally unleash some classic mythological Japanese spirit monsters, and gives it a tonal and structural overhaul. The results are fascinatingly more entertaining as a whole and it easily fulfills the promises made with the title. 

 

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning (2021)


Director: Keishi Otomo

Notable Cast: Takeru Satoh, Kasumi Arimura, Issey Takahashi, Nijiro Murakami, Masanobu Ando, Kazuki Kitamura, Yosuke Eguchi, Towa Araki, Shima Onishi, Takahiro Fujimoto

 

With the fifth and (possibly) final installment of the Japanese box office juggernaut series, Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning might be one of the boldest ways to cap off a franchise. After the successful trilogy run previously, the series came back with what constitutes a two-part finale. The first portion of that, Rurouni Kenshin: The Final, was only released a handful of months prior to this one and acts as a final stamp on the series. It gives the red-haired wandering swordsman his peace to cap off a rather remarkable character arc that covered four films and featured some of the best action set pieces of the series, a bombastic set of spectacle-driven moments, and all of the characters that fans loved. It was the feather in the cap of one of action cinema’s most balanced and effective franchises. 

 

In the fourth film though, there are flashbacks to an origin for the titular character, Kenshin, that are the core for this prequel. Hence the title, Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning. Just in case there may be those who are new to the series or simply want to know just how upfront the filmmakers wanted to be with this entry. Yes, this fifth entry is a prequel to the entire series and, no, it does not suffer at all from the narrative setbacks and leaps of logic that plague so many prequels. 

 

To be frank, The Beginning might be the most daring in its tone, atmosphere, and artistic merits of the series. It’s an almost fully different experience than the others, cinematically speaking, and yet is the perfect lead-in for the story, character, and narrative build for all of the rest. It’s incredibly well-executed and ranks up there as one of the best. 

 

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Halloween Kills (2021)


Director: David Gordon Green

Notable Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, James Jude Courtney, Nick Castle, Will Patton, Thomas Mann, Dylan Arnold, Robert Longstreet, Anthony Michael Hall, Charles Cyphers, Kyle Richards

 

The revitalization of the Halloween franchise with 2018’s self-titled sequel, one that ignores every other film post the 1978 originator, is one for the history books. It reset the already over-complicated franchise to go back to the roots but it still managed to progress the lore forward in its own ways and inject a bit of social commentary that hit a lot of the right buttons. Its massive success in the box office and a strong love from the overall horror community made it ripe for reigniting one of the archetypal slasher franchises. It wasn’t a shock that Blumhouse was quick to capitalize on its success by announcing a sequel. 

 

However, it was tempting fate that they would announce two sequels to cap off the trilogy...a trilogy of four films, for the record, if you count the 1978 original. Still, it was hard not to get expectations up considering the strength of Halloween (2018), and a title like Halloween Kills does sound pretty legit and stroked the excitement of my inner teenager. 

 

With a half-melted ghostly mask in tow, Michael Myers once again stalks the silver screen with Halloween Kills and returning director David Gordon Green (along with some returning writers a slew of other filmmakers) aim to jack up the body count and set up a finale with the upcoming Halloween Ends that will bring his portion of the franchise to an end. The results are, in a fitting twist, incredibly problematic in their ambitions.