Thursday, May 25, 2023

Shifting into Tenth Gear: Fast X (2023) Review

Director: Louis Leterrier 

Notable Cast: (deep breath) Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges, John Cena, Nathalie Emmanuel, Jordana Brewster, Sung Kang, Jason Momoa, Scott Eastwood, Daniela Melchior, Alan Ritchson, Helen Mirren, Brie Larson, Jason Statham, Charlize Theron, Rita Moreno, Joaquim de Almeida, Leo A. Perry


Every two to three years I get the pleasure of revisiting the Fast & Furious franchise and, in a rather unfortunate manner, the last couple of films in the series - not counting the surprisingly fun spin-off Hobbs & Shaw, have been declining returns in creativity and quality. Not that Fate of the Furious or F9: The Fast Saga don’t have their strengths or their fans, but compared to the first of the fifth, sixth, and seventh films, they just were missing that special heart that beat underneath the illogical scripts and outlandish action set pieces. 


Thus, my expectations were metered when Fast X, the tenth entry into this billion-dollar grossing action blockbuster series, was finally on track to vroom vroom its way into theaters. Could Vin Diesel and company find a way to start their own Avengers: Endgame with this reportedly first of two (or three?) “final” films in the series?


Tuesday, May 16, 2023

A-Club, Assemble: Assassin Club (2023) Review

Director: Camille Delamarre 

Notable Cast: Henry Golding, Noomi Rapace, Daniela Melchior, Jimmy Jean-Louis, Sam Neill, Anastasia Doaga, Claudio Del Falco, Gabriele Mira Rossi, Runo Bilotta, Sheena Hao, Lorenzo Buran, G-Max


There is a point around the halfway mark of Assassin Club that I came to a realization. Someone needed to recognize Henry Golding, playing the assassin with a heart Morgan, for the serious effort he is putting into this movie. At this point, he’s speaking with a “faceless” assassin, played by the always go-for-broke Noomi Rapace, over the phone about the puppet master that has set up six assassins to kill one another. No lie, he’s giving the scene 1000% more than it deserves. He is carrying the poor exposition, plot progression, and character bits kicking and screaming through that entire scene. 


Golding often oozes charisma in this film, straining under the sheer weight of a script and director that don’t understand the potential of the material outside of “look how cool this should be for the 18 to 25 male demographic,” and I almost started feeling pity for the man. After his meteoric rise with Crazy Rich Asians, his career has seemingly been ignored by the masses (even though I still believe - and will fight - for Snake Eyes) and now he’s relegated to a straight-to-home video actioner like Assassin Club


Thursday, May 11, 2023

Rise, Dead, Rise: Evil Dead Rise (2023) Review

Director: Lee Cronin

Notable Cast: Lily Sullivan, Alyssa Sutherland, Morgan Davies, Gabrielle Echols, Nell Fisher, Anna-Maree Thomas, Mirabai Pease, Richard Crouchley, Jaden Daniels


My bias toward the Evil Dead franchise is rather blatant. The series defined my youth, characterized a large part of my taste in film, and eventually pushed my love of cinema to the next level. When Fede Alvarez nailed his Evil Dead remake in 2013, my body and mind were ready for a new era for the demonic horror series. It was time to reinvent it for a modern audience. 


Then it never happened. 

And that’s when my 10-year Evil Dead depression started. 


Fortunately, like the Deadites that infest and torture our protagonists, you can’t fuckin’ kill this series. It might have taken 10 years and required Warner Brothers and New Line Cinema to grow a brain and not push this straight to HBOMax (I’m sorry, it’s “just Max” now), but we are now treated with the latest entry, Evil Dead Rise, and it certainly rises to the occasion. At least, if you want gratuitous violence and gore, a brisk pace, and lots of physics unawareness for unspecified demonic powers. Evil Dead Rise delivers in spades the elements necessary for a great Evil Dead entry, even going so far as carrying some of its oddities along with it. 

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Redcaps Paddy Whacks: Unwelcome (2023) Review

Director: Joe Wright

Notable Cast: Hannah John-Kamen, Douglas Booth, Jamie Lee O’Donnell, Chris Walley, Kristian Nairn, Colm Meaney, Niamh Cusack, Lalor Roddy


Having been a big fan of Grabbers, where drunkenness is the only way to fight off an alien invasion, my expectations for director Joe Wright’s latest horror comedy, Unwelcome, were reasonably high. To try and temper those expectations, I didn’t watch or dig into any of the promotional material for it and waited patiently for its release from our friends at Well Go USA. 


While the balance of horror and humor in Unwelcome isn’t nearly as good as the previously mentioned Grabbers, it is one of the year's more offbeat and fascinating films. Mainly because, when this bad boy is boiled down to its bones, it’s basically Straw Dogs that happens to have the Far Darrig (they are NOT leprechauns) in it. Throw in a dash of Raimi-inspired slapstick horror along with some Italian gothic pops and it is a combination that should be as entertaining as it is batshit insane. Yet, as the film progresses, it becomes apparent that the balance of tones, narrative buoyancy, and darker dramatic elements just cannot find their footing. 


Saturday, April 22, 2023

Bewitched in Moving Paintings: Agatha (2023) Review [Panic Fest 2023]

Directors: Roland Becerra, Kelly Bigelow Becerra

At this last year’s Academy Awards, Guillermo del Toro stepped up to the podium upon winning the Oscar for Best Animated Film and talked about how animated features are ‘not a genre, but still cinema.’ While I’m sure readers on this site will more than likely know this already, it’s a great reminder that animation is just a choice in creating cinema and not inherently separate. 

This year, Panic Fest 2023 showcased a rather unique “animated” horror feature that struck a unique chord with me. Agatha became an unnerving cinematic venture that burrowed under my skin with its distinctive visuals that blend animation and live action in one of the most fascinating ways. It’s the kind of experimental style in film that warrants a viewing, even if it makes some choices that may alienate some viewers.

My screening included a brief introduction by one of the directors, Kelly Bigelow Becerra and she notes that the film was a combination of animation and live action where the footage of the actors was painted – frame by frame – over with the animation. It’s an interesting expectation that’s set prior to the film. It’s almost necessary because being thrown into the film might be a bit overwhelming for those not expecting what it is bringing to the table. 

Friday, April 21, 2023

The Best Worst Man: The Best Man (2023) Review

Director: Shane Dax Taylor

Notable Cast: Brendan Fehr, Luke Wilson, Dolph Lundgren, Scout Taylor Compton, Nicky Whelan, Scott Martin


Although there are plenty of action stars that have been relegated to the direct-to-video market in the last handful of years and while many film critics and fans are eager to pounce and people like Bruce Willis or Nic Cage for falling into this category, it’s a corner of the market that has its own feel and approach that often gets overlooked. 


When The Best Man first stumbled into my consciousness, it was hard not to buy in for me simply based on the Dolph of it all. Yet, it was apparent that he would play a secondary character to Brendan Fehr and Luke Wilson (?!). Now my interest went from piqued to full-on curiosity. Yet, with films like The Best Man, it is best to keep expectations tempered and that’s my recommendation here. While the idea of seeing Fehr, Wilson, and Lundgren team up to fight off terrorists is seemingly outlandish enough, the reality is that The Best Man is rarely as entertaining as it might have been. It’s a fine paint-by-numbers low-budget action flick to burn a lazy Sunday afternoon on, but it never reaches its own potential. 


Friday, April 7, 2023

Birds Don't Have Fists: Fist of the Condor (2023) Review [Hi-Yah!]

Director: Ernesto Díaz Espinoza

Notable Cast: Marko Zaror, Marko Zaror, Eyal Meyer, Gina Aguad, Fernanda Urrejola, Man Soo Yoon, Jose Manuel, Cristian Garin, Francisco Castro


When I told my wife that I had a new movie to watch the other night, she asked the question that most people ask. “Which one?” I replied, “Fist of the Condor. The new kung fu movie starring Marko Zaror.” She paused for a moment. “Well, that doesn’t make sense. Birds don’t have fists.”

She’s a funny one, that gal. 


On the one hand, she’s absolutely right. Condors are big badass birds, but they certainly don’t have fists. In true, classic kung fu fashion, it doesn’t really matter though when the animal is just an inspiration for the martial arts. Condors don’t need fists... because you know who does have fists? Marko fuckin’ Zaror. And he’s bringing his own martial arts style to the screen in that classic kung fu manner. It just so happens that he has the perfect physique that he looks like a condor when he extends his arms into a full wingspan. Just before he starts handing people their asses. 


Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Fishy Is As Fishy Does: The Lake (2023) Review

Director: Lee Thongkham

Notable Cast: Theerapat Sajakul, Sushar Manaying, Vithaya Pansringarm, Supansa Wedkama, Wanmai Chatborrirak, Thanachat Tullayachat, Ren Youxan, Su Qiucheng


"What is more cruel than the monster is the lie...the lie that a group of people made to cover up their own failure so that everything remains peaceful. But there was never true peace."


The quote above is delivered via a voiceover narrative that bookends the Thai blockbuster The Lake. While I am normally one to roll my eyes at these kinds of storytelling choices, it’s one that lingered with me well into the credits and the Thai pop song that adored them. Was this by-the-numbers monster flick one that had far more depth under its surface than I gave it credit for while watching it?


Yeah, there is more depth than expected. The brilliance (and perhaps the biggest obstacle) of The Lake is that this monster flick, which steals fully from other monster movies in both concept and execution, is way better than it ever should be. It is monster madness that somehow manages to pop in some incredibly heartfelt moments and some odd moments of existential crisis that elevate the experience. All while it delivers some fun bigger-than-life fish monster mayhem. 


Monday, March 27, 2023

A Man with a Cause: John Wick: Chapter 4 (2023) Review

Director: Chad Stahelski

Notable Cast: Keanu Reeves, Donnie Yen, Bill Skarsgard, Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, Lance Reddick, Clancy Brown, Hiroyuki Sanada, Shamier Anderson, Rina Sawayama, Scott Adkins, Marko Zaror


At one point leading into the final portion of John Wick: Chapter 4, Clancy Brown’s Harbinger warns the big bad of the film, The Marquis - played with a seething and conniving performance by Bill Skarsgard, that a man’s ambition should never exceed his worth. The moment is one to indicate that, despite the villain’s endless amount of resources and skilled killers, The Marquis is still over his head in trying to kill John Wick. Yet it’s also the same warning that echoed my worries for this fourth entry.


Would the ambitions of the John Wick franchise eventually exceed its worth?


With John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, one could see the ambitions for building the globe trotting world start to stretch to the point of excess. Not that the film is inherently bad, nay, but it is one where some of the choices for plot and narrative felt the strain.


With John Wick: Chapter 4, the series addresses those (including an opening sequence that neatly ties an open thread with a bullet point of finality) and then proceeds to grow the series in scope while going back to the thematic and narrative points about the character that made this franchise explode with audiences. It’s a cinematic magic trick of epic proportions. It balances its emotional parallels for the character while simultaneously giving the viewer the biggest and most ambitious entry yet. If the ambitions were exceeding the worth, Chapter 4 grows the worth to match those ambitions. The results are glorious and punctuated with the viciousness of a napalm loaded shotgun blast.


Monday, March 20, 2023

Ghostface Takes Stabhattan: Scream VI (2023) Review

Directors: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett

Notable Cast: Melissa Barrera, Jenna Ortega, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Mason Gooding, Courteney Cox, Hayden Panettiere, Dermot Mulroney, Liana Liberato, Jack Champion, Devyn Nekoda, Josh Segarra, Samara Weaving


The meta-commentary that has always been provided within the Scream franchise found new life with Scream 2022 when it was released… let me check my notes, uh, yep, last year. The attack on the “requel” - or which can also be labeled as the “legacy sequel” - was smart in playing on the freshly minted tropes, particularly for slashers, and suddenly this horror franchise had legs and momentum under it once again. In the rather insane way that the Scream films have evolved, it was the next step to bring it to the current state of horror. 


Although Scream VI tries out a few “new” ideas by taking the sequel and planting it in Montreal New York and attacking modern horror franchise continuations, it’s one that mostly sticks to its knives when it comes to delivering a Scream sequel. Although it hardly reaches the cleverness or seemingly invested writing of the fifth entry, it does happen to deliver quite a bit of slasher entertainment as it ramps up the brutality and cutting slasher chase sequences that maximize its Montreal New York setting.