Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Vengeance Trails (2021) Part I: [Massacre Time (1966) / My Name Is Pecos (1966)]


Although most of the films included have been released previously, it’s hard not to be extremely excited for Arrow Video’s recent release of Vengeance Trails. This four-film box set includes a fantastic set of films for any western aficionado from some of the biggest directors and stars of the time period. The new high-definition restorations are gorgeous, the extras are solid as expected, and the packaging is a delight to have on a collector’s shelf. This review is meant to cover the films included in the set - although any previous coverage we have run at Blood Brothers will be linked below, but if you’re a fan of those classic Italian gritty westerns, it’s hard not to recommend Vengeance Trails upfront. 

 

For more information about the set, please see the details following the film reviews below. 

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Kate (2021)


Director: Cedric Nicolas-Troyan

Notable Cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Miku Martineau, Woody Harrelson, Tadanobu Asano, Michiel Huisman, Jun Kunimura, Miyavi, Amelia Crouch, Ava Caryofyllis, Kayuza Tanabe

 

“Death is the time for beginnings.” 

 

Maybe I’ve said this before in one of my previous reviews, but it’s worth noting again. At this point, it’s hard not to look at action cinema as Pre-John Wick and Post-John Wick. While the film in reference is in itself a love letter to the action cinema of the 80s, a vicious combination of the untouchable heroes of Hollywood and the brutal action excellence of Hong Kong heroic bloodshed, the combination and stylistic choices have proven to be wildly influential since its release. 

 

Mid-tier action films, where this style lives, has been mostly relegated to streaming services and Netflix, in all of its domineering power, has delivered one of the best post-John Wick flicks. Kate rampages about in rapid-fire pacing, gorging on the Black Rain influenced style of a neon-soaked Tokyo night and immersing a classic yakuza war story with brash modern characters and enough action sequences to make John Woo jealous. Kate is a film built on the shoulders of giants, but it’s incredibly well-executed style, action, and pacing make it one of the best bullet-riddled pieces of genre cinema of 2021. 

 

Friday, September 10, 2021

Don't Breathe 2 (2021)


Director: Rodo Sayagues 

Notable Cast: Stephen Lang, Madelyn Grace, Brendan Sexton III, Stephanie Arcila, Rocci Williams, Bobby Schofield, Adam Young, Fiona O’Shaughnessy, Steffan Rhodri

 

Ten times out of ten, I’m the kind of person that will defend a franchise. There’s a reason that Blood Brothers is the mothership of the No Franchise Fatigue Movie Podcast and I’m one of the co-hosts of it. I am not the one to ever say that a sequel (or any other additional entry to a franchise) ruins the original. No one says Halloween (1978) is a worse film for the fact that Halloween 6 exists. With that being said, boy howdy, do I find Don’t Breathe 2 to be a wholly perplexing sequel that takes bold (and confusing) swings with its premise and rarely connects despite some solid execution on a visual and atmospheric standpoint. Don’t Breathe 2 is tonally more exploitative than its predecessor and yet the film feels the need to over-explain itself. 

 

Monday, September 6, 2021

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)


Director: Destin Daniel Cretton

Notable Cast: Simu Liu, Tony Leung, Awkwafina, Meng’er Zhang, Fala Chen, Michelle Yeoh, Yuen Wah, Florian Munteanu, Andy Le

 

As a fan of martial arts cinema since I was, oh I don’t know, born, the recent obsession with the genre has been a roller coaster ride for me. A large part of me never expected that Hollywood or the American TV market would embrace the genre as it has in the last half of a decade. Whether it is shows like Warrior and the reimagined Kung Fu or Hollywood blockbusters like Snake Eyes and Raya and the Last Dragon, this latest boom is a welcome change of pace and to see mainstream audiences cheer for and consume one of my favorite and oft-maligned styles of filmmaking couldn’t make me happier. 

 

It’s not that cinematic martial arts on the screen doesn’t go in waves, it does. Anyone old enough to remember will note that it usually pops up every 20 years or so, with the last pop coming in the late 90s and early 00s with the arrival of Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and The Matrix (fight choreographer Yuen Woo Ping) in Hollywood. What makes this latest boom so fascinating is the arrival of the latest Marvel film, their 25th of the MCU if I’m counting properly, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

 

Not only is Shang-Chi a film that attempts to bring the newest kung fu craze to the world’s biggest franchise, but it’s one that sincerely wants to adapt - and sell, this is Disney after all - Chinese martial arts, culture, and their cinematic history to a wider western audience. It’s a film that often tries to rectify so many of the mistakes made by the original Shang-Chi comic, a cringe-worthy series at best, and thrust its audience into a mystical world of Chinese lore (made up or adapting popular elements) while retaining that now formulaic Marvel brand. The combination is thrilling, fun, dynamic, and most importantly heartfelt. I might be biased thanks to my love of kung fu cinema, but this is easily the best Marvel film to date. 

 

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Death Screams (1982)


Director: David Nelson

Notable Cast: Susan Kiger, Martin Tucker, William T. Hicks, Jennifer Chase, Jody Kay, Andrea Savio, Helene Tryon, Hanns Manship, Larry Sprinkle

 

As the boutique label wars continue to happen within the realms of genre cinema, more and more fans clamor for the next “long lost classic” from the slasher genre. Whether it’s Vinegar Syndrome, Severin, 88 Films, or Arrow Video, the labels are all happy to dig into the deep, dark caverns of horror to unearth what could possibly be the next classic. These forgotten films occasionally do reach that echelon, but more often than not, it’s a stretch. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m happy these labels are rescuing films from oblivion, but after watching Death Screams last night - just know that it can be a chore to get through some of them. 

 

Arrow Video’s track record has usually been fantastic in finding those lost classics. They’ve unleashed The Mutilator and Blood Rage. As of late, the label has been scraping some questionable pieces of cinema though and a handful of their latest stuff (sans The Slayer which is a film that I weirdly liked when no one else did) and Death Screams can be added to that list. Although this 1982 slasher has its moments, it’s a relatively meandering slog to work through and the overall story and characters are undercooked in a way that’s not nearly as fun as it might have been with more gimmicks or charisma. 

 

Thursday, September 2, 2021

The Snake Girl and the Silver-Haired Witch (1968)



Director: Noriaki Yuasa

Notable Cast: Yachie Matsui, Mayumi Takahashi, Sei Hiraizumi, Yuko Hamada, Yoshiro Kitahara

 

With most of his career dedicated to shepherding the Gamera franchise throughout its original run in the 1960s, 70s, and (unfortunately) 80s, it was a pleasant surprise that Arrow Video grabbed one of the few ‘other’ films that Noriaki Yuasa directed. Released the same year as Gamera Vs Viras (see my review for that film HERE), The Snake Girl and the Silver-Haired Witch is one of his best efforts. 

 

For a film that regularly feeds off of the same child-focused themes that he embedded throughout the Gamera franchise, he utilizes a fantastical horror story to sell thematic morals and he does so with an admirably odd and offbeat manner. There’s a child-like whimsy to much of its approach, but the balance of its silliness, creepiness, and heartfelt moments make it a refreshing watch that feels far more impassioned than his later Gamera entries. 

 

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Candyman (2021)


Director: Nia DaCosta

Notable Cast: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Colman Domingo, Kyle Kaminsky, Vanessa Williams, Brian King, Miriam Moss, Rebecca Spence 

 

The original Candyman was a seminal part of my childhood and my growth as a horror fan. It was a staple of our weekly video store rentals as a family and watching it as an 8-year-old certainly elevated my love of horror. It’s a film that makes it into my rotation on a yearly basis and one that I still uphold as one of the iconic horror films to push the genre forward, particularly in 1992. The first set of sequels, however, sincerely fail to recapture so much of the original’s brilliance, although each one certainly tries to embed their stories with their own take on social commentary. They just lose a substantial amount of the themes and storytelling as they move further into generic slasher territory. 

 

The latest sequel, Candyman, following the titling scheme of the 2018 Halloween sequel, ignores Candyman 2 and 3 (Farewell to the Flesh and Day of the Dead respectively) to go back to what made the original one such an iconic horror film. The film is intentionally engrossed with taking the Candyman lore, expanding it, and deepening its engagement with the racial and social commentaries from the original and pushing them into a new century. It’s also a film that doubles down on the horror elements, moving further from the inherent sadness and gothic romance of its predecessor, and kicking the supernatural slasher elements to the forefront. The combination proves impressively buzzworthy, carrying quite the sting, and providing an instant classic that brings the mythological ghostly legend to the modern age. 

 

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

The Green Knight (2021)


Director: David Lowery

Notable Cast: Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Sarita Choudhury, Sean Harris, Kate Dickie, Barry Keoghan, Erin Kellyman, Ralph Ineson

 

It ain’t easy being green. Although that phrase comes from a far different period of time and from a much different world of entertainment, the phrase seems fitting when looking down at the CinemaScore and Rotten Tomatoes audience reactions to The Green Knight. It’s a film that was relatively well-received by critics (and if you’re tempted to look down - you’ll see my own very favorable score for this one) and yet reads divisive among audiences. The appreciation for its bold visuals rings true across the board, but the rest… well, the rest of The Green Knight is up for debate. 

 

This is not an unusual place to be for film studio A24 or director David Lowery. Both have had their fair share of critical acclaim and audience push back through their careers. Having Lowery jump on board the A24 train is a natural progression, but it’s the choice of subject matter with The Green Knight that is most surprising. An artistic fresh and bold take on the classic Arthurian legend and poem, The Green Knight is both a heightened and abrasively artsy assault on its viewer, but it’s also a slow burn and grounded version of it that focuses on realistic character emotions. It’s not easy being green and balancing those two often very different approaches in one film, but The Green Knight smoothly accomplishes the task with striking effectiveness. 

 

Sunday, August 29, 2021

The Fatal Raid (2019/2021)


Director: Jacky Lee

Notable Cast: Jade Leung, Patrick Tam, Kristy Yang, Andrew Yuen, Jeana Ho, Lin Min-Chen, Michael Tong, Elaine Tang, Rosanne Lui, Sharon Luk

 

Nostalgia in cinema is not new. The 30-year window, where films will often look back 30 years into the past for period settings or cultural touchstones for current art, is real and relevant to most any time frame. Anyone that has been partaking in the sheer amount of late 80s and now 90s focused genre cinema in the last five years can attest to its power. The latest trailer for the upcoming Ghostbusters film uses it in all of the worst ways possible, but I digress. I’m already off track and I’m only four sentences into this piece.

 

This phenomenon is not just an American trend either. The Fatal Raid, a love letter to the 1980s ‘girls with guns’ subgenre of Hong Kong action cinema, reeks of a desperation to recapture the fun and flippancy of the genre with a modern sense of style and look. It’s a film with tongue often planted firmly in cheek, particularly with some of the secondary plot lines, that wavers in tone and effectiveness. However, for those looking for a fun and silly way to burn 90 minutes, The Fatal Raid is hardly a fatal choice. It’s just not the best one, even for the genre, but with the right mindset it suffices.

 

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Reminiscence (2021)

 

Director: Lisa Joy

Notable Cast: Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Ferguson, Thandiwe Newton, Daniel Wu, Cliff Curtis, Angela Sarafyan, Natalie Martinez

 

I've said it before and I'll say it again, I'm a sucker for strange and off-beat projects that attempt to do a lot of things. If they have an A-budget and attempt to slam multiple genres together, then even better. A-budget B-movies are my favorite and I refuse to just write them off even if they miss the mark.

 

Reminiscence is exactly that kind of movie. Big cash on the screen, strange combinations of genre work, and a film that regularly punts logic to the curb for the sake of embracing an oddity or two. Even with its many, many flaws, I found myself quite enjoying the weird of it all. 

 

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Rising Shaolin: The Protector (2021)


Director: Stanley Tong

Notable Cast: Wang Baoqiang, Ni Da Hong, Du Gui-Yu, Solange Maggie, Ng Man-Tat, Yu Hai

 

When the initial teaser dropped for Rising Shaolin: The Protector, a film that definitely doesn’t need such an unnecessary subtitle, the hype became overwhelming in my soul. As a massive fan of the Jet Li Shaolin Temple series, seeing a modern action icon like Wang Baoqiang pull off the series of Shaolin kung fu forms in various seasonal weather was all that I needed to justify seeing this film. 

 

Granted, that hype was tempered by the phrase “directed by Stanley Tong.” Just the thought that a Stanley Tong film would be a red flag appalled the 15-year-old version of me in my heart. His early work on Super Cop 3 and Rumble in the Bronx helped guide me into Hong Kong cinema, but his recent work - the inept lunacy of Vanguard and Kung Fu Yoga - is incredibly disappointing. Even with a passion project like Rising Shaolin, it was hard not to have traumatic flashbacks to his recent films. 

 

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Hand Rolled Cigarette (2020)

 

Director: Kin Long Chan

Notable Cast: Gordon Lam, Bipin Karma, Tai Bo, Ben Yuen, Michael Ning, Chin Siu-Ho Aaron Chow Chi-Kwan, Tony Ho, To Yin-Gor, Bitto Singh Hartihan

 

“To those who keep working hard for Hong Kong cinema, passing the flame to future generations.” 

 

These are some of the final words that scrawl across the end credits of Hand Rolled Cigarette, the 2020 Hong Kong crime thriller which has quietly earned a fistful of accolades prior to its most recent screening at the New York Asian Film Festival. For a film so indebted to recapturing some of the gritty artistic merit of late 80s and early 90s Hong Kong capers, it’s a resounding punctuation to the film’s punchy third act. However, it’s a fitting one that exists as a magnetic pole to guide the themes, style, and choices being made throughout the film.

 

Considering the director, Kin Long Chan, is crafting his debut with Hand Rolled Cigarette - it’s also a statement of intent, shepherded by an obvious love for the heavyweights of the previously mentioned ‘golden era.’ The choices laid out on the table by Chan should not surprise, really, particularly with his past cinematic history.

 

Thursday, August 12, 2021

The Brotherhood of Satan (1971)


Director: Bernard McEveety

Notable Cast: Strother Martin, LQ Jones, Charles Bateman, Ahna Capri, Charles Robinson, Geri Reischl

 

As a cinephile dedicated to the strange corners, odd trends, and genre aspects of the cinematic world, Satanic cult films are a subgenre that I often visit and revisit from time to time. It’s not unusual to partake in a few new ones a year, whether they are recently made or re-released relics of a mostly forgotten era. Although The Brotherhood of Satan popped up occasionally in my exploration of the genre, it was a film that never piqued my interest enough to seek out. Especially after noticing the lukewarm reception even from the diehard fans. The announcement that the film would be part of the Arrow Video slate in 2021 was a bit of a shock considering its lack of stature in the genre. It’s not that the iconic distribution label, one that has made it a goal to uncover long lost “classics,” is above misfires. Hardly. This company did release Blu Rays for Satan’s Blade and Microwave Massacre after all. Yet, my expectations were relatively middling going into this oft overlooked early 70s flick.

 

Consider the expectations met.

 

However, The Brotherhood of Satan is both a surprise in quality and perplexingly off the mark. It falls in a strange place between exploitation fun and artistic merit, never hitting the wild roller coaster thrills of a film like Devil Rides Out or the artistry and smarts of a film like The Wicker Man. It’s better than expected in its attempts at uplifting its meandering script, but it’s also utterly bogged down by odd structure, leaps of logic, and glacial pacing. 

 

Sunday, August 8, 2021

Raging Fire (2021)


In a final swan song only director Benny Chan could deliver, Raging Fire is a quintessential modern Hong Kong cinematic action experience, powered by an incredible dual lead performance and propelled by dynamic and explosive action set pieces. 

 

Director: Benny Chan

Notable Cast: Donnie Yen, Nicholas Tse, Jeana Ho, Ray Lui, Patrick Tam, Ben Lam, Chris Collins, Ken Lo, Simon Yam

 

During the final action sequence, an epiphany came to me. The culminating chess game between the two leads of the film, Donnie Yen and Nicholas Tse, erupts into a full Michael Mann street war. On one side, cops in Kevlar vests and tactical gear. They storm the streets of Hong Kong, determined to disrupt the burglary in progress. On the other side, sharply suited villains armed to the teeth with automatic rifles and grenades aiming to make off with a significant heist, and nothing - not even an army of well-armed police officers, will stand in their way. It’s an explosive set-piece, erupting in rollicking explosions, showers of glass, and concussive blasts of gunfire where no character is safe and the tension has built to snarling intensity. 

 

That’s not the epiphany. That’s just the setup. 

 

Friday, July 30, 2021

Black Widow (2021)


Black Widow promises a highly demanded espionage solo film, but delivers a bland half-servicing Avengers formula six years too late

 

Director: Cate Shortland

Notable Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, Rachel Weisz, David Harbour, Ray Winstone

 

Over ten years and dozens of films later, the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) has finally unleashed its Black Widow film, un-enticingly titled Black Widow, for the masses. Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff, the titular Black Widow, was introduced back in Iron Man 2 (only the second film in the MCU for those counting) and fans have been clamoring for her solo film since. Yet, time and time again Marvel/Disney has negated the fans and stumbled over their excuses of why they couldn’t crack the film. Most of which sounded like tripe. However, the scientists and algorithms have finally done it and the film is now out in theaters, it’s thrilling fans, and it’s raking in the cash in the box office and over on Disney+. 

 

It’s too bad that Disney and Marvel seem intent on continually following the same patterns with the character because, once again, Black Widow is a mishandled “could have been great” experience. One where the character takes a back seat to her own story and Feige and company are terrified to deviate too far from the established formula to have anything unique to say about anything related to the character.  

 

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Gunpowder Milkshake (2021)


Director: Navot Papushado

Notable Cast: Karen Gillan, Lena Heady, Chloe Coleman, Carla Gugino, Michelle Yeoh, Angela Bassett, Paul Giamatti, Ralph Ineson

 

It was only after the film ended that it clicked for me who directed/wrote Gunpowder Milkshake. The name Navot Papushado rang a bell, but I never connected what his previous two films were.

 

Gunpowder Milkshake is very different from his previous efforts, that's why.

 

Yes, the man who gave us the horrifying double feature Rabies and Big Bad Wolves is also the director behind the two-hour exercise in S T Y L E that constitutes Gunpowder Milkshake. To say it's a deviation from the grounded grittiness of his previous films is an understatement. This comedic action fantasy film is purely unshackled oddities, layered into a traditional crime film plot and then allowed to gestate in a room full of those neon color, black light posters one could find in Spencer’s during the 2000s.

 

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins (2021)


Director: Robert Schwentke

Notable Cast: Henry Golding, Andrew Koji, Haruka Abe, Takehiro Hira, Ursula Corbero, Samara Weaving, Iko Uwais, Peter Mensah

 

The G.I. Joe franchise has always walked (and punched) down a fine line. If it’s too serious, it loses the summer blockbuster casual fans looking for escapism. If it’s too goofy? Fans of the intellectual property will cry parody and abandon ship. It’s the same debate that happened with Rise of Cobra and Retaliation and it’s already a debate raging online about the latest, a pseudo-reboot of the Hasbro toy line as action cinema, Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins. For a film that’s meant to be a silly modern interpretation of an 80s iconic character born of the ninja boom of that era, that’s a lot of pressure. 

 

With an $88 million budget in tow, not including marketing for the film, and an increasingly apathetic audience to the IP, Snake Eyes has an increasing amount of grapple-hook-wall scaling to accomplish. Yet, it’s a pleasant surprise to know that this reboot, directed by Robert Schwentke, is weirdly effective at finding a balance in the basics. It lays its stakes firmly in the world of silly, bombastic summer blockbusters, but in doing so it also manages to lean into the lunacy of the G.I. Joe world. It delivers something slightly different than the usual expectations of world policing in Go America Joe or the Marvel Cinematic Universe appeasement which benefits the experience. 

 

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Escape Room: Tournament of Champions (2021)


Director: Adam Robitel

Notable Cast: Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Indya Moore, Holland Roden, Thomas Cocquerel, Carlito Olivero, Jay Erving, Deborah Ann Woll

 

It feels like yesterday that Escape Room was released in theaters; a new series that was very intentionally meant to be the heir apparent now that the Saw franchise sealed the final nails in the coffin after Jigsaw. My, how things have changed? Not only did the Saw franchise not die with a whimper after the 8th installment (it promptly went into hibernation to emerge from its cocoon to just whimper and die this year anyway) but delays and a pandemic kicked its sequel back almost 3 years. Nonetheless, if you happen to remember Escape Room, then its long-awaited sequel, Escape Room: Tournament of Champions, is going to be exactly in your wheelhouse. Not only is it a direct sequel that references a ton of material from the original, for the franchise whores out there, but it’s a film that knows exactly why people will want to see it: ridiculous trap rooms slathered in gimmicks surrounded by questionable and illogical conspiracies.

 

Hydra (2021)


Director: Kensuke Sonomura

Notable Cast: Masanori Mimoto, Miu, Ikumi Goto, Tasuku Nagase

 

Just a few months ago, word about a fantastic low budget martial arts thriller started to pop up in the social media circles that I frequent. Hydra had the potential to be the next big thing in terms of its star and director was what the dredges of the internet churned out. When Well Go USA picked up the film for distribution, to be available via their streaming service Hi Yah first before receiving a Blu Ray and DVD release, it seemed to verify the rumors. However, for fans of martial arts films - even low budget DIY ones like the previously reviewed Silat Warriors, temper the expectations. Hydra is a fascinatingly artistic take on the usual tropes of the action and martial arts genre and it’s one that intentionally defies some tropes while actively grasping onto others with a death grip. The combination proves to be infinitely intriguing, but not one that may appeal to all fans of the genre. 

 

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Son (2021)


Director: Ivan Kavanagh

Notable Cast: Andi Matichak, Luke David Blumm, Emile Hirsch

 

It was repeated throughout my childhood, a phrase that never left me. Never judge a book by its cover. Yet, it’s often an approach that any adult regularly uses on a day-to-day basis. In the bombardment of information received from the marketing teams in film, it is hard not to judge a film by its cover. In this case, judge a film by its title. Son is not necessarily the most riveting title and certainly doesn’t invoke the horror element at the core of the film. Still, don’t be me. Don’t skip out on the film thinking it is some Redbox exclusive indie low budget flick. Son is a haunting and atmospheric trip through the stark fears of motherhood that reels into some jackknife turns to deliver its horrors. 

 

Coming from director Ivan Kavanagh, director of the scrumptiously unnerving ghost film The Canal from a handful of years ago and the often overlooked western Never Grow Old, Son is taking heavy handed inspiration from classic horror like Rosemary’s Baby and asks the question - what happens after the fact?