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. 


Sunday, April 24, 2022

A Lethal Injection: The Five Venoms (1978) Update Review [Shawscope Vol. 1 Box Set]

As with many of the other films in this Shawscope Vol 1 set, or the new Blu-Ray releases for Shaw Brothers films from any newer distribution company, I’ve spent quite a bit of time addressing the film on hand. The Five Venoms, also known as The Five Deadly Venoms as it was the first time I saw it, is one of those films. This is more or less an update to those pieces rather than a full review of the film. If you want more in-depth writing, feel free to visit my original review for Blood Brothers HEREor my piece about the role of nihilism and hope in the film for the official Shaw Brothers website HERE


For those perhaps stumbling upon this film for the first time due to the latest release from Arrow Video, then congrats. You’ve just leaped into one of the greatest classic martial arts films of all time. Yes, I stand by that statement and while many may argue that point, particularly due to the overall “lack” of action in this film (is it lacking when each sequence has so much storytelling and pathos to it?), I remain vigilant in that stance. 


The Five Venoms is an incredible piece of cinema. 


Thursday, April 21, 2022

Deep Conspiracies and Darker Crimes: The Big Racket (1976) Review

Director: Enzo G. Castellari

Notable Cast: Fabio Testi, Vincent Gardenia, Orso Maria Guerrini, Glauco Onorato, Marcella Michelangeli, Romano Puppo, Antonio Marsina, Salvatore Borgese, Joshua Sinclair


Within the confines of Italian genre cinema, particularly the boom of exploitative work from the late 60s through the 1980s, there are a handful of directors that repeatedly pop up as some of the cornerstones. Enzo G. Castellari is one of those. Although I have yet to fully explore his works with full gusto, the films that I have seen can range so wildly in quality that it makes him one of the more fascinating artists to explore. 


When Arrow Video decided to drop a double-feature box set of two of his works from the poliziotteschi genre (or fringing on it), it was high time to explore some new Castellari films. Entitled Rogue Cops and Racketeers: Two Crime Thrillers The Big Racket & The Heroin Busters from Enzo G. Castellari, in all of its long winded glory, the set features those two films and a slew of new special features for fans and collectors to enjoy. 


The first film featured in the set, The Big Racket, could be considered a big surprise. To me, at least. Although the film regularly hits many of the tropes of the crime films of the era and industry, it’s a remarkably intense flick and plays its story and characters like a much larger crime epic. It’s a meticulously pieced together slice of crime cinema loaded with a slew of fun side characters, a handful of intense crime and action sequences, and a finale that features a body count Rambo would be impressed with. The Big Racket not only rests as one of the best Castellari films, but perhaps one of the most entertaining Italian crime films of the period.


Tuesday, April 19, 2022

A New Duel, Venoms Style: The Flag of Iron (1980) Review Update

The Shaw Brothers studio was always sly in taking many of the same stories or scripts and remaking them in a way that would feel refreshingly new or unique compared to the original. Although the studio, which produced one metric shit ton of films through its lifetime, would rarely find itself delving too much into franchises, they loved these secret remakes. In the case of this film, The Flag of Iron, it’s the style of the film that is so different that the story it’s telling is almost unrecognizable to its predecessor. 


Yes, indeed, The Flag of Iron is a remake of the Shaw Brothers’ The Duel, and if you want more information, you’re welcome to read my previous review for The Flag of Iron HERE (or if you’re so inclined you can read my review for The Duel HERE). Yet, it's the new 88 Films release of the former that is the focus of this brief update. 


Monday, April 18, 2022

‘Twas the (Body) Hoppiest of Days: Spiritwalker (2022) Review

Director: Yoon Jae-geun

Notable Cast: Yoon Kye-sang Park Yong-woo, Lim Ji-yeon, Yoo Seung-mok, Park Ji-hwan, Lee Sung-wook, Hong Gi-jun, Seo Hyun-woo, Ju Jin-mo


Although it may often be known as the Freaky Friday premise due to the popularity of that film - and its various remakes, the idea of body swapping is a fairly familiar trope within cinema for a variety of reasons. Oftentimes, as in the case of the newer Jumanji films as an example, it’s ripe for comedy to see people of a particular physical appearance play completely against type for comedic effect. In the case of Freaky, it’s the final girl and the slasher killer that swap bodies. Horror comedy ensues. Further proof that it’s a concept that continues to work decade after decade.


Now, what if it was an action thriller that used that body-swapping concept? And not in the way that Face/Off swapped faces, but what if the “soul” of a person was forcibly placed into another body? Would that still work? These are the questions being asked by Spiritwalker, the latest film to cross over the ocean from South Korea to the United States. In this iteration, there’s a few more rules to the entire event and almost no comedy to be derived. Instead, the film focuses on how disjointed that experience would be and how it could both enhance and deter a quest for revenge. 


Feel free to walk this way, Spiritwalker


Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Fear and Focused Violence: The Batman (2022) Review

Director: Matt Reeves

Notable Cast: Robert Pattinson, Zoe Kravitz, Paul Dano, Jeffrey Wright, John Turturro, Peter Sarsgaard, Andy Serkis, Colin Farrell


Fear and a little focused violence. In a line of dialogue in the third act of The Batman, Paul Dano’s Riddler gives the classic villain monologue which gives Robert Pattinson’s Batman a bit of credit for his style of unmasking the corruption of the city. It’s a reference to one of Batman’s opening voice-over narrations about how he uses the shadows, violence, and a sense of fear to try and repress the criminal element of a decaying Gotham. Now, his tactics are being used against him by a serial killer-styled Riddler, who is subsequently hunting down corrupt individuals from Gotham’s 1% and leaving riddles to drag Batman into the light. 


The Batman is bleak. It’s grim. It’s a film dedicated to honing in on the dark part of the Dark Knight. 


Director and co-writer Matt Reeves never avoids it either. With his latest piece of the DC Extended Universe of live-action comic book films, Reeves doubles down on the darkness of the early days of the caped crusader, giving audiences a new cinematic vision of the long-running hero (or in this case, very much an anti-hero) and possibly delivering one of the more intriguing incarnations of him. The Batman is not the easiest film to digest, particularly with its butt-numbing 3-hour runtime, but it’s one that encapsulates a Batman that is both inherently a throwback to older versions while running parallel with the themes and societal fears of a new generation. 


Monday, March 28, 2022

A New Move in a Slasher X-orcise: X (2022) Review

Director: Ti West

Notable Cast: Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega, Brittany Snow, Kid Cudi, Martin Henderson, Owen Campbell, Stephen Ure, James Gaylyn


Over the last few years, the slasher has started to make another comeback. I’ve mentioned it a few times in recent reviews, including our coverage of Scream (2022) just a couple of months ago, but it’s a fascinating time for the slasher to be rearing its gory and gimmicky head. Perhaps it’s the reactive way that things swing after a handful of years of slow burn, artsy horror that has dominated the landscape, but nonetheless, here we are once again as slashers regain momentum. 


Of that reactionary stance, perhaps it makes sense that A24 would leap in on it as they continue to be one of the big studios leading the horror charge in theaters, but a slasher seems like it could be outside of their overall style as a studio. Compound that by having writer and director Ti West helm the film X for the studio and it seems like it could be a massive misfire in concept out of the gate. 


Yet, X, the film that brings Ti West and A24 together for the first time, is a wild and offbeat success. It rocks a see-saw teetering balance between the director’s notable slow-burn style and the more entertaining titillations of the genre. It also adds in just enough of that artistic flavor of the studio to snatch the horror fans with an “elevated” taste. It’s strangely effective at what it does and it makes X one of the more effective throwback horror flicks in recent memory. 


Sign the Dotted Line: The Contractor (2022) Review

Director: Tarik Saleh

Notable Cast: Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Gillian Jacobs, Kiefer Sutherland, Eddie Marsan, Florian Munteanu


As the industry continues to shift in recent years, it’s hard not to lament the loss of certain mid-tier genres in the wake of a spectacle-driven box office. The death of the mid-budget adult-targeted film is well recognized throughout film criticism and industry analysis where many great writers have spoken about it at length so iterating the eulogy here is not the best use of my word usage. With the rise of streaming, however, there seems to be a grasp towards grabbing those genres and reclaiming them for a modern era. 


The Contractor, exemplifies this. 


Although this latest old-school espionage thriller is receiving a small theatrical run this week, its sale to both Showtime and Paramount+ at the same time is indicative of this move. The Contractor is not the spectacle-driven spy flick that Mission: Impossible or James Bond fans might expect, but it is a solid sleeper hit that manages a balance between modern political themes and old-school espionage tension and thrills. It’s not wholly the most thrilling watch, thanks to a very drama-heavy first half, but its dedication to creating realistic characters and then throwing them into the military action shouldn’t be written off as boring either. The Contractor is simply more throw-back tone than anything. It’s utterly refreshing at times.  


Sunday, March 20, 2022

Fight Father, Fight Son: Executioners from Shaolin (1977) Update Review [Shawscope Vol. 1 Box Set]

It’s amazing how much difference a decade makes. Executioners from Shaolin is considered, by fans at least, as one of the best films that the Shaw Brothers catalog and it’s an iconic classic in a variety of other ways. It’s loved for so many reasons and all of them are legitimate. The stars, the action, the story… you name it and there’s a reason why Executioners from Shaolin is considered a cornerstone film of the cornerstone studio. 


Yet, just ten years ago in the early days of Blood Brothers, I wrote a very lukewarm review of the film. It’s not a very well-written review, to be frank, and part of me hates to link it HERE, but it’s important to recognize the flaws of the past. That’s what Executioners from Shaolin teaches us anyway. To learn from the past, make the proper corrections, and move forward to claim justice. 


A few years ago, I was graciously asked to write a new piece on the film for the official Celestial Pictures Shaw Brothers website - which can be found HERE, and in that time I saw that I was perhaps a bit harsh on the film initially. With its inclusion in the Shawscope Vol. 1 boxset from Arrow Video, now it’s my third time addressing the film and I like to think that it’s the charm.