Thursday, May 23, 2024

A Wicked Web: Infested (2024) Review

Director: Sébastien Vanicek

Notable Cast: Théo Christine, Sofia Lesaffre, Finnegan Oldfield, Jérôme Niel, Lisa Nyarko, Marie-Philomène Nga, Emmanuel Bonami, Abdellah Moundy, Mahamadou Sangare, Xing Xing Cheng

 

If you don’t like spiders, you should skip this one. Regardless, it would be best if you were warned that this is one of the best creepy-crawly films I’ve ever seen. Sébastien Vanicek makes his feature film directorial debut with Infested (Vermines in the original French) with a shiver-inducing tour de force that will leave audiences itching and staring into the dark spaces of their homes for years to come. After the success of his debut, Vanicek has been tapped to direct the next Evil Dead film, showing a meteoric trajectory for this young terrifier.

 

Kaleb (Théo Christine, Play 2019, Gran Turismo 2023) struggles to make ends meet and find meaning in his gritty urban life in Paris. After his mother's death, he and his sister Lila (Sofia Lesaffre, Lila Ganglands 2021, Les Misérables 2019) struggle to manage their meager inheritance, which Kaleb looks to subsidize by fencing shoes of questionable sourcing and pursue his lifelong dream of opening a reptile and insect zoo.

 

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Directors in Focus: Kim Sung-soo | The Flu (2013)

Director: Kim Sung-soo

Notable Cast: Jang Hyuk, Soo Ae, Park Min-ha, Yoo Hai-jin, Ma Dong-seok, Lee Hee-jun, Cha In-pyo

Ten years after Director Kim made Please Teach Me English, he emerged from the shadows to unleash his most commercial effort to date, the disaster blockbuster, The Flu. Admittedly, this was around the time I had become introduced to the director; even though I had seen Beat quite a few years prior, I just was unaware of who he was and hadn't made the connection at this point in time. In his decade of absence from film, Kim dedicated his time to teaching more extensively at university to aspiring young visionaries. Still, the world definitely hankering for a comeback, and while stylistically, this may not be what the diehard fans of the esteemed director were waiting for, The Flu came out swinging at the box office, and was smashing success for the team. Regardless of the popularity or the anticipation of one of Korea's film giants returning to directing, how does the quality of this piece hold up? Upon revisiting this one, which I liked before, and living in a post-COVID world, let's just say how this all unfolds onscreen, I found it all the more harrowing and challenging to watch this go around.

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

All You Have to Do Is Listen: Monolith (2024) Review

Director: Matt Vesely

Notable Cast: Lily Sullivan

 

There are ways to balance a budget for a film. Limited locations, limited characters, limited visuals. All of these are valid ways of telling a story as long as the creativity in its narrative can carry the weight of the film. Yet, it’s shocking how far Monolith takes it. One star. One location. And that’s essentially it. It’s about as minimalist as possible before someone starts filming in the void. And since it’s about a podcaster, one might argue that it does occur in the void. 

 

Still, as Monolith unfolds, it's strangely hypnotic following a journalist's investigation, played by Lily Sullivan, about mysterious black “bricks” that have been arriving at various people’s homes. Slowly (very, very slowly) but surely, the narrative adds subtle layers to its mystery. It’s a film that asks many questions, rarely provides answers, and loves manipulating the information provided to its audience through the questions the main character asks—or doesn’t ask. 

 

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Come Back Home: Polar Rescue (2022) Review

Director: Lo Chi-leung

Notable Cast: Donnie Yen, Han Xue, Jia Bing, Tang Xu, Hou Tianlai, Guangyu Xu, Lin Chenhan, Hu Ming

 

Donnie Yen has been increasingly thoughtful about transitioning his career from an utterly badass action star towards a more traditional dramatic actor in his most recent career phase. Sure, he’s still going to unleash hell in action films like Raging Fire and Sakra, but even those films showcase a dynamic actor shifting his career focus to some degree.

This makes a film like Polar Rescue, titled Come Back Home for its original release back in 2022, such a unique film in the Hong Kong star’s filmography. It’s mostly a dramatic role for him and, for one of the few times in his career, he’s not an utter badass. On one hand, that means that his regular fanbase may find Polar Rescue a bit too different and not action-packed enough – or at all. On the other hand, it is something new for those who enjoy his performances to bite into. 

 

It’s a shame Polar Rescue isn’t a better movie for Yen to showcase his acting skills. 

 

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Lead Them to Paradise: Dune: Part Two (2024) Review

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Notable Cast: Timothee Chalamet, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Austin Butler, Florence Pugh, Dave Bautista, Christopher Walken, Lea Seydoux, Stellan Skarsgard, Charlotte Rampling

 

Simply ending Dune: Part One on an emotional beat but with no actual resolution to most of its threading or characters is perhaps the one thing I struggled with in the first part of this two-part space opera epic. Denis Villeneuve is a master craftsman, but it's a bold choice when the second half of his film was never green-lit at the time. So, it’s with a relative sense of relief that Dune: Part Two DID get green-lit. Whew. Now I can watch the whole movie. Thanks, box office numbers and strong cult development on home video.  

 

However, the hype is very real going into Dune: Part Two - enough so that I struggled to find tickets for an IMAX screen on opening weekend to see the film on the biggest and loudest screen possible. The first part of this adaption of the Frank Herbert science fiction classic is damn near universally hailed as a masterpiece already, and now that Villeneuve and the team get to finish the story, I was on the hype train. Could the Dune duology be the iconic auteur director’s pinnacle?


Considering the immense critical praise and stunning box office numbers for Dune: Part Two, it might be safe to say that, yes, people are saying as much. Although I found Dune: Part Two to not be as strong as its predecessor in finding its balance, it is a high water mark for cinema thus far in 2024 and another slab of deliriously engaging and fantastical cinema. Gorgeously crafted, meticulously paced, and powered on the continuing themes of its predecessor, Dune: Part Two is Villeneuve making a statement. A statement about his career, the world we live in, and that the space opera crown no longer sits on the brow of Star Wars. 

 

Sunday, April 7, 2024

First Battle Is Last Battle: Born to Fly (2023) Review

Director: Liu Xiaoshi

Notable Cast: Wang Yibo, Hu Jun, Zhou Dongyu, Xu Kaicheng, Bu Yu, Yosh Yu, ZHai Yujia, Tian Zhuangzhuang, Pan Binlong

 

In the wake of the subsequent hole left by China “banning” the release of Top Gun: Maverick, it’s no real shock that they would race to release their version of the jingoistic military meets school film that Tom Cruise’s jet-soaring sequel provided the world. While these kinds of propaganda-laden films are already a stock commodity for the Chinese market, I’d be lying that Born to Fly didn't perk up my interest. 

 

However, a limited theatrical release in the US and a Blu-ray release from our friends at Well Go USA definitely made me curious. While the film does have some merits in its dramatic choices and features an intriguing angle regarding the school and its test pilots, it always stays on the ground, burdened by hollow emotional stakes and a by-the-numbers narrative.

 

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Not So Itsy: Sting (2024) Review

Director: Kiah Roache-Turner

Notable Cast: Ryan Corr, Alyla Browne, Penelope Mitchell, Robyn Nevin, Noni Hazlehurst, Jermaine Fowler, Silvia Colloca, Danny Kim


As long as I can remember, I've always really loved horror. Both films and books, or even games, for that matter. It's just a genre that is ever expansive and there are so many ways to enjoy it, and just as many possibilities on sub-genres and the themes spread throughout the many mediums that have represented all things spooky. I like my horror in a multitude of different ways and gravitate towards extremely serious stuff, but I also like lower-budgeted outings and schlock from the many decades that the genre has existed within cinema (since the beginning, really). So, when I heard there was a big spider creature feature launching in 2024 in cinemas, I knew I had to seek it out. My expectations were actually non-existent, as I really knew nothing apart from the fantastic and effective poster (the one displayed above this opening), and I am so glad it was that way. You essentially get an apartment building in New York that is snowed in due to a really bad winter storm. Our tenants are not many, but more on that later. We have a core family of four, and the daughter has taken in a mysterious pet spider, and let's just say, this spider isn't your average arachnid. He grows by eating, and the bigger he eats, the bigger he gets. Let the creepy crawly chaos commence!

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Directors in Focus: Kim Sung-soo | Please Teach Me English (2003)

Director: Kim Sung-soo

Notable Cast: Lee Na-young, Jang Hyuk, Angela Kelly, Jeong Seok-yong, Na Moon-hee


From my understanding, Kim had gotten really deep into teaching film at University during this point in his career, and he made this film at that time. Why bring that up? I'm not sure. I think part of me is looking for a way to preface this write-up, knowing that the finished film is just not very good. Is Please Teach Me English a complete abomination to cinema? No, but it is certainly a stain on director Kim's otherwise pretty phenomenal filmography. People say even the greatest filmmakers can stumble, which is certainly the case here. While the film is fun and certainly doesn't take itself seriously whatsoever, it's this broad and over-the-top abrasive approach to the comedy that somehow both works in the film's favor and also as its very own downfall. This film certainly has garnered a fan base over the years and, in fact, was recently remastered and released on physical media once again in South Korea, so there is that. I will try my best to speak on the positive and negative aspects of this film, but I admit that I sometimes struggle to do so adequately, so bear with me.

Directors in Focus: Kim Sung-soo | Musa: The Warrior (2001)

 Director: Kim Sung-soo

Notable Cast: Jung Woo-sung, Zhang Ziyi, Ahn Sung-ki, Ju Jin-mo, Park Yong-woo, Park Jeong-hak, Jeong Seok-yong, Lee Du-il, Han Yeong-mok, Er Cha Huo, Yoo Hai-jin, Yu Rongguang, Song Jae-ho


Only those on journeys will see the dim roads that lead the way home.


After having crafted two of the most successful films in the '90s about the hot-blooded youth of Korean men, Kim took a surprise turn in the entering the 00s with something quite a bit different: A sprawling period of epic co-production between South Korea and China. In doing so, he created one of the most iconic sword-centric films of the era with the massively successful Musa: The Warrior (2001). He brought his muse Jung Woo-sung back on board to play Yeo-sol, the hero of the picture but also added Korean talents such as Ahn Sung-ki, Ju Jin-mo, and Yoo Hai-jin in one of his first iconic roles. In addition to the local talent, he casts Chinese screen giants Zhang Ziyi and even Yu Rongguang (of Iron Monkey fame). Needless to say, this film had a lot of attention on it from the moment it came out and it ended up gaining the hearts of many fans the world over. I remember seeing this in video stores when it came out when I was heavily into martial arts and wu xia films. Still, my passion for Korean cinema hadn't begun yet, and in fact, I don't believe I even realized its country of origin at that age, but I digress. The point is that this film was rising among hits such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon , and the two Zhang Yimou films that would follow this: Hero and House of Flying Daggers. I know these films are all Chinese productions and follow more traditional wu xia sensibilities. Musa was more grounded and would inspire local productions, such as Sword of the Moon , and set a trend with more realistic war-centered period pieces.

Thursday, March 14, 2024

Grave Calling: Exhuma (2024) Review

 Director: Jang Jae-hyun

Notable Cast: Choi Min-sik, Kim Go-eun, Yoo Hai-jin, Lee Do-hyun, Kim Jae-chul, Kim Min-jun, Kim Byung-oh


"And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken" - Ecclesiastes 4:12


Horror films that deal with religious aspects have been around for decades, and I know titles are flooding to mind as you read this, so no need to name-drop anything. Faith and spirituality are truly remarkable and beautiful ways of life for many humans. Regardless of what you may or may not believe in, what awaits beyond death's door, with our understanding of this life, good or bad, can be exciting or terrifying. Since this is a spooky piece of cinema, as you can imagine, the supernatural forces that be aren't the friendliest lot around, and that is the very basis for Exhuma, the newest outing by acclaimed horror director Jang Jae-hyun, who previously won audiences over with his works Priests (2015) and Svaha: The Sixth Finger (2019). He continues his religion-themed horror here, this time delving into shamanism, among many other things, and what awaits the viewer embarking on this chilly and bloody adventure is a lot of thrills and a whole lot of pissed-off evil spirits.