Saturday, January 27, 2018

Zombiology: Enjoy Yourself Tonight (2018)

Director: Alan Lo
Notable Cast: Michael Ning, Louis Cheung, Alex Man, Carrie Ng, Cherry Ngan, Venus Wong, Chu Pak-Him, Chu Pak-Houg, Rosa Maria Velasco, Eco Tang, J. Arie, Terry Zou, Angie Shum, Anita Chui

To give this review a bit of context, I certainly went into Zombiology with tempered expectations. Most of the people I had previously spoken to about the film thought the film was just rehash of other zombie movie tropes and, outside of the truly insane horror films of decades past, Hong Kong isn’t a place known for producing great horror films – even if it’s mixed with comedy. What makes Zombiology: Enjoy Yourself Tonight such a strange and somewhat refreshing experience is that it has no qualms with using its tropes in abrasive parallels with one another. This film is an energetic shotgun blast of zombie cinema. It’s scattered, perplexing, and forceful with some of its heavy-handed themes. Yet, like its subtitle weirdly promised, I thoroughly enjoyed myself while watching it. It’s definitely a film that I can see rubbing its audience the wrong way in how it approaches some of its subject matter, but for those perhaps more versed in Asian and zombie cinema it might just be one of those overlooked gems worth digging.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters (2018)

Directors: Kobun Shizuno, Hiroyuki Seshita
Notable Cast: Mamoru Miyano, Takahiro Sakurai, Tomokazu Sugita, Junichi Suwabe, Kenta Miyake, Kana Hanazawa, Yuki Kaji, Daisuke Ono, Kenyu Horiuchi, Kazuya Nakai, Kazuhiro Yamaji

When Toho Animation announced that its next Godzilla feature would be an anime, it was easy to see how that would appeal to people. As the months rolled on, the information about this anime, titled Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters, didn’t necessarily seem to coincide with what I associate with a Godzilla film. Namely, the film was a post apocalyptic space film where the plot focused on humans returning to Earth after abandoning it thousands of years previous because of Godzilla’s presence. Other information certainly made me cautious and as time wore on I found my expectations for the film plummeting to the point where I almost had no desire to watch the actual film when it was finally unleashed as a Netflix original just recently.

Still, I’m a Godzilla fanboy and so I pulled myself up by my bootstraps and prepared for Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Deadly Knives (1972)

Director: Chang Il-ho
Notable Cast: Ling Yun, Ching Li, Lily Li Li-Li, Cheng Miu, Chen Yan-Yan, Chan Shen, Dean Shek, Lau Gong, Ku Wen-Chung, Chen Feng-Chen, Tang Ti, Lee Ho, Lee Wan-Chung, Lee Sau-Kei, Kim Ki-Ju, Hung Sing-Chung, Yeung Chak-Lam, Lee Man-Tai, Hung Ling-Ling
Also known as: Fists of Vengeance

Perhaps one of the best and worst things about the Shaw Brothers catalog is that it is so impressively large. There are always films that go under the radar, for better or worse. I’ve seen well over 100 films now in my journey through the catalog and there are always surprises along the way. The latest surprise is The Deadly Knives. Going into the film, I had expectations that it would be a film along the lines of The Chinese Boxer or perhaps more geared towards the traditional early Bruce Lee picture, focusing on the anti-Japanese sentiments of its time period and promoting its heroic protagonist. Yet, the film takes some increasingly interesting moments within its more formulaic foundations and goes to some very dark places that were unexpected. It’s not the most memorable of the Shaw Brothers films from the era, but it’s one that has some impressive moments that add a lot of layering and depth to what might have been a throw away film.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Showdown in Manila (2018)

Director: Mark Dacascos
Notable Cast: Alexander Nevsky, Casper Van Dien, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Tia Carrere, Mark Dacascos, Matthias Hues, Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson, Cynthia Rothrock, Olivier Gruner, Dmitri Dyuzhev, Robert Madrid

It’s not very often that one gets the opportunity to watch a Philippines/Russian co-production film that is an obvious love letter to the action films of Golan-Globus from the 1980s, but that’s one of the strange benefits of being a niche cinephile. For many people, that previous sentence sounds like torture as they would have to wallow through cheesy dialogue, broad caricatures that represent people, and the forced creativity of low budget film making, but for others – like me – a film like Showdown in Manila satiates the B-movie cravings that arise from exactly those things. Showdown in Manila is not what a traditional critic would call a ‘good’ film, but it’s a film that flexes its muscles when it comes to its A-list B-action cast and the throwback mixed formula that it utilizes. As a film on its own, it does crumble under any kind of legitimate critiques. However, with the right mindset and just a bit of nostalgia, Showdown in Manila works as a fun, cheesy, and entertaining 1980s throwback.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Paradox (2017)

Director: Wilson Yip
Notable Cast: Louis Koo, Wu Yue, Tony Jaa, Chris Collins, Gordon Lam, Ken Lo, Jacky Choi Kit, Stephy Tang Lai-Yan, Chan Hon-Na, Vittaya Pansingram
Also Known As: SPL: Paradox

Wilson Yip has become one of the more interesting creative forces to arrive in the modern era from the Chinese film industry. Both as a director and producer, he has had a hand in creating some of the most iconic franchises in the last 20 years from China and his work with the iconic Donnie Yen truly skyrocketed the talented actor and martial artist into stardom. Yet, he doesn’t necessarily play things safe with his films. His latest, released under the title Paradox in English, is a ‘spin off’ of one of these franchises, the popular SPL films. While Paradox has yet to receive an official US release - for the record, the SPL films were retitled as Kill Zone for the US release so it may or may not acquire that title too, it’s a film that certainly should. It’s perhaps the weakest of the three SPL films thus far, but it’s still a film that dabbles in a lot of interesting dark territory with some stellar performances and blisters its audience with impressive action courtesy of the legendary Sammo Hung.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Long Road to Gallantry (1984)

Director: Tang Tak-Cheung
Notable Cast: Kenny Ho, Kara Hui, Rosamund Kwan, Lung Tien-Hsiang, Lily Li Li-Li, Jason Pai Piao, Kwan Fung, Teng Wei-Hao, Chen Kuan-Tai

Truthfully, I went into Long Road to Gallantry with relatively open expectations. Various fellow Shaw Brothers fans online seemed mixed on the movie, either loving it immensely or writing it off as a fun, but expendable 80s Shaw wuxia. Outside of some of the strong casting, including a double dose of fantastic female martial artists in Kara Hui and Rosamund Kwan, the film had not crossed my viewing queue until recently. However, I’m always a sucker for some cheesy and outlandish wuxia and so when it popped up in my Amazon Prime recommendations it didn’t take much convincing to click the play button. Unlike much of the 80s wuxia that I had seen from Shaw thus far, Long Road to Gallantry is more in tune with the style of the genre from the 70s for the studio than that of the 80s. Tang Tak-Cheung, as a director and fight choreographer, is a bit of a throwback artist and doesn’t nearly embrace the special effects focused and outrageous fantasy that was getting popular by this time. Granted, the film does have plenty of silly wuxia elements and a pacing that’s borderline breakneck, so it’s quite entertaining in how it approaches its wuxia core.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds (2017)

Director: Kim Yong-hwa
Notable Cast: Cha Tae-hyun, Ha Jung-woo, Ju Ji-hoon, Kim Hyang-gi, Lee Jung-jae, Kim Dong-wook, Do Kyung-soo, Jang Gwang, Jung Hae-kyun, Oh Dal-su, Im Won-hee, Lee Joon-hyuk, Kim Su-an, Ye Soo-jung

The initial trailers certainly intrigued me, but Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds was a film that existed as a huge question mark for me. On one hand, it appealed to the big scale fantasy adventure fan in me – the person that continually watches all of the CGI driven popcorn flicks that continually burst out of the Chinese film industry, and on the other hand, it appealed to me that it would contain the strong production values and execution that the South Korean market is known for. Could the two sides match up though? As the credits rolled on this epic film, after an almost two-and-a-half-hour runtime, I looked around at the audience in the theatrical showing we were attending. There was a wide variety of emotions. Patrons wiping tears from their eyes after the heart wrenching finale, giggles and excited talking about the action set pieces, and parents speaking with their kids about philosophical edge that the film used to drive its narrative. Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds is a film that resonates on a variety of levels. Not only does it manage to be a fun action adventure film, but it also works as an examination of the complexities of religious and philosophical viewpoints on a character living in a nuanced world.  It’s a film that occasionally has to warp through some of the more fascinating and subtle aspects of its script for the sake of bigger moments, but Along with the Gods represents a truly invigorating navigation of genre exploration and blockbuster style entertainment.

Friend Request (2017)

Director: Simon Verhoeven
Notable Cast: Alycia Debnam-Carey, William Moseley, Connor Paolo, Brit Morgan, Brooke Markham, Sean Marquette, Liesl Ahlers, Shashawnee Hall

There was a span in the late 90s and early 00s that the J-Horror movement tapped into something unique, partnering a fear of technology with the social commentary and the traditional ghost stories that have been a staple of Japanese lore. To this day, films like Pulse, Ringu, and One Missed Call remain fascinating and impressive feats of combining social fears, artistic storytelling, and genre tropes. Recently, there has been a resurgence in attempting this same balance with modern horror films in the US. Movies like The Den, Unfriended, or Open Windows all take stabs at this balance with varying results. Friend Request, the latest film about the horrors of technology – in this case, social media – is just one more. Scratch that, it’s less than just one more. It is probably one the worst one I’ve seen yet. Instead of producing some kind of inspired commentary or even a stylistic choice to give itself an angle to rise above its peers, Friend Request just meanders through the motions and attempts to use the ‘Facebook’ platform concept as a gimmick to retelling the usual teen angst supernatural horror story. A story that doesn’t have a lot of depth or the teeth to sell it beyond the usual.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Top 30 Action Films of 2017

Although it might be a bit later than normal for us to post this list, 2017 was a robust year for action film making and we wanted to make sure we covered most of our bases before finalizing this list. Whether it was some of the unique foreign films that popped up with US releases, franchises that are continually going strong, or a few misunderstood gems, there were so many action films that deserves a bit of love and attention this year. As we have done since last year, we expanded our year end list to include 30 entries to cover more ground and give more light to some films that may have gone under the radar for action fans. Stream sites like Netflix are rearing their head in the game more and more, including one Netflix Original that made our top ten (!), and it makes the industry push for more unique and stronger entries.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

Director: Rian Johnson
Notable Cast: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Kelly Marie Tran, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Benicio del Toro, Laura Dern, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Frank Oz

Star Wars: The Last Jedi maybe one of the most unique entries into the series simply for one reason: it’s the first film since the original that feels like it truly has its own unique voice within the Star Wars realm. For what it’s worth since Disney purchased LucasFilms, they have righted the course for the franchise overall, but the House of Mouse machine is not necessarily a place for experimentation. The Force Awakens works because it’s a fine-tuned film powered by nostalgia (or weaponized intertextuality, if one follows the video essays by Nerdwriter on Youtube) and displays that love for it as a foundation to set up the new trilogy, but Rogue One was a film that definitely wanted to go further into darker territory that was certainly undercut by Disney’s need for a more consumable film. Which is why the more divisive approach of style used by director Rian Johnson for Episode VIII is so fascinating and respectful. Not only does he put a unique stamp on his entry into the latest Star Wars trilogy, but he’s able to balance some very diverse genre influences into the film without necessarily derailing the film as a whole that still innately feels like Star Wars. There are moments that don’t necessarily work as well as one would hope, but the final result is a Star Wars film that feels fresh. If anything, that’s massively respectable.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Insidious: The Last Key (2018)

Director: Adam Robitel
Notable Cast: Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, Josh Stewart, Ava Kolker, Hana Hayes, Caitlin Gerard, Spencer Locke, Kirk Acevedo, Bruce Davison, Javier Botet

Even with its ups and downs of quality, set by a very high bar with the first Insidious, this modern horror franchise is perhaps still some of the most fun a horror fan can have with a mainstream series. Even when the second film added in a lot of strange layers or the third film stripped it back and shifted Lin Shaye into being the main protagonist, the creative energy and slick universe that was created with this franchise makes each entry entertaining. For this fourth one, which drops the Chapter portion of the title in the previous two sequels and goes with a standard subtitle in The Last Key, Insidious continues to embrace its blend of classic horror tension building with its modern blend of visual strength and genre bending. Like its two predecessors, The Last Key does struggle in trying to bite off more than it can chew when it comes to its script, but it’s still a fun time with plenty of audience pleasing jump scares and lots of intriguing themes to explore. While many other critics have already chosen to write off the franchise at this point and can’t look past the entertainment focused intensions of the film, Insidious: The Last Key is still a decent horror film and a great way to kick off the year in horror.

Friday, January 5, 2018

The Apartment (1960)

Director: Billy Wilder
Notable Cast: Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray, Ray Walston, Jack Kreschen, David Lewis, Hope Holiday, Joan Shawlee, Naomi Stevens, Johnny Seven

In an effort to be upfront and honest with the readers of this site and to give some context to this review, Billy Wilder films have never quite been my cup o’ tea. Massively respectable, sure, and I would even go as far as to say that I agree he made some of the defining films for multiple decades. Yet, many of the films I’ve seen of his never quite resonated with me. That is, until The Apartment. A multiple Oscar winning film from 1960, The Apartment is a dramatic comedy that pushed a lot of buttons for a film made in this time period. Its comedic moments are often dark at times and the basic plot and narrative adds a lot of layering to what could have been a fairly cut-n-dry dramedy. It’s a film that is impeccably crafted in terms of how it unveils its romantic comedy narrative and uses its stronger elements to deliver a thoughtful, layered, and humane story. For cinephiles around the world, it’s a film that deserves to be seen and this latest Arrow Academy release is the way to see it.