Sunday, February 24, 2019

Furie (2019)

Director: Le-Van Kiet
Notable Cast: Veronica Ngo (Ngô Thanh Vân), Cat Vy, Phan Thanh Nhiên, Pham Anh Khoa, Trần Thanh Hoa 

Veronica Ngo’s (Ngô Thanh Vân) career has been a fascinating one to behold. Truthfully, the first time I really recognized her star power was after both The Rebel and Clash hit US markets, but she’s been doing fantastic work for quite some time. Unfortunately, despite her obvious talents, her big break never really came in the US. She has certainly been in some big films. It’s just too bad that most of the roles she gets are thankless cameos more than anything. Yes, I’m looking at my copy of Star Wars: The Last Jedi right now. However, there has been a lot of hype in the action cinema community for her latest vehicle, Furie. Some impressive trailers and a distinctly neon slathered John Wick meets Ong Bak look to the film did it a lot of favors. The film is even getting a limited theatrical run in the US, courtesy of our friends at Well Go USA, here shortly. If it’s coming to a city near you and you’re an action fan, buy your ticket now. Furie is a wild ride of brutal beat downs, neon-soaked grittiness, and good old-fashioned entertainment. It’s not a film that inherently tries anything new with its story or characters, but impressive execution in direction, fight choreography, and a truly fantastic performance from Veronica Ngo make it a surprisingly vicious and effective little action flick.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Hammered in the Neck: Hammer's Dracula Franchise Part II

There is a beauty, style, and look to classic Hammer horror films that only that studio contains. There are only a handful of times in the history of cinema that a studio has defined themselves so steadfast, even when they experiment, one can immediately tell who made it by the style and tone. Hammer is one of those. For this latest franchise article, we were asked to cover some of the major Hammer studio releases and it seemed only fitting to start with the one that most people recognize: Dracula. Spanning multiple decades, the Dracula series is often times as iconic as the original Universal series and it certainly helped solidify both Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee as genre cornerstones. Truthfully, it was a pleasure to be asked to go back and watch this franchise once again and write this series of articles. Not that my words do it much justice, but even if I can inspire one to revisit the films, then I will have done my duty.

Due to the length of this franchise, it only made sense to split it up into multiple articles to prevent having one massive piece that people will tire of reading by the time they reach the third or fourth film. Since there are nine entries, it made sense to evenly split the articles into three films each. For this second part of the article, we will be covering the fourth, fifth, and sixth entries into the series.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Into the Dark: Down (2019)

Director: Daniel Stamm
Notable Cast: Natalie Martinez, Matt Lauria, Arnie Pantoja, Christina Leone

After the release of The Last Exorcism I would have thought that Daniel Stamm would have been one of the big names on a short list to be horror’s next thing. However, sometimes that’s not how the industry works. It wasn’t until I was doing research for the latest episode of Hulu and Blumhouse’s Into the Dark series of films, Down, that his name popped up again. Looking through his IMDB credits shows that he’s been busy over the last few years working in a lot of horror television (something that I don’t nearly keep up with enough, truthfully) and so it’s somewhat fitting that Down would end up being the next film for him. Like most of the Into the Dark series, Down is incredibly fun and effective little low budget film. It maximizes its minimalist settings, plays on the viewers assumptions with some clever key moments, and keeps an impressive pacing as it goes. Once again, Stamm showcases he is quite the fantastic modern horror director and Down is just further evidence of such.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

The Wandering Earth (2019)

Director: Frant Gwo
Notable Cast: Qu Chuxiao, Li Guangjie, Ng Man-tat, Zhao Jinmai, Wu Jing, Arkady Sharogradsky, Mike Sui, Qu Jingjing, Zhang Yichi, Yang Haoyu, Li Hongchen, Yang Yi, Jiang Zhigang, Zhang Huan

Although I spend a large portion of my day either commenting or writing about various elements of cinema and the various stories that break out, I really wanted to go into China’s first big science fiction blockbuster, The Wandering Earth, as blind as possible. There was definitely a lot of talk about the film prior to its Lunar New Year premiere and the fact that it was even getting a minimal theatrical roll out in the US was inspiring. Still, I went in without seeing trailers and only snapping glances at a handful of posters and the cast. This experience was refreshing. To add to it, the theatrical showing I saw the weekend after the start of the Lunar New Year was a sold out showing, filled to the brim with an audience that was electrified to see the film. Perhaps it was the context of seeing the film in this way, but The Wandering Earth was, with all puns intended, an otherworldly blast. Pulling heavily from the Hollywood text book of thrilling big budget sci-fi blockbusters, The Wandering Earth might try to jam a bit too much into one film, but the focus on developing fun characters in a wild adventure plot cannot be understated. Often times the film is eye-rolling, potentially falling apart in front of the audience’s eyes like the setting of the film itself, but there is so much heart and entertainment to be had that it’s easy to forgive it its cinematic sins.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Happy Death Day 2U (2019)

Director: Christopher Landon
Notable Cast: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Phi Vu, Suraj Sharma, Sarah Yarkin, Ruby Modine, Rachel Matthews, Steve Zissis, Charles Aitken, Laura Clifton, Blaine Kern III

Blumhouse has come out as, essentially, the new king of horror in the last handful of years, maximizing minimal budgets to massive box office results. Quality can be debated from film to film, but the sheer success that Blumhouse has crafted within the mainstream for horror cannot be understated. One of the biggest surprises was 2016’s slasher comedy, Happy Death Day. Horror comedies can be wildly hard to make work on a broader spectrum, but this film took the slasher concept, injected it with a ton of heart and delivered a surprisingly fun and clever cinematic vehicle. Although the film was only considered a modest success in many circles, the general word of mouth and strong legs from horror fans and critics made it an immediate modern genre classic. It’s not shocking that the film would eventually garner a sequel. What is shocking is just how impressive Happy Death Day 2U is in those regards. Trying to simply recreate the slasher version of Groundhog Day was going to be difficult, but returning director Christopher Landon takes the foundations of the idea and runs with it making a stranger and sillier film that moves the genre lens a bit and continues to find that great blend of style and substance.

Willie Dynamite (1974)

Director: Gilbert Moses
Notable Cast: Roscoe Orman, Diana Sands, Thalmus Rasulala, Joyce Walker, Norma Donaldson, Roger Robinson, Albert Hall, George Murdock

“I’m declaring war on you. You dig it? I’m gonna make you number one minus one…which equals zero.”

The blaxploitation genre is one that I have not generally explored before. Outside of the some of the mainstream entries like Shaft or the various Pam Grier action romps, it’s a genre that I don’t often find myself digging into. Certainly though, like most genres that arrive in bursts, it has its own set of formulas, tropes, and style that can be picked up fairly easily. This is what makes Willie Dynamite such a fascinating film. Where the film starts firmly within the classic blaxploitation structures and style, it starts to play on the expectations in some surprising ways that adds a lot of depth and quality to the entire thing. If it wasn’t for this latest Arrow Video release, I’m not sure I would have ever seen this film and quite frankly, it’s definitely a gem that I did not expect to uncover.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Waterworld (1995)

Director: Kevin Reynolds
Notable Cast: Kevin Costner, Dennis Hopper, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Tina Majorino, Michael Jeter

There tends to be a rift in the world of cult cinema. Often times, fans of the various genres and cinema that is associated with the term ‘cult,’ tend to view major releases or A-list names as signs that a film will never fall under that category. While there is something to be said about genre films or those films that fall under the mainstream consciousness, there are also plenty of films that will shift in and out of the cult spectrum as time moves on. A prime example? The focus of this review, Waterworld.

After it’s release in cinemas in 1995, Waterworld saw its own series of ups and downs as it came out with a splash. It was the most expensive movie ever made at the time, did not recoup its cost at the box office, and was met with wildly mixed reviews from critics and audiences. It was a full-on mainstream event though, starring an A-list actor like Kevin Costner, and it spawned plenty of merchandise, tie-ins, theme park rides, and word of mouth. Even though it was considered a failure to start, it was a blockbuster kind of film that attracted tons of attention.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

The Prodigal Boxer II (1976)

Director: Ulysses Au-Yeung Jun

Notable Cast: Mang Fei, Dorian Tan Tao-Liang, Doris Lung Chun-Erh, Liu Ping, Wei Ping-Ao, Hsieh Han, Yi Yuan, Ma Chiang, Huang Fei-Long, Li Min-Lang, Chang Fang-Hsia, Eagle Lee Siu-Fei, Wang Pao-Yu

Also known as: Enter the Whirlwind Boxer, Young Hero of Shaolin, Drunken Master Dollar Fist

For the most part, considering how many martial arts films were created in a relatively short span of time, there are not nearly as many franchises as one would expect. Particularly from the non-major studios of the time and area. Yet, The Prodigal Boxer did spawn at least one. It is often not released under the title The Prodigal Boxer II, but most frequently seen under its title Enter the Whirlwind Boxer or as the poster attached to this review states, Young Hero of Shaolin. If you watch it on Amazon Prime, you get both titles as it’s called Prodigal Boxer 2: Enter the Whirlwind Boxer. Surprisingly, The Prodigal Boxer II is a true sequel. Not just in title. Although the film disappointingly shovels off all of the characters from the first except for our hero Fong Sai-yuk, once again played by Mang Fei, it does reference the events of the first one and even features a flash back to the finale once our hero finds out what his current quest is going to be. It’s relatively fun that it, at least, attempted those connections even if the film does somewhat forget the romantic subplot and the fantastic mother/son relationship which made the original so strong. On it's own though, The Prodigal Boxer II does entertain enough with its gimmicks and strong action.