Sunday, April 28, 2019

Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Directors: Joe Russo, Anthony Russo
Notable Cast: Everybody?

The Marvel box office juggernaut is something to be impressed by, even if you believe the films are mainstream cinematic trash. Just this year, Captain Marvel surpassed all of the Batman films in total box office revenue and that was only a couple of months prior to the release of the focus of this review, Avengers: Endgame. It wasn’t hard to believe that Endgame would be the biggest film in the world and the possibility of setting records was almost a given considering the strength of the franchise and manner that the first half of this two-part film, Avengers: Infinity War, left audiences on the edge. What is surprising is that Endgame surpasses the expectations of quality as a film, taking what was not only presented in its predecessor as a foundation, but maximizing the build of the last 11 years as a franchise to power its action and – more importantly – its emotional core. It’s so effective in wrapping up its long-gestating character arcs and plotting that it’s tempting to say the film is in the running for one of the best Marvel Cinematic Universe films. Time will tell if it stays there but as the credits roll, the energetic heft of the film lingers and that’s a testament to its quality.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

The Curse of La Llorona (2019)

Director: Michael Chaves
Notable Cast: Linda Cardellini, Roman Christou, Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen, Raymond Cruz, Patricia Velasquez, Marisol Ramirez, Sean Patrick Thomas, Tony Amendola

The Conjuring Universe has so much potential as a wide-reaching horror franchise. A lot of the potential can already be seen as the series expands past the Warrens with this year’s (first) Conjuring-Verse film, The Curse of La Llorona. The expansion of the franchise into time frames and places outside of the main characters adds a lot of value to what this franchise has to offer horror fans. Last year’s The Nun was problematic for a lot of reasons, but what it did do right was that the main story itself was in its own unique time and place. The Curse of La Llorona takes it a few steps further by tackling another supernatural story based on “real-world” and only loosely tying it to events in The Conjuring franchise, but allowing it to exist on its own. While the concept is great, the execution of the first film to embrace it results in more of a mixed bag honestly.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Scared Stiff (1987)

Director: Richard Friedman
Notable Cast: Mary Page Keller, Josh Segal, Andrew Stevens, David Ramsey, Bill Hindman, Jackie Davis, Nicole Fortier

Scared Stiff was always one of those films that my friends and colleagues would reference, but no one I knew had actually seen it. If they had, they certainly didn’t make a lot of noise about it. This made it one of those films that I was very excited to finally partake in, particularly when it was announced that it would get the Arrow treatment. While the film certainly earns its place as a cult horror film for a variety of reasons, particularly with the ambitiously wild third act, Scared Stiff is not nearly the film that I expected. Between the story and the growing insanity of the what is presented onscreen as the film plays on, Scared Stiff does take a long time to set up its relatively straight forward premise and it never quite finds the proper balance between seriousness and humor.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

The Blood Splatter: The Silence (2019) / Mercy Black (2019)


Director: John R. Leonetti
Notable Cast: Stanley Tucci, Kiernan Shipka, Miranda Otto, Kate Trotter, John Corbett, Kyle Breitkopf, Dempsey Bryk, Bill MacLellan

Sensory deprivation horror seems to the ‘it’ thing right now. Sure, there has been a lot of success lately in that sub-sub-genre of horror with accolades going to A Quiet Place and Bird Box drumming up a bit of online excitement (and poorly thought out viral videos) which seemingly overlook the low-key brilliance of Flanagan’s Hush, but there is always a balance to things. This is where The Silence comes in. This is on the other end of the spectrum. The bad end. Directed by the gentleman that gave us the underwhelming Annabelle, The Silence takes the silent slant of A Quiet Place and mixes it with the monster mayhem of Bats. Conceptionally, that’s a great combination if I’ve ever heard one. Partner that with a semi-impressive cast – who doesn’t love Stanley Tucci? – and The Silence should have been a shoo-in for one of the more entertaining horror films of the year.

Hellboy (2019)

Director: Neil Marshall
Notable Cast: David Harbour, Milla Jovovich, Ian McShane, Sasha Lane, Daniel Dae Kim, Thomas Haden Church, Penelope Mitchell, Sophie Okonedo, Brian Gleeson, Alistair Petrie, Stephen Graham

For those who were fans of Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy films, the choice for producers to reboot the franchise instead of allowing him to finish his trilogy was one that left a sour taste in the mouth. Most of the behind the scenes shenanigans of the industry are left in the shadows though so no one really knows the why we ended up with a new Hellboy. It is what it is and I went into Hellboy 2019 with an open mind. There was a lot to be hopeful for in this reboot, at least on paper, when it was announced and yet the film remained a wild card for the year. Actually, a wild card is a decent term to use when referencing this version of Hellboy. On one hand, there are things that do work for the film and when those things are working the film is a riot. That's Hellboy's normal hand Unfortunately, the other hand is Hellboy's massive right hand and that is the majority of the film and the best way to describe that is underwhelming. Combine the two together and you get a film that’s a pure wild card piece of cinema. 

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Master Z: Ip Man Legacy (2019)

Director: Yuen Woo Ping
Notable Cast: Max Zhang, Michelle Yeoh, Dave Bautista, Kevin Cheng, Chrissie Chau, Yan Liu, Xing Yu, Brian Thomas Burrell

Let’s be honest here. I’m a sucker for the Ip Man movies. I know that, despite their popularity, that there are people out there that do not buy into them and that’s just fine. I’m someone that simply loves the blend of modern elements in what could easily be old school kung fu films. In particular, the “villain” of Ip Man 3 is one of the highlights of the series. Played by the now A-list Chinese megastar Max Zhang, he stole that film in a lot of ways and his final three-part one-on-one fight with Donnie Yen is phenomenal. Turns out I wasn’t the only person that thought he was great because now he has his own spin-off film, Master Z: Ip Man Legacy. Fortunately, this first – of probably many – spin-offs is a great continuation of the series that has the same blend of modern and old but does it with a sense of style that director Yuen Woo Ping brings to the table. It’s not going to be knocking off socks with its reliance on traditional kung fu tropes and the occasionally muddy script, but it’s going to highly entertain and keep the story and character moving forward. Master Z is a blissful modern martial arts flick with enough heart to power its bigger than life action.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire (1971)

Director: Riccardo Freda (Willy Pareto)
Notable Cast: Luigi Pistilli, Dagmar Lassander, Anton Diffring, Arther O’Sullivan, Werner Pochath, Dominique Boschero, Renato Romano, Sergio Doria, Ruth Durley, Valentina Cortese

Since I’ve started digging into giallo films with more purpose over the last handful of years, Arrow Video has been a cornerstone for finding some of the best that the genre has to offer in great releases. Whether it’s classics like Bird with the Crystal Plumage, fringe films like The Fifth Cord, or exploitative ones in the ilk of Strip Nude for Your Killer, more often than not when Arrow releases a giallo it’s worth seeing. In the case of their latest release, The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire, its significance falls more in being one of the last films directed by Riccardo Freda more than anything. Although the director was hardly pigeonholed into any one particular genre, his early work to spur the Italian film industry cannot be understated. However, The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire is not necessarily a great film compared to many of its giallo brethren. If anything, the film tends to play things a bit too loose with its narrative and would rather kick in intense spurts of blood rather than build a tense tonality or sharp pacing. For some giallo fans, this is still a welcome addition to the genre. For others, the film might be a bit too sporadic to rise to the upper echelons of the genre.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

L Storm (2018)

Director: David Lam
Notable Cast: Louis Koo, Julian Cheung, Kevin Cheng, Stephy Tang, Adam Pak, Patrick Tam, Michael Tse, Louis Cheung, Janelle Sing Kwan, Baby John Choi Hon-Yik, Liu Kai-Chi, Lo Hoi-Pang, Helena Law Lan, Evergreen Mak Cheung-Ching

As the fourth entry of the series hits theaters and a fifth entry that is looming in the distance, it was probably about time that I go around to seeing L Storm, the third entry into this ICAC focused action thriller franchise. It’s a bit of a chore, truthfully. This series has never been a favorite of mine and my less than lukewarm reviews for both predecessors, Z Storm and S Storm, have certainly kept my expectations low for the rest of the series. Fortunately, this third entry is easily the best one thus far, but once again it’s the massively problematic execution of a rather fun idea that hampers the film from being all that impressive and drags it down to mediocre levels.

Terra Formars (2016)

Director: Takashi Miike
Notable Cast: Hideaki Ito, Emi Takei, Tomohisa Yamada, Kane Kosugi, Rinko Kikuchi, Masaya Kato, Eiko Koike, Mariko Shinoda, Ken’ichi Takito, Rina Ohta, Rila Fukushima, Shun Oguri, Ken Aoki

Although I am not personally familiar with the source material for Terra Formars, it was the kind of manga that stirred a lot of fandom. It spawned a lot of different media around its ideas and it was only a matter of time before it received some kind of live action feature film adaptation. What made this live action version so tempting though was not the strange concepts or science fiction/horror/action elements it could utilize as both entertainment and thematic messaging, it was that Takashi Miike was helming the project. After multiple successful adaptations of manga and anime series to live action, including the wildly fun Ace Attorney, the combination could prove too enticing for its own good. Slather the film in some big names from Japan and it would see like the film could make a pretty big splash.

Pet Sematary (2019)

Directors: Kevin Kölsch, Dennis Widmyer
Notable Cast: Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, John Lithgow, Jeté Laurence, Hugo Lavoie, Lucas Lavoie, Obssa Ahmed, Alyssa Brooke Levine

Before leaping into 2019’s latest entry into the Stephen King renaissance, it’s perhaps best to start by laying the groundwork and context towards how I feel about the original Pet Sematary material. The book is terrifying, dark, and heavy, although it is hardly perfect (that’s blasphemy, I know,) it’s also a powerful story that is ripe for cinematic elements. The first Pet Sematary film from 1989 is even further away from perfection, utilizing some great atmosphere and terrifying imagery to power through a script that is massively problematic and muddled with needless subplots. The reason it’s necessary to know this is because this newest version of Pet Sematary certainly assumes its audience has either a) see the previous film b) read the book or c) both. In many ways, it plays on the expectations of the audience by playing up or down certain elements to get the audience to feel or move in a certain way. Like a lot of things in the Pet Sematary universe, this plays out as a blessing and a curse. Like its dual source material, this film struggles to find perfect balance of scares to narrative theme and ultimately stumbles further into a middle of the road approach than expected. Pet Sematary is still a thoughtful and often dark decent into the meaning (or meaninglessness?) of death with some impactful moments, but it just doesn’t reach the heights that it might have in the end.

Long Time No Sea (2018)

Director: Heather Tsui

Notable Cast: Zhong Jia-jin, Shang He-huang, Feng Yi-li, Ou Lu, Zhang Ling

Taiwan Film Festival UK 2019:

On the furthermost island of Taiwan, you'll find the land of Orchid Island, home to the people of the Tao tribe, that date back some 800 years ago. A rich culture that has seemed to wear itself away overtime with the locals, especially the youth. The focus is on a young boy who lives with his grandmother, his mother and father both off in the mainland of Taiwan for work, divorced, and leaving him solely with his grandmother. He yearns for his father to return home and that lack of a father figure gives him a sort of aimless feeling day to day as he skips school and tries to keep himself occupied.

A new teacher comes in from the city and begins to develop a relationship with the lonely young boy as the two's backstories begin to unfold to one another. In addition to them, a local radio DJ enters the teacher's life and begins to make him rethink his failing relationship his girlfriend who stayed back in the city. At the school, the principal comes forth with a plan to host a dance ceremony that showcases traditional Tao dancing. Eager to find purpose, the newest teacher undergoes the task.

Right from the from the first scene, the preset fear of the film looking like a travelogue ad for Orchid Island was put to ease when the visually stunning cinematography revealed itself. I went into this one blind aside from a brief plot synopsis. These type of movies usually withhold the glossy fake sheen of such products. Thank goodness great thought and care went into every technical aspect here. It is a beautiful movie and really honors the long lived legacy of a proud people and their home.

The acting is spot on as well. The award worthy newcomer Zhong Jia-jin gives a central perfomance so sincere that he demands future attention and is bound to make a great impression on the industry. Shang He-huang gives a fantastic turn in as the teacher who forms a familial bond between himself and the boy, creating a genuine chemistry between the two performers. Unfortunately, although they do a fine job with what they are given, none of the female characters have enough time to truly shine or be fully developed for that matter, which brings out the beginning of the film's drawbacks.

While the film has a ton of technical finesse and the performances are all believable, the writing falters thus ultimately hindering a potentially great piece of cinema. The narrative is quite rushed, with larger character beats happening so early on, you aren't able to begin to be immersed into the world or feel engaged with the characters until much later on in the runtime. The cliches and coincidences come in fast and hard too. What are the odds that the love interest would repeatedly find herself in the presence of the teacher, considering her odd job occupations seem to shift conveniently in accordance with his geographical location. Slim. I'd say extremely slim. Oh and she happens to be a full-time radio DJ  and the person to come in and help teach traditional dance to the students. It isn't spoiling anything as the smell of it coming is given off from miles away.

Overall, I truly find myself glad to have had the opportunity to see this film and do not regret it. Hopefully next time around, director Heather Tsui will have a more fleshed out script. She really got a lot out of a weaker screenplay. Fortunately so much heart went into this production that it shows on-screen nearly every second. A great celebration of a ultural heritage and beautiful nod to the Tao people.

Written by Josh Parmer