Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Alice, Sweet Alice (1976)

Director: Alfred Sole
Notable Cast: Linda Miller, Paula Sheppard, Niles McMaster, Jane Lowry, Rudolph Willrich, Mildred Clinton, Michael Hardstark, Brooke Shields

The first time that Alice, Sweet Alice came into my awareness was probably a decade or so ago when a painting of the masked villain of the film popped up on my social media feed. The painting itself was fantastic, a modern exaggeration of the characteristics with bold yellows, reds, and blues. If I could remember the artist, they deserve some credit and I spent a good deal of time trying to find that picture again to very little luck. The message was clear though, I needed to see the film. At the time, there was only a shoddy version of the film available via Amazon Prime streaming and this is where I first experienced it. Too often Alice, Sweet Alice gets thrown into the lot of “forgotten slashers” on a variety of internet lists and, despite its fair share of cult cinephiles that champion the film, it tends to be despairingly overlooked. It doesn’t deserve to be. Alice, Sweet Alice is one of the true diamonds to be found in the genre. It toys with the expectations of the viewer, delivers on its off-beat quirks, and still manages to layer in a lot of thoughtful material both in the visuals and narrative to give the film punch on multiple watches. On top of all of that, this latest (and greatest) Arrow Video Blu Ray release lives up the strength of the film itself.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Ready or Not (2019)

Directors: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett
Notable Cast: Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Mark O’Brien, Henry Czerny

Horror and comedy are two great tastes that taste great together. In a broad sense, it’s because they rely on the same psychological concepts to play out. They’re both about the building of tension and lean on resolving that stress in a surprising way. Ready Or Not enters a long lineage of this sub-genre and does so in a fun way. Perhaps not wholly unique, but it’s fun and it has style. It draws a specific line juxtaposing a gore heavy, violent and hard “R” slasher sensibility with a sardonic, low-key, borderline disaffected sense of humor and then rides that line for nearly all its worth before getting out and walking away. In other words, it’s a pretty perfect movie for the end of the summer and wonderful counter-programming to the standard August dumping ground fare.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

47 Meters Down: Uncaged (2019)

Directed by: Johannes Roberts
Notable cast: Sophie Nélisse, Corinne Foxx, Brianne Tju, Sistine Stallone

Shark movies have a long and storied history in the world of horror. Arguably the first-ever blockbuster was Jaws, the most famous of them, and our fine finned friends have remained a popular film antagonist since. I never saw the original 47 Meters Down, so I really had no idea what I should be expecting in this film, plus the marketing has been a bit on the underwhelming side, so I went into this film with deeply lowered expectations, and apparently that’s the way to see it, because I really had quite a good time with this. Shark films tend to either be silly and campy or attempt something a bit more serious and grounded… though damned if I can think of a shark movie that used the latter approach and was worth watching, post-Jaws. This movie definitely doesn’t attempt anything in the vicinity of serious, luckily.

Critters Attack! (2019)

Director: Bobby Miller
Notable Cast: Tashiana Washington, Ava Preston, Jack Fulton, Jaeden Noel, Dee Wallace

For years, one of the things I clamored for was a revival of the Critters franchise. Growing up with the original two films and being there for the releases of the generally dismissed third and fourth entries, there has been a soft spot in my heart for the series and their strange blend of humor, horror, and science fiction. Imagine my surprise when it was announced that not only were we getting a new limited series called Critters: A New Binge that was going direct to Shudder, but there was also going to be a new film. I was ecstatic. Was this going to be the revival that I had wanted for so long?

I suppose you can call it a revival. There was both a new series and a new film, but, alas, neither are particularly good. For this review though, the focus will be on the new film, Critters Attack!, but make no mistake – both A New Binge and Attack are worse than anything the previous four had to offer. What are the chances that would happen? Pretty fuckin’ good now that both are released.

Monday, August 19, 2019

The Kitchen (2019)

Director: Andrea Berloff
Notable cast: Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, Elisabeth Moss, Domhnall Gleeson

What does one do hot off of a writing Oscar, especially after writing something as instantly seminal as Straight Outta Compton? Writing and directing a female-centric period mob drama based on a DC/Vertigo comic would not have been my first guess, personally, but I do respect the unexpected move. Bold in its casting, The Kitchen exists as a dramatic acting showcase for both McCarthy and Haddish, typically better known for their comedic chops. The setting is interesting, and the concept of the story is infinitely engaging, potentially… with so much lined up in The Kitchen’s favor, it seems strange that it just never quite comes together.  

The Brink (2017/2019)

Director: Jonathan Li
Notable Cast: Max Zhang, Shawn Yue, Yue Wu, Janice Man, Tai Bo, Cecilia So, Yasuaki Kurata, Gordon Lam, Derek Tsang

One of the bigger names erupting from Hong Kong in the last handful of years has been Max Zhang. Although he goes by a few iterations of his name, his face and his talent are unmistakable. Earlier this year, his character from Ip Man 3 was spun off in Master Z and before that, smaller roles in films like SPL2 (aka Kill Zone 2), Rise of the Legend, and The Grandmaster solidified him as one of the HK’s next big stars. Fortunately, one of his more recent starring vehicles, the focus of this review, is finally receiving its US debut on Blu Ray and DVD. The Brink is a classic HK story told with modern flair and a choice for drenching its cast and sets in water and balancing brutal action sequences with the tried and true plot of a wild rogue cop on the trail of a gangster. The action is dynamic and entertaining, the performances are delightfully old school, and the choice of setting is inspired. Action fans will not want to miss this martial arts gem.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Line Walker 2: Invisible Spy (2019)

Director: Jazz Boon
Notable Cast: Nick Cheung, Louis Koo, Francis Ng, Huang Zhizhong, Jiang Peiyao, Zhang Yichi, Yuning Liu, Hui Siu-Hung

Who out there remembers Line Walker? Anyone? Despite being – from my understanding – based a popular TV show and an outright box office success in China, the film made relatively no impact in the US. Don’t feel bad if you don’t remember Line Walker. In the US, the film made one of those ninja quiet debuts on Netflix and essentially ceased to exist for western audiences. It’s not a huge issue because let’s be honest, Line Walker was enigmatically ‘meh.’ With the talent, it should have been a rip-roaring time. It’s not. Since it was a huge hit in China though, that only meant a sequel was coming. Naturally, it’s a “name only” sequel featuring most of the same cast and the same director, but it’s a brand-new film. If you’re like most of the US, don’t worry if you haven’t seen Line Walker because you’ll be able to jump right into Line Walker 2: Invisible Spy with no preparation. Fortunately, it’s also a film that’s an overall step up in quality. It’s still an outlandishly convoluted film, hammering down on its modern spin of heroic bloodshed themes, but it’s sprinting pace, fantastic cast, and outright astoundingly fun action make it worth the watch.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Divine Fury (2019)

Director: Kim Joo-hwan
Notable Cast: Park Seo-joon, Ahn Sung-ki, Woo Do-hwan, Jo Eun-hyung, Choi Woo-sik, Kim Si-eun

Had The Divine Fury been made in any other country besides South Korea and been made in any other time, the film would have been a hokey genre affair with a tagline like “First he brought the fight to the octagon, now he brings the fight to Satan!” To be fair, that is essentially what this film is in a nutshell. At the basics, it’s about a star MMA fighter who finds himself side by side with a Vatican priest fighting off a horde of demons possessing a bunch of people in Seoul. The brilliant maneuver that The Divine Fury brings to the floor is that it takes itself shockingly seriously and it’s impeccably executed. It’s stylish as hell (pun intended), packs one hell of a genre-bending punch (pun also intended), and still manages to deliver a story with soul (is that three for three?). Perhaps it’s because my expectations were tempered by the idea of an action horror film with MMA and exorcisms, but The Divine Fury achieves its tasks with far more excitement and impressiveness then it has any right to accomplish.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

The Bravest (2019)

Director: Tony Chan
Notable Cast: Xiaoming Huang, Jiang Du, Zhuo Tan, Zi Yang, Hao Ou, Yong Hou, Xiaotian Yin, Jason Gu, Zhehan Zhang, Ge Gao

As the push in the Chinese industry draws closer and closer to that of Hollywood, so does their approach to film making. The latest big-budget blockbuster-style film to make it to the US is The Bravest, a large spectacle film that attempts to find that perfect balance between action and dramatic heft. For those more familiar with Hollywood style films, the best comparison for The Bravest is combining the mass destruction and disaster films of Roland Emmerich and the “true story” action films of Peter Berg. For better or worse, depending on the scene, the film sways heavily between the two and it makes for both a highly entertaining film – occasionally from unintentional humor – and one that is perplexing in how poorly developed it is.

The Nightingale (2019)

Director: Jennifer Kent
Notable cast: Aisling Franciosi, Sam Claflin, Baykali Ganambarr, Damon Harriman

Jennifer Kent set the horror world aflame for a moment in 2014 with The Babadook, a movie that made a children’s book beyond scary and made parenthood seem like the most real horror show in history. In the intervening years, it’s grown into an LGBTQ+ icon movie, and seen a second life in that symbolic way. No matter your take on it, the movie garnered an unusual amount of attention for a small, foreign, indie horror film. In a similar way, I do expect The Nightingale will have an unexpected and far reach, though as the film is less metaphorical and more about our current culture through a mirror darkly, I won’t even guess what that reach will entail. I certainly feel like I know what the intended effect is, and by that measure The Nightingale is an extremely effectively made film. It’s also one that’s impossible to properly talk about without just talking about it, so although I will make every effort to avoid spoiling many specific story beats, it would do the film an equal disservice to completely avoid talking about the themes and message present here.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Shadow (2019)

Director: Zhang Yimou
Notable Cast: Deng Chao, Betty Sun Li, Ryan Zheng Kai, Wang Qian-Yuan, Hu Jun, Wang Jing-Chun, Guan Xiao-Tong, Wu Lei, Feng Bai

Zhang Yimou made a bold choice to deviate away from his usual artistic ways to make The Great Wall. Now, I’m not sure I’m to the point where I want to fully defend what he was attempting to do in creating a popcorn flick, but it was a bold choice to make that film. It alienated most people and many of his fans were ready to throw him under the bus almost immediately. With that in mind, it’s not shocking that he would try to make amends to his fans and supporters by making another film that’s relatively consumable for a worldwide audience and still heavy on the artistic and symbolic side. One that could easily be sold as “from the director of Hero and House of Flying Daggers.”

The result is his latest artsy wuxia, Shadow. Yimou gets to once again struts his knack for visual flair and dynamic storytelling in this high brow genre flick and he once again plays around with the nuances of right versus wrong within its narrative. Shadow is a film that establishes a slow build for most of its run time, methodically placing its characters and plot in ways to create a sense of unease in the audience. By the time it reaches its finale, Shadow swiftly and elegantly pierces through the narrative with heavy questions and weighty themes. It’s not his most exciting film from a thrills and spectacle stand point, nor does it quite hit the emotional character strides of many of his early films, but Shadow has a rather unique balance that provides an entertaining conspiracy film, a wuxia epic, and an intimate character study.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019)

Director: André Øvredal
Notable Cast: Zoe Colletti, Michael Garza, Austin Abrams, Gabriel Rush, Austin Zajur, Natalie Ganzhorn, Javier Botet, Mark Steger

I was quite hyped for this one. The source material for Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was a cornerstone of my horror media upbringing, del Toro is sitting in the producer's chair, and director André Øvredal has proven to be something of a master in genre cinema with back to back classics in Troll Hunter and The Autopsy of Jane Doe. Naturally, that means it's bound to be generally underwhelming based on expectations versus the actual execution of the film. Even with that, the film ends up being a highly entertaining time for both kids and adults. It never quite finds the right balance, but strong set pieces and efficient pacing make it a solid fall film.

Cruising (1980)

Director: William Friedkin
Notable Cast: Al Pacino, Paul Sorvino, Don Scardino, Richard Cox, Joe Spinell, Karen Allen, Jay Acovone

Cruising is one of those fascinating films that, in the grand scheme of things, has had a strange existence. Although this review of the film is not meant to be a full analysis of the film’s history which a viewer can get a fantastic exploration of from the various features on this latest Arrow Video release, the film’s journey does lay context for the rest of this review. From the heavy protesting of the film by the gay community during its pre-production and through most of its original run to a pocket of reclamation that has come about in recent years, the film is one that is surrounded by controversy. When a film that is made in the late 70s to be released in 1980 concerns a serial killer stalking the S&M clubs of New York, it was bound to be abrasive to most viewers. Thus, it’s a prime film to earn its own cult following. With the bold combination of star Al Pacino and director William Friedkin, Cruising has the talent to be a fantastic film. Can it rise above its controversial status to do so?

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (2019)

Director: David Leitch
Notable Cast: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Jason Statham, Idris Elba, Vanessa Kirby

The Fast & Furious films have basically settled into being a superhero franchise that takes place in a universe where cars are a superpower. Ever since Fast Five I have said and believed this. It’s not even an insult to me. I love superhero cinema, I love cars, and I love The Fast and The Furious… which is why Hobbs & Shaw, the first F&F spin-off, surprises me with how well it worked. I’m a total mark for this franchise already, so I went in expecting to like this, but I was pleasantly surprised anyway when I came away realizing that, furthering my metaphor, Hobbs & Shaw is what a Bond or Mission Impossible-like spy plot taking place in a superhero universe where cars are a superpower would look like. This movie has cracked the formula that xXx wanted to so badly, and I hope this sub-franchise really gets some legs under it. One or two more iterations, and we may actually get a modern Goldfinger. Or at least a post-modern one.

The Good, the Bad, the Weird, and the Wild: Dario Argento

*The Good, the Bad, the Weird, and the Wild is a series of articles that will focus on one particular person, for example, directors, actors, producers, etc., that have had a strong career in genre, cult, and arthouse cinema. In these articles, our writers are asked to choose four films from their filmography. They will choose one of their favorites (the good,) one of their least favorites (the bad,) their choice for the oddest film (the weird,) and a fourth film which will be their ‘wild card’ pick. These articles are meant to be a way of discussing the work of these directors in perhaps a new and fun way for our readers - and our writers. Please keep an open mind, discuss, share, and send in your own suggestions for directors for us to cover. 

To say that Dario Argento is the godfather to much of modern horror cinema is an understatement. Not only does it make an obvious reach for an Italian film joke (see what I did there) but it also limits his influence, as Argento's lush color palette, experimental scores, and surreal scripts laid the groundwork for James Wan's surrealistic grit and Mandy's (Panos Cosmatos) neon-pastel colorscape, along with numerous other modern classics that we don't have time to discuss here. Would this have been better if I had written it at the time of the new Suspiria release? Absolutely. Did I do that? Not at all. You see, I have an embarrassing confession for you, the reader: I only had a cursory understanding of Argento prior to starting this exercise. I considered myself a horror critic but hadn't yet paid homage to the giallo infused blood god that is Argento. When Matt (our EIC) assigned this to me, I had no idea what I was about to get into. 

With that said; here are my picks for the directorial review of Dario Argento, master of neon and surrealism.