Saturday, February 22, 2020

Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)

Directed by: Jeff Fowler
Notable cast: Ben Schwartz, Jim Carrey, James Marsden, Tika Sumpter

Of all the video games in the world to adapt, Sonic The Hedgehog seems like a particularly tough nut to crack. Much like with the early 90s Super Mario Brothers, Paramount had a fairly abstract concept to work with. Sonic was designed to be the antithesis of Mario in every way, fast, edgy and full of that ephemeral nineties “’tude.” They went with the CG-character-human-sidekick-road-trip-movie, and while, admittedly, on its head it’s the most boring possible choice, doing something so generic but reasonably well ends up making a solidly average film. And compared to most other video game film adaptations? A mediocre film is practically Citizen Kane.

Now, before we get into the review proper, it is worth noting the very odd path that this movie took to the big screen, more specifically how its release was delayed for months to bring Sonic’s design more in line with fan expectations. I personally find this to be an exceptionally dangerous precedent for several reasons, chiefly by choking the singular artistic vision in the name of chasing the approval of an audience that, by and large, has proven to have no idea what they want… admittedly, seems to be a good change. The original design did have an uncanny valley issue, especially in his human teeth, and the more game/cartoon-like creature we’re provided here is a marked improvement.

Friday, February 14, 2020

First Love (2019)

Director: Takashi Miike
Notable Cast: Masataka Kubota, Nao Omori, Shota Sometani, Sakurako Konishi, Becky

As far as we’re concerned here at Blood Brothers, it’s a good day when you get to see a new Takashi Miike film and since the auteur rebel filmmaker pumps out an average of two films per year, that makes for a lot of good days. His latest, First Love, is sure to appease both his longtime and newer fans. The iconic director has a knack for making all kinds of films, kid’s movies to horror and period dramas to live-action anime adaptions, so you can never truly be sure what you’re going to get. With First Love though, Miike leans back to his roots and crafts a quirky and violent yakuza film similar to his output of the mid and late 90s. Like those films, this one has the blissfully dark humor, violence, soul, and wild spins that people associate with his material. After a few questionable films in the last few years like Laplace’s Witch and TerraFormars, it’s a welcome return to classic form.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Enter the Fat Dragon (2020)

Director: Kenji Tanigaki
Notable Cast: Donnie Yen, Teresa Mo, Niki Chow, Wong Jing

After the explosion of the Ip Man franchise, Donnie Yen became one of the biggest action stars in the world. Not just in China and Hong Kong, but the world. His influence even carried him back over to the United States and roles in Star Wars and the upcoming live-action version of Disney’s Mulan. No matter how big his name becomes though, Yen has always been true to what made him popular as an action star and when he starts to dabble in new genres, he keeps one foot firmly planted in the action realm. Last year’s film Big Brother was a prime example of this and, as the focus of this review, he does it once again with Enter the Fat Dragon.

Although one has to be skeptical of a film that uses an incredibly fit person like Donnie Yen as the titular Fat Dragon in a prosthetic “fat suit,” it’s relatively shocking that Enter the Fat Dragon is as fun as it is.  The film is a mixture of genres, combining the action set pieces of a cop who uncovers a criminal enterprise while in a foreign country (this time being Japan) and the romantic comedy elements of a couple working through their own personal issues together. With an even better blend of the genres than say, the previously mentioned Big Brother, Enter the Fat Dragon keeps the tonality smoothly moving between the two. It’s not as if there is one action set-piece followed by a comedic one and then vice versa, but director Kenji Tanigaki has a very stable hand at getting the two to flow together in some remarkably charming and fun ways. The action is filled with comedy and the comedy is often related to the action.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Warriors of the Nation (2020)

Director: Marco Mak
Notable Cast: Vincent Zhao, Lubing Li, Miya Muqi, Kenya Sawada

Less than a year ago, Well Go USA brought the latest Wong Fei Hung movie to the US. Starring Vincent Zhao and titled The Unity of Heroes, the film was meant to be a throwback to the early 90s Wong Hei Fung films of the Once Upon a Time in China series that launched the carries of both Jet Li, Donnie Yen, and Vincent Zhao. Although the audience reaction was relatively mixed, my own enjoyment of the film was decently high. You can read my review of the film over HERE if you have a few moments. Needless to say, when the sequel was being released in the US just under a year later, under the title Warriors of the Nation, I was relatively excited. What else would this latest incarnation of the folk hero bring to the table?

Oddly enough, Warriors of the Nation brings relatively little to the table. Not that it’s missing the entertaining martial arts piece in its own right, a topic that I will touch on in a second, but considering how hard the first film meant to recapture the character in order to play with nostalgia for older fans and perhaps add some newer fans, this film feels thin. The plot brings in the White Lotus cult, which was a major plot point in Once Upon a Time in China 2, and it sees Wong Fei Hung (Vincent Zhao) with a few of his students and his boo get caught up in the political intrigue around the cult and a potential Japanese invasion by sea.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (2020)

Directed by: Cathy Yan
Notable cast: Margot Robbie, Ewan McGregor, Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell

Adaptation is a funny game. You have to make a story or property viable for a different audience or medium while trying to balance fealty to the originals and the fans thereof. And if you even kind of manage that small miracle you usually still have to worry about making something entertaining as a stand-alone piece. Birds of Prey is already juggling all of these balls and decides to double down by swapping in the flaming chainsaws of being aggressively feminist in a space that’s so far been unwelcoming to it, and by being a sequel to a movie nobody seemed to like. That the movie came together at all is no small feat, that it did it this well is more or less unprecedented. But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself, allow me to channel our subject’s protagonist and backpedal a bit to do this right.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Gretel & Hansel (2020)

Director: Oz Perkins (as Osgood Perkins)
Notable Cast: Sophia Lillis, Alice Krige, Sammy Leakey, Jessica De Gouw, Charles Babalola

To set up this review of Gretel & Hansel, it’s necessary to set the scene by touching on director Osgood Perkins. When he came onto the scene, he did it in a bit of a sneaky way. His debut was The Blackcoat’s Daughter (released originally under the title February) but that was a film that took two years to eventually find its way to a mass audience. In the meantime, he directed a film that went straight to Netflix, titled I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House, and both films were met with relatively mixed reactions from horror fanatics and more casual film fans. If you want to read my reviews for them please feel free to read them HERE, but to recap – I fuckin’ love them. The slow-burn approach, the suffocating atmosphere, and the intentionality of all of the subtlety plays right into my sweet spots.

This now leads us to the subject of this piece, Gretel & Hansel. Going into the film, there was a sense that Orion Pictures might make Perkins sacrifice his style for the sake of a more mainstream film, but – much to my own delight – this is not the case. Maybe it’s because Orion is trying to make their stake as a genre company, but Gretel & Hansel still features all of the long, meandering narratives and slow pacing that one would expect from a Perkins film. Granted, this was a controversial style that fed into the mixed reactions for both of his first films, but Gretel & Hansel is Perkins understanding how to make his style a bit more consumable while still rightly fitting into his auteur stamp. If anything, a part of me wanted it to be even more subtle, perhaps nixing the voice-over narrative by Gretel that works to bridge over the various set pieces, but the choices for a slightly more user-friendly product are understandable even if the film is still hardly mainstream.