Friday, July 30, 2021

Black Widow (2021)

Black Widow promises a highly demanded espionage solo film, but delivers a bland half-servicing Avengers formula six years too late


Director: Cate Shortland

Notable Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, Rachel Weisz, David Harbour, Ray Winstone


Over ten years and dozens of films later, the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) has finally unleashed its Black Widow film, un-enticingly titled Black Widow, for the masses. Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff, the titular Black Widow, was introduced back in Iron Man 2 (only the second film in the MCU for those counting) and fans have been clamoring for her solo film since. Yet, time and time again Marvel/Disney has negated the fans and stumbled over their excuses of why they couldn’t crack the film. Most of which sounded like tripe. However, the scientists and algorithms have finally done it and the film is now out in theaters, it’s thrilling fans, and it’s raking in the cash in the box office and over on Disney+. 


It’s too bad that Disney and Marvel seem intent on continually following the same patterns with the character because, once again, Black Widow is a mishandled “could have been great” experience. One where the character takes a back seat to her own story and Feige and company are terrified to deviate too far from the established formula to have anything unique to say about anything related to the character.  


Thursday, July 29, 2021

Gunpowder Milkshake (2021)

Director: Navot Papushado

Notable Cast: Karen Gillan, Lena Heady, Chloe Coleman, Carla Gugino, Michelle Yeoh, Angela Bassett, Paul Giamatti, Ralph Ineson


It was only after the film ended that it clicked for me who directed/wrote Gunpowder Milkshake. The name Navot Papushado rang a bell, but I never connected what his previous two films were.


Gunpowder Milkshake is very different from his previous efforts, that's why.


Yes, the man who gave us the horrifying double feature Rabies and Big Bad Wolves is also the director behind the two-hour exercise in S T Y L E that constitutes Gunpowder Milkshake. To say it's a deviation from the grounded grittiness of his previous films is an understatement. This comedic action fantasy film is purely unshackled oddities, layered into a traditional crime film plot and then allowed to gestate in a room full of those neon color, black light posters one could find in Spencer’s during the 2000s.


Sunday, July 25, 2021

Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins (2021)

Director: Robert Schwentke

Notable Cast: Henry Golding, Andrew Koji, Haruka Abe, Takehiro Hira, Ursula Corbero, Samara Weaving, Iko Uwais, Peter Mensah


The G.I. Joe franchise has always walked (and punched) down a fine line. If it’s too serious, it loses the summer blockbuster casual fans looking for escapism. If it’s too goofy? Fans of the intellectual property will cry parody and abandon ship. It’s the same debate that happened with Rise of Cobra and Retaliation and it’s already a debate raging online about the latest, a pseudo-reboot of the Hasbro toy line as action cinema, Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins. For a film that’s meant to be a silly modern interpretation of an 80s iconic character born of the ninja boom of that era, that’s a lot of pressure. 


With an $88 million budget in tow, not including marketing for the film, and an increasingly apathetic audience to the IP, Snake Eyes has an increasing amount of grapple-hook-wall scaling to accomplish. Yet, it’s a pleasant surprise to know that this reboot, directed by Robert Schwentke, is weirdly effective at finding a balance in the basics. It lays its stakes firmly in the world of silly, bombastic summer blockbusters, but in doing so it also manages to lean into the lunacy of the G.I. Joe world. It delivers something slightly different than the usual expectations of world policing in Go America Joe or the Marvel Cinematic Universe appeasement which benefits the experience. 


Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Escape Room: Tournament of Champions (2021)

Director: Adam Robitel

Notable Cast: Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Indya Moore, Holland Roden, Thomas Cocquerel, Carlito Olivero, Jay Erving, Deborah Ann Woll


It feels like yesterday that Escape Room was released in theaters; a new series that was very intentionally meant to be the heir apparent now that the Saw franchise sealed the final nails in the coffin after Jigsaw. My, how things have changed? Not only did the Saw franchise not die with a whimper after the 8th installment (it promptly went into hibernation to emerge from its cocoon to just whimper and die this year anyway) but delays and a pandemic kicked its sequel back almost 3 years. Nonetheless, if you happen to remember Escape Room, then its long-awaited sequel, Escape Room: Tournament of Champions, is going to be exactly in your wheelhouse. Not only is it a direct sequel that references a ton of material from the original, for the franchise whores out there, but it’s a film that knows exactly why people will want to see it: ridiculous trap rooms slathered in gimmicks surrounded by questionable and illogical conspiracies.


Hydra (2021)

Director: Kensuke Sonomura

Notable Cast: Masanori Mimoto, Miu, Ikumi Goto, Tasuku Nagase


Just a few months ago, word about a fantastic low budget martial arts thriller started to pop up in the social media circles that I frequent. Hydra had the potential to be the next big thing in terms of its star and director was what the dredges of the internet churned out. When Well Go USA picked up the film for distribution, to be available via their streaming service Hi Yah first before receiving a Blu Ray and DVD release, it seemed to verify the rumors. However, for fans of martial arts films - even low budget DIY ones like the previously reviewed Silat Warriors, temper the expectations. Hydra is a fascinatingly artistic take on the usual tropes of the action and martial arts genre and it’s one that intentionally defies some tropes while actively grasping onto others with a death grip. The combination proves to be infinitely intriguing, but not one that may appeal to all fans of the genre. 


Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Son (2021)

Director: Ivan Kavanagh

Notable Cast: Andi Matichak, Luke David Blumm, Emile Hirsch


It was repeated throughout my childhood, a phrase that never left me. Never judge a book by its cover. Yet, it’s often an approach that any adult regularly uses on a day-to-day basis. In the bombardment of information received from the marketing teams in film, it is hard not to judge a film by its cover. In this case, judge a film by its title. Son is not necessarily the most riveting title and certainly doesn’t invoke the horror element at the core of the film. Still, don’t be me. Don’t skip out on the film thinking it is some Redbox exclusive indie low budget flick. Son is a haunting and atmospheric trip through the stark fears of motherhood that reels into some jackknife turns to deliver its horrors. 


Coming from director Ivan Kavanagh, director of the scrumptiously unnerving ghost film The Canal from a handful of years ago and the often overlooked western Never Grow Old, Son is taking heavy handed inspiration from classic horror like Rosemary’s Baby and asks the question - what happens after the fact?


Silat Warriors: Deed of Death (2021)

Director: Areel Abu Bakar

Notable Cast: Namron, Khoharullah Majid, Feiyna Tajudin, Fad Anuar, Taiyuddin Bakar

Also known as: Deed of Death; Geran


In recent years, there has been an intriguing boom of DIY martial arts films that have shown the strength and talents of their filmmakers. Not just The Raid either. Films like The Paper Tigers, Die Fighting, or Unlucky Stars have gloriously allowed artists inspired by classic kung fu cinema to strut their stuff. The films are often flawed, perhaps burdened by lacking budget, but the heart and soul - usually partnered with a creativity in the fight choreography - easily make them worth watching. Part of this wave includes the low budget ass kickery of Silat Warriors: Deed of Death (originally titled Geran). This Malaysian modern martial arts flick absolutely understands its limitations and often uses them to its benefit, focusing on the grounded realism of its fights and character interactions to fuel its intensity rather than spectacle or effects. It’s a throwback to the gritty action films of martial arts past in all of the best ways and delivers on intimate character work and two fists worth of tight action sequences. 


Thursday, July 15, 2021

The Daimajin Trilogy (2021) [Daimajin, The Return of Daimajin, The Wrath of Daimajin]

The recent number of Daiei films that Arrow Video has unleashed onto Blu Ray and digitally in the last couple of years, it should not be a shock that the Daimajin Trilogy was one of the next collectors sets. Although the three films were widely available on Blu Ray through a cheap release via Mill Creek already, after the previously released Gamera series was released, an upgrade was most welcome. Featuring the only three films of this fascinating tokusatsu series, The Daimajin Trilogy not only contains the HD versions of the films, but tons of new commentaries, discussions, and writings about the films in a deluxe collectors set. This review will cover all three films of the series, but if you are interested enough in Daimajin to be reading this article - you might as well order the set right now. It’s a worthy endeavor to see the unusual and all too enticing films included. 


Sunday, July 11, 2021

The Forever Purge (2021)

Director: Everardo Gout

Notable Cast: Ana de la Reguera, Tenoch Huerta, Josh Lucas, Will Patton, Cassidy Freeman, Veronica Falcon, Leven Rambin, Gregory Zaragoza


When the Saw franchise ran with the marketing gimmick of “if it’s Halloween, it’s Saw” because they essentially staked their claim to the holiday season before being dethroned by Paranormal Activity, they knew their drawing power. In the same vein, it is another Independence Day and that means it’s time for a bit of Purge. For this fifth installment, The Forever Purge, the series moves locales, adds a new voice in director Everardo Gout, and continues to embed heavy-handed social commentary within the confines of a genre exploitation heavy dose of street level chaos. As most reviewers seem to note, yes, The Forever Purge is quite a bit more of the same, but it injects just the right amount of fresh blood into the mix - making for another provocatively entertaining slab of genre cinema.