Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Shock Wave 2 (2021)

Director: Herman Yau

Notable Cast: Andy Lau, Sean Lau, Ni Ni, Philip Keung


After the first Shock Wave blew me away (I apologize) with its blend of tension, thrills, and weirdly effective emotional weight, waiting for sequel, Shock Wave 2, to finally receive a release in the United States was a bit of torture, a burning fuse that just kept burning and never reaching its end (I apologize again). After being released in 2020 to some decent box office numbers and word of mouth in China, the lack of interest in releasing the internationally well-regarded sequel - with significant star power behind and in front of the camera - didn’t bode well for its quality. Was Shock Wave 2 just aftershocks to the big shock of its predecessor? I won’t apologize for that joke. Nope. 


Sunday, November 7, 2021

Eternals (2021)

Director: Chloe Zhao

Notable Cast: Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Lia McHugh, Brian Tyree Henry, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan, Ma Dong-seok, Kit Harington, Salma Hayek, Angelina Jolie, Bill Skarsgard, Harish Patel


Disney and Marvel have always been very particular with how they expand the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The introduction of mysticism was in a wholly generic and formulaic origin film with Doctor Strange, the leap with Thor into the cosmos happens mostly on Earth, and the introduction of the multi-verse took two entire Avengers films to pull off. The latter is a choice that will now seemingly dominate the entirety of the franchise for the foreseeable future and allow for MCU to exist until mankind burns to the ground.


For Eternals, a full-on expansion of the MCU into epic cosmos insanity, Marvel and Academy Award-winning director Chloe Zhao attempt to ride that fine balance once again by introducing an entire new squad of Space Avengers. They are not the Guardians, for the record, but they do ask the hard questions to each other like “who will lead the Avengers now?” to make sure we don’t forget the film is part of the franchise, I guess. These Eternals have been patiently waiting on Earth to receive the call from Space Dad, a six-eyed stone-looking red space god named Arishem, to go back home. Naturally, not all is what it seems and the Eternals’ natural enemy, animal-like bundles of tendrils named Deviants, arise on Earth once more as a pending disaster looms on the horizon. 


Unsheathed and Ambitiously Flawed: The Emperor's Sword (2021) Review

Director: Yingli Zhang, Haonan Chen

Notable Cast: Fengbin Mu, Yilin Hao, Qihang Zhao, Qiyu Yang


The pandemic changed a lot of things in the film industry. At this point, discussion about the box office and the explosive expansion of streaming services are well-known discussion topics. To be fully honest, I’m a bit tired of talking about the birth of streaming, the death of ‘cinema’, and whether or not films that are released straight to a streaming service count as TV movies or Movie movies. I can only get into so many fights on social media before it ceases to be interesting. Let’s not forget though, that this change is happening all over the world. 


Case in point, The Emperor’s Sword was released to the Chinese streaming service Youku was picked up for distribution in the US via Well Go USA where it received its premiere on their streaming services, Hi Yah, before receiving a full-fledged Blu Ray release. It’s not the first film of this ilk to receive this kind of treatment and, yes, there is a cheaper look to the film and budgetary restraints that tend to limit the film’s tonality and approach, but The Emperor’s Sword is a much better film than expected. Perhaps I was just craving a newer wuxia film that doesn’t bombard its audience with bullshit CGI monsters and wanna-be Hollywood blockbuster spectacle, but there is a simplicity and classic tone to the core of this flick that hit me just right. 


Saturday, November 6, 2021

Yokai Monsters Collection: Along with Ghosts (1969)

After unleashing the Daimajin on collectors with their three-film box set only a handful of months ago, Arrow Video continues their Daiei run with the Yokai Monsters Collection. Complete with the original three film run of the Yokai Monster trilogy and auteur director Takashi Miike’s love letter to those films, this collection brings together four films that were not regularly available (if at all) to Western audiences. Whether you’re a fan of supernatural monster flicks, strange genre-bending slices of cinema, or Japanese film history, it’s hard to go wrong with this boxset as a collector.


The mileage that one gets from the films included in Yokai Monsters depends on their ability to roll with the shifting genres and a sense of artifice within their stories. This review covers the third film in the series, Along with Ghosts, but stay tuned for more reviews for the rest of the series. 



Directors: Kimiyoshi Yasuda, Yoshiyuki Kuroda

Notable Cast: Pepe Hozumi, Masami Burukido, Toura Sakiichi, Yoshito Yamaji, Bokuzen Hidari, Kojiro Hongo


After bouncing through the second film of the series, Spook Warfare, with all of its comedic elements and humorous and heartfelt yokai monster chemistry, the third film Along with Ghosts causes some significant whiplash. While all three films lean into the period set horror-tinged supernatural basics, this third and last (of this original run) of the series finds itself as the most cohesive and cinematically sound in its storytelling. It may not feature nearly as many yokai as the previous entry - or, quite honestly, as the first film, but it makes up for it by being a better film. 


Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Last Night in Soho (2021)

Director: Edgar Wright

Notable Cast: Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, Diana Rigg, Michael Ajao, Terence Stamp


At this point, I'm feeling a bit out of the loop. I adored Edgar Wright as a director in decades previous, but his last two films - including Baby Driver and Last Night in Soho, have left me oddly cold. I think it’s because I feel like Wright has started to write his scripts to match visuals versus crafting visuals to fit the depths of the script. It's a small and nuanced change in approach, but one that I feel undercuts many of the interesting elements in his latest film, Last Night in Soho


With his love letter to giallo and the murder mysteries of the 1960s (some serious Mario Bava vibes here which is always a plus), Last Night in Soho is a gorgeous piece of cinema, and its direction and editing are impressive. The use of dream-like flow and fading with the narrative is artfully done. If anything, Wright is definitely soaring with his visual pops, use of mirror tricks, and creating that sense of "parallel" timelines that evokes a sense of fantasy that slowly seeps into nightmares. 


Monday, November 1, 2021

Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin (2021)

Director: William Eubank

Notable Cast: Emily Bader, Roland Buck III, Dan Lippert, Henry Ayres-Brown, Tom Nowicki, Colin Keane, Jill St. John, Alexa Shae Niziak


Paranormal Activity is back. It’s a franchise that has always held a special place for me that was fascinatingly created almost completely in retroactive continuity between entries. In fact, just this October the Blood Brothers cousin podcast, No Franchise Fatigue, spent three entire episodes digging through the films of the series. You can listen to those episodes at the following links: Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 3. Nonetheless, it’s a series that is far more interesting as a whole than people usually give it credit for even when the quality of individual films waivers immensely. 


However, after an unmemorable and misguided “finale” to the Katie and Kristi Meet Tobi the Demon saga of the first six entries, Paranormal Activity was in desperate need of an injection of life. After six years, the seventh entry, under the title Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin, has been uploaded to the streaming service Paramount+ for our enjoyment. The latest entry represents an interesting shift in style and an entirely new story as a reboot of the series. It’s ultimately a mixed effort, but it does showcase the potential of the future for the long-running series.