Thursday, December 23, 2021

The Matrix Resurrections (2021)

Director: Lana Wachowski

Notable Cast: Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jonathan Groff, Jessica Henwick, Neil Patrick Harris, Jada Pinkett Smith, Priyanka Chopra, Christina Ricci, Lambert Wilson, Chad Stahelski


There’s a joke somewhere where I sarcastically connect the term ‘reboot’ between a computer being reset to cleanse itself of running programs and the idea that this long awaited sequel, The Matrix Resurrections, serves as both a sequel and a reboot to the series as it attempts to enter into its next phase of existence. It’s an easy joke to make and I spent a stupid amount of time sitting in the theater prior to the start of the movie trying to craft the wording and introduction to this review. 


Too bad The Matrix Resurrections beat me to the punch. 


This fourth film in the series, although one might consider it the fifth since the Wachowskis consider the spin off film, The Animatrix, as canon in the series, knows exactly what purpose it serves. This is a film that’s meant to recapture the delights of the original 1999 genre-bending classic while pushing the franchise into a new age for possible new sequels and IP creation while feeding into an audience’s nostalgia. It’s the quintessential reboot. That’s the definition. That’s what a reboot is and does. 


Saturday, December 18, 2021

King Boxer (1972) [Shawscope Volume 1 Boxset]

King Boxer
, or as it may be more widely known in the US as Five Fingers of Death, is such a seminal kung fu film in the history of cinema that it absolutely had to be the first film featured in this latest boxset from Arrow Video, Shawscope Vol. 1. Now I won’t review the film in whole here, as I have said what I had to say over in an article on the impact and strength of the film at the 36 Styles website (link below for those interested), but I did want to make mention that it’s one hell of a way to kick off a box set. 


Not only is this the best the film has looked in release in the US, although my Dragon Dynasty DVD certainly holds up, but it has a ton of fantastic features worth mentioning. In particular, the Tony Rayns commentary about the history of the Shaw Brothers studio as it led up to the release of King Boxer - including a fantastic discussion on its director, is one of the highlights of the entire box set. 


It also features a slick little documentary about the Shaw Brothers studio, the first of three parts, that covers a ton of ground and is a nice feature to add to the mix. A plethora of interviews, alternative titles to feature the US titles, and commentary by David Desser cap off the features and all of them are worth the examination if you are cinephile - and not just ones interested in kung fu. 


As mentioned, if you want to read my full review of the film, please visit the 36 Styles website here: 


Written By Matt Reifschneider

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Disciples of Shaolin (1975)

Director: Chang Cheh

Notable Cast: Alexander Fu Sheng, Chi Kuan-Chun, Chen Ming-Li, Wang Ching-Ping, Lu Ti, Chiang Tao, Fung Hak-On


There are an epic amount of kung fu movies that start off with a demonstration of the martial arts that will be shown in the upcoming film, performed in front of a starkly colored backdrop. It’s a commonplace occurrence in many of these films, particularly from a specific time period, that fans of the studio’s output will be familiar with. 


With Disciples of Shaolin, there is a specific tone to how the film starts in this style. The bright yellow background allows a shirtless Alexander Fu Sheng to pop, as he runs through a series of kung fu movements. There is no score. The sound of the metal rings on his arms clank and jingle. His face is dour and intense. He moves to practice on a set of Shaolin poles as a soundtrack finally sneaks in for the last portion. 


This routine carries on for almost five minutes before the film leaps into its main story, following a bullheaded and cocky young fighter, played by Alexander Fu Sheng, as he attempts to make a name for himself on the hard streets while befriending another mysterious fighter played by Chi Kuan-Chun. 


Saturday, December 11, 2021

The Monkey King Reborn (2021)

Director: Wang Yunfei

Notable Cast: Bian Jiang, Cai Haiting, Su Shangqing, Zhang Lei, Zhang He, Lin Qiang, Liu Sicen, Wang Chenguang, Song Ming, Feng Sheng, Zhang Yaohan, Bai Xuecen, Qiu Qiu


At this point and time, with the boom of the Chinese film industry still refusing to slow down, bolstered by the emergence of new avenues like straight-to-streaming and animation studios, it’s always good to know that there will now be an exponential amount of Monkey King movies to flood my viewing queue. I mean, there was already an entire industries’ worth that has already been released, but now there are further avenues to make even more.




The latest is the animated feature, The Monkey King Reborn, which is granted a very gracious US release via our friends over at Well Go USA on both DVD and Blu Ray. It’s not the first animated feature of the Monkey King to drop in the US, although I’d be hard pressed to find anyone that remembers Monkey King: Hero Is Back from five or six years ago (even with Jackie Chan voicing Wukong in the English dub). And, quite frankly, Monkey King Reborn may not quite find its American audience either. 


Sunday, December 5, 2021

Antlers (2021)

Director: Scott Cooper

Notable Cast: Keri Russell, Jesse Plemons, Jeremy Thomas, Graham Greene, Scott Haze, Rory Cochrane, Amy Madigan, Cody Davis, Sawyer Jones, Arlo Hajdu


Back in early 2018, Guillermo del Toro made a phenomenal speech after winning the Golden Globe for Best Director. He spoke about how his dedication to telling stories about monsters was driven by their meaning beyond scares and fear and how their representation of our flaws as the human race made them incredibly provocative and meaningful. 


With a speech like that, it’s not shocking that most of the films he produces, even when wavering in quality, tend to aim for that same layered storytelling. That’s why when it was announced he would be producing the Scott Cooper-directed horror film, Antlers, it was hard not to get excited. Unfortunately, a pandemic and some studio delays made sure that the film didn’t get released until the latter part of 2021 for the Halloween season, but strong trailers and an interesting combination between producer and director crafted one of the most hyped films of the year. 


Unsurprisingly, I suppose, audiences and critics panned the film. 


Antlers does represent an intriguing mixture of balancing and tones underneath a film that is both perhaps too mainstream for the A24 crowd and too vaguely layered in its offbeat artistic choices for the mainstream crowd. It walks an achingly wound tightrope of expectations and the results were going to disappoint at least one of the two sides of the audience it was aiming for. However, Antlers is hardly the tragic misfire of talents that so many of its critics and fans claimed it to be. While it does make a variety of perplexing decisions with its material, there is such a daunting and haunting undercurrent of its themes that deserves far more credit than it was given. 


As the film follows its main characters, led by schoolmarm Julia and her local sheriff brother Paul, it does play itself on two levels. The surface level is the classic “nature fighting back against the grievances of man” where a Wendigo is unleashed upon a small town in Oregon due to the results of over-foresting and mining. Julia, played with the now natural ability of Keri Russell to feign confidence and capability over a traumatic character’s past - mostly likely refined by her stint on The Americans, starts to investigate a young boy in her class who she sees signs of domestic abuse. It doesn’t take long to escalate as the Wendigo the young boy is trying to keep at bay, releases its fury at people in the small community. 


For this level, Antlers hammers into the formulas of the creature feature in some interesting ways. The film avoids showing the ravages of the incidents on the town as a whole, avoiding some of the cliches of the townsfolk up in arms about murders or disappearances, and instead focuses on the tale of the two main families - that of Julia and her brother and the young boy tormented by the Wendigo. Cooper cakes the film an atmospheric visual fog, utilizing impressive cinematography to create a fairytale-like tonality to this story. The performances are impressive enough between its three leads - strongly using Jesse Plemons to balance out Keri Russell in a thematic way (more on that in a second) and benefiting from a screen stealing performance from Jeremy Thomas as the young boy, Lucas, which garners an uneasy relationship with film’s viewers in his blank, vaguely sad eye acting and emaciated physical performance. 


It’s ultimately an intimate film in how it approaches its story, something that doesn’t necessarily lean on the spectacle of its monster that people might have been expecting, and it tends to leave a lot of its backstories and explanations vague and subtle. At times this can be frustrating, particularly how the film leans heavily away from the Native American roots of its creature and only brushes by those in a way that feels like it might have been a studio note on the script, rather than a fully realized thematic element. Yet, it’s hard for me not to buy into the larger choices that Cooper is making for its narrative and the overall creature feature of its surface story. It’s enough to capture my attention with some strong visuals and entertaining horror sequences that build on the accumulating dread of its mysteries around the Wendigo. 


Yet, it’s the thematic elements and allegories that are the reason Antlers hung with me long after its credits had rolled by. It should be notable that the film brushes along a slew of various themes from the previously mentioned resource mismanagement or the Native American lore, but it also touches on a couple of key ones with the human condition like alcoholism or addiction and the circular cycle of domestic violence. It’s in these latter themes that Antlers thrives. The manner that it ties these thematic ideas into the Wendigo lore and how the characters interact lifts the film above the usual creature feature material. There’s a lot to chew on in these portions and it’s worth noting for its layered approach to the material. 


Perhaps Antlers was just a film that could not live up to its own hype created by its strong marketing and balancing act between cinematic approaches. At least in the public’s eye. Its allegories are layered in multiple ways and its tale of a creature is far more concerned with its themes than consistency in narrative.  That’s the trick of the film, ultimately. Its unique choices and bold topics are not necessarily in the best balance, but it's through those choices that Antlers finds its voice - in between the styles and in between the tones.  


Written By Matt Reifschneider

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City (2021)

Director: Johannes Roberts

Notable Cast: Kaya Scodelario, Robbie Amell, Hannah John-Kamen, Neal McDonough, Tom Hopper, Avan Jogia, Donal Logue, Nathan Dales, Josh Cruddas, Lily Gao


After grossing an insane amount of money and making it one of the biggest box office horror franchises of all time, Sony wasn’t going to take long to reboot the Resident Evil franchise. It’s not like Sony has a lot of load-bearing franchises to begin with under their belt and letting this one stay dormant for too long would be asinine. 


To their benefit, this reboot of the long-running video game series does go back to the source material roots and away from the Matrix-knock-off action meets the inescapable silliness of Paul WS Anderson throwing random shit at his audience. Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City, while still sporting one of the worst titles I can think of in recent history, is a fantastic idea on paper. Go back to the horror. Go back to the much-loved characters. Go back to the fear that the Resident Evil game series used to launch an entire subgenre of gaming.


It’s a shame that Resident Evil - I refuse to use its full title from this point on - is a middling effort.