Monday, June 27, 2022

Weighted Yet Unbalanced: Story of Woo Viet (1981) Review

Director: Ann Hui

Notable Cast: Chow Yun Fat, Cora Miao, Cherie Chung, Lo Lieh, Gam Biu, Homer Cheung, Lam Ying-Fat, Tong Kam-Tong


Story of Woo Viet is a powerfully told, albeit at times unbalanced feature by Hong Kong legend Ann Hui, featuring a subtle but searing performance by Chow Yun-fat, to whom the title Hong Kong legend most certainly applies to as well. This is the story of a Chinese-Vietnamese immigrant looking for a better life when entering Hong Kong, but of course, he and others around him are brought into a world of crime and suffering. Woo Viet will do whatever it takes for a better life. As he says, "Killing here is a lot easier than it was during the war!".


Ann Hui pulls together an impressive string of performances by Chow Yun-fat as the titular Woo Viet, Cora Miao as the soft-spoken and emotionally passionate Li Lap-Quan, and even Shaw Bros. badass Lo Lieh gets to brush up his dramatic chops here as Sarm, a co-worker who befriends Woo as they dive deeper into the life of contract killers. Cherie Cheung is fine here, but she doesn't have much to do as Shum Ching, Woo's love interest in the piece.


Saturday, June 25, 2022

Tears of Blood: The Sadness (2022) Review

Director: Robert Jabbaz

Notable Cast: Berant Zhu, Regina Lei, Ying-Ru Chen, Tzu-Chiang Wang, Tsai Chang-Hsien, Lan Wei-Hua, Chi-Min Chou


If there’s one film released this year that ought to create a divide amongst its viewers, it is most certainly The Sadness. Although comparisons are being made online to a comic series Crossed regarding its content, The Sadness is one of those films whose themes and execution are bound to fester under the skin in one way or another. If it isn’t for the visuals one is about to experience, then it’s the nihilistic streak in its themes that simmers underneath its frantic and abrasive surface. Either way, audiences may have trouble digesting what’s in store. 


Conceptually, it’s as if director Robert Jabbaz took the idea of 28 Days Later, mixed it with The Crazies remake, and then proceeded to run it through Hong Kong Cat III lenses (a relatively notorious rating due to its use of graphic violence, sex, and absurdity for those new to the term) for two decades. The Sadness maintains this intriguing balance of classic “zombie” survival storytelling that just happens to feature some of the most brutal gore, violence, and sexual depravity on the screen in decades.


Friday, June 24, 2022

Gonna Take More Than Killing Me to Kill Me: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022) Review

Director: Sam Raimi

Notable Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Xochitl Gomez, Benedict Wong, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Jett Klyne, Julian Hilliard


Although I am not the biggest fan of the first Doctor Strange, a Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) film that continually seems to garner and convert fans year after year, even I was hyped for its sequel, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. The combination of director Sam Raimi at the helm and the fact that it was reportedly a direct continuation of the events from WandaVision (a show that easily ranks as one of the most fascinating and best uses of the MCU formula to retcon characters that were horrifically misused or underused in previous films), made this sequel a must see for me. Not that I would have skipped an MCU movie in theaters, but the stars seemed to align with this one. The question remained, how much would Disney and Marvel try to water down the film to get it to mix with general audiences?


Fortunately, for this reviewer, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, which will just be referred to as Doctor Strange 2 from this point on - although I am tempted to call it 2 Strange 2 Multiverse for the sake of being ‘that guy’, is one that hits its mark. It’s not necessarily the best film for MCU fans, but it might be one of the more entertaining ones in the franchise and it delivers in some surprising ways that allow it to overcome its faults. Although the film requires some stretching and formula establishment to get moving, the latter moments of the film Doctor Strange 2 have so much energy and oddities under its cloak that it does find its voice. 


Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Wild Ride to Hell: Dashcam (2022) Review

Director: Rob Savage

Notable Cast: Annie Hardy, Amar Chadha-Patel, Angela Enahoro


After taking the horror world by storm with his Zoom séance nightmare known as Host, director Rob Savage became an overnight sensation in the genre cinema world. If he could pull off that kind of effective horror filmmaking in 60+ minutes with minimal resources in the middle of a pandemic where all of the stars were quarantined, what could he do with more? It’s the question that often gets asked of stylistic and bold indie filmmakers and many of them flounder under the expectations of larger studio pressures or other external factors. The follow-up to a blank check guarantor is always exciting.


With his follow-up, Dashcam, Rob Savage partnered up with Blumhouse to dig back into the “found footage” end of the genre, and, quite frankly, it’s easy to see why he would. His technical prowess in delivering some shocking visuals and moments within the confines of the style is impressively bombastic with this film. If anything, Dashcam knows that it doesn’t want to deviate too far from the style that worked in Host, but it also wants to expand on it in some immense ways. The combination, while occasionally at odds with one another, provides one of the more fascinating horror experiences of the year. 


This Song Has Me Buggin': Macross Frontier: The False Songstress (2009) Review

Director: Shoji Kawamori

Notable Cast: Jun Fukuyama, Aya Endo, Megumi Nakajima, Yuichi Nakamura, Aya Hirano, Kikuko Inoue, Megumi Toyoguchi, Hiroshi Kamiya, Kenta Miyake


The entire release strategy for Macross and/or Robotech in the United States is a fascinating endeavor to unravel. Although that history is fairly well researched and written about in a variety of places by incredibly knowledgeable fans and cultural writers, it remains one of the cornerstones of understanding the relationship between Japan and the United States through the lens of anime. It’s complicated and the two industries often mistranslated the appeal of these kinds of shows. Yet, with anime now being one of the biggest industries in the world due to more avenues of access, the time is ripe to re-evaluate the relationship as the tides rise. 


Although I am hardly an expert, only recently starting my journey through the anime landscape, the release of the Macross sequel series and its film, under the banner Macross Frontier, piqued my interest. Although the series and films had been obscure for western audiences since its debut in 2008 (with the final film dropping in 2011), the two films were finally getting theatrical releases in the US in 2022. For Macross fans in the US, what a time to be alive, right?


Yet, as I walked out with my family from seeing the first of the two films, Macross Frontier: The False Songstress (great title, might I add - considering the themes of music within the Macross series), a thought crossed my mind. Perhaps the release of Macross Frontier was influenced by the fact that this film is a messy barrage of self-praising referential moments, a combative combination of traditional animation and computer-generated material, roughly 200 thinly drawn themes, and main characters that waver between the traditional Macross love triangle and cringe worthy teen horniness. Compared to the other Macross films, which already have their highs and lows, The False Songstress is a wildly uneven and problematic ride. 


Sunday, June 12, 2022

No Bones About It: Jurassic World Dominion (2022) Review

Director: Colin Trevorrow

Notable Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Laura Dern, Sam Neill, Jeff Goldblum, DeWanda Wise, Mamoudou Athie, Isabella Sermon, Campbell Scott, BD Wong, Omar Sy


One should always carry a suspended sense of disbelief when going into a Jurassic Park film (or in the case of the latest ones, Jurassic World.) Even the original, which remains a bonafide grade-A slab of cinematic brilliance in the realm of blockbusters, requires its audience to not question its many coincidences or shortcuts to set up its premise. Still, the latest entry into the series, the sixth one overall, is a film that requires its audience to fully lose consciousness to even attempt at following along with its bloated story. 


Jurassic World Dominion is a spectacle through and through, although certainly not in the way that the ending of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom promised. Crowds are apt to respond to director Colin Trevorrow’s occasional visual wonder, cheap heroic one-liners, and ham-fisted nods to the original run of Jurassic Park movies, but all of those are at the expense of any kind of narrative weight. If anything, Jurassic World Dominion proves to be the most perplexing film of the franchise in how poorly everything is constructed despite the fact that it should have been the easiest film to deliver on all levels. 


Friday, June 3, 2022

The Fist of Preboot: Fist of Legend (2019) Review

Director: Liu Chun

Notable Cast: Tiger Xu, Huang Weiting, Xu Shaohang, Wang Jiusheng, Wang Hongqian, Ye Xinyu


As of recently, the online, streaming exclusive releases in China have been plentiful. I briefly mentioned it in my piece on The Emperor’s Sword HERE, but properly conveying the number of titles being unleashed on various services can easily rival the breaking dam of titles in the US. Fortunately, a handful of streaming services in the US and other western countries have picked up a few of these titles for release, and, after seeing some overall positive reactions to Fist of Legend, I dove into Hi-Yah! to check out this kung fu flick. 


At a wickedly fast 70+ minutes, Fist of Legend is precisely what the doctor ordered. It’s not one of those films that genre fans will feel like they missed out on because they didn’t see it in theaters - thanks to its smaller scale and limited budget. However, it’s still a relatively solid film, entertaining enough, and features plenty of ass-kicking beatdowns to keep kung fu fans appeased. 


Friday, May 20, 2022

Some Bear Out There: Girls Nite Out (1982) Review

Director: Robert Deubel

Notable Cast: Julia Montgomery, James Carroll, Suzanne Barnes, Rutanya Alda, Hal Holbrook, Lauren-Marie Taylor, David Holbrook, Laura Summer, Carrick Glenn, John Didrichsen, Lois Robbins


There’s a moment in Girls Nite Out where the film bounces between a radio DJ giving out clues for the campus scavenger hunt, a sorority girl putting on lipstick, and the mysterious killer taping together steak knives and putting them through the mitt of the bear mascot for the school basketball team. Welcome to 1982 and the slasher boom is already in full swing and if those three things mentioned being done in sync doesn’t give you everything you need to know about this forgotten slasher, Girls Nite Out, then it’s time to go back to Slasher Basics 101. 


For their latest unearthed slasher, Arrow Video has dropped another collector’s item for slash-fans and overall horror nerds to add to their collection. Girls Nite Out, in true 1982 fashion, runs through the tropes with relative ease and most slasher fans will find aspects to love about it. However, it’s rather slow pacing on the front end and run-of-the-mill kills (run-of-the-kill?) make it far more generic than it could have been with its clever set up and angle on the killer. 


Thursday, May 12, 2022

A Mali-Boo Shockumentary: Malibu Horror Story (2002) Review [Panic Fest 2022]

Director: Scott Sloan

Notable Cast: Tommy Cramer, Dylan Sprayberry, Rebecca Forsythe, Robert Bailey Jr, Jacob Hughes, Veno Miller, Hector Gomez Jr, Valentina de Angelis

Also known as: The Malibu Tapes


The term ‘mockumentary’ can be deceptive. Although the genre may regularly apply to the style or tonality of comedies like The Office or any of Christopher Guest’s films like A Mighty Wind, it has more to do with the replication of a documentary than it does satire or spoof. For example, Malibu Horror Story is most certainly a mockumentary for its first two thirds as it replicates the feeling of a ghost investigation show one might stumble upon on YouTube. Yet horror fans might be immediately turned off by that idea as so many found footage flicks have already used that angle to tell their story - ala Grave Encounters


Still, it’s the can-do attitude to remarkably strong execution of films like Malibu Horror Story that remind us of what a mockumentary can do as a filmic style. Maybe the term shockumentary is more fitting. Not only does this film properly create a fake documentary feel for most of its run time, but it ends up being a decently fun and horror film that pushes the boundaries of its budget and adds just enough artistic merit to its proceedings to lift the whole beyond its parts. Malibu Horror Story might seem like “just another found footage horror flick.” It’s not and there is a creative flow to it that sets it apart from its peers. 


Monday, May 9, 2022

My Head Is Raining: The Outwaters (2022) Review [Panic Fest 2022]

Director: Robbie Banfitch

Notable Cast: Robbie Banfitch, Angela Basolis, Scott Schamell, Michelle May, Leslie Ann Banfitch


The sight of a silhouetted figure on the desert landscape, holding a very well defined ax as the vista of light fades behind them is the kind of image that many horror films would stake their entire concept on. It’s frightening, dynamic, and memorable. For The Outwaters though, that image comes at the beginning of one hellish trip. It’s at this moment that the film shifts gears from its ultra-realistic set up towards the found footage hellscape that would constitute the visuals of insanity. 


In what may be the utmost found footage horror film to define the term ‘found footage,’ The Outwaters is essentially one of those giant water slides at a massive amusement park. It’s a hell of a climb to get up there to the top, a chore of tedium while burning one’s feet on the ground and dealing with a lot of people that all share the same questions about the worthiness of the climb, but once you get on that slide… It's a quick trip through a somewhat suffocating and discombobulating mixture of fear, thrills, and confusion before finding your destination. It just starts with that image of a person silhouetted with an ax right before jumping in the tube. 


A Tale of Madness and Screaming Ants: Masking Threshold (2022) Review [Panic Fest 2022]

Director: Johannes Grenzfurthner

Notable Cast: Johannes Grenzfurthner, Ethan Haslam


Putting an audience into the mindset of a character, mainly the protagonist, is script writing and filmmaking 101. The fastest way to instill empathy is to see through the eyes of that character. Any film student or casual viewer knows this to be true. Even when the protagonist is, essentially, the villain of the story. This choice is not one that will often make for an easy watch, but one that can explore some fascinating depths of the character. 


Masking Threshold, from director Johannes Grenzfurthner, fully dives into this approach. It’s a character study which attempts to fully immerse its audience into the world and thoughts of its protagonist, unfolding like a type of visual diary, as they begin their descent into a madness driven by obsession. It’s experimental to the max, making it one of the more unique watches of Panic Fest 2022, and fascinating to a point that it’s hard to deny that it doesn’t encapsulate its concept in full - even if it demands a lot of patience from its audience. 


Monday, May 2, 2022

A First Driver's Test: Intimacies (2012) Review

Director: Ryusuke Hamaguchi

Notable Cast: Rei Hirano, Ryo Sato, Mikio Tayama, Ayako Ito


Intimacies is a 4-hour multimedia docufiction journey through the creation and delivery of a stage play called 'Intimacies'. As a person who enjoys lengthy, slow-moving films, I assumed this would be an easy sit for me. Admittedly, I felt the discomfort the characters felt during some of these meetings leading up to their performance while watching the film unfold. It really felt like it was dragging its feet at times, even though I got the point and intention behind it. I know, for a fact, that Hamaguchi masters this exact concept and feeling with Drive My Car, nearly a decade later, but this definitely acts as a prototypal piece to that staggering work. 


Here the experimental element is what sets it apart. That may appeal to a certain type of filmgoer, but for me, it just fell apart at times. While you certainly get very familiar with characters and spend a lot of time with them, by the end some of them felt just as distanced as they were to me in the beginning, but again, that very well may be the point. I do think the standout characters, however, will stick with me for some time to come, including the leading couple that creates the play themselves. Their arc is so satisfying, but in ways, I wish to keep a secret for whichever curious reader may not yet know themselves.


Saturday, April 30, 2022

Questions of Intimacy: Dawning on Us (2021) Review

Director: Kenji Yamauchi

Kenji Yamauchi's fourth feature film, Dawning on Us, is definitely a film made during the COVID pandemic, as it is directly addressed and incorporated throughout the film's dialogues and even in a key scene near the end. You are reminded throughout that this is a product of our times and it feels very relevant and relatable in that sense.


Once again, like with At the Terrace, what we get here is a filmic stage play essentially. Very sparse in terms of location and with film techniques on display, but that is by no means a slight against the film as it is directed quite beautifully and is effective emotionally from start to finish. The play-inspired feel makes sense as Yamauchi has a background in theater. His dialogue here is natural and provides just the right amount of snap to give us plenty to chew on as the drama, and perfectly timed dry humor, plays out before us.

A Parasitic Sense of the Past: The Tag-Along (2015) Review

Director: Cheng Wei-Hao

Notable Cast: River Huang, Tiffany Hsu, Yin-Shang Liu, Yumi Wong, Chang Pai-Chou, Mario Pu, Pai Ming-Hua, Mei-Man Jin, Basang Yawei


It wasn’t until the third film in the franchise that I started to pay attention, but when I finally looked up a way to watch The Tag-Along my curiosity was full-blown. Not only was this Taiwanese horror flick well regarded in my horror circles (at least to the degree to pique my interest), it was - at the time of its release - the highest-grossing horror film in Taiwan. Although the film has seemingly floundered to find a mass audience outside of its home, The Tag-Along is a remarkably adept horror experience that blends its culturally ripe urban myth concept with classic ghost story thrills into an atmospheric, jump scare littered ride. Don’t assume it’s just another Ring knockoff. The Tag-Along hangs on with some fascinating depth and still delivers the scares. 


When so many ghost stories are birthed from older urban legends or stories from historical texts, it’s always somewhat refreshing to hear a relatively modern one. Usually, when they occur, it’s because a film is attempting to cash in on the 15 minutes of internet fame of a new ‘creepypasta’ trend, ala Slenderman. The Tag-Along, however, is a blend of the two. The origin of the urban myth only kicks back to the 1990s when a video featuring a little girl in a red dress following some hikers was discovered, went viral online, and then created entire new “experiences” of people seeing the ‘tag along spirit.’ It’s just intriguing enough in its unusualness to perk interest and yet vague enough to be imbued with layered meaning for artists to use. 


Sunday, April 24, 2022

A Lethal Injection: The Five Venoms (1978) Update Review [Shawscope Vol. 1 Box Set]

As with many of the other films in this Shawscope Vol 1 set, or the new Blu-Ray releases for Shaw Brothers films from any newer distribution company, I’ve spent quite a bit of time addressing the film on hand. The Five Venoms, also known as The Five Deadly Venoms as it was the first time I saw it, is one of those films. This is more or less an update to those pieces rather than a full review of the film. If you want more in-depth writing, feel free to visit my original review for Blood Brothers HEREor my piece about the role of nihilism and hope in the film for the official Shaw Brothers website HERE


For those perhaps stumbling upon this film for the first time due to the latest release from Arrow Video, then congrats. You’ve just leaped into one of the greatest classic martial arts films of all time. Yes, I stand by that statement and while many may argue that point, particularly due to the overall “lack” of action in this film (is it lacking when each sequence has so much storytelling and pathos to it?), I remain vigilant in that stance. 


The Five Venoms is an incredible piece of cinema. 


Thursday, April 21, 2022

Deep Conspiracies and Darker Crimes: The Big Racket (1976) Review

Director: Enzo G. Castellari

Notable Cast: Fabio Testi, Vincent Gardenia, Orso Maria Guerrini, Glauco Onorato, Marcella Michelangeli, Romano Puppo, Antonio Marsina, Salvatore Borgese, Joshua Sinclair


Within the confines of Italian genre cinema, particularly the boom of exploitative work from the late 60s through the 1980s, there are a handful of directors that repeatedly pop up as some of the cornerstones. Enzo G. Castellari is one of those. Although I have yet to fully explore his works with full gusto, the films that I have seen can range so wildly in quality that it makes him one of the more fascinating artists to explore. 


When Arrow Video decided to drop a double-feature box set of two of his works from the poliziotteschi genre (or fringing on it), it was high time to explore some new Castellari films. Entitled Rogue Cops and Racketeers: Two Crime Thrillers The Big Racket & The Heroin Busters from Enzo G. Castellari, in all of its long winded glory, the set features those two films and a slew of new special features for fans and collectors to enjoy. 


The first film featured in the set, The Big Racket, could be considered a big surprise. To me, at least. Although the film regularly hits many of the tropes of the crime films of the era and industry, it’s a remarkably intense flick and plays its story and characters like a much larger crime epic. It’s a meticulously pieced together slice of crime cinema loaded with a slew of fun side characters, a handful of intense crime and action sequences, and a finale that features a body count Rambo would be impressed with. The Big Racket not only rests as one of the best Castellari films, but perhaps one of the most entertaining Italian crime films of the period.


Tuesday, April 19, 2022

A New Duel, Venoms Style: The Flag of Iron (1980) Review Update

The Shaw Brothers studio was always sly in taking many of the same stories or scripts and remaking them in a way that would feel refreshingly new or unique compared to the original. Although the studio, which produced one metric shit ton of films through its lifetime, would rarely find itself delving too much into franchises, they loved these secret remakes. In the case of this film, The Flag of Iron, it’s the style of the film that is so different that the story it’s telling is almost unrecognizable to its predecessor. 


Yes, indeed, The Flag of Iron is a remake of the Shaw Brothers’ The Duel, and if you want more information, you’re welcome to read my previous review for The Flag of Iron HERE (or if you’re so inclined you can read my review for The Duel HERE). Yet, it's the new 88 Films release of the former that is the focus of this brief update. 


Monday, April 18, 2022

‘Twas the (Body) Hoppiest of Days: Spiritwalker (2022) Review

Director: Yoon Jae-geun

Notable Cast: Yoon Kye-sang Park Yong-woo, Lim Ji-yeon, Yoo Seung-mok, Park Ji-hwan, Lee Sung-wook, Hong Gi-jun, Seo Hyun-woo, Ju Jin-mo


Although it may often be known as the Freaky Friday premise due to the popularity of that film - and its various remakes, the idea of body swapping is a fairly familiar trope within cinema for a variety of reasons. Oftentimes, as in the case of the newer Jumanji films as an example, it’s ripe for comedy to see people of a particular physical appearance play completely against type for comedic effect. In the case of Freaky, it’s the final girl and the slasher killer that swap bodies. Horror comedy ensues. Further proof that it’s a concept that continues to work decade after decade.


Now, what if it was an action thriller that used that body-swapping concept? And not in the way that Face/Off swapped faces, but what if the “soul” of a person was forcibly placed into another body? Would that still work? These are the questions being asked by Spiritwalker, the latest film to cross over the ocean from South Korea to the United States. In this iteration, there’s a few more rules to the entire event and almost no comedy to be derived. Instead, the film focuses on how disjointed that experience would be and how it could both enhance and deter a quest for revenge. 


Feel free to walk this way, Spiritwalker


Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Fear and Focused Violence: The Batman (2022) Review

Director: Matt Reeves

Notable Cast: Robert Pattinson, Zoe Kravitz, Paul Dano, Jeffrey Wright, John Turturro, Peter Sarsgaard, Andy Serkis, Colin Farrell


Fear and a little focused violence. In a line of dialogue in the third act of The Batman, Paul Dano’s Riddler gives the classic villain monologue which gives Robert Pattinson’s Batman a bit of credit for his style of unmasking the corruption of the city. It’s a reference to one of Batman’s opening voice-over narrations about how he uses the shadows, violence, and a sense of fear to try and repress the criminal element of a decaying Gotham. Now, his tactics are being used against him by a serial killer-styled Riddler, who is subsequently hunting down corrupt individuals from Gotham’s 1% and leaving riddles to drag Batman into the light. 


The Batman is bleak. It’s grim. It’s a film dedicated to honing in on the dark part of the Dark Knight. 


Director and co-writer Matt Reeves never avoids it either. With his latest piece of the DC Extended Universe of live-action comic book films, Reeves doubles down on the darkness of the early days of the caped crusader, giving audiences a new cinematic vision of the long-running hero (or in this case, very much an anti-hero) and possibly delivering one of the more intriguing incarnations of him. The Batman is not the easiest film to digest, particularly with its butt-numbing 3-hour runtime, but it’s one that encapsulates a Batman that is both inherently a throwback to older versions while running parallel with the themes and societal fears of a new generation. 


Monday, March 28, 2022

A New Move in a Slasher X-orcise: X (2022) Review

Director: Ti West

Notable Cast: Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega, Brittany Snow, Kid Cudi, Martin Henderson, Owen Campbell, Stephen Ure, James Gaylyn


Over the last few years, the slasher has started to make another comeback. I’ve mentioned it a few times in recent reviews, including our coverage of Scream (2022) just a couple of months ago, but it’s a fascinating time for the slasher to be rearing its gory and gimmicky head. Perhaps it’s the reactive way that things swing after a handful of years of slow burn, artsy horror that has dominated the landscape, but nonetheless, here we are once again as slashers regain momentum. 


Of that reactionary stance, perhaps it makes sense that A24 would leap in on it as they continue to be one of the big studios leading the horror charge in theaters, but a slasher seems like it could be outside of their overall style as a studio. Compound that by having writer and director Ti West helm the film X for the studio and it seems like it could be a massive misfire in concept out of the gate. 


Yet, X, the film that brings Ti West and A24 together for the first time, is a wild and offbeat success. It rocks a see-saw teetering balance between the director’s notable slow-burn style and the more entertaining titillations of the genre. It also adds in just enough of that artistic flavor of the studio to snatch the horror fans with an “elevated” taste. It’s strangely effective at what it does and it makes X one of the more effective throwback horror flicks in recent memory. 


Sign the Dotted Line: The Contractor (2022) Review

Director: Tarik Saleh

Notable Cast: Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Gillian Jacobs, Kiefer Sutherland, Eddie Marsan, Florian Munteanu


As the industry continues to shift in recent years, it’s hard not to lament the loss of certain mid-tier genres in the wake of a spectacle-driven box office. The death of the mid-budget adult-targeted film is well recognized throughout film criticism and industry analysis where many great writers have spoken about it at length so iterating the eulogy here is not the best use of my word usage. With the rise of streaming, however, there seems to be a grasp towards grabbing those genres and reclaiming them for a modern era. 


The Contractor, exemplifies this. 


Although this latest old-school espionage thriller is receiving a small theatrical run this week, its sale to both Showtime and Paramount+ at the same time is indicative of this move. The Contractor is not the spectacle-driven spy flick that Mission: Impossible or James Bond fans might expect, but it is a solid sleeper hit that manages a balance between modern political themes and old-school espionage tension and thrills. It’s not wholly the most thrilling watch, thanks to a very drama-heavy first half, but its dedication to creating realistic characters and then throwing them into the military action shouldn’t be written off as boring either. The Contractor is simply more throw-back tone than anything. It’s utterly refreshing at times.  


Sunday, March 20, 2022

Fight Father, Fight Son: Executioners from Shaolin (1977) Update Review [Shawscope Vol. 1 Box Set]

It’s amazing how much difference a decade makes. Executioners from Shaolin is considered, by fans at least, as one of the best films that the Shaw Brothers catalog and it’s an iconic classic in a variety of other ways. It’s loved for so many reasons and all of them are legitimate. The stars, the action, the story… you name it and there’s a reason why Executioners from Shaolin is considered a cornerstone film of the cornerstone studio. 


Yet, just ten years ago in the early days of Blood Brothers, I wrote a very lukewarm review of the film. It’s not a very well-written review, to be frank, and part of me hates to link it HERE, but it’s important to recognize the flaws of the past. That’s what Executioners from Shaolin teaches us anyway. To learn from the past, make the proper corrections, and move forward to claim justice. 


A few years ago, I was graciously asked to write a new piece on the film for the official Celestial Pictures Shaw Brothers website - which can be found HERE, and in that time I saw that I was perhaps a bit harsh on the film initially. With its inclusion in the Shawscope Vol. 1 boxset from Arrow Video, now it’s my third time addressing the film and I like to think that it’s the charm. 


Sunday, March 13, 2022

18 and Bronze to Go: 18 Bronzemen (1976) Review [Cinematic Vengeance Box Set]

Director: Joseph Kuo

Notable Cast: Tien Peng, Carter Wong, Polly Shang-Kuan Ling-Feng


Heading into the final leg of Eureka’s Cinematic Vengeance box set, it’s nice to be able to see a remastered, high-def version of one of Joseph Kuo’s most iconic films - 18 Bronzemen. The original copy that I had laying around the house, a bootleg DVD with a VHS style rip of the film, was one that remained in rotation as a film to put on in the background when I was doing house chores, but after seeing this latest release - I’ve found a new respect for Kuo’s Shaolin saga of revenge. 


Although it’s easy to compare 18 Bronzemen to The 36 Chambers of Shaolin for its structure and themes, it’s not necessarily a comparison that does either film any favors. As noted in the booklet that comes along with the Cinematic Vengeance boxset, written by James Oliver, 18 Bronzemen came out two years prior to the Lau Kar Leung cornerstone classic and that’s a fact that should be remembered. 


Thursday, March 10, 2022

A Short, Sharp…: Shock (1977) Review Update

For the record, there is already a review for the film Shock here on Blood Brothers. It just happens to be under the original US title, Beyond the Door II, and was written by Eric Reifschneider as a defense of the film. You’re welcome to read it at this LINK. The intention of this piece is to give a slightly new viewpoint on the film and address the latest Blu Ray from Arrow Video. 


What’s fascinating is that while Eric defended the final film from the iconic genre director Mario Bava, almost 12 years ago on this very site, it’s only now that Shock is finding its way onto the Arrow Video lineup. The label has made a statement to release damn near every film from the Italian auteur under their banner and they are getting damn close with the latest being this ghostly Italian spin on the haunted house film. 


Upon this latest watch, a gorgeous new 2K restoration by Arrow Films that truly brings out Bava’s use of visuals and sound design in some impressive ways, it’s remarkable that this film gets as overlooked as it does. Even in the years since Eric originally posted his review here on Blood Brothers, Shock finds itself mostly falling between the cracks in discussions of Italian horror. 


Let the Lack of Games Begin: Deadly Games (1982) Review

Director: Scott Mansfield

Notable Cast: Alexandra Morgan, Jo Ann Harris, Sam Groom, Saul Sindell, Steve Railsback, Denise Galik, Dick Butkus


If you’re a horror fan of a certain age, then growing up with slashers and having an affinity for them is part of the nostalgia and heritage. They were all the rage and became the formula for what the social conscious associated with the term horror. Although I would not care to place myself within the confines of being a slasher diehard, I, too, have an affinity for the genre that piques my interest when I hear about lost films from the golden era (i.e. 1980s.) 


However, the die-hards of the genre will certainly claim that a slew of films from that timeline are cult classics when they are often baffling, watered-down representations of all the great things that slashers could be even within the boundaries of its genre. For every true slasher gem, whether it is the surprisingly competent and effective tones of The Mutilator or the hilariously tongue-in-cheek Blood Rage, there are ones that simply do not come close to living up to the standards of the genre - even with nostalgia goggles firmly in place. 


Deadly Games, despite its glorious cover artwork absolutely meant to guarantee rentals in the ma n’ pop video shops of the 1980s, is one of those films. For every moment where it finds traction in a fun idea or shockingly sober pop of artistry, there are a dozen perplexing choices being made throughout the film. It’s bewildering how Deadly Games manages to misfire at almost every corner from its concept, script, performances, or style. 


Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Pour Another Round: Come Drink with Me (1966) Review Update

Similar to my updated review for King Boxer, I have spent a considerable amount of time in my career singing the praises of Come Drink with Me as a cornerstone to martial arts cinema - and in my opinion, all of action cinema. Enough so, that I assume I sound like Drunk Cat, the mysterious vagabond in the film, when he sings for the bar in an attempt collect some tips. I'm just singing the praises of martial arts cinema classics. 


There is already a full review for the film here on the website that you can read at the following LINK which I wrote some seven years ago. more recently I included the film in an article about King Hu’s Inn Trilogy - a piece that can be found HERE. So, yes, I have been spending some time already writing about this film. Yet, with the latest Arrow Video Blu Ray due to hit shelves this month, I felt inclined to pipe up once again with my warblin' singing voice.


Saturday, February 26, 2022

Man of a Thousand Faces and Nine Films: Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022) Review

Director: David Blue Garcia

Notable Cast: Sarah Yarkin, Elsie Fisher, Mark Burnham, Jacob Latimore, Moe Dunford, Olwen Fouéré, Jessica Allain, Nell Hudson, Alice Krige, William Hope, Jolyon Coy, Sam Douglas, John Larroquette


A chainsaw is a fascinating instrument for a horror film. It represents so many things on so many levels. Cinematically, it’s imposing visually and abrasively loud. It’s a blunt instrument with its weight and it still cuts, but not in nice lean slices. It rips things apart and leaves ragged edges. It’s not a precise instrument of destruction, at least not in the hands of most individuals. It’s an instrument seen for the working class, but a skilled one, and it can be layered with so many more meanings. That’s why its inclusion was such a provocative choice in the title for the original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and it was a statement piece in Tobe Hooper’s original horror milestone classic.


In what some might deem a fun twist of fate, the latest entry into this decades long-running horror franchise, confusingly titled Texas Chainsaw Massacre, is a film that feels like a chainsaw had been taken to it. It’s messy, choppy, loud, and - just like those chainsaw competitions that ESPN shows on Saturday afternoons - it’s stupidly enjoyable with the appropriate mindset. 


Wednesday, February 16, 2022

All Fun And Games Until Someone Loses An Arm: The Shaolin Kids (1975) Review [Cinematic Vengeance Box Set]

Director: Joseph Kuo

Notable Cast: Polly Shang-Kuan Ling-Feng, Tien Peng, Carter Wong, Chin Kang, Chiang Nan, Yi Yuan, Chang Yi, Lung Fong, Chang I-Fei, Tsao Chien, Ko Hsiang-Ting, Chang Feng

Also known as: Shaolin Death Squad


The career of Joseph Kuo, as certainly paralleled in the quality of various films included in the Cinematic Vengeance box set, does admirable things with what little he has on hand. It’s not always as successful as one might hope, but he often is able to create entertaining films, nonetheless. Just read through some of the other reviews on this site about his work. Or better yet just go watch his films. You won’t regret it. 


This expectation in his ability to do so much with so little is why, perhaps, seeing a full costumed swordplay film from the skilled director made for slightly higher expectations. If he can make 7 Grandmasters, imagine what he could do with full sets and an epic script. 


The Shaolin Kids, which has nothing to do with Shaolin or kids in the traditional sense, is an attempt to craft a big n’ bold epic. However, more does not always mean better, and The Shaolin Kids struggles to find a balance in its storytelling to embrace its ambitions. It’s loaded with some fantastic ideas and strong moments, but the whole is far less than the pieces. It’s entertaining enough for fans of the genre or the director, but hardly one of his best. 


Monday, February 14, 2022

Clone Alone: Seobok: Project Clone (2022) Review

Director: Lee Yong-ju

Notable Cast: Gong Yoo, Park Bo-gum, Jo Woo-jin, Park Byung-eun, Jang Young-nam, Kim Jae-keon

Also known as: Seo Bok


The amount of science fiction films that focus on the “what does it mean to be human?” question of the genre is absurd. I love science fiction, in all of its colors and styles, but there are only so many times one can ask that question of the audience before it becomes trite. Yes, we all get it. Robots and clones and humans and boy, oh, boy, are we all that different?


The science fiction films that set themselves apart from their peers in asking such questions are ones that effectively create characters and situations where an audience cares about what the answer means to them. It’s not just some philosophical pondering. It’s a grounded and connected theme to the world of the film. Seobok succeeds in doing just that. Despite its oddball subtitle that reeks of big box store buzz words, Project Clone, the film asks so many of the hum-drum questions in such an intriguing slightly off-kilter manner that it manages to pull off hitting the tropes without feeling hum-drum itself. 


Saturday, February 12, 2022

More Forgiveness, Less Aggression: Challenge of the Masters (1976) Review [Shawscope Volume 1 Boxset]

Director: Lau Kar-Leung

Notable Cast: Gordon Liu, Chen Kuan-Tai, Chiang Yang, Lau Kar-Leung, Lily Li Li-Li, Lau Kar-Wing, Ricky Hui, Chiang Tao, Wong Yu, Fung Hak-On, Wilsong Tong, Shih Chung-Tien, Cheng Kang-Yeh


Being a kung fu cinema fan often means that I have to explain why I thoroughly enjoy the genre to many people unaware of its merits. Just the other day, an associate of mine stated, ‘How can you watch so many of those? Isn’t it all just people fighting?’ Sure, that is a certain element to the films and for those who don’t understand how modern action cinema and blockbusters owe large portions of their cinematic DNA to kung fu films from Hong Kong of this era, it can feel like it's just a bunch of folks punching and kicking one another. 


Like any other genre, there is a spectrum of quality to their merits. In the case of so many of Lau Kar-Leung’s films, there is a dedicated sense of soulfulness and layered meaning between the characters and their relationship to martial arts. Although 36th Chamber of Shaolin may be his most famous film to explore this relationship and topic, Challenge of the Masters is damn near as effective in exploring its characters, a sense of justice, and how martial arts bridges the two. 


Saturday, February 5, 2022

The Deadliest Nap of All: Sleep (2021) Review

Director: Michael Venus

Notable Cast: Gro Swantje Kohlhof, Sandra Hüller, August Schmölzer, Marion Kracht, Agata Buzek, Max Hubacher, Martina Schöne-Radunski, Katherina Behrens

Also known as: Schlaf


In the last year or so, Arrow Video has been grabbing quite a few solid new films to release alongside their usual catalog of cult classics. One of which, The Stylist, ended up being one of the best horror films released last year and one that everyone should check out. Their track record has been strong enough though that going into a film blind, in this case, the German film Sleep was a fairly safe and confident bet. 


Fortunately, the distribution label has yet to falter in this arena as Sleep is a fascinating film. From its nightmare-inducing imagery, its dream logic anxieties, and its core themes of multigenerational trauma cut with pitch-black comedic moments, Sleep might find mixed responses from its viewers. It’s a film that distinctly feels artfully European in its sensibilities but hardly alienates a more mainstream audience. Think of it as a slightly more user-friendly A24 flick and you’re on the right path. 


Thursday, January 27, 2022

Let There Be Cart-nage: Shaolin Kung Fu (1974) Review [Cinematic Vengeance Box Set]

Director: Joseph Kuo

Notable Cast: Wen Chiang-Long, Yi Yuan, Lu Ping, Liu Hsiu-Yun, Yee Hung, Yuan Shen, Yeung San-San, Tseng Chao, Yen Chung, Hu Chiu-Ping


While the phrase “never judge a book by its cover” can easily be translated to cinema, it’s not the poster that’s the initial obstacle for Shaolin Kung Fu. On the contrary, the original artwork (as seen at the top of this review) is quite incredible in its own right. What is the speed bump in getting audiences to watch this Joseph Kuo underground classic is the title? 


It’s fairly easy to play the “kung fu movie name generator” game by just remixing some generic words like ‘sword,’ ‘ninja,’ ‘Shaolin,’ or ‘kung fu.’ In the case of Shaolin Kung Fu, it’s a shock that they couldn’t at least think of one more word to tack on there to make it slightly more distinct. It’s a film about a rickshaw company, maybe throw that in there somehow? Hell, I’d even take Shaolin Kung Fu Vengeance to designate the tone of the latter half. 


Nonetheless, we are left with Shaolin Kung Fu and in spite of its forgettable title, the film is surprisingly one of Joseph Kuo’s best. It’s fairly straightforward with its plotting and characters, but a breakneck sense of pacing, a sweet marriage at the center, and some visceral fight sequences make this a hidden gem in the martial arts world. If anything, it’s perhaps the biggest surprise for fans in the Cinematic Vengeance box set from Eureka. 


Thursday, January 20, 2022

A One Man Warring Nation: The Boxer from Shantung (1972) Review [Shawscope Volume 1 Boxset]

Directors: Pao Hsueh-Li, Chang Cheh

Notable Cast: Chen Kuan-Tai, Ching Li, Cheng Kang-Yeh, David Chiang, Chiang Nan, Fung Ngai, Ku Feng, Tin Ching, Wong Ching


“I was sold out by my own man. There’s nothing more to say.”


It’s an obvious ambush at the Green Lotus Pavilion during the finale of The Boxer from Shantung. The audience knows it as the film directly shows all of the scheming by the local crime boss as he establishes the location, plants fighters throughout the crowd, and the sub-boss, played by an unhinged Ku Feng, buries his axe in a large vessel of peanuts. The villains know it, the audience knows it, and as if that wasn’t enough - the hero knows it. 


In the previous scene, the protagonist Ma Yongzhang, gives money to his loyal best friend and tells him to leave. To find a wife and settle down. He knows he’s not coming back from the Green Lotus Pavilion. If he’s lucky, he’ll achieve the revenge he desperately seeks from his corrupt boss and conniving cohorts before he leaves his mortal coil. 


It’s all as epic as it sounds. The final battle of the Green Lotus Pavilion is one for the books. The dynamic action works on a multitude of levels. The gore spills in bright red 1970s spurts. The carnage is visceral and shot with the incredible visual flair of director Chang Cheh. The star of the film, Chen Kuan-Thai, is soaked with sweat and blood. The scene has no score and it’s pacing is racked with tension. This is the Chang Cheh and Shaw Brothers brilliance in all its glory. 


Sunday, January 16, 2022

The Complications of the Interwebs - Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021) Review

Director: Jon Watts

Notable Cast: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jacob Batalon, Jon Favreau, Jamie Foxx, Willem Dafoe, Alfred Molina, Marisa Tomei, Benedict Wong, Rhys Ifans, Thomas Haden Church, JK Simmons


The final of four Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films in 2021 just happens to be one of the safest ones. In a year filled with giant question marks around new heroes like Shang-Chi and Eternals or the long-awaited, and still very mediocre, Black Widow, Spider-Man: No Way Home seemed like the one that audiences could devour with the most ease. It was a hero in his third solo film of the franchise, one with a deep history in pop culture, and audiences were craving a bit of comfort food in the wake of a new wave of pandemic after a long and tumultuous year. 


Marvel understood the need and so did Sony, considering it was a cooperative effort between the two studios in the most obvious ways possible. 


The box office numbers reflect this choice as audiences still repeatedly flock to theaters to see this third Spider-Man solo flick.  It’s not shocking. That’s what No Way Home is built to be as a film. It’s pure crowd-pleasing popcorn material through and through, almost to a fault. Nonetheless, through its dynamic action and charming performances, it’s hard not to love Spider-Man: No Way Home to some degree even if its reliance on nostalgia overpowers so much of its run-time and material. 


It's A Scream '22, Baby: Scream (2022) Review

Directors: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin,Tyler Gillett

Notable Cast: Melissa Barrera, Jenna Ortega, Jack Quaid, David Arquette, Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, Dylan Minnette, Mason Gooding, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Mikey Madison, Sonia Ben Ammar, Marley Shelton, Kyle Gallner


Over the last couple of decades, the Scream franchise has seen its fair share of praise and detractions. The original Scream was unleashed when I was 11 years old - and depending on your age in comparison that makes me either a baby or ancient but never betwixt, and it’s been a part of my horror history throughout. The meta commentaries, the satire, and the status as kick-starting a multitude of trends has cemented the Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson film and its subsequent sequels as one of the most iconic modern (post-modern?) horror series ever. 


In a day and age where the slasher is slowly but surely rearing its head once again, it’s not shocking that a new Scream film, tenaciously titled Scream - and from this point on will be referred to as Scream ‘22 for the sake of clarity, would also be coming back to theaters to take another stab at reigniting the franchise. 


It’s a new horror era though and the fresh minds of Radio Silence are slicing the line between modernizing the series and staying true to its core values with surgical expertise. Granted, the meta nature of its satire practically makes the series critic-proof to a certain degree, but it’s hard not to appreciate a legacy sequel that actively maintains the values of the legacy sequel while simultaneously running a cold, sharpened blade to its impracticalities. You know, as we all expect from a Scream film. 


Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Two Drunk Worlds: The World of Drunken Master (1979) Review [Cinematic Vengeance Boxset]

Director: Joseph Kuo

Notable Cast: Jack Long, Lung Fei, Mark Long, Chen Hui-Lou, Lung Tien-Hsiang, Li Yi-Min, Jeannie Chang, Yu Sung-Chao, Chien Te-Men, Simon Yuen


In the martial arts cinema landscape, one could easily argue that there are films “pre-Drunken Master” and “post-Drunken Master.” Not only in the general combination of kung fu and comedy but in the sheer amount of knock-offs that arrived on the scene after the massive success of the Jackie Chan and Yuen Woo-Ping masterpiece. Although there are plenty of forgettable ones, there are also a handful of these films that impress on a surprising level. And then there are those films that fall right down the center - like The World of Drunken Master


Featuring some of the same kung fu comedy as its namesake would imply, this cult classic of the genre does a lot of things right and then promptly follows them up - or proceeds them - with some baffling choices. As a whole, it’s hard not to love the sheer entertainment present in the film with its relentlessly paced latter half and strangely long developing character work of the first half, but it’s also a film that doesn’t quite reach the loftiness of the originator.