Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Space Jeeps, Wuxia Leaps, and Alien Creeps: Alienoid (2022) Review

Director: Choi Dong-hoon

Notable Cast: Ryu Jun-yeol, Kim Woo-bin, Kim Tae-ri, Choi Yu-ri, So Ji-sub, Yum Jung-ah, Jo Woo-jin, Kim Eui-sung, Lee Ha-nee, Shin Jung-geun, Lee Si-hoon, Kim Dae-myung


After the opening voice-over narrative tells the audience that aliens are being imprisoned inside people’s brains, I started to question where Alienoid was heading as a story. 


Scratch that. When the film jumped 600 years into the past, I really started to question what this film had in store for me. 


Wait. Hold on. It was when the space SUV pummels through a sky portal to reveal a cyborg and his shape-changing Apple-style Wall-E knock-off sidekick who steal a baby from said past, rewire her brain, and raise her as a contributing member of the society in current times that I started to wonder… where in the fiery CGI-green-screen hell was this film going to go?


The answer is that Alienoid goes. It just goes. And it goes. And it goes. And it goes. 


Sunday, November 27, 2022

Drop On By the Clown Café: Terrifier 2 (2022) Review

Director: Damien Leone

Notable Cast: Lauren LaVera, David Howard Thorton, Elliot Fullam, Sarah Voigt, Kailey Hyman, Casey Hartnett, Catherine Corcoran, Amelie McLain, Charlie McElveen


Although I was inherently struck with the original Terrifier with its stylish and utterly nihilistic take on the slasher genre, it’s a film I had not revisited since reviewing it for Blood Brothers in 2018. Not that it didn’t do an admirable job in modernizing the genre while simultaneously delivering a throwback 80s over-the-top slasher, but the genre just isn’t my personal favorite. However, the now infamously cult favorite villain Art the Clown did deserve a sequel in true slasher fashion, and the fact that it took 5 years for Terrifier 2 seemed like it was unjustifiably long. 


It’s a damn slasher, how hard is it to write and direct a sequel? The first film was devilishly simple, so the sequel could do very little and still be successful. 


Now that Art is back, returning with writer/director Damien Leone who gets his name above the title, it became very apparent why it was taking so long for Leone and company to deliver the sequel. Terrifier 2 is so much more than its predecessor. Not only does this brutal beast run a whopping 138 minutes (an unheard-of length for a slasher film) but it’s taking the franchise in some bold new directions. It’s still hitting the elements of success from its predecessor, but it’s smartly pushing the franchise forward into some gloriously delirious and vicious new places - and nailing it. 


Thursday, November 24, 2022

Putting the War in Water: Hansan: Rising Dragon (2022) Review

Director: Kim Han-min

Notable Cast: Park Hae-il, Byun Yo-han, Ahn Sung-ki, Son Hyun-joo, Kim Sung-kyu, Kim Sung-kyun, Kim Hyang-gi, Ok Taec-yeon


War of the Arrows with its blend of historical setting and marital arts action easily had me smitten. When he returned to that style with The Admiral: Roaring Currents, I was also relatively smitten. The style was epic, in both visuals and tone, and naval warfare at its center was as dynamic as Choi Min-sik was in in the titular role. Thus, when Kim Han-min decided to make another film in the same ilk as The Admiral with Hansan: Rising Dragon, it was hard not to get excited. The man has a knack for the genre and style.


Yet, throughout the experience of Hansan, I was never swept away in its wake. It fulfills all the necessary components laid out by his previous two films, but it is one that felt more formulaic and drab this time around.


Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Say No More, Namor: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022) Review

Director: Ryan Coogler

Notable Cast: Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Winston Duke, Dominique Thorne, Tenoch Huerta Mejia, Angela Bassett, Florence Kasumba, Michaela Coel, Mabel Cadena


With a smoldering look in his eye and a defiant and yet somehow caring lilt to his voice, Tenoch Huerta Mejia’s Namor, the antagonist of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, practically purrs when he’s speaking to Shuri, played by Letitia Wright. His presence is a massive burning sun in the film even as he sits having a heart-to-heart with the big hero. Yet, when he makes his big request to the Princess of Wakanda, he states it as a matter of fact. He asks her to burn the world with him. 


You know what? Say no more, Namor. I’m with you. Burn this piece of shit planet to the ground. 


Granted, his request in the film is far more loaded with contextual matter than his simple line of dialogue. This isn’t a young man passing a folded-up note to his crush in study hall. Or sending a text message. Or whatever kids do these days. Maybe TikTok. This is a man burdened with the knowledge and memories of a people driven to the sea by Spanish conquerors as they plundered his land for resources. And plundered his people as resources. Once again, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever proves that director and co-writer Ryan Coogler is far more interested in the gray areas of emotional and social commentary provided by the villains than the heroes in his Marvel movies. 


Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Go Huo Go: The Grandmaster of Kung Fu (2019) Review

Director: Chen Siyu

Notable Cast: Dennis To, Zhuang Han, Li Ruoxi, Naomen Eerdeni, Li Mengmeng, Liu Aiguo, Gao Xuepeng, Yang Yongfeng, Chu Pangching


For martial arts actors, there are a few roles that one can snatch which immediately put them on the map. Most of them are folk heroes of the past, but when Dennis To snagged a role as a “young” Ip Man, he went to A-tier for the fans - even if that film was one of the first Ipsploitation films. Not only did he succeed in that role for the film Ip Man: The Legend Is Born, but he has also returned to the role multiple times and continually found and grew his fan base. 


Thus, a few years ago when Dennis To leaped into another key folk hero role as Huo Yuanjia for the film The Grandmaster of Kung Fu, it was easy to feel pretty excited about the prospect. Unfortunately, the film - which was initially released as a streaming exclusive in China - did not receive a US release until 2022 via the Hi-Yah streaming service and through our friends at Well Go USA. 


Yet, here we are, The Grandmaster of Kung Fu has finally dropped. While the film suffers from some of the usual issues of modern streaming films, it’s also surprisingly solid and entertaining in how it goes about telling a story that any self-respecting kung fu fan has seen 2000 times. It’s action-packed, tight in its storytelling, and features a handful of great screen performances. 


Tuesday, November 8, 2022

The Door That Wouldn't Shut: Something in the Dirt (2022) Review

Directors: Aaron Moorhead, Justin Benson

Notable Cast: Aaron Moorhead, Justin Benson


Trying to inherently review a film like Something in the Dirt is as complicated as the film is. On the surface, this should be easy. In actuality, it is a film so defined by its experiential aspects, nuanced moments, and viewer discernment. Trying to properly put it to words is… well, it’s problematic. Something in the Dirt is, like most everything touched by the directorial and writing duo Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson, an existential trip of fascinating effect. 


Powered by its ability to take a simple idea and shake it so vigorously in its own un-comfortability, it seeps into the little folds of its viewers’ brains. It’s the kind of indie cinema that blends genre elements with low-budget creativity to make one of the most absorbing film experiences of the year. 


I also have no idea what the fuck happens in this film. 


Saturday, November 5, 2022

A Second Brew: The Witch 2: The Other One (2022) Review

Director: Park Hoon-jung

Notable Cast: Shin Sia, Park Eun-bin, Seo Eun-soo, Jin Goo, Seong Yu-bin, Justin John Harvey, Cho Min-soo, Cha Soon-bae, Lee Jong-suk, Kim Da-mi, Byeon Seo-yoon, Um Tae-goo


As superhero movies continue to seemingly grow and grow - with no limit in sight for the time being, the story formula has been spreading beyond the Hollywood system into so many other markets. 2020’s The Witch: Subversion (also known as The Witch Part 1: Subversion) ably played on that idea by taking its family drama story and whipping it towards the superhero origin story in its final act. 


The Witch 2: The Other One, which features a subtitle that might have been attached to Airplane 3, picks up where the first film left off in genre and expands the world tenfold while trying to adhere to the elements that made the first one such a rousing success. The balance ends up not being as punchy in its blend as its predecessor, but it is entertaining as hell and it leans into its Hollywood-esque superhero elements. It’s a brew that packs a lot of flavors but isn’t nearly as filling. 


Sunday, October 23, 2022

Play It Like It's 1999: V/H/S/99 (2022) Review

Directors: Maggie Levin, Johannes Roberts, Flying Lotus, Tyler MacIntyre, Vanessa & Joseph Winter

The V/H/S franchise has been the launching point for a slew of careers, in some degree or another. While the series hit a low with the relatively sluggish third entry, V/H/S: Viral, when Shudder brought it back it was a welcome sight to see. And the overall success of the previous entry, V/H/S/94, was a stark reminder of why this found footage horror anthology could be a haven for fun and creative tidbits of tongue-in-cheek terror. 


The announcement of the newest entry, V/H/S/99 proved it as such and, while the fifth entry into this series does not quite find the highs of its predecessor, there are enough fun and punchy horror moments to satiate most fans. It runs the gamut from being silly to downright terrifying and that’s what a great anthology can do, even if this one finds the mix to be a little less effective at it with tons of build and only quick payoffs. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Wild Stabs and No Killing Shot: Halloween Ends (2022) Review

Director: David Gordon Green

Notable Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Andi Matichak, Rohan Campbell, Will Patton, James Jude Courtney, Kyle Richards


When it comes to John Carpenter projects that are being revitalized in the modern cinema landscape, Christine was one that I was skeptical could be pulled off. With the success of Halloween (2018) and Halloween Kills (box office-wise) though, perhaps it made sense that director David Gordon Green would want to tackle the project. He had an eye for that kind of character trauma as presented within a horror landscape. It’s a good match. 


Oh, I’m sorry. This film is actually Halloween Ends and not a Christine remake. My bad. Someone should let Green know that too. 


Yet, that’s what Halloween Ends ends up being - the story of a maligned young man who is influenced by an evil presence and becomes more and more obsessed with the strength and power it gives him to stand up against all the awful people and circumstances around him. On paper, the idea is not only bold for a Halloween film but dare I say impressive. The problem that burdens the film is that it's jammed into trying to balance this new character arc with finalizing the other themes, characters, and stories of the Halloween series they started. It’s a balance that collapses in on itself, unfortunately. 


Sunday, October 9, 2022

Poe Man's Gothic Terror: The Blancheville Monster (1963) Review [Gothic Fantastico: Four Italian Tales of Terror Box Set]

Director: Alberto De Martino

Notable Cast: Gerard Tichy, Leo Anchoriz, Ombretta Colli, Helga Line, Iran Eory, Vanni Materassi, Paco Moran, Emilia Wolkowicz, Harry Winter


Arrow Video has delivered another one of those classic box sets they are known for unleashing with their latest: Gothic Fantastico: Four Italian Tales of Terror. Pulling together four films under a common thematic and stylistic aspect, this set contains some 1960s cult cinema finds with brand new 2K restorations, gorgeous packaging, and enough new commentaries, essays, and interviews to impress any movie collector.


After the messy, but highly entertaining aspects of the previous film in this box set, Lady Morgan’s Vengeance, my expectations were established for The Blancheville Monster. Like the rest of the films in this set, this one was going to be a blind watch, but if it was as entertaining as the last one, I was going to be in fine hands. Yet, while the gothic tones, sets, and final 10 minutes are effective, The Blancheville Monster feels like a very obvious Roger Corman-style Edgar Allen Poe movie knock-off - and one that is burdened by its pace and mystery. 


Friday, September 30, 2022

It Takes Two to Witchcraft: Two Witches (2021) Review

Director: Pierre Tsigaridis

Notable Cast: Belle Adams, Rebekah Kennedy, Tim Fox, Clint Glenn Hummel, Danielle Kennedy, Kristina Klebe, Dina Silva, Ian Michaels, Lindsey Rose Naves, Julien Marlon Samani


When the new Blu-Ray disc of Two Witches loaded up on my screen, the montage of videos accompanying the menu had a flair that immediately caught my eye. Arrow Video has been nabbing some intriguing titles lately in terms of more modern and obscure genre material, including films like Sleep or The Deeper You Dig. Still, Two Witches was a title that had never crossed my path. Judging a book by its cover or, more accurately, a film by its menu, this one had already perked my interest. 


Fortunately, the film matches the menu. 


Two Witches is a horrific delight. It’s a film that combines its creepy moments with a stylish offbeat combination of visual punches and manages to balance its world-building to be both unnerving and often humorous. Its tone could feel a bit combative for some viewers, but it takes some wild swings and connects on most… which is impressive for a directorial debut. 


Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Off with Their Heads!: Flying Guillotine, Part II (1978) Updated Review

It’s been almost a decade since I watched Flying Guillotine, Part II for Blood Brothers (at the time in the US it was released via Dragon Dynasty as Flying Guillotine 2 and you can read my review of the film HERE) and it was a film that didn’t really come off its chain spinning and slicing as I wanted. 


Yet, when 88 Films announced the film as one of the final Shaw Brothers flicks that would be released on Blu-Ray in both the US and the UK, it was hard not to reassess where I stood with the film. Would it take my head off with its sharp edges or would I continue to find its weaponry rejected by an extended anti-flying guillotine broken umbrella staff? Yeah, that comparison between the weapons and my feelings towards the film was a reach, but this movie kind of deserves it.


As simple as it is, during this recent viewing, the strengths of Flying Guillotine, Part II became more apparent while its flaws became more perplexing. To add to that, I rewatched the original Flying Guillotine (a UK Blu-Ray exclusive from 88 Films) prior to this one. The dissonance between the two seemed larger. Not that this sequel doesn’t have its merits, but it makes some baffling choices throughout to be both a oddity as a sequel and as a film on its own.


Sunday, September 25, 2022

Dig Two Graves or Just Come Back from One: Lady Morgan’s Vengeance (1965) Review [Gothic Fantastico: Four Italian Tales of Terror Box Set]

Director: Massimo Pupillo

Notable Cast: Barbara Nelli, Paul Müller, Gordon Mitchell, Erika Blanc, Michel Forain, Carlo Kechler, Edith MacGoven


Arrow Video has delivered another one of those classic box sets they are known for unleashing with their latest: Gothic Fantastico: Four Italian Tales of Terror. Pulling together four films under a common thematic and stylistic aspect, this set contains some 1960s cult cinema finds with brand new 2K restorations, gorgeous packaging, and enough new commentaries, essays, and interviews to impress any movie collector.


Although this might be the first film in the Gothic Fantastico: Four Italian Tales of Terror box set, one might expect that a film named Lady Morgan’s Vengeance would have a lot more - vengeance? Yet this 1965 gothic romantic horror film centers most of its time and energy around the gaslighting of the titular Susan Morgan rather than the vengeance that comes thereafter. Not that establishing characters, plot, and motivations is a bad thing, but despite some strong visual elements and performances Lady Morgan’s Vengeance is a film that doubles down on its easy-to-consume (yet oddly offbeat) story which burdens the overall experience. 


Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Pearl Before Swine: Pearl (2022) Review

Director: Ti West

Notable Cast: Mia Goth, David Corenswet, Tandi Wright, Matthew Sunderland, Emma Jenkins-Purro, Alistair Sewell


When Ti West dropped his A24 neo-retro-slasher (is that a thing?) X earlier this year, it took the horror community by surprise. Love it or hate it, West delivered a slasher that used its retro 70s exploitation style to chat a bit about the genre in a way that made a splash in the community. 


The real twist of the film was that West, actress Mia Goth, and studio A24 managed to simultaneously film a prequel about one of the film’s villains. Pearl, named after the villainess at the center of the film, is inherently tied to X in most of its themes but serves as a character study about the birth of a killer ala American Psycho or Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. In a bold maneuver, A24 attached the teaser trailer to the end of X. Surprise! This is already a franchise.  


Reportedly, West and Goth had worked out this character story together during the process of filming X. Yet, on paper, Pearl achingly feels like an exercise in extensive character backstory writing, but one that is both empowered and hindered by that intention. As viewers of its predecessor, where can the film go that will hook us? The answer that Pearl presents is a story that is far more character focused than plot focused. Is the story going to drive the film? Absolutely not. Is the character going to drive it? Absolutely.


Sunday, September 11, 2022

Just Kidding Around Again: Orphan: First Kill (2022) Review

Director: William Brent Bell

Notable Cast: Isabelle Fuhrman, Julia Stiles, Rossif Sutherland, Matthew Finlan, Hiro Kanagawa, Samantha Walkes, David Brown, Lauren Cochrane, Gwendolyn Collins


When the shockingly effective and fun horror flick Orphan didn’t get a sequel greenlit, the chances of seeing the conniving killer, Ester, get a franchise seemed like more and more of a long shot. As the titular killer kid, Isabelle Fuhrman was not getting younger and the story and character required a young-looking antagonist to drive it home so as the years passed, the rumors of a franchise seemed to dwindle. Yet, as those years passed, Orphan only garnered a more die-hard fan base, including myself and my own 4.5/5 blood drop review HERE, and the fans clamored for more - no matter what. 


Perhaps this is what led Paramount to purchase the rights to the franchise from Warner Bros, to begin with, but what really surprises with this long-awaited new entry, titled Orphan: First Kill, is that the announced film was not a reboot. It would continue the story of Ester, in all her horrific pigtailed glory, and Isabelle Fuhrman would be back in the role. To make matters more complicated, not only would it be a now 25-year-old in the role, but it would also be a prequel to the original. 


As if the twist of the original wasn’t batshit crazy enough, the path this franchise was taking seemed just as insane. 


Yet, here we are with Orphan: First Kill, and not only is this prequel a success, but it’s also shockingly effective at replicating the B-movie madness of its originator. It’s such a fun and delightfully twisted flick, leaning even further into its silliness as a story, that fans of the original will consume it gleefully. Ester is back to deliver the same fun, but she’s doing it in some all-new ways. 


Wednesday, September 7, 2022

The Lion Eats Tonight: Beast (2022) Review

Director: Baltasar Kormákur

Notable Cast: Idris Elba, Leah Jeffries, Iyana Halley, Sharlto Copley


After watching the initial trailer for Beast, I immediately told my significant other “we have to see this film.” I pulled out my phone and purchased tickets. She looked at me perplexingly. “Babe, Idris Elba punches a goddamn lion!” I proclaimed. It’s not often that silly action thrillers find their way to theaters anymore. With the relative death of mid-tier cinema that aims for a specific demographic rather than the four-quadrant blockbuster, a film like Beast would normally be poached off to the highest bidder in streaming. Beast could have easily been the next Amazon Prime, Netflix, or (shudder) Peacock exclusive. 


It is a relative blessing that Universal did not seemingly pitch Beast to that market. Even though this 90-minute nature run amok is just that - with the bonus of having Idris Elba playing a sad dad thrust into a life-or-death situation for him to prove that he’s not fuckin’ around when it comes to his daughters’ safety, Beast is the kind of B-movie elevated to cinematic A-level experience that benefited wholly from its theatrical experience. Not to mention, it also manages to fulfill its marketing destiny by having Elba punch its titular killer repeatedly in the head. 


Monday, August 22, 2022

Control, Alt, Delete: Resurrection (2022) Review

Director: Andrew Semans

Notable Cast: Rebecca Hall, Tim Roth, Grace Kaufman, Michael Esper, Angela Wong Carbone


At this point, is there any performer in cinema that exemplifies the horrors of trauma seeping to the surface of one’s cracking psyche like Rebecca Hall? It was only last year that Hall partnered up with horror maestro David Bruckner for the supernatural holds of depression and ripples of suicide in The Night House. That was a film that lingered with me for months afterward in a way that tickled the membrane under my skin. 


When Resurrection was announced, bringing Hall back to tackle another round about the effects of a problematic relationship that unravels in the wake of its demise, naturally, the film was immediately put onto the viewing queue.  You should too. Resurrection, despite its bland title and an overall synopsis that feels more mundane than it is, marks another descent into a psychological terror that is worthy of discussion and dissection. A blend of classic themes around “are they are they not insane” with sharp writing that benefits the strength of its cast, Resurrection is a film seething in its own frames and will leave its audience doing the same. 


Thursday, August 11, 2022

Gather Up the Violence: The Roundup (2022) Review

Director: Lee Sang-yong

Notable Cast: Ma Dong-seok, Son Suk-ku, Choi Gwi-hwa, Park Ji-hwan, Heo Dong-won, Ha Jun, Jeong Jae-kwang, Nam Moon-chul, Park Ji-young


The beast cop is back in a follow-up to one of South Korea's most entertaining thrillers of the last 10 years, The Outlaws, only this time we ditch the standard 2 numbering of a normal sequel and instead go with the oddly titled The Roundup, which is such a simple and less exciting title than Outlaws 2, but I digress. Is this sequel anywhere comparable to the sheer awesomeness of the stellar first film? In short, absolutely, and in some ways, it excels even more (i.e. the action).


Ma Dong-seok, aka Don Lee, is back as Ma Seok-do, the smart-mouthed, heavy-hitting train of a cop who does whatever he must to bring the baddies in to meet justice. He is more charismatic than ever in this film. He really shined in the first entry of this series, but here he seems to embody his character even more, sinking himself into the role. There may not be a ton of depth to the character, but Ma brings such a level of bravado and sheer power to the character, you can't take your eyes off of him. He can be a gentle giant one second, and then the next he is punching you through a door, or a window... or a wall.


Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Prey For Us All: Prey (2022) Review

Director: Dan Trachtenberg

Notable Cast: Amber Midthunder, Dakota Beavers, Dane DiLiegro, Stormee Kipp, Michelle Thrush, Julian Black Antelope, Stefany Mathias


The Predator has become a cinema icon for those of us in a specific age range. Not only because the original Predator film was a massive success and a staple of VHS rentals or purchases, but because the villain character is just so fuckin’ cool. The lore around the alien hunter was only built in the discoveries of the films’ main characters, the design was both awe-inspiring and horrific, and the manner that the Predator has evolved with time evokes visceral emotions from its viewers (both good and bad). Enough so that the series, to wavering effect, has struggled to find a protagonist to match the titular walking slaughterhouse since Arnold went bicep to bicep with it. 


Until Prey, that is. But we will get to that. 


Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Sticks N Stones May Break My... Teeth: The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter (1983) Review Update

With the massive box set that Arrow Video released of Shaw Brothers films, named Shawscope Vol. 1, one might have expected that most of the titles they grabbed would come that way. However, they have dropped two singular titles in the wake of that set and prior to the release of Vol. 2. The first was the quintessential and historically significant Come Drink with Me. You’re welcome to read my updated review for that HERE and the second is the subject of this piece, The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter


Although my initial response to The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter was more or less lukewarm, particularly in the wake of watching so many Lau Kar Leung-directed masterpieces, it’s a film whose massive effect on the kung fu cinema fanbase has always intrigued me. I know, I know. The fact that I don’t adore this film automatically makes kung fu fans want to defang me like a wolf. Still, it’s a film that often stretches itself thin with its ambitions in some small ways.  


Saturday, July 30, 2022

Bronze and Bronze Again: The Return of the 18 Bronzemen (1976) Review [Cinematic Vengeance Box Set]

Director: Joseph Kuo

Notable Cast: Carter Wong, Polly Shang-Kuan, Tien Peng, Ko Yu-Min, Mark Long


It’s not that difficult, really. Making a sequel to The 18 Bronzemen is as simple as it gets when it comes to kung fu cinema. All one would need to do is choose a new character or characters, send them to the same temple that featured the Bronzemen littered challenges, and voila. Instant sequel. In its own way, the loose sequel that did eventually come out, The Return of the 18 Bronzemen, does exactly that. New character, new Bronzemen challenges, new movie. 


Yet, there are so many strange choices buried in this film that it’s both a film that is superior AND inferior to its predecessor. In its own way, The Return of the 18 Bronzemen is a film that leans into the tropes of the kung fu movie, playing on the expectations of the original or other films of its ilk, and then taking a massive leap by undercutting expectations as it goes - particularly in its final act. It creates a film that feels as though it’s at a tug of war with itself. One end pulling towards mainstream fan appeal. One end pulling towards subverting it. 


Monday, July 25, 2022

In a Pinch: Shaolin Mantis (1978) Updated Review

When it comes to director Lau Kar Leung, his ability to create charming, action-packed, and humanistic martial arts films is almost unmatched. As the recent Shaw Brothers burst of releases continues to pour out onto collector’s edition Blu-Rays, it’s a stark reminder of just how impactful his films were on the whole, even if he wasn’t nearly as prolific as some of his peers at the studio. With a recent string of his movies getting brand new editions on the shelves, it’s time to look at one of his best. Put your index fingers and thumbs together, it’s time to revisit the Shaw Brothers classic, Shaolin Mantis


Although this film is a regular watch in my rotation for kung fu flicks, revisiting this latest 88 Films Blu-Ray of Shaolin Mantis re-solidifies many of the opinions I carried back when I originally reviewed the film here at Blood Brothers (please see that review HERE). Shaolin Mantis is one of the most intimate and effective films he’s ever made. Sure, everyone will have their favorites, but there is a simplicity and honesty to the Shaolin Mantis that so many of his other films sacrifice for more complex plots or ensemble casts. 


Friday, July 15, 2022

Space Bugs, Gut Bugs, and Squirrel Bugs: Macross Frontier: The Wings of Farewell (2011) Review

Director: Shoji Kawamori

Notable Cast: Aya Endo, Megumi Nakajima, Yuichi Nakamura, Aya Hirano, Katsuyuki Konishi, Sanae Kobayashi, Kikuko Inoue, Megumi Toyoguchi, Rie Tanaka, Tomokazu Sugita


Although I already had my ticket loaded for Macross Frontier: The Wings of Farewell after seeing the first Macross Frontier film two weeks prior, my gut feeling was not the most hopeful. Despite its highlights, the predecessor was something of a mess and a missed opportunity in my book (you can read my full review over HERE if you would so like) and it relatively dashed my expectations for the second film. Did I really want to see if they could piece together the shattered remains of tones and narrative left in the wake of The False Songstress?


With that in mind, The Wings of Farewell is, surprisingly enough, a substantial step up from Macross Frontier: The False Songstress. It fixes so many of the issues that plagued the previous one in its tonality and general character development. It’s not a perfect film, particularly in its stuttered narrative, but it’s entertaining enough and features some significantly fun set pieces to catch both old and new fans of the Macross world. 


Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Please Leave a Message: The Black Phone (2022) Review

Director: Scott Derrickson

Notable Cast: Mason Thames, Madeleine McGraw, Ethan Hawke, Jeremy Davies, E. Roger Mitchell, Troy Rudeseal, James Ransone, Miguel Cazarez Mora, Rebecca Clarke, J. Gaven Wilde, Spencer Fitzgerald


Walking into the theater, I had to double-check the ticket on my phone. My significant other looked at me and said, “This film is just over an hour and a half.” No way. I checked. She was right. It was a buck and 42 cents. Even though modern horror tends to pace itself faster than the cinematic bloat that has dominated the megaplexes for the last handful of years, there was a part of me that expected The Black Phone, the latest from director Scott Derrickson and Blumhouse, to be more akin to other kid-focused period horrors as of late. I.e. way too long for my enjoyment. Thanks, Stranger Things and the two It films. 


Quite frankly, in its own way, The Black Phone represents the stylistic antithesis of the two previously mentioned slices of intellectual property. Both of those properties succeed in feeding the nostalgia while delivering their horror stories, but there is a sense that the nostalgia is weaponized. “Remember when we were heroes on bikes? Free to learn about life and fight our demons while making friends along the way?” 


To an extent, those films had a gloss to them that shined the candy coating for easier consumption by the mass. There's nothing wrong with it, but it’s a very modern choice for movies that intend to ape their period for nostalgia rather than wrestle with it. 


This is why The Black Phone is different. Yes, it technically hits many of the same ideas or themes about empowerment for kids to tackle their own horrors while learning valuable lessons, but Scott Derrickson (and co-writer C. Robert Cargill) are not nearly as content in caking the film in Spielbergian cinematic sheen. There’s a grounded and gritty element under the skin in this one that allows it to play more in the shadows, with complicated relationships, and opaque morals that those others may toy with but never grasp. And, instead of taking a whole day to tell it, The Black Phone does it in 102 minutes. 


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.