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.