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.