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.