Sunday, January 29, 2023

Moving Mountain Project: The Wandering Earth II (2023) Review

Director: Frant Gwo

Notable Cast: Andy Lau, Wu Jing, Li Xuejian, Sha Yi, Ning Li, Wang Zhi, Zhu Yan Man Zi


Not that most of us can remember a world pre-pandemic at this point, but if you do and you were following the rise in dominance of the Chinese film industry upon the global market - you might remember Frant Gwo’s massive blockbuster hit, The Wandering Earth


Unleashed during the Lunar New Year in theaters (yes, even with a limited release here in the US) the film took one of those silly sci-fi concepts and managed to make a film that embraced the Hollywood formulas and style established by Roland Emmerich and Michael Bay. However, it managed to capture the fun of a sci-fi disaster film and embed a ton of heart into the mix. 


It’s not all that surprising that a big-budget sequel, The Wandering Earth II, would get greenlit. What is surprising is that not only is it a prequel and not a sequel - a choice that could have easily and horrifically backfired, but it manages to be better than its predecessor in almost every facet. The Wandering Earth II is a science fiction opera that douses its audience with massive spectacle, bold cinematic heroics, and intriguing themes around sacrifice. Yet, it still manages to craft melodrama that sprints the line between corny and tear-drivingly effective while delivering on the white-knuckle disaster spectacle Hollywood made famous in the 1990s. 


The Wandering Earth II never wanders. It’s an expertly crafted slice of blockbuster brilliance and, if it’s still in theaters when you read this, you should definitely see it on the biggest screen possible. 


Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Do You See What Eye See: The Third Eye (1966) Review [Gothic Fantastico: Four Italian Tales of Terror Box Set]

Director: Mino Guerrini

Notable Cast: Franco Nero, Gioia Pascal, Erika Blanc, Olga Solbelli, Marina Morgan, Gara Granda, Richard Hillock, Luciano Foti


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.


When Franco Nero’s name pops up at the beginning of a film, it’s hard not to get somewhat excited. Not that he’s always great (or is always cast in great movies), but he easily brings a kind of pop that can sway the tides of a film toward the positive. 


Yet, despite the relatively strong word of mouth online in places like Letterboxd, The Third Eye is a substantially mixed experience - even within the films contained in this Gothic Fantastico box set. The first act is cheesy melodrama through and through and while the film does strengthen as it goes, it’s a film that needs a lot of forgiveness to buy into its style and story. For those willing to give in to its over-the-top elements, it’s a decent killer thriller with a third act that helps punch through some of its more mundane scripting aspects. 


Monday, January 23, 2023

Go to Sleep: Skinamarink (2023) Review

Director: Kyle Edward Ball

Notable Cast: Lucas Paul, Dali Rose Tetreault, Ross Paul, Jaime Hill


When a film leaks online, it often spells for sabotaged release schedules, loss of money, and a skewed marketing campaign. Working on the fringes of the industry, I’ve seen it capsize some films - particularly independent ones. Yet, there’s always the anomaly where this kind of piracy oddly benefits the film. Skinamarink, coming to y’all from genre stalwarts IFC Midnight and Shudder, is one that seemingly took a massive technical error that leaked the film online and turned itself into an internet urban legend. 


The combination of mixed word of mouth from its film festival appearances about its suffocatingly lo-fi style and unnerving tone and a sudden burst of interest in social media sites like TikTok and Twitter, made it the must-see horror film of the moment. Skinamarink was apt to join the likes of films like Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity as an indie film catching mainstream attention for its scare factor. 


Although the film is certain to be one of the most divisive films of the year for its choices, it’s understandable why the internet became incredibly latched onto it. Skinamarink is superficially similar to Creepypasta or other experimental horror films that have littered the video services online for the last ten years. It’s toying with the audience’s sense of reality, blending a dreamlike - or more nightmare-like - tonality with abrasive home-videos-from-hell visuals, and it features some distorted and unnerving imagery that is apt to capture the attention of its viewers. 


Sunday, January 15, 2023

Go Big or Go Home: Shin Ultraman (2023) Review

Director: Shinji Higuchi

Notable Cast: Takumi Saitoh, Masami Nagasawa, Daiki Arioka, Akari Hayami, Tetushi Tanaka, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Koji Yamamoto, Ryo Iwamatsu, Kyusaku Shimada, Toru Masuoka, Keishi Nagatsuka, Hajime Yamazaki, Soko Wada, Issey Takahashi, Koichi Yamadera, Kenjiro Tsuda


Over the last year or so, the Millcreek re-releases of the various Ultraman series have been a staple of my watching. Even more recently, I’ve taken to watching the “first” season of Ultraman every night. One or two episodes just before bed. It’s been blissful. The show is silly without losing its straightforward approach to its material, it’s colorful and creative, and it’s an adventure/science fiction show where the science team doubles as adventurers. The fun Ultraman battles that cap off each episode, where he goes toe to toe with various monsters and aliens, are icing on the proverbial cake. 


Ultraman, the alien who fused with a human to become Earth’s protector, has never really left the social consciousness since that 1960s series as it continually evolves with each season and remains on the air and in theaters, but Shin Ultraman represents a fascinating aspect of the cultural icon. It’s both its own stand-alone story, possibly part of its own cinematic universe, and a remake of the previously mentioned original season. It threads the needle with an impeccable nuance, embracing aspects of its 60s origins but embracing enough of a modern aspect to modernize it for a new audience. Also, Shin Ultraman delivers on its promise of delivering kaiju-sized fun while doing it. 


Wednesday, January 11, 2023

A Little Robot Girl in a Little Horror World: M3gan (2023) Review

Director: Gerard Johnstone

Notable Cast: Allison Williams, Violet McGraw, Jen Van Epps, Brian Jordan Alvarez, Ronny Chieng, Jenna Davis, Amie Donald


An uncanny valley is a fascinating place to be. With the right expectations, a cinematic audience can embrace it and enjoy it for what it is - the horrifying and occasionally humorous place. When it does not work, it’s truly one of the most confusing things to witness. This was the tightrope that M3gan was aiming to walk. Uncanny enough to be memorable, but not enough to lose its audience. While the overall critical reception of the film at this time has been shockingly positive, M3gan is a film that sincerely relies on its audience to be laughing within minutes to set up the expectation for its journey to the uncanny valley.


For some, it’s going to be one of the best surprises of the year. For others, it’s going to be a relative chore to sit through. Thus is the nature of this tightrope walk.