Any director bold enough to take on a film set in a single location should be commended, especially one essentially relying on a single actor to carry the narrative. Mercy Road follows in the tradition of movies like Locke or Buried, where an isolated character only has conversations on a cell phone to propel the plot forward. Unfortunately, while director John Curran may have been daring enough to attempt a similar feat, the filmmaking does not match his ambition.
The character of blind martial artist has existed in numerous forms throughout film history, including the longest running Japanese film series based on the wandering swordsman and ronin, Zatoichi. There have also been iterations of the trope in other national cinemas, including Hong Kong and Hollywood. The Chinese release, Eye for an Eye: The Blind Swordsman, doesn’t reinvent the wheel but it is a solid contribution to the archetype, expertly made with impressive choreography and gorgeous cinematography. Even with an overcomplicated plot despite the simplicity of the story, this is one of the best action films to come out of China in years.
When the first film in The Expendables franchise was released, it was both ahead of its time and simultaneously felt intentionally dated. Often humorous—occasionally unintentionally—The Expendables films resemble action releases from the 1980s, which is fitting considering the impressive cast of veteran action stars. While the films seem to belong to another decade, this franchise was also the first to benefit from the novelty of a beefed-up ensemble cast of movie stars. Simply put, without The Expendables, there may never have been The Avengers. With that being said, The Expendables 4 (released as Expend4bles) has slipped in quality even more than the Marvel Cinematic Universe in recent years.
When the first film in The Expendables franchise was released, it was both ahead of its time and simultaneously felt intentionally dated. Often humorous—occasionally unintentionally—The Expendables films resemble action releases from the 1980s, which is fitting considering the impressive cast of veteran action stars. At the same time the films seem to belong to another decade, this franchise was also the first to benefit from the novelty of a beefed-up ensemble cast of movie stars. Simply put, without The Expendables, there may never have been The Avengers. It served as a return for Sylvester Stallone, both as an action star and as a filmmaker, resulting in the revival of several of his most popular 80’s franchises (Rambo, Rocky Balboa).
There are two kinds of bad films: the ones that know they are bad and lean into it with a campy approach, and the ones that are sincere and serious in their efforts despite the glaring shortcomings in filmmaking. Crocodile Island does not appear aware of just how bad it actually is, which removes some of the enjoyment found in other B-film creature-feature releases like Sharknado or The Meg. There is some unintentional enjoyment to be found in the laughably bad execution of visual effects in this Chinese B-film, but this may not be enough to make watching Crocodile Island a worthwhile experience for sober audience members.
Denzel Washington won his second Academy Award for his first collaboration with director Antoine Fuqua, so it is not surprising that the pair have worked together multiple times since. In addition to remaking The Magnificent Seven, the star and director have turned 1980s crime series “The Equalizer” into a successful action franchise. The first two installments were action-packed, turning the network-safe show into some of the most intense American action films of the twenty-first century. While The Equalizer 3 slows down the pace of the narrative to close out the film series, there is still enough brutal action to satisfy fans.
When My Big Fat Greek Wedding was released in 2002, it was a surprise hit with both audiences and critics, even earning an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay. It was followed up with the first sequel in 2016, which was such a disappointing decline in quality that it is surprising the franchise continued beyond that. My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 feels like a cash-grab, made possible because most of the cast doesn’t have much else going for them. The results reek of desperation while none of the cleverness or creativity found in the original remains.
Though the specifics may vary some, survival narratives with tough men of violence protecting innocent children have become increasingly common in films from multiple countries and existing within several genres. Even the recently released science fiction film 65 follows this formula. Warhorse One doesn’t have a genre revision of the formula and is just a straightforward survival film set within recent history, but that doesn’t make the film any more believable than a sci-fi film with dinosaurs. Unfortunately, despite some decent efforts at staging the film’s violence, the narrative always feels contrived and attempts emotional manipulation with the youngest cast member.
Basing a war film on actual events is hardly a new idea, though the budgetary restraints and artistic shortcomings of 3 Days in Malay make it stand out in the worst ways. Directed by minor character actor Louis Mandylor, who also gives himself a leading role, this World War II film has the best of intentions and the worst of execution. It is one thing to laugh at the unintentional hilarity of bad filmmaking when the story is inconsequential fiction, but 3 Days in Malay is weighed down by melodrama in a painful attempt to be respectful of the historical events.
Douglas Fairbanks was one of the biggest stars of silent films, right up there with Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford, though he was known for starring in notably different genres than the other two. As a swashbuckling star, there were few classic stories involving swordplay that Fairbanks didn’t star in during his period of extreme popularity with audiences. Cohen Film Collection has recently released two double feature Blu-rays, each containing a pair of classic films from Fairbanks’ filmography. These releases are perfect for fans of Fairbanks as well as those who have yet to discover the incredible scope of silent swashbuckling action/adventure films.
Despite Tom Cruise proving his value as a movie star and bringing audiences back to theaters is record numbers last year with the release of Top Gun: Maverick, the movie star’s latest Mission: Impossible film ran into countless issues preventing it from reaching the same level of success. First there was the disruption of Covid-19, which caused delays that greatly inflated the film’s budget, but an even bigger obstacle seems to have been the decision to release in theaters the week before a pair of films that became an undeniable cultural moment. This is unfortunate, because while Dead Reckoning Part One may not be the unmitigated success that the Top Gun sequel was, it is a fitting continuation of one of the most compelling action franchises to come out of Hollywood in the past few decades.
Home invasion horror movies seemed to be on the decline, but they have returned with several revisionist narratives, including hybrids combining other sub-genres with the formula. Given the allegorical parallels between both home invasion and alien invasion films, it is unsurprising the two sub-genres have been combined to create hybrid home invasion films. First Hulu distributed No One Will Save You this year, an alien home invasion hybrid with only a handful of lines of dialogue. Now the low budget release The Hive has been released with a body snatchers element added to the formula, though it may also have been better off without the dialogue given the effectiveness of the performances.
Jeremy Thomas is a producer who has worked with truly legendary filmmakers, undeniably leaving his mark on film history. The film follows Thomas as he prepares to see his latest film, Takashi Miike’s First Love (2019), debut at the Cannes Film Festival. Each year the producer takes a five-day road trip driving to the international film festival in France, and for this particularly journey he is joined by filmmaker Mark Cousins. In promotion for the film, Cousins is referred to as an “acclaimed filmmaker.” This may be true, but it is hard to see in the home movie road trip footage he filmed for this documentary. Everything feels thrown together, almost as an afterthought to the journey itself.
Journalism during times of war is truly invaluable, which is what makes reviewing the film Slava Ukraini so difficult. On one hand, it is easy to admire the efforts made by philosopher and filmmaker Bernard-Henri Lévy to reveal the resistance by the people of Ukraine to the invasion of their country by Russian forces. On the other hand, admiration for the chosen subject and boldness in the filmmakers does not translate into good filmmaking. As far as documentaries go, Slava Ukraini makes the offense of being transparently biased, overly sentimental, and ultimately quite sloppy in its construction. In short, the intention is great, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired.
Dracula was one of the first big horror film successes to come out of Hollywood, preceding even the use of horror as a genre term. Released on Valentine’s Day, Dracula was originally sold as a gothic romance film, though it has since become an iconic staple in the horror genre. This year alone has seen both the release of Renfield and The Last Voyage of the Demeter in attempts to find a new angle to view the story. While Renfield focused on Dracula’s abused assistant, The Last Voyage of the Demeter is entirely about the portion of the story the original 1931 film skipped over. While this does mean the ending is somewhat predictable, there are still some well-executed sequences of suspense likely to satisfy horror fans.
There have been plenty of movies centered around talking animals, both live action and animated, though Strays may be the first to use them for R-rated humor. While this initially sounds like a clever idea, unfortunately Strays doesn’t do much with it beyond an endless stream of vulgar and raunchy jokes without an ounce of cleverness. At the very least, at least Strays makes the wise choice to use real dogs in the filming process, saving the audience from enduring more poorly executed CGI animals.
With as many streaming services as there now are, consumers must be increasingly selective about which they decide to pay for. While some streaming services boast plenty of content, others may only have a few shows keeping their subscribers. By providing the opportunity to purchase these popular shows on physical media, consumers now have the choice between viewing them on the streaming service or owning them on DVD and Blu-ray. Given the popularity of “Cobra Kai,” which was good enough to upgrade the streaming service producing it, it should come as no surprise that this is one of the shows Netflix has chosen to make available for fans to purchase and own.
About halfway through Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken it occurred to me that I had recently seen another film about a teenager discovering she has the ability to change into a large monster. Pixar’s 2022 release Turning Red has nearly the exact same premise, albeit landlocked, and I’m not entirely surprised. Monster movies have long been considered helpful allegories for the teenage experience of puberty, and after Twilight sterilized the horror genre it should come as no surprise to see animated family films adopting these narratives too. That being said, Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken doesn’t do much to elevate the formula, nor does the animation prove particularly innovative or impressive.
Thailand has been contributing to the horror genre for decades, significantly contributing inspiration for several films in the wave of Asian horror remakes coming from Hollywood in the early 2000s. Perhaps for that reason it should come as no surprise that the film Creepy Crawly (originally titled The One Hundred) is one the first horror movies to directly address the Covid pandemic within a narrative about a contagion let loose in a confined area. Unfortunately, while there is relevance in the societal context of the narrative, that does not make the quality of the filmmaking any more effective.