Five Deadly Venoms (1978, Directed by Chang Cheh) Mandarin 9

Starring Chiang Sheng, Sun Chien, Kuo Chui, Lo Mang, Wei Pai, Lu Feng, Ku Feng, Dick Wei

Five Deadly Venoms – We've Got (Back) Issues

(9-Great Film)

Awesome. Efficient. Indelible.

Yang Tieh: Poison Clan Rocks the world!

Some films don’t need to be intellectualized. Five Deadly Venoms is a film that knows its intent and is perfect in its execution. Wasting no time with lengthy exposition, the opening gives us the only explanation we ever receive and lays out what’s to come. The dying master of the powerful Poison Clan expresses his fears to his newest pupil, Yang Tieh. Having taught five pupils before Yang Tieh, each assuming a different style coined after a venomous animal (centipede, scorpion, snake, toad, lizard) the master fears that some, if not all, of his students are using the skills he taught them for evil. His last request is for Yang Tieh to take out any Poison Clan members who’ve been corrupted. The remainder of the movie blends mystery, intrigue, and kung fu in a way I personally haven’t seen before. It’s incredibly entertaining and the five deadly venoms, each with their distinct characteristics are unforgettable. Fantastic flick.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Love and Monsters (2020, Directed by Michael Matthews) English 7

Starring Dylan O’Brien, Jessica Henwick, Michael Rooker, Dan Ewing, Ellen Hollman, Bruce Spence, Ariana Greenblatt

Review] Delightful Monster Mash 'Love and Monsters' Embraces the  Comedy-Horror Spirit of 'Zombieland' - Bloody Disgusting

(7-Very Good Film)

Fantastic. Exciting. Fun.

Joel: Don’t settle. You don’t have to. Even at the end of the world.

Toxic chemicals cover the earth and monsters are born. Now, your garden-variety slug could be a giant flesh-eating mutant. Seven years into this new world, the good news for Joel (O’Brien) is that he’s more or less safe within an underground community that takes care of each other. The bad news for Joel is that everyone within the bunker is paired off, except for him. He’s lonely and he misses his girlfriend, Aimee (Henwick), from before the apocalypse, who told him she loved him as they were dragged away from each other. After, finally, finding out her location, Joel sets out on journey across the monsterpocalypse to make it to her, meeting new friends along the way. Love and Monsters is a simple story done surprisingly well. The monsters, in particular, are a major triumph; well-designed and rendered with impressive special effects. Characters usually take a back seat in monster movies, but here, there are at least 2 to 3 humans we care about. The disappointment comes from the love story, which the filmmakers described as a John Hughes style romance. Love and Monsters goes for a bittersweet conclusion and that’s probably less corny and more realistic than what I might have hoped. I still think in a movie featuring massive toads and leeches the size of baseballs, an unrealistic fairy tale romance wouldn’t have seemed too crazy.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Mortal Kombat (2021, Directed by Simon McQuoid) English 7

Starring Lewis Tan, Joe Taslim, Jessica McNamee, Hiroyuki Sanada, Josh Lawson, Mehcad Brooks, Tadanobu Asano, Chin Han, Ludi Lin

Mortal Kombat (2021) Movie Trailer Song Officially Released

(7-Very Good Film)

Satisfying. Appealing. Bloody.

Sonya Blade: Throughout history, different cultures all over the world reference a great tournament of champions. That dragon marking, I think it’s an invitation to fight for something known as Mortal Kombat.

Mortal Kombat is one of the most popular game franchises in the world and spawned some of the earliest attempts at adapting a video game into a movie back in the ’90s. Those films, like nearly all video game adaptations, were entertaining but low-quality. Happily, it wasn’t but five minutes into this new Mortal Kombat before I knew that it was better than all previous attempts. It begins in medieval Japan, where fan-favorite characters Scorpion and Sub-Zero duke it out against a beautiful landscape and a tragedy. It a fantastic opening. The rest of the film sets up a mythic fighting tournament where heroes from Earth- Cole (Tan), Sonya Blade (McNamee), Jax (Brooks), and co.-will face off against the deadly foes of Outworld. Personally, I wasn’t all that interested in the lore and exposition that’s in this film, but I suppose it’s a small price to pay for a video game adaptation that’s actually enjoyable without a surplus of camp. Mortal Kombat (2021) takes its story and its characters seriously, which is not easy to do considering how outlandish they all are. I also found myself taking it seriously which is an impressive achievement on its part. Most importantly, though, because this is an action flick, the new Mortal Kombat is entertaining and a pleasure to watch with its exciting fights and gruesomely satisfying kills.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Cars 2 (2011, Directed by John Lasseter) English 6

Voices of Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Emily Mortimer, Michael Caine, Eddie Izzard, Bruce Campbell, Tony Shalhoub, Jason Isaacs, John Ratzenberger, Franco Nero, Vanessa Redgrave, John Turturro, Bonnie Hunt, Joe Mantegna

Cars 2: Film Review | Hollywood Reporter

(6-Good Film)

Silly. Entertaining. Misguided.

Finn McMissile: I never properly introduced myself: Finn McMissile, British Intelligence.

Mater: Tow Mater, average intelligence.

I am a sucker for the “accidental spy” trope in movies, done best by Alfred Hitchcock with such films as North by Northwest or The 39 Steps. It’s to a point that I even really enjoy critically reviled examples like Bill Murray’s The Man Who Knew Too Little or Cars 2, the worst reviewed Pixar offering to this day. Cars 2 shifts focus from the orginal film’s hero, swaggering racecar, Lightning McQueen (Wilson), to his friend, Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), a tow truck with limited intelligence but a heart of gold. Mater stumbles into a spy plot to sabotage organic fuel at the same time that Lightning McQueen battles in the first ever World Grand Prix. I’m not a fan of Larry the Cable Guy’s schtick and that includes his character here. Mater is far from a charming protagonist. For me, however, the remaining aspects of the film are sufficiently entertaining. The animation is still first-rate Pixar even if the story isn’t. Many consider this the worst Pixar film. I disagree. Cars 2 is a fine movie, and much more satisfying than Brave or The Good Dinosaur.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Speed (1994, Directed by Jan De Bont) English 9

Starring Keanu Reeves, Dennis Hopper, Sandra Bullock, Jeff Daniels, Joe Morton, Alan Ruck, Richard Schiff, Richard Lineback

Speed (1994 film) - Alchetron, The Free Social Encyclopedia

(9-Great Film)

Taut. Exciting. Proficient.

Stephens: Did you have any luck with the bomb?

Jack: Yeah, it didn’t go off.

In terms of intention and execution, Speed is basically a perfect movie. Keanu Reeves (the ultimate action star) plays a cop, Jack, that becomes the target of a maniacal bomb-expert, Howard Payne (Hopper). After Jack and his partner, Harry (Daniels), foil Payne’s plans for terrorizing the city of Los Angeles into paying him millions, Payne comes back with a vengeance. This time, he’s rigged a bus to explode if it drops below 50 mph or if anyone attempts to get off. Bullock plays a cute girl thrust into the action. Speed is a brilliant example of Hitchcock’s famous bomb theory. The suspense of knowing there’s a bomb is much more thrilling than the bomb actually going off. Speed is relentless in pace. The stakes are well-established. The stunt-work is incredible. Reeves and Bullock’s chemistry is dazzling. The film, a classic.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Zathura: A Space Adventure (2005, Directed by Jon Favreau) English 7

Starring Josh Hutcherson, Jonah Bobo, Dax Shepard, Kristen Stewart, Tim Robbins, Frank Oz

Zathura: A Space Adventure (2005) Review |BasementRejects

(7-Very Good Film)

Solid. Surprising. Restrained.

Walter: Don’t push that button.

I’ve put off every opportunity that I’ve had to watch Zathura for many years now. The spin-off of a popular childhood favorite, Jumanji (1995), I saw its cover and judged it to be an unnecessary, special-effects laden rip-off. Finally, having watched it, I was happily surprised. Following bickering brothers, Walter (10) and Danny (6), the two stumble upon a gaudy board game called Zathura, a sci-fi version of Jumanji. In other words, a game with drastic consequences and much too much excitement for its players. If it was left up to the action, this film wouldn’t make much of an impression, though the special effects are excellent. A matter of preference, Jumanji’s animal adventures and urban jungle mash-up is considerably more exciting to me than this minor space escapade. Also, despite comparable runtimes, Jumanji felt epic while Zathura feels intimate. What Zathura does well, though, is establish a dramatic relationship between the two brothers and build an adventure around it. It’s well-acted, intriguing material with an especially strong ending.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Raya and the Last Dragon (2021, Directed by Carlos López Estrada and Don Hall) English 7

Voices of Kellie Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Alan Tudyk, Daniel Dae Kim, Sandra Oh, Lucille Soong, Benedict Wong

Raya and the Last Dragon movie review: Disney animation inspired by  Southeast Asian culture | South China Morning Post

(7-Very Good Film)

Fun. Beautiful. Engaging.

Raya: My whole life, I trained to become a guardian of the Dragon Gem. But this world has changed, and its people are divided. Now to restore peace, I must find the Last Dragon. My name is Raya.

There aren’t many people left after an apocalyptic storm blows through, turning bodies into stone. Raya (Tran) lives in its aftermath; a world of five kingdoms at war and little to defend against the darkness quickly spreading. She’s still fighting though, searching for Sisu (Awkwafina), a legendary dragon that might be the world’s only hope. The plot and tone are reminiscent of Avatar: The Last Airbender (my favorite show) and if Raya and the Last Dragon was a television series, I would say I can’t wait for season 2. The characters are charming and distinct, the world is beautifully animated. I wanted to stick around. But Raya and the Last Dragon is a movie, Disney’s latest animated production and their 59th overall. The chances for a follow-up are pretty slim. Disney has made less than a handful of theatrically released sequels in their long history, so I have to look at Raya as a stand-alone piece, and on that score, it suffers a bit in my estimation. I wanted more which is both a compliment and a criticism. The world is so epic. The story, while solid, is less so.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Lady Snowblood (1973, Directed by Toshiya Fujita) Japanese 8

Meiko Kaji, Toshio Kurosawa, Masaaki Daimon, Eiji Okada, Miyoko Akaza, Takeo Chii, Kō Nishimura, Noboru Nakaya

Lady Snowblood: Blizzard from the Netherworld

(8-Exceptional Film)

Glorious. Simple. Resplendent.

Narrator: People say you can’t wash away the mud of this world with pure white snow. You need asura snow – stained fiery red.

Yuki Kashima, deadly assassin, righteous avenger, and the basis for Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, is the product of a savage beginning. Her mother’s husband and son were murdered brutally by four bloodthirsty schemers-Takemura Banzō, Shokei Tokuichi, Tsukamoto Gishirō, and Kitahama Okono. Her mother, then, raped and passed around before dying in prison, giving birth to Yuki. Yuki, also known as Lady Snowblood, was born with vengeance in her heart. Consumed by violence and anger, is there any room for anything else? Yuki meets and falls for a young writer, Ashio, in the pursuit of killing her mother’s tormentors. Great pulpy material married to awesome visuals, Lady Snowblood is a gorgeous action flick with over-the-top violence and several twists.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Dr. No (1962, Directed by Terence Young) English 6

Starring Sean Connery, Ursula Andress, Joseph Wiseman, Jack Lord, Bernard Lee, John Kitzmiller, Anthony Dawson, Lois Maxwell

Dr. No (1962) directed by Terence Young • Reviews, film + cast • Letterboxd

(6-Good Film)

Solid. Well-paced. Low-key.

James Bond: I admire your courage, Miss…?

Sylvia Trench: Trench. Sylvia Trench. I admire your luck, Mr…?

James Bond: Bond. James Bond.

And thus, a franchise was born. Dr. No set the mold. From Sean Connery’s often imitated introduction, to the Bond girls, to the eccentric villain, to the title sequence and the music, Dr. No led Bond off to an iconic start. It also happens to be a very solid action film. Bond is sent to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of a fellow MI6 agent. All roads lead to Dr. No (Wiseman), a genius, whose intricate plot escapes me (I’m not sure I was paying attention during his monologue), but you can rest assured it has something to do with taking over the world. The main Bond girl, Honey Rider (Andress), is a little too naive and uninvolved in the action to be very memorable, in my opinion. I would argue that her status as the first Bond girl is more significant than the performance or the character. That’s not the case for Bond, himself, though. Sean Connery remains the best one.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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El Cid (1961, Directed by Anthony Mann) English 7

Starring Charlton Heston, Sophia Loren, Herbert Lom, Raf Vallone, Jon Fraser, Geneviève Page, Douglas Wilmer

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(7-Very Good Film)

Grand. Bombastic. Earnest.

El Cid: You will soon be a King, you must start to think like one, any man can kill, only a King can give life!

Is it possible for a film to be bombastic and earnest? To feel that every single detail was done for effect, but by craftsman and artists who held this man, El Cid, Don Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar (Heston), in reverence. After all, some stories do warrant the epic treatment and his story is certainly one of them. During the 11th century, at a time when Spain was divided in war between the Moors (Muslim) and the Christians, El Cid united the country in order to protect it from North African invaders led by Ben Yusuf (Lom). All while personally struggling with the disdain of his wife, Doña Jimena (Loren), whose father he killed, at home. El Cid is dated in several ways, not all of them negative. On the one hand, the cast of Spaniard and Muslim characters is largely filled out by white actors (sometimes in blackface makeup as with Ben Yusuf). On the other hand, a film of this size and scope is a marvel to behold and one that simply will not likely ever be made again; not by Hollywood anyways. There are thousands of extras used and massive sets to admire. CGI is a tool for filmmakers to work with and a useful one, but there are two areas where it simply fails to measure up to the real thing: animals and crowds of people. Some might argue that El Cid is overly serious or even corny at times, but this is a real person and his real story. I was prepared to take it seriously.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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