Horror Meets Hong Kong Cinema – Human Lanterns

Sun Chung’s Human Lanterns is many things: it’s gory, it’s actiony, but most of all, it’s a bloody good time! Tony Liu and Chen Kuan-tai play rival martial artists Lung Shuai and T’an Fu respectively. Following a public embarrassment, Lung Shuai seeks the help of Ch’un-Fang, a lantern maker who Lung Shuai appoints to make him a special lantern. Having suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of Lung Shuai years ago, Ch’un-Fang intends to exact his revenge by pitting both martial artists against each other. Fists fly and body counts rise as Lung Shuai and T’an Fu try discovering who is responsible for disappearances of the people closest to them. Very rarely do you see a film manage to effectively mesh horror with action, but Human Lanterns plays both genres very well while also serving as a cautionary tale.

Amidst the action and horror, there are layers and dimensions to the film which keep it from being a forgettable genre mashup. Lung Shuai is an arrogant yet skilled martial artist who goes through a well-written character arc. It isn’t simply the strength of the writing that makes the character fascinating, but Tony Liu’s performance is what brings this character to life. Liu fully displays his prowess as a martial artist, but he also brings with him a charisma that helps to make Lung Shuai easily accessible despite his cockiness at the start of the film. It’s no easy feat to be able to pull off the stunts that Liu does, but to also balance that physicality with a good acting performance is a tall order that Tony Liu manages to deliver.

For viewers anticipating an all-out horror film, Human Lanterns might not be as scary as you’re hoping for. However, the bits of horror that we do see manage to leave an impression. The film’s opening credits are a montage showing off the lantern maker’s murderous dungeon. As lightning strikes the frame, the camera cuts to various images of skulls and a body hanging lifelessly from a rope. There are roughly two skinning sequences that are grotesque and stomach-churning. The practical effects of the human skin as well as the fake blood are very well-done and are guaranteed to make you lose your appetite.

Lo Lieh delivers a frightening yet diabolically fun performance as Ch’un-Fang. Much like Lung Shuai, Ch’un-Fang is also an expert martial artist which makes him a good physical foil for Lung Shuai and T’an Fu. On top of being a great fighter, Ch’un-Fang also gets a scary horror villain outfit! Cloaked in a skull mask and bear claws, Ch’un Fang’s costume is certainly one of the more unique costumes of any horror film. In terms of costume design, Ch’un-Fan deserves a place alongside icons like Jason Vorhees and Michael Myers. Lo Lieh injects so much personality into his character and the way he relishes playing this character is contagious to the viewer.

One cannot discuss a Shaw Brothers film without mentioning the kung fu sequences which are guaranteed to delight action junkies! The choreography moves so beautifully that it almost takes on the form of a dance. All the actors and stunt performers are perfectly in sync with each other which allows the action to flow elegantly. The characters also use a variety of weapons ranging from axes to hook swords which keeps the action from getting stale and one-note. All of this wonderful choreography would be meaningless without a good cinematographer and the cinematography moves with purpose and a clear sense of geography. Human Lanterns does not have back-to-back action, but when they do happen, each set piece is memorable and thoroughly exciting.

In conclusion, Human Lanterns is a thrilling genre mashup that also has great characters, beautiful visuals, and some fun action set pieces. Sun Chung takes both elements of horror and kung-fu and utilizes them to their highest potential. This is sure to please both horror and action movie fans alike while also welcoming newcomers to the Shaw Brothers filmography. Very few films have such a unique style and personality the way that Human Lanterns does which is why this must be seen by any and every cinephile!

Halloween Ends

Halloween Ends…on a bit of a whimper. David Gordon Green’s Halloween Ends, the final installment of the Halloween (2018) trilogy, is a film with wild ambitions but lacks the conviction or confidence to follow through with any of them. Set four years after the events of Halloween Kills, Michael Myers has disappeared back into the shadows. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) have since moved with Laurie now writing a memoir recounting her experiences. However, Michael’s menace still looms large over the townspeople of Haddonfield, Illinois with murders and suicides running rampant. As Laurie and Haddonfield’s citizens try to rebuild, Michael returns from the shadows to enact terror once more. Can Laurie finally put an end to the boogeyman, or will evil prevail?

One thing that can’t be taken away from this film is its mood and atmosphere. Within every sequence, there is a constant sense of tension and dread that leaves you on the edge of your seat. That feeling of danger may not always be seen, but it can certainly be felt, and this is in large part due to the film’s eerie and retro score. John Carpenter returns once again with his son Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies to compose yet another delightful score for the Halloween trilogy, which is a rich mix of synth and guitar that feels both modern and retro. The entire trilogy has felt seasonal in that it genuinely does feel appropriate for the season of fall; you can practically smell the pumpkin spice from the screen.

The main issue is that the film can’t seem to decide on what it wants to accomplish. In the film’s opening voiceover, Laurie sets the tone by detailing how the townspeople still live in fear of the Michael, which in turn has the townspeople turning their fears and frustrations towards Corey Cunningham, a young man who accidentally murdered a young boy he was babysitting. The film tackles the theme of nature vs nurture which is embodied by the character of Corey, who is played fantastically by Rohan Campbell. Campbell perfectly straddles the line between being pitiful and downright terrifying. Is Corey evil, or did outside forces force him to be? This is the question that the film seems to be interested in exploring for about two-thirds of the way until it suddenly backtracks. It’s a shame that the film deflates near the end because Campbell does so much with the material he’s given; if only that material had not failed him.

Jamie Lee Curtis’ final performance as Laurie Strode is yet another positive attribute that the film has going for it. As opposed to Halloween Kills, she’s given much more to do this time around and Curtis gives it her all for Halloween Ends. Curtis’ skills as an actor paired with her history with the character help to carry emotional heft for a film that seems to be devoid of any. The steps taken to reach the end of Laurie’s story might have been shaky, but it manages to do right by Laurie.

Overall, the film is less than the sum of its parts due to half-baked ideas, silly execution, and a thematically confused climax. For Halloween fans, this is a complicated recommendation because while the final showdown is worth the price of admission, it feels so far removed from the rest of the film which already makes some contentious choices. The trilogy started on a high note with 2018’s Halloween but the sequels have never lived up to its promise. Halloween Ends is unquestionably a better film than Halloween Kills but mostly due to the wild choices it makes as opposed to being a cohesive story. As the end of a trilogy, Ends lands with a thud, but as Jamie Lee Curtis’ swan song, it’s the ending she deserved.

Carpe Action – Seized

When the least believable thing in your film is Scott Adkins as a tech guy, you know you’re going to have a good time. Isaac Florentine’s Seized stars Scott Adkins as Nero, a former special forces operative who lives on the California beach with his son Taylor (Matthew Garbacz). Nero’s tranquil life is suddenly disrupted when Mzamo (Mario Van Peebles) kidnaps Nero’s son. To get his son back, Nero has one job: kill. Should Nero fail to complete Mzamo’s tasks, Taylor will be killed through carbon monoxide. It’s a race against time as Nero must unleash his hidden killer to rescue his son.

RAD: Seized is a lean and mean shot of adrenaline! Florentine wastes no time in dishing out high-octane action spectacle. The fluid fight sequences are shot in an intelligible way; there is no shaky cam or frantic editing. Adkins kicks, flips, and even gets to fight with both hands behind his back. In an era where the Schwarzeneggers and Stallones are but relics of the past, Adkins proves to be the rightful heir to the action heroes of old. The film follows the same pattern throughout: go to one location and kill everyone in sight. What keeps the sequences from feeling tedious are the technical craft of the stunt performers and the fluid cinematography.

Mario Van Peebles also makes an exciting turn as the bad guy Mzamo and almost steals the whole film. For a direct-to-video action film, it’s refreshing to see an actor fully committing to their role as the big bad. It’s certainly not a Hans Gruber performance, but Van Peebles makes the most with the material he’s given and goes for it. In turn, Mzamo ends up being much more engaging than he would have been under the hands of a lesser actor. As a bonus, Mario Van Peebles even gets to perform some of his stunts which is a fun little treat.

BAD: On a technical aspect, the action is spectacular. The biggest issue with Seized is the lackluster dramatic arc. Nero has lost his wife and has a strained relationship with his son. We don’t see nearly enough to establish the father/son relationship. The character of Taylor is badly written and comes across as unlikeable right from the start of the film. The angsty teenager trope is commonplace in films like this, but the character is horrible to his father who’s just trying to emotionally connect with him. A few more scenes to humanize Taylor would have better established the emotional stakes.

The third act is both the film’s strength as well as its weakness. On the one hand, the action reaches its peak, but Florentine decides to make some questionable twists and turns that were not properly set up during the first two-thirds of the film. While the fight sequences are undoubtedly exceptional, the payoff never quite reaches a satisfying conclusion. The film gives us something different from what we were anticipating.

THE FINAL TAKEDOWN: Overall, Seized is an excellent way to spend a quiet afternoon. For DTV action films, Adkins continues to prove why he’s the king of the genre. It’s not the most innovative action film in Adkins’ filmography, but it most certainly gets the job done in delivering simple thrills and entertaining beatdowns. Seized is an endorsement for fans of Scott Adkins and low-budget action filmmaking.

The Batman (2022)

He is vengeance! He is the night! He is PATMAN!!! Two years into his crusade on crime, Batman (Robert Pattinson) has little to show for it. Crime continues to run rampant and rot the core of Gotham City. A series of murders of Gotham’s rich and powerful lead Batman and Lieutenant James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) to the Riddler (Paul Dano), a serial killer intent on exposing the city’s corruption. As the murders and conspiracies unfold, Batman must reckon with the lies of Gotham’s rich and powerful as well as just how effective his fight for Gotham has been.

It has been ten years since the Caped Crusader’s last solo outing and the road leading to The Batman has been interesting. Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman introduced us to an older and more jaded version of the character played by Ben Affleck. The film’s reception was divisive, but Affleck’s performance showed promise. Affleck’s next project would have him direct and star in his own Batman feature but after a series of personal issues, Affleck stepped down and Matt Reeves would direct with Robert Pattinson to don the cape and cowl. Matt Reeve’s interpretation of the Batman mythos takes some interesting twists and turns and while the presentation is clunky in parts, The Batman is undoubtedly the most accurate interpretation of the character to date.

Reeve’s understanding and love for Batman’s mythology are undeniable and nothing reflects that more than in his interpretation of Gotham City. Whether you admired the gothic aesthetic of the Burton films or the grounded realism of the Nolan films, Reeves strikes the perfect balance between the familiar and the contemporary. Gotham City looks and feels dangerous, but at the same time, it’s also alluring. Gotham City is a living, breathing character which was something that was lost in Nolan’s Batman sequels. We get to see the higher-tier of the city as well as the seedy underbelly inhabited by Gotham’s most vile criminals. Gotham City is a vibe and the three-hour runtime provides an ample amount of time in exploring the world that Matt Reeves built.

Robert Pattinson has been having a career resurgence and his work in The Batman is the culmination of his grind and determination. The billionaire playboy we’ve come to know over the years is nowhere to be found. In his place is a recluse who takes more pleasure in being Batman than he does in being Bruce Wayne. It would have been just as easy to have Pattinson play up the billionaire playboy considering his conventional good looks, but both Reeves and Pattinson wisely opted to go in a different direction. The result is a fresh interpretation of Bruce Wayne that remains true to the essence of who the character is. In an era where superheroes rarely ever get hurt, it’s engaging to see Pattinson’s Batman get hurt and fail from time to time. With just two years under his belt, this is a Batman who still has plenty to learn and after watching The Batman, the sky is the limit for where they take this character.

Clocking in at three hours, this is the longest Batman film. Unfortunately, more doesn’t always mean better and you feel the runtime. The Riddler is featured as the film’s villain but John Turturro’s Carmine Falcone also plays a minor role as the antagonist linked to the corruption in Gotham. While acts one and three thematically align with Batman and his influence on Gotham City it’s the middle portion that pushes those themes to the side in favor of a plot-driven detective story. The Riddler sets off everything that happens but neither he nor Batman share any screentime together until the start of Act 3. Had Reeves truncated the Falcone subplot, this could have resulted in a film that was focused and streamlined.

A perfect film this is not, but The Batman is the most entertaining Batman film we’ve ever gotten. The world of Gotham City is fully realized and the performances all range from good to great! Zoe Kravitz and Robert Pattinson’s chemistry is on fire and Jeffrey Wright makes for an excellent Jim Gordon. For those expecting an action-heavy superhero film, The Batman will feel more of a piece with films like Zodiac as opposed to traditional blockbuster fare. For those simply wanting to immerse themselves in the world of Gotham City, then The Batman will give you everything you hoped for.

Masters of the Universe

By the power of Grayskull! The battle between good and evil will be fought on our own planet earth as He-Man (Dolph Lundgren) and Skeletor (Frank Langella) fight for the fate of Eternia and the universe. After being transported to earth, He-Man and friends seek help from Julie (Courteney Cox) and Kevin (Robert Duncan McNeill), two teenagers who can help bring our heroes home. While our heroes look for a way home, Skeletor dispatches his troops to terminate them. Will He-Man finally defeat Skeletor or will Skeletor accumulate enough power to conquer all? This is Gary Goddard’s Masters of the Universe!

A complicated production schedule caused the film to go over budget. To keep budget costs low, Cannon Films decided to set most of Masters of the Universe on earth as opposed to the fictional world of Eternia. For He-Man fans, this is a deviation of the mythology, but it works surprisingly well. To embrace Masters of the Universe is to admit that this is not the He-Man film you might have wanted. Once you can accept this fact, the film is fun schlock entertainment. This is Star Wars meets Bill & Ted except for the fact that most of the actors aren’t nearly as charismatic as Reeves and Winter.

While most of the performances are mid-to-low tier, there is one performer who stands above the rest and that is Frank Langella as Skeletor. Langella originally took on the role for his son who was a fan of He-Man. He’s since gone on to state that Skeletor was one of his favorite roles and quite frankly, that’s not hard to believe. Langella understands the film he’s in and he makes a full course meal of every scene to deliver a delightfully villainous performance. He’s scary, but in a cartoonish way. Langella strikes a perfect balance between theatrical and frightening.

Langella may have had the time of his life, but his costar Dolph Lundgren had the opposite experience. After his successful debut as the cold-blooded Ivan Drago in Rocky IV, Lundgren was suddenly thrust as the leading man of what was meant to be an action franchise. At the time, he had just flown in from Sweden so his accent was thick and his acting experience was sparse. In terms of physicality, this is an inspired casting choice for He-Man, but Lundgren looks so uncomfortable and stiff that he can’t fully meet the needs of the role. As a physical performer, Lundgren can handle the stunts, but Lundgren’s lack of acting chops make it hard to believe that he is the true ruler of Eternia.

Masters of the Universe would ultimately be the undoing of Cannon Films. With a budget of $22 million, its final gross was $17 million. Over the years, it has gained a cult following and it’s easy to see why. It does plenty of the wrong things, but Masters of the Universe does get a few things right. Frank Langella’s performance coupled with the production design of Castle Grayskull are absolutely marvelous. The effort put into the set and costume designs cannot go unnoticed. It didn’t become the “Star Wars of the 80’s” as Cannon Films had hoped, but it did help to launch Dolph Lundgren’s career which is a victory in and of itself. Whether you’re familiar with He-Man or not, Masters of the Universe is an entertaining nostalgia trip that will please the old and young alike. If you loved smashing your action figures together as a child, this is the child fantasy you’re looking for.

BEST ACTION SEQUENCE: To be quite transparent, the action is fairly pedestrian so it was hard to single out any particular action sequence. If I had to pick one though, it would be the climactic battle in Castle Grayskull. Remember when practical sets and soundstages were a thing? The interior of Castle Grayskull is one big playset and all the characters have room to interact with their surroundings. Gary Goddard, the director of Masters of the Universe, pushed to have at least the opening and ending of the film set in Eternia. The $22 million was certainly spent in the right places because it feels like a Star Wars setpiece. The final battle between He-Man and Skeletor is clunky, but the overall presentation is solid.

Cobra – The Gritty Beverly Hills Cop

Crime is a disease and he’s the cure. George P. Cosmatos and Sylvester Stallone team up for cult classic Cobra. Marion “Cobra” Cobretti is a street cop who plays by his own rules. After witnessing a murder, Ingrid, played by Brigitte Nielsen, is placed under the protection of Cobretti who suspects that this latest murder might be linked to a dangerous cult led by the Night Slasher. What ensues is an hour and a half of high-octane action. Can Cobra find the killer without risking Ingrid’s safety or will the Night Slasher and his crew catch their latest victim? Here is Cobra!

Stallone’s career is a rollercoaster ride; from the cultural phenomenon of Rocky to the schlocky Expendables, the quality of Stallone’s films are usually hit or miss. Stallone had originally been attached to Beverly Hills Cop as the lead. When tasked with rewriting the script, he had removed most of the comedy beats in favor of a darker action film. Realizing that the action sequences were beyond the studio’s budget, they passed on his script. Stallone would take these ideas and use them for Cobra. Cobra’s production history has been well-documented in the past with stories of Stallone’s unprofessional behavior to a rumored x-rated cut that had to be cut down to have a wider audience appeal. Despite all this, Cobra still manages to be an exciting action film, flaws and all!

Stallone’s face and name may be on the poster, but it’s Brian Thompson’s terrifying performance as the Night Slasher that leaves an impression. Thompson’s physicality, cast-iron jawline, and booming voice are just the icing on the cake; the glue that holds this performance together is Thompson’s intensity. In the showdown between Cobra and the Night Slasher, the villain gives an impassioned monologue of how the strong will survive and how the weak will perish. Thompson’s delivery of that monologue works so well because it’s delive. The beads of sweat dripping from the Slasher’s face as well as his baritone voice further drive home the point that this man might not even be human at all. He’s a hunter and he won’t stop until he’s killed his prey. A couple of extra scenes could have further established the menace of the Night Slasher, but Thompson is still able to be effective with the little material he is given.

Cobra’s original runtime was over two hours but had to be cut down to 87 minutes for more theater screenings. While the film was now viable for wider distribution, it came at the cost of underdeveloped subplots and characters; particularly the romance between Cobretti and Ingrid. Stallone and Nielsen were in a relationship during the filming of Cobra but their onscreen chemistry would make you think otherwise. Stallone has been a romantic lead in the past with Rocky, but with Cobra, it doesn’t feel appropriate for the character. Brigitte Nielsen herself has nothing to do other than be the damsel in distress. If it had been so crucial for these two to fall in love, it would have been best to flesh out their relationship with more screen time together.

The Night Slasher is the leader of a murderous cult, but because of the film’s lean runtime, there’s little time spent in developing the murder cult or how they function. The most insight the film provides is the fact that they bang their axes in unison which, while creepy, hardly passes for world-building. If the basic idea is that they want to kill people, that’s fine, but a few sequences of these people doing bad things would only help in amplifying the personal stakes.

Amidst all the studio meddling, they knew better than to botch the main selling point: the action sequences! Cobra has it all: shootouts, car chases, and excessive explosions. Whether you love or hate a Stallone film, there’s no denying that his action sequences will always be high quality. The car chase between Cobretti and the Slasher’s troops is a fun showcase of practical stunts and good editing. The camera follows the chase from all over the Long Beach area as both cars are driven through oncoming traffic and dangerous roads. It’s an adrenaline rush that only an 80’s film can achieve. Stallone’s attention to detail as well as his willingness to perform many of Cobra’s stunts are a large part of why his action films continue to resonate with audiences.

Cobra is a bit of a mess, but when one takes into consideration just how difficult the filmmaking process was, it could have been much worse. Brian Thompson delivers a devilish performance that will terrify you and Stallone once again plays up his action hero persona to great effect. I’m the pantheon of 80’s action, it’s easy to see why it’s received cult status. The shorter runtime might not have served the film well, but the film’s set pieces and characters are enough to hold the film together.

BEST ACTION SEQUENCE: The opening shootout at the supermarket feels all too real in our current world which is why it works so well. This sequence feels closer to the darker tone that Stallone was apparently going for when he first wrote the script for Cobra. Marco Rodriguez, the actor portraying the Supermarket Killer, deserves every award you can give him! He’s only in this one sequence but he takes full advantage of it by dishing out a performance that is off the walls. The moment Cobretti comes in to save the day is the moment you can finally breathe a sigh of relief because you know he’s going to save the day. Even if you get nothing else out of Cobra, this sequence is undoubtedly the high mark of the film.

DRAGON INN – A WUXIA CLASSIC

An unlikely group of heroes must band together to protect the innocent in King Hu’s Dragon Inn. Following the execution of the emperor’s minister of defense, the malicious eunuch Cao banishes the minister of defense’s children to the self-titled “Dragon Inn” where he dispatches his troops to execute them. The only obstacle in their way, however, are a group of fighters – Xiao Shao-zi and the Zhu siblings. Can they defeat Cao and keep the children out of harm’s way or will they fall to the blade of the enemy? “They don’t make ‘em like they used to,” says the boomer. In this case, they happen to be right! Here is Dragon Inn.

When one thinks of Wuxia films, we tend to associate them with the likes of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Hero. Dragon Inn isn’t as big as those films have but what it lacks in scale, it makes up for with intricate set pieces and nail-biting tension. Every sequence in this film is an absolute banger! Danger lurks in every corner of the Dragon Inn and Hu masterfully builds that tension to its breaking point. The best moments come in watching how the characters respond to the situations they’re put in and it results in tremendously exciting payoffs while also establishing the competence of the protagonists.

The poisoned wine sequence is the best example of Hu’s use of tension, atmosphere, with a touch of comedy to boot. As our heroes sit and dine with Cao’s soldiers, they intentionally poison the Zhu siblings’ drinks. Sister Zhu, the sharpest of the siblings, catches word of it through Xiao and attempts to get Brother Zhu’s attention without Cao’s men noticing. It’s a witty back-and-forth between the Zhu siblings and Cao’s men as each side coaxes the other to drink the poisoned cup.

While the old-school filmmaking has aged well, the action sequences did come across a little silly. It isn’t a bad thing, especially considering that the film is over 60 years old, but for a modern audience, it does take some getting used to. It’s a Time Capsule to a time before special effects and when practical stunts reigned supreme. It’s easy to see why Dragon Inn is hailed as a classic: it’s the result of a director’s use of atmosphere, space, and tension to craft an action film that’s expertly staged. The dedication of the actors in not only performing their own stunts but also in delivering charismatic performances further aids in the immersion. Dragon Inn is a certified classic that will appeal to action fans and cinephiles alike!

BEST ACTION SEQUENCE: A good payoff is only as good as its setup and the final fight between Cao and the five swordsmen lives up to the hype! Throughout the film, it’s established that Cao is not to be taken lightly. Those who know Cao describe him as one of the fastest and most proficient fighters around which makes him overmatched for just one person. It takes teamwork and strategy to fight Cao, but even when cornered, he still makes it a challenge for our heroes to defeat him. The final fight is also visually stunning and captures the gorgeous vistas of the Chinese mountainside. The location feels just as much a part of the action as the characters and provides a sense of space for the actors to play off of. Even by today’s standards, this sequence works because of how well-established the characters are and just how scary Cao can be in a fight. The sequences track smoothly and never cut abruptly; it’s a synchronized performance of choreography and camerawork.

Castle Falls: Time is Money

Two badasses, a stack of cash, and less than twenty-four hours to make it out alive, Castle Falls pits Dolph Lundgren (who also serves as the film’s director) and Scott Adkins against a group of thugs who are out to find a stash of money hidden within an abandoned hospital that’s soon to be demolished. With nothing to lose and everything to gain, our heroes have only a few hours to make it out with the money and their lives. Will they beat the odds or will we find them buried within the rubble? In this review, we’ll be breaking down The Rad, The Bad, and The Final Takedown.

THE RAD: Castle Falls feels much more restrained and deliberately paced than one would expect, and it works! Mike Wade (Adkins), is a disgraced fighter who’s so broke that he’s forced to sleep in his pickup truck. Richard Ericson (Lundgren) is a prison guard trying to pay for his daughter’s cancer treatment. The film does a good job of establishing the characters’ motivations which results in the action feeling much more personal and engrossing.

THE BAD: Intercut with the action are scenes of the city’s mayor and townspeople preparing for the demolition of the abandoned hospital, but these scenes show up at random moments in the film and don’t feel organic to the film’s pace. The first half of the film does an excellent job at setting up the characters and their motivations, but the ticking clock element of the second half is clumsy and does not effectively raise the stakes.

Along with the lack of urgency, the villains also pose no real threat to our heroes. Scott Hunter plays Deacon Glass, the big bad of the film, but unfortunately he’s about as memorable as a one-night stand. Hunter has the chops to be an intimidating villain, but the character is underwritten and is too generic to ever be taken seriously. None of his henchmen are memorable either, and they serve no other purpose than to be cannon fodder. The final fight sequence between Glass and Wade is visually impressive, but ultimately lacks any real dramatic tension.

BEST ACTION SEQUENCE: The fight between Lundgren and Adkins is delightful! What’s instantly noteworthy about this sequence is how well Lundgren and Adkins play off each other. While it’s apparent that Adkins is more agile and spry, Lundgren proves that he’s still capable as a physical performer. This sequence is reminiscent of the Roddy Piper/Keith David fight in They Live. Watching our heroes duke it out before they must ultimately work together is a highlight for any action fan. 

THE FINAL TAKEDOWN: Castle Falls is a solid action film that, while not particularly memorable, provides just enough drama and thrills to keep you entertained for an hour and a half. The film’s pace will either keep you on the edge of your seat or will have you sinking into the couch, but once the action starts, it’ll lock you in. Lundgren might not have the style or technique of other top tier action directors, but he brings an authenticity that is present within every frame. Castle Falls is a fun, low budget, thriller; if you’re looking for an easily digestible action film, this will satisfy your craving.

2021 Best of Part 2:

Without further ado, let’s finish this!

5) The Setup and Payoff of Dolph Lundgren’s Castle Falls

This film is a treat for action fans and not just because of its immaculately staged action sequences. Dolph Lundgren’s conviction in establishing his characters’ motivations is the film’s greatest asset. By the time the action begins, you’re hooked because you understand what’s at stake for both Dolph Lundgren and Scott Adkins.

4) The Bizarre Personality of Kevin Lewis’ Willy’s Wonderland

Watching Nicolas Cage curb stomp a demonic animatronic gorilla is the icing on the cake for a film that’s so ridiculous but also entertaining. Willy’s Wonderland is a wild concoction of scary, funny, and action-packed that manages to blend together seamlessly. Nicolas Cage movies are like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re gonna get. Fortunately, this is one of the good Cage films because it fully embraces its premise and uses it to deliver some terrific action sequences as well as a silent and menacing performance from Nicolas Cage.

3) The Last Duel in Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel

The king is back to deliver one of the most epic battle sequences since Gladiator! After two hours of buildup, the climax of The Last Duel absolutely delivers with an action sequence that starts out exciting but ends up being repulsive by the time it reaches its conclusion. The lack of score is also a nice touch that helps emphasize the barbaric nature of the battle. The entire film itself is terrific, but for fans of Gladiator, the final duel between Matt Damon and Adam Driver is pure spectacle.

2) The Anxiety and Existential Dread of Emma Seligman’s Shiva Baby

Shiva Baby is an hour-and-a-half of awkward moments that are effectively conveyed through claustrophobic closeups, a grating score, and a banger performance from Rachel Sennott! On the surface, Shiva Baby is a series of unfortunate events, but the subtext of existential crisis is where the true horror lies as we follow a young adult who can’t get her life together.

1) The Subervise Nature of Michael Sarnoski’s Pig

I’m so glad I went into this one completely blind. This is what some would affectionately call the “anti-John Wick” and for good reason. The film has the setup of a typical revenge film, but it handles it in a way that feels fresh; where you would expect the film zig, Pig goes in an entirely different direction. This might be one of Nicolas Cage’s most understated performances and you can feel that there’s so much beneath the surface. Pig is a quiet and melancholic film that relies more on mood and character as opposed to full-on action.

2021 Best Of:

The year 2020 left the world in a state of uncertainty and panic but 2021 saw it picking up the pieces, a sentiment that can also be applied to film. Delayed theatrical releases, halted film productions, and the accelerated growth of streaming services could not keep the film experience at bay; cinema is alive and it’s here to stay! This year gave us new films from proven directors as well as debuts for promising new filmmakers. As we reach the end of 2021, it’s time to look back and celebrate what cinema brought us this past year. Here are some of my favorite things about some of my favorite films of 2021.

10) Peter Parker’s Arc in Jon Watts’ Spider-Man: No Way Home

I’m admittedly not particularly fond of Tom Holland’s Spider-Man films; I think the character has had access to too many resources that it’s robbed us of truly connecting with the character on a personal level. With No Way Home, everything Peter ever had to fall back on is slowly taken away from him until he’s left with nothing but his wits and intellect. No Way Home has Peter learn the true meaning of responsibility as he fully embraces what it means to be Spider-Man. Let’s hope they don’t undo everything too soon.

9) The Fight Choreography of Destin Daniel Cretton’s Shang-Chi

It’s official: Shang-Chi has some of the best action sequences in a Marvel film to date. From the graceful and balletic fight sequence of the film’s opening to the vicious bus fight between Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings, Shang-Chi’s action isn’t engaging simply for its immaculate choreography, but because of the emotional stakes attached to it.

8) The Conclusion of Cary Fukunaga’s “No Time To Die”

The Craig era of Bond films borrowed heavily from Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy and much like The Dark Knight Rises, Cary Fukunaga and co. give Bond an emotional conclusion that’s both shocking yet earned. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Bond dies! From Casino Royale to No Time to Die, each subsequent film saw Bond slowly tearing down his cold exterior until we finally get a James Bond who’s not afraid to love. It’s a wonderful swan song for Daniel Craig and a cathartic conclusion for fans of his interpretation of the character.

7) The Message of David Lowery’s The Green Knight

Gawain is kind of a terrible protagonist. He’s impulsive, selfish, and in over his head, which is what makes him a compelling character. Gawain’s journey is an odyssey of self-discovery as he learns what it truly means to be a man. He stumbles along the way but once the film reaches its conclusion, Gawain’s transformation is one that feels earned and triumphant.

6) Tammy Faye’s Final Song in Michael Showalter’s The Eyes of Tammy Faye

This sequence is all about perspective. It may play out differently depending on where you stand on the character of Tammy Faye, but no matter where you fall, it doesn’t matter to our lead protagonist. In the eyes of Tammy Faye, she’s a superstar and we’re all just living in her world.