Archives for June 2008 | Varied Celluloid - Page 2

Archive for June, 2008

As Tears Go By

Posted by JoshSamford On June - 28 - 2008
Plot Outline: Wah (Andy Lau) is a member of the triads along with his brother Fly (Jackie Cheung) who cannot stay out of trouble and is a constant source of embarrassment. Everything is okay in Wah’s life though, until his cousin Ngor (Maggie Cheung) is forced on him. Ngor is in town visiting a doctor because she’s been sick and has to wear a mask over her mouth. Wah soon finds himself infatuated with Ngor and Fly soon gets him into even deeper trouble.

The Review
Let me just say that I’m quite the novice when it comes to Wong Kar-Wai. This is only the second film by him that I’ve actually seen. The first film was the fabulous Chungking Express, and the idea of Wong Kar-wai directing a ‘Heroic Bloodshed’ film seemed like a win-win situation. Well, to tell the truth I was probably under the wrong impression when I first got the film. I wasn’t expecting Hard Boiled or anything like that, but I wasn’t exactly expecting such a conventional crime/romance film either. I tried to block out my expectations though, and what I got was a fairly decent film. Not great, at least not to me, but it was entertaining enough.

If there is a huge problem with As Tears Go By, it would be that the movie really doesn’t make any kind of impact on me. I feel indifferent towards it, and as you might can guess, that isn’t a good thing to feel towards a film you are to review. The story is average at best, but there are a few peppers here and there. Like the fact that the leading lady happens to be Andy Lau’s cousin. The only thing is they don’t follow up on this. She might as well have been a friend of the family because neither Lau’s or Cheung’s character seems to have any moral dilemma about being emotionally involved with a family member. So the film kind of just falters when approaching any kind of serious drama. The only thing remotely interesting is Andy Lau and Jackie Cheung’s relationship.

If you’ve seen Mean Streets you kind of already know what’s up with the Andy Lau/Jackie Cheung relationship is. Jackie is rebellious, hard headed and overall foolish, while Lau has to keep bailing him out of trouble. While this has been done before, I really liked Cheung in this role. Cheung gets to overact like crazy, but is always funny to watch. He’s usually jumping up and down about one thing or another.

I suppose the biggest star of the film though is probably the cinematography. This was before Wai hooked up Christopher Doyle, but Wai Keung Lau shows here he’s no slouch. I particularly liked the scenes near the beginning in Lau’s apartment. The blue’s kind of added a whole mood to the film, but didn’t say quite anything. On another technical note, the soundtrack like Chungking Express, features English speaking songs covered in Cantonese. This time around it’s ‘Take My Breath Away’, which proves to be ten times more annoying than the overplayed “California Dreaming” in Chungking Express.

The Conclusion
I don’t know, it’s kind of hard for me to say. I certainly didn’t dislike As Tears Go By, but I didn’t love it either. I’m somewhere in the middle I suppose. Anyway, I imagine this film probably has some die hard fans out there, and I can actually see why I guess, but I’m just not one of them. I give it a three only because of some little entertaining scenes. Like when Lau holds a knife to the throat of a mob boss and when Cheung and Lau have a funny conversation in a bar where Cheung uses some English words he knows.

Assault on Precint 13

Posted by JoshSamford On June - 28 - 2008
Review contributed by Rat Faced Killa

Plot Outline: In seemingly unconnected events in Los Angeles, a street gang vows revenge against the police for killing 6 of their crew, a rookie cop named Bishop is handed the crappy job of watching a police station in the process of closing down, and a murderer named Napoleon Wilson is carted off to death row. These events soon culminate into the siege of the near-vacant police station by hundreds of violent gang members. Cut off from the rest of the city and low on weapons, the station’s few remaining occupants, Wilson, and another crook named Wells must trust each other in order to survive. Talk about a crappy first night on the job!

The Review: Picture Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. Replace the mindless zombies with random gang-members and the old country house with a nearly abandoned police station in the middle of a desolate inner-city neighborhood. Now you’ve got the simple but effective premise that drives this magnificent budget action picture from the golden age of exploitation film. No wonder this is one of Quentin Tarantino’s personal favorites (and referenced several times in his script for From Dusk Till Dawn), as it’s about as cool as these kind of flicks come. In the hands of another director, the film’s mildly contrived premise may have resulted in a forgettable B-movie, but Carpenter does several things to make it work. Each of the plot strands are intercut in such a way that even though it takes half of the movie to reach the center-piece of the film, the siege of the police station, the film is consistently interesting.

The time devoted to establishing the films premise helps to develop the character of Napoleon Wilson, introduce Bishop and the situation regarding the police precinct, and provide a motive behind the street gang’s actions.Even though most the characters are two-dimensional, each of them serve a clear purpose in advancing the plot(besides the secretary that gets killed….well, maybe that was her purpose). These elements help to retain a suspension of disbelief so that when the gang does attack the precinct, it’s easy to buy. There are no superfluous plot pieces and it seems to head in a definite direction throughout, so the film maintains a brisk pace. Made on a meager budget of a little over one hundred grand, Carpenter’s film looks like one of 10 times that, thanks to his skill with the camera. Much more advanced than his previous feature, Dark Star, Assault is filled with expertly handled shots and nicely framed widescreen photography, giving it a professional look. The main set of the film, the interior of the police station, looks as real as any seen on film. Although Carpenter hadn’t fully developed his musical skills, the score to Assault is effective in setting a mood, even if repetitive.

Also credited as the editor, Carpenter shows aptitude in the assembly of action scenes, particularly the shoot-out involving Bishop, Wilson and the gang members, in which he manages to make simple actions exciting. Also impressive is the assembly of the exterior precinct sequences. With the use of POV shots Carpenter creates the illusion of the desolate station surroundings, despite being filmed in totally different locations. Characteristic of most budget pictures, the acting in Assault is a little weak, with the exception of Darwin Josten who has a memorable turn as the anti-hero Napoleon Wilson. He may be a son of a bitch, but he’s a likable one. Wilson is a precursor to the anti-heroes that would show up in subsequent Carpenter films, such as Snake Plissken in Escape From New York or John Nada in They Live. He captures every scene he’s in as the cynical outsider who meets his problems with an apathetic attitude. Some of the other acting is particularly poor, especially a scene where Laurie Zimmer(Leigh)is shot in the arm and she doesn’t even flinch! As a Carpenter fan, I feel that Assault is one of his best works, and as a film fan, I feel that it is a minimalist action masterpiece. If you are interested in budget films or Carpenter’s work, this is a must see. In fact, if you are interested in movies at all this one should be on your rental list.

Armour of God

Posted by JoshSamford On June - 28 - 2008
Plot Outline: Asian Hawk (Jackie Chan) is an ex-singer in a pop group called “The Losers”. Also in the group was his friends Alan and Laura, whom Hawk also fell in love with but was forced to leave because of his love for adventure. Laura, like any good girl, settled for the closest guy who was next to her; enter Alan. Years pass, Hawk becomes quite accomplished in his career, but is soon contacted once again by Alan. Turns out some nutjob religious cult kidnapped Laura and are seeking the Armour of God. A five piece suit of Armour that grants it’s wearer tremendous power. The cult already has three pieces of the armor, Alan has one and a Duke in Spain has the final piece needed. After many hijinks, Jackie and Alan manage to get the duke to fork over his final piece, but under one circumstance, they have to take the Duke’s daughter along for the ride. Now Jackie Alan and this Spanish dish set out to save Laura, and perhaps even keep the Armour while they’re at it.

The Review
Armour of God is probably one of Jackie’s strangest, and in my opinion, best films. Definitely not an opinion shared by many, and I can already hear people yelling ‘blasphemy’, but hey it’s my opinion. I don’t know what makes me love AOG so much, I can’t tell if it’s because Armour of God was one of the earliest Chan films I seen and reminiscence is getting the better of me, or if it’s just the spark of originality and fun the film has to offer. Maybe it’s a combination of the two, but I tell you this: Of all the great ‘stunt’ films Chan has made since the 80’s, I would say AOG at the very least makes it in to the top three. That’s just my opinion of course, and frankly I can see it’s not a very popular one. A 6.4 on the imdb may not seem like such a bad thing, but the fact that it isn’t a seven shows the division the film has on people. For the life of me, I have a hard time seeing what is so terrible about the film that some people could call it the worst chan film. If anyone is a Chan fan, I don’t see how they can call the film cheesy when the humor here is no more thick than in any of his other films. It might be the fact that Jackie is a bit cocky and doesn’t play the reluctant hero he usually does. I will concede that the film definitely has it’s cheesy moments, but in a good way like most action films from the eighties. Not because Jackie’s humor is too abundant or the acting isn’t hamlet.

I see some complain that the film is too slow or boring, but this just boggles me. Sure, the middle half of the film is comprised of nothing but jokes, but how can you discredit a film that has such spectacular action scenes by calling it boring? Armour of God has two of my favorite action scenes ever. First, the car chase in the middle part of the film. It’s not on the level of Bullit or The French Connection, but it doesn’t try to be. It’s more over the top, and is just cool all around. Maybe I’m biased because of my love for watching people wreck on motorbikes, but I hold to the belief that all men, no matter what their creed can sit back and enjoy a man flying off a motorbike and off a cliff. Good old fashioned fun. The other insane action scene is really just a string of action scenes. When Jackie heads back to the cave at the end of the film, it’s almost non-stop action for fifteen minutes. Jackie’s stunt team walks away brutalized by the end of the finale. People flip off tables landing on their heads, Jackie sweeps some dude (dressed like a woman) in mid air and he does a front flip landing face first into the dirt and I won’t even spoil the ending for you. One of Jackie’s most outrageous stunts, even today.

The film isn’t perfect of course, no great film ever is, but I don’t think it’s deserving of the vile I see spewed forth about it. The middle half of the film does slow down quite a bit, and if you aren’t entertained by Chan’s humor this will most likely kill you. It almost resorts to gag after gag, but thankfully action scenes are dispersed in between all the humor and helps pick the film back up. I didn’t particularly like the western (Spanish?) girl who plays opposite Jackie or even Alan Tam, not because I thought either actor gave too bad of a performance (granted, the girl’s performance doesn’t deserve any kind of write up), but because neither had any effect on the movie for me personally. Both were just harmless, in other words: not interesting. Jackie is the one and only star in this picture show ladies and gentleman, although I would have preferred a little more Rosamund Kwan. She’s just so darn cute. Jackie is the only person with a spotlight here, not because he’s a ballhog, he’s just the only one with real charisma. His arrogance in the film never walks the line of being annoying, which can almost kill a film if played too hammy. Jackie is just right in his role, at some points full of himself, at some points full of BS. How can you not like this man?

The Conclusion
Let’s just fill out a little questionnaire here: Do you like action? Do you like Jackie Chan? Do you like watching Jackie Chan fall from trees smashing a hole in his head after a stunt goes wrong? Well, if you answered yes to any of the above questions, then you’ll love Armour of God! Chan’s older films are already a niche audience, but AOG seems to have dug a smaller and more compact niche inside the already existent niche. You’ll either love it or you’ll hate it, but at the least you can appreciate the injuries Chan and his team inflict upon themselves, just to entertain all of us.


Posted by JoshSamford On June - 28 - 2008
Plot Outline: A group of young tourists set off to spend some time on a deserted island (I can’t remember the exact reason, and won’t force myself to watch again so soon after digesting it the first time around), but once they get there one of their friends twists her ankle and remains with the boat. She is soon kidnapped by a psychotic killer, and the boat is sent sailing off to sea. The remaining kids decide to stay in town and find one of their friends. Once they find the house, there’s no one in sight but the young daughter of the people who own the house. She says there is a man who smells like blood and he took her parents. Now the kids must find a way off the island, before they too go missing.

The Review
You know you’ve got problems when you walk into a film expecting absolutely nothing, and yet still walk away disappointed. I was thinking that Antropophagus was going to be bad from the start, I had read enough bad reviews for it to know it was going to be a crap fest, and yet I was STILL let down by just how poor it is. After sitting through Joe D’Amato’s Beyond the Darkness (Blue Omega or whatever you want to call it), which I actually enjoyed a bit, I thought I would treat myself to another D’Amato ‘classic’. Before watching either film, I had seen Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals back when I was on my Cannibal hunt, and thought it was pretty bad but not incredibly bad. So, so far D’Amato was 1 for 1. Then along came Antropophagus… now I’m not sure how he’s ranking. This is just SO bad. It actually took me three times to sit through it, each time wanting to go to sleep because of how impossibly boring the film is. Honestly, D’Amato fans of the world, I don’t mean to be rude, but this was just too much for me. I sat through at least one full hour of pointless and terrible plot development, for what? For the whole freaking thing to be explained in a flashback that isn’t even a minute long? For two or three death scenes that were kinda cool? I’m sorry, but it takes more than some decent gore for me to like a flick. Antropophagus delivers nothing for me.

When I say that the first hour of the film is pointless drivel, some of you are probably thinking “ahh, there’s probably a good death here and there. Surely there’s something packed in that full hour that I can derive some sort of pleasure from”; Believe me, there is NOTHING! There are two death scenes in the first hour of the film, but both total about five seconds in length, combined, and are both amateur to say the least. Surely not the gory mess some might be lead to believe by the film’s fans. The other three (yes, only three) death scenes of any interest come in the last twenty minutes. Granted, the scenes are pretty good, but after sitting through an hour of worthless and useless crap it’s hard to find anything positive to applaud. Sure, the film has style, and I applaud that as well as D’Amato for setting up some kind of atmosphere. The only thing is, I could shoot a turd with good cinematography, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s crap. Fulci is often accused of developing atmosphere, but adding no tension. I agree for the most part, but I wonder if the people who say this have ever popped in Antropophagus. The only tension in the film comes in the last two minutes of the film where our heroine is being chased by our villain, and I’ll admit it was pulled off effectively, but for the rest of the film I could barely even tell which characters were which. The only two characters that stood out for me was the blind girl and the killer. The blind girl because she’s the only brunette, and the killer because… well, he’s the killer. Giving three women who are all the same hair color and have no real identifiable traits, even in personality, isn’t a good thing. The director had a whole hour to let us get to know each character as an individual, but somehow failed. I remember one of them was clairvoyant or something, reading tarot cards and whatnot, but I can barely remember which one it was. That’s what makes the film so unnervingly bad. If the director was going to spend so much time building tension, why are the characters so generic and tripe?

What about the gore though? Ahh, it’s alright. The fetus scene which has been spoiled many times before, isn’t exactly something to vomit over. Nor is it pretty. Still, the fetus ripping at the beginning of Terror Firmer was more disgusting to me, and that one was played for laughs instead of horror. The only thing that sometimes raised the film above mediocrity for me was the style at some points. One scene that I liked was right before the previously mentioned flashback, where the killer walks through a dark hallway and gets right in the camera’s face. Half his face hidden in darkness, with a touch of light beaming down on his face. Definitely a great looking shot and is quite menacing, but even if there were thirty shots equally as great, it wouldn’t change the fact that for 75% of the film absolutely nothing happens. This should have been a short, if anything at all. I could probably get in the editing room and make the whole film twenty minutes long. Maybe then it would at least be easier to sit through. Frankly, when it comes to bad Italian horror films, I’ll take Bruno Mattei. At least he was so bad his films were funny and entertaining.

The Conclusion
There’s really not all that much you can say, and I’m surprised at how easy it was to write this review. Maybe it truly is easier to write bad reviews than good ones. Or maybe it’s just easier when you have a passion for something. My passion is to deter people from seeing this, or at the least put doubt in their minds. Some people will see it no matter what, just as I did. So, if you’re going to see it no matter what, just remember to not get your hopes up; and bring as much patience as you can possibly muster.

Black Caesar

Posted by On June - 28 - 2008
Plot Outline: Tommy Gibbs is a rough and tumble kid who grows up on the rough streets of Harlem where he is persecuted by a older and quite-crooked police officer. After the cop tries to permanently injure Tommy, the young kid disappears for a few years only to come back as a strong young man – who also happens to be doing very well as a hired killer. After taking a few people out, Tommy teams with the local mafia. He works as a hired assassin, but being a two-bit killer for the mob isn’t all Tommy aspires to be. He has big plans that are going to take him right to the top of the New York underworld – and then some. With great power and corruption just around the corner, will Tommy be able to hold up to the stress and danger that his high risk lifestyle will bring him?

The Review: The “Blaxploitation” genre may not be looked upon by the more art-oriented (read: snobby) film critic circles as something that was as influential as that whole Dogme movement from Europe, but no matter what anyone can say or does – if you watch Black Caesar and consider it anything other than a dazzlingly good time; well then I’m afraid I must fight you to the death. Okay, maybe I’m not that serious about it, but after sitting through this magnificent little number, I find myself very disappointed with how little it is talked about these days. It’s not exactly a forgotten film by any stretch of the imagination, it seems to be more remembered than the equally classic Truck Turner, but just like it’s leading man – mainstream film fans probably know very little about it. Shaft and Richard Roundtree are probably the two things most film audiences can recall about the great movement that gave us all of these classics bits of cinema, but as far as actors from this period seem to go: Fred “The Hammer” Williamson might be my all-time favorite charisma machine to emerge from that long ago era. Usually when athletes make the jump to the big screen the results generally aren’t that impressive. As much as I have love for my big man Jim Brown, in flicks such as Slaughter, his charisma and acting abilities… well, let’s just say he’s gotten better over the years. Williamson, however, was something to witness when he was fresh out of the gate. With Black Caesar, he proved to me he was more than just a lot of charisma, this man had the genuine talent to back up his debonaire style. Sure, his performance is a little rough around the edges, but he delivers more heart and emotion in this role than I can remember seeing in many other Blaxploitation films. He makes you feel for the character of Tommy Gibbs and never simplifies the character. His charisma carries him in the film, but his talents make him something truly spectacular.

Black Caesar is probably one of the few Blaxpo films I can think of that stars a leading character who truly defines the concept of a “anti-hero”. Tommy Gibbs is about as ruthless and power hungry as any gangster gets, and the way he is portrayed in the film is not at all flattering. With this film and its sequel, Gibbs is shown to be an unforgiving and ferocious man who learns very little from his mistakes as far as morality – and he remains an unrepentant soul – but Fred Williamson’s performance is so strong, and he remains such a “cool” and likeable character throughout it all that it’s almost hard to dislike him. Basically, just imagine Michael Corleone from The Godfather II – after killing Fredo; and that’s essentially Tommy Gibbs, but made really charismatic. The Godfather references must end there, but you can’t help but take in how much of a true “gangster” film this really is. Bringing in the mafia elements and having our lead character as an actual hitman – I won’t say it brings “authenticity”, but it brings the street crime strictly out of the ghetto and opens up the film a lot making it more than just a piece of “soul cinema” – but also a really powerful crime film. Black Caesar, which I hear is also just an “urban” remake of the original Little Caesar (I’m in no way capable of varifying this, it has been AGES since I saw the original on TCM way back when), barely feels like the term Blaxploitation even begins to describe it since it’s so far out of the “exploitation” realm – if you can even refer to the Black Action movement as such. This film, and it’s sequel are a pair of the genres most violent entries that I have seen – but it is always used in the context of what best suits the story. If no other reason than the violence though – if you’re looking for a film with a massive body count; once again I have to promote the Tommy Gibbs series. It’s like Rambo in the ghetto, I swear. Especially in the sequel, which just goes bananas with the death toll reaching First Blood Part II levels. We’re talking armies of dead guys littering the floors. Sigh, have to love these flicks.

So I have to say my hopes were set pretty high for my next Fred Williamson flick after Bucktown so long ago, but they were fulfilled and I now have a new favorite action film/series. Talk about well deserving of more critical success in this day and age, I definitely think Black Caesar could catch on with a larger audience as it is now. With as much love as been produced as of recent for tough, no-nonsense, gritty, urban gangster films – since Hollywood sure isn’t making any, why not turn to the past. So if you’re a fan of your more common crime films, meaning mafia oriented or more traditional (as I am a big fan), then check out these classics. Williamson and the ever popular director Larry Cohen (who before delving into Black Caesar/Hell Up In Harlem, I had pretty much only seen The Stuff from him) crafted two of the most memorable “blaxploitation” flicks I have ever seen and it’s so refreshing to see something new – especially from a film over thirty years old now. It’s a solid looking film, of course very gritty, but between that – the flat out amazing soundtrack from James Brown and the all too great for a simple action film performances… I am just blown out of my socks every time I think hard about what makes these flicks so magical. Heh, and now that I have spoke so much of Hell Up in Harlem – I pretty much have to review that one too.




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