Archives for January 2011 | Varied Celluloid

Archive for January, 2011

The Snake & Crane Arts of Shaolin Review!

Posted by Josh Samford On January - 26 - 2011
Sorry for the delay in reviews everyone! I’ve been having trouble getting my graphics work done, but hopefully you guys enjoy what I have for you today! Here is a review for the early Jackie Chan title The Snake & Crane Arts of Shaolin! It’s not his best work, but for Jackie fans it is probably work a look! Give it a read!

The Plot: Every year the eight heads of various Shaolin schools were known to gather together in order to examine their own techniques, to find each weakness so that they could craft the most perfect form of Kung Fu known to man. This lead to the creation of The Eight Steps of the Snake and Crane. This secret Kung Fu style was written down and the book was thought to be lost whenever the eight masters all turned up missing. After several years, a young man named Siu Yin Fung (Jackie Chan) has turned up using the style and claiming to be in possession of the book itself. The young man has mentioned it enought that he has caught the attention of every Kung Fu school for miles around. They all want a piece of that book as well, but most especially The Black Dragon clan seem to want it far greater than the others. This insidious group wants to find Siu Yin Fung and dispatch of him so that they can rule the martial world, but as long as Siu Yin Fung remains in control of the Eight Steps style he is almost invincible. Will the Black Dragon gather the book or will this brave young man defeat them and uncover the secrets of the eight masters along the way?


CONTINUE READING HERE!

Snake & Crane Arts of Shaolin, The

Posted by Josh Samford On January - 26 - 2011

Snake and Crane Arts of Shaolin (1978)
Director: Chi-Hwa Chen
Writers: Hsin Yi Chang
Starring: Jackie Chan, Nora Miao and Hsin Yi Chen


The Plot: Every year the eight heads of various Shaolin schools were known to gather together in order to examine their own techniques, to find each weakness so that they could craft the most perfect form of Kung Fu known to man. This lead to the creation of The Eight Steps of the Snake and Crane. This secret Kung Fu style was written down and the book was thought to be lost whenever the eight masters all turned up missing. After several years, a young man named Siu Yin Fung (Jackie Chan) has turned up using the style and claiming to be in possession of the book itself. The young man has mentioned it enought that he has caught the attention of every Kung Fu school for miles around. They all want a piece of that book as well, but most especially The Black Dragon clan seem to want it far greater than the others. This insidious group wants to find Siu Yin Fung and dispatch of him so that they can rule the martial world, but as long as Siu Yin Fung remains in control of the Eight Steps style he is almost invincible. Will the Black Dragon gather the book or will this brave young man defeat them and uncover the secrets of the eight masters along the way?
 
The Review
Sure, we have all seen Legend of the Drunken Master as well as the Police Story films, that is a given. Even Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow and the original Drunken Master are quite popular amongst Jackie Chan’s work, but there are actually several titles from the earliest part of his career that any hardened fan should do their best to search out. Not because the films are all that spectacular or well made, but because its impossible not to love Jackie Chan and want to see as much of his work as possible! Snake and Crane Arts of Shaolin is one of the more obscure films (well, as obscure as any of his films could possibly be considering his popularity) from Jackie’s early days and really showcases how different his career started off in comparison to the direction that it would eventually take. Jackie was originally groomed to be a successor to the popularity of Bruce Lee, as so many actors were during this time, but it doesn’t seem that Jackie ever wanted to even attempt such as that. Snake and Crane Arts… ultimately shows Jackie in the closest I have ever seen to a Bruce Lee-esque role and although he does a good job here, it doesn’t really feel like Jackie.



Jackie chan has never been known to play the aggressor in the majority of his roles. Far more often he is that one character who is either looking for ways to avoid fighting, or is so outnumbered that the option of not fighting would be equated to suicide. Rarely however do we see him instigate any form of trouble. This is where Snake and Crane Arts… differs from the pack and shows another side of Chan than what viewers may be familiar with. Jackie seems to fit into the arrogant role that Bruce Lee sometimes slipped into during his movies, and although his fighting style here takes on the more traditional prolonged series of offense/defense maneuvers rather than the one punch/kick knockouts that Bruce Lee often offered up, you can certainly feel a certain level of the hero-worship that was prevalent in Bruce Lee’s work. Jackie is ultimately invincible in his role as the one character who has mastered the Eight Steps of Snake and Crane. This leads to many fun moments throughout the film, where Jackie gets to let loose and have fun, but he is at no point the vulnerable every-man that you might expect him to be.

Although there is a bit of comedy to be found here, for the most part Jackie is the straight man in the face of all of the silly people who surround him. The comedy tends to be a bit on the cliche side of things, as the gags rarely seem fresh or inventive. The film features two of my least favorite staples of the genre, the bucktoothed comic relief and the female who dresses in male clothing and yet no one can recognize her for her feminine side. This can give you an idea for the film’s level of comedic value. You can only see these repetitious concepts so often before the novelty is truly worn away. The big toothed character wears out his welcome within the very first few minutes that he graces the screen, and while I liked the adorable girl who plays the street urchin, she can grow tiresome at times too, due to her over-the-top clamoring for comedy. The film can be a real mixed mag when it comes to humor, especially when we see Jackie playing it safe on the sidelines as our requisite “straight man”. A role that he plays without any kind of excitement or sarcastic wit. It’s hard to imagine that in the same year this film was made, that Jackie would help re-invent Kung Fu comedy with his classic Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow. I guess the main difference there would be in the fact that Yuen Woo-Ping was sitting in the director’s chair, and in this film he is not.



The main problem with Snake & Crane Arts… comes from it’s sore lack of direction. The Kung Fu genre has been heavily criticized in the past for its lack of narrative, with its loosely stringed together plot devices that are only there to enable prolonged fight scenes, and unfortunately that assessment has never been more true than with this movie. The initial set up for Snake & Crane Arts… is about as deep as you are going to get with the movie, and as things blandly trudge along, we the audience must discover this lack of narrative the hard way. I do like the initial concept, with the mystery of the eight masters and their apparent disappearance, but it isn’t sustained throughout the movie. Instead the film seems to fall into a boring and endless series of fight scenes that never resonate with the audience since we could ultimately care less about these characters. We love Jackie, because he is Jackie Chan, not because this character ever does anything to bring us around.

There are few standout moments throughout Snake and Crane Arts, unfortunately. The only things we have to hold onto are the superficial moments of fun. There are relatively cool things throughout, such as the evil clan who all dress in black, with rice hats and black cowls that cover their faces. The gimmickry of their dressup reminds me of something out of a Chang Cheh film, which is always a good thing in my opinion. There are a few other interesting characters throughout, including a duo known as the Tin brothers who attack Jackie early on. Although they are not twins, one gets the idea that they are “supposed” to be. Jackie Chan’s relationship with the young street urchin girl, who dresses like a boy and seems to fool everyone, provides another cliche in the fact that Jackie’s character offers to buy her dinner, but as you may can guess, she then proceeds to order everything on the menu. This sort of stuff is done so often that you can’t help but have a love/hate relationship with it within the Kung Fu genre. I suppose that speaks volumes for Snake and Crane Arts… on the whole.


The Conclusion
Snake & Crane Arts of Shaolin isn’t the lost classic from Jackie Chan’s early career that I had secretly hoped it would be. In comparison to several other high quality products from this same time period (Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow, Drunken Master and even Fearless Hyena), it is actually quite poor. While I didn’t hate watching the movie, it is so incredibly average in all respects that it makes it a chore to sit through. I give the movie a two out of five, which might be a little low for what the movie deserves but its an honest opinion.




MST3K Vol. XX Coming From Shout! Factory

Posted by Josh Samford On January - 24 - 2011

It’s no secret around these parts that I am a pretty big Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan. In fact, if you’re a movie geek in general chances are you’re already a fan of the series as well. The show marked an increase in popularity for bad film in general, and showed the world just why filmmakers like Ed Wood could still retain a viable audience after so many years and with such ridiculously low standards in quality. The show was very special in what it did and still retains a popular staple for b-movie film fans the world over.

Although we can still find the various creators of the show working in other projects, its always nice to revisit those special episodes that made us fans in the first place. Shout! Factory, who have done a credible job in releasing many of their episodes in the home video market, are looking to release Volume 20 on March 8th, 2011. The 4-Disc boxset will include the following episodes: Project Moonbase, Master Ninja I, Master Ninja II, and The Magic Voyage Of Sinbad. When pre-ordered through the Shout! Factory online store, you can also receive a nifty little stress ball in the shape of the MST3K planet from the opening titles. So, if you have a lot of pent up aggression about the show being canceled you can now vent some of that while also supporting the show! CHECK OUT THE PRE-ORDER OPPORTUNITY HERE

Also being released in March, on the 15th to be specific, are Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living And Became Mixed-Up Zombie and Mystery Science Theater 3000: Beginning Of The End. You can find them with the following URL. Shout! Factory is also offering a $5 discount when you purchase both of the single DVDs together, using the coupon code MST3K5OFF.

 

 

For the full press release, keep reading after the bump!

Continue reading “MST3K Vol. XX Coming From Shout! Factory” »

Where the Dogs Divide Her Review

Posted by Josh Samford On January - 17 - 2011
Seven full days since I last updated, sorry about that folks! I have some content, but this past week saw me running around like a chicken with my head cut off. I promise to make it up to ya! For now, take a look at this review for the independent piece of surreal cinema known as Where the Dogs Divide Her!

The Plot: Where the Dogs Divide Her is an experimental film, not completely unlike Eraserhead or El Topo, where logic and narrative take a backseat for the experience of the purely visual and unleashed creativity. If there is a story, it focuses on Everard Fletcher (Jon Stoley) a young man tormented by a past he can not forget nor find forgiveness for. We watch as he stumbles through a bizarre world of violence and eccentricity that defines the term “surreal”. Will he awaken from this nightmarish world and find redemption, or will the darkness he finds himself imprisoned in slowly devour his soul?


CONTINUE READING HERE!

Where the Dogs Divide Her

Posted by Josh Samford On January - 17 - 2011

Where the Dogs Divide Her (2010)
Director: Martin Rutley
Writers: Andrew Rutley
Starring: Jon Stoley and John Fletcher



The Plot: Where the Dogs Divide Her is an experimental film, not completely unlike Eraserhead or El Topo, where logic and narrative take a backseat for the experience of the purely visual and unleashed creativity. If there is a story, it focuses on Everard Fletcher (Jon Stoley) a young man tormented by a past he can not forget nor find forgiveness for. We watch as he stumbles through a bizarre world of violence and eccentricity that defines the term “surreal”. Will he awaken from this nightmarish world and find redemption, or will the darkness he finds himself imprisoned in slowly devour his soul?

The Review
David Lynch has often been quoted as saying that he has the opinion that ideas are never our own. Instead, ideas exist on a different level of consciousness than what we humans are capable of reaching or understanding. It is there that these ideas float above us like balloons. Sometimes, it would seem, that these ideas float down towards us and we are able to grasp them out of the air in order to be inspired towards creation. Where the Dogs Divide Her is an independent film that is very much inspired by the likes of David Lynch, and that devotion shows up in all facets of the film. Right down to the uncompromising view of narrative, this is a film that wears its influences for all to see. If you’ve ever seen the likes of Mulholland Dr., Inland Empire or the works of Alejandro Jodorowsky; then you can essentially imagine precisely where this film is coming from. We have here a film that denies all conceivable thoughts on general storytelling, but instead focuses on the surreal and bizarre. Whether I agree with the balloons that this filmmaker picked from out of the universal subconscious or not, I do have to admire the gumption it takes to create something so daring.

The first ten minutes of Where the Dogs Divide Her is equal to wandering around a dark forest while blindfolded. Knowing nothing about the project, other than having seen the trailer, I had no idea just what I was getting into. Aside from a title that reminds me of a Stone Temple Pilots song, I only had vague ideas of what the movie would present on a visual level. As the movie plays out, it doesn’t become utterly apparent that we’re dealing with a strange and different world until the half hour mark. It is during this strange introduction that the film finds its footing and establishes everything that is to come. We have a man dressed in a suit, staring back at his reflection in a mirror with blood soaked hands. The man utters to himself “It was them or me!”, and thus we have the reoccurring theme of guilt and the internal struggle of our leading man who must combat these emotional issues. Unfortunately, it’s hard to dig incredibly deep into this character due to the flip-flopping nature of the narrative, we never get close enough to wrap our heads around what ideas are being conveyed and who our characters really are.

Seemingly a hodgepodge of concepts, Where the Dogs Divide Her seems to be a free flowing look at various forms of inner guilt and dark contemplative ideas. The main problem I seem to have with the film, and apparently others have felt this way before me, is the lack of substantial aspects of intrigue. Not that a surrealist piece of cinema should be held in the same position that more mainstream films usually are, by having characters for us to root for or grab our interest. I just find that in the case of really great filmmakers who have made films in this style, even if one doesn’t completely understand what the artist is saying, the audience is usually left in awe by their creativity. Although Where the Dogs Divide Her is most certainly a visual film and comes across as greatly polished, it lacks the confrontational, sordid and clashing visuals of a Jordorowsky or Luis Buñuel style. Even though it has some interesting character moments, it lacks the well rounded appeal of David Lynch’s often humorous narrative creations. The hook is unfortunately missing from the line, and the audience is left nibbling at the bait but unwilling to engage with the film.

The movie does come close however. There are really great moments interspersed throughout the film, and most of these revolve around the “father” character that our leading man stumbles upon. His obtuse dialogue and mysterious persona is actually quite involving and does grab your attention. When the character leans back, for no apparent reason, and begins to howl a demonic pitch during mid-conversation, there is no sensation to laugh whatsoever. Although the moment is rather preposterous and seems very out of place, the character is alluring enough that we the audience are willing to buy into this in order to see where things go. I think director Martin Rutley shows great promise, as he has a very visual style and his interests are certainly brought to the screen with a passion but the structure and narrative flow of his story is what he will have to build upon. With some slight adjustments, either removing some scenes and instead bridging these ideas into a cohesive whole or simply making our characters more engaging, this film could have easily become something truly special.


The Conclusion
As stated, director Martin Rutley shows great promise here. I think his visual statements are deep and worth searching out. In future films, I am sure he’ll make the adjustments necessary to both express himself as a creative filmmaker and capture the audience with more structure. A film such as this doesn’t call for a simple three act scheme of course, but for pacing issues and the general enjoyment of the audience, it absolutely helps to either have characters that the audience can latch onto or moments that hearken back to a certain form of reality. Even Eraserhead was relatively straight forward for half of its running time, and focused on the universal fear of fatherhood. As it is, I will say that I generally liked Where the Dogs Divide Her, but I express that with reservations. The visual force of the film is worthy of a viewing, if the film somehow crosses your path. You can read more about this project and others via the official website at Hunger Cult Films.com.




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Varied Celluloid is a film website intent on delivering views on movies from all genres. Started in 2003, the website has been steadfast in its goal and features a database of over 500 lengthy reviews. If you would like to contact us about writing for the website or sending screeners, please visit the about page located here.

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