3 | Varied Celluloid - Page 2

Autopsy

Posted by JoshSamford On October - 31 - 2012

Autopsy (1975)
Director: Armando Crispino
Writers: Armando Crispino and Lucio Battistrada
Starring: Mimsy Farmer, Barry Primus, and Ray Lovelock.



The Plot: Autopsy follows Simona Sana (Mimsy Farmer) who is a medical student in the process of writing her thesis on differentiating between actual suicides and simulated ones. While this goes on, Italy is being ravaged by a string of suicide deaths that have been brought upon by sun spots. When Simona runs into an American girl who turns up on her autopsy table the next day, dead from an apparent suicide, she finds herself wrapped up in a very large conspiracy that will have her questioning her own sanity and even investigating her own father.


Continue reading “Autopsy” »

Bedevilled

Posted by JoshSamford On October - 25 - 2012

Bedevilled (2010)
Director: Jang Cheol-soo
Writers: Choi Kwang-young
Starring: Seo Young-hee, Ji Sung-won, and Park Jeong-hak



The Plot: Bedevilled opens by showing two punks beat on a woman, and it turns out that these two goons actually beat the young girl to death. Hae-won (Ji Sung-won), who works at a loan office, just so happened to be the only witness to this crime. However, when the police drag her in to stand as a witness against these thugs, she repeats the fact that she didn’t see the faces of the attackers and thus cannot testify against these men. The two punks are released, and they aren’t very thankful for her allowing them to walk free. They immediately threaten and harass her. Hae-won returns to work, but finds herself having a war of words with one of her coworkers. After this incident, she is locked inside of a restroom stall in what appears to be a practical joke. Being filled with anger, Hae-won slaps the coworker who she was having problems with earlier, thinking that this person was responsible for the “joke,” but it turns out that it was all merely an accident due to a janitor jamming the door. Hae-won is relieved of her duties and takes an extended vacation. She returns to her home island, where nothing has really changed. While in town, she visits with her former best friend, Kim Bok-nam (Seo Young-hee), but finds that this good friend is in a great deal of trouble. Her husband is abusive and repeatedly cheats on her in their own home. As Bok-nam is pressed further and further, this poor abused woman finds out an even darker secret hiding right under her nose. She is pushed and pushed until she seems to be heading towards a mental breaking point.



Continue reading “Bedevilled” »

Angel Force

Posted by JoshSamford On February - 25 - 2012

Angel Force (1991)
Director: Hua Shan and Simon Chun Yueng
Writers: Johnny Lee
Starring: Moon Lee, Wilson Lam, Shing Fui-On and Wang Lung Wei



The Plot: Angel Force begins by introducing the audience to Herman (Shing Fui-On) who is walking through a underground parking garage with his henchmen who are carrying briefcases full of cash. Before this group can make it to their illegal meeting, two interpol officers, Lung (Wilson Lam) and May (Moon Lee), jump from out of the shadows and begin questioning them. What follows is a brutal fight scene that allows Herman his chance to escape. Skip forward and we watch as Lung and his wife, who are a young couple with a son, preparing to finally head off on a long overdue vacation. Lung is a government agent though, so as you might have already expected, his plans don’t come to fruition. He is immediately called off from this vacation and must instead help find Herman who has now ran away to Burma. Lung is now given the option to put together his very own special team of agents in order to travel into Burma and tackle Herman headfirst. He of course brings along May (Moon Lee), as well as a group of violent and specialized warriors. Will they be successful in their mission, or will Herman walk away free yet again?


Continue reading “Angel Force” »

Avenging Quartet, The

Posted by JoshSamford On January - 6 - 2012

The Avenging Quartet (1992)
Director: Stanley Siu Wing
Writers: Stanley Siu Wing (?)
Starring: Moon Lee, Waise Lee, Cynthia Khan, Chin Kar-lok and Yukari Oshima



The Plot: In ancient China a majestic painting was crafted that was the envy of all the land. When the Japanese conquered China, they took this painting back home with them. During the second World War, the new owner of this painting secretly hid the results of numerous bio-warfare experiments inside of this very painting. Over time, the painting found its way back home to China, but several prideful Japanese, who know about the painting and its secrets, will do anything to get it back. So, we skip forward and are introduced to Feng (Moon Lee) whose brother has recently passed away. She runs into Chin (Cynthia Khan), a young woman in desperate search for her lover who abandoned her back in mainland China. Moon tries to help, but there is only so much that she can do with very little to go on. When Feng finds that her sister-in-law is trying to sell all of her brother’s assets, she steps in to stop the madness. Unfortunately, her former sister-in-law has mob connections and this throws Feng and Chin into a life & death struggle with some nefarious thugs. While this is going on, the sale of the aforementioned painting is being set up by a man that Moon Lee has secret affections for, and the Japanese are edging closer to attaining it. The Japanese are inevitably sending their very best agent, played by Yukario Oshima, to retrieve it.

The Review
The “girls with guns” genre, within Hong Kong cinema, is something that I had breezily glossed over throughout my years of searching around the cinematic world library. Very different from the American b-movie version of this genre that we had here in the states during the nineties, the Hong Kong equivalent has no focus on T&A or intentional camp. Instead, these are movies that strived very hard to top their male competitors in what was surely the action-film-capital of the world. She Shoots Straight and Kickboxer’s Tears were both interesting developments within the genre, but there are still many more films to try and cycle through as I learn more about these films. The Avenging Quartet is another title in the long list of films to pair Moon Lee and Yukari Oshima opposite to one another, but if you come into this one expecting to see four tough-women “avenging” all over the place, you are bound to leave disappointed. Retitled for distribution, it seems that The Avenging Quartet was something that simply “sounded good” to whoever had the money. As it stands, this is a movie about two “good girls” who take on a bunch of guys, as well as two gals who don’t factor heavily into the plot. Still, that doesn’t mean that this isn’t a solid movie by itself, because it really is!

Although you might come into a movie such as this expecting nothing but non-stop action and fun, The Avenging Quartet tries to do things a bit different. Although the movie starts with a bang, as we watch Chin (Cynthia Khan) fight with a few baddies who lob grenades in her direction, the movie quickly changes its pace. The movie actually opens with a rather somber note, to tell the truth. We see a lot of Feng (Moon Lee) walking along the dark streets of Hong Kong whil wishing that she were still with her former lover, a lover that we later find out is Hsiong (played by a rapidly aging Waise Lee). Then we are formally introduced to the character of Chin, who is also looking for her former boyfriend. The film plays this very depressing sort of music while all of this goes on, giving the movie an extremely dramatic atmosphere that sticks out like a sore thumb. After watching the introduction, with all of its explosions and machineguns, this rather sad story about women having been abandoned just seems depressing in comparison. Although it wouldn’t normally be considered a “good” thing, it is a blessing that the movie is fairly erratic in its style and mood. After this relatively slow start, once Moon Lee and Cynthia Khan team up the comedy really starts to stack up. The action remains surprisingly sparse, but it always of a fine quality. Fight scenes are to be expected, but there is also a decent amount of gunplay, swordplay and even a couple of excellent car chases to top everything off.

Much of the comedy within the film is provided by the character of Paul (Chin Kar-lok), who is a rather baffoonish police officer placed in charge of protecting the two ladies. He continually tries to “woo” the girls, but unfortunately his brain is apparently made of diced carrots. Although Hong Kong comedy is almost always a mixed bag that leans towards the lowest-commond-denominator, I have to admit that I did quite like his performance. While Moon Lee and Cynthia Khan both present very solid dramatic performances (Moon even sheds a few tears), they are this way in order to provide straight characters to play off of the craziness that Chin Kar-lok brings to the table. He brings a certain amount of good cheer to the movie, and his presence is readily felt once he is introduced. As the movie went on, I became more and more thankful for Chin Kar-lok’s character. Although this may be considered an action-comedy in terms of genre, it is much more “comedy” than it is “action.” This isn’t a terrible thing, it just puts far more emphasis on other aspects of the movie. If the film didn’t have Chin Kar-lok hamming it up, or if Moon Lee wasn’t being her regular adorable little self, this might have been a very different sort of movie.

The movie actually looks really good for this sort of project. Although one imagines Moon Lee and Yukari Oshima starring in dozens of movies in only a scant amount of time, The Avenging Quartet at least has the appearance of a film that had a decent amount of preparation behind it. There are a few really interesting tracking shots throughout the movie, as well as some atmospheric lighting. During one sequence, Chin Kar-lok, Moon Lee and Cynthia Khan actually visit a drug den known as “heaven,” and it almost resembles something out of Jacob’s Ladder. Blue strobe lights lighting long corridors mark our entrance into this hellish location, and we soon watch as the camera pans between numerous rooms that are filled with party-go’ers who are all busy getting stoned. The movie switches gears often, but it can be very visual when it is called for.

The sequences involving the painting-subplot, where we follow a few brief scenes from Yukari Oshima as well as numerous scenes of Waise Lee trying to escape Japanese assassins, almost seem entirely disconnected from the main crux of the film. The wild adventures of Moon Lee and Cynthia Khan are where the plot actually finds its teeth, and this entire Japanese-Chinese painting subplot can feel a bit tacked on at times. Despite the introduction for the film featuring some narration that tells us all about this mysterious painting that seems so dramatically important to the plot, all of these scenes seem secondary to the drama that unfolds when the girls are onscreen. While it is thrilling to see Yukari Oshima finally pop up, even if it is relatively late in the movie and for very little screen time, it is unfortunate that she isn’t spending her screen time with Moon Lee and Cynthia Khan. As Oshima gets closer to Moon Lee’s side of the story, things become progressively more interesting, but the movie misses the mark in presenting anything dynamic between these three.

The fight scenes are as A+ as you might expect from this caliber of talent. There is a fight scene set in a gym, during the latter part of the movie, that places Yukari Oshima against fellow Japanese actress Michiko Nishiwaki, and it turns out to be rather epic. Oshima shows up in her denim jacket and is quick to start laying down a beatdown. The great thing about Oshima in this film is how drastically she seems to change outfits throughout the movie, despite having a very limited role. The previously mentioned denim number seems to be her “Hong Kong” outfit, but when she is chasing people down with her dirtbike she prefers a leather combo. My personal favorite outfit of hers may be the kimono that she wears when back at home in Japan. It really makes no sense, as this story takes place in “modern” times, and this kimono scene looks like something out of a samurai film, but that zaniness is simply a part of what this movie delivers. The fight scenes, such as the gym one and the amazing conclusion set inside of a burning building, are fairly tremendous in their quality.


The Conclusion
The movie can be a bit of a mixed bag, I suppose. I think that this title is far superior to Beauty Investigator, which was similar in having Oshima as the antagonist against Moon Lee in a rather comedic film, but that doesn’t make this a title without its fair share of issues. Still, The Avenging Quartet is quite a bit of fun and I would hate anyone to miss out on it. Overall, I give the movie a high three out of five. Although this isn’t so amazing that I feel the need to recommend it to all viewers, I still feel that it is a movie that I will come back and watch later on simply for the fun of the experience.




Axe

Posted by JoshSamford On October - 27 - 2011
Review by Prof. Aglaophotis


Axe (1977)
Director: Frederick R. Friedel
Writers: Frederick R. Friedel
Starring: Leslie Lee, Jack Canon and Ray Green



The Plot: Our story begins with three criminals: Steele, Lomax and Billy. Steel and Lomax are two well-dressed violent thugs; while Steele is the leader and Lomax is the wheelman, Billy is just along for the ride. One night, after beating a man to death, the three take off to hide from the authorities until the heat blows over. They drive into the countryside and seek shelter in the farm house of Lisa and her grandfather. Lisa is a quiet teenage girl looking after her equally quiet wheelchair bound grandfather. The three men settle in with their trigger fingers ready. While a violence-shaken Billy clearly wants to escape from his cohorts, Lisa finds herself hiding behind lies and preparing for the worst as she tries to defend herself from the two violent men with her only moral support being her own twisted psyche.

The Review
I sometimes wonder if the days of the Herschell Gordon-Lewis/Drive-In Horror movies should have really died out. I know I’m not the only person who appreciates such styles of film, and I know others in the modern day have emulated the ‘70’s Drive-In Horror movies as well. However, there’s this rare Gothic feel to some of those movies I haven’t seen in what feels like forever; the kind of rural, psychological atmosphere that is captured with the help of a creepy, yet attractive, Southern State home and an equally creepy and attractive lead female. Such an atmosphere is captured in movies like Kiss of the Tarantula, Don’t Open the Door and today’s film, the surprisingly brutal Axe. Unfortunately, while present, the atmosphere is quickly lost due to the poor writing and editing choices… and the fact that this is a ‘70’s Drive-In Horror film.

Axe is a functional, yet oddly arranged movie that has a fittingly dark, bleak personality. Our main characters consist of three criminals who eventually meet up with our heroine, Lisa, and the events that transpire before and during the encounters makes for some top-notch exploitation. The movie opens with what can only be described as a Mafia style Gay Bashing, which is shocking in itself but is intensified given the build-up and well-shot brutality of it all. I have to say, Axe has its share of subtle but disturbing, and sometimes even vile, imagery. There’s one part where Lisa slaughters a chicken and she keeps its headless body near the sink for a really long time. The last shot we see of that sink, after the mess Lisa makes out of it, is enough to make me cringe just thinking about it. The director really played up the dark grittiness within the movie, and I honestly can’t help but commend him for it. This guy took his characters, found his actors, looked at the settings and said: “How can I make this movie disturbing as Hell?” The characters in the movie are all pretty memorable too, especially considering how sadistic they are.

What I love about the main character Lisa is that we don’t get into her back story. There’s a lot of unknown stuff about her, like why she’s alone with her grandfather, how she makes a living in the house (I’ll bet she lives off of grandpa’s Veteran/retirement pay), where her parents are, why she’s so messed up or what drove her that way. Lisa is one big mystery, and it makes her a scary presence here as intended. Played by little known actress Leslie Lee, Lisa is played convincingly enough as a responsible, but clearly insane, girl in a bleak mundane world. There’s only one instance where we remotely get into Lisa’s perspective and it’s probably the best, yet oddest, scene in the movie. The scene I am speaking of shows her locking herself in the bathroom, and just staring at herself in the mirror.

The characters of Steele and Lomax are very entertaining, and both are surprisingly well acted. The two are violent, well dressed, heavy smoking, perverted bastards who bring chaos with them everywhere they go. Now, a bad actor could make these villains seem cartoonish, and their actions would simply seem like feeble excuses for the audience to hate them. Jack Canon and Ray Green on the other hand come across as genuinely intimidating thugs and disgusting criminals, yet they manage to be lively characters in the process. They kind of remind me of the two thugs at the beginning of Cronenberg’s A History of Violence.

Billy, on the other hand… well, he’s no Junior Stillo. Played by the movie’s director, Billy is supposed to be the gentle thug starting out fresh in a life of vague crime, and not liking it much. However, it’s hard to sympathize with the kid: He shows very little emotion and despite trying to sound concerned ends up sounding bored throughout the movie. He has some physical range, but he doesn’t do much beyond sitting around. It’s like watching James Franco play a heartfelt, family-first scientist; the character depth is there, the actor just isn’t selling it. Maybe if the actor was younger it would be more effective, or maybe it’s the beard matched with that silly afro wig, dunno. I will say though, Billy is his most convincing as a character near the end of the movie when he finds out what happened to one of his cohorts. It’s a realistic verbal moment correlated to a mental breakdown I always like to see in Horror movies and the director plays it fairly well.

The cinematography isn’t too bad, as there are a lot of good shots and imagery. There are moments where the camera bobs too noticeably, however, and there are a lot of dark spots where the lighting fails to elucidate. The movie has an easy pace to it, but the flow is broken up by awkward editing choices. In one scene, Steele and Lomax are eating in the kitchen but Billy runs out. The two chase after him as he runs around the barn with some urgency in their actions. The next scene after that is of Billy and Lisa in the house, with Billy calmly apologizing to her. That scene is quickly followed by all five characters in the TV room. It would’ve been more efficient if they had simply faded out at the end of every scene to tell us that some time elapsed. It kind of reminds me of the transition in Hell of the Living Dead where Lt. Mike London’s squad jump from a completed mission in Spain to a parachuted jeep in New Guinea: new scene, just like that! It’s also funny how useless that scene is, because Billy’s clothes change color as he runs away!

I’ve called this movie violent, but it never goes as far as most Herschell Gordon Lewis movies. The gore effects really come down to just fake blood, off-screen hacking and one dead chicken. All of which is fine until we reach a scene that actually requires some gore effects, but instead we see a re-used shot of the now dead character from when he was being killed. And I’m not talking Tom Savini gore requisites here, that shot could have easily just been of the actor sticking his head out of fake blood and torn clothes! Also, I love how the back of a character’s neck is slashed with a knife, but it has the same affect as though the knife cut their throat. It’s especially funny how the slashed character screams multiple times in the middle of the night, and this brings NO attention to the sleeping criminals.

The soundtrack can be a little annoying at times due to its choice instruments. The title and main theme of the movie consist of some kind of flat wind instrument that gets painful to listen to, fast. In some cases, the instrument makes some of the subtly weird moments of the movie sour, like when Lisa is caring for her grandad. Sometimes even the most intense bongo drumming, or triangle tapping, sounds right, but is usually off cue. Overall though, the soundtrack manages to be effective throughout with its combined use of a rattling tambourine, thudding bongos and bass synth tone. An attempted rape scene is made especially hectic and frightening with the simultaneous clash of every instrument.

The only genuine problem I found with this movie is the abrupt and rather out of place ending. It comes up out of nowhere, offers no closure and only serves to raise more questions than the movie needs; in context, it feels like the kind of ending Coleman Francis would come up with. Hell, S.F. Brownrigg could write a better ending complete with all the lacking closure and lingering questions at the end. The movie itself is only 68 minutes long and the movie creeps past the sixty minute mark due to the extra long opening and ending credits. Was it really that hard to come up with a cohesive ending to this??


The DVD
But oh, Axe just wouldn’t be complete without some extras, would it? Brought to us by Something Weird Video, the movie comes packed with theatrical trailers for the movie under its several alternate titles (the funniest has got to be the one for Lisa, Lisa) as well as trailers for other movies. Oddly enough, the movie also comes with two Archival Shorts, one of which you’d expect to see on MST3K. Also, this is a Double Feature DVD. Axe precedes a J.G. Patterson movie called The Electric Chair with a similar runtime as Axe. Now if this were any other collection of Short Films, such as on the 2-Disc Limited Edition of Driller Killer, I’d comment on them, but those movies didn’t last 80 minutes, nor did they feel like an eternity to watch. I’m going to have to review The Electric Chair another day… whoo.


The Conclusion
Honestly, you could do a lot worse than watching Axe, maybe even buying it: it’s pretty well shot, decently played, violent and even psychologically creepy at times. I’d recommend it over at least one modern movie released this year based off a classic ’70’s film franchise, but the null writing talent rears its ugly head too often to get a full, hearty recommendation.




NAVIGATION

VIDEO

TAGS

1 2 3 4 5 art asian asian 4 blaxplo blaxpo contrib euro explo giallo hor kungfu pink pinky rev spag

WP Cumulus Flash tag cloud by Roy Tanck requires Flash Player 9 or better.

Sponsors

About Me

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.

Twitter

    Photos