Spag | Varied Celluloid - Page 2


Posted by Josh Samford On June - 23 - 2011


Oblivion (1994)
Director: Sam Irvin
Writers: Charles Band, John Rheaume, Greg Suddeth, Mark Goldstein and Peter David
Starring: Richard Joseph Paul, Meg Foster, Andrew Divoff, Julie Newmar, Carel Struycken and George Takei

The Plot: The year is 3031 and on a planet light years from Earth life has become quite a lot like the American old west. Dusters and cowboy hats are big sellers and if you smart off to the wrong person you may just end up with a hole in your head. When the evil reptilian creature Redeye (Andrew Divoff, of Wishmaster fame) comes waltzing back into the small town of Oblivion, this whole planet is about to be flipped upside down. Redeye quickly uses some new tricks in order to bypass the local sheriff’s force-field, which allows him to kill the lawman and take over the entire town himself. What Redeye doesn’t know is that this lawman has a son named Zack Stone (Richard Joseph Paul) who happens to be quick on the draw, but Stone isn’t the type to take advantage of his prowess. In fact, he holds a secret about himself that prevents him from doing just about any harm to any person. Will Zack manage to fight back and save the town of Oblivion, or will it simply live up to its own namesake?


The Review

In the year 3031… it’s cowboys and aliens, or so says the new tagline attributed to the 1994 Full Moon Picture production: Oblivion. The only thing for certain is that in the year 2011… it’s all about capitalizing on bigger Hollywood productions. Although nowhere near as dishonest as The Asylum and their ‘similarly titled’ genre films, Oblivion is certainly hoping to cash in on the success of the soon to be released Harrison Ford title Cowboys & Aliens. If one were to actually buy into the advertising, and god help anyone that did, they would no doubt discover one incredibly odd little tidbit of cinema. The would also be left quite angry, I’m sure, due to the budgetary differences between the Harrison Ford film and the Andrew Divoff title that we are discussing today. What Oblivion actually is, instead of being a CGI-filled piece of action and excitement, is a throwback science fiction tale that is quite the ingenious piece of b-movie mania.

Featuring an all-star cast of B-movie luminaries, Oblivion is the culmination of all things that made the early nineties great within the straight to video b-movie market. Directly from the mind of Charles Band and his team at Full Moon Pictures, Oblivion is a strange brew of every western cliche turned over on its head and then re-invented with a sci-fi twist. Although you might think that this concept would give the movie an incredible aura of cheese and corniness, that fact actually marks the very reason to see the movie in the first place. After five minutes of screen time, it should be quite apparent that this movie isn’t going to be entirely serious.

The best moments in Oblivion come from its general spoofing on the idea and gimmickry of the science fiction genre, but its weaker moments tend to come across when the film falls into pure slapstick. The comedy ranges from snarky and subtle, to “smash you over the head with a sledge hammer” levels of broad humor. The small twists and inventions within the genre are where it excels, such as the opening moments where we discover new twists on the old “gunslinger walking into town” when we find that the new gunslinger is an alien being. This alien, who we discover later to be Redeye, stumbles into a very cliche western saloon/brothel where we watch a group play a friendly game of poker. However, this game of poker isn’t played with cards but with strange digital square boxes that resemble overgrown calculators. Later on we see the western cliche of an arm-wrestling match played out but instead of using a rattle snake on the table, usually used in order to raise the stakes, they use a peculiar alien-like frog creature. This is a title that definitely knows the genre that it is spoofing.

When talking about the major selling points that should be capitalized upon for promoting this title, aside from the utter ridiculousness of it all, you really have to mention the insane cast. We’ve got Andrew Divoff as Redeye, who appears to be doing his best impersonation of Buford “Mad Dog” Tannen from Back to the Future 3… but with alien makeup. Meg Foster, best known for They Live, stars as our cyborg-deputy sheriff. Due to her bizarre eyes (the color of her eyes are so bright, its like they aren’t there) she has always looked a bit cybernetic to me in the first place. This movie just re-enforced my belief that she is a cyborg from the future sent back in time to star in really crazy science fiction movies. George Takei shows up in what has to be the most outrageous performance of his career. His southern accent leaves a LOT to be desired and his riff on the Star Trek line “I’m a doctor, not a [insert line here]” makes for one of the most cringe-worthy scenes in the movie. It is all in good, goofy, fun though and the movie generally tends to work for what it attempts.

The Conclusion

While I won’t try and fool anyone into thinking that this is an epic piece of science fiction or even a passable attempt at comedy (for the most part, its groan inducing when it tries too hard), but for all that it lacks it makes up for with its general ridiculousness. This is a movie I would put on if I were trying to show someone just how insane low budget movie-making had become during the early part of the nineties. It’s a brilliant example and a fun piece of “B” movie magic. I give it a high three. It’s not quite a four, but I’d still recommend checking it out.

Django and Sartana Are Coming… It’s the End!

Posted by Josh Samford On September - 22 - 2010
The Plot: Burt Kelly (Gordon Mitchell) is a maniac outlaw with no firm grasp on reality. While looking to cross the border and escape the law, he decides to kidnap a rich landowners daughter in attempt to keep her as a bargaining chip. This escalates the already high bounty on Kelly’s head and this draws the bounty killer Django into the equation as he now has Kelly in his sites. Sartana, who is acting as a vigilante, already has Kelly on his hitlist and Burt already knows this. So he tries to eliminate Sartana unsuccessfully but this ultimately draws both Django and Sartana to the same side of the coin as both men set out to put an end to the psychotic reign of Black Burt Kelly once and for all!

The Review
Although slightly classier than most other Italian genre films that had their swing in popularity throughout the better half of the sixties and seventies, the Spaghetti Western is not without its moments of exploitation and ridiculousness. Django and Sartana Are Coming… It’s the End! is a prime example of this exploitative element. Similar to the genre of Brucesploitation (see: Dragon Lives Again, Goodbye Bruce Lee or Bruce Lee Fights Back From the Grave) this film shows that same “Let’s do anything for a buck!” mentality that can be found in almost any subgenre of exploitation cinema. For those who don’t follow, if you’re expecting to see Franco Nero back in his role as Django or Gianni Garko reprise his role as Sartana… you are going to be sorely let down. Going into this movie, I knew what to expect of course but it is still somewhat surprising to see an unofficial title being so brazen about their stealing of these characters. Even within the brucesploitation realm it is often tricky to find a movie that actually has a character playing the role of Bruce Lee himself if it is not a historical piece of some sort. So, with the filmmakers obviously going so over the top as to hijack these characters you can probably expect a raucous and wild piece of exploitation in the old west, correct? Well, let me just spoil the entire review for you right now as the answer to that question is a definitive and painstakingly dull: NO. It is unfortunate that the filmmakers could steal so much but completely lose sight of what makes any western remotely fun.

I don’t want to give you the wrong impression, from a technical standpoint Django and Sartana… is not a terrible piece of genre filmmaking. The overall look of the movie is actually quite nice. I can say whatever I want about the project on the whole, but it most certainly deviates from genre in the way that it actually looks. Having more in common with a John Ford western than something from Sergio Leone, the movie has a slightly traditional look to it. The costumes are slightly campy, the desert is shown as being very dry and the characters aren’t quite as dingy and beat up as you would normally expect from a Spaghetti Western. There is also a highly well made score to go along with the interesting visuals. Coriolano Gori, who had worked many times within the genre, crafts what is possibly the best score that I have personally heard from him. Mind you I have only seen a few of the MANY titles that he is credited as composer. The score really invokes a lot of Morricone in it, which is never a bad thing! The filmmakers even ran with this Morricone idea and essentially duplicated the opening animation for The Good, The Bad and The Ugly while highlighting how great this score is. The movie opens up with this and although it seems like it is in bad taste to rip off Leone in such a fashion, I still gave the film the benefit of a doubt after how tremendous the music was and how much I found myself enjoying it. Then the boredom inevitably set in and absolutely ruined everything for me.

Dick Spitfire is credited as the director of this film, which would be a fantastic name for a Gonnoreah suffering superhero. In reality it is the alias for one Diego Spataro who would later go by this alias on the project Go Away! Trinity Has Arrived in Eldorado!. According to the IMDB however, the film was directed by Spataro alongside veteran director Demofilo Fidani. Fidani has a bit of a reputation as one of the worst Spaghetti Western directors to make it. I am not familiar with his work to be honest, but Django and Sartana… certainly seems in keeping with everything that I have read. It is derivative, old hat and lacks any new or interesting concepts in order to keep the audiences attention. The absolute worst part is that this movie is just boring for its lack of direction or decent pacing. Nearly falling asleep while watching, I had to split up my viewings in order to stay awake. For a mere ninety minute film, this movie has more padding than a Orthopedic mattress. There is actually a five minute poker sequence in this movie that will boggle your mind if you ever have the misfortune to see it. Five minutes are literally wasted as we watch the back and forth of one of our heroes simply losing all of his money to a group of gambling cheats. Hands are dealt, wagers are called and the audience falls asleep. The only break we get from this tension-sucking whirlpool of boredom is a shot of a man riding in on a horse that goes on for an equally absurd amount of time. Speaking on the issue of horse riding, if there were a drinking game for Django and Sartana… it would be for every time someone rides horseback while the music swells around them. Going back to this poker game, the whole ordeal ultimately ends with our hero gunning down these cheats after losing yet another hand. This was another odd break from convention, but not necessarily a welcome one, as neither Django or Sartana come off as being particularly tough throughout this entire film. When it comes to fist fights, over and over again each man is beaten and bloodied. The superhero mentality is completely abandoned in this film as you actually never EXPECT these guys to win a fight.

The best part about the entire project may be the films title. Django and Sartana Are Coming… It’s the End!, that is a classic title! The other alias it often goes by is Django and Sartana: Showdown in the West which I am equally as big a fan of! Those are great titles, but unfortunately there is no showdown and you simply end up praying for the end. Wow, harsh much? Perhaps. This project certainly doesn’t deserve absolute venom, even though I have been relatively hard on it up until this point. Gordon Mitchell, who plays the lead villain Burt Kelly (often attributed as “Burt Keller”, I’m pretty confident that his name is written as Burt Kelly in the film), is really fantastic in his role and truly delivers the goods. His character is essentially the western version of The Joker, maniacal and psychotic with a penchant for chaos. There is a great moment in the film where Mitchell is actually playing poker with himself in the mirror and his growing anger is actually quite funny. Gordon Mitchell, Jack Betts (Sartana here) and Demofilo Fidani made quite a few pictures together with Betts and Mitchell at other ends of the good guy/bad guy spectrum, and if I didn’t fear that these movies would be so dreadfully boring I would actually search them out simply to see what Mitchell could deliver.

The Trivia
  • One of only two projects directed by Diego Spataro. He spent the majority of his career in various other positions from Production Assistant to Producer.

  • Photographed by an up and coming Joe D’Amato.

  • The Conclusion
    Django and Sartana.. is at best a very average movie and at worst a terror to have to sit through. It looks good enough, has a great score and features at least one very interesting performance. With those positives in mind, I give it a two rating. It came terribly close to garnering a one, but you know what this one doesn’t really do a whole lot to make itself that bad. It’s just unfortunately a very boring movie that probably encapsulates everything that outsiders generally hate about the western genre. I would say only check this one out if you’re a Fidani fan (hey, Bruno Mattei and Joe D’Amato have fans right?) or you’re simply a spaghetti western completest.

    Massacre Time

    Posted by Josh Samford On September - 3 - 2008
    The Plot: Tom Corbett (Franco Nero) has been working as a prospector for the past few years, away from his hometown where his mother and brother live, but upon news that things are really wrong back in town and although his mother made him promise to never come back to this deadend town – he sets back on the road. Once back in town he finds his old farmhouse has been taken over by a rich lunatic named Mr. Scott. Tom then sets out to find his brother Jeff (George Hilton) to find out what has happened – and simply finds a drunken shell of the brother he once knew. Everything has fallen apart in his old hometown, and Tom is looking to set things right… if he can.

    The Review: If Lucio Fulci is to direct a western, isn’t Massacre Time just about the most perfect a title he could find? Four of the Apocalypse has a cool title and all, but it’s sure not “Massacre Time”. If you have seen the more popular Four of the Apocalypse, you know that this likely isn’t going to be a gory travelogue of the old west with spiders ripping out the tongues of cowboys or some ol’ saloon shopkeeper opening one of the seven doors to hell. No, with Massacre Time we have an even less gory western from Fulci than even The Four of the Apocalypse but with a very neatly crafted story of vengeance and the bonds of family. For those who stray outside of Fulci’s most popular genre will find several films worth checking out and Massacre Time is yet another one. Fulci tried his best to operate in many genres of the Italian film scene but was just so darn good at delivering what audiences wanted in the horror genre that he was often pigeonholed there. That isn’t to say films like this or Contraband are simply leaps and bounds better than his horror work – not at all; but he was a more capable director than he is often given credit for. Although he worked very little in the Italian western, his work was still a lot more accomplished than some other filmmakers who didn’t build their careers in them, and although it’s a drastically different film than his Giallo and Zombie films of the seventies – there’s still a very distinct Fulci look and feel to the movie despite not having any gore. With the exception of Contraband, I think it may now be my favorite non-horror Fulci film – and truthfully it has been too long since last viewing Contraband, it could be a pretty tough decision.

    There are a lot of things going on in Massacre Time, from the parallels between the values of Tom Corbett and his brother Jeff – to the nihilism of Jeff and the utter sadism of Junior, Mr. Scott’s violent son, Massacre Time (or The Brute and the Beast if you prefer) thanks to the rich script from Italian crime auteur Fernando Di Leo the film is always making improvements upon itself and makes for a very fine blueprint for Fulci to deliver a very tightly scripted and unique western. Sometimes old Fulci would get hungup on the visuals of his films or the FX work, or whatever it was that distracted him in City of the Living Dead/House By the Cemetery, but here he showed great talent in delivering a very precise and tightly scripted story with twists and turns along with a good deal of visual flair and subtext. The characters are all rich, despite being what some might consider genre pastiche, especially those played by genre greats Franco Nero and George Hilton. These two colliding together with such a finely tuned script couldn’t do anything other than produce a couple of fantastic performance. Nero is very subdued here, this is most definitely not Django or Keoma. His character is actually a very passive one, just an ordinary man. Not a master of the iron able to shoot a hair off the brow of a man from three miles away. If anything, he has a good right hook but that’s about all he has going for him and not too many people in this old west are looking for a boxing match. Hilton’s character starts the film as a drunken lowlife, and while watching it I simply figured he would simply remain as passive as his brother with an interest in the drink only. His character does remain an alcoholic – but when his talent as a gunslinger is revealed, it genuinely comes as a shock. I don’t care that it’s George Hilton, he seems such a fantastic drunk in the beginning of the film that it’s hard to imagine such a character showing anything resembling heroic features or talents. You have Sartana and Django starring in a film directed by Lucio Fulci and written by Fernando Di Leo – it’s like a who’s who of Italian cult cinema converging for our enjoyment!

    The film is as visually expressive as the script is beautifully crafted, and although the DVD transfer on my copy is pretty terrible (The Region 2 disc is supposed to be much better) the visual look of the film is still surprisingly brilliant. You can see in the above gallery a couple of examples, particularly that shot of the sunrise while Franco Nero’s character passes by in silhouette. The wandering camera is always in the center of the action, and action there is. Especially in the final shootout sequence, Fulci ups the ante and goes all John Woo on the audience – some fifteen years before that director even stepped behind the lens for A Bullet in the Head. Don’t mistake me, people aren’t wearing long black trenchoats and firing from a pistol in each hand while diving through glass around a hospital, but there’s that same ingenuity and carefree attitude that allowed both directors to simply forget some of the nagging complaints of physics and go all out. Characters do flips, fire their weapons in mid-air and there’s even a few pigeons and some symbolism in there as well. Simply a great film. A very high four out of five for this Fulci classic, hopefully others out there will give it the chance it so rightly deserves.

    If You Meet Sartana Pray For Your Death

    Posted by Josh Samford On September - 3 - 2008
    The Plot: Sartana, a drifting stranger with a black coat and a tremendous knack for shooting & gambling, wanders into town on a quest for some stolen gold. However, between a few rich socialites and a Meixcan commander – the gold is being split and everyone is trying to get a larger share. Laskey, a often cowardice but always dangerous bandit, is currently blackmailing the socialites since he knows all about their deal and they used him to steal it – but he too is looking for his own fair share, and now that Sartana’s in town – so is he. At the end, who will be standing with anything and who will just be left lying dead?

    The Review: After reviewing the very awesome Sartana’s Coming… Trade Your Pistol For A Coffin, I had to do my best to track down the rest of such an amazing series. It wasn’t long before I came across the original Sartana, also known as Sartana’s Here Better Pray For Your Death which was made in the early days of the Spaghetti Western genre and features an approach that in comparison to the over the top attitudes of Trade Your Pistol, seems a little bit more of a tame outing – however for the time it was made it was no doubt as different a western as anyone could imagine. The original intention from director Gianfranco Parolini and the writers, or so I hear, was to have a series that worked like James Bond in the old west and there’s no doubt that Sartana’s drinking and card playing, gadget bearing, calm at all times character is exactly the mold for such a character, so kudos to those responsible because I have to give them credit on what turned out as an absolutely brilliant idea. The gadgets are here, but so in an uncanny ability to see every angle and every three steps ahead of him. The way in which people are checking out all the latest Saw movies every year now to see how elaborate the traps get, the same way Sartana fans check out each movie in the hopes of seeing just how outlandish his own traps and one-liners turn out to be. Much like Trade Your Pistol For A Coffin, Pray For Your Death is ultimately way too complex in its back and forth alliances and the vast amount of direct characters involved in the gold deal that you can easily get confused. Lord knows I still am, but in the end Sartana is a fun and wild Spaghetti Western that defines itself far greater than any other series that immediately comes to mind.

    They say the attribute that really defined the Spaghetti Western is the introduction of the “Anti-hero” in the case of Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name. While this may true, it doesn’t hold up as a real staple of the genre or a pigeonholed for the leads. Sartana is evidence of this, as you can’t really say he’s a character out simply for himself. He’s a character who does a lot for financial gain but he’s just as apt to go after a villain in the name of his own brand of justice. He treats it like sport when he deals with fast draw gunfighters who aim to take him down, and he of course never loses. This I think is a trait of many Spaghetti Westerns really, with heroes who essentially turn into Superman. He may not fly or run faster than a locomotive, but you’d better believe that Sartana is Superman in the old west. Fastest hands in the west, unable to be intimidated or pressured, a poker player who never loses and with no real vice at all. Not even women prove to be a weakness for Sartana, even ones with very large breasts… Sartana truly is a greater man than I. Are all of these a bad thing? Not so in my opinion, though you might hear different in film school. Some films just need to create that undoubted leading man, that impossible to beat foe and Sartana is just the type. It’s fun to root for your hero when you know that not only will he win, but he’ll do the right thing in the end. There’s a boyhood fantasy element to it that I think makes it a bit of nostalgic fun. Unlike what you may expect from that description though, Pray For Your Death is an amazing feast for the eyes in terms of cinematography. Featuring so much depth to the footage and an expressive color pallet for this sort of film. Just a great looking film that uses both sets and exterior shots to their full ability.

    Sartana’s always up to something, and this first adventure is often remembered as the best and I could easily agree from the two I have seen. I’m now a confirmed fan and I hope I can turn on a few new fans to the series with these reviews. Although the overcomplicated plot for the film does hinder it some, it’s not enough to deter audiences too much. If you simply pay very close attention and keep up with character names it becomes slightly easier. Still, I have to imagine some of the English dubbing could be blamed on the grand confusion these films inspire – but really, who wants to watch a Western in Italian? A little too odd for my tastes. In the end, what matters most is how much entertainment is derived from the film – and I’ll say, it is one of the most fun westerns you’ll probably see. From Gianni Garko layed back and always smooth performance as well as the welcome cameo (can’t really call it much more than that) appearance of Klaus Kinski who gives a brief but memorable performance as Lasky’s right hand man. Lasky, William Berger, is probably the standout of the cast though with his manic personality and amazing charisma shining through at all times. He kept me glued to the film and is just awesome on screen. I’m giving the movie a high four out of five. If it were just a little more smooth in its transitions and kept the story continually flowing it would easily have been a stubbing Award winner – but those twists just keep on coming until there’s some slight confusion! Imagine the movie Heist set in the old west, not 100% perfect but so much fun and interesting that it still winds up in my favorites regardless.

    Sartana’s Here… Trade Your Pistol For A Coffin

    Posted by Josh Samford On August - 22 - 2008
    The Plot: Okay, I won’t even lie, the plot is pretty convoluted and features so many twists and turns it’s a little hard to keep up with – but essentially Sartana, the famed Spaghetti Western cult figure (played here by George Hilton), after rescuing a boy and his mother from a gang of evil bandits is then embroiled in a game of tag with said gang as they are in pursuit of gold which they frequently rob off of a stagecoach that travels through their territory. Sartana gets in the middle of things, offering his service to the company owner – but in this film nothing is as it seems. Things get even more complicated when the mystery man Sabbath enters the picture, another gunslinger like Sartana with equal ability and who dresses all in white while carrying a white matching parasol. Seems a little girly, sure, but then he shoots you dead. However will Sartana make it out with these kind of odds!?

    The Review: Sartana’s Here… Trade Your Pistol For A Coffin. How do you like that for a title? In the world of cinema, the Italians were brilliant with naming their product. Here in the states we use average terms, usually a two-word title meant to declare action of some sort. In Italy, during their best days, they used full declarative statements in their titles! Who says you can’t do it, right? Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key, Django Kill… If You Live, Shoot!, A Special Cop In Action, Live Like A Cop Die Like A Man, etc. You could sell me these movies based solely on those titles and a lot of the time that’s exactly why us viewers would end up checking out these movies. The Spaghetti Western genre is very notable for these sultry titles that just suck you in, even the more popular Sergio Leone films had some pretty nifty titles. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly – that’s a pretty unusual title right there, same for Once Upon A Time In The West. Long sentence based film titles meant to lure you in, and that’s exactly how I found Trade Your Pistol For A Coffin. Once I read that, I knew I had to see this film. I have unfortunately never had the pleasure of seeing any of the Sartana films previously made to this one but I’ve read up on them a little. It seems that this is the fourth (official) film bearing the name Sartana and features George Hilton stepping into the lead role as the titular character. Though I can’t speak of many of the differences between this film and previous films made with different casts and such; but I will say that Trade Your Pistol certainly stands out by its own merits and definitely doesn’t let you down if you come into it looking for all those reasons guys like myself enjoy the subgenre.

    All I can speak about is this film itself, and for what it is SHTYPFAC is a fantastic western, deliberately over the top and always moving along at a swift pace. Big reveals are a constant, and absurd sequences of shooting prowess so beyond all human capability are so frequent that the mind can hardly absorb it all in one sitting. This to me was one of the more fun aspects of the film, little moments like a man with matches that are lodged between his own toes taking his pistol and shooting the ends of them all and lighting each match one by one. Then there’s all of the little gags with Sartana, shooting his enemies through a loaf of bread and then later being called out for it as his enemies catch him at lunch once again and telling him “stand up, and move away from that bread!”. Hollywood westerns often had one man taking on an army of pistoleers, but rarely did you see one go so far as to make shooting a superhuman ability. Shooting at the hip is a tough enough ability for an experienced marksman, but shooting from within the holster… shooting through bread… shooting through boots – I have to think Sartana had some kind of Spidersense going on. I’m not sure if this is simply a running gang throughout the whole series, with Sartana blasting his enemies through varying objects constantly – or if its something introduced in this film alone but I am definitely giving it my thumbs up because even though it is completely unrealistic to be as amazing with a pistol as seemingly everyone in this film is – it certainly makes for one interesting piece of work!

    In many ways SHTYPFAC embodies a lot of the ideal greatness that the genre took on when Sergio Leone showed all of the world just what a western could be with his Man With No Name trilogy. Although Leone did keep his films a little more grounded in reality, Sartana takes itself above rational thought and creates something unique nd fun. The plot is almost inconsequential to the real story here, which is that with enough “cool” characters, a ton of “cool” superhuman bits of gunfighting superiority – you ccan make one COOL movie. The plot really isn’t a bad one at all, but at times things move so fast its hard to keep up with every little thing. Like I said though, what makes the film so special isn’t just that. It’s the atmosphere, the booming soundtrack and the larger than life characters who make no mistakes. Caricatures of the Spaghetti Western subgenre, but done to perfection here. I have to say I really enjoyed my first Sartana film and I hear the rest of the series is even better. Things get a bit overboard in the way that the characters are presented as being able to shoot the hair off a chiahuah at four hundred miles away – but if you take it as part of the charm (which it is) it becomes all the more enjoyable. I highly recommend it and can’t wait to see the rest of the series.





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