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Gomorrah

Posted by Josh Samford On August - 14 - 2009

The Plot: Gomorrah is a reference to both the biblical cities of Sodom & Gomorrah, as may have guessed, and the “Camorra” the criminal organization that this film is about. The Camorra may not be as infamous as their better known counterparts La Cosa Nostra, but they’re every bit as vicious and have killed more than any criminal organization in the past thirty years. Gomorrah takes place at the street level, dealing with several stories all connected by the characters and their ties to the Camorra. Such as a man who’s job it is to visit the projects and hand out paychecks to various tenants on a daily basis, but who is running into trouble when a rival faction decides to start cracking down on his job. Another story revolves around a designer who is invited to come teach at a Chinese textile mill in order to help their own bootlegging business – this goes against the Camorrah’s own bootlegging outfit. Two of the other stories the film shows how children are affected by the rampant crime and the insanity laid in front of their eyes on a daily basis. Gomorrah is a film that defines crime in a gritty and brutally violent way.

The Review: If you ever have a discussion on cinema with me at any given point you’ll probably get roped into a discussion on the “crime” genre in one way or another. It is the one area of the film spectrum that I find myself most fascinated with and the one area that pretty much all nations can identify with and usually are able to produce quality works in. It’s the allure of people around us who simply refuse to acknowledge that there are rules that simply aren’t negotiable. These characters are almost always interesting, and the same way the horror genre is a quick way to make a buck and garner interest – the gangster film has that same kind of built in audience. Most of the time the films that are ultimately based around these immoral characters, take a legitimate and accurate stance against or in opposition of these acts. Well Gomorrah, which is based on a series of truthful observations, is an entirely different beast from the get go. This isn’t anything romantic. There are no amazing steadicam shots through the backdoors of restaurants where gangsters tip everyone from the waiter to the busboy with a hundred dollar bill at every short. This is a reality where human life means very little and the glamor of urban dwelling is removed but replaced with an military atmosphere where gunmen sit atop buildings keeping their eyes on the legions who congregate in their ghetto landscape. Gomorrah isn’t what you would expect from a ‘mafia’ movie. Ultimately, it’s a film less concerned with those who live their lives at the top of the food chain but simply the people on the streets who have to live alongside all of the ruthless thugs who make their lives a living hell.

Based off of a true story written by Roberto Saviano, a young man who worked amongst the camorra for some time before writing his tell-all book about this criminal organization. I first heard about the movie from the cool guys over at The Mondo Movie Podcast who both gave it their glowing recommendations. They also gave me a lot of the backstory behind the film – which really does help in appreciating the story. Apparently the book was written very much as an undercover expose of the crime organization The Camorra. So, the film doesn’t play out in a traditional narrative form. There is no single character that stands up and explains to you what all is going on. The word “Camorra” isn’t even mentioned once in the film as far as I can remember. So, when you watch the film and all of these characters are working about in these textile mills and such, nothing is ever broadly explained to the audience. There’s one character in the film who’s job it is to walk around in various project style living quarters and hand out money to people for a reason that’s never explained to the audience, but apparently the reason he does this is to pay families of criminals who are currently held in prison or are in some other way unable to provide for their family. So, the Camorra looks after that gangster’s family by hashing out a certain amount of money each month. Like a criminal social security.

Normally something like that would upset me because my belief is that no film should require excess reading in order to appreciate it. The entire reason for a film is to paint a larger picture than what the simple word can do, to create a broader form of storytelling – and when a film can’t stand on its own generally that bothers me to a degree. However, Gomorrah is just too fantastic a piece of filmmaking for me not to get behind it. Sure, knowing these few things that I’ve explained in this review will make your viewing experience one hundred times more enjoyable but walking in blind beforehand – there’s enough outright drama and emotion to be felt in Gomorrah that you don’t absolute have to have these things. From the main stories, the one dealing with young boys who want to be Tony Montana but don’t realize that the lines between reality and fiction are bold and brutal would probably be the most interesting. While you’re watching the film, you can’t help but think that these are simply children getting mixed up in an absolutely awful and sordid world. It’s a heart wrenching epic that delivers in all forms.

When you think of “mob movies”, you probably get pictures in your mind of Goodfellas or Casino, which you should. The romanticism of what we see here in the states and the reality of what is going on back in the mob’s home country are completely different things. As the film points out in the final minutes, the Camorra have incredibly deep pockets and for the few that lead it (the leaders of this organization are never pointed out and we get nowhere near the top brass of this entity during the film, it deals exclusively with the average Joes) it has brought untold wealth. The people on the streets however must deal with this criminal organization in every facet of their life, from where they work and what they can and cannot do, it has to simply be an overbearing way to live. A must see for fans of crime cinema and for those simply curious about the synopsis. It really is like a crime empire that has taken a segment of their originating country, and turned it into a fascist dictatorship. I give the film a four out of five, mainly due to the fact that it probably could have been adapted from the page in a more linear fashion without having to know so much foreknowledge. I think you’ll enjoy the film regardless, Gomorrah must be experienced!



Criminally Insane 2

Posted by Josh Samford On July - 12 - 2009

The Plot: Ethel is back and ready to attack! This time, several years after her killing spree in the original Criminally Insane, the hospital she is staying at has had to severely limit itself due to budgetary concerns and has sent along many of their patients to live in a halfway house. Things seem to be going swimmingly when Ethel arrives, no killing at the start and the promise of three square meals a day for Ethel sounds like a decent start. However, once the first soup is served – Ethel has had enough. The straw that breaks the camel’s back however is the attendant in charge to look over the house when the owner (Mrs. Batholomew) is away starts teasing Ethel and eating candy bars in front of her. Ethel just isn’t the person to be teasing with candy, let me tell you. Now, will this situation break down into another case of wholesale slaughter or will Ethel somehow come out of her killer rage? Meh, don’t count on it.

The Review: The whole reason I ever even started up Varied Celluloid was essentially to bring the world reviews for films like the one I’m discussing today. I originally reviewed Criminally Insane back when the site first started up (2003) and I was always kind of proud to be one of the few people out there having any kind of comment or analysis for such an obscure title. Little did I know back then that there was also the Death Nurse series which was basically spawned from Criminally Insane AKA: Crazy Fat Ethel. I knew that the original Criminally Insane spawned SOME sort of cult audience, but enough for four films? It’s amazing, but I suppose the interest was there. Afterall, I’ve seen Priscilla Alden referred to on more than one occasion as a “cult horror icon”. I don’t know if I’d stretch it and say Icon, but these b-level horrors certainly deserve some sort of notoriety. Not for any reasons that one would call “good”, but how many “heavyset woman kills so she can eat food” flicks have you seen recently that aren’t titled Criminally Insane? I thought so. This sequel picks up several years down the line from the first, with Priscilla looking a little older but still having that cold demeanor that actually kind of worked in the original flick. The jump from film to video however isn’t a gracious one, and is ultimately very unforgiving due to its muckier visuals.

In a sixty minute feature, you know you’ve got problems when the first fifteen minutes are mostly flashbacks to the original. It didn’t work in The Hills Have Eyes 2 (not the sequel to the remake, the original sequel) and it doesn’t work here. This is sort of the first hint out of the gate that Criminally Insane 2 isn’t going to be as memorable as the original. Which really doesn’t bode well since the original was only memorable because it was one of those cinematic oddities that you just can’t believe was actually made. Now you’re left scratching your head throughout the duration of this film because who can believe they actually made a sequel to Criminally Insane! On a serious note however, if you haven’t seen the original film one of the few interesting things it had going for it was the arthouse style approach it took instead of just being a straight ahead exploitation shocker. With a soundtrack (that transports itself back in this sequel) of jangly piano notes being played, with plenty of lingering shots that drone on forever. The same format is brought back for the sequel, for better or for worse. Well, let me just save you the drama, it’s definitely for the worse.

I’ll try not to be too negative on Criminally Insane 2. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel, picking on a flick like this. Although a fairly boring affair, it does seek to spice things up by putting Ethel in the house with someone that could very well be her match, another cold blooded killer who could maybe avoid her traps – but this lasts all of about ten minutes before the film falls back into the patently repetitive “Ethel kills anyone who stops her from eating” routine. Then there’s the whole arthouse style that at least separates the series from the rest of the slasher genre. Let’s not kid ourselves though, Criminal Insane 2 AKA: Crazy Fat Ethel is just about everything you could expect it to be. It’s a slow paced sequel made up with about a quarter of it’s running time with clips from the first film, shot on video with non-actors (aside from Priscilla, who is certainly amusing in her role but not because of any expressions of acting talent) and very little violence. Hey, it is what it is. B-movie fans should definitely flock to this one, simply for the sake of having it in their collection. However, aside from a few unintentionally funny bits (“Granny, give me those pretzels back!!!”) it really doesn’t have much going for it at all. It’s a 1 out of five, because it’s not so dreadful that it causes physical pain to sit through and it’s not entertaining enough to warrant anything higher.

Woods, The

Posted by Josh Samford On May - 31 - 2009


The Plot: Heather Fasulo (Agnes Bruckner) is a troubled young lady. She simply can not stand authority figures and does everything in her power to take them down a notch. However, this attitude has got her into a fair amount of trouble and that’s why she’s headed to Falburn Academy, a boarding school for young women. Once there though, she begins to wish she never started any of the trouble that upset her mother the way it did. She’s an immediate outcast to most everyone, and the teaching staff treat her like some kind of vile creature unworthy of their attention. The only thing that keeps poor Heather sane is the meeting of her new friend Marcy, the one girl at school that actually seems to have any sense in her head. The rest all just bully the two of them. Things grow more worrisome as Heather begins to have nightmares on a regular basis, with the woods whispering to her and visions of a young girl. With this and several students coming up missing, just what is Heather in for while staying at Falburn?


The Review: I tell you, it doesn’t feel at all like six years since Lucky McKee burst onto the horror ‘scene’ with his dramatic and utterly intriguing debut May. Seems like just the other day we were all posting on internet message boards about Angela Bettis and this new director with such a poignant take on horror from the female perspective. Little did we know that the man would sort of define this part of his career in just that field. With May, his Masters of Horror contribution Sick Girl and this film here The Woods, McKee shows a tremendous knowledge into this new area within horror. His study on this strange feminine side of horror, with his strong female leads and bombastic or bizarre leading ladies helped solidify his voice. Although May, his breakout debut might not have twisted the entire horror genre on its ear – it took those feminine qualities and delivered a film that seemed like few that had come before it. With The Woods, McKee’s long-shelved bigger budget follow up, he wasn’t able to quite deliver as refreshing of a film – but still managed to craft something that shows off all of his unique talents while also delivering a love letter to much of his horror influences. Something you know us horror fans can’t resist.

The Woods isn’t what I would call groundbreaking, unlike May which caught many of us offguard when first released, The Woods is generally just Lucky playing the genre straight up and doing a very good job of it. The influence that Dario Argento’s Suspiria had on the film had to be massive, from the general plot synopsis you can probably already tell that. Although Lucky doesn’t try and take a bite out of Argento’s style, the Argento influences emanate throughout every grame. Truly, any supernatural horror film taking place at a girl’s school owes at least some kind of debt to Argento’s horror classic. McKee manages to keep his film feeling fresh however, by not tackling anything directly similar to Suspiria and instead focusing on the relationships bound between parents and child. This is where I think The Woods found it’s strongest footing, as the sequences between Bruce Campbell and Agnes Bruckner towards the end of the film were really heartwarming and helped solidify the entire film through these tense but complex relationships. I have to say, we’re of course talking about a horror picture here so it isn’t an overly complex piece of material but without a doubt I would say these two characters and their relationship were favorite aspects of the film for me.

Did I mention that Bruce Campbell was utterly great in this? Well, it’s a small role, but for the fanboys out there you’ll be proud to see Bruce playing a character who isn’t arrogant, stupid or silly – but a caring father put into extreme circumstances. For a character who doesn’t speak at all in his first few minutes of airtime it’s great to see him come back later in the film and utterly steal the show. The entire cast are all excellent in their roles however and Lucky’s script is tight and filled with great back and forth dialogue. The bits between Agnes Bruckner and her bullies are usually quite humorous in particular, as the juvenile insults tend to fly. Still, the real question at this point isn’t whether this is a well made film – but is it a good HORROR film? In my opinion, yes, it is. Although some of the spookier moments seem to be a little drawn out, I think there’s a lot of spooky things happening for The Woods. McKee handles the atmosphere with ease and delivers a very tense and suspenseful ride. However, the only problem I had with the film was by just how much it followed along genre staples. Although it was a surprise to see Lucky break out the gore that is unleashed in the latter portion of the film, the film plays out about how you would expect it would just from watching the trailer. Don’t let that detract you from seeing it however, it is a very solid three out of five which is above average (remember, I count zero as a rating too) and McKee is a filmmaker to keep an eye on. You won’t want to miss his career as it unfolds.

Late Bloomer

Posted by Josh Samford On May - 20 - 2009
Review Contributed by Jon Jung


The Plot: Late Bloomer documents a severely disabled man, Sumida-san, who has made a life for himself hanging out with friends, drinking beer (a lot, at that), and checking out shows. In addition, Sumida-san is the director of a disabled home (as is the real-life actor, Masakiyo Sumida in a bit of verisimilitude) and well-cared for. Though this may seem like a rather content life, Sumida-san’s anger and frustration toward his disabilities provoke him to embark on a murderous rampage.



The Review: Japanese genre films have become all but pigeon-holed by scraggly-haired ghost children (Ringu, Ju-On, Dark Water) and cheesy Troma-like gore comedies (Meatball Machine, Tokyo Gore Police). In fact, with classic Kurosawa and Ozu films being of the few exceptions, Japanese movies as a whole can hardly get released without the “extreme”, “quirky”, and /or “kawaii” tags put on them. Thus, it’s not particularly surprising that Late Bloomer slightly mismarketed and packaged to look like the latest gorefest when it is actually a interesting, dark character study not unlike Taxi Driver or, even more closely related in theme, Tod Browning’s seminal 1932 shocker, Freaks.

Unfortunately, while Late Bloomer shares similar stark themes as those two classics of transgressive cinema but it does not share the same production values. I would not generally fault a director for having to work under a low budget. For example, the fact that the movie was shot in black and white seems like less of a budgetary constraint than an artistic decision. For the most part, the black and white photography is pulled off quite well in Late Bloomer; the film’s schizophrenic visual effects (a la Tetsuo) could probably not be as effective in color, for example. However, the impact of any scene involving blood was noticeably lessened. Blood on film should be visually alarming either in its color or viscosity. This should even be the case in black and white such as in Night of the Living Dead, a film whose shimmering dark blood was probably too much for the faint of heart in 1968. Late Bloomer’s sometimes languid pacing sometimes also affects the impact that the film could have had. The director sometimes shoots scenes for a little longer than they should be, but not long enough to feel intentional. One death scene, in particular, which occurs in a bathtub feels much too “matter of fact” than it should. The film could have done well with a little choice editing as well. For example, several scenes involving two sets of characters watching videos of each other to symbolize the social distance between them tended to drag, again taking away the punch of the central storyline

Negatives aside, Late Bloomer thematically is a breath of fresh air. Calling it the first movie to have a disabled protagonist might be a stretch; Born on the Fourth of July and My Left Foot come to mind as two others. However, it is one of possibly two (“Children of a Lesser God” is the other) in which the actor him or herself is disabled. With that said, the director Go Shibata does well for his subject matter by weaving the narrative around Sumida-san, never forcing us to feel one way or another about him. It would have been easy to have taken one of two overt routes and made a mean-spirited exploitation or sappy “deep down we’re all the same” message film. Overall, in fact, the film does a great job at presenting us with a character who, all said and done, is not necessarily a villain, hero, or anti-hero. Rather, the protagonist is just a guy who, through life’s misfortunes, has just taken the figurative straw that broke the camel’s back. It’s just too bad that Shibata didn’t have a better budget and slightly more experience with which to improve all the positives this film has. This is definitely a film worth watching but, as previously mentioned, this may not be for the gorehounds. But, if you have the patience and will to sit and watch a unique, somewhat artsy character study from a promising young Japanese director, then you could do worse by picking Late Bloomer up.

Street Law

Posted by Josh Samford On May - 10 - 2009
The Plot: Carlo Antonelli (Franco Nero) is a successful engineer who has it all. While stuck in the wrong place at the wrong time one day however, his life is turned upside down. Whilst depositing a major amount of money, a group of thugs hold up the bank and take Carlo hostage. They beat and humiliate him before dropping him off in a boatyard where the cops find him. Finding no help from the police, only interrogation and insinuations that perhaps he was in on the heist, Carlo decides the only justice available to him is to take matters into his own hands. However, just walking around in the seedier sides of town only gets him awkward glances and threats against his life, so he must find another way into this criminal side of humanity. He ultimately finds Tommy – a young thief who Carlo is able to photograph in the act, and uses these photos for blackmail. Now Carlo has Tommy as his run-between, but will he be able to go through with it and bring these villains down once and for all?


The Review: Franco Nero is a MAN. Even when he’s portraying a character who isn’t the “go out and bust some heads” action hero that he very well could play in all of his roles, he’s still this broad and masculine character who imposes his charisma on the screen. Although I know it isn’t usually my style to begin a review by complimenting the actors, I usually save that for the second or third paragraph (how predictable I am, eh?). I just can’t help myself this time. After watching Street Law you really begin to understand what makes Nero such a wonderful performer and why he’s so beloved by his fans. His contributions to Street Law are immense, but in almost all regards Street Law is a total success. It’s a heady mix of vigilantism, and the questions behind it, as well as pure adrenaline charged action. The movie jumps up from the start and takes off running at a breakneck pace. Although a lot of Poliziotteschi flicks are decently paced, the speed and rhythm of Street Law is definitely unlike anything else I’ve ever seen. The brains of the film are also a part in what makes it such a compelling watch, although one might not expect it. It delivers a rather simple morality tale but does so in an overblown style that somehow doesn’t become preachy or simplistic. Don’t expect to walk away with your mind blown from a lot of subtext and allegorical content, but for this sort of action flick there are enough ideas at work to validate much of its action. Beating the much more famous Charles Bronson vehicle Death Wish to the market by a year, without that knowledge it might be viewed as another one of the clones that Death Wish inspired – but Castellari & co. were ahead of the curve and delivered an equally entertaining take on similar content.

The allure to the eurocrime genre is somewhat elusive, as there are no simple reasons to explain the love that we fans have for these films. You can’t say they’re packed with disturbing violence or daring visuals – by and large they’re really not. It is also not terrible concerned with the intense emotional or unnerving dramatic thrills that the American mobster genre so often gives its audience. However, Street Law may be the most accessible and understandable of these brilliant works of Eurocult cinema. With an engaging story, heaps of low budget action and a guerrilla filmmaking modus-operandi – Street Law delivers and delivers and then delivers some more. Although the movie does feature some very necessary breaks from the action, by and large Street Law seems to feature an endless sequence of car chases and action sequences. Watching these vehicles speed through Rome at breakneck speeds without any closed off streets lets you begin to understand the magic of cinema from this time and era, when Italy was such a massive and exciting film market. Street Law reaches down deep and provides an ample amount of entertainment, but I can’t just gloss over the ideas behind the film. Vigilantism seems like such a non-European concept in film. In fact, on the DVD Castellari says that after the release of this film he was labeled my many as an “extremist” due to his giving the concept the benefit of the doubt. However, Castellari who remains a-political in all ways never had to worry about being blacklisted however due to how popular the film became.

What would a eurocrime flick be without some violence though? This is afterall the genre that inspired Quentin Tarantino to boast of it as ‘the bloodiest genre outside of the films of John Woo’ (paraphrasing of course). Usually the gun battles and action in this particular subgenre are relatively tame though, I must say. It was a very nice surprise to find that Street Law ramps up the bloodletting a bit in at least with two excitedly bloody gunfights. Not to mention the vicious beatings that Franco Nero must endure throughout the film. Speaking of Nero and his fight scenes (admittedly, it’s more like your traditional beatings on several occasions), he really surprises with the stunt work the film required. The film set must have been brimming with testosterone, between buffed out Castellari and the always game Nero, as I can think of few films where the lead actor (a very popular actor at that!) actually takes a swerving car smashing into their side, causing a backflip to faceplant maneuver that just has to be seen. There’s a keen sense of bravado that the film gives off, something that Castellari specializes in. Truthfully, after Great White (which I enjoyed mind you, but for all the wrong reasons) it’s amazing to see such a stylish and visionary piece of work from the same director. His visual sense is dead on in Street Law and his framing of action is top of the food chain. You really can’t find much wrong with Street Law, but if I had to nitpick I would say that there probably could have been a lot more done with the vigilantism concept and overall Death Wish is probably the more complete film of the two. Regardless, Street Law is a very entertaining and exciting Eurocrime caper. For new fans, check this one out asap.



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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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