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Rio Conchos

Posted by On June - 25 - 2011
Rio Conchos (1964)
Director: Gordon Douglas
Writers: Joseph Landon and Clair Huffaker
Starring: Richard Boone, Stuart Whitman, Jim Brown and Anthony Franciosa




The Plot: Maj. Jim Lassiter (Richard Boone) is a former confederate officer who has been left in disarray after the noted Apache “Redshirt” murdered his family. After being picked up by Capt. Haven (Stuart Whitman) and Sgt. Franklyn (Jim Brown), he is put behind bars on a trumped up charge in order to keep him from continuing his string of murders against the native Apache tribes. The weapon that the Major has on him ends up pointing towards some stolen military cargo that the army has been in search of for quite some time. With the Major knowing just where to look, Capt. Haven and his men are put in place to lead him on an expedition to find the culprit known as Pardee, who appears to have been the one responsible for the stolen weaponry. Before taking off however, the Major refuses to go on this mission without his friend Juan (Anthony Franciosa), who is also currently being held by the US military. Now with a regular platoon behind him, Maj. Jim Lassiter must travel the south West in order to track down these missing guns.

 

The Review

The western is a genre with a wide degree of acceptance around the Varied Celluloid universe. From the classic days of clean and respectable cowboys, right down to the dirty and sweaty wave of Spaghetti westerns, I know that I am a great admirer of these such films. Rio Conchos is a fine piece that fits snugly right in the center of those two very different staples of the genre, creating a rather unique western in many ways. In many other ways, it’s roughly everything you could probably come to expect from this type of production. This doesn’t have to be an all out terrible thing of course, since genre-nostalgia can sometimes make a decent movie seem great, but it seems to be a different case with Rio Conchos. While the familiarity of the plot is certainly a hurdle that caring audience members must seek to overcome, the genre-faithful out there will no doubt find it easy to look past. If you stick with it, Rio Conchos proves to be a deceptive western with political undertones, a dark underbelly and several really solid performances.

Before sitting down to watch the movie, the most I had ever heard about this film was that it featured the cinematic debut of Jim Brown. This was of course quite the instance in Hollywood history, as it wasn’t often that an African American sports star made the leap into the Hollywood mainstream during the sixties. His time in the spotlight wouldn’t last, as roles weren’t prominent for African Americans within the Hollywood world even in the midst of the civil rights movement. In fact, although he plays a sizable role in the film as a mere presence, Jim Brown has only a hand full of spoken dialogue. Although he is certainly there as a formidable screen icon, he is unfortunately left to sit in the background through many of the pivotal moments during the film. This could have been a stylistic choice however, as the racial tensions are certainly wrought within the film.

From the moment Jim Brown first pops up alongside Stuart Whitman, we get the feeling that something is uneasy here. We see Richard Boone pop up and when asked to saddle up, so that he can be brought back to camp for interrogation, he packs up his saddle and throws it into the hands of Jim Brown’s character. The intensity of the moment is built upon Boone’s character having been a rebel during the civil war and now here sits Jim Brown’s character, still a second class citizen, but placed in charge of him. There is most certainly an amount of running subtext within the film about questioning prejudice in all forms, even if the end result isn’t the most racially sensitive film ever made. As the film progresses, Brown and Boone’s characters actually become close partners within their group (with Boone’s character even beating up a bartender who refuses to serve Brown because of his skin color) and the film sets up even larger questions about American/Indian relations. The film unfortunately isn’t so progressive in its thinking that it presents Native Americans in a less-antagonistic role, but it does at least present one Apache character who isn’t bloodthirsty and ultimately the point is made that revenge is the driving force behind these two groups, and ultimately the cyclical nature of revenge will drive them further from their own humanity. With all of that said though, there are very questionable presentations of both Native Americans and Mexicans along the way, but for what it is, I was impressed with what the film had to say.

Within this cast, which is actually very impressive, Richard Boone is the real star of the show. He puts in a rather grungy performance as the Major, a role that would have been fitting in a spaghetti western but causes him to stand out even more in this classical setting. A Rooster Cogburn-esque character who is completely destroyed by the memories of his wife, Boone presents the character as a being that thrives solely on anger. Richard Boone was probably best known for the long running series Have Gun – Will Travel, and he shows up here in a very different kind of western setting. He is a character who is simply riddled with pathos. Moments such as the one where our main group stumbles upon another raided home, similar to the Major’s own where his wife and child died, really sends home the inner turmoil of the character. This scene also features one of the more disturbing moments found in a conventional western: where we see bloody bedsheets in front of what we are lead to believe is a tortured and brutalized woman who has been left for dead, while her child weeps away in the corner. A very dark turn in a movie that will surprise you in the very mature twists that pop up now and then.

Veteran director Gordon Douglas (who has nearly 100 credits to his name, among them: Them!, Stagecoach and he would later re-team with Jim Brown on Slaughter’s Big Rip-Off) keeps the movie flowing at a very brisk pace even if he doesn’t defer from what you would expect from a sixties-era Hollywood western. He keeps the surroundings big and the way he uses the awesome canyon scenery gives the movie an even larger feel than what it might seem in a less impressive landscape. Even if you had nothing nice to say about the movie at all, I think you would have to concede that it is spectacularly shot. The sights and the visual flourishes are what keeps you glued to the screen, but the characterization is what will stay in your mind afterward.


The Conclusion

It’s very much a film that deals with regular Western pastiche. Honor, keeping your word, respect, friendship and comradery all play heavily into the story as it moves along. These are all things to expect, but the addition of the racial undertones definitely puts it into a minority audience, which in a lot of ways makes it somewhat special. The performances as well keep it floating above the “bland-line”. With these things in mind, I am going to give it a very high three. Had there been more to go on in terms of plot, in a capacity that might have given it a “new” feel, I would have give it a four without hesitation. Regardless, this is an incredibly strong western.




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Oblivion

Posted by 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.




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“Oblivion” Review

Posted by On June - 23 - 2011
Hey all! Today we have possibly one of the strangest titles to be reviewed here on Varied Celluloid in quite a while… and that is saying something. Prepare for cowboys, aliens, Andrew Divoff and a very Southern George Takei in Oblivion

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?


CONTINUE READING HERE!
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Tiger Cage

Posted by On June - 21 - 2011

Tiger Cage (1988)
Director: Yuen Woo-ping
Writers: Kwong Kim Yip and Wing-Fai Wong
Starring: Dodo Cheng, Simon Yam, Jackie Cheung and Donnie Yen



The Plot: Inspector Shirly Ho (Dodo Cheng) is a police woman who lives and breathes for the law. When her husband, and fellow policeman, is shot down in cold blood, her world is turned upside down. Things become even more chaotic in her life when she finds out that her husband was apparently a corrupt police officer. Her two friends Fan Shun-yu (Jackie Cheung) and Terry (Donnie Yen) start to do some digging and find out that their Sergeant, Uncle Te (Ng Man-Tat), is also a corrupt official and that may not be the end of the bad-roots within the HK police department. Will they manage to root them all out or will the corrupt officials put a stop to their quest for justice.

The Review
Tiger Cage may not be a widely talked about title, but it is one that I have been looking forward to for a long time now. As anyone who reads this site may have noticed, we at Varied Celluloid are most assuredly fans of Donnie Yen. Tiger Cage marks one of his earliest roles and shows the actor when he was still under the tutelage of Yuen Woo-ping, who also directed this film. Touted as Donnie Yen’s first time stepping into the choreographer/action director’s chair, it is a title that certainly marks an important step in his career but it is also a rather fun and inventive piece of action cinema from the glory day of Hong Kong action cinema. Made in the wake of of John Woo’s pioneering A Better Tomorrow, Tiger Cage is a mix of Kung Fu and heroic bloodshed excitement. Martial arts cinema, with gun-fu, directed by Yuen Woo-ping and features Donnie Yen as choreographer? Tell me you’re not excited!

Although Donnie isn’t the star of this film, he is certainly an attraction and part of the reason the film still has a degree of longevity. However, Donnie isn’t the first nor the last member of this epic cast to achieve international fame. Jackie Cheung is the true leading man here, while Donnie Yen serves as a strong supporting cast member. Cheung is likely best known for his role in the classic Wong Kar-wai film As Tears Go By. Cheung is a serviceable lead here and has his chance to shine whilst performing in the requisite melodrama that the heroic bloodshed genre often calls for. Amongst a cast of very over-the-top performers, Jackie Cheung manages to stand out as he displays a great reservoir of righteous indignation. Speaking of known scenery chewers, of course we have one of the crown holders in this department, Mr. Simon Yam. Yam is in classic form as he showcases his natural ability to play slimy and disturbed characters. Years before he would be known for starring in every single Hong Kong film produced, he was easily one of the best slime-balls in cinema.

The absolute star of Tiger Cage though is the tremendous action set pieces that punctuate the film several times during its run. The introduction to the film is easily the most insane sequence from the entire movie. A traveling gun fight that runs from several sets and culminates with a series of death-defying stunts, it is the stuff of internet-highlight-video fame. Amongst these is a tremendous fall from one roof to another that sees some poor stunt man being absolutely hammered as he lands in a very terrifying manner. Although Yuen Woo-ping wouldn’t direct many heroic bloodshed titles himself, the work he does here on Tiger Cage stands up very well next to the litany of other titles out there that try to emulate the John Woo formula. He manages to mix in the traditional martial arts alongside the use of modern weaponry, and the resulting action is superb.

However, if there’s an area that draws Tiger Cage down, it would be the convoluted plot which takes us through a by-the-numbers case of corruption and melodrama that has essentially defined this genre. Jackie Cheung and Dodo Cheng are great in the lead and they handle this drama with the skill of veterans, but unfortunately there isn’t a lot of pathos involved here to suck the audience in. The characters tend to feel a bit hollow without a lot of personal tragedy or triumph for the audience to latch onto. When your big emotional montage toward the end is made up of generic and corny moments from just thirty minutes earlier in the movie… you don’t have a lot of character in your product. This lack of character is probably the one thing that holds this back from being a true “classic” piece of cult cinema.


The Conclusion
You get some brutal violence, some wicked martial arts and a wealth of entertaining ideas thrown against the wall, and most of it sticks! While it’s nothing spectacular in the grand scheme of things, if you’re looking for a quick dose of action and excitement (or you’re just finishing off Yuen Woo-ping’s filmography) you really can’t go wrong with Tiger Cage. It gets a solid three out of five.




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“Trailers From Hell Vol. 2” Review

Posted by On June - 20 - 2011
Hey everybody, this one is a bit unconventional! It’s not really a film and it’s not really a documentary. Quite simply it’s a compilation! With that said, it features some of genre cinema’s best talking about an assortment of obscure films that I had never even heard of! Sound like a good time? You betcha!

Trailers From Hell, which is based off of the website of the same name, has become a true fixture in the film geek community. The concept, in a commercial form, seems even more profitable than other “grindhouse” trailer compilations such as the 42nd St. Forever films, so it was only a matter of time before the DVD’s started to hit the market. Although this DVD might not catch the eye of passive movie-go’ers, for film enthusiasts and all around geeks this might prove to be too entertaining a prospect to pass on. The premise is simple. You take some of the most creative genre-film directors and commentators in the business and you get them to offer commentary over trailers for some of their favorite b-pictures. So, there is no true “plot synopsis” on this disc other than to say that several great minds sit around and talk to the camera about movies that they have loved from their past. This disc isn’t a general movie, obviously, so it’s difficult to critique it as a whole so I’ll glance over some of the most engaging moments from the one hour long set…


CONTINUE READING HERE!
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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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