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“Oblivion” Review

Posted by Josh Samford 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?


Tiger Cage

Posted by Josh Samford 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.

“Trailers From Hell Vol. 2″ Review

Posted by Josh Samford 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…


Trailers From Hell Vol. 2

Posted by Josh Samford On June - 20 - 2011

Trailer From Hell Vol. 2 (2011)
Director: Not Available
Writers: Not Available
Starring: Bryan Trenchard Smith, Joe Dante, Guillermo Del Toro and many more.

The Review

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.

The very first director to introduce a title on this set may turn out to be one of my favorites, as we get Bryan Trenchard Smith commenting on both The Devil Ship Pirates and The Stranglers of Bombay. He is everyone’s favorite Australian genre-movie filmmaker and he is also well spoken and almost always interesting. With The Devil Ship Pirates he has a lot of fun, as he points out the Napoleonic ships used in a movie about the Spanish Armada, but he always remains affectionate. The Stranglers of Bombay, the second of Smith’s choices on the set, was another Hammer produced title (along with The Devil Ship Pirates) and Smith goes into a bit of background on the film and its dealings with the BBFC due to its rather grizzly material. He also expounds on the film and its dealing with the very real Indian cult The Thuggee which were the main inspiration for the strange natives in Steven Spielberg’s The Temple of Doom. Bryan Trenchard Smith, who is easily one of the most relaxed and outgoing filmmakers out there and whom will gladly speak with his fans as if they were friends, seems to be as caring about cinema here as he presents himself outside of the camera’s gaze.

Ernest Dickerson (Dexter and Juice) covers The Quartermass Experiment (aka The Creeping Unknown within the US market). Dickerson’s presentation is similar to a very detailed review, which is a bit different from most on the set and is actually impressive since he manages to elucidate his points very clear with such a small amount of time. Dickerson, who is a director I wouldn’t have known straight off the top of my head, is well spoken and turned out to be one of my favorite speakers on the set.

Guillermo Del Toro, who is far from being an obscure choice, presents Dario Argento’s Deep Red in both the English language as well as a special Spanish version. The way that Del Toro describes his love for both Deep Red and Argento is incredibly passionate. In the short amount of time that he talks, he makes some very thoughtful remarks on Dario Argento as a director and what precisely made him special as a filmmaker. The logical versus the lyrical is discussed and Del Toro makes some of his most thoughtful remarks while discussing Argento’s use of violence in comparison to childlike and soft visuals and how that tends to create something bizarre. Del Toro also presents the 1957 version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame which is a classic piece of horror that featured Anthony Quinn in the lead role. A sentimental favorite for the filmmaker, he has more fun with less overt praise for the title.

Joe Dante, the brilliant director who never seems to hold back during any speaking engagements, has fun whilst giving his interviews/commentaries. He first covers Donovan’s Brain and, the same with the rest of the gentleman here, he is well spoken and goes into a lot of the background information for the film. Including amongst his dialogue, he talks about its influence on many aspects of the general “mad doctor playing with brain surgery” concept that has been played with time and time again. The second feature that he discusses is The Invisible Ghost which featured Bela Lugosi on his downslide. The film seems like fun and although Dante generally razzes it for the majority of the trailer, he seems knowledgeable about its production and has a true affection for it and the Monogram Pictures studio that produced it. Jack Hill, who has to be everyone’s favorite true “grindhouse” film director, gives an introduction and discussion on his very own second film: Pit Stop. If anyone had information on this picture, it would be him. Hill describes it as potentially one of his best films and certainly one of his favorites, despite it never being given the chance to catch on with an audience. It’s a film about figure-8 racing and features Hill’s go-to actor Sid Haig. A film I never would have pictured coming from the early work of Jack Hill, it’s a title that jumped right up my personal “to watch” pile.

That really seems to be one of the best features of a compilation such as this one. Sure, you can youtube trailers for hour after hour and come up with some pretty strange titles, but when you hear John Landis describe his affection for Gorgo (a British kaiju film of all things) your enthusiasm jumps up several additional notches. The background information provided via the commentaries also gives insight into the context and history of these films, so not only is your interest piqued after watching this DVD but there is a strange connection now between you and any one of these titles.

The Conclusion
There are so many others on this set and so many other outrageous films. Josh Olson (Infested, A History of Violence), Larry Karazweski (Ed Wood, The People Vs. Larry Flynt), Lloyd Kauffman (The Toxic Avenger, Tromeo & Juliet), Mick Garris (The Stand, Riding the Bullet), Mary Lambert (Pet Sematary 1, 2), Michael Peyser (Hackers, SLC! Punk) and of course the godfather of b-cinema Roger Corman pops up on the disc. Corman’s very own Little Shop of Horrors is also included on the Shout! Factory DVD as a supplementary feature for the first time ever in widescreen. For what it is, I have to say I enjoyed this compilation. It’s very simple stuff and it drew me in as a viewer. I give it a solid four out of five.

Strike Commando

Posted by Josh Samford On May - 21 - 2011

Strike Commando (1987)
Director: Bruno Mattei
Writers: Bruno Mattei and Claudio Fragrasso
Starring: Reb Brown, Christopher Connelly and Louise Kamsteeg

The Plot: Sgt. Michael Ransom (Reb brown) is part of an elite unit known as The Strike Commandos. While investigating a camp of North Vietnamese during a covert operation, Ransom and his team are double-crossed by Col. Radek (Christopher Connelly) who sets off a series of explosives within the rebel base before Random and his crew were due back at the rendezvous point. The entire Strike Commando force are blown to bits, except for Ransom who is only knocked into a nearby river. As he floats down stream, he eventually stumbles upon a group of friendly natives who inform him of a Russian force making its way into Vietnam. When he manages to escape via a helicopter, the poor Vietnamese locals who helped him are captured. Ransom heads back home to confront Col. Radek but is given the opportunity to head right back to Vietnam as a rogue agent in order to discover proof of the Russian involvement within Vietnam. While doing this Ransom must also track down those who helped him and free them from captivity.

The Review
Have you seen Space Mutiny? That’s a good question for the start of any film review really, considering the reputation it has for being one of the worst films of all time, but in the case of Strike Commando it’s even more apropos due to it featuring legendary thespian Reb Brown (who also lead the stellar cast of Space Mutiny) in the role of our titular “Strike Commando”. There’s no doubt about it, this was a project just begging for a review here on Varied Celluloid. A lone-military-man sort of action caper in the same vein as First Blood Part II, Missing in Action or the utterly atrocious The Deadly Prey, this is a title filled to the brim with b-movie pastiche and all around incompetence… which is everything one could possibly hope for in a title like this!

Bruno Mattei and Claudio Fragrasso are responsible for some of the worst films ever made. Both while working on their own and when working together, their work is universally dreadful but occasionally between the two they were able to land on a few good ideas that were fleshed out into some truly magnificent pieces of b-cinema. Strike Commando is the rare case where these two were actually able to plagiarize enough and appeal enough to the lowest common denominator that they ended up with a movie that perfectly encapsulates all that is great in trash cinema. This is a film that can in no real way be classified as “well made”, but is certainly one hundred percent entertainment. From the braindead writing and the apparent lack of communication between filmmakers and actors, Strike Commando turns out to be a fantastic party movie. A movie that plays things as straight as they can get, but in doing so seals its fate in the great annals of b-movie history.

There are many high (or low, as it were) quality selling points that will no doubt continue to lead Strike Commando into cult status. If I were to choose one shining attribute that keeps this one afloat, ahead of the rest, it has to be the cast. Two men in particular lead this films charge towards the cinematic pantheon. Christopher Connelly, who was known to the mainstream world best as an actor who starred on the soap opera Peyton Place for all five seasons, would make an indelible impression on the genre-film world with his starring roles in both Rugero Deodatto’s Raiders of Atlantis and of course our film here today. Although being a key cast member on Peyton Place is a big deal, I would argue that cult film aficionados likely endear the man more in their hearts than any other group out there.

Connelly plays Col. Redek, who doesn’t get to stand out in the plot as much as Michael Ransom (Reb Brown), but his grizzly performance is startling for a production such as this. He seems to fluctuate at times between simply being upset, to frothing at the mouth with anger. These are the two dimensions that he generally goes between, and he actually makes for an intimidating onscreen character. Reb Brown, our white knight of the film, should be noted for two very different reasons. First of all, the man had an impressive physique, there’s no getting past that. A body that was built for pro-wrestling, he certainly personified the ideal of an eighties action film star. The other notable attribute that Brown brought to the screen was his very unique vocal inflections. If you’ve seen the man in Space Mutiny, then I guarantee you know precisely what I’m talking about.

His scream, which is featured prominently throughout Strike Commando, comes off as sounding slightly whiny but is thrown out with such total conviction that it becomes completely hilarious. Although there are some scenes where you can maybe question Brown’s interest in the role, he subdues that train of thought completely when he lets out one of his grunting blasts of vocal-ity (if that wasn’t a word, it is now). When he’s not yelling or making crazy faces for the camera, he is actually a charismatic leading man. That doesn’t mean he’s a tremendous actor, but he is the perfect sort of actor for this kind of role. Although one has to imagine that it was difficult to shoot such a movie in the Philippines, with an Italian film crew no less, he does a fairly decent job at stabilizing the movie with his macho performance. However, even I have to admit that his attempts at serious drama (Reb Brown literally CRIES during one scene with a young boy dying in his arms) are less than successful.

The action in the movie is handled fairly well, considering the budget, and is probably one of the standout features of the movie aside from the cast. There are plenty of explosions to go around and even some VERY obvious miniature sets that are blown to smithereens as well. The budgetary restraints certainly hold this one back a lot, but that’s part of the fun. The Philippine setting is seemingly tropic and doesn’t have the same look that a Vietnamese backdrop would, which leads to many more unintentional laughs. However, the low budget texture is far from being the key to this one’s unintentional hilarity. Truth be told, there is no “key” feature here. It’s all just so patently ridiculous that it becomes amazing. A movie that will guarantee cries of “JAKOTA!” afterward and will cause you to pontificate on Disneyland as well as cotton candy mountaintops! Sorry, after watching Strike Commando viewers will feel obligated to cash in on all of the ridiculous dialogue.

The Conclusion
Offensive in its absurdity, but brilliant in its stupidity, Strike Commando is pure entertainment in a can. Obviously it won’t be for all audiences, but if you have a sense of humor then chances are you might get something out of this one. Formulaic and beautiful because of it, I can’t help but give the movie a four out of five.





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.