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Aimless youth, Aimless movie.
A pre-Nerd Robert Carradine, a pre-Automan Desi Arnaz Jr., and an almost pre-pubescent Melanie Griffith take to the road and head for Alaska with romantic dreams of becoming wealthy salmon fishers. Well, their dream is about as exciting as this lackluster youth road movie. They aren't particularly interesting, and the film doesn't exactly have much of a point, beyond `We got together the spawn of some famous people and made a low budget film about their misadventures.' Out of the cannon of 60's and 70's road films and rebel youth films, this one is mediocre, under developed, uninvolving characters, not much wit, not much freshness to the story, which is as bland as the films muddy landscape.

But, for those who care- They head to Alaska, and apparently Alaska was like the Wild West in the 70's because everyone carries a gun and is rough and tumble. Robert Carradine says charming things like `I hope we can find a shower, my nuts sure itch.' (And he's the one with Melanie Griffith!) They are quickly robbed and forced to take jobs, and the local bigwig, their employer, puts the moves on Melanie and eventually fires Desi for not being corrupt. That's when they aren't smart and do not leave town, opting instead to eat dog food or go hungry, get beat up by the guys goons, and then take a joyride in the bigwigs car. The final half of the film abandons the evil bigwig as the trio commit a robbery, go on the run, and hatch a kidnapping scheme, and so forth. The film just sort of ends, annoyingly and ambiguously, but seeing as how they didn't bother to have much character development and story in the first place, its rather appropriate. Worth a look if you are really into low budget 70's fare, but ultimately pretty forgettable.

Odio per odio

`How does it feel knowing you only have seconds to live?'
Very solid and straightforward entry into the Spaghetti Western genre. Lacks some of the off kilter atmosphere and inventive action of a stylish Sergio Leone or Sergio Corbucci picture, but, despite this, still manages to entertain with decent story, characters, a good villain, and dingy locations. Notably co-written by Italian film stalwarts Bruno Corbucci and Fernando Di Leo, and directed by the well-rounded Domenico Paollela.

Scruffy, good-natured, and free spirited Miguel just wants to go to New York and be an artist, and makes his money by dealing with a one-legged, underworld figure named Coyote. Cooper is an older family man, ashamed of being an outlaw, storing his loot so he can move his wife daughter away from the life he has fallen into, and he has the misfortune of having a cutthroat partner named Moxon. Cooper and Miguel cross paths when Cooper and Moxon rob the bank in which Miguel has been keeping his New York money. After slaughtering the bank tellers, Moxon tries to double cross Cooper during their escape, only to be thrown off the wagon and down the rocky mountainside. Miguel stops Cooper, only wanting his NY money, but unfortunately this polite exchange pins Miguel to Cooper as his accomplice, and the two are captured. Miguel is cleared and set free, promising Cooper that he will look in on his wife and daughter. Cooper on the other hand is sentenced to life with hard labor, stuck chest deep in a filthy marsh and interrogated as to the whereabouts of his loot. Moxon, bloodied and mean, gathers himself from the hillside and goes back to his gang of thugs.

It is after this setup that the film kicks into gear, with the surviving Moxon stealing back the loot and taking Cooper's daughter and wife, Cooper contracting a fatal case of malaria and escaping from jail, and Miguel having to eke out a living again (he doesn't get his NY money back) and deal with Moxon's gang, who is going after Coyote and his associates. So, in typical fashion, paths cross again, and the revenge fueled Cooper and feisty Miguel go after the cold-hearted Moxon and his gang, battling it out in the usual dilapidated locales of most Spaghetti Westerns. Its a ‘good' film, by a capable director, with defined characters, maybe a little sparse or bland in the action department, cinematography/settings were good, as well as the music (although could do without the bouncy , annoying `La Cucaracha' melody in one repeated theme). A nice film all around. Well worth a look. 7/10.

Day of the Dead

Fine over-criticized sequel
This is such an underrated movie. Romero's third ‘Dead' film has always lived in the shadow of the first two ‘Dead' films. While there are many parts of ‘Night of the Living Dead' and ‘Dawn of the Dead' that are superior, ‘Day' still holds its own and has some improvements over the first two. I'm not saying its better; its just not nearly as weak as horror fans have made it out to be.

The Acting- People have complained about the over the top acting in the film, but honestly, what ‘Dead' film has great acting? They all have pretty much community theater acting in them. Its not like the leads in ‘Dawn' were Hopkins, Pacino, and Streep. ‘Day' just has the same scenery chewing we've seen in the other ‘Dead' film (and most horror films for that matter). Atmosphere- the setting of the underground bunker is far more frightening than the house or mall in the other films, it is a great step forward in the series, very creepy. The makeup- Gone are the painted gray and green, K Mart bargain Halloween makeup of ‘Dawn'. The zombies are in ‘Day' far more unique and disgusting. Overall all the makeup fx are leaps and bounds better than the other films. The Plot is well structured giving a nice introduction and setting up the tense situation. Many have complained that the ending is abrupt, but its hard to say just what people think they are missing, those who survive, survive, and its pretty clear they are, any further action at that point would be exaggerating the escape. As far as Bub goes, he is the thing many zombie film lover hate, and that is a ‘thinking' zombie. There is that sect of horror fans who just want stupid, vacant, zombies incapable of speech or the ability to use tools, but Romero clearly has a purpose with ‘Day's zombies, taking the mythology further. And one can only imagine it helping in a fourth ‘Dead' film, a plague of thinking zombies, more formidable than the ones in previous films. You cant just repeat yourself, you have to cover new ground, and, regardless of what its detractors say, Romero did that task well in ‘Day of the Dead'.

Un esercito di 5 uomini

Ultimately forgettable, and rock stupid, but a fun watch, nonetheless.
Bland MGM Spaghetti Western knock off/imitation directed by Don `Escape from the Planet of the Apes, Damien: The Omen 2' Taylor. One of Dario Argento's first writing credits and one that he probably doesn't put on his resume. It even has Ennio Morricone scoring the film, but amusingly, essentially just rewriting his Leone themes and altering the instrumentation a little. In other words, its not the highest caliber of a production. Its a true Spaghetti Western in the same way that a Stouffer's frozen lasagna is traditional Italian food.

Basically, its about a motley group of men thrown together under the pretense of robbing a train car full of gold dust from an evil Mexican general and giving the gold to some revolutionaries. The men are, a Bluto-like strongman, a grizzled dynamite expert (who when we first meet him is a suave card shark, but for the rest of the film he looks like a hobo, like they abandoned his original characterization), a Samurai (who is so tan he looks more South American), a young Jim Morrison looking acrobat, and `The Dutchman' Peter Graves. Now, when Peter Graves is the driving force, the `cool factor' to a film, is there any doubt it will be lackluster? The tone is very lighthearted and the plot dumb enough that you would think it was made for children, that is, until a few soldiers are slashed by the samurai and the Bluto guy snaps a few necks. Some truly horrible moments include Peter Graves faking a Mexican accent, the crew sneaking underneath the train in full view of over half a dozen soldiers, the cross stereotype of the Latino general insulting the Asian samurai, the crew stupidly fearing the trains cannon (which is so huge it couldn't be used at close range, and would only be good if fired at someone directly behind the train and three miles away), and finally, an extended piece at the end when the action is completely halted for an extended 2-3 min sequence of the samurai running across fields like he was on the intro to Little House on the Prairie.

Ultimately forgettable, and rock stupid, but a fun watch, nonetheless.

Un uomo, un cavallo, una pistola

Average effort, superior sequel.
This second installment of the Stranger series is significantly better than the first film, and is a pretty average/middling entry to the Spaghetti Western genre. Its an amazing testament to the popularity of the Spaghetti Western that the first bland Stranger film was able to spawn any sequels at all. .As the Stranger appears, riding a black horse under a tattered umbrella, my first thoughts were of El Topo, but this isn't an Existentialist Western. This sequel is much more lighthearted a more easygoing tone than the first film, with some bits of humor (like his horse named `Pussy') and a more upbeat score. This time the Stranger is a bit more like Trinity than the Man with No Name, but the film still suffers from overall clumsiness and Anthony's lack of presence (and bad hair).

Once again the Stranger tangles with a group of bandits after gold, their leader being a good cold-hearted villain, who is known for never missing a shot. The bandits and the Stranger are after not a wagon carrying a load of gold, but one actually made out of it. In this and the first Stranger film (Stranger in Town), they borrow the Fistful of Dollars/Django device where the Stranger is caught by the bad guys and beaten badly only to escape and exact his revenge, but it doesn't work in the same way. When Eastwood or Nero is captured and beaten, its like they have taken down an unstoppable giant, whereas with Anthony's Stranger he just comes off like a luckless weakling. To his credit, Anthony did co-write The Stranger Returns and it is a pretty good Spaghetti story, but why he allowed the pink shirt I'll never know.

The finale is, once again, rather clumsy in its execution, with some badly composed action- for instance, a man follows the Stranger into a room only to quickly give up looking for him and start goofing off in front of a mirror, or the Stranger disguising some water barrels that a villain cant tell are water barrels even though he is only about two inches away, and an awkward face off at a table full of food that is supposed to be humorous. Overall though, it is better in style, story, and characters than the first Stranger film, and gets a 6/10 for the genre. Nothing special but well worth a look for the Spaghetti fan.

Un dollaro tra i denti

Mediocre Spaghetti Western.
Making no apologies in borrowing from the Man With No Name mystique, Stranger in Town has wormy Tony Anthony as the poncho clad, nameless drifter. Anthony's Stranger is the Man With No Name equivalent of Frank Stallone in Rocky instead of Sylvester. He is greasy instead of grizzled (literally, he looks like they dunked him in a batch of olive oil before every take.), and doesn't possess the enigmatic presence and deadliness to fully pull off the role. He lacks the confident squint of Eastwood, the cold eyes of Franco Nero, and the reptilian stare of Van Cleef.

The Strangers saunters into a town overrun by bandits waiting to steal a cache of gold. He convinces their stock villain bandit leader to let him help them by impersonating officers and easily getting the gold handed over. The plan is successful and there is the subsequent double cross by the bandits, the Stranger narrowly escapes and follows the bandits to their hideout- this is something they clearly see, and he makes clearly known, yet they don't kill him? Basically he gets captured again, beaten up, narrowly escapes (again), and then backtracks to the abandoned town for the big showdown (making it pretty obvious the low budget, only two real locations, both abandoned towns). The ending is pretty weak and sloppily executed, so his `outwitting' of the bandits throughout the town doesn't really come off very cool or smart.

One thing is for certain, they didn't have to pay the voice dubbers or dialogue writers very much, because for a solid twenty-five mins of the film (when he arrives at the bandit hideout) there are only a handful of sentences spoken for the duration, and it becomes agonizingly dull, and the soundtrack theme so annoying you want to strangle the composer.

A Spaghetti Western curiosity in that it was successful enough to spawn two (better) sequels. I'd say Stranger in Town is for completists only.

Electra Glide in Blue

Minimalist but Effective Character Piece
From the opening ‘suicide' montage and shot of a desert landscape cut in half by a narrow strip of road, you can tell that Electra Glide in Blue will be a simple film relying on striking visuals to tell the story just as much as the dialogue. It may even be a tad too simple, since it sort of teeters out before the end and reaches its resolution rather abruptly, but its themes of dreams, loneliness, and obvious parallels to the death of 60's idealism, make it a very moving, worthwhile film.

Blake is note perfect as `Big' John Wintergreen, an idealistic, pure-hearted, easygoing motorcycle cop, who just want to be a detective and `get paid for thinking, instead of sitting on my a** getting calluses.' He gets his chance when an old desert denizen appears to have been murdered and he is taken under the wing of Det Harve Poole, a right wing, bigoted, commanding man, who establishes his character by saying `My religion is myself. When I talk to myself, I'm talking to the whole world.' In his zeal to become a detective, Blake follows him around like a puppy, until eventually he sees that his desire to be decent and honest just wont work. He refuses to sacrifice his nature, his kindness, if that's what it will take to get his dream. The final shot of the film (One of the best final shots EVER, by the great cinematographer Conrad Hall) sums up this tragic, fatalistic point and beautifully.

Sixpack Annie

The smallest thing about her was the town she came from....She's the pop top princess with the recyclable can.
Throughout the 70's, we saw the rise and fall of the b-movie subgenre known as the redneck film. With the likes of Smokey and the Bandit, Gator Bait, and Walking Tall all packing in the theaters, Six-Pack Annie stands on its own as perhaps the Marx Brothers equivalent of the redneck film. No, its not as funny or witty as a Marx Bros film, but it is jam packed with mile a minute jokes. Okay, so 99% of the jokes are pretty weak and lowbrow, but what this film has is energy. The pacing is fantastic, and whether or not the jokes are funny, it is so consistent with one one-liner after another, it becomes a charming, little, stupid movie.

Basically the film revolves around poor, dimwitted, but sincere Annie trying to save the family restaurant, by finding herself a `Sugar Daddy' in the `big city', Miami. Its your basic country girl in over her head story as Annie's slow, innocent, bumpkin ways crash into all these city folk sensibilities and highjinks ensue. Features cameos by well-faded vaudeville comedians Stubby Kaye and Doodles Weaver. A good notch above other drive-in redneck cinema, obviously some effort was put into it, and it works as a guilty pleasure lowbrow comedy. Its really too bad the makers didn't seem (according to the imdb) to do anything else, because its a good 70's redneck film.


Weak wannabe martial stinker
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, in Drives case that just isnt true. If you really loved American Ninja and thought the martial arts in Gymkata was great, then you'll love Drive, another bland, direct to video, Hong Kong action imitator. Marc Dacascos is the David Copperfield of kung fu, all model poses and Vegas magician stares. A fair warning: people who love Drive's action should stay away from good kung fu like Snake in the Eagles Shadow; they would probably enjoy something like the tv series Sidekicks with Ernie Reyes Jr. & Gil Gerard.

Du bi quan wang da po xue di zi

Great Wang Yu classic
Thankfully this is one of the great chop socky, pure fun kung fu films that hasn't fallen through the cracks.

Wang Yu may have been a fairly wooden actor and a bad martial artist, but the man knows how to entertain so well, this film belongs at the top of his resume. Featuring a soundtrack that has one of the best bad guy theme musics ever (it sounds like someone playing Black Sabbath record at the wrong, slowed, RPM). The middle of this 1 hour and 17 minute film is 23 mins of pure tournament fighting, featuring, among other things- a Thai kickboxer, the stock bad Japanese fighter, an Indian, long spear, pole, broadsword, iron body, monkey style, eagle claw, rope, snake, mantis, and fighting on posts over a pit of swords. The film is so dizzyingly well paced, little plot, moving from fight to fight, it cant help but be enormously fun, wall to wall entertainment.

One of the great things about Wang Yu films, is evident here- While most stars like Jackie Chan, Gordon Liu, or Casanova Wong would be defeated by their enemy and then go train, learn some new style, and return to defeat the bad guy, Wang Yu often didnt bother with all that. He just booby trapped a place, lured the villain there, and cheated. Why go study for months when you can just lock the barefoot enemy in a hotbox, have your students stand outside with spears to keep the guy in, fight him, and effectively cook the poor villain?

Good old school moments- The Master of the Flying G kills some poor bum pretending to be the One-Armed Boxer, and says, "I don't care who he was. I intend to kill every one-armed man I come across." Also, the dubbing is so bad, a dubber pronounces Thai like 'thigh' instead of 'tie'.

Il mercenario

Great fun, good action and characters. Should be a classic.
Franco Nero, sporting a burly mustache and sideburns, stars as Segei `The Pollack' Kowalski, an angelic opportunist, who, for profit not nobility, helps a revolutionary, Paco (Tony Musante), overthrow the corrupt Mexican generals. It is a very good Spaghetti Western, with a nice pace, good action, and interesting characters playing off one another. Jack Palance is Curly, an obviously gay bad guy, whose prissy demeanor hides his ruthlessness- that is until he kills his own partner out of spite and blows a few men's heads off. The story starts with Nero establishing his badassness while catching a dice cheat, forcing the gambler to eat the dice and saying, "When you get them back, I suggest you dont use them again." He is then hired to help protect a trainload of silver make it through rebel territory to the States. Nero goes to the mining town only to find it overthrown by Paco and his gang, and the mine collapsed. Nero luckily finds himself able to offer his help to the rebels and guide Paco in the art of stealing, strategically avoiding, and attacking the corrupt army, eventually overthrowing it. But, mostly it is not a buddy-buddy relationship, Nero is in it for the money, Paco is in it for the righteousness, yet they both respect each other. (To give a good example, at one point, while crossing the desert, Nero makes Paco and the revolutionaries empty their canteens so he can have a shower while they go thirsty.)

Aside from nice bits of humor, it sports some religious allusions, such as, Paco begins with only twelve men + Nero (their Jesus), they masquerade at one point during a religious parade and attack while dressed as angels and virgin Mary's, as well as Nero being strapped to a t-shaped cross when captured. There is also a nod to Macbeth when Paco's woman uses his power drunk naiveté to convince him to turn against Nero. The film makes use of an obviously fairly high budget, with many large battles, crowd scenes, entire towns destroyed, planes bombing, and many locales. It has an interesting structure, since the bulk of the film is told in flashback before returning to the beginning and then reaching the grand finale. The Morricone score is great, and amazingly enough, very understated. Corbucci's direction has never been better.

(Any film that opens with a shot of a dwarf clown dressed like a matador, you just know is going to be good)

Un fiume di dollari

Fun little b-grade Spaghetti, revenge themed western.
Basic plot involves Brewster taking the fall for his robbing partner Seagull and after being released from prison (which includes having to stand upright in a small barb wire cage) finds that his partner (now known as Milton) has taken the loot and prospered as an evil land baron. Not only that, but Brewster's wife has died in poverty and his young son believes him too be dead. It abandons logic and sense in favor of over the top abstract moments, lots of scenery chewing, like the expressionistic yelling on Brewster's behalf, and typical throwaway action. Fair supporting roles for Henry Silva as the Mexican henchman, with the wondrously cliched name Garcia Mendez, and Dan Duryea as the angel of mercy, Getts. Kudos to Milton/Seagull's line `I wanna' see you spit out your soul, Brewster.', and director Carlo Lizzani's pseudonym, Lee W. Beaver. The finale, like the film, is ridiculous, but fun and effective, involving Brewster and Gett's alone against a posse of bad guys, a ghost town, and some conveniently available dynamite.

Fear, Anxiety & Depression

Flawed urban love triangle debut
Fear, Anxiety... is interesting in a perverse way. It's disowned by Solondz and is now sort of this bad secret in the closet, sought after by Solondz fans. Its like being a Kubrick fan and wanting to see Fear and Desire, or a Johnny Depp fan wanting to see The Brave. No matter how bad the films may be and despite the filmmaker's wishes that the film would just be forgotten, we still want to see them. Well, Solondz is fairly justified in his feelings, because Fear, Anxiety... has all the marks of a unsure first time director- continuity errors, lackluster composition, flat jokes, and Solondz's one whining, nebbish note of a performance.

And, there is the Woody Allen element as well; the film is another urbane, New York hipster, intellectual, artistic referencing, relationship comedy like Allen pretty much coined with Annie Hall, Manhattan, and so on. Solodnz's similar looks, and passive struggling artistic, romantic loser underdog character, really doesn't help detract from Allen comparisons. Even the finale of the film is almost lifted straight from Annie Hall, where Solondz's Ira, finally realizes he let the girl slip through his fingers- she is living with a more successful artist, like Keaton's, Annie shacking up with Paul Simon's Tony Lacey in LA, and Ira writes a play about his relationship woes with actors portraying himself and the girl, just like in Annie Hall. There is also the inclusion of Ira's egotistical, womanizing, best friend sidekick that might as well be Tony Roberts. Now, how much of this was the studios doing, trying to manufacture a new Allen, and how much was Solondz unintentionally/intentionally mimicking, we may never know? I chalk it up to first time director folly, having a three picture deal shoved in his face before he was really ready.

The film is worthwhile for a few curious hints. The dark humor, or finding humor in difficult subjects that Solondz so masterfully handles in Welcome to the Dollhouse and Happiness is there, such as when his girlfriend tries to commit suicide and swallows an entire bottle of pills, literally, she swallows the bottle. There is also mention of AIDS, a hanging, jumping off of bridges, vomiting performance art, and people falling into comas and so forth, and generally the film tries to find laughs in the lovelorn and unsuccessful. So, in a way, you can see hints of the brilliance Solondz would later offer, although those moments are rather few and far between. The other curious thing, is Solondz being the central character, since he is a rather guarded, private man, now. It is interesting to see him trying to act and being goofy, especially so in his musical number singing `A Neat Kind of Guy' (a song that sticks in your head long after the films over), and just being the films general focal point. Overall, it's just an odd footnote (a VERY ODD footnote) in a creative career that has vastly improved. It is an awkward film, that wouldnt be interesting at all if Solondz hadnt gone on to better things.

Ming jian

A fighters struggle with the killing arts
Very good swordplay picture dealing with the usual themes of fighters striving to become the best and, despite being virtuous, willing to die to prove their prowess. Li Mak-Jan is a swordsman who has wandered for a number of years searching for the reclusive master swordsman Hua. After encountering two fellow swordsmen, Li comes across his old love, who tells him that not only has their town fallen on hard times (the temple is in ruins) but, worst of all, in the time he has been away she has moved on and married another man. Turns out, her husband is quite evil, of course, and just a little bit insanely jealous as well as very interested in swords, particularly those belonging to masters. The husband sends his henchman to kill Li, but Li escapes, though seriously wounded. He is rescued and cared for by a woman who just so happens to be a friend of the reclusive Master Hua. Master Hua sends word that his daughter has been kidnapped and Li agrees to rescue the daughter, so he can both finally find Hua and repay the woman for healing him. Li rescues her and finally gets to meet Hua and challenge him. The final third of the film deals with the standard framing of Li and his final battles- an interior one over not finding happiness in proving himself the greatest swordsman in the land, and he still has that nasty husband to deal with.

While fairly straightforward in story, acting, and action, it is a very good film, solid throughout. It may lack the crazy inventiveness of Duel to the Death when it comes to the fight scenes (no 15 ft tall ninjas that break apart into separate swordsmen) but it is especially satisfying in the lack of grand fights. They are kept clean and simple, until the finale, which is a fantastic duel between Li and the husband. The direction is very good, with some keen cinematography, and sets that display some nice uses of colour. Recommended for the wuxia fan.


Filling in the void
On the surface, L'Humanite is about a detective, Pharaon, dealing with his hyper sensitive nature to a rape/murder of a young girl he is investigating, but especially for his unrequited love to his neighbor, Domino. Pharoan is like a wounded, or fearful child, dumpy, perpetually slumped over, soft spoken, watery eyed, whereas Domino is considerably working class, modern, damaged, but not nearly as fearful, at least, not as openly sensitive; unlike Pharaon, she doesn't wear her fear like bad suit. But, that is just the surface of the characters and story, the actual definition of these key elements is left up to the viewer. The plot and the characters are fragments. Instead of miring itself in details, long monologues, heavy dialogue in general, or normal cinematic conventions, the film is purposefully left incomplete in many areas. Thus, the viewer is left to speculate how these gaps should be filled, left to ponder the scraps given to them.

For example, we are told Pharaon's girlfriend and child left him, but not why. Is Pharaon's sensitivity a product of his being abandoned by this woman, or was his sensitivity the cause of her leaving? Domino is clearly upset when Pharaon mentions the case of the rape/murder of the young girl, but is her reaction just empathy, or something deeper? For every detail we are given, there are often unresolved questions that are never conveniently answered.

It somewhat reminds me of a Shohei Imamrua film, like Vengeance is Mine or The Eel, in that the story unfolds through rather mundane scenes, but these scenes end up speaking volumes over the course of the film. You could also say it is a bit like Antonioni as well, as the ordinary, often bright, landscape often contributes just as much emotion as the characters. Basically, Brumo Dumont, like Imamura or Antonioni, eschews normal narrative conventions to tell a story. He lets the viewer fill in the gaps, and much of the film will always remain an engaging mystery.

Sha ren zhe Tang Zhan

Good story, failed by limited budget
Assassin should be considered another lightweight entry into the dark themed HK swordplay/action genre, like The Blade, Ashes of Time, and the excellent Burning Paradise. The film has a great premise- A country bumpkin and flower lover, Tong Po, falls in love with a girl (Rosamund Kwan) he is not allowed to marry. They try to run away together, but they are captured and he is thrown into a jail where his eyes are sewn shut. Next, his eyes are opened to find himself and some fellow prisoners in a gladiatorial ring where they must kill each other in order to survive, the last man standing gets to live and be trained as an executioner for a power corrupted eunuch. Tong Po wins of course, becomes an adept killing machine, is renamed Tong Chop, and given an apprentice who both idolizes and wants to replace him. During one nighttime raid, Tong sees Rosamund and his past starts creeping back on him, so he leaves the killing business and hides out with her in her village where she has remarried and has a son. But, his old life as a prominent killer is not easily left behind, and both his protégé and the powerful eunuch are out for his blood, leading to the bloody conclusion

It has a great story, pretty good cinematography, and the gore one comes to expect (the eunuch likes to tear his victims in two, and of course the swordplay involves many geysers of blood), but it suffers from poor production values and lack of a charismatic lead. The film has serious `fright wig' syndrome, with some laughable costumes and really bad, uneven, frizzy wigs on Tong Chop and his protégé. With a more substantial budget, design, and casting of a better lead this could have been a great film. It could definitely benefit from being remade.

Wong Fei Hung IV: Wong je ji fung

Poor sequel
A rather doomed sequel from the start, Chiu Man Cheuk has the unenviable task of replacing Jet Li as Wong Fei Hung in one of the most popular martial arts series ever made. Wong Fei Hung is legendary character in Chinese history and cinema, portrayed on screen most notably by Kwan Tak-hing for two decades and 50+ movies, Jackie Chan in the two Drunkenmaster films, and, of course, Jet Li. In a way, Chiu Man Cheuk is the George Lazenby of Wong Fei Hungs. His lack of Jets good looks and grace, as well as being limited to three facial expressions, downplay any of his martial arts talent. It is a shame, because Chui Man Cheuk is good, just check out Green Snake.

Unfortunately the story doesn't help matters. Not only is the first 30 mins comprised of a lot of lion dancing (witch we already had our fill of in Part 3) and no fights, but in the first hour Wong Fei Hung only has one fight and its against a group of women from the Red Lantern Sect. Fei Hung Vs. only Women in the first hour, just saps the character of any nobility. As a matter of fact, it is only the return of Club Foot, from Part 3, that injects any life into the action scenes, and without his help, Fei Hung couldn't even handle the two bad guys in the finale, a grim faced, heavy metal hair guy, and the gwailo who knocks out horses. Despite having the dark overtones and anti-European sentiment that the series is known for, the story, portrayal, and action limit the main character, and therefore the movie fails. And then there is the monotonous lion dancing- at the beginning, in the middle, at a funeral, and in the conclusion, complete overkill. Too bad, worthwhile for purists and die-hard HK fans only. Most of all its a good example of how NOT to make a sequel.

Gli esecutori

pretty stale exploitation crime comedy
Roger Moore and Stacey Keach star in this Italian-American co-production, and try to be the Martin and Lewis of 70's crime exploitation cinema. The rigor mortis of Roger Moore was never more noticeable as it is here, playing the straight man next to the Keach's easygoing rouge. It's a rather stale exploitation film, with the typical one liners, car chases, shoot outs, and gratuitously bad dubbing of the Italian actors. The film does have one great highlight when Keach takes a gangster's car for a test drive, and in hair-raising fashion, wrecks it through the streets of San Francisco. Unfortunately, it all doesn't work- the comedy isn't funny enough, neither Keach or Moore are particularly convincing (especially Moore, who is as dry as a desert), the violence and stuntwork is middling, the story isn't very engaging, and the ending is painfully banal. There may be just enough `so bad it's good' work that 70's exploitation fans may be entertained, but no one would call it great.

Just to give an idea what you're in for- in the finale, Keach (as Charlie) hides some dope in cans of powdered milk, stashed in the trunk of his car. Moore, to keep him out of trouble, pushes the car over a cliff and says, `It was only powdered milk, wasn't it Charlie? And, what's the use of crying over powdered milk?' You may now groan if you aren't already.

Requiem for a Dream

visceral, style and substance abuse
Its easy to understand why some people were left feeling cold by Darren Aronofsky's second feature. It is very bleak. In a loose sense Aronofsky's first two films are outright horror films, each one a throwback to an older horror genre- Pi is the classic paranoid, mad doctor syndrome, and Requiem is reminiscent of the doom and gloom, anti-drug propaganda films made in the 50's and 60's. It is Requiems decidedly downbeat, hopelessness that first turns off many viewers, but the second complaint I heard was for lack of character development. Well, the characters aren't really the issue. Its not a film about whom these addicts are, it's about what happens to them. Like a boxing movie that's not about the fighters, but about the combat itself. If one wants to damn Aronaofsky for that, fine; it is a legitimate gripe since he could have easily fit a few more scenes of development into it, but I don't really think that was his concern. The downward spiral they all share is the focus, and Aronofsky does a good job of hitting the viewer with it like a brick.

Quella villa accanto al cimitero

Atmosphere to spare, but falls into stupidity anyway.
Borrow the psychic kid idea from the Shining (witch is fine, the Sixth Sense did), add a little Amityville Horror, and you get this typical Lucio Fulci horror film. And, like most Fulci horror films, it has its good and its bad, and ends up somewhere in the middle, a very entertaining disappointment. The fx is at times painfully fake and other times competent. Fulci throws in his standard slash and slice sexual allusions. Somehow, Fulci always leaves something to be desired, mucks things up (like the killer's voice in New York Ripper) and here, basically, the title and setting deceives one into thinking an army of the undead will appear. No, that never happens, and it is rather hard to call this a zombie film at all; it is more of a supernatural horror.

The film has its moments- like when the psychic kid, who looks like the son of Klaus Kinski and Nico, eerily talks with the little girl (both are talking from across a street, so one knows either they are psychic, the girl is imaginary or dead, or possibly all of these things), or when the mother is alone in the house and freaks out over hearing noises. It is in these simple scenes and the gloomy setting that the film works well. But, in other scenes it is laughably bad (though entertaining) like- the attack by the Uber-bat, and when the Nanny is mopping up gore, the wife seeing this, asks what she's doing, the Nanny's reply, `I made coffee', and then the wife just moves on, ignoring the weird response and the mess on the floor. One must also mention that the film completely falls apart at the end which is puzzling, abrupt, and downright silly.

Fulci never seemed to be conscious of the laughable shortcomings of his films, like the killer's annoying voice and motivation in New York Ripper, his plodding pacing, the fake-as-can-be spider attack in The Beyond, and other dime store fx, as well as his thin to non-existent plotting. In House by the Cemetery, this veil is evident by Fulci having the nerve to tack on a Henry James quote right after his ridiculous ending. Despite its flaws, it is still very entertaining; its just puzzling how he can be so good and so horrible time and time again. I enjoyed House by the Cemetery more than The Beyond, witch is usually considered his best film, but not as much as Zombie.

Favorite House by the Cemetery moment- when the realtor is leaving the house, she runs over a grave with her jeep and exclaims, "Damn gravestones." When there is this kind of disrespect, you can see why its hard to believe there is not going to be an army of the angry undead at some point. Alas, there isnt one.

Huo yun chuan qi

Forgettable fantasy feature
Fabulous cinematography, costumes, the always competent presence of Brigitte Lin, and a handful of effects laden fights cant save this movie from its focus on a dud of a plot and comedic turns that make up most of the film. Woo Ping fans know that there are two things he likes to do- dazzling, well-choreographed fight sequences and hair-brained comedy. Unfortunately, it is his comedy focus that can often drag his movies down, such is the case with Fire Dragon. Instead of getting fantastic fight scene after fantastic fight scene (Iron Monkey), this flying kung fu fantasy spends the better part of the movie expanding on lame jokes and flat character interaction. Sure there are a few action scenes throughout, but they are very brief. It is only at the beginning and, particularly, the end, in which we get the masterful, jaw dropping, fights one expects from Woo Ping.

This film belongs in the Swordsman 2, Chinese Ghost Story, and Deadful Melody category of HK fantasy. Although, in many ways, Woo Ping outdoes those other films in the genre with his harrowing use of pyrotechnics and wirework, the action makes up so little of the running time, its hard to recommend Fire Dragon to anyone outside of the die-hard Woo Ping/ Brigitte Lin fanatics. But, even they may be turned off by a film so mired in the finer points of stale character development and jokes that are repeatedly hammered into the ground. Sure, the finale is as good as anything Woo Ping has directed, but it is too little too late. Its drudgery, like watching paint dry, the hour and ten minutes that leads up to the conclusion. There just isn't enough of a story and the jokes are not funny enough to justify the lack of action.

Luk chi kam moh

Mediocre flying kung fu fantasy
Brigitte Lin continues her fabulous track record of playing a superpowered martial artist (Bride with White Hair, Fire Dragon) as well as a cross dresser (Swordsman 2), with this fair high flying kung fu feature. Here she is Snow, protector of a powerful magic lyre that was intrusted to her by her father. Said lyre is the object of different clans of the martial world with leaders like The Hard Hearted Witch, Fire (Lord?), and Master Ghost. These leaders killed her father when she was a child. In order to lure the leaders into a trap, Snow has the lyre transported by Yuen Biao. Yuen is is supposed to be a hapless, carefree, young man, basically like the one he played in Zu Warriors ten years earlier, but his poc marked face and crooked grin no longer reflects the youthful acrobatic star. No, it's sad to say, but Yuen looks really old, and he doesn't really get to do enough to showcase his terrific skills. Anyway, there are pasts revealed, battles fought with animated energy punches, people flying, a few heads are ripped off, plumes of smoke erupt, and so on.

Deadful Melody is another in that line of fantasy Hong Kong Action flicks, like Zu Warriors (arguably the originator), Swordsman 2, Peacock King, and Chinese Ghost Story. It is a decent enough and should leave fans of this genre satisfied, but otherwise it is not great or a classic, by any means, just entertaining enough.

Wong ga si je IV: Jik gik jing yan

To say it is action packed is an understatement.
Great addition to the series.

The film opens in Seattle where, after meeting Cynthia in the obligatory opening kung fu scene, an innocent dockworker, Luk, accidentally runs across some corrupt CIA agents making a double-cross for a secret film negative. In a Hitchcockian twist, the negative is thought to be in the Luk's hands, when it actually has rolled into the water. Of course, no one believes the unlucky Luk doesn't have the film negative- not the CIA and not Donnie Yen, Michael Wong, or Cynthia, the cops on the case, who export Luk back to China. It is early on that Donnie is established as the hot tempered one, Cynthia is just Cynthia, and after playing a good guy in Royal Warriors (In the line of Duty 1) Michael Wong clearly is playing the good looking, but underhanded bad cop in league with the corrupt CIA. Despite trying to wine and dine Cynthia, she suspects Michael is a turncoat, and it takes awhile, and a lot of action for her to convince Donnie that Michael, his friend, is bad. All the while, they have to deal with protecting poor Luk from the renegade CIA agents at every corner.

The action (thanks to the great Yuen Woo Ping) is typical of the series, inventive and brutal, but what sets this one apart is the sheer number of action scenes. There are three kung fu fights and a shoot-out in the first fifteen minutes. In total (Yes, I counted) there are fourteen kung fu battles, three shoot-outs, a brief ice locker torture scene, a car bomb, two scenes involving hitmen on motorcycles, and two interrogation room beatings. Cynthia's highlights are a great fight on a moving ambulance in witch she is shoved though the window, her head dangling above the pavement, fighting on top of it, hanging off the front grill, and another fight with a fugly gwailo woman in a warehouse that involves some precarious scaffolding and elevator shaft fu. Donnie, however, has a the majority of the good fights, like a motorcycle chase and joust, as well as his fantastic final fight with a beefcake Ike Turner lookalike. If you are looking for action every three minutes, look no further.

The In the line of Duty series is mainly known for showcasing the talents of female action stars, Michelle Khan (Yeoh) and Cynthia Khan, however this entry is mainly Donnie Yen's chance to shine and one of the first films to gain him any notoriety as a lead. Before this films success, he was essentially going to give up hope for a movie career. Donnie actually saves Cynthia in most of her scenes. When she is drugged and fighting a knife wielding assassin, its Donnie to the rescue! When they are attacked by a motorcycle psycho hitman, its Donnie who takes him on. When Cynthia is fighting Michael Wong in the finale, it's only with Donnie's help that they finish him. So, its rather clear that Woo Ping favored Donnie, and, no disrespect to Cynthia, but kung fu fans are all the better for it.

Wong ga jin si

The first in a great series
SPOILER ALERT The plot centers on cops Michelle Khan (Yeoh), Hiroyuki "Henry" Sanada, and Michael Wong being pursued by revenge minded military men. After the obligatory opening showcasing Michelle kicking some butt, it all starts on a plane when two men kill a criminal being transported and highjack the plane. Luckily, also on the plane are Hong Kong cops Michelle and Michael, and Japanese ex-cop Yamamoto (Sanada), who thwart the highjacking and kill the bad guys. They land heroes, gloryhound Michael eating up the spotlight and turning on the charm towards Michelle, while Yamamoto is more concerned with patching up his marriage, reuniting with his wife and young daughter. It ends up that the two highjackers were part of a group of four military buddies who made a pact to always stay together and avenge one another if one should fall. One of the remaining men, `Bull', plants a bomb in Yamamoto's car and blows his wife and child up right in front of him. Yamamoto then uses Michelle and Michael as bait to lure the killer out and there is a huge shoot-out, kung fu battle in a restaurant in witch not only is Bull taken out, but many innocent bystanders are killed as well. Now, the last military psycho enters the picture, taking Michael hostage, intending to call out the hiding Yamamoto and Michelle, but Michael sacrifices himself. Despite this, or because of it, the killer comes up with an especially inventive and cruel bit to get Yamamoto and Michelle out into the open for the film's finale.

The action is all top notch, with some terrific fight work by Michelle and Sanada. Michael Wong sticks to mainly serving as happy-go-lucky relief until his sacrifice, and does fine, with his coy smiles and jokey demeanor. A curious part is the use of sympathetic flashbacks to show the bond between the military men, an interesting diversion from the regular one-dimensional villains. The only faltering point is a very lame use of a cheesy tank car in the finale (I call it Herbie: The Armored Assault Bug), witch is thankfully brief and made up for by Michelle's duel with the remaining baddie. This is modern Hong Kong classic, action packed from beginning to end, with a good story, and the launching point for a great film series.

Jesus' Son

F***head Gump
Jesus' Son is well acted, keenly directed, but ultimately hollow. Jesus' Son, like Trainspotting and Drugstore Cowboy, is yet another whimsical drug movie imbued with black comedy, surrealism, (two of my favorite things) and a hapless addict musing about life. It has it moments of tragedy, symbolism, bumbling humor, and poignancy, but, for all its existential moments, it still manages to come up being shallow, especially in the wake of better films about addiction.

The infuriating thing is that it plays like a sentimental Forrest Gump of drug culture. Through a series of vignettes, we follow different moments in the life of F***head, a wide eyed innocent, druggie, who rambles little insights about life, and despite causing misfortune, stumbles along with little regard for his actions. His coming into sobriety, near the end, seems to just be happenstance, and somehow, we are meant to show some kind of affection towards him. He falls into becoming an addict and just as easily falls out of it, still remaining pure of heart. It's this sickening casual attitude about addiction and F***head's nature that ruins the film; that he doesn't learn from his misfortune, deaths around him, but he is still some great, almost mythic, figure cluelessly touching other peoples lives. If you didn't buy into a millionaire simpleton (Gump), then you shouldn't buy into the thoughtful, forever innocent addict.

Crudup is good, he lives and walks in the skin of F***head, but despite some greasy hair, unflattering makeup, and coy facial expressions, he's still so damn handsome he doesn't remind me of any addict I've seen or known. Samantha Morton is, yet again, note for note perfect as his girlfriend, who introduces him to heroin. Dennis Leary, Dennis Hopper, and Holly Hunter also show up, but none of their characters are in the film long enough to be heavily defined. In other words, they are good, but they remain just Dennis Hopper, Dennis Leary, and Holly Hunter, not anyone else- one of my gripes, do not cast major actors in small roles. Jack Black is fantastic, worth a viewing for the Tenacious One alone. But, ultimately the film is empty despite the good performances.

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