Sam Fuller’s TV Work Pt. 3: Iron Horse – Hellcat & Volcano Wagon

In Part 3 of my look at the television episodes directed by Samuel Fuller we’re focused on his third and fourth episodes of Iron Horse: Hellcat and Volcano Wagon. According to Fuller in his book, A Third Face, he only remembers one of the six Iron Horse episodes he made, and these ain’t it! I’d think it’d be hard to forget something you made called Volcano Wagon, but this period in Fuller’s career was a definite rough patch. Even though the following years would bring much artistic frustration and strife, they also finally brought The Big Red One to life and Fuller also met his wife Christa in the years following this stint on Iron Horse. So it makes sense if he wiped out this small bit of forgettable work for hire from his memory banks.


ironhorse_hellcat_1Iron Horse: Hellcat (1966)
First aired: 12/26/1966

Starring Dale Robertson, Arlene Martel, Harry Landers, Vincent Beck, John War Eagle, Tony Young

Written by Samuel Fuller & Oliver Crawford

Directed by Samuel Fuller


Hellcat preserves the general structure of the previous two Iron Horse episodes I’ve seen, in that it involves one of the BPS&D (Buffalo Pass, Scalplock, & Defiance Railroad) employees surveying ahead of the train in order to secure the rights to build the railroad through the land. This time it’s Calhoun who’s out on the trail, and he’s also the only main cast member to appear in the episode. Even the train doesn’t make an appearance! Calhoun is out scouting deep in Indian territory when he comes upon a couple of roughneck cowboys attempting to rape a Native American woman. Once again Fuller chooses to favor long shots of stunt people fighting. Modern filmmaking always favors the more visceral up-close approach to bring the viewer in the action, but stepping back and watching these cowboys wail on this struggling woman feels more real to me. It’s like being a powerless bystander, which really enhances the emotional response. I’ve written many times about Fuller using this technique, but it never ceases to impress me.

Continue reading Sam Fuller’s TV Work Pt. 3: Iron Horse – Hellcat & Volcano Wagon →

Wheels on Meals (1984)

wheelsonmeals_posterWheels on Meals [快餐車] (1984)
AKA Spartan X, Million Dollar Heiress

Starring Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, Lola Forner, Benny Urquidez, Keith Vitali, Pepe Sancho, Paul Chang Chung, Richard Ng, John Shum Kin-Fun, Wu Ma

Directed by Sammo Hung

Expectations: The highest.

fourstar


Wheels on Meals is an old favorite, but it’s one of those movies that slipped through the cracks and I haven’t seen it in over 10 years. In the intervening years many films have come and gone, leaving very little of my memories of this film intact, but that’s OK because watching it this time around was almost like seeing it again for the first time. And with a film as enjoyable as Wheels on Meals, that’s a real gift.

What’s interesting about Wheels on Meals is that on the surface it’s a very simple, almost storyless film. So much of the first half is just random antics and gags, and while they’re all incredibly entertaining, there isn’t a traditional drive to them like you expect a movie to have. But as the film progresses it becomes apparent that the film’s plotting is actually very tight, controlled and slowly bringing the pieces together. In a way it feels similar to the fight choreography of the film; it’s simply flawless.

Continue reading Wheels on Meals (1984) →

The Sky Has Fallen (2009)

skyhasfallenStarring Carey MacLaren, Laurel Kemper, Cory Knisely, Grant Anstine, Kevin Keppy, Nathan Shelton, Mickey Stone

Directed by Doug Roos

Expectations: None.

On the general scale:
onestar

On the B-movie scale:
onehalfstar


I’m sure many visitors to Silver Emulsion have wondered why I sometimes watch films so far outside the mainstream cinema experience. My answer is always that I desire to see something unique and raw that would never make it into a big-budget production, and The Sky Has Fallen is a great example of this. Did I enjoy the film? Not really, but I’m not sorry I watched it. I doubt I will forget it anytime soon actually; it’s such a strange, unique movie that I kept watching to see if I could uncover what I thought might be happening in the story. The Sky Has Fallen is ultimately ambiguous about the origins of the creatures it contains (or I missed something :) ), and that’s for the best. Now I can theorize and wonder, and the hooded figures (that kind of resembled the angels in the Diablo series of video games) will forever remain mysterious.

The Sky Has Fallen is essentially a zombie film, with a pair of characters doing their best to survive in the forest while the walking dead assault them. It’s a basic premise we’re all familiar with by this point. But flashes of bloody claw-like, knife hands quickly inform us that this is not a traditional zombie world. These zombies are kind of like experiments gone wrong, with mutated faces and metal scraps jammed into their severed limbs. Everything is achieved through physical FX work, too, so it all looks nicely ooey and gooey.

Continue reading The Sky Has Fallen (2009) →

Alien Arsenal (1999)

alienarsenal_6Alien Arsenal (1999)
AKA Alien Weapons

Starring Josh Hammond, Danielle Hoover, Michele Nordin, Krisztián Kovács, Jerrod Cornish, William Vogt, Riley Smith, Dominic Catrambone, Stephanie Mennella, Chris Olivero, Robert Donavan, Brenda Blondell

Directed by David DeCoteau

Expectations: Moderate.

On the general scale:
twohalfstar

On the B-movie scale:
threestar


Pretty boys in their underwear with varying levels of acting quality? Must be time for another David DeCoteau film! Alien Arsenal is a loose remake of Laserblast, one of my favorite Full Moon films. Generally I’m against remakes, but Laserblast is the kind of movie that could definitely use some improvement. Don’t get me wrong, I love it just how it is, but it’s the ultimate “Let’s roll with this movie’s inherent shittiness and have a good time” movie. Sure, Laserblast has a massive amount of slo-mo explosions LASERBLASTS, blowing up everything from popcorn machines to bullies driving hot rods, but you have to wade through a river of shit to get to them.

For the most part, Alien Arsenal does a good job of taking Laserblast and applying a plot to the general premise. That’s right, Laserblast is largely a plotless film, strung together by nothing more than teenage rage and fiery explosions. Alien Arsenal retains the premise of a bullied teen acquiring an alien weapon, but the whys and the hows are much more than, “He finds it in the desert.”

Continue reading Alien Arsenal (1999) →

Quick Takes: Ichi the Killer, The Legend Is Born: Ip Man, John Wick

ichiIchi the Killer [殺し屋1] (1994)
threehalfstar

Starring Tadanobu Asano, Nao Omori, Shin’ya Tsukamoto, Paulyn Sun, Susumu Terajima, Shun Sugata, Toru Tezuka, Yoshiki Arizono, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Satoshi Niizuma, Suzuki Matsuo, Jun Kunimura
Directed by Takashi Miike

Ichi the Killer is the third feature I’ve seen from Takashi Miike, and damn he’s good. A film like this that’s so incredibly bloody and violent, but yet the main takeaway is the need for a deep intellectual discussion… that’s hard to pull off. It ultimately felt like Miike had crafted a film that wonders about the people who watch these kinds of films (or violent, “negative” media in general) with an armchair bloodlust. This all seemed to hinge on one small moment during the finale when a character in extreme peril looks directly into the camera with intense fear, while that same camera is presenting a first-person view from the character instilling this fear in the other. In any case, this is definitely not a film for the squeamish, as it’s one hell of an extreme, sadistic bloodbath. Audition may have gotten the “this movie is so crazy and shocking” press, but Ichi the Killer is a million times worse than Audition. The nipple scene is sheer torture! I literally pushed my chair back as far as it would go, cringed and repeated “Goddamn!” in a whisper for the next 30 seconds or so. Good stuff.

TheLegendIsBornIpMan+2010-3-bThe Legend Is Born: Ip Man [葉問前傳] (2010)
AKA Ip Man Zero
threestar

Starring Dennis To, Crystal Huang Yi, Xu Jiao, Hins Cheung King-Hin, Fan Siu-Wong, Yuen Biao, Lam Suet, Yip Chun, Bernice Liu Bik-Yi, Sire Ma Choi, Rose Chan Ka-Wun, Sammo Hung
Directed by Herman Yau

I initially avoided The Legend Is Born: Ip Man out of respect for the original Ip Man films. I didn’t want to see any watered-down knock-offs. But then it occurred to me that it was no different than all the Brucesploitation films that are a lot of fun, so I plunged in head-first, hoping it wouldn’t be as trashy as a you might expect a knock-off to be. And, you know, it actually felt more respectful of Ip Man’s legacy than Ip Man 2 was! The Legend Is Born even features Ip Man’s son, Ip Chun, in a wonderful role as an elder student of Wing Chun that has developed a more refined and varied approach to the fighting style that revolutionizes Ip Man’s way of thinking. This reminded me greatly of Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do style, and if this section of the film was truthful to Ip Man’s life, then I imagine it was this spirit of openness to other styles and ways of thinking that he would later pass on to Bruce. I loved the focus on Wing Chun in The Legend Is Born, and it’s definitely one for Hong Kong fans to watch. In some ways it actually felt like an older-style kung fu film that is generally no longer made, and you know that kind of thing is a quick way to my heart. And it has Yuen Biao and Sammo Hung in supporting roles!

johnwickJohn Wick (2014)
AKA Sin Control, John Wick: Sin Control

twostar

Starring Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe, Dean Winters, Adrianne Palicki, Omer Barnea, Toby Leonard Moore, Daniel Bernhardt, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane, Lance Reddick, Clarke Peters
Directed by Chad Stahelski & David Leitch

I just didn’t connect with John Wick at all. I blame the fan hype that sold it as some kind of John Woo-style gun movie. I didn’t see that in it AT ALL. The way the violence was handled felt really gross. It’s the same problem I have with a lot of modern horror films: everything looks too damn real or graphic for me to just have fun with it. I am forced to reckon with the reality of the situation, which in this case is John Wick revenge-killing a whole shitload of dudes. All the violence is really flippant and backed by “cool” music, too, so everything about the violence felt glorified and dirty to me. I can’t have fun with that. Does this even make sense to anyone but me? It’s hard to explain. Whatever. I didn’t like it. ’nuff said.

Sam Fuller’s TV Work Pt. 2: Iron Horse – High Devil & The Man from New Chicago

In Part 2 of my look at the television episodes directed by Samuel Fuller we’re focused on his first two episodes of Iron Horse: High Devil and The Man from New Chicago. In A Third Face, Sam Fuller is not shy about how most of his work in television was done for cold hard cash, and I really got the feeling from his book that he despised working on Iron Horse the most. When he quickly discusses the show in his book, he flat-out admits that he only remembers one of the six episodes he made. His heart just wasn’t in it. By this time in the later ’60s, he was really having trouble getting his film projects going so it makes sense that he would finally relent and do a good-sized stint at a TV show.


ironhorse_highdevil_2Iron Horse: High Devil (1966)
First aired: 09/26/1966

Starring Dale Robertson, Gary Collins, Robert Random, Louise Sorel, Charles H. Gray, James Best, Hardie Albright, Dal Jenkins, Fred Dale

Written & Directed by Samuel Fuller


I had never seen — or even heard of — Iron Horse before delving into the work of Sam Fuller, and based on my first episode I’m not eager to know any more about the show. It seems like the basic premise is that Ben Calhoun (Dale Robertson) won a railroad line in a poker game (in the pilot episode, I’m guessing) and is now making his way around the west trying to expand the line. He’s got some photographer buddies traveling with him, but they didn’t stand out to me at all, or even seem to matter much in the episode.

Continue reading Sam Fuller’s TV Work Pt. 2: Iron Horse – High Devil & The Man from New Chicago →

Black List (1972)

U89u7doBlack List [黑名單] (1972)
AKA Ninja Terminator, Ninja Heat, Ninja Blacklist

Starring Chan Sing, Henry Yu Yung, Michael Chan Wai-Man, Si Ming, Louise Lee Si-Kei, Fong Yau, San Kuai, Gai Yuen, James Yi Lui, Lee Man-Tai

Directed by John Law Ma

Expectations: Moderate.

twostar


Black List has the distinction of being one of the top 10 grossing films of 1972 in Hong Kong, but I had a hard time seeing why it would have been so popular. To think that this mediocre film did better than many of the Shaw films, even exceptionally good ones, is hard to fathom. Black List does have a somewhat ahead-of-its-time gritty vibe thanks to the location shooting, something that virtually none of the Shaw films of the era have, so maybe that helped. Golden Harvest was also becoming highly successful around this time by utilizing similar, location-based filming methods. I imagine Chan Sing was something of a big star at the time as well, as he had featured in many Shaw films by this point and had starred in fellow top 10 film The Good and the Bad in the same year.

Black List has one of those ultra-simple storylines that is setup within the opening minute or so. We see Zhao Ying-Long (Chan Sing) released from prison, and his brother Zhao Ying-Hu (Henry Yu Yung) is outside the gates awaiting his arrival. After an embrace, Ying-Hu hands Ying-Long a piece of paper and tells him that over the last six years he has uncovered the men responsible for framing him and sending him to prison. Ying-Long vows to kill every last one of the sons of bitches on his “black list,” and that’s about 95% of the story in the film.

Continue reading Black List (1972) →

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