Total Recall (1990)

total_recall_xlgStarring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, Sharon Stone, Ronny Cox, Michael Ironside, Marshall Bell, Mel Johnson Jr., Michael Champion, Roy Brocksmith, Ray Baker, Dean Norris, Debbie Lee Carrington

Directed by Paul Verhoeven

Expectations: I expect to get my ass to Mars.

fourstar


Total Recall is possibly the greatest movie ever made. It doesn’t have a single slow moment; its pace is relentless and unforgiving. The special FX work throughout still looks amazing, seamlessly bringing the near-future world and the surface of Mars to brilliant life. Director Paul Verhoeven, hot off of the equally incredible RoboCop, squeezes every last ounce of entertainment and excitement out of every shot in Total Recall.

The script might be the film’s greatest aspect, though. Total Recall is based on a Philip K. Dick story called We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, but the film isn’t all that much like the story. Usually I’d complain about this kind of thing, but in the case of Total Recall the screenplay takes the ideas from the short story and creates a thrill ride for the ages. Most importantly, it doesn’t just use the ideas, but also the overarching themes that run through so much of Dick’s work. Dick’s major theme — the nature of reality and what is truly real — is in full effect in Total Recall. The lines between reality and dream are constantly blurred, and even at the end of the film this question is never answered, just as Dick ends many of this novels.

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Decadent Evil II (2007)

decadentevil2_2Decadent Evil II (2007)
AKA Decadent Evil Dead II

Starring Jill Michelle, Daniel Lennox, Jessica Morris, Ricardo Gil, Jon-Paul Gates, James C. Burns, Mike Muscat, Rory Williamson

Directed by Charles Band

Expectations: Low.

On the general scale:
onehalfstar

On the B-movie scale:
twostar


Decadent Evil II has a bigger budget, more FX, and more decadence than the original film. I guess in that way it’s everything you could want a sequel to be. Somewhere in the writing process, though, they forgot to add in enough of the comedic elements that helped the original film be the dumb fun it was. Decadent Evil II isn’t anywhere close to straight horror, but it’s much too straight for a story as inherently dumb and recycled as this one is.

Our story picks up shortly after the events of Decadent Evil, with the vampire Sugar (Jill Michelle) and her human boyfriend Dex (Daniel Lennox) on the run with the caged homunculus Marvin in tow. Also along for the ride is the corpse of Phil Fondacaro’s character Ivan (played here by Ricardo Gil), stuffed into a suitcase. I guess being the corpse of a three-foot-tall vampire hunter has its benefits. Sugar and Dex are tracking down the elder vampire that will take the place of Morella (see DE1) as leader of the vampire bloodline, and their search has brought them to good ol’ Littlerock, AR. And where might this bloodthirsty fiend of the night be hiding his dusty bones? In a strip club, naturally.

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Chinese New Year Special: My Top 10 Under-the-Radar Shaw Brothers Films (as of Feb 2015)

lion-dance-chinese-new-year-3

Gung Hay Fat Choy!
恭禧發財

It’s Chinese New Year (also known as Lunar New Year) and Celestial Pictures, owners of the wonderful Shaw Brothers film library, have asked me to contribute something to their big celebration. Yesterday I published a list of my 10 favorite Shaw films, but there’s too many great Shaw films for me to just leave it at that. So I came up with this list, offering up another 10 great films! This one’s more for the seasoned Shaw fan than it is for the newcomer, but who am I to say that you have to start with the genre’s so-called favorites? Start wherever you like!

As with the previous list: Before you send me hate mail and “Why isn’t so-and-so movie on the list?” comments, I haven’t seen a lot of the Shaw Brothers films past 1972 (the year I’ve most recently finished in my chronological series), so that’s why this list steers toward the early years of their color martial arts output. But I imagine a good many fans are the opposite of me and haven’t seen a lot of the early films, so I hope this list is a help. In any case, I’m not trying to say these are the best or anything, just my favorites. With that in mind, here’s my Top 10 Under-the Radar Shaw films as it currently stands (and in no particular order), with links to where you can get ahold of them!

Killers Five (1969)
Directed by Cheng Kang
Reviewed February 10, 2012killersfive

One of the best parts of doing my chronological Shaw Brothers series is discovering great directors I previously knew nothing about. Cheng Kang is at the top of that list, and Killers Five is the first of three films of his on this list. I’m a sucker for any kind of movie where a team is recruited for a dangerous mission, and Killers Five is an incredibly entertaining Shaw Brothers version of the tried-and-true formula.

Killers Five is currently only available on an out-of-print Region 3 DVD through Amazon or YesAsia.

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Chinese New Year Special: My Top 10 Favorite Shaw Brothers Films (as of Feb 2015)

LA_ChineseNewYear

Gung Hay Fat Choy!
恭禧發財

It’s Chinese New Year (also known as Lunar New Year) and Celestial Pictures, owners of the wonderful Shaw Brothers film library, have asked me to contribute something to their big celebration. I thought that a list like this would provide newcomers to the Shaw films a few places to start their journey, and provide me an interesting picture to look back on as I continue to work my way through more of the Shaw Catalog.

Before you send me hate mail and “Why isn’t so-and-so movie on the list?” comments, I haven’t seen tons of the great Shaw Brothers classics that I’m sure will eventually vie for a place on this list when I do see them. That’s part of the reason I started my chronological series, to eventually see them all. I’m also not trying to say these are the best or anything, just my favorites. With that in mind, here’s my Top 10 Shaw Favorites as it currently stands (and in no particular order), with links to where you can get ahold of them!

The Super Inframan (1975)
Directed by Hua Shan
Reviewed by Uncle Jasper June 17, 2010inframan_1

The Super Inframan is one of those movies that most people would call campy and a waste of their time. For me, I was in love with it about four seconds into the movie. I’ve never understood why “campy” was considered a bad thing. Whatever, it’s their loss. The Super Inframan is an incredibly fun film, packed with so much imagination and wild visuals that it remains endlessly re-watchable.

The Super Inframan is available on DVD, and digitally at iTunes and Google Play.

Continue reading Chinese New Year Special: My Top 10 Favorite Shaw Brothers Films (as of Feb 2015) →

Purple Darts (1969)

purpledarts_3Purple Darts [紫金鏢] (1969)

Starring Wang Ling, Tung Li, Ou Wei, Cho Kin, Li Kuan-Chang, Lee Fung, Cheung Sai-Sai, Chow Siu-Hing, Tai Leung, Cheung Ching-Fung

Directed by Pan Lei

Expectations: Fairly low.

threehalfstar


It’s a shame that Purple Darts is one of the Shaw Brothers films that never received a DVD release from Celestial, because it’s a great wuxia full of fun characters and tense fights. Its story isn’t always the slickest, the characters’ motivations are usually somewhat cloudy and unexplained, there are “important” things that ultimately mean nothing, and the choreography leaves a lot to be desired, but Purple Darts finds ways to make those discrepancies fly away like a slick wuxia hero. It’s by far the best film I’ve seen from Pan Lei, and I’m sad that his final martial arts film for the Shaw Brothers, 1971’s The Merciful Sword, is currently MIA. Maybe it’ll eventually turn up like Purple Darts.

Like many Shaw martial arts films from the 1960s, Purple Darts opens with an infant in peril. Her parents are under assault from four villainous figures of the martial world: Bai Feng the Butcher, Lu Dachao the Bull Demon, Gu Miaozhen the Seducer, and Wang Yizhou The Wind Waving Scholar. Together they seek the Great Mystery Scriptures, a kung fu manual with unexplained power and importance. The infant’s mother manages to smuggle her out through a hidden tunnel, and an old man takes the baby in. Cue the credits! And now, just as in a good majority of these ’60s wuxias, the credits end and the infant is now a 20-something adult in search of vengeance for the crimes against her parents!

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The Command (1954)

thecommand_3Starring Guy Madison, Joan Weldon, James Whitmore, Carl Benton Reid, Harvey Lembeck, Ray Teal, Robert Nichols, Don Shelton

Directed by David Butler

Expectations: None.

twohalfstar


The Command features an interesting premise for a fairly standard “Cowboys & Indians” western: after the Captain of the cavalry unit is killed, the unit’s doctor is given command of the company until they reach Ft. Stark and a hard-earned rest. But along they way, the cavalry runs into an Infantry Unit escorting a wagon train of civilians through Indian country. The infantry commander requests the cavalry unit to provide support on their journey, so now what was to be a short career in command for Dr. Robert MacClaw (Guy Madison) becomes a test of the doctor’s ability to save lives on a massive scale through strategy and confidence, instead of healing.

This kind of story, where an unlikely hero rises to the occasion, is nothing new (even in 1954, I’m sure), and The Command doesn’t do a lot to separate itself from the pack. Guy Madison has a great presence as the doctor turned commander, evoking the sensitivity of a caring doctor well. The only problem is that he begins the film nearly as confident as he ends it, so his struggle to find strength is more of a red herring than it initially seems. The film is actually more about MacClaw proving himself and earning the respect of the men he’s leading through dangerous territory. This is further complicated for MacClaw with the introduction of the infantry, who apparently have a long-standing rivalry with the cavalry, so the Doc must also convince these infantrymen and their commander that he’s worthy of their trust and respect.

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Fearless Hyena Part II (1983)

fearlesshyena2_1Fearless Hyena Part II [龍騰虎躍] (1983)
AKA Superfighter 2

Starring Jackie Chan, Austin Wai Tin-Chi, Yen Shi-Kwan, Kwan Yung-Moon, James Tin Jun, Chan Wai-Lau, Hon Gwok-Choi, Dean Shek Tin, Ma Cheung, Peng Kong, Wong Chi-Sang, Pearl Lin Yin-Zhu

Directed by Chan Chuen

Expectations: Pretty much none.

twostar


There’s no doubt that the circumstances under which Fearless Hyena II was made are exploitative, but who said exploitation wasn’t fun? Sure, it re-uses scenes from Spiritual Kung Fu and The Fearless Hyena, it has Jackie body doubles, and it has a plot that jumps around in order to make sure that Jackie “I Just Left Lo Wei’s Company to make Good Movies” Chan doesn’t need to be in every scene. It has all of these “problems” and more. But in terms of the bad movies that Jackie made with Lo Wei, Fearless Hyena II is surprisingly one of more entertaining ones. With things like jungle spike traps and two-character team-up attacks, I couldn’t help but enjoy myself.

The story is surprisingly deep, original and heartfelt your standard kung fu movie plot: The Heaven and Earth Devils, two dudes with evil beards and hairdos, are attempting to eradicate the Ching family’s 6-8 Magic kung fu style from existence. Only two Ching brothers and their two sons remain of the family, and even after they have been in hiding for over 15 years, the Heaven and Earth Devils have remained stalwart in their villainous quest. These are some seriously evil dudes. Well, to be fair to the Heaven Devil (the always awesome Yen Shi-Kwan), does say that he’s taking out the Ching brothers to avenge his father’s death. So maybe they’re actually the “good” guys. After all, we can’t judge people solely by their evil eyebrows — sorry, I meant to say maybe-evil-maybe-good-who-can-really-know-the-content-of-a-man’s-soul-from-an-eyebrow eyebrows.

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