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12 reviews in total 
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6 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Sartana is coming..., 3 March 2008

The fifth, and final if I'm not horribly mistaken, official entry in the Sartana series, sees director Giuliano Carnimeo (Anthony Ascott I'm looking at you) and regular Gianni Garko teaming for yet another spaghetti western mystery-cum-action extravaganza.

The plot is crafted in typical Carnimeo fashion, occasionally makes no sense, but is fun to watch as it unfolds its twists and turns, with a myriad of people trying to get ahold of 500,000$ dollars and $2 million counterfeit money. The whole cast puts in a good performance, the gorgeous Nieves Navarro (aka Susan Scott, known from A Pistol for Ringo and giallo efforts) easily standing out, not necessarily for her acting abilities though.

The final showdown in the empty streets of a town is as close to offering a monumental spaghetti western moment, the Sartana series will ever come. After Parolini's insurmountable original from 1968 that is. It's obviously, strongly influenced by Corbucci's Django (1966), but that doesn't detract from its psychotronic charm. Watch it and find out. Bruno Nicolai's score is like a second grade Morricone, but given Il Maestro's genius, even a second grade Morricone is a good thing. Combined with plenty of gunfights, greasy villains, conniving women and enough quirks and tricks to keep fans happy, this is a worthwhile second tier spaghetti western entry and Carnimeo's best in the Sartana series. Great for a Sunday afternoon...

4 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Entertaining closure for the Hanzo trilogy, 2 March 2008

The final chapter in the Hanzo the Razor trilogy provides fitting closure for this entertaining series of samuraisploitation. Inoue replaces Yasuzu Masumura (Blind Beast, Red Angel, Manji) in the director's chair, but the style is pretty much the same, perhaps due to Shintaro Katsu serving as the producer, apart from the titular antihero.

Hanzo uncovers a female ghost who is guarding treasure hidden in the bottom of the lake. Of course, Hanzo being Hanzo, he's not put off by the fact she's a ghost, so he proceeds to rape... ahem, interrogate her, using the now familiar revolving net device. The plot takes through a series of blind monks who also doubletime as loansharks, corrupt officials, promiscuous wives and the necessary hack and slash. Hanzo's superior officer, Onishi, and his two servants, provide the typical comedic notes, and generally, it's business as usual.

Significantly less convoluted and easier to follow than the first (which is all over the place and a bit of a mess), less stylish, dramatic and bloody than the second (arguably the finest in the Hanzo series), but still entertaining and worthwhile on its own merits. Complete with trademark training sequences, the obligatory rape, swordfights, and a mystery Hanzo is called upon to investigate, this will ultimately satisfy the fans.

3 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
very silly, if you're into this sort of thing, 29 February 2008

I generally dislike comedy in my kung fu, and prefer straight up revenge tales. Mad Monkey Kung Fu, strangely enough, combines both, but ultimately is more comedic than I would like.

That's not to say Chia-Liang Liu's direction isn't as good as ever, his choreographies mind-blowing and the kung fu on display impressive. My only gripe with the film, and the reason I largely didn't enjoy it, is that everything is utterly silly. I guess the monkey style kung fu is inherently silly, in and off itself, but Little Monkey's fights with Lo Lieh's thugs are more circus fare, complete with grimaces and silly quirks, than straight up kung fu.

What I DID like where the training scenes, where Master Chan trains Little Monkey (played over the top, and given his role, right on the money, by Hou Hsiao) in the ways of the monkey fu, . It's still very much played for laughs but pleasantly so.

Anyways, overall good performances by Hsiao, Lo Lieh and the foxy Kara Hiu (unfortunately in a short role), great choreographies as usual by Chia-Liang Liu, but too light-hearted for my tastes.

4 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Typical, if not sub-par, Sartana entry, 29 February 2008

The first Sartana (1968), by Gianfranco Parolini, is such a dark and brooding spaghetti western gem, that I can't help but wonder what could have happened to the rest of the Sartana entries in his, admittedly, more skillful hands.

Gianni Garko returns for the fourth time to play the titular black-clad anti-hero, after being replaced by the suave George Hilton for A Fistful of Lead. Garko is typically good as the amoral Sartana, in a plot that combines in typical Carnimeo fashion, mystery and action. After old prospector Benson is killed, several people try to get their hands on his land. Nuggets of gold, discovered in his burnt down shackle, suggest that the old prospector hit a motherlode. A corrupt banker and a Chinese saloon owner each will try to convince Benson's niece, now the sole heir of the property, that the land is nothing but acres of sand and therefore worth nothing. Sartana, as usual, is out for himself and will try to play everyone. Of course, things are not always what they seem. There are enough twists and turns to keep things adequately interesting plot-wise.

But plot is barely the reason I love spags. It's the pure style that I look forward, those little moments of pure cinematic gold scattered in the form of stylish shootouts, off-beat characters, weird angles and close-ups, and style-wise, there isn't enough to go around here. The production seems kind of rushed, which probably was, given the low production values. With this being the 4th Sartana entry, everyone seems to be on autopilot by now, and Carnimeo just gets things over in a workmanlinke way. Which is why I wish Parolini would have worked on the sequels. Carnimeo, never an A-list name even by spaghetti standards, seems to be more of an employee instead of an artist, just getting things on budget and on schedule for the producers.

Anyhow, suffice to say there are lots of better spaghettis out there. If you're a seasoned veteran, and need a quick spaghetti fix for a Sunday afternoon, Have a Good Funeral Amigo will do just fine. Just don't expect anything mind-blowing.

8 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
Sartana, angel of death!, 25 February 2008

It is very obvious why Sartana created an avalanche of sequels, only second to Django. Even if it looks like yet another tale about stolen gold, Mexican bandits and switching allegiances, Sartana feels (and is) different. Of course seen back in 1968, it must have wowed European audiences with its bleak cinematography and nihilistic characters. However, 40 years (!) down the line, and it still feels as refreshingly dark and stylish as ever.

As in with most spaghettis, the plot is near incomprehensible. It has something to do about a stolen shipment of gold and a constant switching of allegiances, as thief betrays thief to get the gold. But, again as in with most spaghettis, the plot isn't the issue at all.

Sartana (1968) is a capsule of pure spaghetti western style. Everything is kept very minimal here, from the scarce dialogues, to the perennially empty town streets. Yet there's a hellish ambiance to proceedings and the nonsensical plot only adds to its psychotronic charm. I gave up trying to follow the plot after a while and just immersed myself in the surreal happenings.

Sartana himself is like a crossover between The Man with no Name (the standard by which every spag antihero is measured) and Django, a black-clad amoral anti-hero. He's not out there to catch the baddies. He's just out for money and blood. His quirky gadgets often bring to mind the other Parolini character, Sabata, but Gianni Garko's character plays on a whole other level. There is of course, the occasional comic relief, in the form of an old gravedigger, but it only confirms that Sartana is indeed a grim western. That same darkness would resurface in Clint Eastwood's High Plains Drifter years later, on the other side of the pond.

Overall, this is a must see for SW afficionados. If you're a fan of Corbucci's nihilistic side (Django, The Great Silence), Sartana will make you cream your pants. Dark, stylish, with a streak of Euro horror running through it, Sartana is a criminally forgotten piece of celluloid. Watch it and find out.

Inside (2007)
100 out of 186 people found the following review useful:
À L'Intérieur - the geometry of a microbudget wonder!, 9 February 2008

The best reassurance that the Hellraiser remake is in good hands, is actually watching Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury's first movie. Once the credits roll, it becomes very clear why the team behind À L'Intérieur comes with Clive Barker's seal of approval.

The signs were on the wall. If Haute Tension and Scheitan were not enough proof that France is the epicentre of euro horror right now, this one just hammers the point home effortlessly. Taking a very simple premise (pregnant woman attacked by maniac woman in her house), the same awareness of scope and budget that made Saw effective, GALLONS of blood and a European flair for atmosphere, À L'Intérieur is simultaneously emotionally draining and bruising. The story takes place inside a house and that's it. It's more like three rooms actually. Very straight-forward and simple. That's called budget-awareness Asylum. And yes, it's very short too, clocking at a measly 78 minutes (5 of which are the credits). But, frankly, it couldn't have been anymore. It was enough to leave me exhausted.

There are easily more gory or more disturbing movies out there, but I can say that À L'Intérieur left me satisfied in both departments. There's something disturbing about pregnant women in peril and combined with scissors, exploding heads, custom built flame throwers and stabbing in the balls, it's gore heaven with the occasional cringe-worthy moment.

The violence is relentless and numbing. The splatter, of the same spraying variety that made Haute Tension's first half so beautiful. A particular scene of blood spraying across a wall would make Dario Argento and fans of Tenebre proud. Although, unlike HT, there are no gimmicks and ridiculous twists here. What makes À L'Intérieur so effective by comparison is that the violence piles up and leads to a climactic finale. And the final image is haunting beyond words...

Some people might be eager to dismiss it as torture porn, a hack term often thrown around these days. It might be so. But unlike rubbish like Hostel, it's packed with atmosphere, tension and has its heart set in all the right places. In the end of the day it's a horror movie. If some people want their horror watered-down, harmless and PG-13, the big studios will have something in store for them. À L'Intérieur is for the rest of us blood-hounds.

Anyways, grab it if you can find it. It just goes to show what you can do with a relatively small budget and DV technology.

1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
For Argento completists only..., 19 January 2008

I wonder what goes on in Argento's head sometimes. I'm a huge fan of his work, even his 90's stuff that is usually, and unfairly IMO, dismissed as sub par, but this one just pales in comparison. Not only is it the worst film in Argento's fodder by far, it's a BAD movie on all counts.

Now the usual flaws levelled at his work are bad acting and poor scripts, but this one just takes the cake. Ridiculous English accents from people that are obviously supposed to be Italian, and even the establishing shots make it obvious the movie is set in Italy (Turin actually). I could accept it if it was merely the English dubbed version, but from the lips movements, it was pretty clear the actors were speaking English. Awkward dialogues. Poor script, that can't for the life of it masquerade its ineptness through Hitchcock homages to Rear Window or Strangers on a Train. The "twist" and resolution make little sense. There's close to no gore, which on one hand is understandable as this is a TV movie produced for RAI Uno. But on the other hand, there's no suspense, and as this movie was constructed as a homage to the master of suspense, ultimately it fails. Actually, there's one scene that tries hard to be suspenseful (when Guillio tries to get away on a scooter from somebody chasing him), but it's handled woefully bad. The character is supposedly in real danger, but we never feel it, and the scene drags for too long. The comedic bits are far from funny. So what's left? Now, like any Argento fan would do, I would be ready to forget and forgive all these, if his usual flair for visual perfection was on display. But we get none of it. No intriguing camera work, no cameras peering from impossible angles, no rich set pieces, no perverse black-gloved killer, no inventive killings, nothing. Kind of like Jennifer, it's just so pedestrian, it breaks my heart. Pino Donaggio's music was nice and that was about it. I can't believe such a formulaic, uneventful thriller came out from the same guy that gave us Profondo Rosso.

For Argento completists only.

17 out of 19 people found the following review useful:
An acid trip by a much maligned director, 5 January 2008

Even though Lucio Fulci's name is usually uttered in the same breath as those of Mario Bava and Dario Argento in "who's the best Italian horror director?" discussions, he's just as likely to be dismissed as an incompetent hack that couldn't direct traffic. "A Lizard in a Woman's Skin", like the rest of his gialli efforts from the 70's is solid proof of the opposite. Unlike other genre efforts that leave the viewer baffled with ludicrous plot twists and impossible endings, "Lizard...", convoluted as it may be, ranks among the most solid crime mysteries the Italian scene produced.

Of course that doesn't mean the final 20 minutes aren't bound to give you a headache as the plot unfolds its myriad twists and turns. Every character is a suspect. In turns Carrol, her husband, two hippies, Carrol's step daughter and her father. Yet all the loose ends are tied very neatly in the end. Beautifully staged gore, great cinematography and hot European babes shedding their clothes are other genre staples and "Lizard.." doesn't dissappoint, even though it's gore-lite. It certainly doesn't live up to Fulci's rep (a rep not entirely representative of his vast work, spanning many different genres from westerns to crime action and comedies), but I have no problem when the overall quality is so good. Coupled with a languid jazzy score by the maestro, Ennio Morricone, solid performances, intriguing set pieces and delirious dream sequences, Fulci here weaves a beautiful tappestry that will leave no fan of bizarre Italo-horror disappointed. And if anything, it just goes to prove that Fulci was a great director, even if his post New York Ripper catalogue may suggest the opposite.

Apart from the final 20 minutes, where the labyrinthine plot unfolds through remarkable detective work, the first sequence is great. It's Carrol's dream. She's pushing her way through a narrow (train?) corridor full of people, in slo mo, with an anguished look on her face. Suddenly the corridor is full of naked people (also known as hippies). Then she's falling into the void with darkness surrounding her. She lands on a lavish velvet bed, dressed in a grey fur, and makes out with the gorgeous Annita Strindberg. I haven't been thrown off so much by an opening scene since Martino's "The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh" (another great sleazy psychedelic opening). The rest of the dream scenes, including the murder, are all dizzying and off-beat.

Overall, this is a must see for giallo fans, Fulci fans that want to discover his other side and all the nay sayers. If possible, try and find the uncut Italian version. It might be full-screen but you get 5 minutes of additional gore and nudity.

2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
The last man on earth deserved a lot better., 5 January 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I Am Legend, the third incarnation of Matheson's eponymous novel, after The Last Man on Earth with the great Vincent Price and The Omega Man with the not so great Charlton Heston, had all the makings of a modern day classic, but, naturally, they managed to blow everything. The first third of the movie is very good, not great, but it sets the tone. The CGI of a barren Manhattan with overgrown foliage and wild animals is eerie and very effective. Then BLAM Will Smith comes riding a Ford Mustang (or whatever that car was). It just felt so out of place IMO, even though it's a nod to the previous Legend installment, The Omega Man. It's the kind of stuff that's screaming Hollywood, and even though it IS a Hollywood production, they had a chance to prove that they can do a lot better than glossy product placement. But no. This is very indicative of how the potential I Am Legend carried was totally mishandled. You're making a post-apocalyptic horror movie. You want to communicate the despondency of a a world without future. And if the Bob Marley songs were a smart and emotional contradiction to the empty streets of New York, a Ford Mustang has no place. Save it for Fast and Furious...

On the other hand, Will Smith WAS Neville and his performance effortlessly carries most of what makes this movie worthwhile. He was chewing scenery for the first half of the movie with ease. A fantastic performance, worthy of an A-list actor if I ever saw one. I wouldn't ever imagine the titular Bad Boy would be capable of portraying insanity and desperation so well, but Smith just exceeded all expectations. The guy just looked like he had lived 3 years alone, his eyes communicated that. The parts where he's talking to the record store dummies stood out for me. You can't tell if he's knowingly talking to them out of genuine loneliness or if he's losing it.

Even the first glimpse of the much maligned CGI monsters wasn't THAT bad. I was expecting a lot worse, and I sighed in relief. Little did I know, that the worse was yet to come. Anyway, the scene where Neville goes looking for his dog in a dark, dingy basement, and stumbles upon a "zombie" hive, with the infected "sleeping" up right with their backs turned was very creepy. But for *beep*'s sake, the director had absolutely no clue about building suspense and tension. Less is more. It's the essence of horror. He needn't go all the way back to Nightmare on Elm Street or Alien to study how the less the baddie appears on screen, the more terrifying he becomes in the mind's eye. A look at recent British horror flick The Descent and how they handled their creatures, would have solved many his problems. Instead of leaving more to the imagination and showing the infected on rare occasions or for a few seconds at a time (like the first time we see them in the basement), which would also mask the cringe-worthy CGI, they show the infected screaming, running around, beating each other, climbing on top of cars, street lights, even friggin walls. I never felt tension or claustrophobia building, when we were expecting the infected to attack. Nothing like Alien and how you're expecting the Giger-ish nightmare to leap from every dark corner and tear the hero apart. Just Will Smith being hunted by pixels. Or dozens of Gollums. I was expecting Frodo to come to the rescue any time.

Then we have the final third of the movie. The second one was already bordering "meh" territory, with Shrek monologues, incomplete backstory and plot holes large enough to drive a Land Rover through. But the third part just takes the cake. I stood there, scratching my head. What the *beep* did I just watch? Some gun fight play, the infected climbing walls, Smith going down to the basement and VOILA, the antidote he was working on is ready. How convenient. Then we get a laughably BAD scene where the Alpha Male is trying to break down a glass wall with his head. I think I lost a couple hundred brain cells right there. Worse than smoking pot. Frankly the whole house invasion should have been a preliminary to the final action. It just felt inadequate.

Anyways, that's my rant. I didn't go in expecting a masterpiece, but I am Legend was so disappointing because it HAD potential. This was no kiddie stuff. No Harry Potter or Golden Compass. Of course that has more to do with the amazing source material, thanks to Matheson's novel, but still. Add to that, Smith's excellent performance, the eerie streets of Manhattan, the horror of defending against hordes of infected that may or may not have traces of humanity left in them. It sounds like a mix between 28 Days Later and Cast Away, but it's less than the sum of its parts. In the hands of a more competent director, without the blockbuster excesses and the natural dumbing down to cater to the average joe of a Hollywood production, this could have been a modern day classic.

5/10 and it may go down on repeat viewings.

Proxy War (1973)
17 out of 18 people found the following review useful:
The decline of eastern civilization part 3, 4 January 2008

Chances are, if you're reading this, you've already seen the first two installments or have a vague idea of what The Yakuza Papers are all about. Battles without Honor and Humanity. That sums up the yakuza lifestyle pretty well, and even though I haven't done any research on the actual yakuza, there's a palpable sense of gritty realism in Fukasaku's crime sagas that is very convincing.

Proxy War is another chapter in the long series of betrayal, scheming and chaos among the rival families of Hiroshima. Alliances are formed only to be broken the next second and rival parties are renonciled only to go at it again the next day. Without going into much details, Proxy War details the chronicles that led to the Hiroshima battle between the Yamamori and the Akashi families in the early 60's. There's a semblance of honor among thieves here, but it's just a semblance. These people lack the warped sense of honor and loyalty the Cosa Nostra had. As Hirono says, "he just wants a safe ground to stand". The same could be said for all of them.

Once again, Bunta Sugawara steals the show as Shizo Hirono, and there's also a welcome cameo by the beautiful Reiko Ike (a pinku regular). There's not as much blood as in previous installments, but when violence erupts, you feel it. Fukasaku's direction is solid and keeps the convoluted plot going on a steady pace. The fights and shootings are gritty and raw, there's no Guy Ritchie glamour or glorified violence here. It kind of reminds me of the urban guerilla film-making of a Cassavetes or Mean Streets-era Scorsese. Coupled with a haunting score, and great performances all around, PW doesn't dissappoint.

There's a semblance of honor among thieves here, but it's just a semblance. These people lack the warped sense of honor and loyalty the Cosa Nostra had. As Hirono says, "he just wants a safe ground to stand". The same could be said for all of them.

My only gripe is, that plot-wise, there's no counter-balance to the scheming and back stabbing. Unlike The Godfather and other crime epics about the Italian mob, we never get to see the criminal side of the Yakuza. Money-laundering, smuggling, drug trafficking, prostitution, they're the bread and butter of any self respecting mob. Yet we never get a glimpse of that world in The Yakuza Papers. And if the unrelenting violence and interesting plot were enough to make the first two installments amazing, it gets repetitive here. People gather around tables to discuss their plans, form alliances, break alliances and that's it for most of the time. IMO it would be more interesting if the two aspects were combined. As it is, it feel kind of incomplete. The Akashi family, for example, butt in to help Uchimoto, but it's obvious that apart from defending the honor of their sworn brother, in the same time, it serves as a way of getting in the Hiroshima underworld. Yet we never witness what makes said underworld a place worth risking their men over.

All in all, this is strongly recommended to people who enjoyed the first parts of the series. If you're a newcomer, start with the first one. The plot, characters and motivations will make more sense. And you'll know by the point you reach Proxy War, if this is your cup of tea or not.

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