Friday, March 29, 2013

Women in Cages (1971) Review

Women in Cages poster
Director: Gerardo de Leon
Stars: Pam Grier, Roberta Collins, Judith Brown
Genre: Exploitation

A sort of spiritual successor to The Big Doll House, which came out only months earlier. It features much of the same cast (Pam Grier, Roberta Collins, Judy Brown), the same producer (Roger Corman) and it also shares a near identical plot and set of characters. I suppose the question then is, which is better?

The plot follows, as you may expect from a film of the Women in Prison subgenre, women in prison who wish to escape. In this particular case (as with The Big Doll House) the prison is run by a sadistic lesbian guard (played by Pam Grier, in a reverse role from last time). Throw in some stuff about heroin and prostitution and you've got yourself a prime exploitation picture!

In many ways Women in Cages is better than The Big Doll House, but in some regards it's worse. First off the cinematography and general imagery is much better here. I daresay that Gerry de Leon was a bit more competent of a director than Jack Hill in that area. So, in turn, we get a film that actually looks pretty cool. 

The acting, as is to be expected, isn't exactly great. But any exploitation fan will be happy enough seeing the likes of Pam Grier and Roberta Collins on screen at once. So though the acting may be b-grade, the cast is definitely good...if you're a fan of course.

Roberta Collins in Women in Cages

There's not quite as much nudity in here as you may expect from a film about a sadistic lesbian and a prison full of women. Which, I suppose, is a bit disappointed for a film titled as such. The mud-wrestling and food fights of The Big Doll House certainly has Women in Cages beat when it comes to the tits-and-ass department.

The film is mostly without a score but what little soundtrack there is is pretty decent.

Pam Grier in Women in Cages

It's not a terrible exploitation flick and it's pretty enjoyable throughout. Watch it for the legendary Pam Grier and the beautiful Roberta Collins. For fans of the genre only. 

2.5/5 stars

Purchase Women in Cages on Amazon: Blu-Ray - DVD - Stream - VHS

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

An Analysis of The Master (2012)

The Master poster
[part of a series in which I closely examine and dissect a particular film]

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Genre: Psychological Drama

Please keep in mind that this is an analysis of the film and not a review. I will not be covering things I normally cover in my reviews. It is opinionated and merely my interpretation. It is primarily for those who have already seen the film and does contain major spoilers.

Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) is a former member of the U.S. Navy of WWII. He also happens to be a sex crazed alcoholic with more than a few mental issues and is, in all possibility, quite insane. The natural assumption would be that he is shell-shocked and traumatized from the war (he later states that he did in fact kill Japs in the war) and he is having trouble, as many soldiers had, readjusting to society. This, to me, is too simple and typical of an explanation. This film is more than just a character study of a veteran. 

I think Freddie's problems go much deeper than the war. Much earlier. This is evidenced by three things we find out about Freddie that reflect his current behavior: (1) his mother was psychotic and institutionalized, (2) he had incest sex with his aunt numerous times, (3) his father was a drunk and died because of it. Each of these three insights into Freddie's past quite blatantly make-up much of his own character today. I think it is quite easy to assume that Freddie comes from a broken home, a very disjointed family. This leads to my next conclusion: that The Master is about Freddie and his quest for family, stability, belonging, and companionship. In a dream that Freddie recalls he was just sitting with his mother and father at a table and talking, having a good time. This is what Freddie wanted--a happy family--and it's the one thing he had the most trouble finding. 

I suspect that Freddie joined the Navy in hopes of finding a family there. I suspect he failed, or perhaps he did find a family but only temporarily. Or maybe he found a family and companions and a sense of purpose only to have it all taken away whether it be through death, the end of the war, etc. The details don't quite matter. The point is that years after the war ended Freddie was a dissatisfied alcoholic who could still only think about sex and booze. 

Freddie worked as a photographer at a department store for a time. Constantly taking pictures of children and families and husbands and wives led him to finally snap, constantly reminded of what he wants but doesn't have. He is sex crazed because he wants to have someone but sex is the only way he can seem to go about it. He is an alcoholic not because he has a problem with alcohol, rather he is an alcoholic because he has other problems. 

Freddie then, seemingly by complete chance, meets Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) whom not only becomes a father figure to Freddie but also provides Freddie with a group to belong to and a "purpose." The film makes it very clear that Freddie isn't very much interested by "The Cause," he's only interested in having a family to be surrounded by. 

Joaquin Phoenix photographing in the Master

The film reflects and mirrors itself a lot. (Notice how every single poster for the film deals with mirroring in some way? see here, here, here, here, here, and here) Towards the beginning Doris, Freddie's old sweetheart whom he let get away, sings to Freddie. At the end of the film Dodd sings to him in a similar lullaby like way, albeit much more creepy and emotionally. Freddie photographed people for a living in a department store and later on he photographed Dodd. Lancaster Dodd, and to a lesser extent the rest of "The Cause," became his family. He didn't care about the beliefs, indeed he often showed that he thought it was all bullshit. I doubt that Dodd really wanted Freddie to be part of "The Cause." He perhaps was only keen on Freddie to satisfy his own psychological desires. 

The final reflection is one of the very first scenes and the very last one. In the beginning we see Freddie humping and fingering a sand sculpture of a woman. The very last thing we see in the film is Freddie cuddled up with that same sand woman, with a look of bliss on his face. Further evidencing the fact that Freddie isn't necessarily after sex, but rather company. 

Freddie Quell sand woman The Master

What Dodd represents other than a father figure I'm not sure. Perhaps Lancaster Dodd is religion, members of "The Cause" are blind followers, and Freddie is someone who isn't concerned with the truth but instead with his own comfort. Freddie could also represent religious fanaticism, or, better put, religious militarism. Even though Freddie himself is unsure whether he believes in "The Cause" he is still quick to take down any one who opposes it. He throws a tomato at a man and later goes to his home and attacks him just because he spoke out against what Dodd had said. He attacks the policemen who arrest Dodd. He attacks a man who criticized Dodd's book. 

I also cling on to another theory that I've seen thrown around a bit, and is also reflected in many of the posters for the film. That Freddie is one of Dodd's past lives. Whether you want to take that literally or metaphorically is unimportant, but "The Cause" directly deals with past lives and people's past, so there is a connection. This theory is supported by a few points: Dodd feels that he met Freddie before but he can't remember where. Dodd also seems to be the only one that can drink Freddie's potions and survive (whereas earlier in the film a farmer drank it and died; a would-be pretty pointless scene without this theory). It's small connections like that, and also the fact that much of Dodd's life and psych is similar to Freddie's (though they may at first appear opposite). 

If Dodd is the next incarnation of Freddie (or, if that theory is too hard to subscribe to, then perhaps Freddie just reminds Dodd much of himself when he was younger. Either way works.) then we can deduct that Dodd also desired a belonging and a family, which he of course found, or rather created, with "The Cause," which even his own son realizes is nonsense. Is Freddie, then, destined to end up like Dodd? Will Freddie seize the concocting of alcoholic potions and instead take up the concocting of false doctrines? Poisoning people not with liquor but with words? Will he lose his desire for sex and instead develop a desire to be followed, worshiped? Or has Freddie, in meeting Dodd, altered his destiny? I really don't know. 

Freddie Quell in The Master

A final word on the film: one scene I really liked was when Dodd was dancing and suddenly all the women became nude. Common film language would tell us that we were seeing the world from Freddie's sex crazed mind. The camera cuts between the room of nude women and close-ups of Freddie's face. But, upon a second viewing, it is Dodd's wife Peggy (Amy Adams) who really steals this scene. She only appears in the background and is only in focus half the time, but the emotion in her face tells us that the scene is just as much about her as it is Freddie. Perhaps Freddie sees all the women in the room naked because he is fantasizing about having sex with them. But Peggy too sees the same thing because she is thinking of all the potential threats to her husband's loyalty. This is supported by the two scenes that preface and follow the naked women scene; the former being Peggy's jealous face as Dodd praises another woman (this scene also includes Dodd's daughter cheating on her husband with Freddie, further pushing the theme of betrayal), and the latter when Peggy gives a vicious handjob to Dodd in the bathroom, domineering him, commanding him, possessing him. Could it be that Dodd is not the Master, but in actuality he is mastered by his wife, just as he desires. Could it be that The Master is not a film about someone who is the master, but a film about men who desire to be mastered?

Purchase The Master on Amazon: Blu-Ray - DVD - Stream

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Wasp Woman (1959) Review

The Wasp Woman poster
Director: Roger Corman
Stars: Susan Cabot, Anthony Eisley, Barboura Morris
Genre: Horror, Science Fiction

A Roger Corman B-movie from the 1950s, released only a week or so after his fantastically classic A Bucket of Blood.

The film is about some scientist who invents a serum that can make people young again...or something like that. So a cosmetics company wants to sell this product and the owner of the company is so enthusiastic about it that she allows the serum to be tested on herself. It works and she becomes young again...but the big side effect is that she occasionally turns into a blood thirsty wasp.

The film obviously find its inspiration from The Fly (unfortunately it's nowhere near as good as it). The story is of course bogus and nonsensical, the characters and writing doubly so. 

The special effects I can't really call bad. They were pretty okay for a 50s horror flick. The wasp woman didn't look much worse than the fly did in The Fly. (Aside from some moments where you can see the white of her neck or wrists). The problem is we only see the wasp woman twice and for only a few seconds. So most of the film doesn't even have any special effects or cool make-up. Which actually makes the film pretty slow and boring despite its short running time.

There's not much camp value here either, which I suppose is partly due to the fact that the special effects are so infrequent. I'm sure it's a movie that can be giggled at, but there's nothing overly cheesy or ridiculous in here. Which, again, makes it pretty boring. 

Although you have to love the poster for this film. It shows a giant wasp with a woman's head, but the movie actually has a woman with a wasp's head. Oh, how I love you b-movies and your misrepresenting posters!

The Wasp Woman doesn't have much going for it; no camp value, no actual value, infrequent effects, and a slow and boring story. There is one thing I can compliment though, and that is the excellent musical score by Fred Katz. The score was originally used in A Bucket of Blood, and Corman used the same score for many of his later films as well. The story is that apparently every time Corman hired Katz to do score one of his films Katz gave him the same one and Corman never noticed. Nonetheless it's a pretty cool score and it's nice to hear in this.

The Wasp Woman monster

Susan Cabot, who played the lead role, has a bit of an interesting real-life story to her. This was the last film she made before she was beaten to death by her own son, a mentally troubled dwarf, with a weight lifting bar. It's a pretty odd way to die. There's supposedly a biopic in development about Cabot to be directed by Stephan Elliott and star Rose McGowan. Now that's something I'd like to see.

The film was originally 60 minutes long but Jack Hill later directed an extra ten minutes for the film in order for it to be shown on television. Some sources credit Monte Hellman as the one who directed the extra ten minutes of footage but others say it was Jack Hill. Not sure which is correct and if anyone can clear that up in the comments it would be much appreciated.

Susan Cabot in The Wasp Woman

It's a minor film for the king of b-movies Roger Corman. He has many better films and this is really only worth watching for big fans of his. Although it can be a good way to waste 70 minutes.

2/5 stars

Purchase The Wasp Woman on Amazon: DVD - Stream - Corman Collection

Friday, March 15, 2013

Gummo (1997) Review

Gummo poster
Director: Harmony Korine
Stars: Max Perlich, Chloe Sevigny
Genre: Black Comedy

Harmony Korine's directorial debut, having previously only done the screenplay for Kids, and perhaps his most well known film. Certainly an interesting one. 

Gummo definitely doesn't follow a traditional narrative or plot. It instead features a series of sort of vignettes with people in a backwoods town. You'll see hillbillies wrestling chairs, kids killing cats, and that sort of stuff. 

To comment on Gummo's story would be to comment on something that doesn't exist. What Gummo does, through its imagery and glimpses into these random people's lives, is create a universe rather than a story. For 89 minutes Xenia, Ohio becomes your residence. These odd people become your neighbors. The things that happen become the things you see out of your own window. That's what Gummo achieves, it creates a world. Whether it's an immersive world or not doesn't really matter because the film still forces you to observe these people. Whether you feel at home or afraid, either way the film still achieved something by putting you there. It's the stories of these regular (though very odd) people's lives, and, as we know, regular, ordinary people usually don't have much of a back-story to them; they just exist. And so their existence we observe. 

There's not much else to say about Gummo. It's been reviewed to death by both admirers and its dislikers. It's a film better experienced than read about. Aside from doing a great job in creating a Universe, a film world which many of are not familiar with it also has a pretty awesome soundtrack. You have songs from Buddy Holly, Madonna, Electric Hellfire Club, Roy Orbison, and they're all used to great effect. Each song, I think, really does well to capture the emotion of a scene. 
Bunny Boy in Gummo

I won't spoil anything (it's kind of hard to spoil anything in a film like this which is just a compilation of scenes mostly unrelated) but there is one scene in this film that I just absolutely love. And no, it's not the infamous bathtub scene. It's towards the very end of the film. It's the scene that just cuts to Bunny Boy making out with the two blonde sisters at the same time in the pool while it's raining out with Roy Orbison's "Crying" playing over it. It may not seem like much, and it is indeed a very short scene (only a few seconds) but it really makes me feel fantastic every time I see it. I can't do a very good job of why I like this scene so much...I think what it does is capture bliss on camera. It takes these two sisters and pairs them with a character who had no interaction with them throughout the entire film. The film just intentionally skipped any bonding or development between the sisters and Bunny Boy and, without explanation, throws them together. It's actually quite intense. One of my all time favorite scenes. 
Chloe Sevigny in Gummo

It's a good film. An interesting one. An impressive one. And no doubt to many an extremely weird one (when the most normal character in a film is a gay black midget, you know you got something strange). You either hate Harmony's work or you love it. I lean towards the latter. 
3.5/5 stars

Purchase Gummo on Amazon: DVD - VHS

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Spring Breakers (2012) Review

Spring Breakers poster
Director: Harmony Korine
Stars: James Franco, Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine
Genre: Crime, Black Comedy

(Note: There's some minor spoilers within, but nothing too big and nothing you probably haven't already seen from the trailers)

Harmony Korine's latest film is a piece of pop art absurdity that will surely leave you with a few different feelings by the time the credits role. 

The film concerns four college girls who desperately want to go to Florida for spring break but lack the funds. In order to raise the money for the trip they rob a restaurant. However, during their Florida spring break they meet a local gangster by the name of Alien who takes their lives in a new direction. 

The film's plot is fairly thin and simple but that's definitely not the selling point of this film, of which I'll get to presently. This film had a lot of festival hype and received a lot of attention due to its casting of Disney stars Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens. But it'd be wrong to look at this film strictly in turns of its radical casting. There's more to it. 

The beginning of the film is mostly just these four college girls hanging out and having fun, and then progressing to some wild spring break partying; booties shaking, alcohol flowing, you know how it goes. But despite this seemingly normal, lighthearted atmosphere the film always lets you know that there is something very dark beneath the surface. Anytime you get too comfortable there will surely be a loud sound of a gun being loaded on the scene's transition. This sound effect repeated throughout the film prevents you from ever getting comfortable and will indeed probably even startle you. Along with this there are brief glimpses of horror early on in the form of "micro scenes," as the director calls them. The robbery of the restaurant is terrifying and Candy's (Hudgens) retelling of it to Faith, whom wasn't there during the robbery, is even more frightening. 

In the second half of the film, with the introduction of Franco's character Alien, the girls' hedonism leads them  to a world of crime and only crime. It turns the film into a sort of "Beach Noir," as the director calls it. 

Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, and Ashley Benson bikinis in Spring Breakers
Ashley Benson and Vanessa Hudgens sucking on popsicles in Spring Breakers

What this film does well is that it doesn't glorify the lifestyle of partying teens but it also doesn't condemn it. It feels more like it's just displaying it. It's holding up a mirror to American youth and forcing them to see themselves. To see the drunken behavior and reckless partying. But in the end the viewer will interpret it how they want. Someone who loves partying and does it often will watch this and relate to the party setting and those who generally dislike dumb teenagers will feel disgust. Either way is fine; either way works for the film. 

I do think the film has satirical elements though. One cannot look at footage of young girls shaking their asses and having alcohol poured on them with a Selena Gomez voice over of her saying how spiritual it all is and not sense the satire. Or seeing Alien as a manifestation of the "gangsta" image. The girls wear pink ski masks with unicorn patches; they took something that was intended to conceal their identity while committing criminal activities and they still managed to turn it into a matter of appearance. It's showing us America's pop culture with no holds barred. It's forcing us to see what much of this country's youth is. 

Ashley Benson, Vanessa Hudgens, Rachel Korine, and Selena Gomez being arrested in Spring Breakers

Alien is not a gangster in the true sense of the word. He is someone who is so obsessed with his image and with material things. He just wants the appearance and everything he does is to build and maintain this appearance he strived for. The first time we see in Alien's house the entire scene is spent with him pointing out all of the things he owns, from guns to cologne. I think that also works into the idea of spring break and youth, and I suppose the film can be looked at as a comment on hedonism and materialism in general. Our culture is very artificial, materialistic and, as Harmony himself has said, deals largely only with the surface of things. 

Selena Gomez and James Franco in Spring Breakers

There's some really great camerawork here, and at points it utilizes a kind of Girls Gone Wild or MTV's Spring Break shooting style. It's effective in that not only does it support a satirical nature but it also forces further comparisons between real life and the things we constantly see in our culture. There's also some very beautiful and stylistic use of lighting, with a constant sense of neon and plasticity, not only supporting the film's themes but looking stunning in the process. I must also complement the film's editing, with great use of gun sounds on transition as I mentioned before (and indeed all the sound in here sounds great, reminiscent of the great sounds recorded in Julien Donkey-Boy) and also great use of repetition and voice overs, etc. 

The entire film has such a dream-like atmosphere. Not only due to its neon lighting and its atmospheric editing and its such vibrant use of color (Korine said he wanted certain parts of the film to look like Skittles) but also due to its constant absurdity. But its absurdity is never completely unbelievable; it takes things that surely do happen in real life and shows us that these things are absurd but that doesn't make them not real. Life is absurd; our culture is absurd; now watch it. It's a crazy story grounded in dream-like reality. It's impressionistic. 

Rachel Korine looking sexy in Spring Breakers
Rachel Korine looking sexy in Spring Breakers

The casting was a very smart move. Not only does the casting of big names bring immediate attention to the film but also the radical defiance of typecasting (in regards to Gomez and Hudgens) sparked controversy. But we should also realize that Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens are indeed the type of people they are playing. They are a part of the pop culture that the film is displaying. They are literally perfect for the role. As far as their performances go, and indeed the performances of all four girls, it is suffice. Their characters are written to be flat and lacking depth so they do fine within the room the role allows. They're hard characters to sympathize with, at least for me, but that's really not the point. The film, again, is not trying to get you to root for or against anything, it's just showing it to you. 

Selena Gomez Vanessa Hudgens Ashley Benson Rachel Korine Spring Breakers

The one who really stole the show as far as performances go is James Franco as Alien. Easily one of the best  and most interesting parts of his career. His character is so ridiculous (yet eerily believable) that it is just awe-inspiring to observe. I was honestly taken aback and just amazed at this character. It really is, at least to me who isn't usually around these types of people, like watching someone from a different planet. And Franco plays the role great. I think it helps to be a Franco fan prior to this, just because I found it much more funnier to see an actor I love play such a hilarious part. And it is hilarious. James Franco playing (and singing) a Britney Spears song on a piano and then it serving as the background music for a robbery montage is genius but above all hilarious. 

James Franco as Alien in Spring Breakers

Whether you laugh at its absurdity, cringe at its horror, or relish in its stylistic beauty, Spring Breakers is an interesting film and an undoubtedly well crafted one. It's unbiased, unpretentious, and it captures an odd dream-like yet realistic feeling. Harmony Korine sucked unsuspecting people into theaters with the allure of a Hollywood cast, sexy promotion and a mainstream soundtrack and then he showed them something they weren't expecting. This "pop poem" is definitely a worthy entry into Harmony's intriguing filmography. 

3.5/5 stars

Purchase Spring Breakers on Amazon: DVD - Blu-RaySoundtrack

Monday, March 11, 2013

Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance (1974) Review

Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance poster
Director: Toshiya Fujita
Stars: Meiko Kaji, Juzo Itami, Yoshio Harada
Genre: Chambara, Political Drama

Sequel to 1973's Lady Snowblood, based on the manga Shurayukihime by Kazuo Koike. Both films (though mostly the first one) are noted for their large influence upon Tarantino's Kill Bill duology.

Continuing the story of Yuki from the last film, after Yuki avenged her family she is now wanted for murder by the police and is sentenced to be executed. Yuki, who was born for the single reason of revenge, feels her existence is now pointless and accepts her fate. However, during her arrest she is rescued by the Secret Police who wish to hire her to retrieve a document from an anti-government anarchist.

As you may come to realize this film is much more plot-heavy than the last one. Whereas the first was a simple tale of revenge, this sequel turns a bit more into a political drama. And I suppose that's the main complaint most people have with this film, and I can't blame them.

This film is slow paced, despite the nearly non-stop action you've come to love from the first (a bit similar to Kill Bill Vol. 1 compared to Vol. 2, to make further connections between the two). That is something you have to accept while watching it. There's not much action in it. If you go in knowing that you will enjoy the film; after all, we don't criticize Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove for being a war film with no action. No, we differentiate them into separate genres. Lady Snowblood 2 is different from the first, so different in fact that it nearly crosses into a completely different genre. 

Despite the subtitle of Love Song of Vengeance there's actually not must revenge going on; it's not really much of a revenge story at all. And, as you may be surprised to find out, the story really isn't about Lady Snowblood, it just happens to involve her. Much of the time is spent with other character or other things happening that have very little to do with Yuki. Which is a shame, because when the camera's on Yuki it's awesome. 

Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance chambara

It's slow-paced and pretty talk-heavy, but there is some action. The beginning has some cool fighting and there's a big showdown at the end (which was a bit disappointing). The main problem I had with the end fight scene (only minor spoilers here) was that it wasn't thrilling or epic. It was just slash, slash, shoot, shoot. It lacked substance. Plus, it was very poorly choreographed. Lady Snowblood gets shot about half a dozen times without so much as flinching. The large fights suffer from the problem of having people idle, just waiting until their turn to die (a problem that many action films of the sort suffer from). The film definitely fails to maintain the thrilling and exciting and just plain awesome action of the first one, but that's not to say it's all bad.

Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance Yuki anarchist

Despite these negatives I've mentioned I still think Lady Snowblood 2 is not a bad film, indeed I'd call it a great one. First of all it's incredibly well made. Allow me to elaborate...

This film is beautiful. Every shot seems perfectly crafted and executed. The cinematography is masterful. Take for instance a scene early on in the film: Yuki is on a beach fighting off a group of policemen whom have her encircled; the camera captures everything from an overhead shot; we see the wave come up to everyone's feet and for a brief second everything is still as if suspended, then, as the wave pulls back into the ocean, the policemen move in on Yuki and capture her. Obviously words can't do the scene perfect justice but it is quite an amazing shot and there are many more like it throughout the film.

Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance beach

Another positive for the film is that the politics are actually very well written. I'm no Japanese political expert but even the little I knew was enough to make this all the more interesting. I've also seen people whom are very well versed in early 20th century Japanese politics who say that it was very well done and fascinating.

The acting is great, I particularly liked the guy who played the anarchist. Of course Meiko Kaji as Yuki does a great job and she is quickly becoming one of my favorite actresses.

Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance Meiko Kaji

Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance is a good film. You just have to know what to expect and view it less as a sequel to an action-filled gore fest and more as it's own which happens to have a bit less snow and blood. Do that and you should enjoy it immensely.

4/5 stars

Purchase Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance on Amazon: Blu-Ray/DVD Combo Double Feature (UK only) [Steelbook] - DVD - VHS

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Big Boss (1971) Review

Bruce Lee's The Big Boss 1971 poster
Director: Lo Wei
Stars: Bruce Lee, James Tien, Nora Miao, Maria Yi
Genre: Kung Fu

Bruce Lee's first film, The Big Boss a.k.a. Fists of Fury (not to be confused with his second film The Chinese Connection a.k.a. Fist of Fury).

Cheng (Lee) moves to a new town to live with his cousins, who set him up with a job at the factory they all work at. Cheng, who sworn on his mother to never fight again, is alas forced to when some of his cousins and fellow co-worker go missing and suspects his employers to have something to do with it.

This was Bruce Lee's first major film, the one that brought him to fame, but curiously enough it wasn't at first intended to be a Bruce Lee film. It was originally written with James Tien (Cheng's cousin in the film) in mind for the lead role but while shooting Bruce Lee displayed his awesome skill and talent and thus the film was modified to have Bruce Lee be the star. Proof of this exists within the film itself; for the first half it is Tien who plays the star, kicking ass and getting the most screen and fight time. Bruce Lee hardly fights, or does anything for that matter, in the first half of the film (which only adds to the anticipation in my opinion). But, as the film goes on, Tien is quickly pushed to the side in order for the camera to capture Lee. Tien later went on to have roles in Lee's The Chinese Connection and Game of Death.

The story is whatever, it's extremely conventional but it's really only an excuse to see Bruce Lee beat the shit out of people, right? And it shouldn't need saying but Bruce Lee is very good at just that.

Bruce Lee wasn't exactly the greatest actor just yet but his fighting was top notch. The fight choreography was very solid and there were some pretty awesome scenes (and some slightly disappointing ones I should add). There's plenty of very large brawls that were handled very well and no one should be surprised when they see Bruce Lee whoop the asses of twenty guys all at once.

Bruce Lee in The Big Boss

It was released by Golden Harvest, perhaps the best distributor and production company of Kung Fu films, only ever rivaled by Shaw Brothers (the company of which GH is an off-shoot of). Golden Harvest brought fame to the likes of Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and arguably even Chuck Norris, Jet Li, and Donnie Yen.

The success of this film, and indeed the success of Bruce Lee in general, sparked a very large worldwide market for Kung Fu films during the 70s. Not the first of its kind, and of course not the last, it was a very important work in the genre. While I still prefer Shaw Brothers over Golden Harvest (for the 70s at least) and I prefer my Kung Fu films set in Edo or Meiji period (or the regional equivalent) rather than modern settings, I still greatly appreciate The Big Boss and enjoy it immensely.

Bruce Lee in The Big Boss

A must see for Bruce Lee and Kung Fu fans. A central part of Bruce Lee's unfortunately small filmography.

3/5 stars

Purchase The Big Boss on Amazon: Blu-Ray - DVD - Bruce Lee Collection

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Big Doll House (1971) Review

The Big Doll House film poster
Director: Jack Hill
Stars: Pam Grier, Roberta Collins, Sid Haig
Genre: Exploitation, Women in Prison

The Big Doll House is a film which neatly falls into the exploitation sub-genre of Women in Prison, because it is indeed a film about women in prison. Directed by cult director Jack Hill, whom found his start in co-directing Roger Corman (who produced this film by the way) films such as The Wasp Woman and The Terror, but later went on to make his own classics such as Blood Bath, Spider Baby, and eventually Coffy, Foxy Brown, and Switchblade Sisters. Sitting at this film's actor's table we have the likes of cult stars such as Pam Grier (Coffy, Foxy Brown, Scream Blacula Scream, Bucktown, Friday Foster, Jackie Brown), Roberta Collins (Caged Heat, Death Race 2000) and Cult King Sid Haig whose been in just about every exploitation feature there is. A cult sub-genre + a cult director + a cult producer + a cult cast = a cult film indeed.

As far as plot is concerned it's about, as many Women in Prison films are, women trying to break out of prison. In this such case the prison of which they are trying to escape happens to be run by sadists.

Really all you need to know about the plot is this: there are attractive women whom throughout the film catfight, mud wrestle, shower together and indeed wash each other, food fight, nearly sweat to death, are tied down and whipped, and periodically groped. From attaining this knowledge you should now be able to aptly judge whether or not you wish to proceed in the viewing of the film.

Pam Grier plays Grear (I see what you did there screenwriter), a tough as nails lesbian; Judy Brown plays Collier, a husband murderer; Brooke Mills plays Harrad, a heroin addict and servant to Grear; Sid Haig and Jerry Franks play Harry and Fred, two horny men who deliver food to the prison; Christiane Schmidtmer plays a sadistic warden. It's quite the colorful set of characters.

Pam Grier and prisoners in The Big Doll House

The acting is, as one should expect, pretty mediocre, but it's a great enough cast that any fan of exploitation will be joyed to see the familiar faces. 

The soundtrack is very average throughout (and in fact very often absent) but of note is the song played at the beginning and end of the film, the song called "Long Time Woman" performed by Pam Grier herself. It's such a great song; give it a listen here. It was later used in Tarantino's Jackie Brown. Don't you just love when you find such beautiful songs in such dirty films? (Also see The Last House on the Left soundtrack).

Roberta Collins and Pam Grier showering in The Big Doll House

The film is notable for having greatly shaped the genre of Women in Prison in the 70s. It, in a sense, wrote the recipe (along with 99 Women and Love Camp 7 of course). It spawned countless imitators and even two spiritual successors in the form of Women in Cages which came out later that same year and once again starred Pam Grier and Roberta Collins and shared a very similar plot and then the 1972 film The Big Bird Cage which saw Jack Hill returning as producer, Roger Corman as producer, and Pam Grier and Sid Haig through the lenses.

Though an early Women in Prison film it's still not the best the genre has to offer (See the Female Convict series, House of Whipcord, Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS) nor is it even a particularly great film when compared to certain films in the immense genre of Sexploitation.

Dual wielding machine guns in The Big Doll House

The Big Doll House is a solid film that should be avoided by most but enjoyed by fans of exploitation and sleaze cinema. It's good, dirty fun. 

2.5/5 stars

Purchase The Big Doll House on Amazon: Blu-Ray - DVD - Stream - Women in Cages Collection

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Stuff (1985) Review

The Stuff 1985 film poster
Director: Larry Cohen
Stars: Michael Moriarty, Garrett Morris, Patrick O'Neal
Genre: Horror

What is The Stuff? Well, I really don't know. It's just...ya know, stuff.

So there's this new food, right? And it's called The Stuff (of which the film gets its name, in case you haven't noticed). No one really knows what this "stuff" is but it's a nationwide phenomenon and soon every home in America eats The Stuff like they watch their televisions. Turns out though that The Stuff is addicting...oh, and it also eventually turns you into a murdering zombie. Yeah.

The Stuff is a very (very, very, very, very, very, very) obvious jab at the food market and the FDA, along with a satire of American consumerism. It's not exactly a clever satire but it gets its point across. 

One thing you'll notice about The Stuff is not much of it makes any sense. What is the Stuff? I dunno (but Wikipedia tells me they made it out of yogurt, fire-extinguisher foam, and Häagen-Dazs ice cream). Also, the film feels like it's unsure of what it's trying to be. It has an R-rating but yet it plays out like a family movie. The protagonist of the film is a little kid who gets into sticky situations but eventually saves the day. It's exactly like all the other family adventure movies from the 80s! But yet it also tries to be a genuine Horror film (which works just about as well as the original The Blob did, by the way). In the end though it doesn't satisfy either audience. 

The Stuff 1985 special effects

The effects are, well...they can get pretty bad. The "Stuff" looks as silly as it does in The Blob and there's some pretty awful green-screening. The one cool trick is the upside-down room trick which they stole from A Nightmare on Elm Street (they even used the same exact room). 

Don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of Larry Cohen as a director, but this just isn't his best work. 

The Stuff 1985 green screen

I find myself desperate for good things to say about The Stuff but my search is in vain. It's not the type of horror film that's so cheesy and bad that it's good; it's just bad. It gets some points for being a satire on American consumerism, and it's not the worst film you'll ever see, but it's just really nothing special. 

2/5 stars

Purchase The Stuff (no, I'm not talking about drugs) on Amazon: DVD - Stream
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