Crippled Avengers (1978, Directed by Chang Cheh) Mandarin Good Film

Starring Feng Lu, Chen Kuan-tai, Philip Kwok, Lo Mang, Chiang Sheng, Sun Chien, Wang Lung-wei

(Good Film)

Embittered by the slaying of his wife and maiming of his young son, a local leader, Chu Twin, becomes an unjust tyrant even after killing those responsible. Four strangers to the village fall victim to his wrath and are crippled as a result. One is blinded, one loses his legs, another is made deaf, and a fourth is rendered mentally challenged. Under the tutelage of an old master, the four team up and train for their revenge. This story is not as compelling as other films by this incredible team known as the Venom Mob. Their films Five Deadly Venoms, Five Elements Ninjas, and Kid with the Golden Arm are far superior. Crippled Avengers is mostly a showcase for their spectacular athletic ability and acrobatics. As such, it’s entertaining and worthwhile if not essential. The villains aren’t despicable enough and there’s no plot intrigue as in the previously mentioned films.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Pan’s Labyrinth (2006, Directed by Guillermo Del Toro) Spanish Great Film

Starring Ivana Baquero, Sergi López, Ariadna Gil, Maribel Verdú, Álex Angulo, Doug Jones

(Great Film)

While we (I’m American) were in the grips of World War II, Spain suffered a civil war and lasting strife for years to come. It’s a period I know very little about and a period the young heroine of Pan’s Labyrinth, Ofelia (Baquero), occupies. It’s the summer of 1944 and Ofelia arrives with her pregnant mother to the home of Captain Vidal (López), her new step-father. The fascist Captain Vidal wastes no time in revealing himself to be a deranged bully as he hunts down local rebels, but Ofelia finds escape and adventure away from this terror, a place where fairies and monsters live, a place that offers her a chance at immortality should she prove herself in a trio of frightening tasks. Pan’s Labyrinth is universally beloved, a dark fantasy that can resonate with any viewer. It’s vision of evil is as stark as any I’ve seen- Captain Vidal is a relentless sadist- and Ofelia is pure innocence. It’s the perfect culmination of its director, Guillermo Del Toro’s, talent with its incredible creatures, grotesque imagery, affection for characters who are outsiders, and stomach-turning violence.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

-3-

Mon Oncle Antoine (1971, Directed by Claude Jutra) Québécois 6

Starring Jacques Gagnon, Claude Jutra, Jean Duceppe, Monique Mercure, Lynne Champagne, Olivette Thibault

Mon oncle Antoine (1971) | MUBI

(6-Good Film)

Measured. Bitter. Foreign.

Jos Poulin: To hell with them all! The English, Euclid, the undertaker, the priest, the boss, the whole gang. I’m getting the hell out.

Neither the whimsical jaunt nor the blissfully nostalgic piece I expected based purely on its title, Mon Oncle Antoine is surprisingly bitter. Sure, there are light moments and, at times, it takes on elements of the slice-of-life drama, which is what I anticipated goin in, but this film more accurately is about a young boy’s harsh coming-of-age in a harsh environment (Quebec, 1949). He lives with his Aunt and Uncle who run an undertaker business and flirts with the young shop girl, Carmen, that boards there. The story is quiet; the drama understated. By its end, all taken into account, you’ll notice that a lot actually does happen in this movie and there’s so much more that I feel that I missed or didn’t understand. There’s almost no context given by the film and I have no context of Canadian history, so Mon Oncle Antoine is especially foreign with very little to relate to. I wouldn’t be surprised if it grows with each viewing, but my first impression is that Mon Oncle Antoine is cold and bleak.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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The Flying Guillotine (1975, Directed by Meng Hua Ho) Mandarin 6

Starring Kuan Tai Chen, Hung Wei, Ti Ai, Feng Ku, Wu Chi Liu, Yang Chiang, Yue Wong, Ricky Hui

Hong Kong Cinemagic - Gallery Chen Kuan Tai

(6-Good Film)

Gory. Compelling. Odd.

In ancient China, a paranoid emperor commissions a lethal weapon known as the flying guillotine (it flies through the air and decapitates its target from a distance), as well as an elite unit taught to master the invention. One member, initially loyal to the emperor, gradually realizes that he’s fighting on the wrong side of things and runs away. Years later, now a fugitive, the home and family he’s built in the interim come under attack when his old team come looking for him. Apparently, improbably much of this story actually happened, but the main conceit, the flying guillotine, by itself, makes the film a fantasy. It also makes hand-to-hand kung fu largely obsolete which means that most of the film focuses on the bizarre central weapon rather than stunts and fighting sequences. The flying guillotine is a strange, impractical, never-ending source of amusement as a weapon and that becomes true of the film as well. It’s not one of the Shaw Brothers more polished productions, but it’s entertaining and memorable.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Five Elements Ninjas (1982, Directed by Chang Cheh) Cantonese 8

Starring Cheng Tien Chi, Lo Mang, Michael Chan, Chan Shen, Kwan Fung, Chen Pei-Hsi

Five Element Ninja B-Movie Review

(8-Exceptional Film)

Simple. Inventive. Spectacular.

Tagline: Five complete elements, one surviving ninja, what could possibly go wrong?

An honorable and skilled martial arts school in ancient Hong Kong is massacred by foreign ninjas modeled after five elements (wood, earth, water, fire, and gold). The lone survivor flees to a neighboring school for training and ultimately revenge. Five Elements Ninjas is as simple plot-wise as can be, but revenge is always a compelling starting point for an action movie, and the film, instead, focuses all of its creativity on the elaborate fighting sequences, costumes, over-the-top violence, and sets. It’s a blast to watch and one of the best kung-fu flicks.

-Walter Tyler Howard-

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Five Deadly Venoms (1978, Directed by Chang Cheh) Mandarin 9

Starring Chiang Sheng, Sun Chien, Kuo Chui, Lo Mang, Wei Pai, Lu Feng, Ku Feng, Dick Wei

Five Deadly Venoms – We've Got (Back) Issues

(9-Great Film)

Awesome. Efficient. Indelible.

Yang Tieh: Poison Clan Rocks the world!

Some films don’t need to be intellectualized. Five Deadly Venoms is a film that knows its intent and is perfect in its execution. Wasting no time with lengthy exposition, the opening gives us the only explanation we ever receive and lays out what’s to come. The dying master of the powerful Poison Clan expresses his fears to his newest pupil, Yang Tieh. Having taught five pupils before Yang Tieh, each assuming a different style coined after a venomous animal (centipede, scorpion, snake, toad, lizard) the master fears that some, if not all, of his students are using the skills he taught them for evil. His last request is for Yang Tieh to take out any Poison Clan members who’ve been corrupted. The remainder of the movie blends mystery, intrigue, and kung fu in a way I personally haven’t seen before. It’s incredibly entertaining and the five deadly venoms, each with their distinct characteristics are unforgettable. Fantastic flick.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Eyes Without a Face (1960, Directed by Georges Franju) French 7

Starring Pierre Brasseur, Alida Valli, Édith Scob, François Guérin, Juliette Mayniel, Alexandre Rignault,Béatrice Altariba

Amazon.com: Eyes Without A Face (Aka Les Yeux Sans Visage) Edith Scob 1960  Photo Print (28 x 22): Posters & Prints

(7-Very Good Film)

Grotesque. Uncomfortable. Unique.

Christiane Génessier: My face frightens me. My mask frightens me even more.

I entered this film overconfident, certain that this french “horror film” from sixty years ago couldn’t bother me, couldn’t get under my skin. I was wrong. It follows a physician, Dr. Génessier, earnest and fanatical in the grand tradition of mad doctors from horror fiction. His grown up daughter’s face is horribly disfigured and he’s vowed to restore it to its original beauty. To do this, he resorts to kidnapping and stealing unblemished faces off of unsuspecting women. Eyes Without a Face is a beautiful film in shimmering black and white. It’s also a bizarre fairy tale perverted into an effective horror. What shocked me was the surprisingly graphic surgical scenes. Its a fairly unsurprising narrative that hearkens back to Frankenstein and the novels of H.G Wells, but the imagery is unique and unforgettable.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Lady Snowblood (1973, Directed by Toshiya Fujita) Japanese 8

Meiko Kaji, Toshio Kurosawa, Masaaki Daimon, Eiji Okada, Miyoko Akaza, Takeo Chii, Kō Nishimura, Noboru Nakaya

Lady Snowblood: Blizzard from the Netherworld

(8-Exceptional Film)

Glorious. Simple. Resplendent.

Narrator: People say you can’t wash away the mud of this world with pure white snow. You need asura snow – stained fiery red.

Yuki Kashima, deadly assassin, righteous avenger, and the basis for Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, is the product of a savage beginning. Her mother’s husband and son were murdered brutally by four bloodthirsty schemers-Takemura Banzō, Shokei Tokuichi, Tsukamoto Gishirō, and Kitahama Okono. Her mother, then, raped and passed around before dying in prison, giving birth to Yuki. Yuki, also known as Lady Snowblood, was born with vengeance in her heart. Consumed by violence and anger, is there any room for anything else? Yuki meets and falls for a young writer, Ashio, in the pursuit of killing her mother’s tormentors. Great pulpy material married to awesome visuals, Lady Snowblood is a gorgeous action flick with over-the-top violence and several twists.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Juliet of the Spirits (1965, Directed by Federico Fellini) Italian 5

Starring Giulietta Masina, Sandra Milo, Mario Pisu, Valentina Cortese, Valeska Gert, Caterina Boratto

ultrafabius | Juliet of the spirits, Spirit photography, Film set

(5-Okay Film)

Gorgeous. Scatological. Tiresome.

Adele: He stole your youth, your peace, your trust. He’s the worst kind of thief.

Yes, poor Juliet (Masina) has a rotten husband. He’s cheating on her, and the film follows Juliet’s various encounters (some real, some not, all fairly surreal) in the aftermath of her finding out. Taken in 5 minute sections, Juliet of the Spirits is an incredible collection of images. Watched in full, at 2 and a half hours, what a gorgeous piece of nonsense it all is. Juliet of the Spirits is everything that bemuses me about Fellini’s films: crass, pretentious, indulgent, unintelligible. That it, at times, is also dazzling and, sometimes, brilliant, I admit grudgingly. Of course, Fellini is a legend, and most cinephiles praise the very aspects that I find frustrating and uninteresting. If you are interested in a barrage of strange, loosely connected images for 2 and a half hours, you’ll probably like this movie. I think typing Juliet of the Spirits into Google Images and seeing the results is more enjoyable than watching the film.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Underground (1995, Directed by Emir Kusturica) Serbian 6

Starring Miki Manojlović, Lazar Ristovski, Mirjana Joković, Slavko Štimac, Ernst Stötzner, Srđan Todorović 

Underground (1995) - Rotten Tomatoes

(6-Good Film)

Epic. Bawdy. Irreverant.

Marko: A war is no war until the brother kills his brother.

I’m afraid I was never taught about the Yugoslav war that resulted in six seperate countries rather than one large one. I’ve also never thought about or heard of World War II’s affect on those slavic states. Underground, a massive film, by revered Serbian filmmaker, Emir Kusturica, spans five decades and covers both world changing events, and I still have very little understanding of either. Underground follows two seemingly degenerate friends, Blacky and Marko, from the ’40s where they lead a resistance movement against the Nazis occupying Serbia, through the Cold War, and, finally, to the 90s where civil war breaks out while the men are still dealing with the trauma from decades earlier. With its broad, irreverent humor, Underground moves fast for such a long film and is never boring. At the same time, and how much a lack of background knowledge affected my experience, I couldn’t say, this film never strikes me as very insightful or poignant. Perhaps it was content to reflect the overwhelming madness of it all, and on that score, I think it succeeds.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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