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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The Conformist (1970, Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci) Italian 9

Starring Jean-Louis Trintignant, Stefania Sandrelli, Gastone Moschin, Dominique Sanda, Enzo Tarascio

The man who decided to go along | Far Flungers | Roger Ebert

(9-Great Film)

Mesmerizing. Impressive. Compelling.

Marcello: I’m going to build a life that’s normal. I’m marrying a petty bourgeoise.

At the center of The Conformist, a dazzling feat of style, creativity, purpose, and graceful camera movement, is Jean-Louis Trintignant’s character, Marcello. Mostly stoic and bound by secrets, he is the mystery at the heart of this film. What led him to become a fascist? To kill his former college professor? To marry a woman, who, though beautiful, holds very little interest for him? The main clue is in the title, of course. To be normal. Through flashbacks, The Conformist weaves around Marcello’s life and past traumas as World War II looms, culminating in the film’s finale where he no longer seems like a distinct personality at all but a shell of a man. Equal parts artistic and intellectual. A great film.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014, Directed by Ana Lily Amirpour) Persian 7

Starring Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi, Marshall Manesh, Dominic Rains, Rome Shadanloo, Ana Lily Amirpour

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night' Gets Stunning New Trailer - Bloody  Disgusting

(7-Very Good Film)

Cool. Affected. Intriguing.

The Girl: I’m bad.

A film marketed as the first Iranian Vampire Western is sure to be looking for cool points, therefore, it could hardly achieve the effortless cool of an old Steve McQueen flick. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is calculated; the soundtrack, the black and white photography, vampires. It’s a cavalcade of hipster touchstones. That being said, hipsters are people too, and I’m probably one, at my core. This is a hypnotically interesting movie. In a town simply called “Bad City,” corruption and moral decay abound. Arash, a young man with a good heart in a bad situation, meets the Girl (Vand), ominous and beautiful. A vampire, she lurks through town, righteous and violent, much as Clint Eastwood used to in old spaghetti westerns as the Man with No Name. Spaghetti westerns are clearly the biggest influence on this bizarre work; desolate town, sparse dialogue, visual storytelling, moral anti-hero. By its end, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night does what it set out to do. It’s a cool movie.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Let the Right One In (2008, Directed by Tomas Alfredson) Swedish 7

Starring Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson, Per Ragnar, Henrik Dahl, Peter Carlberg, Ika Nord, Mikael Rahm

Review: Let the Right One In

(7-Very Good Film)

Striking. Thoughtful. Memorable.

Eli: I’m twelve. But I’ve been twelve for a long time.

Any feelings I have about Let the Right One In are inevitably affected by my love for its American remake, Let Me In. In truth, I prefer Let Me In. It’s more polished, more tense, and better acted. Let Me In’s decision to “make the story more accessible,” as they put it (sounds horrible), I would describe as simplifying or chiseling it down to perfection. This has been one of my more unpopular opinions over the years and a good topic for debate, but I will focus the rest of this review solely on the film at hand, and it is a very good film, obviously laying the foundation for its successor which I consider a great film. A beautifully dark fantasy, Oskar is a bullied 12-year-old (the movie is set in the ’80s and you remember how intense ’80s bullying was, at least in movies) just trying to make his way in life when he meets and befriends Eli, a vampire, eternally 12-years-old. So starts easily one of the strangest relationships in film history, at times, romantic, sweet, sinister, twisted, what-have-you. Watching its course is mesmerizing and Let the Right One In is often a beautiful film. Nitpicking, maybe, or perhaps just a consequence of seeing the film long after its initial release, the effects, while still effective, are unpolished at many points in the film. It obscures some of Let the Right One In’s beauty.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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