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Rating History

Spooky Encounters (Gui da gui)
5 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes


Happy New Year -- Lunar New Year that is.

And what better way to celebrate than with three classic kung-fu films?

First one was actually a couple of nights ago -- Spooky Encounters, in which Sammo Hung invented the hopping vampire genre. He plays a cuckholded husband whose wife is having an affair with a government official. The official, wanting to get rid of Sammo, hires a sorcerer to cast evil spells, which involve the waking of the dead, which the sorcerer can manipulate in a puppet-like fashion. The "vampire", zombie really, has to hop because its dead and its movement is restricted. But that's only for the first fight. In the next fight, the corpse is a bit more limber. It goes all out towards the end, when Sammo is befriended by a drifter who just happens to be highly skilled in the black arts himself. The best part is the patented freeze-frame ending, in which Sammo gets his comeuppance. Not many films go as far as this one does.

Magnificent Butcher takes a minor character from the Wong Fei Hung stories (most famously depicted in the Once Upon a Time in China series) - the Butcher Wing - and fleshes out his story. Sammo portrays Wing pretty as he's portrayed elsewhere, a bumbler who ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time. The story's pretty complex, though I could follow it. It's too much to get into here, but as far as the story goes, I liked this one best of all. There's some rivalry between the Fei Hung school and another master, which is heated up by some lies on the part of the other master's son. As comedic as it gets, it's also pretty grim, with a murder taking place and Wing ending up framed for it. Out of the Wong Fei Hung's I've seen portrayed - by Jet Li on Once Upon a Time and Jackie Chan in the Drunken Master movies - the Wong Fei Hung [url="http://www.kungfucinema.com/people/kwan_tak_hing.htm"][color=#800080](Kwan Tak-hing[/color][/url]) here is probably closest to how he really was - a wise, old and just master, but also a somewhat cruel teacher. Of course it's only fitting - Kwan Tak-hing portrayed Wong Fei Hung in a series of around 100(!) films from the 1940s to the 1960s. Wing is left to fend for himself and comes under the tutelage of a wandering drunken boxer master [url="http://www.kungfucinema.com/people/fan_mei_sheng.htm"][color=#800080](Fan Mei-sheng[/color][/url]). Did I mention this is a Yuen Wo-Ping film? Yuen Biao has a small role as Foon, and gets in a fight with the rival master's deceitful, fan-wielding son.

Knockabout is one that Sammo directed and takes a co-starring role in. Yuen Biao stars as Little John, who with [url="http://www.kungfucinema.com/people/leung_kar_yan.htm"][color=#0000ff]LEUNG Kar-yan[/color][/url] as Big John, are brother conmen, always looking to pull a scam, especially at the gambling hall (gotta have a gambling hall brawl, as well as a restaurant brawl). None of their scams work, and there's always this beggar (Sammo) hanging around and causing trouble for them. After one scam too many, they end up tagging along with a silver-haired stranger (Lau Kar-Wing), who teaches them some kung-fu and they improve. But then the older man (the Fox) has a dark past that catches up with them. He's a stone-cold killer. Little John then teams up with the beggar, who teaches him even more kung fu, including a maniacal monkey style, and Little John's ready to take on the old Fox. Great action by Yuen Biao, who has excellent comic chemistry with Leung Kar-yan as well as Sammo.

This is the Fortune Star set I bought, so no Bey Logan commentary tracks. But there are some interviews with Sammo on two of the discs. They're in English! There's also an interview with Leung Kar-Yan, and it's subtitled in English, which is always a plus.

Ride in the Whirlwind
6 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes


Continuing my binge on westerns, I turn to this 1966 gem by Monte Hellman and Jack Nicholson.

With a name that's grander than the story it tells, Ride in the Whirlwind stars Jack and Cameron Mitchell as a couple of cowhands turned fugitives due to a case of mistaken identity. They had the misfortune of stopping for the night at a cabin where a gang of outlaws led by Blind Dick (an eye-patched Harry Dean Stanton) are holed up. The atmosphere of mistrust and suspicion is powerful, even after a plate of beans and biscuits.

In the morning, the camp is surrounded by a vigilante necktie party. The cowhands make a break for it, but end up trapped in a box canyon. They abandon their horses and set out on foot, while the vigilantes track them. The cowboys eventually come upon a farmstead, where they try in vain to explain they aren't outlaws. But no one is going for it.

With money put up by Roger Corman, Ride the Whirlwind was shot on a 75,000 budget in the Utah desert in 1965. The production closely followed another low-budget western by Hellman, The Shooting, which starred Warren Oates and had Jack in a supporting role. Ride the Whirlwind is the better of the two - better story, better characters, better production.

The Shooting is way too enigmatic for its own good, though having Oates in it is a bonus. I've watched The Shooting sometime ago, and it's probably due for a re-evaluation. Ride the Whirlwind was one I've been wanting to see for awhile now. I'll probably be more apt to give it a repeat view than The Shooting.

At some point, I hope to come across Hellman's Two Lane Blacktop and Cockfighter (both with Warren Oates).

The Over-the-Hill Gang
3 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

A pair of Western comedies with a concept - make the sidekicks the stars. The made-for-TV (by Aaron Spelling) result is servicable enough, but too sterile for my taste.

In the first, Pat O'Brien plays an aged former Texas Ranger captain whose daughter summons him to Boulder, where the town is being run into the ground by a corrupt mayor and his cronies. Her husband, Ricky Nelson, is running for mayor but doesn't stand a chance. The captain sends out the call for the best of his former crew - all guys who are washed up and slowed down by age.

So we have Walter Brennan, Chill Wills and Edgar Buchanan. The cast also includes squeaky voiced Andy Devine (as a corrupt judge), and Jack Elam as the bad sheriff.

Good enough for a sequel, part two leaves out Pat O'Brien and concentrates on Brennan, Wills and Buchanan. They get word that a former Ranger friend is in trouble in Waco. They arrive and find out that he is dead. They head to the saloon for a drink and notice an old drunk at the end of the bar. Well, that's their friend, the Baltimore Kid, played by Fred Astaire. They take him and get him sobered up and cleaned up. Soon, he's ready to be town marshall, with the help of the three aged Rangers.

These were part of a four-movie disc that was purchased for $5 at Farm and Fleet in Bloomington, Illinois. I beginning to believe this was a money losing proposition all around - for me, for the store and for the company that packaged these crap movies on DVD.

The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus
4 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes


With the advent of DVD, it is now possible to own a piece of rock 'n' roll history.

Until recently, it wasn't possible to see the entire show that was recorded on December 11, 1968, featuring the Rolling Stones, The Who, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Jethro Tull, Marianne Faithful and Taj Mahal.

The Who's electrifying segment, the mini-opera "A Quick One While He's Away", had been chopped and sped up for Jeff Stein's 1978 documentary, The Kids Are Alright (and then fully restored for the remastered DVD release).

But The Who's performance was so exceptionally excellent, that they blew away the Stones, and the project was shelved until recently.


According to Pete Townshend, who gives an excellent verbal essay about the film in the special features, the Rock and Roll Circus sprang from an idea that he and Ronny Lane hatched. Pete, always the art student, was looking for a way to elevate rock 'n' roll into a live installation piece, while Ronny wanted to actually hire a circus tent and then tour the United States by train, performing music like circuses performed in a bygone era.

The idea proved unfeasible, due to the sorry state of US railways at the time (though a similiar plan would come into being in 1970, with the [url="http://www.rottentomatoes.com/vine/journal_view.php?journalid=15858&entryid=108150&view=public"]Festival Express[/url] tour across Canada featuring the Dead, the Band, Janis Joplin and others, and Ronnie Lane would tour England with his own band and a circus tent).

Anyway, the Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus was then reconceptualized as a TV variety show, featuring rock acts interspersed by circus acrobats -- trapeze artists, clowns and a fire eater.

Besides The Who, other noteworthy performances are "Song for Jeffrey" by Jethro Tull (here, you can see Ian Anderson's style of performing that inspired Ron Burgundy's flute playing in Anchorman), and Taj Mahal backed by a blues trio, singing the R&B standard "Ain't That a Lot of Love". There is more Taj in the special features, and I could have stood for some more Jethro Tull, too.


Marianne Faithful, who at the time was dating Mick Jagger and was lusted after Pete Townshend and most other men in the British music scene, performs the poppy "Something Better".

John Lennon came on, with his supergroup, The Dirty Mac, featuring Eric Clapton on guitar, Keith Richards on bass and Mitch Mitchell on drums. They did "Yer Blues", so far so good.

Then Yoko Ono came up with violinist Ivry Gitlis. The band struck up a blues riff and I got a sick feeling as Yoko bopped around the stage and the violinist played some high, classical sounding passages. That sick feeling was confirmed when Yoko leaned into the mic and started wailing -- one of the most infamous moments in rock history.

But in his commentary, Pete Townshend defends Yoko's performance, terming it "art", and revolutionary for its time. He then proceeds to take the piss out of The Darkness, saying that British metal act is doing essentially the same thing, but with a better sense of marketing. Yoko had brains and talent, Pete says, while all The Darkness has is a guy in Spandex catsuit. Okay, I guess I now understand where Pete stands on The Darkness, a band that I happen to enjoy listening to.


The Stones themselves close out the show with six songs: "Jumping Jack Flash", "Parachute Woman", "No Expectations", "You Can't Always Get What You Want", "Sympathy for the Devil" and "Salt of the Earth".

They were ragged, having been out of practice for awhile (while The Who had just come off a tour of Australia and were in fine form). Mick had stage presence (which according to Pete had been honed to perfection while Mick was working on the film Performance, just prior to this), but his singing was off-key, and the band was merely going through the numbers.

But they did gel by the end of "You Can't Always", with "Sympathy for the Devil" fully up to speed and sounding good and their anthem to the working man, "Salt of the Earth" transcending the other songs.

The DVD also includes a commentary by director Michael Lindsay Hogg, Mick, Keith, Ian Anderson and others. I haven't listened to that, yet, but will.