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March 22nd, 2017

FISTS OF FURY (2016) ***

Here’s another trailer compilation DVD from Full Moon Features. This one is hosted by Cynthia Rothrock and it contains nothing but Kung Fu trailers. Her host segments are kind of cheesy as it’s mostly just Rothrock giving comic karate demonstrations on a bunch of people before talking about a particular segment. The good news is that she has a winning personality and her spiels are often rather informative.

The compilation is broken up into different sections. We have segments on Badass Women (Above the Law, Deadly China Doll, Ebony, Ivory and Jade, Sister Streetfighter, Sting of the Dragon Masters, and Wonder Women), Bruceploitation (Bruce Le’s Greatest Revenge, Bruce’s Deadly Fingers, Enter the Fat Dragon, Fists of Bruce Lee, and The Return of Bruce), Deadly Weapons (Lightning Swords of Death, Master of the Flying Guillotine, Secret of the Shaolin Poles, Slash: The Blade of Death, The Damned, and Invisible Swordsman), Martial Arts vs. Guns (Ninja Blacklist, Jaguar Lives!, Shatter, Sudden Death, The Bodyguard, and The Stranger and the Gunfighter), Revenge (Chinese Hercules, Five Fingers of Death, Revenge of the Ninja, The Brutal Boxer, The Street Fighter, and Thunderfist), and Differently-Abled Combatants (Kung Fu vs. Yoga, Lucky Seven, The One Armed Executioner, The Crippled Masters, The One-Armed Swordsman, and The Story of Drunken Master). A lot of the trailers feature Lo Lieh and Angela Mao.

Some trailers go on forever, especially the foreign language ones. Still, there are a lot of winners here and very few repeats from other compilations (although I’ll never shy away from seeing the Lucky Seven trailer yet again). I do sort of wish that the trailers played out non-stop though. Before each one, there’s a little bio of the film accompanied by release dates, cast listings, posters, and a synopsis of each movie. Again, since the flick is packed with information, it’s kind of a minor criticism.

GUNSLINGER (1956) ***

Gunslinger is probably the first feminist western. It features a female lead that is just as tough and quick on the draw as just about anyone in westerns at the time. Beverly Garland gives one of her best performances as the wife of a small town marshal (William Schallert). He gets shot in the back in the opening scene and instead of grieving; Beverly immediately picks up his rifle and plugs one of the murderers. Later, at the funeral, when the other gunman shows up, Beverly pulls a pistol and guns him down right there in front of the priest! When no one steps up to be the interim marshal, Beverly grabs her dead husband’s star and proceeds to clean up the town.

What’s cool about Gunslinger is that no one really questions her. They accept Garland as a superior, or at the very least, an equal. Even though she’s a woman, they don’t even really make a big deal about it. One guy makes a comment about her wearing pants, but that’s about it. Garland is able to hold her own in the Wild West. She’s not afraid to shoot first and ask questions later.

The always awesome Allison (Attack of the 50 Foot Woman) Hayes plays the villainess, a saloon owner who is plotting to take over the town if the railroad comes through. She hires John Ireland to kill Garland if she makes trouble. Naturally, Ireland, intrigued by Garland’s beauty AND her badass talent of gunning people down, falls in love with her, which complicates things.

Garland and Hayes are equals in this. They play off each other rather well and both of them get lots of opportunities to shine. In your typical western, these roles would’ve been played by men and they would’ve been fighting over the affections of a woman. Here, John Ireland is the object of their affection, and since he is just as good of a shot as Garland is, it offers a unique dynamic than your average oater.

Gunslinger is a Roger Corman movie. It’s in color and looks better than most of the films he was doing at the time. There are some admittedly rough patches here, mostly owing to the low budget. (Jeep tracks are visible on the range, the indoor sets wobble during a fight, etc.) However, the central premise is involving and the performances are engrossing enough to make it work.

THE LOVE WITCH (2016) **

Of all the throwback retro-grindhouse movies that have come out in the past decade or so, The Love Witch comes closest to matching the look and feel of its original inspirations. The color scheme, costumes, make-up, and hair all feel like they came out of a Jess Franco film from the ‘70s. That is to say it’s pretty awesome. At least on the surface, that is. Honestly, it’s about as uneven and frustrating as your typical Franco flick.

Samantha Robinson stars as the titular witch who uses spells, magic potions, and other forms of sorcery to make men fall in love with her. She looks great with her long hair and clingy pastel dresses, but her acting is a bit of a problem though. Her line readings are often flat and she doesn’t have much screen presence. She certainly looks the part; I’ll give her that. Too bad the second she opens her mouth, the spell is broken.

The film is gorgeous to look at. Every frame is filled with impeccable costuming, garish lighting, and inventive set design. Since director, producer, and screenwriter Anna Biller did just about everything herself, I have to give her all the credit. She certainly proves herself to be a director to watch.

While she got the tone and look of the film just right, the script is sorely lacking such loving attention to detail. Mostly, the movie revolves around scenes of women sitting around and trash-talking men’s shortcomings before Robinson puts stuff in her date’s drinks and watches them become horny and vulnerable. All of this gets a bit repetitive and frankly, a bit boring.

The exorbitant running time of 120 minutes doesn’t help matters either. I’m sure Biller could’ve cut out whole chunks of this thing and no one would’ve ever noticed. The lame Renaissance Festival scene in particular goes on forever and the awful medieval music gets on your damn nerves.

Still, The Love Witch has its moments. The witchcraft scenes are pretty cool and the scene where she makes a potion using her pee and used tampons is rather gnarly. I just wish the whole thing was shorter, funnier, and had some actual meat to the story.

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