13: Game of Death
Don't be misled by the generic, horror-torture-bloodlust box-cover art on 13: Game of Death, nor by the insipid tag line — "13 challenges. $100 million. What would you do?" — that sounds like a pitch for a network game show.
What we have here is a little gem of black humor cum psychological gore mindfuck, brought to you by the peaceful people from the Land of Smiles, aka Thailand. The plot is simple: A disaffected, broke office drone is contacted via cell phone by a mysterious game show offering 100 million Thai Bhat (about $25,000 U.S., hardly close to the claimed 100 million shekels) if he completes a series of 13 challenges, which escalates into stomachability.
The deeds range from dining on a plate of shit (served in a deceptively nice restaurant) to dragging a bloated, waterlogged body out of a deep, stagnant well to, well, you get the idea. Our hero, nicely played by Krissada Terrence, goes from hapless innocent loser to blood-soaked killing machine, engaging in a journey that forces him to confront not only his morals but his basic humanity, with plenty of macabre laughs along the way that'd have George Romero envious.
The beauty part is that 13 doesn't play out like typical Hollywood C-level slasher crap; while still providing an abundance of gruesome fodder, the film is actually quite — wait for it — charming. —Peter Gilstrap
Set in the "Golden Age of Hong Kong Cinema" — before the British handover to China in 1997 — Flash Point captures the fun and excitement of those pre-Triad-run HK films.
Starring Donnie Yen as lone-wolf cop Inspector Ma, his "by any means necessary" brand of justice isn't winning him many friends in the upper echelon of the CID (Criminal Investigation Department). Ma's getting the job done while looking out for his pal, Wilson (Louis Koo), an undercover agent trying to blow the whistle on brothers Archer (Rai Lui), Tony (Collin Chou), and Tiger (Yu Xing). These Vietnamese refugees have taken a page from the Tony Montana Playbook by grabbing all the money and power they can in the Hong Kong underworld.
Themes of motherhood, family and broken legs run throughout. There's also a great deal of reliance on cell phone technology that wasn't as advanced more than ten years ago as it's portrayed in the film (even in Hong Kong). It's easy to overlook this and other anachronisms as the melodrama, fighting and gunplay is just so darned fun. The film recaptures the exhilaration of classic Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Yuen Biao, etc. vehicles. Definitely worth a look if you're feeling nostalgic about the halcyon days of HK cinema, and who isn't? —Mike White
The Living End
Most of Gregg Araki's movies leading up to his phenomenal Mysterious Skin were trashy and puerile, absorbing bits and pieces of Kenneth Anger and the French New Wave and dumping them into a stew of flavor-of-the-month Gen-X hedonism that was no better than Larry Clark's jailbait titillation. But looking at 1992's The Living End again, which was just reissued theatrically, it's easy to see how this enfant terrible of queer cinema gained his reputation. The gay Thelma and Louise, the film follows the self-destructive, crash-and-burn road trip of two HIV-positive homosexuals — fey hipster Jon (Craig Gilmore) and fatalistic hustler Luke (Mike Dytri). It's just as immature as most of Araki's movies, only here its crudeness actually works in the film's favor. Araki couldn't compose a decent-looking shot, but it's inspired as hell. Sloppy or not, his images linger, and chances are you'll be paying more attention to the uninhibited sexuality and myriad of deliberately artificial deconstructions (it's no surprise that Jean-Luc Godard is referenced constantly in the picture) to even notice. The Luke character will do little to dispel bigots' perceptions of Gay America as a seedy underworld of street hustlers, but, like good performance art, The Living End is out to shock and confront conservative viewers and challenge the status quo of the Hollywood love story. As a repudiation of the "morals-'n'-values" conservatism of the Reagan and Bush 41 regimes, it's an essential movie. —John Thomason
Fox Film Noir
The first strikeagainst this 1954 crime effort is that it's in color (and Cinemascope to boot) — the fact flies in the face of noir's very soul: the gorgeous spectrum of black and white that allows shadow and light to be the unspoken star of the genre. It's like getting revved up for a good beer drunk and discovering you've been served some alcohol-free frothy; it may taste vaguely the same, but where's the punch?
Beyond that, Black Widow boasts a cast of classic names — Ginger Rogers, George Raft, Van Heflin and the lovely Gene Tierney — not to mention the prolific skills of writer/director/producer Nunnally Johnson, who brought you The Dirty Dozen, The Three Faces of Eve and The Grapes of Wrath, among others.
Despite all that, the murder mystery that takes place in the world of New York theater folk plays out thin and fairly obvious. And who really cares about New York theater folk besides New York theater folk? Lost is the common man vs. his demons angle so crucial to the best noir (think Double Indemnity).
Without giving away too much, guessing whodunit ain't hard, and there are numerous transparent plot points that read like a see-through road map to solving the crime. We do get to see Ginger Rogers' unique, scene-chewing "acting" as she repeatedly goes over the top, a far cry from her light footing in the arms of Fred Astaire. —Peter Gilstrap
Naturally Stacked No. 3
Who can forget filmmaker Ken Burns' moving 17-part documentary, Tits: An America Saga? Particularly of note was the striking, turn-of-the-last-century footage of New York City's teeming ghetto streets as Italian street vendors shouted, "Get-a you titties, right-a here! Big-a natural titties! Come on an'a get'em!"
Of course, in those days, breast enhancement was still a thing of the future. Nowadays, it seems that our nation abounds with fake racks. Finding a pair still honest to God's plan is a rare thing indeed, a fact that didn't deter driven director Brian Xin from finding and featuring a truly stunning array of fun bags untouched by a surgeon's knife.
The title says all in Naturally Stacked No. 3, an enthusiast's dream come true, one that features the impressive chesticles of Gianna, Candace Von, Kala Prettyman, Natasha Nice and the innocently wicked and wonderful Whitney Stevens. Though their names may not be real, the mountainous mams that bounce and sway as the gals (and generally faceless suitors) have their porny way with them certainly are.
Stevens, barely out of her teens yet offering the skills of a seasoned pro, has an excellent turn clad — but not for long — in short shorts and tight pink sweater. Gianna stands out as well, the woman is a truly enthusiastic performer who seems to enjoy her craft. It's easy to get nostalgic about the seemingly fading world of natural boobs; thanks be to Xin, for simply keeping it real. —Fern LaBott