Grindhouse film review: Revenge is definitely a dish best served cold… on the ‘Sushi Girl’ by Kern Saxton – OWN

I recently saw ‘Sushi Girl’ at Immersed in Ink’s Tattoo & Horror convention on 4/19/14. It’s a grindhouse film directed by Kern Saxton, co-written by Saxton and Destin Pfaff (who I knew from Millionaire Matchmaker on Bravo) with Tony Todd as star and executive producer.

What can I say? I was really blown away by they very stylized film, easily the best put together (in terms of direction, camera work, etc.) of the various post-‘Grindhouse’ (as in the Rodriguez/Tarantino film) movies in this genre. I remember seeing the trailer and thinking it looked really cool and interesting with one of the more quirky casts around. Everyone from Tony Todd (“Candyman”) to Sonny Chiba (many films most recently the “Kill Bill” films) to Jeff Fahey (“Machete”), Michael Biehn (“Terminator”) and Danny Trejo (at least a 1,000 films including “Machete”) to Mark Hamill (yes, Mr. Skywalker himself).

I had the pleasure of meeting one of the other cast members, Andy Mackenzie and he was one of the coolest, chill celebrities I’ve ever met. He was clearly proud of this film and his part in it: and rightly so. After showing the film, attendees got to ask some questions and he was approachable and shared some great stories about making the film.

We initially see the gorgeous Cortney Palm (the “Sushi Girl” of the title) as she prepares to be the serving tray at a very special feast. We are quickly introduced to a group of villains who haven’t seen each other in just over six years when a robbery went wrong and the newest member (“Fish” played by Noah Hathaway) ended up behind bars. He’s just been released and before he can breathe fresh air as a free man, he’s picked up by a Duke’s (Tony Todd) driver. As a storm roars overhead, we feel his increasing discomfort and tension build as he approaches his destination.

The destination is a run down, Asian-looking building, which has been partially remodeled inside. The entire room is focused on a massive dinner table, which is meticulously laid out with plates, place settings and Sushi Girl covered in an elaborate array of sushi rolls. She’s been instructed by the Sushi Chef (the always awesome Sonny Chiba) to be a tray and not move, speak, or react to anything she sees or hears around her. Never a good sign.

As each former team member arrives one-by-one, including a great turn by James Duval as “Francis,” old rivalries start to arise and Duke works to keep them in check (which becomes harder as time passes). Soon everyone is present and Fish arrives as the guest of honor at his homecoming party. He knows the truth and refused to participate in the pseudo party that is in fact an interrogation. The focus of the evening? What happened to the diamonds Fish was responsible for during their robbery as the rookie bag man? He claims to have no idea, they know they weren’t on him when he was arrested, the arresting cops apparently didn’t take them and everyone present vehemently denies taking them all those years ago.

One thing is quickly clear; Fish isn’t leaving the room before convincing his former crew he really doesn’t have them stashed somewhere. Unfortunately for him, a game of escalating torture will be the price of their belief in him. Things get more brutal and darker with each passing moment. And all the while, the Sushi Girl lays motionless, as things get bloodier by the minute.

Several great characters actors appear in one flashback scene (Fahey, Biehn and Trejo) as we slowly but surely see what really happened six years ago. Tony Todd is amazing and NEEDS to be in more drama. The scene that particularly blew me away is one where Duke shares a story from his childhood involving his brutal father before the game begins. It’s a great, great scene and Todd nails it.

Also impressively, and completely believable in character (and 180 degrees from how he was in real life at the convention) was Andy Mackenzie as Max. Rough, tough and ready to beat the truth out of Fish, Mackenzie fully owns the role and has a simmering rage that frequently is about to erupt that is truly sinister. If DC Comics/Warner Brothers does make a “Lobo” movie, my vote is for Mackenzie to be at the front of the line for that character.

I have always loved “Star Wars” and have a special fondness for Mark Hamill. That said, if I were to criticize anything it would be his performance that is a bit too much/over-the-top. Could have dialed it down a bit and been more subtle, but most of the time it works as he’s the thorn in Max’s paw and that comes across clearly as their back/forth bickering escalates throughout.

I loved seeing it at the festival and picked up a Blu-ray copy while there. Before writing this I wanted to watch again at home with optimal viewing conditions and was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the disc. Not only the visual 1080p presentation, but also the audio is actually presented in 7.1 DTS-Master HD that is crystal clear and immersive (in particular the ongoing rain throughout the film). I wasn’t really expecting it to be that high quality, as many companies would have just put it out with the bare minimum effort.

If you’re into grindhouse, quirky casts, “Reservoir Dogs” (to which this film clearly owes homage to) and some brutal torture – it’s a must see. Oh and that Sushi Girl? Joining Mathilda May (“Lifeforce”) and Jenny Spain (“Deadgirl”) in the niche world of actresses who are naked all or nearly all of a film and are still powerful, not victims, we have Cortney Palm who steals the movie.

Revenge may be a dish best served cold, but this film brings the heat and I look forward to more from director Kern Saxton, Destin Pfaff and these actors (especially Todd, Mackenzie and Palm).

Trailer and links to watch now on Amazon or buy (recommend the Blu-ray version).

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