Monday, 15 December 2014

Bad Santa

Title: Bad Santa
Director: Terry Zwigoff
Released: 2003
Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Tony Cox, Brett Kelly, Lauren Graham, Lauren Tom, Bernie Mac, John Ritter

Plot: Conman and safecracker Willie (Thornton) and his dwarf partner Marcus (Cox) seemingly have the perfect con. Posing as a shopping mall Santa the pair case each mall in preparation of Christmas Eve when they rob the stores within. However their plans threaten to come undone when Willie’s numerous vices look set to consume him.

Review: Probably the best known of Zwigoff’s back catalogue no doubt that’s to the controversy which is always surrounds painting Santa in anything but the traditional light and Thronton’s performance as the titular Bad Santa is certainly no exception. Here he gives us a truely morally devoid character who cheats, steals and spends most his time blind drunk, which really is kind of for starters as he constantly seems to find new lows to sink to.

Needless to say Zwigoff here is hardly giving us a film full of Christmas cheer or well much of any kind of cheer to be honest as this is a black comedy in only the darkest shades as here he unleashes a side which even the established fans weren’t expecting as was certainly the case for myself who was left kind of shell shocked by what I had just watched which honestly doesn’t seem to lessen even with repeated viewings, as Zwigoff positively refuses to lighten up the character of Willie and instead plunges him only into lower and often frequently more deprived depths.

Still things are not all doom and gloom as we do get the great scenes of Willie going through the
motions under his Santa guise, sarcastically responding to the lists wheeled off my the children who come to visit him completely unaware of his real intentions, much less his blatant lack of interest in anything they are saying and generally giving foul mouthed and sarcastic responses when he does. True the film could have worked without the hidden criminal intensions and instead just focused on Willie doing the job as bad as he does.

While his actions might question even the most hardened believer it seemingly doesn’t deter Thurman, an overweight kid aswell as hardly the shiniest pebble in the pile judging by his firm belief that Willie is in fact the real Santa. It’s a situation that of course Willie is more than happy to take advantage of as he sets up home in Thurman’s house where he’s lives with his senile grandmother who spends most of the film in a seemingly catatonic state. At the same time he also brings with him his girlfriend of sorts Sue (a highly underrated Lauren Graham) who has her own unique love of Santa. Of course the relationship between Thurman and Willie frequently provides many of the film’s most cringe worthy moments as Thurman makes constant offers of sandwiches while at the same time never showing the slightest hint of emotion to any of Willie’s foul outbursts he unleashes on him, while Thurman’s clear lack of any kind of contact or social interaction makes kind of sad to watch him being treated in such a way, especially when Willie is essentially supposed to be the guy we are supposed to be wanting to pull himself out of his self-destructive slump. However when faced with Willie stealing the chocolate from Thurman’s advent calendar after a particular heavy binge session it’s hard to not despair slightly, especially when it seems that Zwigoff is doing everything possible it seems to challenge the audiences love for this character.

Perhaps it’s only because the other characters in the film are as equally corrupt that we can view Willie as the lesser of the numerous evils on show here, with Marcus clearly only using Willie for his safecracking skills let alone the fact that he holds a certain amount of control over him being his only source of income despite his initial promises to go straight after the heist they pull at the start of the film, only for Willie as Marcus predicts to drink it away by the following Christmas leaving him back in the same position he was before. At the same time the duo now also have to deal with the attentions of security boss Gin (Mac) who despite initially following up on the suspicions of the prudish mall manager Bob (Ritter) soon sees an opportunity to get in on the score as he launches his campaign of blackmail against them.

Unquestionably this is Thornton’s movie who steals every scene he’s in which isn’t too hard when he’s either unleashing some foul mouth tirade (over 300 curse words to be exact while the director’s cut adds an additional 286!) or generally just fowling himself. How much of this was method though remains to be seen, especially when Thornton openly admits to spending most of filming actually drunk. Still considering Bill Murray and Jack Nicolson were also in the running for the role, only to drop out due to commitments to over roles, but now to imagine anyone else in the role. Frustratingly the rest of the cast are more hit and miss with John Ritter in what would sadly be his final performance coming off more awkward thanks to some horrible dialogue seemingly written to highlight his neurotic nature, only for it to frequently prove to be a source of irritation, while Bernie Mac is as funny as you generally find him as he wheels out his usual comedy style.

Honestly though even as a big fan of Zwigoff’s work I found this one hard going, mainly because of how dark a comedy it is and more so when Zwigoff is so unrelenting in how far he takes the film to such dark places that it would make even Todd Solondz question if he’d taken it too far. At the same time when this film works it really does and it’s a shame that the few outstanding moments are so drowned out by the darker ones. As such I would recommend watching it with at least something lighter on standby as chances are you’re going to need it by the end of this one.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Elwood's Essentials #9 - Gremlins

Title: Gremlins
Director: Joe Dante
Released: 1984
Starring: Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Hoyt Axton, Frances Lee McCain, Corey Feldman, Dick Miller, Jackie Joseph, Polly Holliday, Howie Mandel

Plot: When Billy’s father (Axton) gives him a mogwai for Christmas a fuzzy little creature called Gizmo (Mandel) with a simple set of rules. However when Billy (Galligan) accidently breaks these rules he unwittingly unleashes a horde of anarchy loving monsters.

Review: I think every critic has that one film which sparked their love of cinema and which inturn set them on their path of film criticism. For myself I would have to say it is would be this film, which I saw back in a time when your parents would take you to the video store and allow you to rent a film, which always used to come with that wonderful feeling of knowing that this tape was yours for the whole weekend and in turn would lead to you spending the weekend watching the same film over and over. It was of course through one of these weekends while staying at my grandparents, who remarked that I’d seen this film so many times I could no doubt write the script. This of course would prove to be all the inspiration I would need and over the course of the next few days I sat at my grandfather’s typewriter and churned out what I thought was the script but in all honestly could better be described as a junior novelisation of the film, which my grandfather would later illustrate the borders of with sketches of Gizmo and various gremlins. It would be from here that I would only continue my love of writing before eventually moving into film criticism when I started media studies, but there has always has been something about this film which has caused it to never lose its charm even after countless viewings.

It strange that a film which falls pretty firmly between horror and black comedy is so regularly viewed as family entertainment, no doubt due to the adorable presence of Gizmo and the Muppet like antics of his slimy evil offspring which meant that so many kids in my school saw it even if their parents were normally more conservative about what they let them watch. This tactic honestly made zero difference as these kids tended to just go and watch the movies their parents wouldn’t let them watch at the house of some kid whose parents weren’t so fazed by such things. This is only made the more confusing when consider that the fact the film features more than a few gooey moments of gore.
In many ways a throwback to the likes of “Abbott and Costello Meet The Wolfman” in which it perfectly balances horror and comedy, so that when it’s supposed to be scary it is actually scary, while the comedy elements it’s safe to say are probably what has helped it maintain such a legacy and part of why Dante choose to up the comedy for the sequel. Dante though likes to make broad strokes with the comedy elements as he combines simple slapstick moments frequently curtesy of Billy’s inventor father and his useless inventions which usually comes with messy outcomes. At the same time he also manages to pull off more subtle sight gags as seen in both the bar and cinema sequences, which only reward repeated viewing, especially with the cinema sequence which has so many fun details scattered throughout, while the sight of hundreds of gremlins taking a break from the chaos to sing –a-long to “Hi-Ho” from “Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs” still brings a goofy grin to my face even now.   

No doubt another reason the film continues to last is the sheer likability of the characters, starting with the strong family unit who are truly believable as a family something seemingly lost in films after the 80’s. Billy also makes for the right combination of wholesome charm and common man bravado so that he is a believable hero, even if he finds himself frequently being bettered by the creatures, as none more clearly seen in his shopping mall showdown with the head Gremlin Spike where he spends most of it being assaulted by the vicious little sod. The other reason unquestionably is the overwhelming cuteness of the good Mogwai Gizmo, voiced by a pre “America’s Got Talent” judge Howie Mandel, who despite not speaking only a couple of words in English outside of his frenzied babble never fails to express himself, even if we never know why he such a stickler for following the rules which stop him turning into a gremlin aswell.

Interesting through the original script would have made for a much darker movie than the final film, as it saw not only Billy’s mother being killed, but also his dog being eaten by the gremlins and more shockingly Gizmo turning into a gremlin and turning into the stripe. A large number of these changes came at the request of executive producer Steven Spielberg while director Dante clearly knew which battles to pick as he fought to keep the darker view of the holiday season which Kate (Cates) has as she not only references holiday related suicides but also the dark tale of her father’s death as the result of trying to climb down the chimney while dressed as Santa which Dante stubbornly refused to remove as he argued that it represented the film as a whole. True her darker moments went over the heads of kids who watched the film who if they were anything like myself were too distracted with the fun gremlin antics, but rewatching the film now it adds a subtle dark edge to Kate’s character and rising her above the usual damsel in distress style character.

While the sequel would ultimately be more focused on upping the comedy elements, while Dante at the same time ensured that he broke the franchise in such a way that he wouldn’t be forced to produce another sequel, which currently seems to have worked despite the frequent threats of reboots which continue to float around. Dante though it would seem is still not ready to return to the series especially considering how long it took to shoot the gremlin sequences, which still stand up even now, while providing yet another great argument for the advantage of practical effects over CGI.

No matter how many times I’ve seen this film it still holds the same charm it did when I first watched it, thanks to some great performances let alone the fact it stars the always wonderful Dick Miller as the patriotic Murray Futterman who makes for such a fun double act with Jackie Joseph its little surprise that Dante brought them back for the sequel. However while this film might not be as madcap as the sequel it more than stands on its own merits with a perfect blend of horror and comedy which only begs the question as to why Joe Dante never seems to get the recognition he rightfully deserves especially here when he is clearly working at the height of his powers to craft something truly special which rises well above being another monster movie.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer

Title: Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
Director: John McNaughton
Released: 1986
Starring: Michael Rooker, Tom Towles, Tracy Arnold, Mary Demas, Kristin Finger, Anne Bartoletti, Ray Atherton, Kurt Naebig

Plot: Henry (Rooker) a nomadic serial killer embarks on a killing spree with his roommate Otis (Towles), while at the same time trying to keep up appearances when Otis’s sister Becky (Arnold) comes to stay with them.  

Review: Despite not being a part of the video nasties list produced by the ruling of the “1984 Video Recordings Act” this film none the less still managed to generate more than its fair share of controversy, were it ran afoul of the James Ferman era of the BBFC and saw the film being trimmed of 113 seconds. In fact it would take until 2003 before we saw a fully uncut version here in the UK. Thankfully now that the uncut version is readily available the film can be enjoyed in its full grimy glory, with the previous edits through the year and how detrimental they were certainly becoming obvious when you watch the film in the form it was intended to be seen even if it is frequently uncomfortable viewing to say the least.

Shot in a month on a shoestring budget of $110,000 and given the brief of making a horror film with plenty of blood, Director McNaughton found his inspiration after watching an episode of “20/20” about serial killer Henry Lee Lucas. This however is not a straightforward biopic as McNaughton instead bases the film on Lucas’ fantasies and confessions rather than the actual crimes he was convicted for, while many other similar details between the lives of the two Henry’s being altered to make them less shocking such an Otis’s sister being made older than her real life counterpart, while here Henry and Otis are noted as having met in prison rather than in a soup kitchen. Interestingly though McNaughton decides to keep Henrys’ childhood traumas almost identical to the ones described by Lucas.

Despite the link to a notorious serial killer, the film more than stands on its own even without the comparisons to real life events thanks to an incredible debut by Michael Rooker, who was an actor I’d become more accustomed to seeing playing more straightforward psychos and trashy redneck style characters than anything resembling a leading role, but here he embodies the character of Henry as he effortlessly shifts between the shy and awkward face he presents to those around him and the sadistic and quick to violence dark side. It is easy to understand while his performance was so quickly acclaimed, let alone the amount of further jobs he was offered as result of tapes being passed around while the film was being put through the censorship shears, especially when Rooker reportedly spent most of filming in character which no doubt wasn't particular fun for costume designer Patricia Hart who would carpool with Rooker to the set each day. At the same time he plays well off Towles’ unquestionably sleazy Otis who largely serves to provide a dark style of buffoonery when not trying to hit on his own sister as he takes an almost apprentice style role, while equally highlighting the limits which Henry has set for himself, even when it frequently doesn’t seem to have any.

While the violence within the film is a source of much controversy this is not a splatter happy slasher, especially when we witness only the aftermath of Henrys’ murders for the first half of the film and even then the film does with perhaps the exception of the murder of a TV salesman, McNaughton remains surprisingly restrained for these scenes, instead proving that he can shock with simply shot yet surprisingly effective imagery as more than clearly emphasised with the home invasion sequence which would suffer the most cuts over the course of its journey to its current uncut status and unquestionably it is not the easiest sequence to watch, especially when its aftermath lingers on longer than you would like after the violence has passed, while as the film switches to Henry and Otis rewatching their handiwork on video unfazed by their actions and certainly in the case of Otis who demands a rewatch a mixture of pride and amusement which carries over from the tape.

Perhaps also due to the lack of budget McNaughton was forced to restrain the gore here, which in a strange twist of fate plays in the films favour like so many of the aspects of the film which came out of pure coincident. Examples including the fact that the limited budget meant that the cast wore their own clothes, with Rooker who at the time was still working as a high school janitor taking his jacket off during the murder scenes so that he wouldn’t get blood on them, which at the same adds a sense of process to the murders he commits. Elsewhere not being able to afford extras McNaughton just used the pedestrians who happened to be on the streets when he was shooting, while the two guys arguing as Becky walks up from the subway were in fact just two guys having an argument.

Unquestionably though it is a sense of ill ease which McNaughton shoots the film with as he never allows the audience to feel at any point comfortable around these characters, with Rooker frequently coming across like he might snap at any moment into one of his violent rages, while at the same time forgoing the inclusion of any representative for the forces of right as like the title states here he is aiming solely to provide a portrait of this character and while Henry’s world starts to crumble around him at the films climax, McNaughton allows us something of a slight reprieve as he hints of salvation for Henry through the character of Becky, only to slam the door close with an ending which is nothing short of chilling.

A grimly fascinating film, which while far from an enjoyable experience is none the less an engaging one, while in many ways paving the way for the likes of “Man Bites Dog” and “Behind the Mask: The Rise of LeslieVernon” while Rookers performance remains ingrained long after the credits have rolled, with this classic example of low budget film making.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Elwood's Essentials #8: Paprika

Title: Paprika
Director: Satoshi Kon
Released: 2006
Starring: Megumi Hayashibara, Toru Furuya, Toru Emori, Katsunosuke Hori, Akio Otsuka, Koichi Yamadera

Plot: In the near future, a device called the “DC Mini” has been created which allows the user to view people’s dreams. Heading up this treatment is Doctor Atsuko Chiba who also uses the machine to further her research outside of the  facility under her alter-ego Paprika. However when the machine is stolen all hell looks set to break loose as the line between dreams and reality becomes increasingly blurred.

Review: It is always a sense of sadness which accompanies each of Satoshi Kon’s films I watch, especially when they equally serve as a reminder of the seemingly unlimited creativity he processed which due to his untimely death from Cancer would ultimately total four films while his fifth “Dreaming Machine” still lingers in production limbo despite the efforts of the founder of Animation studio “Madhouse” Masao Maruyama which have suffered due to lack of funding for the project. As his final film before his death this film does however provide a suitable closing note to an unquestionably impressive, if yet at the same time still underrated film making resume which has in turn inspired the likes of Darren Aronofsky who drew inspiration for “Black Swan” from “Perfect Blue” while this film in particular would prove a key inspiration for Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” which only becomes all the more clearer when you watch the film.

Originally intended to be the follow up to his debut “Perfect Blue” it would however be delayed when original distribution company Rex Entertainment went backrupt, leading Kon to make “Millennium Actress” instead. Thankfully the wait would prove to be worthwhile as her Kon is clearly working at the top of his ability as he combines dazzling visuals with complex plotting, while at the same time further exploring the synergy of dreams and reality a theme which run throughout most of his films as well as his series “Paranoia Agent” but here he puts it up front and centre.

Opening with a blustering dash through the various dreams of Detective Toshimi Konakawa (Otsuka) which play like a series of random movie clips and see him not only engaging in a spot of Tarzan action but also taking the lead in his own spy thriller before Kon suddenly snaps us back into reality or atleast one of the many forms it takes in this world, with Kon quickly following up this attention grabbing opening with the zany opening sequence which see’s Chiba switching between her alter-ego Paprika and her real form while Kon sprinkles even the supposed real world with fun surreal elements as colourful adverts suddenly come to life as she passes them.
Even in the real world it is still one packed with fascinating characters with certainly the most memorable having to be the monstrously obese and childlike genius Tokita who created the DC Mini and who when we first encounter him has wedged himself inside a lift. The dreamscape however is where Kon truly lets his creativity shine with his centrepiece being a maniacal parade, comprised of various colourful characters which rolls on like an unstoppable tide and only continues to be added to as the dreamscape grows ever more out of control. Elsewhere Chiba as Paprika is able to manipulate the dreamscape to her advantage, turning herself into a fairy and even at one point taking on the form of Monkey (a reference possibly lost on those not up to speed on their Asian mythology) complete with staff and magic cloud! Of course the further she delves into the dreamscape the more twisted it becomes especially the closer she gets to those responsible for abusing the power the DC Mini provides the user with.

While the visuals might be exceptionally pretty to look at they are truly heightened by the electro heavy soundtrack composed by long term collaborator Susumu Hirasawa who once again pulls off something quite special, while many such as the parade theme and opening theme are exceptionally catchy while having that rare quality of working even when taken away from the film.

Unquestionably this is a film which requires more than one watch especially when the plotting can at times come off perhaps slightly unnecessarily complex in places, especially towards the end when the two worlds become fully blurred leading to some certainly impressive sequences, especially when you look at the level of detail in scenes like the parade, whose sheer variety of characters may even have you hitting the pause button to take them all in.

While this film like so many of his films might not be as well known outside of anime fan circles, I can really only hope that this film one day get exposed to a wider audience so that it will be rightfully refrenced alongside the likes of “Akira” and “Ghost In The Shell” when it comes to naming truly great anime, especially when it once again proves that animated films can provide the same thrill and wonder as life action, while providing a fitting end note (for now) to the remarkable career of Satoshi Kon

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Master of the Flying Guillotine


Title: Master of the Flying Guillotine
Director: Jimmy Wang Yu
Released: 1976
Starring: Jimmy Wang Yu, Chin Kang, Lau Kar-Wing, Lung Wei Wang, Philip Kwok, Lung Fei, Doris Lung

Plot: Following on from the events of “One Armed Boxer” Liu Ti Lung (Wang Yu) finds himself being hunted by the blind imperial assassin Fung Sheng Wu Chi (Kang) and master of the deadly flying guillotine who is determined to avenge his disciples.

Review: Despite being a sequel to “One Armed Boxer” it’s really not required that you saw the first film as this film works perfectly well as its own standalone film, while at the same time fuelled by its own grindhouse charms which cover for many of its flaws to provide a deliriously fun experience.

Helmed by its leading man Jimmy Wang Yu who while perhaps not as well known or certainly as skilled as many of the better known actors within the martial arts genre, it hasn’t stopped him from amassing an impressive back catalogue which includes Australia’s only kung-fu movie “TheMan From Hong Kong” as he largely gives us a more fantastical style of martial arts which strangely somehow manages to work still, but then everything in this film is so far stretched his skills hardly comes into question.

Opening to Fung showcasing his skills with the flying guillotine as he decapitates a bunch of dummies (and a chicken) before blowing up his own house as he also shows off his love of explosives which interestingly are his backup weapons of choice. Despite being blind he is hardly hampered thanks to his sharpened sense of hearing which enables his to pin point his targets. On the flipside though it does mean that he has no idea what Liu actually looks like, not that it deters him from his mission of revenge in the slightest as he counters this flaw in his revenge plans by killing any one armed man he encounters, with the plan seemingly being that he would eventually find Liu through process of elimination (or decapitation in this case). Unsurprisingly this does lead to a series of imitators meeting a grisly end as a result of their ruse.

Liu meanwhile has all but retired, preferring to teach his students than compete in competition, as he turns down the frequent attempts to recruit him for a local martial arts tournament which makes up a sizeable chunk of the film as we watch a variety of martial artists each with their own unique style competing against each other with the highlights being an Indian Yogi played by a blacked up Wong Wing-Sang who has the ability to stretch his arms bringing to mind Dalsim from “Street Fighter” while frequent Wang Yu collaborator Lung Fei shows up as a Tonfa welding Japanese fighter, whose weapon of choice also hides a secret blade. Despite his constant presence in the film he largely seems more concerned with stealing away the feisty Doris Lung.

The titular weapon is an interesting one and one rarely seen in most kung-fu movies, perhaps because of its fantastical nature seeing how it is essentially a bladed Frisbee which turns into a bag over an opponent’s head before cleanly decapitating them with a flick of the chain its attached to. Strangely enough it was an actual weapon hailing from the time of the Yongzheng Emperor during the Qing Dynasty and while its effectiveness might be questionable here it makes for an interesting centrepiece especially when used with such fantastical skill from the blind master no less!

The fight scenes are all pretty fun, especially with such a wide range of style on offer especially with the fighting tournament which makes up the middle section basically providing an excuse to include them, much less providing a reason for half of the opponents Liu faces are in town in the first place. Why so many seem to readily willing to help Fung is unclear and if their reasons are rooted in money or the acclaim of beating the one armed boxer is furthermore never explained. Still with so many great set pieces such as a fight inside a burning hut with a heated floor and the final showdown between Liu and Fung inside a coffin shop as Liu utilises a number of tricks and traps including spring loaded axe launchers to defeat his formidable opponent.

While Wang Yu might not be the most skilled of martial artists as I mentioned earlier here his weaknesses are covered thanks to a combination of wire work and martial arts mcguffins as he makes comments to the importance of jumping and balance as he demonstrates walking around the edge of a large pot and even walking along the ceiling as the film once again throws any attempt at logic out of the window not that any of the films from their era were big on it either, but this film genuinely seems to revel in seeing how far it can push things.

Ultimately this film is a lot of fun and while it might not be the most technically perfect demonstration of martial arts it’s so fast passed and fun it gives you no time to concern yourself with such issues as it makes for an enjoyable dose of Kung-fu madness.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014


Title: Yatterman
Director: Takashi Miike
Released: 2009
Starring: Sho Sakurai, Saki Fukuda, Chiaki Takahasi, Kyoko Fukada, Kendo Kobayashi, Katsuhisa Namase, Junpei Takiguchi, Anri Okamoto, Sadao Abe, Koichi Yamadera

Plot: Gan Takada (Sakurai) and his girlfriend Ai (Fukuda) live a double life as the crime fighting heroes Yatterman protecting the city of Tokyoko from the schemes of the Doronbo gang who have been despatched by their boss Skullobey (Takiguchi) to find all four pieces of the legendry Skull Stone.

Review: The career path of director Takashi Miike continues to be a fascinating one to chart, especially since he seemingly made the choice to branch out from his roots established with the gore soaked shock and awe of the films which made up his outlaw years and which equally helped him found a strong fanbase amongst Western audiences. While it’s also true that this change of direction which has certainly seen his output get lighter with these later films might have polarised his fanbase he has equally at the same time produced some of the most interesting films of his career of which this is certainly another great example.

Based on the popular anime series of the same name which despite having 108 episodes never seemingly made it over to the rain soaked shores of the UK, so its safe to say I went into this one completely blind with not even the knowledge of Miike being in the director’s chair being any kind of guide after all here we have a director who gave the world both “Ichi The Killer” and “For Love’s Sake”.

Forgoing the traditional superhero movie plotting, Miike clearly believes his audience would be up to speed on the show before they watched the movie as he throws us straight into a big mecha battle between Yatterman (yes they are both called Yatterman) and the Doronbo Gang who have wheeled out their latest mecha invention in the form of a robot chef. It’s a fun opening which essentially sets the tone for what’s to follow as here Miike is clearly in one of his lighter and certainly more playful moods. That’s not of course to say that he still doesn’t manage to sneak in a few screwed up moments, I mean just wait to see what he does with the mecha Bride that the Doronbo gang build in the second half of the film.

The character designs are kept the same as the original show, which is honestly kind of refreshing in these times were since Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy directors constantly seem to be aiming for an element of realism when it comes to directing comic book movies rather than embracing the fantastical elements the genre allows, which is certainly something that Miike has no issues doing as clearly seen with the character design for the members of the Doronbo gang as we have the PVC clad boss Doronjo (Fukada) the rat faced mecha genius and generally lecherous pervert Boyacky (Namase) and rounding out the team we have the pig snout wearing strongman Tonzra (Kobayashi). Despite being so outlandish in their appearance here they strangely work as Miike once again crafts a world for his film to exists within, while at the same time shooting it with such a sense of quirky fun so that like so many aspects of the film you don’t really question it.

One of the moments which truly highlights this is the various get rich schemes that the Doronbo launch to fund their the construction of their latest mecha, which usually share a theme, hence they open a wedding store called “Doro Merry” to fund the construction of the mecha bride “The Bridesmaidiot” or their Yo-Sushi style restaurant they create to fund their giant meca-squid. Interestingly this trio of bumbling crooks we get to know more about than either of our main heroes, in particular their aspirations they hope to gain from their criminal enterprises which you probably won’t be surprised to know are as random as they are, in particular Boyacky’s dream of having every schoolgirl in the world as the film cuts to him buried up to his neck in a mountain of Japanese schoolgirls. Again like so many of the more random aspects of the film it is hard to tell what is taken from the source material and what’s the result of Miike’s warped imagination.

The action scenes throughout are exciting and fast paced, while containing numerous amounts of slapstick and surreal moments, especially when they wheel out the giant mecha with Yatterman’s own mecha coming in the form of a giant robo dog called Yatterwoof which they also use to get around as seen in one of the numerous musical numbers. Aswell as all the giant robot fun we also get some more traditional fight scenes, which usually descend into Boyacky and Tonzra being on the wrong end of the gadgets used by Yatterman. Still these could hardly be considered brutal beatdowns especially when the cartoony vibe is maintained throughout.

While the film is for the most part a lot of fun, it does have a rather generous runtime which certainly could have benefited from being trimmed down to a more lean runtime, especially when there are so many scenes which felt overplayed or unneeded, while at the same time perhaps stopping the plot from becoming as confused as it does in places and while some Miike fans might feel that Miike has lost his edge with these kinds of films which he has been keener to make as of late rather than his earlier and certainly more warped and arguably interesting films, but here he once again proves that even without the lashing of gore and controversial imagery he is still a director capable of producing attention grabbing and most importantly entertaining films, while at the same providing an fun alternative to the overly serious tone that Hollywood would prefer to take for its comic book movies.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Safety Not Guaranteed

Title: Safety Not Guaranteed
Director: Colin Trevorrow
Released: 2012
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Jake Johnson, Karan Soni, Jenica Bergere, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Kristen Bell, Jeff Garlin, William Hall, Jr.

Plot: Sent out by “Seattle Magazine” Jeff (Johnson) along with interns Darius (Plaza) and Arnau (Soni) to try and discover more about a curious newspaper classified ad, looking for someone to travel back in time.

Review: Has Aubrey Plaza got a clause in her contract which only allows her characters to be involved with only the creepiest or most irritating characters in he films she appears in. Certainly it would appear to be the case as I was forced to watch her not only dry hump Christopher Mintz-Plasse but also shack up with the terminally vapid Scott Porter in “The To Do List” and now here we get possibly the most unbelievable romance between her character and the oddball behind the ad in question Kenneth (Duplass). Again the reasons behind this bizarre plot direction is almost as confusing as the exceptionally high rating that this film currently holds on Rotten Tomatoes.

Starting off as a mystery piece as the trio try to discover the truth behind the bizarre classified add, which soon leads to Darius becoming the inside girl as she meets up with Kenneth and begins his unorthodox training regime which consists largely of firearm training and running around in the woods, which seemingly is the sort of training that potential time travels needs. As his trust in her grows Kenneth also involves Darius in his raids of the local research facility to steal more equipment for his time machine, as seen in possibly one of the most questionable heists ever, especially when Kenneth seems to be carrying it out based on things he’s seen in the movies, while only made the more surreal when he is caught wheeling out equipment by a stunned group of employees attending a birthday party down the hall from the storage room he has just broken into.

While this is happening we also get the second plotline of Jeff trying to connect with his old girlfriend who lives in the same town as Kenneth, which it ultimately turns out is his sole reason for taking on the assignment originally, which ironically turns out to be a lot more interesting than the main plot line anyway. Needless to say Johnson’s bumbling and frequently crude approach to this personal project really provide most of the films  highpoints even more so when it all inevitably blows up in his face and inturn turning his focus to trying to get the terminally shy Arnau laid.

It is certainly something to question when the subplot of the film is more interesting than the main plot of the story, which is it has to be said largely down to how generally creepy the character of Kenneth is. This isn’t the sort of creepy until you warm up to him, but instead just plain creepy. It’s hard to say if this is down to Duplass’s performance which largely feels devoid of any kind of emotion making the sudden romance between him and Darius only all the more forced, while I can only challenge you not to roll your eyes at the clumsy seduction scene.

It’s kind of shame that this film fails to be more enjoyable, especially when the cast seem to really care about the film they are making with Johnson being the real standout here as he brings to the film the same energy he brings to his more recognisable role as Nick on “New Girl” and while here it essentially is him giving us more of the same, it is still an enjoyable performance and one which distracts from some of the more negative aspects of the film. Elsewhere Plaza comes off more hit and miss as we wheels out her trademark permanently moody style which as with “The To Do List” doesn’t exactly work when you’re trying to build a romantic connection between characters while at the same time making me wonder if despite her talent that she wouldn’t be better kept to playing supporting characters rather than taking on these leading roles?

The ending of the film while some might appreciate the fantastical direction it takes the film, for me ultimately felt kind of flat and almost as if director Trevorrow was challenging the audience for ever doubting Kenneth in the first place. However for this to have work we should have atleast been given some indication that he could actually pull off his time travel claims, rather than being lead unquestionably down the path of believing that he is just a delusional crazy loon.

Despite this being a heavily flawed film it would certainly seem that someone high up liked it seeing how Trevorrow is currently directing the forth “Jurassic Park” movie “Jurassic World” after attempts to remake another time travel classic “Flight of the Navigator” fell through though as of the time of writing it remains to be seen if he works better under the restraints of the mainstream system than he does when given the freedom that the indie scene provides.
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