Sunday, 24 January 2010


Title: Orphan
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Released: 2009
Staring: Vera Farminga, Peter Sarsgaard, Isabelle Fuhrman, CCH Pounder, Jimmy Bennett, Aryana Engineer

Rating: 4 / 5

Plot: Kate (Farmiga) and John (Sarsgaard) Coleman are slowly rebuilding their troubled marriage and having met the nine year old Russian girl Esther (Fuhrman), during their visit to the St. Marina Orphanage, they are keen to adopt her, despite her troubled and mysterious past, however it soon becomes clear that Esther is not as innocent as she seems.

Review: Okay let’s face it Modern horror is currently in a state of being DOA, especially looking at the release schedule for 2010, which is already shaping up to be a year remakes and sequels, with nothing that seems especially groundbreaking or original. This despair is only really increased when you consider how over saturated the modern horror market has become in recent years, let alone how safe and sterile modern horror constantly seems to be. So I guess it makes “Orphan” that much more of a surprise, despite from the fact that from the outset it looks like nothing special, which probably explains why it slipped under the radar for a lot of horror fans, which is kind of a shame as it’s exactly the kind of modern horror film, that most of us keep hoping that the mainstream will finally start making.

It’s clear pretty much from the start that director Collet-Serra is keen to prove himself as a director capable of directing a film for the mainstream audience, without feeling that he has to restrain his vision, especially when you consider his only other horror credit is the 2005 “House of wax” remake with it’s famous “See Paris Die” tagline, it hardly boded well for this film, that it could holding anything suprising, which is certainly an opinion I questioned, as I witnessed the opening scene of a surreally shot hospital visit, which really makes you question what is real and what is actually part of the dream, while also helping the viewer to understand in some way, the feelings which Kate bottles up inside of her, when she looses her child and fuelling an alcoholic spiral of depression, which she is only just recovering from, when we are snapped back to reality, still haunted by the nightmarish visions of complacent surgeons removing Kate’s child and of the Ariel view of the bloody smear left on the hospital floor as Kate is pushed in a wheelchair through the hospital hallway.
Farmiga is spot on with her performance as Kate, never feeling that she has to overwork any of the aspects of Kate’s personality, especially in regards to her battles with Alcohol which could easily have been portrayed in a more cliché way, but thankfully here it seen as a problem that Kate is only just struggling to keep on top of, with her family situation only looking like it might finally push her over the edge, all the more so as the mystery around Esther continues grows and she finds herself feeling only the more alone, as those around her fail to see Esther for anything more than a well spoken little girl.

When it comes to Esther’s true character nothing is kept from the audience, so we are left with no question as to her true intentions, especially from the early warning signs that there is something seriously wrong with her, as she calmly bludgeons an injured pigeon to death, which her brother Daniel (Bennett) has injured with his paintball gun. However it is the mind games she plays with the family, which prove to be the most intriguing, especially with the manipulative relationship she develops with Daniel’s young sister, the deaf mute Max (Engineer) whose condition could be seen by the more sceptical viewer as a cheap way of writing off why Max, just doesn’t tell her parents the truth about Esther, though this never seems the case, largely because of the mature portrayal of Esther by Fuhrham, whose performance is one of the most surprising aspects of the film, especially when it comes across as a much more mature performance than you would expect, let alone how any of her manipulative actions never feel forced or unnatural, much like when she does allows her aggression to show itself, whether throwing herself against the walls of a toilet cubicle or during one of the satisfying murders she commits throughout, in order to keep her secret. It is the final revel of this secret though, which is the moment that the rug is most defiantly pulled from underneath the feet of the audience, even more so by not being one of the usual write off conclusions, which are typically associated with the “Bed Seed” genre, in which the reason for the evil children is typical attached to the involvement of Satan or some cliché source of evil, even if it is kind of a stretch and certainly works best when it is not too closely scrutinised. Still by the time this revel is made, you are kind of grateful seeing how at this point, Esther’s wackiness has been cranked to the max.

Despite having a low body count “Orphan” does not seem to suffer, thanks largely to the horror being more psychological, but despite this we still get a few decent deaths including a brutal bludgeoning with a hammer and a pillow suffocation, with Collet-Serra certainly making full use of his snow covered setting, especially by combining these shots of violence with the always effective shots of splashes of blood on the snow. Looking at the original script though it would seem that we might have been denied some scenes which might have proved to have been equally effective, such as the girl whom Kate and Jon had originally intended to adopt being found hung in a closet, after their first meeting with Esther, aswell as the character of Daniel remaining dead, which would have been largely welcome, seeing how Bennet’s performance is one of the weakest in the film, coming off largely bratty and too annoying for the audience to actually feel anything for his character.

Although the material might look like well trodden ground, “Orphan” still manages to provide enough unique twists to help it stand out from the rest of its bad seed brethren. It might have started off darker in script form, than the final film, but despite this, it still remains a film worth giving a look, if only for the astonishing performance by Fuhrman, who might have just created in her performance of Esther a character worthy of placing next to the likes of Damian, when they come to write the list of truly evil children.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Sister Street Fighter

Title: Sister Street Fighter
Director: Kazuhiko Yamaguchi
Released: 1974
Staring: Etsuko Shihomi, Emi Hayakawa, Sanae Ohori, Bin Amatsu, Sonny Chiba, Masashi Ishibashi

Rating: 5 / 5
Plot: When her undercover agent brother is kidnapped by the drug ring he was infiltrating; Li (Shihomi) is brought in to help find him, with the help of his martial arts school, including the powerful Seiichi Hibiki (Chiba)

Review: Well it’s safe to say that purchasing the Multi region DVD player, has once again proved to be a great purchase, especially seeing how without it I wouldn’t have been able to discover this first film in the Sister Street Fighter collection and to think the original reason I bought the player in the first place, was just so I could watch the second season of “Dead like Me”. Still while celebrating turning twenty seven on Thursday, I thought I’d dig this out from the viewing pile and now I’m so glad I did.

A spin off from Sonny Chiba’s “Street Fighter” Series, which the studio bosses at Toei were keen to cash in, after the success of the first two films, even more so with the craze for female driven exploitation movies at a high. Chiba himself recommended the star pupil of his Japanese Action Club (JAC) Shihomi for the title role of this series, after the studio’s original choice Angela Mao wasn’t available for filming and despite the fact that she had no previous acting credits to her name. It would prove to be well placed faith on Chiba’s part as Shihomi embodies the role of the titular sister street fighter, who despite the title actually has no link whatsoever to Terry Tsurugi, the antihero lead of Chiba’s Street Fighter movies, but this doesn’t stop it from still being just as fun.

The villain of this first outing for Li, Kakuzaki (Amatsu) is certainly an interesting character who not only enjoys experimenting running drug experiments on his prisoners, but has used the wealth he has gained from his drug empire to assemble an impressive collection of fighters who act as his personal bodyguards, no doubt having learned from his criminal forefathers the importance of having as many fighters as you can, especially when you have some martial artist do-gooder trying to destroy your empire. It is also safe to say that he has quite an eclectic selection; including a group of female Thai kick boxers dressed in leopard print loincloths named “The Amazon Seven”, a guy who runs around in a cape welding a blow dart pipe and Zulu shield and the supposed karate champion of Australia Eva Parish, whose does nothing more than exhibit some horrible looking movies against a punch bag, before mysteriously disappearing from the film entirely! Still these pale in comparison to the wicker basket wearing goons of Kakuzaki’s right hand man Inubashiri (Ishibashi). Still Li is not alone in her fight against Kakuzaki and his army of crazy martial artists as she teams up with Hibiki (Chiba) the ex-karate club captain, ex-racer, ex-bodyguard, and general badass, though fans of Chiba might be disappointed that his appearance is pretty much an extended cameo appearance, rather than being a role with any real depth to it.

Chiba’s Street Fighter movies were notorious for their scenes of comic book style violence and this is no different with Sister Street Fighter, with highlights including a head being twisted a full 180 degree’s while at the same time Director Yamaguchi cranks up the sheer randomness, which is something that this film has by the truckload, which is also probably one of reasons I found this film so enjoyable to watch, as the story is awful and the majority of the acting is quite painful to watch, much like the dubbed version of this film, which thankfully I spared myself the trauma of sitting through, instead sticking with the subtitled version, which is now finally available thanks to the folks at Ronin Entertainment, who have put together a great boxset containing all four of the Sister Street fighter movies, with the disks containing both the dubbed and subtitle versions, which certainly welcome for those of us who like a choice, between the two.
Sister Street Fighter is a certainly a strictly exploitation style movie, from it’s energetic soundtrack which includes a stereotypical “Hong Kong Theme” to gratuitous scenes shot at a strip club, as well as one of the more shocking moments, as Kakuzaki forces one of his minions to watch as another of his more portly minions rapes his daughter, still at the same time it does provide the film with slightly more leeway especially when it comes to some of the more unexplainable moments contained within, such as why Kakuzaki is smuggling Heroin disguised as wigs? Aswell as one of my personal favourite fight sequences which see’s Li suddenly being transported suddenly from Kakuzaki’s compound to a seaside cliff before suddenly leaping to her fighting suddenly on a suspension bridge, which also leads to perhaps one of the least convincing dummies being thrown off said bridge. Still no doubt if you have stuck with the film until this point, that this scene appears your probably willing to accept anything.
The fight scenes are varied and kept interesting thanks to the range of abilities of Kakuzaki’s henchmen, with each of their abilities splashed across the screen in huge letters, when each of them make their first appearance. These scenes are also so enjoyable to watch, thanks largely to the fighting talent of Shihomi who appears comfortable performing both with weapons and without them, an obvious advantage gained through her training with JAC, whose speciality is training martial arts actors, while also using her innocent appearance to devastating effect here, usually while bashing some bad guy with a nun chuck or while driving one of her Sai through someone’s skull.

“Sister Street Fighter” is far from a perfect film, especially with it’s sheer randomness and truck sized plot holes, yet somehow out of this it still manages to be an extremely fun movie and defiantly worth a look for the fans of the “Street Fighter” movies and those of us who like their kung fu alittle less art house and a lot more fun!

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Title: Charlie Bartlett
Director: Jon Poll
Released: 2007
Staring: Anton Yelchin, Robert Downey Jr., Hope Davis, Kat Dennings, Murphy Bivens, Mark Randall

Rating: 5 / 5
Plot: After getting expelled from his latest private school, for making fake ID’s Charlie (Yelchin) in another of his doomed quests for popularity, is sent to the local public High School, were he quickly sets up shop as the resident unoffical student Psychiatrist.

Review: Does anyone remember the days when comedies were more than how many gross out gags, involving putting your private parts into baked goods, or basically trying to spoof whatever is currently flavour of the week. Well you might be kind hard pressed to remember any of these comedies especially as they are so few and between these days, leaving it pretty much up to the indie scene to once again capture the spirit of comedies such as “Empire Records” (1995) and “Rushmore” (1998), which first time director Poll seems to have been aiming for here, as even from the beginning you can tell this is a far cry from the types of comedies which have dominated the market over the last few years.

Opening with the daydreaming Charlie being expelled for making fake ID’s it is quickly established, why he is the way he is, having been forced to grow up quickly to support his mother (Davis) who constantly seems in a fragile state since the arrest of Charlie’s father for a crime which is frustratingly never revealed to the viewer. The relationship he has with his mother is on occasion quite creepily incestuous as they, sit at the piano singing show tunes, while making it clear that Charlie for the most part of his life has clearly, been kept in a protective bubble afforded to him by his families wealth and it’s only when he enters the real world of the local public high school, that he learns just how false that world has been, as he’s quickly made fun of because of how he dresses and acts, fitting into none of the usual stereotypical groups (Jocks, stoners, outcasts etc) and quickly finding himself on the wrong side of the school bully and occastional pot dealer Murphy Bivens (Hilton) who takes great delight in not only beating Charlie up, but also having his lackey videotape it at the same time.
It is really only after discovering an ulterior use for his prescribed Ritalin, which if I’m to believe what Poll shows on screen has the same effect as ecstasy, that Charlie discovers his route to popularity teaming up with Murphy to setup shop, quickly bringing him to the attention of the Emo Loner Kip (Randall) who becomes the first of Charlie’s patients, sparking a craze amongst the fellow students as Charlie listens to the problems of the various students, in his office setup in the boys toilet, with the cubicles taking on an look all to similar to that of Catholic confession, almost as if he asking the students to confess to their issues and problems, before taking their stories which he then recites during visits to various psychologists and obtaining prescriptions to the medication he requires. It’s this strange combination of high school issues and drug abuse that seems like strange subject matter, for what at its core is basically a comedy and could just have easily been a much heavier film. Thankfully Poll never feels the temptation of giving us all a lecture about the “Prozac nation” we currently live in, even if he does feel the need to address the dangers of Charlie dishing out med’s by having Kip overdose, rather than having his actions go consequence free.

Seeing how Anton Yelchin is currently drawing comparisons to Mathew Broderick, it makes it all the less surprising that the character of Charlie is a lot similar to that of Broderick’s break through role as titular Ferris in “Ferris Buller’s Day Off” (1986), though it has to be said that Yelchin’s Charlie is a lot less pretentious than Broderick’s Ferris. Kat Dennings also fairs well here, as the principles daughter Susan aswell as the love interest, while at the same time still managing to make her character more than that, even if most of the time she is just basically shadowing Charlie, or being shown reacting to one of his schemes.
Robert Downey Jr. is on equally great form as the principle, constantly being torn between his loyalties to the faculty and the kids, as he constantly battles with Superintendent Sedgwick (Derek McGrath) for control of the school. What is more interesting though about Downey Jr.’s character is his battles with addictions of his own, mainly alcoholism echoing his own real life addictions which I couldn’t help but wonder if, that was what attracted to him to the part in the first place.

“Charlie Bartlett” might have slipped under the radar in the UK, but it is really worth hunting down, especially for fans of Wes Andersons “Rushmore who may find themselves drawing comparisons between the characters of Max Fisher and Charlie, and their equally quirky quests for acceptance, but there is still enough original ideas here, to not be a direct copy, even it does perhaps skirt around some of the heavier issues it tries to cover.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Big Man Japan

Title: Big Man Japan
Director: Hitoshi Matsumoto
Released: 2007
Staring: Hitoshi Matsumoto, Riki Takeuchi, Ua, Tomoji Hasegawa

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Plot: Sato (Matsumoto) is a 40 something divorcee, who lives alone with only his cat for company, while occasionally being called upon to save Japan from Giant Monsters, by turning himself into Big Man Japan, achieved by exposing himself to large amounts of electricity which causes him to grow to a gigantic size.

Review: It’s kind of refreshing these days, to go into a film blind as to what to expect, which isn’t no easy thing, especially when you consider how films with even the slightest bit of popularity seem to appear everywhere, no matter how much you attempt to escape the bombardment of publicity being hurled at you. So it was kind of refreshing, sitting down to watch this film with only the slightest idea of what to expect, though it is probably safe to say that with this film, I could have done with some insight as to what I should expect, especially when it refuses to be placed in a single genre, despite from the outset looking like a standard Kaiju type movie, with a big guy battling random monsters and true I got this, but at the same time it is also so much more, as it criss crosses genres randomly throughout making it at times seeing like a patchwork of ideas, only loosely held together by the thread of the main plotline.
The mockumentry style in which Matsumoto has chosen to use to tell the story is quite effective, as it continually allows for him to dissect the character of Sato, who for the first fifteen minutes of the film could be just a regular guy, as he does his daily shopping, while telling the camera crew about his love of umbrellas and his cat, while not actually saying anything about his Big Man Japan alter ego, almost as if he doesn’t know whether to trust the camera crew or not, even though they clearly know already about him and in a way reminded me of “Man Bites Dog” (1992).
The character of Sato is a deeply flawed character, seeing how he is not only divorced but also seems to have trouble connecting with anyone, including his young daughter, who feels ashamed of her father with his ex wife insisting that the film crew blur her face, when on camera, so that she doesn’t get teased at school. At the same time Sato also feels a sense of responsibility to save Japan from the monsters, a responsibility it would seem passed down his family line, adding only additional weight to his responsibilities is the legendry status left by his now senile old Grandfather, who was also Big Man Japan four and who through old movie footage is seen being treated with an almost godlike status, while also inspiring a whole range of merchandise based on his image, where as Sato as Big Man Japan six is widely hated by the Japanese public, who blame him for the frequent destruction he causes to the city while fighting the monsters and is forced to have frequent battles with his agent, who is constantly it seems trying to use him like a giant billboard to display the slogans of various companies.
As Big Man Japan, his appearance is certainly an unique one as he attends to the business of saving Japan, wearing nothing but a giant speedo, while brandishing a large stick and sporting an Eraserhead style hairdo, while The monsters which appear throughout are certainly none less wacky than anything else, that Japan has produced over the years, including one particular monster which is forced to constantly flick its comb over hairstyle back into place. At the same time these monsters are also a cause of much trouble for Sato’s public image, wether it’s being accused of being a “Monster Pimp” after failing to stop two monsters from copulating in public, or for accidently killing a baby monster which sparks a mass candlelit memorial service for the creature.
I guess one of my main gripes with the film while watching would be the use of CGI throughout for the monster attack sequences, with Sato himself becoming another CGI creation whenever he is turned into his alter ego and as flawless as they look, working seamlessly with the live action background, I guess it is a traditionalist in me that would prefer to see a bunch of guys in monster suits, fighting in a miniature scale Japan. It’s ironic really then that it is at this point that Matsumoto really pulls the rug from under your feet, by suddenly switching the film, to this style of film making with the whole finale being shot in a traditional Kaiju style which might also be the most insane thing I have seen, as he also throws in an Ultra man style family of giant robots, to help him battle his nemesis while frequently shouting the word “Justice”. Though it has to be said that this sequence lacks any form of grace, with the whole fight sequence being as subtle as a housebrick to the face, but then at the same time I have a feeling that perhaps this was Matsumoto’s intention for this sequence, though it does have a feeling that perhaps by this point Matsumoto had lost patience with the film and just wanted to end it.
The humour through the film is best described as dry which will certainly not be to every viewers tastes and did leave me on occasion, wondering whether everything I was watching was supposed to be funny or not and you can’t help but feel something for Sato, which is only emphasised by the mockumenty style of filming, as Sato is clearly trying to do the best he can, while with a public which hates him at the same time facing the truth that he is the last of his kind, with the others of his kind having disappeared for reasons which are never revelled and his father Big Man Japan Five, having killed himself several years earlier, by trying to grow even bigger, so that he could stand out from the others. Still Matsumoto prefers it would seem to keep the obvious laughs for his Kaiju sequences and leave the viewer to decide for themselves, when it comes to the scenes outside of these.

“Big Man Japan” is certainly a unique viewing experience and had it not come from Japan, with it’s history of equally random creations, I can’t help but feel that perhaps it might not have worked, for even taking this into consideration there are still a fair amount of misfire moments, causing it to drag slightly in places, but is probably worth watching atleast once if you’re a fan of the Kaiju genre while for those of us who aren’t fans of dry humour or giant monsters, you might struggle to sit all the way through this one.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

District 13: Ultimatum

Title: District 13: Ultimatum
Director:Patrick Alessandrin
Staring:Cyril Raffaelli, David Belle, Philippe Torreton, Daniel Duval, Elodie Yung, Pierre-Marie Mosconi

Rating:3.5 / 5

Plot:Set three years after the ending of the original film, Damien (Raffaelli) and Leito (Belle) are reunited after Damien is framed by Roland (Mosconi) a corrupt secret service agent who is hatching a plot to destroy District 13.

Review:Coming a full five years after the release of the original District 13 (2004), little has actually changed in regards to setup, with Raffaelli being on hand to provide the bone crunching kung fu moves and Belle once again being on Parkour duties as he finds ever increasing ways of defying gravity, which also makes it all the less surprising that we are given this sequel, to a film which despite having a lot of buzz on it’s initial release was quickly forgotten, but with the current interest in Parkour once again at a high, thanks again largely to it’s frequent use in other movies, including most memorably being used for the building site chase seen in “Casino Royale” (2006), so it unsurprising with this considered that Luc Besson would return to pen (aswell as produce) the sequel, who it seems has something of a secret love for the sport having also wrote “Yamakasi” (2001) before penning the original “District 13”.
Little has changed from the first film it would seem, with the wall which blocks district 13 off from the rest of Paris, still in place despite the government promising to knock it down at the end of the first film and this in itself is a good illustration for this film, as once again the plot is there only to really provide filler between the next fight scene or Parkour showcase depending on who the film happens to be following at that particular moment, which after all is what fans of the first film will be watching for anyway and in this respect it does not disappoint as both Raffaelli and Belle are fantastic at what they do and Besson still knows how to write action, as each action sequence still has an edge of excitement aswell as realism to them, especially with Belle’s main Parkour chase sequence which sees him leaping from the roofs of blocks of flats and generally treating the environment around him as his personal playground and generally making it look effortless.

This time round we are shown more of District 13 which now has gained more of a multicultural feel, with of course the main gangs all belonging to different ethnic groups, making it easier to distinguish between them, though the majority of characters belonging to these gangs are largely ignored until the finale when the gangs must learn to put their differences aside in order to save the district. It’s kind of shame really that none of these colourful characters are put to better use, much like the corrupt secret service agents, who despite receiving a strong introduction, quickly seem more like the baddie of the week on some cop show, than any real threat to our heroes, thanks largely to them being placed firmly in the background, only popping up occasionally to mutter a few words about their evil plot.
The pacing it has to be also said feels quite sloppy especially when you consider that the film is entering the final half hour and Damien and Leito are still running around the same police station that Damien was put into near the start of the film, possibly making it the longest prison break ever seen in an action film.

Although it has a brief running time, it still feels as if it runs for too long and that it has to be said it largely down to such weak plotting, that by the time the finale rolls around, your more caught up in the martial arts action, than the actual purpose they are fighting for. It however for those tuning in for more displays of the talents of Belle and Raffaelli , they still might something to enjoy here, but at best it is strictly disposable entertainment.
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