Saturday, 30 October 2010

Blogger Spotlight: Whatcha Gonna Queue

"The Internet has given everybody in America a voice. For some reason, everybody decides to use that voice to bitch about movies." - Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back

No quote could really be any more true, especially when you consider the sheer amount of movie blogs there are out there and even more so with Youtube only making it all the easier for folks, with a video camera handy to broadcast their thoughts and opinions. Still the vast majority of these video blogs, proving to be sketchy at best, with either poor scripting or horrible attempts at humour or in the worst cases both (Yes I'm looking at you "Film Brain") with a large amount for some reason trying to transfer the volatile and profanity driven style of "The Angry Video Game Nerd" to films and while there are undoubtedly some talented video blogger's out there with the likes of "The Cinema Snob" and "The Spoony Experiment" both being prime examples of this.

Still having come back from vacation and working my way through the various offers of Viagra and free money in my inbox, I had received a message about the "Whatcha Gonna Queue: Halloween Special" from Alex Rabinowitz, who is one half of the "Whatcha Gonna Queue?" team along with his partner in crime Jim Rohner, as they aim to highlight essential DVD's worth adding to your no doubt already extensive Netflix lists.

The show is a good mixture of critique and fun humour, with no stupid characters or stopping to read their IMDB notes, which have in the past been a major problem I've had with the majority of youtube based review shows and thankfully neither of these have shown up in any of the four episodes they have released already, with their current Halloween special also looking at one of my favourite less known horror films "Session 9" (2001). Still while most of their picks might be obvious to the more frenzied film junkies amongst you, they have still managed to uncover a few little known picks, which I had to add to my own watch list such as "Afterschool" (2008) and "Time Crimes" (2007) and for these moments it makes the show certainly worth giving a look.

Still decide for yourselves now as here for your viewing enjoyment is the "Whatcha Gonna Queue: Halloween Special". Please feel free to let me know your thoughts.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Pig Hunt

Title: Pig Hunt
Director: James Isaac
Released: 2008
Staring: Travis Aaton Wade, Tina Huang, Howard Johnson Jr. Trevor Bullock, Rajiv Shah, Jason Foster, Nick Tagas, Phillip K. Torretto, Cimi Ahluwalia

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Plot: John (Wade) and his friends head up to his dead uncles ranch for a weekend of hunting, with the prospect of hunting a legendry three thousand pound boar known as “The Ripper”.

Review: While it is not my obvious intension to keep breaking from my ongoing A-Z of Asian cinema, I did however feel the urge to write about this movie while it was still fresh, especially with being off on vacation for the next week, I knew that I had to write about this film, while the memory is still fresh for “Pig Hunt” is certainly a strange little movie to say the least, which is thanks largely to it seemingly never being quite sure, as to what kind of movie it really wants to be, as it starts off as a giant killer pig movie in the same spirit of “Razorback” (1984), only to suddenly change to the psycho redneck movie, as it suddenly develops undertones of “Southern Comfort” (1981) when the group also manage to piss off the local rednecks, before deciding that a killer pig movie, with added crazed rednecks still might not be exciting enough and also throws in a pig worshiping cult and a healthy dose of naked hippy chicks for good measure, yet somehow Director Isaac has not only made this all blend together into one crazy ass ride, but also in a weird way manages to convince the audience to an extent that these are not just random plot threads thrown together because writers Robert Mailer Anderson and Zack Anderson couldn’t decide on what sort of movie they wanted write, but that it’s all part of the same movie and not just a bunch of cool ideas clumsily stuck together, but then Isaac is no stranger to random plotting especially seeing how he also directed one of my favourite entries in the Friday the 13th saga “Jason X” (2001) which not only seemed like something fresh for the long running series, but still remains one of the few sequels that is set in space which actually works and doesn’t feel like the writers just plain ran out of ideas.

Isaac shows some real skill here, now he's free from the medling of studio bosses and carefully ramps up the tension for the first half of the film, as the group hunt down the boar along with John’s former redneck buddies Jake (Foster) and Nick (Ricky) who are not only crude in their methods, but bring a greasy charm to the group, while also proving the setup for the crazed rednecks, who are introduced when the focus is suddenly shifted away from the hunt for “The Ripper”. Still Isaac plays the threat of the pig in a similar way to “Jaws” (1975) keeping his killer pig off screen until the finale, yet still giving us the occasional burst of gore rather than keeping everything from the audience which so many other films attempt to pull off, usually failing miserably as they leave the audience feeling cheated out on what they were hoping to see. Still it’s when the tension is ramped up to the max that Isaac for some reason then decides to switch the focus from the pig to the crazed rednecks, which to his credit Isaac still manages to keep the action flowing well, as the film suddenly becomes like a forest set version of Mad Max, as the rednecks pull out some of the randomness collection of vehicles I have seen since “Fair Game” (1986), with the ultimate being the crazed preachers dirt buggy complete with mounted crucifix! What follows is essentially a sequence of Mad Max style action, as the rural and urban worlds clash while serving to add an additional, if slightly unneeded threat to the group, as well as some fun vehicular action, rather than anything too important to the actual plot, with this random change in plotting leading to the even more random inclusion of the pig worshiping cult, who also have setup a home for themselves in these same woods.

Looking past the random plotting I did however find myself asking why a group of soldiers, couldn’t still manage to hit the broadside of barn door, with the exception of John who is given a hint of a darker back story, which is soon forgotten soon after it’s mentioned with the best shot of the whole group being his girlfriend Brooks (Huang). Now I don’t want to start making assumptions of their military training, but why even include the idea of them being soldiers on leave? Is the war that much of a draw for cinema goers that we feel the need to reference it in this way? I can’t be sure, but it’s certainly a clumsy piece of characterisation with only Quincy (Bullock), their civvie street friend coming of the most realistic, even if his role of the group punch line, soon steps over the line to the point, were you also feel sorry for the constant torment he is forced to endure throughout, especially when he receives no form of retribution here.

Gore wise there is certainly enough to keep your interest here, even bringing some original pieces to the field including a nasty boar induced kneecapping, with the bonus being that the majority of it is being created using old school effects, which is certainly welcome, especially with so much modern horror now being so CGI heavy and with such a limited budget being used here, it makes all the more satisfying not having to endure bargain basement CGI effects, which seem to constantly dog the majority of indie horror films. Still if you’re a pig lover, you might want to watch something else, as the pigs do find themselves on the receiving end of a large amount of this violence, the majority of which is plain shock value rather than anything to drive the plot along, with one of these scenes including a pig having it’s head sawn off, shortly after being shot.

It might be a random bag of ideas, but it still makes for a fun midnight movie and certainly attempts to bring something new to the table, even if it’s not quite sure which of it’s numerous plots it wants to follow more, as it blends various genres and styles, to create a pretty fun ride, with the gore and gratuitous nudity really only adding to the fun times. It might not be the greatest killer pig movie, an honour still reserved for “Razorback”, but it’s certainly a strong contender.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Machete Maidens: Unleashed

One of my favourite documentaries of last year was easily "Not Quite Hollywood", which looked at the little known exploitation sub-genre known simply as Ozploitation, which director Mark Hartley proved to clearly be a huge fan of, as his documentary not only looked at the random and frequently insane films which made up the genre, but clearly showed a love for these largly forgotten movies, while in turn inspiring me to run the "Ozploitation Season" here on the blog and starting what has since been an on going love for exploitation films of our Aussie cousins.

Now he is back and once again turning his attention to another obsure aspect of cinema history, with the little known Filipino genre films of the 70's and 80's, with his latest documentary "Machete Maidens: Unleashed".

The Philippines was in the 70's and 80's the ultimate playground for exploitation film makers, thanks largely to cheap labour, non existant health and safety aswell as exotic locations all in one handy location, while the films which came out of these shoots were nothing short of memorable from monsters and jungle prisons, to blaxploitation and kung fu hybrids, as Hartley has once again raided the archives to find the most random and obscure films he can, to truly provide another indepth look into yet another aspect of the obscure cinema he clearly adores .

Once more Hartley has assembled a great list of interviewees once again including Judy Brown (The Big Doll House), Marlene Clark (Night of the Cobra Woman), Roger Corman, R Lee Emery, Joe Dante, Eddie Garcia (Black Mama, White Mama) and Sid Haig (The Woman Hunt) aswell as numerous other actors, directors and producers who made the films, all getting a chance to tell their story of the part they played in these frequently random films.

Hartley is currently touring with the film and I urge you all to give it a look, as this is one documentary, I'm really keen to check out, especially if it makes it over here, to these rainy UK shores, so don't be surprised if you see a season of Filipino genre films being reviewed here in the near future.

In the meantime you can also show some love over on the Facebook page.

Friday, 22 October 2010

E Is For Election

Title: Election
Director: Johnnie To
Released: 2005
Staring: Simon Yam, Tony Leung Ka Fai, Louis Koo, Nick Cheung, Ka Tung Lam, Siu-Fai Cheung, Suet Lam, Tian-lin Wang, Ping-Man Tam, Maggie Siu, David Chiang

Plot: With the two year term having passed for the chairman of the Wo Shing Society, the elders have now narrowed the running down to two candidates Lok (Yam) and Big D (Leung). When Lok is elected Big D is infuriated and plots to take the sacred dragon headed baton of leadership for himself, throwing the society into chaos as the battle lines are quickly drawn between the supporters of Lok and Big D

Review: In the crime movie world the Triads have always lacked having a decent movie to represent them, the Mafia have countless great movies, including some pretty notable editions to cinema history such as “Goodfellas” (1990) and “The Godfather” (1972) and even the Yakuza have great movies like “Tokyo Drifter” (1966) and “Brother” (2000), though for some reason I’ve always failed to find one movie which could represent the Triads solely in the way that the aforementioned films represented their chosen crime families. That was until I saw “Election” and I knew that finally they had found the movie to represent their (certainly morally questionable) cause.

Unlike so many other triad movies, Director To brings a sense of class and order finally to the Triads, who were traditionally seen in other films as street gangs and more frequently seen without any sense of honour, both of which he has brought back, by establishing the Triads as families deeply grounded in ancient tradition, with the elders ensuring that these traditions are followed by the younger members who form the lower ranks. Meanwhile the police are seen as maintaining a delicate balance with the Triads, with Chief Superintendant Hui (Chiang) clearly knowing, how beneficial maintaining this balance is, if only to prevent all out war erupting amongst the members of the society, as he sets about arresting the key senior triad members in a bid to aid the election process, even allowing meetings to still be held while he has key members in custody.

Another noteworthy point is that for a gangster film the violence is actually pretty restrained with not a single gunshot fired. Still this is not to say that it is completely void of violence, as we are barely into the film, before we have not only witnessed the young and hot-headed Triad member Jet (Ka Fai) eating a porcelain bowl, after disgracing himself in front of Big D, but also another two senior members being nailed into wooden crates and rolled down a hill repeatedly, for their part in Big D losing out on the position of chairman, with To’s sole violent extravagance coming in the form of a Machete street fight. Still despite these occasional moment of violence To prefers to let his characters talk things out, rather than using to brute force and blind violence, something which only further emphasises his vision of a civilised Triad society, something that he sets the scene with right from the beginning as we watch the elders or Uncles as they are better know discussing civilly the candidates for the new chairman, showing like Coppla did with “The Godfather” that crime can indeed be civilised and make for an interesting contrast to the two diffrent styles of leadership between the two men, with Big D who’d much rather bully his way into the position of chairman, threatening and torturing those who stand in his way or refuse to accept his bribes and it's this quick to violence nature of Big D makes for great comparisons in leadership styles for Lok is essentially the complete opposite, with Lok using his calm nature and negotiation skills to get what he wants, something that truly plays to his advantage during the second half of the film, as the two men seek out the baton, which has been hidden away somewhere in China, yet its these powers of negotiation that also lead to one of the more darkly comic moments of the film, as we watch one gang member pummelling another almost to death with a log, only for the two men to then discover that they are both working for Lok.

Even though there are numerous colourful characters in this society it is still essentially a two man show with Yam, skilfully bringing the quiet and almost lifeless Lok alive and far from the potential dull character he could have been, saving his true colour for the truly chilling finale, while Leung busily chews up the scenery and despite the fact that he is so quick to violence, there is still a line being drawn between his desire for power and being a pure psycho, as Big D clearly feels the position of chairman should have been his, using his loyalty to the society and money which he has earned them as the justification for this thinking, even after he realises the legitimacy of the election. Still such extreme opposites, is something To is especially keen to emphasise, while painting the larger picture of the society as the differences between the two candidates soon begins to effect the society as a whole, as the Uncles are shown bickering at each other about the pro’s for each man, while lower members battle amongst themselves, blindly following the orders of the candidate they have aligned themselves to, with the society times looking more like a dysfunctional family than a tradition bound Triad society. Still To is keen to emphasise the tradition side of the society, with scenes of the baton passing ceremony and brothers swearing loyalty to the brotherhood, though in the end this is essentially just tradition being followed and in no way, seems to affect any of their actions which is far more controlled by things such as money, power and personal loyalties.

To with this film takes, what has until now been a largely throwaway sub-genre of Hong Kong cinema and finally gives the Triads, the crime masterpiece they have been sorely lacking. While it might be much subtler than other Triad movies, it still manages to pack a punch and while the sequel might be lacking the charm of this film, it still stands well on its own and is probably best viewed as such, especially as the sequel only really takes away from the original, which is not only intelligent and exciting film making, but also a thrilling ride through the Triad underworld, which proves that you don’t need to drown the screen in claret and foul language to make a great crime movie.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Thorpe Park "Fright Night" 2010 Review

It’s once again that most wonderful time of the year, Halloween and while Christmas and Easter might be equally groovy, there is something about Halloween which just rings out good times, which could largely down to the fact that it’s also one of the few holidays were we’re not being made to feel guilty about something. Halloween is also doubly special for myself seeing how it is also my wedding anniversary, the first of which is now quickly approaching. So wanting to do something special to celebrate this (if alittle early) special date my gorgeous wife Lily, we headed up with my brother in law Robert and his lady Phoebe to Thorpe Park, whom were once again holding their “Fright night” event, were for a limited time the park plays host to six horror themed mazes and usually dresses the park up with various cool looking horror props, which sadly were absent this year, which seemed an even more confusing move, especially seeing how the ticket prices have once again gone up and despite the fact the park now looked the same as always, I was still keen to see for myself what their mazes had to offer.

The park boasts six mazes in total, each with its own unique theme and all featuring a mixture of static props and live actors in full horror make up, aiming to scare the hell out of the guests walking through the mazes, using a combination of sudden shocks (jumping out suddenly etc) and general performance pieces.
To go through each of the mazes you are first put into a group of six people, were you then have to keep your hands on the person in fronts shoulders / waist forming a sober conga line as you follow each other through the maze, but not before being given the lowdown on what to expect, where they are especially keen to stress that you don’t attack the actors, who like strippers cannot be touched by you, which honestly makes sense as you don’t really want your actors being punched out by some panicked guest and in a way this only adds to the tension, seeing how this human chain leaves you feeling more than alittle vulnerable and only adds to the tension once your inside the maze.

So allow me to now give you the general low down on each of these mazes, so beware as the review will contain some spoilers.

The Curse

Set in a haunted ship, this was the first of the main mazes we went through and made a great introduction to the fun ahead, especially as this was the lightest of the mazes in terms of horror, relying more on the actors jumping out on the guests and had some nice touches such as the bodies floating in bubbling water. Still unlike the other mazes it resists the urge to give a final big scare, while some people felt made it anticlimactic, personally I felt it didn’t need it.


This was one of my favourites and has the advantage of having a building to be housed in all year round, which also enables it to not only have some great perminant design work, but also some interesting set pieces such the rotating tunnel, which might be an oldie but it’s also a goodie, much like the arms shooting out from holes in the scenery. The haunted house theme works well, with the horror slowly building as you work your way through, combining some interesting ideas, though it really doesn’t string them together as well as “Se7en”. The actors put on a good show, with an interesting mix of characters, including a spitting image of Riff Raff from “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (1975). Again no big ending but a fun ride throughout, especially with nothing too threatening for the more nervous park guests.


My favourite of the mazes, with the theme being surprisingly enough “the seven deadly sins” all contained in an apartment block from hell. Still despite the more obvious of themes, it still manages to not feel too tied down to the more traditional ideas for each of the sins, especially judging by some of the characters, with one of my favourites being the woman who gets so annoyed by the screams coming from the room next door, she threw her TV diner on the floor, before walking over slowly to harass the group, while other moments proved slightly more questionable like the girl dressed like a ninja jumping on the bed.
The gluttony room proved extremely nauseating thanks largely, to the rotton milk smell, which truly hits you when you walk in the room, thanks to the use of the plastic strip curtains which only keep the stench in the room, creating a real wall of putrid smells to hit you when you enter the room.
The design work is amazing, with the actors truly getting into the role, with a large emphasis on making the guests feel more uncomfortable than sudden shocks. Still with the actors staying in their rooms, it does mean that unlike other mazes you’re unlikely to encounter a particular character again, once you have gone through the room. Still the girl in a masquerade mask did a good job improvising when the group got held up and restrained from calling our particular leader something derogatory, which I no doubt would have and instead concentrated on one particular member of our group, taking full advantage of the rules which allowed her to touch the guests, while they couldn’t touch her.
The big finale has you in a room with dense smoke, which really prevented you from seeing much atoll, which after having so many people jumping out in the other mazes, really has your mind playing tricks on you, when you stumble into this final room.


This maze has for a long time been the pride of Thorpe Park’s Fright Nights and certainly had the longest queue, no doubt thanks to it’s reputation while no doubt also aided greatly by the crowd of screaming people running out.
Set in an asylum (funny that), were it’s clear that the shit really has hit the fan, pretty much from the moment you see the nurse strung up with a plastic bag over her face. Once inside it’s heavy with smoke and constant strobe, while you’re bombarded with white noise, only furthering adding to the disorientation and I’m sure that if I wasn’t epileptic when I went in, I’m almost sure that I was after this maze. Still the strobe lights really helped the actors to pull off some creepy vanishing acts, while I also got harassed by one of the inmates, who was pretty insistent that I “kiss the baby!!”
The big finale though is what make this one special as you get to meet the crazed surgeon welding a chainsaw, who first runs past the group before turning around and chasing you out and despite knowing that it’s not a real chainsaw it still didn’t stop the burly guys ahead of me running out like a bunch of sissy girls.

Saw: Alive

This maze is slightly different to the other seeing how it’s open all year round and was brought in to tie in with the Saw rollercoaster, which I can safely say I have no interest of ever going on. The maze has some really impressive set design which really makes you feel like you’re in the movie, including the trademark clocks, several of the more memorable traps, as well as a room all to similar to Jigsaws control centre, while at the start of the maze your group photo is taken with the Jigsaw puppet on his tricycle which was a really neat touch.
What lets this maze down, was the actors who on this occasion seemed more bored than anything resembling enthusiasm for shocking the guests, which really made me feel sorry for the first girl we encountered and who was really busting a gut, with her crazy act which was unnerving, especially to have her screaming right in your face while clapping manically. Meanwhile the few other actors pretty much consisted of some bored guy slamming a chain to make a few loud bangs and some half hearted jumping out on the group. Phoebe who had been through the maze before, also pin pointed their lack lustre performances (excluding the aforementioned crazy girl), stating that her first time through the maze had been better, thanks to the actors really going out of their way to provide the shocks. Still for the fans of the series it’s a suitable tribute, but rests far too heavily on the actors working it, to provide the shocks.

Dead End Terror Zone

Although I didn’t get to see this maze, thanks to it never seeming to be open on the day we were at the park, it would seem from other reports that I wasn’t missing much, with the maze being more of a graveyard for parts from old attractions and featuring too few actors to make it effective.

Fright Night runs till October 31st and makes for a fun night out, even if this year does feel to be overly lacking, thanks to the non existent Halloween theming around the park, which this year was sorely missed and for a park of Thorpe’s stature as well as Ticket price, it really only adds to the fact that this year they kind of dropped the ball, with the event being only really saved thanks to four of the six horror mazes, with these failings on such basic things, certainly will make me wonder if the ticket price will be worth it, especially if it turns out to be another year like this one, were effort clearly felt to be lacking in places.

Friday, 15 October 2010


Title: Bruiser
Director: George Romero
Released: 2000
Staring: Jason Flemyng, Peter Stormare, Leslie Hope, Nina Garbiras, Andrew Tarbet, Tom Atkins, Jonathan Higgins.

Rating: 4/5

Plot: Henry (Flemyng) is a downtrodden young publicity executive, whose bitchy wife (Garbiras) is having an affair with his boss (Stormare), while his suposive best friend (Tarbet) is stealing money from his investments. Waking up one morning to find his face replaced with a blank mask, he soon see’s it as a way to settle the score.

Review: For some reason George Romero is frequently mistaken for having only made zombie films, especially with the less educated horror fans and despite being the godfather of the modern zombie movie, he has throughout his career taken the occasional break from the shuffling hordes of the undead, to direct something equally interesting, such as his take on the vampire genre with “Martin” (1977) aswell as exploring the idea of a killer helper monkey in “Monkey Shines (1988) and “Bruiser” is another of these breaks, which despite going straight to DVD is still another notable entry on his directorial C.V.

From the outset it might seem that Henry lives in a similar world to that of the narrator from “Fight Club” (1999), but seeing how Henry lacks his own Tyler Durdan to lead the way like an anarchic pied piper, we are instead treated, for the first part of the film, to frequent bombardment with the violent fantasies, which serve as the outlet for his pent up frustration, which it’s safe to say he has plenty of, especially when he’s being screwed over from nearly every direction, yet just he carries on with his life as normal, coming across seemingly unaffected, even when his so called best friend is pretty much openly admitting to stealing from him and this is the kind of role that Flemyng plays so well, making me truly wonder if he could pull of a convincing psycho edge without coming off theatrically camp, which seems to be the downfall of so many actors not renown for playing darker roles, while especially not helped by the fact that he is playing a character with no facial expressions, yet somehow he manages to pull it off, even proving himself to be especially chilling when extracting his revenge on his wife, who earlier in the film unsuccessfully attempts to gain a rise out of Henry, by openly confessing to jacking off his boss (classy), only for Henry to come across like he was to blame for her cheating ways. Still Henry remains a surprisingly complex character, even if there numerous ideas no explored fully, especially the more used to his affliction he becomes, as he begins to see the potential of the situation and even on occasion seems to be heading towards turning into full blown psycho, as he seems to almost enjoy, perhaps alittle too much the stalking games he plays with his boss, while generally showing zero remorse for any of his murders.

Romero plays around here with some light psychology in places, using the faceless mask to represent how Henry truly feels, no matter how much he might try and deny it, having over the years of letting people walk over him, slowly become another face in the crowd with each murder slowly bringing colour to his blank face, as he slowly finds begins to find himself, though seeing how he goes suddenly from a blank faced killer to having his features restored in a split second, it does bring into question, how much weight you can truly put into this theory, especially seeing how the idea of a faceless killer is essentially the selling point, of a pretty much by the number revenge thriller.

Gore wise it is pretty light, with a lot left to the power of suggestion, something that has every tendency to turn out horrible, especially in the hands of a less skilled director, but the audience is not left feeling like they have been cheated here, especially as it never sets out to be that kind of film and even though there are a couple of gory murders, it is nothing compared to the carnage of his Dead saga. Still when Henry sets out on his personal vendetta, it does sadly turn the film into a pretty generic slasher route, especially when all his targets are so deserving of the grisly ends they meet, while Romero makes no real attempt to explain what happened to Henry, with the ending those pretty to look at feels like kind of a mess, especially seeing how those folks, seem kind unfazed by their host getting shot in the head by a killer laser, but at least it features a cameo appearance by the Misfits, which under my rating system meant that this film did receive an additional point for that alone.

The main meat of the soundtrack is comprised of Donald Rubinsteins jazz score, which has some nice haunting before being replaced for the finale by “The Misfits” thanks to them appearing as themselves, were they are the band at the finale party scene, with the band also performing two original songs “Bruiser” and “Fiend Without A Face”, which they wrote exclusively for this film, with Romero later directing their video for “Scream” as a trade for their appearance here, which is largely for the fun of it and not so that they can demonstrate any kind of acting chops.

“Bruiser” starts off seeming like a potentially deep film, but soon becomes another revenge thriller, once the initial shock wears out with Romero blowing most of the more standout moments in the early half of the film, before seemingly losing interest and just giving his audience a few choice kills, which makes it a fun film to kill an hour or so with, but when placed next to the stronger films on his C.V it is doubtful that most will give it more than a curious watch, even though both Flemyng and Stormare are entertaining as always, with Stormare in a particularly fine frenzied form, this film is best seen as cinematic junk food for the soul, so just don't go expecting anything more, even if the zombie godfather is in the directors chair and you won't be too disappointed.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

D Is For Dumplings

Title: Dumplings
Director: Fruit Chan
Released: 2004
Staring: Bai Ling, Miriam Yeung Pauline Lau, Tony Leung Ka Fei, Meme Tian

Plot: Aunt Mei (Ling) is reknown for her home-made rejuvenation dumplings, which contain a mysterious secret ingredient. Former TV Starlet Mrs Li (Yeung Chin Wah) is brought to Aunt Mei’s home restaurant, after hearing of her special dumplings in an attempt to recover her fading looks, as well as part of a bid to keep her cheating husband (Leung Ka Fai)

Review: Originally released as a short film, as part of “Three Extremes” (2004) alongside Takashi Miike’s underrated (like so much of his more subtle work) “Box” and Park Chan-Wook’s “Cut” all of which worked well together as a collection, though it was on the strength of Fruit Chan’s short, that he was given the budget to create a feature length version, which easily could have turned into a bloated mess, which thankfully it hasn't, instead standing testament to how a skilled editor can truly make or break a film, seeing how the film is just as effective either as a short or in it’s full length as seen here.
Despite being extended, Chan has skilfully managed to expand on the existing footage, adding not only more depth to his characters, but at the same time only taking us further into an increasingly dark world, especially with the additional of a much more darker and far less open ended conclusion, which again enables both short and full length feature to co-exsist without one domineering the other, for which could be considered to be the true vision for the story.

The performances thoughout are all very much against type with Ling, savouring an opportunity to finally step into a decent non gimicky role, after seemingly spending a lifetime playing supporting characters, so to see her in a more central role is certainly a refreshing change, as Chan not only strips away her usual glam look and provides her with a quirky wardrobe, but her performance is fully believable as the seemingly immortal Aunt Mei, happily going about her work and entertaining guests to her kitchen restaurant with song, as she prepares her dumpling, providing an almost Geisha esq style dining experience, to each serving of dumplings that Mrs Li chows down on, with Yeung also playing against type as the aging starlet, having spent the better part of her career in romantic comedies, she easily changes gears to give a more dramatic and ruthless performance as Mrs Li, with the uneasy relationship between these two characters, coming across extremely believable, even when portraying the more fantastical elements of the plot, while between them certainly making the audience puzzle over, which of these two characters is truly the more monstrous with their actions, as the Ling’s Hollywood style of acting blends perfectly with the more traditional Asian style that Yeung brings to her performance, which feels a complete polar opposite to anything that I have seen her in previously.

Effects wise it is kept simplistic and effective with Chan aging Ling and slowly removing the layers, to portray the effect of the years being stripped away, with Chan’s direction only making the effects of the dumplings seem only all the more believable, as he skilfully manages to play with the audiences imagination, while the soundtrack of hightened crunches and gulps, only becomes all the more chilling once the secret of the dumplings is revealed, which although unveiled early on still manages to hold it’s shock for the remainder of the film, which again is pure mastery on Chan’s part, as he finds increasingly new and inventive ways to ensure that initial shock remains.

The secret of the dumplings is handled in a very sterile and occasionally curious way, rather than a more traditional gratuitous and voyeuristic style which I honestly was expecting, with gross out effects all but absent, with the real horror coming from the relationship which slowly develops between Aunt Mei and Mrs Li, with Aunt Mei showing little emotion about the means used to obtain her secret ingredient, no doubt as a result of her past as an abortion doctor, which no doubt having long since caused her grow immune to the psychological effects of the more gooey aspects of life, in much the same way that Mrs Li is quick to get over her initial shock upon discovering exactly what is in the dumplings, she is so eager to chow down on, especially the more youthful she becomes, with this whole aspect of the plot being a definite nod towards the increasingly extreme ways, society is willing to go in a bid to retain it’s looks, wether by using any number of the expansive brand name cosmetics or by going under the surgeon scalpel or Botox needle.

“Dumplings” is a refreshing change of scene for the Asian horror scene, as it nixes the usual supernatural creepiness and instead relies on the real horror of everyday life and the unrelenting and obsessional pursuit of personal perfection, and while the mystery meat idea has been played around with numorous times before, this film still feels like a rejuivinal shot in the arm for the Asian horror genre.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

The Double Feature Challange

Okay, so Cole over at Vitagraph, American recently threw out the challenge on his blog, to create a double feature. Something which as it turns out was deceptively more difficult than it first seemed, not only because of needing a shared theme, but also the challenge of narrowing it down to just two titles. So after numerous scratched out lists, I finally managed to find my two films.

So now as you settle down in your seats and the house lights slowly begin to dim, the screen flickers to life, with the images projected upon the screen, as the audience awaits the first film of the evening.

I first saw Tod Browning’s “Freaks” (1932), back when I was in college, were it seemed like a taboo curiosity, mainly due the fact that here was a film was once banned here in the UK, aswell as the fact it was shot with real sideshow performers playing the roles of the titular freaks, so I’d be lying if back then it wasn’t with a strange voyeuristic glee that I had hunted it down, expecting it to be just a weird and fun movie, only to find myself truly blown away by not only the images I was watching, but also how Browning managed to portray the so called normal people as the real freaks, while truly saving the real power of the story for it’s shocking final reel in which the Freaks finally extract their revenge on Cleopatra and her Strong Man lover Hercules, who'd planned to steal the vast inheritance of the Dwarf ringmaster Hans.

Browning doesn’t just restrict himself to the main meat of the story, taking the time to give us glimpses into the day to day life of the sideshow performers, providing several of the more memorable and certainly the majority of my own favourite moments of the film, including the Human caterpillar not only rolling a cigarette, but lighting and smoking it as well, with only his mouth and tongue to aid him, yet this isn’t treated like a cheap laugh, but instead merely part of the scene with the performers all being treated in a similar way, as he maintains their humanity rather than treating them like the monsters, as many people might view them as on first appearance, with Browning a former travelling circus employee, recruiting numerous celebrity sideshow performers including Johnny Eck.
Despite being regarded as a classic today, it sadly killed Browning’s career, receiving a largely negative reaction from audiences, with the film suffering numerous cuts, all of which are now considered to be lost, with the film being added to the banned film list from the best part of thirty years, only to be rediscovered and recognised for the classic it is.

“Tattoo” (2002) might seem like an unusual choice of film to follow up with, but it’s setting in the world of body modification, in particular Tattoos is what ties it to our first film, for the majority of sideshow performers, are now self made freaks and it from this world of body modification obsessive’s, that this “Seven” esq story comes from, as the grizzled Chief Inspector Minks teams up with rookie cop Schrader to investigate a killer who is collecting the tattoos of an elderly master tattooist, by removing the designs from their still very alive owners.

It’s easy to draw comparisons to David Fincher’s “Seven” (1995) seeing how similar the dark world these films exist within are, yet “Tattoo” manages to still maintain its own sense of individuality, as it only gets darker the further into this secretive world they delve much like “8mm” (1999) which had it’s hauntingly creepy scenes of porn bazaars, “Tattoo” too manages to bring it’s own level of shock as the detectives encounter tattoo collectors who preserve the flayed flesh containing the designs of their favourite artists, while displaying them like prized art, with the sight of a full body suit proving especially memorable.
Sadly the ending isn’t the greatest but it doesn’t stop it from still being a fun ride and a must see for fans of “Seven” still wanting another taste of that same intoxicatingly dark world.

So there you have it, my Halloween double feature and while I could have gone with something a little more recognisable, they will both stick with you like every good double feature should long after the end credits have run.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Enter…Zombie King / Zombie King and the Legion of Doom / Zombie Beach Party

Title: Enter…Zombie King / Zombie King and the Legion of Doom / Zombie Beach Party
Director: Stacey Case
Released: 2004
Staring: Jules Delorme, Jennifer Thom, Raymond Carle, Rob “El Fuego” Etcheverria, Sean K. Robb, Nicholas Sinn, Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart, Jennifer Deschamps, Tracy Brookshaw

Plot: Ulysses (Delorme), Mr. X (Robb), the Blue Saint (Carle) and his sister Mercedes (Clarke) a group of masked wrestlers on a mission to find out who is responsible for unleashing killer zombies on the local community, who it seems could be linked to the evil (and fellow masked wrestler) The Zombie King (Sinn)

Zombie King and the Legion of doom
Uploaded by gregwallace. - Watch feature films and entire TV shows.

Review: Since getting Sky+ installed, I have in a short time managed to fill the hard drive of the box, with a varied wasteland of old Buffy episodes, Anthony Bourdain Travel documentaries and a variety of late night movies, which vary from films by the genre masters like Fulci to more obscure and certainly random movies like this one, which like so many of these films I tape in the early hours of the morning, only had the briefest of synopsis mentioning wrestlers and zombies, which is pretty much all it really needed to get my interest, though this really doesn’t even scrape the random surface of this film, which is not only a beautifully weird mix of zombies and wrestling, but also throws in random characters, lesbians, gratuitous nudity, surf rock and a healthy dose of gore to boot and somehow manages to make it all work!

Right from the start it’s clear wether your going to like this movie or not, as not only is it shot on cheaper film stock, than your usual mainstream movie, somthing which is usually enough to deter the more snobbish movie goer, but your also introduced to our supposed hero Ulysses who is not only a Santos imitator, but also providing a running deadpan narration throughout the film, while occasionally spouting random philosophy quotes in what it can only be imagined is an attempt, to make him seem deeper than your usual masked wrestling crime fighter. Still for his flaws at least you have a whole bunch of masked wrestlers to take your pick off and seeing how Ulysses is frequently pushed into the background until needed, with the other members of the group all getting their moment to shine, I couldn’t help but wonder if it was because I wasn’t the only one having doubts about his character, even more so when he is never actually called by this name.
The other warning sign for the less forgiving will be how truly random this world is, for not is it one were people can wonder around in Mexican wrestling masks, solving mysteries and not raise the slightest eyebrow raise, let alone the fact that trained zombies are also common place and despite everywhere being covered in snow and blowing a blizzard, it still doesn’t prevent Mercedes from heading off to the beach in a skimpy bikini.

Essentially this film can be seen in the same fun terms as the Santo and Superargo films, especially as they are such a clear inspiration here and without knowledge of their camp humour or a love for wrestling in general, it can make this film hard to get into for some, especially as a zombie film alone it stands up kind of shakily which seems to have been the main disappointment for the majority of people, who have seen this film, despite the fact that Case has managed to cram in a fair amount of satisfying moments of gore, but then for most the prospect of watching a film were the zombies are supporting cast, might be hard concept to grasp especially after so many years of movies portraying them as a main threat, for Case to actually take a step back and reduce his zombie hordes, to the same form (if slightly more carnivorous) of monstrous slave labour that they were originally used as in the early zombie movies, such as “White Zombie” (1932), way before Romero turned them into their more ravenous image that the general movie going public is more familiar with. Still Case even brings a wrestling flavoured spin to the slave zombie idea, as he opens with masked wrestler Tiki using zombies in a caged wrestling match, which despite being undead still manage to prove themselves surprisingly limber and actually put on an entertaining match, with wrestling unsurprisingly proving to be a major film, with Case even casting wrestling legend Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart as the sheriff, aswell as casting wrestling trainer Rob “El Fuego” Etcheverria as Tiki and also using TNA’s Tracey Brooks (seen here as Tracey Brookshaw) for some of the more involved fight scenes in which she doubles for Mercedes, but judging my Case’s comments on IMDB it would seem his love for the sport extends beyond this film, especially as he has frequently comments that he’d “rather work with wrestler over actors anyday”.

Soundtrack wise Case has gone for a surf rock packed soundtrack, which helps the action flow and even adds to the campy fun edge, while at the same time proving a perfect accompanyment to the action, while frustratingly has proven impossible to find, after getting stuck in my head since I first heard it and makes a refreshing change from all this darn rockabilly I keep hearing getting churned, while this soundtrack also makes a change from the usual tone deaf underground bands, which usually soundtrack these indie features.

This film is so hard to justify without watching it for yourself, especially as it’s horror moments aren’t exactly scary and some of the humour misses it’s mark, yet somehow it manages to pull everything together into a slightly surreal but highly entertaining ride and if you can just watch it for plain entertainment value, without feeling the urge to be critical over every single frame of film, there is definatly a lot to enjoy, especially for the established Santo and Superargo fans, who will no doubt get a kick out of seeing a new movie picking up were those films left off, while it also attempts to do something other than the basic horde movie, which it seems the majority of zombie films have become as of late and at least it’s bothering to try something new, when so much in the genre seems like it is just going over well trodden ground, so if you want something mindless and fun and your feeling open minded, especially if you thought that “The Calamari Wrestler” looked like fun, this might just be it’s perfect partner for a truly insane double feature.
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