Monday, 29 April 2013


Title: If…
Director: Lindsay Anderson
Released: 1968
Starring: Malcolm McDowell, Richard Warwick, Christine Noonan, David Wood, Robert Swann, Peter Jeffrey, Arthur Lowe

Plot: Following Mick and his friends, as their fond feelings towards their boarding school are slowly pushed out as they suffer a series of indignities and abuse at the hands of the teachers and senior boys known the “Whips”, eventually leading to their violent rebellion.

Review: Every now and then I will encounter a film which by the time it ends I am left with the conundrum of how I’m actually going to actually review it. This was certainly the case here, as this is defiantly one of the more original films I have seen of late and one which rewards the patience of the viewer, while equally challenging them as the road to their rebellion slowly reveals itself as it proves itself to be just as memorable now as the year it was released. At the same time it is equally noteworthy for the screen debut of McDowell in a role which would lead to Kubrick casting him as the lead Droog “Alex” in his legendry “A Clockwork Orange” after seeing his surprisingly mature performance here and one which McDowell also considers his favourite.

While the plot might seem a fairly straightforward (well on paper atleast), Anderson instead chooses here to craft something rather different, as surreal imagery meets with the eccentricities of the boarding school system, while he highlights such old traditions as “fagging” were the first year boys branded here as “Scum” are made to act like servants for the prefects or “Whips” who have long since grown corrupt with the power they have been given. The film itself meanwhile is divided up into chapters which seemingly have no link to each other, apart from to highlight further the gradually increasing rebellious behaviour of Mick and his group, though it would seem the seeds have been sown long before we join them, with Stephen drawing comparisons between Mick and Guy Fawkes, while the boys cover their dorm walls with Mao, Che Guevara aswell as the Vietnam war which echo the political changes dominating the headlines at the time.

As the film progresses we are slowly introduced to the inner workings of the school, were the teachers frequently show eccentric behaviour and often suffer from various perversions as memorably seen with the Chaplain who frequently gropes and pinches members of his geometry class, while in an utterly bizarre scene we see Mick’s house master (Lowe) singing hymns while his wife tunelessly accompanies him on her recorder as the matron listening in next door is driven to near orgasm by the sound…well to each their own I guess. Elsewhere the whips are seen growing increasingly corrupt by the power they have been given by the faculty, even handing out corporal punishment, as seen during a brutal and prolonged caning of Mick and his friends which is only made worse when tradition demands that they shake hands and thank the whips when it is over. Anderson meanwhile ensuring that the lines between the establishment and Mick’s crusader’s is kept clear cut as he ensures that he can provide suitable justification for their final resolution.

No doubt Anderson could have shot this film in a more straightforward way than he chooses to here, instead drawing influence from Jean Vigo’s Zéro de conduite” aka “Zero for Conduct”, which like this film drew extensively from its directors boarding school experiences. As a result the film gives us such surreal moments as the boys seeing how long they can hold a plastic bag over their heads, as the camera remains fixed on Mick’s asphyxiating face. Elsewhere things only getting increasingly bizzare with the headmaster being shown hiding the school Chaplin in a giant drawer in his office, or Mick suddenly engaging in an animalistic sex scene with a local waitress (Noonan) moments after meeting her, a scene which was only included at the suggestion of McDowell, who came up with it as a way to see her nude, even though many highbrow critics would no doubt apply some pretentious alternative meaning to the scene, much like the films infrequent switches between colour and black and white, which is less about artistic statement and more about the film running out of money during production so Anderson decided to save money by processing selected scenes in Monocrome. The effect is undeniably effective and one which helps to keep the viewer disorientated, especially when they frequently appear randomly and without warning.  

Like Brando’s “The Wild One” this film has a legacy of controversy which has followed it since its release with critics at the time eagerly tying it the student protests sweeping through France at the time, which was only fuelled further by Anderson’s association with the counterculture of the time, while later critics have viewed it as a precursor to high school shootings like Columbine. The latter comparison though is an interesting one especially for while on the surface it may seem like an obvious influence, but only falls flat with alitle deeper digging, for while the Columbine killers were obvious psychopaths, Mick and his group are purposely directed at removing an evil blight, while carrying with him the motto that “One man can change the world with a bullet in the right place”. Needless to say it is hard to not side with their perhaps extreme and sudden retribution.

While perhaps not the easiest film to watch, it is hard to deny the frequently startling and memorable imagery contained within, while on first viewing the climatic shoot out a little anti-climactic especially when it is confined within the last ten minutes of the film, yet frequently talked about with such enthusiasm, that you would be mistaken for thinking that it is more than it is. Despite there is something to love about a purple rinse granny packing a machine gun. Certainly not a film to suit all tastes, but a fun curiosity for those who like to challenge themselves occasionally with their movie watching.

Friday, 26 April 2013


Title: Sightseers
Director: Ben Wheatly
Released: 2012
Starring: Steve Oram, Alice Lowe, Eileen Davis, Richard Glover, Monica Dolan, Jonathan Aris, Richard Lumsden
Plot: A decidedly British black comedy, which finally fills the space for a Natural Born Killers meets Caravan holiday crossover (for anyone who’s been holding out for such a thing) as caravan enthusiast Chris (Oram) takes his shy and retiring girlfriend Tina (Alice Lowe) on what they hope will be a dream sightseeing holiday in his caravan, only to end up on an impromptus killing spree.
Review: For myself and my fellow brits here on this rain soaked isle, there are few things which seem so British as the idea of the caravanning holiday, were you forgo the comfort and luxury of a hotel room, to sit in the middle of a field while generally doing your business into a chemical toilet. This is of course after you have finished being the bane of every motorist you cut off or delay with the monstrosity you have chosen to tow behind your car. No doubt the people who enjoy these sorts of holidays being viewed as the least likely inspiration for a pair of serial killers, but here it is an idea which works surprisingly well, as the leather cladded “Natural Born Killers” Mickey and Mallory are exchanged for out knitware loving duo, which even extends in Tina’s case to a lovely pair of knitted crotch less panties (no sure how that would work out in real life, much less how well knitware lends itself to lingerie).
I would say to start that the best way to view this film is really to go in as blind as possible, which having said that it is far from the easiest thing I know in these times were information on any film is ever only a mouse click away. Equally problematic is the trailer, which while it does a great job of selling the film, perhaps gives away a little too much of the potential surprises the film could have delivered and something which frequently proved to be a real frustration when watching the film and knowing that so many moments could had been a lot more effective had I not know they were coming. Perhaps with this in mind you should just bookmark this review and come back when you have seen this film to avoid any potential spoilers I may leak throughout, while ensuring the maximum amount of surprise from this truly original film.
Both Chris and Tina are far from your text book serial killers with their love of knitwear and genuine desire to visit the frequently twee tourist attractions such Crich Tramway Museum and Keswick Pencil Museum, with their desire to kill usually being triggered by those who don’t fit into their world view or more frequently anyone who they believe has disrespected them, be it a litterbug or upper class snobs, one way or another the duo soon find a way to settle the score and in their mind restore the balance. Still when we first meet them, you would never think that either of these two would be capable of such random acts of violence. Tina in particular though is the most interesting, seeing how when we meet her she introduced as an awkward soul who is shown living a sheltered life, still living at home with her hypochondriac mother, a situation which has seemingly resulted in her withdrawing into herself, with her relationship with Chris being an attempt to break out of this rut, especially since her mother has never forgiven her for accidently killing the family dog in a bizarre knitting needle accident.
While initially it is Chris who does the killing, covering for his murderous tendencies by making his murders look like accidents, as he hides this side of his world from Tina only for her to soon become drawn into this side of things, as she finally explores her own murderous side which is frequently hinted at before she reveals it, though as the duo embrace this new world view based on Chris’s theories of each death helping to restore the balance, it is only a matter of time before things soon start to spiral out of control, which soon becomes one of the main focuses of the film as director Wheatly unflinchingly charts the deterioration of their relationship as you wonder how it will all end, while ensuring that this pitch black comedy is only painted in the darkest shades.
Due to their killing spree antics It is impossible to view this film without drawing comparisons to “Natural Born Killers” and perhaps to a lesser extent the controversial French thriller “Base-Moi”, both of which seem to have been a key influence in the creation of this film, but while Chris and Tina might be getting the same arousal from their killing, with each one usually followed by enthusiastic sex scenes, but the key difference here though is that they don’t have to kill to fill some unquenchable thirst for violence and death like their counterparts, but instead it truly is about restoring the balance for them. The deaths though  are certainly as original as they frequently are brutal with bludgeoning’s and even the caravan itself being used as the means of despatch for their victims, with some great special effects on show even though Wheatly doesn’t take the film into slasher territory by giving it a high body count, he does however ensure that when someone dies they do in it is suitably memorable, especially as he teases out each kill by slowly cranking up the anticipation until the inevitable conclusion.
“Sightseers” is certainly an interesting film and Wheatly here really surprises us with this surprise change of style, especially after the pitch black thrillers “Down Terrace” and the cinematic marmite “Kill List” which truly proved to be the sort of film which divides audiences, which is no doubt what will happen with this film, even more so when Wheatly’s brand of black humour is so dark that it won’t be to everyone’s tastes while the humour being more incidental than the trailer would you have you believe it is no doubt making it far from the easiest watch for most movie goers, especially those without a slightly warped sense of humour, which is essentially who this film will most appeal to, making it certainly what you would call a niche film. Seeing how so much the of the film is based on British culture, I am especially curious to see how this film translates to audiences outside of the UK and whether it will manage the same appeal that Edger Wright’s (who appears here as executive producer) equally British culture influenced projects like ”Spaced”, “Hot Fuzz” and “Shawn of The Dead” have managed. For now it remains a darkly comedic curiosity, but one which you will likely only watch once as it holds little to reward repeat viewings.

Monday, 22 April 2013

The Cat Returns

Title: The Cat Returns
Director: Hiroyuki Morita
Released: 2002
Starring: Anne Hathaway, Cary Elwes, Peter Boyle, Ellott Gould, Tim Curry, Andrew Bevis, Judy Geer, Rene Auberjonois, Andy Richter, Kristine Sutherland, Kristen Bell

Plot: When Haru (Hathaway) rescues a mysterious cat from being hit by a truck, she soon finds herself unwittingly set to wed to the cat Prince Lune (Bevis) under the orders of the Cat King (Curry) while slowly finding herself turning into a cat. Now her only hope lies with the dapper Baron (Elwes) and his portly sidekick Muta (Boyle).

Review: For those of you who ever wondered what the Bowie staring classic “Labyrinth” would have been like had the main characters been replaced with cats, this film is essentially the answer to that question, much like how “Battle: Los Angeles” answers the question of what “Black Hawk Down” would have been like with a bunch of alien warlords.. True it might not be a scene for scene remake per say, but the general atmosphere between the two films can certainly be compared, with a girl being whisked away to a fantastical kingdom and having to battle to find her way out, let alone the fact that this film also features its own labyrinth.

Originally starting life under the title of “Cat Project” in 1999 after Studio Ghibli received a request from a theme park to create a 20 minute short staring cats. Despite the theme park cancelling the project, studio head Hayao Miyazaki kept the project as a way of vetting future directors. The project would eventually be given director Morita, who’d previously worked as an animator for the studio on “My Neighbours the Yamadas”. Aswell  as being the sole feature he has directed for Ghibli, it is also sadly one of the lesser seen features, which is such a shame considering what a great starting point to the Ghibli back catalogue it provides with its simple and fun storyline. At the same time its slender 75 min run time barely counts as being feature length, while only leaving you wanting more by the time the film ends, though sadly a sequel has yet to happen, which at the same time is hardly surprising considering the company is hardly renown for making sequels to any of their features.

While perhaps smaller in scale than some of the Ghibli such as “Princess Mononoke” or “Laputa: Castle In The Sky”, it is perhaps because of this that the film is such an easy watch and one which despite lacking the scale still manages to maintain the usual Ghibli charm and magic we have come to expect from their features, as even if you’re not the biggest fan of cats, it is hard to not be charmed by some of the characters seen here, with my personal favourites being the cats whose markings make them look like secret service agents and who are shown throwing stray cats out of the way of the Cat King. Equally present is the fun and playful sense of humour, which only comes more into play once the story enters the Cat Kingdom, were the frequently slapstick humour really comes into play.

The humour while slapstick in its focus, also throws in a few surreal laughs for good measure as entertainers who fail to entertain the king or even members of his court who laugh at things he doesn’t find funny, soon find themselves thrown out of a window. Meanwhile fights usually breakdown into fights of off screen chaos as furniture and stray weaponry flies through the air and soldiers more often than not collapse like dominos which have such a sense of fun even with their OTT nature that is hard to not enjoy these moments, especially as they only grow more madcap as the film progresses and perfectly suits the mood of the film, which despite the occasional moment were the film tries to do something more serious like the fantastical tide of cats which whisks Haru away, the tone of the film is largely comedic.

The characters we see here while on first appearances (outside of the baron) frequently might seem on the surface alittle plain, even more so when you compare them to some of the colourful characters we have seen in other Ghibli features, they are for the majority of them still made memorable thanks to some great voice work, though saying that I can currently only vouch for the dubbed version of this film, with Ghibli films often being notable for the differences in how characters come across, with Jiji in “Kiki’s Delivery Service” being a prime example. Sadly though I was let down by an almost unrecognisable Tim Curry at The Cat King, who had I not read through the credits, I would have never believed that it was him. The Standout here though is Boyle who portrays the food obsessed Muta like a grumpy version of Porthos from “The Three Musketeers”, with his food obsession leading to what could have been one of the more unusual deaths via drowning in jelly. 

The animation is of the usual polished standard we have come to expect from Ghibli, with some stunning backgrounds, which only making the world seem all the more real, with the character animation in particularly focusing on what cats would look like if they walked on their hind paws, though opting to look past the awkward movements this would no doubt cause, with Morita happily leaving it at just permanently limp paws.

It is a shame that “The Cat Returns” is as frequently overlooked as it is, even more so when it is in favour of the likes of “My Neighbour Totoro” whose memorable titular character failed to spawn for myself atleast a memorable adventure. However with Studio Ghibli’s popularity ever increasing hopefully it will be one which later truly find the recognition it deserves.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame

Title: Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame
Director: Tsui Hark
Released: 2010
Starring: Andy Lau, Carina Lau, Li Bingbing, Tony Leung Ka-Fai, Chao Deng

Plot: In 689 A.D., the Empress Wu Zetian (Lau) is building a 66 m high statue of Buddha for her inauguration as the first empress of China under the objections and conspiracy of the other clans. When the engineer responsible for the construction mysteriously dies by spontaneous combustion, the superstitious workers are afraid since the man removed the good luck charms from the main pillar. Keen to complete the construction, Empress Wu assigns her loyal assistant Shangguan Jing'er (Bingbing) to release the exiled Detective Dee (Lau) from his imprisonment to investigate with the albino inspector Donglai (Deng) aswell as Jing'er to solve the mystery of the deaths.

Review:  Currently I’m in the process of moving house and facing not being able to transfer the sky+ box across. So  now I’m currently in the process of clearing the films I taped with every intention of watching the next day only for them to remain on the box unwatched for the best part of a year, while I got distracted with watching other things, which is essentially the case with the pile of DVD’s sitting by the TV which constantly threatens to fall over and kill me (but what a way to go). For one reason or another this has been sat in my watch pile for a while, which now I’ve finally got around to seeing it only makes it more of a shame that I put off watching it for so long.

Playing like a kung fu version of Sherlock Holmes, the character of Dee is largely based on Di Renjie, a celebrated official of the Tang Dynasty, who’d previously been made famous with Robert van Guik’s series of Judge Dee mysteries and now under the direction of Tsui Hark here makes his spectacular screen debut, with this fast paced and action packaged film with Lau bringing an easy sense of stoic confidence, aswell as capturing the passionate patriotism of the character, even after spending the last eight years imprisoned for opposing the rule of the Empress. At the same time like Holmes he has his own set of quirks, starting with his own self-imposed (yet temporary) blindness while imprisoned, which he explains away as being part of his attempts to shut out the world around him.

For this investigation through Dee also gets suitably strong support from both Shangguan Jing’er and Donglai, with both bringing their own attitudes and skils to the case, with Shangguan fiercely loyal to the Empress she is constantly suspect of Dee, especially considering what he was imprisoned for in the first place. Adding to their issues is the sexual tension between these two characters, which is only added to by Dee holding zero interest in her in that way. Donglai on the hand resents Dee for taking over the case he was originally assigned, only to be overruled by the Empress who instead assigns Dee in charge of the case and even though Dee is not the sort of character who engages in blazing rows, but instead constantly keeps a calm demeanour and uses the facts to lead the others. Despite their differences Donglai still brings a lot of to the investigation, as their duty to uphold the law unites them together.

This trio might be a crack investigation team, but they only add to their strength as a team with some truly amazing martial arts skills, with Shangguan carrying her whip which is more of an extension of her arm and seemingly comes with a million uses seeing how handy it comes in throughout the case. Dee though gets the coolest weapon, with his dragon-taming mace, which is essentially a long metal pole, whose spinning attachment helps locate the weak spot of his opponents weapon so that his strikes cause it to shatter, something which proves to be equally effective on odd bits of architecture as he proves with an early demonstration of the weapons power. The real draw though is with the stunning martial arts sequences and wire work choreographed by Hong Kong legend Sammo Hung who ensures that the action quota is high with a stunning showdown inside the giant Buddha, with each fight scene aiming to give the audience they haven’t seen before.
The actual detective work however is largely grounded in fantastical logic and while the film might not be big on reality, its explanations for things such as the spontaneous combustion is always plausible within the confines of this film, much like Donkey Wang’s ability to use acupuncture to change his face. Not that you will actually question any of these things, thanks to the sense of fun that the film projects it makes such fantastical leaps in logic easy to go along with, even the whole talking deer randomness.

While the film contains a lot of gloss with its stunning scenery and costumes, this is a far more popcorn friendly affair than its “Hero” esq styling would have you believe it to be with Hark clearly making the most of what is possibly one of his largest budgets to date and ensures that it shows on the screen, from the towering Buddha which frequently dominates the screen through to the underground lair of Donkey Wang (yes that is actually his name), with Hark ensuring the film travels through locations as colourful as the characters which inhabit them.

Rarely is it that I will find myself watching a film and instantly wishing for a sequel which was certainly the case here, even if it doesn’t exactly end in the easiest of places for a follow up. No doubt because of this situation the studio are going down the prequel route for their next Detective Dee adventure and even though Lau won’t be returning with the role of Dee set to be played by Mark Chao. Honestly though if it is half as much fun as this film I can hardly wait!

Sunday, 14 April 2013


Title: Chillerama
Director: Adam Green, Joe Lynch, Adam Rifkin, Tim Sullivan
Released: 2011
Starring: Adam Rifkin, Sarah Mutch, Owen Benjamin, Ray Wise, Eric Roberts, Miles Dougal, Lin Shaye, Sean Paul Lockhart, Anton Troy, Gabby West, Adam Robitel, Ron Jeremy, Tim Sullivan, Thomas C. Colby-Dog, Joel David Moore, Kristina Klebe, Kane Hodder, Jim Ward, Richard Riehle, Corey Jones, Kaili Thorne, Brendan McCreary, Ward Roberts

Plot: It’s the closing night of the last drive-in theatre in America and owner Cecil B. Kaufman has decided to go out with a bang by holding a marathon of cinematic trash for his faithful cinephile patrons. Unknown to them though is the fact that one of the staff has contracted a zombie virus through some ill-advised necrophilia, ensuring this is going to be nothing short of a memorable closing night.

Review: While many may have hailed Eli Roth as the saviour of the horror genre, a title which he has sadly failed to live up to, especially considering how he is more concerned with taking on producing duties these days than sitting in the directors chair, as only further highlighted by the gap between “Hostel 2” and the forthcoming “The Green Inferno”. Infact if anyone could be branded as a saviour for the genre, I would personally venture that it would have to be Adam Green, whom since unleashing “Hatchet” has only feverishly continued to add to the genre, as he followed it up with not only a sequel to this debut, but also the critically acclaimed “Frozen” which showed that he was more than another splatter director.More surprisingly though he has also givin us the horror version of “The Big Bang Theory” with “Holliston” which he also stars in with fellow horror director and best friend Joe Lynch, who unsurprisingly is also on hand to direct a segment here.

Now the unholy twosome join forces with Adam Rifkin and Tim Sullivan to create this horror comedy anthology, an idea originally devised by Rifkin and Sullivan as a weekly show for MTV, only for it to fall through due to the increased popularity in reality shows. Now recruiting Green and Lynch to their cause it finally makes it to the screen in movie form and I was eager to see how it stood up alongside the classic Anthologies which came before it like “Tales From The Darkside” and “Creepshow”, aswell as the knowing nods to B-movie culture much like we saw with the criminally separated “Grindhouse” whose double feature format failed to make it out of the States as it was released internationally as two separate films.

Comprised of four films with each director getting their own chance to craft their own vision, as they give us here
  • Wadzilla (directed by Adam Rifkin) – A monster sized man eating sperm goes on a rampage through New York.
  • I Was a Teenage Werebear (directed by Tim Sullivan) – The sole musical entry in the film, set in 1962 were Ricky (Lockheart) a closet gay discovers a mysterious gang, who also happen to turn into leather daddy werebears when aroused.
  • The Diary of Anne Frankenstein (directed by Adam Green) – The secret attempt by Hitler (Moore) to create the perfect killing machine to help turn the tide of the war, while in turn giving the world his Jewish Frankenstein Meshugannah (Hodder) 
  • Zom-B-Movie (directed by Joe Lynch) – The main meat of the film, which is intercut with the other films, as sex crazed zombies invade the drive through while ensuring the film end with a suitably splatter soaked finale

As you can see it is a real mixed bag on offer here in terms of style and ideas, yet all keep within the general theme the film shows….one that it would seem drenched in bodily fluids and gore, served up with a heavy dose of warped humour, which is not a bad thing and certainly gives the bad taste aficionados plenty to enjoy. The downside though is that like “Four Rooms” the level of talent on offer here is varying to say the least, resulting in a film which is frequently uneven in places as the standard shifts from piece to piece with Green and Lynch easily having the stronger segments, with their experience of working in the genre really coming into play, with Lynch’s “Zom-B-Movie” throwing out cheeky nods to the zombie genre left, right and centre while seemingly also attempting to top the splatter finale of Peter Jackson’s legendry “Braindead” while at the same giving it a sex comedy style twist which has to be seen to be believed. Meanwhile Green’s twist on Frankenstein is so over the top that despite the high potential to cause offence by poking fun at what could essentially be volatile subject matter, is quickly put to rest by the ever increasing levels of randomness, which has a real Mel Brooks feel to it as the film self acknowledges its own stupidity, even having cast step outside of the sets and actors suddenly being replaced by questionable looking dummies.

Sadly were the film hits a major bump is with “I Was A Teenage Werebear” which attempts to give us “Grease” via the way of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”, which is a dangerous idea to begin with when you consider that even Richard O’Brian couldn’t create a sequel to beat his creation, so it is essentially destinted to fail from the start as any number of tepid stage versions trying to capture the magic of the film have only further proven. The main problem here is not so much with the plot, which embraces carefree gay love, aswell as the confusion for a young man still forced to live in the closet, all great themes to see being used and obviously ideas close to the heart of the segments director seeing how Sullivan himself is openly gay (and rather keen to drop this fact in for any promotional material for the film). What lets this segment down is instead the weak collection of forgettable songs being warbled by the cast. None of these song I have to confess would have me rushing to buy the soundtrack, which has been optimistically released alongside the film, while Sullivan has also hinted at a full length stage version, something else that I’m not exactly on tender hooks to see, especially as this segment is only just bearable, thanks to some over the top and frequently original splatter.

One thing which stuck with me about this film though is the continuous obsession with bodily fluids, as the film seems to take any opportunity to ensure that all feature in some form or another with “Wadzilla” with its giant sperm and tidal wave cum shots ensuring that it comes off like a more light hearted version of the body shocker “Bad Biology”. Still the bad taste aficionados amongst you will no doubt appreciate the sheer effort which has been put into this film to ensure that they are all covered for your viewing pleasure, which includes a scatological themed “Deathication”. Thankfully its not a theme which overshadows the whole film, but one which certainly crops up enough to be noticeable.

While the segments might vary greatly in quality and style, the strength of “The Diary of Anne Frankenstein” and “Zom-B-Movie” prove to be more than enough to cover for the weaker parts of the film. At the same time while watching this I couldn’t help but feel that I was missing the audience element which no doubt has made this such a popular film on the horror festival circuit and as such I would recommend watching this with a group of like-minded friends to get the full effect intended.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013


Title: Inbred
Director: Alex Chandon
Released: 2011
Starring: Seamus O’Neill, Jo Hartley, James Doherty, Mat Fraser, Emily Booth, James Burrows, Neil Leiper, Chris Waller, Nadine Rose Mulkerrin, Terry Haywood, Damien Lloyd-Davies

Plot: Following two care workers and their four delinquent charges, as they head to a remote part of the Yorkshire countryside to the seemingly sleepy village of Mortlake, which is seemingly so far off the beaten track that it just about makes it onto the map, which is just how the villagers like it. Despite a questionable greeting at the local pub “The Dirty Hole” were they meet the colourful landlord Jim (O’Neill) and some of the equally colourful locals the group are soon setting about the task of salvaging copper from an abandoned railway. However after a violent encounter with one group of the locals the group, suddenly find themselves less welcomed than they thought, while also the star attraction as the village entertainment.

Review: Having been brought up on the rain soaked coasts of Cornwall (just put your finger on the very end of England and your in Cornwall) this film carries a strange sense of familiarity for me, especially with its setting which is introduced during the opening titles of seemingly non threatening shots of the countryside are only given a sense of creeping dread thanks to Dave Andrews soundtrack which finally gives us a new horror theme music, than just trying to grab the audiences attention with some nu-metal track. Equally refreshing is the choice to set the film in the Yorkshire countryside were the broad northern accent of the locals makes a much needed change from the usual Londoner drawl and cockney rhyming slang, which is worrying becoming a central element of British horror, something which will hopefully be abolished in the wake of this film, as I could happily go for more northern based horror.

A highly inventive movie, which while it might not exactly break the mould when it comes to the setup, with the seemingly questionable locals unsurprisingly turning out to be a crazed bunch of psychotic inbreds (think redneck or yokel) or the group taking no time to upset said locals, even if this time the trigger point is less clear than usual. Were the fun comes from through is the sheer inventiveness once the crazy is unleashed, for while this might have all the makings of being another torture porn release from the outset, with the group being taken one by one to the barn, were an audience of frenzied inbreds, watch on as pub landlord Jim, now dressed like a Papa Lazarou tribute act which is kind of fitting seeing how “The League of Gentlemen” is a definite close relation of this film.

At the centre of this rabid mob of locals Jim is clearly the one calling the shots acting not only as the voice of authority when it comes to pursing the group, but also leading the grotesque Cabaret style variety show they hold in the barn. O’Neill is truly a revelation in this role with his broad accent and booming voice, he true embodies the role while never dominating the film, as his banter with several of the other colourful villagers ensures that they all get chance to shine in all their repulsive glory. Meanwhile the teens are by the large your typical mix with a spattering of characterisation for colour, while their care workers are essentially polar opposites of each other with Kate (Hartley) being keen to work with the kids on their level while also processing a surprisingly feisty streak, while Jeff (Doherty) is the dorky disciplinarian and ultimately marks himself out as an easy first kill. Elsewhere we also get a opening cameo from Emily Booth, who here continues in her bid to establish herself as a horror starlet as she takes a break from trying to be the British Elvira on “The Horror Channel”. Ultimatly this cameo is so overacted, even for the fake film she is supposed to be staring in it is left largely forgettable, unlike a surprising cameo by Mat Fraser which threatens to steal the film as one of the villagers complaining about the declining in standards of showmanship being used, while his naturally short arms (the result of a genetic condition known as Phocomelia) only adding to his onscreen presence as he combats the issue of holding a hammer by simply strapping it to his arm.

The gore however is were the film really comes into it’s own with director Alex Chandon, combining a mixture of old school effects and CGI to really paint the screen crimson, as we are treated to exploding heads, torture by vegetables and even death by shire horse to name but a few of the numerous gory highlights. Needless to say if gore is not your thing then this won’t be one for you, but for the gorehounds they will no doubt find much to enjoy especially in the sheer terms of creative ways he has found to maim and kill various members of the cast over the course of the movie. However the real strength here is with the pitch black vein of humour which runs throughout the film, which features such fun moments as the questionable pork scratchings served at the dirty hole, which come in the varieties of Hairy or Smelly, while the humour is used to never turn the film into farce and ensuring that your wincing and laughing at the same time. Equally memorably is the villagers folk song, which is so catchy I have found myself still singing it days after seeing the film, thanks to it’s random appearances throughout including the villagers taking a break from attacking the farm house to sing a few verses, while possibly being the only murderous mob to have their own banjo player!

Okay while this weeks new movie review might not perhaps be a new movie per say, seeing how it has skipped the theatres outside of a handful of horror festivals and only now ended up on direct to DVD release, it still makes for a ghoulish Halloween treat, while the former shame of having the film released like this is far from a bad thing, especially as it has been proven many times in the past that this is not exactly the kiss of death it might once have been considered especially with the DVD market now holding as much sway as the theatre takings. Just look at “Family Guy” or “Futurama” both pronounced dead shows, only to be resurrected on the strength of their DVD sales.  I can only hope that this film now finally finds its audience on DVD as it is a genuine cult classic in the making while also being one of the most original and inventive British horror films since “The Kill List”.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin AKA: Shaolin Master Killer

Title: The 36th Chamber of Shaolin A.K.A.: Shaolin Master Killer Director: Chia-Liang Liu
Released: 1978
Starring: Liu Chia-Hui, Lo Lieh, Wang Yu, Yu Yang, Hsu Shao-Chiang, Wu Hang-Sheng

Plot: A young student named San Te (Chai-Hui) is drawn by his activist teacher into the local rebellion against the Manchu government. The government officials suppress the uprising and liquidate the school, killing friends and family members as well. San Te seeks vengeance. Wounded in an attack by Manchu henchmen, he flees to the Shaolin temple and seeks training in kung fu. Initially the Buddhist monks reject him, since he is an outsider, but the chief abbot takes mercy on the young man and lets him stay. One year later, he begins his martial arts training in the temple's 35 chambers.

Review: Widely regarded as being one of the greatest kung fu movies ever made, it is along with “King Boxer” aka “Five Fingers of Death” equally one of the most influential setting the style for the films which followed in its wake, with director Liu’s films impressing arthouse audiences years before the likes of “Once Upon A Time In China” and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” convinced the critics that the genre deserved closer inspection.

While the plot itself might not be anything particularly original seeing how it’s that classic tale, were the wronged man sets out on the path of revenge, engaging in an elaborate training regime before finally facing off against those who wronged him. Formalic it might be, but then you would be hard pressed to find any kung fu movie from this period which wasn’t. Still what sets this apart from the others is the focus on San Te’s training, which forms the main part of the film, which the kind of thing I can hardly see Hollywood doing such a thing with any of the summer blockbusters, yet here it proves to be a highly effective story device.

As with any good revenge movie, the path of revenge is never straightforward, as is the case here with San Te initially being turned down for training by the temple monks, seeing how he is seen as an outsider, but after a year at the temple he is finally given his chance to train where he is presented with a choice of where to start with the 35 chambers of Shaolin (no this not a typo as what the 36th chamber is, is revealed over the course of the film), with each chamber containing a different discipline of increasing toughness, with the 35th being the toughest, which of course is where the hasty San Te chooses to start only to predictably have his ass handed to him by one of the senior monks. However rather than give up he decides to start with the 1st chamber and work his way through the chambers and so starts the real meat of the film, as San Te completes each challenge, starting with the water cross, were to fall in the water means that your forced to dry your clothes before you can enter the dining hall, meanwhile the limited food is consumed by your fellow monks who can complete it. While this might seem like a random task to complete it is the scenes in which San Te tries to figure it out which are truly engrossing to watch, like each task he completes from fetching water and painting fences, which were memorably lifted by “The Karate Kid”.

Still this film is not all completing tasks with a questionable relationship to learning martial arts, as once San Te gets into the later chambers that he is given tasks with an increasing focus on martial arts, which also leads to him supposedly creating the three section staff, as a way of beating one his fellow monks who questioning his skills, after a rapid rise through the chambers, challenges to him a duel.

What is great about this film though is the journeyit takes us on, with San Te transforming from an angry and quick tempered youth at the start of the film to the poise and serious demeanour to a Shaolin master, especially when he return to his village to teach his common man kung fu so that they can defend themselves against the regular attack from the Manchu regime, a belief he is even willing to sacrifice his position in the Shoalin temple to follow, after proposing it as a 36th chamber, an idea which doesn’t’ sit too well with the high monks and soon sees him thrown out of the temple, a plot device which essentially ensures that he is forced to face those who wronged him in a final showdown.

The martial arts skills on show here are impressive to say the least, starting with the opening credit exhibition sequence a much used trademark of director Liu, who also assembles some highly memorable fight sequences combining scenes of traditional kung fu and weapon use, both which stand well next to the standout training sequences. It is of course these training sequences which the film rests upon, as it takes the unusual step of making them the main focus, when other films would treat them as having more throwaway value, yet here they only add to the journey we follow San Te on, which again is only further helped by the likeability of Chai-Hui who is completely believable in the part and marks himself out from this early performance as a true star in the making.
Unquestionably worthy of it's cult status, aswell as being viewed as such an important film within the genre, which sadly has only in the last couple of years along with "King Boxer" finally been given the release it deserves, while equally essential for the established far as well as making the perfect starting point for newcomers to the genre

Monday, 1 April 2013

Fish Story

Title: Fish Story
Director: Yoshihiro Makamura
Released: 2009
Starring: Atsushi Ito, Kengo Kora, Mikako Tabe, Gaku Hamada, Mirai Moriyama, Nao Omoroi, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Toshimitsu Okawa, Hidekazu Mashima, Noriko Eguchi, Takashi Yamanaka, Kazuki Namioka, Mai Takahashi, Kenjiro Ishimaru

Plot: Gerkirin a rock band from 1975 who having had no success, record one last song “Fish Story” before the band splits up, which years later could be the key to saving the world from its impending destruction from a meteor on a collision course.

Review: There are certain films which frequently remind me of the diffrences between the films being produced for the Asian film market and those being produced by Hollywood and this would especially being one of those films. A quick look at the plot summery alone is enough to confirm it, for can you see any major studio getting behind a film were the Earth is saved from a giant meteor by a song? No as “Armageddon” proved they would more likely get behind the film were they can spend millions of dollars giving Michael Bay another reason to make things go boom in some spectacular fashion or another.

What we get here though is something not only free of those usual cliché’s but altogether more special, as director Makamura not only pokes fun at the Michael Bay approach with mention of a failed attempt to stop the meteor by the Americans to detonate nuclear bombs on the Meteor called “Operation Armageddon”, while he also breaks the film into what could almost be seen as four short and seemingly unconnected films, as the film crosses multiple time frames from 1975 to 2012. Starting with timid driver (Hamada) being told a prophecy about him meeting a girl who will save the world, as he scouts for girls with his friends. Next the film gets a martial arts twist as a ferry cook (Moriyama) channels his inner Steven Segal to give us what is almost “Under Siege” on a budget as he saves schoolgirl (Tabe) from a group of gun toting hijackers. Finally we have the story of how Gerkirin, a band trying to kickstart a punk revolution a year before the Sex Pistols, while also explaining how they came up with the song “Fish Story”. Inbetween these seemingly unconnected shorts the film cuts back to the present were three strangers meet in a record shop discussing the song, while with five hours to impact the rest of Japan has fled to Mount Fuji in an attempt to escape the impending tsunami scenario, with the last hope resting with an attempt being launched by of all counties India….who’d have thought they’d have a space program, but then I thought the same for Australia until I saw “Iron Sky”.

While it frequently feels like these segments are unconnected, especially with the song being the only connection for one of these segments, you are left to trust in Makamura, who thankfully delivers a satisfying conclusion that confirms that no matter how random these segments might seem, they do in fact all link together and more often than not in the most surprising of ways aswell as thankfully none of the smugness that M. Night Shyamalan tends to bring with his twists. With Makamura it is more a case of presenting the maths and revealing the links that were always there and more often than not staring us right in our face, its just we didn’t know it.

The real strength though of this film though is how simply it tells, what could easily have been turned into a complex and confusing mess, while equally staring true to its main theme of fear which runs throughout, be it the fear of the end of the world via the ever approaching meteor, the fear of never achieving a dream or just the fear of being killed by a bunch of machine gun toting terrorists. It is also a surprising theme for a film filled with so many naturally comedic moments, let alone frequent genre shifts the likes of which I haven’t seen since “Save The Green Planet” with science fiction, kung fu and supernatural thriller to name but a few included within the films framework with a colourful and largely likeable mix of characters helps make it a fun if incredibly strange ride.

The main problem here though, is not so much the frequent genre changes or leaps in time, but more so the unbalanced nature of the segments with Moriyama’s kung fu antics easily stealing the show, thanks to his real-life background training as a ballet dancer, making his despatch of the bad guys only all the more graceful to watch. Elsewhere the final segment about the song being recorded is greatly helped by the raw enthusiasm of the band, which unlike so many movie bands actually have the feel of a proper band, rather than a group of actors thrown together, while the song which is supposedly going to save the world is thankfully catchy enough, so that you don’t mind hearing it on what feels like a continuous loop during this segment.

While it might seem out there (and it is) this is a simple enough film to follow if you focus on one segment at a time, rather than worrying about the larger picture and how it all links together, as like I stated at the start of this review, this truly is the sort of movie that you would never see coming from Hollywood and perhaps it is this uniqueness which makes it so much fun, while certainly helped by some strong writing and intriguing plotting, which ensures that you genuinely don’t know which way the story will go next, making it one of the more original let alone downright strange movies  that I have seen as of late.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...