Friday, 17 December 2010


Title: Goemon
Director: Kazuaki Kiriya
Released: 2009
Staring: Yosuke Eguchi, Takao Osawa, Ryoko Hirosue, Eiji Okuda, Jun Kaname, Goi, Hashinosuké Nakamura

Rating: 3 / 5

Plot: Goemon Ishikawa (Eguchi) is a master thief happily robbing the rich retainers to give to the poor with his assistant Sasuke Sarutobi (Gori). His life is however soon thrown into turmoil when he steals a Pandora’s Box-type device from malevolent would-be-emperor, Hideyoshi Toyotomi (Okuda), unwittingly opening up a conspiracy that implicates the powerful official in the murder of Nobunaga Oda (Nakamura), Goemon’s mentor and uncle to love interest Chacha (Ryoko Hirosue).

Review: Kiriya’s debut feature “Casshern” (2004) was an insane slice of sci-fi madness, that not only blew my tiny little mind the first time I saw it, but also blended hyper kinetic action scenes with stunning design work. Still it was even more impressive in how it managed to flawlessly blend CGI and more traditional effects to the point were it didn’t feel like you were watching a film being presented in a CGI created world, but a one in which the edges of both the real world and the CGI one blend together effortlessly to create one mindblowing stage for which Kiriya used to create the fantastical landscapes and vast robot armies of the source anime and it's this same frenzied and fantastic style that he now brings to feudal Japan, with this historical bio of Japan’s answer to Robin Hood, the Ninja turned bandit hero Goemon, as Kiriya plays fast and loose with the mixture of fact, fiction and legend of the titular hero, to create another frantic and fast paced film, which hits the ground running and rarely lets up throughout it’s running time.

Goemon is almost the perfect hero for Kiriya to choose for a biopic, if only due to the lack of actual historic information which is actually known about the man, though Kiriya has really only used this to his advantage it would seem, while setting out with the intension of making him almost a fantastical character, as he captures the pop samurai style of “Azumi” (2003), while a roguish performance from Eguchi, also gives the character under shades of Lupin the Third from “Castle of Cagliostro” (1979), making him not only a rebel, but also pretty handy in a fight, as highlighted through the numerous fight scenes, with Kiriya shooting these in the same glossy style as the rest of the film, which trades historical accuracy for pop video style, meaning that we are treated to such surreal moments such as a group of prostitutes performing a hip hop style influenced dance sequence, which for those of you wanting a truly accurate picture might find a little off putting, but then this music video style is hardly surprising when you consider that this was the provin g grounds, were Kiriya, like so many equally visual directors such as David Fincher and Spike Jonze, started out his directing career before moving into directing films and like those directors Kiriya has continued to bring that same creativity and glossy style to his films.

The plot is anything but straightforward, especially when Kiriya has chosen to pepper it with so many flashbacks, it often become hard to quite follow how everything links together especially when trying to take in how the numerous characters caught up in the main conspiracy of the story link together and something that is not especially helped by the addition of a clumsy love triangle, which only further adds to the confusion and it’s a similar problem to the one which dogged Kiriya’s debut “Casshern” which was also dogged by the same confusing style of plotting, as you find yourself being thrown from one stunning sequence to the next and though the ride is certainly enjoyable and without a doubt gorgeous to look at, you can’t help but wish that he had instead dedicated alittle more time to the construction of the story, rather than the best way to put each of these highly visual ideas on the screen, much like the countless themes which he attempts to cover with the same film with Romance, friendship, betrayal, political intrigue and epic battles just a handful of the ideas he attempts to lock into place, only generally adding further to the ongoing confusion.

The action scenes are all equally as exciting and in some case more so than what Kiriya attempted with his debut, as ninjas fly across the rooftops as buildings crumble around them, with Goemon seemingly having more gadgets than James Bond, including his multifunctional chain, while proving himself just as handy with a samurai sword in any of the numerous sword fights featured throughout and usually ending in a blood being splattered across faces and limbs being hacked off in the process, but other than a public execution, there is nothing too overly shocking here. The only problem that I did find, was that in certain sequences, that the CGI and real worlds seems to loose the gloss which blended them so seamlessly together, which could be down largely to lack of funds to support some of the more grander of Kiriya’s idea throughout, though even these scenes look great, even if their noticeable sub par graphic do pull you out of the film slightly.

While it might seem more style than substance, this film still makes for a fun piece of escapism and while being slightly less bewildering than Kiriya’s debut feature, it still suffers from pockets of confusion if mainly due to the sheer catalogue of colourful characters and intriguing plot twists and it could no doubt have benefited from tighter editing but despite these flaws it is still an exciting and great looking film and certainly worth giving a look, especially for fans of Kiriya’s debut which certainly has gained a decent sized following since it’s release and no doubt those same fans will lap this up too.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer

Title: Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer
Director: Jon Knautz
Released: 2007
Staring: Robert Englund, Trevor Matthews, Rachel Skarsten, David Fox, Daniel Kash

Rating: 3 / 5

Plot: Jack Brooks (Matthews) is a Plumber with some serious anger issues, the result of having witnessed his family being slaughtered by a demon back when he was a kid. Still Jack soon finds himself in a whole world of trouble, when he wakens an ancient evil after fixing the pipes of his night school professor Dr. Crowley (Englund), who is soon possessed and turned into a demon, leaving it up to Jack to stop him.

Review: What is it about the current Horror scene, which has caused it to be so incapable of producing memorable characters anymore, with perhaps the sole exception it would seem being the “Saw” franchise which is now more an exploration of ideas and iconology, rather than anything resembling creating a new horror icon, who appears throughout a series, with Jigsaw these days reduced to cameo appearances, while B-Movie actors fight over his legacy and with studios more content to churn out one shot villains or just remake tried and tested franchises. But seriously through were are the Jason’s and Freddy’s or even the new Ash of this era? Now don't start getting too over excited and start assuming that after that little rant, that you finally having a new hero to root for as they unleash hell on the unholy hordes, as although this is something Jack Brooks does rather well in a brute force and ignorance kind of way, this film still feels like too much of an introduction to this character and almost like a TV pilot which has been expanded into a feature, rather than the first entry in what has the potential of being a great series.

From the beginning it certainly hits the ground running, while also highlighting it’s use of old school FX over crappy looking CGI, with these effects continuing thoughout, as we open with one of the monstrous creation laying waste to a bunch of tribal warriors, before being introduced to a slightly feral version of Jack, as the film suddenly takes us right back to the beginning as we are given the whistle stop tour of Jack’s past complete with his dry running narration to highlight the more important parts, before ending up at the time in his life before he found his true calling, with Jack generally being the embodiment of an antihero, as it soon becomes over clear that not only does he have a slight issue with anger (basically knocking out anyone who ticks him off) but also really doesn't give to much of a damn what anyone thinks. It's these early beginnings which this film serves to essentially cover and well pretty little else, which is certainly worth knowing going into this film, especially if you want to avoid some serious disappointment, as it feels the film finally gets into a fun groove and then suddenly ends, having brought the story back to were it opened. This plotting is also not helped by the lack of a noteworthy villain, for Robert Englund’s mild mannered professor turning into a demon, is hardly the big nasty you'd expect, while also baring a striking similarity to the blob monster Chet gets turned into in “Weird Science” (1985), though it’s safe to say that moment of film randomness, never created it’s own army of student zombies.

Matthews is great as Jack and truly embodies the role, while never lets his performance become farcical, even when the film finally gets into a good monster slaying groove. Despite Jack being hardly the most likable of characters, seeing how he cusses off the majority of people he meets, while punching out the rest and being a real general arsehole, with the truly standout moment coming after the mentor esq Howard (Fox) has explained how he not only lost his arm, only for Jack to be more interested in how he dug the hole he buried the demon in, rather than anything to do with the monster he seems fated to face. Horror legend Englund seems to have fun, playing such an oddball role, even if the role consists of him largely acting frenzied and possessed while chowing down on a number of increasingly disgusting food sources, rather than anything particularly strenuous acting wise and even though he’s playing it for laughs it’s still believable enough, unlike the complete naivety of his night school class, who even when he’s entering the later stages of his demonic transformation, none of them actually seem to question what is actually wrong with him, other than the occasional comment on his appearance.

My main gripe with this film is all in the pacing, seeing how nothing really happens until the final quarter. True we get alot of build up and Englunds gradual transformation into a hideous demon, yet this does leave the feel feeling quite ponderous in places, as Knautz not only gives us the backstory for Jack but pretty much spends most of the film, driving home who Jack was before he finally finds his calling, which despite being made up for in the finale which is a joyous orgy of violence and slime, as Jack goes to town on the demon hordes, though the journey to these moments really does test the patience of the viewer, much like the first “Mad Max” (1979) which this film could certainly be comparable to, as both have the action packed openings and endings, with a focus on character development weighing everything down in the middle.

Knautz with this film could potentially given us the new Ash and with “Evil Dead 4” not seeming likely anytime soon, Jack could certainly be the one to help to fill the void, especially with the similarities in character between Jack and Ash, even if Jack really doesn't have the same quick fire one liners, though it's a mantle that Jack could easily pick up if Knautz ever gets around to making the proposed sequel, which going off this first film in what I hope will be the first in a great series, with this film no doubt making more sense especially with it’s pacing when seen as a series rather than a single film, again much like “Mad Max” which certainly worked a lot better when viewed as the first in a series and hence the start of a larger story, with were Knautz takes the character next certainly being intriguing prospect, though personally here’s hoping it’s more focused on the action side of things as this is truly were the real potential for the series lies, rather than trying to fill the audience in on every aspect of the Jack psyche, as the average horror viewer shows up for the prospect of gore, monsters and occasional nudity and not a psychology lesson. Here’s hoping that Knautz figures this out for the sequel.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

The Horseman

Title: The Horseman
Director: Steven Kastrissios
Released: 2008
Staring: Peter Marshall, Caroline Marohasy, Brad McMurray, Jack Henry, Evert McQueen, Christopher Sommers. Bryan Probets, Steve Tandy

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Plot: Christian is a divorced father grieving over the recent death of his daughter, only to be pushed over the edge when he receives a particularly nasty porn video through the post, featuring his recently deceased daughter, whose death it would seem is connected to this tape. Fuelled by rage, Christian sets out on a violent revenge fuelled roadtrip, to find the men behind the tape.

Review: From the outset this film might seem like so many of the other disposable by the numbers revenge thrillers of late, especially as it opens with Christian introducing one of the men, whom we can only assume is responsible for his daughters death, to the business end of a crowbar as Director Kastrissios films it all with an unflinching eye as the blows rain home while he goes about his crude and amateurish method of interrogation, yet what Kastrissios has created here is in fact a thoughtfully plotted and grimly brutal thriller, which despite the plot, coming from what is honestly being pretty well trodden ground, having been reworked numerous times since the godfather of relative retribution movies “Get Carter” (1971) perfected the blue print, spawning unintentionally a running theme between these films, who frequently have a link in some way to the porn industry, which continues right up to the equally noteworthy “Princess” (2006) in which a former missionary hunts down those responsible for his porn star sisters demise, yet despite this all being familiar territory Kastrissios still manages to bring something new to the game, through some stylish editing and original shocks as it manages to rise above just being another torture porn title, as he avoids just going for cheap shocks over substance.

Another point worth certainly noting with this film would be that unlike so many other titles in the genre, this particular road trip of revenge, on which Christian finds himself on is never shown as bringing him any form of joy or happiness, with the path of revenge being shown as being a lonely and isolated one, while it’s also clear that he isn’t getting any kind of pleasure out of having to resort to the primitive and brutal means he does, to find out the required information he needs, while at the same time clearly seeing no other way of finding closure to his daughters death, as he shows no quarms about resorting to such means while frequently being shown as being constantly emotionally numb, frequently carving his arms in a bid to feel anything atoll, as Kastrissios attempts to create with this film a study of how grief can affect us, rather than just focusing purely on blind hate and revenge, which is traditionally the more popular route for a film of this kind. Still its really only though through Alice (Marohasy), that he finds truly finds a purpose in life again, for although they might both be lost souls, he still in someway feels he can help her, becoming almost like a surrogate parent figure to her, while in turn Alice seems to help him to retain what few shreds of humanity he still maintains, as he only become increasingly drawn into a world were revenge is all that matters. This relationship could easily be compared to that of Travis and Iris in “Taxi Driver” (1976) and whom Travis faces numerous bad guys to rescue at the films climax, in the much the same way we see here, in one of the more less plausible moment, as Christian goes truly postal on the now disposable minions, who stand between him and Alice, who it by this point is portrayed as Christians sole hope of salvation, from this world of violence and bloodshed he has now created for himself.

Still if one thing is clear though after watching this film, it would be that Kastrissios is a director who loves a metaphor, seeing how he names our antihero the biblical name of “Christian”, while keeping his methods of dispatch clearly Old Testament, while reworking his day job of being in pest control, with the pests now the human scum who murdered his daughter, even the title portrays him as this apocalyptic figure his is coming after these men and bringing all kinds of hell with him, as he drives through the outback, with his white van replacing the white steed of death. True these might seem like Kastrissios is trying to hammer home the message regarding Christians quest for revenge, that he’s not necessarily a bad man, but rather a man trying to restore the balance in his life and while the almost continuous stream of killings, verges towards becoming tiresome, especially when he runs out of back story to fill in the gaps in Christians back story.

The violence if anything is certainly creative here, with the some noteworthy moments involving not only fish hooks being attached one guys testicles, but also finally answering the question of why it’s not advisable to stick a bicycle pump in your penis as another man can safely account for here in scenes equally comparable to the leg crossing moments of torture seen in "Hard Candy" (2005). It’s also worth nothing that although the majority of fights frequently verge on the side of ridiculous especially during the finale, were Christian proves pretty spritely for a middle aged man as he is frequently shown taking on much younger and seemingly fitter opponents and winning, though these fights are not beautifully choreographed brawls, but instead shot with a very raw and realistic edge, as they frequently break into floored grapples, usually followed by the introduction of a blunt object of some description, for which Christian is nothing if not creative, especially when it comes to turning his surrounding into potential weapons, even though the majority of his kills are devised from the everyday tools of his trade, as he manages to find a number of increasingly sadistic ways of utilising them. Still the majority of the violence, especially the more graphic moments are implyed rather than shown, which no doubt is for the best and keeps the film from becoming to grimey, while ensure that it's not just written off as yet another torture porn style movie.
I really want to like this film more, but it actually suffers from trying to overdo the revenge aspects of this film as strange as that might sound, this is especially true when you look at the body count as it seems that Christian is working his way through the production crew of an indie feature than a grimy porn film, with the amount of people on his revenge list and it's this almost conveyor belt like experience of revenge that detracts strongly from the film overall, even though there are some touching moments between Christian and Alice, by the time the big evil of the film has shown up, it already feels far too overblown which although unusual to say about revenge films in general, were the higher the body count, the better the film, this is certainly not the case here and it's this slip in focus from Kastrissios, which stops the film from being a great film, rather than merely a good film, especially when it's not really giving the audience anything that they havn't seen before, with perhaps the exception of revenge methods, were this film is certainly nothing short of original in that respect.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Return To Savage Beach

Title: Return to Savage Beach
Director: Andy Sidaris
Released: 1998
Staring: Julie Strain, Rodrigo Obregón, Julie K. Smith, Shae Marks, Marcus Bagwell, Cristian Letelier, Carrie Westcott, Paul Logan, Gerald Okamura, Kevin Eastman, Ava Cadell

Rating: 3 / 5

Plot: When the ladies of L.E.T.H.A.L. (Legion to Ensure Total Harmony and Law) recover a stolen computer disk containing the location of a hidden treasure trove, it’s a race against time to find it before the evil Rodrigo Martinez (Obregón) and his ninja henchmen do.

Return to Savage Beach
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Review: Honestly this is the kind of movie I tend to avoid reviewing, largly because of being the kind of person who gets embarrassed by my neighbours kid, loudly announcing that she wears a bra, so who really knows how writing about a film which is essentially sleazy trash will go, but then I guess the enjoyment of this film is pretty the same as that which comes with equally guilty pleasures such as “Baywatch” and the majority of Russ Meyer's movies, who coincidently is the one director who Sidaris certainly has the most in common with, for as Meyer's had a very obvious obsession with large breasted ladies, Sidaris has with “Playmate centrefolds” and “Penthouse Pets”, who he casted in his “Triple B” movies AKA “Bullets, Bombs and Babes”, a series of B-movies he made with his wife Arlene serving as his production partner and of which this would be the last of the series, while Sidaris was also renown for pioneering what he called “The Honey Shot”, were the camera cuts to close up shots of cheerleaders and pretty girls in the crowd, during his work as a director of sports coverage.

So to to this film, which as to be expected for a film featuring a bunch of centrefold models and other random B-movie actors, the plotting really is nothing to really write home about, especially as it’s pretty much none existent with the few scraps of actual plotting, are padded out with a mixture of overblown action sequences, gratuitous nudity and the occasional spattering of softcore sex scenes, which honestly will either spell out fun times, or will just confirm with those few plot elements, that this isn’t the movie for you. Now if you liked what you just read then there really is some cheesy fun to be had with this movie, which although it won’t be winning any awards it’s still a fun ride with a definite early 90’s / late 80’s vibe to it, which made it all the more surprising to find out how recent it actually was released.

Despite the limited budget, the cast all appear to be having fun playing secret agent, as the girls run around in a variety of skimpy outfits and on occasion nothing at all, while the two sole male members of the team Doc (Logan) and J. (Letelier) essentially do the male equivalent, as they seem to frequently misplace their shirts or go with the open shirt look, proving I guess in a way that Sidaris is an equal opportunities kind of director, with Letelier even sporting a comical looking medallion, which is never a good look anyway. Logan who can be found more recently featuring in various films being churned out by “The Asylum” such as “Mega Pirahna” (2010) and here once again is on top B-movie action hero form, really pulling off the fight sequences convincingly, while possibly being the best actor of the bunch as he puts on his typical gruff exterior, while generally kicking a fair amount of ass, while the ladies generally give the kind of performance that would not look out of place on an episode of Baywatch, which this whole film is essentially an extended episode of, just with more nudity and explosions. Still to many of the cast together in the same scene and their mediocre acting skills become painful obvious, as the laughable attempt at a tense bomb deactivation truly highlights

Backing up this elite crime fighting force is a colourful bunch of supporting characters including Sexologist and informant Ava (Cadell), who uses her innuendo laden horoscopes to guide the agents in the field, making her a kind of sexed up version of the D.J in “The Warriors (1979), while also being assisted by Harry the cat who is bizarrely enough played by Kevin Eastman, who is probably better known for being one half the creative team, behind the cash cow which was “Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles”, though really no idea how he ended up in this movie. To add further to this random cast of characters we also have the former wrestling crime boss Warrior, played here by ex WCW wrestler Marcus “Buff” Bagwell, aswell as Fu (Okamura) who looks like a Martial arts mentor and serves only to show off some kung fu skills and provide the setup for Willow’s (Strain) trademark “Book em Fu!” quote.

Obregón who is on bad guy duties here, as what only be assumed is supposed to be a columbian drug lord, is in many ways Sidaris’s version of Rami’s Bruce Campbell, especially seeing how he appears in nearly all of Sidaris’s films and here, spends the movie wearing a phantom of the opera style mask, while also having an army of Ninja’s (well three atleast) for no discernable reason it would seem other than he can, yet it is also never explained why they also have more of a tendency to use guns, than anything really resembling ninjitsu skill, with the exception of one fight in which they attempt to show off some kung fu skills, which predictably enough ends badly, much like any bad guy who is stupid enough to stand next to anything remotely explosive, as they are ultimately guaranteed to die via explosion, or rather their badly stuffed dummy version is anyway. Still when it came to the big final showdown, I was hardly expecting the Scooby doo ending which essentially get here, which confused me enough, until the end credits began to roll, to actually realise that I never got the big showdown, but instead the got not only a Scooby doo ending, but also the super happy ending aswell, which certainly if anything makes this film quite original for actually trying to pull something so ballsy off.

The action scenes are all pretty entertaining to watch and rise above the B-movie budget that Sedaris is working with, as he also manages to craft a few great original moments, including a couple involving the creative use of an exploding RC car, which although telegraphed from a mile off, still prove entertaining to watch, with Sedaris milking his explosions with the heavy use of slo-mo, which thankfully he avoids putting into any of the fight scenes, avoiding one of the common pitfalls numerous Action B-movies tend to fall into, believing that it adds to the action, when essentially it usually only takes away from it.

It’s hard to really recommend it, other than perhaps a cheap thrill as the gratuitous nudity and soft core sex scenes, limit it’s audience to those seeking the aforementioned cheap thrills and those of you who hunt out films of these standard purely for their humorous value, so if any of what I’ve mention throughout this review holds any kind of appeal give it a burn, otherwise you might want to just this film in a more literal way.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Zack Snyder Gives Us A "Sucker Punch"

Zack Snyder really has come a long way, from being at the helm of one of the more controversial horror remakes of recent years, as he burst onto the scene with his remake of the George Romero classic "Dawn of the Dead" (2004), which proved to be surprisingly good, with Romero himself admitting to have also been impressed by the film. Since that debut he has frequently proved himself to be one of the most exciting directors currently working today and certainly one of my favourite directors, as he quickly proved his debut was no fluke as he not only pulled off the War Porn epic "300" (2006) but then also pulled off the seemingly impossible by finally bringing "Watchmen" (2009) to the screen, after it had served a lifetime in development hell.

Now following up from his Nazi owl movie aka. "Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole" he is currently finishing off "Sucker Punch" which he is already teasing with, despite it's release date currently not due until March 2011, which sucks even more when it's safe to say the film looks absolutely stunning, as this latest trailer shows.

The plot follows a young girl called "Baby Doll" (Emily Browning), who is sent to a mental institution by her evil stepfather, she soon finds herself retreating into an alternative reality, as a way of coping with her situation, while envisioning a plan to escape.

This is the film I'm most excited about seeing at the moment, since first stumbling upon the trailer and amazing promo art, which you can enjoy below, but already this film has all the makings of a must see, especially as Snyder seems set to take us on a Tarantino style genre mash up, as he well and truly lets his creativity run wild, as I think is pretty well illustrated with the trailer and personally I can't wait.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Voyage To The Planet of Prehistoric Women

Title: Voyage To The Planet of Prehistoric Women
Director: Peter Bogdanovich
Released: 1968
Staring: Mamie Van Doren, Mary Marr, Paige Lee, Gennadi Vernov, Georgi Tajkh, Vladimir Yemelyanov

Rating: 2 / 5

Plot: Astronauts landing on Venus encounter dangerous exotic creatures and almost meet some sexy Venusian women who like to sunbathe in hip-hugging skin-tight pants and seashell bras.

Review: Sitting down to watch this film I would be lying if the synopsis (shown above) which showed on the TV guide, didn’t hold some appeal and honestly I wasn’t expecting anything much from this film, above it perhaps being a fun camp B-movie, only to find myself sadly disappointed in pretty much the same way I was after watching “Bride of the Gorilla” (1951). Okay that might be a little harsh, especially as it certainly wasn’t as bad as that film and this disappointment, seemed to stem mainly for how nothing really happens, with the film quickly boiling down a handful of interesting sequences, which are then sloppily edited together, though this could also largely stem from the fact that the film originally started out as the Russian sci-fi romp “Planeta Bur” (1962), only to be dubbed and edited for the American market, under the title “Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet” with additional footage of Basil Rathbone and Faith Domergue being inserted, in a similar way that footage of Raymond Blurr as an American reporter was inserted into the American release of “Godzilla” (1956) with Blurr bizarrely enough reprising this role (with added Psychic powers) in the hideous American cut of “The Return of Godzilla” (1984) released as “Godzilla 1985” (1985). The footage from “Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet” has now been edited into this film, removing the footage of Rathbone and Domergue and replacing it with footage of the scantily clad inhabitants of Venus, while Director Bogdanovich provides a running narration, portraying one of the cosmonauts, recollecting the whole adventure, while also throwing in footage from fellow space oddity “Nebo Zovyot” (1960) which also suffered some creative editing, as it was turned into “Battle Beyond The Sun” (1960) by then aspiring young director Francis Ford Coppola, working under the pseudonym “Thomas Colchart”. No doubt the borrowing of footage from this film, is yet another attempt to add some meat to the picture and maybe convince the audience that they are not just paying to see the same film, just now with added hot chicks.

The plot of this film it can safely be said is almost as skimpy as the actresses are dressed, with the Cosmonauts on a rescue mission to locate two of their missing comrades who have crashed onto the planet, encountering when they get there, a wide variety of strange alien life, however due to the film being a mismash of mixed footage they never actually meet the titular Prehistoric women (bummer), though seeing how they butcher anything that they come into contact with, it was probably for the best, seeing how intergalactic genocide, hardly spells out good times.

Still this film does feature some classic sci-fi design work, with the Cosmonaut suits having that great goldfish bowl design while their version of “Robbie the Robot” known simply as John, not only looking a lot more impressive than Robbie, but also proving handier, than just being able to source booze on obscure planets and providing general comic relief. The other noteworthy point about this team is their space car, which I’m yet to figure out how they managed the really convincing hover effects; no honestly it really has me stumped.

The Prehistoric women, who for some reason are never given an actual name don’t really contribute a great deal to the film, as they lounge around on the rocky beach, communicating telepathically with other, while occasionally pretending to be mermaids when Bogdanovich, feels the audience might be getting tired of watching them do the same thing, while their telepathic nature which seems to stretch soles to just communicating with each other, bizarrely enough actually works to the films advantage,even more so when you can see how these girls seems to find just doing the limited amount of tasks they are given challenging enough, without the added hassle of them trying to convincing read their lines. Still their main role it would seem is to react horrified to the actions of Cosmonauts who, unwittingly also manage to kill the pterodactyl type creature which they had been worshiping as a god, though again thanks to the footage mash up, they never actually do anything about this other than grumble about their god being killed, still by the end of the film you get the impression that these girls will pretty much worship anything, they find the slightest bit strange or unusual, making their religious views fluid to say the least.

The soundtrack is quite oddly haunting in this film, especially when combined with the fog covered landscapes, this mixture of choral and howling sounds also being highly reminiscent of the opening theme to “The Devil’s Rain” (1975), which made it only the more surprising to find it used in this film, as it almost feels like most of the footage shown here, that it has been lifted like from another film, yet for some reason it still works, providing the film with a mysterious atmosphere to the film, however at times it does feel kind of intrusive and left me wanting to hear something a little more orchestral, especially during the slight spattering of dramatic moments, which the film has.

The Cosmonaut adventures are fun times even if the added footage just prove to largely distracting throughout, but when these guys are left to get one with encountering strange creatures and exploring the planet, it is largely fun stuff even if their intergalactic diplomacy leave a lot to desired, seeing how they kill anything that they encounter, rather than trying to find out anything about this planet. Still cut away all the extra footage or better yet just watch “Planeta Bur” and it’s like a Saturday morning serial, so I guess it’s the combination of footage from so many places, which left me feeling so disconnected with this film, aswell as the fact it truly feels that it would be more at home, in a double feature as the warm up film ideally followed by one of Doug Mclure’s better films like “Warlords of Atlantis” (1978) or “At the Earths Core (1976), which I guess is probably the best way of watching it, as to watch it one its own, will certainly leave you feeling like something’s missing.

Friday, 5 November 2010

G Is For Godzilla

Title: Godzilla
Director: Ishirô Honda
Released: 1954
Staring: Akira Takarada, Momoko Kôchi, Akihiko Hirata, Takashi Shimura, Fuyuki Murakami, Haruo Nakajima

Plot: After several ships sink mysteriously, the authorities first believe this to have been caused by underwater volcanoes or unexploded mines. Soon however it is noticed that the attacks are all close to Oda Island whose inhabitants believe the attacks to have been caused by a mythical creature known to them as “Godzilla” (Nakajima). After the creature comes ashore a team consisting of palaeontologist Professor Yemani (Shimura), his daughter Emiko (Kôchi), the brilliant scientist Doctor Serizawa (Hirata) and Navy diver Hideto (Takarada) who is also involved with Emiko despite her being betrothed to Doctor Serizawa. Soon however the team discover the monster has set a course for Japan and must be stopped at all costs.

Review: I knew right from the start when I set down to compile the list of the films, which would make up this alphabetical jaunt through Asian cinema, that Godzilla would certainly appear at some point and not only were the Godzilla films, responsible for sparking my love affair with Asian cinema, but also as I now sit down to write this latest entry “The Big G” is currently celebrating his 56th birthday, with his popularity having never seemingly waned over the years since he took his first stroll through Tokyo, with Director Ryûhei Kitamura (Versus [2000]), who directed the final Godzilla film “Godzilla: Final Wars” (2004) describing the honour of directing a Godzilla film, to be equal to a British director being asked to direct a James Bond movie, which might seem surprising especially when the general opinion of the Godzilla films, is that they are camp cheesy fun in which giant creatures engage in monster sized smack downs while destroying most of Tokyo in the process, something which certainly became the norm for the majority of the film in the series and certainly a far cry from the sober and occasionally harrowing view of Japan reacting to an attack by a giant monster, which this first film essentially is though if I was going to feature any film from the saga in this list, I knew that the original film would definitely be the one which would be making the list.

It almost seems accidental that “Godzilla” was even made, especially seeing how Producer and "Godzilla Father" Tomoyuki Tanaka, had originally planned a film based on the true life story of a Japanese fishing boat that had become contaminated after sailing into American Nuclear testing waters and only making this film after he was forced to cancel that project. Still this film still contains several ideas, which were carried across and which can be seen mainly in the opening scenes in which we see a fishing boat catch on fire and sink, while a white light glows below. meanwhile the design for Godzilla drew heavily inspiration from “The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953), even though before the final iconic design was chosen, he was also envisioned as being both a giant octopus aswell as a cross between a whale and a gorilla, ideas which were thankfully scrapped, even though special effects artist and fellow “Godzilla Father” (the other two Godzilla fathers being Director Honda and composer Akira Ifukube) Eiji Tsuburaya would get to use his giant octopus design in later Toho productions, which was affectionately named Oodako and who can be seen in both “King Kong Vs. Godzilla” (1962) and “Baragon Vs. Frankenstein” (1965), while also narrowly missing out on being featured in “Godzilla: Final Wars” (2004) alongside numerous memorable monsters, which had populated the series including bizarrely enough the American Godzilla.

Opening with the raw first attempt of a roar for Godzilla, it is truly a goosebumps moment especially when it is followed quickly by the opening strains of Ifukube’s now legendary “Godzilla March”, before throwing us head first into the action, as we are barely into the film before ships are mysteriously sinking and chaos is erupting the screen, while being denied even a glimpse of the monster, which surprisingly Honda doesn’t keep hidden till the end, showing us the monster pretty early on, but saving all his full length shots till the rampage sequence, which is an interesting move and all the more surprisingly pays off. Still director Honda really proves to be the man responsible for Godzilla spawning such a legacy, as he shoots the film with a serious tone, rather than just creating another fun camp monster film, carefully planning his shots as he keeps the shoots the footage of Godzilla to low shots to help emphasis Godzilla’s size, while showing also showing the Tokyo rampage as being full of confusion and chaos as Tokyo burns, with these scenes also including a particularly harrowing scene of a widow holding her children close to her, while rubble rains down around them and only driving home the sense of destruction further with footage of mass choral chanting from schoolchild praying for the souls of the city residents and field hospitals attending to the masses of injured which is something which would certainly not be seen in later films and which unlike the Collateral Damage loving “Gamera” movies, would even go as far as to show footage of the Tokyo citizens escaping to special monster proof underground bunkers. Honda would continue this respectful way of introducing the Toho monsters, when it came to the debuts of “Mothra” (1961) and “Rodan” (1956), which certainly not as dark in tone as this film, still managed to capture the sheer size of these creations, being famously quoted as saying

"Monsters are born too tall, too strong, too heavy, that is their tragedy,"

These words alone would fully justify Honda's passion for giving each of the creation a personality, rather than letting them become just another monster on the rampage kinds of movie, even if like Godzilla, their later appearances would be on a much lighter note, it's also clear that Honda was not opposed to the films taking on a lighter tone, seeing how he would go on to direct a further eight entries in the series, with his final film as a director being "Terror of Mechagodzilla" (1975) which would also be the final film in the Showa era of films, which amount to over half of the total Godzilla movies made.

Despite “Godzilla” having the titular role, he really is pushed to the background for the majority of the film, much like the shark in "Jaws" (1975) as Honda like Spielberg instead chooses to create a more character driven film, as the authorities argue between themselves as they attempt to find the best way of protecting Tokyo from this new dangerous threat, with the most interesting of these characters being the tormented eye patch wearing scientist Serizawa, who having created the oxygen destroyer is now racked with guilt over it’s creation, knowing how easily it could be used as a weapon of mass destruction, refusing to revel it’s existence even though it is the one weapon that could stop Godzilla. Surprisingly the lack of city stomping action does not take away from the film and although the roles would be reversed in later films, as the stories became more far fetched and the focus shifted from the cast, who would usually be caught up in some increasingly random situation, usually involving aliens of some description, while audiences turned out to see the latest monster smack down, with the films generally taking on a lighter tone.

“Godzilla” is still without a doubt still an important film, for not only the sequels it spawned, or the imitators which followed in it’s wake, but for proving that you could infact make a giant monster movie and keep a serious tone and although I love the more campy entries, this film still stands as a fantastic piece of cinema, which far exceeds the expectations of what a giant monster movie could be.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

F Is For Fulltime Killer

Title: Fulltime Killer
Director: Johnnie To, Ka-Fai Wai
Released: 2003
Staring: Andy Lau, Takashi Sorimachi, Simon Yam, Kelly Lin, Cherrie Ying, Suet Lam

Plot: O (Sorimachi) for many years has been the number one Assassin, living an isolated life and caring only for his work. However his life is soon thrown into turmoil by the appearance of the flamboyant Tok (Lau), who is keen to take O’s place as the number one assassin.

Review: After the watching the subtle “Election”, it’s hard to really imagine that the same director, could also have directed this film, which is essentially the polar opposite with Director To teaming up with Wai to create a very traditional Hong Kong style action movie, meaning that countless rounds are fired without a single reload taking place, while every attempt is being made to emphasise the action taking place, as bullet holes create huge crimson splatters and even kneecaps explode in one glorious bullet strewn ballet of violence, while also in many ways coming across as almost like an homage to Hollywood action movies, with the numerous nods it contains, including an extremely obvious one to “Point Break” (1991) during one of Tok’s showboating styled assassinations, yet at the same time it still retains the charm and style of an Hong Kong action film, which at the same time it bares so many of the trademarks of, especially the more overblown the action scenes become.

Complete opposites of each other the two assassins are each interesting to watch as they go about their chosen career, with O the unanimous king of killers going about his work with a cold disregard for human life, as especially highlighted during the opening sequence when he is forced to kill an old school friend, after they witness him carrying out a hit, which he calmly disregards any feelings of guilt, seeing it as just another aspect of his work, while only truly showing any emotion, when it comes to his ongoing obsession with his housekeeper Chin (Lin) whose friend was O’s previous housekeeper, whom he'd failed to save after she was caught up in a murder plot against O, somthing which continues to haunt him as he now lives in minimalist apartment across from what he potrays to be his real apartment, spending his evening spying on Chin as she carries out her housekeeping chores.
Meanwhile Tok on the other hand gets much more of a kick out his work, drawing inspiration for his hits from the action movies he adores, while also dropping constant references in the conversations he has, including comparing Chin to Emu from “Crying Freeman” (1988), which is honestly a pretty accurate description, seeing how she is the typical good girl attracted to the mysterious bad man, as Tok charms her while questionably hanging around the video store she works in wearing a variety of rubber president masks, yet for some unexplained reason this random seduction technique pays off, rather than her doing the more rationale and realistic thing of calling the cops on his wacky ass. Still Lau certainly seems to have fun playing a more theatrical character than he usually associated with playing, sporting a red leather jacket and a manical grin as he carries out his movie inspired hits, all while caring little for anything resembling subtlty.

Meanwhile on the side of the so called good guys we have the Interpol Agent Lee (Yam), who has become obsessed with capturing the two assassins, which only grows the more intense the rivalry between O and Tok becomes, yet the questionable shift in focus onto his character towards the end is slightly questionable, though Yam is still on great form here, for what is essentially a supporting role to add some sense of morality to proceedings and generally fill in the gaps to O and Tok’s personal histories, in particular highlighting an unusual weakness in Tok who suffers from epilepsy and something that To uses to great effect during several key sequences and certainly brings something original to the film, much like the action sequences which are all exciting and visually stunning to watch, which each one seemingly aiming to top the last as it builds to the climatic firework factory showdown.

While it might come off as all flash and little character development, it still makes for a fun time, with the only characterisation really proving filler for the next action scene, while characters are given enough depth to rise above being simple cut outs, while To avoids going into any real depth with any of his characters, preferring it would seem to focus more on the action and keeping the plot moving at a brisk pace, which might not sit with the more snobbish of movie goers and true the plot of assassin versus assassin and the woman that comes between them, has been seen numerous times before, but it still makes for a great companion piece to the other great films of John Woo and Ringo Lam, whose work this film rightfully deserve a place amongst.

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.
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