Sunday, 30 May 2010

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans

Title: Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans
Director: Werner Herzog
Released: 2009
Staring: Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Val Kilmer, Fairuza Balk, Xzibit, Brad Dourif, Shawn Hatosy, Nick Gomez, Jennifer Coolidge

Rating: 4 / 5

Plot: In the aftermath of Katrina, in New Orleans, Terence McDonagh (Cage) suffers a severe back injury, while rescuing a prisoner from a flooded jail, while also earning himself a promotion to Lieutenant. Struggling to deal with the pain caused by his back he soon finds himself addicted to painkillers, combining it with heavy cocaine use to help relive the pain, while at the same amassing huge gambling debts. Brought in to lead the investigation into the murder of a group of Immigrants, which are rumoured to be linked to local Drug lord “Big Fate” (Xzibit).

Review: The original “Bad Lieutenant” (1992) was an extreme cinema classic, aswell as not being the easiest film to sit through with it’s heavy mix of drugs, rape and Harvey Keitel’s penis, for whom it still remains one of his standout movies (Harvey Keitel that is not his penis). Still it is certainly an interesting choice, to recive the remake treatment or even gain a sequel, but then it is hard to say what this reimagining of the original Abel Ferrara film is, who its safe to say took the news of the film being made, rather badly when he stated that anyone involved in this film “should all die in hell” while calling writer William M. Finkelstein an idiot, for writing the script.

Now seeing Nicolas Cage on the cast listing, might have already had some of you ready to skip this one, which is an opinion I’ve never understood, for although he has made some bad movies, he has at the same time also made some of my favourite films, with his knack for playing oddball and unhinged characters, he is the perfect choice to take on the role of the titular "Bad Lieutenant", especially as the character of McDonagh is just that, a man becoming more unhinged by the day as his dependency on his personal vices increases, while at the same time fighting to maintain not only professional front around his colleagues, but to uphold the same values he’s always held close, which is clear in how involved in the case he becomes, even if he’s less of a professional than he might have once been, clearly playing by his own rules, frequently abusing his position of power whenever given a chance to flash his Lieutenant badge, while threatening suspects and even members of the public, including an elderly woman in a nursing home with his pistol, which honestly looks more like a hand cannon than any standard issue weapon and in many ways making him much like Dirty Harry on a bender, as procedure it seems is just something else to be disregarded especially if it stands between him and getting that next lead.
Still I guess it is Cage’s frequent overacting and zaniness which tends to leave some people cold and it’s true that he’s always been at his best, when he has a director with a firm grip on his reigns, which is certainly something that Director Herzog clearly has, as he picks his spots to let him off the leash to clearly devastating effect, even if the idea of the eccentric Herzog and Cage teaming up might not seem like the best combinations, much like his earlier work with the equally insane Klaus Kinski, whom it could be argued also made some of his best films with Herzog, even if they spent most of their time together trying to kill each other, with Herzog stating once “I had to domesticate the wild beast” when asked about working with his so called friend Kinski somthing which has proved to be great experience for him, as here he helps Cage to churn out not only one of his most memorable, but also certainly one of his most strongest performances in a long time, who clearly relishes the chance to play a truly fascinating character, whom even though he frequently disgusts you with his actions, which include at one point even pimping out his prostitute girlfriend Frankie (Mendes) to cover his mounting gambling debts and having sex with a girl in front of her boyfriend, after shaking them down for more drugs to add to his personal stash. Still despite these atrocities he remains strangely watchable in true car crash fashion.

While McDonagh is obviously the main focus, the film still has more than a few interesting supporting characters, from the fiercely loyal Stevie (Kilmer) who might just know more about McDonagh, than he is letting on, to the greasy bookie Ned (Dourif) who constantly feeds of McDonagh’s gambling habit, unafraid to even come into the precinct and harass him about money owed to him, as McDonagh’s personal cover he’s crafted from himself threatens to crack, as more pressure from his vices is piled upon him.
One of the bigger surprises here though is how restrained Herzog is with his direction, only occasionally choosing to freak out the audience, with some surreal moment such as filling the screen with imaginary Iguana’s, shot on a handheld camera, while the strains of “Please Release me” plays in the background, or the break dancing soul of a recently shot gangster, all courtesy of McDonagh’s drug fuelled delusions, while the Iguana scene in particular feels more of an escape for Herzog, who clearly feels that scenes of police procedure are alone not enough to hold his audiences attention and while it’s true the plot could have been lifted from any made for tv crime film, he has somehow managed to lift it above it’s almost pulpy roots, playing around with the crime genre and making the most of his location, as he attempts to take in the sights and sounds of the city which for the longest time, was the more familiar stomping ground for the likes of horror author “Poppy Z. Brite” and here just by using this setting, makes for a refreshing change from the usual cityscapes which are so overly familiar with the genre.

The downside here as to be expected is truly Mendes, who continues to confound me as an actress, especially when I wonder why she is still getting such prominent roles, even more so when she would be much better suited as an attractive supporting character, but yet again here she is, looking out of place as a surprisingly fresh faced prostitute, which is even more surprising when you look at her sheer drug consumption throughout the film, that also makes you wonder if she is only adding to McDonagh’s problems, not only with her chosen profession, but when there are so many scenes of them snorting cocaine together, which feature so prominently throughout, you can’t help but wonder. Still I found the majority of Mendes appearances to be the low points of the film, with a particularly standout moment coming during her argument with McDonagh’s alcoholic mum (Coolidge), which again makes you wonder why he wasn’t more messed up sooner? So while Herzog might be great at getting amazing performances out of some of the more eccentric actors in the industry, even he can’t get a decent performance out of Mendes.
My other main gripe though with the film, had to be towards the end as the pressures really begin to get to McDonagh and he finally looks like he might come undone, that Herzog suddenly decides to give him a reprieve, as one by one all his problems suddenly magically solves themselves, as the film comes full circle with an ending which seems to have been pulled out of seemingly nowhere, as the films just suddenly ends, after having passed a more suitable ending five minutes earlier.

Although not as shocking as the original, Herzog has still created a fantastic reimagining, that is worth checking out not just for it’s unique take on the crime genre, but also for what is without a doubt one of Cage’s most exciting performances in a long time!

Saturday, 29 May 2010

RIP: Dennis Hopper

Dennis Hopper
17th May 1936 - 29th May 2010

"I've been sober now for 18 years. With all the drugs, psychedelics and narcotics I did, I was [really] an alcoholic. Honestly, I only used to do cocaine so I could sober up and drink more. My last five years of drinking was a nightmare. I was drinking a half-gallon of rum with a fifth of rum on the side, in case I ran out, 28 beers a day, and three grams of cocaine just to keep me moving around. And I thought I was doing fine because I wasn't crawling around drunk on the floor."

Today I just heard the news that "The Wildman of Hollywood" Dennis Hopper, sadly passed away, after losing his ongoing battle with prostate cancer.
A man who was not only notorious for his antics off screen, with legendry tales of drink and drugs consumption, which included him being banned from Australia. during the filming of "Mad Dog Morgan" (1976), but he was also a legend on screen aswell, being a highly skilled actor, director and writer, with his work including the ultimate biker movie "Easy Rider" (1969), aswell as memorable appearances in Blue Velvet (1986), Apocalypse Now (1979) and Speed (1994), earning a reputation for playing some of cinema's finest crazies.
He was finally reconised for his contribution to film, when he was awarded the 2,403th star on the "Hollywood Walk of Fame" on March 26th, he leaves behind a legacy like no other and I'm sure I speak for us all when I say he will be sorely missed.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

S. Darko

Title: S. Darko
Director: Chris Fisher
Released: 2009
Staring: Daveigh Chase, Briana Evigan, Ed Westwick, James Lafferty, Jackson Rathbone, Elizabeth Berkley, Matthew Davis

Rating: 1 / 5

Plot: Set seven years after the events of “Donnie Darko”, Donnie’s youngest sister Samantha (Chase), now 18 sets out on a road trip to Los Angeles with her rebellious best friend Corey (Evigan), only to find themselves stranded in small desert town. Meanwhile a traumatised desert storm vet Iraq Jack (Lafferty) begins to have visions that the world will end in four days.

Review: For too long this film, has been like the elephant in the room, that no one really wants to acknowledge is there, for not only is it a sequel to a cult classic that never needed a sequel, but it’s a sloppily made one at best, which only makes it all the more surprising that I haven’t seen it on any of the blogs I regularly check out. So after being taunted by this film since its direct to DVD release, I finally decided to give it a watch, with an open mind, knowing full well that it could never come close to the genius of Richard Kelly’s original film which I have watched countless times and is a film which has never lost the power it held over me, the first time I watched it, though the same really can not be said for this film, which despite approaching it with the kind of open mindedness I tend to reserve for anything Noel Clarke (who went from almost killing the new Doctor Who series with the banal and frequently irritating Mickey, to penning garbage like Kidulthood) is involved with and like those films, this film was an experience only describable as cinematic root canal surgery.

Right from the beginning almost it seems that Director Fisher is desperately trying to capture the surreal world of the original, as clouds suddenly come to life, as Samantha and Corey drive through the desert. Still this is a real warning sign of what is still to come, as these surreal visions constantly make intrudes into the real world, making it often hard at times to distinguish between what is actually happening and what is all in the head of the characters, something that the original did well blurring the line between the two worlds, so that although they threatened to cross over, they never actually became the same world. Meanwhile the story attempts to skim the surface ideas of the original and hammer them into this new story, while at the same time sprinkling in a splattering of snapshot references to the original, like a girl bouncing on a trampoline wearing a lincoln mask, which might be subtle enough, but when you look at scenes like Samatha’s conversation with Pastor John (Davis) at the cinema that almost verges on plagiarism, as the whole scene just has a little too much familiarity to it.
Still these are minor niggles, compared to the most confusing thing which is carried across from the original, which is Frank’s bunny mask, which like his whole bunny costume became such an iconic and memorable image from the original film, but the fact the mask turns up again here, with Iraq Jack hammering out his own version of the mask, with no real justification as to why, other than a vague reference to Donnie, which is never fully explained much like why the dream guide in this film comes to Iraq Jack in the form of a dead Samantha? After all Frank being the dream guide in the first film made sense seeing how he was killed by Donnie, but Samantha and Iraq Jack share none of these connections, with his connection to Roberta “Grandma Death” Sparrow being so flimsy it almost seems like an afterthought pencilled into the script, to give yet another nod to the original.

The choice to use Samantha as the character to start a franchise with is certainly an interesting choice, especially when you consider that her only real contribution to the plot of the original, other than her naivety was her dedication to sparkle motion, which its true was interesting enough, seeing how the death of a loved one can change someone so radically, though her appearance in the film seems to only have the minimal amount of impact in terms of plot, as by the end of the film, you realise that she could never have turned up in this town and nothing would have really changed, which only further highlights that this really is a sequel in name only, as well as the flimsiness of the idea of turning “Donnie Darko” (2001) into a franchise which even now as I sit here writing this, is looking at having a second sequel made, which again Richard Kelly has wisely been quick to distance himself from.
For myself though one the most amusing aspects of the disc, is the making of feature in which director Fisher, not only comes off as an arrogant prick, but almost seems surprised that this film has come under such backlash from the fans of the original, while writer (yes someone actually wrote a script for this) Nathan Atkins appears to continually stumble over excuses for the film being the way it is, while constantly being afraid that he might actually meet the man, whose ideas he has butchered with this hackneyed sequel, despite both of their claims of being huge fans of the original, which makes you think that if they were such fans, why didn’t they just leave it the hell alone?

“S. Darko” is such a mess of a film, that despite sharing many of the key themes with the original, such as time travel, parallel universes and the power of fate, continuously fails to spark even the most basic of interest, as the majority of the events seem far to random to link together, while none of the characters are overly likeable, having been moulded to much into oddball caricatures, so that the majority of the time (much like the audience) don’t seem to really care about anything which is happening around them, as it staggers towards it’s uninspired ending, which even then still leaves far to many unanswered questions, which Fisher never bothers to even clear up, such as who murdered the two young boys, or what the hell is the boil thing, which is growing out of the neck of the science loving nerd Jeremy (Rathbone) after his contact with the original meteor. Still the most confusing of these is the inclusion around the halfway point of Samantha getting killed in a road accident, only for Corey to go back in time to trade places with her, which serves absolutely zero purpose to the plot, other than to give it one less annoying character to tolerate.

It’s hard to say if this film would have been any better without the references or connection to the first film, especially when it seems to often be weird for the sake of being weird, rather than for anything resembling furthering the story or plot, while only really working to increase my appreciation for Kelly’s original cut of “Donnie Darko” which even he came unstuck with, when he attempted to edit it into the inferior directors cut. True there might have been some fun promo materials for the film turn up on Youtube, though sadly it was a lot more inspired than this film, which as I’ve stated already, is a sequel in name only and only worth watching if you want to reassure yourself of how inspired the original was, as to seek anything further will sadly just lead to disappointment.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Boxset Binges #1 - The Wire (Season 1)

So come 5am Monday morning, most of the UK will be getting up early, to watch the final episode of “Lost” which is due to be telesynched with our US cousins, as we finally find out the truth after six seasons of twisting plots and misdirection. Well that is everyone bar myself who has only just gotten onto season 4, mainly as a result of “Sky” buying the rights from the terrestrial “channel 4” so I kind of fell behind and got caught up with other shows in its absence. Still in these current times, were good drama is so prominent, which it’s safe to say is nothing to do with the output we have from the studios over here in rainy England, but rather from the American powerhouses such as HBO, who have in recent years turned series into almost mini movies. So drenched is the market with quality series, it has now pretty much reached the point, that you have to decide by the end of the first episode whether your gonna actually commit to the series and try and squeeze it somehow into your no doubt already packed show watching schedule.
I guess it is no surprise because of this that the popularity of the boxset has increased so much, which in many ways is often the best way of watching a series, in one big ole boxset binge, which its safe to say is also probably the best to watch “The Wire” especially, when faced with such a huge cast of characters to memorise, let alone the scope of the series, which covers more ground with its first season, than most series will do in three.

Set in Baltimore, Maryland this vision of the city is a far cry from the happy and slightly warped world, which so many John Waters movies, have lead us to believe it is. Created by former police reporter David Simon, who also created “Homicide: Life on the Streets”, aswell as the mini series “The corner” both of which were based on his books and served as a suitable inspiration for the show, with each of the five seasons taking a different aspect of the city to put under the microscope, with this first season looking at the low rise projects known as “The Pit” were D’Angelo Barksdale (Larry Gilliard Jr.) has just been demoted from his position in the high rises to the pit, by his crime boss uncle Avon Barksdale (Wood Harris), after shooting a dealer in front of a civilian during a confrontation, a murder he is acquitted of after a key witness changes their story, bringing him to the attention of detective Jimmy McNaulty (Dominic West), who is recognised as a good detective, while at the same time constantly seen as a pain in the ass by his superiors, due to his constant highlighting of the department failings, especially when it comes to investigating Barksdale’s criminal activities during his conversations with Judge Phelan (Peter Gerety), who inturn embarrasses McNaultys superiors into creating a detail to investigate these activities, with a focus on the dealings happening at “The Pit”, using a mixture of surveillance as well as the wiretaps which the series takes its name from.

One of the most common problems I have found that people, including myself have with this series is the sheer amount of characters and depth of the story, which can leave you kind of confused as to what is actually happening, especially for the first few episodes, which is were most people tend to faze out and it’s not something that’s helped by the shows refusal to constantly repeat itself, like so many other crime shows, which tend to highlight the important information, by having characters frequently talking about the same things, or through heavy use of flashbacks and voice over, all of which are noticeable absent here, as subjects are usually only repeated when new information is found which links to it, forcing you to listen closely to conversations, which is another reason why the boxset is really the best way to watch the show, allowing for you to go back and relook at some conversation or scene, you might have missed out on, during the first viewing.
At the same time you can’t help but admire the scope which Simon has incorporated into the series, refusing it seems to focus on just one side of the story, as the action not only switches between the police, but Barksdale’s crew aswell with the main focus of their side of the first season, being his nephew D’Angelo and his attempts to work his way out of “The Pit”, while being forced to deal with the bumbling nature of the crew he is forced to work with. Still not content it would seem with these two aspects of the story, Simon expands the scope further to include informants such as the junkie Bubbles (Andre Royo), whose battle to get clean is also a key focus of the first season, aswell as the loose cannon Omar (Michael K. Williams), a sawn off shotgun carrying, gay stick up man with an axe to grind against anyone involved with Barksdale, after a revenge hit is carried out on his lover, in retaliation to Omar robbing one of Barksdales stash houses. These two characters in particular prove to be key characters in this first season, while also helping to fill in the gaps in this world, which Simon has created and helping to provide a fuller picture, rather than keeping the focus purely on one area or the other, even if it does at times make it hard to see how everything links up, but these supporting characters aren’t filler as Simon cleverly manages to link everyone together, as you soon realise that every character is part of the same bigger picture and a reminder that not everything is as black and white as it seems.

Despite not being big on physical action, despite the occasional burst of violence which appears mainly towards the end of this series, it still manages to remain highly griping as the crews on both sides of the law, battle for their survival, with McNaulty and his fellow officers working the wire, having to constantly work against the superiors who are keen to shut the operation down and Barksdale’s crew constantly trying to stay one step ahead of the law, with smart dialogue used to drive the action forward, with the show being packed with numerous memorable and subtle scenes, which help the show to stand out from the numerous others, which prefer to rely more on the action, while with “The Wire” we get great scenes such as D’ Angelo using a chess game, to emphasis his work ethic and views on this world he is part of, a scene of such subtly and metaphorical for their situation, it is doubtful that other crime shows would be bold enough to even attempt it.

From the outset thirteen episodes might seem like a brief run for a season, but it certainly doesn’t feel like your getting short changed in any way, especially with the story being so rich and in depth, it almost feels as if it was any longer, it would run the risk of being bloated, rather than helping make anything easier to follow, though it is clear by the end of the final episode that the series still has plenty of options, for were to go next, even though had the show not got passed this first season, it would have still felt complete and not as if things have suddenly been brought to a grinding halt, like so many series cut brutally short.

Despite the smart writing and fantastic characters, the series has ended up becoming kind of an underground hit, as despite constant praise from the critics, the networks and lousy scheduling have prevented it in many ways from being a bigger show than it was and it’s really through word of mouth that this show has gained the majority of it popularity, despite having now long since finished, its still talked about like a new show, so personally I’d recommend on this occasion you believe the hype as this is one show thoroughly worth making some time on the viewing schedule for.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

The Neighbour No. Thirteen

Title: The Neighbour No. Thirteen
Director: Yasuo Inoue
Released: 2005

Staring: Nakamura Shido, Oguri Shun, Hirofuni Arai, Yumi Yoshimura, Tomoya Ishii, Minoru Matsumoto, Takashi Miike

Rating: 3 / 5

Plot: Starting his new job at a construction site, Juzo (Oguri) is shocked to find that his foreman is Toru Akai (Arai), Juzo school bully, whose actions left him heavily traumatized. Juzo however has a dark secret, for when he is pushed to far he finds himself taken over, by his deranged alter ego #13 (Nakamura), who soon sets out to seek revenge against the former tormentor.

Review: This was a strange little film, seeing how it sets itself up like a horror film, but ends up being more of a study of the human psyche and how the surrounding environment, can shape a person, with the main idea of the bullied and traumatized Juzo, snapping mentally so severely that he has created a violent alter ego, to extract revenge on the man who made his life so miserable at school, as well as anyone unfortunate to upset him, while at the same time for myself especially, making me think largely of the same bullied teens, who bring firearms to school. Still in this world things are very much kept black and white with Akai still the same thuggish brute that he was, when he was at school with the only change he's made in the meantime, being the target of his violent whims, as he spends his time picking on the more timid members of his construction crew, which in a way makes it all the easier to symphonise with the timid and retiring Juzo, who has clearly been deeply affected by what he was forced to endure at the hands of Akai and his cronies, which in a way make his disfigured and grotesque alter ego #13 all the more effective, seeing how he is very much the complete polar opposite, as Juzo’s psycho Mr. Hyde.

Director Inoue, whose background is mainly in commercials and music videos, has clearly taken full advantage of the opportunity to expand his vision, in much the same way as his American counterparts David Fincher and Spike Jonze, took full advantage of a chance to break free of their formally restricted worlds, but rather than producing something overly artistic or stylised, like their feature debuts he has instead opted for a more sedate debut, preferring it would seem to showcase the foundations of his talent, while still at the same time finding time for the occasional burst of flamboyance, which he saves mainly for the dream sequences, which includes a Twin peaks style red room confrontation between the two sides of Juzo.

As I’ve covered already it is hard to refer to this film as horror film, even more so when the scenes of horror (a term best used lightly here), are shot with a feeling of detachment, rather than the usual voyeuristic glee while it’s Inoue’s interest in true crime, which also becomes apparent during these scenes, as they all feel grounded very much in realism, including a shocking attempted drowning of Toru’s son, using a bathroom sink. This style of shooting also extends to the flashbacks to the bullying with Juzo is forced to endure, which even with the most outlandish of these moments, with Juzo having acid thrown in his face, still have a shocking nature to them, which makes it all the more surprising that your not left rooting for Juzo, when as an adult he’s finally getting his revenge.
Despite having a psycho alter ego, director Inoue bides his time with unleashing the darker side of Juzo, slowly easing it out by having him first defile parts of Toru's home, by pissing on the bathroom floor and spitting toothpaste foam around the house, while building him up for the first kill which comes almost as a surprise when it does happen, thanks also to the victim not being the most obvious candidate, which can't be said for the majority of #13's other victims bar a couple of notable exceptions such as Toru's son. It is really only during the final school reunion confrontation between Juzo and Toru, that this soberness slips even at one point slipping into farce as Juzo chases Toru around a school desk, proving slightly unintentionally humorous and I was half expecting the Benny Hill theme to even kick in at one point, with #13 at one point, stabbing himself accidentally in the foot, which comes off almost slapstick rather than adding to any tension in the scene, even more so as it feels like the film has runs out of steam, as it draws towards the end as this final confrontation, which despite still managing to find a final couple of shocks, feels far too drawn out as #13 turns from being psychotic to a more playful sadist, verging on the torture porn that I find so tiresome, which could also explain why I found the ending dragging the way it does.

With this feature debut Inoue manages to establish himself as a future name to watch, while clearly wanting to distance himself from the shock tactics, endorsed by so many of the new wave of Asian film makers, none more so than within the horror genre, as the lines between actual horror and grotesque cinema continue to grow all the more blurred. Still there could be something said for the fact that he has the extreme cinema legend Takashi Miike, playing the noisy neighbour who, gets all to familiar with #13 as he becomes one of the early victims, almost as if Inoue is trying to drive home were his inspiration has been drawn from, aswell as a career he would no doubt like to imitate, especially when so many comparisons can be drawn between their styles, especially in respect to Miike's later films, which don't rely so much on the viseral and shocking nature of his earlier films, which made him such a notable film maker to begin with.
Despite the numerous great moments which are contained within this debut, it proves to be an interesting showcase for Inoue's talent, it lacks too much and feels slightly too bloated to warrant giving it more than a single watch, as it's doubtful you'll return to it past that initial viewing.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Elwood's Random Time Wasters: Forming My Own Badass Team

So it seems like this summer is turning into the year that the groups dominated, the summer blockbuster field, what with The A Team, The Expendendables and The Losers all hitting the cinema screens, while Marvel continue thier casting for "The Avengers" the piece de la resistance of thier studio venture, which so far has allowed them to not only bring their comic book ranks to the screen, but also finally allowed for those same characters to cross over in film form, making thier world all the more real.
Still with all these groups being formed, I thought it would be fun to create my own super group, formed out of my favourite characters seen in other films, in much the same way that "The Avengers" is formed out of characters from various series, such as Iron man and The Incredible Hulk, to form an ulitmate fighting force. The only rules I set myself were that each character had to fit into one of the roles, which are commonly found in these groups, as lets face it all though the faces and attitudes change, the roles are always the same.

For my team name I'm gonna go with "The Bastards" seeing how they are all fatherless children and lets face it I doubt subtly is any of thier specialities.

The Boss: Seth Gecko (From Dusk Till Dawn)
Memorable quote: I may be a bastard, but I'm not a fucking bastard.

Why: Seth is a born leader even though he won't admit it, plus the fact he will only take on this role if he sees it as a why of benefiting himself, which why he’s more than happy to team up with the family whose RV he’s hijacked and driven to Mexico, aswell as a rag tag bunch of bikers and truckers, to fend off the vampire hordes and then going on his own way once he’s found a way to move on without them.
Still always fearless and quick with a snappy remark, let alone his resourcefulness (Pulmatic stake anyone) he’s the perfect to lead a rag tag bunch in battle.

Other choices: Sheldon Jeffrey Sands (Once Upon A Time In Mexico), Ed Moseby (Domino)

The Muscle – Jason Voorhees (Friday The 13th)
Memorable quote: .....

Why: When I say Jason I’m not just talking about just any of his appearances, but rather the Jason we saw in “Friday the 13th Part 7: The New Blood” which was the first time that Kane Hodder donned the trademark hockey mask, finally giving the series an actor to be associated with the role, in the same way that Robert Englund will always be Nightmare on Elm St’s Freddy, with Hodder bring a raging bull style to the character, which is exactly the style that I want the muscle of the team to have, with it being less about being subtle but instead more about pure brutality.
One of the main selling points of having Jason on the team, is not only his freakish strength, or his ability to turn almost anything into a weapon of death, but his ability to survive anything, which it’s true might have a lot to do with him being a zombie, but listening to the dizzying amount of ways they’ve tried to kill him, listed at the start of “Jason X” really highlights how tough he is.
Okay true having a homicidal manic on your team, might not seem like the best of ideas, especially seeing how it makes it so much harder to rescue people, when this member of the team just wants to kill everyone, but hey “The Avengers” have the hulk, who lets face it isn’t the most rationale comic character in the world, so for that reason I’m taking Jason.

Other choices: Danny Trejo (Anything), Marv (Sin City), Pvt. Vasquez (Aliens)

Resources / Intel – Ray Elwood (Buffalo Soldiers)
Memorable quote: Three things I love about Germany: my Mercedes-Benz, no speed limit on the autobahn and a black market for anything I can get my hands on.

Why: When it comes to making the most of a situation, Ray Elwood is a certified master, having been drafted to Berlin during the cold war, he fights the boredom by spending his time managing to turn a profit from anything which isn’t nailed down it would seem, while at the same time knowing everything which is happening around the base, to allow him to constantly stay ahead of his superiors.
It would seem that he can charm his way out of almost any situation he finds himself in, even finding a way of remaining cool when he is forced to shoot up his own car, as one of the mind games being played by the new First Sergeant, sent in to investigate the less legal activities happening at the base.
Still if you want to know what is happening or need to find something in even the most backwatered town, he’s the guy whose gonna do it.

Other choices: Brendan Frye (Brick), Rosarch (Watchmen)

The Madcap One: Tank Girl (Tank Girl)
Memorable quote: This comet came crashing into the earth. BAM! Total devastation. No celebrities, no cable TV, *no water*! It hasn't rained in 11 years. Now, 20 people gotta squeeze into the same bathtub. So it ain't all bad.

Why: This one was a hard choice, especially seeing how there are so many memorable crazies in the cinematic landscape, but my choice was also largely influenced by my wife’s comment that all these groups, usually only had one token female character, along with my obsession with Lori Petty, who just plays the oddball role so well, with “Tank Girl” (1995) being a real calling card for her, but then was their any other possible choice for the tank driving, firepower loving, mutant kangaroo snogging hellion, especially one whose mental condition is never really explained either in the comics or the film version.
Like so many of the team she can hold her own in a fight, while also owning a heavily customised tank, with more firepower strapped onto this one vehicle than, most small armies can muster, so if you want someone to bring the noise, she’s gonna be your gal.

Other Choices: Sgt. Oddball (Kelly’s Heroes), Raoul Duke (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), Jeffery Goines (Twelve Monkeys)

The Techie: Kate Libby / Acid Burn (Hackers)
Memorable quote: I hope you don't screw like you type.

Why: Tough females are a hard act to pull off walking the fine line before being seen as overly butch or generally irritating usually accompanied with an I hate men act. But Kate Libby, under her hacker alter ego Acid Burn, is more about proving that she is more than capable of holding her own against the boys, having scratched out a place as one of the top hackers, whose world view is a mixture of hacker beliefs, combined with the teaching of her feminist writer mother

“God gave men brains larger than dogs so they wouldn't hump women's legs at cocktail parties.”

Still the cyber world is her playground and the one thing which gets her fired up more than, her abilities being challenged is the challenge of beating an unbreakable system or one of her fellow hackers as seen, when she takes on Crash Override in a game of one hacker one-upmanship.

Other Choices: Kaylee (Serenity), Dex DearBorn (Sky Captain & The World of Tommorow)
So there you have it, my rag tag bunch of misfits and badasses and it would be intresting to see what you guys and gals out there in blogger land can come up with, so allow to throw down the gaunlet to you all and lets see what you can come up with, send me the link and let the cross blogging begin.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

I'm A Cyborg, But I'm Okay

Title: I’m A Cyborg, But That’s Okay
Director: Park Chan-wook
Released: 2006
Staring: Su-jeong Lim, Rain, Hie-jin Choi Hie-Jin, Lee Yong-nyeo
Rating: 4 / 5

Plot: Young-Goon (Su-Jeong) believes she is cyborg, who after plugging herself into the mains, in a failed attempt to recharge her batteries; finds herself committed to an Asylum, were she soon attracts the attentions of her fellow inmate Il-Sun (Rain) who believes that he can steal other people’s souls / attributes, who she soon forms an unusual bond with.

Review: It was unsurprising that after the bleakness (Yet still highly enjoyable) of “Joint Security Area” (2000) and his Revenge trilogy, as well as providing one third of “Three Extremes” (2004) which his contribution “Cut”, that director Park Chan-wook would want his next film to be a little more lighter in tone, especially when he expressed his interest in making a film for his then eleven year old daughter, the result of which is this film.

It’s clear from the beginning that this film is the complete opposite to what we have come to expect from Chan-wook, as it opens with Danny Elfman style title music as Chan-wook once again turns a curious eye on the world, rather than looking at the more darker areas of society as we have come to expect from him, which might make many of his fanbase, which he has gained with his earlier films, which were packed with so many powerful and often shocking images, so the idea of a watching a romantic surrealist film set in a mental institution, let alone one without the prospect of anyone being beaten with a hammer, or eating live squid might prove to some not the most appealing of prospects and true while this offering from no doubt one of the most exciting and interesting directors currently working in modern cinema, might not contain any of the shocking imagery of those earlier films which made them so memorable, there is still a lot to enjoy here even if this film is lighter in tone, he still allows for his darker side to seep into this film, I mean after all what other romantic comedy can you think of, which opens with the leading lady, wiring herself up to the mains?

Still although he might be turning a rose tint onto his dark world view, Chan-wook still has not sacrificed any of his visual styling, as it is still a film filled with beautiful colours and fluid camerawork, with the power of this direction truly coming into effect once Young-Goon is committed, as we follow her being pushed around the institution, slowly being introduced to her fellow and equally colourful inmates, which include “Oldboy” lead Dal-su Oh, who appears here as Dal-su an inmate who is not only excessively polite and constantly walking backwards, but also belives himself to be responsible to any misfortune which happens around him, while meanwhile Young-Goon is left in a catatonic state for the early part of her stay, allowing us to be introduced better to some of these characters, in much the same way we were introduced to Geum-ja’s fellow prison inmates in “Lady Vengeance” (2005), though thankfully she snaps out of it in time, to prevent any of them to take the attention away from her, while at the same time allowing the audience to get used to this new world he has created, which its safe to say is the complete polar opposite of what we have become so used to.

While it’s true that Chan-wook could easily have made a heavy film about mental illness, but instead he has chosen to bring us inside this world which the inmates have created for themselves, as Chan-wook removes all but the necessary traces of asylum life, such as the group therepy sessions, making it all too easy to simply view this film as a Korean version of “One Flew Over The Cuckoos nest” (1975), though he still finds a place to include the shock factor of the scenes in which Young-Goon is fed nasally, after the doctors tire of her constant refusal to eat, believing that it will destroy her cyborg parts.
It's almost a playful curiosity which is used to look at Young-Goon’s condition, all the more so when so much of the film is seen through her eyes, as she talks to appliances and licks batteries to recharge her own, even seeing electroshock treatment as recharging, as we watch her toes lighting up like coloured light blubs. Still it is through this world view that Chan-wook also manages to satisfy his more violent cravings, which see Young-Goon engaging in a delusional massacre of the institution doctors (or white coats as she refers to them as). Shooting bullets from her fingertips, in one of the more memorable scenes and although effective the first time we see it, feels more like padding by the time this same delusional fantasy makes a second and more extended appearance. Still Young-Goon’s condition like the rest of her fellow inmates is not viewed as something which requires curing, but instead with a happy go lucky view, as the individual conditions being suffered by each of the inmates, often feel like they are there more for the audiences amusement, with none certainly coming across as a danger to anyone bar themselves.

Now if the prospect of watching anything remotely attached to the romance genre fills you with butt clenching dread, fear not as the romantic elements here are more suggested than acted upon, as Il Sun’s intentions are clearly to help Young-Goon than anything resembling trying to get with her and hence avoiding a barrage of awkward moments and cheesy one-liners, while at the same time no doubt becoming the first film to include a seduction by pretending to fit a food-to-electrical-energy conversion unit (or rice megaton as he calls it), as he Il Sun attempts to get Young-Goon to eat again, with their relationship it would seem based on their individual curiosity about the other, which again is thankfully saved from being drenched in saccharine sweetness, as Chan-wook puts enough faith in his audience to get their relationship, without having to sledgehammer it home, as he continues to find unique ways to engage his audience with even the most simplest of scenes, such as Il Sun attempting to help Young-Goon eat again, or even those of Young-Goon being pushed down the hallways past various other inmates are packed with entertaining details, requiring a repeat viewing to capture them all.

My main gripe however with this film came with it’s ending, which comes so abruptly that it made me wonder, if Chan-wook had no real idea how to end it and instead choose to leave things open ended as to what happens next, as the credits start to roll through what essentially feels like the middle part of a scene, making for an abrupt and forced ejection from this world. Still even though this isn’t the greatest ending, it doesn’t stop this film from proving once more, why Chan-wook is still one of the most exciting directors currently working, as he has yet again not only made another fascinating film, but has also proved that he is far from a one directorial trick pony, even though some members of the fan base might not get to grips with it’s lighter tone, in much the same way that Takashi Miike suffers criticism for his lighter films, it still remains an entertaining and fun movie, that is really worth giving a look, aswell as providing a light introduction to newcomers.

Saturday, 8 May 2010


Title: Kick-Ass
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Released: 2010
Staring: Aaron Johnson, Garrett M. Brown, Clark Duke, Evan Peters, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Mark Strong, Nicolas Cage, Chloe Moretz, Lynsey Fonseca

Rating: 5 / 5

Plot: Dave Lizewski (Johnson) is a high school nobody and obsessive comic book fan, who despite having zero super powers, no training and absolutly no real reason, except a fascination with why no one tries to be a superhero in real life. Taking this into account he decides to become a superhero himself, taking on the guise of Kick-Ass.

Review: Okay allow me to start by pointing out that a film has to have something really special, to get me to drag my ass to my local cinema, especially seeing how it’s so darn expensive, the seating usually sucks and I always find myself at the same screening as the guy, who wants to be a critic but is to lazy to start a blog and instead bores the crap out of whoever he's convinced to go with him, as he rattles off pointless trivia about the film. All of these things I tend to thankfully avoid by waiting for most films to come out on DVD. Still like I said it takes something special and “Kick-Ass” is one of those films and honestly it was so worth the trip.

Based on Mark Millers graphic novel of the same name, who was also responsible for “Wanted” whose film version resembled the source novel really in name only, proved a crushing disappointment for myself, being such a huge fan of the graphic novel, which made me kind of wary when, I found out his latest creation, was being given the big screen treatment, even more so after the comic suddenly got put on hold after four issues, with the full trade paperback only recently being released with the film, which I’m sure had a lot to do with the studio dropping that truck load of money off at his house, to secure the rights. Thankfully this time they bothered to stick to the source material, no doubt helped by having comic book uberfan Jane Goldman work on the script, who has done a great job of adapting the comic for the screen, capturing not only the characters, but also the darkly comic humour of the source material, which is clear right from the start, as we watch a would be superhero leaping from the top of a skyscraper in his make shift flightsuit, only to crash directly into a taxi cab below, as Johnsons commentary points out that this particular superhero was just some guy who’d gone of his meds, in a deliciously dark humoured introduction to what is to be the tone for rest of the film, a film which is essentially asking the question of
“How would superheroes really work in the real world”
which it’s true was also the base idea of Alan Moore’s epic “Watchmen”, but it’s a more light hearted approach that Miller has chosen to take and it works all the better for it, especially when you consider that Millers best work is always crammed full of violence and humour, with the less thinking the better and this has certainly been carried over into the film version, but certainly not to the point were it feels like it has to dumb things down into frat boy humour, which has in the past proven to be the undoing of so many potentially great movies with “Superbad” (2007) proving especially true of this.

It would certainly seem that Miller has spent a lot of time going over a lot of the things, which we take for grantee with superheroes, as he attempts to find ways around so many of the potential problems a wannabe superhero has to deal with, such as dealing with large quantities of pain, which is covered nicely after Dave’s first failed attempt at super heroism, which see’s him not only stabbed and beaten up, but then run over and left for dead, forcing him to have numerous metal grafts and plates added to his skeleton while also at the same time screwing up his nerve endings, giving him the ability to endure beatings, which sure is handy as despite calling himself “Kick Ass” he really can’t handle himself overly well in a fight, as he waves his clubs wildly around himself, during his second more successful attempt at being a hero, while reminding the audience that we are not watching a guy who is a trained or even skilled fighter, but in fact just a regular Joe in a diving suit who thinks he’s a super hero.
The flip side to Dave of course though is “Hit Girl” (Moretz) who is not only hyper violent, but also highly skilled with it seems anything she can get her hands on, having been trained as a weapon of revenge by her father “Big Daddy” (Cage). Moretz is absolutely fantastic as this character, who loves ice cream sundaes and butterfly knives and whose foul mouth will no doubt leave the more stiffer critics grumbling, (but then compared to some of the kids I know, she seemed pretty timid) but she delivers a performance with such energy and enthusiasm, that I found the majority of my favourite scenes to be the ones she appeared in, while her daddy daughter scenes she shares with Cage, carry real emotion even if their daddy daughter relationship is anything but traditional, even more so whenthe first time they are introduced it sees her getting shot by her own father as part of the ongoing training regime which he has created for her, with Goldman’s script perfectly capturing their relationship, which for myself especially was always going to be the point, were the film was either going to work of fail horribly and thankfully it manages to make it seem like a believable relationship they share, while at the same time not coming across too fantastical to accept, while Cage does a great job of playing Big Daddy a man who is clearly trying to balance his lust for revenge, with his desire to look after his daughter and even though I was unsure about Cage playing the character, his restricted appearances throughout help stop his oddball characterisations, from becoming over powering especially the strange Adam West esq voice that he has chosen to use for the character.
I guess the other main surprise here would have to be with Mintz-Plasse, who finally manages to break away from the shadow of “Mclovin”, as he proves to be surprisingly enough the perfect choice for spoilt mafia son Chris D’Amico and his superhero alter ego “Red Mist”, who is actually a plant to help capture kick-ass tying in the old cliché of the nemesis starting out as a friend of the hero, which made me all the more frustrated that the scene in which Chris compares himself and Dave to Spiderman’s Peter and Harry, as their climatic showdown almost seems like an afterthought, with the final showdown being largely devoted to Hit Girl taking on Chris’s father and mob boss Frank (Strong). Still were as I have found him largely irritating in the past, here is used to great effect as the competition for Kick ass’s popularity when he emerges as the new hero on the block, even if his powers seem more grounded in flash gadgets than anything resembling a super power.

Vaughn in the directors chair doesn’t really challenge himself here, allowing the script to bring all the shock and awe, though thankfully he ensures the action is kept pacey enough to prevent any fidgety moments, while thankfully avoiding drowning the whole thing in the same kind of angst which constantly seems to plague every superhero movie which comes out, with the “spiderman” films being especially guilty of this crime and it made a refreshing change, to not have to watch characters mope around with their feelings, with instead the time it seems being used for a Dave being mistaken for being gay subplot, which proves an entertaining way of giving him something to do, when he is not running around in his scuba gear costume, as he attempts to score with the target of his affections, the token popular girl Katie (Fonseca), who thankfully is the target of a more favourable character rewrite here, much like the character designs which have also been reworked outside of Kick-ass who is still in his trademark green, but these redesigns all add to the pop culture cool which the whole film is essential drenched in, from the snappy quotable dialogue about superheroes to the MTV style editing of it’s fight scenes, this is certainly a bold attempt to break free of the traditional conventions which the genre has been bound to, with the notable exception of films like “The Dark Knight” (2008) who were not afraid to try something not so family friendly with their material and kick ass is certainly one of these films.

Overall “Kick-ass” makes for a fun and mindless couple of hours, while proving how there is certainly life outside of the main superhero characters, who have in recent years dominated the genre, which at the same time certainly make it clear that this indie creation has certainly more than enough originality to take on the big boys of the comic world, as he brings the comic world kicking and screaming, bang up to date, leaving me already hungry already for Kick-Ass 2

Monday, 3 May 2010

Cannibal Holocaust

Title: Cannibal Holocaust
Director: Ruggero Deodato
Released: 1980
Staring: Robert Kerman, Francesca Ciardi, Perry Pirkanen, Luca Barbareschi, Salvatore Basile, Ricardo Fuentes, Carl Gabriel Yorke, Polo Paoloni

Rating: 4 / 5

Plot: A documentary film crew disappears in an area of rainforest known as “The Green Inferno”, while searching for the tribes of cannibals which live in the area. Professor Monroe (Kerman) an American anthropologist heads up the search party to find the crew, encountering two tribes the Yanomamo (The people of the trees) and the Shamatari (The people of the swamp), two tribes locked in an ongoing war with the other. However when they discover the remains of the film crew along with their missing film, the grisly and shocking truth is only then discovered.

Review: “Cannibal Holocaust” is a film whose reputation tends to proceed it, which originally made me weary of actually watching it, much like the rest of the cannibal genre, which proved to be especially popular with Italian horror directors in the 70’s and 80’s, with the genre peaking between 1977 and 1981 with this film in particular being one of the genres most notorious entries, whilst also marking the beginning of the end for the popularity of the genre, it still manages to cover all the main areas familiar with the genre including rape, torture, castration and animal cruelty in one grisly offering.

The film is essentially split into two parts with the first half focusing on Monroe and his team, searching for the missing film crew, while the second half focuses on the footage itself and while it’s true that either half could have stood up on it’s own, the blending of these two halves complement each other perfectly, whilst also helping the viewer to gain a true understanding of the two tribes, who upon first impressions seem savage and quick to violence, especially when one of these first encounters see’s Monroe and his team bearing witness to a native girl being violated with a rock by her husband, before being bludgeoned to death by in a ceremony we are informed, is being performed as the result of the girl committing the crime of adultery, a scene which sets the tone in many ways for some of the horrors yet to come. Despite witnessing this brutal act, Monroe approaches the tribe in a scientific manor as he attempts to win the trust of the Yanomamo, a method which includes him running around naked with several female members of the tribe (apparently played by girls hired from the local brothel) and even joining them in a feast were the main course turns out to be the body of a member of the rival Shamatari tribe. Thankfully it pays off as the tribe revel their grotestque totem made up of the remains of the missing film crew, as well as giving Monroe the footage which the team captured, which the natives also believe to be a source of black magic.

With the footage taken back to New York to be studied, the film enters its second half as we learn more about the film crew, whose director Alan Yates (Yorke) has built a reputation for staging scenes to create more exciting footage, with his last film “The Last Road to Hell” despite being claimed in the film as being fake footage, was actually created using real news reel footage of public executions. Still it’s this desire for more exciting footage which ultimately proves to be the down fall for Yates and his crew, as we soon discover as they butcher their way through the rainforest, gleefully killing various animals on their journey to find the cannibal tribes, who upon finding the tribe, find them perhaps a little to sedated for their liking, as they proceed to set out on a mini rampage, setting fire to the village, while raping and shooting the natives, with the only member of the crew who actually bothers to protest their actions being Yate’s fiancé Faye (Ciardi). Faye constantly proves to be the innocent in the group, being shown protesting the group’s actions frequently, aswell as most notably throwing up in disgust, when they kill a turtle on film.
It is unsurprising that the Yanomamo take these actions of the crew, rather badly and proceed to hunt down the crew, murdering them in an orgy of violence and gang rape which disturbingly Yates continues to film from the safety of the bushes, even when his fiancé is being killed. Thankfully he soon also meets a suitably grisly end and having seen what they have done to provoke this reaction, your almost cheering on the natives.

Despite the numerous scenes of violence, which feature so predominantly throughout, it is really the scenes involving animals being killed, which prove to be the most disturbing, in particular the killing of a turtle by Yates team, which is not only shot with an unflinchingly voyeuristic style, but also appears to have been filmed in real time. The fact that all the animals being killed are very much alive, only adds to the disturbing and monstrous nature of the footage, comparable to slaughterhouse footage used so readily by animal rights groups and it is no doubt these images which will stick with you, more than any of the scenes of violence being committed against the human cast. These scenes would prove to be a source of much regret for director Deodato and would also lead to the film being banned in Deodato’s native Italy, were it was mistaken for being a snuff film, which is only really true if you happen to be a turtle.

One of the most effective parts of the film, belongs to it’s score by Riz Ortolani, which essential switches between two main themes, with one being it’s main theme which is a nice laid back orchestral track and really highlights the beauty of the surrounds, while the flipside of this soundtrack being the darker synthesised theme, which appears during the more shocking scenes, on occasion several times without warning, appearing part way through a scene and only makes these scenes all the more darker and chilling.

The cast all give convincing performances, even if Porn star turned actor and genre regular Kerman proves to be the main draw here, while the rest of the cast give more than convincing performances, especially with those playing members of Yate’s team, which in a way explains why so many people found their footage so realistic, especially with so many of their scenes appearing largely improvised, only adding to this illusion.

Although not an enjoyable viewing experience, with it’s every attempt to disgust and shock the audience, it is still however an important film for not only the cannibal genre, but the horror genre on a whole, as it’s influence can be seen especially with films such as “The Last Broadcast” (1998) and “The Blair Witch Project” (1999) both of which used the same grainy documentary style, which Deodato adopts for the footage shot by Yate’s team and it’s an incredibly effective way of telling the story of how they met their demise.
The film contains so many memorable moments, though the chances are that you won’t want to remember most of them (and if you do perhaps you should be seeking some help) but even as sick and twisted as it gets, it still proves to be a gripping ride until the end, as you find yourself strangely drawn to see it out until the end, which is perhaps the one credit which it holds above so many of its gratuitous genre cousins, as it remains at it’s heart a powerful piece of film making and an interesting comment on how civilised a society we really are.
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