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.
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