Saturday, 24 December 2011

Alternative Christmas - Submissions and Other Great Reads

Hey All,

Well first off I want to start by saying thanks to Jenn over at the amazing "Calavade of Perversions", who not only has supported this blog since it's early and confused beginnings, but also sent me the groovy Christmas card you see above while regualrly hunting down the most random and obscure films to review for her blog, while still finding time to heavily feature her cats.

Here though is what I am sending out as a Christmas card, especially as it's alot more amusing than anything Hallmark currently had to offer.

So as I sit down to write this we are now just one sleep away from Food induced coma's, wrapping paper strewn living rooms and questioning how well your love one's really know you when it comes to thier gift choices.....I mean how many pairs of socks and dodgy jumpers does one person need?!?.

As you know December here on the blog we are celebrating an "Alternative Christmas" while opening the floor to anyone who wanted to submit reviews, essays or any other kind of musing on Alternative Christmas Movies, so here are the submissions that I have recived so far, aswell as other articles I have dug over the course of the month, all now collected below for your reading pleasure.

"Alternative Christmas" has not been restrained by myself to this blog alone, as it has also leaked over to my "Cinema Obsura" column over "The Life And Times of Lucy In Da Sky With Diamonds"

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

Emily at "Deadly Doll's House of Horror Nonsense" has been checking out some of the cheesest and god awful Christmas Movies to ever try and cash in on the Holiday with her series of "Cheese In Your Stocking Reviews

Direct To Video Connoisseur


"Knifed In Venice" has gone all out this year with this hefty haul of reviews

Thanks to everyone who has submitted links so far and if I have missed any "Alternative Christmas" reviews leave your links below and join in the Cross blogging fun!

In the meantime have yourself a great Christmas and a fantastic New Year!!!

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Bikini Bloodbath Christmas

Title: Bikini Bloodbath Christmas
Director: Jonathan Gorman & Thomas Edward Seymour
Released: 2009
Staring: Debbie Rochon, Rachael Robbins, Phil Hall, Dick Boland, Lloyd Kaufman, Sheri Lynn, Niki Rubin, Monique Dupree, Margaret Rose Champagne, Matt Ford, Sarah Dauber, Thomas Edward Seymour, Phillip Guerette

Plot: The Bikini Bloodbath girls are back and now working at a pot emporium called “Snotlocker”, while constantly battling their Christian rivals across the street who work at “The Underground Deli”. Meanwhile Chef Death has once again returned from the grave intent on causing some holiday havoc!

Review: The third and final film in the Bikini Bloodbath Trilogy though honestly it is far from essential to have seen either “Bikini Bloodbath” or “Bikini Bloodbath Carwash” to understand what is happening here as it works just as well on it’s own, while once again being one of those movies which makes you feel just a bit sleazy for reviewing it. Still it’s another curious Christmas movie which makes all the more perfect to look at as part of this ongoing “Alternative Christmas” season.

Right from the beginning the tone is set for what essentially the rest of the film will is like, as within the first fifteen minutes you get enough nudity, foul language and toilet humour to put most teen comedies to shame, while no doubt making it the new favourite movie of teenage boys everywhere, as it sets out to do pretty much what it says on the box, while highlighting how perhaps some of the cast got their parts as was no doubt the case of Monique Dupree, who has all the acting ability of a rock, while her IMDB profile states that she is regularly named as the first black scream queen, but surely there has been other black scream queens before her right?? Surely just because your a girl who appears in horror films doesn't automatically qualify you for such an honour!?!

Spending pretty much the whole movie in their bikini’s, the girls spend the majority of the film running from one random situation to the other, while usually being verbally abused in the meantime by their transvestite boss Mrs Johnson (Boland) who seems to be taking tips from Monty Pythons Terry Jones as Mrs Johnson is almost an exact copy of many of his grotty female characters. Still for fans of “Troma” this style of film making will be all to familiar and it only makes it all the more surprising to find out that this isn’t one of their titles, but still Troma founder & president Lloyd Kaufman shows up briefly as Dr. O’masterblaster who has a rather literal hands on approach when it comes to his patience, but it’s the sleazy kind of role that we have come to expect from him, after all it’s the sort of humour which “Troma” was built upon and it’s briefness stops it from becoming too bad taste unlike some of the scenes involving the fake ass, though once again I couldn’t help but think of Mel Brooks whenever I saw him, as to myself at least the two are scarily similar.

Despite the cast seemingly being hired for seemingly their zero qualms in regards to nudity, the performances are largely pretty good, though perhaps the less said about Monique Dupree’s acting ability the better really, though thankfully her screen time is kept mercifully short, so you don’t have to endure her rabbit in the headlights style of acting for long. The only problem the film has though is that we have no clear final girl for although the girls are easily distinguishable from each other; none of them come across as the one girl that is going to step up and save the day. Meanwhile the guys get off slightly easier, though mainly left to play curiously random roles as is definatly the case for Seymour and Guerette who show up as Prince Colwyn and Rell the Cyclops from “Krull” (1983) who have seemingly fallen on hard times since we last saw them, as they show up trying to sell the glaive as a security device, yet no one seems to question the fact that one of them is a Cyclops. Still these two characters are just another prime example of how you really stop questioning what is happening in the film, especially by this point were by now you’ve seen numerous exposed breasts, had the air turned blue by the expletives riddled rants of Mrs Johnson and seen the rival santa’s of the two stores duke it out in a paddling pool wrestling match, so “Krull” characters randomly appearing is pretty much accepted as the norm for this movie.

Although it is marketed as a slasher Chef Death” is actually given very little to do here, other than randomly appearing and killing off a member of the cast before disappearing again, usually until the film needs something to link one random situation to the other. Still the deaths are all suitably gory and graphic, with the film really pulling off some original kills, which perhaps loose some of their effectiveness due to the cheapness of some of the effects. Still the final twist makes zero sense, especially when we see him resurected only to get a twist revel which would have you believe otherwise.

“White Liger” are once more on hand to provide the soundtrack which largely consists of rocked up Christmas songs, which fit the film perfectly yet frustratingly I’ve been unable to find a copy of the soundtrack, as would love to have these guys sound tracking my Christmas parties, so alas it looks like I will have to dig out the Phil Spector’s again.

As with the previous films it seemingly acknowledges and embarrasses its sheer awfulness at the same time, which somehow makes it a strangely fun watch, though it’s hard to tell if it’s this reason or just the sheer amount of skin on display, foul mouthed monologues, gratuitous splatter or just the sheer randomness which makes up the relatively short run time, with the whole thing clocking in at just over an hour which those of you who are less forgiving when it comes to trash cinema will no doubt seem a lot longer especially as it seems like a lot of randomness with little in the way of actual plotting. Still if your looking for somthing a little gratuitous for the holidays then you can't go to wrong with this.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

The Star Wars Holiday Special

On May 25, 1977 George Lucas created with “Star Wars” the summer blockbuster, launching a saga which go onto be one the most popular franchises of all time, while giving nerdy males like myself something to fill all that time we had on our hands from you know not being able to talk to girls etc, while raking in $4.41 Billion in box office revenue from the films alone and this doesn’t include the money generated from the countless spin off’s and merchandise…because after all no home is complete without it’s glow in the dark lightsaber!

Needless to say George Lucas has frequently tried to torpedo his cash cow with some shall we say interesting directions in which he chose to take the franchise with the first of these being in “Return of Jedi” which introduced the Ewoks, a creation which grew out of his desire to have a village of Wookies which somehow turned into these monstrosities which as we all know, were greeted by much disgust by the fan base, while also being one of the few cute and cuddly characters that people didn’t mind seeing being blown up. Still these would seem quite passable by the time that “The Phantom Menace” finally came out sixteen years later and unleashed the now legendary (and not in a good way) “Jar Jar Binks” which once again caused further venom to be unleashed by the fan verse as well as the occasional burning effigy, as Lucas had finally managed to create something even crappier than those bloody teddy bears!!

Alas there would be something would top both these thing in terms of overwhelming badness, so much so that it would only ever be shown once in 1978 only to ever reappear on bootleg VHS copies as all those involved tried to forget it had ever been created. I am of course talking about “The Star Wars Holiday Special” and seeing how this December I am celebrating an “Alternative Christmas” what better time to revisit this rightfully forgotten cash in.

Riding high on success of “A New Hope” the story follows Han Solo and Chewbacca as they travel to Chewbacca’s home planet Kashyyk to celebrate Life Day with Chewie’s family who comprise of his father Itchy, his wife Malla and son Lumpy all of which would be later retconned to Attichitcuk, Mallatobuck and Lumpawarrump, rather than taking the more sensible choice of just killing them off. Still these bargain basement Wookie costumes you best get used to watching, as they are you main company for pretty much the whole run time of this thing, while their various grunts and growls are even more nonsensical when they are the only characters on screen, often meaning that Art Carney seen here as the trader and family friend Saun Dann is left to try and string things together for those of us who don’t speak Wookie, while the audience wonders why they aren’t getting to see their favourite heroes instead of these second rate characters.

Meanwhile the Empire are busy searching for rebel agents on the planet after losing Han and Chewie, whose attempts to elude the Empire once again forms the mainback bone of the plot, which is intercut with random cameo appearances by Luke Skywalker, C3PO, R2-D2 and Princess Leia, aswell as several variety show style segments, musical performances and a cartoon, all of which add up to a two hour car wreck of a holiday cash in.

Still what is most interesting about this special is that all the cast return to play their characters, something unheard of for a special of this type and something which they would all later regret upon the release of the final product, with Lucas rarely commenting on it and seemingly refusing to acknowledge it’s existence, while Carrie Fisher would provide her commentary for the Star Wars DVD’s on the condition that Lucas gave her a copy, somthing which she openly admits to showing at parties, usually when she wants everyone to leave. Still these appearances outside of Chewie and Han Solo are pretty much glorified guest appearances with the majority of the special being left to Chewie’s family to irritate the audience with their painfully unfunny attempts at humour while preparing for Life Day or eluding the Empire.

Still if the antics of Chewie’s family were not annoying enough we also get even more unlikable characters introduced via various celebrities of the time who will no doubt be unrecognizable to most people not born back then, as they try to earn some cool points and no doubt an easy pay check off the back of the Star Wars craze, so hence we get Harvey Korman (yep i’ve no idea who he is either) showing up in three separate skits, with the most memorable of these being the mildly amusing “Cooking with Chef Gormanda” a four armed cook who Malla struggles to keep up with. Meanwhile his appearance as a malfunctioning droid in an instructional video is just painful to watch. Still slightly better is “Golden Girls” star Bea Arthur as a bar tender at Mos Eisley cantina, which also see’s a welcome return of the various residents and cantina band, though her bursting into “Good Night, But Not Goodbye” will have you quickly looking for the fast forward button.

This random musical interlude is not the only questionable musical moment, as Princess Leia even bursts into a song set to the tune of the Star Wars theme, which unsurprisingly didn’t catch on and hence why you always get folks trying to warble the instrumental version. I did wonder though why “What do you buy a Wookie for Christmas, when he already has a comb” didn’t make the special.

Outside of the amateur hour operatic’s we also get musical performances by both “Jefferson Starship” and “Diahann Carroll” both of which quickly descend into 2001 style acid trip light shows , while Carroll’s performance is creepily watched by Chewie’s father as Carroll informs him that she is his “fantasy” while inviting him to “experience her”, while certainly not made any less creepy by the fact that Itchy is sitting in a machine pressing buttons which supposedly control the experience, which also brings into question if sex with a wookie is classed as bestiality?

So while the majority of the special is plain garbage there is still one good thing to come out of this and like the penny in the pile of shit, it is the first ever appearance of Boba Fett!! That’s right the coolest character in the whole of the Star Wars Universe made his debut here in the cartoon segment of the special, which take the term “Artistic License” to whole new level meaning that we get a rubbery looking R2-D2 and a version of Han Solo which bares a striking resemblance to Mick Jagger. Still it’s a fun first appearance for Boba Fett and is the only real reason to sit through the rest of the special which no doubt explains why it’s in the third quarter and not at the start.

To say that the special is flawed, is to put things lightly as honestly it deserves to have any copy in existence gathered up and burned and should in no reason what so ever be attempted to view while sober, with laces in your shoes or without atleast a couple of friends to heckle to hell out of it, neither of which I had for this last viewing which created an experience which is nothing short of cinematic root canal surgery… have been warned!!

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Die Hard

Title: Die Hard
Director: John McTiernan
Released: 1988
Staring: Bruce Willis, Bonnie Bedelia, Alan Rickman, Reginald Veljohnson, Paul Gleason, De’voreaux White, Robert Davi, Grand L. Bush, Alexander Godunov

Plot: Flying into LA on Christmas Eve to reconcile with his estranged wife Holly (Bedilia), New York cop John McClane (Willis) is invited to her company Christmas party at the Nakatomi Plaza, only to have the festivities interrupted by armed terrorists led by criminal mastermind Hans Gruber (Rickman) quickly taking over the building and leaving John as the last hope for the hostages now trapped inside.

Review: Since it’s release “Die Hard” has been a long time favourite amongst action fans, while regularly being the movie which was named when I asked people what their favourite Christmas movie was, which might surprise some people but it is quite rightfully a Christmas movie, if an extremely action packed and violent one!

Released at the height of the 80's Action movie craze it is now seen as being one of the best action films of the era. Based on the Roderick Thorp novel “Nothing Lasts Forever”, a sequel to his earlier novel “The Detective” which was also filmed with Frank Sinatra whose decision to not star in the sequel, which may have had alot to do with being offered the role at the age of 73 thanks to a contractual clause which entitled him to first refusal on the sequel. I was also a decision which would also be the main reason that the book was turned into the film we now all know and love, allowing director McTiernan to make minor tweaks to the story to “help bring more joy” to the story especially after describing the original screenplay as “a nasty piece of work” and in doing so made the character of McClane younger than he is in the book, which in turn helped pave the way for Willis to make his break into movies, in what at the time must have been a really surprising choice for the role, especially seeing how his only role at that point had been on the long running TV series “Moonlighting” which he was still filming during the shoot and even more so when this was the age of the pumped action hero with Stallone and Schwarzenegger being the ones cleaning up at the box office. McTiernan also changed the political motivations of the terrorists to make them a group of thieves portraying themselves as terrorists, which is really sold by the Rickman who here also makes his feature film debut as the charismatic and highly quotable Hans Gruber in yet another surprising casting choice, but could anyone else really play this role as well as he does?

Essentially the story of one man having a very bad day, John McClane is an everyman kind of hero, as he’s not a pumped up marine or trained in any kind of tactics for handling terrorists but rather a balding New York cop surviving on his wits alone and generally making things up as he goes and constantly seen questioning his own actions as a result of this. Meanwhile the sole support is more morally via fellow police office Al with hold McClane frequently talks to over his CB radio, as he frequently inspires McClane to keep going especially as his situation seems all the more hopeless, as his supplies begin to run low and his injuries start rack up. What also makes his character stand apart from other action heroes is his use of humour, as rather than cracking corny catchphrases when he kills off a bad guy, as he instead continually makes wisecracks often for his own amusement and frequently to taunt Hans. Still seeing how both Stallone and Schwarzenegger turned down the role, it’s interesting to think if McClane would have retained any of these traits in the hands of one of these pumped up action stars?

Still the key thing which also makes this film stand out from the other action films of the 80’s is that McClane unlike his contemporise is not invincible and injures just like any other regular guy, while still managing to live up to the promise of the title as he frequently proves to be a very hard man to kill, even when he’s the one putting himself in the most suicidal of positions such as his leap from the top of the building using a fire hose, with almost every situation frequently seeing McClane questioning his actions, as he knows instinctively how much he is out of his depth, yet still he refuses to give up, still it's funny that out of the things which have been frequently carried across the films is his now trademark grubby vest, which like every inch of his body is covered in grime and filth, a radical departure from the usual heroes who would somehow remain miraculously clean throughout, much like their injuries which they simply shake off, yet when McClane is injured he stays injured, most noticeably after being forced to walk barefoot across broken glass, which leaves him with a noticeable limp for the rest of the film, with McTiernan’s keen eye also making sure that even the smallest of details are not over looked as seen by the bloody footprints that McClane leaves on the window pane as he pushes away from it.

While “Die Hard” runs through the usual action movies motions, what also helps to separate it from other films from the era, is how developed the characters even with supporting bad guys such as Karl, we still get the feeling that you know more about these characters than their primary motives for doing the things that they do, with Hans being possibly the most developed bad guy to ever appear in an action movies thanks to the various hints to his background peppered throughout, from referencing his classical education, to general banter between himself and his henchmen which is a real change of pace from the info dump back story we have come to expect were normally the hero discusses said bad guy with their superior while going through a heavy looking file on said bad guy.

For some unknown reason “Die Hard” has remained pretty timeless and can still be viewed as the solid action flick it is, without any of the cheese that other 80’s action movies are frequently associated with, while undoubtedly being a great choice for Alternative Christmas viewing.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Celebrating An Alternative Vision of Christmas!!

Hey all,
Well with Christmas fast approaching and the TV schedules already being crammed full off those god awful made for TV Christmas movies, you know the kind were the family learns the true mean of Christmas by letting the friendly hobo into their house or whatever random event they can make seem plausible with a Christmas setting.

So this year "From the Depths of DVD Hell" is celebrating an alternate Christmas, by looking at the movies which might be set at Christmas, but are frequently far from the usual festive nonsense, with terrorists invading the office party, Santa battling the Martians and Serial Killer Snowmen!!

Prime examples of these movies of course being "Die Hard", "Silent Night Deadly Night", "Gremlins" and "Rare Exports" to name but a few and over December I will be looking at these great films and others, both on the blog aswell as in my "Cinema Obscura" column at "The Life and Times of Lucy In Da Sky With Diamonds" as part of a month long celebration of the Christmas movies which are anything but traditional.

To help celebrate this latest season of reviews, I am also opening up the floor once again to some cross blogging fun, by asking you all for your help, by posting your own reviews, rants or pretty much anything else you want to submit which relates to these movies which give a very different view of Christmas. If this sound like something you'd like to be part of, all you need to do is to send me an e-mail ( with a link to your posts and I will then highlight them here on the blog!

So dig out that your alternative festive viewing and join in the fun!!

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Boxset Binges #4 - Dead Set

Currently here in the UK, they are attempting to flog a dead horse as thanks to zero public demand whatsoever “Big Brother” has been brought back from the TV Graveyard for yet another series, as fame hungry wannabe’s sit around and become voyeur fodder for the general public….well this would usually be the case if anyone was actually watching. Still what better time to finally watch Charlie Brooker’s satire of the Big Brother phenomenon as he brings a horror twist to things by introducing hordes of frenzied zombies.

Set during a fictional season of “Big Brother” (the makers of which bizarrely are also behind this satire), we open on eviction night were the latest housemate is set to leave the house, while meanwhile the Britain is being rocked by widespread riots. Struggling to keep the show running smoothly, show runner Kelly (Jaime Winstone) also has to deal with her foul mouthed and abusive boss Patrick (Andy Nyman). Things only get worse when a man bitten earlier by a zombie breaks into the crowd causing mass infection to breakout as the crowd are quickly infected turning them into a rampaging horde which soon breaks into the studio and turning the Big Brother house into the sole sanctuary from the zombie hordes, while the housemates continue with the show unaware of the chaos erupting outside of the house.

Originally shown weeks after the end of the ninth series of “Big Brother”, Charlie Brooker’s take on the show not only manages to satire the show with his usual sharp humour and keen eye for the smallest of details, but he has also managed to find an original zombie plot, which is certainly no easy task especially with so many zombie films being churned out in the last few years, usually as direct to video efforts and more often than not recycling for the umpteenth time the same tired storylines.

The fictional housemates are very much like their real life counter parts, with Brooker drawing inspiration from several of the more memorable housemates, while the group on the whole are the usual group of fame hungry wannabe’s with perhaps the exception of Joplin (Kevin Eldon) whose is attempting to use the show as his own soapbox for his own views on society. Meanwhile the rest of the group are happily playing up for the cameras while they live blissfully unaware in their own little world, which has been created by the show. Due to their lack of contact with the outside world, they are quick to dismiss Kelly as another task that the producers have set for them and it’s only after Kelly turns a zombie’s head into a pancake using a fire extinguisher, that they finally except that something might be not quite right.

Outside of the housemates, the series also follows Kelly’s boyfriend Riq (Riz Ahmed) who having been left stranded at a train station after his car is stolen is attempting to make it to the studio to reunite with her, also unaware of the chaos erupting at the studio, were Studio boss and general selfish bastard Patrick and recent show evictee Pippa (Kathleen McDermott) are holed up from the zombies currently roaming the studio hallways after the initial rampage has subsided. The three storylines soon becoming entwined into a single story once the groups reunite, but help to give a full picture of the outbreak with Riq teaming up with a fellow survivor Alex (Liz Mae Brice) who certainly is more clued up on the situation than most of the characters, having already gotten hold of a firearm and running on full blown survivor mode, especially shown by the fact she has sourced a rifle which seeing how this is England is certainly not an easy thing, especially with the Firearm laws making guns anything but readily available to members of the general public, which is an aspect sadly not highlighted further, a minor plot niggle not only with this series but any of the previous British Zombie films which came before it.

Brooker has seemingly wrote “Dead Set” to be made on a small budget, especially with the action taking place mainly in two key locations, which are the Big Brother house and the studio, though we do get a few moments of the world outside the studio, via Riq’s own journey with Alex from the train station which takes him through abandoned villages and woods and it’s almost refreshing to not see another attempt at the epic abandoned cityscapes of “28 Days Later” (2002) and by keeping the action in a decidedly rural setting it gives the audience something they haven’t seen done a hundred times before, which when it comes to the zombie genre is no easy task. Still little focus is given to the so called real world outside of these glimpses with the few scenes outside of the studios only furthering the impression that it might be the safest place for them, while helping to give a real sense of isolation from any form of uninfected humanity, while seemingly automated radio broadcasts try to maintain calm amongst the general public, while advising of the country being evacuated to France.

The biggest surprise here though is just how visceral the violence is, especially when it was originally shown as a five part TV series, which would normally mean holding back on the violence, only here it pretty much pushes it way beyond anything we have seen in recent zombie films as these zombies are a real throw back to the gut munchers of the 80’s, as bodies are torn apart as entrails are pulled from torsos with sadistic glee with Brooker openly admitting that he drew inspiration from George A. Romero’s Dead saga, as clearly homaged by one of the characters expletive heavy death which is almost a straight copy of Capt. Rhodes’ death from “Day of the Dead” (1985). The majority of the heavy violence is saved for the rampage finale, which again has a similar feel to the finale of “Dawn of the Dead” (1978), yet Brooker has still managed to craft enough original shocks to make this more than a George Romero highlight reel, as Fire extinguishers, scissors and hatchets are just a few of the makeshift weapons used in the fight against the undead hordes, while also answering the question “Do Zombies enjoy hot tubs?”
Unsurprisingly these are not the same shuffling hordes that Romero favours, but instead the more modern frenzied kind, with “28 Days Later” being a big inspiration clearly for the visual style of the series, especially with the heavy use of handheld cameras and shakily shot footage during the attacks, which proves frequently more distracting than dramatic, but with the amount of gore on display throughout it does at least make up in spades for what your not getting to see.

My main gripe here is with the pacing which might work well when shown in it’s episodic form, but when put into it’s feature length really struggles in the first half with certain scenes feeling more like filler than anything essentially, leaving it feeling in need of trimming down especially with a run time of around two and a half hours making it unintentionally possibly the first zombie epic.

Despite feeling alittle bloated in it’s run time “Dead Set” is still certainly one of the better entries in the Zombie genre in the last couple of years, especially with so many direct to DVD entries only watering down the mythos in much the same way that Paranormal romance is for Vampires, but this series reminds us that there is still life left in the shuffling corpses of the undead.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Kiki's Delivery Service

Title: Kiki’s Delivery Service
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Released: 1989
Staring: Minami Takayama, Rei Sakuma, Keiko Toda, Minami Takayama, Keppei Yamaguchi

Plot: Having turned 13, witch in training Kiki (Takayama) leaves homes with her talking cat Jiji (Sakuma) as is traditional for all witches to leave home for a year on their thirteenth birthday. Despite processing almost no witch skills beside her ability to fly on a broom, which she is still not overly great at doing, she arrives in the city of Koriko were we is soon using her skill to setup a delivery service.

Review: For the longest time when I was starting off my own personal Anime obsession, this film was seen almost like a secret handshake between Anime fans, were a fan’s status was largely judged on if they had seen certain films, a list of which this film was one of those titles. Now while it might be hard to realise it now, with such a huge variety of anime titles easily available, back when I started collecting anime, the only label which was putting out anime titles here in the UK was “Manga Entertainment” who tended to favour the more violent and graphic titles like “Fist of the North Star” and “Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend” giving the misguided impression that all Japanese animation was like this, though in their defence they were also responsible for bringing two legendry anime titles “Akira” and “Ghost In The Shell” to Western audiences so it's hard to question if thier influence was detrimental to the cause or not. Still it would be much later that a lot of Anime fans got to discover the simple and innocent beauty of Studio Ghibli’s movies, which showed a polar opposite side to anime than most fans had been used to and ultimately has paved the way for less violent anime to gain distribution outside of bootlegs and late night showings on TV.

Out of the Studio Ghibli’s back catalogue “Kiki’s Delivery Service” is certainly one of my favourites, despite the fact that fan’s tend to frequently over look it, opting for the colourful characters of “My Neighbour Totoro” or the nature versus industry epic “Princess Monoke”, which is a shame as it’s certainly one of their best with its childlike (but not childish) innocence and curiosity, while also proving shockingly for a lot of western audiences at the time that Anime doesn’t have to be all giant robots and fan service schoolgirls.

“Kiki’s Delivery Service” differs from a lot of the Ghibli title, bar perhaps “My Neighbour Totoro” in that it has no real set course and instead starts off with the idea of Kiki leaving home, eager to prove to her family that she can make her own way in the world and is essentially just watching her daily progress towards this goal, with no major crisis or big evil to combat, the closest the film gets to either of these things being with the climatic Zeppelin chase which in itself comes almost out of nowhere, much like Kiki suddenly loosing her powers in the third quarter, which in itself is essentially more of a moral lesson in believing in your own abilities even when you feel like a failure. Still Kiki’s abilities are portrayed less as magical and more like an artistic skill, meaning that this loss of her powers could also be seen almost as a kind of writers block.

While Kiki going about day to day tasks as she goes about settling into her new life and unexpectedly setting up a delivery service, might not sound like the most gripping of viewing, it surprisingly is never dull and even more amazingly gives these things an almost magical feel. It could also be argued that for these reasons, that the film would seem almost intentionally aimed at a female audience, but somehow director Miyazaki still manages to keep the attention of both sexes a fact best highlighted in a comment one of my friends made, were he pointed out that he was knowingly watching a very girlie anime yet still strangely gripped by what he was watching.

Miyazaki’s obsession with flight is fully on show here from Kiki on her broom, to the Zeppelin and plane filled skies and her nerdy friend Tombo’s flying contraption (essentially a bicycle with a propeller) and the feeling of flight is truly captured from the gentle flights across the countryside to the thrilling climax which see’s Kiki whizzing through the streets and alleyways in pursuit of the runaway Zeppelin, while still maintaining the detailed crowed streets of the city packed with onlookers, rather than switching to the plain background as the character moves slowly towards the screen, as more traditionally seen as Miyazaki never risks losing this sense of flight, by scrimping on the finer details and these only make this finale only all the more chaotic and exciting to watch, event after repeated viewings.

Being a Ghibli film there are several options available when it comes to watching the films, with purists no doubt options for the subtitle track, while dub fans get a choice of two equally great dub tracks, with Disney providing a more star studded cast which see’s Kirstin Dunst take on the role of Kiki, while Phil Hartman provides the voice of Jiji, with this trend for star studded dub tracks continuing into future Ghibli releases. Still there isn’t much difference between the subtitle version and the dubbed version really outside of Jiji who in the dub track comes off as more of a wiseass than he does in the original subtitled version.

“Kiki’s Delivery Service” truly deserves to have it’s place amongst the best titles in the Ghibli back catalogue, especially with Miyazaki here on top form, with a project which was seemingly made with him in mind, especially seeing how it allows for such freedom to include his various trademarks, while also providing a gentle introduction to Anime for newcomers to both the genre as well as the films of studio Ghibli and Miyazaki.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Alpha Dog

Title: Alpha Dog
Director: Nick Cassavetes
Released: 2006
Staring: Emile Hirsch, Justin Timberlake, Dominique Swain, Bruce Willis, Shawn Hatosy, Olivia Wilde, Sharon Stone, Ben Foster, Amanda Seyfried, Anton Yelchin

Plot: Johnny Truelove (Hirsch) a young drug dealer and son of underworld figure Sonny Truelove (Willis) orchestrates an impulsive kidnapping of Zach Mazursky (Yelchin), hoping that it will force his older brother Jake (Foster) to pay up his debts, but things soon things begin to spiral quickly out of control.

Review: Based on the events in August 2000 which lead to the murder of Nicholas Markowitz, with the film changing the names of those involved, as well as being set a year earlier, which puts the setting for the film on November 1999, which is an unusual move for a biopic but certainly not unheard of especially after “Domino” (2005), which so proudly proclaimed that it was based “on the truth and the lies” and it’s seemingly expected that the decision to make such changes to allow for the more fictional elements of the film to help link together the events which lead to Markowitz’s murder, without receiving criticism for fabrication of the facts. Still what director Cassavetes has unwittingly also created is possibly the most raw and and realistic portrayal of youth culture since Larry Clarke’s highly controversial debut “Kids” (1995) while also being equally comparable to Clarke’s own stab at the same genre with his equally controversial “Bully” (2001) a film which it is essentially the easiest to compare to, as both feature over sexed, drug fuelled suburban teens, making rash criminal choices and being forced to face the consequences of such actions.

Opening with Truelove and his crew working out while tossing about gangsta style slang and tough guy bravado, it would be hard believe that these characters have not escaped from one of Clarke’s films, especially as these are the sort of characters he tends to favour, especially with every other word seeming being a dererative of the word f**k or some other curse word, but then these are young men in their early twenties and it’s allot more realistic than the smart ass, pop culture reference heavy dialogue which usually accompanies most movie teens these days. Still these are rich kids with nothing better to do than, further their gangster fantasies as they pop pills and snort their away through adolescence, with Truelove playing ringleader to this circus of fools, all buying into the lifestyle that Truelove and his followers are trying to emulate, with Truelove in particular seemingly trying to follow in the criminal footsteps of his father, while hiding his own cowardly ways behind his tough guy bravado, a fact known all to well by the short fused Jake, whose own conflict with Truelove leads to Truelove grabbing Jake’s younger and more naive brother Zack. Interestingly this portrayal of Truelove is almost the opposite of his real life counter part, who was not only the youngest man to ever make the FBI's most wanted list, but also demonstrated high levels of intelligence which helped him elude the FBI for a number of years after the murder.

It’s once the group have grabbed Zack that things take very “Kids” esq turn, for Zack isn’t taped up to a chair for the duration of the film while being continuously tormented by his kidnappers, but instead left in the care of Frankie (Timberlake), who in turn brings him inside the groups inner circle, soon seeing Zack being caught up in the faux glamour of their world, while happily drinking, smoking weed and engaging in swimming pool threesome’s, all things his mother has seemingly worked so hard to shelter him from, especially with his older brother being now deemed a loss cause. It’s Zack's journey into faux adulthood that makes the film distinctly different from most crime dramas and did make me forget what sort of film I was watching which in a way makes the actual murder all the more shocking when it happens, especially after being lead on this hedonistic journey only for it too all come suddenly crashing to a close. Still it was these scenes which took me the most by surprise, especially having put off watching the film, expecting another teens making very bad choices movie and really not wanting to see another film trying to emulate Larry Clarke’s work, something which the British film industry has been frequently responsible for adding to and a cinematic crime that Noel Clarke has been especially guilty of adding to with trash like “Kidulthood” and it’s much unwanted sequel “Adulthood”, but here director Cassavetes has certainly managed to find his own unique voice for his characters, so that they are all individual even if they frequently seem to share the same voice.

Despite upon the films release the critics were keen to comment on the fact that Timberlake could actually act, especially as this film added to his then radical attempts to move away from his teenie bobber status and true he is very good in this film, as he was also in the much underrated “Southland Tales” (2006), here providing the moral voice of the group, as he frequently questions the situation the group have found them in, to the point were he even offers Zack an open invitation to escape, while later accepting Zack as part of the group which makes Zack’s eventual demise all the more wrenching to watch, knowing that his protector has ultimately betrayed them. Still the true standout performance here is an honour that instead belongs to Foster, who is best remembered as the nerdy love interest of Claire Fisher on “Six Feet Under” a role he is truly a polar opposite of here, were he is a 100% badass while demonstrating fighting skills I never knew he had, as demonstrated by a house party beat down, were he single handily batters numerous opponents with ease.

In terms of star power amongst the cast it is limited to Bruce Willis and Sharon Stone, with the cast at the time being comprised of largely unknown actors, despite many going on to larger roles, but both of these established actors put in strong performances, while being limited to strictly supporting with role, with Stone later donning a fat suit for her characters current day appearance as a woman truly broken by the death of her sun, while putting in a performance which is certainly one of her best in a long time, as woman who has truly lost everything, especially during the final scenes which prove to be the most emotionally powerful.

While some might grumble that the film takes liberties with the fact, with the case notes frequently being pushed into the background and largely limited to on screen notes highlighting and numbering witnesses to the case, while certainly not playing as fast and loose with the facts as “Domino” (2005) as memorably did to help cram in another shoot out and thankfully not the case here with director Cassavetes, not trading in the focus to work in more teenage flesh. Still viewed as either a youth in revolt movie or as a crime biopic, it's still a great film and one that dares to look at the darker side of popularity.

Monday, 3 October 2011


Title: Pieces
Director: Juan Piquer Simón
Released: 1982
Staring: Christopher George, Linda Day, Frank Braña, Edmund Purdom, Paul L. Smith, Ian Sera, Jack Taylor

Plot: A chainsaw welding killer with a bizarre obsession with jigsaw puzzles, stalks the young co-eds of a local college campus

Review: “Pieces” is a strange little film, despite the most traditional of slasher plots, it still manages more than it’s share of surreal moments to say the least and yet for some reason we the audience accept it as the norm, while also certainly doesn’t take away any of the fun, so that your not left asking yourself questions like were the hell that Kung Fu guy came from? (The simple answer to that one being that the producer Dick Randall, was shooting “Bruceploitation” movies nearby and Simón basically took advantage of the opportunity), or was the girl on the skateboard seen skating in the sheet plate glass was part of the killers plot or not.?

Opening with the killer as a young boy putting together a jigsaw, which turns out to be more raunchy than the usual ones as this one is of a naked woman (do they seriously make jigsaws like that?) and as per the rule that as soon as you choose to look at anything slightly risqué that your mum will walk in, unsurprisingly so does his who proceeds to chastise him for it, while also uncovering an impressive pile of smut that he has hidden away. In fact his collection is so extensive it did have me wondering how he managed to amass such a collection, especially when the rest of us at that age had to try and find our own porn discarded in hedge rows or steal it from older siblings. Facing his beloved collection being burned he makes what he considers to be the only rational choice and kills her with an axe, followed by sawing her head off and making the whole thing look like a home invasion killing, which even more bizarrely the police don’t even question, instead shipping him off to live with his aunt and no doubt further his serial killer urges seeing how forty years later he is lurking the college campus looking for victims for his latest scheme.

For some reason the police are pretty blasé to say the least about the fact that someone is running around the campus violently killing the student population with a chainsaw, with the police chief at one point dismissing a reporter’s question about the rumours of a killer being on the loose, by claiming “There are Maniac rumours at that school every couple of months!”, I mean seriously what sort of school really openly has a reputation like that, or they located perhaps a little too close to the local asylum? This however is just one of the numerous random bits of dialogue that stands out in this film, much like the classy line

“The most beautiful thing in the world is smoking pot and fucking on a waterbed”

Meanwhile the killing are all pretty random, with no real link between the victims other than that they are all horny young students. Still the deaths are were the killer really gets creative even with the Chainsaw being his ohh so subtle weapon of choice, with the killer finding frequently less plausible methods to conceal it, with my personal favourite being the elevator death, were he just holds it behind his back which somehow his victim fails to register, because of course it’s perfectly normal to be just carrying around a chainsaw. Still it’s these death scenes were Simón seems to have invested the most effort, as it certainly wasn’t in any other area of the film, making similar in many ways to the majority of the 80’s slasher output were it’s more about the spectacle than the characterisation. Still it doesn’t stop this film from being alot of fun and no doubt why it has become a favourite at midnight screenings and Horror movie marathons, let alone it’s completely bonkers shock ending, which providing someone hasn’t already tipped you off about it, will certainly catch you completely by surprise.

The gore despite being limited thanks to a surprisingly low body count, especially for a film called “Pieces”, let alone the cheeky tagline of

“You don’t have to go to Texas For A Chainsaw Massacre”

were you’d expect the bodies to be piling up, but like the film it cheekily nods to it is pretty restrained, though when you do get a death it is still highly visceral, with limbs being lopped off and bloody wounds comically painting the walls, which only adds to the fun for as graphic as this film get’s it’s aim more for shock and awe rather than trying to disgust the audience, especially with some of the effect looking so comically bad such as the opening axe to the head.

While this film might not be one of better slashers of the 80’s it certainly is not one of the worst, with it’s surreal moments making it a talking point for horror fans and trash cinema aficionados’ since it’s release it and it’s certainly a film which is best viewed with a group, to really make the most out of ribbing on the surreal moments, the sheer number of which making it hard to believe that some of it wasn’t intentional and covers for the numerous flaws throughout and seeing on how many moments work best with an element of surprise, I will recommend that it’s best to watch this film on DVD first, to avoid having them telegraphed by a rabid horror movie marathon and plus it means you can go to that same movie marathon and be a jerk like everyone else. As for director Simón he is not a director who I’ve had a huge amount of experience with outside of “Slugs” (1988), which certainly wasn’t as much fun as this film and despite his questionable talent behind the lens, it hasn’t stopped him building a dedicated fan base and with this film I can understand the appeal a little more than before, even if I’m not quite ready to join his fan base ranks.

Monday, 26 September 2011


Title: Martyrs
Director: Pascal Laugier
Released: 2008
Staring: Morjana Alaoui, Mylène Jampanoï, Catherine Bégin, Isabelle Chasse, Robert Toupin, Patricia Tulasne, Juliette Gosselin, Xavier Dolan-Tadros

Plot: Fifteen years ago Lucie (Jampanoï) was abducted and tortured as a child. Now having tracked down her kidnappers she set’s out with her childhood friend Anna (Alaoui), who also carries her own abuse scars to get her revenge. It’s only when Anna arrives at the house does she start to question her friends actions before discovering a hatch in the basement.

Review: There is a memorable line in David Fincher’s classic thriller “Seven” (1995) uttered by a doctor having who having examined the Sloth victim proclaims

“He’s experienced about as much pain and suffering as anyone I’ve encountered, give or take, and he still has Hell to look forward to.”

And this was the line which came to mind as the end credits rolled on this film as I was left reeling and still unable to comprehend what it was that I had just watched, much less how I was going to write about it. “Matyrs” is anything but a straightforward movie and it is certainly one best going into blind, so once again this is you getting off point for those wishing to experience the film with all its shocks intact, as potential spoilers lye ahead.

Opening with Lucie as a young girl bloodied and running terrified through a derelict industrial estate, Director Laugier wastes zero time in establishing a mood for what is essentially the rest of the film, as Laugier then establishes exactly what she has been though via a mixture of documentary footage taken by the team sent to investigate, aswell as snippets of her therapy which in turn establishes her friendship with Anna and the strong bond that they two girls share, growing out of their status as abuse survivors. Still this is merely the warm up for what is to follow, as Laugier shifts gear and slams on the gas, as the film now becomes an unrelenting nightmare of visceral horror and violence.

Shot almost like two movies cut together, the first half is a pure home invasion / revenge thriller as the now grown up Lucie breaks into what would to be your typical suburban household, as they sit down to breakfast quickly unloading shotgun shells into the family without even any attempt at an introduction or welcome. It’s in the aftermath of this savage attack that Anna re-enters the story, while Lucie seems to be quickly losing her grip on reality having visions of a Lovecraftian style monster which frequently attacks her causing her to mutilate herself as she tries to defend herself. It’s also at this point that Anna begins to also have doubts about her friends sanity, let alone if she has even found the people who had abducted her, especially when the house shows no signs of either of the parents being capable of the acts inflicted upon Lucie as a child. Still it’s the discovery of a mysterious hatch in the basement which marks the start of what could essentially be classed as the second film which is almost a polar opposite of the first half as gone are the frantic cuts and shooting from the hips, to be replaced by tightly framed shots and an almost clinical approach to the screen violence, as the hatch proves to be an almost metaphorical for the secrets the parents have seemingly hidden from their children, continuing normal family life while hiding the real horrors in the basement. Now if you have made it this far into the film and wondered what all the fuss was about, you should perhaps not speak so soon, as it’s the halfway mark were Laugier chooses to really unleash the demons on his audience, as he redefines what unrelenting horror which are only unleashed once the hatch is opened.

Despite being heavy on torture especially for the second half of the film and shocking imagery, “Martyrs” refuses to have the clumsy “Torture Porn” label attached to it, as the savagery on display here isn’t played with any sense of fun, but rather approached with a clinical and sterile approach, as the camera largely plays witness to the acts on offer, only occasionally allowing itself the luxury of a more artsy shot or two including a memorable close up of a dilated iris which in turn morphs into a 2001 Esq. Lightshow to help highlight the deteriorating mental state of the sufferer. Still once the film moves into it’s brutal second half, it is from here that it becomes more a test of endurance and as well as your ability to keep your lunch down and while other films have certainly pushed the boundaries further in terms of gore, but it is still none the more pleasant to sit through, to find out the big answer to what is actually going on and one that seems to divide audience reaction as to if it was worth the trek through hell to find out the reasons behind everything you have just witnessed, especially with Laugier failing in many ways to explore the titular theory perhaps as indepth as some would like or even explain it better to the less well read viewer.

The gore on display here is creative to say the least, with bodies being flung across the room by shotgun blasts to the chest and even a flaying are just two things on the menu, though for the hardened gore hounds nothing that they probably won’t have seen before, despite cries of “The most Violent movie ever made” from the conservative broadsheet reading crowd, but what’s on offer here, easily pales when compared to the likes of “Cannibal Holocaust” (1980) or even more recent releases such as “Frontier(s)” (2007) which certainly pushed the boundaries further and here Laugier seemingly more interested to approach the screen violence with the an unflinching lense similar that used by Michael Haneke for “Funny Games” (1997) were violence was used as part of his exploration of media violence, though it would seem that Laugier isn’t trying to explore such themes, but rather adopting a similar style to ramp up intensity while ensuring that he doesn’t let up on the pressure for a moment. Needless to say as someone who is disgusted by domestic violence, towards the end of the film it became especially tough watching what is essentially a succession of scenes were one of the characters is repeatedly beaten over and over, while being further proof as to why I no longer talk to my parents about the films I review here.

While certainly not the easiest of films to recommend based on the levels of violence and grim subject matter, yet it’s strangely fascinating and gripping at the same time, though the true power will no doubt hit you after the end credits have run, as it’s only then that you mind will find the time to churn over what you have just watched, as Laugier has here created one of the most shocking yet highly original films I have seen in along while, though one to certainly approach with caution.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Also appearing at...

Since I first started writing this blog back in 2009 I have been frequently surprised by the sheer amount of people who love or on occasion have joined me in down right despising some of the films I have written about over the years, while also being truly honored by the support you all have shown this blog since I started out and now you will be able to read even more of my ramblings on cult, foreign and obscure cinema, aswell as pretty much everything in between as I will now also be writing two columns for "Lucy In Da Sky With Diamonds"as part of their plans to build on their Roller Derby stained roots, by not only focusing on nearly every aspect of the sport, but also other fun topics including reviews by yours truly.

The first of these columns is titled "Cinema Obsura" and will be posted every Tuesday focusing on highlighting films like you have seen featured on this blog, while the second will focus on new film releases and will be posted every Saturday.

My first contribution to the site is available now and poses the question

"Is "Thank God It's Friday", the greatest disco movie ever?"

The answer to which can be found by clicking here.

This news however does not the mean the end of this blog, as still having way too much fun writing and hunting down films to write about here, so don't expect this blog to be vanishing anytime soon and once again allow me to thank everyone for their continual support.

Saturday, 17 September 2011


Title: Narc
Director: Joe Carnahan
Released: 2002
Staring: Jason Patric, Ray Liotta, Chi McBride, Lloyd Adams, Stacey Farber, Busta Rhymes, Krista Bridges, Alan Van Sprang

Plot: Eighteen months after his last botched operation, disgraced undercover narcotics officer Nick Tellis (Patric) is brought back in to the force to investigate the murder of another undercover narcotics officer Michael Calvess (Van Sprang), which has after several months still remains unsolved. As part of the investigation Tellis finds himself teamed up with the volatile senior Detective Henry Oaks (Liotta) the former partner of Calvess, as they try to find out the truth behind Calvess’s murder.

Review: When it comes to naming my favourite directors Joe Carnahan is definatly one of the more guilty pleasures on the list, having loved his visceral style of film making which combines eye popping action with whip smart dialogue, which unsurprisingly has in the past lead to comparisons being drawn between himself and the equally awesome Quentin Tarantino, which is no bad thing and no doubt the reason I’ ve been such a big fan of his work, since the first time I saw “Smokin’ Aces” (2006) with this love for his work extended to even the more commercial projects such as his big screen adaptation of “The A-Team” (2010) which he managed to drag out a long mooted development hell.

Building on his earlier short film “Gun Point”, while also drawing heavy inspiration from the documentary “The Thin Blue Line” (1978), Carnahan’s vision is almost like an homage to the likes of “Serpico” (1973) and “The French Connection” (1971) aswell as possibly unintentional echoes of “Training Day” (2001) as he strives for the same level of gritty rawness, shooting his vision of Detroit in washed out greys, while the sky remaining permanently overcast only further adds to the atmosphere.

Despite Carnahan having a reputation for big and loud film making, “Narc” is a very different and much grittier creature altogether, with Carnahan reeling back the big set pieces for smaller but non the less impactful sequences, the first of which he hits us with the moment the film starts, as syringes are filled followed by a disorientating handheld shot chase through a house estate, as a bystander is stabbed by a junkie as Narc officer Tellis chases down his charge ending in a playground shootout in which a heavily pregnant woman is caught in the crossfire, this is gritty side of Detroit that Carnahan has chosen as the canvas for his tale and serves as a suitable warning to the less informed movie goer, that things are only going to get a whole lot darker from this point on and this is one hell of an opener to proceedings, which doesn’t does grab the audience, but instead grabs them firmly by the shoulders, shaking them vigorously and demanding their attention.

Tellis is a character of heavy flaws, having battled drug addiction caused as the result of his undercover work and after his last case which essentially destroyed his career, he only wants to play the family man, rather than return to the force and it’s only after he’s given the promise of a desk job that he takes up the case. Oaks on the other hand is very much the picture of a loose cannon, introduced as he wraps a cue ball in a sock across the skull of a suspect, his unique take on police protocol echoing Tchéky Karyo’s psychotic detective Christini in Dobermann (1997). Still despite being polar opposites to each other they share a mutual respect from the start, while soon demonstrating similar approaches to their work, as their working relationship is far from being a case of good cop / bad cop but rather bad cop and really bad cop, with the ends truly justifying the means for the most part.

The strength of this film is truly with the powerhouse performances from the two leads, with Liotta just edging it over Patric, but then Liotta has always pulled out great performances when working with Carnahan as also seen in Smokin’ Aces (2006) the second of their collaborations, making it partnership I would love to see more from in the future, but it’s his performance here which proves to be his best in quite awhile, as he portrays Oaks as a member of the walking dead aged by the daily horrors and having long lost whatever faith his had in humanity along time ago. Liotta really took his character commitment seriously here and it shows, taking on extra weight for the role aswell as donning a fat suit and prosthetics to help age him further and add to the heavy build his character has, while in some scenes making him looking like a younger Brian Cox. Still despite the frequently violent nature of Oaks he still finds tenderness for his former partner’s family who he has taken on the responsibility of supporting, while seemingly providing his sole link to the rest of humanity. Still the scenes with just Liotta and Patric such as their initial coffee shop meeting fizzle with intensity and presence as they both bounce off each other, with the climax being truly worth the build up and frequent flashbacks that we go through on the journey to uncover the grim truth.

While having a highly visual style Carnahan, also has a great ear for dialogue (aswell as creative uses for the work fuck) and more than happy to drive his story through his dialogue rather than gratuitous action sequences, with the day to day investigations proving just as fascinating as the main case, as the banter between the two detectives adds real depth and character to the scene, including a memorable suspected bathtub suicide which later turns out to be real contender for the Darwin Awards, aswell a great insight into the detective mind of Tellis and his ability to piece together the most seemingly random of clues.

During the film’s production frequent financial issues cropped up, which also saw the production run out of money at one point, leading to Liotta and Patric working for free to keep the production running, while also having a record 21 producers, which meant that the film actually had more producers than it had speaking parts, with Tom Cruise also joining as an executive producer to help give the film a wider audience reach than it would have got normally, but despite this it still sadly remains a largely unseen film. Still this partnership with Cruise would also lead to brief working relationship between Carnahan and Cruise which ended after creative differences on “Mission Impossible 3”, which like the Coen Brothers vision for “Batman” can now only sadly be imagined.

While certainly the most subtle film on Canahan’s C.V, Narc still has many of his classic trademarks and by toning down the action to concentrate on the drama, it only serves to highlight his strengths as a director further, while proving a real treat for those of us who like our thriller with a tar black edge to them, while also worth watching for what could be the best performances from both Patric and Liotta in a long time.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Dark City

Title: Dark City
Director: Alex Proyas
Released: 1998
Staring: Rufus Sewell, William Hurt, Kiefer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly, Richard O’ Brien, Ian Richardson, Bruce Spence, Colin Friels, John Bluthal, Mitchell Butel, Melissa George

Plot: John (Sewell) wakes up naked in a hotel bathtub, his memories erased and a mutilated prostitute on the bed. Soon John finds himself framed for a string of brutal and bizarre murders and on the run from not only the police, but also the strange trench coat clad men known only as “The Strangers” as he tries to piece together his missing memories.

Review: For some reason Alex Proyas seems to constantly be just below the public conscious, which is only all the more strange when you consider the fact that he is not making cult or indie films, but mainly big budget mainstream productions, despite some of these films such as “The Crow” and this film later gaining cult status, despite never intentionally being made for such an audience. Still despite his success he still remains largely under the radar, with his films being better known than the man calling the shots, meaning that frequently little comparison is drawn between his films.

Okay before I go any further, this is a film which I would recommend going into blind, to make the most of it’s highly surreal atmosphere and clever plotting which takes the viewer on a gripping ride through the kafka-esq world which Proyas has crafted with this film which blends elements of Noir with shade of sci-fi to a create a truly potent blend, while this world he has crafted in many ways feels similar to the one seen in “The Crow” (1994) it also has definite shades of Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil” (1985) and Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” (1927) also though to say anymore would risk giving the game away, which I will no doubt do throughout this article so treat this as your step off point, as there is a high risk of spoilers ahead.

Hitting the ground running Proyas gives his audience little time to adapt to the situation being presented to them, as within minutes of John waking up in the bathtub he is receiving a phone call consisting of the possibly insane ramblings of the psychologist Dr. Schreber (Sutherland) who seemingly knows what has happened to John, but Proyas like Dr. Schreber refuses to give the game away this early and instead drip feeds the clues, allowing the audience to only discover things as John does, as he makes his way through Dark City, a city named after the fact that it constantly shrouded in darkness, with none of the residents remembering the last time it was daytime, while movie theatre fronts advertise movies with titles like “The Evil” and “Nightmare” hinting that nothing is quite what it seems.

While John runs around the city piecing together his past and evading the Strangers, whose arrival is normally accompanied with the chattering of their teeth, while they also have the ability to seemingly change the city at will, unaware that his is also being sought by Police inspector Burnstead (Hurt), who is investigating the string of mutilated prostitutes whose murders John is currently being linked to, picking the case up from another cop who seemingly has been driven mad by his investigation into the murders with Burnstead’s investigation only providing further pieces of the puzzle, while also creating a whole bunch of new question, such as what is the significance of the Spirals which the now insane cop obsessively draws, why does John keep being plagued by memories of shell beach or Dr. Schrebers maze experiments? Questions all answered in time but Proyas happily teases out the answers, but certainly to the point of frustrating his audience, a crime that “Lost” was certainly more than a little guilty of.

“Dark City” is packed with colourful and interesting characters, with Proyas assembling a more than capable cast to portray them, with each character introduced seemingly more unique than the last, with this even stretching to the strangers, who although they are uniformed by their flowing dark trench coats, chattering teeth and bald heads, still are easy to distinguish between, with Richard O’ Brian continuing his habit of turning up in the most interesting of places by appearing here as Mr Hand, while proving a truly chilling voice for the strangers until the later introduction of their leader Mr. Book (Richardson), but even then his presence in none the less unnerving whenever he is onscreen.

The art direction throughout is stunning with Proyas using the sprawling cityscape to powerful effect, while pulling the focus in closer to revel the “Brazil” Esq set design with the city designed to appear as a sprawl of concrete and steel, with the sole source of light this city sees coming from the streetlights and strip lights, which only adds to the feeling that this film is essentially a spiritual sequel to it, while also coming across like a forerunner to the “The Matrix” (1999) which was released a year later and would also use some of the same sets, while the constantly changing cityscape can be found as an equal inspiration for “Inception” (2010). Proyas throughout the film constantly seems to be looking for ways to add surreal layers, while the decision to shoot the film in constant darkness, is nothing short of ballsy, especially as it’s far from the easiest conditions to shoot under and Proyas avoids the usual pitfalls this setting creates were usually the audience usually struggles to see what is happening on screen. Proyas also makes the most of the strangers ability to change things within the city, as buildings side into position or rise seemingly from nowhere, as he treats his setting like a giant building set, with the moving building shot like the majority of the film using old school effects and bringing back fond memories for myself of the Pirate Accountants in “Monty Python’s: The Meaning of Life”, while the constantly changing landscape frequently happening shortly after the audience has grown accustomed to the latest layout, while the ability to change the city on whim is also used to hint at hidden powers which John may process himself, yet another intriguing piece of this elaborate puzzle.

“Dark City” is the kind of film designed to inspire much like the films which paved the way to it creating and yet for some reason remains like Proyas under the radar for the majority of movie goers and it’s only more of a shame that we are willing to heap praise upon films such as “The Matrix” and “Inception” for their originality of vision, when they clearly seem to be taking cues from this film, not that the Wachowski’s are going to admit it anytime soon, unlike Nolan who modestly admitted to finding inspiration from this film and its own sources of inspiration while writing “Inception”. Still I’m not sure that I can truly describe this movie, which is a work of such creativity and vision that I’m more than sure that i’m not doing it justice, especially when it is a film best experienced first and then discussed and dissected at length preferably over some really good coffee and that’s what I’m going to now urge you all to do and uncover the secrets of “Dark City” for yourself.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Donkey Punch

Title: Donkey Punch
Director: Oliver Blackburn
Released: 2008
Staring: Robert Boulter, Sian Breckin, Nichola Burley, Tom Burke, Julian Morris, Jaime Winstone, Jay Taylor, Nichola Burley

Plot: Lisa (Breckin), Kim (Winstone) and Tammi (Burley) are three friends on holiday in Mallorca, helping Kim get over a recent break up. A chance encounter with four young men, who in turn invite them back to their yacht to party. Once they get out to sea, a combination of drink, drugs and casual sex, lead to one of the girls being killed by a risqué sex act called the “Donkey Punch”. In the ensuing panic the boys quickly plot to cover up the event, as the surviving girls now find themselves fighting for survival.

Review: Film4 has in the past been responsible for producing some great films in the past few years including “Series 7: The Contenders” (2001), Buffalo Soldiers (2001) and “Shaun of the Dead” (2004), this however is not one of those films.

Plot wise it's one that is far from original and one we have seen more than a few times before and certainly handled better than it is here, were a group find themselves in a tricky situation which only gets worse the more they attempt to get themselves out of it, usually because of bad choices and questionable morality. Here once more those same things are all present only with Director Blackburn attempting to give proceedings a Larry Clarke esq twist, by including gratuitous sex, drugs and nudity only without none of the improvised indie charm which Clarke brings to his films, as Blackburn attempts to build a film on the controversy of death by sexual misadventure, via the titular “Donkey Punch” a risqué sex move involving punching a girl in the back of the neck prior to ejaculation (don’t ask me how people come up with these things) to maximise male pleasure.

It takes record time for the film to setup it’s premise as we are barely fifteen minutes into the film, before the girls are convinced into joining the boys they have just met on a private yacht, were they have been crewing and currently left to look after for the owner and even less time before the girls are busy popping pills and smoking crack with these same guys who they have just met, while Lisa and Tammi are even sooner demonstrating just how loose their personal morals are in a group sex session, which in turn leads to the trigger point of the groups troubles. Now normally from this point you’d expect things to speedily escalate, especially with the guys being worryingly quick in their plotting to cover things up, in a bid to save their personal reputations, while bizarrely confident that they can convince Tammi and Kim to go along with their story, after all they did only just kill their best friend but what hell right? Well from this point things tend to go the opposite way, with the speedy escalation of issues not happening as the film proceeds to grind almost to a halt as Blackburn seems to be almost trying to convince the audience that the girls might possibly go along with such a random plan. Thankfully things get back on track with the girls trying to escape from the increasingly psychotic guys, who in turn begin to fall out between themselves as each begins to question the motives of the other, but even after their first attempt to escape the girls still sit down to a meal with their now captives, rather than attempting to plot another escape plan, while the cover up plan only continues to grow all the more ludicrous the longer the film goes on.

None of the characters are particularly likable with the guys all being for the most part indistinguishable from each other, with the only exception being the knuckle dragging buffoon Bluey (Burke) who is largely responsible for one of the guys attempting to follow up on his boasts of performing the “Donkey Punch”, played here by Tom Burke who is clearly a graduate of the Danny Dyer school of acting, as he mumbles his way through the film and irritated the hell out of me every time he appeared on the screen, to point were his death really could not come quick enough. The rest of the cast outside of Jaime Winstone (Daughter of Ray “The Daddy” Winstone) are all unknowns, though it is hard to say if this is the reason for the performances being so bland or just the lack of characterisation which the script gives them, which seemingly only extends to their libidos and general self preservation.

The soundtrack is honestly one of the most boring things I have heard in awhile and comprises of either chic indie bands, popular dance tracks or the questionable score by François Eudes, who aims for a soundtrack similar to John Carpenters “Halloween Theme”, with a similar repeating rift, only this one goes nowhere and sounds like the cd has got stuck, rather than adding anything to the already minimal tension.

Gore wise things are surprisingly light, especially when Blackburn seems to be quite happy to be as explicit as possibly when it comes to sex and drugs, but seemingly onscreen violence is were he draws the line, with most of the deaths fails to have their money shot, in particular the highly original deaths by flare and outboard motor, both of which fall painfully flat here, especially with the later having no real pay off, especially for the death which was highlighted so frequently in the promotion materials for the film. Still seeing how the film budget didn’t apparently stretch to lighting it makes it pretty hard to see what is going on half the time

“Donkey Punch” is a heavily flawed film, suffering from major flaws such as uninteresting and indistinguishable characterization as well as some truly horrible pacing throughout which only makes what is a relatively short run time an incredibly tedious experience to sit through as despite the curious title, this film is seriously lacking any kind of punch.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

The Host

Title: The Host
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Released: 2006
Staring: Kang-ho Song, Hie-bong Byeon, Hae-il Park, Doona Bae, Ah-sung Ko

Plot: Gang-du (Song) is a slovenly snack bar worker whose ordinary and care free existence is thrown into chaos when a monster suddenly appears from the depths of the Han river, kidnapping his daughter Hyun-seo (Ko) and forcing him to band together with his eccentric family to rescue her.

Review: Despite receiving rave critical reviews upon its release, which saw it making the top ten lists of several critics, including (All mighty film making genius) Quentin Tarantino’s top 20 films released since 92, aswell as being one of the 1000 movies to see before you die. Despite all this praise I was not a fan the first time I saw this film with that opinion hardly changing the second time round, yet the positive reviews for this film continued to bombard me, with the film being frequently a topic of conversation, whenever I spoke to fellow film junkies about Asian cinema and it has since those original viewings made me question my opinion of this film and whether I had missed something that everyone else was seeing with this film.

Following on from the genre bending antics of his second feature “Memories of Murder” director Joon-ho here turns his attention to the Monster movie genre in particular the movies of the 1950’s and 60’s were creatures were frequently the result Radiation from Atomic Bombs or Chemicals (also frequently radioactive), with Joon-ho’s mutated tadpole (yes really) being a result of some 200 bottles of formaldehyde being dumped into the Han river, inspired largely by a scarily similar incident in 2000, were an American mortician working at the Yongsan Military Base, made the dubious decision of ordering his staff to pour 120 liters of formaldehyde down the Morgue drain and while it didn’t spawn any monsters in the Han river, which also serves as the source of Seoul’s drinking water, it did unsurprisingly for this reason spark much Anti-American feeling in South Korea, one of the themes hiding here beneath the B-movie exterior, along with themes of homeland security, pollution and government misinformation, but rather than preaching these opinions Joon-ho instead uses them as vague nods, to help ground his fantastical story into a more believable and easily recognizable and contextual framework.

Rather than play peek-a-boo with his creature or save it’s big revel for the third reel Joon-ho proudly unleashes his monster on an unsuspecting audience with barely fifteen minutes into the film, as he drops it from the Wonhyo Bridge and soon after on the general public lounging on the banks of the Han river, no doubt to down to the advantage of having a half decent monster, which he uses to power effect with a jaw dropping opening rampage shot from a ground level prospective which only further throws you into the ensuing chaos and confusion which erupts, as the monster sets about chowing down on the locals, with the creatures movements scarily lifelike as the creature charges through the panicking crowds, slipping on surfaces and destroying anything which happens to fall in it’s path, while also demonstrating some fantastical gymnastic ability as it swings around bridge beams by it’s tail.

At the centre of this reimagining of the monster movie is Gang-du, whom despite being a lazy bum, also is a dotting father to his feisty seventh grade daughter Hyun-seo, storing a empty noodle cup of coins to buy her a new phone, despite her frequently dismissing his attempts at being a good parent, with Gang-du being seen more as a big brother type figure to her than anything resembling her father, with the elderly Hee-bong (Beyon) struggling to keep his family together, especially with further issues coming from Gang-du’s sister and fading archery champion Nam-joo (Bae) and his brother the former activist turned unemployed College Graduate Nam-il (Park), who despite their individual quirks and strains caused by the lack of cash, they remain faithfully loyal to each other, something especially shown as they are forced to band together as makeshift monster hunters, to rescue Hyun-seo who herself is no damsel in distress, as she proves herself none the less resourceful as she attempts to orchestrate her own escape from the monsters sewer lair. What is special here though is the empathy that Joon-ho manages to extract from the audience, for these less than perfect characters, so that you actually feel for their cause and want to see them succeed even as the odds begin to mount against them, with Gang-du proving to be cinema’s least likely hero, with Joon-ho resisting the urge to pull a role reversal and suddenly turn his slow witted character suddenly into some form of heroic monster slayer, as so frequently seen in films which have come before it, with Joon-ho’s direction keeping all his actions like all the characters true to their individual characteristics.

While Gang-du and his family set out to hunt down the monster and rescue Hynn-seo, the military set about launching their multi-tiered clean up operation, with the survivors from the initial attack being rounded up and quarantined, while armed troops setup road blocks and begin fumigating the streets, in the lead up to the release of the biological agent known as “Agent Yellow” in an attempt to stem the release of a new virus the creature carries, though with the media being taken over and TV showing government hysteria and misinformation, it has to be questioned how much truth there is to the panic of a virus being carried by the creature.

While largely playing things straight Joon-ho still manages several moments of natural humour which add an additional layer of warmth to the family, who are frequently at the centre of these scenes, from Gang-du running behind a fumigation truck to the family surreally collapsing into hysterical mourning at a memorial for the victims of the monsters rampage. Outside of the family unit the film is also populated with humorous including a headphone wearing girl completely oblivious to the monster on a rampage and hordes of screaming people running past her, aswell as the equally amusing hazmat wearing scientist who slips on the floor and tries to cover for it by pretending nothing happened atoll. What is most interesting though is how suddenly Joon-ho switches the tone of the film from humorous to moments of sudden emotion caused by a sudden death, as frequently finds new ways of catching the audience off guard, while also reminding us how effective blood in the rain can look when used correctly much like the power of blood on snow and it’s an effect used to great power here during a pivotal scene.

While “The Host” might be a fun monster movie, but despite all the cleaver touches Joon-ho throws into the mix, it still suffers from a lagging middle section, which upon revisiting the film I now recognise as being the main cause of my frustration on previous viewings and certainly stops me from rating it as highly as other critics, while at the same time I don’t deny that it’s a film still worth watching, just perhaps it’s best watched without the hype and with the expectations built up by exaggerated reviews, for as fun as it is “The Host” is certainly not as essential as most would have you think it is.
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