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.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011


Title: Kickboxer
Director: Mark DiSalle, David Worth
Released: 1989
Staring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dennis Alexio, Dennis Chan, Michel Qissi, Steve Lee, Rochelle Ashana, Haskell V. Anderson

Plot: When Kurt Sloane’s (Van Damme) brother Eric (Alexio) is crippled by undefeated champion Tong Po (Qissi), forcing Kurt to seek out a reclusive trainer Xian Chow (Chan) to train him in the art of Muay Thai, so that he can get his revenge against Tong Po

Review: Released a year after the epic “Bloodsport” (1988), “Kickboxer” is another key title in the Van Damme back catalogue, even if it is more or less the same story as “Bloodsport” with Van Damme fighting in another foreign tournament, while essentially being another showcase for the abilities of Van Damme, whom is shown here in his prime as he spends pretty much the whole film running through various training montages in the lead up to the final showdown with Tong Po and that is actually all this film is, which makes it unique in the fact that Directors Di Salle and Worth arn’t trying to cram in any of the usual questionable side plots which tend to show up these films, which for those of you not enthralled by a young Van Damme running through training routines might find this one more than a little tiresome.

Van Damme seen here as Kurt is very much an innocent character in a change from the usual cocky young bucks that Van Damme liked to play in the early part of his career though it would seem the directors would like to think this has something to do with his mother making him take Ballet lessons and Kurt's inital reaction when they fly out to Thiland is to be shocked by the violence of the Thai kickboxing circuit, unlike this brother the reigning American champion and general egotistical jackass and assuming because he is the U.S champion that it applies to fighting in Thiland as well completly ignoring the fact that they invented the sport, much less that he shows up without the slightest bit of research into how they fight and unsurprisingly gets his ass handed to him by Tong Po, in what seems to be the most one sided fight ever and serves to only make Tong Po all the more of a ruthless badguy, let alone the fact that we are introduced to him training by kicking a concrete pillar, which to most people might be enough of a warning to perhaps sit this fight out. Still despite being confined to a wheelchair, it seems that it doesn’t make Eric any less of a dick, as randomly gropes nurses and generally sulking when there isn’t an attractive female to hit on, but I have to ask if his mullet and moustache combo was ever a good look even back in the 80’s?

Having been put on the path of revenge, it’s not long before Kurt teams up with the eccentric trainer Xian, who not only gets all the best lines in the movie, while having a highly questionable training regime which ranges from the traditional scenes of Kurt running through punch and kick combos, to the more random moments such as Xian dropping coconuts onto the torso of Kurt, while also having him kicking a tree until his leg breaks, while the best of these being when he get’s Kurt drunk at the local bar before having Kurt demonstrating his...well shall we say limited dancing skills (apparently he didn’t learn much from those ballet lessons), while unbeknown to Kurt taunting the local gangsters to attack Kurt who is left to defend himself against them while clearly not having a clue as to why everyone keeps trying to attack him.

When it comes to baddies in Van Damme movies Tong Po was interestingly named number two in a recent article over on the underated “The Jaded Viewer” and it’s easy to see why, for all although he’s not as monstrous as Bolo Yeung’s Chong Li in “Bloodsport”, Qissi is still imposing with his long braid and manic eyes, let alone how confidently he holds himself in the ring, doing anything it takes to win his matches, while caring even less for sporting behaviour especially when he kicks out the towel thrown in by Kurt before then crippling Eric, though seeing how much of a jerk Eric is I think we all were hoping that he took him out permanently. Still Tong Po cares little for Westerners who it would seem much like his gangster bosses who have just as much contempt for the westerners, especially when they dump Eric and Kurt on the sidewalk after the match, but essentially these are cardboard thin villains at best and might as well be shown kicking puppies for how subtle the characterisation is here.

The fight scenes are all pretty great, with Van Damme choreographing these scenes to great effect, while the fact that all the fighter were professional fighters before they became actors, with Alexio a former American Kickboxing champion, while Qissi was a long term training partner for Van Damme, with Qissi helping Van Damme to train for his role in “Bloodsport” and certainly proves himself capable of holding his own against all comers. The climatic showdown between Kurt and Tong Po, gets another level added to it by having the two opponents wrapping their fists in hemp, dipped in resin and then covered in broken glass in a scene frequently talked about amongst Van Damme fans, despite the fact that neither of them causing as much damage as you’d expect from such a stipulation, but it’s a nice dramatic touch which adds to drab setting for such a climatic showdown, by which point any conceivable thing that can be done to make Tong Po and baddies seem even more evil is thrown into the mix, with Tong Po (unnecessarily) raping Kurts girl friend and even (Equally unnecessarily) stabbing Xian’s dog in an attempt to throw Kurt off his fame and generally seem more evil!

“Kickboxer” is very much a flawed film, especially when it is essentially a one thread story of a man’s quest for revenge and the path is takes him down and essentially giving you the kind of movie the title suggests. Nostalgia for 80’s action films like this one has meant that many reviewers seem to view it with some kind of nostalgic haze, but compared to “Bloodsport” outside of some decent fight scenes and the training montages the parts which fall between, are frequently bland and uninteresting, which can be also said for most of the supporting cast with the character of Eric no doubt being alot more effective had he been killed off rather than crippled, at least that way it would have not only potentially added alittle more emotional depth, while also saving the audience from having to endure Alexio’s sulky performance.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Mortal Kombat

Title: Mortal Kombat
Director: Paul Anderson
Released: 1995
Staring: Robin Shou, Linden Ashby, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Bridgette Wilson, Christopher Lambert, Talisa Soto, Trevor Goddard, Chris Casamassa,

Plot: Once every generation, there is an interdimensional martial arts tournament held, known simply as Mortal Kombat and designed to limit invasions between the realms. Having won the last nine tournaments, the realm of Outworld and now only need to win one more tournament to allow it’s Emperor Shao Kahn to invade and conquer Earth Realm. Now Shaolin warrior Liu Kang (Shou) seeking revenge against the tournament host Shang Tsung (Tagawa) for the death of his brother, joins the other fighters picked by Raiden (Lambert) The God of Thunder to face against Shao Kahn and the warriors of Outworld in a last bid attempt to save Earth.

Review: Regular readers of the blog will probably know already of my love for the “Mortal Kombat” series and it seemed about time that I actually reviewed the film I consider to be my ultimate guilty pleasure.

Video Game adaptations have in the past (with usually good reason) been frequently greeted with much critical distain and despite Uwe Boll having spent the majority of his career making a vast number of the horrible adaptations there have been to date, which only makes this all the more special let alone the fact that it broke the chain of bad video game adaptations when it was released after the legendry flops “Super Mario Bros.” (1993) and “Street Fighter” (1994) the later of which Jean Claude Van Damme ironically choose to do instead of this film, which unlike those two is awesome! Were this film succeeds were the others failed, is by Director Anderson taking the key ideas from the game and giving them his own twist in almost the same way that was attempted with “Mortal Kombat: Rebirth” only Anderson is instead applying those same ideas to a traditional Kung Fu format, while keeping the more fantastical elements to a minimum while still finding a way to make such trademark elements such as the fantastical fighting styles of the outworld fighters like Scorpion and Sub Zero

The other strength here is by limiting the characters to those from the first game, while other video game tie in’s got bogged down with trying to work in everyone’s favourite characters, something especially memorable from the mess which “Street Fighter” became by trying to include every single character and while “Mortal Kombat” throws in several original creations such as Art Lean (Edwards), while the tournament setting allows for these characters to be introduced and serve their purpose before being handily disposed of. Infact the format perhaps works alittle too well seeing how after the first quarter when the Trio of Liu Kang, Movie star Johnny Cage (Ashby) and Sonya Blade (Wilson) arrive on the island, it is essentially fighting from that moment on with little or no break between each sequence, but this what we as fans want to see, rather than clumsy attempts to add depths to what are at their best, as much as we want to deny it are little more than paper thin caricatures, which is fine for the purpose they serve in the video game world and it’s because of this same reason that other attempts to adapt games frequently fail, as directors try to either stick too close to the source material or take it too far from this material so that it alienates even the most hardcore of the fanbase. Anderson would later take his skill of adaptation to the “Resident Evil” franchise eventually taking it in a completly new direction than the games, forming a franchise which currently shows no signs of slowing down, as seen by the success of the recent forth entry in the series “Resident Evil: Apocalypse”, despite the film not exactly bringing much to the Zombie genre they frequently emulate, other than a series of entry level zombie movies, before their fans move onto the more legendry films of George Romero and in way the same thing could be said for “Mortal Kombat” which is almost like an entry level movie for the Kung Fu genre, aswell as a thinly veiled adaptation of “Enter the Dragon” only with the added bonuses of multi armed mutants and soul stealing sorcerers.

The action scenes are all handled well with even the non martial art trained amongst the cast, such as Ashby and Wilson both coming across as convincing martial artists, with the majority of them being handled by Shou, who surprisingly would fall off the radar after this film, which only makes it more of a shame he wasn’t seen in similar roles, with his star pretty much dropping after this films release. All the fighters show off their trademark moves with some such as Scorpions spear and Johnny Cage’s package punch are all accounted for, while Goro is pretty much a perfect adaptation from his video game persona and only benefits further from being an animatronics creation, especially when you look at the seriously dated CGI used to create Reptile, which I remember being alot more impressive the first time I saw this film, but then the same could also be said for “The Lawnmower Man” (1992). Still unlike the CGI the techno heavy soundtrack still kicks ass, with the opening theme perfectly setting the tone for the fun which follows.

The big surprise here is the lack of gore, especially seeing how the Mortal Kombat series are some of the most violent fighting games ever made and while I wasn’t expecting to see Sub Zero performing his fatality of tearing off an opponents head and spinal cord, it is still a tricky game to adapt faithfully enough to stay in tune with what fans have come to expect from the series. Still it does manage to throw in a few surprises in this stake, much like the surprise appearance of the games memorable “Pit” stage and the gory demise of Reptile but its still all fun times even without the gory extremes of the game, but then Anderson it’s also worth remembering is the same director who gave us a gore free zombie movie (See: Resident Evil).

As much as other critics have blasted this flick in the past, frequently trying to lump it in with Street Fighter and while admittedly the humour can seem alitle forced in places and it’s sequel “Mortal Kombat: Annihilation” is utter garbage, this still remains a great film. Even now as I try to look at it through a more critical viewpoint, rather than the rose tinted glasses of childhood nostalgia and it did also spawn “Mortal Kombat: Conquest” a great TV show which is still in need of a decent DVD release and while the intregring “Mortal Kombat: Rebirth” has now sadly drifted away from its intriguing “Dark Knight” style reimagining into more familiar territory after being turned into "Mortal Kombat: Legacy", proving once more that studio exec’s really don’t know shit.

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