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.
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