Sunday, 30 September 2012


Title: Predator
Director: John McTiernan
Released: 1987
Staring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Bill Duke, Jesse Ventura, Sonny Landham, Richard Chaves, Shane Black, Elpidia Carrillo, Kevin Peter Hall

Plot: An elite Special Forces team lead by Dutch (Schwarzenegger) are sent on a rescue mission deep in guerrilla territory in Central America, unaware that his team are soon being hunted for sport by an extraterrestrial hunter.

Review: Another film from Arnie’s Golden period, this time towards the end of this career period, yet still showcasing all the usual trademarks I.E: One liners, cigars and a healthy dose of OTT action sequences, it is also one of my favourite Arnie movies and perhaps only rivaled by “Terminator 2: Judgement Day” for the number one spot, especially seeing how he is shown here at the peak of his career having established himself as a household name for 80’s action, a reputation he more than lives up to here.

Originally inspire by a joke regarding who Rocky would fight next following the release of “Rocky IV” were it seemed that he had run out of earthly opponents and hence meaning his next opponent would have to be an alien. Needless to say this was all the inspiration that writers Jim and John Thomas would need for their debut (aswell as thier best seeing how they would also be responsible for the likes of cinematic trash like “Wild Wild West”) script which was originally titled “Hunter”. Bizarrely Jean-Claude Van Damme was originally cast at the titular predator whose original design was that of an alien ninja, but proved to be a lot more clumsy than the now familiar Predator design created by Stan Winston with additional imput from James Cameron who would be responsible for the new look Predator design gaining a set of Mandibles, with the new design being commissioned after a frustrated Van Damme, tired of overheating in the clumsy original suit head butted a cameraman before storming off set and leaving the door open for  the 7’2 Kevin Peter Hall to take over the role and bringing the new look creature to life, while the voice was provided by Peter Cullen who is probably best known for voicing Optimus Prime and Winnie-the-Pooh’s Eeyore.

The film itself is a classic slice of 80’s action, especially considering that Dutch’s team are supposed to be a covert unit, yet not one of them is armed with a subtle weapon between them from Poncho’s (Chaves) grenade launcher to the memorable Minigun “Ol’ Painless” welded by Blain (Ventura) and in many ways they could be seen as the blueprint for the “The Expendables”, especially with their OTT antics as they clear out a guerrilla encampment, with Arnie spitting out some of his best one liners with nearly each bad guy he dispatches in what is possibly one of his best action sequences ever. Still up until this point the film is very much a men on a mission style movie, which is only given the sci-fi twist after this point with the introduction of the Predator. No doubt its a twist which would have been more effective back when the film was originally released than it is now, were the Predator like the xenomorph’s in “Alien” have become such iconic creations that you would be hard pushed to find someone who is still surprised to see the appearance of the Predator. Still it is a flawless switch in genres as the hunters soon become the hunted, with the technological advances and early nods to the warrior code of the Predator giving the film a nice twist, especially when the group are forced to resort to guerrilla tactics to defeat their foe, after memorably and downright bizzarely exhausting their ammo supplies shooting up a small section of empty jungle, not once to really question what exactly they are supposed to be shooting at in yet another classic moment of 80’s excess.   

This comparison to “The Expendables” can also be carried over to the rest of Dutch’s crew whom are mainly played by action heroes of the era with Weathers, Duke and Landham all having appeared in other 80’s action movies, meanwhile Shane Black who appears as the groups comic relief Hawkins was mainly cast to keep an eye on director McTiernan who’d previously only directed one feature previous to being given this film and whose inexperience in the directors chair worried producer Joel Silver, though ultimately history would show that this would be unheeded especially when McTiernan would go on from this film to direct the equally epic “Die Hard” while Black would use the time to work on his script for “The Last Boy Scout”. Still it would be a real baptism of fire of McTiernan into big budget action movies especially after his misfire of a debut “Nomads”, with the cast and crew having to deal with cold temperatures of the surrounding jungle which required heat lamps to be used at all times, while frequently working on rough terrain. Equally problematic was the new Predator design meaning that Hall was working blind, leading to numerous occasions during the final showdown between Arnie and the predator were he was hitting him in the face by accident. Unsurprisingly Hall would remember the experience as being more of a “survival story” with even McTiernan breaking his wrist during filming.

Unsurprisingly being an 80’s action movie, the gore quota is unrestrained here with skinned bodies hanging from trees, exploding bloody holes shot through characters and a weighty body count (mainly at the hands of Arnie) all being the order of the day. However despite the graphic nature of these scenes, the film is still for the most part largely restrained and only gives the audience its graphic moments when realistically needed rather than just because McTernan can.

What truly makes this film so effective though is the soundtrack composed by Alan Silvestri, whose manages to effectively control the mood throughout with the film using two distinct styles throughout, with Dutch’s team being represented by the heavily orchestral moments of score which holds a processes a real military feel to it, while the predator is represented by heavy tribal drumming whose intensity, frequently grows the closer the creature is and suitably builds a natural sense of tension, with these two styles effectivly being combined when we witness both Dutch and the predator preparing for their final showdown. Still Silvestri's soundtrack would prove to be highly influential and it's influence can still be heard in modern action movies today.

To view the film as a solo entry, it is hard to see how the Predator managed to spawn such a franchise, especially when it works so well as a stand alone film and while they continue to try and find a way to make the Aliens vs. Predator franchise work the Predator films have turned into a fairly decent trilogy and one which can certainly hold its own against the Alien saga, even if if never achieved the same level of scope. Still this film remains a stone cold classic and one of those rare occasions in film making were everything just works. Yes it's loud and dumb....but by god is it alot of fun!!

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Ace Attorney

Title: Ace Attorney
Director: Takashi Miike
Released: 2012
Staring: Hiroki Narimiya, Mirei Kiritani, Kimiko Yo, Takumi Saito, Ryo Ishibashi, Akiyoshi Nakao

Plot: Phoenix Wright (Hiroki Narimiya) is a novice lawyer brought in to first defend Maya Fey (Mirei Kiritani) for the murder of her sister Mia (Kimiko Yo), a case which pits him against expert prosecutor Miles Edgeworth (Takumi Saito), whom he is soon called on to defend when he is charged with murder in a case which will see him having to face the legendary Mandred Von Karma (Ryo Ishibashi) who is yet to loose a case in forty years! However despite seemingly being separate cases Phoenix soon realises that the two cases may be more linked than first appeared.


Review: For one reason or another it seems that the courtroom thriller has become something of a lost artform, or at least a concept which isn’t exactly crying out box office potential or so it would seem to the studio bosses, especially considering how long it has been since we last saw a new addition to this genre. Still thankfully Takashi Miike latest film sets out to resolve this with his latest film which continues to mark out a noticeable change for Miike and the films he is choosing to make, for it would seem as his profile as a director continues to rise that the former L’enfant terrible of Asian cinema Takashi Miike is mellowing with age, something which become more and more clear with each new film he releases, especially having reached the zenith of splatter with the notorious “Ichi the Killer”. Yet despite being responsible for some of the most shocking cinema ever created, this film marks his current interest in moving away from the ultra violence and Triad movies which he crafted his legacy with and his focus on working in other genre’s as here he presents his adaptation of the popular video game “Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney” a film which once again shows that Miike is more than capable of adapting his visual style to any genre he chooses.

Based on the second and forth cases in the game, but rather than trying to make the usual video game adaptation mistake of trying to bring the events of the game into a real world setting, Miike here instead throws us something of a curve ball by giving us a live action version of the game, but changing none of it’s video game styling’s. So cue anime hairstyles, overly dramatic characterisation and court room proceedings like you have never seen before, as evidence isn’t just presented but blown up onto giant holographic images.

Despite the character of Phoenix Wright perhaps not having the instant recognition as a popular video game character, Miike makes the film still highly accessible to those who might not even realise that it is a video game adaptation or folks like myself who don’t own a DS and hence have not played the games, as he instead skilfully combines moments of madcap comedy within the framework of a courtroom thriller. However despite the title, when we meet Phoenix he is anything close to the “Ace Attorney” the title would have you believe he is, for while the prosecutors he faces dress like French noblemen projecting an air of unflappable confidence, Phoenix on the other hand is a lot more green as he frequently finds himself flustered by the prosecution while somehow always managing to amass a mountain of papers on his desk from seemingly nowhere. Yet despite this lack of courtroom experience he is also prone to moment of decisive genius with an eye for the most minute of details, while also receiving perhaps a slightly unfair amount of assistance from the psychic projections of Maya.

These courtroom sequences are far from dreary procedure and tedious statements, as the sci-fi edge of having the evidence shown as projections, which can be easily moved around and enlarged in the courtroom keep things fast paced and easy to follow, especially when the key points of the evidence are blown up to such gigantic scale it’s hard not to realise what is currently the point of focus in the case. Still within the Ace Attorney universe, the courts are inundated with so many cases that the Japanese legal system have turned to carrying out “bench trials” were the two attorneys are given three days to present their cases before a judge, though I’ve no idea whose random it was to have the verdicts appear in huge letters erupting out of confetti explosions!?! Still despite the surreal presentation of the cases they are still surprisingly meaty and genuinely engaging as Miike crafts a convoluted labyrinth of intrigue, surprise evidence and objections, while once again making me wonder why Asian cinema has got such an effective grasp over the use of CGI in it’s films, while Hollywood’s attempts to master this technique still continue to noticeably take the viewer out of the film rather than add to it in any way.

Still clocking in at just over two hours, the film certainly has a generous run time, which feels more than justified here, especially when it is just so much fun to spend time within this world, whether battling cases in court or just hunting for new clues in the case, which usually involves Phoenix encountering one of the random local residents, the majority of whom have been given some form of comical edge, especially when it comes to the madcap antics of Phoenix’s childhood friend Larry (Akiyoshi Nakao). We are also frequently given flashbacks to Phoenix’s school days were it would seem that the Japanese school system likes to promote mock courtroom debates early on, while more amusing is that all the characters dress exactly the same with the only difference being the fact that they are being played by child actors.

For the soundtrack Miike has once again teamed up with K?ji End?, to provide another memorable soundtrack, which takes it’s cues from the game and combining it with newly composed background music which perfectly suits the action and certainly adds the required drama and tension when required, while the colourfully named Japanese group “Porno Graffitti” who previously have provided music for both the anime series “Full metal Alchemist” and “Bleach” and here continue provide another memorable song with the theme song “Spark”.

Ultimately this film manages to combine both elements of courtroom drama with a warm sense of humour, while proving once that Miike is far more than a one trick pony, as he once more surprises us with his range as a director, while loosing none of his visual flair. This is not only a gentle introduction to his film, especially considering the splatter of his early films which made him so popular to begin with, especially with some western fans who will continue to groan with frustration as he moves further away again from his gore soaked roots. However I can safely say that this was one of the few occasions were I feel a sequel to this film cannot come quick enough.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

The Cabin In The Woods

Title: The Cabin In The Woods
Director: Drew Goddard
Released: 2012
Staring: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, Brian White, Amy Acker, Tim De Zarn

Plot: Five friends spending the weekend at a secluded cabin in the woods, soon find out that not everything as it seems, as unaware their every move is being watched by a vast network of puppeteers.

Review: Sometimes it only takes one simple tweak to breathe new life into a well worked genre and this is essentially what makes this film so special as Director Goddard and uber scribe Joss Whedon have done just that, taking the established idea of slow witted teens finding horror in the woods and giving it a completely new spin without trying to reinvent the wheel. True I might be at this point one of the last people to stumble into this film, something which only makes me wish that I hadn’t put it off for so long, but before we get down into the guts of this film, if your like me and put off seeing this film for whatever reason, bewarned that spoilers lie ahead! Okay now you have been duly warned, lets look closer at the cabin in question and the secrets hiding within it’s walls.

Written by Goddard and Whedon, as an attempt to revitalize the horror genre which in their observations had leaned more and more towards torture porn since the success of “Hostel” with Whedon going on record in an interview for “Total Film” stating:

“I love being scared. I love that mixture of thrill, of horror, that objectification / identification thing of wanting definitely for the people to be alright but at the same time hoping they’ll go somewhere dark and face something awful. The things that I don't like are kids acting like idiots, the devolution of the horror movie into torture porn and into a long series of sadistic comeuppances. Drew and I both felt that the pendulum had swung a little too far in that direction.”

Having seen the finished film, it is safe to say that they have achieved this goal, as like Wes Craven did with “Scream” back in the 90’s, they have done here by taking horror back to it’s basics, while at the same time looking at things from a new perspective which in this case is that of the puppet masters controlling or more precisely Richard (Jenkins) and Steve (Whitford), who watch and control when needed what is happening to the group. From their control station these two technicians can control events within the cabin, from simple tricks such as a cellar door opening to releasing pheromones to help loosen the morals of the horny teens. Such self referencing nods are essentially what made “Scream” so successful and to a lesser extent the painfully underrated “Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon” and here it is none the less effective, especially when some of the more clever nods are hidden subtly within the film such as Deadites and Angry Molesting Tree being listed a possible fates on the betting board.

The film construct is well within the usual framework of your typical slasher movie and plays out essentially the same to start with, as our largely clueless teens upset the creepy gas station attendant and set about drinking and partying within minutes of arriving at the cabin and while the usual archetypes are done away with as the group despite seemingly falling within the usual templates are actually quite an educated bunch, with their more questionable moments being more to do with the tinkering actions of the technicians controlling the events. Still the cast who at the time of filming were all largely unknowns, something which had certainly changed by the time film was finally released, but here despite their lack of experience they all manage to sell their roles well.

Despite seemingly low on gore once the real action of the plot starts with the teens unwittingly unleashing a family of torture zombies, in a scene which playfully hints at the other triggers, the outcomes of which thankfully saved for later rather than being left as a mystery, while Goddard focuses more on peeling the layers surrounding the mystery of the cabin, so that by the time the film reaches its conclusion there is no mystery left with nearly everything being brought full circle, rather than setting up any kind of potential franchise and ensuring a solid pay off while containing this world as a satisfying one shot movie. Meanwhile for the gore fans feeling as if they might be getting cheated out in earlier scenes, Goddard more than makes up with it in the finale for as the film gets closer to the final revel he essentially paints the screen crimson and throwing more gore at the screen than I have seen in a long time while at the same time being so gloriously over the top and out of control, it was hard to fight the goofy grin it brought to my face, especially as the sheer inventiveness of Goddard and Whedon is truly unleashed here, with some of the creations making me wish that they were given longer screen time, while also showing a much darker side to unicorns (finally).

For myself the real downside to this film was with its conclusion which ultimately didn’t really feel like the pay off I was hoping for, while only further ensuring that the film is kept as self contained as it is. Still with the ride until this point being as fun as it is, ultimately it comes down to more a question of taste especially as discussing this with other people, no one else seems to mention the ending in any kind of positive or negative context. Ultimately this is smart and entertaining film making which plays on the expectations of the viewers and their established ideas of the horror genre, as it walks the tightrope between embracing and rejecting their established ideals, while poking fun at the current state of horror, while bringing a few fresh ideas of its own, making for a worthwhile watch for both the established horror fans and the more casual movie goer.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

The God of Cookery

Title: The God of Cookery
Director: Stephen Chow
Released: 1996
Staring: Stephen Chow, Karen Mok, Vincent Kok, Ng Man-tat, Stephen Au, Nancy Sit, Lam Suet, Tats Lau, Law Kar-ying, Vincent Kuk

Plot: Stephen Chow (Chow) is the current reigning “God of Cookery” however when he is double crossed by his former staff and rival chef Bull Tong (kuk) and publically humiliated, he finds himself stripped of his title and stripped of his title. Now he must team up with two rival street chef’s Sister Turkey (Mok) and Goosehead (Siu-Kei) to battle his way back to the top and reclaim his title.

Review: Despite bursting into the public conscious with the double header of “Shoalin Soccer” and “Kung Fu Hustle”, Stephen Chow would seem to have drifted back under the radar of most movie goers, so considering that the amazing “Yam Magazine” are holding their YamYum Food Blogathon at the moment, what better time to look at one of his more obscure movies, it’s current status as one of his lesser known films, only makes it more of a shame that this film never received the same distribution that his previously mentioned films did.

Baring all of his usual comical trademarks, “The God of Cookery” is surreal to say the least with Chow combining slapstick, irrelevant musical numbers and his over-the-top “Silly Talk” style of comedy to tell the tale of competitive cookery, which would put even Iron Chef to shame, as ingredients are thrown and prepared in the air, while also boasting a dish called “Pissing Pork Balls” which I’m still not sure is the real name for this dish or just a questionable translation.

Opening with Chow as the reigning God of Cookery, he is shown as a pompous and egotistic, as he reigns down scorn on the dishes belonging to chefs who’d dare to oppose him, while using his title to charge overblown prices for simple street dishes so it’s of little surprise when he gets stripped off his title and is forced to start from scratch as he battles to regain his title, with Chow once more showing his love of ensemble comedy, as he brings together yet another group of misfits to aid him in his battle, including the two rival street vendors Sister Turkey and Goosehead, who agree to put their differences aside in order to help Chow develop his new dish, while equally processing their own random cooking techniques. The idea of the big shot who falls from grace and eventually achieves redemption has frequently been a key theme within Chow’s films and here it used more effectively than ever and while realism is nothing but an afterthought the tone is kept with Chows usual upbeat sense of fun that you won’t care will also no doubt excepting some of the more outlandish moments that appear throughout.

While this film could have just been played out with Chow loosing his title and battling his way to the top and that would have no doubt been more than enough. Still seemingly not content with playing things too straight, Chow instead takes a diversion into Shaolin territory as he trains or more precisely constantly gets beaten up by the Eighteen Brass Monks, as they remake him into a true deity of delectable dishes, while also giving way to a truly insane showdown between Chow and Bull Tong, which not only see’s outlandish cooking movies, but one character being turned into a Dog, ancient gods descending from the heavens and even a little kung fu (or should that be cook fu) thrown in to flavour.

While it might be perhaps a little too full on insane for some tastes, those already established with Chows unique style of humour will no doubt eagerly lap this up, while for newcomers it might just seem all abit too random, especially when it comes to the second half of the film which basically see’s any logic being tossed out of the film completely, but were Chow succeeds is in making it so that the audience never feels the need to question even the most outlandish of moments. True some things might be lost in translation, but here he hits a lot more than he misses and compared to some of the dreck being churned out by the Hollywood studio system, this film is a refreshing and highly original change of pace, while only further reinforcing my love for Hong Kong cinema.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

The WTF Book Club (August): Chemical Pink

It’s time for the first edition of a new feature here on the blog, which will be run in conjunction with “The WTF Book Club” which inturn was born out of the inspiration provided by Jenn over at "Cavalcade of Perversions" who has frequently been making attempts to showcase great cult fiction. The aim of the group being not only to get more people reading but will also help introduce those whose reading consists of more than what's currently in the top 20 list, find some new authors and read books you might not have heard of as over the course of the coming months, we will be looking at books from a wide variety of genres from social satire and horror to Bizzaro fiction and maybe even a few which will that make you stop and say "What the f**k is wrong with this person?", as we feature books by authors like Bret Easton Ellis, Chuck Palahunik, Katherine Dunne, Edward Bunker, Charles Bukowski and more.

For the first selection the group members voted for “Chemical Pink” by Based around Aurora Jeanine Johnson an unwed mother desperate to sculpt a new life--and a new body-- in California were she meets Charles Worthington a wealthy eccentric, with an obsession for female bodybuilders while also rich enough to indulge his every decadent whim and fantasy. Finding his sexual ideal in Aurora he also sees in her the raw material from which he will shape his masterpiece.

“Chemical Pink” is a strange book to say the least, considering that it is really two books seemingly smashed together to create one surprisingly warped tale of obsession, sexual deviance and female bodybuilding, while comparable in many ways to the equally warped world view of Chuck Palahniuk whose name is frequently mentioned whenever anyone discusses this book, especially when he was writing the film adaptation of this book, which was at one time going to be the follow up project for David Fincher after the success of “Fight Club”. Sadly this now is pretty much considered a dead project with Fincher having long since moved onto other projects. Needless to say Arnoldi has remained at best a cult author and for the most people way off the radar of most readers, though as my first introduction to her work it is hard not to draw comparisons to Palahniuk, even if she lacks the black vein of humour which runs through his work, which does have the slightly detrimental effect of making this a much more sleazy read.

Based mainly around Charles and Aurora the story switches focus throughout between these two characters, while also making a slight and ultimately meaningless diversion to follow Aurora’s daughter Amy, whose view point only seemingly serves to further the idea of how obsessed Aurora is with her bodybuilding and her desire to be the best. Aurora is shown as the naive country girl brought to the big city with the prospect of making it in the bodybuilding big leagues, a goal which she pursues with religious devotion even at the cost of her child, whom now lives with Aurora’s mother. Still despite her efforts she is still struggling to make it and as a result it leads her to meet Charles, who might seem like another muscle fetishist, yet it soon becomes clear that this is really just a cover for his real perversions which are frequently nothing short of twisted, let alone the fact he is also carrying a whole heap of mummy issues and an obsession with sculpting the perfect specimen, no matter what the cost as especially seen as he turns Aurora into a guinea pig of sorts, as he teams up with trainer Henrik to help him fulfil his vision.

Originally starting off as a story about Charles, Aurora and her daughter Amy or so Arnoldi states in her authors note, with the bodybuilding aspects only being added later, I can’t help but feel that this would have been a much weaker book had that been the case, especially when non the characters we encounter are particularly likeable with Arnoldi making little attempt to improve on this, as the reader is frequently left feeling like they are nothing but ghosts in this world, only looking inwards but never truly involved in the lives of these characters. Meanwhile Arnoldi an enthusiast of body building in real life, she talks a lot about her research methods for the book in her authors note, which would explain the frequently clinical nature in which she approaches many of the bodybuilding sections, especially when she reels off drug names and body building supplements, with the same glee that Bret Easton Ellis does with brand names, only here she makes it seem ultimately cold and impersonal almost as if she was just regurgitating her research notes. 

The other main problem here is that we never seem to really go anywhere with the final competition, coming off anticlimactic almost as if she got bored and just decided to end the story suddenly, especially when the build up has you under the false belief that it is just the first of several competitions you expect to get, but never receive. What we do get though is copious amounts of deviant and unerotic sex, which only further highlights what a secondary thought the bodybuilding aspects were and perhaps only included so that Arnoldi could justify Aurora's character, which in an erotic novel context would only be heavily questioned. Meanwhile the bodybuilding parts are almost as shocking as some of the random OTT sex acts desired by Charles. Even more so when you consider how based on fact they are, especially when parts of the training regime are hard to distinguish from another of Charles's games which for myself brought back memories of the movie (and New French Extremity benchmark) "Martyrs". Yet reading reviews from bodybuilders who have read this book they all keenly note the accuracy of these scenes, even though Arnoldi chooses a grotesque viewpoint to show them from making it more of a horror show than a shining endorsement for the pursuit of the body beautiful.

While it might be easy to draw comparisons between Arnoldi and Palahunik, especially when they both choose to bring a warped world view to a society sub-culture, it is a comparison as lazy as comparing “The Wire” to “Braquo” on the basis that they are both gritty cop shows and even more so when she processes none of the talent, nor the black humour which makes Palahunik’s books so enjoyable. As my first introduction to her work I can hardly say that it has me rushing out to hunt down her other books, while it’s meandering plot frequently clinical prose, make this a slightly less gripping tale of obsession than first expected. 
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