Tuesday, 26 February 2013

For Your Height Only


Title: For Your Height Only
Director: Eddie Nicart
Released: 1981
Staring: Weng Weng, Yehlen Cathral, Carmi Martin, Anna Marie Gutierrez, Beth Sandoval, Max Alverado, Mike Cohen, Tony Ferrer, Jim Gaines, Rodolfo ‘Boy’ Garcia, Romy Nario, Ruben Ramos

Plot: When Mr. Giant kidnaps the brilliant scientist Dr. Van Kohler (Cohen), in a bid to get his hands on the N-Bomb, superspy Agent 00 (Weng) is despatched to stop him.

Review: Possibly one of the better known Filipino genre movies no doubt largely in part to it’s 2’9 leading man and cult figure Weng Weng, with this film being possibly his most well-known. So with Emily (Deadly Doll's House of Horror Nonsense) looking at “The Man With The Golden Gun” as part of her 3rd Annual shortening. A full month of films devoted to the vertically challenged, be they dolls, trolls, spiders, monkey butlers, bratz, cats and more! What better time to revisit this shall we say unique film.

Setup exactly the same as the Bond movies it spoofs even shamelessly using the Bond Theme, with the title being a deliberate (and not to say obvious) play on “For Your Eyes Only” which was released the same year as this film, so hence we Dr. Van Kohler is kidnapped by the forces of evil, which in this case look like pretty much every other generic crime movie gang even to the point where they don’t even bother with an actual name for their organisation, though they do have a magic mirror which flashes on and off and serves as their sole source of communication with the illusive Mr. Giant. Still despite kidnapping Dr. Kohler it is still pretty confusing what their actual goal is  seeing how at one point it seems to be about flooding schools with drugs hidden inside loafs of bread, which is kind of a questionable plan seeing how kids don’t usually have access to large amounts of cash to buy drugs, which no doubt explains why they then change I to threatening the world with the N-Bomb, a device which is not only explained as to what it actually does, but never appears on screen and seemingly exists in name only.

While the villians attempts at actually villainy might be shall we say slightly unfocused, at least when it comes to the character of Agent 00 it is alittle more on target, as he is introduced in classic Bond style, lounging around the pool with a couple of bikini clad ladies, as despite his short stature he certainly never seems to have any problem with the ladies especially as he gives even Bond’s seduction skills a run for their money over the course of the film. Equally like Bond, Agent 00 has his own set of gadgets which are introduced via possibly the most vague gadget briefing ever, as he is passed the gadgets often with only a brief outline of what they do or in some cases such as his x-ray glasses no information atall other than “Pretty Cool, Huh?” as Agent 00 just gives a knowing smile. It is actually kind of handy that he knows what half of these things do as the audience is certainly never filled in, often only finding out when he uses them for the first time. The gadgets he is given, though seem like such a mixed bag, while frequently there to give another knowing nod to Bond, as Agent 00 not only gets his own “Thunderball” style jet pack but also a remote control hat seemingly modelled after Oddjob’s bowler hat from “Goldfinger”, only with non of the same deadly potential as this hat just floats around in front of the bad guys, who due to their pathetically cowardly nature are intimidated enough by this cheap effect of a hat on a string to just run away, leaving me now with the belief that flying hats are clearly a lot scarier to Filipino gangsters than the rest of the world!

Such randomness seems to come as standard with the majority of Agent 00’s gadgets, meaning that we gets scenes such as when he uses his x-ray glasses, which not only allow him to see the bad guys hiding in his hotel room, but also them naked seeing how x-ray works only on fabric and not actual human skin. Agent 00 also has his own mini PPK style pistol aswell as a quick assembly mini machine gun, yet when neither is available to hand, he never seems to have trouble finding a miniature weapon nearby, as seen during the climatic raid on Mr. Giant’s island hide away were he takes on a number of samurai warrior armed with a mini Katanta which seemingly appears out of nowhere. Needless to say either without his weapons he is just as capable with his martial arts skills, which are surprisingly nimble with the scenes were he gets to show off these skills, actually being one of the better handled and more coherent of the film, which randomly skips between random scenes on almost the same whim that “Sister Street Fighter” memorably did. Considering that Weng Weng was an avid martial arts enthusiast it is unsurprising hat these scenes are handled a lot better than most of the film, as he showcases not only surprising speed, but also a Jackie Chan style fluidity even as he utilises his surroundings frequently to his advantage, much like his height which seems to be a real weakness for the gangsters he faces, who frequently seem to be overwhelmed in these confrontations.

The real humour of the film though is with the questionable dub track, which it is hard to tell if it is supposed to be so intentionally funny or something which was added later in distribution. Either way it contains such gems as

"You're such a tiny little guy, though. Very petite, like a potato".

"why, he's making a monkey out of the forces of evil"

Or my personal favourite which is said in reference to a crime scene photographer

"I wonder if she does Bar Mitzvahs".

As I said it is hard to tell how much is planned, especially when the film features so many moments of physical comedy, such as a running joke about Agent 00 banging his head while sliding across the floor.

For all the randomness in the film, it is really a credit to Weng Weng that it is actually as watchable as it is, as he owns the character of Agent 00, as he confidently struts around n polyester suits and turtlenecks, often wearing sunglasses which almost cover his entire face, while making even somehow making more random moments of the film slightly more plausible than they could have been, no doubt thanks to his own abilities as an actor / martial artist and the end result despite the obvious budget restraints is the sort of enjoyable nonsense that you hope to find when hunting down these kinds of movies and while it is certainly not a lone example of dwarf-sploitation (if that’s the right term) with films like “The Terror of Tiny Town” and to an extent “Electra Glide In Blue” being other key examples, while Weng Weng would go on to make a sequel to this film “The Impossible Kid” aswell as the western “D’Wild Wild Weng” before his star began to fade, while this still remains one of the better and certainly more fun examples of the genre.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

American Mary

Title: American Mary
Director: Soska Sisters
Released: 2012
Staring: Katharine Isabelle, Antonio Cupo, Tristan Risk, David Lovgren, Paula Lindberg, Clay St. Thomas, John Emmet Tracy, Twan Holiday, Paul Anthony

Plot: Mary (Isabelle), a medical student and aspiring surgeon finds herself increasingly more in debt and disenchanted with the surgical world she once aspired to be part of. However when a chance encounter provides her with an alternative use for her surgical skills as she now enters into the world of underground surgeries and body modification.

Review: Since the release of their 2009 debut “Dead Hooker In A Trunk” I have been keen to see how the Soska Sisters (Jen and Sylvia) would follow it up, especially with its unrestrained neo-grindhouse style certainly making it a hard film to follow up especially when it had such a frenzied energy to it. Still there was something clearly there which marked the Soska sisters out to myself as a talent worth watching and here it would seem that it was a hunch which paid off, as they return with a film which while less frenzied and more glossy looking than their debut only further marks them out as names worth watching, even more so when you consider how over populated the horror genre has become in recent years, with pretenders and questionable talent that it is actually refreshing to see that there are still genuinely original talents still working in the genre, something which is only driven home here.

Opening with Mary suturing a turkey,  a transfixed look of fascination on her face as she practises her surgical skills, while in the classroom room proving herself as the unquestioning protégé of her mentor Dr. Grant (Lovgren), whose own ethics are questionable to say the least, as he sends Mary to advise a patients family that they have suffered a heart attack, before sending her back out moments later to inform them that he is actually dead. This is of course before he revels his true colours during a date rape party held by several of the senior doctors at the hospital, in which they prey on the young female student doctors who have been unwittingly invited. This creepily haunting scene however is not about cheap shocks, but rather the catalyst for Marys journey to the dark side, as soon thanks to shady club owner Billy (Cupo) and stripper and Betty Boop lookalike Beatress she soon finds a whole new use for her surgical skills.
It is on this new path that we are soon introduced to a different kind of clientele whom Mary now chooses to operate on, as she ditches medical school for the underground surgical trade, with her clientele certainly coming with their own specialised requests from living doll Ruby who is keen to complete her doll transformation through to a pair of twins (played by the Soska sisters themselves) who want to swap arms with each other. Despite the increasingly bizarre demands of her clients, she never views any of them with distain of any kind of judgement, instead only seeing them as being the next challenge for her surgical skills and while she is initially thrown wide eyed and apprehensive into this underground world of body modification she soon quickly adjusts to what she sees and the requests of her clients so that eventually nothing fazes her, while the sole time she any repulsion is when a guy walks into her surgery and requests something as simple as a piercing.

Shot in mainly dark shades with a healthy dose of black humour in the right places, this film is very much in the same dark landscape which Clive Barker frequently lurks, yet the Soska sisters are seemingly just at home in this same setting which perfectly suits the tone of the film, especially as Mary becomes increasingly more involved in this underground world and her initial reservations melting away as she turns herself into a creature of gothic beauty. Needless to say despite being influenced this is still very much in the Soska’s vision much like so many of their other influences that are subtly referenced throughout.

Isabelle is perfectly cast in the role of Mary, who she seems to be channelling her inner Zooey Deschanel to play, which for myself only made her all the more appealing, while Isabelle who had already established her horror credentials with “Ginger Snaps” and “Ginger Snaps” unleashed (to name but two) is easily at home here, especially during the occasionally gooey surgical scenes, while once she fully evolves into her underground surgeon persona, she is like a shark both beautiful to watch as she operates in high heels and suspenders, yet equally deadly as those who cross here soon discover, especially when she truly revels just how black her dark side really is. For the most part this is a one woman show, while Isabelle handles effortlessly, while at the same time she receives equally strong support from the rest of the cast who all come with their own memorable moments from the cooing and permanently perky Beatress right through to her bear-like assistant / bodyguard Lance (Holiday) who while largely mute and played like a disposable background character  for the majority of the film, pulls out of a blinding surprise monologue in one of the many surprise moments within the film.

While the setup might be off putting to the more squeamish the Soska’s have actually resisted the urge to throw the film into full blown splatter, for while there is some surgical gore it largely kept to a minimum while during a particularly heavy moment, the camera actually pans away, as if disgusted by what is happening on screen. While this might seem like all tease and no pay off, it is actually the opposite as never do you feel like you have been cheated out of seeing anything, while one of Mary’s pet projects brought back memories of Takashi Miike’s “Audition” though how intentional this nod was is hard to tell, especially when the Soska are working with such an original voice, even more so when they avoid the usual pitfalls of setting a film within the body modification community, by not mining it for easy shocks or turning it into the usual willy waving contest of being more fucked up than everyone else, as usually tends to be the case as even a casual glance through a copy of “Bizarre Magazine” will only further highlight.

While “Dead Hooker In A Trunk” might have been an exciting debut, this film truly marks the Soska sisters out as a talent to watch, especially when they bring such an original voice to the horror genre as they prove once more here, with this delightfully dark and twisted tale of personal beauty and surgical perfection.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Ruby Sparks


Title: Ruby Sparks
Director: Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton
Released: 2012
Staring: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Elliott Gould, Chris Messina, Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas, Steve Coogan, Alia Shawkat

Plot: Calvin (Dano) a struggling young novelist and writing prodigy, who after being launched into superstardom with his first novel, now finds himself plagued with writer’s block while working on the follow up. Unwittingly though he manages to bring his latest character Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan) to life, whom he soon embarks on a relationship with having based her on his dream girl, only to find that even the seemingly most perfect girl can be less than perfect.

Review: Despite releasing the wonderful “Little Miss Sunshine” to critical acclaim it has taken another six years for us to finally receive this follow up from the husband and wife directing duo who truly established themselves as an original voice of indie film making with their debut feature, especially after having spent the early years of their career directing music videos for the likes of “R.E.M.” and “The Smashing Pumpkins” and it was great to see them able to carry their unique visions into feature film making and something which thankfully still remains here, while Zoe Kazan who appears here as the titular Ruby makes her own writing debut with a non the less confident voice.

Bizarrely the script was inspired by a random combination of a discarded mannequin and the Greek myth of “Pygmalion” the sculptor who fell in love with a statue he had carved. Working with the equally imaginative Faris and Dayton they have together crafted here a highly unique rom-com of sorts via the way of “Stranger Than Fiction” which is also looked at the idea of fiction shaping reality, something which especially comes into play during the second half of the film when Calvin realises that he can still shape Ruby’s character with a few keystrokes on his typewriter, he can make her speak fluent French or even change her personality completely. While portrayed in the trailers as a light hearted rom-com, the film also hides a much darker side, especially once Calvin starts adjusting her personality to smooth over the things he doesn’t like, as he makes her more clingy and carefree before finally taking out an unnerving dominant side on her, as he further enforces just how control he is of her life, while his performance during this scene means that I won’t surprised if we see him playing a serial killer in the near future

Right from the start though this film just oozes indie cool, as you realise that this film could only have been made as an indie film, as it requires the level of subtlety that this film brings to the table, even go so far as to not complicate the sudden arrival of Ruby nor the rules of her existence. Honestly I don’t even think they explain how she came to exist in reality, but rather the film takes the tact of throwing the idea out to the audience and challenging them to go along with it, which thanks to how engaging these characters are is never a problem, even if Faris and Dayton do give into convention for the ending which seemed perhaps a little more traditional than I would have expected from this film, which seemingly has it’s ending only to tact a happier one on top of it.

Both Dano and Kazan give amazing performances here and despite being an off screen couple, manage the not so easy feat of showing real on screen chemistry, with both actors playing off each others performances well, with Faris and Dayton reuniting here with Dano convincingly  playing the fumbling and reclusive literacy prodigy, who spends his days walking his dog Scotty (named after his favourite author F. Scott Fitzgerald), pottering around his minimalist LA apartment or sitting in front of his classic typewriter crippled with the pressures of producing a second novel and whose only real connection to the outside world being through his therapy sessions Dr. Rosenthal (Gould) or gym sessions with his brother Harry (Messina) who is essentially the complete opposite of Calvin as he exudes confidence and generally lives the life which Calvin wishes he could have. Kazan here embodies the character the character of Ruby, not only in her quirky original form, but also as she is gradually changed by Calvin over the course of the film, embodying each change with an air of indie cool so that you truly believe that Calvin is changing and reshaping her personality with the keys of his typewriter.

While Faris and Dayton hit casting gold with their leads, this luck also extends to the supporting cast aswell with Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas, proving a fun addition as Calvin’s hippy mother and her boyfriend, whose carefree lifestyle sits in direct opposition to the organised and high stress life Calvin currently finds himself in. Elsewhere Steve Coogan puts in a fun cameo as Calvin’s writing rival and friend Langdon Tharp, as does indie favourite Alia Shawkat who puts in a far to brief appearance as Calvin’s obsessed fan Mabel.

A film which falls between “Stranger Than Fiction” and “500 Days of Summer”, it is one which proves that you can make a rom-com without having to drown proceedings in saturnine sweetness and a top 40 soundtrack especially with the film favoring a decidedly classical soundtrack. At the same time the film also proves that you can make an enjoyable film with some element of mystery to it, without fear of excluding the majority of your audience more used to having every plot point expanded and explained in its simplest terms. Although to some Faris and Dayton might seem like indie film making tourists with their by the book style and certain restraint in pushing conventions too far, this film does continue to highlight them as talent to watch, only heres hoping that the wait won’t be so long for the next film.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Empire Records

Title: Empire Records
Director: Allan Moyle
Released: 1995
Staring: Anthony LaPagila, Maxwell Caulfield, Debi Mazar, Renee Zellweger, Rory Cochrane, Johnny Whitworth, Robin Tunney, Ethan Embry, Coyote Shivers, Brenden Sexton III, Liv Tyer, James “Kimo” Wills, Ben Bode

Plot: Set over the course of one truly manic day as a group of employees at the independent record store “Empire Records discovers that the store is to be turned into a franchise store called music town, leading the employees to band together to save the store.

Review: As I noted with my previous post, this film is something of a time capsule for those of us who could be classed as being part of the MTV generation, not only in terms of its soundtrack but the whole styling of the film, let alone the fact it is about working in a record shop, something which I doubt holds the same appeal it did back when the film was released, especially with the rise of ITUNES and online music providers having effectively killed of the high street record stores. No doubt had this film been released now it would no doubt have them as Amazon staffers or something, much like how Peter Parker now works as a web designer in Spiderman than as a freelance photographer.

Still to watch this film you would still belive that working in a record store is still the cool career it was back then, with the script by Carol Heikkinen being based on her experiences working at the long since defunct Tower Records, which for the most part helps bring a sense of realism to the script, as anyone who has worked in retail can no doubt attest to, even if she bizarrely opts to not include any problem customers unlike “Clerks” which choose to make them very much a central theme. As a result it would seem have a job at "Empire Records" to be the most fun and laid back job in the world especially when manager Joe (LaPagila) for the most part has a pretty lax attitude towards his staff work attitude, only occasionally coming out of his office to put one of them back in line. The rest of the time the employees generally manage things themselves, even dishing out their own vigilante style justice when it comes to hunt down wannabe shoplifter Warren (Sexton). However despite this they still have formed between them an alternative family unit, despite being wildly different from each other and here it would seem that Joes’ real role in the store comes into play as he acts for the most part like the resident father figure, even more so for some of the group who openly confess to missing parental figures, while there is a real sense that without the store and each other that these assorted misfits would be ultimately lost.

Over the course of the film the group all have their own issues to deal with which generally are the typical teen movie fodder with A.J. (Whitworth) trying to find a way to tell Corey (Tyler) that he loves her, while Corey is on her own quest to loose her virginity to her crush Rex Manning (Caulfield), the fading and pompous pop star who is holding a signing at the store to promote his new album. Elsewhere and on the more extreme end of things is Deb who following her failed suicide attempt has randomly decided to shave her head. However this is not all recycled after school special and “Saved By The Bell” plotlines, as the resident oddball Mark (Embry) keeps the tone light with his sudden desire to form a band called “Marc”, while having the appearance of a kid with hyperactivity on a sugar binge as his generally sunny disposition never seems to waver, even when on the wrong side of a pot brownie trip in which he is rocking out with “GWAR” only to be then fed to their giant worm thing. Equally on hand to provide the comedic quota is beatnik Lucas (Cochrane) whose philosophical ramblings somehow help everyone else in the store to figure out the solutions to their problems, even though frustratingly they could have saved a lot of time finding out the fate of the store if he just came out with it like a normal person.

What is missing from the film though is any real kind of bad guy or even a meaningful threat for while the store might be closing, there is never any real sense of panic between the employee’s, just a lot of muttering of “Damn the man!” whenever the topic music town is brought up, with the store owner Mitchell (Bode) more laughable than threatening. As a result the closest we get to any kind of villain here is the pompous Rex Manning and seemingly styled on Robert Palmer, judging by his music video antics. While his actual villainous side might come more from his unrestrained ego aswell as questionable Salad dressing blowjob suggestion than any kind of act of real evil he still makes for a reasonable problem for the group to band together again, even more so with the distinct lack of any other kind of threat on hand here, while Caulfield has fun playing such a sleazy character

Despite being critically mauled on its original release it still proved to be a launch pad for the careers of many of the cast, as rightfully predicted by some critics. However despite being branded a flop on its original release ithas over the years become a real cult classic and rightfully so as here we have not only a highly likable group of characters despite being wildly varied from each other, but it is actually fun to spend time with them, with the film being shot in such a way it feels that you a part of the group rather than an outsider looking in, with random breaks of the forth wall only furthering this illusion. However since that original release the studio have felt the need to tinker with the original cut and wheel out a new version for the DVD, which gives the film fifteen minutes of originally cut footage, which unlike many previous directors cuts (Aliens, Blade Runner) his additional footage adds nothing to the film and infact only detracts from the film, especially as it results in certain characters being potrayed in a completely different way, with Gina (Zellweger) now seeming a whole lot more slutty than before, making this one of those rare occasions were I would urge you to hunt down the VHS version of the film, to get the original and definitive cut of the film aswell as a great piece of 90’s nostalgia.

Monday, 11 February 2013

My Movie Year: The 90's

As part of YAM Magazine’s first “Time Machine Blogathon” which this time takes us back to the 90’s. So what better excuse to look at my favourite movies of the decade, if only to help highlight some of the great and frequently overlooked films which came out during this era, which would also see with 1999one of the most exciting years of film making in years, as I looked at previously.

Essential Film: La Femme Nikita
Luc Besson’s  tale of teenage junkie Nikita (Anne Parillaud) who after killing a cop during a bungled pharmacy robbery, finds herself convicted of murder and sentenced to a life in prison, only to soon find herself recruited by a shadowy government agent known as the Centre to be trained as an assassin under the watchful eye of her handler Bob (Tcheky Karyo). 
Besson here brings to what would be the usual action / adventure yarn with fist fights and explosions and instead gives us something quite special as while there is certainly an element of action here, what he also gives us is an actual insight into the psychology of this character as she is slowly broken down and rebuilt into the perfect assassin by the Company, with scenes of her being taught to apply lipstick by Amande (Jeanne Moreau) being just as gripping as any of the action scenes which include a pulse pounding restaurant escape.

Although it was remade for an American audience as “Assassin” with Bridget Fonda, this is the definitive version

Further Viewing: King of New York, Darkman

Essential Film: Delicatessen


One of the first films by the highly original French directing duo of Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet this surreal Post-apocalyptic black comedy about the residents of an apartment block, owned by the butcher Clapet (Jean-Caude Dreyfus) above whose shop the residents live and who has taken to killing the handymen he employs to keep the residents supplied in meat, which is bad news really for Ex clown Louison (Dominique Pinon) who has just been employed as the new handyman, unaware of what happened to his predecessors.
A strange film to say the least, but not so out there that it leaves the audience wondering what the hell is going on, as it constantly maintains a playful tone as it switches between genres, to give the sort of original film that only Caro and Jeunet are capable of doing, as this is once again very much in their fairytales for grown ups style.

Further Viewing: Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, Rikki-Oh: The Story of Ricky

Essential Film: Hard Boiled

One of if not the best of John Woo’s movies and if you ever needed an example of why he is seen as the king of action movies, this would be a great start, as we are barely minutes into the film before he throws us head first into the first of the films many jaw dropping action sequences, as Insp Tequila (Chow Yun-Fat) unleashes his own dual pistol welding brand of justice.
Featuring a cast of Hong Kong greats which includes Tony Leung and Anthony Wong, John Woo here sets a benchmark for Heroic Gunplay movies, while featuring a hospital shootout, which clocks in at over thirty minutes without reputation. This is one infectious mix of gunplay, explosions and jazz!

Further Viewing: Braindead, Man Bites Dog, Porco Rosso

Essential Film: Cronos

The debut film by Guillermo del Toro, here sees him reworking the vampire mythos, with this tale of an mechanical scarab-shaped device which grants the wearer the gift of eternal life aswell as a thirst for blood. This in many ways marking the start of things to come, while establishing del Toro as a the visionary director he is recognised as today, while for one reason of another this film has outside of genre fans been left largely unseen.
Here he shows a clear love for the genre, while as with the films which followed it also showed that he was not afriad to break the rules and breathe new life into a much over worked horror sub-genre with this truly unique film which is as visually stunning as it as it times horrifying.

Further Viewing: Army of Darkness, Falling Down, Iron Monkey, Ninja Scroll, True Romance


Essential Film: The Crow

It would be a sad case of history repeating itself that Brandon Lee’s breakout film would sadly be his last, as he died during filming and much like his father Bruce Lee, who also never got to enjoy the success of his own breakout film “Enter The Dragon”. The first of two films to be directed by Alex Proyas on this list, with this certainly the better known of the two no doubt thanks to the cult following it has built up since it’s release, aswell as the controversy of Lee’s death during the last eight days of filming.
This classic tale of revenge  based on the graphic novel by James O’Barr, about rock musician Eric Draven (Lee) rising from the grave to avenge his own murder aswell as that of his fiancée via the mystical powers of the crow, which now makes him immune from physical harm. The film is drenched in gothic styling while also containing many nods in its style to both “Blade Runner” and Tim Burtons “Batman”. Needless to say this film looks stunning and would make for a design test run for the lesser seen “Dark City. Lee meanwhile embodies the character of Draven, while equally showing himself to be just as capable as both a dramatic actor as he is as an actor star, while this film just leaves us to wonder what could have been,

Further Viewing: Fist of Legend, Hoop Dreams, The Hudsucker Proxy, Wing Chun

Essential Film: Empire Records

Back when this film was released it considered to be pretty cool job to work in a record shop, though I’m not sure that this still stands with nearly every record store having long since closed down and kids today more keen to work for I dunno Amazon or something, but still this film still has a lot of charm, especially for those of us who belonged to the MTV generation, which essentially this film is the embodiment of.
Following the employees of a Empire Records over the course of one truly exceptional day, when one of the employees Lucas (Rory Cochrane) discovers that the store is to be turned into a franchise store called music town, leading the employees to band together to save the store.
Staring many future stars including Renee Zellweger, Liv Tyler and Anthony LaPaglia as the long suffering store owner and father figure Joe, this coming of age comedy never seems to get the attention it really deserves, especially when it combines teenage angst with shameless AC/DC worship and even a pot brownie trip which sees Mark (Ethan Embry) rocking out with GWAR before being eaten by their giant worm thing, which honestly for that one scene alone makes it a must see.

Also Noteworthy: The Basketball Diaries, The City of Lost Children, The DoomGeneration , La Haine, Ghost In The Shell, Godzilla vs. Destoroyah, Living In Oblivion. Mortal Kombat, Welcome To The Dollhouse

Essential Film: Joe’s Apartment

When picking this year’s selection, I went back and forth so much between this one and “From Dusk Till Dawn”, both of which could be considered essential, but eventually it would be this film which won out on the grounds of “Dusk Till Dawn” already being pretty well known and secondly because this is a film about a man who lives with talking cockroaches and who wouldn’t want to see that movie?

An expansion on the original 1992 short film, while also inspired by “Twilight of the Cockroaches” and the 1987 short “Those Damn Roaches” this tale of penniless Joe (Jerry O’Connell), who having moved to New York soon finds himself sharing his apartment with around 20 to 30 thousand roommates, in the form of a bunch of all singing and dancing cockroaches, who having recognised Joe as being one of their own, soon set out to lend him a helping hand.
Using a mixture of stop motion animation and the slightly cheaper effect of just making parts of the apartment rattle, this is a random film to say the least and while it might not work in places, when the roaches are in screen, it usually guarantees fun times, with the standout moment being their attempts to help Joe on a date, which unsurprisingly ends in chaos. A strange curiosity from the MTV generation and a reminder of the kind of projects that MTV used to be involved with before they changed their focus to the likes of “The Hills” and “Jersey Shore”.

Further Viewing: From Dusk Till Dawn, Trees Lounge, Swingers
Essential Film: Princess Mononoke

One of my all time favourite Studio Ghibli movies, this epic tale of industry versus nature as Ashitaka finds himself caught in the battle lines drawn by Lady Eboshi of Iron Town, who is destroying the forest merely for her people's own good and the guardians of the forest.

Visually stunning with highly intelligent scripting, this is another perfect example of the genius of Hayao Miyazaki, while also being commisioned by Disney who clearly did not know what they were getting with this film, which not only has burst of violence, bloodshed and gore but also is far from thier usual fluffy plotting and styling, as Miyazaki combines fantasy and mythology in his gripping and fast paced tale.

Further Viewing: Breakdown, Boogie Nights, Cube, Chasing Amy, Funny Games, The Game, Junk Mail, Life Is Beautiful, Mimic, Nowhere, Orgazmo, Rainy Dog, Starship Troopers

Essential Film: Dark City

The second Alex Proyas on this list and sadly the most overlooked, as this Kafka esq tale opens with John (Refus Sewell) waking 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.

Sharing the same gothic styling as his previous film "The Crow" this film only built upon those designs as here Proyas gives us a city of perminant midnight,with definite shades of Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil” and Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis”while skillfully combining elements of sci-fi and noir to create a potent mix, while drip feeding the audience infomation as to the truth about Dark City.

Further Viewing: American History X, BASEketball, The Big Lebowski, Ringu, Run Lola Run, Rushmore

Essential Film: Cruel Intentions

An MTV style reworking of the classic novel “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, which has over the years has been adapted no less than thirteen times, with certainly the most well known being the 1988 version released as “Dangerous Liaisons” while this version would be by far the most original as the story is relocated to modern day New York, as step siblings Kathryn (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Sebastian (Ryan Phillippe) play games of seduction, with their latest target being the virginal Annette (Reese Witherspoon) with the challenge being set by Kathryn that Sebastian cannot bed her before the start of the school year, while Kathryn sets about also corrupting the naïve Cecile (Selma Blair) as part of a plan of revenge against her ex boyfriend who left her for Cecile.
While it may have been released in the same year as “American Pie” this film proved to be a much smarter drama and with a sharper sense of humour, but none the less sex crazed which came as something of a surprise to Geller’s fans who were more used to her playing Buffy on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” so for her to be reeling off such lines as “In English? I'll fuck your brains out” all of course greeted with whoops of joy from most of the male audience, much like the much talked about experimental kissing scene between Geller and Blair, all from a film bizarrely marketed in some places as a chick flick, when it contains plenty to appeal to most audiences.
The cast at the time were largely B-list or unknowns, yet all embody their various characters, while for some the film marking a rare high point in their careers, still even years after it’s initial shocking dialogue has since been beaten in terms of filth, it still remains a solid drama and a nice twist on a classic novel.
Further Viewing: eXistenz, Dogma

Thursday, 7 February 2013

The Man With The Iron Fists

Title: The Man With The Iron Fists
Director: RZA
Released: 2012
Staring: RZA, Russell Crowe, Cung Le, Lucy Liu, Rick Yune, David Bautista, Jamie Chung, Byron Mann, Kuan Tai Chen

Plot: In nineteenth century China, Jungle Village is home to several warring clans. The village blacksmith (RZA) creates deadly weapons for the clans, intending to use his payments to purchase the freedom of his lover Lady Silk (Chung), and escape the village. The region's governor tasks the Lion Clan's leader Gold Lion (Chen) with protecting a large shipment of gold that must pass through the village. Gold is betrayed by his lieutenants Silver Lion (Mann) and Bronze Lion (Le), who plan to steal the gold. Gold's son Zen-Yi (Yune) soon learns of his father's murder and sets off to the village to seek revenge, while the Emperor’s undercover emissary Jack Knife (Crowe) arrives at Jungle Village to monitor the gold as the stage is soon set for epic showdown.

Review: Opening to a showdown between two martial arts masters, set to the beat of the Wu-Tang Clan’s “Shame On A Nigga this opening scene essentially sets the tone of what is to follow here with Rapper, Producer, defacto leader of the Wu-Tang Clan making both his writing and directing debut. For the established RZA fanbase it will come as little surprise that he would choose to make an homage to the classic Kung fu movies of the Shaw Bros. Considering that how frequentlythese movies have been sampled for the Wu-Tang Clan’s albums, while RZA has frequently expressed his love for the Martial Arts genre in the past so it would only be inevitable that he would eventually get around to making one of his own. This is not to say that it has not happened through lack trying, considering that the project has been in development since 2003 when he was produced the soundtrack for Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill”, later being joined by Eli Roth after RZA explained the premise for the film to him on a flight from Iceland to LA.

As a fan of the movies that this film is drawing inspiration from, I certainly got a kick out of this film, in much the same way that I did with “Kill Bill” which clearly seems to have been the main source of directing inspiration for RZA with the film is very much in the same Neo-grindhouse style, while the “Quentin Tarantino Presents” label only further cements its place as part of the Neo Grindhouse world that Tarantino and Robert Rodreigez have been crafting over the last few years with films like Machete and most importantly “Planet Terror” and “Death Proof” the two films which made up their powerhouse double feature “Grindhouse”, which the UK would sadly never get to see when the Weinstein’s decided to use the US box office for the general opinion of the rest of the world (cheers for that). As with the other films which have appeared within the genre, RZA has not felt compelled to stick strictly to the Shaw Bros. template, something especially seen with him shunning a more traditional Asian soundtrack in favour of a more Hip Hop flavoured one, like the ones seen in both “Ghost Dog: The Way of The Samurai” and “Afro Samurai” (also produced by RZA) and the anime series “Samurai Champloo” and here it is none the less effective

The plot despite being multistrand, still works from the most paper thin of plotting, as Gold or revenge are the sole motivations for the characters seen here, with RZA’s blacksmith providing a gravely voice over generally provides any information you require regarding the various factions in play. Needless to say thanks to the sheer amount of characters involved it does get at times slightly confusing knowing who belongs with who. On the flip side of this though, the numerous characters are one of the strengths of the film, seeing how individual each one is, as RZA’s knowledge of the genre really comes into play, especially with his character design frequently giving nods to memorable characters from other Kung Fu movies, with a prime example being former WWE wrester turned MMA fighter David Bautista who here appears as Brass Body, seemingly a reworking of the steel body warlord seen in “Fist of the North Star” a film RZA has previous named as being one of his favourites. This is not however to say that every character is a copy or a reworking as the film still features plenty of truly original characters like Crowe’s Jack Knife and RZA’s titular iron armed blacksmith only add to the fun, much like the cameo’s by Pam Grier as the blacksmiths mother, aswell as Gordon Liu as his Kung Fu mentor “The Abbot” who appears in the mandatory training montage / flashback.

The cast all seem to be game  especially playing such frequently outlandish characters with Crowe handling most of the dramatic heavy lifting, while also getting most of the best lines in the film. Equally on form is Lucy Lui as local brothel owner Madame Blossom who also heads up her own kick ass team of female Ninja’s called “The Black Widows” as she reworks her “Kill Bill” character O-Ren Ishii with satisfying results. On the lower end of acting ability though is RZA, who while perhaps not exactly known for his acting ability is still watchable here, if still not exactly big emotion and certainly still manages to embody the role of the blacksmith aswell providing a suitably atmospheric voice over.

However the real star of the show is bone crunching fight scenes choreographed by Corey Yuen, with RZA aiming for spectacle and variety as each fight sequence is different from the next and culminating in a multi-fight brothel showdown which is very much a satisfying payoff to the film, despite RZA due to delays in shooting opting to use CGI for some of the more tricky gore aspect, which thankfully are subtle enough to go unnoticed, while Yuen’s inventive choreography provides more than an enough of an enjoyable distraction combined with some at times bold cinematography make for a powerful combination.

rue this film may have its flaws, but for the established ans of Hong Kong cinema they will find much to enjoy here, especially when the film is so stylistically close to its source material, yet still original enough to hold to eliminate any feelings of Déjà vu and compared to some of the films which have made this years “Best Film” list for the Oscars / BAFTA’s I would say with a perhaps a couple of exceptions (Django unchained being a main one) that this was a much more entertaining film and one I would love to revisit, over enduring one of those films again.
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