Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Perfect Blue

Title: Perfect Blue
Director: Satoshi Kon
Released: 1997
Starring: Junko Iwao, Rica Matsumoto, Shinpachi Tsuji, Masaaki Okura, Yosuke Akimoto, Yoku Shioya, Hideyuki Hori, Emi Shinohara, Masashi Ebara, Kiyoyuki Yanada, Toru Furukawa, Akio Suyama

Plot: Mima , a member of a J-pop group “CHAM!” decides to pursue a career as an actress, displeasing her fans especially her stalker Me-Mania (Okura). Now finding herself the target of threatening fax’s and mail bombs, things only get stranger when she discovers a website call “Mima’s Room” documenting her life if she was still with the band, as Mima finds her world being turned upside down as she is pushed to the brink of her own sanity.

Review: One of the great masters of Japanese animation, the career of Satoshi Kon would be tragically cut short when he lost his battle with pancreatic cancer, but it would be a stunning body of work he would leave us with, if perhaps sadly also one of the most overlooked.

Here he makes his directorial debut with a Hitchcock-esq thriller and which I frequently like to use as reference point when it comes to arguing the fact that anime is more than cutsy characters, tentacle porn and schoolgirl fan service which frequently seems to the opinion shared by those not familiar with the genre outside of the parts which regularly gain mainstream exposure. True this film is not without its shocking moments with several bloody murders and a scene were Mima is forced to act out a nightclub group rape. However this is more than shock value as it also serves to mark out a snapping point for Mima and her already fragile psyche, as she soon starts questioning what is real and what is fantasy, while Kon leaves the audience to question the same things for themselves, yet resisting the urge to take the audience down a Lynch style rabbit hole.   

Based on the novel of the same name by Yoshikazu Takeuchi, who also wrote the original screenplay, which Kon was unhappy with and ultimately would have the script reworked by Sadayuki Murai with Takeuchi’s permission providing that the three elements of Idol, Horror and Stalker were kept Takeuchi was happy for Kon to make any changes he liked. Interestingly this film was originally intended to be filmed as live action adaptation only for the film to be turned into a OVA when the production studio was damaged during the 95 Kobe earthquake. A live action version directed by renown pink film director Toshiki Sato  would be finally released in 2002, which reportedly is a lot closer to the source novel than this film.

A griping film throughout, the film though is a lot deeper than your usual psychological thriller, as while most thrillers would be content to just play off the mystery of “Mima’s Room”, here Kon’s focus on the changing personality from Virginal pop idol to driven actress willing to do more and more to ensure that she makes it as an actress, even if it means shattering the image her fans have on her, with her agreement to film the aforementioned rape scene only being the start of the slow reveal of her much darker side.

At the same time Kon shows equal attention to the supporting characters who all provide their own piece of the puzzle, from Mima’s office Manger Tadokoro (Tsuji) who pushes Mima into increasingly risque situations which he convinces is for the good of her career regardless of the pressure it puts on her already fragile psyche through to the obsessed  and grotesque stalker Me-Mania who plasters his walls with images of Mima’s pop idol form which in one memorable scene even speak to him. Kon though is equally mindful of the smaller details which often prove as a result to be just as memorable, such as an actor involved in filming the rape scene apologising to Mima during a break between takes.

The animation is crisp and clean throughout, with Kon choosing to avoid the more traditional large eyed anime style, instead for a more realistic style as seen with the wide range of character designs and while it might not have the wow factor that many have come to expect thanks to the releases of Studio Ghibli this is still visually a nice anime to look at, with the movement of the characters being especially spot on as especially highlighted during the ice pick murder sequence involving a length chase around the victims apartment.

Unquestionably this would be a memorable debut film from Kon and one which he would continue to build on even if he would choose to explore other genres with the films which followed, he would thankfully return to explore the themes here further with the series “Paranoia Agent”.  On its own merits though this film really is a benchmark in Japanese animation aswell as also providing the inspiration for Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan”, making it only the more of a shame that it hasn’t been given the same recognition as the likes of the legendry “Akira” or “Ghost In The Shell” and like “Wings of Honneamise” has resulted it in being missed out by the more casual anime viewers which is something of a shame, especially when it is the sort of film which serves to highlight the range of styles which Anime covers.  

Sunday, 27 April 2014


Title: Nemesis
Director:  Albert Pyun
Released: 1992
Starring: Olivier Gruner, Tim Thomerson, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Yuji Okumoto, Marjorie Monaghan, Nicolas Guest, Deborah Shelton, Merle Kennedy

Plot: Alex (Gruner) a retired cyborg police officer is pulled out of retirement to track down his former girlfriend and cyborg Jared (Monaghan) who is smuggling data to terrorist organizations plotting to assassinate government officials.

Review: Directed by cult favourite Albert Pyun, who to date has directed over 40 movies while earning a reputation as something of a b-movie hired gun, as if you have a movie that you need to make on a minimal budget then Pyun is your man. He was also responsible for the very first film I reviewed here “Wrecking Crew” which was also for the longest time one of the worst films I had reviewed here, an honour now currently shared between “Deaden” and “Dear God No”. For some reason though it has taken me to now to review another film from his back catalogue but then I can hardly claim that I am the biggest fan of his work, but this is another film from my childhood whose cover I remembered from my misspent hours scanning video library shelves only to never actually get around to watching it until now.

Predictably being a Pyun film, ruined buildings, cyborgs and a post-apocalyptic future are all the order of the day which always amused me about his film, especially considering how Pyun cares little for any of these themes as he stated once in an interview were he essentially cleared up this irony.

“I have really no interest in cyborgs. And I’ve never really had any intrest in post-apocalyptic stories or settings. It just seemed that those situations presented a way for me to make movies with very little money, and to explore ideas that I really wanted to explore – even if they were [controversial].

Honestly I’m not too sure what story he wanted to tell here, seeing how there is less plot development than “Ballistic: Ecks Vs. Sever” which really is kind of saying something, but here the film goes from one bullet riddled shootout to the next, with seemingly only explosions and scenes of Alex and his unintentional sidekick (of sorts) Max (Kennedy) frequently diving off cliffs to tie it all together.

Okay perhaps this is a little harsh as there is some William Gibson-esq musing over what it is to be human, especially on the part of Alex whose frequent injuries have left him in need of frequent cybernetic upgrades, while refusing to be labelled a mindless robot, frequently stating that eighty-six point five percent of him is still human at any given moment. I would like to believe that these cybernetic upgrades are responsible for the continually bland and emotionless performance that Gruner gives here though I would seriously doubt this is the case. Even the most basic of emotions seems to be a push for him outside of the occasional smile while memorably showing zero emotion when his dog is killed by one of his former handlers in a pretty dickish move to try and convince Alex to come back. The logic behind this move still lost on me, I mean how many times have you convinced someone to do something by killing one of their cherished pets?

On the plus side Max comes with a Lorri Petty / Tank Girl style personality which never really gets any chance to shine and instead just comes off constantly skittish while providing enough personality to cover for both of them. Elsewhere the villians all bizarrely have a faux German accents while generally spending the film chasing after Alex and Max and shooting up the scenery. Sadly one of the worst aspects of the film is how underused Cary-Hirouki Tagawa is as his appearance is really more of a cameo, while more interesting one of his rarer non villainous roles and considering that he manages to act everyone else off the screen with his handful of scenes only makes me wish that Pyun had found a way to expand his role.

So what does this film have going for it? Well action, action and more action is essentially the order of the day, with everyone seemingly being armed to the teeth even an doddering old granny pulls out a pistol at one point!  Needless to say the film doesn’t waste any time getting to the first of the numerous shoot-outs as right from the off Alex is involved in a fierce shoot out, with Pyun  choosing like John Woo to have his characters rarely reload and even when they do it is only after they have fired off countless rounds. More amusingly though is that despite frequently being only a few metres from each other no one ever seems to be able to hit the broadside of a barn door and seeing how everyone is seemingly a cyborg (something which seemingly doesn’t improve anyone’s ability to aim) when someone does get hit it is usually in a hail of sparks which is visually pretty fun to watch.

While Gruner might be lacking as an actor, he does however make up for it in the action scenes with his character being changed from the originally proposed violent street urchin to Gruner’s cyborg cop as part of a production deal between Pyun and production executive Ash Shah who were keen to use the former Kickboxing champion in one of their projects with this film with Pyun in return being allowed free reign to make the movie he want and by the looks of things he really took that ball and ran with it. Surprisingly despite Gruner’s kickboxing background he only gets a chance to actually show off these skills on a couple of occasions as Pyun instead opts to have his Gruner demonstrate his gun handling skills instead which thankfully also works in Gruner’s favour as he handles himself well during the action sequences including a scene where he memorably machine guns his way though the floors of a hotel which would be memorably reworked in “Underworld” to similar effect, with the other memorable sequence involving him brawling with a generic villain while sliding down a muddy ramp and it really is in these scenes that the film really does shine and no doubt would have made this possibly my favourite movie had I watched it when I first discovered it, when the action scenes mattered more than the rest of the film.

Far from my favourite viewing experience as of late, yet like so many of Pyun's films I can't help but feel that the film was in many ways close to something, only to lose it along the way. Still if you like sparky firefights and explosions with minimal plotting then this could be the film for you. Now I just have to see were the series goes next seeing how this film spawn an additional three films, so don't be surprised if this isn't my last venture into the series.

Friday, 25 April 2014

Elwood's Essential's #8: Requiem For A Dream

Title: Requiem For A Dream
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Released: 2000
Starring: Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, Marlon Wayans, Christopher McDonald, Mark Margolis, Keith David, Seasn Gullette, Hubert Selby, Jr.

Plot: Charting four Coney Island residents and their pursuit of their own vision of happiness, only to soon find their individual addictions leading them into a nightmarish downward spiral.

Review: I first saw this film back when I was in college, which is also really where I first seriously started studying film. It was around this same time that having turned 18 I spent most of that birthday joining every video library I could to further my cinematic tastes, beyond the films I was taping off late night TV let alone my already established lusts for Godzilla and Asian cinema which I’d been steadily building on since I first figured out how to use my parents video player. It was amongst these early jaunts into less mainstream cinema that I came across this film which I think I rented along with Sofia Coppola’s “The Virgin Suicides” in what would certainly turnout to be an eye opening double bill.

Since that original viewing though this film has always held a strange fascination with me a power which has yet to wain even after numerous viewings. At the same time this power that the film holds is very much a double edged sword as this film is easily one of the most grim films I have in my collection, so much so that I tend to view it once a year, while it usually takes the remainder of the year to get over the experience. Still with this being “Aprilofsky” I knew that it was kind of inevitable that at some point this month I would inevitably find myself revisiting it.

Based on the book by Hubert Selby, Jr. (who also makes a cameo as a laughing prison guard) the film follows the three intertwining stories of low level drug dealers Harry (Leto) and his best friend Tyrone (Wayans), Harry’s girlfriend and aspiring fashion designer Marion (Connelly) and Sara, Harry’s TV addled mother who dreams of being on television. For of you familiar with Selby, Jr.’s bleak world outlook you will no doubt already know that nothing is going to end up well for this foursome, but it is the journey they each take towards an inevitable downward spiral which Aronofsky perfectly captures and draws you in with, so that by the time you realise the path the characters are on, you are already too drawn into the story to turn back.

Arguably Aronofsky’s strongest film, I know that personally I was glad that I started with this film, rather than with his black and white debut “Pi” which gave the indication that it felt it was smarter than it was, while confusing things further with mathematical theory and mantra style repetition of its lead characters childhood recollection which only made it harder film to follow. Here though he would challenge those who didn’t get his debut as he perfects his use of repetition while heavily working his bag of visual tricks which includes the extensive use of quick cuts which total over 2,000 which only comes into perspective when you consider that most films only contain between 600 to 700 cuts.

The casting here really is spot on while equally risky at the time of the film’s release with Connelly being best known for most us for playing Sarah in “Labyrinth”, Leto aswell was better known for playing a teen heartthrob on “My So Called Life” despite having the snot beaten out of him as Angelface in “Fight Club” while Wayans was (and still is) known for his comedic roles with this film marking one of rare dramatic roles. It should be equally noted that the cast were equally brave for signing up for the film, after all this is hardly a film were any of the characters are going to walk away unscathed by the end credits, a fact which certainly didn’t escape Burstyn who was reportedly horrified by the script and only accepted the role after she saw Aronofsky’s debut “Pi”. Personally I would have placed money on her only wanting to further distance herself from the film, but guess like so many of you that she saw something in that film which I didn’t.

Needless to say each of the cast fully embody their individual characters, fully committing to their roles which was always going to be an essential element to the film as we find ourselves truly caring what happens to these characters, hoping that they will eventually find a way out of their downward spiral. I mean can you think of a time were you have been left feeling unclean and strangely horrified watching a gratuitous sex scene? Even with our drug dealing duo who are slowly being destroyed by a combination of their own habit and a drug dealer turf war drying out their supply chain you still want to see come out of this ordeal relatively unscathed. The most crushing though is the slowly deteriating mental state of Sara who loneliness is only broken up by the self help infomercial which seemingly plays on a continuous loop  and her dream of fitting in her red dress. It really is a tour-de-force performance that Burstyn brings to the role and who through the help of prosthetics and fat suits takes on one of the most startling transformations over the course of the film especially when she is a nervous shell to start with it is utterly heart breaking to see her slow decline over the course of the film as her diet pill abuse only becomes increasingly worse and her grip on reality continues to weaken.

The supporting cast are equally great here, while at the same time never to the point were they distract our attention away from the main foursome. At the same time when it comes to Christopher McDonald and Keith David, they are on such memorable form, that now I instantly associated themselves as being either being a power house self-help guru (McDonald) or a charming drug dealer / pimp (David). These characters though are not there to offer false salvation, but rather existing to simply provide the final push.

Another key element of the film is the killer combination of Clint Mansell and the Kronos Quartet whose soundtrack really adds a whole new level to the film and even though the “Lux Aeterna” has been overused on countless film trailers, Video games, talent shows and essentially any other event looking for a memorable piece of music. This of course is only one of the memorable tracks on the soundtrack as it perfectly frames numerous moments of the film from drug haze euphoria the playful days of summers, while taking on a more frantic and nightmarish qualities as the characters suffer through withdrawal and ultimately hit their individual rock bottoms.  The soundtrack here though truly highlights how powerful an effect it can be when the soundtrack is working in perfect conjunction with the images on screen.

An unquestionably powerful film, yet not the sort of film you pick up as a casual watch and like "Schindler's list" it is best approached with some pre-warning and a stack of cartoons to help you deal with the aftermath, as this one is unquestionably brutal. At the same time it marked Aronofsky out as major talent on the indie film making scene an while he has yet to top this high bench mark he set for the films to come, it served as a taste of what would follow. 

Sunday, 20 April 2014


Title: Kolobos
Director: Daniel Liatowitsch, David Todd Ocvirk
Released: 1999
Starring: Amy Weber, Donny Terranova, Nichole Pelerine, John Fairlie, Promise LaMarco, Llia Volok

Plot: Five strangers are brought together to spend three months living in a Big Brother style house under the pretence of being part of an anthropology-related experimental film. However soon it becomes clear that not everything is what it seems.

Review: One of those films I have been meaning to watch for the longest time, only to get delayed by other titles taking priority on the viewing pile but more largely because it has hardly the most memorable of titles. Title aside this equally not the most talked about movie out there, with almost minimal reviews and while it might not quite be on the same obscure levels as "The Long Lunch" it is certainly under the radar. Now while 1999 might have been an incredible year for cinema, I can sadly report that now having finally watched this film that this was not one of the better ones to come out that year.

The sole film to be directed by the Swiss duo, before following it with individual features which saw Liatowitsch directing the MMRPG documentary “Avatars Offline” while Ocvirk wrote the DTV zombie movie “Last Rites” both then disappearing from the movie making scene altogether. This film would also invariantly be a forerunner to the more remembered “My Little Eye” which essentially gave us the same film while perhaps taking a more unique approach by being shot from the perspective of the surveillance camera, while here directors Liatowitsch and Ocvirk opt for a more traditional route as the house setup serves more as a reason to bring the characters together than anything else.

Frustratingly the first hour of this film is pretty solid, with the group all being introduced via selection of audition tapes as we meet failing stand up and self-convinced funny man Tom (Terranova), struggling b-movie horror actress Erica (Pelerine), college drop-out Gary (Fairlie) and fast food worker Tina (LaMarco). This group are also joined by artist Kyra (Weber) who is looking to move on from her recent time spent in a halfway house for her increasingly dark visions which she channels into her artwork. All of the main cast are likeable in their roles even if there are a few moments were some of the cast overplay their part, yet at the same time it is hard to not place these moment equally on clunky dialogue. It is equally interesting that this group of fame hungry wannabe’s all looking for their ten minutes of fame would get just that by appearing in this film as none of them would go on to do anything else following its release, with the exception of Weber who fittingly plays the group outsider. Weber perfectly portrays Kyra who spends most of the film unable to tell if Faceless is real or one of her visions, much less if she is responsible for what is happening in the house.

A relatively short film at 90 mins, but boy did that last half hour drag which is even more surprising considering how the tension is slowly cranked up in the first hour, with ghostly visions of a faceless figure around the house, let alone a hand creeping out from under the bed. However once it hits the one hour mark the film suddenly hits a downward spiral from which it never recovers as the house turns into a deadly funhouse of booby traps as the group find themselves being picked off one by one by the faceless killer known simply as Faceless (Volok).

While the final thirty minutes are pretty formulaic I really can’t fault the film makers originality here, which when it comes to the death scenes it really has in spades with the detached head turned into a mirror ball being a particular highlight. Still from flying buzzsaws to an acid shower the death scenes really do for the most part deliver, while an antler impalement feels overly familiar to the infamous splinter sequence from “Zombie Flesh Eaters”. Each of the deaths are handled well even with the limited budget, with the buzzsaw death being especially memorable partly becomes it comes out of nowhere and secondary because of how the victim is left to writhe while the rest of the group believably freak the hell out.

Frustratingly during the final half hour the film dissolves into a standard stalk and slash format and while the deaths might be oozing in originality, there is a sense that the film is being rushed towards its conclusion (not that it moves any quicker trust me) with death scenes becoming increasingly sloppy or rushed. This of course brings me to my next issue and that’s with the ending which makes absolutely no sense as if you’re like myself you find yourself bouncing between two different ideas of what it all means, while also with the sneaking suspicion that the film makers are trying to be smarter than their script allows, much like opting to call the film “Kolobos” (the German word for mutilated) over its alternative and more fitting title “Haunted House”.

Irritating for how it throws away a promising setup, this is one worth more a curious rental than being actively sought and while the duo never choose to follow it up, it remains a tantalising prospect of what they could have achievd with perhaps alittle more focus and a tighter script.

Monday, 14 April 2014

The Fountain

Title: The Fountain
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Released: 2006
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz, Ellen Burstyn, Mark Margolis, Stephen McHattie, Fernando Hernandez, Cliff Curtis, Sean Patrick Thomas, Donna Murphy, Ethan Suplee

Plot: Three stories set in the past, present and future which intersect and run parallel to each other, based around the themes of love and morality.

Review: After flirting with mainstream film making with “Requiem for a Dream”, here Aronofsy returned to the arthouse roots which he established with his debut film “Pi”, while it also turned out to be his most troubled production to date, with his original concept having to be scraped when Brad Pitt pulled out over creative differences with Aronofsky combined with a spiralling budget which forced the studio to pull the plug on the production. Refusing to give up on the project, he instead reworked the script and recast the film with Jackman and Weisz taking on the lead roles (both working at reduced rate) which would allow him to work within the new budget of $35 million, a considerable drop from the original $70 million budget which had been assigned to the film.

One of his most personal films it is also the film which tends to divide opinion the most, with most of its detractors choosing to write it off as pretentious nonsense. It is also far from the easiest of films to explain, yet strangely at the same time it is still surprisingly a straightforward film to follow when you see it all on screen which was one the things which surprised me the most about this film the first time I watched it. After all here is a film which switches between Spanish conquistadors searching for the tree of life, a modern day scientist Tom desperately searching for a cure for his cancer-stricken wife and finally a man in the distant future travelling towards the nebula of Xibalba inside a self-contained bio-sphere. Aronfsky though rather than give any real reason for these genre hopping antics, instead wrote it off as being “Because it’s fun” which I’ve a feeling was also Zack Snyder’s reasoning for making “Sucker Punch”.

Even outlining these plots as you can see is confusing enough, even before Aronofsky starts to interweave them over the course of the film which works fine for the past and present segments, with the conquistador sequences taking place in the story which Tom’s wife is writing. Sadly the links to the future segment seem largely more forced and also the more art house moments of the film, as they consist mainly of a bald Jackman sitting around in his bubble, eating bark from the tree in its centre and having conversations with Tom’s wife, though the link between her and this future character is never properly explained and much like the moral of the film is left frustratingly obscure.

To his credit Aronofsky manages to bring something different to each of the segments, from self-flagellating inquisitors, conquistadors battling mayan’s through to Tom pushing his team to explore every more radical procedures in the search for the cure for his wife’s cancer, there is unquestionably a lot of different elements at play which does help to give it a mini-epic feel despite the minimalist timeline. At the same time Aronofsky manages to convincing portray the enduring love between Jackman and Weisz without things getting overly sacturine sweet, especially with the present day scenes which are played with a mixed of tender and frustrated moments as Tom tries desperately to speed up his search for a cure, while trying to make the most of what time he still has left with his wife.

As the two leads both Jackman and Weisz are engaging to watch and convincingly play each of their three alter-ego’s, even if most of the heavy lifting is left to Jackman whose performance here made me wonder how Pitt could ever have managed the range which Jackman achieves here, while ensuring that each of his three alter-egos’s remain strong throughout, even the navel gazing antics of spaceman Tommy, who is saved more by the stunning visual effects than by anything really happening on his particular story thread.

Returning once again to soundtrack the film Clint Mansell teams up with the Kronos Quartet, bringing a sense of familiarity to the films soundtrack especially after their soundtrack for “Requiem for a Dream” burned itself into the general conscious and perfectly suit the tone of the film, while this time they are further complimented by tracks provided by Mogwai with the soundtrack really coming into its own during the more spectacular set pieces like the supernova or human plant transformation.

One of Aronofsky’s weaker films but still well above the mathematical theory nightmare which was “Pi”, while the film only further suffers due to it being more of a personal project than one designed for mass audience consumption. At the same time while it has numerous good ideas and memorable sequences, the composition ultimately is where the film comes undone with too many ideas being thrown around and not enough structure to satisfactorily tie them all together, as Aronofsky prefers to leave it up to audience interpretation than confirm what anything is supposed to actually mean. Yes it might be very pretty to look at, but it is also a film which walks a tight rope between being a mini-epic and pretentious tosh making it really one for the completists than the first time viewer.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Elwood's Essentials #7: The Wrestler

Title: The Wrestler
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Released: 2008
Starring: Mickey Rouke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood, Mark Margolis, Todd Barry, Judah Friedlander, Ernest Miller, Necro Butcher, R-Truth

Plot: Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Rouke) a professional wrestler long past his prime and now reduced to wrestling in small venues, is forced to face up to the end of his career after suffering a heart attack. Now he is forced to come to terms with a life outside of the ring, while attempting to reconcile with his estranged daughter (Wood) and his relationship with aging striper Cassidy (Tomei)

Review: Last weekend was the source of much excitement, mainly thanks to “Wrestlemania” which this year celebrated 30 years, which even the fact that it was being hosted by the franchise killer, wrestling relic and DTV star Hulk Hogan it did little to my general enthusiasm for the event, as yes I’m a wrestling fan. So what better time to revisit this film, along with the fact that “French Toast Sunday” have declared the whole of April to be “Darren Aprilofsky” as part of their ongoing season of director dedicated months.

When it was first announced a lot of people dismissed this film believing that it would another hokey feel good sports movie, which is kind of understandable seeing how it is set in the world of professional wrestling. However what Aronofsky gives us instead a much more moving and even more surprisingly respectful look at the world of professional wrestling. Here Aronofsky doesn’t question the appeal of a sport were matches are pre-determined, but I instead keeps the focus purely on the wrestlers, stepping behind the curtain as he shows us scenes of wrestlers discussing how their matches will play out and tactics to ensure that they get the best reaction from the crowds.

Randy despite being long past his 80’s glory days when we meet him, Randy is still making a living off his past glories as fans still worship his in ring performances no doubt with a heavy dose of nostalgia. Meanwhile outside of the ring his situation is far more grim as he finds himself forced to sleep in his van when he fails again to make the rent on his trailer park home, while being forced to make ends meet working a low wage supermarket job. He is also a character truly brought to life via a career best performance by Rouke who embodies this character while only adding further depth thanks to the similar struggles that both Rouke and his fictional counterpart have. It is also very much a less is more style of performance were even the smallest of gestures speaks volumes.

Interestingly though Rouke almost didn’t take on the role as it had originally been given to Nicolas Cage, who depending on whose version you believe either stepped down to allow his friend Rouke to take on the role, knowing aswell that Aronofsky truly had Rouke in mind for the role. Cage on the other hand has gone on record to state that it was more to do with the time commitment required to achieve the look required. I would prefer to believe the first version. More amusing through would be the claim made by Hulk Hogan that he was also offered the role only to turn it down, a claim later dismissed as being yet more of Hogan’s usual bullshit when Aronofsky went on record to state that he had never offered him the role.

Rouke though is the perfect choice for Randy, even more so when he fully embraced the wrestling world, throwing himself into eight weeks of intensive wrestling training for the role which really helped when it comes to the wrestling sequences, especially when he frequently performs in these scenes with real-life wrestlers including a memorable hardcore match (wrestling with weapons) against Necro Butcher were the two wrestlers essentially brutalise each other with a variety of creative and painful looking weapons including one highlight which sees Randy using the prosthetic leg handed to him by a member of the rabid crowd. These wrestling scenes are only further added to by being filmed at live wrestling events including events held by the indie fed’s CZW and Ring of Honour, who along with both TNA and WWE were happy to show their support for the film and in many ways it only adds to the realism while further highlighting the respect which Aronofsky shows the sport.

More interesting though is the fact that here we have a sports movie which doesn’t follow the rookie or the underdog getting their shot at the big time as here Aronofsky chooses to make a film about someone at the end of their career a prospect which Randy continually ties to avoid by working out harder and increasing his steroid intake to keep up with the younger guys he is competing with. Ultimately Randy is forced to face the inevitable when he suffers a heart attack and the prospect of no longer being able to wrestle, while a haunting meet and greet alongside his fellow former greats only seems to highlight the future which awaits him as he surveys the damage they like himself have done to their bodies out of love for their sport.

It is equally interesting that the closest person to Randy is the aging stripper Cassidy, who like Randy is also facing the prospect of her own career coming to an end as she struggles to hustle private dances from clients who favour the younger girls. Together though they provide each other with a prospect of a life outside of their professions and while there is hints of a developing romantic interest between them it is an interest which ultimately only goes as far as a spontaneous make out session, quickly followed by regret on Cassidy’s part. This angle is far from the most interesting aspect of their relationship with the scenes of Randy reminiscing about his glory days and Cassidy helping Randy to reconnect with his daughter and in many ways finding happiness through their unorthodox friendship being far more fascinating to watch.

Unquestionably though this film sees Rouke at his career best, it only makes it more of a shame that he didn’t win the much deserved Oscar he was nominated for as he joins the wrongfully snubbed actors club which also includes Ryan Gosling in “Drive” and Tilda Swindon in “We Need To Talk About Kevin”. At the same time Rouke receives great support from both Tomei and Wood who are both able to hold their own while only adding to the emotional journey Randy finds himself on as he ultimately has to choose between doing the sport he loves which could ultimately kill him or to settle into a life outside of the ring. Even for non-wrestling fans this is still a gripping film, which for the established fans this is touching homage to the world of spandex clad heroes, as this truly is the "Raging Bull" of Wrestling movies.

Monday, 7 April 2014


Title: Grizzly
Director: William Girdler
Released: 1976
Starring: Andrew Prine, Christopher George, Joan McCall, Joe Dorsey, Richard Jaeckel

Plot: When a giant grizzly bear starts eating the campers at a state park, it is up to park ranger Michael (George) to hunt it down.

Review: If ever there was an example of the importance of editing it would be this film. For here is a film which in its TV cut is a tepid and boring movie while in its uncut form, it’s actually quite watchable even though it’s lingering around the ass end of okay in this stronger form. Frustratingly it was the TV cut which I watched first, which left me wondering why I got so excited about watching it in the first place, a fact which I’m sure was more down the prospect of seeing a film with a giant killer bear, especially as I do love creature features and couldn’t remember actually seeing one with a killer bear.

One the last films to be directed by Girdler, who was tragically killed in a helicopter crash while scouting locations for his tenth film. This would be the first of his two ventures into the creature feature genre, while more surprisingly it would also become one of the top films of 1976. This success of course could have been largely thanks to the massive success of “Jaws” which inspired countless imitators in a trend which continues even now, as directors continue to try find new and ever more inspired ways to add to the already primal fear most people have regarding certain animals. None however have shown the balls that Girdler does here with this film which is essentially a straight clone of “Jaws”, even though it could be argued that Bruno Mattei came close with “Jaws 5: Cruel Jaws”.

From the start Girdler tries to make the revel of the creature a slow burn by shooting from the bears perspective (or bear vision if you will) and by having a stage hand swipe at thing with a bear paw glove. Unfortunately the big revel never really comes perhaps thanks to Girdler choosing to use a real bear, which needless to say isn’t the safest creature for you to put next to actors, so as a result the bear footage often comes off looking like wildlife stock footage than anything specifically shot for the film. The biggest failure though comes when any character is attack by the bear, which usually descends into shaky camera shots and what can only be described as watching someone getting bear hugged by someone in a questionable looking bear costume. Despite the real bear never seemingly being anywhere near the actors, Girdler used a length of green string and a kitchen timer to shoot the actors with the bear, with the bear believing that the wire was the same as the electrified fence used during breaks in filming, while the trainers also got the bear to mimic roaring by tossing it marshmallows (who knew that bears liked them) and adding the sound in post production. However now having seen the film it makes you wonder why they went to so much effort with the real bear, especially when it never seems like the actor and bear are ever in the same shot.  

This leads me of course to the importance of which version you watch, as if your stuck with the TV version, this will fast become a painful film to sit through, as each time the bear attacks it suddenly cuts or even on a couple of occasions just fades to black. The uncut version on the other hand is a lot more fun, thanks to the occasional bursts of gore that it provides making the bear attacks a lot of satisfying to watch as limbs are torn off and even a small child loses a leg, all scenes missing from the TV version which cuts out all of the gore and leaves only the half decent attack on the ranger station intact. Thankfully though if you’re stuck with the TV version, the cut segments can be easily found on Youtube which honestly are also the best parts of this film, which really do save it in many ways from being such a grind.

Plot wise as I stated earlier in this review, the plot is essentially a blow for blow remake of “Jaws” with changes being made to suit the setting, so hence we get Michaels concern over a giant killer bear in the park being thrown out by his supervisor, who’d rather keep campers in the park rather than close the park while they hunt the bear, while also flooding the park with amateur hunters by offering a bounty on bear all actions mirrored by the mayor Vaughn. Equally mirrored is Michaels actions to hunt the bear which see’s him forming a similar team to Brody’s with naturalist Arthur (Jaeckel) and helicopter pilot and Vietnam veteran Don (Prine) taking on the roles played by Hooper and Quint. It’s hard to say if watching the film with this prior knowledge adds or takes away anything from the film, but it certainly makes it a curiosity to say the least, especially in these times were Mockbusters are being so regularly churned out which essentially do the same as this film and in many ways perhaps making this film the earliest example of the genre.

While the plotting may be the same as “Jaws” sadly the characterisation is far from the mark as this film lacks any of the likeable characters of that film, much less any ones which are memorable enough to actually care much about with the exception of Arthur but that could be more so do with his bear skin wearing antics, much less the lack of real insight he brings to the hunt despite being the so called expert.

Unsurprisingly in the wake of the film success this film would get a sequel of sorts almost ten years later in the form of “Grizzly 2: The Predator” which originally started out as a completely separate film entitled “Predator: The Concert”. Written aswell by the same screenwriter as this film Harvey Flaxman the film was never finished yet various incomplete cuts of the film do exist and it was via a review of that film by my good friend and bad movie critic extraordinaire The Great White Dope over at “Mecha-Blog-Zilla” that I came to find out about this film in the first place in a piece which I highly recommend checking out like the rest of his blog, even if he is currently on blogging hiatus there is still a wealth of great reading to enjoy.

A flawed film with a handful of interesting moments if your watching the uncut version but mainly it will just make you want to dig out your copy of the far superior "Jaws", especially as its doubt this will have you afraid to back into the woods anytime soon.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014


Title: Detention
Director: Joseph Kahn
Released: 2011
Starring: Josh Hutcherson, Dane Cook, Spencer Locke, Shanley Caswell, Walter Perez, Organik, Erica Shaffer   

Plot: A killer dressed as the movie slasher Cinderhella is stalking the students of Grizzly Lake High School, leaving a group of co-eds to band together survive while serving detention.

Review: So once again I have found a film which makes me throw my hands up in despair, as I wonder how I can ever start to review it as if I thought “If…” was a tough film to critique, this one presented an equally daunting critical mountain to scale by the time the credits had rolled.
Unlike the aforementioned “If…” the issues presented by this film was less about the artistic directing choices, but more due to trying to figure out what it was exactly that I had watched, as director Kahn comes off here like someone has a heap of smart and witty things to say and show you, while at the same time too easily distracted to put them into any kind of logical order. As a result this film is the same sort of visual assault of ideas that “Southland Tales” took, yet in comparison even that film is more coherent than this one and yet despite the fact I’m still not sure I fully understood what this film was about I did strangely still enjoyed it.

The second feature film by Kahn after his forgettable debut and “Fast and Furious” on a motorcycle cash in “Torque”, he is no doubt better known for his work directing music videos and commercials, a field which has previously given us visionary directors like  David Fincher and Mark Romanek, with Kahn also bringing a level of visual flair to this low budget and self-financed horror-comedy which he choose to follow “Torque” with after being replaced by Vincenzo Natali (best known for “Splice” and “Cube”) as the director of the long mooted adaptation of William Gibson’s “Neuromancer”.

Opening with a “Clueless” style monologue / rant by the school’s most popular girl Taylor (woods)…well that is until she is suddenly cut short mid “guide to not being a total reject” by the films killer. From here we cut to Taylor’s opposite Riley (Caswell) a cynical social outcast, whose sees herself being only one place above rock bottom which is currently occupied by the girl who performed oral sex on the school’s stuffed grizzly bear mascot. Riley’s world is shown as an endless hailstorm of crap, as starts the day with a half-baked attempt at a pill overdose, misses the school bus and has her iPod stolen by a hipster mugger. Both of these scenes are peppered with the characters breaking the forth wall and laced with sarcasm and acid tipped barbs while generally setting you up for the randomness which follows.

It is after the opening monologues that things not only just weird but downright random as plot devices start to fly off on a whim, with fewer still actually being seen though to any form of completion let alone followed with any kind of logical sense. So while the film would have worked fine as high school slasher with elements of social satire, Kahn feels inclined to cram in additional elements and subplots including alien abduction, mutations and time travel none of which are properly worked into the plot and frequently dropped in at random and more often without warning, leaving the viewer disorientated and frequently struggling to keep up with the amount of elements being juggled at any one time.

Still when taken apart and viewed for its individual parts there is a lot of fun elements at throughout the film, like the 90’s obsessed Lone (Locke), the star football player who for some reason is turning into a human fly (a very unsubtle rip off of Cronenberg’s 1986 remake) and whose father made him wear a TV over his hand as a child in a scene every bit as surreal as it no doubt sounds. It only makes it more of a shame that with so many random ideas on show here that Kahn can’t seem to manage the same delicate balance of surreal imagery and coherent storytelling that the likes of Richard Kelly and Greg Araki have frequently brought to their films and seemingly what Kahn was aiming to achieve here, only to ultimately end up with a frequently confusing but none the less fascinating car crash of ideas.

The cast assembled here are all pretty much unknowns, yet bring plenty of energy to the film, especially in the case of Caswell who as Riley is well deserving of a spin off, if perhaps a more focused one, as she makes for the perfect lead with her balance of sarcastic jibes and general despair at having to endure with being berated on a daily basis by the so called popular kids. Elsewhere the rest of the cast play their roles well, though frequently come off more memorable for their character mannerisms than for their performances.

Judging by how under the radar this film is, with the only noteworthy releases before it’s DVD release being the handful of appearances at various film festivals with its showing at Frightfest being how I came to discover it originally were its highlighted genre hopping antics caught my attention. So now having finally got around to watching it I can testify that it is certainly one of the more unique films I have watched of late, while its heavy flaws prevent me from enjoying it more and yet I still feel compelled to recommend you give it a curious watch, if only to experience it for yourself. So if you’re feeling uninspired by your current viewing and craving something different yet not too out there, why not give this a watch.
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