Sunday, 31 August 2014

Sin City: A Dame To Kill For

Title: Sin City 2: A Dame To Kill For
Director: Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller
Released: 2014
Starring: Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rosario Dawson, Bruce Willis, Eva Green, Powers Boothe, Dennis Haysbert, Ray Liotta, Jaime King, Christopher Lloyd, Jamie Chung, Jeremy Piven, Christopher Meloni, Juno Temple

Plot: Another collection of tales from Frank Miller’s “Sin City” as Cocky gambler Johnny (Gordon Levitt) finds himself on the wrong side of Senator Roarke (Boothe) after beating him a backroom poker game. Years before “The Big Fat Kill” Dwight (Brolin) gets caught up with his former lover Ava (Green) only to get caught up in a dangerous double cross.  Elsewhere four years after the events of “That Yellow Bastard” exotic dancer Nancy (Alba) is still plotting her revenge against senator Roarke who she blames for Hartigan’s suicide.  All in all it is going to be busy few nights for muscle for hire Marv (Rourke)

Review: It’s hard to believe that it has been nine years since our last visit to Frank Miller’s legendry neo-noir city of violence and corruption, but after various delays and re-casting Rodriguez and Miller have teamed up once more for this second collection of stories from Miller’s cult series as this time the film builds around the story “A Dame To Kill For” which forms the main meat of the film while book ended by two new stories “The Long Bad Night” and “Nancy’s Last Dance” which Miller penned specifically for the film.

Right from the opening short “Just Another Saturday Night” which sees Marv waking up next to a crashed police car and trying to figure out how he came to be surrounded by a group of dead frat boys, its almost as if we’ve never been away as Rodriguez once again sticks to the black and white shooting style of the first film, while once again clearly using the source comics as the storyboards. A style which Miller tried to replicate for his misguided let alone plain random adaption of “The Spirit” but thankfully Rodriguez it would seem is the voice of reason in this team as this film thankfully is free of any such randomness, while largely giving us more of the intoxicating mix of gratuitous violence and black humour, even if the later is noticeably more absent than in the previous film as the duo seem to be aiming for a solid noir style tale. Frustratingly though when humour is introduced it is often clumsily handled and more of a distraction than the light relief it provided the first time around.

Still despite this slight change in direction, the familiar faces waiting to welcome you back to Basin city means that it’s often none too noticeable until you stop to examine the film closer. Thankfully in the time which has passed nothing seems to have changed for any of these characters, with perhaps the exception of Dwight who we get to finally see what he looked like prior to his surgery. For most of the cast though it’s still business as usual as they go about their various dirty deals or trying to find a way to escape their various issues. At the same time we also get a whole heap of new characters to add to the local colour even if these new characters are largely to fill minor or supporting roles.

Sadly while it is a great cast which has been assembled here, the performances throughout vary greatly with Bruce Willis phoning in yet another performance for what is essentially a glorified cameo. Rourke especially suffering as a result of his role being increased so that he now appears in every story with the exception of “The Long Bad Night” almost as if no one can pull of a plan in this city without his assistance, something which really damages the mystique of his character as previously he was seen as a lone wolf, while here he is largely to add to the violence quota or to provide clumsy comic relief. Elsewhere and most disappointingly Joseph Gordon-Levitt appears to be giving us a poor man Bogart impression as he snarls though his lines, with none of the cool he brought to his previous Neo-noir effort “Brick”. The fact his character lacks of any real purpose other than trying to embarrass senator Roarke only adds to the creeping sensation that like “Nancy’s Last Dance” that this story was only added as filler when it became obvious that they couldn’t stretch “A Dame To Kill For” to feature length, while the fact its split into two parts lacks the natural breaking point that we had with “That Yellow Bastard” in the original and comes off looking like they remembered part way though the film that they hadn’t finished Johnny’s story and return to hastily wrap it up the same way all the stories end this time with someone getting a bullet to the head.

Due to the long delays between this film and the original it has meant certain roles being recast with Jamie Chung taking over from Devon Aoki due to being pregnant at the time of film resulting in deadly little Miho going from a stone cold killer to just another pretty girl from old town whose handy with a sword. Dennis Haysbert makes for a great replacement for Michael Clarke Duncan even if he doesn’t have quite the vocal presence of his predecessor. Josh Brolin is equally on good form, even if his portrayal of Dwight is perhaps alittle more gritty than Clive Owen’s who was supposed to share the role with Brolin only to ultimately not be available for filming which now leaves us with the scenes were Dwight has supposed to have changed his appearance through plastic surgery, which I suppose would have seen the role switch to Owen and now leaving us watching Brolin looking like he’s had a bad facelift while bad guys act like he’s a completely different character!?!

The real star of the show here though is Eva Green, who is utterly captivating as the titular Dame and despite spending a vast amount of time in the nude, it never feels that it is being done for titillation, as here it gives her an almost siren esq quality, especially when she uses her womanly charms to further her own causes, usually with fatal consequences for the men who succumb to her. While Angelina Jolie was the original choice for this role, this is truly Green’s role and its hard to imagine any other actress being so willing with some of the more risqué elements of this role, much less the amount of nudity required.
Unquestionably though “A Dame To Kill For” is the strongest of the stories featured and in a way makes sense considering that it was written when Miller was writing in his prime, which as anyone who has read any of his more recent efforts will tell you those days currently seem like a long lost memory. Judging by Miller’s directorial debut with “The Spirit” it would also seem that Rodriguez is the voice of sanity in the duo as this features none of the sheer randomness that plagued that film, while lifting the visual style of “Sin City” which here doesn’t seem to be as edgy as it was back in 2005, yet at the same time it is a style which suits the film still even if perhaps the moments of colour we get throughout the film don’t seem to have any of the poignancy of the original, which only used colour for the character of Goldie and occasional splashes of crimson. Here though what qualified for the colour treatment seems more sporadic and frequently without reason, though thankfully Eva Green’s eyes are amongst the things which do.

While this might not come close to the original, it still has its moments as well as fun smaller appearances by both Christopher Lloyd and Lady Gaga as a drunk doctor and waitress respectively. Perhaps because of the strength of its middle section though I still would love to see another film in the series, if perhaps based solely on original material than letting Miller try and write anything new again as here when it does it only detracts further from the film. Like any night we see in the film this is one to be certainly approached with caution.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Streets of Fire

Title: Streets of Fire
Director: Walter Hill
Released: 1984
Starring: Michael Pare, Diane Lane, Rick Moranis, Amy Madigan, Willem Dafoe, Elizabeth Daily, Van Valkenburgh

Plot: When Tom’s (Pare) ex-girlfriend and singer Ellen (Lane) is kidnapped by the biker gang the Bombers, he sets out to get her back putting him on a collision course with Raven (Dafoe) the leader of the Bombers

Review: While director Walter Hill will no doubt always be best remembered for “The Warriors”, alongside Joe Dante he has probably one of the most underrated back catalogues of any director, which is something this film only further emphasises. This film also is another example of what happens when a director is given free reign to make exactly the film as we’ve seen with the likes of Darren Aronofsky’s “The Fountain” and Zack Snyder’s “Sucker Punch” and well pretty much every movie that Quentin Tarantino has made it would seem.

So for Hill these loves would seemingly be fast cars, motorcycles, wisecracking tough guys, neon signs and brawling  in the street, while mixing up elements of 1950’s Americana within an 80’s setting with the results being certainly interesting to say the least, much like the shooting style which Hill brings to the film. Shot like a neo-noir while breaking off frequently on music video style tangents he also includes extended performance footage throughout the film, often seemingly dropped in at random or so it would certainly seem at the points these moments appear throughout the film making it almost a forerunner to “Sin City” only with added music video elements.

Much like “The Warriors” this film pretty seems to be set in its own enclosed world, were the police don’t seem to care to much about spontaneous street brawls or even bikers randomly walking into a concert and kidnapping the lead singer. This is unquestionably a world which runs to Hill’s unique set of rules. Perhaps though because the film is played with such a sense of fun that these frequently random things are never questioned. Still as random as the film might be with its shooting style (never mind the plotting) it is certainly hard to fault the unique mixure of eclectic characters that Hill populates his unnamed city with, with Tom making for a great lead. A soldier of fortune, he is essentially a stone cold badass who is mere minutes in town before he is shown throwing bikers through a diner window. Thankfully Pare knows his way around a one liner which helps to separate him from the line of disposable one shot action heroes that 80’s cinema was littered with, only making it more of a shame that Hill never got to make the intended trilogy he had planned for his character, with sequels being set in snow and desert settings. Ultimately though the closest we have got to a sequel is the unofficial one “Road to Hell” via cult favourite Albert Pyun which saw Pare reprising the role of Cody.

Its not only the unique setting which Hill plays around here, as he plays actors against type a he memorably makes Rick Moranis a foul mouthed tough guy wannabe, rather than having him rerun through his usual bumbling goofball style of characters and while it’s the polar opposite than what we’ve grown used to seeing him play it is a risk which plays off, especially as Moranis brings the right amount of sleaze as he manager and current boyfriend of Ellen who frequently seems to care more about getting his investment and scoring points off Cody than he does about Ellen. The real standout though is the tomboy ex-soldier and mechanic McCoy a part fought for by Madigan who despite originally being brought in to read for the role of Cody’s sister Reva (eventually played by Valenburgh) ended up fighting for the role of McCoy which Hill ended up changing from being the more traditional portly sidekick to her current form here which ultimately pays off as Madigan makes for the perfect counter to Pare’s Cody with the two making such a fun team it only makes it only the more sadder that the intended trilogy never happened.

When it comes to filling the bad guy quota Dafoe makes for a suitably creepy villain which seems to always be the way with these early roles, were he generally just seemed to be creepy and constantly giving toothy shark like grins which is pretty much what we get here only with the added bonus of PVC overalls which hardly seem to be the most biker of outfits and perhaps more of a kinky redneck look, yet for some reason it seems to strangely work here, even if the rest of the Bombers look like they have been torn straight out of the “The Wild One”. As Raven though he frequently rides the fringe of psychosis, though constantly seems to be able to keep things under control until the finale were he finally lets loose challenging Cody to a sledgehammer street fight.  This finale though does ultimately feel slightly anticlimactic when compared to the rest of the film, maybe due to studio tinkering guiding it more towards a more ratings friendly ending, rather than the ending that Hill had planned. Unquestionably though the journey which Hill takes us on is such a fun one that it’s easy to overlook, especially when  he once again crafts some great set pieces including Cody leading an attack on the Bombers clubhouse, were he gets to showcase his crack shot skills to great effect.

Despite being a box office flop on its release this film has since gone onto become a cult favourite and its easy to understand why, especially as its such a fun and fast paced film with some fun retro dialogue which perfectly matches this head on collision of styles and ideas. Unquestionably this is a unique film to say the least and like so many film in Hill's back catalogue it is certainly worth hunting down, if only to check out Dafoe in PVC overalls!

Part of "Forgotten Films" 1984 Blogathon, so why not check out the site for more 80's madness

Monday, 25 August 2014

Your're Next

Title: You’re Next
Director: Adam Wingard
Released: 2011
Starring: Sharni Vinson, Nicholas Tucci, Wendy Glenn, A.J. Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Barbara Crampton, Rob Moran, Margaret Laney, Amy Seimetz, Ti West

Plot: The assorted members of the Davidson family brought together for the wedding anniversary of their parents Aubrey (Crampton) and Paul (Moran). A reunion which is soon cut short when the family come under attack from a group of animal masked killers.

Review: Despite being unleashed on the festival circuit in 2011, it took another two years for this film to finally get a proper release, which since then has only seen it further the growing influence of the “Mumblegore” genre. An offshoot of the New York mumblecore productions, this Los Angeles based style of film making is currently shaking up the honestly overworked Horror genre, with a style based around micro budgets, cerebral plotting and minimal studio interference. It is also a sub-genre which so far has produced the likes of Ti West’s “House of the Devil” and E.L. Katz’s “Cheap Thrills”.

Despite being part of a genre so closely linked to mumblecore, any concerns about yuppie kids trying to remake "Clerks" and instead rambling away on random topics while the film appears to have been made up on the fly, should fear not as despite the fancy  sub-genre title this film still fits into the standard slasher format, with the main difference being that the budget its being shot with is well below what your standard horror film has to play with, which is unquestionably the case here as director Wingard made the film for a paltry  One million dollars.

Despite the limited budget this film is certainly not lacking in style or creativity, with the setting kept to the manor house location for the most part, with only a brief diversion to a neighbouring property to keep the action fresh aswell as to enforce the sense of isolation, which is only furthered by the pitch black rural setting. At the same time Wingard is clearly not trying to reinvent the wheel as the film soon drops into the standard stalk and slash blueprint. However it is at the moment that the film kicks into this gear with a surprise crossbow attack by our animal masked killers that the Wingard pulls the rug from under our feet, as he unleashes his surprise as rather than let the process of elimination slowly reveal who will be the final girl here Wingard reveals her straight away, as mere minuites after the killers have claimed their first victim Erin (Vinson) leaps into action and proving that she has no intentions to waiting until she forfills the needed criteria of the final girl.

Erin really is a major selling point here outside of the cool look the animal masked killers have and who manage to break the worrying trend of cool masks = awful film (see: The Purge, The Strangers). Thankfully Erin’s quick reactions to the situation are explained away by the reveal that she grew up with a survivalist father who taught her skills which she certainly puts to good use here, along with a real knack for improvising on the fly as she frequently proves over the course of the film.

The rest of the family though it has to be said are pretty much there to add to the healthy body count, as they spend the film running around aimlessly and find ever more unique ways to fall victim to the killers, who like Erin equally don’t lack creativity as they set up several ingenious traps which caught even an established genre fan like myself by surprise. The fact that they don’t talk for the most part of the film equally adds to the tension which surrounds them while bringing to mind memories of the finale of “The Wicker Man”. At the same time it is their single minded determination which really makes them quite chilling to watch for the first half of the film while perhaps losing their edge once their plans begin to fall apart and they start begin talking amongst themselves more.

Sadly the rest of the cast are largely forgettable with no real difference between any of them, which makes it hard to care about losing any of them, especially when they are so interchangeable from each other and really only there to add to the body count which honestly is the sole advantage of having some of them around. Ultimately it’s hard to feel anything for most of the characters when we lose one of them with perhaps a couple of exceptions, which provoke a reaction more than joy at another slain yuppie.

Thankfully though the kills make up for the disposable nature of the these characters and here we certainly get to a lot of creativity from the opening crossbow attack on the family dinner party things steadily escalate with the killers soon proving themselves to a resourceful bunch as they frequently pull out some great surprise kills while many are delivered with sense of automation as the killers go about their work with the animal masks only adding to the chills. Thanks to Erin’s unique skill set the kill streak also goes both ways as she shows herself not only handy in a fight, but with her own cunning line of booby traps, from window spikes through to the much talked about blender to the head she soon makes it a very bad day to be a killer.

Perhaps one of the fresher horror movies of recent times, if perhaps down to the fact that its not distracting itself with the paranormal, zombies or one of the other overwork sub-genres and instead gives us a back to basics slasher with a few new twists. If this means that the future of horror lies in the Mumblegore genre, it is hard to say from this sole example but certainly more promising than anything currently in the mainstream.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Maniac (2012)

Title: Maniac
Director: Franck Khalfoun
Released: 2012
Starring: Elijah Wood, Nora Arnezeder, Jan Broberg, Liane Balaban, America Olivo, Joshua De La Garza, Morgane Slemp, Sal Landi, Genevieve Alexandra, Sammi Rotibi, Megan M. Duffy

Plot: Frank (Wood) by day works restoring and selling mannequins, while at night he trawls the streets looking for victims to help him quell his violent urges as he is constantly tormented by the voices in his head.

Review: Usually the news of yet another iconic horror film being given the remake treatment is enough to bring cries of despair from the horror community (let alone myself), mainly because they have tendency to be just plain awful! Frequently these rushed out efforts try to play off the legacy of their namesakes in hopes of guaranteed box office return and more than often minus any of the scares. The exception to this rule though has been with Alexandre Aja, who despite exploding onto the scene with “Switchblade Romance” (aka Haute Tension / High Tension depending were in the world you are)  has since then been responsible for some of the best films to come out of the current horror remake trend, as he has helmed remakes of The Hills Have Eyes, Mirrors and Piranha and here he turns his attention to William Lustig’s cult slasher. Despite teaming up once more with his long term writing partner Gregory Levasseur, this time he hands over the directorial reigns to Franck Khalfoun for his most high profile film to date after his ho-hum debut “P2” and the direct to DVD “Wrong Turn at Tahoe” which he clearly has learned from as this film is very much a different beast entirely.

First off I should highlight that I won’t in this review try and draw comparisions between this film and the 1980 original which like so many of Lustig’s films has a very dedicated fan base many of whom dismissed the film on its release which is kind of a shame as both films have their own merits yet at the same time they are very different beasts.

Shot almost entirely from the Frank’s POV the film is heavily reminiscent of “Peeping Tom” with Frank only being seen occasionally via reflections or out of body hallucinations. It is from the opening were we see Frank in his van stalking his next victim that we are immediately given an insight into his fractured and tortured psyche as he mutters to himself and provides his own commentary as he watches his victim, before we ultimately follow Frank as he slowly moves in for the kill. Frank though is not content to just stalk and kill young women though, as he also enjoys scalping his victims and later transferring their hair onto one of his numerous mannequins which in Frank’s mind gives them the personality of his victims.

Here Khalfoun is not content to give us yet another run of the mill slasher as the focus is kept completely with Frank throughout the film and in doing so ensures that he is fully able to explore the complex psyche of Frank, whose issues are certainly deep rooted to say the least as we get frequent flashbacks to Frank’s childhood in particular his mother moonlighting as a prostitute, scenes hauntingly shot with the young Frank being forced to watch grotesque sexual scenes happening infront of him, while clearly not being able to configure in his young mind what is actually. Combined with the frequently nervous tone which Frank speaks with it is a strange sense of sympathy that Frank invokes in the audience even though we are watching him commit some truly hideous acts and its this conflict of emotions we feel for this character that Khalfoun frequently plays with over the course of the film as he shows us Frank’s tortured psyche before showing him committing some hideous act ensuring that we are never sure how to feel about him.

Speaking of these acts, unsurprising for any film which Alexandre Aja is involved with it is unquestionably violent in places with scalping being the main order of the day and while certainly toned down than some of Aja's previous films, he it is unquestionably effective when it is used and never seemingly for the sake of easy shocks as Khalfoun is careful to not loose the mood of the film for the sake of adding more gore, instead preferring to use intense bursts rather than prolonged violence and only allowing himself to truly go overboard for the finale as Frank suffers a full mental breakdown escalating in a suitably gory climax.

The real strength of this film though lies in the casting of Elijah Wood who gives us his second turn as a psycho after previously playing the mute cannibal Kevin in “Sin City” and here he continues his surprising talent for playing serial killers as he continues to prove himself more than a one trick pony considering how many people still see him as Frodo. Here though that role seems like a distant memory as he tackles possibly one of his most complex roles to date and while he might seem like the last person who could play a convincing psycho he soon blows any doubts out of the water within minutes of the film starting, as he is effortless flows between Frank’s many frames of mind.

The other standout aspect here is the synth heavy soundtrack by French composer Rob and which instantly brought to mind Cliff Martinez score for “Drive” with undertones of “A  Clockwork Orange” and it really suits the film which after all is a (loose) remake of an 80’s film.  Like so many of John Carpenter’s films here as well the film is framed by its soundtrack, moving from softly haunting during the stalking sequence, while fully coming to the front during the climax as Frank truly looses all control he may have had over his murderous urges
Yet another film to add to the argument for remakes, this is unquestionably exciting film making and even without the link to the original film, this film more than stands on its own merits, especially with Wood providing one of his most memorable performances to date. No matter what your stance on the unrelenting stream of remakes might be, this is certainly one of the better films to come out of this trend.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Turtle Power: The Definitive History of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Title: Turtle Power: The Definitive History of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Director: Randall Lobb
Released: 2014:
Plot: Documentary charting the history of the series from its early beginnings as an indie comic book to worldwide phenomenon

Review: Back when I was growing up I had two favourite cartoons, the first being “SWAT KATZ” while the other was “Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles” as it was known here in the UK as censors were kind of twitchy about the word ninja. While both shows were popular it would be the turtles which would truly blow up with the show ultimately running to 193 episodes as well as spawning as we probably all remember a popular toy line, several feature films and two further TV series. Unquestionably there was once a time were you couldn’t go anywhere without seeing some form of turtle inspired merchandise.

This year the franchise celebrated its 30th anniversary, which is honestly quite astonishing for a series which started as joke between series creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird when Eastman showed him a picture he’d drawn of turtle wearing a bandana. The unrelenting popularity of their creation the documentary only further highlights over its examination of the series from the first comic book and ending with the shudder inducing “Coming Out Of Their Shells Tour” with the later years of the franchise only highlighted on various character timelines which break up the various eras the documentary covers.

Shot over four years and comprised over 200 hours of interview footage with nearly all the major players who were involved in the series during the golden years of their meteoric rise in popularity and featuring extensive interview footage with both Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird who provide most of the commentary tying the footage together due to the lack of any kind of narration. The pair also provides a fair amount of behind the scenes footage via their home movies especially from the early days of Mirage Studios.
The pair are unquestionably still humble about their creation and frequently admit throughout the film that its success was really as much a surprise to them as it was everyone else and much like their original meeting the result of blind luck than anything else. This is no better highlighted than the fact that in the first issue of the comic that they killed off Shredder never expecting that there would be a call for a second issue. This first issue is frequently returned to over the course the film, as time and time again it proves to be the key to opening the door to the next evolution for the series.

Unsurprisingly the bulk of the film is dedicated to the classic cartoon series, which came out surprisingly of the Playmates Toys Inc looking to produce an action figure range based on the characters and needing a good promotional vehicle teamed up with Fred Wolf and his animation team to produce the special which would soon after turn into the long running series. It is really at this point that the film really goes into fanboy heaven as the whole of the original voice cast are reunited to share their experiences of working on the show. Bizarrely though Rob Paulsen who voiced Raphael is strangely missing from the reunion, but this is unquestionably made up for by the cast members they do assemble including the now sadly departed James Avery (aka Uncle Phil from “Fresh Prince of Bell Air”) who voiced Shredder and here fondly reminists like all the cast about his time on the show, while even going as far as to compare it to doing Shakespeare which he then proceeds to do in the voice of Shredder in just one of the many great moments of this scene. This scene is especially fun as each of the cast go into their method for creating each of their character voices complete with demonstrations from each of the cast which really is really blew my little fanboy mind, best of all though has to be Pat Fraley comparing his portrayal of disembodied brain Krang to a Jewish mother!

Thankfully everyone involved in the series have seemingly kept everything from the production of the series as the interview footage is frequently accompanied by animation stills aswell as character design sketches which help to highlight the gradual evolution of the characters from their dark comic route to their more recognised lighter form which also saw them donning their trademark colour bandana’s in favour of their uniformed red bandana’s which they had worn in the original comic. Aswell as this we also get to see design sketches for characters which didn’t make the final cut. The production materials also really come into effect when showing the sheer scale of making the live action version, which also serves to remind you of a time when the studios weren’t eagerly buying up every comic book property they could. The interviews with those involved in the making of the film also serve to show just how much of a nightmare the film was to shoot, especially with the Turtle effects which is highlighted with some nice test footage from the Jim Henderson archives aswell as interviews with Brian Henderson and Kevin Clash (he of Elmo fame) the latter who was responsible for the Splinter puppetry.

Unquestionably this documentary will delight the fans who it is essentially aimed at. More so when it is an overwhelmingly positive picture that it paints here, with no one seemingly having a bad word to say, which might also explain why the “Coming Out Of Their Shells Tour” is not discussed by any of the major players. For those who’ve yet to witness how horrible it I would highly recommend watching the analysis by Phelous. Even the eventual parting of ways of Eastman and Laird being seen by both as a mutual decision and a result of growing apart and desires to work on other projects, which fans of Eastman’s work will know saw him creating the cult comic “Heavy Metal” (his appearance with his wife Julie Strain in “Return to Savage Beach” is sadly not mentioned). The film ending on a positive note for their relationship as after two decades they are shown reuniting for the thirtieth anniversary.

Despite the title claiming to be the definitive history of the Turtles, only half of the history is really covered here which will no doubt irk some fans looking for more background on the spin off’s like the live action “Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation” which saw the turtles being joined by a fifth female turtle Venus De Milo or the two cartoon series which followed it or either of the last two films, which no doubt may have taken away from the sunny one that we get here. This however is still an essential watch for turtle fans while still accessible enough so that even those unfamiliar with the show can still enjoy it. Now where's my new SWAT KATZ??

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Hit and Run

Title: Hit and Run
Director: Dax Shepard, David Palmer
Released: 2012
Starring: Dax Shepard, Kristen Bell, Kristin Chenoweth, Tom Arnold, Bradley Cooper, Jess Rowland, Ryan Hansen, Beau Bridges, Michael Rosenbaum, Jason Bateman

Plot: Former getaway driver Yul (Shepard) is happily enjoying his new life in witness protection under his new name of Charlie Bronson. When his girlfriend Annie (Bell) gets a job interview in LA, he is faced with running afoul of his former gang member Alexander Dmitri (Cooper)

Review: It has frequently been said that just because you can do something, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you should do it. A case certainly proven here with the second film from the directing team of Shepard and Palmer and made on a minuscule budget of $2 million with Shepard using cars from his own personal collection and with the help of friends in the business to get the film made. Apparently it’s a method which worked out well for the duo, especially considering how they seemingly could afford to blow half the budget was blown on securing music rights. The end result though is essentially the equivalent of a student film made with an actual budget as here, Shepard (who also wrote the screenplay) seemingly aims to recapture the spirit of “True Romance” only with added car-porn. Sadly though this is nothing but a pale copy.

Opening with Yul and his Emily in bed, it is a utterly horrible bombardment of dialogue that introduces the couple at the heart of this tale in a scene which almost had me reaching for the eject button before the film had even begun. I guess one of the main issues I had with them is the fact that they have no real chemistry which could be placed more on the fact that they are being played by the real life couple of Shepard and Bell which more often than not fails to work outside of the occasional rare exception like “Cruel Intentions” which saw the pairing of real life couple (at the time atleast) Ryan Phillippe and Reese Witherspoon to memorable effect. Why the pairing of Shepard and Bell doesn’t work it’s hard to place and perhaps might have had a lot to do with Yul being the sort of character that Sam Rockwell would have played so well and perhaps it was this desire to see him the role which made this pairing all the harder to take.

The couple unfortunately are made only the more unlikable by the sheer lack of character development outside of surface details and their general relationship, they essentially have about much depth as a puddle, while never really giving you any reason to really care about either of them, even more so when both Shepard and Bell at times give the impression that they are pretty much phoning it in. Such frustration is only really added to when they never seem to be doing anything particularly interesting bar the occasional bit of fancy driving (interestingly mainly performed by the cast due to the budget) or when Shepard decides to show off another of the fancy cars in his collection, which considering they are the real highlight here makes it more of showcase for them than anything else.  

When it comes to the supporting cast things get slightly better with Tom Arnold on fun form as the fantastically clumsy and easily flustered U.S. Marshal Randy as he gives ones of his best performances since “True Lies” as he frequently has to deal with a number of escalating issues with his people carrier, which not only seems to have a mind of its own, but frequently seems to actively be trying to kill him, as it sets off his gun and even launches a bowling ball at him during one of the many specular crashes he has, which also certainly tests the endurance of the vehicle which honestly seems to be indestructible considering what its put through. Arnold’s character much like an overworked joke about a gay hook up app, really throws off the tone of the film which can never seem to decide if its supposed to be a drama or a comedy. As a result it flirts with both genres, while never fully committing to one or the other which again could be done to the generally horrible and frequently boring dialogue that while aiming for a sense of cool only to largely come off flat and uninspired.

Elsewhere Bradley Cooper proves to be another of the stronger aspects, while also getting to give us a rare villainous turn as the dog loving psychopath Alexander Dmitri who can be set off over something as simple as the type of dog food someone chooses to feed their dog. True the accent might be alittle off and the fact that Annie’s persistent ex-boyfriend Gil (Rosenbaum) is able to tip him off about Yul’s whereabouts through Facebook is beyond laughable, but here he frequently manages to come off as a decent threat to the couple, without ever having to resort to comically overplayed acts of violence outside of his introduction which proves to be more than enough to establish his character without ever needing to be added to.

Considering that half the budget was blown on the music rights for the soundtrack, its kind of a relief that this expense really pays off, with no doubt most of this expense going towards such tentpole tracks as Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion” and “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, which unsurprisingly are used to soundtrack the more gratuitous slow motion moments of car porn.

Overall this film was a chore to get through from the start to the finish and the sort of film which would benefit from Shepard either fully committing to acting or directing, rather than trying to do both. Perhaps then there might have been some balance to the film but had it not been down to the resources available to Shepard it would be unlikely that this film would have been made atoll, bringing back to my opening statement, that just because you can do something it doesn't mean you should do it!

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Kick-Ass 2

Title: Kick-Ass 2
Director: Jeff Wadlow
Released: 2013
Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Morris Chestnut, John Leguizamo, Jim Carrey, Clark Duke, Donald Faison, Angustus Prew, Lindy Booth, Olga Kurkulina

Plot: Dave (Taylor-Johnson) having retired from fighting crime as his superhero alter-ego Kick-Ass, starts training with Mindy (Moretz) aka Hit-Girl to become a proper hero despite also being forced into retirement by her guardian Marcus (Chestnut). Elsewhere the former Red Mist Chris D’Amico (Mintz-Plasse) still wanting revenge on Kick-Ass reinvents himself as supervillian “The Motherfucker”

Review: Back in 2010 when the original “Kick-Ass” was unleashed on the unsuspecting movie going public, it finally brought a much needed fresh spin to the superhero genre which had pretty much grown stale thanks to a stream of less than stellar adaptations, while Marvel had only taken the most tentative of steps in establishing their all dominating cinematic universe. Like the source material though, here was a film which did for comic book movies what “Scream” did for the horror genre, as it shook things up while playing off the long established conventions as it applied them to a real world setting, only without the dark edge of Alan Moore’s legendry “Watchmen”.  

Unsurprisingly “Kick-Ass” was followed by a host of imitators such as “Defendor” and the wonderfully bizarre “Super” but ultimately “Kick-Ass” was the only one which left me wanting to see what happened next. Which was especially the case after the first was so much fun, with its intoxicating mix of warped humour and over the top violence which perfectly captured the tone of the source material. The fact that it stuck so close to the material really made me wonder how this sequel would play out more so when the source material for the sequel really doesn’t pull any punches as Mark Millar’s book not only ramped up the violence, but also contained numerous controversial scenes including children being machine gunned and one character being gang raped by The Motherfucker and his crew.

This controversy was only added to by Jim Carrey suddenly withdrawing his support for the film in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting stating

“I did Kick-Ass a month before Sandy Hook and now in all good conscience I cannot support that level of violence. My apologies to others involved with the film. I am not ashamed of it but recent events have caused a change in my heart.”

Of course this proved to be better promotion for the film than if he had done a dozen press junkets, especially as the prospect of controversial violence had fans clamouring to see what the film had in store for them, especially those who’d read the book whose curiosity was sent into overdrive as they wondered if director Wadlow was going to truly give us a no holds barred adaptation. The answer of course is….no.

Unsurprisingly while there are numerous things you can do in fiction and comic books (just look at the antics of Clive Barker and Alan Moore for prime examples) these same things just don’t carry across to their film adaptations and if they do they usually won’t make it past the censors shears. So it comes as little surprise to see numerous elements being toned down or played in a more humorous light as especially seen with the gang rape sequence which has now been replaced with a impotence jab which honestly was the right choice like so many of the changes between the film and the source material as here Wadlow trades the darker aspects in favour of moments of slightly warped humour.

Focusing on two main plot threads it is a delicate balancing act that Wadlow pulls off here as the film switches between Dave’s return to costume vigilantism, which now seems him now teaming up with fellow like-minded have-a-go heroes to form “Justice Forever” lead by the square jawed patriot Colonel Stars and Stripes (Carrey) while finding a new love interest a group member Night Bitch (Booth). The other main plot follows Mindy and her attempts to live a normal life now she has retired her Hit-Girl persona, which soon sees running afoul of the resident mean girls at her high school. Needless to say it is only a matter of time before Mindy cracks and finds a way to get her revenge which is spectacularly graphic to say the least.
Despite having had a run of tough guy roles in the likes of the frustratingly smug “Savages” and the more recent “Godzilla” reboot, it is nice to see him being able to tone things down again to play the weedy Dave whose sole power is pretty much from his ability to take a pounding (thanks to his damaged nerve endings) and makes his training at the hands of Mindy only all the more hilarious to watch, especially when she reminds him frequently that he’s been beaten up by a 15-year old girl while proving that she’s lost none of her acid tinged wit in the time since we last saw her.

Elsewhere Christopher Mintz-Plasse continue to surprise and really seems to have a blast playing the off the rails Motherfucker whose sole ability is being filthy rich and being able to hire his own team of misfit villains including the towering Mother Russia (Kurkulina) who make up his Toxic Mega-Cunts a reminder that Miller really didn’t expect this film to be resonating with any kind of highbrow audience that’s for sure. Mintz-Plasse’s Motherfucker is the typical idea of what a supervillian should be if you gave a teenager the free reign that Chris has, caring little for what is politically correct as he names his henchmen based on race hence we get the likes of “Black Death” and “Genghis Carnage”. Thankfully John Leguizamo’s Javier is on hand to balance out Chris’s frenzied nature, as he attempts and fails frequently to provide the voice of reason to Chris’s OTT plans of domination, which Leguizamo’s performance only further serves to remind us just how underrated he still is an actor, much like Carrey who gets to play a more subdue role as Captain Stars and Stripes, not that you could tell from the trailer which ironically choose to show the two oddball moments he allows himself.

Perhaps not as sharp as the original film, especially when it frequently relies on toilet humour than the sarcasm and wit of the original making Jane Goldman’s absence from scriptwriting duties all the more noticeable. This aside Wadlow gives us here a fun sequel and a nice setup for the proposed final part of the trilogy, which due to the film underperforming might be something we see solely in the comics.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Elwood's Essentials #8: Ghost World

Title: Ghost World
Director: Terry Zwigoff
Released: 2001
Starring: Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson, Steve Buscemi
Plot: Life long friends and recent High school graduates Enid (Birch) and Rebecca (Johansson) embrace their place as social outcasts and care little for what anyone else thinks about them as they rain down scorn and sarcasm on their peers. However after finding a personal ad placed by the lonely Seymour (Buscemi), their prank call leads Enid to find a kindred spirit in Seymour, as the two start to build an unlikely friendship. Meanwhile Enid finds her own relationship with Rebecca deteriorating as she fights to keep things around her from changing.

Review:  It’s time for me to once again revisit another of my all time favourite films. Always a daunting prospect to say the least and mainly because I'm of the mindset that once I review a film that I'm essentially done with it and to write about one of my favourite films means the prospect of never getting to have the pleasure of writing about it again. Still after a recent conversation about films with one my work colleague revealed the horrible truth that there still folks out there who have not seen this film that I knew I had to try and readdress the balance.
Based on the cult graphic novel by Daniel Clowes. The story first appeared in Clowes’s now defunct comic book series “Eightball” before later being republished in its more recognised trade paperback format. Clowes would also write the screenplay for the this film alongside director Terry Zwigoff in his first film in seven years, since directing the insightful documentary “Crumb” about another cult comic artist Roger Crumb, so it seemed almost perfect that Zwigoff would choose the work of another cult comic artist for his return to film making.

Needless to say the assorted colourful characters of “Ghost World” are almost too perfect for Zwigoff, who has made a career out his obsession with misfits, antiheroes and alienation. All themes which he gleefully gets to explore here, especially when these themes are equally popular with Clowes own work making this collaboration the perfect partnership, while Clowes is certainly not afraid to adapt his popular graphic novel, for anyone who has read it will tell you that it is nothing like the film version, outside of perhaps a handful of scenes and its familiar characters. Still the more obsessive fans of Clowes work will no doubt recognise the references to his other comics he has included throughout.

What remains the same though is the bond which Enid and Rebecca share, which is one not so much of close friends, but in fact much closer to a sisterly relationship. A relationship which has been perfectly captured by Birch and Johansson, who truly embody these characters with Birch in particular giving another memorable performance which (her meddling father's career interference aside) only makes you question why she has not been picked up for more mainstream projects rather than working almost exclusively on indie films as she currently is? Johansson on the other hand as we all know would explode into mainstream movies shortly after the release of this film, even though she regularly fails to muster half the laid back talent she showcases so proudly here and later in the equally wonderful “Lost In Translation”

On equally good form is Buscemi, who once again brings his oddball charm to the character of the lovable loser Seymour, a character which Clowes reportedly based in part on director Zwigoff, who in turn had insisted that the character was expanded way beyond his appearance in the original graphic novel, were he shown solely as the victim of the prank call. The similarities between Zwigoff and Seymour only continue through out the film with Seymour’s obsession with 1920’s Blues and Jazz records mirroring Zwigoff’s own obsessions, something which was the focus of his debut film "Louie Bluie". This expansion of his character works only more in the films favour, especially with the graphic novel seemingly being a series of events randomly strung together, while this change instead gives the film a much more structured format and in turn makes the story all the stronger when viewed in this format, for what works as a graphic novel it’s safe to say would not have worked here.

Still the relationship between Enid and Seymour is a fascinating one to watch, as the urge to instantly pair them together is fiercely resisted, with Enid seemingly doing anything she can to help Seymour break out his cocoon of old records and classic nostalgia he has crafted for himself and even when they do get together it is only as a meaningless drunken one night stand, which serves more a catalyst for Enid’s own changing self than it does for their relationship. This however is just one of the numerous risks that the film takes, as it fights against the usual storytelling conventions and somehow never puts a foot wrong.

Though the name “Ghost World” has by Clowes own admittance nothing to do with the story and more to do with the fact that he felt it would be funny to have a bunch of places named after this like Ghost World Elementary. Still Zwigoff has seemingly taken this title in another direction, as he shoots the film almost as if being viewed from a ghosts view point, especially as the camera opens gliding past the windows of Enid’s apartment block, glancing momentarily at each of the various occupants as if choosing who to follow before finally setting in Enid in the throws of her imitation of the dance routine from the bollywood mystery movie “Gumnaam”. Such shooting style continues throughout, with Zwigoff shooting from the position of the onlooker than sat with the characters, while other examples include the extended shot of a video store clerk absentmindedly picking his ear with his pen. Still even though we follow Enid and Rebecca through this journey the audience is still very much left with the feeling of just being ghosts in their world, especially with the films ending seeming so ambiguous on the first viewing.

Unquestionably a hard film to define and in many ways only makes it more like both "Welcome to the Dollhouse" and "Daria" which combine forms an unofficial timeline for Enid, with Dollhouse's Dawn representing Enid in seventh grade, "Daria" her high school years with "Ghost World" representing graduation. I guess all we need now is a film which shows an Enid style character in her wilderness years to further the chain, a film we continue to hold out for.

This is a film which is hard to sell, but easy to fall in love with once viewed, while finally being the high school movie, which will no doubt ring all so true to its fellow misfits and anyone whose felt themselves an outcast.

Monday, 4 August 2014

The Boondock Saints 2: All Saints Day

Title: The Boondock Saints 2: All Saints Day
Director: Troy Duffy
Released: 2009
Starring: Sean Patrick Flanery, Norman Reedus, Clifton Collins Jr., Julie Benz, Billy Connolly, Judd Nelson, Peter Fonda, David Della Rocco, Willem Dafoe, Bob Marley, David Ferry, Brian Mahoney

Plot: Eight years after the events of the first film the sibling vigilantes Connor (Flanery) and Murphy (Reedus) have put their guns to earth as they now live a quiet simple life with their father and former assassin “Il Duce (Connolly). However when they are framed for the murder of a Boston priest the brothers are forced out of retirement as they set out to clear their name

Review: Coming a ten years after the first film it was something of a surprise that this film was actually made, but then the same could also be said for the original whose troubled production was documented in the documentary “Overnight” which saw Director Duffy being heralded as the new Tarantino with his excitingly inventive script being picked up by the Weinstein’s only to soon becoming a property that no studio wanted after Duffy's general attitude soon found his project being dumped. Duffy would eventually get the film made if for a fraction of the original budget and over the years it has continued to gain a strong cult following as the fans clamoured for the return of the brothers.

True it might have been a longer wait than the fans might have wanted, thanks again to a variety of production issues which served to delay its release with many of the fans doubting that it would ever see a release. Needless to say now that it has finally been released it is something of a relief to find that Duffy’s debut wasn’t the fluke some may have written it off as, as here he truly delivers a sequel equal to that of the original. Equally pleasing to see is that the original cast have all been brought back for this sequel which considering how Reedus is now best known for his role on “The Walking Dead” I doubted that we would see his return here, much like Dafoe who even more surprisingly also makes an appearance even if it is pretty much a glorified cameo.

Unsurprisingly this film is essentially more of the same as the brothers upon their return to Boston waste little time in picking up were they left off cleaning the street of drug dealers and gangsters, while this time joined by their new Mexican sidekick Romeo (Collins Jr.) who is essentially a carbon copy of Rocco from the first film (who bizarrely also puts in an appearance via a random dream sequence)  as he generally is the source of most of the films comic relief, while Collins Jr. brings enough personality to the role to make him more than just the Mexican Rocco, especially during one scene were he misses out on an intense hotel room shootout due to the amount of time he’s spent trying to come up with killer catchphrase.

While on the subject of copies the same could also be said of FBI agent Bloom (Benz) the apprentice of agent Smecker (Dafoe) who share many of the same mannerisms even if she doesn’t exactly scene steal the same way as Dafoe did in the original, their methods are essentially identical, while director Duffy takes advantage of having Benz in the role as he includes a sexy cowgirl fantasy as part of one of her analysis, complete with some pretty fancy gun tricks which have zero to do with her explanation but sure looks cool and kind of made me want to see her play a gunslinger role like Sharon Stone in “The Quick and the Dead”. Like Smecker she is once again joined by the bumbling trio of detectives Greenly (Marley), Dolly (Ferry) and Duffy (Mahoney) who are still trying to cover up their involvement in the vigilante plans of the saints and this time play more of an active role in assisting them in a nice move for the series as it goes from just being the brothers, to now becoming more of a group, even if it is still largely down to the brothers to do the real grunt work.

The other focus here revolves around the background of Il Duce, who we were given the minimal amount of information about in the original, while generally being surprised that Scottish funny man Connolly was capable of playing such a badass, much less giving a convincing Irish accent, especially considering how a strong an accent he has normally. Unsurprisingly it is a background filled with similarities to the brothers own path to becoming vigilantes only with a dose of betrayal to explain away his incarceration.

Despite being more experienced than they were in the first film, the brothers still rely as always on what they’ve learned from the movies and general luck and instinct than any real kind of training. Infact judging from their questionable beards and new life as goat herders it would seem that they we’re exactly planning on returning to Boston after the first film and explaining away why they are none the more planned this time around. As before Duffy uses this inexperience frequently as a source of humour for the action scenes which are essentially as inventive as before aswell as featuring the extensive use of slow motion shots to really work each of these scenes. The real standout moment however has to be the butt clenching game of Russian roulette between Il Duce and the assassin responsible for framing the brothers, which Connelly truly unleashes his inner badass with a simple “Easy boys...Daddy’s working” as he maintains an icey cool demeanour.

Duffy once again shows an ear for dialogue as he once more delivers a boat load of quotable dialogue, making it unsurprising that so many people were keen to compare him to Quentin Tarantino and yes while both bring a fresh energy to the crime genre, it remains to be seen if he can work outside of the world of the saints which currently seems to be his sole focus, especially with “Boondock Saints 3: Saints Preserve Us” currently in the works aswell as a rumoured TV adaptation, but if they are as much fun as these first two entries I’m hardly going to complain about his current lack of range.
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