Monday, 29 September 2014

I Am Divine

Title: I Am Divine
Director: Jeffrey Schwarz
Released: 2013
Starring: Divine / Glen Harris Milstead, John Waters, Tab Hunter, Ricki Lake, Mink Stole, George Figgs, Bruce Vilanch, Lisa Jane Persky, David DeCoteau, Susan Lowe, Mary Vivian Pearce, Edith Massey, David Lochary

Plot: Documentary charting the life of legendry drag performer Divine, from his early start in the films of his best friend John Waters to his rise as a national phenomenon as he became an off Broadway star, disco queen and cult cinema icon through to his premature death at age 42.

Review: Unquestionably one of the most iconic characters in Cult cinema, Divine might be best known for the films he made with best friend John Waters such as “Hairspray” and the legendry midnight movie “Pink Flamingos” who in turn helped him create his snarling and outrageously offensive alter-ego. But beneath the flamboyant costumes and snarling remarks was a gentle and soft spoken man who couldn’t be further from his drag alter-ego as this documentary reveals.

Director Jeffrey Schwarz who previously gave us the fantastic “Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story” now turns his attention to arguably an even bigger personality, as he combines home footage, movie clips and copious amounts of new and archive interview footage to truly paint a full picture aswell as one which shows that Divine was much more than just another character in John Waters repertoire of now legendry quirky characters which made up Dreamland Productions.

Once again devoid of any kind of narration or title cards, here Schwarz instead lets the interview footage tell the story, as once again he truly has assembled a great set of interviews which take in not only all the major players from his life, but also touching interviews with his mother and even his first girlfriend which truly paint the fullest picture possible, while extensive use of archive interviews with the man in question only further help to round it out what is already a glowing tribute, especially when  none of the interviewees have anything bad to say about him and serve to provide more of an idea of who he was away from the limelight rather than anything overly scandalous.

When it comes to scandal it would seem that Divine preferred to leave it all with his drag persona, than with his real life even though there is much talk of his casual drug use and life life long love affair with food which includes tales of Glen eating directly from the fridge. It is also interesting to see how quickly Schwarz is to shut down any assumptions about Divine’s life, with a prime example coming as one of his off Broadway co-stars musing that Divine lived a solitary life is shot down by a sudden burst of conflicting interviews highlighting just how active his sex life was with John Waters happily highlighting some of his better known conquests.

While Divine will no doubt be best known to most for his film persona, which is covered heavily throughout the film including the rare films he did without Waters such as “Lust in the Dust” and his rare out of drag film role as Hilly Blue in “Trouble in Mind” though Divine is constantly seen out of drag throughout the film as he preferred to stay in character only when performing and instead preferring to be just to be his softly spoken self as we see throughout the film and something further enforced in the interviews.

True it could have been enough to focus just on Divine’s celebrity lifestyle, but thanks to Schwartz’s interviews with his mother Francis his childhood is equally well covered aswell as more painfully the breakdown in their relationship after he choose to come out as gay, while they would reunite years when he was enjoying the success as an underground star with Francis clearly proud of her son and his various achievements as she along with his best friend John Waters provides many of the films touching moments.  

Ending with the release of “Hairspray” which would launch both Divine and John Waters into the mainstream, it would also be a launch pad for the career of Ricki Lake who like the other interviewees has plenty of fond memories to share including stories of Divine teaching her to walk in heels. It would of course be the last film he would complete before his untimely death which in turn would mean as the film highlights never get to break away from his popular alter-ego which he’d planned to do with his role as the gay uncle on “Married with Children” which he was set to start around the same time and which interestingly would also have made him the first mainstream gay character on TV.

While he might not have ultimately forfilled this destiny it is still an incredible legacy which he did leave behind and this documentary is more than a fitting tribute. Even if you only have a passing knowledge of his work, there is still much to enjoy here even for the more established fan as Schwarz here gives us a documentary which has something for fans of all levels as he presents John Waters favourite leading lady in all her filthy and foul mouthed glory!

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

The Hunter

Title: The Hunter
Director: Daniel Nettheim
Released: 2012
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Frances O’Connor, Finn Woodlock, Morgana Davies, Sam Neil

Plot: Martin (Dafoe) a mercenary hired by the biotech company Red Leaf to hunt down and recover tissue and organ samples of the Tasmanian Tiger, which has long since thought to be extinct. Arriving in Tasmania under the alias of a university professor, he sets up a temporary residence with single mother Lucy (O’Connor) and her two young and seemingly feral children Sass (Davies) and the mute Bike (Woodlock), whose father disappeared in the wilderness eight months previous hunting for the same Tasmanian Tiger which Martin seeks.

Review: Possibly one of the more low key releases, but non the less important releases of this 2012, it is a film much like “Lost In Translation” in the fact that it is hard to make sound appealing and a film which it would seem that director Daniel Nettheim has taken the most cue’s from as he crafts a simple plotted but none the less engaging film.

Based on the book of the same name by Julia Leigh, it is far from being one the most action packed films but at the same time far from boring as we follow Martin on his quest for the elusive tiger. From the start though its clear that he is a man who seems most happy when he is isolated from the rest of humanity as seem in the opening, as he complains about being kept waiting in his hotel room and despite being in Paris cares little for sight seeing while clearly having long since grown used to a life on the road as shown by how he sets out his personal effects in his hotel room. Still despite this solitary existence he has chosen for himself, it is also clear he was not prepared for some of the aspects of this latest assignment, as he is left horrified by the rundown condition of his latest dwellings which inturn soon has him running for the local inn seeking alternative accommodation.

Elswhere the locals are less than welcoming, as they associate him with the local environmentalists or “greenies” whose current protests currently threaten the livelihood of the local loggers, who in turn ensure that the threat of violence is never far away, even more so when they are potentially linked with the disappearance of Sass and Bike’s father. Realising that he has little choice but to stay at his original accommodation, he soon finds himself bonding with his host family in particular the children whose fathers disappearance has sent their mother into a medicated downward spiral leaving them with almost no adult supervision outside of the occasional visit from the local guide Jack (Neill), who is from the start and throughout especially suspicious of Martin, especially with his loyalties being seemingly divided between both the environmentalists and loggers.

It is only when Martin sets out into the Tasmanian wilderness that the film really  is at its best, let alone most stunning as panoramic shots and extensive helicopter footage add to the sense of isolation, especially with the shots of Martin walking across the plains with nothing but wilderness and harsh terrain in seemingly all directions. This sense of how remote this territory only further reinforced when Jack points out during Martins first trek that most of the surrounding land hasn’t even been mapped outside of satellite imagery. It is also during these treks that Martins real skills are showcased as despite his desire to surround himself with the comforts of modern technology at the home, out here when at his most focused on his mission he takes on what could almost be seen as a complete personality shift, as he is shown as an expert in tracking, setting traps and surviving on backwoods skills, all believably portrayed by Defoe who worked with bush survival experts to prepare for the role, which clearly pays off here as he once more truly embodies the character of Martin.

During the treks the film provides most of it’s drama, not only with the hunt and the excitement of the smallest of clues that Martin is on the right path, but also from the fact that it frequently alluded to that he is never quite alone, with the discovery of additional traps and warning shot only furthering his paranoia, especially when he can’t be sure if he himself is being tracked by the loggers or even his own employers, even more so when he starts finding clues to what really happened to Sass and Bike’s father. This tension is expertly cranked up as the film progresses, with small details and events rather than sudden surprise twists, but none the less effective as the audience’s attention is firmly held by director Nettheim, even when it is essentially just Martin wondering around the dense woods and rocky mountains. What is especially interesting is noticeable lack of voice over which I’d expected during Martin’s treks, especially with him traveling alone Nettheim instead opts to shoot these scenes in eerie silence and only a spattering of minimalist soundtrack, as any internal monologue is left to be played out by Martin’s actions.

In between his treks Martin slowly brings order to the Armstrong house, as his bond only grows with the family, forcing Lucy to kick her addiction to prescription meds, while repairing the generator which like the rest of the house has long since fallen into disrepair, while also building a bond with the mute Bike, who may hold the secret to the whereabouts of the elusive tiger, while the family themselves slowly begin to provide Martin with a purpose outside of his work, while providing the film with many of it’s simpler moments of pleasure such as when Martin fixes the speakers hung in the tree and floods the surrounding area with the sounds of his favourite opera, to the ecstatic excitement of the family.

True this might not be the most action packed movie, but it is absolutely stunning to watch, with the human drama and the power of one man’s obsession and his humanity being restored is griping enough without feeling the up the action quota, as director Nettheim proves perfectly here that in this case certainly that less is certainly more.

Sunday, 14 September 2014


Title: Compliance
Director: Craig Zobel
Released: 2012
Starring: Ann Dowd, Dreama Walker, Pat Healy, Bill Camp, Phillip Ettinger, James McCaffrey, Ashlie Atkinson

Plot: When a prank caller (Healy) claiming to be a police officer investigating a theft at a fast food restaurant, the manager Sandra (Dowd) is convinced to interrogate one of her employees Becky (Walker) as the caller gives instructions over the phone.

Review: Based on the real life events of April 9, 2004 when a prank caller managed to convince the manger of a McDonald’s in Mount Washington, Kentucky that they were a police officer. At the same time the film also references the controversial Milgram experiment carried out by Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram and which was designed to look at participant’s willingness to obey an authority figure instructing them to perform acts which would conflict with the personal conscience, which Milgram achieved by asking participants to administer electric shocks of increasing voltage to another subject every time they made a mistake. What they didn’t know was that the person who they were supposedly shocking was an actor and not actually receiving any of the shocks the participant was lead to believe they were giving.

Like its inspiration this film proved to be non the less controversial with its premier at Sundance being greeted with Walkouts and shouting matches erupting during the Q&A session though since its release it has pretty much sunk under the radar, which is surprising as normally if anything is guaranteed to help the promotion of your film its controversy.

An intriguing plot made even more so because of the real world elements being a lot truer than the majority of so called movies “Inspired by real life events”, it is also a fascinating look at how different people respond to orders given by those in position of authority and while the film might centre around the situation that Sandra and Becky find themselves in, the real focus here is on how Sandra is manipulated and what she is willing to take as standard protocol based on nothing but the fact that she assumes she is being given the correct advice by a police officer.

Interestingly director Zobel has followed the events of the case in question remarkably closely, while at the same time bringing in other characters into the twisted games of the caller and perhaps in a way linking the events even more to the Milgram experiment as he shows how different staff members react to the orders being given, with some proving to be unquestionably compliant while Sandra’s friend Kevin (Ettinger) aggressively refuses to take part. Equally at the same time there is a curiosity about how far the caller will take things, which for those of you familiar with the case will come as no surprise while providing grim shocks for the rest of us.

Shot on a shoe string budget Zobel works around his limitations by keeping the majority of the film within the confines of the restaurant back office which helps add to the tension, only breaking away to show the caller as he works through his plan or to show one of the numerous hallway conversations between the staff regarding the escalating situation, which helps reassure us that they aren’t all of the same mind set and furthering reinforcing the different mind sets regarding the commands they are being given by the supposed officer.

While the majority of critics have raved about Dowd’s performance as the coerced restaurant manager which earned her the National Board of Review award for for Best Supporting Actress, which for myself as the film goes on proved to be source of increasing frustration especially as she continues to agree to the ever more invasive requests, even recruiting her own boyfriend Van (Camp) to watch Becky which only leading to some of the more shocking moments of the film. For myself the real standout here is Dreama Walker who while no doubt best known for her comedic talents in the sitcom “Don’t Trust The Bitch In Apartment 23” really proves her dramatic abilities here, which equally taking on no doubt one of her most challenging roles to date. More so when you look at what she is forced to endure over the course of the film and while also spending the majority of the film naked bar an apron, but this is in no way fun nudity.

My main gripe with this film though is the caller. Mainly because there is never any clear reason given for why he chooses to do what he does. Clearly it’s not for sexual satisfaction, while his meticulous note taking he makes over the course of the call only hints at a greater obsession which is frustratingly never explored further, with Zobel seemingly happy to just give us the fact and leave us to draw our own conclusions.

While it is a fascinating case which Zobel has chosen to highlight it is really a no thrills style which he chooses to shoot it in, while his focus purely on the events as they played out, with only a passing glance paid to the actual investigation and aftermath the film ends feels as if something is lacking, while the grim later portions combined with the lacking areas highlighted, especially in terms of the psychology of the caller means that it doesn’t stand up to repeat viewings. Still for those with any interest in the true case its worth giving a watch.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Bikini Bandits Experience

Title: Bikini Bandits Experience
Director: Steve Grasse
Released: 2002
Starring: Maynard James Keenan, Dee Dee Ramone, Jello Biafra, Corey Feldman, Peter Grasse, Larry McGearty, Bret Reilly, Heather-Victoria Ray, Heather McDonnell, Betty San Luis, Cynthia Diaz, Robyn Bird, Clark O’Donnel

Plot: Following the Bikini Bandits a four strong gang of bikini loving, muscle car driving and machine gun welding bad asses, as they embark on a series of ever more random adventures, which see them being sent to hell and even traveling though time.

Okay I couldn't find a trailer, but this is pretty much what the whole film is like

Review: Honestly I originally had zero plans to review this film, happy to write it off as another zero which failed to turn out more. However since that original viewing something strange happened as I found myself still thinking about the film and frequently finding myself talking about it to other cult cinema fans, about this film which is honestly largely a horrible mess, yet at the same time projects an aura that somewhere in this hour long jumble of ideas and random plots there was something special lurking under the titillating and confused surface.

Originally the Bikini Bandits were launched as a series of short films via the now defunct and would be there that the series slowly gained a cult following of sorts as the girls embarked on a series of increasingly random adventures the majority of which have now been edited into this film. At the same time they have also been padded out with new shorts which see director Grasse taking stabs at American consumerism via home shopping commericals for the fictional conglomerate Gmart, aswell as going off on further random tangents with the beyond creepy “Morning Yoga” and the seemingly shot on the cuff “Zembo” segments were a fez wearing Zembo basically harasses unsuspecting members of the public about if they know who the Bikini Bandits are. Needless to say with the exception of the Gmart segments which also features a John Waters Alike who along with his fellow host stop them from seeing like yet more filler thanks to their tone perfect performances.

Due to the film essentially being a best of collection of those original shorts loosely tied together with increasingly random filler, the film is unquestionably disjoined to say the least and makes for an experience similar to watching TV while your ADD suffering friend frequently flicks through the channels. At the same time the various misadventures the bandits find themselves on haven’t been developed beyond their original shorts so hence most of the adventures revolve around the girls finding themselves in an interesting situation before Grasse turns it into yet another excuse for cheap thrills as the stories are often suddenly ended with the girls engaging in some form of Andy Sidaris inspired slap and tickle or tormenting whatever male character happens to be nearby. Of course such antics are not only kept to the Bandit segments as they also make up a series of mock adverts for muscle cars, which generally consist of bikini clad ladies welding guns and draping themselves over the car. Still if this wasn’t enough titillation for you already, we also get the “Imports Suck” segement which consists solely of bikini clad ladies taking sledgehammers to a car….still whatever floats your boat right. How much of the film was inspired by the films of Andy Sidaris who essentially pioneered the Girls and guns film with the likes of “Return to Savage Beach” and “Hard Ticket To Hawai” its hard to say especially when it also seems to be a questionable homage to as well as grindhouse cinema, if perhaps with none of the style that Rodriguez and Tarantino brought with their own homages which kick-started the Neo-grindhouse genre.

The only developed story we do get being “Bikini Bandits Go To Hell” thanks to its original multipart structure which sees the girls being the girls being tasked by Giant penis codpiece wearing Satan (Keenan) to deflower the Virgin Mary or face being forced to watch 80’s favourite Corey Feldman dance for all eternity. It is probably around this point were most people will choose if they stick with this film or not, especially when Grasse doesn’t seem to give much a damn about who he offends, as he frequently it would seem is aiming to offend whenever possible. This in turns leads me to my main peeve with the this film in its frequent use of the word retard, with the apparent thinking that the mental handicapped make for the best source of amusement, especially with two of the stories revolving around such characters. The film though is always at its strongest when playing things straight and not aiming for such crude stabs at comedy, while these misfire attempts at comedy can't help but bring to mind "The Underground Comedy Movie" which was yet another underground series turned into a feature with equally questionable results.

Surprisingly for such a T&A focused film the performances aren't overly bad, even if the girls are hardly being forced to do anything overly challenging performance wise, which can’t be said for most of the male cast, who often end up coming off like crude and overplayed but then the majority are played by Grasse’s brother Peter so chances are that Grasse was saving budget by having him play so many roles. Rounding out the cast though we do also get a number of interesting musical cameos with Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan really giving a standout performance as Satan, while Dee Dee Ramone makes for an interesting choice to play the pope, especially as he doesn’t exactly seem to know where he is as he bumbles from through his lines. Elsewhere we also get Dead Kennedys frontman Jello Biafra appearing as a sleazy porn producer which sadly sees him majorly underused.

The most interesting casting choice here though is Corey Feldman appearing here as, well err…himself. What makes his appearance here so interesting is just how clear it is that he had no clue what he was signing up for, which is only made the clearer when Grasse includes what appears to be footage of an unsuspecting Feldman slagging off the film and making comments about what a piece of trash it is and how he’s been made to look like a joke. True it’s hard to fault his reasoning especially when his contributions are so random and range from him busting some Michael Jackson style movies to having a drag race with an overweight Mexican masked wrestler. However when combined with the rest of the film it hardly seems out of place especially with the logic that this film runs on. On the whole though it is hard to tell if his casting was out of an obsession with his 80's glory days and that having cast him realised that they had nothing for him to do, of if it was to truly see what they could get away making his current career stalled self do.

Despite running for a mere 60 minutes the experience does feel a lot longer, yet it is hard to fault that there is still something about this film, in much the same way that there is with films like “The Room” and “Boardinghouse”. True it might seem like it is intentionally trying to emulate the so bad its good style of those films, but this film has enough weird ideas and general titillation to make it the sort of film that’s fun to dig out and maybe freak out your friends with.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Bad Lieutenant

Title: Bad Lieutenant
Director: Abel Ferrara
Released: 1992
Starring: Harvey Keitel, Victor Argo, Paul Calderon, Leonard L. Thomas, Robin Burrows, Frankie Thorn, Victoria Bastel

Plot: An unnamed police Lieutenant (Keitel) is tasked with investigating the rape of a nun as he tries to battle his own demons as his drug and gambling addictions threaten to consume him.  

Review: Back in the late 90’s when I was first seriously getting into film, beyond the surface level enjoyment I already got from my movie watching, Channel 4 here in the UK used to show Extreme cinema; a genre pretty much dead these days with society on a whole becoming harder to shock it would seem. Back then these films were truly seen as pushing boundaries of taste and would be shown as part of their late night schedule on a Friday night. It was from these seasons of films that I was exposed to films such as Greg Araki’s “The Doom Generation” and necrophilia romance “Kissed” which shocked me almost as much as they held a strange fascination for me, knowing that I was watching something which certainly fell outside of the cinematic mainstream, especially with their frequently graphic depicatations of sex, drugs, nudity and any number of taboo subjects. It would also be through these late night movie watching sessions that I would first see this film, which while I might not have followed it fully back then, still proved to be a memorable experience while kick-starting a lifelong fascination with the films of Abel Ferrara whom I mention in my review of “The King of New York” is my director of choice when I feel like watching something truly grimy and once again here it’s what he truly delivers.

As always with Ferrara it is a suitably grimy vision of New York that he once again gives us here, especially with the Lieutenant frequently seeming to take us on a guided tour of its most seediest parts as he hangs out with drug dealers and trades drugs he steals from evidence, while at the same time adding to his own habit. It’s a habit which when combined with his frequent drinking, often finds him in some more than questionable situations as he frequents with prostitutes often in some form of stupor which also gives us one of the more memorable scenes from the film as a naked Keitel staggers around a room wailing into the night as he looks barely capable of functioning in any form. The other talked about scene sees him pulling over a couple of young girls and forcing them to perform for him as he masturbates and curses beside their car.

As well as these two vices and the constant pursuit of them, the Lieutenant also finds himself in a rapidly increasing spiral of gambling debts, as he continues to back the Dodgers as they face off against the Mets over a series of games, while Baseball player Darryl Strawberry seems to be the only hint at any human connection that he has with anyone with the sporadic interactions he has with his family either erupting in volatile outbursts or general neglect as he often appears to be distant even when surrounded by his family. This self-imposed isolation only increasing over the course of the film as he gambles himself into further debts, while his addictions run wild, ultimately coming to ahead as he suffers a breakdown in a church, memorably grovelling and howling for forgiveness to a vision of a post crucified Jesus.

Unquestionably this is not an easy film to view, but despite the frequently graphic nature and crude tone the film takes, Ferrara clearly isn’t aiming to just shock his audience but instead punch them square in the face as he blurs the lines of gritty reality with frequently grotesque imagery. At the same time it is a powerhouse combination that we get from the potent combination of Ferrara’s direction and a bold and fearless performance by Keitel who despite committing numerous hideous and depraved acts still remains grimly watchable.

Similar in many ways to “Taxi Driver” the film views humanity at its darkest, perhaps making it all the more fitting that a nun is chosen as the victim of rape, as here even a symbol of purity and light is not beyond being soiled. At the same time the nun’s refusal to participate in the investigation of her attackers, furthers Ferrara’s own reoccurring ideals of finding forgiveness and compassion even when surrounded by a society fuelled on violence and hatred.

Unquestionably though thi is not the sort of film which is watched for enjoyment in the traditional sense, but this is still a griping if bleak experience and one truly carried by Keitel, whose performance Nicolas Cage would attempt to replicate with perhaps more overacted results in the unrelated, let alone Ferrara despised “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans”. However if you’re looking for a companion piece to “Taxi Driver” it’s safe to say that this film delivers the goods and more.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

The Breakfast Club

Title: The Breakfast Club
Director: John Hughes
Released: 1985
Starring: Judd Nelson, Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Ally Sheedy, Molly Ringwald
Plot: Five students are thrown together as they are forced to attend a Saturday morning detention. With each of them coming from a different clique, they seemingly on the surface has nothing in common with each other, while being assigned a 1,000 word essay by assistant principle Vernon, were they have to write about who they think they are.  Now forced to stay within the confines of the school library the group soon start to find out more about each other and their reasons for being there, while discovering that they might not be as different from each other as they first thought.

Review: Recently I discovered one of the quickest ways to cause mass outrage on the internet is not via commenting on religion or politics, but more surprisingly by posting that you have never seen “The Breakfast Club” that you will find yourself soon being bombarded with comments of disbelief. So there you have it, I confess I’m that person as for one reason or another I never saw this movie until recently.

One the most popular films of 80’s legend John Hughes, who would go on to be responsible for some of the most fondly remembered films of the decade including Sixteen Candles, Pretty In Pink and Uncle Buck, while also creating here one of the most popular high school movies of all time, which isn’t bad going seeing how this was only his second film.

Still perhaps because I didn’t grow up with this movie like so many of its fans, it’s certainly a strange experience to view this film without the rose tinted glasses of nostalgia and perhaps because of that I found this a hard film to get into. More so when it just feels so dated not so much in the styling but more with the dialogue and characterization. True the characters might still represent social groups which are still ever present in high school here represented by “criminal” John (Nelson), “athlete” Andrew (Estevez), “brain” Brian (Hall), “basket case” Allison (Sheedy) and “princess” Claire (Ringwald), or perhaps it was just the grating voice over by Nelson were he reels off a monologue which sounds like it was written by a first year psychology, especially after the film already opens with a quote from “Changes” by David Bowie, that just put the film on the wrong footing for me.

As the film goes on its hard to say that a great deal really happens outside of John aggravating the various members or vice principle Vernon whenever given a chance or generally probing the other group members with his continual questions. Meanwhile Hughes characterisation is laid on with a trowel so thick that the characters often come across only as individual as their assigned social clique, hence John spends all his time moodily sulking around, while unleashing details of a bleak homelife, while Andrew and Claire share their own issues with their own parents, as they reveal that things might not be as perfect for them as they might seem. Meanwhile other members of the group such as Allison are left largely undeveloped and frequently half baked, especially considering how for the first half of the film is generally reduced to a bunch of nonsensical squeeks, before randomly changing conditions so that they randomly becomes quite chatty by the second half of the film, something which is frequently defended by the fans as being down to her being a pathological liar and her way of getting attention, while at the same time keeping people away.

I guess one of my main issues here though is how contrived the ending feels, with the group leaving as best friends, even though they openly admit earlier in the film that come Monday morning, things will be back to normal as they return to their own social groups, rather than facing potential ridicule from their so-called friends. This fact alone makes the whole journey ultimately pointless, but at the same time it is one that seemingly is overlooked by most fans, much like the forced hook ups at the end, especially between Allison and Andrew who have no romantic intrest in each other whatsoever, yet their surprise kiss outside of the school is shot like something we have supposedly been waiting to see. It is also frustrating how the group work out all their issues via a pot smoking session, another big gripe from myself due to my own personal politics and how it generally sells the idea that any issue can be resolved with a big enough bag of weed.

So now I have finally watched it, I can’t say that it was the life changing experience I think the fans sold me, yet at the same time it is good to be able to cross it off the list. I just can’t help but feel that high school life has been done better elsewhere and without giving the end goal away before the halfway point.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

House A.k.a. Hausu

Title: House A.k.a. Hausu
Director: Nobuhiko Obayashi
Released: 1977
Starring: Kimiko Ikegami, Miki Jinbo, Kumiko Oba, Ai Matubara, Mieko Sato, Eriko Tanaka, Masayo Miyako, Yoko Minamida

Plot: A young girl nicknamed Gorgeous (Ikegami) travels to visit her aunt with her friends Prof (Matsubara), Melody (Tanaka), Kung Fu (Jinbo), Mac (Sato), Sweet (Miyako) and Fantasy (Oba). However upon arriving at the house they soon find themselves experiencing a series of increasingly strange supernatural events as things might not be as they seem.

Review: Occasionally I will come across a film were it seems the director is openly challenging critics to try and find a way to critic their film, as they bombard the viewer with so much randomness it leaves you wondering where the hell you are going to start when it comes to reviewing the film. It’s a situation I encountered with both “If…” and “Boardinghouse” and here this film also seemed to throw down the gauntlet as it reached ever new heights of sheer randomness.

Reportedly the studio bosses at Toho were looking for Obayashi to make a film like “Jaws” which seemingly was an idea which got lost somewhere in the production process as this is not even close to what they were probably expecting Obayashi to produce for them. Still after two years of being refused by every director at on the Toho books, who unsurprisingly felt it would end their careers if they took it on, it was eventually passed back to Obayashi to direct, who not being a staff member at Toho had previously had his request to direct the film turned down. 

Starting off like a carefree high school drama, it really is hard to imagine were the film will eventually end up as director Obayahi wheels out a whole host of visual tricks he’d picked up from his time directing commercials and which here only grow in intensity as the film continues, while at the same time ensuring that the film maintains a surreal quality throughout. Unlike so many other surreal films though there is atleast a line of coherent plotting which runs through the film while Obayashi surrounds it with randomness so that your still never quite sure what you’re watching yet never to the point that it becomes confused.

The friends all nicknamed after their various personality quirks, so hence Prof is the bookish smart one, Melody is a talented musician and Kung Fu unsurprisingly likes to karate kick inanimate objects. There really is nothing hidden by this group who despite their wide skill range and sheer number of them they are surprisingly a believably close group and one whose personality’s remain individual even as the film becomes increasingly more frantic, while at the same time Obayahi continues to find ever more ingenious ways to utilise their skills into the storyline no matter how random they might seem.

The first half of the film charts the girls journey to the titular house, while Gorgeous fills in the background on her aunt, shown in the style of home movie footage, which for some explained reason the girls can all see and cast comments over what is happening on the screen, even though at this point they are riding on a train and hence nowhere near a movie projector or any other way that they could actually be viewing this footage. It is really in this first half that the film largely plays things for laughs, even with the strange flashes of greens which come from the eyes of Snowy the cat.

Once we get into the second half the film though the film makes for a polar shift in tone, as it changes from care free comedy into a surreal horror as the house starts to come to life in a style highly reminiscent of “Evil Dead 2” that you would be easily mistaken that it was a key influence for Sam Rami, which considering the film only got a release stateside in 2009 makes it highly unlikely at best and instead more of a strange coincidence. It is within this second half that the crazy factor goes way off the scale, as any number inanimate objects suddenly take on a life of their own, reinforcing the comparisons to “Evil Dead 2” with many of these ideas coming from Obayahi’s daughter before he creatively found a way to utilise them within the film. Hence we are treated to such fun surprises as a carnivorous piano and futons through to more simple yet still highly effective ones like a possessed mirror. Due to the surreal style which Obayahi shoots the film with none of these moments are especially scary even with occasional fountain of blood or sporadic moment of gore. At the same time this perhaps makes them only all the more fascinating to watch, especially as it makes you question if he was truly aiming to scare the audience or instead just take them on a visual journey.

Because of the surreal shooting style this isn’t a film that will suit all tastes, especially as it frequent lack of coherency or bizarre imagery will most likely frustrate the more casual movie viewer, especially when Obayahi feels no need to spoon feed his audience the answers and instead seems to put enough faith in his audience knowing what’s important to the plot and what is just visual flair / fluff. Unquestionably though this is one of the more original viewing experiences you can have, even if it’s doubtful that most will give it more than a single watch.
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