Thursday, 30 November 2017


Title: Tag
Director: Sion Sono
Released: 2015
Starring: Reina Triendl, Mariko Shinoda, Erina Mano, Yuki Sakurai, Aki Hiraoka, Ami Tomite

Plot: Mitsuko (Triendl) a shy school girl finds her life thrown into chaos when she survives the massacre of her classmates during a class field trip, which is only the start of the weird and strange journey she now finds herself on

Review: After delivering a one two punch with his previous releases “Why Don’t You Play In Hell” and “Tokyo Tribe” there was certainly a level of excitement in how director Sion Sono would follow it up, more so when both films were so different from each other let much pretty much anything out there highlighting once more his unique approach to film making which has unsurprisingly seen him drawing comparisons to Takashi Miike’s outlaw period.

Opening with the massacre of a group of school girls by an “Evil Dead” style ominious wind which somehow has the ability to tear coaches in half and randomly decapitate anyone who gets in its way, with Sono perhaps in some way trying to beat his own record for school girl he set with the memorable subway sequence in “Suicide Club”. From this opening though things only get progressively more weird and surreal as Mitsuko now starts find herself moving from one bloody set piece to the next which was certainly hinted at with the trailer and which is certainly delivered on here and more.

Considering what starts off a seemingly straightforward soon mutates into something much different I will warn now Spoilers ahead as Sono once here has crafted something not only unique but equally a pain in the ass to attempt to explain which I will obviously attempt now.

Not content just to make another schoolgirl massacre movie, with “Tag” he truly catches the audience off guard as Misuko finds herself on a surreal journey which she constantly finds herself suddenly being thrust into different situations which sees her one moment running away from a high school massacre being carried out by the heavily armed teachers to the next moment being married to a groom with a pigs head. Some how Sono manages to pull the same trick which David Lynch has hung the best part of his career on by managing to somehow hold our attention for this ride even if at time you really have no idea if Sono knows the direction is going with the film and perhaps just making it up as he goes.

Taking inspiration from Yusuke Yamada’s 2001 novel which sees people who share the same surname being hunted down and which was turned into an ambitious five movie series. Here though we are given a world populated seemingly only by women, with the only men being the aforementioned pig man hybrid which is certainly a departure from the source material while retaining the theme of characters having to continiously run to ensure their survival which really is what ties the various characters Misuko finds herself suddenly turned into while the worlds slowly begin to blend together as the film builds to a frustratingly disappointing final reveal.

For the most part its an entertaining and highly unique ride we are taken on here with Sono walking a line between often amusingly over the top grindhouse splatter and arthouse style plotting which here somehow works as we switch from scenes of feminist solidarity to scenes of a wedding massacre or mass schoolgirl slaughter and perhaps because of these constant switches the film certainly holds the audiences attention no doubt as much as its baffling them. Still this is not a film intended for the mainstream especially when Sono is clearly crafting a film made of moments which intrest him and perhaps with a more cynical eye could just been seen as three half baked projected stitched together by with visceral imagery and sheer randomness.

Certainly there is an attempt to build a workable multiverse theory to justify the changes in scene of the fact that the actress playing Miksuko changes with each new setting, a transition certainly made easier by Mariko Shinoda and Erina Mano being as capable leading ladies as Reina Triendl able to carry a sense of familiarity between the three personas while helped further by Yuki Sakurai constant guiding presence throughout the film. At the same time to have schoolgirls justify the deep thinking of how this world work is alittle hard to take as seriously as Sono hoped it would, but atleast he throws in a random Gator attack to hold our attention.

While this might not be his best film to date, there is certainly enough to keep things entertaining while its tight run time only helps it further. However if this is your first experience with Sono’s work you might want to check out the likes of “Tokyo Tribe” or “Love Exposure” to understand his appeal as a director but this is still a fun if completely random watch all the same even if the pay off is weak.

Monday, 27 November 2017

Ghost In The Shell (2017)

Title: Ghost In The Shell
Director: Rupert Sanders
Released: 2017
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Michael Carmen Pitt, Takeshi Kitano, Pilou Askaek, Chun Han, Juliette Binoche

Plot: In the near future most humans are augmented with cybernetic improvements but Major Mira Killian (Johansson) is the first to combine a cybernetic body with a human brain. Now working as part of the anti-terrorist bureau Section 9 she must track down the hacker Kuze who might hold the screrthe Major’s past.

Review: When it was first announced that they would finally be making the long mooted live-action remake of “Ghost In The Shell” it was of course met with cries of dismay from the fans who could see no way that Hollywood could replicate the cyberpunk tale, especially with its complex plotting and philosophical musing on the existence of a soul. Even if they could they are hardly things which hardly add up to a summer blockbuster which this was being pitched as especially with the casting of Scarlett Johansson as the Major adding to the already rampant assumptions of Hollywood whitewashing especially when many fans were pushing for the much more obvious choice Rinko Kikuchi to play the role.

Directed by Rupert Sanders whose only credit outside of a trio of short films was “Snow White and the Huntsman” which hardly sparked much confidence that this life action version would live up the legacy of the anime which is still regarded as one of the best of all time alongside the likes of “Akira” and “Perfect Blue”. It was of course a pleasant surprise to see Sander not attempting to do a straight remake but at the same time not trying to dumb it down either. If anything it can be seen that Sanders throughout is trying to not only pay homage to the original films director Mamoru Oshii with the inclusion of Oshii’s trademark Basset Hounds and even a nod to “Avalon”.

Shot as a “Blade Runner” style cyberpunk fantasy there are certainly the elements of the Oshii’s vision near future Japan replicated here especially the elements of Hong Kong which made his vision so diffrent and while Sanders vision certainly aims for a more futuristic vision heavily reminiscent of the aforementioned “Blade Runner” but it also seems to draw further inspiration from “Akira” especially with the extensive use of holographic advertisements which at times can prove detrimental as at time it feels like they clutter the landscape rather than adding to it and as such makes you appreciate the more intimate shots from the city streets or building interiors.

Despite the changes throughout there is still a sense of familiarity which runs throughout the film as characters such as the Major’s partner Batou (Asbaek) feel faithfully recreated though his eye implants only look the more questionable here than they did in the anime. ‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano as Section Chief Aramaki though is an inspired piece of casting and unquestionably one of the key things which gave me hope that this wouldn’t be a dumbed down version of the anime. Frustratingly though when it comes to the rest of the Section 9 members they are so thinly sketched its hard to connect with them, making this much more of a buddy cop movie than it should have been.

While I may have had my own doubts of Scarlett Johansson’s ability in the role she really does manage to convincingly pull of the role and certainly a better casting choice than Margot Robbie who was also considered for the role and here she manages to convincingly pull off the detached and almost robotic outlook for the Major despite having a human brain. Infact so impressed with her performance Mamoru Oshii who’d been vocal on his own concerns surrounding the largely western cast gave her performance his own seal of approval and its certainly easy to see why when she is able to replicate so many of the key moments from the original film.

Scrapping the original “Puppet Master” plotline instead the plot here chooses to focus on the background of the Major in perticular the mystery surrounding her origins though the mystery hacker element is now filled by Kuze. We also get minor background details such as how Batou got his cybernetic eyes which I guess is great for anyone who really wanted to know these things. However while seemingly trying to craft his own story within this universe, there is still a large amount of material especially from the original film which has been pasted into the story in particular many of the key scenes such as the dumpster chase and most keyly the Major taking on a spider tank and certainly like so many elements of the film they all look fantastic. At the same time though the plotting can get heavy in places especially with Sanders trying to blend the new and original material which does result in the film certainly being more complex at times than it needed to be.

While there might be numerous nods to the source material it is still best to view this film as being its own entity than a remake, especially when here Sanders has chosen to craft a film with its own unique storyline, rather than adapt the Puppet Master plotline of the original film. This of course is not an issue, especially when the universe already established through the Manga, films and stand alone series (or complex) multiple independent timelines and when viewed this way the film certainly fits into this universe. On its own merits this is certainly an interesting approach to the material and certainly a smarter one than I was expecting to get and seeing what Sanders has established here, actually makes me keen to see him build on this world though whether that will happen or not still remains to be seen. For now though while not perfect certainly interesting enough to make it worth checking out.

Saturday, 11 November 2017


Title: Zoo
Director: Robinson Devor
Released: 2007

Plot: Documentary based on the life and death of Kenneth Pinyan Aka: Mr. Hands who died of peritonitis after having sex with a horse.

Review: While the bestiality subject matter might scream the short of subject matter for late night shock docs but what we get here instead is actually thoughtful and strangely beautiful documentary on one of the last great taboos - bestiality while looking at the zoophile’s who the film derives its title from.

Constructed using muted reinactments charting the events which lead up to Pinyan’s death, the film is narrated by the extensive interview footage which director Robinson Devor collected with both the members of the group that Pinyan belonged to but also with those such as Jenny Edwards who were called in to deal with the aftermath of Pinyan’s death.

Rather than just focus on the Pinyan’s death Devor instead makes the most of his access to the key members of the group all referred to by their internet handles such as H, Coyote and The Happy Horseman rather than their real names clearly happy to maintain anonymity in exchange for the real insight their interviews provide. This anonymity is also extended to Pinyan who throughout the film is only referred to as “Mr. Hands” though the use of radio footage he does tease revealing his identity only to cut it off at the last second. Still how this anonymity currents holds up is doubtful now, especially when a quick wikipedia search can bring up the details of everyone involved, but back then it did mean that we get the best possible insight into this secretive world.

By using only interview footage to narrate the film, Devor avoids sharing his own opinions when it comes to how he views the actions of the group, nor their less than conventional sexual tastes, the group surprisingly not being portrayed as weirdos for their sexual desires towards animals and instead the result of finding more of a connection with animals than they find with fellow humans. This is certainly the case with Pinyan whose Devor takes great pains to include footage which highlights his normal white collar lifestyle as an aeronautical engineer and devoted father with his trips to the farm clearly being like many of the group a separate part of their lives which they revealed only to their fellow group members. Its also perhaps unintentionally twee looking at the film now to hear the group talking about the internet, more so when the films soundtrack is often punctuated with the sound of dial up modems, but it does serve to remind how the internet really did help everyone to find their tribe as was certainly the case for the group at the centre of the incident.

The second half of the film focuses on the ill fated events surrounding Pinyan’s death and the inevitable fallout that unsurprisingly came from the discover of what the group had been doing including what happened to the members in the aftermath. Devor surprisingly never judges any of them for their less than traditional desires though the events which lead to Pinyan’s death are left largely foggy, thanks in no part to the unique way that he chooses to portray those ill-fated events.

Its also during this second half that the question over whether these acts can be considered abuse or not, especially when the animals are unable to provide consent to being involved in such acts and to Devor’s credit he manages to provide both sides of the argument though its doubtful that you mind will be changed by the evidence provided it and certainly the opinion of the government on the subject is made clear by their classification of bestiality as a felony offence.

Despite the subject material the film is fascinatingly shot and with none of the lurid shots that you might have expected, especially with Devor punctuating the re-enactment with numerous shots of the breathtaking landscape of Enumclaw and its rocky vistas. The footage throughout only being added to by a mesmerising score from Paul Mathew Moore which only serves to heighten the experience drawing you further into the story as it builds to its grim climax.

A facinating documentary on a less than typical subject and which well elevates itself being a shock piece to instead perhaps go some way into providing some kind of insight into this world.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

The Nines

Title: The Nines
Director: John August
Released: 2007
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Melissa McCarthy, Hope Davis, Elle Fanning, David Denman, Octavia Spencer, Ben Falcone, Dahlia Salem, John Gatins

Plot: A troubled actor, a show runner and a videogame designer discover that their lives might be more linked than they suspect.

Review: While John August might not be a name which leaps out at you he has worked on several noteworthy screenplays for the likes of “Titan A.E.”, “Frankenweenie” and the cult indie movie “Go” which initially launched him as a screenwriter with this film marking his directorial debut with decidedly mixed results.

A three part existential drama  this pet project clearly has the feel of someone trying to imitiate the experimental style of Charlie Kaufman only with none of the quirky charm as here Ryan Reynolds plays the three lead roles each heading up their own chapters starting with “The Prisoner” which see actor Gary barbequing his ex-girlfriends things before flipping his car and landing himself on house arrest. Soon however he finds himself being being plagued by the continual appearance of the number 9 around him.

Next up is “Reality Television” which now sees Reynolds playing the Television writer Gavin who is trying to get the pilot for his TV show “Knowing” off the ground while being followed for a reality show. The whole segment being shot in reality TV show style making for an interesting change of pace and helping the segment to stand out along with elements such as Melissa McCarthy’s role in this segment being to play the fictionalised version of herself. This segment perhaps the most autobiographical for August who based most of the plot on his experience’s working on the failed television series “D.C.” while he wrote the film with McCarthy in mind for her role, mirroring Gavin’s own writing were he wrote his TV show for this reality’s version of her.

The final segment is “Knowing” were Reynolds now plays the acclaimed video game designer Gabriel whose car has broken down in the middle of nowhere with his wife Mary (McCarthy) and daughter which aims for the big reveal of what has supposed to have been happening throughout the film and bring all the parts together. Instead we get the feeling of August self congratulating himself for what he’s created even though its still very much feels like a half baked and largely confusing mess.

Released before Reynolds achieved the mainstream approval he got from “Deadpool” and when many critics for some reason were keen to write him off like Ben Affleck as box office poison a tag I never really understood for either, especially Reynolds who might have come to the forefront through throw away cult comedies like “Van Wilder” and “Waiting” he’s constantly remained an intresting actor to watch especially when given a more dramatic role like he got with “Adventureland” or “Smokin Aces” and here he certainly gets that by getting to play three different leads all three of which he manages to make stand out from each other. This is certainly true in the case of “The Prisoner” and “Reality TV” two characters which are at polar opposite to each other with Gary coming across as bratty and self indulgent compared to the self-doubting and moody Gavin its just more frustrating that neither character ultimately get the interesting arc’s that they deserve and instead are left in meandering plotlines blogged down by August’s attempts to link all the segments together and play into his end game.

The supporting cast are equally great with both Melissa McCarthy and Hope Davis joining Reynolds in playing multiple characters across the different stories with mixed results due to the strength of the material rather than either actresses performance.

While I might have entered into the film with an expectation of what I was going to get it was somewhat disapointing to ultimately end up with a plot so plodding and ultimately navel gazing as the one that August chooses to craft here, as a potentially interesting idea is squandered by his attempts to really tie together three half baked stories that perhaps would have been better developed on their own than stuck together here.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

The Mist

Title: The Mist
Director: Frank Darabont
Released: 2007
Starring: Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Laurie Holden, Andre Braugher, Toby Jones, William Sadler, Jeffrey DeMunn, Frances Sternhagen, Samuel Witwer, Alexa Davalos, Nathan Gamble

Plot: When a strange mist descends on the small Maine town of Bridgeton, the local residents soon discover that it hides an assortment of horrifying monsters. Now barricaded with his young son and several of the town residents in the local supermarket David (Jane) soon finds himself having to deal with the prospect of worst things amongst his fellow residents.

Review: The forth Stephen King adaptation for director Frank Darabont following his debut “The Woman In The Room” before following it up with “The Shawshank Redemption” and “The Green Mile” and with this film he continues he showcase his flair for adapting King’s stories while somehow managing to avoid the issues which have plagued the Mick Garris adaptations.

On the surface this might just seem like another straightforward monster movie which it certainly more than delivers on throughout, but the real interesting aspect for the film is instead the study of human behaviour which runs below the surface as the residents in the town begin to choose different ways to process the situation they find themselves in. The first time I saw the film when I certainly enjoyed it, it didn’t seem to resonate in the same way that it did for friends who raved about the film and in particular that ending. Still re-watching it this time watching how the residents fracture into the two rival groups actually proved to be surprisingly more interesting than what’s lurking in the mist and really were the real story can be found.

One of the key aspects for the story working though is with the religious zelot Mrs. Carmody (Harden) viewing the fog as a sign that the end of days is upon the town quickly gathering a following behind her firebrand sermons. Darabont here really does a fantastic job of making her more than just a religious nutjob, instead having her follower numbers growing as a result of the situation becoming the more dire and the town residents not being able to logically comprehend what they are facing. To her credit Marcia Gay Harden plays the role pitch perfect managing to go from background annoyance to cult leader with very natural evolution even if perhaps a little more quickly than seems plausible.

This however is a minor quibble and one easily overlooked when given such an interesting and extensive group of characters who despite being so numerous all feel fully developed and not just monster fodder. Darabont’s casting choices gathering together many fantastic character actors only to pull out surprising sides such as Toby Jones assistant supermarket manager being a crackshot with a pistol, or William Sadler’s typically belligerent mechanic’s mind snapping after a failed supply run to the nearby pharmacy store. Throw into the mix a military conspiracy which the soldiers in the store might know more about than they are letting on and its a real tinderbox.

David however as the lead really is what makes this story work aswell as providing the best counterpart to Mrs. Carmody as he attempts to keep order in the group as he’s forced into taking a leadership role when all he wants to do is insure the safety of his young son and get back to his wife who is still back at the family home. Thomas Jane though truly sells this every man character thrust into this extraordinary situation subtly fleshed out by the smaller details of the story such as his attempts to make up with his stubborn neighbour Brent (Braugher). Here these two clashing forcing being less about Stephen King’s usual battle about the forces of good and evil and instead more a battle between logic and religion.

While the breakdown of social norms combined with this “Lord of the Flies” style situation which we watch unfold might certainly be one of the key aspects of the film, it is not to say that the monster element is not without its charms as Darabont introduces throughout the film a wide variety of monsters that come with this fog, from over grown insects to his larger creations which he manages to make either creatures of pure horror as in the case of the centipede like tentacles yet at the same time he is able to make us look at some of these creatures with a kind of awe when we get scenes of the long limbed goliath during the finale montage.

Unquestionably with extensive use of CGI for his monster creations, the fog helps keep an air of mystery to these creations, certainly as the effects have dated over the year which have surprisingly held up well with perhaps the tentacles being one of the rare moments when the effects taken you out of things slightly. At the same time Darabont really knows how to use these characters, especially when it comes to the more gory elements of the film in which he frequently manages to catch us off guard thanks to its sporadic placement and usually when he clearly feels that the audience might be getting too comfortable with what’s happening much like the hysteria being whipped up by Mrs. Carmody.

Of course it would be impossible to talk about this film without talking about the much discussed finale which honestly I still don’t feel that it earned. True it is certainly a surprising not to mention bleak ending and one which I certainly didn’t see coming the first time I watched the film. Still it was one of the key conditions of Darabont making the film with “Dimension” and it turned out from the general response to the right one with Stephen King even giving his approval. However looking at the alternative endings such as the vision of a world of mist which stayed more true to King’s original more ambiguous ending I can’t help but feel that its the ending I would have been happier with.

Unquestionably this is one of the more fresher horror films of the decade, especially when the horror genre seems so focused to keep bashing the same tired tropes to death, its always great to get a film which is actually trying to do something new.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

The Bad Batch

Title: The Bad Batch
Director: Ana Lily Amirpour
Released: 2014
Starring: Suki Waterhouse, Jason Momoa, Keanu Reeves, Jim Carrey, Yolonda Ross, Giovanni Ribisi, Jayda Fink, Diego Luna, Cory Roberts, E.R. Ruiz

Plot: In the near future criminals and other society rejects are dumped in a fenced off area of desert wasteland outside of the Texas. The latest addition to this community is Arlen (Waterhouse) who soon finds herself having to traverse the landscape of scavengers, cannibals and cultists if she is going to survive this dangerous and lawless world.

Review: Following on from the critically adored “A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night” director Ana Lily Amirpour chooses to follow it up here with this sun soaked dose of dystopia while at the same time seemingly channelling the cinema outlaws Harmony Korine and Greg Araki to craft a fiercly unique vision which will likely prove too abstract for the mainstream movie goer but there is unquestionably something here.

Bringing to mind Richard Kelly’s fiercely diversive “Southland Tales” here Amirpour clearly sets out with a vision for her sophomore effort, though at the same time its one which will either enthral or bore you depending on your own opinion of the film the former of which I certainly found myself in even if at times its hard to actually know what is supposed to be happening other than a whole lot of cannibalism and desert wandering and this of course makes it the sort of film as a critic you kind of dread encountering. I mean how are you supposed to write about nothing? Still as I sit here writing this two days after I first watched it this is a film which continues to run through my head so that I feel compelled to get something down about it.

Opening to Arlen being dumped into this world we are mere moments into the film before she is set upon by one of the resident cannibals who quickly relieve her of one of her arms and a leg before she sets out to escape across the desert on a skateboard reminiscent in a scene reminiscent of the opening of “There Will Be Blood” whose record of no dialogue for the first 14.5 minutes this film smashes by none of the characters actually talking till we are 30 mins in. Its also during this sequence that we are introduced to the Hermit played throughout the film in complete silence by Jim Carrey just one of a series of interesting casting choices which also sees Keanu Reeves showing up as the cult-like leader of the town Comfort known only as “The Dream” who runs a sideline in pot with his harem of pregnant ladies.

Across the desert landscape we encounter a number of settlements which has sprung up with Amirpour following in the footsteps of George Miller as the residents have constructed shanty towns out of aeroplane parts and broken down trailers, creating a new society for themselves and one seemingly styled by the same costume department Harmony Korine uses from Arlen’s winking booty shorts to Jason Momoa’s “Miami Man” chest tattoo which serves like an alt-culture name tag, though why she went with that name like so much of the film is a complete mystery.

Arlen though is quick to adapt to this world as the film skips forward six month once she arrives in comfort to were has she gained a prosthetic leg and spend her time wandering the wasteland which is were the main story of sorts begins when she picks up the Miami Man’s daughter Honey (Fink) after killing her cannibal mother. From here though its really a lot of wandering as Miami Man tries to find his now missing daughter before further wandering with Arlen when Honey gets picked up by Keanu Reeve’s cult leader “The Dream” during an acid infused rave sequence.

Miami Man on the other hand is a slightly more complex character as Momoa spend the film wandering around shirtless and looking like he was carved out of wood, a cold warrior hardened by the enviroment around him, who feels nothing about keeping a woman chained up in his yard to use for food, inbetween painting detailed paintings of his daughter, though its a connection more confirmed in the wikipedia plot summery than in the film, were she comes across like a girl from his camp. He however like the other characters is a fascinating to watch on screen with Amirpour only giving us small hints of details about these characters and leaving us as the audience to figure things out, which while certainly a bold choice is also the kind of thing which put off audience not wanting to sit through something so abstract.

Now if any of this is sounding like a confusing mess then you probably would be right and yet its a fascinating mess which Amirpour allows you to get lost in using minimalistic dialogue and instead attention grabbing visuals to tell her story if you can even really call it that. Instead what it often feels like is more of a snapshot of these characters lives as we follow them like ghosts in this world and much like with “Ghost World” we are just along for the ride as events play out acting more like the observers than actually being part of this world. Of course if David Lynch can get away with telling a story on the latest season of Twin Peaks over 18 episode when he really only needed four, then why can't we enjoy a visually arresting and minimalist desert romp? Yes this really isn’t going to be for everyone and already I can see this film ending up like “Southland Tales” as its as hated as its adored.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

The Maze Runner

Title: The Maze Runner
Director: Wes Ball
Released: 2014
Starring: Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Ami Ameen, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Ki Hong Lee, Will Poulter, Patricia Clarkson, Blake Cooper

Plot: Awakening in an elevator with no idea of how he got there, Thomas (O’Brien) now finds himself in “The Glade” at the centre of a large maze along with a group of other teenage boys. Now they must unite to the not only escape the maze but also the cyborg monster known as “Grievers” who prey on anyone who ventures into the maze.

Review: While I might have initially ignored this film on its original release dismissing it as another Young Adult novel adaptation especially with “The Hunger Games” being such a success and yet there was still something which appealed about the concept. So having it play recently on one of the movie channels I thought I’d finally give it look.

The directorial debut of Wes Ball who’d originally approached 20th Century Fox with the intention of getting his short film “Ruin” made into a feature length production only to instead be offered the chance to direct this film seeing how it shared a similar tone to his short film.

Hitting the ground running this is a world which is quickly established for the audience with the Gladers having carved out an lfe for themselves in the centre of Maze over the three years which have passed since their appointed leader Alby arrived while appointing members known as runners to explore the maze and find their way out. Its somewhat refreshing that Thomas doesn’t straight away take over as the leader, even if he adapts to the situation he finds himself in surprisingly quickly especially when it comes to facing the Grievers.

The design work for throughout the film is fantastic from the high walls of the ever changing maze bringing back memories of “Labyrinth” through to the bio-mechanical design of the Grievers who look great and whose seemingly unstoppable nature only adds to their threat its really an immersive and believable world that the story takes place in.

Despite being an adaptation of the first book in James Dashner’s “Maze Runner” series here we have a film which is actually free of the usual hang up’s which plague the genre such as the dashing whip smart lead, the love intrest and goofy sidekick. Instead what we get is what could be seen as a regular sci-fi thriller were it not for the young cast who manage to put across convincing performances throughout, especially as the film frequently drifts into several darker moments especially as the structure of the group beings to fall apart and certain members begin to make their own power plays

The real question mark amongst the group here is Teresa (Scodelario) the first and only female to be sent to the Glade, which might have you thinking that she’s there to play the love interest for Thomas but she really isn’t and ultimately bring little to nothing to the story other than being eye candy for the film and perhaps to relive any potential homoerotic undertone that some might have garnered from the group being consisted solely of boys. Yes she might share a history with Thomas which is touched upon and seeing how we have another two volumes in the series to cover which might give her more to to, but at this point I constantly found myself questioning what role she was supposed to be playing.

The other issue here comes with the ending which decides to info dump the secrets of the Maze and reason the Gladers were placed there ultimatly coming as something of a let down especially having gone through the thrill of that final run through the maze. This is only added to by the introduction of the fantastic Patricia Clarkson as the mastermind behind the maze who leaves almost as quickly as she enters and while I can understand her late introduction due to wanting to maintain an air of mystery but she could really have benefited from having a little more room for her character to breathe, which looking at how the film ends I assume she might get in the next film.

An entertaining romp throughout it might not be the deepest of films, but certainly as far as one of adaptations of Teen fiction go this is miles ahead of the competition making me keen to see were the story goes next. 

Monday, 9 October 2017

Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse

Title: Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse
Director: Christopher B Landon
Released: 2015
Starring: Tye Sheridan, Logan Miller, Joey Morgan, Sarah Dumont, David Koechner, Halston Sage, Cloris Leachman, Niki Koss, Hiram A. Murray

Plot: Ben (Sheridan), Carter (Miller) and Augie (Morgan) are a trio of high school sophomores aswell as the sole members of their local scout troop. The trio however soon find their skills being put to a completely different kind of test as they are forced into battling the undead hordes alongside cocktail waitress Denise (Dumont)

Review: The Zombie genre might currently be one of the most overworked sub-genres of horror at present, largely down to the fact that its also one of the easiest for any aspiring director to put together on the cheap. The obvious downside to this of course being that the zombie market is now saturated with direct to DVD throwaway titles and “28 Days Later” clones and none with any of the charm of the Romero Dead saga which gave birth to the modern zombie movie in the first place. Combine this with the fact that zombies since “28 Days Later” now have to be a fast moving swarm than their original shuffling unrelenting horde clearly lost on modern audience and the problems only increase. This situation however does makes it only the more special when a decent zombie film does turn up.

A 2010 blacklist script, right from the start its clear what sort of film this is going to be as Blake Anderson’s dim-witted janitor manages to unleash a zombie virus from the local science lab. The shots of him being thrown around the lab by a recently awakened zombie in the background while the scientist argues with the vending machine perfectly setting the tone for what is to follow as we get treated to a delicious blend of slapstick and gross out gags.

Meeting our heroes for the first time, its clear that their troop have fallen on hard times as they are now the only members with Ben and Carter only sticking around to support their friend Augie who is working towards his condor patch while his friends are more focused on sneaking out to a secret seniors party they hear about from Carter’s sister. This party providing the final battle ground for the trio as they battle the hordes across the city. Still thanks to them being such a likeable group its a fun journey to follow them on, even if their characters aren't especially deep outside of a few surface characteristics. Adding to the group is cocktail waitress Denise who is no damsel in distress especially when she spends most of the time saving the boys as she joins them on their quest. Yes she might be there largely for the sex appeal factor but thankfully by having her be so capable of holding her own as a zombie slayer it at least makes her character arc a little less obvious.

One of the strengths of the film though is how quickly we dive into the zombie fun as with the film running at a rapid pace which only further works to its advantage as the shocks and laughs come fast and heavy especially during the escape from their neighbourhood were it seems each escape leads them into a worse situation as they are forced to battle an OAP zombie and her horde of zombie cats building to the final showdown with the hordes at the seniors party. This finale only being added to by the trio showing up with a small armoury of makeshift weapons to the strains of “Rock You Like A Hurricane” by the Scorpions.

A genuinely funny and splatter heavy comedy here director Christopher B. Landon manages to tap into that magical formula that Peter Jackson captured with his early splatter films like “Bad Taste” and “Braindead” (or “Dead Alive” as its known in the states) while running the film through the lens of 80’s cinema such as “The Monster Squad” or “The Goonies” and thankfully sidestepping the usual attempts to recreate this era by keeping the story firmly in the present. Needless to say this is the film the zombie fans have been craving.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Come Drink With Me

Title: Come Drink With Me
Director: King Hu
Released: 1966
Starring: Cheng Pei-pei, Yueh Hua, Chan Hung-lit, Lee Wan-chung, Yeung Chi-hing, Ku Feng, Jao Li-jen, Wong Chung, Cheung Hei, Angela Pan

Plot: When a group of thugs kidnaps a young official in a bid to free their imprisoned leader Golden Swallow (Cheng Pei-pei) is sent to rescue him, while finding unlikely help in the beggar and secret kung fu master Drunken Cat (Yueh Hua)

Review: For a film which is seen as such an important milestone for martial arts cinema its somewhat frustrating that like the majority of films in the Shaw Brothers back catalogue that like the Godzilla series the lousy distribution has meant that bar a handful of titles few have made it over to region 2. True Amazon have now started to add some of these films but it still doesn’t answer the question as to why this film has been so frequently over looked while we can get 7+ releases of every Bruce Lee movie.

Noteworthy for being the first Martial arts film to move away from the Chinese opera inspired theatrics which had for the longest time been a staple of the Martial Arts genre, here director King Hu ushered in a brief era of serious minded martial arts movies which ultimately would meet its demise with the rise in popularity of the wire-fu movies. However its ideals would not be squashed entirely with the early 2000’s it was clear that they were instead merely dormant as the influence of this film can certainly be seen in the likes of Zhang Yimou “Hero” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” which saw Ang Lee bringing the star of this film Cheng Pei-pei out of retirement to play the villainous Jade Fox.

Despite only being 19 when she headlined this film Cheng Pei-pei confidently plays the role of Golden Swallow, a role she would play again in the sequel, but also setting her on the path of being one of the more identifiable Swordswomen in martial arts cinema which has seen her working almost continuously since. Here though she is captivating in the role from the first scene we see her in as she enters the local Inn looking for information on the bandits holding the official who is also her brother.

While more restrained in its action than other titles in the Shaw Bros. Back catalogue when we do get an action scene it is still entracing to watch her movements, especially with her fighting style being less based around power but instead focusing on graceful movements which plays to Cheng Pei-pei’s advantage with her background as a dancer much like Michelle Yeoh with her ability to memorise choreography here proving much key than the martial arts training she undertook prior to making the film. That being said Pei-pei already establishes herself as a badass before she even draws her sword warning a group of would-be attackers with the use of chopsticks and coins which she embeds in the walls of the inn with ease. My favourite of these subtle little movements though is the slight shift of her gaze to the side which would go on to be one of her trademarks.

Outside of Pei-pei’s scenes there is plenty of enjoyable sword play with the film opening to the bandits massacring the government official's guard. A scene which is surprisingly bloody even including a hand being almost comedically hacked off in the fray. At the same time we do get some surprisingly shocking moments of violence mixed in including the murder of a child monk by the villain Smiling Tiger (Lee Wan-chung) which comes seemingly out of nowhere and seeing how its so jarring compared to the rest of the film, I can’t help but wonder if this was as shocking back when the film was originally released.

One of the more jarring aspects of the film though is how Golden Swallow is pushed into the background when she gets hit with a poison dart around the halfway point with the focus instead shifting to Drunken Cat (Yueh Hua) the begger and martial arts master in hiding. Infact even our main villian at this point, the pancake makeup loving and generally theatrical Smiling Tiger is changed out for the evil abbot Liao Kung (Yeung Chi-hiung) who he attended the same Kung-fu school as Drunken Cat. There conflict providing one of the more fantastic elements of the film as the pair exchange magical blows as they battle for control over the bamboo staff of their master.

Seemingly this shift was down to King Hu doubting the abilities of Yueh Hua as a leading man, even though he does end up stealing most of the scenes he appears in, while Jackie Chan has noted the character was an inspiration for his own comedic and physical style of moment as Yueh Hua paints a very different idea of the martial arts hero, especially when compared to Golden Swallow.#

A enjoyable romp with some standout action sequences which alone are worth giving it a look, let alone the star making turn by Cheng Pei-pei

Sunday, 1 October 2017

xXx - Return of Xander Cage

Title: xXx: Return of Xander Cage
Director: D.J. Caruso
Released: 2017
Starring: Vin Diesel, Donnie Yen, Deepika Padukone, Kris Wu, Ruby Rose, Tony Jaa, Nina Dobrev, Samuel L. Jackson, Toni Collette

Plot: Extreme sports hero Xander Cage (Diesel) has been living in self-imposed exile since being recruited by the government's “xXx” program, only to be brought back when a weapon known as Pandora’s Box capable of crashing satellites is stolen by Xiang (Yen).

Review: The original “xXx” released back in 2002 is something of a guilty pleasure for myself as it not only managed to combine extreme sports with James Bond style hijinks, but also freshen up the spy genre which had certainly lost its edge with “xXx” giving us a louder and flashier and generally over the top take on material much like we’d got with “True Lies”. Sadly while the series certainly looked like it had potential to spawn a number of fun adventures for the character, the tepid “xXx: State of the Union” essentially killed the franchise dead as the combination of heavy CGI and a charmless and generally loud Ice Cube make for a forgettable experience while Vin Diesel went on to growl about family a whole bunch in the “Fast and Furious” franchise

Of course the idea of Vin Diesel returning to the series was certainly welcomed by myself not only because he is one of the more underrated leading men of the action genre, but also for how he truly made the character of Xander Cage, an extreme sports caricature more of a believable creation even adding tattoos to the character which paid homage his own D&D characters. Sadly in the fifteen years have passed since his last outing and with the Riddick saga not really connecting with the audiences the way that I think he would have liked, its clear that Vin Diesel viewed this return as more of a backup option.

No doubt due to the success of the “Fast and Furious” franchise this time Xander isn’t saving the world alone as we now find him being lumbered with a team of uninspired creations which include sharpshooter Adele Wolff (Rose), stuntman / getaway driver Tennyson “The Torch” (McCann) and errr DJ Havard “Nicks” Zhou (Wu) while Nina Dobrev is on hand as the CIA weapons specialist Becky essentially replacing the Agent Shaver character from the first two films. All of these characters being introduced with freeze frame flashes as pop trivia cards appear longside them, just incase anyone was keen to know that Adele’s gamer tag is “Lady Boner”. Of course none of this flash can disguise the fact that all of these additions much like their enemy counterparts are all bland cutouts, overworked in their background details in a vain attempt to make them seem more hip than your average spy. Instead all we end up with though is a bunch of irritating caricatures than anything resembling a fully developed let alone likeable character.

The other issue we get is that every time you have any two characters together it turns into an ego contest as they constantly seem to be wanting to prove who is the most extreme, be it via a game of hang grenade hot potato or the the excruciating tattoo story scene between Xander and Serena (Padukone) as the claims they make grow ever more ridiculous including her claiming that she climbed the Millenium Eye naked. Perhaps this was to add more sex appeal to a character who spend nearly the whole film in various states of undress, but instead just left me rolling my eyes.

These scripting issues continually plague the film which doesn’t take the gap between films into account, meaning that Vin Diesel ends up coming off like the dad trying to show how hip he is to the young kids, which might have been fine if there hadn’t been that 15 year gap and as such ends up with Xander coming off frequently akward throughout even though its clear that Diesel is attempting to charm the audience through the material. These issues aside Xander is very clumsily written here, devoid of any of the charm which made him such a likeable character in the original, let alone the fact that he was able to succeed were his spy counterparts failed because he wasn’t some trained spy and relied on instinct, his skills and general Playstation training. This time round he’s too much of a spy and generally too knowledgable of the espionage world especially for someone whose supposed to have removed themselves from this world. Another issue is the lack of a decent bad guy, an issue which also hindered the previous sequel and here its pretty much the same problems again, when surely it shouldn’t have been too hard to come up with another Eurotrash villain than just leading us in one big circle which the changing face of evil here ultimately creates.

The action scenes are enjoyable enough throughout, though nothing comes close to matching what we got in the original film, especially with the use of CGI being so heavy it really becomes hard to distinguish the few moments when we do get practical effect work. Even with two fantastic martial Artists like Donnie Yen (stepping in for Jet Li) and Tony Jaa in the cast they end up feeling squandered here with Caruso shooting them so close and choppy that their abilities never really get chance to shine through, which for the established fans of their work will only prove the more frustrating. Equally squandered is Samuel L. Jackson who here bookends the film and is removed far too quickly just to establish the introduction of his replacement Jane Marks (Collette)

Sadly still not the sequel to the classic original we wanted especially when proves to be just as forgettable as the previous film.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Terminator Genisys

Title: Terminator Genisys
Director: Alan Taylor
Released: 2015
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Clarke, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney, J.K. Simmons, Dayo Okeniyi, Matt Smith, Courtney B. Vance, Lee Byung-hun

Plot: When Kyle Reese (Courtney) is sent back in time to 1984 to protect Sarah Connor (Clarke) only to find himself on an alternative timeline were Sarah is already a capable warrior and even has her own terminator “pops” (Schwarzenegger) while the threat of Skynet remains ever more present than before.

Review: Since the release of the phenomenal “Terminator 2: Judgement Day” the Terminator franchise has found itself for the most part floundering and in dire need of some kind of direction to drive the franchise forward. True these attempts have meant that we got to see Judgement day happen (Rise of the machines) as well as a disappointing attempt to set an entry in the post apocalyptic future (Terminator Salvation) whose scripts from its troubled development promised more than we ultimately got, but then what can you expect when you allow McG to direct the movie.

Now rather than doing the logical choice of just driving a dump truck of cash to James Cameron’s house and beg him to return to the franchise instead this time Alan Taylor steps up to direct who is best known for directing TV with his most noteworthy film credit being “Thor: The Dark World” which now the fans of the Marvel cinematic universe have gotten over the initial shine of getting comic book movies and proclaiming their love for everything the studio puts out regularly rank it as one of the worst films to come from the studio. So hardly the most reassuring credential going into this film, but hey Arnold was returning so that’s a postive….right?

Knowing what the fans had made of this entry ahead of time my expectation was kind of at a low, especially when the trailer had hardly done anything to grab my attention. Of course it was a big suprise when 40 mins into the film I found myself really enjoying myself as we got to see the final battle against Skynet being won and Kyle being set back in time, all things we’d heard about in the previous films and only now were getting to see actually happen. Even when we get into the alternative 1984 and see an older version of Arnold’s terminator battling his clone I was digging the homage, especially when so much care was being taken to replicate the scenes from the original film. And then we time travel again to 2017 and things started to become unglued.

For some reason once we take that leap forward the film really starts to fall apart and almost feels like the first half was directed by someone else and that Taylor was brought in by the studio to finish the film as its almost jarring how suddenly the quality of the film drops and all we’ve done is make one jump in time.

One of the biggest issues comes with the latest Terminator development which this time sees John Connor being replaced by a nanobot Terminator the T-3000 which might have worked a lot better as a plot device had the trailers not given away this major twist and as such it ends up coming off flat and devoid of any kind of emotional response that might have been there. As a villain though he brings nothing new to the table outside of having some slightly different abilities and when the end game is to blow up Cyberdyne again you can’t help but feel alittle frustrated to see the franchise still going in circles.

On the plus side Arnold is still as fantastic as ever in his iconic Terminator role even bringing a few new elements to the role this time as this time he plays Sarah Connor’s guardian Pops, perfectly working in the fact that he is much older than the last time he played the role, as its revealed that the flesh covering his robot exoskeleton can age, a concept which came from James Cameron when the producers approached him about rebooting the franchise. This is further added to by Pops showing signs of old age as his joints start to seize and give out and it really adds to the character while proving to be the one thing to justify all this timeline hopping madness.

The action is fun as always with Arnie showing that despite his age he can still throw down with the best of them as we get plenty of terminator on terminator violence with Pops saving the pair from a variety of terminator models including a new version of the T-1000 played here by Lee Byung-hun who even mixes things up slightly by including the ability to throw metal spears which makes for a nice touch especially when so much of his scenes feels like we are watching a rehash of Terminator 2 which also rang true during the helicopter chase. The T-3000 meanwhile gets old quick especially not having any real powers compared to the previous terminators we have seen. Yes he’s good as the unstoppable presence, but compared to Byung-hun he just falls flat when you compare the two.

The other issue here is that Emilia Clarke and Jai Courtney have zero chemistry together which is already supposed to be akward from the start seeing how they are destined to be together which certain parties know from the start with Pops amusingly asking Sarah if they’ve “bred” or not. But looking at this pair you can see them never getting together, while the introduction of the adult John Connor on their timeline just comes off confused and akward with a stupid plot idea only seeming the worse as this pair attempt to interact with their adult child.

Its frustrating as this film certainly has its moments with the first 40 minutes really being promising. It’s just a shame that it all falls apart from there. While it might be an improvement over parts Rise of the Machines and Salvation this really could have done with a stronger script let alone not feeling like it was borrowing from the second film so much. As such approach with caution.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

American Ultra

Title: American Ultra
Director: Nima Nourizadeh
Released: 2015
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Topher Grace, Connie Britton, Walton Goggins, John Leguizamo, Bill Pullman, Tony Hale

Plot: Stoner Mike (Eisenberg) is content with his life in the backwater town of Liman, West Virginia were he works as a convenience store clerk with plans to propose to his longterm girlfriend Phoebe (Stewart) despite his plans being constantly self-sabotaged by his panic attacks. Little does he know that he’s also a sleeper government agent, whose just been reactivated when his former handler (Britton) learns that he is to be eliminated by her rival Yates (Grace) as part of a clean up program. 

Review: What is it about Max Landis that seems to instantly irk certain members of the critical / blogging community? Is it because he’s perhaps had more doors opened to him due to his father being cult director John Landis or the fact that he so openly flaunts this blood connect rather than taking a pen name like Joe Hill (Son of Stephen King)? What ever the reason the mere mention of his name being attached to a project for some reason seems to raise the same kind of destain that M. Night Shyamalan or Eli Roth being attached to a project does.

Personal gripes aside though its hard to see why Landis creates this kind of reaction, especially considering how his body of work as both a writer and director of the rather fantastic shorts “The Death and Return ofSuperman” and “Wrestling Isn’t Wrestling” have shown him to be one of the more original if occasionally unfocused minds currently working since he burst onto the scene with his script for “Chronicle” and this is what we find again with this film.

One of a number of scripts sold on the back of the success of “Chronicle” here he teams up with Director Nima Nourizadeh who previously directed the millennial party movie “Project X” and this time gets to build upon those brief moments of chaos and carnage with the first stoner action hero who might also be the most dangerous man with a spoon!

An interesting concept and one certainly added to with Landis’ unique style as we are introduced to Mike who despite being a stoner isn’t exactly a slacker as he holds down a job working at the local convenience store working on his comic aswell as towards being able to propose to his girlfriend Phoebe who he sees as being the best thing in his life, who he is also paranoid will leave him especially when he self-sabotages their planned trip to Hawaii with his panic attacks.

While the expected path for the film to take would be to have Mike suddenly turn into a badass once he’s activated and all his skills implanted in him by the Ultra program become available to him. But unlike the likes of “The Long Kiss Goodnight” what we get instead is Mike suddenly finding himself able to defend him using his implanted skills and knowledge while at the same time having no clue as to why he is able to do any of it. This was something I found to be kind of jarring the first time I watched the film were for some reason it didn’t seem to sit with me. Upon re-watching it though this time with knowledge of what to expect I found that the experience this time much more enjoyable.

Of course Eisenberg himself much like Topher Grace is far from your traditional action hero and that itself is part of the charm here to see him utilising household objects to maim opponents or pulling off far fetched trick shots using a frying pan to ricochet a gunshot into his target. Its outlandish for sure but there is something so enjoyable in watching these action scenes unfolding, especially with Eisenberg able to tap into this cold and unflinching side whenever his training kicks in and he enters into what could almost be considered a badass autopilot. Balancing out these burst of violence though is his believable relationship which sees him reuniting with former co-star and onscreen love interest Stewart which was certainly welcome after how well they played off each other in “Adventureland” and it was great to see them being able to recapture that chemistry here aswell.

Topher Grace gives a fantastic villainous turn as CIA Agent Yates whose Napoleon complex has him acting the tough guy by hiding behind the many resources available to him, while certainly riding on a power trip gain from his position. This means that we get to see him flying off the handle frequently while refusing to admit even to himself that the situation is quickly escalating out of his control, let alone the clean up operation is really a thinly veiled cover for him wanting to get back at his rival agent Lasseter.

The action throughout though is fantastic especially with Mike often switching off as his training takes over, while the bursts of graphic violence scattered throughout certainly keep things interesting while reminding the viewer that Mike isn’t doing a lot of these things because he can, but because its been what he’s been re-wired to do. At the same time Yates has his own group of killers to match Mike’s skills including Walton Goggins aptly named Laugher who constantly giggles to himself as he goes about his work. Still like we saw in “Chronicle” and “Mr. Right” Landis really knows how to write an original action sequence and this is once again the situation here, though the black light room fight was probably a misstep as it soon becomes something of a migraine to sit though.

Despite having some colourful characters the film does at times feel like it pacing is more plodding than it should be, especially when it comes to the sections based around Mike’s past which certainly could have benefited from being more streamlined than an excuse for trippy visuals. This kind of distracted writing has plagued a lot of Landis’ scripts and again its the same case here but when this film is working its a lot of fun. Perhaps if Nourizadeh had been able to clean up Landis’ script this might have been something a lot more special than it ultimately ends up being but at the same time there is still enough there to make it worth giving a watch even if its not the film it could have perhaps been.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Willow Creek

Title: Willow Creek
Director: Bobcat Goldthwait
Released: 2013
Starring: Alexie Gilmore, Bryce Johnson, Laura Montagna, Bucky Sinister, Peter Jason, Timmy Red

Plot: Jim (Johnson) is a Bigfoot believer keen to capture footage of the mythological creature and now dragging his non-beliver girlfriend Kelly along for the ride they head for the town of Willow Creek.

Review: Despite being best known as a director more for his warped comedy movies in tone with his unique comedy style, this film marked a rare venture into horror for Bobcat Goldthwait as here he turns his focus to crafting a found footage horror which in turn might be one of the best offerings from the genre since “The Blair Witch Project”

Starting off light-hearted as our film making couple roll into “Willow Creek” which is not only seen as the Bigfoot capital of the world but also home to the Bigfoot festival, though judging by the amount of cash-in’s on the myth are scattered throughout the town from wood carvings to stores named after the creature it would seem that its a festival that runs all year round. Still as we soon discover the locals all have their stories to tell or even a song to offer on the Patterson-Gimlin footage that I’m sure we are all familiar with showing the Sasquatch striding along the sandbar and to Jim serves to fuel his belief in the creature while his girlfriend continues to defiantly deny that it could be real.

This gentle start to the film might be a little off-putting to some viewers, its worth sticking with as Goldthwait seemingly establishing the background colour is infact just luring us into a false sense of security which is slowly peeled away when the couple head off into the woods to shoot their own footage and choose to ignore the stern warning by the man they meet at the entrance to the woods to head back to town.

Once we get into the woods the real horror vibes start to come quick and fast as the couple soon find themselves quickly out of their depth with the tension being cranked up to an all time high during the 18 minute scene of the couple in the tent while something lurks outside the canvas walls and which was shot in one take and works perfectly to put the audience completely on edge as all we can hear are strange whooping noises, wood being knocked together and the occasional rock hitting the side of the tent that leave you expecting something to burst through at any moment.

It's simple concept for sure but one which works well here, largely thanks to Goldthwait avoiding all the usual pitfalls of the found footage genre, such as shaky camerawork while characters remark about things we would be able to see if someone wasn’t shaking the darn camera! Instead the camerawork is crisp throughout which really takes us on the journey with the couple especially as they enter into the woods which seem to envelop them much like the audience.

Okay minor spoiler time but I feel its worth noting that this is a bigfoot movie were you don’t get to see a bigfoot, which might be something of a blessing considering some of the monstrosities this frequently overlooked subgenre has produced over the years. This might be seen as a disappointment but here somehow it works with the noises we hear and general taunting conjuring more horrific imagery than perhaps the budget would have allowed.

Considering Goldthwait’s background in comedy its surprising to see him being equally effective as a horror director and as with Kevin Smith’s “Red State” it leaves me wanting to see work more in the genre if only to see what else he would bring especially in these times were the horror genre is crying out for new ideas and fresh takes which this certainly provided, even though this might not be so apparent to those going in expecting something more visual and less subtle than we ultimately get here.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Big Game

Title: Big Game
Director: Jalmari Helander
Released: 2014
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Onni Tommila, Felicity Huffman, Victor Garber, Ted Levine, Jim Broadbent, Ray Stevenson

Plot: When Air Force One is shot down by terrorists President Moore (Jackson) his only hope of survival lies with the 13 year old Oskari (Tommila) who is on a hunting mission to prove his maturity to his kinsfolk, only not to find himself instead aiding the President to escape the terrorists now hunting them.

Review: After giving the world a truly unique take on the Father Christmas mythos with his debut film “Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale” which itself built on his short films “Rare Exports Inc.” and “The Official Rare Exports Inc. Safety Instructions” Finnish director Jalmari Helander shared with the world his unique world view were Santa was less the jolly fat man but rather a horned beast incased in a block of ice, while his elves were a bunch of naked old guys. Now four years after his memorable debut he takes a stab at the action genre while still carrying across many of the traits which made his debut so memorable.

The most expensive film to be produced in Finland with a budget of $10 million this is a film which for whatever reason seemed to disappear as quick as it appear on the release radar leaving me entering into this film with a sense of trepidation, especially when compared to “Rare Exports” which it seemed the blogging community were keen to discuss unlike this film which no one seemed to be talking about. Thankfully I shouldn’t have worried as Helander once again has delivered a film which is similar to “Rare Exports” in so many ways as Helander gives us his take on the action genre.

In much the same way that his take on Christmas was unique the same could be said for his take on the action genre which not only gives nods the action / adventure movies of the 80’s and early 90’s which arguably shot through what almost feels like the lens of a family film, alas one with terrorists and gunfights. Still thanks to a committed cast which see’s him bringing back cast members from “Rare Exports” aswell as casting American actors like Jackson who arn’t afraid to work with more unique material like this.

Opening to Oskari as he stands before the hunter wall of fame, showcasing the boys who’ve take the same right of passage he’s about to embark on were 13 year old boys from the village are sent into the Finnish wilderness to hunt by themselves, the photos all showing his predessorts all proudly posing with their kills including his father he idolises. Oskari on the other hand is not quite the hunter as we soon discover as he struggles to pull back on his bow a worrying sign when the trail is designed as a test of proving a young boys maturity into manhood. This kind of tough upbringing we saw in his previous film and once again its the same relationship we see between the gruff father figure who hides a softer side and his son which might be off putting to some, but this is the enviroment in which Oskari is growing up were life is tough and childhood fleeting as young boys are expected to be able to hunt skills the trial is designed to test.

It’s certainly far from your usual setup for this film, especially when you consider that featuring kids is usually the kiss of death for most action fans enthusiasm, but perhaps because of how Oskari is introduced its certainly less of an issue here even though Oskari still gives us a few moments of being a wise ass kid, using a cup and string phone to initially talk to Moore in a scene which actually was pretty charming and no doubt equally has a lot to do with Jackson’s ability to commit to the most random of material as highlighted by the 174 credits he currently has on IMDB at the time of writing this review.
Jackson’s Moore himself is an interesting character racked with concerns over his declining popularity, let alone his own concerns over being able to perform as a president and while his character might have benefited from more development the charisma of Jackson once more carries the character across. At the same time he’s played off against Secret Service agent Morris (Stevenson) along with the pychotic and insanely rich Hazar (Kurtulus) whose schemes are less about holding the President hostage and in keeping with his personality is more focused on hunting Moore for sport with the intention of having him stuffed and mounted as the ultimate hunting trophy.

While you might expect to know the direction the film will be heading, throughout the brisk run time Helander constantly manages to catch the audience off guard, which might be slightly disapointing to those who saw the trailer and went into the film expecting more of action fest, when here the action comes more in bursts with the focus being largely on the friendship between Moore and Oskari, while the frequent switches between humour and drama happen so often it can be hard to really latch onto any one mood for the film. The action scenes we do get though are enjoyably outlandish including a refrigerator escape sequence which makes the much lauded one from Crystal Skull seem quite plausible in comparison as we watch Oskari and Moore tumbling down the mountainside following the exciting chase through the woods as Hazar attempts to transport his prize off the mountain side inside said refrigerator. The ending though only up the ante further with Helander ending on a huge setpiece involving an ejector seat, a bow and arrow and an exploding lake!

While the action might be kept to the most part to the mountain side we do get the obligatory cuts to the pentagon crisis room were an enjoyable Victor Garber does a lot of hand wringing as the vice president and Jim Broadbent basically steals every scene he’s in as the head of the Terrorist Intel Unit while somehow managing to make a sandwich last the whole film, let alone showing a rare darker side we haven’t seen since “Art School Confidential” and one I would love to see more of. Yes at time these scenes can feel like throw away exposition but thankfully they do lead up to something bigger by the finale in a rather shocking twist that comes seemingly out of nowhere.

As with “Rare Exports” its hard to say who exactly the audience is for this film and with such a strange family adventure vibe running throughout the film, combined with Helander’s general refusal to commit to any one tone I’ve found myself refering to this as a “Starter Action Movie”. The kind of movie you could show the kids as a gateway into the genre before you show them the Schwarzenegger / Stallone / Van Damme classics. More so when this film is free of the usual bad language and ultra-violence you might not want to expose the kids to, still if we can have starter horror movies why not the same for action movies?
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