Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Summer Wars

Title: Summer Wars
Director: Mamoru Hosoda
Released: 2009
Starring: Ryunosuke Kamiki, Nanami Sakuraba, Mitsuki Tanimura, Sumiko Fuji, Takahiro Yokokawa

Plot: Kenji (Kamiki) is a high school student with a gift for mathematics who also works as a part-time moderator along with his best friend Takashi (Yokokawa) for the VR World OZ which has replaced the internet for worldwide conectivity. However when an AI called “Love Machine” hacks Kenji’s account her is drawn into a battle with the entity before it takes over OZ.

Review: Following on from the success of “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time” Director Mamoru Hosoda here once more returns to give another unique spin on a fantastical subject, having previously combined High School romance with time travel for his previous film, this time he combines elements of a family reunion drama with a tech fantasy.

While it might have been enough to set the film within the virtual world of Oz which is introduced at the start of the film as this sprawling network of information were users create unique avatars which they can then use to interact with other people to play games, socialise or even conduct business there really is no limit to what you can do, all the while watched over by its guardian whales John and Yoko. This of course provides the perfect area for Hosoda to conjurer up any fanatical idea he can think of. Needless to say its rather fitting as we become ever more dependent on living our lives on the net that Hosoda would craft this story which really questions if perhaps with a more fantastical edge what would happen if the network contracted a virus that took it all out.

The other element to the plot concerns Kenji being invited by his friend and fellow student Natsuki (Sakuraba) to her great-grandmother Sakae (Fuji) 90th birthday being held at her estate, were to his suprise he finds himself introduced to her family as her fiancé. This of course is the least of his worries though as its safe to say that Natsuki’s family are a colourful bunch to say the least as we soon get to discover aswell as how one of them is connected to Love Machine.

The world of OZ while essentially a white background with characters superimposed on the top so that they fly around the central structure of this world and yet its a world which perfectly works for this idea of a super information hub, especially once the battle against Love Machine starts as it becomes one which can be turned suddenly into any structure Hosoda needs and enables him to craft some truly exciting sequences such as showdown between Love Machine and Natsuki’s cousin Kazuma whose avatar King Kazma takes the form of a samurai rabbit.

While the majority of the film takes place in the virtual world we also get a sizeable portion spent with the oddball characters of Natsuki’s family who ultimately become key in beating Love Machine as they perhaps alittle to coincidently all come with either skills or access to resources that Kenji needs and leading to the slightly surreal scenes of a supercomputer suddenly being delivered let alone a ship being dumped in the koi pond to power it and yet somehow none of them are able to chase up a few fans to keep the computer cool leading to the ground instead filling the room with large blocks of ice, which seemed kind of strange considering everything else they’d put together on the fly.

Despite their usefulness the family group I felt could have benefited from losing a couple of members as while on one hand its amusing seeing Kenji trying to deal with this huge group while on the other we end up with several members feeling supplemental and underdeveloped. That being said they are still a colourful group of characters and help hold your interest when not in the virtual world. It can be assumed that the decision to have such a large family unit was derived from Hosoda’s own large family and this ends up just being one of those overly sentimental nods that just doesn’t quite play out.

The animation is unquestionably vibrant throughout with every character being animated it makes it only the more enjoyable to see what each character is doing on the screen, rather than just using looped animations that other productions might use for their background characters. The crispness of the animation is none the more clear than those in the virtual world which at times can feature hundreds of unique characters bringing back fond memories of “Paprika”. Again like our real world characters the avatars we encounter in this world come with their own personalities let alone distinct designs which of course only adds to the scenes when you have large groups on the screen. True a lot of these avatars are more simple designs than those belonging to main characters like Love Machine or Kazuma’s Samurai Rabbit avatar King Kazma.

An entertaining film which with its engaging visuals and colourful characters makes for a great companion piece to the likes of “Paprika” as Hosoda juggles multiple genres to craft a truly fascinating anime which reminds us that anime goes a lot deeper than giant robots, ass kicking schoolgirls and tentacle porn a stereotype which Hosoda seems more than happy to break.

Friday, 10 February 2017


Title: Goat
Director: Andrew Neel
Released: 2016
Starring: Nick Jonas, Ben Schnetzer, Gus Halper, Danny Flaherty, Jake Picking, Virginia Gardener, Austin Lyon, James Franco

Plot: Still struggling to deal with his assault over the summer break Brad (Schnetzer) is hoping that college will mark a new start for him, while at the same time he is lured into pledging for his brother Brett (Jonas) fraternity Phi Sigma Mu not knowing what awaits him as him and the other pledges are put through the hazing of “Hell Week”

Review: Opening to the so called brothers of Phi Sigma Mu shirtless chanting and jeering in slow motion at some event we can’t see as the camera remains fixed on their grotesque and monstrous expressions, though knowing what lies ahead we can pretty much guarantee by the end of the film that it was something horrible being inflicted on one of the pledges. Like with “Spring Breakers” this is the latest dark project taken on by a former house of mouse member in this case Nick Jonas. Jonas for those not into top 40 pop music, especially that backed by Disney was formerly part of a pop trio with his two older brothers imaginatively titled “The Jonas Brothers” who peddled that non offensive, Christian tinged pop rock that Disney loves to churn out. As with all the former House of Mouse members there of course reaches a time when they become to old (read replaced) and its normally around this time we get to see them taking on the more darker project as we saw with Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez taking on “Spring Breakers” and this film could essentially be viewed as the same kind of career move for Jonas.

Based on the memoir of the same name by Brad Land of his experiences as a Fraternity pledge the film paints a grim portrait of the often very real hazing which happens during the so called “Hell Week” which Fraternities and Sororities put their potential new members or pledges through a week of continuous humiliation and abuse to weed out the weaker pledges in the hope that they’d quit. Its this week that forms the main focus for the film with Brad and the other potential pledges refered to here as “Goats” are thrown unwittingly into the process spearheaded by the intimidating pledge master Dixon (Picking) whose role seems solely to find ever more disguising and humiliating trials to put these Goats through all the while being fully backed up by his frat brothers who often join in with the taunting and general celebration of the misery being inflicted on these potential new members.

The fact that hazing is outlawed by the student handbook seems to do little to faze the members as shown by Dixon reciting the passage to the pledges while at the same time openly mocking the text as “pussy shit” while his inspiration for this torture he’s inflicting on the group seems to be largely steemed from a desire to make up for his own Hell Week which is hinted at by him mentioning a former brother putting out a cigarette on his ass. At the same time its clear that the saftey and mental well being is of little concern to any of the members as seen with some of the trials which often are more based on the general amusement of the brothers than any of them stopping to think for a moment if they should be doing any of these things, while hiding behind ideals of masculinity and brotherhood.

The hazing scenes are especially rough to watch right from the start as the goats are herded (no pun intended) into the basement of the frat house where they are stripped, tied up and forced to drink until they throw up, while another is locked in a cage where he is urinated on and taunted by the brothers who once they have tired of the goats force them out of the basement by beating and slapping them leaving the goats to collect their clothes from the paddling pool they have been tossed into…..and this is day one. From here things only get progressively more grim and disgusting with the climax of these coming from the group being forced to mud wrestle for the brothers, before being forced to drink a whole keg between them or risk being forced to have sex with an actual goat. The scenes which follow being far from the most pleasant I’ve had to sit through as the group struggle to empty the keg leaving us with an aftermath of them essentially broken by the ordeal, covered in a mixture of mud and vomit while one member vainly tries to complete the task. Its really just a matter or when rather than if when all of this will go horribly wrong.

So what inspires someone to put themselves through this? Well seemingly the promise of popularity, sex and an open invitation to parties wrapped up in the illusion of brotherhood is all it takes for someone to put themselves through this ordeal as the dangerous allure of popularity once more makes itself known here. Many of this group of pledge are self confessed nerdy kids who never fit in at school and now see the fraternity life as a way to finally find the popularity many of them so badly crave with Brad’s room mate gleefully rejoicing that he had sex for the first time because he was associated with the frat when Brad attempts to get him to quit.

Outside of the frat drama we have the subplot about Brad getting over his assault we witness at the start of the film, which soon boils down to him looking at the selfie of his bruised and bloody face at various points in the film while never being fully resolved despite being called to identify his attackers in a line up it just all feels very undeveloped much like the ending which itself just film like the film had just stopped than reaching any kind of conclusion.

While the cast are all good in their various roles the acting is still nothing remarkable and while the material might be dark for someone like Nick Jonas to be associated with but at the same time his character while participating at first soon becomes the sole voice of reason in this storm of madness and testosterone. Yes its admirable seeing what some of the actors put themselves through in the film but that alone does not make for a good performance.

A grim viewing experience made only the more shocking to know that these kinds of things are actually taking place, let alone that some bozo is going to see the film as some kind of endorsement of the hazing tradition the same way that they missed that “Animal House” was making fun of the Frats rather than celebrating them as often misconstrued. This is the sort of film to file alongside Larry Clarke’s “Bully” or Catherine Hardwicke’s “Thirteen” especially as its unlikely your be rushing back for a second viewing.

Monday, 6 February 2017

Resident Evil: Apocalypse

Title: Resident Evil: Apocalypse
Director: Alexander Witt
Released: 2004
Starring: Milla Jovovich, Sienna Guillory, Oded Fehr, Thomas Kretschmann, Jared Harris, Mike Epps, Mathew G. Taylor

Plot: Following on from the events of the first film Alice (Jovovich) awakens to find herself in Racoon City which has now been ravaged by the T-Virus which the Umbrella Corporation are now moving to cover up. Joining up with suspended police officer Jill Valentine, Alice and a small group of uninfected survivors must attempt to escape the city.

Review: Despite the fact the original film hardly reciving glowing praise from the critics and audiences alike it looked doubtful that Paul W.S Anderson would get to make good on the cliffhanger he ended the first film on with a post coma Alice waking up with a ravaged Racoon City. Still when you deliver a $102.4 million box office on a budget of $35 Million it was kind of inevitable that the studio would push for a follow up. Anderson however would not return for this first sequel other than to produce and write the script as at the time he was busy giving the world his sterile take on both the Alien and Predator franchises with the flacid “Alien Vs. Predator” and leaving second unit director Alexander Witt to instead helm the film which remains his sole credit as a director and having seen the film its not hard to see why.

While the first film might have drawn its inspirations from the first game, this time round its the turn of “Resident Evil 2” and “Resident Evil: Nemesis” both which took place in Racoon City before the series headed off for more exotic locales in the games which followed. However like the first film they are merely just the foundations for another original script from Anderson who despite not being in the directors chair is still keep the build on the world he established in the first film in particular the evolution of Alice as a character.

This time Alice has her memory back while thanks to some tinkering by the Umbrella scientists she now has superhuman strength and agility which from the writing perspective means that Anderson is able to work more than a few OTT scenes into the film such as her introduction to the films main group of survivors which sees her crashing through a church stain glass window riding a motorcycle before blasting the hell out of a group of lickers. For some reason she also seems to be obsessed with sharing her back story whenever given a chance regardless of if characters have heard it before so if you didn’t know that she is an ex-security officer you’ll certainly know by the fifth time she’s told the group. In this instalment we do get to atleast know alittle more history behind the T-Virus and how it relates to Alice through the introduction of the Virus’s creator Dr. Ashford whose daughter Angela, Alice has to rescue from her school in order to get out of the city. The plot for the most part is frustratingly plodding and really only picks up when there’s a big set piece to work in.

From this film we really start to see Alice as the superhero style asskicker with the genetic tampering of her DNA now being used as blank check to work in any ludicrous idea that Anderson can think of and seemingly being all the justification we are supposed to need to understand her evolution from slaying Zombies in a pretty red dress to here being more military in her clothing choice let alone her suddenly being an expert in combat and military tactics which enable her to evade helicopters and repel down the sides of buildings.

The group this time round are a pretty unlikeable bunch with the exception of Sienna Guillory’s Jill Valentine who is a perfect feisty counterpart to Alice as she is introduced shooting zombies in the head which for some reason seem to be of little concern to anyone else in the police station let alone the fact that she is blasting away in such a crowded setting. Also in this group is Jill’s fellow S.T.A.R.S team member Peyton (Adoti), former umbrella soldier Carlos (Fehr) who was also a character introduced in “Resident Evil: Nemesis”. The most irritating though is the motormouthed L.J (Epps) who was originally supposed to be played by Snoop Dog until he dropped out during pre-production and I can’t help but feel that this character would have been less irritating had he still played him.

Our big evil this time is Major Cain (Kretschmann) whose heading up Umbrella’s containment operation and from his introduction its clear that he cares little for the citizens of Racoon city with his concerns instead lying purely with covering up the outbreak by any means possible. This includes sealing the Racoon City residents in the city aswell as releasing Nemesis to kill off the remaining members of S.T.A.R.S

Nemesis is unquestionably one of the strongest aspects of this film and is perfectly transferred from the game where like he is here a towering monster who also happens to weld a minigun and rocket launcher, both which while might have seemed overkill in the game here actually work for the character. Credit also has to be given to Mathew G. Taylor for making this character work especially when the suit weighed around 60 pounds limiting him to shooting in 15 min bursts or risk the heat of the suit overcoming him though to make matters worse the Minigun also added an addition 60 pounds for him to carry. Yes the character might be limited to slowly plodding around the city, but like in the game this really only adds to the daunting presence of this monster.

The downside of this character however comes when it comes to him doing anything other than shooting his weapons which becomes only the more obvious when we get the scenes of Alice fighting Nemesis with a pair of police batons. Due to the restrictive movement of Taylor wearing the suit the whole fight sequence just ends up coming off clumsy for the parts we do get to see with director Witt insisting on shooting the action almost ontop of the actors its often hard to figure out what is supposed to be happening let alone feel any kind of engagement with these fight sequences.

As with the first film this is still a sterile zombie movie with none of the gore we’d expect from the genre, though this time we have to contend with this weird half speed effect that Witt seems to be obsessed with using throughout the film. At the same time he constantly insists on shooting the zombie scenes almost on top of the actors making it often hard to figure out what is supposed to happening and often leaving scenes feeling a lot more chaotic than they should be. We do however get a few decent scenes in the film such as one of the group being overcome by a group of zombie school children aswell as another fun scene with the zombie dogs who make a return here.

A step down from the first film which seeing how that film lingered around the ass end of okay, really doesn’t say much for this film, more so when the ending is dragged out an additional fifteen minutes so that Alice’s character can become even more powered up than before. As such its doubtful that you will return to it after your initial viewing leaving it one for the completionists.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Resident Evil

Title: Resident Evil
Director: Paul W. S. Anderson
Released: 2002
Starring: Milla Jovovich, Michelle Rodriguez, Eric Mabius, James Purefoy, Martin Crewes, Colin Salmon

Plot: When the T-Virus is released in a secret underground facility called “The Hive” an elite military unit is sent in only to find the staff have been turned into zombies while a mysterous woman suffering amnesia named Alice (Jovovich) might hold the key to their survival.

Review: Paul W. S. Anderson might be one of the most frustratingly diversive directors currently working today as throughout his careers he’s danced between directing interesting original pieces such as his ram raiding drama “Shopping” and “Event Horizon” while at the same time spending a large chunk of his career making video game adaptations as he proved you can make a decent video game adaptation with “Mortal Kombat” before setting his sights on the “Resident Evil” franchise which somehow he has managed to turn into a franchise of its own.

Watching the film back when it was originally released I genuinely could not have predicted that the series would last as long as it has, let alone how much of a horror icon Alice would become and while I might have tapped out originally after this first entry I felt it was long overdue that I actually revisit the series if only to discover what it is about these films which has enabled them to keep churning out new entries which have increasingly moved away from the source material and into a post-apocalyptic near future.

Opening to a mystery scientist stealing the T-virus before unleashing the virus in the lab sending the facility into lockdown as he makes his escape, the employees of the Hive meanwhile assuming that its a fire drill shuffle around the hallways only to soon find themselves being targeted by the facility security system known as “The Red Queen”. It’s a fun scene especially when it includes a misguided attempt to escape from an elevator leaving one employee minus their head. From here Anderson really doesn’t let up on the tension as we are introduced to Alice lying on the floor of her shower with no memory of who or where she is, while the fact that she suddenly has a group of gas mask clad commando’s swinging through the window really doesn’t help things either.

While the opening might be packed with genuine tension and atmosphere, things soon start to go downhill as Alice joins the commando’s as they set about infiltrating the Hive. Here the plotting goes the way of a traditional zombie horror as the group manage to unleash the recently zombified employees aswell as a number of other genetic experiments the company has been working on. Thankfully though Anderson mixes things up enough her to stop this being just another zombie thriller as we get a number of fantastic set sequences such as Alice facing off against a group of zombie dogs and the now legendary laser hallway sequence. At the same time Anderson doesn’t feel the need to anchor himself to the source material which saw him turning “Mortal Kombat” into an “Enter the Dragon” remake with added supernatural elements. Here it is very much the case again as he opts not to include any of the characters from the games and outside of the mention of the “Umbrella Corporation” Anderson keeps many of the references to the game much more subtle.

One of the more interesting aspects of the film though is how the film can be viewed for the numerous references to “Alice in Wonderland” that are worked into the film making it little coincidence that our heroine is called “Alice” let alone the fact that the security system is named “The Red Queen” creepily represented by a hologram of its creators daughter. The original script also saw the inclusion of “The White Queen” who would have been the main AI system at the Umbrella Headquarters monitoring the Hive and counting the Red Queens security systems while explaining how the commando’s are able to access the Hive. Even though this was removed from the final script there are still plenty of other refrences to be spotted such as the entrance to the Hive being through a mirror (Alice enters through the looking glass), the white rabbit the virus is shown being tested on aswell as the Red Queen decapitating one of the group. Unquestionably its a unique approach while one subtle enough to be overlooked until its pointed out and much like the amnesia plotline it strangely works even though when I first watched the film on its original release I have to admit to being more than a little disappointed that while it had hints of the games such as the mansion and the secret lab underneath the characters and plotting where completely different.

My other bug bear with the film is just how sterile it is as Anderson sets up a fun moment of gore or a zombie attack only to cut away at the last second leaving you feeling cheated, especially if you’ve come up watching the classic zombie movies of the 70’s and 80’s which on the surface it appears that Anderson is keen to homage here (not a running zombie in sight) though sadly not their gut munching visuals. Intrestingly the Zombie godfather George A. Romero was at one point attached to write and direct the film only to abandon the project after numerous classes with the studio during the pre-production process with his version sticking more closely to the games with Jill Valentine being the female lead instead of Alice and I can’t help but wonder if his version would have given the film its much needed dose of gore that is noticeably missing here.

Despite the lack of gore Anderson still manages to craft some memorable zombie attack scenes including the group trying to escape the hordes using overhead pipes while the zombie attack scenes are all suitably tense and chaotic even if they do feel ultimately hollow thanks to the lack of gore. That being said the film could be seen as an entry level zombie movie for those not quite up for the gore of Romero’s Zombie saga yet not wanting to hokey antics of “White Zombie” and “Plague of the Zombies”. Yes this is not a perfect film, especially with so much clunky dialogue floating around but as a gentle starting point for zombie movies you really could do a lot worse.

The cast are really a mixed back here with Milla Jovovich getting to flex her action-heroine chops here after previously kicking a whole lot of ass in “The Fifth Element” and while she might do anything as spectacular here she does own the character of Alice, though I don’t think anyone could have guessed from this first film what an iconic character she would become. Michelle Rodriguez is equally fun as her tough commando counter with her casting coming at her own request being a fan of the games she had asked her agent to keep an eye out for any attempts to adapt them. Colin Salmon meanwhile continues to make me wonder who is actually casting him much like Alan Cummings as despite getting the best death of the movie is pretty horrible throughout his brief appearance here.

While this is far from a perfect film I did enjoy it more this time around than I did watching in on its original release. Perhaps this was because I knew what to expect this time around or maybe seeing how it fits into the larger vision that Anderson has turned it into with each new film. Even on its own this is pretty disposable fun though if your looking for a good zombie movie your attentions are best placed elsewhere.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Blue Ruin

Title: Blue Ruin
Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Released: 2013
Starring: Macon Blair, Devin Ratray, Amy Hargreaves, Kevin Kolack, Eve Plumb, David W. Thompson, Brent Werzner, Stacy Rock

Plot: Dwight (Blair) is a drifter currently living out of his car when not scavenging for food and money. However his life living off the grid is interrupted when he finds out the man who killed his parents is set to be released from prison so he begins to formulate a plan to take his revenge, only to soon find that its far from straight forward.

Review: The career path of director Jeremy Saulnier has certainly been funny one for while he made his directing debut with the 2007 black comedy “Murder Party” a film largely overlooked by most it meant that most people wondered where he had come from when he released this film while the established fans got the a completely different kind of movie than what they'd expected from him. Its also a film which despite its limited theatrical release still went on to be one of the most talked about movies of late with his follow up film “Green Room” only furthering the interest in this film and creating a perhaps unintentional one two punch as audiences often find themselves watching one and quickly seeking out the other.

Shot on a modest budget of $35,000 raised through Kickstarter and his own funds here Saulnier crafts a simple yet effective tale which not only brings to mind the Coen Brothers debut “Blood Simple” but also the equally overlooked "Big Bad Wolves" all while bringing its own unique spin to the revenge genre. While the more traditional approach to this kind of film would see the wronged party spending most of the film plotting their revenge, here Saulnier instead mixes things up by giving Dwight his revenge in the first twenty minutes with Saulnier more interested in the fallout from this situation especially when the family of the man he killed come seeking revenge on him.

Reuniting with his long time collaborator Macon Blair who here plays the unlikely angel of vengeance and who when we first meet him is an almost mute heavily bearded drifter scavenging for food and cashing in cans for money. Right from the start though its clear that Dwight is out of his depth as we see his failed attempts to get a gun only to break it thanks to his attempts to break the security lock. Its almost painfully obvious as we follow Dwight that here we have a man who is using what he’s seen in movies as a guide rather than having any kind of training, a fact that only becomes the more obvious during this first quarter to the film in the lead up to Dwight fatally stabbing the man he believes to be his parents killer in a dive bar toilet.

While this first quarter might give us a mini revenge movie of sorts its really the fallout from his actions that make up the real meat of the story here. The mild mannored Dwight soon finding himself increasingly out of his depth as he’s now hunted by the killer family who have zero qualms about dishing out their own vigilante justice as we discover when they come looking for him at his sisters house. Needless to say the real fun of the film is seeing how he handles the situation which constantly threatens to consume him.

It should be noted that while Dwight’s path of revenge might be a twisting one Saulnier maintains a very black and white world view with the members of the Cleland clan being all grimy and morally devoid compared to Dwight who now is shown as the clean shaven every man who has been thrown into this situation he now having to handle himself, knowing full well that to go to the cops would only lead to him incriminating himself in the process. This inturn gives us such great scenes as Dwight attempting to revolve a crossbow bolt from his leg and his confrontation with Teddy (Kolack) one of the Cleland brothers who he ends up holding hostage in the trunk of his car.

While the violence throughout the film is frequently bloody and graphic Saulnier still shows incredible restraint in when he unleashes such imagery which only serves to maximise its effect when it does happen such as the bathroom stabbing or during the final confrontation. At the same time his characters are not immune to the effects of the violence around them, especially Dwight who constantly struggles to deal with the consequences of his actions bringing a real sense of reality to the film rather than have him just be another emotionless vigilante.

Unquestionably this is Blair’s film as he convincingly plays out Dwight’s journey so that you can believe in the choices he makes. At the same time he also recives strong support from Amy Hargreaves as Dwight’s sister and one of the few pillars of support he has with the other coming from his childhood friend played with a perfect almost deadpan ton by Devin Ratray whose appearance while perhaps more brief than I would have liked still like so many of the characters featured throughout leaves a memorable impression.

This really is a film best seen with as little expectation as possible and while it starts off perhaps alittle slow once it gets rolling it grabs hold of you and refuses to relinquish its grip till its played out its grim finale. Between this film and “Green Room” Saulnier really marks himself out as a talent worth watching and I’m now excited to see where he goes from here.
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