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.
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