Maniac (Original – 1980): A psychopathic killer is on a spree in New York, terrorising and scalping the public. This one bursts out the gates with two pretty graphic murders, and is evenly punctuated with some full-on eye-opening, jaw-dropping gore throughout. Once scene in particular had me completely shocked – which is a total rarity. Joe Spinell puts in a top shift as the unhinged lead; switching from feral, deranged and demented through to normal, vulnerable, childlike, and charming. The audio helps emphasise the unsettling vibes the movie gives, with creepy internal dialogue and an off-kilter synth/electro track for tension building. It’s visually strange too, with creepy mannequins, seedy New York locations, and a bizarrely open ending. Put this all together and you have a film that’s way above the standard of the genre, and arguably beyond the taste of other slashers from this era. Dark, completely bonkers, and still genuinely shocking 35 years on; Maniac is a thoroughbred slasher film that’s difficult to enjoy, easy to appreciate – but ultimately hard to recommend to anyone that doesn’t like video nasties.
Brick Mansions: a cop must team up with a convicted cop killer to take down Detroit’s most vicious drug dealer, who’s holding the city ransom with a nuclear bomb. The biggest thing that this has going for it is action; lots and lots of action. David Belle action is always a treat to watch, and his stunts are all to a high standard. David Belle’s dubbed face on the other hand isn’t as fun to watch, if anything, a little distracting, and it’s not just the syncing, but the ultra low gruff effects that make him sound like Vin Diesel. Paul Walker doesn’t lag too far behind Belle in the action stakes, which is surprising. With 90 minutes of sweet action, a ticking clock scenario, lame-ish acting and a basic, predictable story – it’s essentially a flashy B movie. Then there’s a massive elephant in the room though; the originals – which, if you’ve seen them, completely take the wind out of Brick Mansion’s sails as large sections are literally scene for scene, jump for jump, punch for punch re-shoots – with a bigger budget. Add to the fact thar this that 10 years on, Parkour is not as cool or fresh, and that the crucial social commentary (and plot in general) feels like more of an afterthought in this one – it lets the film down. If you have no interest in foreign films, this is as solid a B movie action film as they get, but if you’re feeling adventurous I’d absolutely recommend D13 and D13 Ultimatum over this.
Rudderless: after his son dies in a school shooting a grieving father finds his musical demos; learns them, plays them live and inadvertently ends up in a band that’s becoming successful. It’s all about the music, kind of like that film Once, but doesn’t suck hairy Irish balls. The musical aspect of this is solid; with believable songs and a good portrayal of gigging, jamming, the minutia of band life etc. The plotline is also an interesting take on taboo/sensitive material, and runs along nicely – if a little slowly – until the last act where it becomes more of a paint-by numbers affair, as the loose ends get tied up. Performances are top drawer too; Crudup is strong, and pulls you right in to his situation – it helps that he can play guitar and sang. Fishbourne steals all his scenes, and it’s clever casting Selena Gomez in despite being in 2 just scenes. Some would probably point out that the characters are thin, but it feels deliberate, in order to force the audience’s interest – enough subtle hints are laid out in the script for you to piece things together, and only key elements are eventually explicitly mentioned in the dialogue. The only major thing that bugged me was the continuous non diegetic music trying to manipulate you in to feeling what William H Macy wants as each scene plays out. As far as directorial debuts are concerned, WHM couldn’t have done much better; an interesting and compelling story, well acted, shot and edited – but was just a little too low-key / indie / shoe-gazing to fully enthrall.
Killers (キラーズ, Kirazu): a serial killer who uploads his work to a ‘DeathTube‘ site inspires an everyman to go vigilante. It’s the first time in a while that I’ve seen directors harness everything down to the distributors & funders logos to add to the film’s aesthetic; and with this level of detail from the get go, the film is technically admirable – sound, editing, camerawork etc. The opening 5 minutes really set the mood, with a shocking and ultra-graphic murder: the violence slowly escalates and darkens as the runtime progresses. Unlike The Raid‘s gritty-but-styalised – and even poetic – gore, this film is just plain gritty. One killer is a savvy psychopath fit for Dexter, the other is an everyman pushed over the edge, Falling Down style. Another unique aspect is that it’s a collaborative effort from two directors (The Mo Brothers – not real brothers), filmed in two locations – Japan and Indonesia – with English spoken parts when the two leads interact; it doesn’t hinder the film’s international appeal, although something feels lost in translation story-wise. At 140 minutes it does lose feel rather long-winded and intricate for what is essentially a serial killer movie with a disjointed story and not much in the way of themes or messages. If you like your gore gory, and your films stylish this ticks both boxes – although not a lot else. The main stars of Killers are the directors, who with more focus (shorter runtime and tighter story) could pose a serious threat to Gareth Evans as the king of contemporary Indonesian action.
Danger 5 (Season 2): the team of global super spies are re-united, this time in the 1980s, to stop another of Hitler’s quests for world domination. It’s soon apparent that this is – paradoxically – undeniably Danger 5, but also quite different to the previous season. The writers tampered with the cocktail recipe a little too much; Pierre has totally changed for no explained reason, another lead was swapped out for a ridiculous brat-character, most of the established running jokes dropped, and 80s throwback has been done to death lately – giving it a less cool / kitsch feel than the 1960s format. On the other hand the show manages to remain funny, wacky, surreal, psychedelic, and a celebration of satire (there’s an episode called “Back to the Führer” – come on!). I hate using the word ‘random’, but the ‘randomness’, madness and surrealism of the gags is the main thing that raises Danger 5 and sets it apart from the mediocrity that you expect of most modern comedies. All of the changes add up to fewer laughs per episode, but despite this Danger 5 Season 2 is still a great show, that is equally bonkers – but has a significantly different look and feel.
Gone Girl [Spoilers!]: on their 5th wedding anniversary an American Sweetheart goes missing, and it doesn’t take the public long to turn on the husband. This is a film of two halves split right down the middle: the first part is a dramatic and gripping missing person case that leads you down one path. The second half is where the film unravels – it would have been better if Amy had just stayed in the wind, followed her plan, or the plot just followed the downward spiral of Nick, but when Amy meets up with the demented ex, it opens up so many ‘that’s silly / the police would totally be all over it’ aspects and undercut the hard work of part I. It’s almost as if the longer the film goes on, the more silly it becomes – to the point of TV/B-movie. As with all Fincher movies it looks fantastic, it’s beautifully shot, well acted, but it’s all rather low-key, with none of the flare you’d expect from a director this good. The Blu Ray sound mix is also pretty shocking; music and soundscapes dominate and dialogue is completely lost in the mix. Had to watch with subtitles on. There’s a good critique of the media and how dangerous their clout is, paired with some minor social commentary – but for the most part it feels bolted on. All in all, an unremarkable David Fincher film is still way above your average movie – and for that reason alone, this is worth checking out – just dont’ watch it if you’re in a new relationship, or about to get married!
Fifty Shades of Grey: when a fumbling Plain Jane student interviews a perverted and tormented young millionaire both of their lives are oh so romantically changed forever. Firstly; this is the least sexy film you’ll ever see about kinky sex, mostly due to the fact that everything else about it is a total turn off. The dialogue is atrocious; the wannabe racy/saucy lines don’t even come close to innuendo, although with the source material it didn’t really stand a chance. Secondly, the colouring is laughably basic: everything is depressingly washed out and grey (we get it!) except for sexy red things like mood lighting, cars, and arse-smacking paddles. The films is unashamedly uninterested in doing anything even remotely interesting with any of the characters, plot points or even the technical aspects. You want a better love story? Watch Twilight. You want to see some kinky bondage? Browse the internets. You want to see a proper film about this stuff? Watch ‘The Secretary‘, which is better than this in literally every way. As it was obviously going to be a number one smash, Fifty Shades of Grey never had to try, so it didn’t. A ham-fisted, disappointingly fist-free softcore movie with boringly-acted one-dimensional characters on a non-story that takes forever to go anywhere.