Sicario: a young SWAT member joins a ‘special activities’ task force that may or may not be as legitimate as they first appear. The acting, direction, and visuals are gorgeous and often spellbinding; the characters and plot however… not so much. Very little new ground is covered, particularly with the characters: a naïve by-the-book agent (Blunt), mysterious and dangerous man-with-no-name (del Toro), the charismatic but cynical and amoral team leader (Brolin), questionable American operations, yada yada yada. The central character – who is already an unnecessary audience surrogate – has an even more redundant BFF to more explicitly vocalise her thoughts and attempt to let the dummies at the back know what may be happening (not much is actually revealed until the last 20 minutes). There’s a few nerve-shreddingly intense scenes like the border crossing, tunnel raid, and the last supper; which are paired with bursts of ultra-bleak violence and very graphic gore, which make the movie more grisly – although these felt like they were chasing notoriety, and ‘sexing up’ the otherwise flat tone. The daytime scenes look fantastic, downside being that some of the low-light or night-vision scenes are harder to follow. While Sicario looks fantastic, has the big names, and some dark and memorable scenes it’s far less effective than a straight-up drama like Prisoners: it feels a bit like a Steven Seagal/SWAT plot viewed through another character, and with an arthouse guise – leaving me with the impression that it’s more a film for the critics than the public. Like the pacing, story, shots, and characters, Sicario is intentionally slow and steady.
What We Do in the Shadows: a documentary crew follow the exploits of four vampires – Viago (aged 379), Vladislav, (862), Deacon (183) and Petyr, aged (8,000) – sharing a house in Wellington, NZ. All the standard vampire tropes are here and used to comic effect: being invited in, reflections, hypnosis etc. The character’s have nearly a thousand years of history to play with and the film does well to thrown in a bunch of historic references and jokes – although the strongest riff is minor character Stu teaching the vampires how to use modern technology (Laptops, Skype, Ebay etc). The central trio are fantastic characters: perfectly acted, and all funny in their own styles – you’d happily sit and watch them argue for hours as they truly feel like bickering mates. It’s a great comedy script, with plenty of big and throwaway gags, but the overall feel of the film is more like a bunch of individually strong sketches loosely tied together by a few tangents – it feels more like a sitcom, than a documentary or movie. Most situations substitute the romanticism of being a vampire with the silly and mundane stuff, giving the film an upbeat, giggly, and playful tone which – along with the old-timer’s habits, dress sense, accents etc – make it all great fun to watch. It’s technically sound – CGI & wires are well hidden and there’s even an Inception-style corridor fight that works. I tip my beaver fur top-hat to Clement and Waititi for taking on two completely tired genres and making something this fresh and funny with it. A charming and entertaining look at the boring daily vampiric monotony.
Good Kill: follows a former fighter pilot turned drone operator as he struggles with the morality of killing people from 7,000 miles away. A wide variety of opinions on drone warfare are expressed through the torn protagonist, the objectionable (token female) co-pilot, indifferent Colonel, and pro war Generation Kill meatheads – the opinions however are all just dumped on the table for balance, and never really used or explored further. The Colonel (Greenwood) absolutely steals his scenes with an intense and assured performance (he also gets all the best lines); Hawke on the other hand struggles to truly convey inner conflict and remorse, leaving his character less sympathetic than he needed to be. The biggest let down is that the story doesn’t really go anywhere, there’s no consequences, and very little changes between the start and end of the movie – it’s just strike after strike after strike. There’s also a crowbarred in in family melodrama; an unexplored love story; pointless policeman side, and plenty driving up the Vegas Strip – just to perk the visuals up. As you’d expect from Andrew Niccol, this feels well shot and directed, and although it looks great, there’s a lot of dry yellows and cold turquoise filter to ‘moody up’ the settings. Good Kill is less impressive, ambitious, or thought-provoking than Niccol’s previous works like Lord of War, In Time, Gattaca etc. Overall, it boils down to a simplistic “drones are bad… mkay. The CIA is also bad… mkay” overly liberal, and somewhat empty, undergrad political statement.
“Drones aren’t going anywhere. In fact, they’re going everywhere.”
Housebound: after robbing an ATM machine Kylie Bucknell is sentenced to house arrest for eight months, but her old family home appears to be haunted. All of the setup, ‘paranormal‘ and ‘haunting‘ stuff absolute dynamite; but has the side-effect that the murder mystery in the second half feels a touch inferior – although it’s still wildly entertaining. Branded as a “Horror Comedy” I’d argue that it’s more a black comedy that is set in a haunted house – although this isn’t a bawdy spoof. The comedy writing and delivery is outstanding (in a NZ deadpan way) with a lot of great genre and trope gags that create a fun and off-kilter tone where even things like a juvenile delivery of “do they?” sends you properly ROFLing. The rickety house setting is reminiscent of Braindead (aka Dead Alive), but Housebound doesn’t lean on – or borrow from – it much, with only a few splashes of gore, and its eye firmly on the comedy prize. Housebound is a fantastic directorial debut: the story’s well told, it looks great, but most importantly – it’s really really funny, letting it stand proudly alongside Tucker and Dale Vs Evil and Cabin in the Woods. Believe the hype.
The Accidental Spy (AKA – 特務迷城, Tè Wù Mí Chéng): an exercise equipment salesman from HK must hunt down his absent – now dead – father’s fortune and lung cancer cure. The story is a bit of a mess; far more convoluted than it needed to be, and for the most part – quite difficult to follow. The film mirrors this, opening with a rough Taliban-style massacre; then switching to a comedy Jackie Chan workout – and ping-ponging between quite dark elements and light entertainment. The action sees an older (but still totally ripped!) JC swap out some of his trademark physically demanding fights for more traditional big budget moments: an entire wooden pier gets trashed; and planes, cars, & flaming tankers all explode after driving through every obstacle known to man. The highlight is a foot–chase from a Turkish bathhouse that sees Chan fight off various henchmen butt-naked whilst simultaneously covering his modesty; cheeky and entertaining – you couldn’t imagine anyone else pulling it off. People marvel at ‘peak’ Arnie, or Sly, but I’d rather have 1% of JC‘s agility and finesse than all the muscles in China! Overall, it’s one of the more forgettable Jackie Chan outings (like a lot of his made-for-the-west output), but even an average JC film is better than most action films. The Accidental Spy never overcomes the tonal mismatch of having the cheeky and goofy everyman surrounded by heroin-addicted damsels, violent terrorists, and absolutely retarded writing at the end (C.I.A. twist).
Total Recall (Remake): in order to take a break from his life Douglas Quaid visits Rekall, a company that implants false memories to distract people from their pitiful existence. I went into this expecting a big steaming pile of shiitake mushrooms, but was pleasantly surprised by how daft and enjoyable it was. Not a whole lot has been changed from the original movie – other than the edges being filed down – but there is so much action that you didn’t really have the time to think about the story more than 30 seconds. Fist fights, gunfights, robot fights, chases, explosions, floating cars, and loads of future tech – all set in a spectacular world that evokes the metropolises featured in the likes of Minority Report, Fifth Element, iRobot, and more recently, Dredd. Whilst it will never win any awards for acting, originality, politics (Great Britain and the Australian sub-human Colony – LOL) or even being a required remake – the 2012 Total Recall gives the original a modern facelift, putting an emphasis on the ‘instantly forgettable CGI-heavy Sci-Fi action romp’ angle.
NEKRomantik 2: The Return of the Loving Dead – follows a Berliner called Monika who’s torn between two boyfriends: a corpse and a porno-dubbing ‘normal’ guy. This is easily the weirdest and most contradictory film I’ve ever seen: it’s a cine-literate, ultra arthouse picture that contains more explicit gore, shocks and taboo than the top horror and most notorious exploitation films. It’s stylistically directed, with an increasingly surreal tone, some ‘auteurial’ touches like a 4:3 Academy Ratio, long ‘silent movie’ sections, a musical number, outstanding dolly & time lapse shots, and a film-within-a-film ‘My Dinner with Andre’ parody – director Jorg Buttgereit clearly knows what he’s doing. Not all choices are solid however, most scenes linger on longer than they should (fun fair / zoo), and especially towards the end it feels deliberately slowed down and padded out. Then there’s the small matter of gore and taste: from the opening frame – a grotesque suicide and spunk moment – this is an assault on your senses. Do you want to see a hot chick get off straddling the chest of a slimy grey corpse…or intimately dismember and gut said corpse with a hacksaw… or the skinning, butchering and decapitating of a seal? Then look no further than this. The elongated and graphic nature of these scenes test even the most hardened gore fans, and make it feel like more of an endurance test than a film. It’s a movie so notorious that it was the first film since Nazi Germany to be confiscated and outlawed by the police; it’s clearly the blueprint for Human Centipede 2 – and it’s the only film I’ve seen that surpasses it on the crazy gore spectrum. NEKRomantik 2 is explicit, depraved, stomach-turning and completely unforgettable – it could well be the pinnacle of notorious shock cinema.
B-Movie Score: 9/10
As with all of their specials, Arrow have given this the ultimate VIP treatment: a director approved pack with Blu Ray, DVD, OST CD, Postcards, a booklet, and a phenomenal stack of bonus material.