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Big Bad Wolves
Big Bad Wolves (aka מי מפחד מהזאב הרע, Mi mefakhed mehaze’ev hara): Three men’s lives come to a head when a child is murdered and the hunt for the killer intensifies – Israeli black comedy horror/thriller. Off the bat this is a very odd mix that flips from gruesome child murders straight to bawdy comedy with no hesitation. Centered around the question of “is he / isn’t he guilty” the main chunk of this plays out like a Mystic River / Prisoners dilemma… showing normal men becoming monsters. The torture scenes are very visceral and gnarly, difficult to watch. It also starts becoming darkly comical in the last act, as the multiple – seemingly innocuous – strands are brought nicely together. Hailed by Quentin Tarantino as the best film of 2013, this is one of his shout-outs that is actually worth a punt!
Mr. Robot [Season 1]: follows Elliot – a Cyber Security engineer by day / social vigilante hacker by night – as he’s recruited by a shady anarchist called ‘Mr Robot’. Firstly, the shows gambles everything on a wild main character: an anxious & depressed, socially inept, lonely, mentally unstable, and unsympathetic junkie-hacker! The central plot is told through his paranoid point-of-view, where we hear his thoughts – including some beautiful IT snobbery: “he owns a blackberry” “he likes the music of Josh Groban” / “stupid Marvel movies”. While Malek’s lead performance is outstanding, he’s not alone as the entire show is very well-cast: everyone has a unique look and set of traits & skills – Wallstrom and Slater in particular get a lot of time to shine. The show also looks phenomenal; it’s beautifully shot with lots of bold & striking imagery, vibrant colours, and unorthodox camerawork; like low-level & asymmetrical shots, strong leading lines… you could screenshot almost any moment and hang it on your wall. In fact, the production is so slick that it feels more like a 10-hour long movie. Every character, every sub-plot, almost every scene feels like it’s saying something about our modern way of living; how insipid tech is permeating our lives, and how ‘the masses’ are being exploited. As someone who works in IT I found myself nerding out over accuracy and tech savviness of the show; Hell, even the episode titles like “eps1.0_hellofriend.mov” are smart and cool. As the season marches forward viewers are rewarded with compelling story arcs, Shakespearian twists and turns, and scathing critiques of modern life, big business, & corporate culture. It’s very anti-establishment, and isn’t dumbed down in the slightest. Insightful, intelligent, and crammed with current issues & ‘news story’ plots, Mr Robot is the kind of show that’s setting the bar in terms of style and substance.
Kickboxer: Retaliation – a year after killing Tong Po to avenge his brother’s murder, MMA champ Kurt Sloan is kidnapped and forced to fight a new underground deathmatch champion. After a dubious opening Bond-lite salsa dance / train fight, the film is rigidly punctuated with some outstanding action set pieces. The choreography in a couple of the fights is jaw-dropping, especially the single takes at the jailhouse (3 mins uninterrupted), and riverside rumble (inexplicably set to the Surfaris ‘Wipe Out’). The ‘Final Boss’ fight against Game of Thrones’ “The Mountain” is 20 minutes of bone-crunching savagery that reaches previously uncharted levels of OMGWTF twists and turns. Outside of the fights however, the film doesn’t feel particularly well put-together: the direction is weaker than the previous outing – jerking between various scenes, locations, filler Thailand Tourist Board type shots… and there’s no attempt at updating anything about the generic 80s action plot. Cast-wise, almost everything else is in the shadow of Moussi’s physicality and technical ability: Bjornsson is an intimidating force (when he’s not strumming an acoustic guitar for no reason!); JCVD’s charisma brightens up his scenes; Tyson hams it up and gets some laughs; but disappointingly, Christopher Lambert has nothing more to do than growl some threats and react to big hits (away from everyone else). What it lacks in originality and direction, Kickboxer Retaliation makes up by leaving no stuntman unscathed and no prop unsmashed; the fight scenes are top-drawer, and it makes you wish that Alain Moussi would get the chance to go toe to toe with the likes of Iko Uwais and Donnie Yen.
The Greatest Showman
The Greatest Showman: an original musical loosely based on the life of P.T. Barnum and his “abnormals assemble” crew. You have two choices with this film: enjoy it as a (very) lightweight piece of entertainment, or thumb through the catalogue of issues with its presentation as an actual ‘movie’. My biggest gripe is the songs – they’re all too similar and formulaic; designed by committee – starting with a quiet talky bit, rapidly build into a punch-the-air, feelgood and uplifting sing-a-long major-key chorus, then ending with a more emotional talky bit. Granted, they’re perfect for a musical, but each one is about twice as long as necessary and the core numbers are continually repeated throughout the entire picture. While it makes the most of the cinematic medium through scale and visual effects, it’s unbelievably stagey and theatrical; essentially begging for a live action theatre run. The story is wafer thin; it is the most positive spin on Barnum’s life told through very broad brushstrokes, and whenever someone is about to do a bit of real acting (starting to get vaguely emotional) they spontaneously burst in to song! The critic character is a laughably knowing pre-emptive jibe at how the film itself would obviously land; engineered to be popular with the masses but sneered at by critics – and I can understand both sides. Every family member, friend, and colleague that’s seen this has gone to the cinema for multiple viewings and subsequent sing-a-long viewings, yet the critical response is lukewarm at best. The Greatest Showman is hammier than a hog roast and cheesier than a fondue: it’s unashamedly naff, but is clearly plugging a massive gap in the popular and musical markets.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: the mother of a murdered teenager goes head to head with the local town’s police department. This film tickles and jokes with you then WHAM, punches you in the kidney, again, and again, and again. I’ve never been in a screening where the audience went from rapturous crying-with-laughter straight in to shock, fear, or dread in a split second. Performance-wise, picking out an individual would be unfair as everyone is sublime: Rockwell steals his scenes with superb comic delivery, whereas Harrelson and McDormand show real heart, and damn near everyone else in the top-to-bottom dream cast brings their A-game. The direction is never in yer face, but it immaculately handles the comedy and emphasizes every twist, turn, and reveal that the ultra-tight screenplay has to offer (no line of dialogue is wasted). The plot is harrowing, yet it unfolds in such an anarchic way that you’re never sure what’s around the corner. The only complaints I can level at the film are that it has about 5 natural endings, but keeps chugging on at an even slower pace (and what’s with the midget obsession; there was no need for the character to be a midget other than the cheap laughs). Three Billboards takes the notion of a ‘Tragicomedy’ and pushes both aspects as far as they can go, making it an absolute rollercoaster of emotions for the viewer. Powerful, emotive, and raw; I wouldn’t grudge this film any of the awards that it’s up for.
“RAPED WHILE DYING”
“AND STILL NO ARRESTS?”
“HOW COME, CHIEF WILLOUGHBY?”
Enemy [Mild Spoilers]: when a history lecturer spots his doppelgänger in the background of a movie scene he becomes increasingly fascinated by the actor. Quite a difficult film to articulate, this probably falls vaguely under the ‘Psychological Thriller’ banner. There’s a deliberately slow and intense build up, magnified by a doom-laden score that the intensity relies heavily on. This is completely Jake’s film, as we see him pull off playing two people, and then each character ‘impostering’ the other (Imagine Face/Off^²). Stylistically, there’s an intense amber hue for the duration, which I didn’t really see the point of – or understand. Naturally, there’s a lot of playing around with duality, repetition, mirrors, doubles, from the get-go, and although the film’s not explicitly wrapped up (the ending is a bit of a mystery/clusterfuck) there are a lot of clues and lines in there; namely that our lead may have a split personality. Definitely the least accessible film since he started working with ‘big’ names; this bleak, tense, and dark thriller is the perfect appetiser for Arrival; and lays out the “un film de Denis Villeneuve” style that he’s kept right through to his current, mega-budget films.
Possession (Original Cut): follows the breakdown of a relationship between an international spy and his increasingly disturbed wife. Highly stylized, the masterful direction immediately jumps out; the camera is perpetually moving, with long and involving shots that roam around the actors, thrusting you right into the middle of the powerful, visceral drama. The acting is superb throughout, borderline theatrical but it assists in dragging you further into the intriguing plot. The entire film has an unusual vibe that’s both quasi-religious and heavily-surreal – somewhere between arthouse and exploitation – aided by a phenomenally creepy score that is one of the most unsettling I can remember. Not without it’s flaws, by the 75-minute mark, I was wishing I’d opted for the 90-minute edit, as the film takes a lingering detour into an examination of the body, soul, god, chance, and faith. It’s also a movie that has echoed strongly throughout the years, with a lot of imagery and powerful shots “borrowed” from this, and some of the most photogenic Berlin buildings – inside and out. Capped off with a genuinely crazy, jaw-dropping ending this is a film that you won’t be forgetting in a hurry; yet is such an intense experience that you won be rushing to re-watch. Marginalized because of it’s supernatural and excessive elements, Possession is ripe for a retrospective viewing: almost 40 years on it remains a modern thriller/horror that was way, way ahead of it’s time.
Spring Breakers: to fund their Spring Break, a ‘curvaceous quartet’ of gals rob a diner, which leads them to a decadent gangbanger rapper called “Alien”. Not one to watch with your parents, this opens with some terrible dubstep, and bikini babes partying (and a record-breaking 30 seconds ‘til the first slow-motion beer-covered tiddies). Despite being so sensational in parts the runtime hopscotches between a) surreal mix of “poignant & brilliant coming-of-age moments” (some of the most authentic-feeling ‘college girl’ insights) and b) “handheld/realistic/hedonistic Girls-Gone-Wild-type shenanigans”. It uses a very peculiar – non-standard – cinematic language that takes a while to tune in to; feeling almost dream-like, or stream-of-consciousness. Something more akin to a music video or (trying my hardest not to sound like a wanker here) “Liquid narrative”. There’s a heavily saturated / neon-drenched / golden hour colour palette that bumps already strong imagery up to the next level. Although it sells the film short; Spring Breakers feels like Michael Bay, Gaspar Noe, and Nicolas Winding Refn (content, narrative, cinematography respectively) got together to create a subversive alternative to the coming-of-age genre. The pairing of director Korine and legendary cinematographer Benoít Debie has produced something so sensorial and peculiar that it’s impossible to articulate. Is Spring Breakers a great film? Doubtful. Is it an important film? Possibly. Is it an interesting film? You bechurass it is!
Train to Busan
Train to Busan (AKA 부산행, Busanhaeng): follows a ragtag bunch of commuters as a zombie outbreak sweeps through South Korea – and their Train. Mostly killer and very little filler, this is about as fun and enjoyable as a zombie apocalypse film can get. All of the populist and barnstorming zombie staples are there – namely hoards of ultra-twitchy and energetic zombies gorily ripping their way through everything and everyone in their path. Not unlike Snowpiercer, the train is a great way of offering up a diverse cross-section of society, which leads to some light social commentary and comedy moments. It’s a tight and straightforward film that has a punchy setup, then revels in the crimson spectacle of a drawn-out zombie attack. The action is all well-handled and there’s some nice dramatic moments thrown in for some respite and balance. The only minor niggle is that it loses it’s way a little in the final act and gets a bit too Hollywood / 28 Weeks Later. Overall, this has all of the prime cuts that you want from Zombie film, and none of the offal (except for buckets of brains and guts!)
GET OUT [Spoilers]: when a girl takes her new boyfriend home to meet her family, he gets way more than he bargained for. As a white metropolitan elite male, and part of the liberal media (a blog counts, right?) the moments of sleight racism, underhand stereotypes, and low-key comments about ‘form’, ‘structure’, ‘genetics’, etc were the hardest bits to watch. The strongest aspect about this film is that it skillfully uses the ‘language’ of horror cinema (jumps, isolation, string score) to emphasize the uneasy and odd parts of the plot. Even white people talking normally about Tiger Woods, Jessie Owens, and Obama sounds creepier through the ‘horror’ lens. The final 10 minutes see a major tone shift into exploitation & schlocky B-movie cheese, with some crowd pleasing gore – although it does feel like it’s been heaped on for good measure – a highlight being a ‘reverse American History X headstomp’ homage. There’s a few other missteps like the ‘gentrified’ help coming over more “robotic” than ‘transplanted’, and the TSA agent friend is purely in there for some cheap comic relief. The best thing about Get Out is that everything mentioned in the first half fits together perfectly for the reveal and finale; however, the flip side of that is that there’s no subtlety, and you get pushed down a particular path, which the film sticks religiously to; which feels too straightforward in a time where you expect more from top-drawer horror.
The Hunt (aka Jagten): a nursery teacher’s life is pulled from beneath him when one of his very young students falsely accuses him of a sexual act. The film has a highly naturalistic, almost documentary-style (think Dogme 95) which creates a very realistic world and really gives you the impression that this could be any guy in this position. Being in almost every frame, the film puts a lot of stock in to Mads, but it pays off as he delivers an absolute powerhouse performance – he’s an everyman, but not like the other men around, and we see enough of him to empathise with his new fate. The middle act is particularly moving & emotional, and feels like a critique of the “guilty until proven innocent” society we live in at the moment. It’s even more interesting re-watching this through the 2017 ‘scandal of the week’ lens in this post-Weinstein abuse era. There are some very tough scenes like child counselor meeting and Lucas trying in vain to reason with his closest family and friends. Raw, emotional and affecting, The Hunt is a modern classic, and will no doubt be one of Mikkelsen and Vinterberg’s career highlights, no matter what else they go on to do.
El topo: a surreal wild-west-type cowboy tale that’s heavy on the religious symbolism and appeared to have been conceived (& filmed) whilst on all of the drugs. The biggest thing this film has going for it is reel after reel of top-shelf insanity and phenomenal imagery: attempting to put some of the scenes into words wouldn’t do them justice – but suffice to say that the locations, landscapes, characters, and overall visuals are absolutely remarkable. Beyond the aesthetics, the rest of the film feels like a hodgepodge of themes, styles, and ideas. The tone continually bounces around from jarring “Texas Chainsaw” style, straight into to a Russ Meyers type shoe-sniffer: from po-faced religious moments through to Blazing Saddles levels of stupidity. It’s also – unfortunately – a film of two halves, that gets tangled up after the initial “mission” and really loses the head of steam (and patience) that the first have had built up. The foley work is particularly terrible – the film is shot outdoors, but most of the speech and effects appear to have been recorded in a boxy echo chamber. There’s also a lot of violent (although reddest blood ever) and exploitative stuff in here too, like the misuse of religion, lesbians, and midgets & disabled people for no real reason. Bizarre and easily one of the strangest & most overlooked cult movies ever made, El Topo is the most peculiar of beasts, that’s only worth watching for it’s sublime and visionary aesthetic.
LOGAN [Spoilers]: as Professor X’s health deteriorates Logan has to keep him – and the first new mutant in years – safe from all the bad guys. This is unlike any other big superhero film you’ve seen: grisly, balls-out, 15-rated (borderline 18!). There’s lots of “Fucks”, gratuitous boobs, and exploitation-level gore; with claws hacking up limbs & digging in to skulls etc. It’s also a film where the titular hero spends the majority of the runtime hobbling, coughing, and lumbering around like a broken man. Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart give an absolute masterclass in character and acting, supplemented by a star-making performance from Dafne Keen. I wouldn’t want to be the actor that has to follow Jackman when the inevitable X-men reboot goes ahead – after 17 years in the role, he is Logan. The action scenes are sparse, but next-level-superb throughout – the highlight being the first time were introduced to Laura (a 10 minute fight-chase). As for flaws, there are only a few minor ones: Stephen Merchant’s horrific accent brings you right out of the film; and it spends a bit too much time introducing and building some minor characters. One of the main criticisms leveled against this is that it’s too “depressing” or “downbeat”, which I assume came from the same people who would prefer to see robots leveling cities. Logan is a character-driven road-trip western film (that happens to contain superheros) rammed with pathos and peril – what’s not to love?! It’s brutal, dark, raw, emotional, and – for me – this is the new standard for ALL future Marvel / Superhero / Comic Book movies.
Blade Runner (The Final Cut)
Blade Runner (The Final Cut): A retired replicant hunter (aka a Blade Runner) must return to track down four fugitive android impostors in 2019 Los Angeles. It’s unbelievable to think that this was released in 1982 as everything about it looks and feels like a ‘modern’ movie: it’s still breathtaking, brimming with scenes and imagery that are nothing short of pure spectacle. Almost every shot is striking; and the scale/intricacy of the sets & worldbuilding is unbelievable. Despite all of this, Ridley isn’t above some tremendously naff product placement: Coca Cola billboards, Budweiser signage, Atari holograms, and a final fight illuminated by a humongous neon TDK sign… classy! There’s also a questionable sex scene and dubious mis-use of midget actors – to give the film a little edge and distraction. If imitation truly is the sincerest form of flattery; you know that Blade Runner is a top-drawer sci-fi, as the future-metropolis aesthetics and theme of ‘what makes us human’ are echo through pretty much every subsequent Sci-Fi classic: Ghost in the Shell, The Fifth Element, Minority Report, The Matrix, Dark City, Total Recall, Brazil, Looper, Akira, Ex Machina… the list is endless. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the starting point for the movie (Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dear of Electric Sheep?” is a SF masterpiece). Overall, Blade Runner is a parodically boilerplate pulp/noir story; yet the world created & proto “cinema du look” style paired with the outstanding source material & sci-fi twists, propel this film into classic territory.
The Villainess(aka Ak-Nyeo, 악녀, 惡女). an elite assassin goes on a rampage to win back her freedom. This opens with one of the most intense and enjoyable rip-roaring action sequences in recent memory, where no fewer than 50 henchmen are dispatched in a 6-minute point-of-view frenzy of shooting / stabbing / and kick-punching – think of the Oldboy‘s infamous corridor scene, but from Hardcore Henry’s perspective! The film also ends with an equally-impressive action finale involving a bus and a lot of great stuntwork / choreography. It’s peppered throughout with shorter bursts of ultra-violent, and undeniably ‘cool’ blood-spurting over-the-top moments. As you’ve probably guessed, the action scenes are second-to-none… however, they only total around a quarter of the 120 minute runtime; which is a shame as the film if being sold as purely an action film in the same vein as The Raid (the UK poster namechecks Kill Bill, Nikita, John Wick, Hardcore Henry, and Hong Kong Era John Woo!!!). The problem with these comparisons are that – as an overall film – The VIllainess nowhere near as strong as those classics. It’s also lacking in originality in that you can see where shots / scenes / characters have been lifted wholesale from the aforementioned movies; for example, the lead’s backstory is identical to Oren Ishii’s of Kill Bill. The story jumps around the timeline in a manner that is unnecessarily confusing until the final act, where it all kinda (?) fits together. Despite being built from bits and pieces of other action flicks, the action scenes in The Villainess are still inventive, great fun to watch and the spectacle (+ “how did they do that!?” factor) of these alone should entice genre aficionados. It makes it all the more frustrating that these scenes are lost in a flabby, overlong, underwhelming, and melodramatic plot – which could have done with losing around 30 minutes to make it a tighter and more focused / straight-forward action film.
Sharknado: The 4th Awakens
Sharknado: The 4th Awakens. Let’s just start with that title, “the 4th awakens”… that’s a Star Wars reference, right!?!? But other than a couple of subtle riffs, there’s literally no connection to that franchise… Who the fuck is naming these movies!?!? The film begins – five years after Sharknado 3:Oh Hell No – in Las Vegas with a 15-minute action scene (that’s completely unrelated to the rest of the movie). It’s a shoddy ‘setup’ with almost no explanation and crammed with some of the worst CGI in the franchise so far (a fake shark-themed hotel, and flying car) and that’s saying something! Of the four movies, this one is by far the least cohesive and has the worst continuity… it essentially feels like a bunch of ‘that would be cool’ ideas very vaguely stitched together. New characters appear, but are never introduced; the Grand Canyon is blown up and nobody seems to care; Tara Reid (how is she even still in these and Cassie Scerbo isn’t) ends up flying around with superpowers shooting lasers and shit; there’s a ton of sloppy references to things like Action Comics #1 / Alien / Wizard of Oz – all for no apparent reason; an actual advert – in the movie – for speech recognition TVs; everyone has a classic car for no obvious reason, and, most unforgivably, the film hops around from city to city (Kansas, Las Vegas, San Fran, Arizona, Texas, Chicago, Ohio, Niagara Falls) where the real Eiffel Tower (What. The. Fuck?!!?) makes the best cameo in the movie. All in all; Sharknado 4 spectacularly fails to up the ante as much as the previous installment, and feels like idea has been stretched to the absolute limit.
B-Movie Score: 4/10
LIST OF CAMEOS – doesn’t include half of the z-listers, competition winners, family members etc.
Carrot Top (So-called comedian), Corey Taylor (Slinknot / Stone Sour frontman), Jedward (Irish dancing twats), Gilbert Gottfried (croaky / shouty comedian), Dog bounty hunter + family (peace be with you brah), Seth Rollins (Sports entertainer), Steve Gutenberg (Lavalantula & 2 Lava 2 Lantula Star), Lloyd Kaufman (Toxie’s dad. Troma founder), Gary Busey (Even he is better than this!), Gena Lee Nolin & Alexandra Paul (original Baywatch babes), Roy Nelson (professional punchkicker), Vince Neil (Motley Crew), Patti Stanger (Millionaire Matchmaker), Frank Mir (professional kickpuncher),
- Chip n Dale punch
- Cutlass / Swords
- Ship’s Wheel
- Train Signal Pole
- Chainsaw Family
- Flaming Tree Logger
- Tennis Racket
- Mecha suit
Sharknado – Review
Sharknado 2: The Second One – Review
Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! – Review
The Love Witch
The Love Witch: a modern-day witch is testing her potions on handsome men in a quest to find true love. I don’t think I’ve seen a more accurate and loving homage to retro-cinema… the saturated colours, audio fidelity, camera techniques, soundtrack, editing, clothes, lighting, stilted dialogue, and general B-movie tackiness… it’s all there, and it’s all immaculate; to the point where it’s difficult to accurately date. There’s also no other way to describe the fantastical / surreal / dreamlike / kitschy aesthetic than a “luscious eyegasm”. It is, however, disappointing that the actual content of the film is wafer thin: there’s a lot of super-shallow and tedious “but what IS love” type chatting and, more generally, it sticks far too rigidly to the 60s B-movie structure without adding or updating a single point. Picking up a 15-rating, it’s also a touch on the timid side for what could (and should?) have been a great gore-fest or sexploitation romp. The final complaint is that – although it’s absolutely gorgeous – the film is 30-minutes too long: the entire final act (renaissance fair / musical numbers) really tries the viewers patience. I’m not 100% sure it’s the feminist piece it’s being championed as (it’s a mental woman on a killing spree) but I will say that this is pure catnip for goth/burlesque/alternative people. The Love Witch is a film that puts everything in to its style and vision; leaving the rest of the film feeling slight… although blimey Charlie, it doesn’t half look beautiful.
Aftermath [mild spoilers]: follows two men after a fatal airplane collision that changes their lives forever. The film starts with a relentlessly grim and drawn-out opening act in which both leads deal with the shock of their situation, frequently tipping over into forced melodrama; it’s all very burdensome and somber. Where the film really fails to deliver is after a 70 minute gloomy setup; the ‘climactic payoff’ is far too brief, and then we get a post-script ‘years later’ scene that you could see coming a mile off. Stylistically, the film is equally austere, with a grayed out colour palate; it starts at Christmas for no real reason than to crank up the sorrow-o-meter; and contains some rather clunky imagery & parallels between the leads’ lives. Strangely, the movie takes a powerful real-life story and changes core elements that ultimately lessens the story’s impact in the fictionalized movie version. I’m a huge Arnie fan – and think he’s a better actor than he’s generally given credit for – however this film asks a little too much of him: there are moments where you can see him struggle with the emotions. Scoot McNairy is rather good, but doesn’t get a lot of gears to change through. From the director of Bltiz (a solid police action/drama) the lack of action and tunneled focus on tragedy feels like a huge – but just-missed – leap. Aftermath is by no means a bad film, but it is a very heavy film about a very heavy subject that you’d need to be in a particular mood to watch.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe
The Autopsy of Jane Doe: two small-town coroners investigate a fresh “Jane Doe”, whose cause of death becomes increasingly difficult to pin down as they learn about the body. This film is the embodiment of tight and efficient: a brief 15-minute setup; 30 mins of live/real-time autopsy, and the last half the film shifts gears into a full-on supernatural horror / thriller. Not for the faint-hearted, parts of this are horrifying to watch; the autopsy is shown in all of it’s snapping, sawing, scalping glory, and is coloured with buckets of crimson – this will definitely root out the weak and the woozy. Although there are a couple of big (and cheap) ‘modern’ jump-scares the majority of the film’s tension comes through the satisfyingly old-school method of very slowly building a sustained and overbearing sense of dread; the film lets your imagination run wild, and shows some incredible restraint – a couple of moments even stray into ‘pure terror’. As mentioned above, it’s a very tight movie: tight script (tons of subtle clues that tie in together nicely); tight setting (claustrophobic, well-established, and inherently creepy morgue); tight cast (Hirsch and Cox are a great/safe pair of hands, with fantastic chemistry). In fact, the only thing that minorly lets the film down is the ending, which is good, but doesn’t do justice to the slow-cooker setup. A completely unrelated follow-up to the fantastic TrollHunter, Norwegian director André Øvredal is proving himself as a very strong and competent film-maker – once again his direction is meticulous, without being the slightest bit ‘auteurial’ or flashy. Few things excite me less than ‘modern horror’, yet because of its throwback sensibilities ‘Autopsy’ feels more a John Carpenter picture than the ‘Paranormal Conjuring 27’ films modern audiences are being served up.
“Every body has a secret”
De Palma: two directors plonk a camera in front of legendary director Brian De Palma, and he discusses his turbulent career, warts ‘n’ all. This kicks off with a brief history of his journey into cinema; starting as an indie director through to his studio system break alongside Lucas, Spielberg, Scorsese, and Coppola. The rest of the documentary feels like De Palma defending his stinkers and bigging up the films that initially underperformed, but have been subsequently lauded. My main issue with this documentary is that I don’t know who it’s supposed to be aimed at: the 2-5 minute recap of every single film is too high-level for De Palma nerds like me – even with the odd anecdote – yet it pretty much spoils the best parts of every film that ‘De Palma n00bs’ won’t have seen yet. As it’s just De Palma talking, it feels a touch self-indulgent – massaging his own ego – and coming over as a tad weird, bitter, & unhinged by the end. This is capped off with a final few minutes that turn into the biggest self-congratulatory handjob; where De Palma states that he is the only director keeping Hitchcock’s notions of “pure cinema” alive! This is the only time I’ve ever though that what I was watching could have benefited from more talking heads lending different perspectives and additional context. Don’t get me wrong, De Palma is one of the most under-rated directors out there; and although he’s had some stinkers, he’s also made some of the greatest movies of their times… but this isn’t the tribute that I was expecting; or that a masterful director like Brian De Palma deserves.
If you really want to explore De Palma, scrap this and go watch Blow Out, Femme Fatale, Scarface, or The Untouchables to see the damage this guy can do with a camera.
Witchtrap (AKA – The Presence / The Haunted): before leasing out his family home, a warlock’s son calls in some parapsychologists to rid the house of evil spirits. For a low-budget late 80s B-movie the video and audio transfer are better than some of the bigger studio pictures from this period. The audio track – which was botched on the movie set – is particularly clear as every line and effect had to be re-recorded in post. The film itself is of a fantastically cheesy vintage; it went from inception to ready-to-shoot in under a week, so the plot is mechanical, (seven people enter a house – fewer leave) and the dialogue is massively overripe, but in a fun, corny way… and it’s not helped by the ‘detached’ ADR performances. Characters are all fairly stock, and are championed by a John McLean-style wisecracking hardboiled detective, who is – in all honesty – way too cool for this type of movie, but his constant jabbering helps the film remain on your good side. For the first few deaths it feels like the movie is wimping out of showing maximum gore, but the final act throws in a lot of blood and over-the-top kills, including an unusually long and graphic shooting and a monster melting sequence. It’s also surprisingly well directed; with slow and ominous camerawork (paired with an equally doom-laden soundtrack), plenty jumpscares, and some technical/dolly shots that you don’t usually get in this type of film. The new Blu Ray release is the first uncut/unrated version; it also boasts a heap of extras including an honest & interesting interview with the director. Nothing about Witchtrap is exceptional or original, but it’s better made, more entertaining, and as nostalgic as any other film in this genre. (Linnea Quigley also gets her waps out!)
B-movie Score: 7/10
Ghost in the Shell
Ghost in the Shell: in a future where people are ‘more cyborgs than human’ a criminal virus-entity known as ‘The Puppet Master’ is trying to find the perfect humanoid host to hijack. Watching this now, after experiencing +20 years of Sci-Fi it’s amazing to see how much influence this movie has had on the genre’s modern landscape: you’re continually reminded of things like The Matrix (pretty much just one big homage), Metal Gear Solid, Inception. A.I., Lucy, Ex Machina… The storyline is complex, and feels way ahead of its time – talking about computing, A.I. and robotics in ways that we’re not even doing yet, over twenty years on. Technically, the film is visually astounding; the way it captures light / reflections / textures, and blends 3D rendering with cell animation is truly mesmerizing. There are however a lot of ‘filler’ or stretched out scenes in order to hit the ‘feature length’ mark: very long credits; pointless (and long) montages; and even irrelevant scenes. The root of the film is the question “what makes us human?” Unfortunately, this leads to a lot of waffle between the characters about the ‘ghosts’ (souls), ‘self’, and brain/body connections… overlong and over-wordy scene after scene brings this up in a “Philosophy 101” manner; but ultimately, the question is never really answered. Peppered with brief and intense action set pieces, but primarily pop-philosophy; Ghost in the Shell is a film that looks fantastic and is easy to admire or respect, but it’s not particularly entertaining, and feels intellectually inferior compared to the ideas it’s struggling to wrestling with.
Deathgasm: after playing a very old piece of music, newly-formed metal band accidentally unleash evil spirits on their hometown. If you even remotely like any kind of Rock or Metal music this film is an absolute must-see as it’s 90 mins of lovingly poking fun at ‘metalheads’, metal bands, and most of the sub-genres. There’s jokes about everything from glam/hair metal and dubstep, through to Rick Astley and the ridiculousness of ‘extreme’ metal band names (Deathgasm spitball through other potential band names like ‘Murder Boner’, ‘Maggot Sperm’, and ‘Cannibal Unicorn’). There are so many throwaway jokes that you lose track, and when the film’s not poking fun at music it’s throwing some seriously good ‘old school’ over-the-top gore onto the screen – with a body-splitting, blood-drenched aesthetic that lands somewhere between Evil Dead and Braindead. Direction-wise, the blend of horror and comedy is absolutely perfect, and there’s a lot of horror (and wider cinema) nods through ‘classic’ camera shots and visual references. The only two negatives I can mention are that scenes like demons being beaten to death in slow motion with dildos and anal beads may not be for everyone, and I’m not sure if the gore alone would be enough to win over non-metal fans (there’s not a lot of new ‘horror’ ground covered). Deathgasm is a crimson-covered gem of a film that is a blast to watch, entertains for the full 90 minutes. Brutal!
B-Movie Score: 9/10
Catfight: after losing touch in college former friends – a struggling artist and a trophy wife – become bitter rivals, and find their lives changing dramatically at the hands of each other. This is an interesting film in that it’s the type of movie that doesn’t really get made anymore. It feels like something from the early 2000s: quirky and eccentric “Woody Allen style” New York caricatures coming together in a semi-absurd plot that could have come from someone like Todd Solondz or Larry David. It’s also refreshing in that you don’t often get to see female actors in this age bracket lead a movie. Both Sandra Oh and Anne Heche get to chance to showcase their fine acting chops – playing irritating characters, but making the most of the comedy in the script through their respective stereotypes. The film’s performances complement Tukel’s unique directorial voice and style, although his ability to craft and capture so many deadpan scenes, wry cameos, and absurd lines is what shines the brightest – this absolutely smashed through the six-laugh test. Where the movie fell down for me was that it took a lot of swipes in the background at American culture, the U.S. government, foreign wars, inequality, topical Television shows, etc… This felt like easy – even lazy – targets for a film with this much promise and talent, and distracted from the central rivalry. The three prolonged ‘slobber-knocker’ fights also push the film momentarily from comedy & satire into a cartoonish farce: the hits are too big, with ‘wooshing’ & ‘crunching’ sound effects that become ridiculous, and the sequences feel much longer than they needed to be – although the film is called Catfight…. Catfight feels genuinely refreshing – coming through in an time where the majority of movies feel more like ‘safe investments’ designed by committee, that actively avoid taking any risks. This feels unique, original, fresh, and although it doesn’t land every punch, it’s is more than funny enough to remain entertaining for the duration.
Marshland (La isla minima): two out-of-favour Madrid detectives are sent out to the middle of nowhere to investigate the disappearance of two girls; they soon uncover a serial killer and potential police involvement. The main drama of the film comes from lots of complex and conflicting relationships; the detectives and the villagers, the villagers with each other, the detectives and their new boss, and even the mismatched investigators themselves with their ‘old school’ and ‘new school’ approaches. Aesthetically, and tonally, this is very similar to HBO’s True Detective (although they came out at the same time); the palette is dominated by earthy, natural, and rustic colors & locations, which help the odd top-down drone shots of ethereal landscapes really stand out. The film also holds an interesting Spanish angle too; being set at the start of the 80s in a ‘New Spain’, but calling back to the Franco dictatorship and exploring how large and looming the shadow of that time still is. Marshland is a very well made, excellently acted picture with a sufficiently eerie & suspenseful score: however, there’s nothing particularly fresh or exciting in the story itself… it’s just been tarted up and presented in a more unique setting than normal.
The Girl on the Train
The Girl on the Train: follows a homo sapien with two X chromosomes on a track-based transport vehicle. Seriously though, blackout drunk alcoholic becomes involved in a missing person case that keeps throwing up more questions than answers. Blunt is outstanding. One of the best performances I’ve seen anyone give in a long time; complaints about her being too glamorous (duh, she is Emily Blunt!!) don’t wash with me, as she’s looked like a trainwreck for the majority of the film. The remaining cast – championed by an equally impressive Haley Bennett – are firing on all cylinders, it’s impossible to pick out a bad performance. Like the best narratives, the film is continually revealing new information that changes how we view the relationships between the main characters, and constantly shifting the focus and blame. It’s also refreshing to see a film centered on three completely different women; providing various view on motherhood, being a wife, and their strange three-way relationship, which are intelligently pleated through one another. I think the off-kilter, dark, and borderline horror tone (screechy strings, close-ups, titled cameras) will have alienated a lot of casual viewers. Critics and book snobs couldn’t beat this film down enough but as someone going in completely cold, it really impressed me: the only part I could imagine tightening up would be the lengthy introduction, but even then, it’s not too flabby. Although it was sold as “if you liked Gone Girl, you’ll love this” I’d sooner watch this again. The Girl on the Train is a gripping, dark, Hitchcockian thriller where nothing is spelled out, and it’s constantly swaying and misdirecting you, through to the revelatory ending.
Hardcore Henry (Хардкор): when he is resurrected with no memory and new robotic limbs, Henry must save his kidnapped wife from a telekinetic psychopath who has plans to weaponise a robo-army. From the opening credits (graphic, but blackly comic violence) you can tell this isn’t your usual action film – most of the movie is shot from a ‘First Person’ perspective, from the point-of-view of ‘Henry’ using an intricate head-cam rig. The film is basically 90 minutes straight of Henry running / jumping / shooting / punching through a long line of obstacles; with some awesome freerunning & parkour (seemingly no wires – or brains!), and high intensity and very high quality stuntwork: the elements combine to create a truly unique and awe-inspiring action spectacle. There’s also a great anarchic/punk sensibility to the movie; anything goes, and there’s a lot of crazy & zany elements… it even using things like subtitles to make a few jokes with. The biggest problem is that when everything is up at 150% the whole time, you end up becoming a bit numb to it towards the end. Another downside of the FPS style is that the camera is very shaky and has a warped fish-eye lens which distorts a lot of the outer frame. Hardcore Henry is a film that is truly cutting edge, in that it couldn’t have even been made a couple of years ago – the only remotely close comparison you could draw would be a less offensive, but higher-octane version of the Crank films. It’s fun, impressive, and completely mental, but overall struggles to engage after a while. Best viewed after consuming a twelve pack of Red Bull.
NOTE: The entire film was spawned from this music video – if you fancy 90 mins of this, look no farther than Hardcore Henry.
The Wailing (aka 곡성, 哭聲, Gokseong): when a remote Korean village sees a spate of mysterious infections and violent murders all fingers point to an outsider from Japan that has recently moved to the area. This starts off as a darkly funny black comedy for the first 30 mins or so – that isn’t above fart jokes – but it slowly pivots 180-degrees into an intense, slow-burning, atmospheric supernatural mystery. The films doesn’t limit itself to one particular horror genre either; crossing possession (difficult to watch seizures) with slasher gore, demons, ghosts, and hints of zombies. One of the film’s climaxes involves a claustrophobic cutting together of three separate scenes involving two nauseating pagan rituals and a girl being exorcised; which reaches sustained levels of doom that are rarely seen. At around the 2 hour mark it does start to feel like a long film, however, the multi-layered ending that keeps folding in on itself is extremely satisfying, serving up a superbly tense and sustained showdown, with the kind skin crawling creepiness that Hollywood just can’t zero in on. There are also some very strong performances in the lead (a flawed bumbling cop), his daughter, and the entertaining shaman – who all shine in their roles. My only real fault of the film is that western – or even non-Korean – audiences will probably want to Google the film to the pick up on a lot of the significant cultural details that add to the film’s intricate plot – although it does still make plenty sense watching it cold. Very few films reach the sustained intensity of The Wailing; only the claustrophobia of Kill List, and the violent madness of something like Cold Fish come to mind. Chalk it up as another film which proves that Korea has one of the strongest film industries in the world.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Hunt for the Wilderpeople: when his foster-mum dies and he’s due to go to juvie, a troubled ‘hoodie’ kid and his grouchy new ‘uncle’ end up going AWOL in the New Zealand Bush. The film’s setup is absolute dynamite, but as the story unfolds it loses momentum & steam, and never matches the heady heights of the opening act. The big car-tank-and-helicopter chase at the end feels particularly lavish and a bit silly, for no obvious reason. The best thing about HFTW is the trio of great performances from the main cast: “Aunt” Bella (Wiata), “Uncle” Hec (Sam Neill), and Ricky ‘the kid’, give it their all and draw a lot of laughter. Everyone else on the other hand feels like they were parachuted in to their scenes and told to just improv-up a few bits of comedy gold at gunpoint (most apparent in the slacker/selfie/flake/horse-girl scene); and unfortunately almost all of the laugh-out-loud moments are given away in the trailer. The broody synth soundtrack feels like a big misstep too, as it doesn’t match the upbeat tone of the film. Hunt for the Wilderpeople comes hurtling of out the blocks towards a top mark; unfortunately it just can’t sustain the high-quality and focus into the final hour. That being said, it’s still undeniably a funny and somewhat uplifting ‘Antipodean-Comedy’ (mostly deadpan and accent-based jokes).