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: 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: 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.