Yakuza Apocalypse: a virus that turns everyone into a yakuza mobster is sweeping through a sleepy Japanese town; along with some vampires, goths, and a ninja frogman. There are two fairly major signs that you’ll either love or hate this film: firstly, the ‘Manga’ logo guarantees some mental Japanese stuff; secondly, Takashi Miike directing is another indicator of mental Japanese stuff. Suffice to say that there’s so much silly, random, and mental Japanese stuff (like a bird goblin man, kung fu frogman in a frog suit – mostly for no obvious reason) that it becomes a chore to keep up with. You get the feeling that Miike was going for a ‘Happiness of the Katakuris’ vibe, but got bogged down in the randomness and forgot about the plot. It opens with an ultra-violent bloodbath, but stalls immediately after and never really hits the top gear again: even the anti-fight at the end is a disappointing reductive idiom gag (massive build up / deliberately rubbish fight). A disappointing non-film from one of the most hit-or-miss directors on the planet. One for the Manga / Japanese / Miike fanboys only.
Blackhat: when a Chinese powerplant is hacked (and blown up) using parts of his old code a l33t h4x0r (‘elite hacker’ to you and I) is released from prison to help the FBI hunt down the threat. Q: how do you sex up a computer attack at the hardware level? A: lots of flashy and swooshy CGI of bits, bytes, circuits, electricity, keyboards, transistors – obviously. Unfortunately, none of the actors really shine, because none of the characters feel developed beyond their required contribution to the story line. Even parts of the plot don’t really work, like the weird romance angle, which feels like it’s just in there to broaden the film’s appeal: strangers becoming sacrificial lovers in a couple of days, just because the film required it. Pushing that stuff aside, you still get a solid Michael Mann film with two big shootouts (a decent one at an airport, and a fucking great one in a shipyard) and a very realistic crime scenario: from the IT Security stuff and hackers evading surveillance, through to the inter-departmental squabbling and larger China-US relations – it all feels authentic. You can see how this film could flop – it’s about hacking / security / information, non of which are popular movie subjects – but I fail to understand the hate/backlash for Mann: he’s one of the few directors that could shoot a dumpster and make it look fantastic; he is pure cinema – abusing colours, locations, and an always-moving camera. Blackhat uses a somewhat wooden story to ask bigger questions about technology and global security – and with all of the slick visuals you’d expect from a world-class director.
Whiplash: an ambitious and cocksure jazz drummer comes head to head with an abusive conductor that will do anything to push his students beyond their limits. It’s an interesting film in that the focus is on two very unlikable and unsympathetic characters; and a couple of Jazz songs dominate the soundtrack – both of these elements have the potential to isolate viewers. A film set around jazz band performances and rehearsals could have used more visual flare and flashy camera tricks, but the way it’s all cut together helps squeeze every last bit of tension and drama out of the big moments. All the actors live in the shadow of J.K. Simmons’ band leader, who is portrayed as venomous, dangerous, and borderline sociopathic individual… although it’s frequently hinted that – despite his extreme methods – he is genuinely trying to push his musicians into greatness. An examination of ‘how far is too far’, Whiplash is a unique teacher/student drama that’s adequately made, but elevated by huge performances, a booming audio track, and the fist-pumping finale.
And here comes mister gay pride of the Upper West Side himself. Unfortunately, this is not a Bette Midler concert, we will not be serving Cosmopolitans and Baked Alaska, so just play faster than you give fucking hand jobs, will you please?
Ein! Zwei! Die!
Dead Snow: while staying at a remote cabin in the woods a group of friends are attacked by hordes of Nazi zombies! You immediately warm to this film as it put all the horror movie tropes front and center: horny “teenagers” in the remote wilderness with no phone signal, then they realise that it’s is how horror films start (ay oh!!). There’s also a film geek thrown in for reference-o-rama – we get everything from a braindead t-shirt to Arnie impressions. Once the setup – complete with creepy old local warning them – is out of the way we’re treated to a barrage of old school jumps, dark horror comedy, and loads sensational barnstorming, limb-pulling, head-rolling, splatter-tastic blood and guts – that puts the film somewhere between Raimi and Troma. Everyone involved looks like they’re having fun, and the ‘zombie cast’ are also fantastic – even tougher when they’re not strictly zombies: faster, smarter etc. The last hour romps through so much entertaining gore and dark jokes that when one of the last scenes gets a bit serious it feels like a hefty dramatic gut punch. If you’ve read this far, you probably don’t mind the idea of watching a Nazi Zombie film; and I can’t imagine many being better than this. Dead Snow is an absolutely solid (Nazi) gold, gory-AF horror-comedy.
B-Movie Score: 9/10
Involuntary: Swedish outing about five everyday people, that examines human behaviour. There are no ‘conventional’ shots in the film; the director opts for long and static/passive takes of legs, backs of heads or very wide group shots. It’s also book-ended by a camera stuck to an ambulance, just driving through nondescript streets. There are apparently five ‘stories’ in here, but they’re all so tedious that you’d get more entertainment from a trip to your local slaughterhouse. It’s so uninspired that it’s one of those films where the actor’s real names are also their character’s names. This is exactly the sort of ostentatious euro-drivel that gives ‘Arthouse’ a bad name. Yet this was Sweden’s 2008 Oscar entry. It’s sitting at 7.1 on IMDB, and 74 on Metacritic. WTF am I missing? Who enjoys watching films like this?
Like a sucker, I’d fallen for the oldest trick in the book: the DVD cover over-sold it. Ultra-misleading description; billed as a cringe/comedy citing Larry David/Ricky Gervais, but I didn’t smirk once. Ultra-misleading cover; four and five-star reviews, and two blonde Swedish girls with big tits (zoomed in on to be even bigger). Ultra-misleading rating; 18 rating DVD + boobs on the cover would normally mean the film has something worth watching – like a professional troll it’s only an 18 because you see a guy’s willy. This DVD can eat a platter of dicks.
Alternative Plans: After 30 mins I put it on 1.5 speed for a few mins (about ½ a scene), then 10x speeded it to the end to make sure I didn’t miss anything interesting – alas it didn’t look like I did.
To Live and Die in LA: when his partner is murdered by a counterfeiter a rabid secret serviceman will do anything to avenge him. All the classic cop tropes are in here: the three days left on the job veteran, mismatched and reluctant partners, etc etc. However, instead of the one-dimensional ‘good cop bad cop’, we get two complex and grey characters going through a moral minefield. For relatively unknown actors (at the time), the performances across the board are rock solid, particularly young Willem Dafoe’s slimy and menacing ultra-villain. The star for me is Friedkin; his direction here is outstanding and the opening 15 minutes or so has some bold editing, imagery, and musical choices – almost giving the film a bona fide arthouse vibe, and really putting the viewer on the back foot. Everything from an intense crazy car chase (wrong way through traffic) through to nail-biting tension (a split screen break-in) is handled superbly. The plot is the only thing that lets the film down a bit; it’s a simple revenge story that becomes unnecessarily convoluted through lots of tertiary characters and tangents. That being said, the film is always interesting and memorable – with the anti-hero cops on the edge, and characters on the fringes of society in out-of-the-ordinary situations (jail, strip club, dance troupe…) Depending on your tolerance, this film may be ‘too 1980s’ to handle: the fashion, dominating synths, neon title cards, and homo-eroticism that didn’t quite make it to the 90s. I feel sorry for William Friedkin: after two major successes (The Excorcist and French Connection) critics have been queuing up to stick the boot in to everything he’s done since. For my money he’s one of the most rock-solid film-makers, and one of the few that uses the medium to really get in your head – his framing, soundscape, editing, imagery, and commitment to shocks and disruption are awe-inspiring. To Live and Die in LA is an 80s cop film that stands the test of time because of the talent involved – not for the faint-hearted though.
The Heat: a talented but unlikable by-the-book FBI agent is paired with an unorthodox-but-gets-results detective. It’s one film where FBI could mean ‘Female Body Inspector’ like those awesome t-shirts you see guys wearing on holiday (aside: they’re not awesome). Bullock is clearly going through an “I work hard on this body, so will show it off as much as possible” phase… no complaints over here. Joke-wise, it’s got a few good laughs, but unlike Bridesmaids original script the funnies here are much lazier; with Boston stereotypes, racism, vulgarity, and albinos doing all the work. The elongated drunken montage / gratuitous dance scene underlines that this is definitely more humor than humour. At two hours the film outstays its welcome a little; every scene (and joke) feels stretched out to the max, and it feels like there was a lot of ad-libbing that nobody was allowed to cut out. Other than the central pairing being two wimin’, there’s not much here that we haven’t all seen before. The Heat started off quite strongly, but soon went down the well-worn ‘mismatched buddy cop’ path: but you expected something different – or better – given the caliber involved.