Inescapable: an ex-military intelligence officer loses his daughter while she’s travelling Europe, so he jets over and tries to hunt her down. That plot sounds familiar… This is essentially a more bureaucratic version of Taken/Taken 2/Frantic – with fewer thrills, and more focus on the ‘Eastern mystery’ angle. What’s quite good is that almost everyone the father meets is quite shifty, so you never really know what direction the plot is going to turn. Set in Syria (Damascus), it’s not particularly sympathetic to the country, nor are the American actor’s accents. 24 bad guy / all-round TV actor Siddig feels like he’s channeling the spirit of Bryan Mills a little too hard with the hushed, gristly hero yank voice. Inescapable is solid, but unremarkable; interesting, but not smart enough; not fantastic, but not awful… a totally middle-of-the-road movie.
Tucker & Dale vs Evil: two standard horror-movie lookin’ rednecks are trying to enjoy some time at their new vacation home when a bunch of hot college kids come along and start killing themselves all over their land! This film turns every dumb & clichéd horror trope on its head and makes them laugh out loud funny – as you see events from the kid’s eyes looking like a dull horror movie, and from the misunderstood Tucker / Dale’s perspective, where it looks like a teenage suicide pact. The script’s funny, cast nail the comedy and there’s plenty of over-the top blood-n-guts to keep horror fans amused. Tucker & Dale is an awesome horror picture, for fans of the genre, that would make an excellent double-bill with Cabin in the Woods. Easily one of the best horror comedies around. Never judge a redneck by his blood-stained overalls! Smart, funny and highly original comedy horror.
As part of JAPANORAMA I have been inviting my movie-reviewing peers to join in. This post is from Brikhaus over at the fantastic Awesomely Shitty. I love the site because it’s not afraid to stick the boot in and dissect anything and everything that the masses are generally scrambling over each other to fawn over – from Django to the Academy. Today Awesomely Shitty takes on Versus, a low-budget cult zombie flick. You can see the full review here, and follow on twitter @awesomelyshitty.
Versus (-ヴァーサス- Vāsasu): Versus is a bizarre, nonsensical movie. It’s a super low-budget cult film featuring cops, gangsters, shootouts, samurai, zombies, martial arts, karate zombies, sword fighting, and demons. It’s like the director grabbed a list of “cool shit” from the internet, and mixed it all together, hoping it would work. And depending on your point of view, it either totally works, or is a complete fucking mess. The movie has an odd tone somewhere between serious and wacky. I suppose if Versus had played it straight, nothing would work. The whole thing is just too goddamn crazy. The closest thing I can compare it to is Evil Dead II. The zombies are a mix of traditional lumbering zombies, and other zombies who can shoot guns and know karate. I can’t think of any other movie where you can see zombies shooting machine guns, or humans roundhouse kicking zombie heads off. At least it earned a few points for originality. At 2 hours and 10 minutes, Versus definitely overstays its welcome. Some of the fight scenes seem endless, and when they aren’t fighting, the movie sucks so hard you wish they were back to fighting again. It’s an endless cycle of shit. Versus is a hard movie to rate. I enjoyed the karate zombies and weird sense of humor. I also enjoyed the well-choreographed fight scenes. However, the movie drags at times, and it way too long for its own good. I’d say it rounds out to be an average watch. Good to watch drunk, but not otherwise.
An old review of Versus from this site can be found here.
Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl (吸血少女対少女フランケン): the new girl in school is a vampire, but she’s determined to steal the boyfriend of the resident bad girl. The picture above is a girl with steel from the Tokyo Tower extending her limbs, and legs spinning round her head (to fly), having a fight with a vampire, on the Tokyo Tower, with Mt Fiji in the background… in case it wasn’t clear! The bloodsoaked bloody bloodbath of an opening sets the tone for the movie – it’s fantasy gore, cranked up way past 11. Bad acting, short skirts, stockings, skimpy outfits… feels like it’s dangerously close to – at any moment – turning into a porn film. Every aspect of the most convoluted storyline ever is in there just to get some more blood on the screen, and the FX team go through gallons of the stuff. Acting-wise, it’s not meant to be serious but the expositional narration by the main guy is so lackluster – sounds like the most uninterested person in the world, despite all of the crazy shit happening around him. Vampire Girl vs Frankenstein Girl feels less like a movie, and more like an extreme SFX experiment – and in that respect, it’s alright but there’s not much else in there for people outside of the novelty gore crowd to enjoy.
Love Exposure (愛のむきだし): everything’s epic these days: a night out, food, car insurance, 99% of fails… how about this for a movie epic: a 4 hour film examining the relationships between religion, cults, family, perversion, sins, obscenity, love, erections, and upskirt photography. THAT’S EPIC! First-off, it feels a lot more like a TV series: technically (camerawork, budget, quality etc) and story-wise in the four, quite individual hour-long segments of the film. The acting however is fantastic; all three youngster are great to watch, but the two main adults are particularly engaging and believable – really adds to the drama. When one of the main story threads is the usage of ninja moves (and weapons) to take upskirt pictures in order to sin – it’s mental, it’s batshit mental, and when you throw in some schoolgirl karate lesbians it could really only be from Japan. In saying that, it’s all done very well and with lots of humour, much like the pervert’s motto the film is “Careful, Oblivious and Bold”. Staying true to it’s subject matter, there’s at least one – if not a montage – panty shot every 10 minutes – so if that’s your bag, this is an absolute must-own. For being as long as it is, the melodramatic final half hour is the only time the film feels like it’s truly stretched. Love Exposure is a lot of things, but at four hours (237 minutes!) long, and containing this subject matter – forgettable is definitely not one of them.
I Saw the Devil: when his fiancé falls prey to a deadly serial killer a secret service agent will stop at absolutely nothing to get even with the perpetrator. Make no mistake, this is revenge, Korean Style, and some parts of this picture make Oldboy look like a kids film – masochistic, nasty, graphic moments of extremely inhumane behavior. These would normally put you off, but this is so well crafted, and masterfully/beautifully shot (by – arguably – Korea’s best director) that it absolutely captivates. There are so many outstanding & memorable scenes: the riverside one is heartbreaking, agriculture one shocking, and many more jaw-dropping moments. Acting across the board is great, but the two (arguably Korea’s best actors) leads are absolutely mesmerising: Lee Byung-hun and Choi Min-Sik doing it
gangnam world-class style. There’s a lot of ‘blood on your hands’ / ‘becoming a monster’ themes, which get a little tedious and feel over-emphasised. I Saw the Devil has everything: tension, drama, black-comedy, gore, shock, thriller, nasty, nice and everything in between – it’s all in there, and it’s all handled spectacularly by the director and his leading men. It may be too dark, graphic or gristly for some, but if you’ve got a strong stomach this is a fantastic film.
Hobo with a Shotgun [Blu Ray]: tells the tale of an individual with no permanent residence, and his acquisition of a short-range firearm… Duh! Being born the same way as Machete, I had some reservations before starting this – but they were short-lived. EVERYTHING about this film is an authentic ode to the horror/exploitation ‘masterpieces’ I grew up watching from the 70s and 80s. The setting is a dystopian, lawless town, so rotten that only the eponymous anti-hero can clean it up with a shotgun. There’s fantastic gore every 5 minutes, and all kinds of insane and outrageous blood-soaked SFX. The story is so absurd and OTT that you simply can’t begin taking seriously. – it’s essentially a cheap vehicle used to maximise the blood ‘n’ guts factor. Rutger Hauer is a little too good for this type of film, fleshing out an emotional, solid central character. Abby also makes a good scream queen, and the rest of the cast are enjoyable stereotypes. The colour pallet is very saturated; bright and poppy, the blood leaps off the screen – Hauer’s face was also what BD was made for; the faithfully recreated Carpenter-esque 80s sci-fi horror synth soundtrack and gunshots pump out of all speakers – this is worth the Blu Ray upgrade if the film sounds like your bag. All in all, the video, music, plot, gore, sleaze and nastiness all combine to make this feel like an authentic retro film – unlike the one crappy video-grain effect used on Machete. This beat every expectation I had, and while it’s no cinematic masterpiece, it’s certainly an absolute must-see for all horror/B-movie/retro movie fans.
Newsmakers: When Moscow police are left looking weak a hot-shot PR chick turns their next operation in to a media circus live feed news event. The synopsis sounded familiar, but about 5 minutes in I knew I’d definitely seen this before… What starts off with homage feel to Breaking News soon digresses into a scene for scene re-make that doesn’t shake off the lethargic pacing, bizarre minor characters or sushi lunch of the original – although it does leave out the farting! Being Russian, the subtitles are beyond dubious – favourite line was “what the devil are they doing” – also, this is supposed to be about cutting edge technology but still uses classic rhetoric like “Virtual hyperspace“, “multimedia technology” and “information war” – GROAN!! The action however is still pretty sweet, particularly the opening quality gunfight and car-flipping chase scene. Bottom line; Newsmakers isn’t a bad stand-alone film, but when you’ve seen the original it’s a needless carbon copy with less style and flare, poorer direction, and additional to say. Made me feel like I’d been a bit too harsh on the original – which I’d probably bump up a full mark now.
Spartacus Blood and tits Sand: 150% testosterone-fueled 13-part swords and sandals epic – It’s essentially what would happen if the cast of 300 violated the story and actresses of BBC‘s Rome. I’ll get the controversial stuff out of the way first. Violence, there’s literally GCI bucketloads of flying limbs, heads, blood and teeth every time someone grabs a weapon – most memorable; a gladiator cuts a dead opponent’s face off and wears it as a mask in his next fight – awesome… just awesome. Secondly, Spartacus is a celebration of Skin; it’s a conveyor belt of gratuitous Spartan chests, fake and real breasts, naked men fighting, women getting rammed, guys getting tugged off and gay gladiators bumming each other – most memorable; Lucy “Xena Warrior Princess” Lawless getting her gobstoppers out! Thirdly, the Dialogue sounds like 20 drunk sailors sat at a whiteboard and played the ‘best insult ever’ competition – some of the combinations are so imaginative and foul that they even impressed this sweary Scotsman. Controversy aside the actually story is so, so epic, and nowhere as linear or predictable as you’d expect – it twists and turns right to the last scene with endless betrayals, story developments and murders. The acting is also startlingly good given that there’s very few big names, so many characters, and everyone falls into either i) meat-head gladiators (for action) ii) sexed-up women (for skin) or iii) slimy political figures (for progressing the story). Other than a couple of slower episodes Spartacus is an absolute hit, that gets better as the series progresses: my lady even went from “this is so ridiculous” to a total convert, no mean feat for a series aimed at 15 year old boys! When the show works, it totally works – and if you can see past the gratuitous violence, skin and language – at the heart of Spartacus lies a compelling, well-written and well-executed story. Brilliant mix of drama, action and trash!
Drag Me To Hell: An everywoman accidentally insults a gypsy – cue an ancient curse and impending doom for our gal. The five minute prologue is totally old school; OTT music, effects and a huge-ass demon. Fortunately, the entire film stays in this vein, and what I liked best was that while there is the odd big jump the rest of the frights come from good old-fashioned sources; wind, leaves, squeaks and creaks – no wet long-haired lizard women rattling down staircases or other such gimmicks. While it’s Genuinely terrifying this also has some subtly funny motifs like the face-fucking/hair-grabbing corpse, funeral, Goat, Dancing Ghost and even the ridiculous gross outs. There’s the best use of a stapler & ruler I’ve ever seen and a pretty sweet, but obvious, ending. Raimi’s direction is great, really proving he’s a pro by milking every drop of suspense and terror, yet making it fun and watchable – all while he’s pretty much parodying an entire genre. Drag Me to Hell effortlessly walks the line between comedy-stire and terror and I’ve not enjoyed a horror film this much in years. Classic Raimi. Classic horror. Instant Classic, just add blood.
The Good, The Bad, The Weird: Set in the 1930s, a bounty hunter, most-wanted criminal and petty thief are all after the same ancient treasure map. This flick has it all: style, action, plot, rivalry, twists, adventure, suspense, guns, huge sets, humour and explosions. Most of all, it’s actually great fun to watch, with the exception of a few short ‘meh’ sections and one psychedelic scene – the rest is all killer. The whole story, but most notably the final scenes are brilliantly executed classic Western. The Bad and Weird characters are great to watch, and the director‘s on good form. Definitely a bit more of a bloodbath than you’d expect from an upbeat film like this with scarlet, limbs and fingers flying all over the place. The audio track really comes alive during the action scenes and there’s a nice nod to Tarrantino with an epic song choice for the huge chase scene. There’s also a nice bit of Korean history thrown in the mix. Overall, it’s an amazing film from a director with a great track record, and another brilliant example of why Korea is one of the best countries as far as movie exports go.
Sukiyaki Western Django: Takashi Miike’s Japanese take on the spaghetti western & samurai films of yesteryear. Most confusingly all dialogue is English, but it still requires subs because the Japanese actors (naturally) struggle to deliver the Americanized lines – everyone’s acting totally suffers because of this huge distraction. All of the action is good to watch, from the quick draws through to Gatling Gun mayhem and the action-packed showdown is pretty immense. The gang costumes are flamboyant and seeing the red & white colours constantly jumping out is a real treat on the eyes. Miike does a fantastic job of keeping it stylish throughout, whilst minimising his trademark ‘weirdness’ – although the sheriff character was truly pants. You can’t help but think that if he focused on perfecting one or two films a year instead of 5-6 he’d be one of the best directors on the planet. Overall there’s no denying this is a bunch of tried themes, concepts and characters tied neatly together and packaged as homage. Still, this one’s worth a watch if you like foreign and offbeat movies.
The Fox Family: bear with me here… it’s a comedy musical about 4 foxes trapped in people’s bodies that need to find live human livers to eat at a specific time in order to become fully human, they also run a circus; makes sense? Because it’s Korean and weird the style is characteristically slapstick, raunchy, gory and camper than a row of tents. The ‘musical’ element is overplayed with only a handful of songs, none of which are catchy. There are some good jokes and memorable scenes like lapdancing on a subway carriage, sexy noodle montage and tramps / riot police / activists bursting into dance but you kind of get the feeling the story and music were written in one big (stoned) session and nobody bothered to check it afterwards. Unfortunately this ‘unique’ idea ends up being mediocre so for birazzo Asian musicals, best stick to the ‘Happiness of the Katakuris’
Versus: a criminal and mystic are hunted down by yakuza, who are being chased by zombies! How do you make a film with more action than the matrix? Easy, just add gallons of blood, swords, knifes, massive guns, a ton of zombies and have as many fights as you can get away with. It’s (surprisingly) directed by the same guy that did Midnight Meat Train, but don’t hold that against him as this a good effort. He did well with a low-budget: the effects very gory and good, the sound’s not bad despite being re-dubbed in a studio and the camerawork’s admirable, although 360 shots are overused. The story’s pretty thin, and the ‘big twist’ is so bad it’s good. Some of the dialogue and action is very corny, making it feel like a live-action manga adaptation. Quite looking forward to the re-make/sequel that’s being rumored at the moment. Ridiculously OTT live-action-packed ultra-stylish no-brainer hack-fest of a cult zombie flick.