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.
Ex Machina: a young programmer wins a contest to spend a week with his boss to complete every nerds fantasy; participating in the ultimate Turing Test with a sexy humanoid robo-babe!! There’s no doubting that it’s an ambitious movie; it’s not particularly dumbed down, leaning on some quite technical programming / A.I. terminology and dialogue – there’s no explosions or robots hitting robots in here, and the focus isn’t solely on the droid-meets-boy angle. It’s a fun film to watch because the script and acting are continually misleading and distracting you – hinting that a person or story may go down one path, which isn’t always the case. The direction’s solid, especially for a first-timer – there’s a sustained creepy and unsettling tone, especially once the plot gets rolling, which is aided by an ominous electronic score, crafting a slowly unraveling spiral that even dabbles with horror and body horror elements towards the end. The coldness of the house/facility, and TrollHunter-esque organic, wild and remote scenery also play a large part. My only real issue with this is that the last 5 minutes include some seriously lingering shots of nudity, which felt unnecessary – especially given that the characters are covered for most of the duration. The slickness and simplicity of Ex Machina is like a shiny facade, behind it are dozens of bigger questions about humans, creations, robots, A.I., ethics, religion… although it’s hard to tell if this is all deliberate, as it’s somewhere between Blade Runner / A.I. lite and a slicker, stripped back Frankenstein – with a hardware and firmware updates, of course.
Night Watch (Ночной дозор): after a truce that has lasted for centuries, tensions between Russia’s light and dark sides come to a head when the most powerful ‘Other’ has to choose which side to join. This is an ultra-styalised, almost indie-spirited blockbuster that combines multiple sci-fi/fantasy genres and glues them together with a large dose of Russian folklore. It’s filmed with an impressive style; the colours are bold and bright, the cinematography is striking, the camera work is technically sound, and the editing is fast and exciting… The most impressive aspect of this is that it was made for $4.2M despite being CGI heavy, and looks better than most $100M pictures. Good vs Bad, Light Vs Dark – it’s just a shame that the story is nothing to shout about. Overall, this is a solid pre-twilight vampire film that’s less about the emotional complexities of being a vamp, and more about utilising their superpowers to create exciting action set pieces. Night Watch is totally watchable, entertaining, and big/loud/shiny enough to help you forget that the story is actually a bit pants.
The Purge: In the near future crime and unemployment are at an all-time low, thanks to the purge – 12 hours every year where all crime is legal. I loves me a good old B-Movie, and this film has it all: a strong single-concept, near-future dystopia, home invasion / terror flick. It’s 80 minutes long, and could have even cut a bit more out of the setup. There’s’ action. There’s some gore. The baddies are sufficiently scary, whilst remaining authentically ‘Kids next door’. Best of all, there’s a serious social commentary that runs through the entire movie; that makes you think about what you’d be doing in this family’s shoes. In fact, the only thing that bugged me about this was that the son was such a complete idiot-hole moron assface – who continually did the most stupid things for no reason (although it did conveniently push the plot along). The Purge is the kind of film that if you don’t buy into the conceit, you’ll completely hate it. I bought into it, and loved every minute of it.
The only two rules of Purge Club
- No government official holding Rank 10 or higher is to be murdered, harmed, have harm caused to them, or in any event brought to harm in any case.
- Weapons above Class 4 are forbidden, meaning that destructive devices (rocket launchers, grenades, bombs or missiles) and explosive materials are excluded from The Purge.
Law Abiding Citizen (mild spoilers): when his wife and kid are murdered and the legal system fails him, a disgruntled everyman with nothing to lose spends years engineering his quasi-legal revenge. Gerrard Butler (Shut up, Butt wad), WTF are you doing man? You’re all over the place and why the fuck did your character get nude when you were arrested? The Fantastic Mr Foxx is OK, doing what he does (normal guy in a moral quandary) but his character’s role is unbelievably wonky: supposed to be a prosecutor, but does loads of detective work. The film starts off interesting – and the opening in particular is powerfully violent – the set-up is theatrically gruesome, but once Butler is in prison it turns absolutely ridiculous – and when you hear about his previous employment it’s like being slapped in the face with a big silly stick. However, it’s quite funny and enjoyable despite being so bizarrely cheesy and shockingly stupid. Deliberately 18-rated, over-the-top B-movie with an A-list cast.
Dexter (Season 1): Miami’s top blood-splatter expert has a nice little hobby of dispensing the city of its criminals that the justice system spits back out. I know it’s the first season and everything needs to be established, but there’s no need for the dialogue (and lazy voiceovers) to be this wincingly bad: “This box is like me, completely empty,” “if I had a heart, it would be breaking…” WE GET IT, You’re an emotionless sociopath! THIS IS THE PREMISE OF THE SHOW – DUH!!! Dexter’s (Michael C Hall) acting is also good, or bad, enough (hard to tell when he’s playing a psycho) to convince us he is truly cold, and always trying to act normal. Plot-wise, the bigger “ice Truck Killer” story is far more interesting than the scumbag of the week episodes, however they do reinforce, and slowly let you see Dexter’s M.O. which is interesting to watch. Dexter Season 1 has some good watching in it; and features TVs smoothest asexual, and most supportable vigilante.
Tokyo Decadence (トパーズ, Topāzu): a specialist prostitute with a very particular set of skills is doing some very strange things with salarymen in the hotel rooms of Tokyo. The opening scene has a girl strapped to a chair, gagged, blindfolded then injected with heroin – if that makes you uncomfortable, this film’s probably not for you. It starts of feeling like an exploration piece/eye-opener focusing on an extreme (sub)culture. The film portrays some extremely ‘out-there’ acts, without appearing to be overly leery or vulgar. It keeps upping the ante scene by scene until there’s nowhere else left to go; then it implodes during an ending which, out of nowhere moves the film from a risqué/explicit/shock melodrama into plain old existential pompousity. It’s packed with rough cutting and hard editing; difficult to know if it’s intentional/stylistic or just budgetary constraints. If you like a bit of smut dressed as art or ‘world cinema’ then this is about as wild as you’ll probably get; and if you dig S&M, Bondage, BDSM, Dominatrices etc etc then it’s probably a must own. As a film however, Tokyo Decadence is fairly unremarkable, and if you took away the controversial/notorious S&M scenes it would be a completely unremarkable 2-hour instantly forgettable snooze-fest.