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.
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.
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.
Everly: after four years as a Yakuza sex slave Everly wants to be back with her family – and she’s willing to kill anyone that stands in her way. Welcome to Titty City: population 2, Salma’s girls. This film is ‘bootay central’ as Salma jogs around in silk nightgowns, low cuts, yoga pants… and the sprinklers even come on to give us a sexy wet-look finale! (classic move). She gets shot, burned, stabbed, tased, tied, tortured… but never looks less than fantastic. Being set in a brothel there’s also a long line of leggy babes dressed like all the fantasies! Not content with misrepresenting just women, this throws every Japanese stereotype you can think of in the mix: intelligent Asian man full of wise “my uncle once told me” proverbs; full theatre costumes with geta shoes; samurai sword / sai dagger wielding yakuzas; sprawling back tattoos, etc etc. On the upside, the film is very well made – looking as good as most big-budget pictures – and the SFX team does some great work with buckets of blood, severed limbs, and loads of new creative ways to kill people. I was rather enjoying it all until a nasty acid torture moment, which seemed to dip briefly into torture-porn territory and haul me out of the film. This type of movie isn’t for everyone, but Everly combines the story elements of an old-school rape-revenge rampage with modern over-the-top ultra-exploitative action; and it does both of those very well. Salma’s acting and director Joe Lynch’s enthusiasm raise this above the shlocky B-movie that it truly is.
B-Movie Score: 8/10
Gladiator: an army general turned slave must rise from the pits of the Colosseum and take down a false leader who murdered his family, friends, and previous employer. The cast is a jaw-dropping mix of ‘classic’ thespians, up-and-comers, bodybuilders, and comedians but everyone feels completely at home in their roles. The plot is simple, but packed with so much Shakespearean betrayal and deception that feels hypnotic in parts. Action scenes are huge, flashy, and bloody – but remain visceral & entertaining, and stand up against anything coming out today. It’s hard to find flaws in this: In fact, my only minor niggle is that some of the setup feels rushed and clunky; like how you can pick anyone off the ground and make ‘em a slave. You know a film is special when even after a handful of viewings and years of TV re-runs it still grips you, and the 155 minute runtime flies by. Everything about Gladiator feels truly ‘epic’ in the classic Hollywood sense – the sets, the action, the plot, the acting, the score – and it all comes together perfectly to create what’s arguably the perfect swords and sandals film.
NEKRomantik 2: The Return of the Loving Dead – follows a Berliner called Monika who’s torn between two boyfriends: a corpse and a porno-dubbing ‘normal’ guy. This is easily the weirdest and most contradictory film I’ve ever seen: it’s a cine-literate, ultra arthouse picture that contains more explicit gore, shocks and taboo than the top horror and most notorious exploitation films. It’s stylistically directed, with an increasingly surreal tone, some ‘auteurial’ touches like a 4:3 Academy Ratio, long ‘silent movie’ sections, a musical number, outstanding dolly & time lapse shots, and a film-within-a-film ‘My Dinner with Andre’ parody – director Jorg Buttgereit clearly knows what he’s doing. Not all choices are solid however, most scenes linger on longer than they should (fun fair / zoo), and especially towards the end it feels deliberately slowed down and padded out. Then there’s the small matter of gore and taste: from the opening frame – a grotesque suicide and spunk moment – this is an assault on your senses. Do you want to see a hot chick get off straddling the chest of a slimy grey corpse…or intimately dismember and gut said corpse with a hacksaw… or the skinning, butchering and decapitating of a seal? Then look no further than this. The elongated and graphic nature of these scenes test even the most hardened gore fans, and make it feel like more of an endurance test than a film. It’s a movie so notorious that it was the first film since Nazi Germany to be confiscated and outlawed by the police; it’s clearly the blueprint for Human Centipede 2 – and it’s the only film I’ve seen that surpasses it on the crazy gore spectrum. NEKRomantik 2 is explicit, depraved, stomach-turning and completely unforgettable – it could well be the pinnacle of notorious shock cinema.
B-Movie Score: 9/10
As with all of their specials, Arrow have given this the ultimate VIP treatment: a director approved pack with Blu Ray, DVD, OST CD, Postcards, a booklet, and a phenomenal stack of bonus material.
Blood Rage (AKA: Slasher. AKA Nightmare at Shadow Woods. AKA Complex): an evil child frames his twin brother for murder – 10 years on, when the sane brother escapes from an asylum, he finally has an excuse to kill again. The clunky dialogue and bog-standard horror scenarios really emphasise the wooden performances – championed by the mum, who is drunk in one scene, then normal, then catatonic, then madly cleaning, then scoffing food off the floor… she’s laughably terrible. Strangely, the direction itself isn’t bad; conjuring up some striking and iconic images, and the ‘twins’ aspect (both played by the same actor) is well done; arguably the most impressive thing about the film. Despite the catalogue of unintentional missteps it’s a fun enough film to watch – namely due to the comically extreme and over the top slashtastic gore: entire sets are painted red, and limbs & bodies end up everywhere. Mash this all together and it kind of works in a weird, HDTGM type of way (nothing about the story makes sense). While Blood Rage isn’t a great film in anyone’s book; it’s the best type of bad film, for having a high body count, and being knowingly bad (like the Cranberry sauce zinger!). it can still be enjoyed, and is prime for cult viewings and drinking games.
B-Movie Score: 7/10
The Arrow Blu Ray 2K restoration is great: the film looks cleaner and brighter than it has any right to be, and – as always – there are shedloads of behind the scenes, extras and interviews with the cast. Making this a must-have for B-Movie aficionados.
The Exterminator: when his best friend, and fellow ‘Nam veteran, is killed by street punks one man goes on a vigilante rampage by baiting and killing the scum of New York. Unlike most of the ‘notorious’ video nasties this one feels like it ‘s actually worthy of the infamy; it gets pitch-black dark in places; the violence is slow and extreme; and is all the more effective for having such a baby-faced normal-looking everyman in the main role. There are however a couple of aspects that let the film down: in particular the comically stereotypical ‘street punks’ that have drug and sex parties in crack dens, and the action scenes feel very ‘budgety’ – particularly in the finale. The character development feels a touch over-egged as the plot focuses on the Anti-Hero and main policeman sharing some clunky similarities. It’s definitely a film of its era, with a thick layer of Post-Vietnam / ‘veterans in society’ commentary, as well as capturing the seedy streets of New York during its most dangerous period. Overall, The Exterminator is a film that has a message, and although it’s not particularly insightful, there are enough shocks and attitude to pull it off.
The Raid 2: Berandal (aka The Raid: Thug): following on directly from events in The Raid… after his brother is murdered the rookie SWAT member goes undercover in order to flush out the city’s dirty cops. It feels like director Gareth Evans is “doing a Tarantino” here, drawing from a lot of established Asian movie elements: the story is essentially Infernal Affairs; the themes feel like those of a fairly standard Japanese – notably Takashi Miike – gangster flick (internal power struggles, territorial battles, OTT Violence, honour, betrayal, black humour); and the visuals feel like you’re watching a modern Korean movie – e.g. Park Chan Wook – as it’s loaded with rich imagery and patterns (like the art deco ballroom and bar, sterile kitchen, snow fight) and some cartoonishly menacing enemies (‘Hammer Girl’, and the ridiculous side-combed, cane-wielding baddie) – there’s also a shitload of nods to A Bittersweet Life, from the Car/Warehouse fight to the impeccably dressed mobsters. The action scenes remain unbelievably entertaining, expertly choreographed and jaw-droppingly inventive – although shaky cam is used a lot more in this one. You never get tired watching Iko Uwais play human pinball with dozens of henchmen, exploiting the various locations, and through most of the big fights you can’t help but grab your equivalent body part that has just been mangled on-screen and shout “fuuuuck!”, every 20 seconds. Once again, there’s a good peppering of ultra-black humour to provide a little relief from the action. At 150 minutes there’s a lot that could have been cut out and not missed – from developing minor characters through to shots of nails, water, snow – although it is rigidly punctuated with big set-pieces so you never get the chance to nod off. The Raid was a powerful, gritty, relentless and raw 90-minute virtually dialoge-free history-making fight-fest that raised the bar for all action movies – and although I can understand why Evans didn’t want to just do the same again, in ‘beefing up’ The Raid 2 he has leaned a little too heavily on other director’s works, taking the edges off – and diluting – the 90-minute, 10/10 movie that’s contained in here. Niggles aside, the film is still packed with genre-defining action, cutting edge fight-choreography, and more hard-18-rated violence than you could shake a poorly-aimed shotgun at.
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.
Cold Fish (冷たい熱帯魚, Tsumetai Nettaigyo) (mild spoilers): a mild-mannered fish-shop owner crosses paths with a larger competitor who at first seems like an ideal business partner – but that veneer doesn’t last long. It feels like the director started out with two completely separate film ideas; the first 1-hour 45 contains a pretty credible, low-key, tense, but slow-burning con-man drama – with an off-kilter / black comedy undercurrent. The final act transforms the film into a full-blown slasher – which dwells on depraved sex, violence, gore and some body disposal scenes for a little longer than would be deemed comfortable (or necessary), peaking in a hyper-messy crimson-soaked blood ‘n’ guts finalé – shock cinema at it’s best; or perhaps worst! This wouldn’t usually be a big deal, but at 2.5 hours you could have cut two (better, and) entirely different 90-minute movies out of it – an Evil Dead style gore-romp, or Coen–esque black comedy. There are glimpses of superb direction and storytelling, straight off the bat, but they end up getting lost in the bigger-picture. Acting is also solid (the runaway star being leading man Mitsuru Fukikoshi’s full-bodied transformation) – although, along with everything else, it all gets watered down and lost within the superfluous runtime. This would, by normal standards, be anything but an ordinary film – particularly because it’s littered with gropey and sensational sex scenes – but when you’re following up from an epic like Love Exposure, this feels lukewarm in comparison.
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.
Evil Dead: five friends go for a remote, relaxing break at a cabin in the woods… where they accidentally unleash an angry daemon. So I’ve seen this film about ten times, yet it still gives me the willies: from the outset there’s a lot of weird, floaty camera movement as it sweeps through the woods; something spooky or shifty happens about every 2 minutes; and you couldn’t have picked a more eerie set of locations: rickety house, basement, woods. The film’s packed with masterful moments of suspense, and the old school horror soundtrack gives it a timeless quality – screeching strings. There’s a few funny bits (and black humour thread throughout), but it’s definitely more horror than comedy. Whilst Bruce Campbell isn’t the best actor in the world, his presence is something else. The film builds towards a gore filed gory gore-fest of an ending – that will satisfy the hardest of horror fans. Essentially a B-movie, made on a shoestring budget; it has more than enough going on to totally distract you from the fact that it’s so cheap and brimming with continuity errors. The Evil Dead has more atmosphere, tension and impact than 20 empty, modern, derivative horror knockoffs. Proper horror cult classic.
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.
The Duel Project started out as a drunken bet, when Japanese movie producer Shinya Kawai challenged two up-and-coming directors to each make a film that had only two actors, who would fight to the death, in a single location – it also had to be shot in less than a week, and stick to a tiny budget. The results were 2LDK and Aragami. (ARAGAMI REVIEW HERE)
2LDK: two actresses – who are also flatmates – have auditioned for the same leading part: they’ll find out who got it tomorrow morning, if they haven’t killed each other by then. This is split into two distinctive parts; 30 minute setup and observational comedy about living with an annoying flatmate, the other 30 minutes is simply two girls beat the tar out of each other in the ultimate catfight. Hearing the inner-ramblings of two polar opposites (paired with their polite spoken dialogue) as they grate on each other is entertaining, although it takes a few moments tuning in to 4 quickfire word tracks. The two actresses are great, but the main star is Yukihiko Tsutsumi with direction that has urgency, impact, flare and style, all in abundance; the framing is also superb. Such great direction means that the tension and action are served up raw. For a one-week rush-job the make-up and FX really add to the brutality. 2LDK is a highly enjoyable, momentum building, entertaining movie, that’s strangely relatable for anyone that has ever shared a flat.
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.
Juan of the Dead (Juan De Los Muertos): when zombies infest Havana Juan and his friends start up a zombie disposal service for survivors that want zombies out of their house. For a zom-com this is, crucially, really funny – the film’s held together with great moments of dark humour, and several genuinely laugh-out-loud running gags about the zombies being branded “dissidents” by the government, harpoons and poking fun at wider horror clichés. For a country with such a tiny film industry, it’s well shot and directed – with decent action scenes (mostly hacking and slashing) – and it looks great, save for some lame CGI explosions. The political undertones and jibes at the government are great because it’s something that Romero did at the beginning of the Zombie resurgence that has been lost in the plethora of modern flicks. Being Spanish, it does suffer from some over-acting, with most of the supporting cast ‘hamming it up’, and for some reason, a completely unnecessary random man in drag. It’s also crammed with naff music that sounds ripped off of cheap TV adverts and old ‘carry on’ films. Juan of the Dead is far more than just a witty title (and tagline “He’s Havana killer day”) – it’s a funny, entertaining zombie romp with more to say than most horror films.
“She’s a blogger; one of those people that write nonsense on the internet”
Django Unchained: a German bounty hunter frees a slave, then partners up with him to make some cash and rescue his girl from a flamboyant plantation owner. As expected, Waltz absolutely steals the show with what’s essentially a re-write/reprise of his intelligent, oddly-humorous ‘Jew-hunter‘. Everyone else turns up and does their thing entertainingly enough. While the film pokes a lot of fun at the stupidity of racism (KKK mask scene & Sam Jacksons rant about Foxx sleeping in the house), for me the ‘N-Bomb’ is dropped far, far too often: which may have been accurate of the period, but it’s such a loaded word that drags the tone down – taking it way beyond any ‘light-hearted’ Blazing Saddles similarities. Clocking in at 2hr 45, it’s also far, far too drawn out, for such a simple revenge tale, especially once Dicaprio pops up: some scenes seem to go on forever with rambling, empty, dialogue and plodding shot after shot. While they’re all quintessential Tarantino scenes, it also suffers from his trademark lack of self-censorship. Finally, although, stylistically, most scenes are undeniably QT -and this isn’t really his fault – his style’s been ripped off so many times (funky music, uber-gore and back-and-forth dialogue) that it no longer packs the punch it once did. As a stand-alone film, Django Unchained is a decent film dragged down by its ‘epic’ runtime and the difficult task of balancing racism and comedy. It’s only when you step back and hold it up against a film like Inglorious – equally long, but crammed with great, tense and cinematic moments – that you realise how ordinary Django Unchained is.
“They wouldn’t slash the price, so she slashed them up.”
Dream Home (維多利亞壹號): when property developers bump up the price of her dream house, Cheng Lai goes on a killing spree that should make it more affordable again. The film opens up with the perfect one-sentence setup: ‘the average wage in Hong Kong has gone up 1% since the 1997 handover, in 2007 alone house prices went up by 15%’ – easy to see why the central character’s so frustrated. Although they all take place in one night, the killings are spread throughout the film; and they’re pretty graphic, imaginative, and brutal – blood, guts, gore all in abundance, but seamlessly done and outrageously OTT, although there’s a couple of really nasty deaths that may be too much for fair-weather horror fans. Equally scattered through the film is a very modern, hitting, and relevant commentary on the housing market prices. Most surprisingly for a violent B-movie / horror film, it’s beautifully shot: the entire film looks superb, in particular the shots of the city and it’s buildings are mesmerizing, and brilliantly done. It’s also great to see a strong female wielding the knives for a change in this type of movie. With both a modern social commentary and top-tier gore – Dream House is a total winner in my book, although this film definitely puts the ‘gory’ in ‘Category III‘ films. Great shock/exploitation movie.
B-Movie Score: 8.5/10
“She’d Kill for a harbour view”
Piranha 3DD: a year after the Lake Victoria spring break disaster the vicious prehistoric piranha threaten a newly opened water park. It feels more like a glamour model show reel as every five minutes – like clockwork – there’s an exposed, tight, perky body. Almost every girl is also a D+ cup, however the slow-mo running – read as bouncing boobs – couldn’t be more sleazy & leery, or less sexy – same goes for the waves of gratuitous, unnecessary nudity, used as a weak attempt to make you forget how bad the film is. The actual ‘actors’ here are all small-timers (see graph below for acting analysis), and the ‘famous people’ / quick-buck-cameos are beyond cringe-worthy – Hoff’s agent did him a solid: singing, quips, but too much time on-screen. There’s about 10,000 lame puns/innuendo based around the word ‘wetness’. The SFX is worse than before, and the bloodbath finale has absolutely no payoff – it’s just a series of vaguely connected CGI moments. Most annoyingly, for a 70 minute movie there’s around ten minutes of filler/establishing/scenery shots. Whereas Piranha 3D was kitsch and camp enough to counteract some of the shortcomings, this one is just terrible. Really, really terrible. I pity everyone involved because the only semi-smart and semi-funny part of Piranha 3DD is the title.
The Raid: Redemption – a team of elite cops storm a high-rise building in the hopes of capturing a vicious crime lord. I walked in expecting a decent action film, didn’t think I’d be watching cinema history. There’s around 10 minutes of story scattered through the film, and it rarely drops below a sprint for the 80 minute runtime. The cast are championed by a few unbelievably talented action/fighting stars – who deliver scene after scene of lengthy, intricate, and phenomenally choreographed fights, with moves that make you shout ‘HOLY FUCK’ about every 30 seconds. There’s machete fights, close combat, martial arts, wrestling, SWAT raids… it’s all there, in abundance. The violence is pretty brutal, explicit, 18-rated gore – matched by some body abuse from the most insane, dedicated (potentially stupid) stuntmen. Some decent tension is built up in parts, and overall the film is well-shot and stylishly directed – it’s also breaks up the relentless action with flashes of dark humour. With 5 minute long action scenes every 6 minutes and a pile o’ bodies left on every floor The Raid is an action film that truly delivers – it completely re-writes the book on action cinema by cutting through all the guff we have come to put up with and by being all killer, without a single frame of filler. It raises the bar, then kicks it in the face, stabs it, shoots it, loads it into a bazooka and blasts it in to space. I sincerely hope that this opens the floodgates to a barrage of awesome Eastern action flicks, as it beats the shit out of every big-studio Hollywood / UK action movie I’ve ever seen. The Raid‘s better than fantastic; it’s the best, and most important action film I can ever remember watching.
The Cabin in the Woods: 5 friends go to an isolated cabin for a party, and although a bunch of zombified rednecks lurk in the woods, this is far from your average slasher/horror flick. My only real complaint is that the film puts all of the cards on the table a little too early – although it’s understandable, because such an ending would be too much to nonchalantly tag on during a finale. There’s plenty decent acting, even better SFX, good suspense / tension / scares, brilliant streak of tongue-in-cheek genre humour (The whiteboard with entries like “Angry Molestation Tree”, and ‘trowel’ quip are golden). The film works its way towards the revelatory ending, and the final reel is one of the best pieces of horror in decades – it’s an insane roller coaster paying both tribute and homage to the last 100 years of horror cinema. This is clearly made by horror fans, for horror fans. Don’t watch the trailer, or even read any more reviews, just get your arse to the cinema and check this beast out for yourself. Cabin in the Woods is creepy, entertaining, smart, fresh, funny, original and goes far beyond (and behind) the standard horror movie formula. Easily one of the best modern horrors in a long, long time.
Bonus: here’s a screenshot of the whiteboard – Click to Enlarge
Headhunters (Hodejegerne): a professional headhunter, and art thief, risks everything he has to steal a Peter Paul Rubens painting from an ex-mercenary. The central story is absolutely brilliant, and it feels surprisingly fresh given the setup. It’s plot and character driven in equal measures and it doesn’t stop once it gets rolling. The film’s punctuated with brutal graphic violence, although it’s most often used as comedy (!!) to break the unbearable tension built up in pivotal chase / confrontational scenes; I never thought I’d laugh at a smashed up skull, dog abuse, or poop – but if you didn’t laugh, you’d break down. Askel Hennie (a Christopher Walken lookalike) leads a great bunch of actors, and memorable but believable characters. Other than above, you can’t really mention much more without risking spoilers. The film didn’t need the quirky voiceover setup and wrap up – flat-out drama / thriller would have been sufficient – and some parts start to flirt with surrealism, but those are very minor niggles. Headhunters is well-directed, well acted, well written, funny, serious and dramatic crime caper… you couldn’t ask for anything more. It’s an absolute must see; European cinema at its best, and film of the year so far.
Battle Royale: the Japanese government randomly select a school class and dump them on an island with an assortment of weapons – the last kid standing wins their freedom! The the most powerful aspects of this film are the simple concept and the use of school kids (which everyone can relate to) forcing the ‘could you do it?’ question on viewers. Despite having no monsters, this is darker and bloodier than most horror films. The level of gore is unbelievable: blood sprays at every cut or gunshot, heads roll, internals bleed… rough stuff seeing characters vomit blood or getting riddled with bullets, worse still considering they’re around 15 years old. Even scarier, the whole concept is played so straight, with some pretty black humour, that you can easily believe in this dystopian near-future. There’s a whole load of Japanese schoolgirl skirt and leg for any dirty old men of that persuasion; and the teacher (Kitano) also has a very unsettling obsession with one pupil. The recurring emphasis on father’s suicide feels off, and more generally, the flashbacks / dream sequence all feel out-of-place among the bloodshed / fast-paced action. It’s hard to tell through the translation, but the script’s a little weak, with loads of cheesy, rhetorical, open-ended questions, leading to some over-cooking in the acting department. Despite these minor issues Battle Royale is a classic in every sense of the word, and has a longevity that you don’t see often – even watching it for the 5th time, it’s still disturbing. Action-packed, all-killer, world cinema classic.
Note: this makes for a bitchin’ drinking game: 1 second every time someone dies in the game, and every time it is recapped in the 3-hourly reports.
Misfits (Season 3): 8 Episodes: with a whole new bunch of powers and a line-up change, the gang are re-booted and re-established. It takes around 1/2 the season, but once the new guy – ‘split personality’ Rudy – is properly established his comic timing, screen presence and character far outdo Nathan, which isn’t an easy feat. The rest of the cast keep up with their characters well and the dealer gets a bigger role than before. A critical problem with Season 3 is that the writing is all over the place, I’ve never seen a series with such variation in quality between episodes; some are among the best and most clever to date, yet others are barely watchable or deadly boring, and the rest are average at best. To finger out a couple, the Nazi time travel and gender bending episodes are just boring, boring and boring – however the super STD episode is comedy gold and the zombie cheerleaders is nothing short of pure cult. Slow burning, with individual episodes ranging between 1/10 and 8/10, Misfits Season 3 asks a lot more of its audience than previous outings, and although it’s still daring, dark and outrageous it only gets its shit together in the final couple of episodes. It’s definitely lacking the clever writing that made the first two seasons special – Season 4 will be a tough sell for me.
Battle Recon: The Call to Duty (AKA Battle Force): the first ever Special Service Force unit is sent into Nazi occupied Sicily to bring back a captured hero. A film that opens with the line “They were trained to scale cliffs, jump out of airplanes and kill Nazis” should grab any guys attention. It’s the classic story of a unit of dysfunctional army reject-rabble coming together and kicking ass; and being a b-movie there’s plenty of entertainment: camo paint that strays into ‘Black Up’ territory, one guy doing his finest Brad Pitt (Bawnjorno!) impression, ze kampvest Nazi general in history and a couple of random hot chicks thrown in for good measure. The action’s good for a movie of this scale too – especially the stray bullet effects – although it does dwell on the shoot-outs a bit too long. It’s well-directed, very well shot, the colour gives it a very expensive-looking finish (I initially thought it was a Blu Ray), solidly edited and overall well put together – a fine effort. Mixing the classic ‘behind enemy lines’ WWII story with a knowingly post Inglorious nazi killin’ tongue-in-cheek angle, Battle Recon has enough entertainment and heart to keep you watching for the duration, even if it isn’t the most original war movie you’ll ever see.
Drive: Follows a professional stunt driver (moonlighting getaway driver) as he makes a unique connection with his neighbour, and her criminal husband. This is a fascinating mix of raw drama and the most brutal violence you’ll see all year. Gosling is phenomenal; with so few lines (but when he speaks, he means it) this could have gone pear-shaped but his entire body tells so much more about the methodical, isolated driver character than any script could. The rest of the cast do well to keep up, except Ron Perlman, who is, as always, categorically pants – at least he’s consistent! What’s most apparent is that the film’s meticulously put together; tension levels are unbearable in parts (opening 15 will blow you away), music’s memorable and used effectively, general ambience is great, and it’s stylishly filmed yet maintains a painfully indie vibe – you couldn’t really ask for more in a film. Hopefully, this will have a bigger longer life in DVD players than the two-weeks it appears to be getting in most cinemas.
Stake Land: when his mum, dad and baby sibling get their shit ruined, Martin is taken under the wing of a Vampire Hunter, and they make their way north to a vampire-free sanctuary. It’s easy to forget that this is a B-movie; no stars, no big sets, ton of gore, no-name production company… yet it’s well filmed, looks great an doesn’t just rely on schlock or clichés. in fact, it’s because this is a B-movie that this packs more of a punch; there’s not much character sentimentality, and several pretty rough scenes to watch. The story’s great, and keeps you intrigued, even with a distinct lack of dialogue, ridiculous cult, and almost no character backstory. The creatures are somewhat of a Zombie/Vampire mish-mash, that land somewhere between Romero, Rami and a manga adaptation. Breathing new life in to busy, but rapidly boring genre, Stake Land is a solid entry, proving that vampires don’t have to suck, and that the horror genre can step up it’s game now and again.
Postal: Living in a shitty town drives one yocal to ‘go postal’, and sees him take on terrorists, a religious cult, villagers and the police… all in the name of sanity. A film that opens with two Muslim plane hijackers calling Osama Bin Laden to ask how many virgins there will be waiting for them, then accidentally flying into the WTC probably won’t be for everyone… Knowing that this is one big farce, director Uwe Boll pops up as himself, joking about being aroused by crowds & children, and that his films are really being funded by Nazi Gold – it’s mental. The story is more like a series of skits / ‘wouldn’t it be cool if…’ scenes, but that’s OK as there’s a ton of gags and minor detail, almost like a David Zucker film. It’s visually striking; with tons of bright and poppy colours, not unlike classic Russ Meyer. Despite using a cat as a silencer, Zack Ward makes a pretty cool ginger action hero, and WTF is JK Simmons doing in this?!?! If you like your films crude, violent, brimming with hot babes, and full of kid / terrorist / nazi / midget / hippy / redneck / fat people jokes then Postal is the film for you. Despite everything being deliberately outrageous, I enjoyed it and will no doubt whore the DVD out to a bunch of people, then watch it again down the line. Totally ridiculous, but watchable tasteless caper.