Possession (Original Cut): follows the breakdown of a relationship between an international spy and his increasingly disturbed wife. Highly stylized, the masterful direction immediately jumps out; the camera is perpetually moving, with long and involving shots that roam around the actors, thrusting you right into the middle of the powerful, visceral drama. The acting is superb throughout, borderline theatrical but it assists in dragging you further into the intriguing plot. The entire film has an unusual vibe that’s both quasi-religious and heavily-surreal – somewhere between arthouse and exploitation – aided by a phenomenally creepy score that is one of the most unsettling I can remember. Not without it’s flaws, by the 75-minute mark, I was wishing I’d opted for the 90-minute edit, as the film takes a lingering detour into an examination of the body, soul, god, chance, and faith. It’s also a movie that has echoed strongly throughout the years, with a lot of imagery and powerful shots “borrowed” from this, and some of the most photogenic Berlin buildings – inside and out. Capped off with a genuinely crazy, jaw-dropping ending this is a film that you won’t be forgetting in a hurry; yet is such an intense experience that you won be rushing to re-watch. Marginalized because of it’s supernatural and excessive elements, Possession is ripe for a retrospective viewing: almost 40 years on it remains a modern thriller/horror that was way, way ahead of it’s time.
Keeping Rosy [soilers]: after losing her job and taking it out on her cleaner, Charlotte goes from very successful businesswoman to a murderer – and worse – in a couple of days. This is a microbudget microdrama that’s impeccably shot (if you don’t mind relentlessly cold, grey, minimal / clinical visuals) but feels at home on your TV screen. There’s only a handful of actors in this, but none of them are given more depth than their borderline offensive off-the-shelf character sheet: cold career focused woman; rough northern girl; spying security guard; businessman that likes affairs… In saying that, the acting is solid for the most part. The film’s pitched as an ‘hitchcockian’ thriller, but ends up being a bit of a comedy by the end, with some large – and visible a mile away – twists and turns. My biggest problem is that the film asks you to feel sympathy and root for a cleaner-killing, child-abducting lead – who’s setup as a ‘bitch’ from the start. Keeping Rosy has promise, but feels very muddled with its messages and execution.
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.
Naked Killer 2 (AKA – Raped by an Angel, Super Rape & Legal Rape): A skilled lawyer tries to commit the ‘perfect rape’ by exploiting legal loopholes, planting / fabricating evidence etc. First off, this has nothing other than the ‘Naked Killer’ title tying it to the first movie; think less ‘Naked Killer sequel’ and more ‘Original Raped By An Angel’ film. To re-iterate for emphasis – this is nothing like the first film. Secondly: where ‘Naked Killer’ had a campy, tongue-in-cheek, bawdy, exploitation, cult feel – this one relies on nothing more than cheap in-yer-face shocks, mostly through talking about taboo subjects like rape, aids and blowjob techniques. Thirdly: over 11 minutes of cuts were made on the UK DVD release, so it’s like a CATIII film, but with zero CATII content! The script, editing, acting cuts, and subtitles made for confusing and frustrating viewing – it’s hard to tell what’s happening at the 45 minute mark, let alone where it’s going. This is the ultimate blot on everyone involved’s resumés – and one which I’m sure many will have tried to bury. All in all, Naked Killer 2 / Raped by an Angel is simply a shit film, with everything remotely 18 rated cut out of the UK DVD, and nothing more than a name in connection to the first ‘Naked Killer’ film. Avoid at all costs.
Note: uploading several DVD screenshots as there’s none online, anywhere at the moment.
Rumble in the Bronx: whilst visiting his uncle in New York, Keong fom Hong Kong finds himself in the crosshairs of several gangs. The premise is basic (like the far East’s rebuttal to Black Rain – the West is full of uncivilized, violent punks!), the plot twists are silly and the acting’s borderline woeful, but this film has Jackie Chan; and an on form Jackie Chan of that! The action set pieces are still among the best you can find today; the shop fight, back alley fight, car park chase, and the superb gang den fight… action doesn’t get any better than this: strength, acrobatic skills, timing, planning, intuitive use of space & objects – it’s almost unbelievable. I could genuinely watch these scenes on loop all day and never get bored. The biggest stunts have a timeless jaw-dropping quality, mostly because they’re real and well-edited: you want to pull down a building? Lets build one to demolish! You want a hovercraft/car chase scene? Lets make it happen on real streets! Jackie Chan jumping a large gap between to 10-storey buildings? CGI boring and waste of money! Above the eye-blasting stuntwork there’s a lot of camera-friendly graffiti, clothes, cars, buildings and other such eye candy. There’s a couple of bizarre slapstick scenes that stick out like sore thumbs, but other than that, it’s all gravy. Sure it will never be on a Criterion or AFI “best films of all time” list, but Rumble in the Bronx is entertainment in one of its most pure and watchable forms, and they just don’t make ’em like this any more.
Bullet in the Head: Three best friends get caught up in the Vietnam war trying to make a quick buck. When a film starts off this camp and choppy, you know you’re in for a rough ride. There’s lots of slow motion (it’s John Woo), namely people jumping away from massive explosions and/or leaping to the ground after being shot. There’s also a ton of blood and violence, with continual bloodbath shootouts between, the CIA, Vientamese, Viet Cong, Chinese, Mercenaries and anyone else with a gun. What’s most memorable about this film is that there’s absolutely no glorification of war, and what normal people are capable of when pushed into a corner (except the slow-mo!). Some scenes will stick with you for a long time after. Contracting the brutality of war is the films overall feel and style; almost every element is overpoetic, oversentimental, and has dangerous levels of overtheatrical – laugh-out-loud – overacting. It should also be tried for crimes against editing, music and scripts. Another pet hate crops up: relaxed bonding in the middle of a hostage situation / shootout?!?! All the minus points are schoolboy, which is the biggest tragedy as the centre of the film was a memorable, powerful and moving story.