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.
Stoker: when a young girl’s close father dies, his mysterious brother appears – a charming, yet mysterious character that she slowly becomes besotted with. Being a Chan–Wook Park movie, this has his stamp all over it – meticulous direction and framing, packed with striking, bold, elegant, and often haunting visuals. It’s a richly textured film, full of vivid colours, fabrics, designs, and patterns – ultra-visual cinema. Story-wise, it’s a relatively simple three-hander, focusing on layered and complex characters – that unravel, and become more intertwined as the events unfold. Perhaps because it’s a coming-of-age movie, it sticks out as being very level compared to previous works, shying away from the drama and (sensational) gore that director is used to providing, instead coming over as delayed intensity. Written by an actor, and directed by one of the world’s greatest – Stoker is a unique beast where the Korean director appears to be anticipating any ‘lost in translation’ moments from the script, by emphasizing the focus the universal visuals – you could watch this in any language and still make full sense of it. An immersive, throwback Hitchcockian thriller.
Porky’s [Steelbook] a group of teenagers in 1950s Florida head to Porky’s strip club to get some action, but nothing goes to plan with this – or any of their sexual misadventures. Undoubtedly one of the most (in)famous coming-of-age teen-sex comedy flicks, Porky’s is less of a “film” and more of a bunch of individual scenes edited together to form a loose plot. There are so many side-stories like the jew-hater, bad biker dad, and horny P.E. teachers that really have nothing to do with the premise. There’s also far too many characters, none of which are the central focus, which makes it all seem even more tangential. But Porky’s was never trying to woo the critics, and for a sex–comedy there’s enough of both to make it a genre-classic, from the infamous voyeuristic shower scene to the 5-minute penis report (not to mention that it’s a High School where they only seem to teach sports classes and playground hijinks) it’s packed with entertaining stuff. While it’s a little dated (and even timid) compared to teen movies these days Porky’s is the definitive blueprint / Supertext for the genre; opening the door for films like American Pie, Superbad, Van Wilder, Road Trip… It’s good, it’s funny and the Blu Ray looks lovely. Great little Mr Skin feature about 80s skin-flicks too!
Shaolin Soccer (少林足球, Siu lam juk kau): a has-been footballer (soccer player) convinces a struggling Kung-Fu master to form a football (soccer) team with his equally gifted ragamuffin friends. It’s so silly, bawdy, theatrical and over-the-top that it feels like it’s based on a manga series – apparently it isn’t! The story’s a bit stupid, but the film finds some form during the wire-work and CGI heavy ‘football’ (‘soccer) matches. Even by bad Asian standard the acting – although probably closer to mincing – is fairly shoddy, and it’s difficult to know if the actors were hired for their martial arts skills because most of the action is entirely green screen. Shaolin Soccer is entertaining enough, but behind the SFX it’s quite a formulaic sports film that’s too erratic to properly enjoy, and not particularly funny or dramatic enough to be noteworthy. All-in, I can’t understand why there’s so much love for this – definitely not one for proper football (soccer) fans.
Air Doll (空気人形): a lonely singleton falls in love with the blow-up doll that has replaced his girlfriend; and one day she comes to life (this could only be Japanese). The first five minutes are an explosive combination of funny, creepy, peculiar and entertaining. The remaining two hours however is essentially a grating portrayal of childhood innocence, but here’s the kicker: it’s played through the eyes of a sex doll!omfg!! The moment you notice this is the moment this film bursts. It’s full of ludicrously whimsical and increasingly pretentious ‘life lessons’ about what makes humans human, played through a handful of seriously irrelevant stories and sub-minor characters (which I guess is to beef up the runtime). It also features one of my biggest pet hates: the doll gets a job in a DVD rental store so the director can crowbar in a bunch of his favourites / influences / kewl moviez. Worst. Trope. Ever. There are a couple of funny-ish cultural confusion moments, but they’re balanced out by several close-up shots of a removable rubber vagina being washed in a sink: can you say “shock value”? In fact, the only saving grace is the lead actress Bae Doona who does a great job and for the most part doesn’t feel the slightest bit human. Other than the first five minutes this is literally – and figuratively – as exciting as spending almost two hours watching something slowly deflating in front of you. Air Doll comes off the rails far too quickly, never picks back up.
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.
The Spirit: Comic adaptation about a masked crime-fighter who fights crime with a mask on. Visually, it’s quite the treat although being brought to us by Frank Miller, one look at any shot from the movie indicates that this ‘borrows’ plenty visuals from Sin City – nothing new there. The Spirit is also lays it on heavily with Noir style, although it constantly regresses from cool to plain corny. The story is so one-dimensional and unimaginative that you’ll probably find yourself slipping into a coma in parts. Pretty much everyone was un-acting for the duration, besides Macht, who at least attempts to do something decent with his fairly lame character; that spends just as much time chasing tail as he does fighting crime. There’s plenty eye candy, from curvy Eva Mendes to the stunning Paz Vega, however they all feel a bit gratuitous, with no real point. Milo and Edgar from 24 also put in some face time. It all just seems very flat, with no real story or focus; random Japanese and Nazi sections anyone? There are some memorable and striking imagery & shots but overall it just feels like a low-rent Sin City.
Napoleon Dynamite: follows the mundane life of a dorky student in rural Idaho over a couple of weeks… doesn’t sound gripping, and it’s not, but it’s still well worth watching. Straight from the awesome opening credits you know this has potential. Because nothing much happens in the story department it’s all down to the characters to push the film forward. Nerdy Kip, delusional uncle Rico, apathetic Pedro, coy Deb and manly Rex are all fantastic. Then there’s Napoleon. John Herder absolutely nails his character; the mannerisms, accent, attitude, partial blindness, heavy breathing and the look, especially the so-bad-they’re-good T-shirts. Everything Napoleon does is so funny because of the teenage angst oozing out of every pore – Hess & Herder have truly created one of the coolest geeks in fiction. The low-fi style and the lack of movement or structure in the story are still huge pitfalls. The elevator music is one of many nods towards ‘Welcome to the Dollhouse’, which is absolutely no bad thing. First time round I totally didn’t get this and couldn’t understand why it was a big deal, upon re-watching it several times it just gets better and better.
Godzilla: 60% mega monster destruction and 40% bittersweet romance between two of the mains. It has the tried and tested 90’s mix of epic action and silly fun that you don’t often find these days. The one thing that struck me when re-watching this was that it has a lot of memorable scenes; Godzilla’s entrance at the pier, streets ‘jumping’ with his footsteps, ‘zilla on the Brooklyn Bridge, ‘zilla taking out the choppers – too many to name! The opening scene with a-bomb test footage and epic orchestrated score is pretty chilling. There’s a load of cheeky reptile references throughout which is a nice touch, and the stereotypical sneaky French guys (fronted by Reno) are good fun to watch. There’s also a lot of subtle product placement, the likes of which hadn’t been done again until I-Robot: although not quite as subtly! unfortunately, the beast hasn’t aged too well, with a shed-load of dated cultural references and naff CGI / mini-models. Despite this, it’s still a classic, and great fun to watch. Entertaining big buck blockbuster.