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.
Fast and the Furious 5: Rio Heist: Initial stand-alone review here – only difference is that this paragraph holds Fast Five in the context of the box-set, and now knowing what happened in the previous movies. The Blu Ray ‘Extended Cut’ is hardly worth it, with just over an added minute’s runtime, only a rapid neck-snapping that felt new. The action scenes are absolutely outstanding: the train heist, safe chase, rooftop / favella footchase, convoy ambush – it’s all seat-grabbing, fist-pumping, adrenaline-rushing, and cooler-than-cool. It feels like an 80s throwback genre film with such big-budget action, the archetypal super-bad mega-villain, and more oiled-up machismo than you could shake a packet of beer soaked beef jerky at – with guys continually in-fighting, shouting and flexing their rippling muscles at any opportunity. That moment when the two action stars fight, and later when Vin picks up The Rock… it’s just action-movie gold! I really enjoyed Fast Five in the cinema, but having seen all of the films recently, I have to give an extra point to the such fantastically executed car-based mayhem.
The Fast and the Furious
2 Fast 2 Furious
Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift
Fast & Furious
Fast Five (Old review)
Brick: when his ex-girlfriend goes missing, a teenager goes prodding around in his school’s underbelly to try to find some answers. Given the high school setting and the film’s leanings towards a Noir detective story – where everything down to the dialogue & clothing of feels old-timey – you don’t really get many films with such a uniquely stamped style and feel. Borrowing so heavily from the Noir genre starts off quite refreshing, but becomes borderline tedious and annoying by the end – it’s also the film’s biggest downfall that anybody remotely familiar with the genre will see the major twist way, way before it’s revealed. The olde vernacular and slang-heavy dialogue also flips and flops between cool and stupid, as some parts become hard to follow, given the speed of delivery and unfamiliar phrasings. The adherence to Noir also means that the characters are simply drawn – one-dimensional – and overly familiar. The film’s stupendously shot: light in particular is used superbly throughout to add crazy good detail, depth and subliminal characterisation – especially during the indoor scenes. It’s also full of nice little touches, details and tricks that raise it above your average genre rip-off picture. As a crime story Brick pretty good, but it’s a film that is 100% defined as a modern take on 60-year-old conventions: sure it’s unique, stylish, funny and entertaining, but it’s also predictable, clichéd and full of stock characters because of its rigid adherence to the Noir genre. The positives do outweigh the trappings, making Brick worth a watch.
Rekjavik-Rotterdam: a struggling ex-con must secure his family’s safety by doing one final smuggling run. The film plays out like a stripped down heist/crime movie – but keeps its feet firmly on the ground, and whilst none of the story elements are particularly original, the execution is great. Equally impressive are the cream of Iceland‘s current talent – Kormákur creates a believable, desperate man, and everyone down to the stock muscle/thug guys feel like real characters. The story unfolds with excitement, tension, action and some comedy moments, so it’s well-balanced remains very watchable. The final 15 minutes wrap up the film cleverly, and there’s a cheeky passing use of a Jackson Pollock painting. Unsurprisingly, a film this good has already been remade and released in the ‘States as ‘Contraband’, starring Mark Wahlberg (interestingly, directed by the lead actor of this version). Rekjavik Rotterdam is a rock-solid, European thriller/drama that will hopefully open up a wave of new talent and movies from a country that’s relatively unknown for it’s cinema. I think Hollywood will struggle to match the heart and execution this version, but conceal that by turning everything up to eleven – absolutely check this version out.
Timecrimes (Los Cronocrímenes): can say almost nothing about the plot without giving the film away – sci-fi / time travel / thriller. Being Spanish, it has a slight am-dram / soap opera feel to it with the suspenseful soundtrack and ‘passionate’ melodramatic acting. The story is tight; yet more proof that thriller/horror films don’t all have to be dumb. There’s a load of nice small details that make the plotlines fit together so tightly – one girl even has a Schrodinger’s Cat t-shirt! What I enjoyed most about this was the authenticity; the characters are realistic, settings are eerie, tense moments are drawn out, and even the masked killer fumbles around looking vulnerable and unsure at times – as opposed to the Hollywood stone-cold killer – all kept the film grounded. Triangle blew me away when I watched it, but it has borrowed heavily from Timecrimes, and unfortunately hampered my viewing of the film a little. For a cast and crew of relatively unknowns doing no budget sci-fi thriller this punches far, far above its weight.
The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec: Based on the Jacques Tardi comic books, this follows a female adventurer in 1911 Paris who is traveling the world to find a cure for her comatose’d sister. With pterodactyls, mummies, bandits, hunters and a ton of other stuff, it’s all a bit crazy – landing as a PG adventure not a million miles from Indiana Jones / Jumanji / The Mummy etc… Louise Bourgoin is a great match for the quirky, strong, sexy, determined, action heroine, and to top it all of, out of nowhere… BOOM… nude bath scene (in a kids film!?!?). With Luc Besson behind the camera the film’s in good hands, it’s executed interestingly, but even he couldn’t put all of the randomness together seamlessly. It’s French, it’s crazy, and it’s quite an enjoyable adventure romp despite the absurdity.
Fast and the Furious 5: Rio Heist – Various characters from the past four films unite for one big job in Rio. Being brutally honest, I’ve never bothered with this series as it’s just not my thing… That being said, the films are brutally honest and up front; Fast cars, Furious stunts. The action in this is 100% gravity and logic-defying nonsense but the last, huge, set-piece is worth the ticket price alone – it’s absolutely stupendous and wouldn’t surprise me if it had swallowed over 50% of the total budget. Character-wise, there’s a troupe of broad catch-all societal stereotypes, headed by the mumbling charisma vacuum Vin Diesel and a bread-and-butter Rock performance – nobody else is noteworthy. The story is bog standard and merely a vehicle to set up the next action scene; the Rio setting was ridiculous as it could have been anywhere; and the post-script was groan-inducing. Doing what it says on the tin, Fast Five is nothing more than cars, babes and stunts so ridiculous that it’s impossible to not enjoy or appreciate. Guilty pleasure of the year so far.
Micmacs à tire-larigot: a very unlucky guy who has twice been the victim of arms manufacturing companies plots his revenge with lots of shenanigans. The main guy (Danny Boon) is absolutely fantastic at playing the slightly vacant but humble lionheart whose dedication – and comedic delivery – keeps the audience transfixed. The rest of the cast are also great; full of interesting characters, and with all the small details / close ups you instantly relate to them and know what makes everyone tick. The camerawork, detailed semi-steampunk objects and great 5.1 audio track whip you feet-first in to Jeunet’s unique, offbeat & bizarre world. My only complaint visually is the gold/amber tint throughout the film, which saps a bit of colour & life out of the picture. The themes and graphics throughout the film make a love letter to early cinema, and when the story, scenarios and visuals come together it’s an entertaining fairy tale for grown-ups. The ending is a completely different tone from the upbeat film as a whole, but it’s still smart and engaging. A great twist on the revenge genre, whilst spoofing the arms trade. It is a bit style-over-substance but for some reason – I blame French magic – Micmacs is far greater and more enjoyable than the sum of its parts. Would recommend this to world cinema n00bs and pros alike.
The Air I Breathe: Four separate stories of characters based on the emotions Happiness, Pleasure, Sorrow and Love are linked by a ruthless gangster. A somewhat tired idea these days that lands in the Crash / Amores Perros / Babel genre. For the most part the casting is unadventurous, Garcia, Bacon, Whitaker all play bread and butter roles. Hirsch is chronic. Michelle Gellar is really good but the real standout was Brendan Fraser; especially given how unconventional his character is. He pulls off an awesome performance; gruff, grim and interesting. FAO his agent, sack shit like Furry Vengeance and get him more roles like this, pronto! The cheesy voiceovers give the film a bizarre aftershave commercial feel and ‘Fingers’ is such a terrible name for a baddie. The big problem was that the four individual segments were too short and broad to build on the characters effectively. Towards the end the story comes together nicely (albeit quite cheesily) but just doesn’t quite have the full effect. Overall this has good intentions but just fails to rock you. A decent effort by any standards but could have been a real tour de force.
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.
Beast Cops: A bunch so-called ‘policemen’ (how they’re remained gainfully employed was the biggest plot hole) get a new boss that tries to shake things up a bit. Unfortunately this one takes about 50 minutes of 1-dimensional character-building before anything interesting happens; we got it after 5 minutes – there’s no honour among thieves in Hong Kong! The acting’s very hit-or-miss, ranging from subtly great to parodic overacting, and at times the script makes it feel like a sexual awareness campaign. Other than the lame credits the style’s quite slick and does a great job in distracting you from the plain story, however the main actors break the fourth wall several times, which is strange and unnecessary. The last fight is a pretty epic and brutal affair, and generally everyone in this film ends up getting a machete lodged in their neck at some point. To sum up, this is the epitome of a bog-standard Asian cop flick with a twist of ‘gritty street’ thrown in for good measure. Talks the talk all over the DVD box but fails to walk the walk.
The Fall: (Blu Ray) With a ‘to watch’ pile this big it’s uncommon for me to re-watch a film, even rarer viewing one several times within a year, but after subjecting many a friend to the DVD I couldn’t pass up a loan of this Blu Ray. The Fall is pretty impossible to pigeonhole but would probably fall more under the Art realm than just a plain ol’ Movie. In saying this, the mythical storyline is pure cinema escapism that you rarely see these days: much like the magic Cinema would have had like in the 1920s. There’s more eye-popping locations on display than the finest travel brochure – so many that some get no more than 1/4 second glimpse: Colosseum, Eiffel Tower… Both lead characters are fantastic; Pace should be a much bigger star and the young girl Catinca Untaru will be, mark my words! The scenery, costumes, textures and detail of the picture is phenomenal, it’s what BD was made for! The Bulgarian Symphony Orchestra ensure the soundtrack’s epic, making the BD a must see. There’s a few spells of trippy visuals and the story won’t be for absolutely everyone but I would encourage anybody to give this a shot. Reining in my initial score from a 9.5 to an 8, although the first viewing DID blow me away that much.
Kaispace: Films you didn’t know you needed to see
Stranger than fiction: (Blu Ray) It feels like a watch advert to begin with, then turns into an outlandish narrator hostage situation – won’t give the story away, but it’s pretty original. What’s most interesting is that you’re not used to seeing WIll Ferrel play the serious everyman, which he does a decent job at despite being out of his comfort zone. Someone also needs to stop casting Queen Latifah as motivational!! Maggie Gyllenhaal balanced it out by rocking my loins for the entire film. The picture’s crisp but there’s nothing really worth seeing here, the sound mix is dull, but the original audio is great. Similar themes and story to Eternal Sunshine / Being John Malkovich / Adaptation so check it out if you like those. I guess the main thing this film has over others is the fresh twist on life and who’s in control of it. It’s quite witty and intelligent, with a fantastic idea but I just can’t put my finger on what was missing.
A Bittersweet Life: follows a loyal and solitary badass as one mistake throws his life into bedlam. My favourite aspect of this film is how almost every single shot reveals something new about the story or a character, adding depth with unmistakably brilliant direction. The entire cast are great, the main in particular is nothing short of fantastic. The long fight scene is one of the best, and most emotive of any I’ve seen, and all of the action set pieces are choreographed and pulled off effortlessly: although the violence may be rough for some. Comically dumb gangsters provide just enough humour to ensure that the film doesn’t become overbearing and no Asian movie would be complete without some generic ancient proverbs about pride, honour, tradition and morals. This film looks great and is stylish to the max – just like the characters. Unfortunately, this is often compared to Oldboy and although they share some themes, A Bittersweet Life can most definitely speak itself. Korean Masterpiece.
Shiri: Korean action blockbuster that opens up promisingly with some apeshit assassin training followed by a slew of hits that leave police scratching their heads. Throw in a couple of grudges, potential moles, twists, numerous gunfights and you’d think this film was solid gold. Unfortunately, it’s not very original: secret weapon nicked by breakaway terrorists who threaten to use it against the public. Someone basically nabbed the best bits from films like Nikita, Heat, Hard Boiled and Die Hard. Unfortunately, they didn’t steal a good soundtrack, as this one is beyond rubbish. The 2D characters could have benefited from a better script. Despite on-screen animosity between North and South Korea the film’s clearly pro-unity. Overall, it’s a pretty standard effort that brings nothing new to the table. Brainless action flick – best stick to the one’s mentioned above.
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.
Pandorum: pseudo-psychological space thriller about humans re-populating an earth-like planet. It’s essentially half Alien and half Sunshine. The shaky-cam turns all of the promising action scenes into a blurry mess, and all the ‘scary’ moments were just really cheap, and loud, jumps. A lot of the events are a bit convenient, but the technology’s believable and there’s some space-cleavage thrown in for the lads. The ending felt a bit rushed, rubbish and pretty predictable. Middle of the road space flick that offers up nothing new.