Blade Runner (The Final Cut): A retired replicant hunter (aka a Blade Runner) must return to track down four fugitive android impostors in 2019 Los Angeles. It’s unbelievable to think that this was released in 1982 as everything about it looks and feels like a ‘modern’ movie: it’s still breathtaking, brimming with scenes and imagery that are nothing short of pure spectacle. Almost every shot is striking; and the scale/intricacy of the sets & worldbuilding is unbelievable. Despite all of this, Ridley isn’t above some tremendously naff product placement: Coca Cola billboards, Budweiser signage, Atari holograms, and a final fight illuminated by a humongous neon TDK sign… classy! There’s also a questionable sex scene and dubious mis-use of midget actors – to give the film a little edge and distraction. If imitation truly is the sincerest form of flattery; you know that Blade Runner is a top-drawer sci-fi, as the future-metropolis aesthetics and theme of ‘what makes us human’ are echo through pretty much every subsequent Sci-Fi classic: Ghost in the Shell, The Fifth Element, Minority Report, The Matrix, Dark City, Total Recall, Brazil, Looper, Akira, Ex Machina… the list is endless. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the starting point for the movie (Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dear of Electric Sheep?” is a SF masterpiece). Overall, Blade Runner is a parodically boilerplate pulp/noir story; yet the world created & proto “cinema du look” style paired with the outstanding source material & sci-fi twists, propel this film into classic territory.
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.
Witchtrap (AKA – The Presence / The Haunted): before leasing out his family home, a warlock’s son calls in some parapsychologists to rid the house of evil spirits. For a low-budget late 80s B-movie the video and audio transfer are better than some of the bigger studio pictures from this period. The audio track – which was botched on the movie set – is particularly clear as every line and effect had to be re-recorded in post. The film itself is of a fantastically cheesy vintage; it went from inception to ready-to-shoot in under a week, so the plot is mechanical, (seven people enter a house – fewer leave) and the dialogue is massively overripe, but in a fun, corny way… and it’s not helped by the ‘detached’ ADR performances. Characters are all fairly stock, and are championed by a John McLean-style wisecracking hardboiled detective, who is – in all honesty – way too cool for this type of movie, but his constant jabbering helps the film remain on your good side. For the first few deaths it feels like the movie is wimping out of showing maximum gore, but the final act throws in a lot of blood and over-the-top kills, including an unusually long and graphic shooting and a monster melting sequence. It’s also surprisingly well directed; with slow and ominous camerawork (paired with an equally doom-laden soundtrack), plenty jumpscares, and some technical/dolly shots that you don’t usually get in this type of film. The new Blu Ray release is the first uncut/unrated version; it also boasts a heap of extras including an honest & interesting interview with the director. Nothing about Witchtrap is exceptional or original, but it’s better made, more entertaining, and as nostalgic as any other film in this genre. (Linnea Quigley also gets her waps out!)
B-movie Score: 7/10
Hardcore Henry (Хардкор): when he is resurrected with no memory and new robotic limbs, Henry must save his kidnapped wife from a telekinetic psychopath who has plans to weaponise a robo-army. From the opening credits (graphic, but blackly comic violence) you can tell this isn’t your usual action film – most of the movie is shot from a ‘First Person’ perspective, from the point-of-view of ‘Henry’ using an intricate head-cam rig. The film is basically 90 minutes straight of Henry running / jumping / shooting / punching through a long line of obstacles; with some awesome freerunning & parkour (seemingly no wires – or brains!), and high intensity and very high quality stuntwork: the elements combine to create a truly unique and awe-inspiring action spectacle. There’s also a great anarchic/punk sensibility to the movie; anything goes, and there’s a lot of crazy & zany elements… it even using things like subtitles to make a few jokes with. The biggest problem is that when everything is up at 150% the whole time, you end up becoming a bit numb to it towards the end. Another downside of the FPS style is that the camera is very shaky and has a warped fish-eye lens which distorts a lot of the outer frame. Hardcore Henry is a film that is truly cutting edge, in that it couldn’t have even been made a couple of years ago – the only remotely close comparison you could draw would be a less offensive, but higher-octane version of the Crank films. It’s fun, impressive, and completely mental, but overall struggles to engage after a while. Best viewed after consuming a twelve pack of Red Bull.
NOTE: The entire film was spawned from this music video – if you fancy 90 mins of this, look no farther than Hardcore Henry.
Mechanic Resurrection: a retired hitman gets pulled back into action when his new girlfriend is captured and he’s forced to whack three seemingly unconnected criminals. Being the sequel to a somewhat derivative remake expectations going in aren’t exactly high; but the film just about meets them. Everything that isn’t an action/fighting scene is there to set up the next action/fighting scene; including a nonsensical plot and some ultra-dubious character motivation: within 10 mins a pragmatic contract killer has fallen and is risking it all for a random babe?!? It’s also ‘subconsciously Bond,’ with multiple exotic locations, submarine pen shootout, Rio cable cars, exploding boats etc. Not content leaning on one franchise, the story’s also centered around three “Impossible missions”: a prison kill, swimming pool kill, and boat-chaos… all fun, but none are particularly tense as Arthur Bishop never loses the upper hand. We get a rent-a-baddie (Hazeldine) with no charisma, personality, or memorable traits; and a rent-a-babe (Alba) with a suspiciously small wardrobe and whose cleavage is deeper than her character. On the upside, Jason Statham is back in his bone-breaking action lane; Tommy Lee Jones is chewing it up (but is literally in two scenes) and the film has an aesthetically pleasing, vibrant, Lucy-esque visual style (although some of the CGI is very ropy). Mechanic Resurrection is an uninspired action film with only one reason to watch it; Statham returning to his action roots… if you like mile-high body counts, entertaining dispatches, and Jason Statham punching & shooting his way through obstacles look no further than this.
Dear God NO! [Grindhouse Cut]: a murderous outlaw biker gang kill their rivals and hide out in the woods, where they meet a crazy scientist and big foot… I think. Yup, here’s another ‘nasty nostalgia’ film with faux grain effect, pops and scratches, heavy saturation, projector sounds, mono/muffled soundtrack, tracking issues, etc, etc. It’s only 81 minutes long, but is crammed with filler: you get 5 minutes straight of up-close ‘mondo’ style topless dancing, a psychedelic heroin dream trip, and a Nazi Dr Frankenstein babe trip – all for no reason other than padding out the runtime (and increasing the shock factor). Made on a shoestring, the film’s packed with bad dialogue, bad acting, bad characters, actor changes, and ‘plot threads’ that make literally no sense. It’s like the director asked a 15 year old boy what he thought was cool – boobs, swearing, drinking, and bad attitudes man – and just rolled with that. We first meet the biker gang the morning after they trash a bus full of nuns and rape/murder them all, and it only goes downhill from there; bottoming out with a snuff scene that goes too far with a double rape and fetus removing/killing. I’ve seen much worse than this and not been as disgusted as this just nasty for nasty’s sake; and I couldn’t believe that there are directors out there that make Rob Zombie look like a proficient filmmaker. I’ve sat through some truly terrible movies in my day, and this is down there with the worst of ‘em. The only good thing about the entire project is it’s old school poster, and the only way I can imagine convincing anyone that this has worked is if you pitch it as a poor-taste no-budget physical effects show reel – or a masterclass in using controversy and a good poster as a get-rich-quick idea. A very very niche and ultra-nasty bikesploitation film.
Green Room: when they witness a murder in a remote neo-nazi music venue crusty-punk band “The Ain’t Rights” have to fight their way out. It’s the sort of weird blurb that you’d expect from a shitty B-Movie, but this one is anything but that. The setup is a great portrayal of the Punk/DIY scene and touring life in general; whereas the main chunk of the film switches to a tense, claustrophobic cat-and-mouse thriller as the band are trapped, and the balance of power inside/outside the room shifts back and forth. The final act changes gears yet again into more of a generic hillbilly survival horror story; yet keeps up with the breath-holding, seat-grabbing set pieces. The film is littered with moments of ultra-violent ultra-gore; limbs being slashed, people being gutted, graphic gunshot wounds… which are offset with some wonderfully wicked black/morbid comedy moments; like fighting off a dog with a mic stand and getting ridiculous feedback from the PA system. Visually, the film is very slick and the director skillfully keeps the majority of the runtime confined to a the small, grotty, bar: unsurprisingly, all of the green colours have been popped out, giving it a vibrant – almost neon – wash. The entire cast is solid; it’s a great turn by Yelchin in one of his final roles, and it’s fantastic to see someone straight like Patrick Stewart play a proper ruthless peesashit baddie. Green Room exceeds all expectations for a film with its niche plot, and is handled exceptionally by the cast and director, creating a solid and effective thriller.
List of bands mentioned / referenced: I’m sure there’s more!
Fugazi, Dead Kennedys, Dillinger Escape Plan, Misfits, Black Sabbath, Simon and Garfunkel, Prince, Madonna, Slayer, Iggy Pop, Minor Threat, Distillers, Dare to Defy,