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JAPANORAMA - Osaka BANNER JAPAN-O-RAMA.jpgVersus Tak Sakaguchi, Hideo Sakaki, Chieko Misaka, Kenji Matsuda, Yuichiro Arai, Minoru Matsumoto, Kazuhito Ohba, Takehiro Katayama, Ayumi Yoshihara, Shōichirō Masumoto, Toshiro Kamiaka, Yukihito TanikadoAs 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.

Score: 6/10

An old review of Versus from this site can be found here.

The Fast and the Furious Paul Walker, Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Rick Yune, Chad Lindberg, Johnny Strong, Matt Schulze, Ted Levine, Ja Rule, Vyto Ruginis, Thom Barry, Stanton Rutledge, Noel Gugliemi

“I live my life a quarter-mile at a time…Nothings else matters, not the store, not the mortage, not the garage, not my friends or any of their bullshit. For those 10 seconds or less, I’m free.”

The Fast and the Furious: an undercover cop infiltrates an LA street racing scene in the hopes of busting a ring of hijackers with crazy-good driving skills. So it’s not the most ambitious, smartest, or brilliant piece of film-making, but ‘TFATF’ does what it does really well. It’s brimming with bicep-bulging machismo, dangerously-torqued grotesque muscle cars, nearly-nude dance / club girls, thick green wedges of dead presidents and general glorification of the thug life… There’s a pretty cool soundtrack (for the time), but it’s a little dated now – although dance/trance/rave pounding through entire scenes makes it feel like an arcade game. The characters are all fairly stereotypical, the script’s as cheesy as they come, but these are cancelled out by some decent action set-pieces, some serious stunt-driving, and what’s essentially a ton of car-porn. My biggest gripe is that it feels far too derivative of previous undercover action films like Point Break and No Man’s Land. It’s easy to sneer at a film this dumb, but you’ve got to admire how a bunch of car fanatics could get together and turn out a film with a decent story, awesome cars, great stunts and above all – keep it broad and entertaining.

Score: 6.5/10

The fast and the Furious II Paul Walker, Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Rick Yune, Chad Lindberg, Johnny Strong, Matt Schulze, Ted Levine, Ja Rule, Vyto Ruginis, Thom Barry, Stanton Rutledge, Noel Gugliemi

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.

Score: 10/10

Where Eagles Dare: in WWII a team of Britain’s top agents – accompanied by an American – stage a raid on an ‘impenetrable’ Nazi fortress, but it’s never that simple. For an oldé movie (1968), this has more explosions than you could shake a stick of dynamite at, no vehicle is left uncrashed / unflipped, and the plot, in parts, is almost as hard to follow as Inception – it’s one of the few times where there’s a little too much of the good stuff. The action is great, and very well-directed – cable car stunts in particular are gripping, and Eastwood makes for a total bad-ass quiffed gun-slinging all-American action hero. Between the big set-pieces the pace can drag, and at over 2.5 hours it feels a little overlong. The acting is pretty solid for the genre, and the huge story, grand spectacle, and big names (Burton, Eastwood, Pitt…) really pull you through the laggy parts. This is a classic in every sense of the word: big actors, brilliant OST, gripping spy/espionage plot, stunning locations, a ton of stabbing, shooting and cleavage… even down to the corny stuff like rear projected driving background. Where Eagles Dare is decades ahead of its time; it’s the ‘turned up to 11′ kind of action movie that you rarely saw again until the 1980s. Over 40 years later, it’s still exciting to watch – they really don’t make ’em like this anymore – big, timeless international, studio picture.

Score: 7/10

- Why are we here again? - I need a new house...

The Cold Light of Day: when his family are kidnapped near Madrid an everyman has to find a briefcase and return it to the captors in time. This is a strange one: coming out of the cinema it felt like a serviceable ‘nuts and bolts’ action movie, however,  two days later the only parts i can recall are the Nike, Blackberry, Coca Cola, Audi, Land Rover, Fabrik Nightclub co-promotion scenes. There’s a couple of night-time action scenes that were too shaky and poorly lit to be even remotely coherent – although there are a few interesting flares of camerawork, and it fades in and out of attempting to have the atmosphere and music of a classic Boir thriller – it’s just not consistent enough. The story is quite derivative, sloppy, and predictable genre writing – and everything down to the title feels focus-grouped to death. God bless Cavill for trying, but there’s next to nothing for anyone to work with – all characters are like concentrated stock. The Cold Light of Day is one of the laziest films I’ve seen in a long time; it just wants to coast on the back of the names involved – although the biggest (Sigourney and Bruce Willis) phone in two of the sleepiest and offendingly unremarkable paycheck performances of the year.

Score: 3/10

The Raven: murders inspired by Edgar Allan Poe stories mark him as a suspect, however he and the police must use his specific knowledge to crack the case and find the real killer. Despite Renner, McGregor and Phoenix being marked for the lead, I don’t think any would have been as entertaining as Cusack, who film heavily relies on to elevate it above a standard thriller – he nailed the hard job of playing a watchable, likable asshole. Supporting cast are also solid, from Evans doing a Nelson Van Alden to Alice Eve‘s boobs and teeth – Gleeson‘s accent though, WTF?! The story’s dark, accompanied with some explicit gore and graphic death scenes. There’s some sneaky misdirection towards the end, and the killer could have been anyone really; the post script in Paris is also a little out of tone with the rest of the movie. It’s well-directed, with some great suspense built up, particularly in the pursuit and masked ball scenes – it also never drags. The script is generally good, although there’s some tactical swearing and spats of dialogue that seemed a little obvious and uninspired for such a great mind. Sure, a killer looming over foggy candle-lit 1800s streets isn’t a new idea, but I’m surprised at the heavy critical bashing this has taken; although perhaps it’s because this is only my first Poe movie, so have no comparison? For me, The Raven was a thoroughly enjoyable, old-fashioned, ‘classical’, gothic, Hammer-esque, atmospheric murder mystery romp with a hint of Giallo – and all the better for being a blend of fact, fiction and Poe’s famous works.

Score: 7.5/10

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.

Score: 8.5/10

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.