Catfight: after losing touch in college former friends – a struggling artist and a trophy wife – become bitter rivals, and find their lives changing dramatically at the hands of each other. This is an interesting film in that it’s the type of movie that doesn’t really get made anymore. It feels like something from the early 2000s: quirky and eccentric “Woody Allen style” New York caricatures coming together in a semi-absurd plot that could have come from someone like Todd Solondz or Larry David. It’s also refreshing in that you don’t often get to see female actors in this age bracket lead a movie. Both Sandra Oh and Anne Heche get to chance to showcase their fine acting chops – playing irritating characters, but making the most of the comedy in the script through their respective stereotypes. The film’s performances complement Tukel’s unique directorial voice and style, although his ability to craft and capture so many deadpan scenes, wry cameos, and absurd lines is what shines the brightest – this absolutely smashed through the six-laugh test. Where the movie fell down for me was that it took a lot of swipes in the background at American culture, the U.S. government, foreign wars, inequality, topical Television shows, etc… This felt like easy – even lazy – targets for a film with this much promise and talent, and distracted from the central rivalry. The three prolonged ‘slobber-knocker’ fights also push the film momentarily from comedy & satire into a cartoonish farce: the hits are too big, with ‘wooshing’ & ‘crunching’ sound effects that become ridiculous, and the sequences feel much longer than they needed to be – although the film is called Catfight…. Catfight feels genuinely refreshing – coming through in an time where the majority of movies feel more like ‘safe investments’ designed by committee, that actively avoid taking any risks. This feels unique, original, fresh, and although it doesn’t land every punch, it’s is more than funny enough to remain entertaining for the duration.
Goliath: a formerly great (now-down-and-out) lawyer lands a case against his old firm and their biggest client; but his life suddenly takes a turn for the even worse. While the premise is nothing new or original, this is elevated by having a horde of superb characters, brilliantly acted by the top-drawer ensemble cast: Billy-Bob Thornton, Nina Arianda, Tania Raymonde, and Kevin Weisman in particular steal every scene they’re in with phenomenally dry and naturally funny performances. It’s also quite smutty and sweary compared to most other shows – the frequency and inappropriateness of which adds an extra layer to the humour. In style and tone, a lot of Goliath reminded me of Justified; very human and flawed characters that you want to spend more time with in knockabout situations with dive bars, blues music, and some peril / mystique thrown in. It’s also very well made, measuring up to the biggest budget shows around with a bright and slick look, top-end camerawork (those time lapses!!!) and a tremendous blues/rock soundtrack. In fact, my only two reservations about the show is that the main antagonist (Bill Hurt) is pretty much played as a Bond villain with a burnt face, living in a darkened layer, and given some token perversions. Also, the first six episodes have plenty laugh out loud moments, whereas the final two wrap things up in a more straightforward way. Goliath is so funny, addictive, and crammed with entertaining dialogue & performances that I watched all eight hours over two nights. It’s a solid courtroom drama for people who don’t even have to like Courtroom Dramas.
Hatchet: a boatful of tourists go on a haunted swamp tour and end up coming face to face with a local superstition… the murderous Victor Crowley. There’s some strong horror ancestry in here; Kane Hodder (Jason/Leatherface) is the main baddie, with Tony Todd (Candyman/Final Destination) and Robert Englund (among others) popping up in cameo roles. Even though this is the kind of sloppy horror premise you’ve seen a thousand times before Hatchet is different in that it’s very well made: it’s brilliantly lit, boasts supreme gore FX & inventive deaths, and has a cast full of good performances. It takes everything that people love and expect from a slasher film and turns it up to eleven: e.g. you don’t just get to see one pair of boobs, but are treated to entire line-ups of Mardi Gras waps. It’s also got a cool comedy/horror vibe in that if it wasn’t for the brutal ultra-graphic moments of cartoonishly over-the-top deaths, the film would probably be a 12A, as it’s overall quite playful and funny; the wannabe actresses in particular provide more than their fair share of the LOLz. There’s also a beautiful ‘classic’ orchestrated soundtrack that wouldn’t be out-of-place in something like Indiana Jones. Everything comes together nicely to create a movie that’s surprisingly hard to describe or define, but is undeniably fun… it’s not quite a parody, and it’s definitely not a kids film, but it’s a rip-and-roaring “Old School American Horror” – and for once, a slasher that lives up to its tagline.
B-Movie Score: 9/10
Strike Back: Shadow Warfare – when an undercover Section 20 agent is executed in cold blood Scott and Stonebridge set their sights on the killer and his terrorist organization. For this first time, this season pulls out some big names with the likes of Martin Clunes (best death face ever), Dougray Scott, Robson Green, and Rhona Mitra. And when you thought it wouldn’t be possible, everything is EVEN MORE ridiculous, funny, cheesy, trashier and sensational than the previous outings: a sexy Russian agent-babe is introduced in one scene, and literally a having vodka sex (with Scott, obvz) in the next one; a gay transvestite pensioner hard-man starts prison riot; and only Strike Back could have the Real IRA team up with Muslim terrorists and get away with it. This is the first season where the different directors stand out as the opening two episodes have computer-game / John Woo slow-mo vibe, with epic music and everything exploding; the middle six feel more ‘traditional’ action episodes, and the final two play out more like 24 episodes with the focus being on twists and reveals (and some poorly handled shaky cam action). The overall story and structure stick to previous season formulas, but hey, every plot thread in Strike Back is just chasing McGuffins to serve up more action scenes. When things aren’t being blown to shit, the drama stuff is well handled, characters get a bit more time to develop, and the show still isn’t afraid to pull punches or shock the viewers with main cast killings. I’ve pretty much ran out of superlatives and phrases to describe how good Strike Back is because it’s so consistent in delivering five top-drawer action B-movies season after season. The show gives its audience (14-40 year old boys) exactly what they want: action, babes, guns, nudity, explosions, gadgets… and the fact that this rollercoaster series ends with a sex scene says it all really. The tagline for this season is “The world’s not saving itself”; but Strike Back is definitely saving the action TV genre.
STRIKE BACK REVIEW
STRIKE BACK: PROJECT DAWN REVIEW
STRIKE BACK: VENGEANCE REVIEW
The Green Inferno: when she joins a deforestation activism group, a naïve student comes face to face with the cannibal savages she’s trying to protect. I’ll put it straight out there; I’m not a big fan of Eli Roth… that being said, I had a blast with this film. The naive protagonist / final girl is surrounded by thin and/or unlikable characters (angsty alternative goths, far out hippy protesters, etc) so you’re not all that fussed about their fates, and watching them get dispatched is rather entertaining. There’s some outrageous practical effects, showcasing bloody and disgusting gore, but it’s all tongue cut out in cheek – think ultra black horror / borderline stoner comedy – with several laugh out loud moments. There’s a fun Final Destination style plane crash, followed by an intense tribe meeting (the scariest part of the film) – and after that it’s all killer. The only two downsides are that the film takes around halve the running time to get going; it also feels less urgent / more detached than the ‘found footage’ ‘real life’ cannibal exploitation films of the 70s & 80s. It would have been foolish to try to pull off a ‘Mountain of the Cannibal Holocaust Ferox God’ movie in 2015, as it just wouldn’t have the same impact, so Roth has taken the ‘cannibal movie’ template and given it a nice postmodern spin. The Green Inferno got an unfair rep by people mostly focusing solely on the gore; but tonally, it feels more like an out-and-out send up of student, or ‘leftie’ activism to me. Over time I hope it’ll become a cult hit along the likes of Cannibal the Musical and Delicatessen. Disgustingly enjoyable.
B-Movie Score: 9/10
To Live and Die in LA: when his partner is murdered by a counterfeiter a rabid secret serviceman will do anything to avenge him. All the classic cop tropes are in here: the three days left on the job veteran, mismatched and reluctant partners, etc etc. However, instead of the one-dimensional ‘good cop bad cop’, we get two complex and grey characters going through a moral minefield. For relatively unknown actors (at the time), the performances across the board are rock solid, particularly young Willem Dafoe’s slimy and menacing ultra-villain. The star for me is Friedkin; his direction here is outstanding and the opening 15 minutes or so has some bold editing, imagery, and musical choices – almost giving the film a bona fide arthouse vibe, and really putting the viewer on the back foot. Everything from an intense crazy car chase (wrong way through traffic) through to nail-biting tension (a split screen break-in) is handled superbly. The plot is the only thing that lets the film down a bit; it’s a simple revenge story that becomes unnecessarily convoluted through lots of tertiary characters and tangents. That being said, the film is always interesting and memorable – with the anti-hero cops on the edge, and characters on the fringes of society in out-of-the-ordinary situations (jail, strip club, dance troupe…) Depending on your tolerance, this film may be ‘too 1980s’ to handle: the fashion, dominating synths, neon title cards, and homo-eroticism that didn’t quite make it to the 90s. I feel sorry for William Friedkin: after two major successes (The Excorcist and French Connection) critics have been queuing up to stick the boot in to everything he’s done since. For my money he’s one of the most rock-solid film-makers, and one of the few that uses the medium to really get in your head – his framing, soundscape, editing, imagery, and commitment to shocks and disruption are awe-inspiring. To Live and Die in LA is an 80s cop film that stands the test of time because of the talent involved – not for the faint-hearted though.