Black Rain: a NYPD officer escorts a known Yakuza back to Japan; when the criminal escapes the mulleted cop must find him to prove his innocence, and serve up some justice-flavoured sushi! First off, this is a visual fantasy / offensively stereotypical Japan; there’s neon signs, neon trucks, neon clubs, neon everything (in Osaka there’s only a handful of streets lit like this), doesn’t matter though, it looks great. I’m also sure that not everyone in Japan is efficient with a katana, is a gangster, writes Kanji, wears traditional robes, or sings karaoke… but I’ll let that slide too. For the sake of equality Garcia plays a dumb, loud New York schmuck stereotype. Being a Ridley Scott flick, there’s a lot of manliness in every frame; motorbike races, fighting, broody man hero, all culminating in a laughable / ludicrous fight at the end. The one woman in the film is there purely to be lured at. Technically it’s good to watch, poppy/distracting visuals, despite ageing quite badly, but there are a few ill-judged scenes like the Garcia karaoke debacle. If you want a Japanese culture on steroids, ‘man film’, with motorbikes and a whole lotta mullet – this is the film for you! For being so highly regarded Black Rain is just feels like another terminally cheesy, typical 1980s, cop-out-of-water action flick – with a bit more budget than most.
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale – something very Christmassy is buried under a mountain at the Russia/Finland border; when it’s dug up, everyone will believe in a very different Santa! The story is quite basic, but is laced with just enough crazy and black humour to keep you interested and watching. Nothing’s rushed and the story slowly plods along with plenty build up but not much action, until quite an absurd final 20 minutes, but hey – this is fiction! The setting, timeline and snow make the film quite Festive, but with the impending cluster-fudge and gritty Santa figures, you’d do well to keep away from the kids (something not right about hundreds of naked old men running towards a kid!!) There are also some strong Finnish political views and attitudes woven through the duration, but stick out a bit. Overall, it’s a good idea, and admirable execution but definitely hampered by the budget – especially the ending. While it’s another good twist on old tales, for me, this year’s winner of obscure Scandinavian folklore-based films goes to Troll Hunter! Rare Exports is a decent enough B-Movie, much like the secret cargo in the film, this will do better to remain underground.
20th Century Boys: a normal guy has to save the world from a certain doomsday. For the most part the plot doesn’t make a lot of sense because there’s a lot of childhood memories, which are impossible to figure out until those events / characters are revealed in the ‘present’. There’s the usual hammy overacting associated with Manga but some cool nods toward films like Wild Zero / Electric Dragon with the weird guitar semi-climax. It looks and feels quite slick in parts, yet some pretty cheap CGI crops up towards the end. Because it’s part of a trilogy, the film feels slow and bloated, with no attempt to make it remotely ‘stand alone’ – it’s also left wide open, ending on a bum note. While it may be one of the most successful films in Japan; to a non-fanboy cinephile, it just goes on my list of not-very-memorable Manga adaptations, and I won’t be watching the other two parts.
Submarine: Oliver Tate just got his first girlfriend, right as his parents marriage begins to crumble – so he tries to give them a hand… For being a one-boy show, the central character’s great; despite being a little clichéd he’s good fun to watch, and his monologues / voiceovers are a solid way of pushing the story forward. The scriptwriting scores in two ways: the dialogue is offbeat yet manages to stay below the annoying radar; and the humour is so dry, deadpan and dark that the two elements really complement each other. For being his first time behind a camera, it’s strongly directed, and has some surprisingly cinematic moments – given that it is intentionally an indie-feeling film. The casting’s spot on and despite each character having a hint of the absurd, you can still buy in to them as they’re all very human. What’s best about this coming-of-age tale is that it captures the awkwardness of youth like you rarely see; even though these exact events didn’t happen, it’s all too easy to relate to the story, and Oliver. Despite bring painfully indie Submarine remains very watchable and entertaining for the duration.
NEDS: follows a catholic kid in Glasgow circa in the 1970s at the teenage crossroads between continuing education or joining gang life. With a no-holds barred approach to the story and filmmaking, this is gritty, raw and violent for the entire duration; the mentality of the characters is particularly shocking – but as a Scot, I can (sadly) vouch for the realism. The language is coarse and very broad Scottish, so will be pretty difficult for anyone outwith the country to fully understand it. The central character is also one of the meanest pieces of work I can remember, with a likability score of zero, even as the school SWAT. Put this all together and you’ve got a moderately depressing story that in parts makes Trainspotting look like a sitcom – but there’s a few saving graces. There’s a lot of great performances, especially from a cast made primarily of non-actors; most notably the father and both the young & teenage Johns (esp Conor McCarron). Secondly, although it gets to some pretty dark places, the story arc is fantastic, proving to be very powerful and surprisingly effective as a whole. I’m glad I saw NEDS, at first I wasn’t impressed but as the story continued I was slowly drawn in and engaged through to the last 5 minutes. Even though it’s pretty dismal, this film won me over in the end.
MacGruber: Silver screen spoof of TV’s most resourceful hero McGyver. For a Brit that has never seen McGyver or the SNL skits it comes across as an American equivalent of Austin Powers?? The range of humour isn’t very wide; all jokes are either gross-out or something built up then made to look stupid… which starts to wear a little thin by the end. It’s also potty, very potty, with constant sexual references and a couple of back-to-back romance scenes that rival the Team America one. Some gags – like the villain’s name ‘Cunth’ being repeated – get boring pretty fast. The cast all hit the right buttons with their humour & delivery, and the WWE cameos were pretty sweet, especially the Big Show, who was good game. Val Kilmer (ate all the pies!) plays a Seegal-looking villain, and while he’s alright, he doesn’t seem to care much. The whole retro spoof has been done before but this more watchable because it’s done with conviction – the clichéd dialogue/script in particular was my favourite aspect, executed brilliantly for the most part. The soundtrack’s fairly bland, just song after song but with no real purpose other than just being from the 1980s. While it’s not the most polished or sophisticated film in the world it is funny for the duration, totally quotable and has ‘cult comedy’ written all over it. One of the better comedies so far this year.
Eastbound and Down: six episode comedy series about a former baseball superstar as he tries to get re-signed to the major-league and win back his old girl. The single biggest reason to watch this is the brilliant Kenny Powers; mark my words, he’ll go down as one of the greatest comedy characters of all-time. Not dissimilar to Cartman, he’s an incredibly self-centred and brutally honest, loud-mouthed, redneck. The script, and in particular Kenny’s lines, are consistently golden, and totally quotable. The other characters are all pretty generic (in a good & watchable way), but McBride absolutely steals the show. Despite all the laughs there’s some alright dramatic moments, and the finale is very well done. It looks nice – not unlike My Name Is Earl – and the story’s interesting enough to keep you watching. I am absolutely lusting over the prospect of a second season. Although it’s aimed more at guys over girls this should be mandatory viewing for all. Comedy of the year?