Tokyo Decadence (トパーズ, Topāzu): a specialist prostitute with a very particular set of skills is doing some very strange things with salarymen in the hotel rooms of Tokyo. The opening scene has a girl strapped to a chair, gagged, blindfolded then injected with heroin – if that makes you uncomfortable, this film’s probably not for you. It starts of feeling like an exploration piece/eye-opener focusing on an extreme (sub)culture. The film portrays some extremely ‘out-there’ acts, without appearing to be overly leery or vulgar. It keeps upping the ante scene by scene until there’s nowhere else left to go; then it implodes during an ending which, out of nowhere moves the film from a risqué/explicit/shock melodrama into plain old existential pompousity. It’s packed with rough cutting and hard editing; difficult to know if it’s intentional/stylistic or just budgetary constraints. If you like a bit of smut dressed as art or ‘world cinema’ then this is about as wild as you’ll probably get; and if you dig S&M, Bondage, BDSM, Dominatrices etc etc then it’s probably a must own. As a film however, Tokyo Decadence is fairly unremarkable, and if you took away the controversial/notorious S&M scenes it would be a completely unremarkable 2-hour instantly forgettable snooze-fest.
Audition (オーディション, Ōdishon): a TV producer and widower stage a fake TV audition in order to find the latter a new wife, but the best candidate seems too good to be true. The opening half hour feels a little too rom-com-y for a ‘horror’ film (upbeat music, cheesy jokes etc). The film trudges on and after 1hr 15m of setup it gradually becomes weirder and more interesting until the payoff semi-ending finally kicks in. Knowing that there’s something not quite right with the ‘perfect girl’ is a tad unsettling, but you couldn’t have predicted an ending as extreme as this – the sound of bone being sawed is vomit-inducing! There’s a small, but obvious social critique about the time in lines like “The whole of japan’s lonely”, and “Japan is Finished” – not-so-subtle! What makes this worthwhile is that it is a unique horror film in that is doesn’t pander to conventions, or give you what you expect. It also beat the wave of late 2000s movies that kick-started ‘torture porn’/’Splatter’ craze again. As original and unique as Audition is, it’s essentially a psychological drama for this most part with 10 minutes of gore capping off a lot of humdrum!
Prometheus: a team of crack scientists travel to a distant planet to discover humanity’s beginnings, however, what they find could finish us all off! The opening aerial shots of breathetaking, sweeping landscapes are geography porn, it’s so beautiful that it’s worth the entrance fee alone. The rest of the film looks just as great, with sumptuous visuals, well-designed costumes & sets, and totally seamless impressive CGI. To match this, the acting roster’s impressive, although it’s absolutely owned by Fassbender‘s portrayal of David the android; he’s efficient, calculating, and believably robotic – surprisingly, he’s also by far the most interesting character, and the film’s biggest driving force. Charlize Theron’s role disappointingly amounts to nothing more than “hottie in a cat suit”. Frustraitingly, the film spends most of the runtime raising, contemplating and flirting with massive questions & themes – religion, evolution, why are we here, meeting our makers… – It’s just a shame that it spends next to no time resolving or answering any. As for being an Alien prequel, it feels intentionally distanced, with not much more than a fleeting post-script that is clunkily added-on. All in, I think Ridley’s hoping that the big loud grand spectacle will serve as a distraction from the fact that the story is neither strong, nor particularly original – which is epitomised best in Fassbender’s time in the fancy, flashy galaxy simulator thingmy-bob.
Giallo: when a string of beautiful foreign women are abducted, brutalised and dumped in the streets of Torino an air hostess and jaded detective join up to catch the killer. Everything about this reeks of a cheap 1980s horror; the foreign setting, production values, film quality, characters, hairstyles, music, storytelling, and the ridiculous villain… Other than a few modern-ish torture scenes, this could easily be mistaken for an old, cheap film. There’s an eccentric pan-European cast, with some terrible acting and broken-English phonetic dialogue delivery, headed up by Brody, as a hammy New Yorker who looks like he’s forgotten everything he learnt about convincing acting. What’s most disappointing is that Dario Argento, someone who was once a master of the horror genre, is still pumping out films that show zero progression from his 1970s/1980s titles – if anything, they were far superior. It’s under 90 minutes long, yet contains so many unnecessary filler shots. Basically, this is no better or different to any of the thousands of low-budget shitty horrors you’d find on satellite TV (although some score higher!). At its best, this is a semi-competent euro-slasher. At its worst, it’s like a spoof genre picture where a pursuing policeman falls over after running into a mop. I’ve seen it all before, far better.
Con Air: a released prisoner (former U.S. Ranger) gets caught up in a plane hijacking carried out by the criminal cargo. This is one of the best examples of ridiculous, over-the-top 90s action films (homage to 80s). There’s something about the huge fiery explosions, big loud action and epic weeping / heroic guitar licks that plunges me right into these films. Cage, despite being laughably shit and doing THE worst accent in the history of cinema, holds the film together surprisingly well. Malk is the perfect villain – whose calmness only makes him more terrifying – and his band of crazy henchmen are all gratuitously evil. Cusack is good, but his dashing young looks always make him feel miscast as an authority figure. Everything towards the end of the film (In Vegas) is beyond excessive, ludicrous, and poorly cut – but I guess that’s Vegas for you! Held together by the supercast this is a solid, big action, big entertainment, film that still holds up well.
Contagion: as a lethal virus spreads rapidly around the globe – we observe as the government, pharmaceutical industry and everyday people struggle through the pandemic. It’s always good to see an ensemble cast this big, but with the numbers involved some people go +30 minutes without an appearance, and each person’s angle feels underdeveloped. Too single one person; out I can’t tell if it was Jude Law, or the ridiculous blogger / twitter journalist he was playing, but that strand was just terrible. Other than the devastating virus and ensuing medical procedural hunt for a cure, there’s no single dominant story; there’s a slow build-up, mildly tense middle, and it ends quite abruptly as we just stop dipping in and out of the characters lives. Unlike most blockbusters the science is very realistic (on good authority from my buddy with a Master’s in Cellular Immunology). With the ultra realism in both content and a simple, minimal directorial style, you’re left with a ‘film’ that feels more like a discovery documentary / re-enactment – but with some familiar faces. The final product is a mildly depressing, Dell sponsored, montage heavy film that tries to juggle too much, with very little focus.
Kill Speed (aka Fast Glass): Three chiseled ‘fly guyz’ make huge wads of cash by transporting drugs from Mexico into California in their state-of-the-art fiberglass ‘planes… until the plan changes! This is 100% aimed at the Maxim/FHM market: Cars, planes, chopper bikes, guns, babes, surfin’, partying, X-box – and in that respect, it ticks all the boxes. Staple B-movie elements are all present; stock characters, standard script and longer than necessary, being the three most obvious. Where it excels are the aerial battles / stunt flying which are surprisingly good, in abundance, real eye candy and almost entirely real. In the last 30 minutes the action is also ramped up and it works well. The film’s also shot very professionally, given the scale and budget. The biggest annoyance was Nick Carter, who played a flat-out ridiculous white rapper, and gets out-acted by a wrestler (who’s only in one scene) and inanimate objets like chairs and scenery. I’d rather listen to every Backstreet Boys (and solo) album, single and demo back-to-back than watch him act again! The rest of the cast do well with the characters their given, and there’s a few familiar faces like Matt from Heroes and Robert “T-1000” Patrick!! It’s very aeronautically orientated, so if you’re in to dogfights and supersonic planes check this out – as there’s some straight-to-DVD B-movie goodness here.