Se7en (aka Seven, 7, Sept, Siete, Sieben, セブン, 七, 일곱 …) during a veteran detective’s final week a gruesome serial killer surfaces, whose work is based around the seven deadly sins. Despite being released in the mid-90s and framed as ‘modern’ this has a sense of timelessness; it’s puply and Noir to the core – especially Freeman’s character, who’s straight out of the 40s. This is just part of Fincher’s portrait of an extremely nihilistic vision of ‘downtown’ America – a nameless, timeless city characterised by sirens, rain, fear, vice and filthy, dilapidated buildings mirroring their residents. It’s a dingy look, but one that has subsequently influenced a lot of movies and TV (The US Killing as a prime example). Whilst the story takes a while to properly get going once it gains momentum it’s an unstoppable force -right through to the very last scene. It’s also remarkable that 20 years on it’s still effective, and shocking – which is a testament to Fincher’s directorial skill. Despite all of the larger than life blood and guts, Se7en is all about the minor details; everything helps to flesh out the characters and explain their behaviours – allowing you to pick out more details every time you watch it, which is what makes it a classic.
Killers (キラーズ, Kirazu): a serial killer who uploads his work to a ‘DeathTube‘ site inspires an everyman to go vigilante. It’s the first time in a while that I’ve seen directors harness everything down to the distributors & funders logos to add to the film’s aesthetic; and with this level of detail from the get go, the film is technically admirable – sound, editing, camerawork etc. The opening 5 minutes really set the mood, with a shocking and ultra-graphic murder: the violence slowly escalates and darkens as the runtime progresses. Unlike The Raid‘s gritty-but-styalised – and even poetic – gore, this film is just plain gritty. One killer is a savvy psychopath fit for Dexter, the other is an everyman pushed over the edge, Falling Down style. Another unique aspect is that it’s a collaborative effort from two directors (The Mo Brothers – not real brothers), filmed in two locations – Japan and Indonesia – with English spoken parts when the two leads interact; it doesn’t hinder the film’s international appeal, although something feels lost in translation story-wise. At 140 minutes it does lose feel rather long-winded and intricate for what is essentially a serial killer movie with a disjointed story and not much in the way of themes or messages. If you like your gore gory, and your films stylish this ticks both boxes – although not a lot else. The main stars of Killers are the directors, who with more focus (shorter runtime and tighter story) could pose a serious threat to Gareth Evans as the king of contemporary Indonesian action.
Cedar Rapids: when ‘Brown Star’ (the best joke in the film) Insurance’s top sales guy dies they have to send a sheltered nerd to the regional insurance conference to win the prestigious “two-diamond” industry recognition. It’s billed as a ‘hilarious’ comedy, but let me break this down for you; John C Reilly is funny, Anne Heche is semi-funny, nobody else is funny at all. On paper, this is a great idea: a bunch of insurance nerds ripping it up at a corporate weekend – but it’s just not done correctly. A character from The Wire makes several references to The Wire, for no real reason – and the way everyone talks to each other is ridiculous, as if a child wrote parts of the script. Worst of all, not a whole lot of the jokes are funny – it’s definitely humor, not humour! The direction, look and feel are all classic American Indie – in the vein of Win Win, Away We Go, The Informant! – but it’s nowhere near that level. It feels like a studio said to a director “we’ve got this film that needs to be made, get all your friends on it”. As far as “Fish out of water” stories go, this could have been amazing, but the execution just isn’t there.
Lone Wolf and Cub #1 – Sword of Vengeance (子連れ狼 子を貸し腕貸しつかまつる, or Kozure Ōkami: Kowokashi udekashi tsukamatsuru): when his wife is killed by ninjas and he is betrayed by a rival clan, the Shogun’s lead executioner becomes an assassin for hire, wondering the country with his infant son. The film opens with the lead character beheading a child… which lets you know exactly what to expect from the film, and what the lead, Itto Ogami is capable of. Despite this, being played so well by Tomisaburo Wakayama means that you still relate to, and feel for the character and his situation, as he transforms from obedient executioner, to a masterless badass – even if he’s out-of-shape. He is another one of Japan’s surprisingly complex – well acted – anti-heroes. The action scenes are second to none; heads literally roll across the screen, limbs fall to the ground, jets of blood spray everywhere – it’s completely over the top, yet so ridiculously stylish and meticulously planed; it was the first of the more extreme, exploitative Chambara movies. There’s also surprisingly good period detail for an out-and-out exploitation movie; the weirdest part however is that there’s a strangely high volume of scenes involving suckling on teats (OK, only two, but that’s still two more than most films). Sword of Vengeance is over 40 years old now, but it’s crammed full of everything that most modern exploitation films can’t even do right – the main difference is that it’s filmed by an absolute auteur – the film looks like art at times, which is a testament to the story’s manga roots.
NOTE: Some people will be familiar with this from the Shogun Assassin movie – which takes the bloodiest bits from the first two Lone Wolf and Cub films and mashes them together to create an even bloodier samurai slasher film aimed at Western audiences. That banned VIPCO vault of horror DVD was my first exposure to the series, and god was it brilliant.