Green Room: when they witness a murder in a remote neo-nazi music venue crusty-punk band “The Ain’t Rights” have to fight their way out. It’s the sort of weird blurb that you’d expect from a shitty B-Movie, but this one is anything but that. The setup is a great portrayal of the Punk/DIY scene and touring life in general; whereas the main chunk of the film switches to a tense, claustrophobic cat-and-mouse thriller as the band are trapped, and the balance of power inside/outside the room shifts back and forth. The final act changes gears yet again into more of a generic hillbilly survival horror story; yet keeps up with the breath-holding, seat-grabbing set pieces. The film is littered with moments of ultra-violent ultra-gore; limbs being slashed, people being gutted, graphic gunshot wounds… which are offset with some wonderfully wicked black/morbid comedy moments; like fighting off a dog with a mic stand and getting ridiculous feedback from the PA system. Visually, the film is very slick and the director skillfully keeps the majority of the runtime confined to a the small, grotty, bar: unsurprisingly, all of the green colours have been popped out, giving it a vibrant – almost neon – wash. The entire cast is solid; it’s a great turn by Yelchin in one of his final roles, and it’s fantastic to see someone straight like Patrick Stewart play a proper ruthless peesashit baddie. Green Room exceeds all expectations for a film with its niche plot, and is handled exceptionally by the cast and director, creating a solid and effective thriller.
List of bands mentioned / referenced: I’m sure there’s more!
Fugazi, Dead Kennedys, Dillinger Escape Plan, Misfits, Black Sabbath, Simon and Garfunkel, Prince, Madonna, Slayer, Iggy Pop, Minor Threat, Distillers, Dare to Defy,
The Factory: when his daughter is taken by a kidnapper who has successfully evaded him for years the clock is ticking faster than ever for a Buffalo detective. Featuring Cusack, and a similar type of story, you may expect something like The Frozen Ground; or a movie like Insomnia, Se7en, Mystic River etc… Unfortunately, this isn’t in the same ball park. The story’s horribly clunky, and the clues/pointers are even worse – in particular a ridiculously bumbling angle about fertility and infertility which would stick out in any dialogue. The film (and detective) flounder from missed clue to missed clue before it throws up a preposterous ending – complete with flashbacks for those at the back not paying attention. The title of the film makes no sense until the last 2 minutes of the movie – which is also distracting. Character-wise you’ve got the clichéd married-to-the-job detective, rookie sidekick, and a kidnapper that should have been demented and scary (Buffalo Bill style), but was played like a comedy redneck character. Despite a promising synopsis and Cusack in the lead is not much more than a bottom of the barrel, bargain bin, by-the-numbers, straight-to-DVD, B-movie with an A-List star and some TV actors (minor characters from Dexter, Good Wife, Arrested Development).
Maniac (Original – 1980): A psychopathic killer is on a spree in New York, terrorising and scalping the public. This one bursts out the gates with two pretty graphic murders, and is evenly punctuated with some full-on eye-opening, jaw-dropping gore throughout. Once scene in particular had me completely shocked – which is a total rarity. Joe Spinell puts in a top shift as the unhinged lead; switching from feral, deranged and demented through to normal, vulnerable, childlike, and charming. The audio helps emphasise the unsettling vibes the movie gives, with creepy internal dialogue and an off-kilter synth/electro track for tension building. It’s visually strange too, with creepy mannequins, seedy New York locations, and a bizarrely open ending. Put this all together and you have a film that’s way above the standard of the genre, and arguably beyond the taste of other slashers from this era. Dark, completely bonkers, and still genuinely shocking 35 years on; Maniac is a thoroughbred slasher film that’s difficult to enjoy, easy to appreciate – but ultimately hard to recommend to anyone that doesn’t like video nasties.
The Purge: In the near future crime and unemployment are at an all-time low, thanks to the purge – 12 hours every year where all crime is legal. I loves me a good old B-Movie, and this film has it all: a strong single-concept, near-future dystopia, home invasion / terror flick. It’s 80 minutes long, and could have even cut a bit more out of the setup. There’s’ action. There’s some gore. The baddies are sufficiently scary, whilst remaining authentically ‘Kids next door’. Best of all, there’s a serious social commentary that runs through the entire movie; that makes you think about what you’d be doing in this family’s shoes. In fact, the only thing that bugged me about this was that the son was such a complete idiot-hole moron assface – who continually did the most stupid things for no reason (although it did conveniently push the plot along). The Purge is the kind of film that if you don’t buy into the conceit, you’ll completely hate it. I bought into it, and loved every minute of it.
The only two rules of Purge Club
- No government official holding Rank 10 or higher is to be murdered, harmed, have harm caused to them, or in any event brought to harm in any case.
- Weapons above Class 4 are forbidden, meaning that destructive devices (rocket launchers, grenades, bombs or missiles) and explosive materials are excluded from The Purge.
The Raid 2: Berandal (aka The Raid: Thug): following on directly from events in The Raid… after his brother is murdered the rookie SWAT member goes undercover in order to flush out the city’s dirty cops. It feels like director Gareth Evans is “doing a Tarantino” here, drawing from a lot of established Asian movie elements: the story is essentially Infernal Affairs; the themes feel like those of a fairly standard Japanese – notably Takashi Miike – gangster flick (internal power struggles, territorial battles, OTT Violence, honour, betrayal, black humour); and the visuals feel like you’re watching a modern Korean movie – e.g. Park Chan Wook – as it’s loaded with rich imagery and patterns (like the art deco ballroom and bar, sterile kitchen, snow fight) and some cartoonishly menacing enemies (‘Hammer Girl’, and the ridiculous side-combed, cane-wielding baddie) – there’s also a shitload of nods to A Bittersweet Life, from the Car/Warehouse fight to the impeccably dressed mobsters. The action scenes remain unbelievably entertaining, expertly choreographed and jaw-droppingly inventive – although shaky cam is used a lot more in this one. You never get tired watching Iko Uwais play human pinball with dozens of henchmen, exploiting the various locations, and through most of the big fights you can’t help but grab your equivalent body part that has just been mangled on-screen and shout “fuuuuck!”, every 20 seconds. Once again, there’s a good peppering of ultra-black humour to provide a little relief from the action. At 150 minutes there’s a lot that could have been cut out and not missed – from developing minor characters through to shots of nails, water, snow – although it is rigidly punctuated with big set-pieces so you never get the chance to nod off. The Raid was a powerful, gritty, relentless and raw 90-minute virtually dialoge-free history-making fight-fest that raised the bar for all action movies – and although I can understand why Evans didn’t want to just do the same again, in ‘beefing up’ The Raid 2 he has leaned a little too heavily on other director’s works, taking the edges off – and diluting – the 90-minute, 10/10 movie that’s contained in here. Niggles aside, the film is still packed with genre-defining action, cutting edge fight-choreography, and more hard-18-rated violence than you could shake a poorly-aimed shotgun at.
Edge of Darkness: when his sick daughter is gunned down, detective Tom Craven starts looking for people with a grudge against him, but maybe he wasn’t the target. This is a good-old corporation/government conspiracy film that feels like a throwback to the blunt movies of the 80s. There’s a few totally unexpected, and fairy graphic deaths that have genuine shock value, and get properly etched in your brain. The plot starts to feel like a runaway train, where the crazy and unbelievable things start piling up. We also get treated to a variety of terrible Boston accents, which make some of the dialogue difficult to catch. Gibson pulls out a decent performance, given his characters complex mental state – but everyone else can be filed under ‘hammy’ or ‘generic’. One final note, to Ray Winstone, please stop being Ray Winstone! Despite sitting on the Edge of Realism, Edge of Darkness is a decent, albeit depressingly nihilistic, action / thriller / revenge / conspiracy picture from the director that had the stones and talent to save the James Bond franchise twice.
Sunshine Cleaning: to ensure her son can get a good schooling, a struggling mum enters the lucrative, but stomach-turning, crime-scene cleanup business. The best part of this is that it’s fairly funny and upbeat considering the grim subject matter; the characters aid this most, other than the most annoying kid in history – If that was my spawn I’d have beaten him into shape by that age. Emily blunt looks great as an angsty goth, nails the accent and steals the show for me. Amy Adams was solid too – but was clearly during her ‘must have a scene in my underwear’ phase. Chloe form 24 once again plays her bread and butter TOTAL WEIRDO role – needs to diversify! The direction and story are both simple and effective, although it goes a little off-chorus in the final third, but enough groundwork was put in at the start to give this a nice indie sleeper-hit feel to it. Sunshine Cleaning cleverly walks the line between funny and serious, and successfully avoids become farcical or gloomy.
Django Unchained: a German bounty hunter frees a slave, then partners up with him to make some cash and rescue his girl from a flamboyant plantation owner. As expected, Waltz absolutely steals the show with what’s essentially a re-write/reprise of his intelligent, oddly-humorous ‘Jew-hunter‘. Everyone else turns up and does their thing entertainingly enough. While the film pokes a lot of fun at the stupidity of racism (KKK mask scene & Sam Jacksons rant about Foxx sleeping in the house), for me the ‘N-Bomb’ is dropped far, far too often: which may have been accurate of the period, but it’s such a loaded word that drags the tone down – taking it way beyond any ‘light-hearted’ Blazing Saddles similarities. Clocking in at 2hr 45, it’s also far, far too drawn out, for such a simple revenge tale, especially once Dicaprio pops up: some scenes seem to go on forever with rambling, empty, dialogue and plodding shot after shot. While they’re all quintessential Tarantino scenes, it also suffers from his trademark lack of self-censorship. Finally, although, stylistically, most scenes are undeniably QT -and this isn’t really his fault – his style’s been ripped off so many times (funky music, uber-gore and back-and-forth dialogue) that it no longer packs the punch it once did. As a stand-alone film, Django Unchained is a decent film dragged down by its ‘epic’ runtime and the difficult task of balancing racism and comedy. It’s only when you step back and hold it up against a film like Inglorious – equally long, but crammed with great, tense and cinematic moments – that you realise how ordinary Django Unchained is.
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.
Drive: Follows a professional stunt driver (moonlighting getaway driver) as he makes a unique connection with his neighbour, and her criminal husband. This is a fascinating mix of raw drama and the most brutal violence you’ll see all year. Gosling is phenomenal; with so few lines (but when he speaks, he means it) this could have gone pear-shaped but his entire body tells so much more about the methodical, isolated driver character than any script could. The rest of the cast do well to keep up, except Ron Perlman, who is, as always, categorically pants – at least he’s consistent! What’s most apparent is that the film’s meticulously put together; tension levels are unbearable in parts (opening 15 will blow you away), music’s memorable and used effectively, general ambience is great, and it’s stylishly filmed yet maintains a painfully indie vibe – you couldn’t really ask for more in a film. Hopefully, this will have a bigger longer life in DVD players than the two-weeks it appears to be getting in most cinemas.
Postal: Living in a shitty town drives one yocal to ‘go postal’, and sees him take on terrorists, a religious cult, villagers and the police… all in the name of sanity. A film that opens with two Muslim plane hijackers calling Osama Bin Laden to ask how many virgins there will be waiting for them, then accidentally flying into the WTC probably won’t be for everyone… Knowing that this is one big farce, director Uwe Boll pops up as himself, joking about being aroused by crowds & children, and that his films are really being funded by Nazi Gold – it’s mental. The story is more like a series of skits / ‘wouldn’t it be cool if…’ scenes, but that’s OK as there’s a ton of gags and minor detail, almost like a David Zucker film. It’s visually striking; with tons of bright and poppy colours, not unlike classic Russ Meyer. Despite using a cat as a silencer, Zack Ward makes a pretty cool ginger action hero, and WTF is JK Simmons doing in this?!?! If you like your films crude, violent, brimming with hot babes, and full of kid / terrorist / nazi / midget / hippy / redneck / fat people jokes then Postal is the film for you. Despite everything being deliberately outrageous, I enjoyed it and will no doubt whore the DVD out to a bunch of people, then watch it again down the line. Totally ridiculous, but watchable tasteless caper.
Animal Kingdom: Mid-budget Australian crime film focuses on one family and their ongoing struggle against the Melbourne police department. Probably more at home on TV than the big screen, there’s a few misfires that lead this high-potential film astray. The single biggest mistake was that it could have been an epic story, but the director forces it down the arthouse route, and it just didn’t work for me. Other faux pas’ were that it focuses on the wrong characters, honing in on the most silent and blank-faced kid; the music was so distracting – terrible psychological synths turned up to 11 that ironically drown out any ambience; moreover, it’s to bleak, grim and nihilistic – making it a difficult story to watch. What saved this from obscurity was the fantastic cast, some of whom you completely invest in: the mother and eldest son are two of the most heinous characters you’ll see this year and you even end up rooting for the wayward brothers; although he’s good, the main actor is one of the weakest in the film. Fiercely over-hyped, and at almost two hours, Animal Kingdom is dragged out at a pace that cripples the movie and really fails to engage. While it’s not in the same league as Romper Stomper and Chopper it will have the same effect in bumping much of the little known actors up to a bigger stage.
Hard Boiled: a classic cops Vs Triads flick by John Woo, arguably at his peak. This is almost always cited as one of the best action films ever made, and with good reason. The bloodshed is so, so stylish and cool: slow-motion, intricate and technical. The action is completely mesmerising in places with explosions, bullets, bodies, weapons and debris all dancing around the frame. This is the closest thing to an action-ballet you’ll see, with long swooping shots, that make the even the most intricate of scenes seem effortless. It also has a real cinematic quality for the most part, with brilliant camera work jumping out in places – peaking with a meticulous 2 1/2 minute single-shot through hospital corridors and lifts, like a shoot-em-up game. The story is pretty standard – fallen colleague, hostage situations and undercover cops – but Woo avoids cliché by putting 90% of the focus on the action. There are some minor downsides to Hard Boiled; the hospital siege goes on for far too long (well over 40 minutes), The 1980s synth soundtrack is incredibly out of date and there’s a bizarro Jazz motif throughout. It’s also the only foreign film I deliberately watch with English dubs because the original audio is in worse synch than the voiceovers. All in, Hard Boiled is the definitive action film that takes all the best parts of a tired genre and makes them great again, and so much more watchable.
Luther: Every few years the BBC green lights a show which reaffirms my believe that at least a tiny fraction of my extortive TV licence is being spent wisely. This 6-episode series follows re-instated maverick cop John Luther as he works through several high-profile cases. The show doesn’t bring anything new to the ‘cop/crime drama’ genre, but raises the bar tremendously with its fantastic – and unusually professional – style & feel. The score’s also very complementary, and does a great job of heightening drama and suspense. Every main turns in a decent performance, particularly Idris Elba, who has no easy task playing the on-edge Holmesian officer; if The Wire hadn’t put him on the map, this will. Rising star Ruth Wilson gives a great portrayal of a quirky sociopathic genius. The other villains are just as chilling, and generally realistic: from the gunman and taxi driver to the more outlandish Satanist. The best aspect of Luther is that its genuinely gripping, especially the finale, which is tension on a scale that you rarely see; heart pounding and seat grabbing. My only real complaint was that it was far too short although the cliffhanger ending leaves a second series wide open. Luther is a great fusion of police action and personal drama. Thoroughly compelling and enjoyable TV, a must see.