Marshland (La isla minima): two out-of-favour Madrid detectives are sent out to the middle of nowhere to investigate the disappearance of two girls; they soon uncover a serial killer and potential police involvement. The main drama of the film comes from lots of complex and conflicting relationships; the detectives and the villagers, the villagers with each other, the detectives and their new boss, and even the mismatched investigators themselves with their ‘old school’ and ‘new school’ approaches. Aesthetically, and tonally, this is very similar to HBO’s True Detective (although they came out at the same time); the palette is dominated by earthy, natural, and rustic colors & locations, which help the odd top-down drone shots of ethereal landscapes really stand out. The film also holds an interesting Spanish angle too; being set at the start of the 80s in a ‘New Spain’, but calling back to the Franco dictatorship and exploring how large and looming the shadow of that time still is. Marshland is a very well made, excellently acted picture with a sufficiently eerie & suspenseful score: however, there’s nothing particularly fresh or exciting in the story itself… it’s just been tarted up and presented in a more unique setting than normal.
Wild Tales (Relatos Salvajes): six short films about everyday people being pushed over the edge. Unlike most anthology movies, these are all done by the same director, which should give the segments more consistency than usual – right? Wrong! The six stories are all varying lengths, and wildly different in their tone, ‘enjoyability’, and humour. The shorter, punchier ideas are great but the longer ones in the second half all feel dragged out. With the throughline being ‘revenge’ they’re all quite dark with varying degrees of gallows / black humour. Stylistically though, they’re all meticulously directed, with dozens of striking and stand-out shots. The acting is also rock solid, with a lot of familiar faces from ‘World Cinema‘. It also walks a very tight line between reality and a tiny sprinkle of magic / surrealism – the obvious comparison being something like The Twilight Zone – but this doesn’t go near full on fiction. I really enjoyed the first half of this, but as the stories go forward, they get far too serious (and less funny). Overall, Wild Tales is a decent film with some great ideas, that suffers the same problem as most anthology pictures: the quality of each section is completely different.
Pasternak | The Rats | Road to Hell | Bombita | The Deal | Till Death Do Us Part
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.
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.
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.
Sharktopus: S-11 (50% shark, 50% octopus. 100% Deadly!) is a mutant military experiment gone wrong that escapes, unleashing a killing spree down the Mexican coast. Almost every montage of establishing shots are beyond naff, and look stolen from Joe Blogg’s home video camera. Despite a wacky premise, the story never goes anywhere interesting – and more disappointingly – it contains not a single original idea; ditto the script. The deaths are soft, and get very samey after the first few – splash splash, blood blood, scream scream… it just chugs along and after an hour I was dangerously low on interest. The only thing this has over most other b-movies is an insane level of skin on show; I wouldn’t doubt if this was the biggest employer of sexy extras in 2010, and a notable boost to the bikini industry sales figures – you’ve got to applaud the cinematographer for his efforts… Sharktopus is just like the title suggests; cheap, schlocky, and scraping the barrel for ideas – it’s crammed with bad acting (even for a B-movie), a high body count, buckets of blood and a dull, shirtless hero… so it ticks all of the boxes, yet its rigid adherence to the standard B-movie formula is what kills it off.
[Below is a tiny sample of the bikini gals that get a line – or scream]
Almost forgot about Sharktopus there
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.
Limitless: a washed-up writer discovers a drug that can unlock the brain’s full potential, spectacularity ensues! Most memorable is some of the great photography and interesting filming techniques, the shots that go from block to block, colour contrast… The story’s also pretty interesting, and it doesn’t follow a particular formula too much. Knowing it’s a hack sci-fi story, the film’s played for both drama and laughs with a few massive WTF moments for no real reason (Ice Skates, blood etc) – certainly made for in interesting viewing! Bradley Cooper‘s just Bradley Cooper, but this plays to his strengths. De Niro plays a focker-esque caricature of the squinting macho male he’s done since nineteen oatcake – very disappointing. Despite being somewhat ironically limited (a single idea spun out a bit too thinly) Limitless is a decent, memorable, interesting popcorn action flick.