Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: the mother of a murdered teenager goes head to head with the local town’s police department. This film tickles and jokes with you then WHAM, punches you in the kidney, again, and again, and again. I’ve never been in a screening where the audience went from rapturous crying-with-laughter straight in to shock, fear, or dread in a split second. Performance-wise, picking out an individual would be unfair as everyone is sublime: Rockwell steals his scenes with superb comic delivery, whereas Harrelson and McDormand show real heart, and damn near everyone else in the top-to-bottom dream cast brings their A-game. The direction is never in yer face, but it immaculately handles the comedy and emphasizes every twist, turn, and reveal that the ultra-tight screenplay has to offer (no line of dialogue is wasted). The plot is harrowing, yet it unfolds in such an anarchic way that you’re never sure what’s around the corner. The only complaints I can level at the film are that it has about 5 natural endings, but keeps chugging on at an even slower pace (and what’s with the midget obsession; there was no need for the character to be a midget other than the cheap laughs). Three Billboards takes the notion of a ‘Tragicomedy’ and pushes both aspects as far as they can go, making it an absolute rollercoaster of emotions for the viewer. Powerful, emotive, and raw; I wouldn’t grudge this film any of the awards that it’s up for.
“RAPED WHILE DYING”
“AND STILL NO ARRESTS?”
“HOW COME, CHIEF WILLOUGHBY?”
Happiness of the Katakuris (カタクリ家の幸福, Katakuri-ke no kōfuku): a family move to the country to realise the father’s dream of opening a Bed and Breakfast – but it gets a bit weird when all of their guests start dying. The film opens with clay-mation sequence, and throws a load of equally unusual elements at the viewer for the duration: musical numbers (some with Karaoke sing-a-long), zombies, trippy dream sequences, a flying sailor, and a whole lot of gallows humour. To say it’s eclectic is definitely an understatement. Most of the characters are simply drawn, single-attributed batshit crazy people, which makes for entertaining viewing. There’s loads of jokes, but the humour is like no other, a mix of absurd, random and surreal. A re-make of the Korean film “The Quiet Family” (it went down the straight-faced, black-humour route), Happiness of the Katakuris couldn’t be more different. It’s one of those “crazy Japanese films” that could only really come from Japan, and that makes people think that every Japanese film is mental. It’s a tough one to score and review: you couldn’t really call this “a great film”, but it’s definitely unique, original, and every bit as entertaining as it is baffling.
Love Exposure (愛のむきだし): everything’s epic these days: a night out, food, car insurance, 99% of fails… how about this for a movie epic: a 4 hour film examining the relationships between religion, cults, family, perversion, sins, obscenity, love, erections, and upskirt photography. THAT’S EPIC! First-off, it feels a lot more like a TV series: technically (camerawork, budget, quality etc) and story-wise in the four, quite individual hour-long segments of the film. The acting however is fantastic; all three youngster are great to watch, but the two main adults are particularly engaging and believable – really adds to the drama. When one of the main story threads is the usage of ninja moves (and weapons) to take upskirt pictures in order to sin – it’s mental, it’s batshit mental, and when you throw in some schoolgirl karate lesbians it could really only be from Japan. In saying that, it’s all done very well and with lots of humour, much like the pervert’s motto the film is “Careful, Oblivious and Bold”. Staying true to it’s subject matter, there’s at least one – if not a montage – panty shot every 10 minutes – so if that’s your bag, this is an absolute must-own. For being as long as it is, the melodramatic final half hour is the only time the film feels like it’s truly stretched. Love Exposure is a lot of things, but at four hours (237 minutes!) long, and containing this subject matter – forgettable is definitely not one of them.
Heat: a professional robber and homicide detective go head to head in a battle of wits, guns and getting the job done. The film is laden with superb moments & set-pieces: action, suspense and climaxes, which means that the film is gripping, explosive and unpredictable for the most part. You couldn’t hand-pick a greater cast of actors at their peak – right down to the extras (including Henry Rollin’s neck!!). Both leads are fantastic, equally volatile yet in-control men, despite the contrast between Pacino’s shouting / flailing and De Niro’s calm / focused anti-hero. Both portrayals are physical, entertaining, and career-tipping performances, so much so that by the end, you don’t really want either to snuff it. The biggest problem is that, by wanting to keep the film believable and give it more clout, almost every character gets some back-story, which means that the film spends some time opening lots of minor tangents, many of which are never resolved or revisited – or related to the plot. There’s no question about it, Heat is an outstanding film, and I’d love to give it 9, or 10, but I’d have been much happier watching a three-hour film focused almost exclusively on the two central performances, than have them share the runtime with a multitude of smaller, less relevant characters.
“Don’t let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner.”
Father’s Day: a string of dads are being raped and killed by “The Fuchman”, so a priest travels the globe to track down the one-eyed anti-hero that can save the day. There’s dismemberment, gore, cannibalism & masturbation in the first few frames, so be under no illusions… this is exploitation smut at it’s most rotten! For the first 20 minutes, it’s not entirely obvious whether this is trying to be a serious b-movie or a comedy spoof; but as the gags start piling on it becomes clear. The film marries tongue in cheek genre humour with outlandish and graphic shocks; epitomised in a dick-biting scene which leaves little to the imagination. For a Troma-funded b-movie, it does well to capture the guerilla / ‘cult’ / independent / cheap vibe, synonymous with the brand – and for a low-budget movie, the budget is impressively stretched to infinity. It’s well-shot, but smothered in post-production Machete-esque grain and distortion which comes and goes for no particular reason. Towards the end it becomes totally absurd, the likes of which I can only really compare to some of the CKY skits from the first 4 videos, still it remains funny and entertaining. Father’s Day is a post-Machete, sub-Hobo, spoof / homage of the direct-to-video slashers of the 70s/80s, with a ton of blood and titties to keep modern audiences satisfied. While it lacks a coherent narrative, there’s a thousand ideas thrown at it, which is more than enough to save the movie, and leaves B-movie aficionados plenty like and admire.
Melancholia: follows a group of upper-class people with first world problems as a stray planet is scheduled to do a close fly-by past earth. This film feels like Von Trier spunked most the budget in the opening and closing 5 minutes with the arty, expensive-looking, Tree-of-life-esque scenes – then worried about filling the rest as an afterthought. For being an ‘apocalyptic drama’ there’s not enough apocalypse or drama in the story for my liking. Dividing the film into two chapter-parts is ridiculous: part one is dedicated to Kirsten Dunst’s chest, at her wedding (which is brimming with pomposity) and showing us that her character is a total dickhead – this goes on for far too long. Part two is more of the same but focusing on Gainsbourg and her flaws… The film looks pretty good (cutting edge SHD Arri Alexa cameras) and is shot well barring the uber-shaky cam scenes. The acting’s also decent, but not as amazing as is being made out. The bottom line here is that it appears Mr Von Trier seems to have lost his flare for proper stories and proper storytelling. Annoyingly boring, really should have walked out.
Chatroom: London teenagers meet up online in a ‘Chelsea Teens!’ chatroom where they discuss their problems and bring out the worst in each other. At the centre of the film are five teens, overdramatized and riddled with angst, hatred & depression to the point of stereotype. There’s the least likable central character for as long as I can remember, and the other four people/plot-lines are picked up and dropped when convenient – and not properly explored or concluded. Unsurprisingly, it’s a very wordy film, but that creates the small problem that every word comes from 5 depressed teenagers all burdened with issues. When a story is driven through these characters manipulating and bringing the worst out in each other it doesn’t really make for inspired viewing. The best idea in the film is representing online chatting through a discussion with real people in a physical room, but it’s only novel for about 10 minutes. This is propped up by a few good tongue in cheek ‘online LOL‘ moments like the paedo entering, sex chat rooms and clay-mation skits. It’s shot well (Ringu series / Dark Water director) and the ‘chatroom’ sets are as seedy, sleazy, strange and twisted as your mum’s opinion of the internet. This film is to the internet use, what Requiem for a Dream is to drug use. Apparently nobody online does anything positive these days, and everyone’s up for egging on a suicide etc. There are a few neat ideas scattered throughout, but nothing sustainable for +90 minutes. Emo teen drama.
Monty Python’s Life of Brian: (Blu Ray) Monty Python sketch-fest that kind of follows an everyman called Brian, who is mistaken for the messiah and turned into a religious leader. While it was offensive / notorious / boundary-pushing – to the point of struggling to get funding – at its time of release (1979) it doesn’t hold up too well these days. Definitely feels a lot more like a bunch of loosely connected scenes rather than a proper ‘film’ as there’s no constant themes and the story jumps around / gets caught up in tangents. Most disappointingly, it’s not ‘rolling on the floor’ funny, although fans of Python’s erratic / crazy / shouty style will be entertained. There’s some nice nit-bits of historical facts and characters. The BD picture’s pretty grainy, looks a bit washed out but textures do show a lot of detail. The sound starts off well, but most of the scenes end up being a shouty din with a terrible mix – probably down to poor and aged source material. If Monty Python’s your thing then this is decent, but it’s nowhere near the best comedy of all time, or even the best of Python.
Shortbus: follows the shortcomings of several sexual ‘misfits’: a gay couple on the rocks, dominatrix that can’t connect and sex therapist that’s never orgasmed… Be warned, don’t watch it with your parents as some scenes are pretty much porn. The opening of this is among the most unforgettable of any movie, as are many of the zany characters you meet, and several of the scenes – it’s pretty much a one-of-a-kind. Despite being chocked-full of taboo and graphic (real!) sex Shortbus does a fantastic job of remaining funny and charming for the duration, because the emphasis is on the people and their emotions, not the sex. There’s some funky animations of NYC and most of the characters are likable. The film remains interesting as each person’s story progresses and the climactic ending is really upbeat and fitting with the movie as a whole. It’s not for the prudish, and because of the warnings on the box you’ll probably feel a bit dirty just buying this – although it’s totally worth the momentary shame! Extraordinary comedy about sexual emotions!
Shiri: Korean action blockbuster that opens up promisingly with some apeshit assassin training followed by a slew of hits that leave police scratching their heads. Throw in a couple of grudges, potential moles, twists, numerous gunfights and you’d think this film was solid gold. Unfortunately, it’s not very original: secret weapon nicked by breakaway terrorists who threaten to use it against the public. Someone basically nabbed the best bits from films like Nikita, Heat, Hard Boiled and Die Hard. Unfortunately, they didn’t steal a good soundtrack, as this one is beyond rubbish. The 2D characters could have benefited from a better script. Despite on-screen animosity between North and South Korea the film’s clearly pro-unity. Overall, it’s a pretty standard effort that brings nothing new to the table. Brainless action flick – best stick to the one’s mentioned above.