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Sicario Poster Emily Blunt, Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin, Daniel Kaluuya, Maximiliano Hernández, Victor Garber, Jon Bernthal, Jeffrey Donovan, Raoul Trujillo, Julio Cedillo, Denis Villeneuve

Sicario: a young SWAT member joins a ‘special activities’ task force that may or may not be as legitimate as they first appear. The acting, direction, and visuals are gorgeous and often spellbinding; the characters and plot however… not so much. Very little new ground is covered, particularly with the characters: a naïve by-the-book agent (Blunt), mysterious and dangerous man-with-no-name (del Toro), the charismatic but cynical and amoral team leader (Brolin), questionable American operations, yada yada yada. The central character – who is already an unnecessary audience surrogate – has an even more redundant BFF to more explicitly vocalise her thoughts and attempt to let the dummies at the back know what may be happening (not much is actually revealed until the last 20 minutes). There’s a few nerve-shreddingly intense scenes like the border crossing, tunnel raid, and the last supper; which are paired with bursts of ultra-bleak violence and very graphic gore, which make the movie more grisly – although these felt like they were chasing notoriety, and ‘sexing up’ the otherwise flat tone. The daytime scenes look fantastic, downside being that some of the low-light or night-vision scenes are harder to follow. While Sicario looks fantastic, has the big names, and some dark and memorable scenes it’s far less effective than a straight-up drama like Prisoners: it feels a bit like a Steven Seagal/SWAT plot viewed through another character, and with an arthouse guise – leaving me with the impression that it’s more a film for the critics than the public. Like the pacing, story, shots, and characters, Sicario is intentionally slow and steady.

Score: 5.5/10

Sicario Sunset Silhouette Emily Blunt, Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin, Daniel Kaluuya, Maximiliano Hernández, Victor Garber, Jon Bernthal, Jeffrey Donovan, Raoul Trujillo, Julio Cedillo, Denis Villeneuve

 

Tromeo and Juliet Lloyd Kaufman, James Gunn, Will Keenan, Jane Jensen, Maximillian Shaun, Valentine Miele, Earl McKoy, Stephen Blackehart, Patrick Connor, Tamara Craig Thomas, Wendy Adams, Steve Gibbons, Debbie Rochon,

Tromeo & Juliet: A modern punk re-telling of the Bard’s classic story that sees two young lovers from feuding families risk everything for each other. Other than the ending, this is a reasonably true interpretation of Shakespeare‘s story – even large chunks of olde dialogue have been kept – but as this is Troma there’s (obviously) an exploitative twist in that it’s packed with blood, sexy goths, lesbians, gratui-tits, piercings, monsters, tampons, vomit, showtunes, popcorn, rats, and a bunch of masturbation / poop / piss / gay / incest jokes. Most annoyingly, there’s a ton of shameless and distracting Troma self-promotion like huge posters, VHS boxes, and Toxie even makes a brief appearance… as if this movie was destined to be the most successful Troma release! It’s very 1990s (the clothes, haircuts, music, the references, and technology like CD-ROMs) as well as being very low-budget effort even by Troma standards: the pairing of which provides a double kick of nostalgia and admirably guerrilla low-budget aesthetic. For a comedy however, it’s not particularly funny although the the end credits provide more laughs in 5 mins than the previous 90 – with dozens of fake entries, and someone proudly proclaiming “Now I don’t have to read the play!”. None of Troma’s releases are aimed at mass audiences and despite taking on one of the most famous stories of all time, Tromeo and Juliet is no exception – it’s low-fi, silly, violent, and controversial in true Troma/Kaufman-style. Despite all of this, ultimately, it isn’t as funny or shocking as it needs to be to sustain a movie this basic. I picked up the Blu-Ray, which I could only recommend for mega-fans of the film as there’s a bunch of extras and four different commentaries – all quite funny.

Score: 3.5/10

Tromeo Juliet Lloyd Babe jacqueline tavarez Kaufman, James Gunn, Will Keenan, Jane Jensen, Maximillian Shaun, Valentine Miele, Earl McKoy, Stephen Blackehart, Patrick Connor, Tamara Craig Thomas, Wendy Adams, Steve Gibbons Tromeo and Juliet Lemmy Times Square Lloyd Kaufman, James Gunn, Will Keenan, Jane Jensen, Jacqueline Tavarez, Maximillian Shaun, Valentine Miele, Earl McKoy, Stephen Blackehart, Patrick Connor, Tamara Craig Thomas, Wendy Adams, Ste Tromeo and Juliet Punks Lloyd Kaufman, James Gunn, Will Keenan, Jane Jensen, Maximillian Shaun, Valentine Miele, Earl McKoy, Stephen Blackehart, Patrick Connor, Tamara Craig Thomas, Wendy Adams, Steve Gibbons, Debbie Rochon, Tiffan

Maniac 2012 remake Mannequin Elijah Wood, Nora Arnezeder, Jan Broberg, Liane Balaban, America Olivo, Morgane Slemp, Sal Landi, Genevieve Alexandra, Megan M Duffy Marilyn Manson, Fusebox, Scalping, Breathing, Sexy Goths, Tattoos, Tits, Gobjob, Staplegun, Hair, Wigs, Mannequins, Flies, Throatstab, Voyeur, Razor, Achilles Heel, Hogtied, Handstab!, Mouthstab!, Clever, Gutpunch, Disarmed, Skinned Alive

Maniac (Remake – 2012): the deranged and murderous owner of a mannequin shop crosses paths with an artist who understands his appreciation for the figures. Not for the faint hearted, this is packed with violence and gore; in all of the graphic scenes you keep thinking ‘they’ll cut away from it now… Now… NOW?!?!’. These gut-wrenching effects are paired with a deranged and explicit sound design, which makes this very unnerving and creepy to watch. Elijah Wood is sufficiently creepy-looking and charming – although he doesn’t get the same chance to push his range as this version is mostly shot from his point of view (POV). Because of the POV shooting, brutal sound effects and explicit gore you feel more like a participant than an observer, which works disturbingly well in the voyeuristic and chase sequences. The original Maniac is great, and still holds up today, but times have changed and this one ups the ante in every aspect, becoming more shocking by comparison, whilst retaining a certain retro ‘video nasty’ / ‘classic exploitation‘ vibe (aided by plenty homages and similarities to the original, and an exquisite post-Drive 1980s synth soundtrack.) On a scale of ‘one to creepy’ this is CREEPY AS FUCK and – like the original – although this is 100% unrecommendable, the Maniac remake is an exploitation and slasher masterpiece.

Score: 9/10

Maniac 2012 Remake Lucie Lucy Sexy Goth, Elijah Wood, Nora Arnezeder, Jan Broberg, Liane Balaban, America Olivo, Morgane Slemp, Sal Landi, Genevieve Alexandra, Megan M Duffy Marilyn Manson, Fusebox, Scalping, Breathing, Sexy Goths, Tattoos, Tits, Gobjob, Staplegun, Hair, Wigs, Mannequins, Flies, Throatstab, Voyeur, Razor, Achilles Heel, Hogtied, Handstab!, Mouthstab!, Clever, Gutpunch, Disarmed, Skinned AliveManiac 2012 Remake Lucy Licue Sexy Goth Elijah Wood, Nora Arnezeder, Jan Broberg, Liane Balaban, America Olivo, Morgane Slemp, Sal Landi, Genevieve Alexandra, Megan M Duffy Marilyn Manson, Fusebox, Scalping, Breathing, Sexy Goths, Tattoos, Tits, Gobjob, Staplegun, Hair, Wigs, Mannequins, Flies, Throatstab, Voyeur, Razor, Achilles Heel, Hogtied, Handstab!, Mouthstab!, Clever, Gutpunch, Disarmed, Skinned Alive

JAPANORAMA - SF WASABI RICE BANNERBabycart in Peril 01 Tomisaburo Wakayama, Akihiro Tomikawa, Yoichi Hayashi, Michie Azuma, Asao Koike, Tatsuo Endo

Lone Wolf and Cub – Baby Cart in Peril (AKA – 子連れ狼 親の心子の心  Kozure Ōkami: Oya no kokoro ko no kokoro, Shogun Assassin 3: Slashing Blades of Carnage): Ito’s latest contract is to assassinate a killer of many samurai, but to his surprise it’s a lady with outstanding short-blade skills, and in a similar situation to himself… Oyuki presents a very strong female lead, something that the previous movies have had – but not taken this seriously. The very first frame is a tattooed boob, so it starts off great! But soon after there’s a bit of silly magic (face mask magic guy), some sizable flashback sections, and a lot more talking than previous installments. However, as good as the story and premise are, the Babycart films are never better than their action set-pieces: with Wakayama hacking, slashing, and literally flying around the frame – he can’t half move around for a big bloke. The now customary ‘final battle’ with dozens of enemies and a few ‘bosses’ is also great, and for the first time we see him properly injured/vulnerable too. More than anything, the film is a little confused about who the baddie is: the girl? Her nemesis? Itto’s old foe? The big hairy guy? By the fourth movie it does feel a bit like more-of-the-same but the film still pushes the boundaries, and does well to set up the one-armed swordsman myth.

Score: 6/10

Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades Review

Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx Review

Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance Review

Babycart in Peril 02 Tomisaburo Wakayama, Akihiro Tomikawa, Yoichi Hayashi, Michie Azuma, Asao Koike, Tatsuo Endo Babycart in Peril 03 Tomisaburo Wakayama, Akihiro Tomikawa, Yoichi Hayashi, Michie Azuma, Asao Koike, Tatsuo Endo Babycart in Peril 04 Tomisaburo Wakayama, Akihiro Tomikawa, Yoichi Hayashi, Michie Azuma, Asao Koike, Tatsuo EndoBabycart in Peril 05 Tomisaburo Wakayama, Akihiro Tomikawa, Yoichi Hayashi, Michie Azuma, Asao Koike, Tatsuo Endo Babycart in Peril 06 Tomisaburo Wakayama, Akihiro Tomikawa, Yoichi Hayashi, Michie Azuma, Asao Koike, Tatsuo Endo Babycart in Peril 07 Tomisaburo Wakayama, Akihiro Tomikawa, Yoichi Hayashi, Michie Azuma, Asao Koike, Tatsuo Endo Babycart in Peril 08 Tomisaburo Wakayama, Akihiro Tomikawa, Yoichi Hayashi, Michie Azuma, Asao Koike, Tatsuo Endo Babycart in Peril 10 Tomisaburo Wakayama, Akihiro Tomikawa, Yoichi Hayashi, Michie Azuma, Asao Koike, Tatsuo Endo

JAPANORAMA - Kat Scratch BANNER JAPAN-O-RAMAThe Wolverine 01 - Hugh Jackman, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Will Yun Lee, Haruhiko Yamanouchi, Brian Tee, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Famke JanssenThe Wolverine: In a way, Wolverine epitomises everything about Japan that you see through Hollywood films: there’s ninjas everywhere, and everyone knows Katrate; crazy districts full of neon lights and big billboards (Shinjuku and Akihabara); old-fashioned houses with sliding shoji walls and tatami floors; technology and Robots everywhere (in this case a 10ft tall mecha-Samurai!!); temples, on every corner; Yakuza interference – obviously; love hotels, The Bullet Train (Shinkansen); and the Tokyo Tower is in the back of every city shot. Yet, whilst it’s using and abusing all of the lazy ‘This is Japan’ stuff we know, it doesn’t feel like it’s exploiting the culture – there’s a lot of nice touches, from the undestractable pachinko players, salarymen in Osaka looking for hostesses, and things like upright chopsticks in food.

THE WOLVERINEAs for the film itself, it feels like three completely separate movies. The first third is a rock solid, well-executed set-up starting in WWII, and laying the ground for the rest of the film. The middle feels like a dip into a tired and clichéd mystery/conspiracy storyline, and the finale – well that just feels like something from a spazzy sci-fi movie, with bald snake-women, giant robots with flaming swords and a whole lot of gratuitous OTT action. I’m surprised at the 12A rating in the UK, as it feels slanted towards a more mature audience than most comic adaptations – including a nice thread of Logan’s dry humour. The Jean Gray plot device is a little hammy, although never going to turn down Famke Yansen in a silky nightgown! Jackman’s on fire, he is the embodiment of Wolverine – down to his permanently-exposed torso – wouldn’t want to be the guy that will inevitably have to re-boot the franchise in 5-10 years as the new Logan. The Japanese cast are also all on form. Overall, The Wolverine is a pretty satisfying comic book movie, but the ever-changing story and tone prevent you from becoming fully immersed in the movie.

Score: 6.5/10

The Wolverine 03 - Hugh Jackman, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Will Yun Lee, Haruhiko Yamanouchi, Brian Tee, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Famke Janssen

JAPANORAMA - Seven Monkey BANNER JAPAN-O-RAMA.jpgSex and Fury 01 Reiko Ike, Akemi Negishi, Christina Lindberg, Ryôko Ema, Yôko Hori, Naomi Oka, Rena IchinoseSex and Fury (不良姐御伝 猪の鹿お蝶, Furyō anego den: Inoshika o-Chō): decades after her father is murdered, a pickpocket finally tracks down his killers. This one’s a mix of period revenge and softcore / (s)exploitation film – better known in Japan as the Pinky Violence genre. Unlike most exploitation films the visuals in this movie are often breathtaking: the entire film is framed perfectly, with creative camerawork, and sumptuous, colourful, pop-art combinations of sets, clothing and make up. I would love to see the damage that one of these visionary Japanese directors could do with today’s equipment and budgets. The set-pieces are equally astonishing; a butt-naked lady chopping her way through a gang of swordsmen in snow – it’s a true spectacle to behold, and never feels seedy. International star appeal comes from an infamous Western actress Christina Lindberg (Thriiller: A Cruel Picture), who delivers phonetic lines with little heart – definitely the weakest link in the picture. It may be unfair to compare as the lead actress Reiko Ike is sensational – she’s sexy, smart, dangerous, and you could get lost in those fiery eyes. There’s lesbians, slaves, gambling, drugs, sex, nudity, violence, fetish, swords, guns, nuns, blood… it’s a full house or B-movie buzz word bingo – and as for the ‘Sex and Fury’, the balance is tipped more towards the knockers than the knives. There’s only two real missteps in the film – the gay “ooohhh eeerrr” character (although he’s only in 2 scenes) and that the focus is split between 3 goodies and 3 baddies, which somewhat over-complicates what should be a straightforward revenge movie. In an era where the UK and US were churning out cheap and tacky Video Nasties with the odd notorious – censored – scene, Japan was putting out full-on high-quality exploitation films: containing 50% blood-fest, and 50% boundary-smashing sexualised nudity. Imagine you took a slasher film and gave leading parts to good actors, had a visionary director, and a major studio behind it! This is definitely part of the golden era of stylish, well directed, well acted, rock solid exploitation movies – 40 years old and still a highlight of the genre.

Score: 8.5/10

Below are a sample of screenshots / screencaps to give you an idea of the film’s style.

Sex and Fury 02 Reiko Ike, Akemi Negishi, Christina Lindberg, Ryôko Ema, Yôko Hori, Naomi Oka, Rena Ichinose Sex and Fury 03 Reiko Ike, Akemi Negishi, Christina Lindberg, Ryôko Ema, Yôko Hori, Naomi Oka, Rena Ichinose Sex and Fury 04 Reiko Ike, Akemi Negishi, Christina Lindberg, Ryôko Ema, Yôko Hori, Naomi Oka, Rena Ichinose Sex and Fury 05 Reiko Ike, Akemi Negishi, Christina Lindberg, Ryôko Ema, Yôko Hori, Naomi Oka, Rena Ichinose Sex and Fury 06 Reiko Ike, Akemi Negishi, Christina Lindberg, Ryôko Ema, Yôko Hori, Naomi Oka, Rena Ichinose Sex and Fury 07 Reiko Ike, Akemi Negishi, Christina Lindberg, Ryôko Ema, Yôko Hori, Naomi Oka, Rena Ichinose Sex and Fury 08 Reiko Ike, Akemi Negishi, Christina Lindberg, Ryôko Ema, Yôko Hori, Naomi Oka, Rena Ichinose Sex and Fury 09 Reiko Ike, Akemi Negishi, Christina Lindberg, Ryôko Ema, Yôko Hori, Naomi Oka, Rena Ichinose Sex and Fury 10 Reiko Ike, Akemi Negishi, Christina Lindberg, Ryôko Ema, Yôko Hori, Naomi Oka, Rena Ichinose Sex and Fury 11 Reiko Ike, Akemi Negishi, Christina Lindberg, Ryôko Ema, Yôko Hori, Naomi Oka, Rena Ichinose Sex and Fury 12 Reiko Ike, Akemi Negishi, Christina Lindberg, Ryôko Ema, Yôko Hori, Naomi Oka, Rena Ichinose Sex and Fury 13 Reiko Ike, Akemi Negishi, Christina Lindberg, Ryôko Ema, Yôko Hori, Naomi Oka, Rena Ichinose Sex and Fury 14 Reiko Ike, Akemi Negishi, Christina Lindberg, Ryôko Ema, Yôko Hori, Naomi Oka, Rena Ichinose Sex and Fury 15 Reiko Ike, Akemi Negishi, Christina Lindberg, Ryôko Ema, Yôko Hori, Naomi Oka, Rena Ichinose Sex and Fury 16 Reiko Ike, Akemi Negishi, Christina Lindberg, Ryôko Ema, Yôko Hori, Naomi Oka, Rena Ichinose Sex and Fury 17 Reiko Ike, Akemi Negishi, Christina Lindberg, Ryôko Ema, Yôko Hori, Naomi Oka, Rena Ichinose Sex and Fury 18 Reiko Ike, Akemi Negishi, Christina Lindberg, Ryôko Ema, Yôko Hori, Naomi Oka, Rena Ichinose Sex and Fury 19 Reiko Ike, Akemi Negishi, Christina Lindberg, Ryôko Ema, Yôko Hori, Naomi Oka, Rena IchinoseNOTE: In terms of visuals, set-pieces, story and tone Kill Bill borrows very heavily from this film (and more generally these keystone Japanese exploitation films), yet even today’s B-movie hero, Tarantino,  couldn’t make a film ½ this ballsy.

Flight Denzel Washington, with Don Cheadle, Melissa Leo, Bruce Greenwood, Kelly Reilly, John Goodman

Flight: an alcoholic / coke-addict pilot saves almost everyone on board from certain death, but he can’t avoid the spotlight as the air crash investigation picks up on his habits. This is a great all-round movie: funny when it had to be (Goodman / cancer guy), dramatic at times (relationship / hearing) and for the most part, engaging and entertaining. The crash itself is one of the most intense and dramatic scenes I’ve seen in a cinema; slowly getting louder and shakier and an increasingly high-pitched whaling from the plane; it was like a screw turning tighter and tighter. The only time it felt a bit off were several overly-emphasised parts about religion & faith – act of god, miracles, praying – although I guess it’s more prevalent in America. There were a few nice little in-jokes that almost passed me by: the ShamWow tv advert, the elevator music version of ‘I’ll get high with a little help from my friends’, and most songs in the soundtrack were about boozing or drug abuse. The cast were stupendously good performances all round, Denzel in particular was on fire – achieving an almost impossible mix of sympathy and resentability – and Kelly Reilly (also great) must have had a cleavage-based contract – loved it. All in all, Flight is an entertaining, enjoyable, and very watchable movie with entertaining performances all round.

Score: 8/10