Posted by T. Bawden in , , ,

Title: Godzilla
Rating: 3.5/5
Genre: Action, Sci-Fi
Starring: Bryan Cranston, Aaron Taylor-Johnson
Director: Gareth Edwards

Let’s eschew the usual introductory exposition and drive right into the nitty gritty shall we? After all, this is a Godzilla film; an iconic and beloved character that remains the most recognisable monster of all monster movies ever created. It is the pride of Japanese cinema and recognised the world over, and that of course makes it all the more concerning when it falls into American hands. The big question of course, is—like so many of their remakes and reboots—did they manage to create a monumental fuck-up that forgets the original for big flashy explosions and bland CGI-laden action? Actually, no. Despite all my misgivings and concerns going in, it managed to exceed all expectations and do the franchise proud. Which is something I never thought I’d actually say.

People may remember the original in the light of all the copycat clones and jokes made at his expense—from Rugrats’ “Reptar” to Robot Chicken’s synchronised Godzilla ice skating—and certainly for the grandiose battles with miniature cities, but too readily forgotten is the sociopolitical context in which it emerged. Still fresh from the horror of the nuclear warheads dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the original came with a hefty message about the dangers of nuclear weapons, and this element is certainly prevalent here. The American response to how to kill the beast awoken by nuclear fallout ironically to send in a bigger bomb almost shows their attitude in a satirical light, fought every step of the way by the Japanese scientist tasked with actually figuring out what’s going on.

If there was a difficulty to be had in all of this, it would be trying to link this concern for nuclear power into a modern setting. Back then it was new and terrifying; a test of mankind dabbling in forces that could well spell it’s own doom. It was heavy material that—spoiler from the original ‘56 film—ended in Godzilla being taken down by an experimental weapon originally intended for noble purposes and the scientist responsible for it’s creation ending his own life out of the fear of it ending up in the wrong hands. It was melodramatic but it felt fitting. The melodrama may have persevered, with all the scenes of the military and scientists in the war room making the obvious pseudo-scientific reveals, but it never quite manages to create that same sense of urgency.

The effects were excellent, as seems to be the major strength in Hollywood of late, and more than just in the recreation of our monolithic beast but too in the manner it only shows you glimpses of the glorious carnage to come; Godzilla’s form rippling under the water, fog and darkness obscuring your view, teasing you for the showdown to come. Too, he felt monstrous, contently ignoring everything we have to throw at him with us scurrying like insects to avoid the falling debris caused by their mere movement. On the flip side, this also, sadly, makes much of what our protagonist is doing feel rather redundant. That his role in the film is to constantly take us towards the action and nothing else robs it of any real impact; the futility of our resisting so pertinent that had he died in the opening hour the film would barely have had to budge. The plot rapidly transforms into something that felt genuinely original into something more traditional around the mid-point, jarring you from the character-driven plot into “big baddy go boom boom”. It might not live up to the unexpected success of “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” or provide a match for the emotion in Joon-Ho Bong’s “The Host”, but it remains a solid film that does nothing but honour it’s origins.

Super Task Force One  

Posted by T. Bawden in , , ,

Title: Super Task Force One (2013)
Rating: 3/5
Genre: Action/Comedy
Starring: Steve Rudzinski, Seth Gontkovic, Aleen Isley
Director: Steve Rudzinski
Duration: 69 mins

Fifteen years after the government decommissions Super Task Force Six, a team of alien/monster/robot-fighting superheroes, it’s subliminal controller, Emperor Zagel, threatens the planet with the combined power of each of the six Task Force members. That is until one of the Force’s transformation devices falls into the unsuspecting hands of a mild-mannered writer, Jason, granting him superhuman strength, a large gun, and the onerous “task” of saving the world. Together with the help of both his girlfriend and Super Task Force superfan best friend, Jason must surmount harrowing odds in order to overthrow Emperor Zagel and thwart his evil plans.

Employing some of its most dominant “tokusatsu” inspirations like Super Sentai and Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers as a storytelling template, Super Task Force One is a fun, action-packed, and family friendly original low-budget film and a refreshing change of pace from the filmmakers’ previous three slasher-horror offerings. Fans of homegrown, independent films of the fantastic will find a lot to enjoy about this movie, but what sticks out the most (at least to me) is director Rudzinski’s constant ambition to outdo himself with his pictures. This film’s predecessor, Everyone Must Die (which could almost be a companion piece to STFO if only for their shared cast members), succeeded in taking a familiar genre baseline and progressing it with new ideas. While Super Task Force One may not be as mold-breaking as EMD, the director uses this same forward-thinking and nerve to tackle a completely new genre and utilize new techniques (computer-generated effects being the most evident).

When initially viewing the movie, one’s first impression will probably be that Super Task Force One did not cost a substantial amount of money to make. True that, the budget of this picture might not have even covered Kirstie Alley’s lasagna tab from It Takes Two; and although the film looks gorgeous, the results from budgetary limitations are obvious (though not ruinous). The CGI explosions, robots, transformations, and so on can often seem comparable to the music video for “Money for Nothing,” but for a film made for only a couple grand, the mere inclusion of such prominent CGI effects helps give STFO a more grandiose presentation. Other nitpicky drawbacks include a slew of home-customized costumes and props and a necessary reliance on amateur or low-level acting. Luckily, the film’s bells and whistles are not the focal point of STFO, the unique and engaging story is, with a tasteful amount of humor and an energetic soundtrack.

I suppose I must make a disclaimer stating that I am rather uneducated when it comes to this type of cinema. Although a casual fan of Toho’s and Daiei’s kaiju films and a former avid watcher of Power Rangers and VR Troopers, I had never even heard the word “tokusatsu” before learning of STFO, and therefore cannot make a truly accurate assessment on this film’s execution with regards to its genre. Rations of salt grains aside, Super Task Force One won me over with its cleverness, spirit, entertainment value, and its filmmakers’ determination to chart unexplored territories.

The Living List  

Posted by T. Bawden

With the advent of my writing being concentrated on other efforts but the desire to still keep some sort of record of the films I've watched, I present the living list. Some may come with a very brief reason, many may just be listed according to the rating I gave them.

You can skip to a particular rating simply by searching for the correct number of asterisks.


Moebius - Experimental Drama, Japanese - Full Review

Vulgaria - Comedy, Hong Kong - Oh where to begin. It's the story of an aspiring CatIII (read: porn) producer who is desperately trying to get a film made following a lengthy stint of inactivity, failed ideas and no income. Involving bestiality, fried duck heads, Triad bosses, reviving the porn career of an 70 year old woman, and a use for popping candy that I don't think I'll ever be able to shake from my mind, Vulgaria had me laughing harder than I have done for a long time. Seriously. You need to watch this.

The Raid 2 - Action, Indonesian - After the rollercoaster that was the first I knew it was one that I couldn't let slip by, and boy did it not disappoint. The first was rightly hailed for its unrelenting pace, delivering blow after blow of gun battles and martial arts mastery. Building on that, this sequel takes place immediately after and rapidly descends into a sordid tale that shows he's not out of the woods yet. Rather, it's only just begun; the death of the crime kingpin unveiling a far larger picture which is only just beginning to get messy—a web of corruption that travels to the very top, and to the people who truly control the country he's within. The pacing may not be quite as frenetic as the first, but the world feels that much more vast and fleshed out. No longer is this the mere tale of one man fighting the criminals within a building, but one of crime syndicates, corrupt police and backdoor dealings. It delivers the back story for fan favourite "Mad Dog" and yet still manages to find the time to for the claustrophobic set pieces for which he gained his fame. Broken bones and bloodbaths abound; he returns to familiar restaurant and "one man, one building" settings whilst expanding to the likes of a disco dance decimation and a high speed car chase mixed with martial arts; we meet the new wave of psychopaths and iconic assassins—and in particular, one deaf woman with a fondness for hammers whom I became fond of. This is much a crime epic as the best the Koreans have to offer mixed in with almost Tarantino-esque vivid characters, and a few more quiet tense moments within the longer run time seems like a small price to pay.

Gintama: Final Chapter - Action, Sci-Fi, Japanese - Yes! It's the Final Chapter in the Gintama saga; the second film and the tearful goodbye to our silver haired hero. Or probably not, seeing as they've pulled this stunt about three times now and the show's still pretty damn popular. But yes, the film—actually featuring new material and not slapping an old story arc together, this flick sees us travelling through time to see what the future holds for our cast. Filled with jokes old and new, action and excitement, it's a glorious two hour episode that demonstrates the very best the series has to offer. It also requires you to actually be familiar—if not necessarily up to date—with the series.

Harakiri - Drama, Japanese - I'll admit, I prefer the film he followed this up with, Kwaiden, though there can be little doubt that even with a smaller vision this mans work never fails to be absolutely mesmerising. Starting out so simply, with the request of a Ronin named Hanshiro - A samurai without a master - to honourably kill himself in the presence of an existing clan minister, rather than continue his life of poverty. Where many other samurai films seem to get carried away with endless characters and epic plotlines spanning multiple years, that this film remains so confined to just the handful of characters permits us to come to understand them, and in particular become enchanted by the events that led Hanshiro to this point, and precisely why he has nothing left to live for. More than just a Shakespearean tragedy told to a Japanese tune, it raises questions of those tropes often assumed; the idea of honour amongst Samurai; the idea of manliness that doesn't simply resort to macho displays of violence, and of the contrast between those with the power and the wealth who remain ignorant of those outside their castle walls.

Cloud Atlas - Sci-Fi/Drama - I tend to be pretty damn pessimistic about most major releases, but this was a blockbuster I loved. It's one of the most expensive independent films ever made, directed by the Wachowski Brothers (The Matrix), and it's vision couldn't be more ambitious. A three hour epic telling interwoven tales throughout the ages; past, present and future showcase the different settings but it is humanity itself that most often is on display. It's a film with more dimensions than any comparisons would do justice to, nor is it one that you can put on and forget. There are connections to be made but they are for you to make. They won't hold your hand or tell you if you "get it right," and the less you know of the plot going in the better. Tom Hanks shows what he's capable of once again, Hugo Weaving delivers a performance beyond what I thought he was capable of, Doona Bae (whose work I don't know well) surprised me (though I admit that could just be the writing for her "Somni" plotline) and Halle Berry doesn't fuck it all up. Through their eyes we journey through humour, hope and despair and are reminded of the importance of companionship. Quite frankly, I haven't been this impressed by a mainstream flick for years.

Wreck-it Ralph - Comedy/Animation - Loved Wall-E, couldn't stand Toy Story. Pixar has always been a mixed bag for me, but this is definitely one of their better works. Especially if you have any slight hint of old-school gamer geekiness about you.


Jupiter Ascending - Action/Sci-Fi/Thriller - Fuck the haters, I thought Jupiter Ascending was fun. Sure, it manages to be both unoriginal (stealing from various films) and convoluted (meshing aforementioned films into a coherent storyline), but were you seriously expecting something that wasn't a bit silly? A film with a family vying for power over the galaxy with an earthling caught up due to her royal genetics, it's only through the affection of her wolfman on flying rollerskates that she manages to survive. WOLFMAN ON ROLLERSKATES.

And yes, the required love-angle comes so suddenly even the wolfman looked confused, the family feud reeks of Dune, the two leads interact like something out of The Fifth Element, the bureaucracy plays out like Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, the cities scream of Chronicles of Riddick with all the jaggedy gothic greyscale, and there are enough random aliens floating about to make Star Wars raise an eyebrow; suffice to say originality is not necessarily this films strongest point, and yet by playing on the familiar it removes the requirement for tedious exposition. "The Aegis are coming" "Who are the Aegis" "Cops." Two seconds it took to explain who the Aegis are and you're done. Let's get back to 'splodin.

And it's this rapid pace that keeps our protagonist in Jupiter bouncing around the houses like a pinball, struggling to make sense of the world she's suddenly being thrust into. Eddie Redmayne pulls off an over the top breathy mothers boy, there's dragon-men and certainly no shortage of lines that make you giggle at the sheer absurdity of it all, and yet the film is never difficult to follow. A Sci-fi B-Movie with an 80s attitude and a $200mill budget, leave your brain at the door and grab the popcorn.

Guardians of the Galaxy - Action, Sci-Fi - It's not often I buy into the Marvel films these days—too repetitive, too predictable, too many saturating a market—but with James Gunn (Slither, Super) at the helm, I couldn't help but have my interest piqued. Because this isn't just another Marvel flick but one that takes relatively unknown characters and the dynamic that comes with that and places it into another world; it's Marvel-gone-Firefly with the leader Star-Lord mimicking Capn. Reynolds in his quips and quirks, and the sultry assassin Gamora bringing about an uncanny comparison to Summer Glau's character River. The back-stories admittedly feel a bit rushed at times—but unlike the Avengers, they don't have the luxury of feature length films to introduce our cast—but no single member steals the show. Rather, it's the way they work together and interact. There's a coherency between them as they call each other morons and then work as a team, each one with apparent personality flaws that give them a sense of realism that the stereotypical 'infallible superhero' trope can't match. Sadly, this is of course still a Marvel film, and so in the final act all the humour seems to give way to a frantic sky battle with explosions, enemies becoming allies and other plot elements that have at this point gone beyond mere cliché. One of Marvel's finest, but sadly let down at the end.

Snowpiercer - Action, Thriller, Sci-Fi - After the sort-of success of Chan-Wook Park's English debut "Stoker" (a success of a film, if not at the box office) comes a Chan-Wook Park produced, Joon-Ho Bong directorial debut! And quite frankly, it's the most successful conversion to date. Forget your Korean remakes, the Koreans have come to Hollywood to show you folks how it's done. Based on a French novel but with a unmistakeably Korean-esque style it's an odd film that combines the post-apocalyptic atmosphere of "The Road," the high pace of "The Raid," insanity of Gilliam's works, cramped fight sequences reminiscent of "Oldboy" and wraps it all up in a sci-fi wrapper, but the odd thing is just how well it works. It's unique, certainly, but it never comes across as ridiculous. In fact, it reflects on society and class division in such a way that it seems to reflect earth as it is now—with perhaps a couple of not so subtle nods to North Korea in there too—albeit in a somewhat more extreme setting. Starring Kang-Ho Song (I'll admit to preferring him in "The Face Reader," but nonetheless he still doesn't fail to deliver the goods) and something of a breakout performance for Chris Evans, it eschews the atypical heroic figures for a far more broad representation of humanity. No, it's not as good as his Korean work, but as a blend between Hollywood and more artsy Korean, it works surprisingly well.

Inequality For All - Documentary - A film hosted by the charismatic and inherently difficult to dislike Robert Reisch, a US economist who has worked for Clinton and as a lecturer at UC Berkley (amongst others) shedding some light on the growing inequality gap in the US, the ramifications and consequences of that gap, the historical precedence for such an event, and the future direction of the country. As the film progresses the usual Republican/Democrat, Socialist/Capitalist divide seems to disappear. If anything it's PRO-capitalism, simply not in it's current form. I didn't exactly think I was an idiot on the subject but there's a lot more—a LOT more—to the issue than I initially considered (and whilst it's obviously US-centric, a lot of it felt applicable to the UK as well, cos... yeah I've just looked it up and we really aren't doing a whole lot better).

The Face Reader - Period Drama, Korean - Full review

Maniac (Remake) - Exploitation Horror - Look, I tend to hate all these remakes that float about as much as the next person, but this one simply looked too good to ignore. A remake of the film that still causes controversy today for its unrelenting scenes of ultraviolence, mixed in with just enough psychological mindfuckery to prevent it from simply being considered gore porn? And just who would be daring enough to thrust it forward to the modern day? The double team of Frank Khalfoun (P2) whose underrated debut focussed on the gritty realism of an abduction, and Alexandro Aja (High Tension, Hills Have Eyes remake) handling the script. I don't know if I can think of anyone more appropriate, and much like the original they manage to nail that same tone; that disconcerting sensation as our protagonist goes on his murderous rampage, scalping his victims, stapling them onto the mannequins littering his room and imagining them all coming to life. There is no gentle easing into this tale as we are immediately thrust behind the eyes of the timid and seemingly harmless Elijah Wood, stalking his victims and muttering to himself; arguing with himself over his irrational compulsion to kill and his desperate desire for companionship. Forced to watch through his own eyes for the vast majority of the film, there is no chance for the camera to shy away, always fixated on his objective as though his bloodstained hands are our own. Banned in New Zealand, this film couldn't have wished for a more positive review; the remake of one of the most controversial flicks ever made does nothing to let the side down.

Deadball - Horror/Comedy, Japanese - You may wonder why I'm watching a film about baseball, a sport I know nothing about. The truth is, I don't think the director really did either, but after all, that's not why anyone would choose to pick this up. Directed by the man who brought us "Meatball Machine" and "Yakuza Weapon" and starring the dude from Versus and Tokyo Gore Police, this is less about sport and more about killing; this is the Battle Royale of baseball complete with neo-nazi's, Kim Jong-Il, mecha, nuclear pitches, a dozen high school girls and an awful lot of fake blood. Ok, so the lead man is trying to play a juvenile teen despite being well into his 30s, and I'm pretty sure his male cell-mate was actually just a woman with her hair cut short, but what did you expect from a low-budget gore flick? This is a showcase of the insanity of one mans warped vision, complete with all the bizarre fights and amusing death sequences he can muster.

DPRK: The Land Of Whispers - Documentary - At only an hour long and currently available right here, I can't see why anyone with an interest in North Korea would skip it. In terms of documentary style, if you took the Michael Moore or "Supersize Me" style of American documentary and then flipped it around, this would be it. It goes in with no agenda to push, no preconceived notions that he wasn't willing to have challenged, acting - insofar as he was permitted - as a fly on the wall. And yes, so much of it seems like an Orwellian dystopia, stuck in the 30s where cars seemed uncommon, computers non-existent, and propaganda was everywhere. And yet, at the same time, it humanises them in a manner we don't see on Western media. It's not even all about North Korea, reflecting back on our own media and the manner it distorts events to show them in the manner they want people to see, albeit to a far lesser extent as much of what I know appears to be true (one thing that struck me was on the discussion of the bombing of South Korea in 2010; the West portrayed it as an attack on the homes of the South, but the North said it was a counter attack. The truth? It does, in fact, look as though the South intentionally attempted to provoke them). It is probably the closest I've seen to a completely unbiased documentary on the subject. Expect it to be followed by this Ted Speech from one North Korean defector and another documentary about Danny.

Captain Phillips - Biographical Drama/Thriller - We all know the kind of films where it almost seems they're making something out of a very thin plot; the likes of "Open Water" and "Life of Pi" where very few actors are involved and the plot revolves around a difficult situation. Well, this is an example of how to get it done right. Whilst perhaps not Hanks finest moment, what he brings to the table is a complex and realistic character which is precisely what this film required. As his antithesis stands the no less impressive Muse, the man who leads the pirates in their pursuit of enough coin to take back to his boss. Both sides are humanised to the point we feel sympathy for both sides forced into this predicament, with no alternative agenda at play. Captain Phillips was a brave man to endure what he did, but he was a man; the US Navy are shown as disciplined and trained, but they aren't supermen going gung-ho on the enemy; and the pirates aren't the evil villains to be vanquished, but those struggling to feed themselves being coerced by an unseen kingpin. The plot may seem relatively slow, but it steadily unfolds without ever getting stagnant, spending too long on any one point.

Ip Man - Action/Drama/Martial Arts, Chinese - Well it's got Donnie Yen in it so you could probably figure out that there wouldn't be any shortage of Kung Fu within the two hour run time, but what separates this from a lot of the other films I've seen in this genre is the plot. All about a period in this mans life, he is depicted as a Master of his own style of Kung Fu, and yet reluctant to demonstrate it or use it where it can be avoided. This provides a stark contrast between him and many of the others we see in the film, making use of it to their own advantage. There are numerous sub-plots and characters that all find themselves in need of his help, and rather than push an opinion on you, seems to simply show a realistic portrayal of those that find themselves under pressure.

Hard Revenge Milly + Bloody Battle - Exploitation Action/Horror, Japanese - Despite a lack of gratuitous nudity (in fact, she was made to look fairly masculine in the first part of this double feature) you can't fault the special effects work of Yoshihiro Nishimura who delivers the goods once again. Packed with sword-slicing action and no shortage of gore cam, this budget affair only slows down enough to explain the important plot points and give life to the many characters before they're sliced and diced. I wanted a flick full of gore and Hard Revenge Milly delivered.

Star Trek: Into Darkness - Action/Sci Fi - Late to the party, I'll admit, I took the trip to what is fast becoming one of my favourite places, Leicester square (four cinemas and a lot of Chinese girls) for the small theatre experience with maybe a dozen other people in the screening, hopes held high. Despite my doubts at Benedict Cumberbatch's performance as khan, he proved to be a very different kind of villain, albeit one that seemed to over annunciate every word in a way that grew tiring. That said, it was his performance as a manipulator that became the films greatest strength, having me question everything I thought I knew about the man. Yes, there was still the geeky references (huzzah for the obligatory yell of KHAAAN!) and the crew still found themselves with moments to shine, but it felt less balanced. It felt as though there was less time for them; less action and climactic moments; less emotion; less everything. There, too, was a fair number of plot holes and bits that you had to simply accept in order for the next action sequence to make sense. This is not a film you really want to spend a whole lot of time thinking about. Matching his last was a tall order, but overall it only just falls short of the mark.

The Bounty - Action/Comedy, Hong Kong - I wasn't really expecting a lot, but the flick came with plenty of comic moments to keep me interested. Starring both Chapman To and Fiona Sit (of Vulgaria) it's perhaps not that surprising on reflection, and particularly in Chapman I'm thinking I might have a new favourite comedian.

Stoker - Horror/Drama - Chan-Wook Park's (Oldboy) English language debut, and it ranks right up there with his best. Whilst many of his films have a lot going on, this one remains beautiful for it's simplicity. Certainly, it's a slow burner, but he constantly manages to keep you on the edge, delivering little bits of information and making you rack your brain as you try to answer the question: just who the fuck is Stoker?

Looper - Action/Drama/Sci-Fi - Yeah alright, it has the usual paradox-induced time travel issues, but I thought it was a pretty engaging flick.

The Dark Knight Rises - Action/Adventure - Catwoman was integrated better than expected, but Bane was slightly disappointing. Voice was annoying but I got used to it, but I think he's a hard character to portray properly. Isn't the most frightening thing about him not that he's a huge steroid junkie but the fact that he preaches anarchy in a way that frighteningly seems to make sense? That he's both super-strong AND freakishly intelligent? Good film, roughly on par with the last. Villain wasn't as good, but at least we didn't get lengthy pseudo-intelligent pretentious monologues.

The Four - Action/Fantasy, Hong Kong - Chinese X-Men in the 10th Century. Cheesy as hell, but once it got going I really began to enjoy the almost video-game like quality to it.

Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtues of Ignorance) - Drama/Comedy - So I just finished Birdman and—if you haven't watched the trailer—I was expecting something a bit unusual but damn, this film was downright weird. Telling the tale of a washed up actor trying to make it on broadway, kudos needs to really go to the director (who I only otherwise know from his film "Babel") because he had the balls to present a style unlike any other. Like the theatre it's set in, there's a theatrical sense to every scene; a heightened melodrama that runs through it all.

With camera shots that get so close to the cast you can see the wrinkles, the claustrophobic set gets used to full effect as the career of our protagonist hangs in the balance, never able to escape the franticism of his last run up into opening night. There is no introduction, racing straight into the meat of the film, and the pacing never relents. Action films are slower paced than this, so much so that it becomes tiring at points. Scenes don't ever stop, they just pan right into the next one, or follow a cast member as he rushes through the narrow corridors underneath the stage until his next inevitable encounter. There is no respite, no moment where people can simply take a deep breath and prepare for the next challenge, and the pressure of it all manifests as his past work—the Birdman—growing with intensity and coming across with enough realism that there are times where you wonder if he genuinely does possess supernatural powers.

And throughout it all is the satirical context, looking on at Hollywood and the ego of those in theatre (praising it as "high art" that others wouldn't understand); the critic who is willing to lie and destroy a career because of her hatred for the film medium in which the protagonist got his name, the egotistical method actor who acts like he can do anything he wants, the self-centered drug addict and the insecure and borderline psychotic actress; they all become caricatures of the personalities that exist behind closed doors.

There is an irony that it got an Oscar nomination; a film about a washed up actor trying (and successfully) restarting his career, starring an actor who hasn't been in a major film for years who receives a nomination for his work. I can't help but wonder if they planned it that way. It's bold, unique and original and nobody could take that away from it, but the sheer intensity of it all turns it into a tiring affair.

Zero Theorum - Drama, Sci-Fi - Terry Gilliam is not a director known for doing films normally. Between the likes of "Brazil" and "Twelve Monkeys" there's plenty of room for his specific brand of vivid peculiarity, and as the man gets religiously contemplative and philosophical on all of us, things get... well pretty darn weird. Following our protagonist, Qohen Leth, an eccentric man who thrusts himself headfirst into his work, unable to feel joy, perpetually waiting for the phone call that he missed years ago that will speak to him and give his life meaning. It isn't long before he finds himself commissioned to work on the Zero Theorum project, a long-term soul crushing mathematical proof that confirms what we already suspect: that all life is essentially without purpose. To help him cope with the stress of such a project, management offer him assistants in the form of seductress, Bainsley, and boy genius, Bob—both undeniably damaged in their own way—and it is through their interactions that the point of the film becomes apparent; that either by waiting for God to give you purpose or dwelling on the fact that there likely is none, no joy can be found in either case. It is only when we stop asking the question that we can find our own meaning for existence. Let down by the constant bombardment of imagery and symbolism representative of not only this core query, but of the technological path we're currently heading down of both instantaneous communication and isolation, of constant surveillance and of corporations treating us as tools for their own purposes, there is so much information packed into the run time that it becomes overwhelming and difficult to decipher, obfuscating the point being made. There can be no doubt that this is one of those rarer films that dares to question the big questions, but I couldn't help but feel just a little bit disappointed in the result.

Lesson of the Evil - Horror/Thriller, Japanese - Full Review

Tom Yum Goong 2 / Warrior King 2 - Action, Martial Arts, Thai - It's hard not to have your impression of a film remain unbiased when in a movie theatre filled with giggling Chinese women yelling "bad man, bad... asshole" every time the coloured dude came on the screen. Not so much racism—he really was an asshole—but in such an environment filled with all the 'oohs' that come with a knee once again hitting someone's face; all the laughter as bikes get thrown off rooftops and people get rammed head first into an unrelenting assortment of objects, it's hard to remain neutral. The film is simply too damn fun, and as the epic martial arts battles commence it becomes clear once that Tony Jaa is perhaps the only man capable of the torch from the classics of the Hong Kong era. Whilst essentially a simple story about one mans love for his elephant "brother", it quickly descends into a cliche, "Dead or Alive" inspired cheesy plot of martial arts masters in the queue to have their ass kicked. Doubling the dose of madness with the addition of Jeeja Yanin (Chocolat, Raging Phoenix), after seeing her in starring roles her inclusion felt like a sad after thought, consistently pushed to one side when she inevitably was out of her depth (there are no classic moments like the fight with the autistic warrior in Chocolat). Yet, personal grievances aside (I do still love Yanin) it's hard to fault the choreography that is at the film's core. Cliche, predictable, cheesy and the same old story we've seen countless times before? Absolutely. But it's still damn fun to watch.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi - Documentary - What if I said that there was a man who had specialised in his sushi making craft for 75 years? Nuts right? And yet here he is, working with his two sons in the smallest 3 Michelin star restaurant in the world, seating just 10 customers at a time. The care they attend to their craft from the purchasing stage to the gruelling training the apprentices are required to endure, this makes hells kitchen look like a breeze. It is meticulous beyond imagination, and incredible to watch in action. And failing that, food porn. Everybody likes food porn.

The Woodsman and the Rain - Drama/Comedy, Japanese - There probably isn't an awful lot to write about in this one, following fairly closely to the idea of "slice of life" in that it doesn't really seem to have an end destination in mind, content to gently meander in and around the life of our protagonist, the initially somewhat apathetic woodsmen. When a film crew comes to town he soon finds himself reluctantly convinced into helping them out with their budget zombie flick, each time asked to just one more task. Gradually he comes to become more and more involved in the script, assisting in overcoming the problems faced and befriending the young film director; a shy man of his mid-20s with an issue with confidence and making decisions, steadily coming to trust our woodsman in their films creation. It's slow moving, and takes the better part of the first act to really gain any momentum, but with the picturesque setting and the unforced pace it never feels anything but a genuine snapshot of their unlikely relationship.

The Hobbit 2: The Desolation of Smaug - Action, Fantasy, Adventure - Right, so excuse the first bit as it'll be a rant about the "technology" aspect of the cinematography as I watched it with all the 3D and HFR bells and whistles (don't). The 3D wasn't the worst I've seen, but it still feels like a gimmick that's distracting more than anything else. And from the occasional rubbing of the eyes, it seems that half the film didn't use 3D anyway. But, no, the real problem I have here is with the "48fps" camera's used. They suck. It makes every tiny detail that would have been glossed over more apparent, and whilst in certain films this could be to the films benefit, here it seems to just give an amateurish sheen as all the imperfections come to light. It reminded me of those budget British TV shows - Merlin, Atlantis, Robin Hood and so on - and it looked cheap. Furthermore, it highlighted the odd smoothness of the CGI making it stick out like a sore thumb. At a time when we're finally approaching the level of detail to blend CGI into the background, this effectively sets us back ten years. So bravo.

But yes, the actual film. No more fucking flashbacks makes things feel a little less drawn out than the first part, but instead it was so mind-numbingly predictable it loses all sense of that "what will happen next." Predictable isn't even the right word, they flat out tell you what's coming next like in-film spoilers. "Don't stray from the path" so they stray from the path. "Don't enter the mountain" so they enter the mountain. "What if it's a trap" oh it's a trap. God damnit, shut the fuck up. Fuck, you've already told me half of how the NEXT film is going to end. There is a handful of comedic moments in keeping with the tone of the original novel, but it's never really more than a subtle nod to the original with everything going for the epic tone of LotR. It doesn't work, and is disappointing. Most of the dwarves are completely forgettable and seem incompetent for most of the film, being outmatched by the fighting abilities of...err... Bilbo who saves their asses twice (really?) including one involving a solo killing spree. The Elves are a highlight whenever they enter the fray with their fight sequences, prancing around like untouchable figure skaters and seeming to have fun wreaking havoc on anything that aren't them or key characters, and Benedict Cumberbatch and his ridiculous over annunciation of every word seemed oddly fitting for Smaug, and the pacing was quick enough that I didn't find myself watch-gazing despite the run time, even if some scenes seemed pointless (here say hi to a new character. Now say bye to him). Fortunately Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) wasn't one of them. Rawr.

Evil Dead (remake) - Exploitation Horror - People will always bitch about the remakes but I didn't think this one was too bad. In fact, I'd probably put it up there as being damn close as good to the original, because it takes the basic premise (alone in the woods with a book you shouldn't read but oh looky, someone does anyway) and runs with it in new directions. No, the acting isn't particularly good and is sorely lacking this generations version of Bruce Campbell, and as a result there is almost none of the humour that made the original such a cult success, but to compensate they use every modern trick that's been learned since and put it towards some good ol' fashioned gore. Face shredding, nail-gun toting, head 'splodin, body burnin' violence in all its glory. Now that's what I call entertainment!

Dead Sushi - Splatter Horror, Comedy, Japanese - Full Review

Pacific Rim - Action/Sci-Fi - Well wasn't this a surprise. Del Toro is always one of those unusual directors capable of doing more than just deliver on the standard "oh look it's got a lot of explosions in it" blockbusters, and here he wears his influences on his sleeve. Yes, it's basically Neon Genesis Evangelion Vs. Godzilla (and the whole Kaiju genre). Fuck, he even calls the monsters Kaiju in their honour, can you get more obvious a reference? And yet, he takes more than just that; he takes the idea that these Mecha take a hefty toll on the human body and much of the film deals with the psychological side of things much to the films benefit. This is not a transformers clone; it's not merely big battles with machines, though they certainly play their part (complete with the random assortment of weapons coming out of every part of the mechanical body). It was sadly let down by the cast who - outside of Charlie Day's scientist and Idris Elba as the head honcho - did little to breathe life into the characters during the down time, and perhaps were never truly given the chance to explore how deep their memories truly went. Original? Nah. Does it require suspense of disbelief? Well of course, but there's definitely more substance here than you'd usually expect, even if it doesn't quite work as well as it could have.

Eden - Drama - A flick about a Korean American who gets abducted so she can be sold into the dodgy world of sex slavery. Escape attempt, discovery she ain't underage - but all Asians look young eh? - so finds her knowledge of book keeping and accounts useful in helping the man who imprisoned her keep track of his finances. It sounds a bit cheesy, but for the most part it was well performed with our two leads never playing their roles of handler and slave in a melodramatic fashion. He may be cold to the trade in which he works, but not without care entirely and eventually we see the cracks; and too, she ends up becoming accustomed to her situation resolving to make the best of the hand she's been dealt whilst looking for an escape. It never quite manages to sucker you into her plight and coming off a touch predictable at times, but not a bad exploration of a topic ordinarily swept under the carpet.

Funuke: Show Me Some Love You Losers! - Drama, Japanese - I was expecting something akin to a light drama/comedy about a dysfunctional family (nothing out of the ordinary there) but "light" is the last thing I would use to describe this. Perhaps "Visitor Q" would make the most apt comparison to this tale, as this is about as thematically dark a film can get without straying into horror territory. Yes, it's a dysfunctional family and they're set in the middle of nowhere - no distractions from the trials that come with living under the same roof - but what a hell of a dysfunctional one it is. This is a film that pushes things well beyond what you would normally come to expect; everyone is mentally worn down and broken, and whilst not your stereotypical version of insanity, make no mistake that not one of them is right in the head. Sadly, I never quite got the impression that the gravity of the situation was ever given adequate weight, prevented from becoming too overbearing to watch by use of slight comedic situations which are less amusing as they are used as a technique to lighten the mood. Much of this stems from the overly happy wife of the elder brother, who I kept waiting to see behind the curtain and into her frightening world, but it never happened. That said, given a little more presence and her performance may have stolen the show altogether, turning it into a tale of a distant wife trying to gain acceptance from her new family, and she certainly never caused it to descend into mockery, and thus it never quite feels an implausible situation but merely a fucked up one. They'd pushed the themes thus far, it seems a shame they couldn't be bold enough to push things one step further and remove those points that contradicted the severity of the situation. Oh, and Eriko Sato, hot damn I'd forgotten how freakin hawt she is.

John Dies at the End - Horror/Comedy - A film based on the book written by one of the more interesting "Cracked" columnists, this film is... well it's definitely interesting. All about a couple of guys who take some really messed up drug which turns out to be from another dimension and forms a gateway between worlds using these guys as the portal. Or something like that. It kinda makes sense, and then also doesn't. At all. It removes all problems of predictability by being so outlandishly impossible to predict; by presenting a world where Occam's Razor, that idea that the simplest answer is the correct one, works in reverse. The most absurd and ridiculous solution to the problems tend to be the ones presented, and at times it can feel a little bit too much. Too often the narrative will toss out inexplicable elements at the last moment for the sake of being weird, or introduce plot points in a sudden matter of fact manner as opposed to letting the film do the talking. There is a point where they just mention in passing "my girlfriend Amy," only to explain right at the end that "oh, and by the way, Amy's my girlfriend now." And that's a direct quote. Definitely a good film, and there's no question it's entertaining and original, but it ain't quite the return of Bill and Ted.

Fudoh: The New Generation - Action/Crime/Exploitation, Japanese - One of Miike's earliest works, it certainly shows off a lot of his ultraviolent style which would garner him international recognition. Despite the quite evident low budget, he manages to pull it off simply by coming up with original ideas, the most prominent one here being the use of children as hitmen. That said, I can't help but think that his best ideas are, at this point, still as yet to come. Parts felt confused, characters coming out of nowhere whilst others disappear - one even makes a return for what seems to be absolutely no reason whatsoever - so no, it's not another "Ichi the Killer" or "Gozu," but it's definitely still got that trademark style. Perhaps one for Miike fans and those who never tire of Yakuza flicks.

Penny Pinchers - Comedy/Romance, Korean - The tale of a young man who doesn't want to work, leeching off his mother, until she finds out at least, and soon finds himself on the streets. His saviour comes in the unusual form of a woman who makes a living by being cheap. This "cheapness" lends the film a very different tone from many others, and whilst there are still some cliché elements, it actually works out fairly well.

Spring Breakers - Action/Comedy - Harmony Korine is not one known for subtlety, and this isn't his time to start. Bludgeoning you over the head - he makes his point, and then flashes back to re-make it, and this does get tiring - with his satirical take on the Spring Break phenomenon; girls and guys getting wasted in the sun and fucking. Enter Jay Franco, clearly the best thing in the whole film, and his fetish for money and guns and suddenly we find ourselves in a Spring Break rampage of death and destruction. Huffington Post called it "Scarface meets Britney Spears." I can't think of a better way to describe it.

The Bullet Vanishes - Crime/Mystery, Hong Kong - Very Sherlock or Poirot-esque murder mystery set in the 30s. Lots of twists, but it got a little confusing and annoying when they were obviously trying to point the finger at one character when you knew it wasn't him. My early guess was almost correct, just one connection out.

Robot and Frank - Comedy/Drama - I was hoping for a typical Sundance Comedy/Drama with a twist. I got a typical Sundance flick. It wasn't bad, but felt oddly well trodden.

Seven Psychopaths - Comedy/Crime - Pretty good, though I spent the whole film wondering what the point was, and it felt the whole "story within a story" angle could have held more potential. And as usual, Sam Rockwell was the best thing in it.


The Gene Generation - Action/Sci-Fi - Despite appearances, this was not a film from the 90s but one released in 2007. Yep, the budget really does tend to show on this one with CGI that looks like something worse than most video games of the time and that "cheap sheen" to the filmography that often seems to accompany straight-to-DVD flicks. But it wasn't actually all that bad; there was a plot which whilst with the odd hole, for the most part made sense and kept moving along nicely. The romantic element was thrown in almost in an obligatory fashion and didn't get in the way—I suspect it was mostly an excuse to get Bai Ling's tits out—and the dystopian setting, whilst obviously influenced by Blade Runner, gave the backdrop that same dingy atmosphere. No, it's not one of the classics of the genre. It's not going to do battle with Blade Runner, Dark City or Equilibrium, but nor is it the dreck of —*shudder*—Ultraviolet. For an action film, it needed more action; more high kicks and people flung off buildings. That's the big down side. The up side? Bai Ling. God damnit, no woman in her 40s should be this freakin' hawt.

Goon - Comedy - I had zero expectations for this film. The fact that I actually enjoyed it, even in some mild manner proves that it went beyond those expectations. Then again, I was hardly paying close attention which no doubt worked in its favour. Cheesy, generic romantic element and the whole finale that could be figured out a mile off, it does, at the very least, manage to include a couple of half decent gags around the basic premise of a guy punching people in the face.

Sister Street Fighter - Martial Arts/Action, Japanese - A classic 70s spin-off of the Street Fighter line of films with Sonny Chiba. For the most part it does what it says on the tin, with some good to mediocre action sequences and a plot that doesn't slow down. Whilst I'm reminded of how much I like the lack of shaky cam and the fact that the actors have to do all of their own stunts, the realistic and non-stylised form of action at times felt lacking in choreography and bloodshed. The plot is pretty damn cheesy - I'm talking "Dead or Alive" level of cheesy - and whilst I have no issue with this, the plot-holes are simply too difficult to ignore. Randomly appearing roses, teleporting from one location to another based on what I can only assume is to give the next fight a better looking backdrop, teleporting out of a danger and escaping the evil villain, not to mention a death sequence which seems to have no impact whatsoever, her turning up again a few minutes later as though nothing had happened. And yet, it's not quite so bad as to be accidentally hilarious (e.g. "Turkish Star Wars"). Flawed would be an understatement.

Ender's Game - Drama/Sci-Fi - A film I never thought would be made, anticipated and dreaded in the years the followed it's initial announcement. I worried they were going to turn it into an action film, but they didn't. I thought they were going to cock up the casting decisions, but they didn't. But all the best bits were never going to find their way into a PG-13 flick, surely. Except, they mostly did. I am impressed by his dedication to the original source material and the fanboy in me is relieved by what he managed to accomplish, but this isn't a "LotR" moment; he hasn't done the impossible, and the end result still comes with it's issues. In particular, the pacing is completely off. It should never have been a fast moving affair with much of the book diving into the psychological torment Ender is put through; the singling out and resentment from those surrounding him; the gradual and steady manner he has to prove himself time and time again, earning the respect of those surrounding him. He is broken down, crushed, abused and relentlessly tested, and it's only when a trust is formed between him and those that surround him that he's able to persevere. The minor characters thus play an important role, and instead we are given brief caricatures - ignoring all the characters that didn't even make it all; the Fly Molo's and Crazy Tom's - of otherwise detailed and complex relationships. Petra can aim; Bean's small; Peter's angry; Alai is Indian; Bonzo is arrogant; the list goes on. In order to try and cram everything in, so much is lost simply due to time constraints, relegated to small throwaway lines which is infuriating to watch as a fan, and must be downright nonsensical to those new. The standard toon formations never seen making his tactic without impact; the "special toon" he develops with Bean at the helm ignored with the only reference tossing a guy out on a rope coming out of the blue; the complete psychological meltdown he suffers from in command school squashed into a five second "argh." With all the hints at the events of the sequel thrown in, it teases that this is only the beginning of Ender's saga, and it just makes me wonder all the more, why the fuck wasn't this split into two films?

High School Girl Rika: Zombie Hunter - Action/Horror/Comedy, Japanese - With a name that long you know it's gonna be low budget trash but it was still surprisingly entertaining, involving death monologues about ice cream and the ultimate comeback to the heroines cries of "I'll kill you," the zombie pointing out that he's kinda already dead. Was hoping for a little more exploitation in the form of gore and gratuitous random nudity but all I got was a load of blood spurts and one scene where three maids randomly decided to get their tits out. Ah well.

Tai Chi 0 / Tai Chi Hero - Action/Sci-Fi, Hong Kong Chinese Martial Arts flick in Steampunk land. Basically. First part was better than the second, but get over the cheesiness and it's surprisingly fun.

Total Recall (remake) - Action - Shit weren't that bad, people are just whining. I mean what were you expecting?

Hit and Run - Action/Comedy - Reminded me a little of a Starsky and Hutch type flick. Jokes were mostly tired and old, but it had some pretty cool moments.

End of Watch - Action/Crime/Drama - Training Day using "found footage" style film-making. With less of a point. I get he was trying to make a fictional documentary, but I kept waiting for something to kick off, and I was waiting a VERY long time.

Raze - Action/Horror - It doesn't take a genius to figure out the plot for this one: a bunch of women get abducted and are forced to kill each other for the amusement of spectators, the prize being their freedom. A film that revolves around attractive women punching each others faces until all that's left is a bloody pulp? Sweet, sign me up. Except, the fights are by and large really freakin' dull. Outside of the opening fight and the finalé that kicks off with a match-up we were waiting for from the start, there's maybe an hour of watching women cry and strangle each other. That's it. No plot, no variation, no character development, no twist ending. I gave not one shit for a single character. There's more character development and story to wrestling. This is a film billing itself as an exploitation flick filled with ultraviolence, and on that simple expectation it fails to deliver.

Dead Girl - Thriller/Horror - I'm not entirely sure what I expected from this film on reflection. It seemed like an interesting enough concept; the mystery of the biological experiment left forgotten in the remnants of a decaying hospital and the ensuing gradual unveiling of who she was; the delicate relationship between the two friends who discovered her and their opposing views battling one another as each tries to make the other see reason. None of that happened. We still have no idea who she is, except that she can't die, and their relationship ended up about a cliche as they come. But the icing on the cake? Never did it quite manage to rid itself of that immature teen tone, and whatever way you spin it, this is a film about kids fucking a dead girl.

Land of Hope - Drama, Japanese - Takeshi Miike can craft a masterpiece on a shoestring budget. Sion Sono, apparently, cannot. Hot on the heels of his success in "Himizu," he continues along similar lines to displaying the tragedy of post-tsunami Japan with the tragedy of post-Fukushima Japan; the infamous near-meltdown of the nuclear power station that occurred and the tragic consequences of the radiation that would be emitted. Unfortunately, everything about this film felt rushed and improperly thought out. Telling the tales of three couples in their plight; we have the young man evacuated with his girlfriend, travelling back despite the government quarantine to look for her parents amidst the post-tsunami rubble, as if to say "remember when I did this before and it was cool?" Then there's the middle-aged couple whose wife falls pregnant, evacuated once again, but falling prey to a fear of radiation when they learn that it's everywhere. Why yes it is, and it was there before us and will be there after us as well. And no, wearing a face mask and hanging up some bubble wrap isn't going to stop it. Then there's the elderly couple who refuse to move; the husband looking after his wife who hasn't formed a memory in forty years and is now quite positively nuts - the caring and patient manner he cares for her starts out subtle but builds as we learn more of their relationship and remains the one truly touching part of this film - but is continually pressured against his decision. He tries to bludgeon us with the message of "radiation is bad," but really ends up yelling "tsunami's are bad, paranoid obsessive phobia's are bad, and government forcing you to do shit is bad." Missing his mark quite thoroughly, this is probably one of his worst efforts.

Life of Pi - Adventure/Drama - Before watching this, I wondered how on earth they could make a film about a boy on a boat with a tiger interesting for an entire film. Answer? They don't. It's not dreadful, but you can tell so much of the book was philosophical in nature and the film... well it isn't. At all. Unless you count the occasional bit where the narrator goes "but what do you think? I think you should have left it the fuck alone Mr. Director man.

The Watch - Comedy/Sci-Fi - Looked a hell of a lot more amusing than it was. Commendations to the man who edited the trailer. The film director, not so much.


Horny House of Horror - Exploitation Horror, Japanese - I wasn't really expecting much from this low budget flick, and I didn't really get much from it either. Yeah, there was no shortage of nudity which is one half of the exploitation down, but the violence and gore was almost entirely left off camera with just the occasional bit of fake blood. It was kinda disappointing on that front. There is a plot, but there's not really much to it and it never gets in the way.

Fast Five - Action - I wanted a cheap and entertaining flick to turn my mind off to. This didn't exactly do the trick. The acting was nothing short of appalling, with screen time devoted to a plethora of new characters who, except for Ludacris who actually managed to inject a little humour to the deadpan serious one-dimensional typecast roles, do nothing. At all. I mean who am I meant to care about? Vince who is told to fuck off then comes back and all is suddenly forgiven? How about the beautiful woman whose personality is that... errr... she can flirt with guys to get them to do things? Oh, I know, the Japanese guy whose specialty is to "blend in," because... y'know... all Asians look alike? When professional actors are being outdone by ex-wrestlers, there's a problem. Even though the characters have the personalities of a fruit salad, the premise still spends far too long to really set up. It takes the better part of an hour before you really see where it's all heading for all the bro-union crap going on. Oh look! Vince and Paul Walker still don't like each other and start shit like children on a school playground! I mean really? Then there's the plot-holes; Dom using the power of his mind to break steel, magically appearing safe vaults and small cars somehow being capable of moving said vault (which I think they said was meant to be 10 tonnes or something?) But at least for a film about cars, there are- wait, what happened to all the cars?

Ted - Comedy - Well wasn't this a huge disappointment. The joke is that a teddy bear does stuff you wouldn't expect - which very quickly wears off - filled out to 90 minutes with a bland romantic element. Ridiculously clichéd and only one joke does not make for a good film.

This is The End - Comedy - For a film with such a name, the whole thing sure does drag on like a bitch. I suppose I'd have to call it a comedy but in reality it doesn't contain anything that could really be called a joke. This is a film with the promise of an apocalyptic theme that actually translates to an eternity spent with James Franco and three ordinary guys who seem to be considered comedy gods for being utterly benign, all locked in a house telling anecdotes that open with "remember when" (no, I don't fucktard because I wasn't there) and smoking the occasional joint. Calling them actors feels like a kindness. They got stoned and recorded their conversation. If I had to guess, I'd say it took two hours before anything really happened with the whole "end of the world" thing, which is strange as the film only lasted 1hr45. Nonetheless, after an eternity we see some shitty CGI and find out they need to be nice guys to be offered salvation and go to heaven. Alright, so it redeems itself little here because something actually fucking happens, but I stopped caring by this point. This had to be a personal project because I can't imagine a studio actually green lighting a script that mostly involved some friends sitting around and talking about events the viewer cant share in. Call up some buddies to have an "all star cast" and bam. Shitty cash cow.

BBS: The Silent Code - Drama, Hong Kong - Dear God. What a load of shite this was. It was worse than Painted Skin 2; it's awful on a near-incomprehensible level. You know you're in for trouble when they first decide to jazz up forum flame wars with badly animated Mecha battles; when they show a giant "Iron Man" as the moderator and so on. And then there's the laughable "hacking" scenes and the plot revolving a board mod who gets so depressed when they call her ugly that she ends up trying to off herself. I mean, just... wow.

Painted Skin: The Resurrection - Fantasy/Mystery/Romance, Hong Kong - Was expecting some sort of Crouching Tiger type Action flick. Ended up being more of a Romantic Drama with demons. The Sparrow demon and the incompetent Demon Hunter side-story was pretty cute, but otherwise fairly bad.



Posted by T. Bawden in , ,

Title: Deatherman (2012)
Rating: 1.5/5
Genre: Horror
Starring: John Kasper, Dominique Capone, Mike Gavern
Director: Bob Keller
Duration: 55 mins

Being a recognizable television personality, local weatherman Dalton Law faces his fair share nuisances, whether it be from dope dealers, hookers, resident barflies, or an arrogant anchorman. But one day, he is approached by an ambitious intern, Holly, with an appetite for meteorology. Doing the girl a favor, he meets up with her after work to discuss the subject; but one too many glasses of wine and his own arrogance proves to be the breaking point for Holly’s residual mental instability, leading to the weatherman’s brutal stabbing. Believing she got away with the crime, Holly takes the role of lead weatherperson. Though, as luck would have it, an acid rain reanimates the body of Dalton Law who is now on a rampage, targeting everyone who’s ever done him wrong. Now, who could’ve predicted that?

Regarding this movie, I do believe I've stumbled upon something rather special. I’ve always been a fan of film oddities and obscurities, but with Deatherman I have reached a point I never knew existed: the “too obscure.” I was introduced to this movie by, believe it or not, Facebook spam. All my life I’ve always disregarded any spam that happened my way (Aryan clothing, Kindle deals, “hey there, handsome…”) for good reason, but then I was made an offer I just couldn’t refuse: a shot-on-video, direct-to-VHS horror film with an absolutely terrible pun for a moniker. Hook, line, and sinker. When it arrived at my door, the positive geek vibes kept coming: clamshell case, temporary Deatherman tattoo, and a promotional button. Everything about this was looking perfect, until I hit PLAY on the VCR…

I usually give at least SOME leeway on shot-on-video movies; I’m not what you’d call a cinema snob by any stretch, but Deatherman sure makes my love of horror on videocassette hard (not that I despised it, mind you). What to tackle first… it’d be a cheap shot if I lambasted the acting, as this movie appears to fit snugly into the category of “a bunch of friends making a movie in their hometown;” but, yeah, the acting is pretty bad. Like, making-a-video-project-for-a-high-school-class bad. If the players aren’t underacting, then they’re wildly overacting, turning their characters into exaggerated stereotypes. Pre-zombie Dalton Law, however, does a passable job. The horror of the film is rather sub par, also. Ever kill scene is weak except for one, and that “one” is so clever it almost makes up for the rest of the movie. So not to spoil it, I’ll simply say that it matches the campy ridiculousness of the beer can-stabbing in Creature From The Hillbilly Lagoon (previously reviewed).

On a technical level, and aside from the fact that this was shot on videotape, Deatherman is shoddy all around. The on-location audio levels of the film are inconsistent, sometimes being completely wiped out by the synth score. Many of the scenes are backlit, resulting in almost total darkness of the characters in the foreground. The dialog is awkward, without substance, and completely superficial. The faux news scenes are some of the most primitive I’ve ever (eye)witnessed. And last, but not least, the puppet idea was totally wasted and condensed into a very brief scene (yes, I’m saying there was a puppet involved, and yes, I’m saying that there should’ve been more of it). In short, this movie had “amateur” written all over it.

Deatherman harkens the glorious shot-on-video boom of the 80’s and early 90’s, when filmmakers took advantage of video rental stores that would shelve literally any movie submitted to them, while also taking part in the current wave of horror retrophilia and the novelty of the VHS comeback. While the content of the film soars far below what even I would call acceptable (plopping right beside such turkeys as Mulva: Zombie Ass Kicker and Suburban Sasquatch), it is still a nifty release that pushes all of my happy buttons. Only recommended for hardcore VHS collectors and diehard SOV fans.


Posted by T. Bawden in , , ,

Title: Melancholia
Rating: 2.5/5
Genre: Sci-Fi, Drama
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland
Director: Lars von Trier

Lars Von Trier has long struck me as one of the few remaining directors who manages to push the boundaries of modern cinema, willing to try new things and experiment, and in the process has created some of the most fascinating modern pieces that I can recall. The shocking thing is just how long it took me to watch this, and just how long I spent trying to justify what I'd seen. There's no two ways about it, Melancholia in indeed a horrifically depressing film; starring a wedding gone sour at the hands of the severely depressed and lacking in a certain degree of sanity, Justine (Dunst). Daughter to a woman who seems to enjoy insulting her and an uncaring womaniser, after failing to get any real help in dealing with her uncertainties at the recent ceremony, her apathy soon becomes apparent as she struggles to maintain her façade. Soon she is taken in with her anxiety-suffering elder sister (Gainsbourg) – isn't this family a barrel of laughs – and her wealthy husband (Kiefer Sutherland), cared for whilst worries of the planet melancholia's trajectory plague their minds.

Mood swings I get; hiding behind layers of lies and putting on a brave face for the world to hide your true feelings until you reach a point you can no longer face it, that I understand. In fact, this element was played remarkably well, subtly demonstrating her struggling with the illness in a naturalistic manner. For all the mainstream work Dunst may have done in her career there can be little doubt that she is more capable an actress than I previously gave her credit for. What doesn't make sense, however, is her inherent indecisiveness. A number of critical moments where she makes snap decisions to alter her life in very drastic ways in a very short space of time (though I won't go spoiling any details, there are after all, so little that seems to really happen in this film). We spend an hour and a half getting to know her, and the depression at this point is well hidden, the cracks just forming and pointed out by the other characters, and it's not until we get to the other point of the film that we see just how debilitating it is for her.

Focussing on “Melancholia” itself, the planet that apparently nobody decided to mention, despite looking identical to ours and following an impossible trajectory. If someone out there knows of a planet like that that every scientist has been overlooking all this time, please let us know. It is this that forms the pivotal backdrop for the closing forty minutes or so, spending a greater amount of time dealing with the the stars-obsessed husband and his wife; Justine's sister, much the films detriment, given that so few of the other characters seemed to have any real depth of personality to them. As it gets closer and closer, and Dunst gets crazier and crazier, I start to wonder if he's trying to make some sort of astrology reference, and I only realised the coincidence of such progression when she suddenly becomes all the more lucid and happy, claiming to 'know things' as the planet hurtles towards us, seeming to smile genuinely for the first time in the knowledge that all life is going to be extinguished. As the end of the world approaches, it is this that she finds solace in whilst the rest of the world seems to struggle not to lose their collective shit. Perhaps it's the fact that she no longer cares for the existence of life, so far has her depression sunk, but all that's really known is that Trier believes that those with depression react more calmly in stressful situations, and to an extent I suspect he's right.

Likewise, the use of music has rarely felt more in harmony with the once again stellar cinematography from 'Antichrist;' repeating the opening to Wagner's 'Tristun and Isolde' showing a willing to not use the same pieces as the others but to more carefully consider which would be the most appropriate. I guess, really, the major issue I have is that the second chapter feels tacked on and unnecessary. Show her debilitated, sure. Provide the contrast between public appearances and behind closed doors, let there be no doubt the depths of her dark mind, but don't then try to make up some silly apocalypse scenario. There are huge, glaring plot holes and a complete disregard for science (oh, all the electrics don't work? I have no idea why the merging of two atmospheres would release some sort of electro-magnetic pulse but I'm hardly an expert. Well yes that would cause the cars to no longer start but... hang on, how on earth did you get that electric golf cart going?) that shouldn't have been made. The film is slow, spending well over an hour following a woman around her wedding with very little happening. There is no point to any of it, and perhaps that was, ironically the point; the notion that life is, just like this film, completely and utterly pointless. So sit back smile and embrace the end of your life. Or y'know, actually live it. Come to think of it, I'd rather do that and actually enjoy myself rather than bore myself looking for meaning where there's none to be found. Here's to hoping Trier snaps out of it.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale  

Posted by T. Bawden in , , , ,

Title: Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
Rating: 3.5/5
Genre: Adventure, Horror
Starring: Jorma Tommila, Peeter Jakobi, Onni Tommila
Director: Jalmari Helander
Language: Finnish

IT'S CHRISTMAS! Well, actually no it's not. Come to think of it, if you are even remotely in the 'Christmas spirit' two and a half months before the actual date you should stop it, right now. It's not even fucking close to Christmas; it's not even been Halloween yet, so get your god damn priorities straight. That said, there is nothing at all wrong with a little bit of preparation, particularly where films are concerned else you'll be stuck watching the same shit they put on every year; "Home Alone," "The Goonies" (which I do love, but enough is enough), "Elf," "Santa Clause" and god knows what else that for some reason they feel needs to played every god damn year despite often sucking the first time. The age old combination of "Die Hard" and "Gremlins" that has persevered throughout my home may be traditional – and Miyazaki's “Tokyo Godfathers” didn't get much interest from them – but I'm always willing to try and add to the list.

Enter the Finnish entry to the pile. A tale of Santa Claus that harks back to the origins; before he was bought by Coca-Cola and made red and jolly, when he would give naughty children lumps of coal instead of presents, but it seems they may have softened the blow for us. When greedy business tycoons uncover his grave, they begin to excavate, deep down into the mountain on the border between Lapland and Russia. What they uncover, however, was something far more powerful than they could have prepared themselves for; a monolithic beast who wants nothing more than to eradicate the menace of naughty children from the planet, one by one. It isn't long before he is unwittingly unleashed, now out and on the rampage, and it's down to a nearby group of reindeer herders to capture and kill the evil Santa Claus before he makes his way across the world.

The main protagonist in our tale? The young boy Pietari; a child who early on is mocked for being so young and looking pretty darn awkward when holding a rifle, or indeed doing anything remotely masculine. But don't go mistaking all this for some kind of 'Home Alone' type affair; really he's closer to a young 'John McClane' (Die Hard) type character, and there is surprisingly little humour to be found in the film at all, save for the premise itself. His character doesn't change but demonstrates his ability to think critically; he is the first to figure out that Santa was amongst them, the first to point out that traditionally Santa was more likely to use that coal to heat up a cauldron to cook you in, and the one who eventually comes up with the badass idea to save the day, and he does it all without firing a single shot.

It may take a little bit of time to get going but the build-up is necessary to establish the characters, and when we finally get our first encounter the pace begins to pick up. With such an unusual premise it succeeds in twisting and turning in directions you never expected it to take; there is little in the way of a standard plot framework to adhere to, making the work feel surprisingly fresh and original. It also manages to retain much of that classic 80s style of doing things; more is kept out of view than overtly shown, building up the suspense, and it's the children who still believe that end up having to guide the adults out of the shit they've stumbled into. It might not quite live up to the bar set by Gremlins, but it'll happily sit next to it as something else to watch when there is inevitably fuck all on TV but bad films and 'comeback Christmas specials' that remind us why they fucked off to begin with.

The Human Centipede  

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Title: The Human Centipede
Rating: 3/5
Genre: Horror
Starring:Dieter Laser, Ashley C. Williams, Ashlynn Yennie
Director: Tom Six

Once again tonight I find myself surprised by what I've uncovered; certainly not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination but sufficient in every department to keep me satisfied. Bloodshed? Of course, he's sewing peoples mouths to their assholes, though still not as much as your average surgery documentary. Largely he likes to leave the worst to your imagination. Nudity? Oh yes, though it probably takes a mind as twisted as my own to spend much time admiring the naked flesh, and I must admit, even I didn't exactly find it arousing. A shame they didn't fit some in pre-op but there we have it. And what of the plot? Well that really is the interesting thing, because a surprising amount of care appears to have gone into this films fabrication.

That the director spent so much time doing his research into precisely how such an operation might actually be carried out is quite remarkable and instantly demonstrated in the explanation; the severing of the tendon on the knee to prevent them from trying to stand, the details of how the teeth should be removed and the flaps of skin from one sown into the cheek of the next. In fact the only thing that never really seems to be addressed is the survivability of the creature. How is the energy is to be distributed proportionately? Whilst not all the nutrients from the food we eat are absorbed, a good portion are, and even if we assume a 50% absorption rate, that would mean the head would have to eat four times the normal amount in order to give the third segment a normal quantity; whilst he gets grossly overweight the rest still starve. That's ignoring bacterial infections, issues with vomiting (where would it go?), issues with dehydration (are they meant to snort their liquids?); for someone whose meant to be a retired surgeon, you'd think he'd know the basics of human anatomy, though I suspect few viewers would have stopped feeling ill and the thought of this monstrosity long enough to think of such problems. Myself? Snacked the entire way through.

More than that is the element of a battle between the two occurring; the women are largely annoying and whiny, but once they have their mouths sown so they can't speak we start to see more of the power play between the dark and evil doctor and the very angry Japanese man desperate to find some new hope of escaping this nightmare, or at the very least pissing the doctor off. Watching the sick delight in the doctor admiring his creation, treating it as a pet dog to be trained; teaching it to fetch the paper and locking it up in the cage at night. There is more to this exploitation flick than exploitation of the violent kind but also of the mental; the manner in which he treats his creation with a demonic Nazi enthusiasm and continues to torture them, teasing them, permitting them to attempt their pathetically tragic attempts to escape before stopping the short of their goal. Is it the most violent film ever made? Hardly, and certainly interest begins to dwindle after the first hour and the police become involved. After watching 'Ebola Syndrome' I don't even think it can claim the title of most messed up plot either, but laced with subtle elements of humour – the hilarious moment when you first realise one of them has to poop stands to mind as the most obvious example – this is certainly one exploitation flick worthy of putting the popcorn on for.


Posted by T. Bawden in , , , ,

Title: Prometheus
Rating: 4/5
Genre: Sci-Fi, Drama, Adventure
Starring:Noomi Rapace, Logan Marshall-Green, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron
Director: Ridley Scott

Late to join the masses on this one, but isn't this unusual? For once I find myself not insulting a mainstream film that was well received but defending one that wasn't; a film that is layered with complexity despite it's two hour run time that requires you to pay attention so as to keep up. Events may seem to happen randomly but really, so much is occurring that you forget the subtle for the obvious, until of course the subtle becomes all that much more apparent. Looking around for opinions seem to reveal a number of supposed "plot-holes" that emerged either from a lack of attention being paid or mistaking simple unanswered questions as flaws. Truth be told, I found very few plot points that I couldn't explain, and usually I can't stand them, though certainly there are questions left to answer and there can very much be no doubt a sequel is on the way. Prometheus feels very much like a spiritual successor to 'Alien' (and not just in Rapace's ability to fit into the shoes left by Sigourney Weaver); not a prequel in so much as a standalone within the same universe, but Scott has learned from his work since, creating more than just a single creature but an entire complex moon in which to explore; taking us through the first steps on an alien planet where assumptions can quickly lead to death.

The story is relatively simple, taking the crew of the Prometheus on this voyage to a planet from where the origin of mankind may have originated. Led by the cold Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), a disbeliever that there is really anything there and with her own agenda, she is only matched by the constantly questionable actions of David (Fassbender), a robot whose curiosity knows no bounds. Frequently found recklessly endangering the crew, he disregards their safety for the sake of his own intrigue, conducting experiments away from prying eyes. Then enter the host of scientists, not in the least the couple, Shaw (Rapace) and Charlie (Marshall-Green) who first made the discovery, who lead the quest in the belief that this race of beings hold the answers to the great questions of life. Though as you might expect it doesn't quite go as they planned, and if it did it wouldn't make much of an interesting film.

Those expecting an all out action romp, filled with blood and violence and scenes to make you squeal will likely be disappointed as this is one film that is heavy on the drama, though that's certainly not to say once it gets going that it feels slow. Quite the opposite in fact; with the agenda's of these four different groups of characters all colliding; a sense of ambiguity over who is really 'leading,' with each group defying orders from one another in order to pursue their own desires, so much happens that it becomes easy to miss the minor details. The script has been so meticulously crafted with important lines somehow resonating; short conversations demonstrating what kind of character he's crafted. Fassbender, in particular, never fails to be the most intriguing despite his lack of emotions – perhaps even because of his lack – as we constantly question his motives; his disregard even for self-preservation when exploring the alien construction, even if the eventual twist felt somewhat obvious from the beginning.

The build-up is gradual and constant; it's not as in 'Alien' where everything suddenly happens in the final moments, but steadily rising in tension as the film progresses. He's picked up some tricks from 'Avatar' as well in the use of special effects that once again prove that when it comes down to creating a world, he is the undisputed master, not to mention 'Blade Runner' in it's use of androids and light philosophising; pseudo-religious banter about the origins of man and our purpose. No, it might not reach the detail of character depth in Alien, or have quite as rich and vibrant a world as 'Avatar,' nor the intelligence of 'Blade Runner,' but contains a blend of all three. Some questions are answered but far more remain, and for that we'll just have to wait for the next installment.

Everyone Must Die!  

Posted by T. Bawden in , , ,

Title: Everyone Must Die! (2012)
Rating: 2.5/5
Genre: Horror, Comedy
Starring: Nick Lamantia, Nicole Beattie, Seth Gontkovic, Aleen Isley
Director: Steve Rudzinski
Duration: 71 mins

The brother of a serial killer victim learns that his sister is only a small part of a vast wave of slasher murders sweeping across the country. Also in the middle of the relentless carnage are two stereotypical groups of inevitable casualties: the campers, featuring a white rapper named MC Pink, a hippie, a nerd, and a sourpuss; and the party-goers, made up of a jock, a rich girl, a preppy, a golfer, an egg fan, and other fun characters. No matter how hard the prey try to fight back, there appears to be no stopping the hooded executioner. Everyone. Must. Die.

Everyone Must Die! starts where director Steve Rudzinski’s first film, Basic Slaughter (previously reviewed here), leaves off. Thankfully, EMD! is exponentially better in almost every department (editing, writing, photography, etc… all improved upon). Whereas Basic Slaughter is just that, random groups of teens being stalked and disposed of without any rhyme or reason; this film tries to add to its predecessor’s “mythology” by giving the story some much needed exposition. Okay, maybe not “much needed” exposition. After all, this IS a slasher movie. But it helps with the film’s watchability and keeps it from being overly repetitive. In addition, this film’s lot of sufferers aren’t simply a collection of unremarkable dumbasses, but each character contributes to the film’s self-acknowledged playfulness with tired slasher movie clichés.

While most hardcore horror fans are sick to death by now of said slasher movie clichés, with his third film (following last year’s Slasher Hunter, also previously reviewed here), Rudzinski has made it his trademark to see what these typically safe and contrived occurrences (killer in the backseat, have sex = die, “uh oh, he’s not reeeally dead!” -- don’t worry, not spoilers) are capable of. Even though this technique still manages to plunge this movie amidst ALL the other indie slasher-comedies, it still brings something fresh to the cell phone-adorned table, which helps in its favor. Blood and boobs also help a lot. And there’s some of that, too (I don’t think THOSE clichés will ever die!). Lastly, and relating to the director’s style, I didn’t think it was going to happen, but at exactly halfway through we get the video game humor. Score.

This all sounds pretty awesome, but Nick, why did you administer this a grade of 2.5? The answer is simple, and almost a compliment: the filmmaker’s first two films were in the homemade cinema ballpark. Everyone Must Die!, however, operates at a more professional level, consequently elevating it into a whole other realm of independent horror filmmaking. With some technicality holdovers from his amateur days still making appearances in this film (actors partially hidden off-screen, inconsistent audio,… hearing a crewmember say “cut” -- yeah, that was a big one), EMD! must be put into perspective. And there are a few other things that make my peeve list, such as the extended argument scenes (I’ve written about those before, bleeeargh!) and the wigger character MC Pink (which rivals “Rodney” of Splatter Beach), that I won’t go into any more detail about. Furthermore, the acting is rather inconsistent as well; the “serious” acting in some parts often terribly clashes with the character humor that livens up most of the film. I will admit that the acting is better than Basic Slaughter, but I don’t know if anyone really gave a deuce in THAT movie.

Everything considered, this was a very fun movie. Maybe I’m just too nice, but I couldn’t leave Everyone Must Die! without doing a little fist pump (Tony the Tiger style, or Tiger Woods?). I’m already thinking about which movies to recommend having double-feature with… Porkchop perhaps? Bloodlust Zombies? I wouldn’t recommend it to discriminating horror snobs, but anyone in the mood for a self-aware slasher quickie, give it a look-see. Oh, and stay tuned after the credits for a surprise!

Don't Go In The House  

Posted by T. Bawden in , ,

Title: Don't Go In The House
Rating: 3.5/5
Genre: Horror
Starring: Dan Grimaldi, Charles Bonet and Bill Ricci 
Director: Joseph Ellison

From the depths of the cult classic archives comes this forgotten gem, only recently re-discovered and re-released as a DVD for the masses to remember just why it got labelled as a violent 'nasty' at the time. And considering that this would have first found an audience back in '79, I concede they may well have a point; taking strong influences from 'Psycho,' in particular the mad man with mother issues, hearing voices and acting out as a result, letting poor innocent women get caught in the crossfire. But Donny isn't your usual knife wielding psycho, his torture as a child was always being burnt, and with her out of the way it's his turn to be the master of the flame, burning away the sins of others. Conveniently, it just so happens that he specialises in incineration as a career choice and it isn't long before he succeeds in creating his own flame-proof torture room and flamethrower with which to exact his unique brand of punishment.

There are, sadly, a few frustrating flaws inherent within the film. Short of the final scene, the big climax occurs maybe half an hour in, when we're treated to a slow build-up knowing exactly what's to happen to this young woman he's managed to manipulate into his home but not the details of how he's going to convince her to get naked and tie herself up, or what the inside of this room he's created for himself looks like. It's this gradual build-up in morbid anticipation for her demise that sees no parallel in the rest of the film yet to come, just a large number of scenes with flames in the background and only occasionally coming back into the fore so as to progress the story and try to maintain the momentum. Neither does the madness ever seem to get any the more fleshed out than a singular incident – though certainly I suspect the implication is that she burned him on multiple occasions – and the use of flames over more traditional knives never really gets the attention it deserves; never do we get the sense of beauty combined with danger as we watch the flames gradually rise, and neither do we really ever get into the mindset of our protagonist.

Despite all this, it's fundamentally quite hard to knock. It's built on a small budget with a cast of unknowns, and whilst you won't be seeing any knock out performances they all do as required of them. It never gets bogged down with being campy or cheesy, and as such never really succumbs to making a joke of the situation either through 'so bad it's good' syndrome or the use of black comedy. It's focussed on it's intention of pushing the boundaries of good taste in showing graphic depictions of flames – I suspect actually setting alight a good number of the cast for filming purposes – and the charred corpses of those that remained. It does more than bombard us with graphic imagery but delves deeper into the psyche of our disturbed protagonist. It knows precisely what it wanted to do and what needed to be done to achieve that, and ultimately they accomplished exactly what they set out to do.