Showing posts from September, 2009

Butterfly on a Wheel

Title: Butterfly on a Wheel
Rating: 4/5
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Maria Bello, Gerard Butler

“Who Breaks a Butterfly on a Wheel?”

It is that simple question, first written by Alexander Pope that forms the core intention behind this film. For those unaware, as a capital punishment a ‘breaking wheel,’ was used well into the 19th century. The guilty party would be strapped to a large wooden wheel, arms and legs outstretched, and the wheel spun violently until the bones in your body snapped and you died from your injuries – a process that could often take days. Even then it was considered an unfair punishment in proportion to their crimes, and was reserved for the most heinous of people. The question proposed is who would take something delicate and beautiful and break apart the bones keeping it together until only the disfigured remnants remain?

A picturesque family, Abby (Bello) the housewife contently looking after their daughter whilst the husband Neil (Butler)…

Blood Monkey

Title: Blood Monkey
Rating: 2.5/5
Genre: Horror
Starring: F. Murray Abraham, Matt Ryan, Laura Aikman
Director: Robert Young
Duration: 88 mins

A group of stereotypes take a flight to Africa to work on a secret anthropology project lead by Professor Hamilton and his assistant. Upon meeting him, the students are told that they will be apart of a discovery of great importance. Despite the students' every reservation brought to the attention of the professor, they follow him every step of the way, deep into an uncharted and unexplored valley in the jungle. At least they think it's unexplored up until they find that the professor's previous party is found ripped to shreds. By what? A giant race of monkey, of course. And now the students must escape Professor Hamilton before he uses them all as bait.

Now, I mentioned that the group of students were stereotypes. In fact, they are the most cliched assortment you could ever wish for: the hot chick, the jock, the nerd, the minority chick, n…


Title: Pi
Rating: 4/5
Genre: Thriller, Sci-Fi
Starring: Sean Gullette
Director: Darren Aronofsky

As a fan of Aronofsky’s work – even the questionable “The Fountain” – this is perhaps one that has spent too long on the shelf. His work doesn’t intrigue me for the subjects that he decides to tackle, but rather the fresh eyes he lays upon them, the willing to experiment with technique to achieve his end result, and his incredibly high success rate. There are many films that concern themselves with drugs (as in his follow up, “Requiem for a Dream”) and an abundance of films that delve into the psyche of the troubled genius, but only Aronofsky can pull it off in this manner, evident from the opening scene. And it is this, his debut feature length film, shot on a low budget in black and white film that shows no departure from his unique style.

Following the brilliant but tormented Max Cohen, a recluse beyond belief in the middle of Manhattan obsessed by his mathematical theory; his belief that all…

Lady Snowblood: Blizzard from the Netherworld

Title: Lady Snowblood: Blizzard from the Netherworld
Rating: 4/5
Genre: Action, Drama, Thriller
Starring: Meiko Kaji, Toshio Kurosawa
Director: Toshiya Fujita
Language: Japanese

Concluding my stint on 70s cinema comes a pair of films that are perhaps most aptly described as the ‘original’ version to Tarantino’s ‘Kill Bill;’ his borrowing from this era of film making is a fact he’s more than open about and indeed opened the gateway for my own exploration. Filled with more sword-wielding carnage through its tale of retribution, Meiko Kaji (the star of the ‘Female Prisoner’ series) makes another return as a wholly different, yet equally mesmerising character.

Set in 1874 Japan, the tale follows Yuki – aka Lady Snowblood – (Kaji), a woman bore in prison to a woman incapable of exacting her revenge on the three responsible for brutally murdering her husband and raping her. Dying during labour, her child is raised according to her wishes, her sole purpose to exact bloody vengeance for the …

Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance

Title: Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance
Rating: 3/5
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Starring: Meiko Kaji, Juzo Itami, Kazuko Koshiyuki
Director: Toshiya Fujita
Language: Japanese

The second part in this series shows a remarkable change in style; expecting more of the same powerful action-filled swordplay and another tale of vengeance, instead the result delivered on neither of these. Whilst assuredly succeeding in not falling into the ‘sequel trap,’ trying to deliver on one notch more than what came before it, the result feels different enough to alienate the viewer who may feel they have been misled. There is very little action to be found here, and not enough violence to satisfy my gore-hound cravings for even its own duration. Instead it strives to be more creative, more intelligent and thought provoking than ever before, but in doing so have lost sight of what made the first so enjoyable.

Following from the first, several years have passed and Lady Snowblood (Kaji) is still at large…

Matango (Attack of the Mushroom People)

Title: Matango (Attack of the Mushroom People)
Rating: 4/5
Genre: Horror, Sci-fi, Fantasy
Starring: Akira Kubo, Hiroshi Koizumi, Hiroshi Tachikawa, Miki Yashiro
Director: Ishiro Honda
Lanuage: Japanese (English dubbed)
Duration: 89 mins

I've noticed that Japanese films are quite popular in this thread, so I think I'll give a shot at one, and also because from a young age I've been a big fan of Japanese cult films. Of course, when I say "Japanese cult films," I really mean Godzilla and Toho films. Director Ishiro Honda is a big name in the kaiju film industry, helming such monster movies as Gojira, Rodan, Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster, and War of the Gargantuas. But with Matango, he directs a unique kind of monster movie for Toho. A movie with a look and feel that had been lost once Godzilla and Gamera were marketed more for children towards the 70's.

A yacht containing high society types and a couple crew members gets tossed about in a violent storm and ends up at…

Female Prisoner: Scorpion

Title: Female Prisoner: Scorpion
Rating: 4/5
Genre: Drama, Thriller, Crime
Starring: Meiko Kaji, Rie Yokoyama, Isao Natsuyagi
Director: Shunya Ito
Language: Japanese

It was the 70s that saw the rise in Japanese grindhouse cinema (also known as ‘Pinky Violence); tired of the very ‘traditional’ style of many local films, and with the rise in success of Hollywood titles such as ‘Dirty Harry’ and ‘The Great Escape,’ a new wave of daring and experimental directors came to light. Armed with a low budget and all the influences of the early Western grindhouse cheap gore flicks, they combined it with traditional Japanese film-making sensibilities to create a style that somehow succeeded in being both artistic in style whilst retaining those cheap traditions such as gratuitous nudity and violence to result in something rather unique.

And it was with this, the first instalment in the ‘Female Prisoner’ series, that would influence a wave known as ‘Women in Prison’ films; with a strong theme of un…

Female Prisoner: Jailhouse 41

Title: Female Prisoner: Jailhouse 41
Rating: 3.5/5
Genre: Drama, Thriller, Crime
Starring: Meiko Kaji, Isao Natsuyagi, Kayoko Shiraishi
Director: Shunya Ito
Language: Japanese

Picking up where the last film left off, we return to the infamous Scorpion in the next instalment of the saga, chronicling her final escape from prison, this is one film that I can’t help but be a little disappointed by. Featuring a highly experimental style – most noticeable in the camera work – and what appeared to be a notably larger budget making itself known through the more lavish choices of set, effects and soundtrack, it was the summation of small issues that – despite the sensational open and closing for the film – became something of a nuisance, detracting from the end result.

Opening once more with the delectable Matsushima (Kaji), her frequent break out attempts earning her the punishment of being imprisoned deep underground for over a year until the day of the prison inspection, allowed to see dayl…

Female Prisoner: Beast Stable

Title: Female Prisoner: Beast Stable
Rating: 4.5/5
Genre: Drama, Thriller, Crime
Starring: Meiko Kaji, Mikio Narita, Reisen Lee, Yayoi Watanabe
Director: Shunya Ito
Language: Japanese

Kicking off the finalĂ© to the saga (whilst there is a fourth, it featured a different director who didn’t carry the vision quite so well, and actually had Meiko Kaji refuse to continue afterwards, hence its non-inclusion in the special), I must confess some apprehension to this last film after the worrying direction seem to have been taken by the last, but the result turned out to be the most successful of the three. Taking the experimental attitude from before, only using the aspects that worked, they combine this with the violent sensibilities of the first and a more character driven multi-layered plot resulting in not only a feast for the eyes, but an iconic finish to a forgotten saga gem.

Once more picking up where the last left off, we find our protagonist Matsushima (Kaji) being hunted by the deter…

Man on Wire

Title: Man on Wire
Rating: 5/5
Genre: Documentary, "Crime/Thriller"
Director: James Marsh

I am sure there are those who wonder why did I add "Crime/Thriller" to a documentary that examines the daring the high-wire act of "Philippe Petit" between the "World Trade Center's twin towers" in 1974, the reason is "Marsh" didn't bring us this film as just a documentary filled with aesthetics, but also a first class crime film that really draws us to the story and makes us live the events. It will appear too many, as it did to me, that the subject isn't worth setting and watching an entire film about, but I was greatly mistaken. In fact, the film will touch us as drama film would touch us, would enlighten us as a good documentary would enlighten us, would thrill us as a good thriller would thrill us, and would really inspire us as those rare breed of films that would inspire us.

In a brilliant way "Marsh" reconstructs the event…

The Man From Earth

Title: The Man From Earth
Rating: 5/5
Genre: Drama, Sci-Fi
Starring: John Billingsly, David Lee Smith
Director: Richard Schenkman

Since it has been a while since I was last able to sit down and write something for this blog, I thought it appropriate to share what is amongst my favourite of films, and possibly top of my list of sci-fi. Forget the ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Blade Runners,’ this realistic portrayal of a man’s fictitious past proves beyond any shadow of a doubt that strength of script can transform a film from mediocrity into something spellbinding. Built on a shoestring budget of just $200K, and filmed almost entirely in a single room this was a film never intended as any form of ‘big hit,’ and is one of those rarest of films that has actually had the producer publicly thank those who have downloaded copies of the film and shared it for raising knowledge of this underrated masterpiece. In fact, referring it to a film feels almost a misnomer; almost an extension of the ‘audio book’ phen…

The Merchant of Venice

Title: The Merchant of Venice
Rating: 4/5
Genre: Drama
Starring: Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons, Joseph Fiennes, Lyn Collins

To continue with "Shakespeare", this time it's the representation of "Michael Radford" that caught my attention. This is the first work of by "Shakespeare" that I have read, and now I came to notice that the although it's one of the best "Shakespeare" plays and that it contains some of the most memorable scenes in his catalogue, it's heavily overlooked in cinema. Basically every major play got its share of attention except this one; we have to thank the vision of "Radford" the superb "Pacino" for this. I think many chose to overlook this play just because of a single hindrance, how to represent the character of "Shylock". I won't hesitate to say after seeing this film; this representation touched me more than any other "Shakespeare" representation I saw. Not just this factor, bu…