Thursday, 20 July 2017

A.C Film Club #3 - Tears of the Black Tiger



Stephen (Gweilo Ramblings / Eastern Kicks) and myself head to Thailand for the latest instalment of our introduction to Asian cinema which on this episode looks at possibly the most fabulous western ever "Tears of the Black Tiger".
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An Eastern Western which combines elements of romantic melodrama with John Woo style heroic gunplay and a Sam Peckinpah western to create something truly original 

We also take a look at the career of Meiko Kaji as well as the live action spectacle that is “Kaiju Big Battel” and their upcoming video game from “Super Walrus Games

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Resident Evil: Retribution



Title: Resident Evil: Retribution
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Released: 2012
Starring: Milla Jovovich, Michelle Rodriguez, Kevin Durand, Sienna Guillory, Shawn Roberts, Aryana Engineer, Oded Fehr, Colin Salmon, Johann Urb, Boris Kodjoe, Li Bingbing

Plot: Picking up directly after the end of “Resident Evil: Afterlife” Alice (Jovovich) now finds herself captured by the Umbrella Corperation and placed in an underwater facility which also doubles as a demonstration ground for the effects of the T-Virus. Now Alice must team up with the mysterious Ada Wong to escape the facility which is now under the control of a recently reactivated “Red Queen”.


Review: Its staggering to think at this point in the series that we are five films deep in the franchise which at this point has also gone on its own very unique path from the source material as we continue to follow the journey of Alice in her battle against the Umbrella Corporation and of course the zombie hordes created by the T-Virus. Still just when we thought the series had already gone way off the deep end Director Paul W. S. Anderson somehow manages to find a way to top it.

Seeing how the previous film ended on the fantastic cliffhanger of Alice on the deck of of the Umbrella Tanker Arcadia as she stared down a squadron of Umbrella Tiltrotors. Now half expecting the film to open with Alice being captured what Anderson gives us instead is actually something pretty special as we get to the events which transpired played out in reverse slow motion which honestly only serves to make it all the more impactful than if we’d seen it played out normally.

One of the strengths of the series has always been Jovovich’s performance as Alice a role she truly has made more and more her own with each film even designing Alice’s outfits through her own fashion line. Here though we get to see a new side to Alice as she finds herself waking up in a suburban dream life complete with husband and deaf daughter Becky (Engineer) only for dream to quickly turn into the same sort of zombie nightmare we saw at the start of Zack Snyder’s “Dawn of the Dead” remake. Here in lies the kicker for this instalment as Alice finds herself in a facility made up of large scale remakes of various cities such as Tokyo and New York which originally had been designed as a way of selling the T-virus to various countries replicating the rival country at the facility. This of course really is just an excuse for Anderson to craft a series of large scale and flamboyant action sequences as the film itself feels like one long shoot out, especially with the plot moving at such a fast pace.

The action throughout is great to look and while this entry perhaps features more heroic gunplay than previous entries with the introduction of Ada Wong here played note perfect by Li Bingbing whose performance was surprisingly dubbed well by Sall Cahill but watching the film I couldn’t tell . Ada as a character though is finally a character able to stand toe to toe with Alice and to see them working together in the film really was a thrill. Afterall why have one kickass lady when you can have two.

Each of the settings are unique enough to stand out and provides a decent change from another round of post-apocalyptic wastelands or the sterile facilities of the umbrella corporation. True none of it is shot with seemingly the slightest concern for what is realistic or not but its really hard to complain when its so much fun to have scenes such as a high speed chase through a simulated Moscow or an army of zombie soldiers. These scenes only being added to by Anderson’s visual style which here once again works really well.

This facility setting for the film also means we get to see the return of several characters such as James (Salmon) and Rain (Rodriguez) who get to return to the series as clones. Rodriguez in perticular getting to play two versions of herself as we see her playing her Strike team persona from the first film sent to hunt Alice and Ada aswell as the suburban version who plays like the complete opposite as she acts openly shocked at the idea of using guns. Yes I could have done without seeing Colin Salmon again, but then I can pretty much do without seeing him in most things., Rodriguez meanwhile is enjoyable as always and getting to see the super powered version at the end was only an added treat.

For some reason Anderson here also chooses to saddle Alice with a Deaf daughter, who its explained early on is infact a clone from the suburban simulation created to play her daughter. Of course knowing this Alice still shows a mothers devotion to the child perhaps because Anderson couldn’t find a way to morally justify dumping the kid without turning her into a zombie kid. Maybe this was just another way of working his obsession with James Cameron’s “Aliens” into the film and creating his own version of Ripley and Newt. At the same time you could also see the different settings the group travel through as being a nod to “Westworld” which was also reportedly another source of inspiration for the film.

Ending on another tantalising cliffhanger with Alice having her superhuman abilities restored and the sight of humanity making its last stand from the grounds of the fortified White House. Say what you will about Anderson as a director he really knows how to make an audience crave that next instalment.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

The Crow: City of Angels



Title: The Crow: City of Angels
Director: Tim Pope
Released: 1996
Starring: Vincent Perez, Mia Kirshner, Richard Brooks, Thuy Trang, Iggy Pop, Thomas Jane, Vincent Castellanos, Eric Acosta, Beverley Mitchell, Ian Dury

Plot: When mechanic Ashe (Perez) and his son are murdered under the orders of Los Angeles drug kingpin Judah Earl (Brooks) after they accidently witness a murder being carried out by his followers. Resurrected as the Crow Ashe now sets out to seek his revenge.

 

Review: It was always going to be a difficult task to follow on from the cult original film but believing that they could make a franchise out of the idea, the Weinstein’s offered the job to Music video director Tim Pope for his feature film debut. They also brought in David S. Goyer to write the script who at this point was yet to really make a name for himself having previously written the scripts for “Death Warrant” and “Demonic Toys” with this film sitting on the cusp of his mainstream success as he also working the scripts for “Dark City” and “Blade” at the same time he was writing this script.

Moving the story from Detroit to Los Angeles the look of the cityscape is still pretty much the same landscape of seemingly eternal darkness and urban decay. Despite this similarity Pope and Goyer had initially wanted to make a film which was different from the first film especially out of respect to Brandon Lee. who only for the Weinstein’s in their usual misguided wisdom to make demands for the film to be recut so that it was similar to original as possibly ultimately leading to both Pope and Goyer disowning the film as it no longer represented their vision. Goyer was especially dismayed by the changes having fought to cut out the resurrection of villains Top Dollar and Grange from the first film.

One character who does return from the first film as well as admittedly older is Sarah who is no longer the skateboarding tomboy of the first film but here is all grown up and working in the city as a tattoo artist and painter. Here she serves to fill in the mythology when required as she helps Ashe on his quest for vengeance. One of the potential scripts for the film had her returning as the female Crow, which while certainly a cool idea is one I was glad they didn’t go with for the film and even though Sarah returning wasn’t anywhere on the list of things I’d want to see from a sequel here it still works and her appearance also means we get to see Ian Dury showing surprising acting ability as her boss Noah.

Equally surprising in their acting ability is Iggy Pop whose acting C.V. is surprisingly more extensive than his brief appearances in “Tank Girl” and “Hardware” and here as one of Judah’s thugs “Curve” he makes up for turning down the role of “Funboy” in the original film and turns out to be one of the better aspects of the film and really gives us one of the more odious villains of the film and arguably the real villain of the piece had they choose to cut out the theatrical antics of Judah. It equally be noted that the amount of musicians appearing in the film would have been increased has the casting gone differently with Jon Bon Jovi originally being interested in playing the lead while Tori Amos was considered for the role of Sarah only for her to turn down the role.

The role of the Crow as played by Perez is thankfully not a rehash of the Eric Draven version of The Crow and even though the make up makes little sense that he would share the same dark Jester design. True Perez overplays the theatrical moments as seen during the scene he stalks Spider Monkey (Castellanos) which just comes off as deranged than intimidating. Still seeing him stalk his foes with his Spirit crow on his shoulder looks fantastic much like the scenes of him riding through the streets on his motorcycle. It’s just a shame that he’s not given anything to do which makes him any more than your usual action hero, only pulling out the one creative kill through the film and certainly giving us none of the themed kills while the Crow outlines often end up feeling forced.

The villains we get this time round are far from as defined as they were in the original film and ultimately come off as something of a mixed bag of undeveloped characters who like so many aspects of the film you can’t help but feel would have been much more effective had their characters been given chance to breathe. Sure they all have their own vices (drugs, voyeurism etc) but with the exception of the sole female member Kali (Trang) they are nearly all interchangeable. Worst of all is out supposed big villain Judah who is just a mess of theatricality and mystic nonsense. Perhaps Michael Wincott set the bar too high as “Top Dollar” in the first film but here everything about Judah feels like a poor imitation.

While the mythology of “The Crow” was kept simple in the original film here the film attempts to expand upon things so that its no longer the case that Ashe has his powers while the crow is alive, but also that its a power which can be transferred which feels like one of those ideas which might have worked in the script but only serves to take away from the film which in its final quarter ends up descending into mythical nonsense including Ashe being able to command a murder of crows which really add nothing to the film.

When I originally saw this film I honestly didn’t care for it, but now rewatching it and knowing what to expect it feels more frustrating to see glimpses of what could have been had it not been ultimately another casualty of Weinstein meddling. What it did give the franchise though was the potential to go anywhere it wanted essentially as no longer was “The Crow” just Eric Draven but essentially any person who was wronged and in the films / novels / comics which followed we have seen that principle creatively used aswell as the series “Stairway to Heaven” which ran for one season before being axed on a cliffhanger. In the scheme of the franchise this might not be the worst, but its a far cry from the best and as such provides little than a passing distraction for fans of the series and little really for anyone else.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Commando



Title: Commando
Director: Mark L. Lester
Released: 1985
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rae Dawn Chong, Dan Hedaya, Vernon Wells, James Olson, David Patrick Kelly, Alyssa Milano, Bill Duke,

Plot: Retired Commando John Matrix (Schwarzenegger) has settled into an isolated life with his daughter (Milano), only to find himself being forced to carry out a political assassination when his daughter is kidnapped. Now Matrix has eleven hours to rescue his daughter from her kidnappers.


Review: Having launched himself into the public conscious with the Conan movies and “The Terminator” with this film we really started to the see the foundations of the Arnie formula starting with his introduction in this film consisting of close up shots of his muscular frame which only seem to make everything seem bigger and more impressive than it is. Even the chainsaw which looks pretty tiny when we see it, looks like its 6 ft long in its vanity shot.

The opening shot of Schwarzenegger carrying a log over his shoulder is such an iconic shot and feels almost like the studio introducing a major star being introduced  and it could be considered so seeing how compared to the films which came before it, it’s tonly very different with Schwarzenegger trading in the sword and sorcery antics of his early films (Conan / Red Sonja) being changed out for one liners and heroic gunplay which would become the foundation of the classic Schwarzenegger movie formula. Its only on rewatching the film that you also realise just how bonkers that opening title sequence is as we go from shots of the all powerful, man of the earth to shots of Matrix and his daughter getting ice cream and hand feeding a deer, which while important to show the life that Matrix has made for himself since his retirement from the special forces tonely is just such a random switch.

The plot itself is paper thin and really only serves to guide the audience from one exciting moment to the next, especially when Matrix has to do very little work to find his way to the villain Arius’s (Hedaya) hideout on the fictional Val Verde which was also referenced in both “Predator” and “Die Hard 2: Die Harder” which like this film needed a Spanish speaking country like Cuba or Nicaragua but at the same time wanting to avoid any potential diplomatic issues. Sadly the film really lacks a defined villain so it ends up that the henchmen here are actually more interesting than Arius with of course the most key being Vernon Wells “Freddie Mercury on steroids” Bennett another stone cold psycho as Wells channels the same kind of driven intensity which made “Wez” in “Mad Max 2” such a memorable villian, though the questionable fashion choices remain present as here he trades in his ass-less chaps for a chain mail vest! His knife fight with Schwarzenegger though at the finale is the stuff of action movie legend.

Of course the Arnie formula isn’t quite perfect at this point as Matrix is not only shown as being the muscular badass but also capable to superhuman feats of strength such as the ability to tear phone boxes out of the ground or throw nine mall security guards through the air. The strength element is always played down usually with Schwarzenegger’s body size being more of a key element than any kind of strength. These moments as a result end up being pretty jarring when they occur though this film more than nails is the ridiculous elements of heroic gun play which in turn would form the blueprint for the action movie genre.

The action scenes are unquestionably the best parts of the film and only build as the film goes on from a hotel room fist fight with Bill Duke’s green beret (he eats them for breakfast) hanging David Patrick Kelly (who looks comically short throughout) off a cliff. The grand finale being the now legendry shootout with Arius’s personal army which see’s Matrix not only getting to pull out all the “War Toys” but also fire countless bullets without ever having to reload but also find something to turn into a weapon regardless of how cornered he appears to be. The body count alone for this finale might be one of the largest ever filmed.

The other noteworthy aspect of this film and certainly its most overlooked come from Rae Dawn Chong’s unlikely sidekick and air hostess Cindy who is initially unwillingly coerced into helping Matrix get his daughter back only to turn out to be surprisingly resourceful let alone perhaps the first ever member of the “Girls with Rockets” club by taking out a police truck with a rocket launcher. Why is it so rare to see women firing rocket launchers or similar in films? Certainly its a question which came to me when I was on the “Exploding Helicopter Podcast” discussing “Hard Ticket To Hawaii” and lead to me creating a list on Letterboxd to log every film this happens (feel free to name your ideas) so its safe to say thats this film should also get a credit for being so forward thinking to have her weld such a traditionally male weapon with just as much competence as her male counterpart….even if she does initially have it the wrong way around.

A fun side note is that originally this film was going to have a sequel which would have been a reworked version of “Die Hard” and seen Matrix being hired to head up a security team at the big corporation were his daughter is also working as a lawyer. Matrix would make up a team of the toughest and most dangerous people he knows only for them to turn out to be inline with the company he’s working for which is really just a front for illegal arms deals. Matrix of course ending up to fight through all the people he hired to rescue his daughter again which sounds like a great plot but at the same time its hard to argue against how “Die Hard” ultimately turned out. Who knows maybe this will be the plot of “Expendables 4”

For mindless fun this is unquestionably one of the key Schwarzenegger films and one whose cult status has only increased in recent years. Here though we get everything we want from an Arnie movie and while it might not be perfect there enough mindless violence and action to make for the perfect popcorn movie.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Buffalo '66



Title: Buffalo ‘66
Director: Vincent Gallo
Released: 1998
Starring: Vincent Gallo, Christina Ricci, Ben Gazzara, Mickey Rourke, Rosanna Arquette, Jan-Michael Vincent, Anjelica Huston

Plot: Released from prision after serving five years for a crime he didn’t commit, Billy (Gallo) is keen to get his life in order starting with a visit to his parents. However to maintain the lie of his whereabouts all this time he kidnaps tap dancer Layla (Ricci) to play the role of his fiance.

 

Review: The debut film from the man of many talents Vincent Gallo and who here writes and directs the film, though if your to believe Gallo he was also responsible for the cinematography aswell.

Made on a shoestring budget of $ 1.5 milion this aggressive little indie film is not one for those of use who watch films for escapism or to generally not feel like garbage by the end credits for this is far from the happiest film as Gallo crafts a film full of hate and vitriol as Billy is introduced angry and carries it through for nearly the whole film as he angrily searches for a bathroom, argues with his parents and even gets angry at Layla for daring to actually have feelings for him. That being said though in Gallo’s world view everyone is seemingly just as angry.

A favourite of not only the critics where it appears frequently on the top 50 lists of independent cinema but also the majority of Letterboxd reviewers whose glowing reviews for this film made me wonder if I’d stumbled into a different movie as this was far from the most thrilling cinema going experience as instead I found myself feeling like I was locked in a filthy room with only a single Kleenex to clean up. Honestly I wasn’t sure what there was to enjoy about a film were for the first hour it just seemed to be a stream of people determined to let each other know just how much they hated each other.

Of course there have been other equally grim movies such as “Requiem for a Dream” and “Irreversable” that dare I say I’ve enjoyed, but with those it was clear that there was a destination they were heading towards and that it wasn’t just some demented experiment in endurance that the director was seemingly trying to craft. It’s here of course that I find the biggest question mark about the film in that its unclear what Gallo is actually trying to achieve here other than fuelling his own ego as throughout Gallo ensures that he constantly the focus of the film while the now legendary fallout from the film which saw Gallo claiming that he carried Ricci while refering to her as being a “Puppet”, he also blamed Anjelica Huston for the film being turned down by the Cannes film festival.

As a lead character Billy makes this far from the easiest experience to get through as there is no one that he won’t pick an argument with or shout abuse at and while Gallo might with painful tedium strip aware these layers of aggressive armour as the reasons are revealed from the abusive family home which is layed on thick for if you couldn’t tell by the general bitterness around the family table Gallo throws in a flashback to Billy’s father killing his puppy when he didn’t clean up after it. We also flashback to the events surrounding his imprisonments was he’s interrogated by his bookie Mickey Rourke whose surprise appearance here was one of the spattering of high points scattered throughout the film.

Ricci’s Layla makes an interesting counterpart to Billy as represents the light in this world, even though her lack of concern for her situation let alone willingness to go along with Billy’s plan remained a sticking point for myself especially when Billy is just so continually aggressive towards her only to suddenly fall for her in a moment of sickening smaltz because of course she’s the only one who can save him from his own darkness. Still despite the cliché path for her character here Ricci still manages to craft several moments throughout the film such as a spontaneous tap dance at the bowling alley. But with her doe eyes and general manic-pixie-dream girl aura around her its hard to not like her character

While the film might be a slog to get through it does however incorporate some interesting visual ideas into its cinematography to hold your attention with the best of these coming at the finale were we get to enjoy freeze frame gunshot wounds as the camera moves freely around the frozen figures. For all the flashy camera work though, it often feels like more of a distraction for the general unpleasent tone throughout this film.

Sure this fans might have its fans but like its leading man this was one film whose appeal was lost on me.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

MBDS Showcase #49 - Dog Soldiers / Cannibal Holocaust



Fellow Brit Zoe (Zobo With A Shotgun) joins me for this latest episode to share her love of all things dark and twisted which formed the basis of her site. 

On this episode we look at British horror with Neil Marshall's "Dog Soldiers" aswell as the notorius former video nasty "Cannibal Holocaust"

We also discuss the censorship and the darker side of horror, living near horror movie sites and Zoe reveals which horror icon she'd most like to take for a pint.



You can find the full MBDS Showcase movie list here

Opening Theme: "Hyperfun" - Kevin Macleod (http://incompetech.com/)

End Theme: "Out of Limits" - The Marketts


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Saturday, 27 May 2017

Zoom



Title: Zoom
Director: Pedro Morelli
Released: 2015
Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal, Alison Pill, Mariana Ximenes, Tyler Labine, Jason Priestley, Don McKellar, Claudia Ohana, Jennifer Irwin

Plot: A comic book artist who works in a sex doll factory, a model who wants to be a novelist and an egotistic film director discover that their lives be more inter dimensionally linked than they realised

 
Review: A random little indie film which seemingly slipped under the radar only to randomly turn up recently on Sky Movies in their independent cinema section, but at a loss for something to watch recently I thought I would give this a watch if only to cross off another Gael Garcia Bernal title off the watchlist.

Crafting the sort of tale that we’d expect to come from the mind of Charlie Kaufman, this is certainly an ambitious concept that director Pedro Morelli attempts to tackle for what is only his second film. Still here he attempts to craft this interconnected not to mention interdimensional tale which switches back and forth between its three leads.

First we have Emma (Pill) a comic book artist who works with her boyfriend in a sex doll factory, while she harbours her own fantasies of a comic book heroine figure. At the same time she is writing a comic book about the chauvinist director Edward (Bernal) unaware that what she is drawing is actually happening in Edward’s world.

Edward heads up the second plotline in particular him being struck down with a micro-penis thanks to some vengeance alterations on Emma’s side. Keeping in tune with the comic book theme his segments are all shot using rotoscoping which adds a unique element to the film and perfectly suits the reality he’s living in. Edward also provides the link to the third plotline with his film being about the model and aspiring writer Michelle (Ximenes)

Michelle’s story is also one of the weakest of the three as she has spent her life getting by on her looks, only to find that no one including her boyfriend Dale (Priestley) believe in her abilities as a writer. Of course the book she is writing also happens to be the one controlling Emma’s reality bringing everything full circle….still keeping up with us?

Initially this was film which didn’t sit with me and it was only after the first thirty minutes that it really clicked and all started to slowly pull together. It’s key to note this as I can see this being a film which a lot of people could dismiss on that opening half hour which serves to introduce the three plot lines while at the same time with perhaps the exception of Emma neither of the other two leads exactly jump out and this sadly remains the case for Michelle’s story which remains pretty much a non-starter throughout.

The main issue for Michelle’s story is that for the most part it feels like any “discover yourself” style story, as she skips out on the luxury apartment and good looking boyfriend to escape to Brazil to write her book, along the way of course discovering this sense that she doesn’t need any of the finary. Its the kind of story you can plot out pretty soon after it starts and its really once the worlds start to blend during the finale that things actually get interesting for her character. In fact its the moments of blending between the worlds that provide the actual moments of intrest for her character which is otherwise largely forgettable. I mean she’s not even featured on the poster or the DVD cover which kind of only further highlights what an afterthought her story was.

Emma’s story feels like it could have been its own film without the inter-dimensional cross over which if removed could have been a lightly comedic crime thriller as her story moves from her getting superheroine style breast implants to her and boyfriend Bob trying to move a large quantity of cocaine she gets in the mail thanks to a postal screw up. It could with these plot elements very much be a Coen Brothers style crime caper which we ultimately only get hints of here due to Morelli having to juggle the three plotlines.

Gael Garcia Bernal’s plotline as Edward takes alittle longer to warm up of the three as he initially comes off as a totally unlikeable character as he engages on sport lays and surrounds himself with people who massage his already inflated ego. This of course makes for the best setup for the main meat of his tale which see’s him suddenly being struck down with a micro penis thanks to the meddling from Emma’s side. This sends him on a quest to reclaim his manhood which includes experimenting with the Rolls Royce of fake phalluses.

Bernal here gives another great performance while somehow managing to work once more with unusual material which not only makes it easy to go with, but somehow manages to reflect in her performance the audiences confusion. His willingness to take on such unique material continues to make him such an enjoyable talent to watch while bringing back memories of Johnny Depp’s early work before the oddness essentially consumed his originality alongside his overwhelming amount of collaborations with Tim Burton. Its especially impressive that he can still project his performance as well as he does despite being rotoscoped while giving us such fun scenes as him drinking a cup of tea during a threesome or attempting to deal with a malfunctioning phallus its fascinating to watch.

While this might not be the greatest experience there is still a certain amount of originality which has to be commended even if it feels like an attempt to imitate Charlie Kaufman’s style, there is something to this film which make it worth giving a look, especially if you want to see something different and its to that extent that I wish that this was slightly more polished as when it works its great, but far too often it just doesn’t making it all the harder to recommend. Still in terms of originality its certainly up there.
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