Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Blueprint: Review Opens Video Page

Blueprint: Review (the site that has stolen me away from here!) has just opened their very own Videos page, beginning with the first episode of 'Celebrity Interview', part of a new series of spoof videos created from real celebrity interviews.  I didn't make it myself, but the company I work for did and I may edit one or two in the future.  Check it out here.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Tamara Drewe Review at Blueprint: Review

I've reviewed the English countryside-set farce Tamara Drewe over at Blueprint: Review:

http://blueprintreview.co.uk/2010/09/tamara-drewe/

Friday, 10 September 2010

Cherry Tree Lane Review at Blueprint: Review

I've posted a review of the intense, British home-invasion film, Cherry Tree Lane over at Blueprint: Review.  Check it out here:

http://blueprintreview.co.uk/2010/09/cherry-tree-lane/

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Reviews posted on Blueprint: Review

You may have noticed I've not been posting very often these days.  Well, it's because I, alongside a group of writers and designers I work with, have been developing a new review site.  It's called Blueprint: Review and can be found here.

We're just getting started we're eager to get a bit of a user-base built so jump right on the comments pages and get chatting.  Any feedback is welcome too as we're still ironing out problems here and there.

I'll try and let you guys know when I post reviews on Blueprint: Review as well as Row Three (I'm still going to post for them when I can) so keep an eye out.  I may cross post some bits and pieces on here too, especially more personal stuff like my movie marathons.

Head over there now and check out these new reviews I've posted:

Baseline

Lebanon

Caught in the Crossfire

Down Terrace

Friday, 30 July 2010

Weekend of Trash III

With my wife-to-be over in her home country of Finland for a week I took it upon myself to get the boys round for another one of our regular 'trashathons' last weekend (check out my previous write ups here and here). For the uninitiated (or those who can't be bothered to look up those two links) these weekends involve pulling out our lowest budgeted, most breast, explosion and blood filled crappy VHS and bargain-basement DVD's we can find and subjecting ourselves to their 'pleasures' for two nights and a morning. We usually squeeze in a couple of classier modern genre films too that haven't received the widest of releases.

This weekend really delivered the goods I must say. There were no straight up classics, but pretty much all of them did exactly what they said on the tin, which is more than can be said for a lot of exploitation flicks – most make better trailers than they do films.

As usual don't take the star ratings too seriously – I'm generally going on entertainment value over quality.


FRIDAY:

Deadly China Dolls (a.k.a. Lethal Panthers)

Year: 1990
Director: Godfrey Ho
Writers: Simon Fong, Charles N
Starring: Alex Fong, William Ho, Sibelle Hu, Maria Jo, John Lam, Clement Lee

Catapulting us into the weekend was Deadly China Dolls, sporting the classic tagline - “floozies with oozies” (yes, that's how they spelt it) and it didn't disappoint. This is exploitation at its most refined. With one scene you'll get a gun fight, the next some gratuitous nudity, the next a kung-fu showdown and then it'll begin the loop again. There is a story in there somewhere about assassins and gangsters, but not a lot of time is spent on it. It looks about ten years older than it should (even on DVD) and it was clearly made on a budget, but they really go to town with their action sequences. There's a lot of firepower on display and they even manage to pull off some low rate John Woo slow-mo sequences. The martial arts scenes aren't too shabby either, with one of the stars in particular (can't remember her character name unfortunately) pulling off some impressive moves.

OK so the film is pretty crappy in all honesty, but delivers all your exploitation needs and is one of the most effective trashy B-movies I've seen for a while. If you're into scantily clad women blowing things up, killing hundreds of faceless goons and still having time to get down and dirty with some gangsters, then you can do much much worse.

7/10

A trailer for the Lethal Action Series (including Lethal Panther):



Horsemen of the Apocalypse (a.k.a. Horsemen)

Year: 2009
Director: Jonas Akerlund
Writers: Dave Callahan
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Ziyi Zhang, Lou Taylor Pucci, Clifton Collins Jr, Patrick Fugit, Peter Stormare

We needed a change of pace after the sleeze and destruction of Deadly China Dolls so we went modern with Jonas Akerlund's thriller from last year which seemed to pass by unnoticed by the general public. A distinctly average, but nicely shot and suitably grisly serial killer mystery, Horsemen of the Apocalypse tries desperately to be Se7en but ultimately fails. Dennis Quaid is a grizzled detective struggling to get his life back on track after the death of his wife. Overworked and failing to be there for his two sons, he spends his days and nights trying to find who's behind a spate of brutal and torturous killings following a theme of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. It opts for a finale that's potentially quite interesting and refreshingly low-key for a film of this kind, but the writing is too clunky and the unfolding events are often too clearly signposted, making for quite a predictable experience.

Dennis Quaid is strong in the lead role, not mindblowing, but he kept me interested. Ziyi Zhang is less consistent, but I love watching her in anything. The film is not particularly memorable and has its flaws, but it's classy enough to be worth a rent if you fancy a dark, moody thriller.

5/10

SATURDAY:
Strike of the Panther

Year: 1988
Director: Brian Trenchard-Smith
Writers: Peter West, Ranald Allan and Brian Trenchard-Smith
Starring: Edward John Stazak, John Stanton, Rowena Wallace, Jim Richards, Paris Jefferson, Zale Daniel

First up on Saturday was Strike of the Panther after a lengthy trip to Huddersfield's town centre hitting every market stall and charity shop along the way for more trash fixes. It's an 80's ozploitation 'classic' from Brian Trenchard-Smith, the man behind BMX Bandits and Turkey Shoot as well as the last video weekend's star attraction The Man From Hong Kong. The one and only sequel to Day of the Panther, this is low budget Australian martial arts at its most fun. It's packed wall to wall with action as any film of this ilk should be - the moves are occasionally slow and always clearly choreographed, but they're diverse and acrobatic enough to remain entertaining nonetheless.

It's as dumb as they get – the hero Jason Blade's mentor and friend becomes psychic for no apparent reason half way through the film and starts to help him fight the bad guys from back his hospital bed. The acting is beyond wooden too, with Stazak delivering one of the blandest lead performances I've ever seen, managing to look goofily confused through the entire running time. Things like this are all part of its charm though and the filmmakers know what they're dealing with, keeping things moving along at a fair pace and throwing enough fights and daft humour in there to keep you from switching off. It hit the spot for us anyway.

6/10

Below is a rather lengthy clip from the film. If you can't stomach that much cheese then skip to the baseball bat wielding ninja at 2.40 – comedy gold!



Triangle

Year: 2009
Director: Christopher Smith
Writer: Christopher Smith
Starring: Melissa George, Joshua McIvor, Jack Taylor, Michael Dorman, Henry Nixon

Jumping back to a modern genre offering, we tried out the British horror/thriller Triangle from writer/director Christopher Smith, the man behind Severance and Black Death, which is doing the festival rounds at the moment. It was an odd experience for me, because whilst I watched it I was genuinely engrossed and loved the looping concept of the film (kind of like a horror take on Groundhog Day), but after it finished and I let my mind take in what had happened I realised how deeply flawed it is in its logic, leaving an unsatisfying nasty aftertaste to it all. I can't go into it too much without spoiling the film, but for me it broke too many of its own rules. Smith tries to juggle too much by the end, getting trapped in the narrative's constrictive boundaries and depending on some clumsy contrivances in the finale to tie it up.

As I said, whilst I watched the film I loved it though. It's taught, original and occasionally quite creepy. Some of the minor characters are clichéd and annoying, but Melissa George is effective in the central role even if she overdoes the victim shtick from time to time. Your level of enjoyment of the film will come down to whether you can buy into the narrative though. I did for the most part, but it was too easy to pick apart afterwards.

7/10

Stone

Year: 1974
Director: Sandy Harbutt
Writer: Sandy Harbutt & Michael Robinson
Starring: Ken Shorter, Sandy Harbutt, Deryck Barnes, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Roger Ward, Vincent Gil

With its cult classic status and history of being one of the early groundbreaking entries to the ozploitation genre, I was pretty disappointed with Stone. It's not terrible, it's just dated quite badly and is frustratingly slow-moving; never a good thing in the latter stages of a film marathon. That said, once I got the idea that this wasn't the bike-chase filled trash-fest I expected, the film did grow on me. Rather than pander to action-movie clichés the film spends most of its time getting to know the violent, filthy, yet strangely likeable members of its central biker gang. It's shot and performed with a refreshing naturalism that was always done best in the 70's and some of the scenes when the group are just shooting the shit are the strongest. Unfortunately, the lead actor Ken Shorter, who plays a not-so-undercover cop that infiltrates the gang, is painfully bland and spoils the good work being done elsewhere. Also, as I mentioned earlier, the film has dated over the years. There's a strong hippy vibe to it all that just grated after a while and for a film that was banned in its time it's pretty tame by todays standards.

Bikers and those attuned to the film's heritage and importance will get more from it and there is some solid 70's filmmaking on display, but ultimately I found the film a little too dull to fully endorse.

5/10

Below is the trailer, which makes it look a lot more exciting than it actually is:



Equalizer 2000

Year: 1986
Director: Cirio H. Santiago
Writer: Frederick Bailey
Starring: Richard Norton, Corinne Wahl, Robert Patrick, William Steis, Frederick Bailey

Equalizer 2000 is a Roger Corman backed Z-grade post-apocalyptic action movie from the king of Filipino exploitation, Cirio H. Santiago. Now I thought Deadly China Dolls was action-packed, but this just took the piss. The only scene I can remember that doesn't feature gunfire is a soft-focus sex scene between Richard Norton and Corinne Wahl and as surprised as I am to be saying this, there was just too much action for me. Because there was so little variety in what was happening on screen, it just became white noise after a while and we actually had to watch the last half on Sunday morning because we were struggling to stay awake. That said, the finale was great fun and Santiago certainly makes the most of his low budget. Plus you've got to give the film credit for delivering exactly what its audience wants.

The film's 'plot' is hilarious. Basically, the world has been devastated by nuclear war and is split into several tribes, most of which are at war with one another. Then in comes Slade (Norton) who builds the world's biggest, most bad-ass gun, which for some reason becomes the key to taking over the world and winning the war. Of course it repeatedly falls into the wrong hands and Slade has to win it back to restore peace to the land. There's a goofy charm to its naffness and it's fun to see Robert Patrick in one of his earliest roles, hamming it up nicely as a rebellious bandit. After checking out IMDB I discovered that he appeared in four of Santiago's films in his first 2 years as an actor, demonstrating how important Corman was in kickstarting the careers of several successful actors and directors.

Art it ain't, but Equalizer 2000 is trashy fun that put a smile on my face, despite a case of action overkill.

6/10

Below is an action-packed trailer:


SUNDAY:

East LA Warriors

Year: 1989
Directors: Addison Randall
Writers: Raymond Martino & Addison Randall
Starring: Tony Bravo, Kamar De Los Reyes, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, Sabino Villa Lobos, Jastereo Coviare

East LA Warriors was a film I picked up especially for the weekend – that cover was just too hilarious to pass up. Unfortunately it was the weakest film we watched, leaving Sunday's viewing a little stale. It had its share of so-bad-it's-funny moments, but took itself way too seriously. The film is set amongst the South American ganglands of East LA and teases us with talk of 'the games' (a fight tournament... to the death!), but they appear too little too late and instead it's more of an anti-gang melodrama that comes across as a Mexican soap opera. I would put money on most of the actors being from that background with all the hamming up on display; the scenes between Paulo and his mother are borderline parodies. That said, it was a refreshingly different setting at least and the story here is more fleshed out than in Deadly China Dolls or Equalizer 2000.

It's all watchable enough and there were a handful of goofy action scenes interspersed to keep me from totally giving up on it, but it's very bland and feels like more of a TV-movie than a straight to DVD action extravaganza. There's little to warrant its 18 certificate too, I think just one harsh moment must have done it. The filmmakers probably slotted that in to up the rating and sell more copies. A disappointing end to a fun weekend.

4/10

Below is a homemade trailer and yes that song is from the film - what a theme tune!

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Capsule Reviews June 2010

I've been very bad at keeping up with my reviewing of late. A mixture of being busy at home and work plus a bit of laziness has meant that I've only added one review and a link to some articles here and at Row Three this month. Maybe it's burnout after my Cannes trip or maybe it's because I'm preparing for the launch of Blueprint's upcoming review site (more info on that soon), but it just hasn't been happening. To make up for it I thought I'd knock up another batch of capsule reviews, briefly going over everything I've caught at the cinema and haven't written up my thoughts on over the last couple of months.


Whip It

Year: 2009
Director: Drew Barrymore
Writer: Shauna Cross
Based on the Novel by: Shauna Cross
Starring: Ellen Page, Marcia Gay Harden, Juliet Lewis, Drew Barrymore, Alia Shawkat

Drew Barrymore's directorial debut is a light indie-drama that is cut from the same cloth as Juno and Little Miss Sunshine but doesn't try too hard to be quirky or cool as those films do. That's not to say it's better than them though. It's an enjoyable film about a teenager who uses the aggressive but inclusive sport of roller derby to find a sense of identity as well as rebel against her uptight mother. It supplies Ellen Page with another loveable outcast character to sink her teeth into and for the most part it does well to steer clear of too many sports movie cliches, but towards the end it started to get a bit cheesy for me. It's also a little too breezy for it's own good at times, making for an easy-going but mildly forgettable experience. It was better than I expected though and it's subtlety (in the first two-thirds at least) and lightness of touch was admirable for what could have easily become schmaltzy Hollywood trash. It'll be interesting to see what Barrymore does next.

6/10


How To Train Your Dragon

Year: 2010
Director: Dean DeBlois & Chris Sanders
Writers: Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders & William Davis
Based on the Novel by: Cressida Cowell
Featuring the Voices of: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse

After churning out Shrek sequels and other decidedly average CGI-animated features for the last few years, Dreamworks finally produce a film to rival Pixar's work. How To Train Your Dragon is a perfectly balanced family adventure with enough humour, warmth and set-pieces to keep everyone happy for an hour and a half. It's a wonderfully told story, taking the audience into a time and place where a group of Vikings spend their days fighting off the attacking dragon hordes. One weedy teenager discovers that these creatures are not quite as dangerous as they seem though and befriends an injured dragon unbeknownst to his clan. It's perfect entertainment which will make you smile, gasp and possibly even shed a tear. It also looks great, partly due to assistance from the legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins and partly due to some impressively well-integrated 3D. For me, animated features integrate the technique more effectively and this is a great example where it really brings some of the characters to life as well as makes the aerial dragon sequences more exciting to watch. I really couldn't praise this film enough, for a family film it gets everything right and I'd advise anyone who thinks that Pixar are the only animated film makers of note these days to think again.

9/10


Hot Tub Time Machine

Year: 2010
Director: Steve Pink
Writers: Josh Heald, Sean Anders & John Morris
Starring: John Cusack, Clark Duke, Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry, Sebastian Stan, Crispin Glover, Chevy Chase

A knowingly low-brow and dumb comedy, Hot Tub Time Machine is not art by any means, but is good fun if you're in the right mood. John Cusack and his old high school buddies plan a ski-trip to cheer up one of their party who they think tried to kill themselves as well as attempt to rekindle their long burnt out friendship. They get to the resort and find that it isn't the trendy, youthful hive of excitement that it used to be and resort to getting drunk in their chalet's hot tub, which of course becomes the time machine of the title, which takes them back to the time of their eventful last holiday there. It's not big and it's not clever, but it clearly knows this and just has fun with the group and their situation. There are too many knob-gags for my liking and it's very predictable and corny at times, but I was laughing my way through it all, which is what counts really when your film is called Hot Tub Time Machine. It's clear that the cast share the same attitude and no one takes it too seriously, resulting in a film that will never win any awards, but is a good time if you can accept that it's never going to be anything other than that.

6/10


Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

Year: 2009
Director: Werner Herzog
Writer: William Finklestein
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Val Kilmer, Fairuza Balk, Xzibit, Brad Dourif

Bad Lieutenant is a peculiar film. In terms of plot it's a bog standard detective story with a troubled protagonist, but Herzog and Cage turn it into a wildly entertaining fever dream that I couldn't tear my eyes away from. Cage is the driving force, his performance is way over the top, but utterly captivating and joyous to watch despite the horrific deeds his character often instigates. Herzog gives him free reign and himself indulges in some surreal and plain barmy moments, in particular a couple of totally random handicam lizard shots. It all adds to the trippy ride and the film is massively enjoyable, a pitch black comedy if I ever did see one. The end is bafflingly neatly tied up after such a loose and free-wheeling first two thirds. Herzog almost seems to be taking the piss out of the material, having the supporting actors mug their way through all the endings to the story strands as Cage and the audience get confused by how it's turning out. It's a film that has little substance and plays out like a filmmaker just plain having fun with a trashy genre script, but it works really well and makes for an invigorating and laugh out loud funny experience.

8/10


Robin Hood

Year: 2010
Director: Ridley Scott
Writers: Brian Helgeland, Ethan Reiff & Cyrus Voris
Starring: Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Mark Strong, Max Von Sydow, William Hurt, Oscar Isaac

I wasn't expecting much from this latest incarnation of the British legend. The story has been told a hundred times, the trailers just suggested Gladiator 2 meets Braveheart, which to an extent it sort of is, and the public and critical response to it has been pretty lukewarm. However I thought I'd give it the benefit of the doubt and to be honest I was pleasantly surprised. What I didn't expect, even though coverage of the film had hinted at it, was how different the story was. This isn't the classic tale of the green tight wearing rogue robbing from the rich and giving to the poor, it's an origin story that introduces the character as a bit of a charlatan really who takes on somebody else's identity for various reasons, but ends up discovering his true calling and leading an uprising in northern England (technically the Midlands I guess). The plot is overcomplicated and there are a few holes here and there, but the new perspective on the story worked for me, breathing fresh life into the legend, even if it wasn't perfectly told. Coming from Ridley Scott the film looks great of course, the period detail seems impressively authentic and the battle scenes are well handled and exciting. Russell Crowe is solid, but didn't blow me away. His accent is way off what it should be (he almost sounds Irish), but at least it's fairly consistent. Cate Blanchett also delivers a decent, but hardly memorable performance. It's Mark Strong as the evil French conspirator that impresses the most. With this and Sherlock Holmes under his belt, he's going to be getting a lot of villain roles coming his way. So all in all it's a decent effort that has it's share of problems and won't appeal to those expecting a rip-roaring adventure in the vein of Prince of Thieves, but is nonetheless refreshingly different and solidly entertaining.

6/10


Get Him To The Greek

Year: 2010
Director: Nicholas Stoller
Writers: Nicholas Stoller & Jason Segel
Starring: Jonah Hill, Russell Brand, Rose Byrne, Colm Meaney

It was always going to be an uphill struggle for me because I'm not a Russell Brand fan, but I really didn't like Get Him To The Greek. A very simple concept, the film's story is about a hard-working devoted boyfriend Aaron Green's (Jonah Hill) mission to get the drug addled disgraced rock star Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) to a comeback gig at 'The Greek'. Along the way of course Hill cuts loose and both characters discover a lot of home truths and become friends etc. It's predictable fluff at best, but really this wasn't what bothered me about the film. The simple fact was that I just didn't find it funny. For the year's big comedy release it's a poor state of affairs when I didn't laugh out loud once during the whole film. It tries really hard, but somewhere in-between the writing and the delivery it just consistently fell flat for me. There were others in the screening that seemed to be having a great time, but even their laughs died down as the film went on. I found the satire pretty feeble too. It was all annoyingly obvious and a little watered down. My biggest problem was with the songs. Brand supplies vocals for far too many spoof numbers that desperately try to emulate the success of the pitch perfect homages of This is Spinal Tap, but are far too blunt and unprofessionally performed to sound convincing or elicit any laughs. Brand makes for a reasonable rock star at times when he doesn't start singing and obviously suits the role, but when anything mildly demanding is required of him he doesn't pull it off. As with most of Apatow's productions the film has a large proportion of time devoted to 'bromance' as well as some old fashioned romance and these are mildly successful, but never particularly involving, instead just playing out exactly as you'd expect. It all adds to what is quite a dull, flat comedy that totally missed it's mark for me. Brand fans and others will probably disagree as this has received reasonable acclaim elsewhere, but I thought it was pretty much a total failure.

4/10

Monday, 7 June 2010

Axis of War: Night Raid

Director: An Lan
Starring: Wang Yongming, Liu Tianzuo, He Dandan, Xu Honghao
Country: China
BBFC Certification: 15
Duration: 85 min

Night Raid (the final part of the Axis of War trilogy) is a bit of a mystery. I got sent a copy to review randomly without requesting it (I had received an email about the previous two films but hadn't responded due to other commitments) and looking up the film, director and even the rest of the trilogy on IMDB came back empty every time. The film doesn't seem to exist away from the press release Metrodome sent me. Anyway, mystery or not this film arrived at my doorstep so I thought I'd give it a whirl.

Well I can now tell you that it's a good old fashioned men-on-a-mission war film all the way. China is getting hit hard by the Japanese and a group of Chinese soldiers on their way back from the front lines stumble upon a huge enemy airfield; a hive of bombers and fighters that have been decimating their forces. The group's major, ashamed of their current orders to head away from the heat of battle, decides to launch a secret and possibly suicidal mission to destroy the base. Along the way the team pick up a female war-photographer and there is lots of bonding and camaraderie in between the action.


Night Raid is quite clearly a propaganda piece for the Chinese government. All of the soldiers are heroes, the Japanese are pure evil and there are lots of 'messages' about the greater good and all that sort of stuff. Because of this the film is obviously heavy handed and simplistic. It's packed with clichés and is cheesy as hell. The performances are hammy and it looks cheap. I could quite easily lay into this film and point out all of it's flaws, but you know what? I actually quite enjoyed myself.

It's not well made enough to give it a high score, but I couldn't help but be reminded of the fun WWII action adventures of the 60's such as Guns of Navarone and Where Eagles Dare as I watched this. OK, so it isn't in their leagues by a long stretch, but strip away the governmental control over the film, the low budget presentation and the ham-fisted treatment of the brutality of war and you're left with a fast-paced, action-packed, trashy beer-and-buddies night-in.


The action scenes are what won me over (a little). They have an old-school charm to them in their obvious use of miniatures instead of CGI and their excessive level of huge flaming explosions. There's all sorts of violence going on in the finale too with some mini martial arts sequences and a little sword and knife-play thrown in for good measure. It's all so ludicrously over the top and silly that it just hit the right note for me, stopping the politics and melodrama from ever being taken too seriously.

It sounds like I love the film now, but at the end of the day as much fun as the action scenes are, I can't get away from the fact that the rest of the film is pretty corny and cobbled together quite poorly at times. There's also a bitter propagandist edge that is hard to shake. If you can ignore this though and imagine it was made back in the early 60's when war films didn't seem to take themselves so seriously you can have a lot of fun with this in a B-movie sort of way.

5/10

Axis of War: Night Raid is released on 5th July by Metrodome. There were no special features on the disc I received. The picture quality was odd, it looked older than it should have, but I think it will be down to the source material as the transfer looked consistent and the colours were fairly bold. The sound was a bit muddy at times, but again I suspect this was down to the original master.


Saturday, 29 May 2010

Cannes Roundup


After a disastrous start to my festival experience (I missed my flight through shear stupidity and the airport's lack of loudspeaker communication) I've finally made it to the South of France at arguably the world's most famous film event, the Cannes Film Festival and although I wasn't there for a long time, I still managed to squeeze in 15 films.  Unfortunately I missed the Palme d'Or winner, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives as well as most of the other award winners, but there were still some interesting and excellent titles to catch.


WEDNESDAY:

Moomins and the Comet Chase

Director: Maria Linberg
Writers: Joel Backström, Iivo Baric, Minna Karvonen, Anders Larsson
Based on the books by: Tove Jansson
Starring: Max Von Sydow, Alexander Skarsgard, Stellan Skarsgard, Mads Mikkelsen, Peter Stormare

Yes, I know it's a bizarre choice of film to begin my Cannes experience, but my fiancé is a patriotic Finn and Moomin lover so would give me no end of grief if I missed this one. Also, I wanted something easy going after my stressful travel problems. It's got an incredible cast too (Max Von Sydow, Stellan Skarsgard, Peter Stormare) so I thought I'd give it a chance. I'm struggling to decide what I thought of it though in the end. It's a film that is either terrible or brilliant I can't quite decide. It's aimed at very young children so a lot of the film is a little too pleasant and quaint to stomach with little excitement along the way, but at the same time it's strangely dark, with a story concerning the end of the world riding alongside scenes of Moomins picking flowers and making cakes. I also liked the look of the film, using stop motion and simple cut out fabric designs like the old series that was released years ago. Unfortunately it was transferred to 3D, which suits the film, giving it a pop-up book quality, but the 3D wasn't done particularly well with some odd layer-blending issues and a couple of faulty shots here and there (it might not have been the final polished version though to be fair).

I can't see it making a big splash on it's release, but it's a sweet, odd little film that very young children (1-5 year olds) will enjoy and adults might find a certain charm to it's surreal whimsy, so long as they can sit through the overly quaint simplicity of it all.


Two Gates of Sleep

Director: Alistair Banks Griffin
Writers: Alistair Banks Griffin
Starring: Brady Corbet, David Call, Karen Young

Two Gates of Sleep is a film I watched totally off the cuff because I'd missed my chance to see Outrage (hopefully I'll have chance on Sunday). Playing as part of the Directors' Fortnight, it's a beautifully made film that unfortunately was too slow and minimalistic to really pique my interest. The cinematography, sound design and music is breathtaking, making sumptuous use of it's unspoilt natural location. The film tells a simple story of two brothers who lose their mother and brave the wilderness to honour her final request. That's really all there is to it, we have a build up to that moment and then witness the hardships they have to face in making their way upriver. It's a film I didn't take a huge amount away from, but I was very tired at the time and was close to nodding off, so given my full attention I may have appreciated it more. It was certainly well-crafted, but far too subtle and dreamy for someone who hadn't slept for 36 hours or so.


THURSDAY:

La Nostra Vita

Director: Daniele Luchetti
Writers: Sandro Petraglia, Stefano Rulli, Daniele Luchetti
Starring: Elio Germano, Isabella Ragonese, Raoul Bova

The first In Competition title I caught was La Nostra Vita, an Italian drama charting a foreman's struggle to keep his life on track after the death of his wife. It's a naturalistic film with a host of solid performances and some touching moments. It also offers an interesting unvarnished view of the immigration situation in the country. Unfortunately I found it too predictable and frequently schmaltzy to fully deliver though. The ending in particular is far too neatly tied up and syrupy, when several of the plot strands could have led to darker, more interesting territories. That said, it's still an engaging film with a charismatic lead performance from Elio Germano, it just left me feeling like I'd 'been there and done that' and too often came across like low rate TV drama subject matter trapped in the body of a gritty art-house film.



...But Film is My Mistress

Director: Stig Björkman
Writers: Stig Björkman
Starring: Ingmar Bergman, Liv Ullmann, Sven Nykvist

...But Film is My Mistress is a documentary put together using archived behind-the-scenes footage of eight of Ingmar Bergman's films in an attempt to capture the great filmmaker at work. It's a beautifully made film that is fully respectful to Bergman's style. It keeps things simple by presenting us with long sections of behind the scenes footage, mixed with brief snippets of the finished films (generally the scenes we have seen being developed) and occasional voiceover interviews with some of the great directors that admire his work (Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, John Sayles etc.). It thankfully avoids becoming an arse-kissing contest as many retrospective biographical-documentaries become and also never wastes time trying to unravel the mysteries of any of his films. It simply lets us witness Bergman plot out camera movements and work with his cast, which is much more insightful than listening to his fans tell us how much they love him. It was also interesting to see his working relationship with regular cinematographer Sven Nykvist and frequent lead actress Liv Ullmann. There are some heart-warming touches too as we see the cast joking around on the set of some of Bergman's most serious films.

It's an excellent documentary and fans of Bergman will lap it up. Being a recent newcomer to the director myself it made me desperately want to work my way through his oeuvre. A must see for film-lovers.


A Alegria

Director: Felipe Bragança & Marina Meliande
Writers: Felipe Bragança
Starring: Tainá Medina, Junior Moura, Cesar Cardadeiro, Flora Dias

A Alegria was another Directors' Fortnight title that I caught with little knowledge of it going in. I had a completely opposite reaction to this than I did with Two Gates of Sleep though. Whereas that was a beautifully crafted film with not enough going on to truly engross me, this was a film with some interesting ideas, but really sub-standard production. Quality-wise it comes across as a student film and not a particularly good one at that. It's shot digitally, which isn't a problem – I use the format myself, but it's clean, sharp picture quality shows up it's cheap, bland lighting which looks like something out of a Mexican soap opera. The performances are pretty bland and unconvincing too, which hinders the film's message of using art and imagination to tackle the world's problems. The young lead actress Tainá Medina has a lot of potential, but the directors waste her talents through poorly conceived long, slow takes that ruin the film's pacing and unveil flaws in the actors' deliveries. It does have a quirky, mildly uplifting finale, but ultimately I struggled to forgive it's technical shortcomings and slow, bland presentation.


Rebecca H. (Return to the Dogs)

Director: Lodge Kerrigan
Writers: Lodge Kerrigan
Starring: Géraldine Pailhas, Pascal Grgory, Lodge Kerrigan

A tricky one to review, Rebecca H. (Return to the Dogs) is Lodge Kerrigan's experimental entry to the Un Certain Regard competition. It's at times curiously fascinating and at others infuriatingly impenetrable and seemingly meaningless. The lead performance from Géraldine Pailhas is powerful and she'll be a force to be reckoned with in the festival's best actress award. The film revolves around her as she plays an actress preparing to play Grace Slick in a film as well as featuring as herself in sequences that break the fourth wall. It's an interesting take on the nature of performance (at least that's what I took from the film) however, too much of the film is wasted on overly long and worthless sequences, specifically two excruciatingly drawn out close-up tracking shots of Géraldine. The artistic merit of watching the back of her head as she walks down the road for literally about 20 minutes of the film is bewildering. A lot of what is displayed was undecipherable in general and although I was hypnotically drawn into the film at times, I often didn't know what to make of what I was watching.




FRIDAY

Lights Out (aka Simon Werner a Disparu...)

Director: Fabrice Gobert
Writer: Fabrice Gobert 
Starring: Jules Pélissier, Ana Girardot, Jean-Philippe Goudroye, Serge Riaboukine

I actually gave up my ticket for Uncle Boonmee to see this as it was gathering quite a bit of buzz and sounded a bit easier to digest after the several heavy going art pieces I'd watched previously.  Although I'm gutted now that I missed the Palme d'Or winner, I'm still glad I caught this as it's a compulsively engaging mystery that I thoroughly enjoyed.  I don't want to go into too much detail because its main strength is the unfolding of its story, but the film is set in a French High School where a student goes missing and his classmates try to figure out what happened.  We are shown the same period of time from several different perspectives, gradually letting the audience piece together exactly what happened.  It's a technique that isn't totally original, but it works very well and I was hooked throughout.  The ending will divide audiences, but I think they pulled it off.  I'd love to say more about the film, but it's best watched cold so I won't go on.  All I'll say is look out for it if/when it gets released, it's well worth your time. 


Life, Above All

Director: Oliver Schmitz
Writer: Dennis Foon
Starring: Khomotso Manyaka, Keaobaka Makanyane, Lerato Mvelase, Tinah Mnumzana, Audrey Poolo

Life, Above All is a South African film tackling the taboo of AIDS in  the poor rural areas of the country.  It centres around Chanda, a 12 year old girl who has to hold her family together amidst the fear of her neighbours after her baby sister dies and her mother falls ill.  It's a solid film that gets its point across effectively, but it felt a little too straightforward and earnest (but with a lot of heart) to truly stand out.  The young lead, Khomotso Manyaka is excellent and the photography is impressive, but it never moved me as much as it should have considering the subject matter.  It has a warmth to it that is admirable for the bleak situations that are placed before us, but it occasionally causes the film to get cheesy, particularly in a very Hollywood turnaround scene at the end.  It's not bad by any means, but ultimately it failed to impress me enough to deem it more than merely decent.



Hahaha

Director: Sang-soo Hong
Writer: Sang-soo Hong 
Starring: Sang-kyung Kim, So-ri Moon, Ju-bong Gi, Kang-woo Kim, Min-sun Kim

Hahaha took home the top prize in the Un Certain Regard category.  It's a lo-fi South Korean comedy drama about two friends who meet at a bar and tell each other the story of their previous holiday spent in a certain town, unaware of the fact that their visits were at the same time and with much of the same people.  I must admit this did little for me and I was very surprised when it took home the award.  I did get drawn into the two tales after a while and found a lot of the cast quite likeable, but then I got pretty bored by the last half an hour.  It's far too long for such a low key and simple film and the humour was pretty lost on me.  The conclusion of one of the stories was unheralded too which made what had come before quiet unsatisfying.  Clearly others got a lot more from the film, but for me this was a bit dull and uninspiring.



SATURDAY:


We Are What We Are (aka Somos Lo Que Hay) 

Director: Jorge Michel Grau
Writer: Jorge Michel Grau 
Starring: Adrián Aguirre, Miriam Balderas, Francisco Barreiro, Carmen Beato

I'd heard a lot of buzz about We Are What We Are over at Twitch so was quite eager to catch this, then got even more excited when I realised Gael García Bernal was sat behind me.  I was devastated however when the first lines of dialogue were uttered and no English translation came up on screen.  I decided to stick with it though, it had French subtitles and I know a tiny amount of that.  I was glad I did because despite pretty much all of the dialogue being lost on me, it remained one of my favourite films of the festival.  It's a testament to the quality of the film that it was still probably the most entertaining too.  If you've not heard about the film already, it's about a family of cannibals struggling to find an offering for their regular ritual after the father dies.  It's all done totally straight with an art-house feel but a solid, gripping pace.  It's not an exploitation piece at all, most of the gore is saved for the finale, instead it's a very dark family drama with a side helping of horror and hints of black comedy.  It looks fantastic too utilising a dark and dirty palette that creates a moody, never glossy feel for the film.  It's definitely one to look out for (IFC bought the American rights at the festival) and personally I can't wait to watch it again, with English subtitles next time though please. 


Route Irish

Director: Ken Loach
Writer: Paul Laverty 
Starring: Mark Womack, Andrea Lowe, John Bishop, Najwa Nimri, Stephen Lord

Entered into the competition at the last minute (supposedly due to Terence Malick's The Tree of Life not being finished on time), Route Irish is an Iraq war focused (not set) thriller about a private security contractor Fergus (Mark Womack) who returns home to the funeral of his best friend Frankie, a contractor himself who was killed on the job.  Dissatisfied with the claim that Frankie was just 'in the wrong place at the wrong time', Fergus sets out to track down those responsible for the tragedy.  It's a blunt and heavy handed effort from Loach which was entertaining enough and had a lot to say about the ridiculous privileges granted to these highly trained but unhinged ex-soldiers, but ultimately comes across as quite clunky.  Womack, although occasionally commanding, delivers an annoyingly one-note performance and Andrea Lowe is pretty poor as his love interest.  This side of the film in general doesn't really work either and just slows down the main plot strand.  Even though watching a tough thriller was a welcome change to the more slow and sombre films of the festival, this wasn't the best example and made me pray for some subtlety and artistry in the next film we watched.



SUNDAY:

Another Year


Director: Mike Leigh 
Writer: Mike Leigh 
Starring: Jim Broadbent, Lesley Manville, Ruth Sheen, Peter Wight, Oliver Maltman

I'm ashamed to admit it, but I've never seen a Mike Leigh film all the way through before.  This is something I have to remedy as soon as possible though, because I totally fell in love with Another Year.  It was one of the longest films I saw at Cannes and probably the least eventful, but it remained the most captivating and enjoyable.  It's basically about a year in the life of Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen), a couple nearing retirement who spend their evenings and weekends having friends and family over for dinner.  Their most frequent guest is Mary (Lesley Manville), a motor-mouthed 50-something whose liveliness covers a tragic loneliness.  The film is a bittersweet, yet warm and subtly moving drama that sucks you into it's marginally heightened realism.  The performances are utterly superb, especially Manville who stole the show for me.  A scene towards the end where she is alone with Tom's practically mute brother had me nearly crying with a mixture of laughter, sadness and shear joy over the brilliance of the moment.  Imelda Staunton, who earned heaps of kudos for her role in Vera Drake is fantastic too, although she only appears briefly in some early scenes.

The only criticism I might give (other than Imelda Staunton being criminally underused) is that a couple of the characters are a little too 'nice' and threatened to get on my nerves, but it all seemed part of the larger-than-life nature of it all.  It certainly didn't stop me from loving the film though and becoming an overnight Mike Leigh fan.  I'm just gutted the British Mike Leigh boxset has been deleted, preventing me from buying up his whole collection in one fell swoop.




Of Gods and Men (aka Des Hommes Et Des Dieux)

Director: Xavier Beauvois 
Writers: Xavier Beauvois & Etienne Comar 
Starring: Lambert Wilson, Michael Lonsdale, Olivier Rabourdin, Philippe Laudenbach, Jacques Herlin

Of Gods and Men was one of the favourites to take home the Palme d'Or, but ended winning the Grand Prix instead, which is still a great honour of course.  It's a classy drama that follows a group of Cistercian monks who refuse to make compromises or leave their home for the fundamentalists that rise up in the area.  There's little more plot to it than that really, the film is all about the characters and how they come to terms with what they must face together in order to stand up for their beliefs.  It's slowly paced and meditative, yet engrossing due to it's fine acting and beautiful subtly flowing camerawork.  I did start to lose interest as the film went on, finding some of it a little repetitive, but a couple of powerful scenes towards the end brought me back in.  In particular there's an overwhelmingly poignant scene when one of the monks smuggles in a bottle of wine and a recording of Swan Lake.  It's not for everyone, but it's a fine piece of filmmaking and is bound to do well on the art-house circuit when it's released elsewhere.




The Housemaid (aka Hanyo)

Director: Sang-soo Im 
Writers: Sang-soo Im & Ki-young Kim 
Starring: Do-yeon Jeon, Jung-Jae Lee, Seo Woo, Yeo-jeong Yoon, Yeo-Jong Yun

A remake of a 1960 Korean film of the same name (which I know nothing about), The Housemaid is an erotically charged thriller about a young housemaid who is seduced by the man of the house, leading to his wife and mother-in-law plotting revenge against her.  For a Cannes In Competition entry I must admit I found it pretty trashy.  I don't mean that in a particularly bad way and it's certainly not an exploitative B movie, it's just occasionally silly and has its share of raunchy sex scenes and nudity.  It's nicely shot though, well produced and entertaining.  I thought it lost its way a bit towards the final third, as it got a bit daft when the mother in law was introduced.  She comes across as a bit of a pantomime villain and her actions seemed too over the top at times.  I had fun with this though and it's worth a watch, even though it's not the best film of the festival by any means.


Tender Son – The Frankenstein Project

Director: Kornél Munruczó 
Writer: Kornél Munruczó
Based on the Novel by: Mary Shelley
Starring: Rudolf Frecska, Kitty Csíkos, Lili Monori, Kornél Mundruczó

My last film at Cannes was unfortunately a massive disappointment.  Tender Son – The Frankenstein Project is a modern day spin on the classic Mary Shelley novel, switching the man-made monster to an unwanted child who now in his late-teens/early twenties tracks down his mother to find out the truth of his lost childhood.  It's a painfully slow film that doesn't really go anywhere.  Yes it looks fantastic, but it outstays it's welcome after half an hour or so.  I thought their treatment of the original story failed too, ruining the sensitivity and humanity of the original character by turning the 'monster' into a murderous nutcase rather than a misunderstood innocent.  The acting style is very stilted too which got infuriating after a while and added to it's plodding pace.  Cinematography buffs will appreciate some of the visuals, there are some very well composed sequences, but ultimately this film is as dull as you get and in my opinion ruined a powerful story.


Sunday, 16 May 2010

Monday, 3 May 2010

Another Weekend of Trash

My friends and I recently got together for another one of our regular 'trashathons' – you may remember I covered the last extravaganza in an early post here. Basically consisting of watching as many cheap and cheesy genre titles we can handle in a weekend, our get-togethers have become a quarterly staple that I always look forward to. We've watched some really bad films, but we've also dug out some real gems in the past, many of which have disappeared completely with the DVD boom. Yes I'm talking VHS here. Throwing picture quality out the window we've been scouring the bins for some long forgotten titles. This time round we didn't manage to squeeze in quite as many films (we spent hours at a car boot sale purchasing more!) and a few aren't obscure by any means (only two titles were on VHS this time), but I still enjoyed myself and thought you guys might like to hear what we got up to. Again I've dug out some trailers and clips for your amusement.

P.S. Ratings are probably not worth it for most of these titles, but I'm going to give some scores for shear entertainment value, so don't take them too seriously.



FRIDAY:
Missing in Action

Year: 1984
Director: Joseph Zito
Writers: Arthur Silver, Larry Levinson, Steve Bing, James Bruner, John Crowther & Lance Hool
Starring: Chuck Norris, M. Emmet Walsh, David Tress, Lenore Kasdorf, James Hong

What trashy genre weekend would be complete without an entry from Chuck Norris. So we let the man who doesn't sleep, but waits (fact!) set us off. After a strong start featuring a 'nam flashback that ends in Norris leaping at a Vietnamese soldier with live grenades in either hand, the film unfortunately takes quite a nosedive and was pretty tedious for the most part. Things pick up towards the end once M. Emmet Walsh makes a surprising appearance and Norris lets rip on his bulletproof dingey (sorry, 'assault raft'), but generally this is pretty lame even by The Bearded One's standards. There are far too many scenes of gratuitous toplessness and 'tense' climbing sequences to sustain one's interest.

4/10


Friday the 13th

Year: 2009
Director: Marcus Nispel
Writers: Damian Shannon, Mark Swift & Mark Wheaton
Starring: Jared Padalecki, Danielle Panabaker, Amanda Righetti, Travis Van Winkle, Aaron Yoo, Derek Mears

There's not a whole lot to say about the 2009 remake of Friday the 13th. It's not particularly bad, but it's not particularly good either. It's a totally by the numbers slasher film that is effective enough, but never offers anything new. That said, I kind of liked the fact that it didn't try and add too much of an unnecessary history to Jason Voorhees like some of these 'reimaginings' do, it just sticks to what the Friday the 13th films do best, killing vulnerable and sexually active teens. The killings are occasionally quite inventive and well staged, the pace is solid and it never gets dull, but you can't get away from the fact that it's been done countless times in the past in exactly the same way.

5/10


SATURDAY:

Fireback

Year: 1983
Director: Teddy Page
Writers: ? Not listed on IMDB
Starring: Richard Harrison, Bruce Baron, Gwendolyn Hung, Jim Gaines

The first really obscure VHS title we pulled out was Fireback, a truly dreadful action movie starring Richard Harrison, the go to guy for bad ninja movies in the 80's. This isn't a ninja movie though unfortunately (although one makes a baffling appearance), it's a shoddy revenge thriller following Harrison's search for the kidnappers of his wife. The box promised non-stop explosive action featuring a ludicrously over the top weapon, but this swiss-army gun (it even has an inbuilt radio!) only makes an appearance in the first 5 minutes, which incidentally are the best 5 minutes of the film. Elsewhere we just had to put up with atrocious dubbing, painfully wooden acting and poorly choreographed action sequences. Not the hidden trash gem we were searching for.

2/10


Push

Year: 2009
Director: Paul McGuigan
Writer: David Bourla
Starring: Chris Evans, Dakota Fanning, Djimon Hounsou, Camilla Belle, Neil Jackson

After the atrocity that was Fireback, we decided to watch something modern with an actual budget, so we pulled out Push, a film that just sort of came and went in theatres last year with little fanfare. The three of us had previously met one of the supporting actors, Neil Jackson, at a film festival my friend curates and he seemed to be a genuinely nice guy, so we thought we'd give this film a go after he mentioned how much fun he had making it.

I was pleasantly surprised actually. I wasn't expecting much, it just looked like a bog-standard straight to DVD sci-fi film, but it was an enjoyable and fairly original action romp. It was a little overlong perhaps and suffers from a few sci-fi contrivances, but I liked the use of its Hong Kong location and it had a quirky, colourful vibe to it that set it apart from most films of its kind. When the 'force' powers are used to their full effect in the latter third of the film it's great fun too.

7/10


Police Assassins (a.k.a. Yes, Madam)

Year: 1985
Director: Corey Yuen
Writer: Barry Wong
Starring: Michelle Yeoh, Cynthia Rothrock, John Sham, Mang Hoi, Tsui Hark, Sammo Hung

We stayed in Hong Kong for our next film with a martial arts favourite, Police Assassins (a.k.a. Yes, Madam). I'm a big fan of the genre (it's my biggest guilty pleasure) and I've been meaning to see this for a while as it's Michelle Yeoh's first leading role and I'd heard good things about it. In its action scenes it certainly doesn't disappoint. The final showdown is spectacular and shows the world that women can pull off action sequences of astonishing athleticism that are easily equal to those of their contemporaries, Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Jet Li etc. Some of the moves and stunts are so fast, fluid and god-damned dangerous that I was blown away at times. Unfortunately these scenes are thin on the ground for the majority of the running time and as with most martial arts films of that period, slapstick comedy takes centre stage to fill the gaps. Admittedly I had a chuckle here and there and Tsui Hark of all people plays one of the comic relief characters and does a pretty good job, but ultimately I don't watch films like this for their comedy and there's only so much Benny Hill level goofing around I can stand in an hour and a half. So martial arts fans out there will get a big kick out of this, but be sure to have your remote on handy to fast forward certain sections.

6/10



The Roller Blade Seven

Year: 1991
Director: Donald G. Jackson
Writers: Donald G. Jackson & Scott Shaw
Starring: Scott Shaw, Frank Stallone, Karen Black, Don Stroud, William Smith, Joe Estevez

I can safely say without hesitation, that The Roller Blade Seven is the worst film I have ever seen. From the cover it looked like trashy fun (roller blading samurai!), but oh boy were we wrong. It actually plays out like a drug-induced student art film that has taken over the shell of a trashy B-movie. It's insufferably dull and to rub salt in the wounds consistently repeats shots again and again and again for no reason. The film makes no sense as it 'treats' us to early 90's music video visuals and improvised mumbling from its confused and clearly intoxicated cast (what the hell is Karen Black doing in there, she was in Nashville and Easy Rider for god's sake!). There are attempts at action sequences that are so slow and totally unpractised that they look like a bunch of kids whacking each other with plastic swords – in slow motion and on repeat. Doing research into this film I discovered that producer Scott Shaw described it as the first film adopting the 'Zen Filmmaking' style, where everything is shot on the fly and improvised in a short period of time. It sounds like an admirable thing, but from these results I wouldn't get excited. I've made improvised films with groups of 8 year olds in school workshops that are more effective than this. I also found out through my research that this is the first in a Roller Blade Seven trilogy and the producer has made dozens of 'Zen' films. God help us all....

I could go on, but I can't bare thinking about it anymore. If you ever have the chance to see this film, don't. Trust me, you may want to laugh at how bad it is, but it's not even worth it for that. Just check out the clips below and you'll see.

0/10

Embedding has been disabled on the trailer unfortunately, but here's a link to check it out in all its glory (the film is even worse, trust me).

And here's an actual sample of the film that I found elsewhere:



SUNDAY:

The Man From Hong Kong

Year: 1975
Directors: Brian Trenchard-Smith & Wang Yu
Writer: Brian Trenchard-Smith
Starring: Jimmy Wang Yu, George Lazenby, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Roger Ward, Ros Spiers

Maybe it was because we were coming off the back of The Roller Blade Seven, but I really enjoyed The Man From Hong Kong. It's 70's Grindhouse at its finest. A collaboration between an Australian production company and Hong Kong's Golden Harvest studio, the film is an unstoppable juggernaut of fight scenes, car chases and gratuitous nudity. Yes at its heart it is a low rate James Bond rip off with a forgettable story and plenty of hammy acting, but it's jam packed with everything we were searching for all weekend. Sammo Hung provides the action choreography (and a fairly large cameo) which as expected is top notch despite featuring less seasoned Western performers for the most part. Speaking of which, George Lazenby makes for an enjoyably cheesy villain and holds his own in the fight scenes against the One-Armed Swordsman himself Jimmy Wang Yu. A car chase towards the end is really impressive too. I wouldn't be surprised if Tarantino has this in his collection (in the Death Proof 'making of' he cites Ozploitation movies as his chief influence). So all in all it was the perfect end to our otherwise less-than-inspirational weekend line-up.

8/10