Saturday, 25 June 2011

Review - Tekkonkinkreet (2006 - Dir. Michael Arias)

An anime directed by an American. A recipe for disaster? From the documentary included on the disc you would think so. At one point, the production team watch a rough cut of the film and it's shockingly bad. Does the director rally the troops, identify problem areas and find clever solutions? No. he goes off, sulks and has a bit of a smoke. During other problematic times he messes about recording sounds rather than actually doing anything productive.

Amazingly, Tekkonkinkreet is actually quite good. From the initial scene of a bird swooping through Treasure Town you know you are in for a visual treat. The music by Plaid for this sequence is equally impressive. The decision to have a mixture of 2D and 3D backgrounds with traditional hand drawn animation makes a refreshing change (see Sky Blue for a similar approach). 

Based on a manga by Taiyo Matsumoto, the film follows the exploits of two homeless boys Black and White. It explores the themes of nostalgia, change and brotherhood. In the latter parts it explores the idea of who is looking after who. Black looks after White physically but more importantly White looks after Black mentally. The film does become very dark in the later stages as Black descends into madness.

There are some touching moments between the various characters, an execution scene in particular, strangely enough. The relationship between the two boys is also a strength. Another major character in the film is Treasure Town itself. It is a place that you enjoy spending some time in. I think this is the reason I keep coming back to Tekkonkinkreet. The music by Plaid also plays a large part in creating the atmosphere (for a review of the Plaid album Rest Proof Clockwork see our sister site intothevalleyoftheobscure).

If you look at the trailer and like the art direction you will probably get something, visually at least, from watching the film. Plus, you also get two alien psychopaths dressed in Eurotrash gear.

If you like this you could also try:
Paprika, Origin Spirits of the Past, Appleseed Ex-Machina, Sky Blue.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Review - Hobo With a Shotgun (2011 - Dir. Jason Eisener)

Based on a fake trailer from Grindhouse that I can't actually remember, this follows in the same grindhouse tradition. It sets out its stall from the off with its grain-o-vision and blurred opening credits

Rutger Hauer is in it. It's called Hobo With a Shotgun. Either you want to watch it from that or you don't. It is a lot of fun and I did laugh at quite a few moments of blood spillage. Mr Hauer is fantastically grizzled as the titular Hobo who has a grudge to bear against the local crimelord. His relationship with prostitute Abby (Molly Dunsworth) is the backbone of the film that the gore hangs off. Literally, most of the time. One of my favourite images is a tooled up, A-team style, Abby leaping on to a prone bad fella. Who doesn't love a helmet wearing lady with a shotgun and lawnmower shield combo?

If you call a film Hobo With a Shotgun you really need to explore the effects of a shotgun on the human body. The first three kills are all shots to the stomach. Disappointing. I want to see:
1. Shot to the stomach.
2. Shot to the shoulder removing an arm with accompanying fountain of blood.
3. Head shot removing a large portion of the head, if not all.
More variety definitely needed.

It's always a shame when characters have been built up to be total nutters and then aren't that harsh. The Plague come with a reputation. Again, I wanted to see them rip into people in Braindead levels of comedy gore. But again, you get three repetitions of a hanging manouvre. I don't know whether it was budget or they just neshed it, but for this type of film they needed to push the gore.

Saying all that, any film that contains homeless people being netted can't be all bad. I am in no way advocating the netting of homeless people but it is funny in the context of the film, a bit like the scenes of weird looking children being netted in The Garbage Pail Kids. Funny. But I wouldn't do it in real life.

Well worth a watch if you like the trailer. Just don't expect The King's Speech (although that could possibly benefit from some more shotgun involvement).

If you like this you could also try:
Braindead, Bad Taste, Planet Terror, Zombie Flesh Eaters, Zombie Holocaust.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Review - Prison (1988 - Dir. Renny Harlin)

Kicking off our 80s Prison Season is a late eighties prison film starring Lane Smith (Lois & Clark, V) as a prison warden gone bad and Viggo Mortenson (Lord of the Rings) as one of the prisoners. It is watchable rubbish and good for a late Friday night horror film.

Prison doesn’t actually contain enough prison action for my liking. Most of the usual prison film features are there but seem strangely muted. Lane Smith as the warden is miscast and never really convinces; he was far better suited to his role in the original V. Chelsea Field (Dust Devil), as the love interest, is very shouty at times. Good for music, bad for films. Viggo Mortenson doesn’t really have a lot to do and never becomes much of a hero.

What makes it watchable then? There are some half decent deaths with okay effects (all pre-CGI). The introduction of a supernatural element to the proceedings brings some extra effects spice with electricity bolts and some lively razor wire that wraps itself around a guard in true Evil Dead style. Also, you get to play the ‘He’s a goner’ game throughout the film, which is always a treat. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and is cheap and cheerful, but there are better prison films to come.

If you like this you could also try:
Castle Freak, Silent Hill, Shocker.

Review - The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007 - Dir. Julian Schnabel)

This biographical film of the life of Jean Dominique Bauby chronicles his experiences after a massive stroke left him with the rare condition ‘Locked In Syndrome'. Bauby is completely paralysed and can only communicate by winking his one operational eye, but remains mentally cognisant throughout.

Admittedly it’s not sounding all that jolly a caper, but the film is a surprisingly positive, uplifting and spiritual experience. We develop empathy for Bauby initially as we see the world from his perspective, before the camera viewpoint changes and we view his life externally, experiencing his dreams, musings and flashbacks. The book he writes by blinking letter choices to a recited alphabet outlines his resilience, his positivity and his self perception of a 'butterfly' experiencing life through the power of imagination and memory. 

The message is one of hope. That life is there to be lived to its fullest potential, as Bauby maintains his dignity, sense of humour and lust for life in the most difficult of circumstances. There's also some genuinely moving moments especially on the beach with his children and shaving his father.

The acting is fantastic with Mathieu Amalric playing Bauby with a swagger in his dream sequences and with a sarcastic bravery in the medical scenes. The supporting acting is equally effective with all the female characters especially vivid, compassionate and sensuous, and this is especially true of Celine (Emanuelle Seigner).

It's different, fascinating and compelling viewing and heartily recommended.

If you like this you could also try:
I've Loved You So Long, The Lives of Others, He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not, The Kite Runner.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Review - The Mist (2007 - Dir. Frank Darabont)

I read the Stephen King novella The Mist about 20 years ago and really wanted to see it as a film. A good film. Not the rubbish, overblown translation that you usually get.

Frank Darabont has done the business and has faithfully put The Mist on screen. In fact, he's actually improved on it. He's taken the source material seriously, no tongue-in-cheek business here, and shot it with handheld cameras. One thing that stands out on the Blu-ray is the gorgeous depth of field effects. It might be worth pointing out that I watched the black and white version. Both are great, but the black and white is more atmospheric and B-movieish. 

The central premise of the story is simple; David Drayton (Thomas Jane) and his son (convincingly played by Nathan Gamble) go shopping. A mist descends and people start to disappear. And die. It starts off like any standard issue B-movie. Then towards the end the tone gets darker and then bleaker. The ending is one of the bleakest I've seen. I'm glad they went for it though, it would have been weaker without it.

The Blu-ray makes the photography look gorgeous but it also shows up some of the CGI effects. DVD smoothes over some of the rough edges and blends elements together, so the effects actually look better on DVD. One of the best effects is achieved with just a length of thin rope. It's amazing how cheap, yet effective some effects can be when used creatively.

The main problem, and it's not a major one, is Thomas Jane's acting. Generally okay but dodgy in parts. I'm still not sure about the end sequence where he is a tad distraught. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt.

The film deals with similar themes to F. Paul Wilson's Nightworld. What happens when the world is ending? How do people react? Do the rules that you lived by still apply? One of the characters (played by Laurie Holden; spot the Silent Hill link there?) thinks that people are generally good and the others are being cynical. The film opts for the cynical approach in quite a hard to watch scene. You can imagine it happening though.

A special mention has to go to the music choice for the end sequence. The Host of Seraphim by Dead Can Dance was originally put in as a temp track but was so great they got the rights to use it. Glad they did. It makes the end of the film and fits it so well tonally. 

Watch this if you fancy a fairly intelligent B-movie that's atmospheric with some great Lovecraftian creatures (one's a whopper!). People who crave a happy ending - don't bother.

If you like this you could also try:
Silent Hill, The Fog, The Road, Shuttle.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Review - Lizard in a Woman's Skin (1971 - Dir. Lucio Fulci)

Lucio Fulci is better known for his gore masterpieces but I was pleasantly surprised by this 60s set giallo. 

Mrs evilkeith wondered what I'd bought because the film does start with some cheeky scenes involving two ladies. I claimed not to have been aware of this and we carried on with the film. 

The middle of the film contains a sequence involving the heroine  Carol Hammond (Florinda Bolkan) being chased that would not have looked out of place in a Hitchcock film. Almost, anyway. I would even argue that where Fulci uses fast cuts between zooms of her face and a lock being smashed open actually surpass Hitchcock's controlled style.

The fashions and dialogue date the film, which is not too much of an issue, but it has got a mildly disappointing ending. There is very little of Fulci's trademark gore but Lizard in a Woman's Skin shows that he is very capable of other genres not just festivals of gore. I wish I could get my hands on Beatrice Cenci. (That's not a lady from down the road, it's another Fulci film, if you weren't sure.) Definitely worth a watch.

If you like this you could also try:
Tenebrae, Suspiria, Blood and Black Lace, Deep Red, Amer, A Bay of Blood.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Review - He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not (2002 - Dir. Laetitia Colombani)

Don’t let the opening half an hour fool you. This is a way better film than you would initially think. I’m not going to give any spoilers because that would, as the word implies, severely spoil the film. It is at its most effective on the first watching although a second watching is worth it. You notice some things that you didn’t the first time as you didn’t know to look for them. Third time? I don’t think I’ll bother.

Audrey Tautou (Amélie) plays Angélique, a young student who is in love with a doctor, Samuel Le Bihan (Brotherhood of the Wolf). And that’s about all I can tell you, plotwise.

At first I wasn’t that convinced with Audrey Tautou but when you know what is happening in the film you can appreciate how good an actress she is. The subtleties become more apparent and her performance is more effective. Samuel Le Bihan is great, but then he’s the one that convinced me that this film was worth a watch. It’s a shame that he doesn’t  get to show off some of his Grégoire de Fronsac moves when he gets chinned later in the film. In fact, Mark Dacascos could have joined in, in a tag team manoeuvre. Then a big wolf could charge in and start attacking everyone indiscriminately. That would have pepped things up. Ahem, I digress.

As with most things that rely on a twist, they are initially clever and entertaining but don’t have the lasting power of non-twisty films. So an enjoyable, and darker than you’d think, little French film. Would make a great double bill with Letter From An Unknown Woman for the similar themes and the way it is told through characters’ points of view. Beware though, the DVD only contains a subtitled version so if you can’t multitask, you’re stuffed.

If you like this you could try: 
Letter from An Unknown Woman, I've Loved You So Long, Tell No-one.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Review - The Fourth Kind (2009 - Dir. Olatunde Osunsanmi)

Interesting idea, poor execution. This more or less sums up The Fourth Kind's attempt to  go one step further than Close Encounters, when in reality it comes nowhere near.

The film tells the story of Dr. Abigail Tyler and claims to combine dramatisations and 'actual' video and audio footage she recorded in Nome, Alaska in 2000. The real and the drama are presented in split screen fashion to underline the 'realism' and create a psuedo-documentary feel to proceedings.

This fails miserably as the 'real' footage could not look less real if they'd tried! Real people are generally natural and not bad Hollywood actors, real situations generally don't have special effects in them and real events have generally happened at some point. The dramatisations are actually more believable than the 'real' footage at times!

The initial big claims of the film ultimately backfire as the audience feel cheated by the 'hoax' nature of the actual footage and you are left with a real sense that you have been conned out of your hard earned cash. To add insult to injury, research has shown that there is little evidence to back up any strange events in Nome or even the existence of a Dr. Abigail Tyler.

The only positives are some impressive aerial shots from the UFO perspective (actually taken by a UFO I'm guessing) and the acting of Milla Jovovich and Elias Koteas. However both are let down by a woeful script and the film's pompous self importance.

The whole thing is like the extended outtakes from a really bad episode of the X-Files, and thinking about it, if you fancy some alien abduction action, you'd probably be better advised to watch X-Files Season 7.

If you like this (or not) you could try:
Paranormal Activity, Paranormal Activity 2, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Rec, Lake Mungo.

Intermission - Cocktails

People often ask me, 'Evlkeith, what are the best cocktails?' Well, this is a massive subject and perhaps one that I am not qualified to write about. But I'll give it a go.

The three top cocktails in my mind are (in no particular order):

  • Gimlet Cocktail - famously named after the small t-shaped bradawl type tool. 1 measure gin and 1 measure lime cordial mixed in with half a glass of ice. Basically, gin and lime.

  • Salty Dog - appetisingly named and so simple to make. 1 measure of vodka and grapefruit juice to taste. Basically, vodka and grapefruit. 

  • Monkey Gland - finally a proper cocktail. 3 dashes Pernod, 3 dashes Grenadine, 1 measure of orange juice and 2 measures of gin. Mix all the ingredients together in your Alessi Boston shaker and make sure they are all nicely chilled before starting. Beautiful.

So, there you have it. Probably no surprises in that list, but a classic is a classic.

What a waste of time. If you watched all of that, you did better than me. He needs to learn something constructive, like knitting.