Saturday, 29 October 2011

Review - Elite Squad (2007 - Dir. Jose Padilha)

Elite Squad was apparently a massive box office success in its native Brazil, so I was looking forward to some serious gritty South American streetwise cop action, and the film doesn't disappoint. If you like cops with guns, shooting drug dealers with guns in slums, with loads of guns and shooting then this is the film for you. If this is a mainstream film in Brazil then you've got to worry about the state of the nation a little.

The whole thing is based on the antics of the most streetwise, brutal and trigger happy group of cops possibly in the world: the BOPE or Special Police Operations Battalion. Their logo says it all really: an evil skull with two crossed pistols and a dagger sticking through the skull. Easy going community police work this isn't. It's way beyond zero tolerance as BOPE officers have all tolerance trained out of them at boot camp.

Surprisingly, amongst the 25,000 bullets fired at drug dealers and the scenes of drug dealers being tortured in interesting ways, there is an interesting plot. Andre (Andre Ramiro) is a tortured soul who cannot chose between a life as a humanitarian lawyer or as a streetwise cop. The film basically tells the story of how and why he ultimately makes his decision and poses the philosophical question; can anyone who dances in a camp fashion to 'Shiny Happy People' by REM go on to become a successful member of a South American paramilitary police outfit? Forget Schrodinger's Cat, this is philosophy in the fast lane!

The film jumps about a bit, but is generally well structured with some excellent acting performances, especially by the uber-streetwise BOPE captain; Roberto Nascimento (Wagner Moura). There's a fairly standard BOPE training sequence, once the film gathers momentum, that could have been developed to show how the characters descend into brutality, however it's slightly less well done than G.I. Jane in the end.

If you like lots of shooting and torture in a gritty slum type setting then Elite Squad is going to be a winner, but throw in the bonus of some semi-intelligent thought provoking dilemmas and you've got a decent film on your hands. It's not in the same league as City of God, but it's well worth a couple of hours of anyone's time. It's possibly worth noting that if you are a Brazilian drug dealer then the whole film may prove a tad disturbing and you should possibly watch Tango and Cash instead.

(I've watched this too, after the Doc kindly lent it to me. Generally, I agree with his findings but I would give it a 7/10. I'm not normally that bothered about grit-fests but I really enjoyed this one. I actually cared about the main three characters because they were all trying not to be corrupt, which is tricky when you see the level of corruption in the other police officials. I thought the training camp was really funny, the way the BOPE guys laughed when they'd actually broken someone and got them to quit. Elite Squad: The Enemy Within is out on boxing day. It might be worth a look...
- evlkeith)

If you like this you could also try:
Gomorrah, City of God, Amores Perros.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Feature - Celluloid Screams 2011

Celluloid Screams is a horror festival that has been running for three years at the Showroom Cinema in Sheffield. I was lucky enough to see an advert for the first one when I went to see Antichrist at the Showroom. Since then I have looked forward to this weekend in October all year round.

The festival takes place over three days and this year fourteen main films were shown plus fifteen shorts. You normally get about fifteen or twenty minutes between films so there's just enough time to grab a drink and a sarnie/pasty. Screen three of the Showroom is taken over for the full weekend by people who actually want to see the films, rather than just going for a laugh.

The staff and volunteers at the Showroom are all helpful and if you don't want to live in a cinema all weekend, Sheffield centre is only five minutes walk away. You can go and sit in the Peace Gardens to wash away some of the grime and filth from your mind.

Anyway, let's see what offerings there were this year...

Review - Inbred (2011 - Dir. Alex Chandon)

After seeing Alex Chandon's Cradle of Fear and really enjoying it, I was looking forward to Inbred. The trailer was brilliant (Yorkshire nippers prodding a bloody human scarecrow with sticks, an everyday occurrence in certain parts of Rotherham) and all the images I'd seen filled me with a great sense of anticipation. My only worry was that the best film of the festival might be first and things would go downhill from there.

Then we get a disappointing start. Two adults and four teenagers, of which two are intensely irritating, in a van. They are supposed to be irritating, but that still doesn't stop them from grating. I wanted them to die quickly.

It does come, but by the time they get offed you've warmed to them a bit. Inbred finally picks up (after a Wicker Man/An American Werewolf in London style pub scene) when our plucky group start to strip recyclable parts from old trains. Some of the locals, from the small village of Mortlake, think it would be a laugh to rape two of the teenagers with vegetables. Fortunately, we are spared this sight as Geoff (James Doherty) sees them off. Unfortunately, he falls in the process and picks up quite a nasty cut.

From here on in, the film becomes more and more depraved, but all with a Yorkshire slant. The landlord (Seamus O'Neill) puts on shows for the locals, involving teenagers, horses, muck spreaders, bucket masks, pig masks and the word 'dirty'. And yet more vegetables.

Inbred is played for laughs. The second half had me laughing and chuckling throughout. Granted, you need a slightly skewed, black sense of humour; this won't appeal to fans of Mrs Brown's Boys. If you liked The League of Gentlemen you will probably like this. Adding to the comedy, the outsiders, led by (Jo Hartley) all play it completely straight and you do feel for them, especially when they get locked in a small room, awaiting the locals.

One downside is the inclusion of Paddy from Emmerdale. However good or bad he is, he's always going to be Paddy from Emmerdale. Every time you see him you are brought out of the film. Plus, he milks his facial tic like nobody's business.

I won't spoil any of the jokes or amusing deaths, but rest assured, there's lots of gore. The visual effects were all done by Alex Chandon and although they're not up there with the cream of the crop, they're pretty impressive for someone working on their own. This was a great start to the festival and after it, I was still worried that it had peaked too soon. But had it? Read on.

If you like this you could also try:
The Wicker Man, Braindead.

Review - Helldriver (2010 - Dir. Yoshihiro Nishimura)

Helldriver is bonkers. Completely. It is so bonkers, you can't tell what's happening, why it's happening or why you should be bothered. Not long into it, I didn't care in the slightest and just wanted it to finish. I'm not a big fan of blood fountains either - seen one, seen them all - so Helldriver didn't really have a lot going for it.

Do you even want to know the story? Here it is regardless. Japan is being overrun by zombies that have been created because the mad mother of our hero, Kika (Yumiko Hara), got hit by a mysterious meteor and spewed out a vast torrent of black ash stuff. The zombies have weird little antlers on their heads, that when harvested and ground down, are a powerful drug. Kika decides to fight the mother zombie (Audition's Eihi Shiina) and her equally mad uncle to retrieve her heart (sorry, I forgot to mention that her mum thieves it and puts it in the hole in her chest made by the meteor). When I initially read about this and saw the trailer, I thought it sounded stupid but could be a laugh. It wasn't.

Bearing in mind the major problem of it being virtually unwatchable, there are some positives. There are some cool images, in particular the huge tower of corpses in the shape of a human/plane (I did say it was bonkers). Kika also looked suitably great at points. A character in need of a better story, I think.

There is a vaguely funny scene where a zombie baby is thrown by the umbilical cord to attack people (not as funny as a similar scene where a child's corpse is used to batter sea zombies in the short film that preceded this screening: Brutal Relax, see below). Also, a strange Kaliesque zombie makes an appearance with pointy weapons. Then guns. Cool.

Don't worry about the lack of subtitles. You don't really need them.

I was disappointed with Helldriver. I'd enjoyed the similarly bonkers (and stupidly politically incorrect) Vampire Girl vs Frankenstein Girl mainly because there was a vague plot and it was fun. For a film with so many goings on and visual excesses, Helldriver committed the cardinal sin of being dull.

If you like this you could also try:
Machine Girl, Tokyo Gore Police, Vampire Girl vs Frankenstein Girl.

Review - Vampyres (1975 - Dir. José Ramón Larraz)

I'd already seen this film a few years back and at the time, I was expecting lovely lady vampires savagely attacking some poor unsuspecting blokes and then nipping back to their flat for a bit of heavy lady petting. Which you do kind of get, in a tame, dull way. This film is so boring it was a major feat of willpower not to fall asleep during it, made worse by the fact that it started at about one o'clock, after a tiring day's work.

The main problem with it is the sheer lack of any real horror, or any real saucy business. Seeing as though this is how it sells itself, it really disappoints. There is a small amount of bloodletting, but zero gore. There is a smattering of sauce, but again it is decidedly lacklustre. It's not on a par with the useless scenes from the dire Bare Behind Bars though.

The second problem is that the film is in a tedium loop. The lady vampyres get picked up as hitchhikers. Then they get the fellow tanked with some choice vintage. Next they wriggle. Finally, they attack and drink his blood, killing the unlucky chap or leaving him alive as a tasty snack for another night. Then repeat. This structure could have worked if each repetition had got progressively more extreme. It does, to a certain degree, but even at it's most horrific/saucy it still fails to even reach Saw levels of disturbingness, i.e. Blue Peter is more harrowing.

The only things to recommend it are some atmospheric shots of the mist wreathed house and Anulka, who plays one of the vampyres, is not too bad on the eyes. She looks way better here than when she played for Chelsea. And more female.

I did wonder whether going into Vampyres with lower expectations would make me appreciate other aspects of the film more and come out with a new, improved outlook on it. I didn't.

If you like this you could also try:
Requiem For A Vampire, Fascination, Suspiria.

Review - Dust Devil (1993 - Dir. Richard Stanley)

This is another film that I had seen previously, when it originally came out and I couldn't remember anything about it. Not a good sign. But seeing as though this was the Director's Cut, I decided to give it another chance.

It all starts off quite swimmingly. Dusty (Robert Burke) kills a lady within the first five minutes and then goes on to use her innards to do a bit of home improvement and paint a few murals. Just think of him as an evil alternate dimension of Neil Buchanan (but without the evil goatee) and you get the idea.

Wendy Robinson (Chelsea Field - Prison) leaves her husband and sets off in her car, looking for something new. She picks up a hitchhiker (bad move) who turns out to be a shapeshifting demon who likes nothing better than eviscerating lost ladies.

One of the strongest parts of the film is the South African setting. Shots of Dusty on deserted roads surrounded by desert, arms outspread are strong images. Similarly, Chelsea Field walking down the middle of a road towards lorries, obscured by heat haze will hopefully stick in my mind this time.

My problem with Dust Devil is that nothing much happens. I only watched it two days ago and even now I can't remember much of what happens after the initial painting and decorating. I have vague recollections of a narrator droning on about dust devils for what seemed like hours. My memory only kicks back in when there is a fantastic head exploding moment. 

The Director's Cut doesn't seem to improve my overall impression then. It's a shame because it's a film that you want to like. I seem to remember Hardware (again by Richard Stanley) being a better film. But I can't remember much of that either. Sorry. Neither use nor ornament.

If you like this you could also try:
The Hitcher, Hardware, Death Machine.

Review - Some Guy Who Kills People (2011 - Dir. Jack Perez)

You can smell the involvement of John Landis in this production very early on. It hits just the right tone of slapstick horror, comedy and family drama. 

Ken Boyd (Kevin Corrigan) has been in a hospital for the treatment of his depression and suicidal tendencies. When he gets out, he acquires a little job working in an ice-cream parlour (the advertising of which provides many chuckles). We get flashbacks of bullies at school torturing him. Then, back in the present, the bullies start to get killed with a modicum of gratuitous violence. Throw into the mix his daughter Amy (Ariel Gade - Dark Water), who has just found out where her dad lives, and you've got the recipe for gory death pie topped with tender fatherliness.

This film has many strengths. It is well made and well written. Most of the funny lines go to the Sheriff and Boyd's mum and there are enough to keep you laughing throughout (as with Inbred your sense of humour needs to be on the black side though). The main strength is the acting and relationship of the father and daughter. Corrigan is fantastic as a man coming from depression into a state where he feels more able to cope with life by the end. Gade is wise beyond her years and the relationship between her and her dad comes across as very real.

One fly in the topical cream is the inclusion of Lucy Davis as a love interest for Boyd. She was in The Office. She's irritating. 

If you can stomach a small amount of gore and blood you will be rewarded with a funny and touching experience. The festival had definitely picked up with this film. Inbred has been topped, but is this the peak? Read on...

If you like this you could also try:
An American Werewolf in London, Waitress.

Review - Masks (2010 - Dir. Andreas Marschall)

If you want to watch a film that explores what a person is willing to do to reach the pinnacle of their profession, with a stunning central performance and some nasty little bits of self harm, watch Black Swan.

If you want to watch a fantastic giallo set in a school, with imaginative deaths galore, great music and beautiful visuals, watch Suspiria.

If you want to watch a scene where you see a sharp weapon pierce someone's mouth, watch Opera (not that keen on the film as a whole, but the knife in mouth incident is cool).

If you want to watch a film with a strange 'milking' machine and a daydream sequence followed by the heroine dying, hanging upside down, watch The Pack.

You get the idea. All of the elements of Masks have been done better elsewhere. I don't mind films homaging, ahem, other films but they've got to be interesting in their own right.

If the giallo is going to be reinvigorated, something new has got to be brought to it. As a giallo, there are not enough deaths in the first half. As a character study, there are too many deaths. It doesn't seem to know what it wants to be and comes away not doing anything very well.

Stella, our heroine gets accepted into an unorthodox acting school and soon becomes embroiled in some nasty shenanigans involving private acting lessons using a method that incorporates drug taking, being knifed and attached to the aforementioned 'milking' machine. Maybe this method could be used to raise standards in schools. Don't tell the government because they're likely to go for it.

Masks picks up in the final stages with some tension, but by then, it is too late to lift it out of the dull and murky waters of Tedium Lake.

If you like this you could also try: