Sunday, 29 April 2012

Review - To (2009 - Dir. Fumihiko Sori)

I'd pre-ordered this based on Sori's previous work - Vexille in particular - but after seeing a not-so-great review in SFX I cancelled the order and thought that I'd rent it instead. I should have stuck to my original plan and not bothered reading other reviews first. As with Vexille, it's not the best film ever but something about it gets under my skin and makes me want to watch it again.

To is two separate stories (this severely confused me, when the credits for the first part came up after not that long, it took me a while to realise there was a second story), based on the manga 2001 Nights by Yukinobu Hoshino. Both stories deal with what will happen when humans start to venture out into space. Will we make exactly the same mistakes again?

The first story Elliptical Orbit concerns the shipment of a new energy source. Fifteen years after setting off, the ship transporting the liquid protons back to Earth has to stop off for repairs at a space station. The female captain of the ship meets up with Dan - the head honcho of the space station - and they obviously have a history. But what has happened between them? This story is not really concerned with the science and more with how relationships will be affected by long haul space travel. It contains some strangely static space battles but is nonetheless quite enjoyable.

Then we come to Symbiotic Planet. This is a riff on Romeo and Juliet with two lovers hailing from two different antagonistic nations. Being planet-bound this one has a different feel and atmosphere to the first story but the style and theme ties them both together. It also has a comedy ending that made me chuckle. Fairly standard issue characters are the norm, especially the military types, but I could easily imagine this kind of thing happening. Again, this is more of a love story than hard science-fiction.

A mention has to be given to the title sequence which is one of the best I've seen in years. Music and clean visuals come together beautifully, whetting your appetite for what is to come. I could watch it repeatedly - nice and loud.

The style is a little odd - not quite anime, not quite the CG animation produced in Hollywood - but if you've seen Vexille or either of the similarly styled Appleseed films you'll be used to it. I like it as a way of telling stories differently. There is some resistance to it, with people worried that it might replace traditional anime. As Sori himself says, there are some worlds that you can only produce with hand-drawn animation giving Miazaki's work as an example. I think there's room for all of these different styles. I like this. I like anime. 

I have a strong suspicion that my rating of this film may go up over time. It's one of those films that I just feel myself drawn back to again and again. I better go and order it now...

(As an aside, the extras are quite interesting - especially the brilliantly titled 'Special Questions'. Sori explains how most western films are dubbed into the Japanese language for a Japanese audience. It seems that the whole world is a bit subtitle averse.)


If you like this you could also try:
Vexille, Appleseed, Appleseed: Ex Machina.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Review - Flesh + Blood (1985 - Dir. Paul Verhoeven)

Whoops. Soz.

Flesh + Blood starts off like a highly inappropriate pantomime. The acting is shocking; even Rutger Hauer suffers from a severe case of over-the-top, back-slapping camaraderie and raucous flaughter (definition - false laughter). Brion James is the worst offender, but then again, he always is. (See Tango and Cash for more of his comedy antics.)

The initial section of the film makes for uncomfortable viewing. Rutger's merry little band of mercenaries are cheated out of their rightful spoils by Arnolfini, a noble lord. Then they are run out of town. They soon get their own back. They ambush said lord and nick his treasure, inadvertently kidnapping his son's bride-to-be, Agnes (Jennifer Jason Leigh - Last Exit to Brooklyn). By this point you are firmly on the side of Rutger and his little chums, cheering them on in their humorous shenanigans and malarkey. Then they brutally gang rape Agnes. 

Flesh + Blood takes a good long while to recover from this, but as it develops, it transpires that you should be siding with Agnes and the lord's, initially irritating, son. You have to give Verhoeven the benefit of the doubt that this was always his intention, to usurp your expectations. Then the plague makes a guest appearance and things start to pick up.

There are some cracking quotes in it. A band of soldiers come across an old lady, accompanied by a young lady. They question them. The young lady won't talk. The old lady explains that, "Some soldiers, big fellows like you, raped her when she was a child and then cut out her tongue for fun." To which, one of the soldiers comments to his boss, "Come, my friend. We'll learn nothing here." Cheers, mate. Very sympathetic. Good luck in your job at The Samaritans. Another pearler is: "Knives and forks are part of our lives." Don't ask.

Mr Hauer is just made for iconic shots. Put him in the rain, mist or against fire and film him. Instant great shot. There are at least three such shots within Flesh + Blood. Worth the asking price alone. The small matter of a hot tub scene adds value too.

After the shaky start, Flesh + Blood grew on me and by the end I actually quite enjoyed it. Not Verhoeven's best. Not Hauer's best. But not bad.

If you like this you could also try:
Salute of the Jugger, Blind Fury, Excalibur.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Review - The Wicker Tree (2010 - Dir. Robin Hardy)

Let's get this straight out of the way: The Wicker Tree is not as good as The Wicker Man. But you can say that about 99.999% of films. Robin Hardy set such a high standard it would be unreasonable to expect another film of such exceptional quality. Just as Joe Dolce could never hope to hit the giddy heights of 'Shaddap You Face'. Maybe not.

Is it any good then? Well, I liked it. It grew on me more and more as the film progressed. I suspect it will improve on repeat viewings. The tone of The Wicker Tree is more comedic than The Wicker Man - one scene involving a gentleman's middles perhaps goes a tad too far down this route - but it still has an unsettling atmosphere and has its fair share of erotic moments.

Beth Boothby (Brittania Nicol) is a pop star - with many hit parade top tunes to her name - who just so happens to be a born again Christian. Steve (Henry Garrett) is a cowboy. Who just so happens to be engaged to Beth. They have silver chastity rings so jiggery pokery is off the menu. They decide to become missionaries (eh? Didn't we say no hanky panky?) and set off to Tressock, Scotland. If you've seen The Wicker Man, it's fair to say you have a fairly good idea of what's coming next: songs, comedy moments, rudies and horror. Hardy leaves the horror to your imagination without resorting to gratuitous splatter scenes. This fits perfectly with the tone and feel of the film. 

As with The Wicker Man, this film deals with a clash between a current religion and the pagan Gods, who are used very cynically to explain away a sticky situation that the big bad boss man, Sir Lachlan Morrison, finds himself in. It also poses the question, 'Can you escape from fate?'. I think that the answer is given, in that everyone plays their part in the game, but I won't reveal the final outcome. If fate is definitely real, I would just sit playing PS3, eat coconut macaroons and drink Tizer all day rather than going to work. Fate will take care of the rest. If you can't change your fate you may as well have a laugh in the meantime.

The ending - again, it's never going to be as mind-numbingly horrific as The Wicker Man's but it is very atmospheric. I felt that it was a little bit rushed, possibly because I wanted to spend longer in the unsettling atmosphere surrounded by the gorgeous imagery. The titular tree is a stunning piece of design (originally drawn by Robin Hardy). It deserved more screen time. The ending, especially the final shot, reminded me of Hammer and Amicus productions. Very British. Which contrasts nicely with the casting of two Americans as the lead roles.

Sadly, Christopher Lee couldn't play the part of Sir Lachlan Morrison due to a back injury. What a difference that would have made. Graham McTavish is okay in the part and by the end, when he gets all shouty, I didn't mind him too much. But you can't help wondering... 

Robin Hardy would like to make a third film, to make it a trilogy. What a great fella. He's in his eighties and is still able to make a film of this quality and think about making another. After seeing The Wicker Tree, I would look forward to it. A salute is definitely the order of the day.

If you like this you could also try:
The Wicker Man (if by some miracle you haven't seen it - do I even need to bother saying that this is the original, not the 2006 waste of time), Dead of Night, Dr. Terror's House of Horrors, Theatre of Blood.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Feature - A Year of obscurendure in Quotations

It's been a long year at obscurendure with literally hundreds of reviews. To celebrate a year of the premier obscure film blog I've re-read the whole thing and picked the quotes that effectively summarise our output and tell you everything you need to know about our editorial stance. For regular readers; can you spot who said each quote and which film it relates to? (Check out our parallel article at Into the Valley of the Obscure.) 

"Who doesn't love a helmet wearing lady with a shotgun and lawnmower shield combo?"

"One of my most hated things is Thunderbirds spoofs. People walking around pretending to be puppets. Scum of the earth."

"Being generous, you could call Lupin a 'ladies' man'. Being less generous, a 'pervert'."

"I hate musicals and I hate characters spontaneously singing. It has the power to spoil even the best of films. I really, really hate it."

"Time for some moustache porn. It is so luxurious. So thick, bushy and neatly trimmed."

"In a similar fashion to Lupin, the Beastman comes across as a bit of a pervert, peeping and chuckling in a really dirty fashion. Funny, though."

"Shacks are great. If that doesn't whet your appetite I don't know what will."

"Then you have Goldblum playing the usual Goldblum character, dressed as a red and white cowboy. Hate him with a passion."

"Here is a typical scene: a man dances with a dead villager, accompanied by a fellow with a hurdy gurdy. In the foreground sits a man cackling away, encouraging the surreal dance, while a woman holding a duck stares gormlessly into space."

"The creepy guy makes Lupin the Third look like Mother Theresa."

"Don't get your hopes up with the miners: they look nothing like the Northern National Union of Mineworkers miners that are probably in your head. They are more like a Guillermo del Toro creation, eyeless, noseless with large lower canines."

"When the best thing about a film is a dog called Robin - and he's not in it for long - you know things are not good."

"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."

"Glass blowing with stunningly hot molten glass and hypnotism do not make good bedfellows."

"Lupin is a 'gentleman' thief. I can't quite recall the word 'letch' being in the definition of 'gentleman', or the action of 'sticking out your tongue and waggling it around at scantily clad ladies' being referred to either..."

"And anyway, any film where a fella tries to woo a lady by playing a saw can't be all bad. It sounds gorgeous."

"Not to be confused with the more specialist title The Kerb Crawlers, The Sky Crawlers is a traditional anime/CGI mutated hybrid type thing."

“If you're after a business blouse make sure that it complements your suit rather than contrast with it. That would just be crazy.”

I can see this being half decent if you were in a dark cinema at two o'clock in the morning and you'd had a few Tizers. You could fall asleep and dream of desiccated cow corpses.”


Sunday, 22 April 2012

Review - Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001 - Dir. Christophe Gans)

Continuing our birthday celebrations we come to the final entry in our Mark Dacascos Season, and it is one of my favourite films of all time.

The idea of mixing the genres of kung fu, horror, mystery and period french drama, whilst adding a savage stonking great wolf as a garnish may seem a tad foolish. But it works stunningly well, making for one of the most refreshingly original films I've ever seen.

Naturalist (not naturist - that would have been one genre too many. I don't think wolves play volleyball anyway) Gregoire de Fronsac, played by Samuel Le Bihan is sent by the King to the small french province of Gevaudan, along with his native American sidekick Mani (Mark Dacascos). Numerous deaths have been occurring and they have been attributed to a rather large wolf. Fronsac and Mani investigate this general unpleasantness. And hit people a lot. So what we basically have is a berzerk version of Hound of the Baskervilles (not a bad thing).

Gans certainly loves his slow motion and Dacascos has never looked cooler. Forget his Straight-to-DVD actioners. This is what he is truly capable of. There are so many well choreographed fights. His assailants, in true kung fu fashion, take their turn, coming at Mani with fists and various weapons, but he just sorts them. No messing. The sound effects are excessively loud and crunchy, further adding to the stylised nature of the fights. Bihan also gets to do a fair bit of scrapping and is not too shabby in the 'hitting people hard' departpartment.

There is love interest in the form of the gorgeous Émilie Dequenne (The Pack) and Monica Bellucci (Irreversible), just enough to add yet another dimension to the film. Both female leads are great but Dequenne is so great she should get her own season. Now, there's a thought... 

You also get Vincent Cassel as a really creepy villain. He's always good value for money and doesn't let the side down here. Supposedly, he put in a lot of training for his fight sequence and it shows.

Let's get the one negative out of the way. Surprise, surprise, it's the CGI. The wolf looks ropey and a bit too light and lacking in contrast compared to the backgrounds for my liking. Saying that, the close-ups (by Henson) using a practical wolf are premium quality (again, surprise, surprise).

For a film to be so full of disparate elements and still be coherent and top fun is a testament to Gans' skill as a director. (It's a shame Onimusha fell through. That would have been a treat.) He brings out the best in Mark Dacascos (see Crying Freeman) and it would be great to see them work together again. So do the dodgy effects knock the rating down at all? For sheer audacity, I'll let it off.

(Please note: It's well worth getting the Blu-ray because with the DVD you are limited to a plain stereo soundtrack if you opt for the french language version, the 5.1 sound is only available on the useless dubbed version. The Blu-ray has got the proper full surround experience. Way better. And not smelly.)

If you like this you could also try:
Crying Freeman, Drive, The Pack, the 2002 BBC version of Hound of the Baskervilles.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Interview - The Saw Lady

As mentioned in my previous post, the main highlight of our first year has been receiving a comment from the Saw Lady ( amazingly enough, that's not her birth name - that would be Natalia Paruz). It seemed fitting that she should be the subject of the first obscurendure review.

In England, most children's first experience of playing a musical instrument is playing the recorder (or miming in my case). Why did you decide to play the saw rather than a more traditional instrument?

I went through traditional instruments as a kid, too - started with a recorder, learned some piano & guitar, but none of the traditional instruments stuck with me. The reason why I love unusual musical instruments is because there is usually a striking visual that goes along with the sound, and also there is a degree of whimsy. Also - it's a greater challenge: the musical saw is harder to play well than say, a piano, because it's just a chunk of metal, so the satisfaction I derive from figuring out how to make it sing (there are no music conservatories you can go to to be taught how to play it - it's a process of self discovery through trial and error) is greater than just taking lessons.

Of the videos I have seen, you seem to perform the work of other composers. Do you write your own compositions for the saw or is that something you would like to develop in the future?

I enjoy taking a written piece of music, practicing it until it is "made my own". I like to interpret music rather than creating a piece of music from scratch. It's sort of like fitting myself into an existing world. I work with many composers, such as Scott Munson ( who composed for 'Another Earth', who write for the saw or even write specifically for me - I love these collaborations. So, no - I don't feel an urge to compose myself.

Playing a saw must be more dangerous than playing a piccolo, for example. Have you ever had any saw related injuries?

I have never cut myself (nor anyone else) but holding a saw in one's hands does command a certain respect, which is helpful when busking - all the bullies leave me alone :)
I did break two saws, though. The saw's sound comes out of the vibration of the metal, and when the temperatures are around freezing, the metal does not want to vibrate. I was busking in winter, and forcing the saw to vibrate. That's when I learned that I can break steel...

The most memorable moment for me in Another Earth was the saw playing sequence. How did you come to be involved in that project?

The director, Mike Cahill, saw me playing in the subway (see below) and that gave him the idea to incorporate a saw into his film. He asked me if I would help choose the music for the saw's scene, and record it. He also asked if I would then coach William Mapother, the actor who had to appear to be playing a saw, to act as if playing in a convincing way. It was a lot of fun for me to work with William, because it was different from what I usually do, which is teach people how to actually play. Here, the visual was important, not the sound (he never actually made a sound).

You have also worked on other film soundtracks: El Carnaval Sodoma, Dummy and I Sell the Dead. Have you any plans to work on other films? If not, is there a particular director who you would like to work with?

Right now I am working on a couple of music videos - one with director Sohail Javed who is one of the best video directors in Pakistan, and the other with director Maderling Suquet for the UK 'Danger Global Warming' project.
I would love to work with M. Night Shyamalan. He never uses stock sound effects, he insists that all audio be originally created and he always works with James Newton Howard for the musical score.

Finally, which obscure film would you recommend?

Peau d'Ane (English: Donkey Skin) - I'm not sure whether it is considered obscure by a film connoisseur such as yourself, but I loved it when I was a kid... The music is by Michel Legrand (who was in the same music class with my mother at the Paris Conservatoire).

For more information on the Saw Lady go to or visit her facebook page:

All that remains to be said, is a big thank you to the Saw Lady for taking part in this interview. I hope I haven't jinxed her into having lots of saw related accidents, after a graze-free career, now that I asked that question. Also, expect a review of Peau d'Ane at some point in the future...


Feature - The First Year of obscurendure.

A year ago today, Doccortex and I sat down in front of my computer and entered the mysterious world of blogging. With minimal knowledge we just gave it a go. At the beginning of the year we would have been happy if even one person had looked at obscurendure and actually read it.

I can remember, in the initial weeks, looking at the statistics on Blogger and giggling inanely every time there was a hit in a new country. It was like a blogging version of Risk. At one point the country that we had the 2nd most number of pageviews from, was Iran. Strange. It's all settled down now, with America at number one and the UK at number two. Another strange fact is that, although we have never explicitly stated that we live anywhere near Sheffield, the place we get the most hits from in the UK is Sheffield. Perhaps there is an automatic South Yorkshire recognition factor.

I don't know what kind of website Google thinks we run but their choice of adverts that complement our output is slightly worrying. First there was for all of you out there who want a lovely asian bride. Since then we've also had, Asiamatch and my favourite, Who do they think we are? Human traffickers? Okay, we had one run in with the courts, but that case was thrown out. On a minor technicality. 

One day I was looking at who refers people to our site: Google, Facebook, Twitter, sickfetishphonesex. What!?! Again, what sort of site do they think it is? I daren't even visit that site to see where the link is for fear of repercussions. Well, maybe just the once...

The hardest moment of this first year was definitely the review marathon of Celluloid Screams. Getting 14 reviews and other features out there in a couple of days was rather tiring. Let's face facts, I'll do it again this year. It can't have been too bad.

Most humourous moment? The absurd number of pageviews that the intermission Dinner Party Tips got just before Christmas. I can imagine people looking for some great swanky ideas for their parties and getting to a page that's all about top seventies finger food. There was probably a bit of swearing on their behalf.

The three top moments of the year have been: being emailed a short film to review, getting our first follower (Chris from movies and songs 365) and receiving our first comment, from The Saw Lady no less. Actually getting a comment from someone who has worked on one of the films reviewed caused some major geeking out.

It will be interesting to see where we are in another year's time. All that needs to be said is a big thank you to you, dear reader, for taking the time to read our deranged ramblings. If you have any suggestions, comments or there's a specific film that you want us to review then send us an email or pop a comment at the end of this feature. We've got some good (?) stuff planned for this year (and next!) so there's plenty to look forward to.

As a treat for you, I'll be posting a special interview with The Saw Lady later today! There will be the final instalment in our Mark Dacascos Season tomorrow and finally, Doccortex has painstakingly compiled a year of quotations which will be posted on Monday. Yes, I am the Ambassador. I spoil you.