Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Review - Grizzly Man (2005 - Dir. Werner Herzog)

On evlkeith's advice I'm tasting the work of obscurendure legend Werner Herzog for the first time. Well actually it's the second time, because I watched Grizzly Man a few years ago, but took very little notice other than to arrive at the view that the main protagonist of the film deserved to get eaten by the bears. (Perhaps a tad harsh - evlkeith). I decided to revisit the documentary, armed with my new understanding and appreciation of the master director.

Maybe I was a little harsh the first time around. The documentary focuses on the life of the late Timothy Treadwell; an eco-warrior with a love of North America's bear population. Treadwell felt such affinity with these animals that he spent his Summers living in the wild with bears, often naming, petting, cuddling and treating them like his buddies. I'm sure I'm not giving much away by informing you that Treadwell was ultimately killed and eaten by a rogue grizzly. The only surprise is that he survived thirteen Summers in the wild.

The film is interesting in its portrayal of the contrasting sides of Timothy's life. On the one hand Treadwell is a naive, childlike enthusiast and protector of the bears, while on the other he is an irritating, deluded self-publicist with a limited understanding of the environment he has entered. As a film maker he produces some amazing shots and sequences of bears hunting, fighting and his 'friend' the fox's life and interactions, but ultimately spoils them with his own self-important ranting.

The second star of the film is undoubtedly Werner Herzog, who provides an emotional and heartfelt commentary to proceedings. He appears genuinely upset on hearing the tape of Treadwell's ultimate demise and showed his respect for his subject throughout, while still presenting the alternative views of professional environmentalists. It's not a classic by any means, but it's an interesting and emotive little journey with some beautiful imagery.

If you like this you could also try:
Into the Abyss, Encounters at the End of the World, The White Diamond.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Review - I Spit on Your Grave (2010 - Dir. Steven R. Monroe)

I'm normally not that keen on remakes but I decided to give this one a go (based on the fact that I missed it due to illness at Celluliod Screams 2010, and the blu-ray was really cheap). 

Jennifer Hills (Sarah Butler) is an author seeking a retreat to write her new book. So off she pops for a month in a (rather large and expensive) log cabin. On the way to her residence she meets Hedgehog out of Drive and he's a lovely fellow. Also she meets a group of gentleman working at the local garage. Not very lovely fellows. She upsets Johnny (Jeff Branson) by not reacting in a positive way to one of his double-entendric advances. So him and his mates humiliate, brutalise and rape her. 

This scene is, fairly obviously, the hardest part of the film to watch. It seemed to finish and I breathed a sigh of relief that they hadn't taken it further. Ah. Wait a minute. They do. And the next section is even harder to watch. I suppose the more you hate the villains, the better the payoff later. It's still pretty excruciating, with the director lingering over the abuse to make you feel even worse. An interesting question arises because of the way that one of the rapists films the whole ordeal to watch at a later date. Are we as viewers - voyeuristically viewing the events - just as bad as him? He enjoys watching it. I didn't. There's the difference. What I enjoyed (if enjoyed is the right word) came later and believe me, the character in question didn't enjoy it.

Jennifer's inevitable, and much needed, revenge plays on the saying 'an eye for an eye'. The punishments definitely fit the crimes. Compared to earlier, these sequences are stunningly easy to watch. The look on Johnny's face at a certain point is priceless, warranting a little cheer. There's nothing massively graphic here and we are spared seeing some of the wince-inducing moments in full graphic detail.

I Spit on Your Grave is surprisingly well-made. The cinematography is great, nothing wrong with the direction and editing. The acting stood out for me. Everyone was very convincing in what must have been some very difficult to film scenes. Sarah Butler accurately portrays Jennifer's descent into suicidal tendencies and then a detached madness. A particular mention should also go to Andrew Howard, who plays a very nasty little fellow in this film.

Unlike most remakes I watch, I can't compare this to the original because I haven't seen it (never really fancied it). So watching I Spit on Your Grave without any preconceptions left me able to judge it on its own merits. 


If you like this you could also try:
Martyrs, The Woman, The Last House on the Left.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Review - The Raid (2011 - Gareth Evans)


Sounds great! Twenty highly trained coppers with big guns fighting their way, floor by floor up to a climatic battle against some drug-crazed drug-lord who happens to be a dab hand at every form of martial art. Cracking! Shame that they lied in the marketing (surprisingly enough). I won't spoil the plot but it does contain the twenty cops stated and a building with thirty floors. But they don't really fight their way to the top despite the implication. It's like some marketing types getting hold of Snow White and giving it the tagline: 7 DWARVES. 1 WOMAN. Okay, it's true but the implied action never happens (not in the Disney one anyway, there may be more specialist versions available).

For me this film committed the most heinous of crimes: I was bored by most of the fights. Possibly due to the twitchy camerawork. Possibly due to the lack of variety. Possibly due to the bland grey look so familiar to 360 FPS players. Possibly due to the lacklustre sound effects that are very similar throughout the film.There are no bone crunching effects like the (admittedly unrealistic, but cinematically great) ones heard in Brotherhood of the Wolf. The only plus point is that you can actually see what is happening rather than the stupid editing techniques used in action films such as Quantum of Solace.

Like everyone, I enjoy a bit of Pencak Silat - the traditional Indonesian martial art used in the film - and initially it is  engaging and exciting, but over time, the fights all felt very samey. What about the use of some props to liven it up a bit? I can only remember one standout moment where a cheeky little drug-baron henchman is thrown off a balcony and lands on a lower balcony snapping his back on a wall in the process. That was the only 'Oof!' moment for me. The rest is a blur of punches and kicks accompanied by pathetic thwacks. 

Are you really bothered about the story? Me neither. It's all about the fights. But rest assured that there are some bog standard betrayals and twists along the way. 

There is one cracking scene very early in the film where the big boss fella dispatches some frightened looking fellows with his piece. When the bullets run out he opts for an alternative method... 

I feel that I've been a tad harsh on The Raid. I think it's all down to pesky expectations. Normally I don't know anything about the films I watch, preferring to shield myself from reviews to go in with an open mind, but with this one I'd noticed some positive comments on Twitter and the tagline made me giddy with anticipation. The trailer is a bit snazzy too. I should know better by now. Some people obviously love it, (I've seen some 10/10 reviews) so it's probably a case of giving it a look and seeing what you think. 

I'd rather watch Police Story though.

If you like this you could also try:
Police Story, Drive, Last Hero in China, Ong Bak.

Review - The Hindenburg (1975 - Dir. Robert Wise)

I watched this film purely based on the fact that Albert Whitlock was responsible for the special visual effects. (I won't pretend that I was particularly interested in it for its historical value.) I first became aware of Albert Whitlock from the extras on The Thing (1982). He was responsible for the matte paintings in that film and very gorgeous they were too.

His team's work on The Hindenburg is stunning considering that they were working with paint and glass for the most part to create effects. (For a more in-depth look at the effects have a look at this excellent article: nzpetesmatteshot.) I'm fairly used to spotting effects shots and some are fairly obvious in that you know they didn't build a full size Hindenburg so any shots of the airship were effects shots. What amazed me was that some shots of the Hindenburg weren't miniatures, they were simply a glass painting of the ship moving over a painting of the sky. I would never have known this from my initial viewing. There were many other components of shots that I didn't realise were effects. Okay, some of the overlaid cloud effects look a bit on the ropey side now but it was 1975. Many effects are seamless even (especially?) compared to CGI. Albert Whitlock is a genius.

That's enough of my matte painting giddiness. What's it all about? It's about the Hindenburg, funnily enough. A nazi airship from the thirties that - surely, this isn't a spoiler? - blew up in a spectacular fashion. Nobody knows why it exploded but for dramatic reasons the story concerns itself with sabotage. This rings true as it would have been a serious embarrassment for Hitler that a symbol of nazi power could be brought down so easily. Amazingly, more than half of the passengers survived, including a dog if the film is to be believed.

I had to re-watch the start of the film because I spent all of my time thinking, 'What's he/she been in?' It is a veritable feast of top stars: the always great George C. Scott (Anatomy of a Murder), the very entertaining Anne Bancroft (The Elephant Man), William Atherton (Ghostbusters), Charles Durning (Dark Night of the Scarecrow), Rene Auberjonois (Deep Space 9, Soap), Katherine Helmond (Soap, again) and Richard Dysart (The Thing). Amongst others.

The story moves along at a nice pace. The editing is rather good. In fact the whole production is very professional and engaging. The ending left me severely mouth-slapped. I knew what was coming but I didn't expect it to revert to black and white and intercut between the 1975 shots and original footage taken of the disaster in 1937. It only took sixteen seconds to go down, but it is edited very cleverly and the time is stretched to a good few minutes. That's what you paid your money for after all.

Great film, (you can tell I enjoyed it because I instantly went and read up on the history of the Hindenburg itself - and I am a known history-hater) shame it's not on Blu-ray yet to fully appreciate all of those lovely matte shots. Let's all stand to attention and salute Albert Whitlock, The Master.


If you like this you could also try:
Earthquake, The Birds, Dune, The Thing (all containing work by Albert Whitlock).

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Review - Y Tu Mamá También (2001 - Dir. Alfonso Cuarón)

This is in essence a grittier Mexican version of Weird Science, with less science and more sex. Gritty legend Gael García Bernal teams up with Diego Luna to play a couple of randy seventeen year old boys who somehow charm an attractive older woman (Maribel Verdú) into undertaking a road trip to a beach destination that they are not sure even exists.

What transpires is an engaging coming of age tale with the boys learning everything about life, love and the universe from their more experienced companion. The film explores wider themes of social values, sexuality and a period of economic change in modern Mexico, but is essentially a light hearted romp hardly registering a score on the gritty checklist. This is no disaster and there are even a couple of agreeable twists at the end of the film.

The acting by the three main characters is excellent with Verdú particularly impressive as the recently shunned wife, longing to regain her youth, and Gael basically doing what he does best; smoking, sweating, driving, fornicating and generally doing gritty stuff. Best of all is Diego Luna, who fulfils a role parallel to Wyatt in Weird Science, perfectly capturing a sense of likeability and rich kid naivety.

It's not a world changer and it's not particularly gritty, or particularly sexy, but it's a fruity, fun watch and shows that Mexican cinema has a great deal to offer. Perhaps it's more a sub-genre of grittiness, rather than pure grit, but enjoyable all the same.

If you like this you could also try:
Weird Science, Amores Perros, Open Your Eyes.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Review - Jeff, Who Lives at Home (2011 - Dir. Jay Duplass, Mark Duplass)

It seems very strange that I have recently watched a couple of films about fate and destiny: The Wicker Tree and Jeff, Who Lives at Home. I've also read The Disappearance by Bentley Little (you'll see the relevance soon). If I believed in fate and paid attention to all of the signs that have occurred in my life recently I would now be the member of a money-leeching cult (I'm not joking either - it's a long story). Anyway, on to the film...

In the initial scenes Jeff, (Jason Segel) a thirty year old fellow who still lives at home in his mum's basement - a bit like Ronnie Corbett in Sorry - talks about the film Signs and how seemingly innocuous details all came together at the end to reveal their final destinies. Jeff then sets out to buy some wood glue, but ends up on a quest to find his destiny involving his mum, brother and... Kevin, the catalyst of this whole adventure.

This is quite a subtle comedy. There are no moments of out and out raucous chortling, like the chainsaw scene in Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, but it is quietly funny. Jeff's brother, Pat (Ed Helms) gets a lot of the best lines. The scenes involving Pat and his recently acquired Porsche are possibly the funniest moments. Some of the humour is on the cringe-inducing side of things - I normally prefer people hitting each other with cricket bats - but I didn't find it irritating like The Office.

I have two problems with this film, both minor. Pat and his mum undergo such dramatic personality changes over the course of the film that my incredulity was a tad stretched. I'll let it off because that does seem to be a feature of this type of film. The other niggly matter is the way the directors felt the need to inflict constant little zooms on us. It's like watching a camera being operated by someone with ADHD. Who's just eaten ten packs of smarties, washed down by a two litre bottle of Lucozade. And is on speed. I did get used to it (ish) but there were many times when it pulled me out of the film rather than served the story. A touch of the Danny Boyles perhaps. (Sounds nasty.)

The story is well structured - apart from possibly one leap of logic towards the end - and flows quite nicely to a satisfying conclusion. This is one of those films that I'd never heard of and I watched because it was the only thing on at the cinema that seemed half decent. I came out feeling pretty pleased with my impromptu choice. I still don't believe in fate though.

If you like this you could also try:
Garden State, Waitress.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Review - The Divide (2011 - Dir. Xavier Gens)

I am fairly cynical in my outlook but compared to The Divide, I am positively Mr Happy Optimism. I can cope with a film that contains generally unpleasant characters as long as there is  one character I can sympathise with. There are some characters that fit the bill - but they soon get killed off. Even the main character Eva (Lauren German), who is fairly likeable throughout the film despite her flaws, becomes stupidly selfish at the climax. It's not that I didn't enjoy this film, it just wore me down over time.

A nuclear attack trashes a city and survivors are forced into a basement, which happens to be the dwelling place of cigar-chomping caretaker Mickey (Michael Biehn - Aliens) who relishes blowing smoke in people's faces - sounds suspiciously like father of evlkeith. Mickey is a fairly gruff grizzled fellow and leads the group with some gentle persuasion from his axe. Kindly, he doles out beans to the other survivors (the trouser trumps must have been edited out of the final version) and provides them with water. And a septic tank for their ones and twos. Locked inside due to radiation fears things all start to get a bit fractious...

The sad thing about this film - this is where my cynicism kicks in - is that I can see that people would probably behave in exactly the way portrayed. The characters are distrustful and paranoid. There is even some mild torture involved when hidden stashes of food are discovered behind a locked door. There is one character though, who I really hope doesn't exist out there in the real world.

Bobby. He is the most disturbing on-screen creation I have seen in a long time (don't let the picture fool you, he gets way worse). He starts the film as fairly unsympathetic but by the end he becomes a monster. My nightmares are filled with images of Bobby lurching towards me in all his half-naked, mascara-laden, cross-dressed glory. Bobby makes Lupin's antics seem like entry level perversion. Michael Eklund deserves applause for introducing such a character to our psyches. 

The ending of The Divide is a non-event and will be incredibly familiar to anyone who has played a 360 FPS (yet again - down with the kids). A fair portion of the budget must have been spent on this scene so it seems a shame that creativity levels were a tad lacking. The budget for the whole film is fairly low and the director has done a good job of disguising this. Even though the majority is set in the basement, the action does occasionally venture outside of this claustrophobic location - polythene sheets - the saviour of low budget filmmakers the world over.

The Divide is worth seeing for Bobby alone, but it is too bleak for my liking. (I can't believe I just wrote that.)

If you like this you could also try:
Frontiers, The Road, Cube.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Review - Shogun Assassin (1980 - Dir. Robert Houston)

I can remember seeing this a long time ago when I was a tiny little evlkeith, more of a moderately-spitefulkeith at that point - I was still in evil training. It was a cut version that I had to rent from Creepy's Seedy Video Emporium but even so, it was bound to be at the very limit of acceptable gore standards. As I watched, I couldn't help but dream about what the uncut version was like - a veritable smorgasbord of lopped heads and dribbling entrails. Beauty.

It was with some trepidation that I sat down to watch an uncut version only recently. I removed my rose-tinted glasses, (I am often confused with Elton John. No, sorry. That's a lie. That would be horrendous) and prepared myself. 

Let's face facts: I was always going to be disappointed. It all seems very tame now, especially compared to the excesses of Machine Girl and Helldriver. There are some quite stylish gore scenes with split heads and blood fountains, although I think I was expecting a lot more decapitations and limb choppings.

It is quite funny in parts, especially the panto acting of the shogun. The camera zooms in on his face at regular intervals and he performs comedy evil grimaces with his symmetrial eyebrow/moustache combo (two lines of symmetry - nice).

The story concerns a samurai and his son, travelling around with a baby cart (a babby cart - Yorkshire translation) trying to evade the Shogun's sneaky ninjas. The film was cut together from two original Japanese films: Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance and Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx. I can't help thinking that I would rather watch the originals instead. Why did the films need to be dubbed and simplified into one truncated package? I would have thought that even Japanese language unedited versions of the original films would have become successful at the time. Just for the blood alone. It would only take one film like this to be a mega-hit and it would open up a world of cinema for viewers, rather than having to sit through pale-imitation remakes. Or badly dubbed versions of Studio Gibli classics. Rant over.

Easily the best characters in the film are the Masters of Death each with their own signature weapon. Luckily we get to see them in action, slicing, bludgeoning and hacking their way through numerous sword-fodder, before they finally meet our heroes. This builds their part up nicely and provides worthy foes. Our Mars Bar magnet hero still has a good go at them. What amazes me is how a chubby little fellow like this can be such a top samurai. I think I need to eat more Ginsters. Maybe that will hone my skills.

This is a film that I file under 'influential but not that great now'. I want to like it more than I do - and I did enjoy it to a certain degree - but It just doesn't get me that excited now. Some people love it though, so give it a try. If you fancy.


If you like this you could also try: Saviour of the Soul, Sword of the Stranger, Machine Girl, Zatoichi, Lady Snowblood.