Monday, 30 July 2012

Review - P2 (2007 - Dir. Franck Khalfoun)

When I saw that Alexandre Aja (Switchblade Romance) had written and produced this, I had certain expectations even though his recent films haven't lived up to his initial promise. After half an hour I had forgotten all about his involvement because I seemed to be watching a fairly standard issue thriller.

Angela (Rachel Nichols - Alias) is a go-getting ladder-climbing no-nonsense business lady working hard and late on Christmas Eve. Everyone else sensibly goes home for some eggnog and mince pie action leaving her to her own brown-nosing antics. Seeing as though this is a thriller, it needs a slightly unhinged security guard to pep it up. In comes, Thomas (Wes Bentley), a slightly unhinged security guard. Brilliant.

What follows for the next forty minutes is... well... dull. It is completely average thriller fare. No tension. No major threat. I was beginning to feel a tad disappointed.

Then it all kicks off with some cream of the crop excessive violence, similar in style and level to the 'head between the stair railings' incident in Switchblade Romance. I cheered up no end. At that point I remembered who had written it. 

Everything from then onwards still takes the standard thriller route but there is always the thought that some more gory violence could be just around the corner. And at times that is exactly what you get: Fulci fans get a small portion of ocular trauma to keep them stocked up for a little while.

As with most thrillers, Angela doesn't always do what is expected. She has a chance to kill Thomas' nutter dog. She doesn't. (My idea was to push the filing cabinet over so that it landed precisely on the dog's head. Quick and painless. Plus it's better than it chasing you at ninety miles an hour through a parking garage later in the film trying to bite your butt cheeks off.) If you were trapped in an office, what would you do? Yep, set off the fire alarm. She doesn't do that either. Also, the ending leaves a nasty taste in the mouth, a bit like hummus. I can understand that Angela will do anything it takes to move up in her job, and that maybe she leans towards the cold side of things, but her final act is parkier than the plums from a squirrel that has been trapped in a freezer compartment for the best part of a month.

So the ending spoils things somewhat, but is it still worth watching? If you like a portion of extreme violence and a cleavage garnish served with your thrillers then, yes, you will get something out of P2. If you like a bit of cress pleasantly sprinkled over your thrillers then give it a miss.

If you like this you could also try:
Neighbor, Wolf Creek, Switchblade Romance.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Review - R-Point (2004 - Dir. Su-chang Kong)

A mysterious radio message is received by a South Korean base in Vietnam 1972. Problem is, the message is from a unit long assumed to be dead. Lieutenant Choi Tae-in (Woo-seong Kam) is sent to investigate accompanied by a group of eight other soldiers...

Early on, a gravestone acts as the film's 'Crazy Ralph', warning quite cheerily, that everyone is going to die. Good news for Co-op Funeralcare then. But is the threat psychological or supernatural? Have the horrors of war affected the soldiers so entirely that their paranoia and mental trauma cause them to start offing each other (sounds dodgy) or is it a ghostly presence hell-bent on vengeance?

My main concern about R-Point is the virtual complete lack of characterisation. Apart from the Lieutenant and Sergeant Jin (Byung-ho Son), who are barely sketched, the other characters are so ill-defined that you lose track of who is who and why you should care about them. From watching the Special Features it is clear that the actors knew their characters but it doesn't come across in the final edit of the film. The script seems to revolve around the soldiers calling each other 'assholes'. I counted at least 15,000 uses of the word. In one minute. 

Given that, there are some genuinely creepy moments: the first shot of an abandoned mansion wreathed in mist is absolutely gorgeous and the sight of a silent unit moving steathily (and ghostily) through long grass before disappearing into the ground hints at some spookiness to come. It never really delivers on this promise though, with the final third descending into a blood-bath, with not too much blood: it is only rated 15 after all (I know, the cover at the top states 18, but my version is definitely 15 and it doesn't warrant being an 18). The ending doesn't answer all the questions I had and actually seems to confuse the issue. The Director wished that he had included an epilogue to answer some of these questions. Me too.

R-Point has potential but ultimately fails due to its lack of characterisation and scares. It's not all doom and gloom though: there is a scene of some quality crazy dancing which goes some way towards justifying the cost of the DVD. The Special Features are fairly extensive detailing the film-making process and showing the heat that the crew and actors had to work in. As a whole package it's quite enjoyable, but the film on its own...

If you like this you could also try:
Deathwatch, Outpost, The Bunker.

Feature - Competition Time! Part 3.

The winner of the brand spanking new copy of Brotherhood of the Wolf was Joe Hill. Well done fella! Commiserations to everyone else who entered.


Saturday, 21 July 2012

Review - Batman: Gotham Knight (2008 - Dir. Yasuhiro Aoki, Yuichiro Hayashi, Futoshi Higashide, Toshiyuki Kubooka, Hiroshi Morioka, Jong-Sik Nam, Shoujirou Nishimi)

This post should have some type of award for the longest post title ever. There are loads of directors because Gotham Knight consists of tiny bite-size little stories in the style of Animatrix, each segment a perfect length for watching with your tea. The producers would tell you that all of the tales interlink and are better watched as a whole. There are some links between the stories but they don't really add much. There are also links to Batman Begins but the same goes for them. Saying that, I'd have paid full price for the first section on its own.

Have I Got a Story for You is the best segment by miles. It's directed by the animation direction of Tekkonkinkreet, Shoujirou Nishimi, and it shows. It has a very similar style that is equally as fresh, especially when it portrays four different versions of Batman that lets the animators play with his design and movement. The shadow Batman is visually stunning. The animators were given a chance to stretch their creative muscles in this way because the story deals with three children recounting their encounters with Batman. the children are all unreliable narrators. Hence the different portrayals of Batman. Not content with multiple Batmans (should that be Batmen?) the story is fragmented and told in reverse order. In addition, the backgrounds are gorgeous, reminiscent of Dave Gibbons' work on Beneath a Steel Sky. Sheer viewing pleasure. If this was a short film it would get 10/10. 

But it's not. There are five other segments of varying quality, as always happens with this type of production. In Darkness Dwells feels a smidgen like my least favourite part of Arkham Asylum: the Killer Croc section. There's even a bit of detective mode vision in there. Walking Through Pain is like the really dull mystical episodes of TV Sci-fi. It ends on a high note with Deadshot with some preposterously entertaining sniping action.

The flour and water paste that sticks all of the disparate anime styles together is Kevin Conroy. Previous mentioned in these hallowed pages, (Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman) the man is Batman. Well, his voice anyway. If I was Christopher Nolan I'd get him to dub over Christian Bale. In post-production obviously, so Bale can't get all giddy.

If you think of Gotham Knight as a brilliant short film, with five extra shorts you won't be disappointed. Plus you get four episodes of the animated series too. And it's really cheap, especially on Blu-ray. 

If you like this you could also try:
Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman, Tekkonkinkreet, Animatrix.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Review - Wasteland (2010 - Dir. Lucy Walker, Karen Harley,João Jardim)

This is a bizarre film. It's interesting and thought provoking, however not necessarily that awe inspiring. The premise of the documentary is to follow artist Vik Muniz as he creates art from the lives of the workers and recycled materials of the largest landfill site in all of Brazil. The film is enjoyable on some levels and less so on others, and can basically be split into three distinct areas.

1. As an investigation into the lives of the Jardin Gramacho 'pickers' the film provided an excellent portrayal of the tough and exhausting lives of the team of workers who root through tons of rubbish to scavenge for all manner of recycled material. The stories of all the participants were handled beautifully and it was a heart-warming experience to see the camaraderie and sense of family in the pickers association. If nothing else the project lifted their self esteem and bank balances, at least in the short term.

2. The exploration of Muniz's artistic process was also fascinating. From the initial concept and photography, through to the final gallery displays the attention to detail and love of the subject matter was evident. Ultimately the art was at times breathtaking in its scale and relevance. Muniz takes the idea of a 'large Art Attack' to a whole new level and just shows what Neil Buchanan could have achieved if he'd been given the budget to take Art Attack to global locations.

3. The most disappointing part of the film is the project itself, which left me feeling the participants had been used in some way. Vik's plan had certain aspects in common with the plot of  'My Fair Lady', but attempting to make the pickers into world famous artists which left me feeling slightly uncomfortable. The film doesn't shirk the issue as Vic's wife brilliantly voices her concerns and wariness, but Vic disappointingly refuses to listen and basically tells her to 'shut it.'  I'm sure he would argue the creation of this sense of 'unease' in the viewer is all part of the art. It did really make me think, but I'm still not sure of the morality of the whole project.

At first glance the juxtaposition of grittiness and art looks like an odd combination, but Walker produces an excellent and at times moving documentary that is engaging for both grit fans and art aficionados. If only they'd gone with Andy Goldsworthy instead of Muniz - the mind boggles at what he could have achieved.

If you like this you could also try:
Rivers and Tides - Andy Goldsworthy Working With Time, Love Is The Devil, Art Attack - Top 20 (VHS).

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Feature - Competition Time! Part 2.

Just a quick reminder about our premium quality competition to win a copy of Brotherhood of the Wolf. For the full rules click on this link: Competition Rules.

And remember, the closing date is 18th July 2012. Good luck!


Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Review - First Squad (2009 - Dir. Yoshiharu Ashino, Aljosha Klimov, Misha Shprits)

The first thing that sprang to mind as I watched this Russian/Japanese hybrid - Russian writers, Japanese production company - was how much it reminded me of the board game Tannhauser. Just have a look at the screenshots to see what I mean. That's not to say the comparison is bad news because Tannhauser was always a cool looking game.


Set during World War II on the Eastern Front, First Squad is the tale of a group of children with special powers who are enlisted into a secret unit designed to fight the naughty Nazis. The Nazis, being a crafty bunch, try to resurrect some sword wielding nutter from the Crusades to fight their battles for them. Everything seems to have gone very pear shaped early on in the film and we are then left following the story of Nadya, one of the members of First Squad.

Coming from the studio that brought us Tekkonkinkreet I was hoping for something with a similar style. It's not. It's got a traditional anime feel with a distinctly Russian flavour. But couple that with the original Russian voices and English subtitles and the film amounts to a very interesting proposition. 

I was expecting something fairly predictable but there were a few twists thrown at me. One scene had me thinking, 'Here we go, a bit of backstory time'. Yawn. (I'm never that keen on origin stories, the Star Wars prequels spring to mind, as does the Scorpius episode in Farscape. Yawn. Again.) But to my surprise, everything suddenly changed and I was engrossed in a chase scene between Nadya and some blond-bobbed female German twins. Good stuff.

It's a real shame that the ending seemed very rushed and decidedly standard issue. It felt more like a game of Team Fortress 2 than a battle involving super-powered children. Their powers seemed to be more along the lines of, 'Look at me! I can use a pistol!' or 'I can use a rifle!' or even more thrillingly 'I can use a rather large gun!' Mmm. Not strictly that impressive. Add the fact that it only lasts 73 minutes and I ended up really quite short changed. Due to the short running time, the rest of the First Squad are very underdeveloped.

Even so, I can see myself buying this at some point because I really enjoyed the atmosphere. The animation is premium quality and the music by DJ Krush is not too shabby. The ending paves the way for a sequel, one that I wouldn't mind watching for once. Plus, if a film contains an apple scrumping scene, it's got to be half decent.

If you like this you could also try:
Redline, Tekkonkinkreet, Jin-Roh, The Sky Crawlers.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Review - Quatermass and the Pit (1967 - Dir. Roy Ward Baker)

Quatermass and the Pit has been a film that has been on my radar for a long time. I just never seemed to get round to actually watching it. So when it appeared in the brochure for my local cinema as a one off showing, I couldn't resist.

It is obvious how influential the Quatermass series has been on science-fiction films and television. It doesn't take the greatest leap of the imagination to swap the role of Professor Bernard Quatermass for The Doctor. Prof Bernie even has companions who help him in his adventure (please note that at no point in the film does anyone call him by this overly friendly moniker). It isn't too hard to imagine the Army types as UNIT either. So okay, it's very influential, but is this Hammer production any good?

During the digging of a new underground tunnel in London (most tunnels do tend to be underground) the cheeky cockney construction workers come across some buried skulls and skeletons. But there's more: they also uncover what they initially think is an unexploded bomb. The army gets in there to sort it all out, led by the doubting Colonel Breen (Julian Glover - who in an uncanny Dr Who link appeared in The Crusade in 1965 and City of Death in 1979 - easily the scariest Dr Who villain ever, the reveal of his true face made a young evlkeithlet poop his little pants). Bernie also comes along for the ride and becomes intrigued by the mysterious buried object...

Quatermass and the Pit, written by Nigel Kneale and directed by Roy Ward Baker (A Night to Remember) has a really slow build up, laden with mystery and suspense. I was expecting the whole thing to carry on at this pace, maybe to some thought-provoking revelation at the end. But no, everything goes a bit giddy (in a good way) and it become a bit of a blockbuster, well for 1967 anyway.

There is a great lead in Andrew Kier as Quatermass who has the gravitas to pull off the role of a distinguished scientist with the willingness to fight the system where necessary. The rest of the cast are equally accomplished and it all has a lovely British feeling that makes you believe that the events really did happen in the late sixties.

There are some dubious special effects but what do you expect. At least they used real props, so the suspension of disbelief is made easier. (As a side note - or is that a side rant - it really irritates me when people laugh at bad effects from old films. If they're meant to be useless: fine. If it's a B-movie comedy production: fine. But if it's aiming higher and is trying for a more serious tone: give the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt and go with it. I once went to an outdoor theatre production of The Hound of the Baskervilles at Brimham Rocks in North Yorkshire. It was really atmospheric watching the story unfold on the ancient stone structures. At the climax of the play, the hound was revealed atop a rock... and most of the audience laughed, completely wrecking any tension or atmosphere. Bunch of @$%*s! Insert your own cursy sweariness there as you see fit.) Ahem, sorry for that rather large tangent. The cinematography certainly makes up for some dodgy props and the end sequence is absolutely gorgeous to look at.

This was well worth the wait and my next job is to watch the original TV series with the excellent André Morell. I wonder how long it will take me...

If you like this you could also try:
Plague of the Zombies, The Day the Earth Caught Fire, A Night to Remember.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Review - Marie Antoinette (2006 - Dir. Sofia Coppola

I occasionally enjoy some historical drama, purely because the only things we studied in GCSE history in the 1980's Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire were trade unions, the Peterloo massacre and the Tolpuddle Martyrs. Consequently, I understand nothing about wider British history, let alone its European and world counterparts, and recently films have helped to plug the gaps in my knowledge.

I had high hopes as the director and lead actor combination (Coppola/Dunst) had previously produced the excellent Virgin Suicides, but my initial optimism proved a little misplaced. Marie Antoinette gets caught in the crossfire of not knowing what it wants to be. Is it a romantic comedy, an alternative view of history or a serious costume drama? It ends up being non of these things and ends up a distinct oddity. Coppola has admitted that her representation of events is intentionally stylised and modernised to increase our connection with the characters, but this still doesn't hold water.

On the positive side, it's a visually stunning film, but scratch the surface and you are left with more questions than answers. Dunst almost pulls the show around by proving gorgeously coquettish, however she's let down by the clashing range of American accents on offer in regency era France, some one dimensional male love interest(s), and by the casting of Alan Partridge as some sort of wooden butler/advisor. The soundtrack is interesting if equally bizarre, with Gang of Four, Siouxsie and Bow Wow Wow sitting shoulder to shoulder with Vivaldi and the Aphex Twin!

It's not all bad and at least held my attention for the duration, but I have little insight into the life of the real Marie Antoinette other than the fact that she didn't actually ever say 'Let them eat cake.' The whole thing could have been improved in Alan Partridge had been allowed to shout 'Eat my goal!' a couple of times. Or better still 'Eat my cake!' 

If you like this you could also try:
Virgin Suicides, The Lost Prince, Paris, Je T'Aime.