Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Review - The King of Pigs (2011 - Dir. Sang-ho Yeon)

As we walked to the cinematic picture house Doccortex asked me a pertinent question: "So, is Korean animation any good?" Based on this showing. No.

Beavis and Butthead boasted higher production values (albeit similarly grotesque teeth). The walking animation makes Bod look like John Travolta at his silkiest. The King of Pigs bears the hallmark of low budget animation: still screens where only slight portions move. And whereas Paprika, and more recently Redlinedelighted in distorting faces, this does the same. But it doesn't necessarily look intentional.

You may think that as a lover of gorgeous animation, such as Nausicaa and Laputa, this would all be the kiss of death for The King of Pigs. Not so. It actually makes it quite endearing. They've made a film regardless of the lack of budget. And while it still has its problems, it also has its moments.

Jong-suk and Kyung-min were childhood friends and meet up years later. The conversation drifts to their life at school and the bullying that they put up with until Chul, a mysterious lad in their class, entered the fray. The film flits between their conversation and flashbacks. Now, I'm not normally a fan of flashbacks, but in this, they make up the main bulk of the story so I'll let them off.

The bullying action is all pretty familiar to someone who went to a relatively rough high school in South Yorkshire. But whereas, the cock of our school was invariably the most violent sociopath, here the school is ruled by the posh clever kids with rich parents who are able to bribe the teachers with cash and other services. (One of the bits of teacher bribery is a pearler and should become common practice in the UK.) 

The Dogs (as they're called) are generally unpleasant characters. One of them has a penchant for fiddling with other boys privities and then questioning their sexuality if they start to enjoy it. They don't take kindly to show offs either. A lad joins from another school who can write and work out hard maths questions. He doesn't last long, filthy little show off. Easily the best bully is a lad in an orange jumper. He's a right sneaky little grass who hides behind the bigger lads and eggs them on.

A large problem is that all of this bullying happens quite slowly. A little bit of a pace injection wouldn't have harmed things. Add to this an ending where there are some startling changes of heart by the characters and it gets increasingly difficult to see why I liked it. But as soon as I see the screen shots I feel a warm sensation in my chest (although that could just be the dodgy pickled eggs I had for brekkie).

If you decide to watch The King of Pigs you are in a select little gang. There was only one other person in the cinema screen with us, and he spent most of his time looking at his phone. We quite liked it though. It's got some of the greatest manic laugh animations to hit the screen in a fair while. And at least this time we didn't get eggs thrown at us on the way home. Bonus.

If you like this you could also try:
Tekkonkinkreet, Bod.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Review - Curse of the Golden Flower (2006 - Dir. Yimou Zhang)

Curse of the Golden Flower is a tale of intrigue in a severely dysfunctional family seasoned with a smattering of incest. It's directed by the fellow who gave us Hero and House of Flying Daggers, both of which are rather good films. Curse isn't quite as good but it does have its moments.

It has got such richly opulent colours that I felt like my brain was going to dribble out of my ears, eyes and nose due to colour exposure. Have a look at the screenshots to see what I mean. But imagine watching that for just shy of two hours, blown up on a large telly screen. I was half tempted to adjust the saturation on the remote to give my eyes a rest. 

But when a rest comes the contrast is very welcome. There are dark and moody shots of ninja types swooping down and attacking people with throwing sickle type devices. The Special Features stated that all of this action is realistic. I find that a bit difficult to believe. If it's true though, ninjas were so immensely cool, and some other films like, Ninja Scroll, were probably realistic too. Brilliant.

This film isn't for the impatient of mind. It takes a fair old while to get going. Despite this I was engaged with all of the characters and skullduggery. It builds to a large scale battle that is mightily impressive. It doesn't have the emotional power of Hero but it shows the horror of war during China's Tang dynasty.

Given that the two leads are Chow Yun-Fat (Hard Boiled) and Gong Li (Raise the Red Lantern) some half decent acting is pretty much guaranteed. And despite it all getting a little melodramatic towards the end, they both deliver. They make the realtionship between the Emperor and the Empress believable. Yun-Fat is particularly great when he has to whip his son with his belt. A huge golden belt. 

Being English, I'm quite used to supporting the underdog who has absolutely no chance of winning but has a go anyway. (It would be fair to say that I'm not a Man Utd fan.) Curse of the Golden Flower requires that same commitment. I'll let you find out for yourself whether the underdogs manage to jam a last minute goal or whether they get hammered six nil.

If you like this you could also try:
Hero, House of Flying Daggers, An Empress and the Warriors.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Review - Nightmare City (1980 - Dir. Umberto Lenzi)

A plane approaches a runway without any radio contact from the pilot. The control tower is very wary so they send out some military types to investigate. The plane lands and stands silently. No-one is visible in the cockpit. A warning is given for the occupants of the plane to come out and surrender. Intrepid honest reporter Dean Miller (Hugo Stiglitz) is on the scene filming with his trusty camera man. The door opens... and all hell breaks loose with zombies charging about hitting, knifing, biting and shooting everyone. Yep, these zombies can use sub-machine guns. 

As you might have guessed this is pure comedy. It is definitely a bad film but it's not so bad that it's good, although it is funny for a while. Along with the zombies, the camp eighties dancing in the style of Pan's People is a highlight. As are the characters' bizarre behaviours. You desperately need petrol and you find a deserted petrol station. Do you A) Fill up quickly and leg it before the zombies come or B) Make yourself a coffee and sit down for a bit of a chat? You can guess what they do in the film.

The zombies themselves look like what can only be described as turd-people. That wear suits. Most of the violence is very tame with joke shop knives being drawn across necks but the director seems to have a liking for having ladies' tops ripped open and then stabbing them. One unfortunate lady has one of her begonias pruned in a very nasty fashion. This does seem to be a theme in certain zombie films: Zombie: Nights of Terror and The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue also contain similar scenes. Worrying indeed.

The music is by Stelvio Cipriani - of A Bay of Blood fame - but this soundtrack isn't a patch on that. The title music is fair enough but by no means memorable.

A zombie-fighting climax atop a roller-coaster with a slight degree of excitement is completely wrecked by a stunningly bad ending, but again it raises a smile, especially when the text overlaying the final image appears. It all makes sense, in a strange kind of way - unlike the ending of The City of the Living Dead - it's just that a six year old child could have written it. I'm surprised that they didn't all go home, have their tea, play on their PS3, chat to their friends and talk about how much they love their mums and dads and baby sisters and hamsters.

It's worth watching about five minutes of the rampaging zombies careening around (and the camp dancing) but after that it all falls a little flat. One for zombie completists only.

(Average rating for the season so far = 5.25)

If you like this you could also try:
Zombie: Nights of Terror, The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue, Zombie Creeping Flesh.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Review - What Richard Did (2012 - Dir. Lenny Abrahamson)

What Richard Did is not that interesting really. It's the Irish version of Paranoid Park. But without skateboards. Not quite as bad as the aforementioned film for moping teenageryness, although it gets close.

Based on a true incident the story centres around Richard (Jack Reynor) a slightly dubious upper middle-class fellow who is popular, but has an unpleasant urge to thieve other gentlemen's lady friends. He is reminiscent of the amoral Arthur in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. Reynor even looks a tad like a young Albert Finney. One evening he has a tiff with his stolen girlfriend and we find out just what that little tinker Richard did.

In real life his situation would be fairly upsetting. In a film, it all comes as an anti-climax, more of a drunken accident than anything else. It doesn't help that the whole thing is generally boring. This is how boring: I spent most of the time looking at technical details such as working out what lens they used and trying to approximate the f-stop that they shot at. Riveting.

For saddo camera perverts like me it's not too tricky to work out. The majority of the film is shot with such a shallow depth of field that you end up watching character's heads against a very blurry background with no visual interest for most of the running time. (I didn't exactly have to try hard to find examples of this for the screen shots.) Okay, that's maybe on the harsh side but I came out of the cinema feeling that way so it must be bad.

So has it got anything going for it? There is a smattering of good acting lurking around. Richard losing it in his parent's holiday home is powerful stuff and Lars Mikkelsen as Richard's dad is fairly impressive throughout. Even then, these two are guilty of looking like they're acting at times. Apart from that, it hasn't got much else. Is it really a surprise that some posh, silver spoon sucking, rugby playing lads would perform the titular dastardly deed? Surely all of that drunken mindless violence is for those dirty working class people. 

For me, it committed the cardinal sin of being dull. I was expecting a solid drama not an action film, (Shooting the Past is stunningly slow and yet engaging throughout) but I must admit that some death-dealing, acid-spitting ninjas would have spiced things up no end.

If you like this you could also try:
Paranoid Park, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Review - Wild Zero (1999 - Dir. Tetsuro Takeuchi)

The DVD cover of this is way better than the actual film with such quality statements as 'Rock'n'Roll JET-MOVIE', 'Brutality of Screen!!', 'THE GREAT PSYCHO OF THEM ALL!' and - my favourite and no doubt Brian Lumley's - 'Trash and Chaossss!!!!'. The film was never going to live up to the cover. And it doesn't.

Ace is a greasy Rock'n'Roll wannabe. We meet him at a popular music concert of the top pop combo 'Guitar Wolf'. Things all go a bit awry when alien spaceships fly overhead - shot in shocking-special-effects-o-vision - and somehow zombies appears and start attacking everyone. He soon gets together with love interest Tobio and tries to escape the zombie horde.

Easily the best part of this film is a character simply called Captain. He is introduced to us a very nasty man. One of his lackeys beats a prostitute about the face and then gives her some coke (not the fizzy variety that comes in useful when you want to burp in a small child's face). This doesn't fit the tone of the rest of the film, feels unnecessary, and things would have been improved if it had been edited out. Back to why Captain is so great; he has a bowl cut, a little goatee and wears hot pants. Yup, different varieties of hot pants. Filthy little pervert.

The members of 'Guitar Wolf' also get in on the action. They play themselves Guitar Wolf, Bass Wolf and Drum Wolf. Shame that there isn't a Bugle Wolf. Oh well, we can but dream... Initially we only see them performing, but later on they get to attack zombies with guns and electrically charged plectrums. Plus Guitar wolf has got a cool motorbike that has a two-foot flame coming out of the exhaust. Really, Guitar Wolf is only in the film to look cool. And look cool, he does.

The special effects range from pathetically weak gunshot wounds to heads blown off in full cheap CGI. Nothing in between and not much variety. The zombies are inconsistent. Sometimes they attack swiftly but when Ace or Tobio is in danger they mill about the place and really take their time. Ace is held by about four of them at one point and they still don't bother to have a nibble.

It has an air of stupidness that is hard not to like. Ace is so gormless that you can't help slightly liking him. Tobio is a fairly useless and always needs rescuing and is the subject of one of the strangest bits of homaging that I've seen. They threw so much at the screen - zombies, afros, random guitar riffs, spaceships and, of course, hot pants - that there had to be some entertainment value. And there is a bit. Worth seeing for Captain alone.

(Average rating for the season so far = 6)

If you like this you could also try:
Versus, Helldriver, Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Review - Sex, Party and Lies (2009 - Dir. Alfonso Albacete, David Menkes)

 In a similar vein to Y Tu Mama Tambien, Sex, Party and Lies can be confidently filed in the sub-genre of grittiness known as Sexy-Grit. Unfortunately, it has none of the warmth or charm of the aforementioned slice of Mexican film-making. This is basically lots of sweaty, Spanish youngsters taking drugs and having sex with each other, while at parties, where they tell lies.

And that's basically that. Never has a title better summarised a film, with virtually every scene containing some permutation of sex, partying or lying. You hardly need to watch the film really. If they'd called it Sex, Party, Lies, Sweating and Irresponsible Drug Taking you actually would not have to watch the film at all. This is a vacuous little tale of hedonistic fun in the sun, but surely there's more to life and cinema than this?

There are some decent performances mixed in with all that sex and sweat. Mario Casas is excellent as the lovelorn Tony and Anna de Armas is both stunning and talented as the deceitful friend Carola. My favourite is the much maligned (in the film anyway) Miriam Giovanelli, who adds the 'comedy' value to the film with a host of quips and references to her being fat. A) It's not funny, B) She's not fat at all, and C) If she is fat then that makes around 95% of everyone in South Yorkshire super fat. Surely all three of them could do so much better with a film that has a story.

On the upside, Sex, Party and Lies begins to define the checklist for the Sexy-Grit genre. No Sexy-Grit film can be complete without dirty, sweaty characters, someone having sex in a seedy toilet cubicle, someone having sex in a seedy alley, lots of drug action, and someone having an overdose. No-one gets shot, there are no children with guns and surprisingly, no prostitutes. Gomorrah fans will surely see this as grit-lite. If the film was a spreadable fat, it would definitely not be Lurpak, it would probably be more like New Balance Light Original Buttery Spread with Flax (look it up spreadable fat fans!)

Yes it's essentially rubbish, but it's gritty rubbish, and sometimes that's a good thing. In this case it isn't. Sex. Party and Lies is an annoying Spanish version of 'Skins' with no soul or originality. The Sexy-Grit genre deserves better.

(NB this film has obviously percolated in the mind of Doccortex and, as sometimes happens, his view is now a tad more positive. Positive enough to place the film at number 10 in his Top Ten Films of 2012 - evlkieth)

If you like this you could also try:
Y Tu Mama Tambien, 3some.

Review - Random Harvest (1942 - Dir. Mervyn LeRoy)

John Smith (Ronald Colman) is a John Doe character, who lost his memory fighting in World War I. He is in an asylum and in a kind-hearted way is subjected to meeting people who might be his parents. One night, he escapes. And embarks on a murderous rampage. Ah, sorry... wrong film.

He meets a lady, Paula (Greer Garson). Funnily enough he falls in love. But what follows isn't as predictable as you might think. Black and white romantic film: shouldn't be too hard to work out what going to happen. But no, it's no Avatar. In fact, it's pretty darned twisty. At 126 minutes, it's not the shortest of films but it holds the interest throughout.

The acting goes a long way to help with this. Ronald Colman transforms from a stuttering amnesiac to a confident writer, and then to something entirely different. Highly impressive. Greer Garson also has to play her character in different ways and is believable throughout. The only blip in the cast is an initially irritatingly plucky Susan Peters as Kitty. Fortunately she loses some of her pluck as she ages.

This brings us to a minor issue of suspension of disbelief: to think that John Smith (Colman was 51 at the time) would be looked upon favourably by a 21 year is a tad preposterous to say the least. Although he was loaded, so maybe not. I might be interested in a 51 year old bloke if he had the money to buy me a massive Scalextric set.

One thing that I really liked about this film was that once it had reached its natural conclusion, it finished. No messing about tagging extra little bits on there, just cut to The End. Great stuff. I even had a little cheer when it did it. 

It does lack some pace in parts but it is still well worth sticking with. So, if you want something relaxing, yet unpredictable (for the most part) give it a go. Plus, my Gran liked it.

If you like this you could also try:
Mrs Miniver, Since You Went Away, Lost Horizon.