Monthly Archives: July 2014

Murderdrome

Murderdrome is a campy exploitation serial killer movie based around the sport of roller derby. That is it. The whole review. Stop reading. The review is over. Seriously. Why are you still reading, there isn’t anything else to say about Murderdrome. Still reading. Fine. For its B movie budget the special effects are pretty impressive. That is all you are getting though, its a campy exploitation serial killer movie based around roller derby with pretty good special effects. Ok. Done. Really? You really need a better review than this? Ok, you asked for it. Murderdrome was a disappointment. Look, look what you made me do. I didn’t want to say this, I wanted everyone to love Murderdrome and we’d all be happy, I wanted to love Murderdrome. But you had to carry on reading, and now I have to explain myself. I was pretty excited about this movie, the premise sounded amazing, the dvd case looked amazing, the trailer was amazing. It seemed like my favorite type of silly shlock horror, and the fact that it all takes place on eight (tiny) wheels seemed to make it all the more special. And it does, to an extent, if you take away the roller skates the film would become pretty pedestrian (get it? Yeah.) but this isn’t the issue. Its that a pretty large percentage of the dialogue was cranked up to eleven on the terrible scale. I don’t have a problem with crappy dialogue, especially in a movie like this, but when the first act entirely comprises skating scenes interspersed with said crappy dialogue, I have to wonder if Murderdrome could have been something more. Now I have to admit, I have no idea what the rules of roller derby are, and I am none the wiser having watched Murderdrome, but I do know that for some people it is a sport as much about appearances and hilarious team names as it is the skating. What I am hoping is that for people who are actually into the sport some of the more annoying dialogue will have some sort of significance. Like I said, I really want people to like this movie. It clearly has been made by people who care about making it as fun and scary and gross as possible, it had so much potential, I just wish it had made me smile as much as it made me want to go roller skating.

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Cobra

What a movie. The eponymous Cobra (Stallone) is part of the ‘zombie squad’, an elite section of the LA police force that does the jobs no one else wants, also known as killing bad guys when all the regular cops are sat twiddling their thumbs. That it is called a ‘squad’ is actually a misrepresentation, it seems to pretty much just be good old Sly all on his lonesome. He has a buddy, but he seems to be there just so Sly has someone to direct wisecracks at. Obviously, a guy named Cobra, on the zombie squad needs something a little more sinister than just your regular old criminals to deal with. This is the 80s, and nothing says excess like a serial killer gang with an axe obsession. It pretty much all goes down exactly as you expect it to, but there are a few little things that make this film slightly more awesome than … well … almost all other films. Look out for the crazy product placement. It is seriously in your face, and whilst you might well think that it is all about pepsi, one scene later in the movie features a Coke vending machine so prominently that it absolutely has to have been put there on purpose. The weird thing about it is though, this vending machine sits right in the middle of the only scene where everyone is truly safe and happy, the Pepsi stuff is equally conspicuous in the shoot out/fight scenes. Were I conspiratorially minded I’d argue that Coke paid a good chunk of money to have their product associated with the happy, nice scenes, whilst Pepsi takes more bullets than the bad guys. The second interesting thing about Cobra is that politically, it is on rather shaky ground. Cobra doesn’t believe in the judicial system, preferring to blast holes in bad guys instead. This isn’t a throw away line or two, it quite literally bookends the movie making the whole thing a manifesto for a sort of Judge Dredd style outlook on justice. The movie starts with Stallone listing some pretty grim crime statistics which serves to place the blasting the faces off the bad guys action that follows within a real world context, there is the potential to read the film as literally saying we should begin to police our cities in this fashion. We’ll put it down to 80s excess again, there is probably no point being a cop if you don’t just kill all the bad guys. Speaking of 80’s excess, Cobra was directed by George P. Cosmatos – probably the most 80s director of them all. There is a brilliant sense in Cosmatos movies that if something looks cool it should probably be in there, even if the storyline doesn’t really require it. So Cobra has millions of these little things, totally inappropriate police cars, dirt bikes, climatic fight scene in a foundry, shoot up in a superstore with added shotgun blasts of fruit, crazy awesome red filter over the whole of the opening credits, robots … the list goes on and on. Really it is a lament. The only movies that are being made at the moment which are even close to this on a silliness level are far too low budget to really get these things done right and properly, whilst all the big budget movies are too full of CGI or, for some weird reason, have storylines that are actually believable. That is, I suppose, except for The Expendables series. Ah Stallone, this is why you are my favorite.

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Cockneys Vs Zombies

I think its fairly pointless to explain the plot of Cockneys Vs Zombies. If you can’t guess it yourself then frankly you should be ashamed of yourself. In the league table of Vs movies this one rates pretty highly, this is because unlike, say, mega shark vs giant octopus, where really you don’t have anything emotionally invested in either the mega shark nor the giant octopus, Cockneys are actually quite easy to relate to. What with them being human beings and all, albeit rather ridiculous stereotypes. Cockneys. Everyone loves Cockneys. Actually, the same applies to Zombies, they are universal, everyone loves zombies. This might be because they used to be human beings, and when they get their heads/legs/arms/torsos blown to bits with automatic weapons it serves a cathartic release of the frustrations we frequently feel towards our fellow humans. It might be because it looks bloody awesome when semi-humans get their heads/legs/arms/torsos blown to bits with automatic weapons though. This is neither the time nor the place for a philosophically grounded discussion of the appeal of zombie movies. It might be interesting to address Cockneys though. Why Cockneys? Unless the film was conceived to appeal to a curiously specific subsection of the population of London, we must assume that Cockneys hold some sort of fascination for the rest of the country. As I said above, everyone loves Cockneys, but I am not sure its so easy to articulate exactly why this is. Lets get specific, a Cockney, in this context is an oft used film and television stereotype. Straight talking, aside from the accent and the slang, usually involved in something a little dodgy, but ultimately with a heart of gold. It is perhaps the combination of first and the last parts which holds the appeal, the Cockney allows the viewer to vicariously live out their anarchic fantasies without having to fundamentally undermine their position in the hierarchical order of western society. What ever rules they break they will always come out ok, because that heart of gold still stands for certain values such as family, honor, community and respect, even if it is frequently framed within the rubric of crime. This is why your film Cockney will kneecap every person in a room without a hint of remorse, but will break down crying if their Mum tells them off for it. You wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of these guys, but ultimately films about Cockneys frequently place the viewer on their side, no film more so than Cockneys Vs Zombies. Next time you see a movie with a Cockney character, ask yourself just why they are there, they could have been from anywhere in the country, but for some reason the stereotypical representation of residents of this small part of East London represent a disproportionate amount of our home grown characters. Maybe we all have a little Cockney in us, or maybe we just all secretly wish we could go out, do a quick bank robbery and be home in time for a cup of tea and a biscuit.

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Unleashed

Unleashed is fully the most confusing film I have seen recently. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it makes perfect sense (mostly), but in terms of who it is aimed at, and where it positions itself in terms of genre – who knows. The premise is fairly simple. Perpetual saaaaf landan wide boy Bob Hoskins plays an asshole loan shark. His secret weapon is Danny, a sort of man child with insane martial arts skills, played by the always brilliant Jet Li. Hoskins has trained Danny to be a sort of human attack dog. Like, literally, he has a collar (largely symbolic, obviously) and is kept in a cage. All is going well in the being a loan shark asshole game until Danny finds his way to the incredibly accepting and brilliantly laid back Sam and Victoria (Morgan Freeman and Kerry Cordon). Here he realizes that, you know, being a human attack dog probably ain’t that cool. Of course various other plot points fill in the minutia of the situation and make it vaguely make sense. That said addressing the plot holes and general “really?” moments would take an awful lot of time, but you know, efihr never had any real issues with films that don’t make a great deal of sense, and the issues here are more in the ‘why is there no one in that car that just got squished’ league. What is completely weird about Unleashed though is the way the film mixes ultra violence with super soppy…family stuff. Now, don’t get me wrong, the film does an outstanding job of pulling at the heart strings in some really nice (exceptionally cliche) ways, but it takes the entire second act to get this across, which is immediately followed by a sort of gladiator style death match. It is like two completely separate films were cut together by some sort of maniac. In one hand we have a really quite beautiful story about a young man finding love and happiness with people who will accept him for the beautiful person he is, and on the other we have quite a beautiful story about a young man beating the living shit out of some other people. This is not your standard recipe. I am used to action films with one or two minutes at the beginning of perhaps a family being brutally murdered, you know, for motivation, or … like, not action films where people actually care about each other and have feelings, but where perhaps someone, in one scene, has a fight. Unleashed is just a huge 50/50 mash up of the type I have never seen before. What I am waiting for is a film that does it all in thirds, I want a third rom-com, a third violent revenge horror and a third anime. I shall wait patiently.

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The Last Stand

You have probably had hundreds of experiences with Chekhovs gun rule even if you are not entirely sure what it is, and if you watch action movies then you have absolutely been subjected to Chekovs rule. How does it feel to have Chekhov fiddling around with your brain without your knowledge? The rule goes something like this: “If a gun is visible in a film/play then at some point in that film it must go off”, the rule is supposed to stand regardless of if the gun is mounted on the wall in some grand hallway, or stashed under a drug dealers grungy bed in a shoe box. It relies basically on the principle that movies and plays are fundamentally constructed and that if a gun is present it has to have been placed there for a reason. Unlike say, a toilet roll tube, for which there are millions of possible uses, guns tend to only get fired. Why this lengthly and rather uninteresting discussion of Chehovs gun rule? Well, very few people know this, but there is a sub-rule, a lesser known variant if you will, and it reads thusly: “If an apparently ancillary character happens to, for some reason, own a large collection of vintage firearms – labeled for tax and licensing reasons as a ‘museum’ …” well you can probably guess the rest. Such is the absolute ridiculousness of The Last Stand. Its fantastic. It has everything you ever really wanted from and Arnie film. I think though, all the brilliant craziness is down to director Kim Jee-Woon, who bought us one of my favorites of 2008, The Good, the Bad and the Weird. You can certainly sense his influence in a film thats basic premise relies on a Chevy zr1 being faster than a helicopter (it isn’t, even if it is ‘heavily modified’ to over 1000 bhp). He really doesn’t want to let too much reality get in the way of a good tale. Gun museums and wildly inaccurate top speeds are all part of the fun. In fact, they are a requirement, this much silliness is the only thing to distract you from the fact that Arnie is in his mid sixties and doesn’t even take his shirt off. He still got it though, hocking around a 44 magnum like its nothing. Good old Arnie.

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Manhunter

At the bottom of this review is a link to a tune from the Manhunter sound track. It would be great if you clicked that link and started the tune playing, then came back to read the rest of the review.

Yeah. Thats the stuff. Really setting the scene, the film really is the 80s. Seriously, this is my new ‘gettin it on’ tune. Thats right, you are listening to a tune I am gonna seduce people with. You’ll be singing it for the rest of the day. If you watch the film this plays over the credits and the last part where the guy repeats listen to my heart beat repeats ad infinitum for about eight or nine years. Its amazing. So Manhunter. It is the first film where we meet Hannibal, later re-made as red Dragon, and follows Will Graham on his quest to track down a serial killer who seems have no motive. All the regular cops have come up with nothing using their regular cop skills, like, looking for clues, doing stake outs, wearing 80’s suits and using rudimentary fax machines. As an aside the fax machine scene here is nearly as exciting as the classic fax machine scene in Bullitt, mostly because the print out is in colour and has a resolution of about one dot per inch. What sets Will Graham aside from all those regular cops is his ability to get inside the minds of the crazy lunatics he is looking for – never mind that last time he did this, when he caught the infamous Hannibal Leckter (yes it has a K in this film, later removed because no one likes the letter K), he completely lost his mind and ended up in the crazy hospital. He has to stop these murders, what ever it takes. Cue a brilliant mixture of really off the wall police work, talking to himself to explain to the viewer what he is thinking (classic movie tool) and generally making everyone around him worried. The actual Hannibal character features far less in this movie than the later incarnations, and obviously we don’t have Hopkins doing his best craze bag impression, but Brian Cox (Professor Brian Cox) does a great job of laying the foundations for the creepy, super intelligent Lecktor we come to know and love. It is certainly not the best of the Hannibal films, but still, from the glowing green title card to the last heart beat this is an 80s gem, and you really cant beat the soundtrack. Is that tune still playing? Better hit repeat…heartbeat, heartbeat … can you feel my heartbeat …

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wBWSocJMChA

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Kagemusha : The Shadow Warrior

Akira Kurosawa is one of the few directors who, in my humble (but clearly incredibly well informed) opinion, deserves his legendary status. This is simply because his films are universally excellent. The important part being ‘universally’, he is legendary because he never misses. I bring this up because some have held up Kagemusha as an example of one of Kurosawas less brilliant films. This is something I refute. Hotly. Like, lets take this outside after I have slapped you with a glove. Pistols at dawn dispute. Kagemusha begins with a warlord, his brother and a third man. All three of them look alike, so alike in fact that each one could be the other. The third man was due to be crucified (yep, crucified) that very day, however his likeness to the warlord saves him. When the warlord declares that should it occur, his death should be kept secret for three years so his clan can work to defend the land they rule and consolidate their power … well, you can guess where this is heading. This film is an epic two and a half hours long though, so things clearly get a little more complicated than this. Only a little though. And I think this might be the problem for some. Though the films setting, the hyper hierarchical, politically turbulent Sengoku period means there is a constant backdrop of pitched battles and military activity, what is far more interesting is the questions it raises about individuality and the roles we inhabit. Because this aspect of the film is never resolved as cleanly as the epic battles which bookend it, it is held up as a potentially poorly thought out, less meaningful film. I would argue though that a most of the key scenes deal with the nature of the body-doubles role, representing it as both a fundamentally introspective journey, as well as a strange and sometimes upsetting situation for those around him. That this is confusing and uncertain in every regard is a key aspect of its value as a plot, if it were resolved it would lose its resonance. One need only add to this that Kagemusha is as visually striking, and stunningly beautiful as all of Kurosawas other films and you can see why that legendary badge is so well deserved.

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Turtles are Surprisingly Fast Swimmers

Suzume has a rather ordinary life. So ordinary in fact that it means she is perfectly qualified to be a spy, a profession she rather unexpectedly finds herself in whilst in search of a little excitement. The thing is though, being a spy requires that you don’t draw too much attention to yourself – be as ordinary as possible. Thats pretty much the whole plot. But I am not sure the plot is really the point. Although Suzume may be quite ordinary, the world she inhabits absolutely isn’t. It is a sort of colour clash of interesting people doing slightly wonky things. The best thing about it is that everyone is enjoying themselves immensely, just going about their everyday lives. I didn’t really want the film to end just because it is so nice to spend time in Suzumes world. I think, lurking somewhere in the day-glo innards of this film is a poignant, and interesting point about the pleasure we take (or do not take) in the everyday and how we conduct ourselves as we go about our boring business. Though if director Miki Satoshi thinks it is important he certainly isn’t that bothered about making it obvious, it seems much more like he just wants you to enjoy yourself. It would be easy to pick holes in this film, as noted the plot is pretty anemic, and if it has a point its willfully obscure and entirely unresolved. For me though this didn’t matter one bit, I’d happily return to Suzumes world and spend a little time just sitting on the park bench, feeding the ants.

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The Chaser

On the face of things The Chaser seems like a pretty classic hard boiled cop movie in the dirty Harry style. That is, if Harry was South Korean, and a pimp. A former cop, now pimp (because this is the career choice of former cops apparently) keeps losing girls, and he is in trouble if he doesn’t find them. The thing is, a rather fortuitous string of events leads to a maniac sitting in the local police station admitting to murdering all of those girls with a hammer and chisel. The cops though, the ones who have not been kicked out of the force to become pimps are either two stupid, too slow, or too tied up in their own ridiculous bureaucracy to get the evidence they need to put him behind bars. So it all comes down to pimp cop. There is the little caveat though that if the evidence isn’t found within 12 hours the maniac goes free. The tension in this film is crazy good, and this makes it really engaging. As awesome as this all sounds, its actually slightly more thoughtful than this description implies. I am sure you can guess, that given my pronounced distaste for protagonists that are assholes this must serve as some sort of redemption fable, but again, it isn’t this simple. The absolute best thing about The Chaser is the fact that plays so effectively with the unexpected. Everything you expect to happen happens, but this is just to lull you into the false sense that you know what is going on. You’ll be sitting, watching, thinking, ‘oh then he’ll do this, and she will do this, and …” …suddenly… “what…he…why did he do that?…she wasn’t supposed to do that…”. It really is a master class in genre conventions and how to mess with them. I mean this in the best possible way, you wont, for instance, be wondering anything ridiculous why like everyone turned avatar blue, or the world suddenly turned upside-down, everything still works within the world of the movie, it just works in such a way that you wont be able to guess what is coming. It makes it a really special addition to the badass cop genre. Even if he is a pimp.

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The Eagles Killer

Those who know more about such things than me have previously stated that the fighting in this movie isn’t that great. My ignorance in that department is an issue here because the film follows its young orphan protagonist Tai on his quest to find a master to teach him kung-fu. Clearly fighting ensues at every stage of the journey, but a more weathered eye than mine is required to determine badass not very good kung-fu from badass awesome kung-fu, which ostensibly he learns towards the end of the film. I mean I can see that Tais opponents seemed to look way more badass as the film goes on, but the fighting just all looked like fighting to me. Another upshot of my ignorance is that I have a tendency to think that the plot of all kung-fu movies is just a contrived effort to move onto the next fight scene, making me wonder if it might have been better for all involved to just cut it out altogether. However I usually concur that to a kung-fu aficionado (fuficionado) the progression in the fight scenes is an integral part of the overall structure. I have seen enough kung-fu movies though to tell you that this is a rather low budget, hastily produced movie, but it has its charms, not least its cocky, yet likeable twerp of a protagonist. Another thing I love about these kung-fu movies from the eighties is the way in which they depict a world in which every single man is obsessed with fighting. Its like watching the Sound of Music except instead of bursting into song at the drop of a hat the whole scene descends into kung-fu chaos. It also has one female character though. She gets to be in a scene to serve some food (to both fish and men). Then she dies. She is blind. Bechdel test be damned. There is a dubbed version of this film which was certainly tempting because it is simply hilariously bad. Not quite hilarious enough though to not be annoying, and I switched to subtitles about ten minutes in. I am kind of conflicted about this movie, my head says it wasn’t good enough to recommend, but the reality of it is I found it quite entertaining in spite of its many flaws. If you don’t think you can stomach the whole thing at least check out the hilarious dubbing, then the opening credits – where a guy dismembers a skeleton for no reason at all. Awesome.

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