Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Quick Film Review Round-up

Catching up on some of the films I've seen recently;

Raging Phoenix

Firstly, I have to say; I absolutely love Jija Yanin's debut martial arts flick, ‘Chocolate’. It was fresh and original and the unique lead character really gave Jija room to showcase her amazing talents. As soon as I saw this was available, I had to see it! It was good to see her in a film playing a more standard role and how she’d handle it, and I think Jija's got enough charisma to command the screen. She starts out as a regular dysfunctional teen with ‘issues’, and everything seems to be going wrong in her life. When things turn for the worse and she's kidnapped by a gang, she’s fortunately rescued by a skilled martial artist and taken in by a group of drunken, life-loving misfits. These likeable oddballs see her potential and train her.

The first half of the film is pure, quirky fun and the rescue sequence and training montage are highly entertaining. The martial arts used in the film mixes Thai kickboxing, with a kind of hybrid drunken style, hip-hop break dancing, which is really enjoyable to watch. However the film seems to lose its way towards the end and the tone change becomes severely dramatic, yet too ridiculous to take seriously. The main issue for me is Jija doesn't get enough screen time to display her skills, it’s not until the finale where she really gets room to breathe, and it’s a little too late. It’s not really the vehicle for her to truly shine, but it’s fun and does have some moments of flare. 7/10

Natural City

I decided to give this a watch because of all the talk of it being the ‘Korean Blade Runner’. Being a massive fan of Ridley Scott’s futuristic dystopian masterpiece, and with Korea churning out some excellent cinema in recent years, I was pretty excited at the prospect. The influences from Blade Runner are pretty clear; cyborgs living among people, rouge cyborgs rebelling at their short lifespan, and a military cop (or MP) who has fallen in love with a artificial dancer close to expiring. The films focus is the struggle to extend her existence and go against his profession. Visually the film is great for the most part, some nice cinematography and subtle special effects complement some pleasing static shots.

But, the film fails to deliver in the action department. There are some good sequences hidden in there, but the way the action is shot, ruins any impact; too much slow-motion, muffled audio, and clumsy editing that’s trying to be flashy, but doesn't work. The film works better in the quiet scenes, but the pacing is too slow and I didn't really feel any empathy towards the lead characters plight. The acting is solid enough and I don't think the actors are to blame, Ji-tae Yu is good in the lead role (more known for playing the villain in Oldboy). It's just the general direction, pacing and script don’t do the story or actors any justice. 5/10

Ip Man

Biopic about the Chinese icon, who shaped Wing Chun Kung-fu, rebelled against Japanese dictators during World War 2 and later in life (after the credits) went on to train Bruce Lee. The film obviously takes artistic merit with the story and fabricates events for a more entertaining film experience, but it’s more about capturing the essence of the man and his legend. The film looks stunning, with first-rate production values giving the film a rich vibrancy, but the film never becomes overly grand, telling its marvellous tale in a rather quiet, intimate manner and I think this reflects the kind, gentleman character of Ip Man brilliantly.

The drama balances the action perfectly and Donnie Yen’s charm and effortless authority lights the screen on fire. The action really is outstanding, with choreography by legend Sammo Hung, one particular scene where Ip takes on a group of Japanese martial artists is breathtaking and you believe every limb snapping brutal moment of it. The Chinese Kung Fu versus Japanese Karate is a sight to behold. Absolutely captivating! 9/10

Dance of the Dead

‘Zom-Com’ involving a high school prom night. I know this is supposed to be a harmless, cheap and cheerful little flick, but I found it lacked the fun and charm that made films like ‘Brain Dead’ and ‘Shaun of the Dead’ good movies. It’s more like Idle Hands, which on a recent re-watch I also found lacking. Overall tiresome and I can’t think of anything to be complimentary about. It’s got some pretty good ideas that could have been the ingredients for a entertaining ride, but doesn't deliver them effectively enough. 4/10

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Cult Classic Reviews #1: Repo Man

This forgotten gem is the epitome of a cult classic; a film adored and worshiped by a small number of devoted fans. For some unknown reason, I only recently watched this. After the strength of a friends recommendation and reading reviews online, I decided to make the purchase. As soon as I saw the cover box, I recognised it from my early ventures to the local video shop in my youth and it brought back fond memories.

It launched the career of Emilio Estevez, who is actually really good here playing the lead character Otto, a young suburban punk that unknowingly becomes a repo man. The plot revolves around the search for a Malibu Chevy carrying a mysterious cargo. The film is b-movie grade trash, but it’s well made trash and the bad special effects, quirky plot (UFO's and punks) and absurd characters all add to its charm and it captures the anything goes attitude of the 80’s perfectly. The punk ethics of the film are accompanied by a fitting punk rock soundtrack featuring tracks by Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Iggy Pop and Suicidal Tendencies.

Everything in the film works, it wouldn't benefit from a bigger budget, and with the bad FX aside it doesn't feel like a cheap film. It kinda feels like the exploitation films of the 70s, and I can definitely see some influences from it in Tarantino's early work. The acting is good for this kind of film, it’s a tad dodgy in places but never in a bad way and with a great supporting cast of familiar faces. Of the cast I really liked Harry Dean Stanton, he’s always been a great character actor and his portfolio of roles speaks for itself (Alien, Escape From New York, Inland Empire etc). He’s perfect as the grouchy, veteran Repo Man and Otto’s mentor.

Repo Man, is a fun slice of weird, unique cinema with plenty of balls! And there’s ample bizarre goings-on, whacky humour and stabs of violence to satisfy any cult film fan. Highly recommended, if like me, you missed it first time around. 8/10

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Top 10 Weird, Deranged and/or Utterly Bonkers Films

1. Eraserhead

What list of weird films would be complete without Mr Lynch? The king of weird films and master of surreal cinema. They say if you ask 100 people what Eraserhead is actually about you’ll get 100 different answers. For me, it’s a nightmare and the anxieties of everyday life contorting it. One of my all time favourite films, Eraserhead is a work of art that you experience. It gets under your skin, it’s like nothing else you’ll ever see. And the benchmark for all other strange films.

2. Visitor Q

You know with a Takashi Miike film it’s not going to be your every day ‘normal’ flick, and this is probably his most extreme film. Breaking pretty much every taboo, it crams in so much fetish imagery it’s too much for most. It’s about as completely batshit crazy as it gets.

3. Tetsuo

Industrial body-horror from genius Japanese director Shinya Tsukamoto about man fusing with machine. A hyper-kinetic assault on the senses! On a technical merit it's worth watching just for the stunning editing alone.

4. Begotten

The plot synopsis pretty much says it all; ‘God disembowels himself with a straight razor. The spirit-like Mother Earth emerges, venturing into a bleak, barren landscape. Twitching and cowering, the Son Of Earth is set upon by faceless cannibals’. I found this a hard watch, and it’s full of unsettling, grainy imagery.

5. Inland Empire

Probably Lynch’s ‘hardest’ film, think Mulholland Drive X 10! With Laura Dern on great form.

6. Gozu

Miike again, I could have probably listed 10 of his films and had a decent weird films list. Gozu reminded me of Miike doing a comedy version of a David Lynch film. In a good way.

7. Gummo

It’s surreal, yet it’s very real. Shows how weird real life can be.

8. Meet the Feebles

Way before Peter Jackson got knee-deep in orc and elve shit he was making some pretty mental films, this might be his craziest.

9. Save the Green Planet

Manages to be simultaneously funny and heart wrenching, not to mention completely mad.

10. Naked Lunch

Cronenberg’s gone a bit straight-laced lately with his crime thrillers (History of Violence, Eastern Promises), not that they’re bad films, I really like them! But he used to make pretty demented schlock, this is probably his weirdest.