Sunday, April 01, 2012

TOP 100 Hong Kong Films of the Eighties

Hong Kong cinema website LoveHKFilm have concluded their poll of the 100 greatest Hong Kong Films of the Eighties. No surprises at the very top, but their are some very interesting surprises along the way...

Monday, May 25, 2009

Review: High-Kick Girl!

First the good news: Rina Takeda, the high-kicking karate girl of the title, is a star. She has the martial arts abilities, she has the looks, and she has the "sarcastic badass" attitude down. What she doesn't have is a competent film to star in. Everything from the directing to the writing to the acting displays utter ineptitude.

First and foremost, when you title a film HIGH-KICK GIRL!, you expect the film to focus on the high-kick girl. You do not have her kidnapped and held hostage for two-thirds of the film. If the audience was looking for a slightly portly older gentleman with a chubby face and little charisma to be on a rescue mission for the majority of the running time, they would have gone to see HIGH-KICK MASTER! It's bait-and-switch of the worst kind, as it seems so misjudged. Did Takeda suffer an injury during the shoot, forcing a rapid re-write? Or did director Nishi Fuyuhiko lose confidence in here abilities to carry an entire film? In which case he was dead wrong, as Takeda's scenes are the only ones worth watching.

The acting, Takeda excepted, is uniformly dreadful. Maniacal laughter, constipated glares, pointless shouting, all the hallmarks of classic bad acting. Perhaps these are all genuine martial artists, cast for their fight prowess and not their thespian skills? Fair enough, but at least use an acting coach and give them some acting lessons first. Professional actors would at least spend some time in a karate class before filming, how about trying the same thing in reverse? It certainly couldn't make things any worse.

The fights are frustratingly stop-start. Single sequences take down all foes. Sure, this is true to the karate "one-hit-instant-death" spirit, inherently less cinematic than the flowing grace of Chinese kung-fu, but Fuyuhiko chooses to emphasise that aspect instead of disguising it. Each kick or punch is followed by a slow-motion replay, then ten seconds of the fighters standing still for no apparent reason. In one sequence in a gym that almost seems like a spoof of the genre, twenty fighters rush at our stand-in hero together, yet curiously in the fight scene that follows he beats them up one-by-one! Did they suddenly form an orderly queue off-camera?

Ultimately, HIGH-KICK GIRL! fails because it doesn't know what it wants to be. It doesn't have the low-budget energy and fun of an equivalent grindhouse flick like MACHINE GIRL, lacking blood or exploitative elements. It doesn't have the brilliant long-takes and crazy stunt-work of the standout female-martial-arts film of recent years, CHOCOLATE, and as it spends zero time on character development or backstory it can't be compared to western fight films like THE KARATE KID or Danish female-fight film FIGHTER. Is it an educational karate film to be shown in class, to teach Japanese youth to practice their kata-forms every day? Or is it just a show-reel for the martial artists involved?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Review: The Good, The Bad, The Weird

Not necessarily as endebted to the classic Sergio Leone spaghetti western with the similar title as you might think: THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD plays out like one of Sammo Hung's "eastern westerns" (the portly "weird" character even physically resembles the Hong Kong legend) minus the kung-fu. In its place we are served up John Woo gun-battles, Mad Max car-chases and Indiana Jones stunt-work as our three titular Korean cowboys seek out the macguffin treasure map in a brilliantly filmed Manchurian desert wasteland. It's an all-out crowd-pleasing action film: joyful and upbeat, funny and fast-paced. If you're a fan of any of the films or film-makers mentioned in this paragraph, there will be something for you in THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD.

The pace does slacken in the second half, as the addition of three further factions chasing the map takes its toll on an over-egged screenplay, and the film sadly peters out, the climactic three-way shoot-out failing to come anywhere close to Leone's iconic stand-off in THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY. But these are flaws that can be forgiven in a film that is as infectiously fun as this one, replete with great performances, beautiful cinematography, and a killer musical score. It is simply one of the best films to emerge from South Korea in recent years.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

2008 so far

Half-way through the year already, it's time to review the last six months of cinema. Here are the top five outstanding films released this year. All of them are must-sees, so without further ado, and in reverse order:


Gruesome has a new name, and it is INSIDE. The sickest, nastiest, and most strangely disturbing film to emerge from the budding New Wave of French Horror. Pregnancy has never seemed so horrible.


Suddenly, after years and years of making genre films, it seems that practice has made perfect for Spanish cinema. THE ORPHANAGE follows expertly in the footsteps of Guillermo Del Toro's spooky double of THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE and PAN'S LABYRINTH. Crazy jump-scares and a vicious twist.

3. REC

And here's the rest of the proof that Spanish horror is holding its own with the French. This is the best videocam horror since BLAIR WITCH. Funny and exciting stuff. A sequel is on its way!


While we're all waiting for Tony Jaa's ONG-BAK 2, we can enjoy this latest slice of muay-thai kick-boxing action from Pracha Pinkaew. And it's clear that the master choreographer has unearthed a new star, the fantastic Jeeja. The new Tony Jaa is here, and she's a girl!


A perfectly judged Japanese splatter-comedy in the vein of STORY OF RICKY and BRAINDEAD: takes the revenge flick and amps it up with buckets of blood, brains and guts. This is the film PLANET TERROR desperately wanted to be. Will make you chuckle with glee at it's sheer inventive excess: "How about an unusual conditioner? Wash your hair... in your son's blood!"

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Review: Death Race

While the title and premise of DEATH RACE suggests a remake of the Roger Corman b-movie, Paul W Anderson is more interested here in adapting "post-apocalyptic car-battle" video-games like TWISTED METAL, complete with power-ups like guns and shields that are activated by driving over an icon. A good move considering the disastrous ROLLERBALL remake of 2002.

The rip-offs of other films can be counted off one-by-one as soon as they appear: THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, LOCK-UP, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, TRANSFORMERS, ROBOCOP, almost everything *except* DEATH RACE 2000. The action, effects and look are all pretty much exactly as you would expect, but with distracting plot holes large enough to drive a juggernaut through (the "evil genius" warden's cunning schemes make as much sense as Ian McShane's accent), tediously over-explained plot mechanisms (annoying voice-overs explain who's alive and who's dead at least three times), and an awful ending, it's hard to be enthusiastic. By-the-book Hollywood film-making, playing it safe and taking zero risks, it does at least have the grace not to outstay its welcome: it's less than 2-hours long.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Review: Mother of Tears

In the final scene of MOTHER OF TEARS: THE THIRD MOTHER, the survivors crawl out of a manhole in front of an unconvincing background and start laughing heartily. This isn't the nervous relieved laughter of people who have just come through a horrific deal, but full-on belly laughs. The laughter is so excessive it even bleeds into the closing credits, which leads to the inevitable conclusion that somebody is trying to break the fourth wall here. The actors are laughing AT the film they've just starred in, realizing the sheer ridiculousness of it all. Dario Argento has crafted a spoof.

Further credence to the notion that Argento is sending himself up can be found in gaping plot inconsistencies and ludicrous dialogue exchanges that litter the film. In the past, this has been accepted as part of Argento's style, a result of the English-as-a-second-language nature of the production, but this time round there are two American screenwriters on board, who certainly could not overlook the baffling motivations of Asia Argento's character as she throws her mobile phone out of the window (because "they can trace you with it") only to immediately choose to return home. Sorry to break it to you, Asia, but anybody willing to go to the trouble of tracing your mobile phone to find you is also going to be staking out your home. Another gem has Asia knocking on a door and asking to speak to Professor so-and-so. "May I know your name?". "It wouldn't mean anything to him." "Oh, you'd better come in then". Awesome security!

Watching the film as Argento doing self-parody gives a whole new level of enjoyment. You can look past the fact that Argento has broken his own mythology (the Mother of Tears was never the "most cruel"), that the evil witches look and act more like Cradle of Filth groupies than disciples of pure evil, that the film feels more like an OMEN/NINTH GATE retread than a SUSPIRIA/INFERNO follow-up, and start to appreciate the comedy value inherent in seeing an overweight Daria Nicolodi as a poorly CGI-ed "Ghost-Mum" appearing at random to give truly valuable generic advice to her daughter such as "Go on!", "Be careful!" and "Use your powers!". So what about those awesome white witch powers? Well, Asia makes herself invisible a couple of times. And.... oh yeah, that's it.

All this can only be seen as Argento toying with his "core" audience: you think my films have been bad since OPERA? You ain't seen nothing yet! You want gore? I'll give you totally gratuitous pointless gore! Characters are wheeled on out of nowhere to say a couple of lines, then get slaughtered, with absolutely no impact on the plot, or on Asia, whatsoever. Only three deaths leave any kind of impact, and one of them is entirely gore-free! The best scene in the whole film involves Asia sitting in the back of a taxi, INFERNO-style, with absolutely nothing happening. This "quiet" scene somehow stands out because the rest of the film is so jam-packed with hysterical overacting and gore effects. Is Argento's point that the fan's obession with stylish murder set-pieces has driven him to a film where the only scenes WITHOUT gore are the ones that leave any lasting impression?

At this point, many readers might be thinking: "No. He's just made a bad film, that's all". Am I over-thinking this? Your honour, I present the final evidence for the prosecution: the way the Mother of Tears is finally defeated. Six hours of setup, including the two previous films, 27 years of build-up, for the final confrontation between good and evil. White magic versus black magic. Broken mirrors versus broken minds. What happens? I dont want to spoilt the best comedy moment in the whole film, but if you thought the climaxes of SUSPIRIA and INFERNO were a disappointment, they will feel like CITIZEN KANE in comparison to MOTHER OF TEARS' hilarious finale. The film is destined to be misunderstood by most viewers, as the tone is deadpan throughout, with Argento never once winking at the audience to reveal its parodic nature, but if you can look beyond the surface level, the truth will be revealed: "what you see does not exist. What you cannot see is truth".

Monday, March 05, 2007

Review: Hot Fuzz

Shaun of the Dead was one of those mediocre british films that became a manaufactured cult hit in america through clever marketing (see also: 28 Days Later, Borat). It had its moments but was never consistently funny despite the guaranteed-home-run concept of "spoof zombie film". Hot Fuzz falls into many of the same traps.

Instead of just spoofing stuff it tries to add "serious" elements - Pegg's relationship with his girlfriend in SOTD, Frost's relationship with his dad in HF. A lot of the comedy is undercut by over-directing. Quick cuts are not conducive to comedy - somebody needs to sit Edgar Wright in front of some John Carpenter films and teach him about static wide shots. It works in a half-hour Spaced episode but needs to be varied a bit in a 2 hour film.

There is too much in-jokiness - Pegg seems to think SOTD was some kind of masterpiece that needs to be referenced, so endless repetitions of "cornetto" and "need anything from the shop" and "go to the pub" are served up. Yawn. Frost repeats his dull "slacker " performance, with poor acting, from SOTD. He even tries to do serious "emoting", with embarrassing results. HF is not the kind of film that needs a "serious core" so why try to give it one? Just do lots of stupid gags.

Some nice cameos though - Edward Woodward, Timothy Dalton etc. The middle segment of the film is a slasher spoof and probably the most effective part as there is an actual sense of mystery and danger to distract you from the iffiness of the comedy. And some of the gunfight finale is almost Robert Rodriguez standard (but nowhere near John Woo standard). But in the end it doesnt disguise the feeling that this is over-long, over-indulgent, and worst of all, not funny enough.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Review: Severance

Anybody expecting this year's THE DESCENT will be severely disappointed. A Brit-horror with "The Office"-style humour, it has enough good moments to make it worth one viewing, but enough flaws to keep it down in the basement of the recent flood of Deliverance/TXCM-style torture films. Early signs are encouraging that the film will defy genre expectations (a girl with a spider crawling up her back, there is a great scene with a man-trap) but it ends up playing it safe and sticking with the tried and tested.

Take the "noble" black character: he does nothing of significance in the entire film, but is poertrayed as an all-round good egg until he "bravely" dies defending the white girl. This now-standard horror cliche is not much more than Uncle Tom for the 2000s. Then we have the standard gratuitous american character in order to sell the film to the yanks. Can't have a British film without the token american girl stuck in there. To add insult, she is the one who takes up the standard "kick-ass babe" persona that every horror film is required to have by law. How played out is that role? Sure, THE DESCENT had it too, but at least it mixed it up by having *two* of them, both at each other's throats.

Then there's the hero: a standard "lad" into sex and drugs with a mockney accent, designed as a more blokeish version of Tim from The Office. I can't stand characters like that, or anything that targets that market segment (which is why i don't drink Coke Zero). This guy is also supposed to be comic relief, trouble is nothing he does or says is funny. There is a long, tedious subplot where he gets high on magic mushrooms that is not only completely irrelevant to the plot, it completely lacks any humour.

There's not much of interest after the man-trap sequence: Tim Mcinerny as the cowardly team leader steps on a land mine and what he does is so immediately predictable that you expect the film to pull a swerve, but it doesnt. It plays out exactly as you would expect. There isn't even a twist ending. Finally, the film tries to suggest there is more than meets the eye with its early playing up of connections with the War on Islam, but it turns out to be a complete red herring that goes nowhere. Actually the more i think about the film, the less i like it.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Review: Sars Wars

Sheer unadulterated genius. SARS WARS is a gut-wrenchingly funny, utterly deranged, deliriously original, absurdist zom-com from Thailand.

A team of thugs kidnap pretty schoolgirl Liu and hold her hostage in an apartment block. Little do they know, a zombie outbreak is taking place in the very same apartment, a giant snake is on the loose, and the government have set a timer to blow up the building to contain the outbreak. Think that sounds crazy? We haven't met the good guys yet: Khun Khrabii, a stoic hero sent to rescue Liu, his master Thep, a balding lecher with a battery-powered light saber, and sexy scientist Dr. Diana, creator of an antiviral shot that has a 25 in 26 chance of accidentally making the patient's head explode. And then there's the bad guys...

Director Taweewat Wantha and his team of writers have crafted something akin to the fevered imagination of Peter Jackson's BRAINDEAD, combined with the wild "mo-lei-tau" surreal/spoof humour of Hong Kong's Stephen Chow. The actual zombie and horror-themed content is surpisingly well realised, with excellent make-up effects, some great CGI sequences, and a real sense of tension; but its in the ridiculous send-ups of everything from Japanimation to John Woo to Star Wars to The Crying Game that the movie really takes off.

Thoroughly self-aware, characters constantly make references to the film's attempts to "make money, not win awards": a little unfair, because there is far more craft and ability on view in this film than in a hundred Hollywood blockbusters put together. Certainly none of the recent crop of zombie films pouring out of Hollywood come close. Even Stephen Chow, the acknowledged king of this style of comedy, should feel threatened: this is a better film than KUNG FU HUSTLE, and is possibly even better than SHAOLIN SOCCER too.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Review: Born To Fight

Where ONG-BAK is a traditional martial arts film that strings a series of muay-thai fights and Jackie Chan-style chase scenes together with a simple plot, BORN TO FIGHT is an action film more akin to DIE HARD. That means plenty of John Woo-esquire gun battles and an incredibly high body count, with a sprinkling of brutal stunts. BORN TO FIGHT is not a sequel to ONG-BAK, its not "the next ONG-BAK", its simply a highly entertaining actioner that will keep fans of this director satisfied until TUM YUM GOONG is released.

The opening sequence, featuring people leaping between 2 moving trucks, is reminiscent of similar classic scenes from POLICE STORY. The story then switches gear, seemingly heading towards simple martial arts film territory (our hero is challenged by a local thug over the affections of a girl) before a hail of gunfire signals a massive change in direction.

The next portion of the film is a relentlessly brutal slaughter-fest, as the evil villains randomly gun down villagers without a second thought, to levels you would never see in a Hollywood film. Hans Gruber has nothing on these guys! Finally, after a few false starts and a rendition of the Thai national anthem, our plucky villagers rise up, although quite how they manage to slaughter so many villains in revenge despite being outnumbered, unarmed, and constantly being killed in the gunfire is never entirely clear.

What is clear is that the ridiculously gimmicky "gymnastics fights" are fun to watch, the ball-kicking guys who fire kettles and things at the heads of their enemies deserve a SHAOLIN SOCCER type film of their own, and there's nothing cuter than seeing a little kick-boxing girl kick the hell out of a baddie.

Our hero has a few moves of his own, but the film's focus is wider than ONG-BAK, concentrating on the efforts of a team rather than a lone individual, nevertheless he is the star of two wonderful gun battles shot in single takes without cuts: forget DOOM's first-person-shooter scene, this is the true visual embodiment of the modern shooter game, a breathtaking yet agonisingly short sequence inspired by similar sequences in John Woo's HARD BOILED and John Carpenter's THEY LIVE.

What BORN TO FIGHT lacks in coherence, it makes up for in energy. This is the modern equivalent of the kind of crazy rule-breaking action films Hong Kong could churn out so successfully in the 1980s. And its the perfect appetiser for TUM YUM GOONG to come.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

The best and worst of 2005

my top 10 of 2004 was this:

1. Haute Tension - perfect in every way
2. School of Rock - a joy, pure fun
3. Ong Bak - action is back
4. Save the Green Planet - best korean film ever
5. Immortel - best comic book movie ever
6. Gozu - first class takashi miike
7. Undead - way better than the over-rated Shaun
8. Nothing - little-known vincenzo natali scifi/comedy
9. Dawn of the Dead - cool remake
10. The Village - under-rated, surprising twist

my top 10 of 2005 is this:

1. The Descent - surprisingly fine british film
2. Sin City - stylish, entertaining ride
3. Hellevator The Bottled Fools - cube-ish japanese scifi, wierd but fun
4. Night Watch - engrossing russian fantasy
5. Team America - funny & ingenious
6. Born To Fight - no Ong Bak, but it'll do
7. The Aristocrats - over-produced, but can't ruin that joke!
8. Kung Fu Hustle - has its moments, despite the tedium
9. Star Wars 3 - poor first half, stirring conclusion
10. Batman Begin - great first half, generic second half

... and most of these wouldn't even have got in the top 10 of 2004! a terrible year. the biggest turkeys: Darkness, Drowning Ghost, Land of the Dead, The Card Player (sorry folks it sucked!)..... and worst of all.... KING KONG.

Review: Joe Dante's Homecoming (Masters of Horror)

absolutely brilliant, this episode alone justifies the series, funny, touching, and with *a point* other than just "hey look sex & violence!".

the show is the first to really make use of its tv medium, with lots of mock news reports and studio footage, not trying to make a cinematic film on a tv budget, but this doesnt prevent some incredibly eery scenes, the sight of dead bodies stirring underneath american flags is highly creepy and effective. 2 fantastic performances from the "ann coulter"-style right-wing bitch, and the snide presidential advisor played by the star trek guy, raise this one to a level above previous efforts from argento and gordon, they bring extra depth to their characters other than what is written in the script. and did i mention its laugh-out-loud funny? the evangelist claiming the dead are a "blessing from heaven", then after they vote democrat, that they are "demons from hell" is priceless! equally hilarious: "why dont they just *do* something? munch someones brains or something?".

dante piles in the references to other films in his classic style ( graveyards marked "john gilling" etc) and hammers home the real-life current events parallelling the on-screen action in a way that is both thoughtful and stirring, and never condescending and preachy.

joe dante proves he still has the magic he last conjured up 15 years ago in gremlins 2. his episode blows aways gordon & argento's efforts, and its equally unlikely that carpenter or miike will be able to get anywhere near close.

Review: King Kong

I'm not happy that KING KONG has been a box-office bomb.... i'm ABSOLUTELY ECSTATIC!!!!

KING KONG is one of the worst things i've ever had to sit through in my entire life! a completely worthless, self-indulgent, bloated, empty cgi-crap-fest juvenilia that sucks 3 valuable hours from your life and leaves you with nothing. If some idiotic universal studios exec want to give Peter Jackson free reign to play his schoolboy fantasies thats fine, but don't torture the general public with it!

i know now exactly why nobody wants to see this turkey, its far too long, slow and boring for kids (i could easily chop an entire 90 minutes out of this film without losing anything entertaining or significant) and its too empty-headed, childish and pointless for adults.

Seriously, if you've seen any other incarnation of Kong you don't need to see this. if you've seen JURASSIC PARK you don't need to see this. hell, if you've seen VAN HELSING you don't need to see this (in fact i thought i was watching VAN HELSING when T-Rex, Kong and the gang are all swinging from vines defying gravity).


Saturday, November 19, 2005

Review: Land of the Dead

OK it only just opened in cinemas this week in the Czech Republic so here is the late review:

LAND OF THE DEAD is poor. Very poor. The film is only 90 minutes but i was checking my watch after 30 mins. Its pedestrian throughout, clunky, and sometimes cringeworthy. T
The first thing is the dialogue: people do not speak like that:

- "why do you call them flowers? they aint flowers in the ground kind, they be flowers in the sky, in heaven"

- "dont tell me your story! everybodys got a story, i dont want to hear it!"
- "whats your story?"

This sounds fine in script-form, but, to quote Harrison Ford, "you can write that shit but you can't say it".

Characters are total stock cliches:
(1) stoic, bland, competent man with "troubled past".
(2) sneaky unreliable minority gunslinger. he hates our hero, but they develop a mutual respect. (3) hooker with a heart of gold. she's feisty! look, she's using a gun!
(4) simple-minded sidekick. our hero looks after him (awww, how nice), but our hero needs him to!

Throw in assorted Evil Corporate Villains, Cute Girls In Military Positions Without Much Dialogue, Big Cuddly Meatheads, and you have a film that seems to be permanently stuck in the mid-1980s.

These are not characters you can grow to like, or to hate (the cast don't exactly do stellar work to help matters), so any sense of engagement in the central rich-dudes-in-ivory-tower oppressing the underclass "action-adventure" is nonexistent. Even if you could, the future world shown here is so poorly thought out you would soon lose any suspension of disbelief. The city and gated-community of Fiddlers Green are like rejected scripts from the already-poorly-thought-out post-apocalyptic world of MAD MAX 3. Romero jumps from scene to scene with little or no flow, interjecting zombie-gore at timed intervals, and overlaying an absolutely abysmal generic soundtrack. It feels like a poor relation in the recent zombie wave, there are no signs these films are from the guy that invented the genre in the first place.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Review: Madonna's "Hung Up"

Is Madonna officially out of touch? Seriously, the woman has made a career out of bringing underground trends to the mainstream: Like A Prayer, Vogue, Ray of Light, Music, all major single releases for major albums, all proved highly influential on the mainstream pop and dance music scenes. Now she unveils the first single from her first post-Mirwais album "Confessions on a Dance Floor". And its not good.

Has Madonna been living under a rock for the past five years? (International readers, "under a rock" is not a synonym for "England"). The video for Hung Up is terrible for a number of reasons:

(1) it features "crumping". Crumping is neither hip-and-happening, nor cutting-edge. Its already been featured in multiple Chemical Brothers video, hell there's even a feature-length documentary about it. Any street-cred to be gained from featuring it in music videos dried up at least 10 months ago.

(2) it features the "rolling barrel arms" dance movie. A move typically used by pre-teen manufactured pop groups when their producers want them to do a "retro-feel" song. See: S-Club Seven's 70s-themed video, amongst uncountable others. Is its use here an ironic commentary on the co-opting of retro-culture by clueless kids? No, its because Madonna wants to do a "retro-feel" song.

(3) it features people dancing on Dance Dance Revolution video games. Seriously, Dance Dance Revolution video games. You know, those dance pad games that were cool for a while a few years ago when the Japanese craze first travelled westwards, but soon got cleared out of arcades to make way for more House of the Dead, Time Crisis and Out Run 2 machines? Somebody still thinks they're the "latest thing" apparently. So the latter half of the video is filled with Madonna and anonymous drones jumping around on these things like no-one's ever seen it before! Note to Madonna: DDR is not vogueing. You dont have to find an obscure underground club in an obscure back-alley at 4am to find it. Its available in video game arcades in shopping malls. Mothers play it.

(4) never mind the video, the song samples Abba. Yes, Abba. Who could have possibly thought up such a genius scheme? After all, nobody has ever had the idea of sampling Abba as a backing beat for a new dance number have they? Well, nobody other than Erasure, Steps and a hundred other groups in the last 10 years.

Ladies and gentlement, the case for the prosecution rests. Madonna is out-of-touch. It should not be surprising, living as she is in a countryside retreat far from civilization, taking care of kids, being duped into following a hokey religion, with a failed film-director husband.... things are not going well in the personal life of Mrs Guy Richie. Why should it be a suprise that her professional output reflects her personal life? Well, only the fact that she has constantly been able to reinvent herself successfuly in the past no matter what her situation. That's not to deny that she's done some rubbish in the past (the "Sex" book anyone?). But she's never appeared totally out-of-touch before.

Could this be the end for Madonna? Its just one single, possibly a mistaken choice as first single, so there is time to recover. Time will tell.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Review: The Descent

Wow, a decent modern british film! Its a miracle! THE DESCENT is a very effective, if not original, girl-powered survival horror flick. It doesnt bear close analysis, but is a very entertaining theatrical cinema experience. Its closest recent companion (in style if not in content) would be HAUTE TENSION.

I havent seen director Neil Marshall's previous DOG SOLDIERS, but on the strength of this will seek it out. The cave scenes are beautifully shot, light is used very cleverly, and the sound design is fantastic. The first half of the film, which to all intents and purposes is a straight caving movie, really builds tension, and is incredibly claustraphobic. The second half, when the monsters are introduced, switches gear to standard survival horror mode, and ratchets up the "jump-scares", brutal monster attacks, and blood, to an amazing degree. There is rarely a moment to relax.

There are some notable problems: the 6 girls, while attempts are made to flesh them out and give them characterization, are very similar-looking and interchangeable. This is a problem in dark cave scenes where its difficult to make out who is doing what. Obviously they're all monster fodder anyway, but i can only remember the names of 2 of the girls, and the personalities of 2 more. i.e. 2 of the girls are completely anonymous.

Secondly, the "science" of the monsters is rather dubious: supposedly blind undergound dwellers who use ultrasound to locate their victims, they cannot hear somebody say "They're blind" directly behind them but can hear an alarm clock, they apparently cannot hear loud footfalls, apparently cannot even smell, and in fact are killed very easily, and yet we are expected to believe they have survived by going to the surface and hunting animals. Highly unlikely, but its a horror film so its excused.

Finally the motivations of the "final girl" are somewhat unclear: her actions at the end of the film seem unjustified and unfair, its difficult to understand why Marshall chose to present her as the (morally justified) "hero", I certainly had more sympathy for the "villain" of the piece.

But despite this, overall its an excellent film, its scary, has attractive leads, has some fun with the standard genre stereotypes, has a fantastic beginning, and a great, downbeat ending. What more could you ask?

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Organ: A Retrospective

If your idea of 'Japan Shock' is the ending of AUDITION, you ain't seen nothing yet...

ORGAN is a film that is clearly made by a film-school graduate: it is professional, polished, the individual scenes are well-shot and well-framed, multiple plot threads are deftly intertwined... but it also makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

The story concerns a cop searching for his partner kidnapped by organ transplanting criminals: but it is told in a non-linear fashion through a series of shocking and surreal images that are truly grotesque and disgusting. Everybody is sick and perverted in some way, the events portrayed may be too strong for even hardened gore-hounds to sit through. How to describe it? Imagine Cronenberg's VIDEODROME body-horror times ten, but with even less coherence. After a while, the viewer becomes numbed to the steady procession of insanity, forgets about trying to keep track of whats going on, and begins to get sucked into the nightmare world on display.

Its a shame that this film will languish in the 'Horror' category in video stores, as its really an arthouse film that deserves to be seen by supporters of films like TETSUO, AUDITION, ICHI THE KILLER (its hard to see what all the fuss is about - surely ICHI can't be more gruesome than this?), and the cover and box description (VHS rental in Holland) certainly don't describe the film accurately.

One final point of note: I just discovered that it was directed by a woman (Kei Fuijiwara), and that she also stars in the film as Yoko. Go figure.

it is available uncut with subs on R1 DVD, for instance from here:

Duel To The Death: A Retrospective

This beautiful Ching Siu Tung film is a genuine masterpiece. It looks, sounds and feels truly epic, like a 1960's King Hu film. Everything about it is classy, unlike so many HK movies that rely on goofy humour or cheap silliness. There are no evil villains, everyone has a motivation for what they do, whether its duty, honour, or love. And the action scenes rock. Think of it as Ninja In The Dragons Den's older, wiser brother.

Freezer R2 DVD (a.k.a Freeze Me)

FREEZER is an excellent addition to Tartan's 'Extreme Asia' label, a typically disturbing and censor-troubling japanese film that will probably appeal to fans of AUDITION. It is not perfect, however. The attempts to both titillate (with sex scenes) and disturb (with rape scenes) don't sit easily with each other, and suggests exploitation more than art. Harumi Inoue is probably a former AV idol, judging by her frequent nudity and rough appearance. She is unable to effectively convey why a modern girl would seemingly prefer to be raped every night than have her neighbour's find out about a crime committed against her five years ago! I know Japan is supposedly a repressive society, but come on! In compensation, the first visitor performs excellently, veering from funny and eccentric to dangerous and violent. He is the star for me. The second visitor barely registers. The third is too much of a cartoon character to be effective. The boyfriend is a joke. Overall, the film is well made and well written, making good use of basically only 2 small sets, and holds your interest throughout. There are no boring segments, even though you often know what's coming next. Worth a look.

Heroic Trio: A Retrospective

Liked Black Mask? You'll love Heroic Trio.

Anita Mui is masked superhero 'Wonder Woman'(no relation). Maggie Cheung is comic-relief assassin-for-hire 'Thief Catcher'. Michelle Yeoh is 'Invisible Woman"', the chief henchman of the magic eunuch master villain. Tony Wong (the villain from Hard Boiled) is also present as a bird-eating master of the flying guillotine.

The whole thing is very high energy, very stylised, and completely crazy. The action scenes are ultra-wild in the typical Ching Siu Tung way (check out the spinning motorbike). Unfortunately the non-action scenes tend to drag - and there are a lot of non-action scenes in the middle (the Yeoh and Doctor scenes being standout boring). But it picks up for a mad wirework filled finale that references The Terminator.

God of Gamblers: A Retrospective

Chow Yun Fat's best film! I seriously believe this is the film where Chow Yun Fat proves he can really act and be a star, not just hold a gun in each hand and look cool.

The whole film is a real delight, and contains so many more elements than his usual John Woo Stuff. Yes, there is one pure Woo gunfight sequence, but there is also kung-fu, excellent comedy (especially the brothel sequence), drama, acrobatics and stunts (Andy Lau really shows his stuff), and of course the incredible gambling scenes. Its amazing that a film that tries so many things, manages to succeed in all of them.

Chow Yun Fat is brilliant, both as the suave God of Gamblers, and the child-like guy he becomes when he loses his memory.

I am not surprised there have been so many sequels, imitations and parodies of this classic movie. All HK film fans should check it out immediately!

Profondo Rosso (Deep Red) VHS

I came to Deep Red having loved the style and beauty of Suspiria and Inferno, and having hated the bad acting and silly stories of Trauma and Sleepless. Deep Red is regularly listed as the best Argento film so my hopes were high.

Unfortunately the poor quality pan&scan australian 'Force Video' VHS release does the film no favours - chopping off important picture detail from the left and right and being very fuzzy and soft. At least it claims to be uncut at 105 mins.

On first viewing I was very disappointed. I could appreciate Argento's trademark stylistic flourishes (e.g. the beautiful and weird Goblin score, the slow camera pan across the killer's objects) but the story felt slow and plodding and random, and the actual murders themselves suprisingly tame. Only when the identity of the killer was revealed did all the intricate details begin to make sense.

It took a second viewing to truly understand the film. Finally the film could be appreciated - don't expect a Suspira style surreal art-film experience, Deep Red is Argento doing a straight murder-mystery, punctuated with brutal horror, and he succeeds. The performances are surprisingly good - David Hemmings and Daria Nicolodi are great, playing off each other very well in some very funny comedy sequences. Yes, comedy in a Dario Argento film!

Overall, I still can't put Deep Red in the same class as Suspiria or Deep Red, but it is leagues ahead of the atrocious Sleepless, and Argento fans will definitely find things here to enjoy.

The Private Eyes R3 DVD

The Private Eyes is widely regarded (along with Games Gambers Play) as the film that made the Cantonese language the language of choice in HK cinema (previously the Shaw Brothers films were made in Mandarin). This doesn't surprise me as the film is delightful, very funny, and very up-beat and happy. There is no mean-spiritedness in this film.

The 3 Hui brothers are reminiscent of the Marx brothers in the way they take on roles and interact with each other. Micheal is the oldest, the boss of a detective agency, Ricky (Mr Vampire) is his long-suffering assistant, and Sam is the kung-fu fighting new recruit. Together they go on a wide variety of cases, which end up primarily with Michael making a fool of himself.

There is no specific 'style' of comedy here - the Huis just give us whatever they think is funny. And 9 times out of 10, it is. This means surreal fight sequences (swordfish versus shark teeth) can co-exist with straightforward slapstick (Sam Hui trapped in a bath) and Wong Fei Hong parodies (the supermarket shoplifter). Its easy to see why people say Stephen Chow is the Micheal Hui of our time.

Yes, its a little old-fashioned, but its one of the few comedies that has aged very well. Very little of the humour is dependent on the fashions of the 70's, and i laughed throughout. And the Sam Hui song that plays at the beginning is awesome!

The R3 DVD is acceptable - picture quality is as you'd expect for a 70's HK film, subs are pretty good, extras include Star Files in English and a bunch of Michael Hui trailers.

Ammoru: A Retrospective

If you were wondering where exactly this mythical "eastern slant" is, lets kick it off here....

AMMORU (India, 1995)

AMMORU manages to combine all the usual Bollywood pre-occupations (marriage, familial bonds, hinduism) with an amazingly wild mythological fantasy storyline, some great CGI special effects, and quality production, to form one of the most interesting films to come out of India in a long time.

The prologue, as we watch a Shiva-style goddess become Ammoru, the protector of a village, sets the tone well, with the actress giving an engaging Brigitte Lin style performance. Unfortunately, she has little else to do for much of the film.

The central drama concerns a girl who witnesses an evil sadhu attempting to bury a virgin alive, in a bid to gain magical power and riches. The sadhu's mother, unhappy he has been jailed for life, vows to get her revenge on the girl, and proceeds to make her life a misery. This first half of the film works well, with great performances by the evil family, and the special mystical effects used sparingly but effectively.

It shifts tone for the second half, with Ammoru manifesting herself as a child to save the girl, and the sadhu himself being released early and seeking his own revenge. The film eventually begins to submit to standard Bollywood conventions, but redeems itself by upping the fright-factor and the crazy special effects, and bringing back the original adult incarnation of Ammoru to kick some ass!

AMMORU will be of interest to world viewers, as it gives a fascinating insight into the strange culture of southern India, a world where demons, goddesses walk among us as avatars, and it manages to do it without resorting to lowest-common-denominator movie-making as in 99.9% of the other movies coming from the sub-continent.

Brussels Fantasy FIlm Festival 2003

A companion piece to the 2004 reviews, here's a reprint of what went down last year. Interesting prophetic comment about Dario Argento's next movie in the THREE BLIND MICE review....

So from best to worst...

1. THE INVISIBLE (Simon Sandquist & Joel Bergvall, Sweden) aka DEN OSYNLIGE

What an incredible film. The basic premise may sound a bit like GHOST (guy is apparently beaten to death but is still stuck on earth as a ghost) but its the superb performances, the expert storytelling, and the powerful emotional pull of this cross-genre teen-flick/detective story/supernatural thriller that lifts it head and shoulders above any film in the last few years. If you liked THE SIXTH SENSE, you'll absolutely love this. An unforgettable experience.

2. ARAGAMI (Ryuhei Kitamura, Japan)

The director of VERSUS is back, and this time he gives us an old-school samurai sword-fighting flick. ARAGAMI was apparently made in 7 days as a challenge with a fellow director. Its minimalistic to the extreme: 3 actors, one big room as the only location, a plot structure as simple as it gets: dialogue - fight - dialogue - fight - dialogue - fight. And what fights! They're as hyper-kinetic, exciting and fun as the dialogue is bizarre & funny. ARAGAMI is 100& crowd-pleasing action. This one is gonna be a big international hit.

3. DRIVE (Sabu, Japan)

Funny funny funny! If this one doesn't make you laugh you don't have a funny bone. Three bank robbers jump into the car of a strict by-the-book kind of guy, and tell him to chase their colleague who is getting away with all the cash. But his refusal to drive above the speed limit or ignore red lights means they're soon lost and wandering aimlessly. One ridiculous situation after another ensues, all based around the theme of destiny and fate. It boasts great performances from all concerned (special mention goes to KOU SHIBASAKI, the evil schoolgirl from BATTLE ROYALE) and is simply a joy to watch.

4. SECOND NAME (Paco Plaza, Spain)

Second Name follows the female mystery-investigation storyline that has been used so successfully in recent horror/suspense films like Ring, The Eye etc. This time round our heroine investigates the suicide of her father in strange circumstances, leading her to uncover the secrets of her own past, and the discovery of an ancient religion dedicated to the ritual killing of their first-born. Despite being a Spanish production its set in the UK and is entirely in English. I have not read the novel but judging by the film Ramsay Campbell has crafted a clever, twisting-turning tale with that elusive what-happens-next factor that will keep anyone guessing. Direction and performances are restrained, which thankfully suits the film (none of the gimmicks that damaged the US remake of RING). And the bleak ending really packs a punch. Recommended.


A psychological thriller about a mild-mannered serial killer that is full of twists and turns, always leaving the audience guessing, somewhat in the style of SLEUTH. Laura Mana is a Spanish actress turned director (this is her second film after COMPASSIONATE SEX) with a real flair for keeping the audience hooked. She wrings everything out of the scenario (the killer has his victim tied to a chair in his basement, shows her vidoes of his previous murder confessions, and suggests poking out her eye) and gets a fantasic central performance from Dario Grandinetti, who reminds me of a pre-USUAL SUSPECTS Kevin Spacey.

6. SUICIDE CLUB (Sion Sono, Japan)

This year's BATTLE ROYALE? The opening is easily equal to, if not better than, that other films famous classroom sequence, as fifty happy, smiling schoolgirls join hands and leap in front of a train at a subway station. Buckets of blood fill the screen and the audience is left shocked, giggling and nervous. This somehow leads to a wave of copycat suicides, a whole bunch of red herrings (including a guy apparently impersonating Dr Frank N Furter from THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW and a pre-teen J-pop girl band called "Desert" or maybe "Dessert" who sing a really infectious song called "Mail Me"), and finally some kind of muddled message about fads in modern Japan. OK it doesn't hang together at the end, but its the fun of the insane events along the way that make this stand out.

7. TATTOO (Robert Schwentke, Germany)

A SE7EN-style serial killer thriller about a psychopath who collects tattoos. The intriguing idea that "body-art" has a resale value and those bearing the tattoos are worth less than the tattoos themselves is explored very professionally in this stylish, well-made, well-acted German thriller. There is gore, beautiful women, and a killer twist. What more do you want?

8. PHONE (Byung-Ki Ahn, Korea)

One of the many Asian films inspired by the success of Hideo Nakata's RING, this one follows the standard vengeful-ghost story template, and manages to pack in enough chills, thrills and spills to keep everyone happy. A woman gets a new mobile phone but starts getting strange untraceable calls. Meanwhile, her friend's little daughter is behaving in an odd fashion. Is there some connection? She begins to investigate the history of her phone, and uncovers deep secrets from the past. The possessed little girl is absolutely incredible - she looks really malicious and frightening at times. The story is a little confusing with so many flashbacks and flash-forwards, but the big twists in the final act achieve a decent pay-off.

9. THE UNINVITED (Rizal Mantovani & Joese Poernomo, Indonesia) aka JELANGKUNG

A DV horror movie shot in a few days that managed to beat TITANIC at the Indonesian box-office? Let me at it! This is the most cheesy, ham-fisted, and unintentionally hilarious thing I've seen since the Philippino fantasy film THE KILLING OF SATAN. But there are some flashes of brilliance that make you wonder what these guys could do given a decent budget, professional actors, and a script doctor. Some kids (a spooky Mulder type - he even has the "I want to believe" poster on his wall, his whining complaining cute girlfriend, a hard-nosed military type, and a fat comic-relief who whistles SCOOBY-DOO while peeing) go ghost-hunting, leave a magic totem on a weird grave, and go home, unwittingly taking monsters from Indonesian folklore with them. Half-way through, there is an interlude while we get a heavy 15-minute discussion about the nature of experimentation and philosophy ("why do you always have to bring metaphysics into it?"). There is humour: the best joke goes "Hey look there's an elephant. It looks like you!" "Hey look the elephant's shitting. The shit looks like you!". Oscar Wilde it ain't. The sub-titler couldn't even be bothered to translate some of them ("(Local indonesian joke)"). But in its favour, the opening is absolutely breathtaking, with its use of smoke, colour, and a pounding rock score, the director's music-video background is clearly visible. And the surprise ending is pretty good. What comes in between may be risible, but at least its not forgettable.

10. CABIN FEVER (Eli Roth, Canada)

A homage to classic Romero, Hooper, Craven and Raimi. A bunch of teenagers go to a cabin in the middle of the woods (sounds familiar?), get harassed by a guy with a flesh-eating disease, and soon start succumbing to the symptons themselves. Throw in a bunch of gun-toting rednecks, a sheriff more interested in partying than law-enforcement, a mad dog, and a kung-fu fighting arm-biting kid, and you've got CABIN FEVER, the debut feature of Eli Roth. The kids are all distinctly unlikable (as they should be), the disease effects are ultra-sick (as they should be), the plot is pretty much thrown together without any rhyme or reason but its clear that everyone had a good time on this production and it shows on-screen. Its not Shakespeare, but its a great late-night-Friday experience.

11. THE INSIDE STORY (Robert Sutherland, Australia)

This fantasy film from a first-time director appears to have the budget of an episode of NEIGHBOURS (with acting to match), but he does wonders with such a small cast and limited number of locations. The central premise (a scientist and his uncle discover a magic book that contains everything they have ever done) is not 100% original (its certainly been seen in short stories and TV shows before) but it is taken in several unexpected directions. Cleverest is the fact that there is no way for the viewer to visually distinguish the "real" world from the fantasy world. The ending is a little anti-climatic but still this is a debut with real promise.

12. SNAKE OF JUNE (Shinya Tsukamoto, Japan)

Tsukamoto is best know for TETSUO and TETSUO 2: BODY HAMMER. If you've seen those films you'll know what to expect in terms of style: black-and-white, wild photography, bizarre imagery etc. What you won't expect is the relatively accessible and easy-to-follow storyline in the first half, as a woman discovers her own desires through the promptings of a blackmailer. If TETSUO was about hating your body, SNAKE OF JUNE is about embracing it. About half-way through the focus is switched to her husband, and here we revert to total obscurity, in the TETSUO mould. Tsukamoto buffs will find it all very interesting, others will be left baffled.

13. BUBBAHOTEP (Don Coscarelli, USA)

Well, I have to say I was expecting more. Bruce Campbell is fantastic, and giving him the chance to portray Elvis seems like perfect casting right? Well, he does perform well, but the surrounding film is not as exciting or interesting as it could be. There is too much pondering self-reflection going on, when what the audience wants (from a film about a reincarnated Mummy killing OAPs in a retirement home at least) is action, comedy and gore in the style of the EVIL DEAD films. Director Coscarelli (PHANTASM) seems to be deliberately holding back to give Campbell a chance to really act, but I don't think this is the film to do that.

14. WHEN THE BELL CHIMED 13 (Xavier Villaverde, Spain/Portugal) aka TRECE CAMPANADAS aka 13 CHIMES

After a slow start, this tale of a young sculptor being haunted by the malicious ghost his dead father picks up steam and becomes a reasonably interesting tale with nice locations to look at and a nice satisfying conclusion. Its all a little low-key but its worth a look. By the way Laura Mana (the direcor of KILLING WORDS, above) has a role in this one.

15. THE MARSH (Kim Nguyen, Canada) aka LE MARAIS

Another debut director, Kim Nguyen has a real visual flair reminiscent of Jeunet & Caro (DELICATESSEN, CITY OF LOST CHILDREN). Story-wise its a little slow-moving (a peasant woman disappears and the superstitious villagers suspect the marsh-dwelling, club-footed puppeteer and his foreign guardian of killing her), but given a decent script this guy could be someone to watch out for.

16. DARKNESS (Jaume Balaguero, USA)

Suffers from all the usual problems when an overseas director who has scored a big hit (LOS SIN NOMBRE) goes Hollywood. Its bloated, cliched, unoriginal, and not in the least bit scary. The opening evokes H.P. Lovecraft and Cthulhu, but it doesn't deliver on that promise at all. Very disappointing.


An Eastern European flick that feels more like a TV drama than a movie. Its as slow, clumsy and boring as you would expect from a country without a long film-making tradition and no real budget for this type of thing. But at least its not embarrassing to watch like the next film on the list...

18. LABYRINTH (Miroslav Lekic, Serbia) aka LAVIRINT

Another Eastern European flick where people tak to each other for 60 minutes, then they get put in a labyrinth that is slowly filling with water and have to escape. The labyrinth part had some promise, but the insanely complex clues that are solved by the professor and the preacher who have to escape will leave the audience baffled. Stick with the Jennifer Connelly film of the same name.

19. WITCHERY DEAL (Javier Ellorietta, Spain) aka PACTO DE BRUJAS aka WITCHES PACT

Totally forgettable film about.... what was it about? I think I slept through most of this one. All I can remember is that the actresses are all very attractive.

20. THREE BLIND MICE (Matthias Ledoux, France/UK/Aus)

Oh dear. What a mess! Edward Furlong must be the most unappealing, uncharismatic, unlikeable leading man EVER. If you found him annoying in TERMINATOR 2, you'll be wanting to see him end up like the victims being murdered live on their own webcam sites in THREE BLIND MICE. Meanwhile Emilia Fox tries her best to swear convincingly but you still can't imagine her using even the mildest profanities in real life. If the performances and dialogue aren't bad enough, we get a central concept that has already been done much better in last year's MY LITTLE EYE, and a plot that whizzes by at 100 miles per hour but is totally uninvolving. Not the best advertisement for UK-France co-productions. Incidentally, Dario Argento's next film is about the internet and a long-distance shooter, just like this one. Let's hope it doesn't end up like this.

Pulp Fiction: A Retrospective

Was PULP FICTION ever really "all that"? Looking at all the KILL BILL reviews seems to indicate it was some kind of breakthrough masterpiece , but here's my review from the time, giving a dissenting voice...


Don't believe the hype. Quentin Tarantino's loud, brash and supercool crime pic is certainly entertaining and a real crowd-pleaser, but no way is the cult reputatation that has built up around it deserved.

Tarantino is now being hailed as the catalyst of a new wave of motion picture director: cine-literate, streetwise and able to meld the best elements of popular culture with the film-making craft of the auteurs. Erm, excuse me, but hasn't his been said about every new "shining star" whenever a debut feature is critically acclaimed? Making entertaining, violent films is certainly not a monopoly for Tarantino: the Joel Silver bandwagon has been doing exactly that throughout the eighties. Having a grip on popular culture is also hardly a great achievement. Is there some reason why mentioning McDonalds and Pop Tarts in a script makes it suddenly profound? Worst of all, a band of pseudo-intellectuals obviously weened on the MODERN REVIEW, Julie Burchill and Tony Parsons, have acclaimed it as a masterpiece. Hypocritically, they heap abuse on FORREST GUMP for being too populist, yet PULP FICTION only exists to please a slightly-more-cynical market segment.

Right from the start, Tarantino throws every movie trick in the book at you. Hey, let's start with a scene from the end of the film, and muddle up the time sequence of the stories--the senile film reviewers love all that stuff! Let's have nice, slow camera movements and an anally retentive ultra-detailed look at everything our two hitmen protagonists get up to. They spend seemingly hours in the car on the way to their first job, spouting their supposedly brilliantly witty dialogue. It seems to have been overlooked that half this dialogue is muffled and is barely audible, and the other half is not particularly amusing or interesting anyway. One particularly dull sequence involves boxer Butch (Bruce Willis) dressing, talking to his partner. So what? Why should the audience be in the slightest bit interested in the boring chatter of Butch and Fabienne, or in Butch's dress sense? The film is peppered with these long, drawn-out showcases for Mr Tarantino's god-like gift for dialogue....

There *is* fun to be had however. Tarantino's overblown pretentious directing style is extremely annoying, he seems to believe the press he has been receiving, which as we all know signals the death of talent. The essential storylines are good, simple tales with plenty of black humour for those with sick minds. The entire cast performs well, signifying one of Tarantino's rare strengths, coaxing good performances from everyone on set. Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta shine as Jules and Vince. There are enough gunshots, fights and blood to please all action-lovers, and a supreme scene of humiliation and then revenge involving Butch and Mr. Big Marsellus in a hee-haw gunshop. The final sequence is not as powerful as Tarantino would want, but there is certainly plenty of fun on the way.

So no way is this An Artistic Triumph, or indeed, one of the best films of the 90's. It is simply an entertainment that provides its fair share of laughs, groans and cheers, but has ideas above it's station: a "pulp" film as the title suggests that thinks it can become a "classic." Sadly, it can't, and Quentin Tarantino's attempts to hide its flaws through quirkiness and a 90's feel, while fooling many people, left me unsatisfied.

Overall Rating: 70 %

South Park The Movie: A Retrospective

This review was first published on Harry Knowles aint-it-cool-news site, the very first review of the incomplete SOUTH PARK movie. Believe it or not, creator Matt Stone read it and commented on it, taking on-board the comments about the over-long Kenny in Hell sequence (it was significantly trimmed in the final cut). Who says online opinions dont matter?!


I recently had the chance to view a post-production VHS copy of the eagerly awaited South Park movie. The film is in the final stages of post-production: some frames of animation are not yet completed (they are replaced by a series of stills) and some of the dialogue track is to be redubbed. Otherwise, the film is pretty much ready for release - the story is clear and all the dialogue is present, voiced by all the correct actors.

[This paragraph contains spoilers]
So, how does it fare? It kicks off in style as Cartman and the gang sneak in to the brand new Terrence & Philip movie. This film-within-a-film ("Asses of Fire") is a hilarious excuse for offensive bad-language (not bleeped!) and vulgar toilet humour. It contains a brilliant musical number containing nothing but four-letter words, clearly a celebration of the new-found freedom SOUTH PARK's creators have found with an 18 certificate ('R' in the US). Naturally, the South Park kids are impressed, and are soon repeating the swearing at school. Soon, the news of the kids' foul mouths filters through to the teachers and the parents, who are up in arms. The film then turns into an unsubtle attack on a society of censorship, as the parents point the blame at Terrence & Philip themselves, putting them on trial, sentencing them to death, and declaring war on their homeland (Canada).

[Spoilers end]
So far, so good. There are some brilliant gags and one-liners (as you'd expect) and the relationship between Satan and Saddam Hussein is possibly the sickest thing I've ever seen - so the film must be doing something right.

Unfortunately, it seems that the natural length for SOUTH PARK is half an hour. The film simply can't sustain the cartoons simple one-note inanity for the full running time of the feature. All the best ideas are in the first half-hour, after which SOUTH PARK begins to slide into repetition and tedium. There is no denying the thrill of hearing the South Parkers swear for real, but basing an entire film on this premise suggests laziness. Certainly, its watchable and enjoyable enough (as any average episode of the TV show is), but you get the feeling that SOUTH PARK has possibly exhausted its format with this movie. There is very little left to explore, meaning the film has to resort to cliched fantasy and war sequences.

The most irritating aspect of SOUTH PARK THE MOVIE is undoubtedly the boring musical numbers. There are far too many of them, of which only one-or-two are remotely amusing. They exist only as filler, padding the story out to reach feature film length. Equally tedious is the sub-plot involving Kenny's death (yes, he dies - no spoilers there).

SOUTH PARK: BIGGER, LONGER AND UNCUT is a fan's film. It is good to see that the creators are not compromising their vision in an attempt to draw in a more mainstream audience: this is as acerbic and cruel as any TV episode. Unfortunately, as a fan's film, it follows the strict formula of 'more of the same'. There is nothing particularly special here to distinguish it from the TV show other than the swearing, some poor songs, and some snazzy animation sequences. Building it up as an 'event movie' is possibly a mistake: it would be more at home as a sell-through video release.

This film's potential under-achievement, combined with the TV show's dwindling audience figures in the States, could well spell the end of the SOUTH PARK franchise. This may be a blessing in disguise. Parker & Stone are undoubtedly talented people, and it may be time for them to move on to projects new: the clear parallel is with a similarly controverial cartoon, BEAVIS & BUTTHEAD, which ended with a major motion picture, to be replaced by the more emotionally rich and mature KING OF THE HILL.

So, in conclusion, SOUTH PARK THE MOVIE just about stands on its own merits, and all fans should certainly see it, not least because it may be the last you will ever see. It was fun while it lasted, but no more SOUTH PARK please.

Batman Forever: A Retrospective

Before blogs, there was usenet. Here's a classic review published on from 1995.


The Making of BATMAN FOREVER: A Play

Cast of characters:
Al, a mild-mannered studio exec
Bob, a superior studio exec

Act 1 Scene 1: A meeting
Bob: I called you in here today for one reason, son.
Al: What's that sir?
Bob: Our plans for an infinite series of blockbuster money-spinners is in jeopardy!
Al: You mean ... the Batman franchise?
Bob: Exactly! And you know who is behind it?
Al: The public ... getting fed up with the same tired old formula perhaps?
Bob: WHAT?
Al: (Gulp) Erm ... sorry, I mean the film-makers, naturally. They do their best to reduce a film's appeal to merely the intelligent and thoughtful, don't they?
Bob: That's better ... And who is the prime mover behind this attempt at bringing ... the "A" word ... into our money-spinning franchise?
Al: The "A" word? You mean artistry?
Al: I'm sorry sir! It's Mr. Burton, surely? A guaranteed happy, smiley kids film, turned into a dark, brooding nightmare piece?
Bob: (smiles) I see great things for you boy ...
Al: And as for the sequel-
Bob: Don't talk to me about that sequel! We've probably lost $20m in revenue for Batman 3 'cos of that movie. I mean, what could be guaranteed to turn kids off more than a film about 3 demented freaks running around with personality disorders ...
Al: Not forgetting the fact that McDonalds didn't want to plug it on the side of their milkshakes ...
Bob: You've got it in one! We must make sure the new Batman appeals to the youngest possible audience - McDonalds must support us!
Al: So we should drop Tim Burton ... replace him with more of a "team player"?
Bob: I was thinking perhaps Joel Schumacher ...
Al: I completely agree sir! Someone we can contro- communicate with. And the cast?
Bob: Think "big stars."
Al: But shouldn't we think up a story first?
Bob: Forget the story! We just need lots of running around, loud bangs, vivid colours ... Stars! Jim Carrey! Tommy Lee Jones!
Al: But they wouldn't gel.
Al: Nothing. You were saying, big stars ...
Bob: Sex appeal ... Nicole Kidman. New feminist angle ... make her a shrink! Yes ... and Robin! We can hype up his appearance in the press releases.
Al: Shouldn't we work on a script now?
Bob: Give it to one of our lowly writers, tell 'em to knock it up in an hour. It's not important, we want to get the kids!
Al: But the parents, boss! They want something they can watch with their kids.
Bob: Okay. Keep the dark visuals. Maybe ol' Mr. Burton was onto something there ... but I want bright day-glo colours everywhere!
Al: You got it. I'll get to work right away sir. Anything else?
Bob: Never forget, why are we making this movie?
Al: $ CHING $ !
Bob: You'll go far son ...

Overall rating: 25 %

Brussels Fantasy Film Festival 2004

The run-down from best to worst at this years festival....


The best Korean film I've ever seen. Starting off as a light-hearted comedy about an alien conspiracist who kidnaps a guy he believes is preparing an extraterrestrial invasion, switching to dark psycho-thriller when the motivation of the kidnapper comes under question, then switching to detective movie and horror movie, before throwing it all away for a deranged sci-fi action conclusion, Jun-Hwan Jang's debut film defies conventions at every turn. It manages to successfully blend elements from THE X-FILES, MISERY, MARS ATTACKS, 2001, even THE USUAL SUSPECTS. Great performances, great effects, and a killer gag at the end that will leave you chuckling for weeks.

GOZU (Japan) *****

The real deal. Forget imitators like BIG SLAUGHTER CLUB, GOZU deservedly enters the "premier league" of Takashi Miike movies, as good as ICHI THE KILLER, VISITOR Q, DEAD OR ALIVE or AUDITION. An ultra-sick, ultra-funny, ultra-twisted horror/mystery/road movie about a yakuza searching for a vanished corpse and encountering all manner of oddballs along the way. Takashi Miike is the only film-maker in the world right now who is able to still surprise audiences. Only Miike could get away with an opening scene where a dog is identified as "anti-yakuza" and subsequently smashed repeatedly to death against a shop window. And only Miike could dream up that incredible climax. Warning: genius at work.

UNDEAD (Australia) ****

Peter Jackons's BRAINDEAD/DEALIVE is still the greatest zombie comedy ever made. But UNDEAD comes a damn close second! A meteorite shower turns the inhabitants of a quiet Australian town into flesh-eating monsters, the few remaining humans are trapped in a house... The gore effects are excellent, the pace is fast & frenetic, the gags are amusing. With the choice of way-out weaponry and the supremely silly dialogue, its clear that this is a film made by fans for fans. The Spierigs realise they could never match BRAINDEAD's gore-fest finale, so they manage to subvert expectations by swerving into sci-fi mystery mode for the final reel, but still manage to keep it compelling despite the shift in gear, and never give away its low budget origins.

NOTHING (Canada) ****

2 losers harassed by the police, employees, neighbours, estate agents wish the outside world would just disappear. And it does. All that is left is their house: everything else is just an endless white expanse (that "feels like tofu"). Vincenzo Natali has proved before he works very well with these kinds of "high-concepts": like CUBE, he sets up a crazy world with its own rules without any explanation, throws some people into it, and lets them figure out what the hell is going on. Unlike CUBE, NOTHING is played for laughs, and it works! Its frequently laugh-out-loud funny, there is some hilarious dialogue ("we can't be dead, we have cable"), some great visual gags (the bouncing heads), and 2 great performances from the leads, David Hewlett and Andrew Miller.

SKYHIGH (Japan) ***

Ryuhei Kitamura's latest is a manga adaptation with Yumiko Shaku (PRINCESS BLADE) caught up in a life-after-death battle with a mad geneticist collecting human hearts, and his sword-fighting female assistant. Kitamura is an undisputed master of cool sword fights: the super-slick poses and stylised dance-like choreography are pure cinema. And there is plenty on show here, even though the plotting and clumsy expositional dialogue let him down, as they did in VERSUS. Its no coincidence that ARAGAMI is his best film: it disposed of story altogether. Still, those swordfights, and that beautiful evil battling babe, easily save the movie.

AZUMI (Japan) ***

Described by Kitamura as a "rock-n-roll samurai movie", in fact its a surprisingly restrained piece, respecting the chambara tradition, with its slow, deliberate pace and occasional outbursts of extreme violence, Takeshi Kitano's ZATOICHI also follows this pattern, but here the results are a bit more populist, with more fight scenes, more comedy, and less dancing! But its still not a typical Kitamura movie: VERSUS fans would probably do better with SKYHIGH. Aya Ueto is both cute and convincing as the samurai assassin on a deadly mission. As for Kitamura, With a new GODZILLA movie in the works, a re-worked ULTIMATE VERSUS, and a move to Hollywood in progress, it will be interesting to see how his career progresses from here.

THE BEYOND (Italy) ***

A Lucio Fulci "classic" from 1981, part of this year's BIFFF zombie retrospective, about a hotel that is built on top of one the 7 gateways to Hell. Truly disgusting gore. One really nasty spider attack. A storyline that falls apart at the slightest analysis. Hilarious and terrible dialogue. Stupid idiots who continue to waste bullets shooting zombies in the chest, despite all the evidence indicating only head-shots work. Stupid idiots who continue to waste bullets shooting zombies in the chest when it would be easier to just walk past them. Sorry, thinking too much. This is horror Italian-style. Don't think, just feel.


How do you top the superb original? You don't try. The Fukasakus turn their attention from the issue of troubled teenagers and generation gaps to the "war on terror". It kicks off in fine style with Riki Takeuchi (DEAD OR ALIVE) doing a great deranged turn as the new teacher putting the school kids through hell. Their mission: not to kill each other, but to kill the survivor from the original movie, who has become some kind of romanticized Osama Bin Laden style terrorist leader. The blackly comic violence of the original is substituted with SAVING PRIVATE RYAN style mass slaughter, interspersed with long thoughtful sequences where not a lot happens. Problem is these thoughtful bits become more and more prevalent, slowing the film to snail's pace by its conclusion. Still, any film with such a direct, controversial viewpoint on the post-9/11 situation is a must-see.


HK teen idols Charlene Choi and Gillian Chung hit the big screen in a kungfu-romcom vampire movie. Sadly these vampires are the European variety, no hopping MR VAMPIRE "geung-si" in sight. Instead we get lots of HK star cameos: Ekin Cheng, Josie Ho, Anthony Wong, Karen Mok, even Jackie Chan all make an appearance. The tongue-in-cheek approach, charisma of the 2 teen leads, and exciting choreography of the Donnie-Yen directed wire-fu fight scenes, carry the film in spite of the more pedestrian romantic stuff, the derivate BUFFY-style plot and overly MTV-ish visuals.


The "evil twin" concept has been done to death, so director Kiyoshi Kurosawa (CURE) interestingly opts to make it only the background of his story of an engineer trying to perfect his mind-controlled wheelchair with help and hindrance from his more uninhibited other self. The slow pace and low budget is wearying at first, but it picks up later on when it realises its actually a comedy! People getting hit by trucks, running away from small balls, absurd sight gags like these make it all worthwhile.


Takashi Miike finally receives the ultimate honour: a film that can be described as "Miike-esque"! The obvious influence on this comic horror movie (from the screenwriter of DOA3), about some schoolgirl prostitutes who are terrorized by a guy they killed and buried in the woods (Kenichi Endo), are Miike's sick digital movie VISITOR Q, but the off-beat feel that runs through all of Miike's works, especially HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS, is also present. We also have clumsy parodies of EVIL DEAD, BRAINDEAD/DEADALIVE, BLAIR WITCH.... there is simply too many ingredients here, and director Hitoshi Ishikawa never quite pulls of Miike's trademark craziness, always trying too hard to be weird.

DEAD END RUN (Japan) *

Three short stories from Sogo Ishii, director of ELECTRIC DRAGON 80,000V, all ending with 2 people dead: a musical ghost story, a gangster shoot-out, and a rooftop hostage-situation starring Tadanobu Asano (ICHI THE KILLER). The first 2 are forgettable, the 3rd is amusing enough for its short running time. Hard to see what all the fuss is about.


A silent factory worker loses his job, and starts to walk home. Along the way, he stumbles into one bizarre situation after another, some funny, some poignant, some ridiculous. I was expecting a lot from Sabu's latest film, His previous DRIVE was one of the highlights at last year's festival. Unfortunately it seems Sabu has gone out of his way to be different this time round and the results are not good. Where DRIVE had energy, warmth, humour and a decent narrative, THE BLESSING BELL is achingly slow, a lot of the gags are just not that funny, and there is no real point to it all.


"Hey, I've just been to Uzbekistan and found lots of places that would make a great post-apocalypse location shoot! Lets do it!" A film that seemingly exists just to show off the geography, and has no story of interest (2 people escape from a train wreck in tunnel, on reaching the surface they discover the world is ended, nobody knows why, there are a few survivors struggling for existence etc etc), and no characters of interest (a couple of dull teenagers, a sprinkling of nutcases, only some twins who have been operated on to have their fear removed spark any interest). Its hard to believe this is based on a manga: who would read such a dull comic? Nothing happens: at the end, it feels like it was just a feature-length first episode of a mini-series. So what about this geography? Well, yes, its definitely desolate, colourless, cold, post-apocalyptic. But 2 hours of looking at people stumbling through it? No thanks.