Friday, 21 April 2017

War on Everyone
Dir: John Michael McDonagh
2016
**
After only two films John Michael McDonagh became a director to look out for, I love his films, they're unique, striking, honest and something the film industry needs a bit more of. However, I feel he's stumbled somewhat with his third venture. I don't know if it was the move to unfamiliar surroundings or not, it certainly didn't do his brother any favours when he (Martin McDonagh) went from the brilliant In Bruges to the not so brilliant Seven Psychopaths. That said, it's not all his fault, as director he has to take full responsibility but the performances weren't great, and neither was the casting. I have no issue with Michael Peña, I remain a loyal fan of his but Alexander Skarsgård just didn't suit the role. I like dark humour and I liked much of the dark humour in this film but at times it came close to crossing the line, quite unnecessarily and it was hardly ever that funny. I couldn't tell whether the Islamic jokes were there because they are topical or if they were attempts at droll satire aimed at the current spate of Islamophobia, I suspect they were (I hope they were!) but when attempting such things you need to make it clear. Satire isn't something you can get mostly right, it is something you have to get exactly right, otherwise it doesn't work and you can't call it satire - sparkling wine made outside of Champagne is just sparkling wine. If War on Everyone were a sparkling wine it would be flat and too alcoholic to enjoy. It almost feels aggressive, antagonistic, out to prove something the viewer is never made aware of. I liked the deconstruction of the typical 'buddy-cop' movie, the fact they do next to no police work and get away with it for example, but surely the duo need to have a convincing friendship and a lively chemistry? The performances don't portray this and neither does the script. Theo James looks good in colourful clothes and can play it straight but it doesn't make him a particularly impressive or fearsome villain. He was a better bad guy in The Inbetweeners. The character development is fairly non-existent, it is the under-used supporting characters that are the film's highlight. Caleb Landry Jones is great as Birdwell, a fairly androgynous deviant who raises more questions than the film put together, and Malcolm Barrett and David Wilmot are great as Reggie and Pádraic Power, a couple of unlikely small time partners in crime. All the laughs come from David Wilmot, it is where McDonagh's comedic writing talents lay and I don't know why he didn't make better use of it. By no means am I suggesting a director of enormous talent like McDonagh shouldn't try new things, I just don't think they should try to be something they're not, which seems to be the case here. You could say it was original but I would argue that there is a reason for that; it's disjointed, detached, awkward, unengaging, and charmless. Poorly conceived at best.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Yakuza Apocalypse
Dir: Takashi Miike
2015
****
Anyone even vaguely familiar with the work of director Takashi Miike will know whether or not to commit time to Yakuza Apocalypse but those who like their Miike hits to be more Ichi the Killer than Visitor Q (With an element of The Happiness of the Katakuris) then you should know that it should be next on your watch list. The title doesn't do the film justice, as the film is Miike at his most extreme and surreal, as well as his most playful. It's hard to explain but the story covers different genres with very different tones. Boss Kamiura is legendary in the underground world of the Yakuza, rumoured to be invincible. The truth is that he's a bloodsucking vampire, a secret he has kept hidden for some time, and not even his trusted and most loyal underling Kageyama hasn't been told of his truth. Kageyama is ridiculed by his fellow Yakuza and his loyalty is constantly questioned by his excuse of sensitive skin when asked to adorn himself in Yakuza tattoos as is expected. One day, assassins aware of boss Kamiura's secret vampirism arrive from abroad and deliver him an ultimatum: Return to the international syndicate he left years ago, or die a painful death. Kamiura refuses and, during a fierce battle with anime-otaku martial-arts expert Kyoken, is torn limb from limb, in a gory and bizarre scene, typical of a Miike film. With his dying breath, Kamiura bites Kageyama, passing on his vampire powers to his unsuspecting servant. As he begins to awaken to his newfound abilities, Kageyama's desire to avenge the murder of boss Kamiura sets him on a course for a violent confrontation with Kaeru-kun, the foreign syndicate's mysterious and seemingly unstoppable leader. The film is a contrast of disturbing seriousness, where murder and rape is shown graphically, and absurdist fantasy, where slap-stick fighting go hand in hand with dream sequences and parody. Miike swipes several genres in one go in true Miike tradition, while at the same time creating his own. The story is basic, good but as if it was made up on the spot (and the rate Miike actually makes movies makes me wonder whether it was). It's really the characters and the unbelievably odd scenes that make Miike's films so wonderful, Yakuza Apocalypse being no exception. Miike's eclectic characters are from a mixed bag of genres and make the film what it is. There is a woman whose head is filled with a strange liquid that makes loud noise, an intellectual Tudor gangster who looks and talks like William Shakespeare, an Indonesian martial arts expert dressed as a nerd, a hyperactive kappa goblin and a giant frog that wants to destroy the world (he's just a man in a frog suit in the beginning, then things get weird). It is nuts, not just for the sake of it but for the art of it, Miike is an auteur of oddity, a genius of the bizarre who pushes the boundaries and then makes up new boundaries to push through once he has. Unapologetic, unfathomable, unstoppable and impossible to compare with anything, other than maybe Miike's previous oddities. You will either love it or hate it, I personally love it.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

The Apple
Dir: Menahem Golan
1980
*****
The late great film director Menahem Golan proved one thing with his 1980 film The Apple and that is that you don't have to be a great film maker in order to make a great film. The Apple is a particularly bad film in the sense that everything that is needed in order for a film to be considered good is missing, but somehow it is so spectacularly wrong, that it becomes entertainingly fascinating and I'm not sure something can be considered bad when it both entertains and fascinates an audience. Regarded as one of the worst films ever made, The Apple is actually rather good from a technical aspect. The big dance numbers are shot beautifully, the dancing, singing and performances are of a very high quality. The cinematography is incredible and the special effects are pretty good compared to many serious sci-fi films released the same year. This is a big money picture, glossy and highly polished. The negatives are that the songs aren't very good, in fact they're awful, which isn't good for a musical. The script is also pretty hard to listen to, although it is delivered perfectly by a cast of very competent actors. Everything that is wrong about the film could be said of any number of 70s and 80s movies, I think The Apple suffered most due to it making absolutely no sense, being a little too obvious in what it was trying to achieve and what had influenced it and because, quite frankly, people were being a little too critical about it. I know it seems somewhat contradictory for a film critic to suggest film critics were too critical at the time but there is a lot of fun to be had with this film and I'm not sure why it has been overlooked. Menahem Golan was one half of Cannon films. Cannon films made some of the most notoriously bad films of the 70s, 80s and 90s but they have gained a huge cult following. It's all about enthusiasm at the end of the day. Enthusiasm is infectious Although Cannon was started by Dennis Friedland and Chris Dewey, it is Menahem Golan and his cousin Toram Globus who bought the company in 1979 who made it the cult film studio that it was. Neither were that good at making films and for every good idea they had (and they had a few) there were five bad ideas that lost them money. The business model was to buy cheap scripts and throw money at them, and money was a big motivator, but the two men were passionate about film and had bags of enthusiasm. It is this enthusiasm that is behind their fan-base and the 'so bad they're good' catalogue of films. The Apple is over the top, camp as hell and about as dazzling as a film can get. It is hard to defend the film, I loved it like I love many films regarded as 'the worst' (Robert Altman's Popeye - 1980 and Steven Spielberg's 1945 - 1979 for example) but I ask this: How can a film starring Catherine Mary Stewart be bad (boys growing up in the 80s know what I mean), can you hand on heart tell me you don't love Vladek Sheybal's performance as Mr. Boogalow and is there anything more amazing than Joss Ackland playing God in a floating golden Rolls Royce? I think we all know the answer. The Apple is a masterpiece.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie
Dir: Mandie Fletcher
2016
**

I wouldn't say I was a fan of Absolutely Fabulous but I appreciated it back in its heyday and I've seen one or two of the specials they've done for TV in recent years. Was I glad when they announced the movie? To be honest, I didn't give a hoot but sat down to it with an open mind. It was nice to see the cast reunited and within minutes Jennifer Saunders, Joanna Lumley, Julia Sawalha, Jane Horrocks and the great June Whitfield were on screen together and it was a wonderful thing. It all just went downhill somewhat when they started telling jokes. The script seems to rely heavily on familiarity, media pop words and lazy referencing, the ones that weren't were just old. The basis of the story is that Edina and Patsy have to go on the run after accidentally pushing world famous supermodel Kate Moss into the Thames during a party. That was well handled and well written, the film only really lets itself down in the details. The story treads old ground far too much, give the fans what they want and play the hits for sure but there really is no development from the early days of Ab Fab. I thought the bombardment of cameos (sixty in total) would be too much but actually I didn't mind it, it was quite fun playing spot the celebrity when they made blink and you'll miss it appearances. It was nice to see returning friends of the show also, but dame Joan Collins (who once bought me a drink by the way) and Dame Edna Everage steal the show when it comes to cameo. That said, Barry Humphries has a larger part in the film but part of the DVD extras has a brilliant interview with Dame Edna that is better in its five minutes than the whole film is in its ninety-one. It really is just an extended episode and in many respects that's exactly what it should be, my biggest issue though was that it is just so poorly written. The written comedy is awful, which is such a shame because the visual and physical comedy is brilliant - although the best stuff comes from the cameo performers. It all seems a bit half-hearted considering that the film has been mooted for such a long time and has become greatly anticipated by the fans. Jennifer Saunders said that she might consider doing more should the film do well but a month after its release she confirmed she was done with Absolutely Fabulous for good and that she wanted to concentrate on other things. It's clear that this was a project she felt she had to do, rather than one she was passionate about, it comes out in the finished article. I totally understand why Mandie Fletcher directed it, given that she directed the newer episodes and is familiar with the many of the cast but it really doesn't look anything special, with some of the scenes looking a little drab. The question is, is anyone really that surprised or disappointed at how it turned out, if not, then it makes you wonder why they even bothered.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Endless Poetry
Dir: Alejandro Jodorowsky
2016
*****

It's typical isn't it, you wait twenty-three years for a Alejandro Jodorowsky film and then two come along at once. This is not a complaint. Only having to wait a short three years (which isn't bad for a crowdfunded film but it highlights just how loved and appreciated his work is globally) was a relief, the fact that it is just as good as its predecessor, which is one of the great masterpieces of the 21st Century, is outstanding. Following on from The Dance of Reality, a film that explores Jodorowsky's childhood and belief that reality is not objective but rather a dance created by our imaginations, or as he puts it; "The story of my life is a constant effort to expand the imagination and its limitations, to capture its therapeutic and transformative potential. An active imagination is the key to such a wide vision: it looks at life from angles that are not our own, imagining other levels of consciousness superior to our own". The film was a strong mix of theatrical metaphor and operatic mythology that did feel like a dance of sorts. Endless Poetry carries on from where the first film finished and sees Jodorowsky blossom in his journey of self-discovery. The Dance of Reality was more about his relationships with his other family members, where Endless Poetry concentrates more on his own developmental voyage of discovery. In adolescence Jodorowsky realized that he wanted to become a poet, so the film is a visual poem that explores his metamorphosis from child in the shadows to adult in the limelight. Where his childhood was a circus of others, his adulthood becomes a circus of his own creation, the addition of clowns, dwarfs and amputees (circus freaks if you will) are typical in his films but only now make real sense. I wondered if his film making would come into play at any point, it is apparently to follow in the next chapter but Endless Poetry made me realize that actually, Jodorowsky is a poet first and a filmmaker second in many respects. He just films his poems rather than writes them. Once again, his two sons, Brontis and Adan, play his father and him respectively while his grandson plays a younger version of himself, while he again pops up randomly to challenge his younger self in person. It sounds way more confusing than it really is. It's quite a remarkable thing to see a whole family help their matriarch explore his own life in something that is clearly having therapeutic effect. It's amazing that this level of creativity is coming from a man in his late eighties. One of the last scenes sees Jodorowsky tell his younger self to embrace his father, as it was the last time he ever saw him. He tells him to know him, to understand that their relationship with each other, tough as it was, moulded him into the man he is today. The beauty of watching an elderly man, sharing this level of raw honesty with his two sons, who are talking about their own grandfather, brought me to tears. It's one of the most profound moments of cinema I have ever witnessed. The film is full of important lessons, personal but honest ponderings on life that everyone can understand, among the dizzying and rather surreal imagery. Jodorowsky also raises the importance of Chilean culture and Hispanic literature by revisiting his early friendships with some of the 20th century's creative giants such as Enrique Lihn, Stella Díaz Varín, Nicanor Parra and what they all achieved in the 1940s. Not all the metaphors are clear and the great director indulges himself once more but then it is his life and his film, for once a pet hate became the complete opposite for me, again, to see such life in an 88 year old man is a wonderful thing to behold. It's a stunning film, completely unconventional, almost to the point whereby calling it a masterpiece doesn't do it enough justice.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

The Secret Life of Pets
Dir: Chris Renaud, Yarrow Cheney
2016
****
2016 was a good year for animated film, Zootropolis was definitely my favourite but The Secret Life of Pets wasn't that far behind. It took a while to work out where the film was going though, what kind of animation it wanted to be and what sort of story it wanted to tell. I'm not a huge fan of animated animals being too human-like. I'm fine with animals talking (as long as the voice suits the creature) but when they start driving cars, defying gravity and generally stop acting like their species I have a problem. However, in The Secret Life of Pets a rabbit drives a bus, a dog defies gravity and animals do a lot of things animals just don't do but they do stop just short of going too far. It fits my personal feeling that animated animals should always fit somewhere between Pluto and Goofy if you catch my drift? As for the story, it could have gone two different ways, either keep the story in the confines of the pet's building or go out into the big city, I'm glad they went with the latter and I'm glad this was a big adventure but it is impossible to overlook the fact that this is basically the plot of Toy Story but with domesticated animals. The two main characters are pretty much Woody and Buzz Lightyear and their buddies are all very similar to those seen in the Toy Story trilogy. The humour is very similar but also incorporates an element of Tom & Jerry and a bit of The Simpsons. The episode when Homer day dreamed about a land of chocolate was the first thing that sprung to mind when lead dogs Max and Duke raided a sausage factory and begun fantasizing about a sausage world. Another scene sees a character get covered in dust, then rubble, then more rubble, then a whole brick wall and then to add surreal and unrealistic insult to injury, the wall then bursts into flames. This is straight out of The Simpsons and it makes no apologies for it. There is a bunny attack scene right out of Monty Python and the Holy Grail and even a scene out of Jurassic Park: The Lost World (the bit with the truck hanging over the cliff). Very little of the film is original and for what might be the first time ever, it didn't bother me one little bit. It worked, they pulled it off and for all the many ideas they 'borrowed' it paid off, they got away with it, but to be fair, there is plenty of its own charm too. The scene where the dog eat their fill in the sausage factory is glorious, an improvement you could say on the scene of its inspiration, it may anger the Simpsons hard-core but not me. The animal characteristics are also spot on, and there are many original characters the film can call its own and pretty much every joke, either vocal or physical, lands directly on target. The voices aren't quite all big name stars either, which is a good thing, as they are all perfectly suited. Louis C.K. and Eric Stonestreet actually sound like I'd imagine dogs would sound like if they spoke. Kevin Hart's Snowball, the ex-magician's rabbit turned revolutionary is brilliant and, as much as I hated her Obvious Child, Jenny Slate is adorable as Gidget, the puffy Pomeranian. The rest of the cast is strong, Lake Bell being an unexpected delight as the overweight and accident-prone tabby cat Chloe and Albert Brooks stealing each scene as Tiberius, a curmudgeonly red-tailed hawk. The action and adventure elements would be considered overdone in most animations but it never feels that way here, mainly thanks to the consistent humour and the spot on physical comedy. It has heaps of charm, much like Zootropolis, and it is miles ahead of tired animations such as Madagascar and the Ice Age movies. It was the 6th most profitably film of 2016 at it was well deserving, I just hope they come up with something a little more original for the sequel.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

The Bunnyman Massacre
Dir: Carl Lindbergh
2014
*
Carl Lindbergh's The Bunnyman Massacre, the second of his horrors to feature the chainsaw-wielding giant bunny, is basically every poor slasher film put together, with a tall man in a bunny suit. The editing is ridiculously bad, even for a low-budget horror film. To be honest, the clear direction and the great sound quality only highlight the film's basic flaws. There are moments within the film that make you think that it might just get better. So many clichés are thrown about early on, I thought the film was going to be one big double-bluff and that it was going to turn into something profoundly unique, but no. Some of the conversations were interesting and the interactions between the Bunnyman and Joe, and Joe and the Sheriff were quite intriguing and could have gone somewhere special but they never ended properly and it soon became clear that they were just poor attempts at Tarantinoism and trying to recreate the creepy family scenes that featured in the various Texas Chain Saw Massacre sequels. The Bunnyman Massacre makes the Texas Chain Saw Massacre sequels look like pure masterpieces of horror in comparison. The Bunnyman is basically Leatherface but with a bunny suit rather than a mask sewn from human skin. Seriously, there is no comparison. You'd think they'd get the gore right and would have been inventive in their slaying but no, it looks cheap and is uninteresting. Lindbergh forgets all the important elements that make a good horror. There is no dread, no terror, no character development, no apathy or sympathy. It's not funny, if that was the intention, so what you are left with is watching a series of people you don't care about killing each other for no real reason. There is nothing new for the film to offer the genre. The premise is great; Man dressed as a bunny kills people for his brother who sells the victims meat as beef jerky in his roadside convenience store. The possibilities are endless. Lindbergh has no creativity, no panache, no writing skills and no clue. A horror fan making a film without understanding what really makes a good horror. The bunny suit is a poor gimmick that gets tired quickly, especially as the characters real scary face is revealed very early on in the film. Every mistake is made and unnoticed. Poor show. If horror isn't art then it is something you should reject with disdain in my opinion, it does a disservice to the wonderful genre and insults all the films it rips off.