Friday, 28 April 2017

Queen Kong
Dir: Frank Agrama
1976
*
Frank Agrama's 1976 King Kong spoof is by far one of the worst films I have ever seen. I knew nothing of it until I saw the awesome poster and thought that it was probably an exploitation film but unfortunately I couldn't have been more wrong, it is in fact a British spoof with a hint of sex comedy about it. It stars Robin Askwith, star of the 'Confessions of' British sex comedies of the 1970s and will be the first indication of whether this is your cup of tea or not. It certainly isn't mine.  It sets out to poke fun at Dino De Laurentiis's 1976 remake of King Kong (directed by John Guillermin), which although is regarded as a dud film itself, is miles better than this utter rubbish. I also really like John Guillermin's Kong, it's not perfect but it has huge amounts of charm, unlike Frank Agrama's travesty. De Laurentiis got the last laugh though, as the owner of Kong's rights, he had the film banned under copyright infringement and the film had limited release in Italy and West Germany. It has since become something of a cult hit in Japan and has been dubbed in the same manner as Woody Allen's What's Up Tiger Lily?, although it is unclear whether the original version is understood or has been lost in translation. The film starts with Robin Askwith's character Ray Fey (a joke on original damsel in distress actress from original Kong Fey Wray) being caught trying to shop-lift a poster of the original Kong film from a shop on the Portobello road, London. He is spotted and saved from prosecution by film director Luce Habit (played by Rula Lenska) who has just returned from the African village of Lazanga (where they do the Konga) and is looking for a star to be in her new movie. The plot from here on is muddled and the film is so badly edited that the rest of the film makes very little sense. It seems as if the roles of men and women are reversed in this universe but this is an idea that seems to be dropped later on in the film. Luce falls for Ray and takes him back to Africa to film him in Lazanga, although it isn't clear whether she knows of Kong's existence or not. When there, Kong arrives and the locals offer up a man as food as a form of sacrifice but Kong falls in love with Ray. After even more terrible editing and some of the worst jokes ever written (if you can even call them jokes) the group take Queen Kong back to England for a big show. The big show is more like a fate in a park, around thirty people and the Queen show up and Kong escapes. There is a bizarre scene where the film suddenly jumps to a scene in an airplane where the film spoofs 1970's Airport (done better four years later in Airplane!) and then to a hotel room scene where Luce tries to force herself on Ray, and Queen Kong saves him. Kong then climbs up Big Ben and starts to swat helicopters. It's a spoof with no ideas or humorous material and it is extremely difficult to watch. In his memoirs, Robin Askwith said that he and Rula Lenska were both aghast at how bad the finished film was,  Lenska has since said she is ashamed of it and both were relieved when it was never released. I find it hard that they didn't have an inkling though, after all he must have been aware of what he was saying, particularly in the scene whereby he begs Kong not to eat him by shouting 'You can't eat me, I'm Jewish, I'm Irish, I'm black...I'm a leper, I'm a Jewish Black Irish leper!". Towards the end of the film the story suggests that it is a feminist comedy, that all British women come to the defence of her and that it is oppression that Queen Kong is troubled by (having been forced to wear giant underwear). The women are then represented by housewives, Bunny Girls and prostitutes, like these are the only professions Frank Agrama associates with women. The jokes range from offensive to mystifying but absolutely none of them are funny. Some of the effects are so bad they're funny but by that point you will wish the original film had been burned back in '76, along with the script and everyone involved.
Dressed to Kill
Dir: Brian De Palma
1980
**
The problem I have with Dressed to Kill and with many of director Brian De Palma's films, is that I'm never too sure whether they are meant to be taken seriously or not. Dressed to Kill has been described as an exercise in style, rather that narrative but can't get behind that way of thinking. If you want style and a good story, with genuine thrills and a little bit of camp horror then why not watch a classic Giallo like The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, The Cat o' Nine Tails or just watch an Alfred Hitchcock - one of the later ones of his career if you have to. When Alfred Hitchcock was told that Brian De Palma intended Dressed to Kill as an homage to his movies, he responded “You mean fromage.” You can see why he would have been more insulted than flattered. Dressed to Kill looks and feels like a spoof of a Hitchcock film, it's impossible to take seriously and in all honesty, it doesn't even look that stylish. It's trash. Now, I like a bit of trash now and again, just as long as it know exactly what it is. De Palma has made some of the best thriller/horrors of all time but he has also made some of the worst, it's hard to really understand where he is coming from, whether he's been generally lucky or genuinely unlucky. There were a couple of great scenes worthy of an Argento classic, they are let down by the nonsense that generally follows but they're still there and they are worthy. Angie Dickinson is pure ham-sandwich, intentionally so but too thick for my blood. Michael Caine doesn't really have that much to work with, it's hard to say whether he was well cast or not as pretty much anyone could have played the part. Nancy Allen (Brian De Palma then wife) adds a much needed spark to the story after the rather samey first chapter, I feel she was somewhat forced into certain scenes against her will (she has said as much since) that I didn't like but she is definitely the best thing about the story. I saw the ridiculous conclusion from a mile away, it has dated horribly and even in 1980 the idea was not of the best tastes. I hate it when Hollywood gets psychology wrong, it's almost offensive now looking back at it. I don't consider the film the macabre masterpiece it is considered to be by the hardcore De Palma fans, indeed I find it laughable. If that's what you want and if that's what you love then I can see why you'd consider it a great film, but the reality is that it takes itself far too seriously when it is in fact utterly ridiculous. The structure of the film is also incredibly similar to his other films, Dressed to Kill's structure being almost identical to his 1980 classic Carrie. I get the appeal but it's not for me and I don't think its a film you can sit on the fence with, it has its moments but on the whole I found it pretty charmless.
Carry on Again Doctor
Dir: Gerald Thomas
1969
**
Carry on Again Doctor was the eighteenth of the Carry On series and the third time the story would adopt a medical theme. Carry on Nurse was a huge ten years previously, the franchise had come a long way since then but it was still considered the film that put the series on the map and its success was something the team had wanted to match ever since. Carry On Doctor had a lot going for it, it has some great scenes, features Frankie Howard and makes good use of the hospital theme. It was meant to be the last Carry On film so they really went for it. When it was a big success they decided to continue with the series, although it was very hit and miss from then on. Carry on Again Doctor just feels like a cheap cash in, with two different stories that don't really work together. Jim Dale is a great physical comedian but I don't think he should have lead the film. It worked when he was a junior doctor in Carry on Doctor but his character here is a step back from the previous character, as well as being far too similar. The double entendre and innuendos were a bit cheap and simple and they often didn't make any sense. Hattie Jacques was criminally underused as Matron and this wasn't one of Barbara Windsor's best Carry On outings but Kenneth Williams was on form as leading surgeon Doctor Frederick Carver and Charles Hawtrey was great as his cross-dressing peer Doctor Ernest Stoppidge. I also liked Joan Sims's character, she was always best when in character, rather than just as the nagging wife of Sid's. Sid James plays an odd but interesting role and arrives just in time as the film started to get a bit slow before his arrival. Wilfred Brambell has an odd cameo (complete with Steptoe & Son theme music) and Carry On regular Peter Butterworth is in it for just two minutes, which left me feeling a little cheated if I'm being honest. It is strange how, after eighteen films, that director and producer team Gerald Thomas and Peter Rogers still didn't quite know what worked and what didn't. By this point is was make them quick and release them and start all over the next day, without really ever thinking about where they could go from there. Towards the late 60s and early 70s they made the series into something it wasn't and often got the tone terribly wrong. It's really thanks to the regular performers as to why the films are still held in high regard, Carry on Again Doctor has an awful story and a poor script but the actors are as wonderful as ever.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Morgan
Dir: Luke Scott
2016
***
Luke Scott's directional debut was always going to be scrutinized more so than most due to his famous father's reputation (his father is renowned director Ridey Scott) and also because he's venturing into sci-fi, something his father has conquered several times over. Indeed, his father also produced the film, so 2016's Morgan was highly anticipated. Seth W. Owen's story was also placed on the 2014 Black List of best unproduced screenplays, so really no pressure then. I honestly can't fault the direction, it is crisp and clean and suits the story perfectly. I knew little of the story before watching which was hugely beneficial but I'm afraid I saw the twist ending coming within the first twenty minutes. However, it didn't really matter, how the whole concept was handled was unexpected, entertaining and rather thought-provoking. It has a mixed cast of well-knowns and newbies including Kate Mara, Anya Taylor-Joy, Toby Jones, Rose Leslie, Boyd Holbrook, Michelle Yeoh, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Brian Cox and Paul Giamatti. The film never focused on any one character, so you were never too sure what to expect or who would fall victim first, indeed if I had wagered the turn of events for each character in turn I would have lost all of my money. The character development is superb, it takes up the majority of the film and is vital in its believability, as far-fetched as the idea is. With the great character development also comes a great script, this is a very intelligent story told with intelligence, with a bit of slasher action thrown in for good measure. The idea of an experiment going wrong is nothing new but here it is the what the experiment is, how it goes wrong, how it effects those that performed the experiment and how the experiment is dealt with that really matter. Among the sci-fi lies a certain level of truth that will stay with you for many hours after watching, more so than the film's actual conclusion. My only real grievances with the film are that the script goes out the window somewhat after the 'event', some of the lesser-known actors don't pull their weight, there is a distinct lack of Jennifer Jason Leigh and Ex Machina came first and did it better. Paul Giamatti's big scene is amazing, Kate Mara plays her part well and it is beautifully written, it just doesn't quite warrant a four star rating. It comes close, it all just seems a little too familiar. It is a concept that generally isn't perfected as well as it has been here but there aren't enough surprises to really put the thrill into this would be thriller. It will stay with you though, which is to its credit. Maybe it is destined for cult-classic status in the near future, I'm sure I will revisit it in time which is rare for me to say, so it has clearly had an effect, there is just something about it that I can't put my finger on. Maybe it's the sign of true greatness, but I don't think so, I think it's something else.
Firecreek
Dir: Vincent McEveety
1968
****
There is nothing particularly original about Vincent McEveety's 1968 western Firecreek, indeed it's almost a carbon copy of Fred Zinnemann's 1958 classic High Noon but it has a certain something, its own panache, that make it a great standalone film within the genre. The film's big selling point was that it saw James Stewart and Henry Fonda go toe to toe with one another, two of the biggest names in Hollywood and well known best friends. They'd both stared together in 1948's musical On Our Merry Way and both had stared in John Ford's epic western How the West Was Won in 1962 (who wasn't in that film?) but they didn't share any scenes together. Both men had become giants in the western genre and their joint top billing was a long time coming for many film lovers. What really makes Firecreek unique and stand out somewhat from the crowd are the characters. James Stewart isn't your typical good guy (he's a part time Sheriff and full time farmer) and Henry Fonda isn't your typical villain (he's full of quiet regret and resentment for a life he feels is too late to escape from). When Fonda's gunman and outlaw Bob Larkin arrives in town injured and with his gang of troublemakers, the town cower and let the men walk over them, in fear for their lives and livelihoods. Quite a lot of time is spent on the gang's lengthy psychological attack on the townsfolk, which leads beautifully to the eventual climax of the film. As Stewart's part time sheriff Johnny Cobb tries to look after the town as well as his wife, who is expecting their third child any day, we slowly see him lose patience and grow frustrated that no one else seems willing to do anything about the situation. A few incidents involving a local young girl bathing in a local river (played by the stunning Barbara Luna), broken property and a mixed race relationship tip the gang over the edge and when one of the villagers shoots a gang member, they decide to take the law into their own hands. Fonda is brilliant as the gang leader who clearly has regrets but is unable to change ways and there is a wonderfully dark scene whereby the gang get drunk and dance around the body of their killed buddy but it is watching Stewart's slow and crazed decent into pure rage that makes the film so captivating and rewarding. The climax is the stuff of classic western, not particularly original but still something rather special. An overlooked great.
The Bed-Sitting Room
Dir: Richard Lester
1969
*****
Richard Lester's 1969 The Bed-Sitting Room is an absurdist, post-apocalyptic, satirical black comedy, the likes that could have only been written by the great Spike Milligan and John Antrobus. The story is set in London a few years after the nuclear war (that lasted two minutes and twenty-eight seconds, including the signing of the peace treaty). It's silly, bizarre, very British, very funny and also pretty clever. Story revolves around several core characters. Penelope (Rita Tushingham), who is seventeen months pregnant, lives with her lover Alan (Richard Warwick) and her parents (played by Arthur Lowe and Mona Washbourne) on a tube carriage that goes around in a constant loop on the still functioning Circle Line. Peter Cook and Dudley Moore play policemen who have converted the shell of an old Morris Minor into a hot air balloon and float above the remains of London telling any passer-by to 'Keep moving' just in case they become a target of any further, but unlikely hostilities. The National Health Service is represented by just one male nurse and television is now one surviving newsreader who travels around from person to person with the frame of an old TV giving updates on a situation he knows nothing about, his upper body (the bit seen on TV) is dressed immaculately, while the rest of him is in rags. The pretence of keeping up ones appearance even though the world has all but ended is very British indeed, and the fact that Lord Fortnum (played by the brilliant Ralph Richardson) fears he will soon transform into a Bed sitting room is a wonderfully surreal and extreme example of British nebbishness, hypochondria and general worry of things no matter how unlikely they are. He does indeed turn into a bed sitting room and soon the other characters worry similar deformities may start effecting them. Hypocrisy, bureaucracy and absurd conformity soon lead to other transformations, Penelope's mother is convinced she is dead (when she is not) and turns into a wardrobe upon receipt of a death certificate and her father turns into a parrot out of the worry this causes and is duly eaten due to the starvation of others. The rest of the cast includes some of British comedy’s finest, including Spike Milligan himself, Harry Secombe, Marty Feldman, Roy Kinnear, Michael Hordern, Jimmy Edwards, Ronald Fraser, Frank Thornton and dandy Nichols. It's somewhere between Monty Python and Alejandro Jodorowsky but really, you can't compare it to anything else. Originally written as a stage play, director Richard Lester really does give it the full epic workout it needed for it to reach its full potential. It's a stunning film, criminally overlooked but hardly surprising given its very limited release. The classic no one ever talks about and a work of utter genius.

Monday, 24 April 2017

The Fate of the Furious (AKA Fast & Furious 8)
Dir: F. Gary Gray
2017
****
The Fast and the Furious franchise is one that has no business continuing for as long as it has, but it comes as a surprise, and a very pleasant one I might add, that the 8th attempt gets the balance right and nails what the franchise should have been all about in the first place. To be honest though, so they should after eight attempts, I mean, how many franchises have ever managed this and got away with it? I find it hard to remember the who, what and where's of the series, it's far too complicated, all I know is that all of the bizarre and complicated continuity issues have been dealt with and we can move on without worrying about any of them. The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift is far behind us and we shall speak of it no more. This is a fresh start in many respects and the beginning of a 'new trilogy' as Vin Diesel put it during the film's post-production. The elephant in the room is of course the void that the late Paul Walker has left. He also said of the new film "I was trying to keep it close to the vest throughout the release. Paul Walker used to say that an eighth film was guaranteed. And in some ways, when your brother guarantees something, you sometimes feel like you have to make sure it comes to pass... so if fate has it, then you'll get this when you hear about it. Furious 7 was for Paul, the eighth film is from Paul". You can't really argue with that, well you could but I'm not going to. His departure was dealt with rather nicely at the end of the last film, he is only mentioned once here and that is only to state that he shouldn't be involved in any further dangerous missions, given that he is now a father. It meant that Jordana Brewster's character was also written out of the story, which seems a bit harsh considering she had been there since the beginning but it is what it is I guess. To make up for the actors who have left the franchise, writer Chris Morgan has cleverly convinced previous actors to return and has developed a couple of interesting turns of events, although it does feel like they have directly replaced Walker's character with Scott Eastwood. The introductory scene started off horribly though and I had a heavy feeling in the pit of my stomach. It got a bit better and then had a steady climb on the entertainment graph. It hits full entertainment capability in the last adrenaline-packed action scene, with guest-star Jason Statham stealing the show comfortably. Once again the question of whether florescent-coloured cars were really needed in order for the team to complete their mission is raised but at this point it really is a case of who cares. Tyrese Gibson and Chris 'Ludacris' Bridges exchange banter, Dwayne Johnson doubles in size (especially when angry), Michelle Rodriguez looks confused and in 'mid-clench' at times of danger and Vin Diesel says the word 'family' a lot. It's Standard Fast and Furious stuff for the most part. However, everything feels just that little bit bigger somehow. The stunts are certainly bigger and more absurd than ever which has somehow become a good thing in this series. Any other film would be laughed at but somehow F&F makes the ridiculous okay, in-fact, the more ridiculous the better. The newer characters are developing nicely (apart from Nathalie Emmanuel) and Kurt Russell, Charlize Theron and Helen Mirren  give the film a bit of weight, like Hollywood is now ready to acknowledge the series and take it seriously. The street-racing element is long gone, but the step up from heist to crime-caper works surprisingly well. It's far from original but it works and comes as a pleasant surprise. I don't think I've calmed down as a reviewer, if anything I'm more critical than ever but at this stage you know what to expect from the franchise and it delivers everything is promises and more, which I just can't argue with. I was genuinely entertained throughout the movie, it's perfect pop-corn action and although I can wait, I do look forward to the next installment.
Blood Ties
Dir: Guillaume Canet
2013
***
Guillaume Canet's remake of French thriller Les liens du sang by Jacques Maillot, an adaptation of the French novel Deux frères: flic & truand by Bruno and Michel Papet, is a fairly standard affair but its low mood, slow-burn development and smooth direction appealed greatly. The performances are strong too, it just doesn't quite reach what I believe it sets out to achieve. Guillaume Canet was actually one of the main stars in the original and wrote and directed the film with Jacques Maillot's blessing. It's clearly an important film to the actor/writer/director and his depiction of 1970s New York is great, it looks just as good if not better than his previous films but after Tell No One and Little White Lies I was expecting something a little more punchy. The film starts with the release of Chris (played by Clive Owen) from prison after spending several years in prison after he murdered a known killer during the rape of a friend. His brother Frank (played by Billy Crudup, the role Guillaume Canet played in the original) meets him reluctantly, not only because of their volatile relationship, but also because Frank is a cop with a bright future in the force. Chris and Frank have always been different, and their father, Leon (played by James Caan who really binds the film together), who raised them alone, seems to favour Chris despite all his troubles. Yet blood ties are the ones that bind, and Frank, hoping that his brother has changed, is willing to give him a chance but old habits die hard. Clive Owen is fairly edgy and does his Robert Mitchum best - Mark Wahlberg was originally cast in the lead role but dropped out due to scheduling conflicts, Alfonso Cuarón convinced Clive Owen to read the film's script and Cuarón is thanked in the credits because of it. Billy Crudup looks more like a 70s cop caricature than a real person but he's enjoyable to watch. Matthias Schoenaerts was cast after starring opposite Marion Cotillard (Guillaume Canet's partner) in Rust and Bone (2012). Canet has said that he chose Schoenaerts after hearing Cotillard praising his acting several times, he's perfect in his likable-criminal role and Marion Cotillard awesome in her poisonous ex-wife performance. Mila Kunis is okay but a little lost and a bit miscast if you ask me, it's not her fault, there just isn't really anything there for her to get her teeth into. James Caan is by far the most believable character but I did love Noah Emmerich's Lieutenant Connellan and Griffin Dunne's little cameo, both looked authentic and as if they really had just walked over from a real 70s cop movie. It was a huge flop, not only because it had little marketing but also because it brought nothing new to the genre and certainly nothing exciting. It's entertaining enough, with strong performances, it's just nothing special and largely forgettable.
Shark Tale
Dir: Rob Letterman, Bibo Bergeron, Vicky Jenson
2004
**

DreamWorks Animation's Shark tale became dated pretty much as soon as it was released. It was a huge hit of the production company (their 2nd biggest opening at the time) and it is miles ahead of Shrek, it just doesn't look or feel right, and for a kids film it is aimed at the adults just a little too much. The fact it was nominated for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars just tells you how bad the year was for animation (or how insular the Academy Awards was/is). Although Shark Tale was produced concurrently with Finding Nemo, it ended up coming out a year and half later, which knocked it out of the water somewhat. DreamWorks Animation's CEO, Jeffrey Katzenberg, defended the film in this respect, saying that "any similarities are mere coincidence. We've been open with the Pixar people so we don't step on each other's toes." I'm pretty sure Pixar weren't at all concerned. The story is fairly derivative and full of way too many pop culture in-jokes that only half the target audience would get. I had no problem with animated characters resembling their given voice actor until I saw Shark Tale, but after watching I've become a strict advocate that the characters should be their own creation, rather than adopting any type of similarity with their voice actor. It's horrible. The Shark Slayer of the film is voiced by Will Smith and is basically a version of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Robert DeNiro is every gangster his ever played before, Angelina Jolie is the 'femme fatale' the media had painted her as (why would she agree to that?) and Renée Zellweger was Dorothy Boyd from Jerry Maguire. Only Jack Black's character Lenny can't be attached to a previous role of his but Lenny is the character I had the biggest problem with. Lenny comes out as a vegetarian shark, a funny idea that has possibilities. The problem is, the strong underlining assumption is that Lenny is in fact gay, rather than a non-meat eater. He acts camp and has many of Hollywood's homosexual stereotypes about him, it's handed poorly and I don't believe any denial that that isn't what was going on and that the film makers hadn't noticed similarities. The animation is poor, the idea is half-hearted and messy and there is very little warmth to be had. Apart from the fact they had Martin Scorsese do the voice of one of the main characters, I wasn't impressed. They also got the anthropomorphism all wrong, Finding Nemo and Pixar in general knew how their characters should move etc but they didn't give them human objects to interact with, a stingray acted as a bus, rather than them having a real bus. The fish didn't have cameras, television sets and other objects that just make no sense. Poor story and poor visuals don't make for a great animation, animation has come leaps and bounds since 2004 but most animations released before this were far superior.

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.