The Neon Demon (2016)

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The Neon Demon is the new film from Nicolas Winding Refn, the Danish auteur best known for his blood-spattered fetishisation of Ryan Gosling. The film’s not released until 8 July, but I was fortunate enough to attend a preview screening and Q&A with Refn, or NWF as he’s now calling himself, at Manchester’s HOME cinema.

Let’s begin by saying that it is a marked improvement on his last work Only God Forgives, the Bangkok-set misfire which strew terrible characters, terrible dialogue and dull Oedipal metaphors over 90 tedious minutes.

For The Neon Demon, Refn has left Thailand and taken us back to Los Angeles, the sprawling city that Newton Thomas Sigel photographed so beautifully inDrive. Sigel hasn’t returned but Natasha Braier, his Argentine replacement known for her work on The Road, provides similarly dazzling visuals, from sweeping shots of the dusky Los Angeles basin to surreal and sparkling strobe-lit sequences.

To continue reading, please follow the link to Vulture Hound: http://vulturehound.co.uk/2016/06/supermodels-necrophilia-cannibalism-and-crude-metaphors-the-neon-demon-film-review/

The Hateful Eight (2015)

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The Hateful Eight suffers from an overly long running time, comparably forgettable characters and the weight of expectation, but it eventually comes to life as the twists and turns occur in rapid succession.

It’s easy to determine the worst film of Tarantino’s career, it’s Death Proof. That one’s firmly at the bottom of the totem pole. Some way up to around the middle of the pole are both volumes of Kill Bill, which had fun action but were utterly lightweight. Deciding which film occupies the top of the monument is quite difficult, as I like Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained for a variety of different reasons. These four films are a showcase of the wit, cine-literacy, explosive conflict and idiosyncrasies that have made Tarantino perhaps the most popular director of the past twenty years.

On the surface, The Hateful Eight has the earmarks of a Tarantino film. It has dialogue in abundance, squibby gunfights, incessant use of the word nigger and a hollering Samuel L. Jackson, but Quentin Tarantino’s eighth film is a decidedly mediocre entry into his much loved oeuvres.

The immediate problem is pacing. Unlike some, I seldom found the pacing of Inglourious Basterds or Django Unchained to be a problem, but The Hateful Eight, which has been politely labelled a slow burner by some critics, burns too slowly. It takes a whole half hour of gruff, uneventful drawl before we reach Minnie’s Haberdashery, in which the remainder of the film’s 187 minutes takes place.

Once we’re in the cabin, the aggressively cautious John Ruth (Kurt Russell) demands the identity of everyone. There’s Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L Jackson), a bounty hunter who is watchable but not a departure from familiar Sam Jackson territory; Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), the goofy, ebullient Sheriff of nearby Redrock; Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), Ruth’s foul-mouthed bounty who’s on the receiving end of multiple elbows and fists; Oswaldo Mobrey (Tim Roth), a stereotypical Victorian gentleman and hangman; Bob (Demian Bichir), a mumbling Mexican; General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern), a cantankerous bastard who fought in the Civil War; and Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), a completely disposable stock character.

It is unlikely that any of these characters will leave much of an impression on the viewer, for they are Tarantino’s most unremarkable and thinly drawn in quite some time. You won’t find another Vincent Vega, Jules Winnfield or Colonel Hans Landa here. One would think that a film with this title would have eight very unpleasant characters, and I suppose it does, but I didn’t hate them because I didn’t care. There is a flashback scene in which they are genuinely hateful, but its placement towards the end of the three hour running time blunted its power.

Like he did in Kill Bill vol. 1, Tarantino could’ve made up for the flat characters with some great set pieces. His career has been punctuated with long scenes of iconic humour and dialogue as well as biting tension, suspense and unpredictability. These elements are sometimes present within the cramped four walls of Minnie’s Haberdashery, especially when the mystery begins to unravel. Compare this to Inglourious Basterds, however, and you’ll be swiftly reminded that The Hateful Eight lacks the energy, excitement and intrigue that we expect. There’s nothing that matches the opening interrogation between Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) and the French farmer or Michael Fassbender’s excruciating altercation in the basement bar.

Perhaps most damaging of all is that the dialogue and humour also suffers by comparison. There’s no golden watch sequence, no ‘I just shot Marvin in the face’ moment. There’s nothing that approaches the loquacious flair of Reservoir Dogs and particularly Pulp Fiction. The Hateful Eight‘s most memorable set piece is an ill-judged exchange between Samuel Jackson and Bruce Dern, in which there is a cutaway scene featuring fellatio. It’s crude, unimaginative and below the standard of a two-time Oscar winner for best original screenplay.

All of this would have been avoided if Tarantino had just given the screenplay to Tracy Letts, who wrote the wonderfully twisted Killer JoeLetts is a Pulitzer prize-winning playwright who knows how to ignite all manner of drama within a cramped domestic setting; he also knows how to write an outrageous scene of fellatio. Letts would have stripped it down and added a bit of spice, or probably a whole ghost chili, knowing him.

The tone of this review has been largely negative, but I didn’t hate or even dislike the film. The Hateful Eight is just something of a misfire, a weak ending to Quentin’s so-called historical trilogy. It suffers from a slow start, but the crescendo that builds following the interval reaches a climax that lifts the film up, albeit not to the height of his previous efforts.

73%

Eden Lake (2008)

Eden Lake is 90 minutes of cruelty with genre tropes that obscure any intelligent commentary.

With an 83% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and claims that it is ‘thought provoking’, one would expect Eden Lake to be cut above Hostel, Saw and other torture films that appear comparable. While it may be superior to a certain degree, it remains a decidedly shallow film that is too constrained by the tropes of its horror genre framework to be taken seriously.

The film follows Jenny (Kelly Reilly) and Steve (Michael Fassbender), a young couple who retreat to the Midlands countryside for a romantic break. As the couple drive north of London, there is an ominous radio discussion about the state of education and the perceived animosity brewing between the young and the old, assembling its themes of ‘Broken Britain’ in a manner that is perhaps slightly obvious.

After several disconcerting encounters with some obnoxious locals, the pair set up camp on the sandy banks of a flooded quarry. Their tranquility is soon interrupted by a chavvy young horde of Daily Mail proportions, led by the psychopathically aggressive Brett (Jack O’Connell). The conflict begins with general boorish behaviour and a wayward Rottweiler, and feeling the weight of his masculine responsibilities, Steve approaches the group and politely asks them to behave themselves. His reasonability is spurned and the couple are soon fighting for their lives in what is effectively their attackers’ back yard.

Many barbarous things have happened when the aggressive and the controlling have attracted the meek and the impressionable. The first example that springs to mind is the 1993 abduction and murder of toddler James Bulger by two ten-year-olds, Robert Thompson and Jon Venables. The pair’s twisted crescendo of rebellion began with truancy and shoplifting, which led to the idea of abducting a child and pushing it into the path of an oncoming car, which finally led to James’s abduction from the Bootle Strand shopping centre and his brutally protracted murder on train tracks by Anfield Park. The two boys enabled and normalised each other’s behaviour, and the roles of ringleader and minion became quite clear in police interviews.

Once arrested and interrogated by officers, Jon Venables was wrought with intense fear and remorse. He confessed to the killing, but was unable to tell the part of the story that he ominously called ‘the worst bit’. Conversely, Robert Thompson, described as ‘street wise way above the age of ten’, was hostile, dishonest and unrepentant. Thompson and Venables had a typical dynamic that became horribly toxic over a day’s truancy; it could inspire darkly compelling material for either print or cinema, providing it was created with intelligence and sensitivity.

Eden Lake could have been this film. It could have been a mature and intelligent insight into senseless violence and the nihilistic, ignorant, vulnerable people who commonly commit it; a film in a similar vein to A Short Film About Killing or Boy A. Instead, the viewer gets a tropey horror film that focuses on neither the group nor the couple in a meaningful way. The film’s main concern is brutality, such as showing us what it looks like when a Stanley knife is forcibly entered into someone’s mouth.

Despite Eden Lake‘s themes of class and age divide being highly superficial, political commentators have made the film fit their agendas. Owen Jones, one of The Guardian‘s most prominent PC enthusiasts, wrote the following in his book Chavs: ‘Here was a film arguing that the middle classes could no longer live alongside the quasi-bestial lower orders.’ Like many who are preoccupied with ideology and prone to knee jerk reactions, Jones mistakenly believes that the portrayal of one group of teenagers is supposed to be representative of an entire social group comprising millions of people.

With good performances and uncompromising brutality, Eden Lake grips and shakes its audience quite effectively. However, it is mere viscera rather than political commentary, sharing more in common with The Last House on the Left than A Clockwork Orange.

50%

Maniac Cop (1988)

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There’s far too much plot development and far too little action in Maniac Cop. 

It is Maniac Cop’s amusing title that attracted me to the film, its tagline ‘You have the right to remain silent… forever’ also made me laugh, however William Lustig’s Maniac Cop is a classic example of all concept and no substance. A sixty-second trailer may draw you in, but the feature length production is pitifully executed.

The film opens with three murder sequences, all of which are amateurish and underwhelming. I wasn’t concerned, the film had only just begun, I was confident that it would soon shift a gear into gore hound territory; after all, the Blu-ray copy I watched was an Arrow Films release. This gear change unfortunately never happens, the filmmakers instead develop a dull, nonsensical thriller-mystery narrative rather than prove their ingenuity with corn syrup and gore. A Cormanesque producer should have economically stripped the script of generic narrative filler, emphasised its core high concept and employed Tom Savini, the highly talented and twisted SFX man responsible for the gore in films such as Dawn of the Dead (1978), Day of the Dead (1985), Friday the 13th (1980) and William Lustig’s earlier film Maniac (1980).

I can’t really be bothered to name characters or summarise plot, but I’ll try. The film opens with a young woman being chased by two hoodlums, she escapes the pair and approaches an ominous looking police officer, who, rather than serving and protecting her, strangles her to death. The film then follows Detective Frank McCrae (Tom Atkins), who believes the hoodlums’ claims that a police officer committed the crime, his evidence-bereft belief turning very quickly into adamancy based solely on his venerable cop’s instinct – this is of course all completely stupid. Bruce Campbell then turns up as Jack Forrest, a cop who is framed for the murders of the tabloid press dubbed ‘Maniac Cop’. The best performance of the film is delivered by Robert Z’Dar’s enormous jaw, it lends a palpable strength and menace to his character Matt Cordell. I am now too bored to continue writing this.

Believe it or not, William Lustig and Larry Cohen should have taken a leaf out of Troma’s book. I recently watched The Toxic Avenger, a film that, like the rest of Troma’s catalogue, tried its utmost to be completely camp and awful. Unlike the majority of Troma’s catalogue however, there are enough laughs and torrents of gore in The Toxic Avenger to make it something of a success. Maniac Cop on the other hand has no sense of humour, no excessive violence and no lashings of crass sexuality; it’s an utterly stillborn slasher film that leads its viewers through a grindingly banal narrative to a denouement that’s seriously amateurish. When the credits roll, you’ll be left wondering ‘…is that it?’

38%

Fury (2014)

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Its climactic scene descends into Rambo territory, however outside of this David Ayer’s Fury contains some impressively loud and brutal scenes of warfare. 

I had been eagerly anticipating Fury, I had faith in it as director David Ayer proved his skill in creating searingly intense action sequences in End of Watch (2012), a film that had a palpable sense of danger. Despite Fury following a tank crew during WW2, I don’t think it matched End of Watch’s pervasive sense of looming peril, as the latter had a hyperrealism and an urban environment more familiar to me than a battleground, thank goodness.

The film opens with several lines of text explaining the situation, it’s simple but rather chilling, informing the viewers that it’s April 1945 and that the German defence is the most ‘fanatical’ the Allies have encountered in the European theatre.

Fury follows a tank crew comprising Don ‘Wardaddy’ Collier (Brad Pitt), a battle hardened veteran of North Africa and Europe; Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman) a timid rookie with only 8 weeks’ training as a typist; Boyd ‘Bible’ Swan (Shia LaBeouf), the cliched zealously religious southerner; Trini ‘Gordo’ Garcia (Michael Pena) and Grady ‘Coon-Ass’ Travis (Jon Bernthal), a genuinely hateful, obnoxious, rancid Neanderthal who regularly boiled my blood.

Fury’s chief merit is its war scenes. The film features some excellent sound engineering, which was delivered to me by Vue’s thunderingly loud sound system. Be prepared for the frenzied chatter of MG42s, the sudden, reverberating boom of artillery fire and the piercing shriek of tank shells ricocheting. The instantaneous, ceaseless death is executed well, men’s lives end forever left, right and centre in the most brutal fashion, whether it’s death by headshot, fire, explosives or tank tracks – it’s anonymous slaughter on a massive scale. Like any combat-intensive war film should do, Fury leaves you feeling battered, however its power is unfortunately hindered by its stupid concluding battle.

With publicity photos of Brad Pitt posturing meanly with his cool hair, I had worried that Fury would be a Brad Pitt vehicle, a film in which Pitt is a gunslinging B-movie war hero instead of a real soldier. I felt my fears were being confirmed when in the first minute or so Pitt jumps off a tank and launches himself at a man on horseback, knocking him down and vehemently stabbing him in the eyes; however his Rambo emulation was generally kept at bay until the film’s final battle, where his character and indeed the whole film goes awry.

War films and the moralising that comes with some can so easily become hackneyed, and there are times where the dialogue veered very closely to the trite ‘war is hell’ territory with lines such as ‘You’ll soon know… what a man can do to another man.’ delivered portentously and too early in the film by Gordo.

Characterisation also suffered from tired conventions at times; although LaBeouf went method actor for his character (he cut his face and pulled one of his teeth out), he rather wasted his commitment, as Boyd ‘Bible’ Swan is the tiringly familiar southern drawling preacher that, according to cinema, was present in every platoon. Saving Private Ryan was also guilty of this with Private Jackson (Barry Pepper), the stylishly ultra-accurate, cross-kissing sniper. Indeed, the areas that these characters hail from constitute the most religious region of the United States, their presence I suppose is entirely plausible, however I think they stink of stock character.

The worst instance of engagement breaking clichéd tosh happens at the beginning of the film’s final scene, in which the heroic Wardaddy decides to fight a much, much larger SS division that possess both vehicles and a comprehensive arsenal of weapons. Initially, the men protest it, but of course one by one they declare that ‘I’m stayin’!’ I did much head shaking during this moment. Despite these brushes with cliché however, I felt that Fury didn’t become a serious offender.

There’s a protracted scene in which Wardaddy and Norman seek refuge in the apartment of a German mother and daughter. To begin with, the scene is wrought with tension as you don’t know the battle-hardened Wardaddy’s intentions; rape of German women was commonplace, particularly by Soviet troops during and after the Battle of Berlin. However the scene eventually becomes overlong and rather misguided, the ambiguous tension being lost long before the expected payoff or denouement, a variety of which never arriving.

And now to the aforementioned final battle scene. I have read numerous arguments defending the scene’s credibility, however the reasoning is invariably flimsy – demonstrably, the scene is very flawed indeed. I have heard some remarkable stories of bravery from WW2, the most recent one being Robert Cain (Jeremy Clarkson’s father-in-law). Major Cain had been driven to a frenzy during Operation Market Garden, resigning himself to death and managing to disable or destroy six tanks using his deft skill with a 6-pounder anti-tank gun and, believe it or not, a two-inch mortar fired from his hip. Cain somehow survived the ordeal, winning a Victoria Cross for his gallantry. Despite such stories, there are just too many holes in Fury’s last standoff; it’s a lazily written stain on the film that breaks the momentum of the electrifying collection of war scenes that preceded it.

71%

Joe (2013)

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Nicolas Cage disappears into his role as the titular Joe in a film that’s thematically rather familiar but also a surprisingly realist piece of cinema.

The film follows the principal characters Joe (Nicolas Cage) and Gary (Tye Sheridan). Gary is the only member of his degenerate family who is able to work and earn a living; he has been forced to become a responsible person by his vile, repulsive father Wade (Gary Poulter), a man who has abused his body so much and for so long that he can only speak in slurred, incoherent ramblings. I recently compiled a list of the 10 most hateful characters of cinema; I think Wade could quite easily be placed in it.

Joe is a recidivist who is haunted by his criminal history and continues to struggle with controlling his anger, it seems the only way he can stay out of trouble is by absorbing himself in his small landscaping company.

Joe leads a group of black workers, they clear wooded areas with these rather strange axes that waywardly squirt poison everywhere. Joe and Gary are brought together when the boy implores him to employ both himself and his father. Joe obliges and Gary proves to be a good worker, although the agreement is soon thwarted by his obnoxious father who is too polluted, weak and lazy to contribute to the team.

The cast of Joe’s workers and indeed the whole film is populated with actors who were seemingly taken from the street, their performances are completely natural and their language raw, colloquial and as a result sometimes completely incomprehensible! A few times I felt like an American watching Trainspotting, particularly during a row between the moronic Wade and a black worker, whose ebonics is the strongest I’ve ever heard.

Joe is a tough watch, there are characters that represent the very lowest form of human life, there’s seldom a room in the film that isn’t a filthy, cluttered mess. I didn’t expect it to be such a realist piece of cinema, its depiction of blue collar work and young Gary’s first foray into it is sure to resonate with anyone who’s had similar experiences, myself included.

Nicolas Cage doesn’t stick out at all, he effortlessly blends in with the surrounding cast of largely unknown actors. Like Leaving Las Vegas, Joe is an example of Cage moderating his idiosyncratic acting, which I like incidentally, and showcasing just how good he is.

Clear correlations can be made with Mud, a similarly themed film about a benevolent renegade forming a bond with Tye Sheridan’s conflicted teenage boy. Joe is the superior of the pair, although Mud boasted good performances from its leads, it was melodramatic and overrated. Tye Sheridan’s character Ellis in Mud, who is given far too much screen time, thought about love and human relationships in ways that 14-year-old boys just don’t – I didn’t believe in him. He also had a habit of vehemently punching people in the face that belied his prepubescent little frame. Joe’s Gary is a much better character, a measured boy who simply wants to make a living and prove to the men in his life that he’s no kid.

Mud lacked Joe’s gritty nastiness, it had treacly melodrama instead of stark reality. What they do share is the running theme of redemption, and in the case of Joe, I found its conclusion rather familiar and subsequently bathetic. Despite this, Joe succeeds in absorbing you in its masculine world and Nicolas Cage defies any naysayers by completely disappearing into his role as the titular rogue.

76%

Let the Right One In (2008)

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Let the Right One In wants the viewer to sympathise with someone who murders people because she ‘has to’.

Not as affecting as I was led to believe.

I don’t like vampires; I’ve found the genre’s latest surge in popularity most boring. Indeed, I don’t particularly like fantasy generally, I’ve never been that interested in the much lauded Lord of the Rings trilogy, Game of Thrones or the scores of others. However I do like fantastical narratives when they’re grounded in reality, like the superb Pan’s Labyrinth.

Let the Right One In, which I have been comparing to Pan’s Labyrinth, is grounded in reality too. It is set in 1980s Blackeburg, an achromatic, modernist mess in suburban Stockholm. However, unlike Pan’s, this Swedish horror is bereft of the characters, the imagination and the pathos that made Guillermo Del Toro’s film such a great piece of fantasy.

The film focuses on Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), another archetypal bully victim who’s too sensitive to stick up for himself. I love seeing a bit of playground retribution, and there is a great moment of it in Let the Right One In, but Oskar is a stock character who is generally quite unremarkable and hollow.

This proverbial loner soon meets the mysterious Eli (Lina Leandersson), who unfortunately is even more laconic. Although Leandersson isn’t given much dramatic range, she has a good physicality for the role with her long, dishevelled hair and her big, brown, bleeding eyes.

One of the main problems is that there just isn’t much chemistry between them, not much depth. Yes, the principal characters are 11-year-olds, I know from personal experience that children aren’t as likely to discuss in detail things that really matter, but seldom if at all do Eli and Oskar have an interaction that is above vacant gawping and muttering.

It is a film about two outcasts coming together, it should be moving, I was expecting something of a vampiric Leaving Las Vegas, however it’s difficult to empathise or in fact care at all when one character is a murderer and the other is a laconic child who forever fails to wipe his runny nose (which is rather repellent in full 1080p). Some of the supporting characters were also flat, especially bullies Conny and his older brother, who are excessively and unrealistically cruel.

This all may seem harsh, I don’t think it is a bad film, but the endless praise and the 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes had given me high expectations and they were not met.

Through cinematography, décor, costume design and plenty of Scandinavian pathetic fallacy, the film achieves a pervasive and at times oppressive ambience of melancholia. There are also some very well-orchestrated set pieces, particularly the film’s penultimate scene in Oskar’s school swimming pool; it is initially ambiguous, proceeding to shift mood and wind tension and suspense excellently. The sound is also sharp and really booms in some instances, adding to several of the film’s jumpier moments.

Although I liked its ambience, realist elements and several grisly scares, Let the Right One In fails to justify its reputation as it doesn’t sufficiently explore its characters, the central relationship is quite vapid and the narrative is marred by several instances of Eli’s gratuitous violence and an implausible conclusion.

68%

Only God Forgives (2013)

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While the cinematography and lighting regularly highlights Gosling’s beautiful blue eyes, it isn’t enough to engage you on any truly meaningful level.

This is a film that concentrates far too heavily on insubstantial metaphor rather than characters, narrative and things of true resonance.

In contrast with ‘Drive’, Refn and Gosling’s last collaboration, ‘Only God Forgives’ is very much an art film, a film that’s sheer metaphor. They’re completely different.

The film focuses on Julian (Ryan Gosling), an American drug dealer operating in Thailand who is laconic in the extreme (he speaks just 22 lines according to the IMDb trivia section.) When his sordid brother Billy (Tom Burke) is killed by the father of the girl Billy has murdered, Julian’s mother Crystal (Kristen Scott Thomas) arrives in Bangkok seeking revenge. Her wrath brings her, Julian and their associates into the path of Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm), an ex-cop who displays God-like abilities.

The characters are incredibly bland, as are their relationships and indeed the film itself. Its attempts at depth comprise blatant Oedipal elements that are both unoriginal and uninteresting. However seeing Kristin Scott Thomson remark about heartthrob Gosling’s inferior penis size at the dinner table is quite amusing.

The behaviour of the characters made me cringe; watching Julian and particularly Chang robotically saunter along while sporting their best moody poses became plain embarrassing after a while. Whenever a character strung a few sentences together I breathed a sigh of relief; although no line in Refn’s script is of any value, it was a welcomed development every time the suffocatingly absurd lack of dialogue was broken.

What’s even duller are its themes of religion and redemption. The irritating Chang is apparently the omnipotent moral arbiter of Bangkok, apparently he is ‘God’, whatever that means. I just thought he was a portentous prat.

Then there is the problem of the film’s violence. The violence in ‘Drive’ was explosive and shocking, it gave the film energy; it informed you of both the sheer danger of the situation and The Driver’s disconcerting readiness for extreme retaliation. In ‘Only God Forgives’ however, Refn’s violence is protracted, gratuitous and, like other areas of the film, ultimately embarrassing. Refn has admitted that he is a ‘pornographer’, and the film’s main moment of violence, a lengthy and vicious torture scene, is certainly testament to that.

‘Only God Forgives’ tries to be profound, however it doesn’t really mean anything. There is nothing real about it, it simply doesn’t resonate; the only modicum of empathy I began to experience during the film was for Julian and his complicated, broken relationships with women.

Apart from making you feel uncomfortable for all the wrong reasons, the film just does not affect. This is because the film is sheer metaphor. Symbolism and ambiguity can be very interesting and powerful, but this is usually when it is combined with good acting, strong narrative and credible, interesting characters. Unfortunately, ‘Only God Forgives’ lacks all of this.

40%

Rise of the Footsoldier (2007)

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An amusing film about obnoxious people.

Rise of the Footsoldier is a true-crime British gangster film that is both appalling and funny in equal measure. The film charts the criminal career of Carlton Leach, an Essex hardnut who was conditioned by the massive violence of the football terraces before he made his bones in the criminal underworld. Playing Leach is Ricci Harnett, who gives an appropriately obnoxious performance. His face regularly has this fixed expression of arrogance and bad attitude, and as Leach gets older and something of a veteran of the Essex underworld, he becomes so tough and smug that he can barely smile or even speak.

The initial phases of the film concentrate on Leach, but the focus later shifts to ‘The Essex Boys’, a moniker referring to Tony Tucker, Pat Tate and Craig Rolfe. Whilst Rolfe was largely just a minion, Tucker and Tate were successful and feared drug dealers, Tucker being some sort of kingpin of South East England.

They were all very profane individuals, firing a medley of Anglo-Saxon at each other every sentence. For people like this, ‘Cunt’ is a staple word even in innocuous small talk, where it appears to simply mean ‘person’ rather than anything derogatory. I don’t object to the film’s language, I can imagine the vernacular is depicted quite accurately. Indeed, the sheer vulgarity of the film’s horrendous characters is actually rather amusing.

After a brief exploration of the 1990s ecstasy scene and a routine plot of a drug deal gone awry in which there’s a lot of torture and cruelty, the film covers the most interesting element of the story – the Rettendon murders in which Tucker, Tate and Rolfe were shot to death in a Land Rover.

It’s a comprehensive account, depicting the three different accounts that have been speculated by followers of the controversial event. The director Julian Gilbey also ensured that we understand just how much blood sprayed everywhere on that fateful December evening. Indeed, the camera seems to relish the violence throughout, zooming right in on people being tortured with various instruments and headbuttings that spatter ludicrous amounts of corn syrup everywhere. While some of it is appropriately grisly and stark, like violence should be in a crime film that takes itself seriously, a lot of it borders on being comically gratuitous.

Rise of the Footsoldier made me laugh, I even bought it on Blu-ray, but it nevertheless falls into the Pooey category. There’s some competent acting, but the film fails because the whole thing is largely bereft of pathos or insight, it’s just a load of cockneys with dodgy wigs swearing and leering with frequent outbursts of syrupy violence. Ultimately, the main problem may be that the subject matter just isn’t worth adapting for the screen. However, judging by the seemingly endless stream of films based around the blasted ‘Essex Boys’, it appears that the lower echelons of the British film industry still hasn’t considered such an idea.

50%

Bad Taste (1987)

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Until Jackson’s follow-up Braindead, this may have been the goriest film ever made.

I love Bad Taste. I love that the film was clearly made for about $20 and that the cast consists of Peter Jackson’s mates. It’s also so enjoyable because the film demonstrates how talented a filmmaker Jackson is. For example, there is a scene early in the film where Derek (Peter Jackson) has a blood spattered fight with some alien invaders on a cliff side. Through raw talent and a massive amount of bravery, Jackson and his team achieves a tangible sense of acrophobia.

The story is that Earthlings are under threat from alien invaders who are endeavouring to fill a culinary gap in their intergalactic fast-food market – that of human flesh. The malicious extra-terrestrials don’t arouse suspicion as they assume human appearances.

Such a grave situation calls for the toughest team available – the Astro Investigation and Defence Service. This elite team comprises Derek (Peter Jackson), a perverse Kiwi with an insatiable bloodlust, Barry (Pete O’Hearn), a man who will use his .44 Magnum only when necessary and Frank (Mike Minett), Giles (Craig Smith) and Ozzy (Terry Potter), a trio of muscle car driving tough guys.

Jackson’s early films have a real talent for choreographing gore: there are heads being blown off, brains being eaten, arms being torn off, severed heads being drop kicked, seagulls being head butted, entire bodies being chain sawed and even sheep being detonated. The film is utterly drenched in an outrageous amount of viscera, but it is all of the slapstick variety with a strong Commonwealth lacing of black humour.

Though the film is by no means performance driven, there is a certain charm about the cast’s inexperience. Also, Peter Jackson is hilarious as the absurd, demented Derek, whose horrible shrill laugh and personal motto ‘I’m a Derek, Dereks don’t run!’ are particularly memorable.

The filming locations, such as the aforementioned cliff side, are all of outstanding natural beauty; Bad Taste is as much an advertisement for the country as Jackson’s later work would be.

As we all know, Jackson has since gone downhill, directing the poxy Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies – what a shame. However, he has recently expressed interest in making another horror film; I just hope he sticks to his roots with a shoestring budget and an immeasurable amount of corn syrup and gore.

81%

To those interested, below is a fascinating documentary on the making of ‘Bad Taste’. It’s remarkable what a talented, enthusiastic director with a shoestring budget can achieve.

This is part one of the documentary, parts 2 & 3 should be easy to find on the related video section at the end of the clip.

Alien vs. Predator

alien vs predator

In my honest, correct opinion, Predator is a better film than Alien.

While both films share one crucial thing in common, that their narratives both concern a homicidal extra-terrestrial, they are constructed completely differently.  From its score, characters and set design – Alien is all about understatement.  On the other hand, Predator is loud, brash and brilliantly macho. Both films have the same central conceit, however Alien, the one that takes itself very seriously, is the one that unfairly claims all the critical praise.

Despite the massive amount of praise Alien has been steeped in over the years, it’s little more than a B-movie. The film follows a seven-member crew aboard Nostromo, a commercial spacecraft that is carrying millions of tonnes of mineral ore. The cast of characters are:  Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt), Kane (John Hurt), Lambert (Veronica Cartwright), Ash (Ian Holm), Brett (Harry Dean Stanton) and Parker (Yaphet Cotto).

Their routine procedure is complicated when the crew are ordered to investigate an anonymous transmission from a nearby planetoid. During the investigation, they find a nest of eggs, one of which hatches with worrying results. What ensues back on their ship is nothing more than B-movie fare, which usually isn’t a problem, however its aura of restraint and suspense seems to have convinced people that it’s some sort of masterpiece.

Despite my reservations, I do think Alien is a good film. Its first quarter is compelling, suspenseful and in one particular scene, very shocking. H.R. Giger’s set design is also striking and original, below is an image of the famous ‘Space Jockey’. Last summer I visited the H.R. Giger museum in Gruyeres, Switzerland; it was very interesting, the Alien imagery could be seen throughout his body of work.

space jockey

Through its use of sound, set design and Jerry Goldsmith’s understated, creepy score, the film creates an effectively eerie aura, but it doesn’t do much more than that. I must note that it’s important to consider the impact Alien had on its release. There’s no doubt that Alien is an epochal film that really worked with audiences, however the elements that made it gripping and original in 1979 have unfortunately been eroded by the dozens of spin-offs. On repeated viewings, the film is restrained to the point of tedium; it hasn’t got the replay value of Predator. Some would say that Predator is one of those spin-offs, but it’s so much more than that.

My main problem with the film is its cast, they’re convincing, but the crew members are devoid of charisma, especially Ripley, the leading lady. Predator is by no means an exercise in character development, but its characters are amusing caricatures; the crew aboard Nostromo just leave you indifferent.

After the chestburster scene, a truly remarkable moment, the film drastically reduces its use of on-screen gore. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is testament to the power of sparse amounts of violence, but in Alien, it just feels neutered and disappointing. Also, there are moments that are laughably dated and unfrightening, most notably in the scene captured below.

surprise!

Xenomorph: Suprise!!

Just Like Alien, Predator is a B-movie, however it’s as a B-movie should be, exciting and pulpy. The film concerns Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a tough Major who commands a platoon of comparably hard men, including: Dillon (Carl Weathers), Mac (Bill Duke), Billy (Sonny Landham), Blain (Jesse Ventura), ‘Poncho’ (Richard Chaves) and Hawkins (Shane Black).  The platoon are traversing through the lush, dangerously vast jungles of Central America to infiltrate a camp of guerilla forces who have kidnapped a politician and his aide.

In stark contrast with the believable but boring crew of Alien, the characters in Predator are funny, charismatic and comically masculine, none less than its leading man Schwarzenegger, who delivers his iconic Schwarzerisms with one liners such as ‘Stick around!’ and the now famous ‘GET TO DA CHOPPA!’. Below is a scene I find very unintentionally funny, but female readers be warned, the scene below is pumped with so much testosterone that you may become pregnant.

Dillon! You son of a bitch!

The bloody confrontation at the camp, which serves as the film’s primary action sequence, is brilliantly shot and choreographed, it’s a quality slice of squibby carnage from the superlative action director John McTiernan, who has largely been a wasted talent ever since the superb Die Hard (1988). Unlike Alien, the violence in Predator is strong and grisly, the film hasn’t dated in this respect, and surprisingly its smart use of CGI hasn’t dated either, it remains convincing to this day.

Predator

Its smart, resourceful use of special effects means that ‘Predator’ is convincing 26 years later.

Predator is a film teeming with life and energy, these vibes being very much compounded by Alan Silvestri’s score, which is both excitingly militaristic and intensely suspenseful.  The film takes a B-movie concept and successfully blends the best of the action and science fiction genres, creating a experience which is thrilling, funny and satiatingly violent. Alien on the other hand exercises its talent in typography.

Alien_opening

I concede that Alien’s typography is superior. 

Alien: 78%

Predator: 85%

Switchblade Romance (2003)

switchblade romance

Though it descends into total implausibility, ‘Switchblade Romance’ is a gripping, visceral horror film that manages to keep one step ahead of the viewer.

‘Switchblade Romance’ is a violent, cruel horror film that adopts the conventions from slasher films such as ‘Halloween’ and adds a psychological twist. Without giving anything away, I would politely say the twist can only be interpreted and explained in somewhat woolly terms; I could also say that it’s completely stupid. However, given that ‘Switchblade Romance’ is merely exploitation cinema, it didn’t particularly bother me.

I felt the film, though predominantly clichéd, did manage to avoid becoming tired, its suspense was taut and relatively unpredictable. However, it only just managed it, it was a close call, those familiar with the slasher films of the 70s and 80s may feel ‘Switchblade Romance’ is just a bundle of rehashed themes. The film departs from its slasher relatives in respect to cruelty and realism; it has a gritty, unpleasant quality that is similar to modern horror films like ‘Wolf Creek’, the grisly Australian affair that appeared in 2005.

Much like ‘Wolf Creek’, after it had finished I found myself asking ‘Why? What’s the point?’ These overly sadistic, one track films leave me feeling rather hollow; they’re a dose of visceral thrills so relentlessly bleak and potent that they leave me questioning their status as ‘entertainment’. I wondered why someone would want to make such one- dimensionally cruel films. The only purpose I could think of was how both films place the viewer in a ‘What would you do if you were being stalked by a murderer?’ situation, which indeed makes them a thoroughly engrossing, if life-sapping ordeal to watch.

Ultimately, ‘Switchblade Romance’ is a straight-forward endurance test that provides an ample amount of tension and gore, but its overreaching, illogical ending and general vapidity may leave you feeling slightly hollow by the end credits.

65%

Vampire’s Kiss (1989)

vampire's kiss

I found myself laughing at this unsung gem far more than I would at any conventional ‘comedy’. 

Over the years, Nicolas Cage has developed a reputation for being a ‘paycheque actor’, the National Treasures, the Ghost Riders and the slew of others have, in the eyes of many, demeaned him as an actor. I can understand this, and agree to a certain extent, but Nicolas Cage is capable of many great things on the big screen, and Vampire’s Kiss, a genuinely peculiar piece of work, is a testament to that.

Cage occupies the role of Peter Loew, a womanising literary agent whose empty, high-pressure existence leads to a major mental breakdown. Peter is sent into a downward spiral of increasingly psychotic episodes, believing he is turning into a vampire after apparently being bitten by a rather more sinister one night stand.  As Peter crumbles under the grasp of his psychosis, he begins to antagonise his sweet secretary Alva, obsessively badgering her to fix a painfully daunting and monotonous filing issue.

Cage is at his unhinged best in this film; his rather idiosyncratic lunacy is perhaps an acquired taste, but I found it to be refreshingly hilarious. It’s a truly strange performance, there are many memorable outbursts that leave you rather incredulous, such as a scene of infantile crying that is quickly followed by Cage running down a street shouting ‘I’m a vampire! I’m a vampire!’. Aside from the various crazy eruptions, the inflections in Cage’s voice also have this comic air of pomposity – it’s futile to try and describe them, you have to hear them yourself.

With its yuppie-in-trouble story line, Vampire’s Kiss bears a striking resemblance to American Psycho, only it’s much stranger. The film charts the descent into madness, but it does it in such a surreal, eccentric manner that you don’t take it very seriously, it is indeed difficult to empathise with Peter. Some have said that this is a detriment of the film, but I don’t think it is; besides, I think the themes of unhappiness and unfulfillment do have a certain degree of poignancy. It is first and foremost a black comedy with an oddball central performance, not a grim piece of drama.

‘Vampire’s Kiss’ is likely to polarise audiences. I’m sure many viewers would find it plain silly, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, I’m very much part of its cult following. I found myself laughing far more than I would at any conventional ‘comedy’.

86%

Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

CannibalHolocaust

I’ll never forget the first time I watched this film.

At the alarmingly young age of just 13 years old, I was exploring the more lurid areas of cinema. I had seen the hysteria and infamy surrounding this film: the list of countries that had banned it, the various warnings such as ‘If in doubt, do not watch this film’, which of course was an invitation rather than a deterrence.

Owing to my age, I would have been hard pressed to walk in to a shop and buy a film titled ‘Cannibal Holocaust’, and I didn’t want to waste my time watching a version that had been slaughtered by the BBFC, so I broke the law and found it on the now extinct LimeWire. I’d never downloaded anything before, I was sure it wouldn’t work somehow.

However, when the download finished, I opened the file and was presented with the opening scene, a shot of the vast, seemingly perpetual Amazon rainforest accompanied by Riz Ortolani’s beautiful score. The realisation that I was now able to watch this film of unprecedented horror was so terrifying that I instantly closed Windows Media Player in a wave of fright. Eventually, I mustered up the courage to watch it; it was a joyfully intense experience. I never knew what ghastliness was around the corner, only sheer masochistic curiosity kept me watching it, this curious thrill being the essence of exploitation cinema. In order to clear my name, I must add that I have since bought a fully uncut version on the Internet!

‘Cannibal Holocaust’ is the father of the ‘found footage’ genre. The film follows Harold Monroe, a professor of Anthropology at a New York university who endeavours to discover what has happened to a young group of documentary makers who ventured into an area known as ‘The Green Inferno’ in South America. Eventually, he finds their reels and takes them back to New York, witnessing their fate in a projection room. According to director Ruggero Deodato, the film serves as a diatribe against the sensational violent nature of the media, which is quite obviously dubious and hypocritical considering the exploitative nature of the film.

It is a very powerful piece of filmmaking; it leaves a lasting impression on you. The film batters you with its biting visceral force, which is both visual and aural. In many respects, this film has high production values for an exploitation film. For example, Riz Ortolani’s score features both beautiful acoustic tracks and relentless aural assaults; it works with the strong visuals to wear you down until you’re imploring for it to stop.

Its violence is jarringly realistic, and on several notorious occasions, completely real. I’m somewhat torn on the issue of animal slaughter; all animals killed in the film were reportedly eaten afterwards, and the animals were killed humanely, apart from the coatimundi, whose fate is the hardest to watch. I feel ‘Cannibal Holocaust’ is unfairly maligned; look at ‘Apocalypse Now’, the brutal slaying of the water buffalo is ignored because of the massively high esteem it’s held in. If it was a low-budget exploitation film it would have probably been steeped in criticism.

The acting is tolerable, if slightly toe-curling in places, however generally it’s good enough for it not to detract from how horribly effective the film is.

77%