Sunday, 24 March 2013

Park Chan-wook: Stoking the Flames

Last night, I was lucky enough to catch Park Chan-wook's English language debut, Stoker, on the big screen.

The film is a psychological thriller cum horror focusing on India Stoker, an outcast with an acute sense of hearing and a talent for the piano, and her mother (Nicole Kidman) in the wake of her fathers death and the appearance of her uncle, who she had never heard of before this point. The uncle immediately woos her mother, but India is very weary of this absentee relative impeaching on the family so soon after her beloved fathers untimely death.

Park Chan-wook, mostly known for his Vengeance trilogy, has an incredible sense of visual style, which is the driving force behind this film. With a name like Stoker, the film carries the Gothic baggage of famed Dracula author Bram, but this isn't a typical vampire tale or overtly supernatural in nature at all. The strength of this film is its imagery, and the sense of menace that the symbolism evokes. With a meandering pace and runtime of about 100 minutes, all the elements tie together to make this a cerebral experience, more akin to the likes of Martha Marcy May Marlene or Melancholia than any of Park Chan-wook's more physical films, and this is where audiences will be split. The story is relatively predictable, with nothing shocking to cinephiles, but is solid with its material. The strength here is the film telling you the same story with a new look, and it isn't the emperor's new clothes. This film is truly a visual treat, one for the inquisitive and analytic in the audience (we exist, I know we do!!). Like the Mona Lisa, it is a straight forward concept executed with the skill of an expert with the power to mesmerise.

The beauty of the film lies in its spiders, its shoes, its ribbons, its piano playing, its belts, its basement lights. An emphasis is given to India's superior hearing which, though not supernatural, provides an unreal quality to the film. Every sound is amplified, and there is a nice moment early in the film when India crunches an egg to hide the voices of the housekeepers gossiping. Some of the sound seems false or out of place, but it puts you right in with the character, hearing a noise, intensely examining it, until it is no longer the noise it should be. 

In an age of increasingly intense and convoluted plots, and more and more rapid fire editing and over-saturation of violence, this film takes a step away from that and is very restrained, but never feels boring for it. There will be people who will disagree with this, but it is these people who would expect something more in line with Oldboy than this film that is admittedly more similar to Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt.

A lot of foreign directors take a shot with their English language debuts, and an awful lot miss the target. For every Roman Polanski there is a Takashi Shimizu, who just can't gain footing, or for every Lars Von Tier there's Ronny Yu, whose style is lost in translation. For about the last 15 years, Asia has been producing some of the most titillating cinema in the world, and not just on a horror level. It is outstanding that very few of these directors attempt to break the English language barrier, and most of those that do, head back west to greener pastures. Park Chan-wook is something of an oddity in this. He has brought his style across the waters, and has delivered a film that, though not as impressive as his earlier work, is still above and beyond a lot of current original cinema.

Here's to hoping it is the first of many for him!

Monday, 18 March 2013

See No Evil, Don't See This Film

Boring. Predictable. Badly acted. But if you watch the trailer, you should already know what you're in for, and if you were expecting a good movie, you have no one to blame but yourself. It's a rubbish film, but hey, it looks ok and has WWE's Kane in it, so it has a tidbit of novelty. You know what this film is? It's like one of those broad-stroke, over the top, made up, cheesy, insultingly simplified horror films that play on a TV in a film or show. If you think that is a good thing, 1) There is something massively wrong with you, and 2) This lobotomised cinematic insult is made just for you. 

Some kids are looking to knock off time from their prison sentences by helping fix up an old house, and Kane goes around killing them. I'm not going to be any more descriptive, and not because I'm trying to avoid plot spoilers, but because it isn't worth the time to review, and isn't really worth the time it took to watch. It's not an easy watch either. I finished it feeling exhausted and irritated from how flashy and fast cut it is, and this is coming from someone who likes the Saw films. If you have any questions, just watch below, and let me get on with my life.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

The Crow Challenge Day Four: A Final Wicked Prayer

And here I am, at the end of my challenge to watch all of The Crow films. It's had its ups and downs, what with part 2 (City of Angels) almost zapping my will to live. Strangely, yesterdays The Crow: Salvation wasn't nearly as bad as expected (though still bad, don't get me wrong). Today, I hit the final installment; The Crow: Wicked Prayer.

Let's weigh up the pros and cons I knew going in to it. Pros: David Boreanaz is in it, and I always like him. Edward 'Kid John Connor from T2' Furlong plays The Crow, which should be good for a laugh. Dennis FUCKING Hopper is here. Machete plays a priest. I'm not sure if this is a recipe for a good film, but possibly a so bad it's good experience. That is, until you reach the cons, namely the fact it is another direct-to-video release, and it stars Tara 'worst thing in Uwe Boll's abysmal Alone In The Dark' Reid. I have to say, the Reid factor is enough of a nail in the coffin.


What did I think of the film? Strangely, it is probably the best installment since the original, but let me qualify that by saying it's still pretty excruciating, just not as much so as the last two.

The film makes a bold move by moving the action to a more desolate desert setting, like Arizona, and relies heavily on Native American mysticism. A group of Satanists, lead by my boy Boreanaz, go on a murder spree, seeking to resurrect Lucifer and reign Hell on Earth. In due course, they rip out the eyes of Edward Furlong's Native American girlfriend, giving evil Tara Reid precognition, then dispatch Furlong himself. From here, it is the typical deal of Furlong coming back from the dead and seeking vengeance. You know the score.

Crazy eyes!

The film doesn't really get brownie points for story, since it is the same tired plot in a desert, and all the while, the film feels like it wants to be Natural Born Killers, but just isn't brave enough. In spite of this, it wasn't the most boring to watch. Sure, you know exactly how it will all play out beginning to end, but it looks decent, and there are some very fun (not good, but fun) performances on show here.

'I'm gonna take my shirt off'.

Borenanaz pretty much plays Evil Angel again, and we all know he does that with relish. Danny 'Machete' Trejo appears as a priest in a glorious piece of stunt casting that is fantastically grindhouse. Dennis Hopper appears in the final act as a pimp/Satanist kind of person, but plays it exactly like his hippy druggy photographer character from Apocalypse Now. There is so much ham on screen, it can't help but be delicious.

I was really expecting Furlong and Reid to let the film down, but Furlong easily holds his own, seemingly the only person taking the film serious. Tara Reid is a bad actress, but unlike Alone in the Dark, she isn't the black hole of the film and gets a pass from me too.

Let me stress this though, all these positives mean the film is watchable, not good. It is based on a Crow spin-off novel, and it completely feels like fan-fiction. Everyone's favourite moments happen beat by beat, including forcing a stupid reason for Furlong to wear the Goth make up, giving the film the same tired feeling the other sequels had. It feels like a TV film in places, though a very well executed one, and though it has some gruesome set pieces, it never lets go and is truly violent. There is a lot of hookyness and silliness here, and it is impossible to ignore.

But all in all, it is a step up, and worth a peep if it pops up on TV at 2am and you have nothing else to do.

Well, that is all the films watched (I'm not watching the series) and in conclusion, I am glad I finally got to see the full Crow legacy. It's a shame it is all nonsense. I should have stuck with the first film and imagined the rest were some hardcore cult pieces that were too cool for the mainstream. It's much better than the reality that the Hollywood machine chews up a good idea and spat back out inferior knock-offs. There is a remake of The Crow on the way (eventually, inevitably) and it could go either way. It will either be like Batman and go full grit, or it will simply be another boring rehash. Frankly, each of the sequels is a remake as it is, which may be the reason an actual remake has been so slow coming together, since actual fans know just how tits up this can all go.

We can only hope it will get better because, you know, it can't rain all the time.

(Fuck yeah, recycling bad jokes)

Saturday, 16 March 2013

The Crow Challenge Day Three: Salvation(ish)

Day Three of the challenge by my friend Peter to watch all The Crow movies. After yesterday's torture of The Crow II: City of Angels, I was timid sticking on 2000's The Crow: Salvation, especially since this is the first direct-to-video sequel. Just how bad can it get?

Thankfully, the answer is not as bad as City of Angels.

Salvation isn't a great film by any stretch, but as direct-to-video go, it is a far sight better than the recent SyFy Originals, and a far better, or at least less derivative, film than its predecessor. That's not to say it's got a massive amount going for it, what with it dispatching with a lot of the supernatural elements of the series (The Crow seems to prefer using doors in this film. Unusual for any 'hero'), and going with a bit of a stale plot of corrupt police covering their tracks, with The Crow returning to get vengeance on being their fall guy.

Shockingly, the film stars quite a few names, like Eric Mabius of Ugly Betty and the Resident Evil films as The Crow, Kirsten Dunst, Fred Ward and William Atherton ('dickless' from Ghostbusters). Oddly, these familiar faces took me out of the film somewhat, but that's only because I was ready for a continuation of the unmitigated disaster that was City of Angels (I cannot stress how lame that film was). They all deliver great performances, raising the film above how bad it actually is and making it watchable. There are also some nice ideas set in motion, notably the sewing of Kirsten Dunst's mouth.

It's not a fetish, I swear.

Unfortunately, the film is boring and predictable, and suffers from its low budget, replacing supernatural Crow powers with kung-foo chops, and tries to hark back to the other films with its rock soundtrack, but comes out feeling like a poor mans score (even with a bit of Rob Zombie there).

All in all, it's a step up in the series, but still a far cry from the first installment of the goth avenger.

Join me back here tomorrow for the final installment in the series (and final film in the challenge); The Crow: Wicked Prayer. Can we end on a high note?

Friday, 15 March 2013

The Crow Challenge Day Two: The Crow II: AKA Why oh God Why?

The second installment of my Crow viewing saga. Today’s ‘pleasure’; The Crow II: City of Angels.

You want a plot synopsis? Watch the first film and you have it. City of Angels is pretty much a beat by beat shitty remake. Violent death with loved one? Check. Female companion? Check. Pseudo-intellectual gangsters? Check. Halloween motifs? Check. Hunting down and killing the gang members one by one? Check. Leaving behind a (sometimes painfully shoehorned) Crow insignia? Check. Using the protagonist’s animal companion as leverage? Check. Contemporary rock soundtrack? Check.

Emo poetry? Check.

This essentially is the first film, if the film had been made by some inept monkeys who wouldn't know character if it bit them on the ass. One plot thread they oddly chose to leave out was the cop assistance, which left the film feeling annoyingly repetitive (Crow returns. Hunt. Kill. Hunt. Kill. End boss fight. Credits). It’s nonsense. And it feels cheap. The colour scene is child-like, which strong reds and greens trying to make the shoddy sets seem some way more interesting than they are. And let’s not even talk about how the Sarah character’s apartment is apparently the villain’s lair, just redressed. Visual effects are a joke. I know it's almost 20 years on, but we'd already had dinosaurs and metal men by this point, could they not try make some sort of decent attempt at a crow flying? 

'Guys, you're, like, totally in my personal space, like'.

The guy who plays the Crow, Vincent Perez, is fantastically awful (honestly, it wouldn't take a casting agent to see how rubbish he is). He spends most of the filming have nervous breakdowns and whining. And Iggy Pop... Well, let's just put it like this, there is a scene where he prances around to one of his own songs. Uff… Never so quickly has a franchise fallen in quality. Apparently the studio made cuts to make this film more like the first one, but something tells me that even if the filmmakers could cut it from scratch, this film is no lost classic.

Suddenly those car insurance commercials aren't so bad anymore... 

About the only things I like about this film are some of the songs (Deftones make a cringy appearance playing on a stage), the inclusion of Sarah from the previous film, and the peepshow scene that had Tom Jane in it. Don’t get me wrong, these things are no reason to put yourself through the film. It is dire.

Peter, I hate you.

Join me tomorrow when I see if the series can be saved by first direct-to-video installment; The Crow: Salvation. 

Thursday, 14 March 2013

The Crow Challenge Day One: Taking Flight

My friend Peter recently challenged Living Dead Girl and myself to watch and review ALL of The Crow films. I’m a big enough fan of the first film, am interested in seeing John Connor gothed up in the final installment  and it’s not like a film premise as terminally cool as The Crow can go too wrong, so why not?

Kicking it all off with Alex Proyas’ 1994 cult classic The Crow. I won’t waste too much time here. It’s one of those films we all know, and if you don’t, it means you did being a teenager wrong.

Returning as an undead avenger one year after his and his fiancées brutal murders, Eric Draven takes revenge on the gangsters responsible, aided by the daughter of a junkie, a too-old-for-this-shit detective, and a supernatural crow. The well-worn story is pretty solid, or at the very least, entertaining to watch, with performances all round working well for me.

The film is unique stylistically, being the cinematic equivalent of grunge music (but with a metal soundtrack). The film feels claustrophobic in scope, but not in a good way. More of a cheap way, with everything feeling like a set. But still, there are very few films that have as much artistic cred as this one right here. The ever-looming topic on The Crow is the tragic accidental death of Brandon Lee by a gun firing blanks. For my money, it is glaringly obvious every scene he was no longer with us for, and it is a major detraction from the film, but when he is on screen? This is one mighty performance, and a hell of a legacy to leave behind.

I will have to show my true colours here and say that though I like the film, I don’t love it. It is pretty much Twilight without the sparkles. Give me hate all you want, but most people experienced this film as misbegotten teens, and sentimentality has us forgiving the telegraphed dialogue, flat characters, and the fact the unmitigated coolness of the entire film was really a prototype for appealing to the teens who weren't into their John Hughes (Ok, I know that is a late reference, even by 90s standards, but you get the jist). Nope, the record and poetic motif of ‘It can’t rain all the time’ is as cringy as the poetry you wrote on the back of your schoolbooks, and though it is visually awesome, The Crow character crosses the line of badass to ‘no, seriously, I’m cool. Really’.

The film is an emo and goth mainstay, and will continue to speak to an audience that feels ignored, to the point of missing some of the glaring problems with the film. But hey, I’m not saying it’s bad. I’m just saying it’s only alright.

Remember the good side, because ‘It can’t rain all the time’ (yeah, I went there).

Come back tomorrow to see how I find/if I survive The Crow II: City of Angels.

Monday, 11 March 2013

The Lords of Salem: Coming to Haunt Your Nightmares

I have been posting on here an awful lot about Rob Zombie's latest original effort, The Lords of Salem, not just for the past week, but for about a year and a half, since before it went in to production. The other night I gave my one word review, and now I will attempt to scratch the surface on this intense modern day macabre masterpiece.

Sheri Moon Zombie plays a radio DJ who unintentionally exposes the masses of Salem, Massachusetts (of the Salem witch trials fame) to an ancient curse when she plays a mysterious record on air. Sheri herself is affected and experiences strange hallucinations. It really is a simple story of an ancient curse accidentally being unleashed, and the modern day townsfolk being haunted by the mistakes of their ancestors. 

Let me tell you, it is a film you will either love or hate. There is no middle ground. Me? I think it is the best horror film of the year so far.

There was an audible divergence in audience opinion when the lights came up at the end, but I couldn't even stand up for a moment. It was just such a mind-blowingly fulfilling experience. So many films I was looking forward to recently have been complete letdowns, but if like me, you like the work of Dario Argento or Lucio Fulci, watch this film. Obviously intentionally, The Lords of Salem hearkens back to the classic Italian films that took a simple idea, convoluted it, and complimented it with stunning images. Some people have complained that The Lords of Salem is difficult to follow. It's not. It's just so unusual that a film can be so good without having to resort to Rube Goldberg-style plots (see pretty much every big film of the last decade). Films like Suspiria, The Beyond or House by the Cemetery have shockingly simple plots when you boil it all down, but the filmmakers went to different, visual areas to excite the audience, something of a lost art these days. 

Essentially, The Lords of Salem is a modern day expressionist horror film under the guise of exploitation (just like all the classic Italian) and for anyone who is into that world, this is unmissable. Does it make sense? To anyone who has ever had a nightmare, yes. Yes it does. Are you the sort who is building up their Arrow Video or Blue Underground collection? This film was made for you. Many lesser Italian horrors, like Michele Soavi's The Church, had stunningly visceral images, but narrative-wise, always felt muddled. The Lords of Salem is the film that delivers on those films promises that they could never fulfill.

My cohort, Living Dead Girl (who wrote a great review here) said she could see fanboy excitement (not THAT kind of excitement, you sicko) on my face while I watched the film. I'm not surprised. The film was a wet dream come to life. I didn't think I'd see a film like it again, where horror is becoming more and more bland. But this film worked for me on every level. Sure, it drags a bit at one point (how many times do we need to track down the hallway, eh?) but that is a minor quibble. I have never been a fan of Sheri Moon's acting, but she pulls off the character so well, and my heart broke for her as she went further into the descent. I had also been worried the witches performances would seem silly in context, but again, no. They were great. I sold the film to my girlfriend as something akin to Ken Russell's The Devils (how many girlfriends would take that as a good thing??), and she enjoyed the heck out of it too. 

It is an intense film, not for the popcorn crowd. The first reel of the film had me on edge to the extent I was worried it might all be too much, but it is in total control, playing off your nerves. There are some memorable, but borderline ridiculous images, and it is the kind of film that if you go in ready to mock, you won't enjoy it. You have to be ready to let it take you for the ride, and let me tell you, it is a trip worth taking. The world feels real, it looks like a painting, and John 5's work on the score and the witches song are just perfect (channeling the work of composer Fabio Frizzi). Too often, music is very of its time. Not here. This score will give people the willies decades from now.

And let me be frank, this film will be watched decades from now. 

It is going to divide audiences now, but just like people now look back at Fulci with reverence, so will people look back at Rob Zombie and The Lords of Salem and say 'now THAT was a horror film'.

Friday, 8 March 2013

The Lords Are Stomping All Over Your TV Set

Further to my earlier post about seeing Rob Zombie's The Lords of Salem in the IFI later today and hypothesising this might mean there will be no proper theatrical engagement over here in Ireland, I found the above image here on Turns out The Lords of Salem is set for a DVD release (and probably concurrent Bluray release) on April 29. So, yup, it's being released the same way as American Mary and Antiviral (ie. under the radar). Funny, these were my three most anticipated films of recent memory.

The classification is still TBC (as is the cover art, presumably), same for extra features, and there are no details on the BBFC website, including none for a theatrical release, so UK and Ireland Zombie fans, prepare yourself for having to be content watching the Lords in your home and not the big screen.

Again, April 29th (10 days after it goes theatrical in the US).

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Here Comes The Lords Of Salem, And All The Trailers Too

I am now counting down the hours until I get to see Rob Zombie's latest original feature film, The Lords of Salem. I have been excited for the film since before it even started production, and with the release of plot details, and then a pair of amazing trailers, I can barely contain myself. 

Check out the dialogue-sparse, Ken Russell/golden age of Italian horror-vibed first trailer:

And the more plot conscious second trailer:

For someone like me, who has quite the fondness for the classic Italian style of Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci, this film looks like a wet dream, and I am in love with the simplistic plot of a radio DJ inadvertently playing an incantation that brings back some executed Salem witches. Coincidentally,  I have been stocking up on Arrow Video's amazing releases of the more neglected genre cinema, and Zombie's new film is potentially nothing but an exciting addition to the trove (even if Sheri's questionable acting chops still doesn't scratch that itch, though then again, the acting in the classics was never that great).

The film hits US theatres April 19, but there seems to be no firm release details for this side of the pond. I'll be seeing it in the IFI in a once-off screening, which seems to be becoming a regular occurrence for horror fare not produced by the big studios, which I'd like to address briefly. Both American Mary and Antiviral played in the centre last October, and were then quietly dispatched to DVD releases (a shame in the case of American Mary. Not so much for Antiviral). I'm in two minds about it. One is thinking I'd like to see these films getting great wide public releases so everyone can enjoy in some films that I get so much out of. The other mind knows that in many cases, these small showings in the IFI could be the only chance these films could have of any theatrical release in Ireland. I guess I should be grateful. It's not long ago that these films being released in any form in Ireland was rare, so I will count my blessings (in a very bitter manner).

Check back here tomorrow night for my one word instant reaction to a film I am hyping up ridiculously; The Lords of Salem.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Give a little, get a lot; Short film: DONOR

And we're back!

Returning to the blog, I was surprised to find a link in my emails to a short film (you can do that, you know). I'm always delighted to check out something new, but several times, I have been caught watching feature length pieces that are either extremely poorly executed or of little relevance to me (you might not believe me, but I DO restrain myself from sharing everything on here), so think of my relief when I got to view a nicely timed (under 10 minutes) and thematically relevant short. In fact, I have no hesitation in wanting to share it with everyone. Ladies and gents, I give you DONOR:

Here's the official synopsis:
Two people awaken and find themselves somewhere neither thought existed outside of their nightmares. Donor includes all of the elements of effective horror, making it a film that is truly terrifying on a psychological level.

There is some background to the film that, though is not needed to enjoy it, does make it all that more impressive. The film was made as part of the Chicago 48 Hour Film Project, where a filmmaking team is given a genre and a few guidelines, and then have just 48 hours to complete the entire film. That is, writing the script, shooting it, editing it, putting music to it, making the sound at least presentable, and any other touches that can take upwards of a month to complete on a typical short, were all done in just 48 hours. As in, 2 days. Assumedly 2 sleep-deprived days. I wouldn't have been surprised if it had been a poor quality film with these kind of constraints, but even if this film had months behind it, it would still be pretty impressive, let alone it being done in the time it takes me to sleep off a hangover.

Technically, the film is astonishing. It looks like a long thought out and planned shoot, rivaling anything else I have seen in a short. The opening sequence is straight out of Se7en, and the lighting and set pieces are nothing short of convincing. The effects are simple, but never once do you question their authenticity. Donor actually gives me a lot of faith in the future of horror if someone can pull off something so outstanding in such little time. And I keep mentioning the amount of time they had to shoot, but even if this had been a loooong production, it still would have been noteworthy.

Because I'm a jerk, I will point out the film has definite flaws, which all come down to the time constraints. Its acting is pretty poor, but that said, it is actually very bearable because the folks involved are at least giving it socks. The other big flaw, and bear with me on this one, is its story, with the plot essentially being a Saw rehash with a (SPOILER) The Mist style ending. For a lot of films (and they really are a dime a dozen), that would be that, and plot issues are kind of a big deal, but I had a think about it (because the film deserved a bit of a ponder), and came to a conclusion the plot has more potential than first glances show. If it was expanded to a feature length, the idea could actually play out better, exploring a lot of avenues to do with human organ harvesting and the people involved (like a fucked up version of The Island). 

But even with this, more importantly than anything, the film comes off with oodles of passion for what it is doing. Not just a wink and nod or that annoying referential meta nonsense, but to actually go 'We have seen people being mutilated in a room, and we are ready to try our damndest to improve on it'. 

Take 7 minutes out of your life and enjoy DONOR.

Do YOU have a film you would like me to have a look at and rant on/about? Drop me a line at