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Last Knights (2015)
'Last Knights' is a story about... well, I kind of had to work out the premise as I went along. It's safe to say that it's set in a 'fictional' world of make believe. It's based on an old Japanese Tale and then imported to a sort of Western culture, only during medieval times, hence the use of 'knights' over 'samurais.' If you've seen the marketing then you can't fail to miss Morgan Freeman's face on the front cover. He's basically sharing top-billing with Clive Owen, only he's not really in it for the film's full duration, leaving any die-hard fans possibly feeling a little short-changed. The story focuses on Clive Owen, as the leader of a band of knights and their attempts to right the wrongs done to them and their people.
And that's about it. I sat through the whole film, watch Mr Owen and co generally chopping up all those who opposed to them and was left pretty neutral. There's not much wrong with the film, i.e. Freeman and Owen both turn in reasonable performances, but then there's nothing I can really say that's particularly positive about it either. Yup, there's action. The sets are decent and reminiscent of the time period. And it's a tale about good triumphing over evil.
The problem is that I've seen all that before. There's just nothing here that's original enough to really elevate it. I'm now struggling to find anything left to write. It's that mediocre. Not bad. Not good. You could check your emails or make a cup of tea at any time during the story and wouldn't miss a thing. Rent or watch for free before you buy.
Cat Run (2011)
The bad guys are more interesting than the good guys
I've just finished watching 'Cat Run' and I figured I better get my thoughts down before I totally forget what I wanted to say. I'll begin by mentioning that I'm quite happy to watch 'bad' films. By that I mean 'so-bad-they're-good' films. I wasn't expecting much from a film called 'Cat Run.' I read the blurb working girl witnesses murder, needs protection, baddies give chase. Yeah, that'll do me for an hour and a half of my time.
I started watching it. My first thought was, 'Is this film dubbed?' The voices didn't seem to match up with the actors' mouths and I wondered whether I was watching a foreign film (it is set mainly in continental Europe) dubbed into English. But I wasn't. I overlooked the odd lip-syncing and continued. Sure enough, a high class escort witness a multiple murder and comes away with a hard disk containing data the baddies are after. Cue the chase.
The escort runs hither and thither, generally looking pretty attractive and little else. Then we meet our other heroes. A pair of young men who set up a detective agency help to find her. I have to say they didn't appeal to me. The main character I found 'wet' and uninteresting and his friend might as well have been called 'cliched best friend #298.' I have to say by this time I was tuning out checking my emails on my phone and stuff. It was all pretty dull. I may even have turned it off there and then had it not been for one thing...
Helen Bingham. If you don't know her (and I must confess that I don't), she's a British actress who must be around middle age (think Helen Mirren, only about twenty years ago). Anyway, she's hired as an assassin (yes, a middle age woman with cut-glass English accent is a bad-ass assassin go with it) to bring in the escort and anyone who aids and abets her. In short Helen Bingham rocks. She totally steals every scene and makes the film watchable. The heroes pale in comparison compared to her. She was so good that I had a horrible feeling that she was only going to be in it for a few scenes and I'd end up watching the rest of the film in the hope that she returns. I'm glad to say she's in it the whole way through. And the film is all the better for it.
I won't go into too much detail about what follows, only that if you feel like watching a sort of B-movie version of a Guy Ritchie/spy thriller chase movie (yes, it crosses genres quite broadly there's even a lot of black comedy thrown in there for good measure), then this one is worth it simply for Helen Bingham's performance.
Space Station 76 (2014)
Have you seen the trailer for this?
I happened to catch the trailer for 'Space Station 76' and couldn't believe that no one had already thought of this type of film already. I grew up in the seventies and eighties and was well into the sci-fi of the day, i.e. with wooden sets, cheesy robots and unfashionable hairstyles. Therefore, when I saw that a film was dedicated to sending up this genre, only in the modern age, I couldn't believe my luck. This film was truly made for me. It looked hilarious.
I was wrong. The trailer was hilarious. The film was not. Not because the jokes fell flat or didn't work when they were stretched out into a full-length feature film, but because the film just wasn't really a comedy, as it was presented in the one and half minutes trailer.
Yes, the sets are indeed well-designed (i.e. old fashioned seventies incarnations of what the future may look like) and there are a few moments that produce a wry smile from you. However, the film is actually more of a dark drama and dare I say it quite depressing.
Leaving the kitsch period feel aside, the film is about a space station billions of light years away from Earth. Some of the inhabitants of the station have lived there all their life, others much of their adult life. Either way, they're only one step away from going stir crazy. Therefore, you have many depressed and broken people, all desperately seeking some form of justification for their existences.
And there's the problem. I rented this film thinking it was a comedy that based its jokes on the clichés of yesteryear's science fiction and I got quite a dark drama about the misery of human existence at its loneliest.
Therefore, I sort of didn't enjoy it. But that's not to say that it was a bad thing; I just wanted something different. Just know what you're getting before you sit down to watch it. There are moments of humour, but much of it is very dark and there are places where you won't know whether you should be laughing or crying at the characters' plights. Just make sure that you're in the mood for something a little tragic that's dressed up as a silly seventies sci-fi show.
It's officially lost its mojo
Yeah, I admit it I actually enjoyed 'The Human Centipede' a film so depraved that many a Hollywood film critic actually claimed that its creation spelt the end of moral and intellectual cinema as we know it. Okay, so it wasn't Shakespeare, but then it wasn't meant to be, was it? It was meant to push the boundaries and generally gross us out. And it did just that. So I classed it as a success. And so did the public in general, as it spawned a sequel. Granted the next instalment took a very different path, but I enjoyed that one too (to my shame).
Therefore, I was always going to give the third one a crack. And, from the start I was actually quite impressed the film chose to reunite the (wonderfully creepy) stars of the previous two films and put them together on screen. How could this film possibly fail? It did.
It was rubbish. I'm sorry. I know I should try to back my opinions up a little more eloquently than that, but I really can't think of anything else to say. I was so disappointed. If you've seen the first film (and if you're considering watching a story about human test subjects being sewn together in the most disgusting way imaginable I suggest you start there) then you'll know the lead was the evil German doctor. Like I said, he's back here (only as a new character) and yet all he does is shout. Loudly. Rinse and repeat. In fact, he shouts so damn loudly that I could barely hear what he's shouting about due to his accent. It seems that he's been told to act like a lunatic and he does just that. Unfortunately, it's too over the top to be believable and it totally ruins the whole film. Well, that's the start of 'Part III's' ruination.
Then there's the gore. Or should I say 'lack of it?' Seriously, these film's selling points are that they gross you out. Most of us who invest our time into them are happy that there won't be a gripping and thought-provoking story with deep and emotional character development. We just want sickness. And we don't get it from Part III. It's just more of the same, only less graphic. We've seen it all before in the past two instalments and we've therefore seen it done better.
If you're as weird as me in that you actually enjoy watching films like this, stick to the first two. Ignore this one. It really is pretty bad. Or watch Kevin Smith's 'Tusk.' Even that was better and at least had some snappy dialogue added to the mix.
Part III = avoid.
Starry Eyes (2014)
'Starry Eyes' could almost be considered a 'satire' on today's 'celebrity-obsessed' culture. It could be if it wasn't for the fact that it's blatantly marketed as a 'horror.' And it is pretty horrific. Even if much of the horror is derived from one young girl's desperation to make it to stardom in Hollywood and the lengths she'll go to.
Bored of waitressing in a seedy café (primarily frequented by men if you know what I mean), xxxxx feels she gets the break she's been waiting for when a well-to-do producer offers to make her the star of an upcoming movie. Naturally, this is too good to be true and there's more than a few catches attached to such an enticing offer. And that's where the 'fun' really starts.
Without going into too much detail regarding the 'catches' there is a strong supernatural (and also horror) element to them. The film charts her downfall as she wrestles with the desperation to be famous and get the life she desires and the new downside she's facing from the deal that she's struck.
Like I said in my title, it's a 'nice idea' and it's well done for the most part. If you've ever watched anything by David Lynch or David Cronenberg you may spot a few parallels in style here and there as it deals with the dark side of Hollywood and fame. But it is a bit slow. I like to think that I appreciate dark, brooding movies (especially as I'm a huge fan of the afford-mentioned Davids). However, I did find myself wanting something to happen. Once you know what the film is about you can sort of see what's going to happen a mile off and write the rest yourself. That isn't to say that there aren't some nice touches (and even quite violent gore later on in the movie). There's even some quite black humour thrown in with the satire.
However, I can't help think that this would have worked better as some sort of 'half hour short.' It does tend to go on for long periods of time. Granted, these are designed to 'build tension' etc, but it just seemed like it was going on for too long.
'Starry Eyes' does work as what it is, but the way it's done just won't appeal to the masses. I enjoyed it as I like the overall satire effect, plus there was just about enough gore and black humour in it to make it watchable. However, I'm just not too sure I'd ever be bothered to watch it again. The nice touches just don't come quickly enough to maintain my enjoyment. It's a nice idea and there are more than a few nice touches. Pity it just couldn't have maintained those elements all the way through to avoid my mind wandering.
Is it a bird, is it a plane? Oh, it's a bird. That's that sorted
With all the superhero movies infesting the screen, it was only a matter of time before someone decided to ask the question, 'What will happen to the stars once they get too big to fit into their spandex costumes?' Here, Michael Keaton once played the (apparently iconic) superhero 'Birdman' back in the early nineties. Back then he ruled the silver screen the way Robert Downey Jr and Hugh Jackman are doing today with Iron Man and Wolverine. However, that was then and this is now. The public have moved on and are more interested in Marvel's 'shared universe' than a man dressed up like a sparrow. So Michael Keaton must attempt to regain his former glory by flexing his acting muscles and put on a play on Broadway.
Easier said than done. He has to finance the thing himself and he's hardly a 'bankable' star any more. Plus his ego is so big that it needs its own dressing room. And, if that wasn't bad enough, his 'Birdman persona' occasionally likes to take over and point out all his failings. Naturally, all this leads to a recipe for disaster.
It sounds like fun. And it is. But it's an acquired taste and definitely won't be for everyone. It's longer than your average film (nearly two hours) and there are long periods of time when it's like nothing really happens apart from actors wandering from one part of a large theatre set to another (normally to shout at each other). I read a couple other reviews that only gave it minimal marks due to 'nothing happening.' I can see where they're coming from (although I don't technically agree) as there is little in the way of a 'story.' It's about a man, who isn't always the 'hero' he thinks he deserves to be, who is clearly having some sort of breakdown. Fantasy and reality are starting to merge and it's not always easy to tell the difference for him the character and us the viewers. Therefore, there are bits of it that make you wonder how real they're meant to be. Again, this may put off some of the audience.
Then there's the soundtrack. It's mainly a vaguely hypnotic drum beat, endlessly repeated until it's finally parodied in itself at the end of the film leaving us to wonder whether we're hearing the mindless repetition that actually happening in his own mind.
There's quite a stellar cast too. Edward Norton rivals Michael Keaton in the acting stakes, yet his character seems to fade into the background more during the final act.
If you're into a bit of slightly surreal drama with a hint of knowingness about it and a healthy swipe at popular culture then give this one a go. It's definitely not an easy ride and is not the sort of film you can just 'get' while it's on the background. Get in the mood for something deep and heavy and take a flight with the bird.
A film of two halves
Ah, Kevin Smith I knew him well (mainly in the nineties during his Clerks, Mallrats and Chasing Amy period). I would always say that he's one hell of a writer of dialogue, whether his work falls straight into the 'comedy' bracket, or he dabbles in other genres, i.e. romance, science-fiction fantasy or horror. And, this time round, he's playing with the 'horror genre.' 'Tusk' tells the tale of a complete idiot (played delightfully by Justin Long). He's a typical product of the modern age a podcaster with ideas way above his station. Yes, he's a little bit famous, but it appears that a little bit of fame corrupts almost as much as absolute power. He thinks he's 'it' and lets everyone know it, whether it's his co-presenter, his doting girlfriend, or generally anyone he meets along the way.
One article on his upcoming podcast is an interview with a Canadian 'celebrity' who's also made his name on the internet. Sadly, the 'celebrity' in question is so traumatised with his newfound fame that he kills himself, 'selfishly' leaving our glorious podcaster with nothing to report on while in Canada. That's when he happens upon an interesting offer in a men's restroom. It leads him to a reclusive hermit, played brilliantly by Michael Parks, who offers to tell him his life's story.
This is the fun part. The interaction between the two is just about as perfect as dialogue can be. The two exchange tales and taken on life in the setting of Park's Gothic mansion. The tension is cranked right up to the max you know something is going to happen (something bad, obviously), but you just don't know what. This atmosphere is just electrifying when combined with the snappy dialogue. Everything is going great until...
...the film just kind of switches atmosphere and great dialogue for cheap shocks. And shocks that look pretty bad rather than shocking. The second half of the film is everything that the first half isn't, i.e. cheesy. Yeah, there are a few moments of brilliance thrown in there, but, when you realise what's actually happening, you'll probably just shout, 'What... seriously?' It just doesn't work. It feels like someone has tacked a second (lesser) film onto a good one. If I was rating the first half I'd say it was awesome. If I was rating the second half I'd say don't bother. Fans of Kevin Smith may like the dialogue (like I did), but most people will not really go for this on account of the sudden change in mood that doesn't fit where the film was originally heading.
Best to watch this one for free however you can before you invest in actually paying for it. Some people may find the second half as shocking as it was intended. Personally, I just found it a let down and stupid. Pity.
It Follows (2014)
It really is pretty good
I really do hate using someone else's words when it comes to reviewing a film, however the phrase 'It really does breathe new life into the horror genre' does seem almost applicable. Okay, it may be overstating the film's brilliance. It's no work of art, but, if you enjoy your horror yarns (and are as sick and tired of every new horror film using 'found footage' as a tool with which to scare us) then you may at least want to give this one the time of day.
It's long been a cliché in horror films that if you have sex you die (notably pointed out in the 'Scream' films), so it may come as a surprise that our lovely, blonde female lead manages to jump into bed (or a car, technically) within the first few scenes. Granted, she's not immediately bludgeoned to death by an ice hockey mask-wearing maniac, but her new boyfriend does have some bad news for her (and he's not just confessing that he's actually married!). He informed her that he's 'passed on' more than just something she needs to report to the doctors about.
An evil spirit/presence is now destined to follow her everywhere she goes until she dies. Or should that be until the evil spirit/presence in question murders her horribly? Either way, she has two options: sit around and wait for the grisly end, or 'pass it on' (and we all know what she has to do in order to get rid of it!).
However, seeing as our stricken heroine is a nice girl, she doesn't want to 'pass it on' or wait for the end. So she enlists the help of some of her mates and, together, they set about doing their best to make this spirit wish it had picked on someone else.
And, it's a pretty enjoyable ride. For a start, the title 'It Follows' is nicely applicable titles. The spook does just that. It never runs, it just walks. Not only does that give the victim a decent chance at escaping, but it does play on the psychological horror of having something totally unstoppable which never gives up until it has killed you. Plus the cast is good. Most horrors since the seventies have had a cast of youngsters and most of the time they're pretty bland and annoying (or just put there for the offending killer to pick off one by one). However, here the friends interact quite nicely and come across as a believable bunch.
'It Follows' has been successful, therefore it's pretty much guaranteed to be the start of a franchise. And, with most horror franchises, I dare say that the quality will drop with each one until it's ultimately rebooted. So, before the quality diminishes completely, I say watch the original quickly before your memory of the story is overshadowed by countless spin-offs, sequels and remakes. It's actually pretty good if you're already into your horror. Plus it's a nice take on the 'have-sex-and-die' horror premise!
The Pyramid (2014)
The pyramid scheme
Okay, so the 'Pyramid' is one of those 'monster-munching' films where the cast in generally stalked and eliminated by a usually pretty unseen due to budget constraints monster (or pack of them). Normally they're basically the same as the last one you've seen. And this one is pretty normal. Not to say that it's that bad. Just nothing new.
For a start it could have been so much worse it could have been 'found footage.' In fact... it nearly was. There is a 'documentary element' to the film where a fair proportion is shot on hand-held cameras by one of the characters. Luckily, this isn't a major point of the film. It's mainly used nearer the beginning and I was on the edge of my seat, praying that I hadn't accidentally watched a found footage film by mistake. Luckily, the main part of the film is shot from a third person perspective thank the cinematic gods.
And it does have other plus points besides being one of the only modern horror B-movies not to stoop to the 'found footage' genre. Its setting is pretty cool, i.e. the fact that a film crew (or is it archaeological crew I forget anyway, it doesn't matter) go under the pyramids (or a new one, possibly again, does anyone really care?). It's about a group of people in a pyramid getting stalked and eliminated by things that you really don't want to meet under a dark, unexplored pyramid in the middle of the Egyptian desert (if indeed it was even set in Egypt who cares?).
The two groups of people are both what you'd expect. The humans we're supposed to care about are just about passable. For those of us who have seen (and loved!) the British TV show 'The Inbetweeners' will enjoy seeing James Buckley doing something other than chase women and we'll definitely root for him. Then you have the monsters. They're CGI. That can work, but mainly it doesn't. Here, the atmosphere is pretty dark (literally!) so the lack of light does cover up any visual indiscretions.
As I mentioned, what you have here is a totally 'normal' monster munching movie. It's nothing terrible, but nothing you'd really remember if you were a fan of the genre. If you've seen the 'Decent' then you've basically seen the better version of this movie. Just stick to that.
I recently saw another Korean film 'I Saw the Devil' and, in light of the fact that I've now watched a film made by the same people, 'Oldboy' I'm glad I did. Because I think that many of us have been kind of lulled into believing that the only way to make a film is 'the Hollywood way.' I didn't like 'I Saw the Devil' when I started watching it, but, after persevering, I was glad I did in the end. Plus, now I feel I know Korean cinema a little better (or how it's done) I was able to enjoy (if that's the right word) 'Oldboy' from the off.
And it's certainly a difficult film to describe, let alone say who's its target audience is. A man and not a particularly nice one doesn't bother seeing his estranged wife and baby daughter in favour of generally going out and getting drunk. However, things quickly catch up with him when he's swiped off the streets and locked in a room for no less than fifteen years without explanation. However, during this time he's had more than a few changes of heart. Now he's not only ready to find out and punish whoever imprisoned him in the first place, but also make amends with his daughter, who is now basically grown up in his absence.
It would be easy to label Oldboy as a 'revenge thriller.' Yes, there are certainly aspects of hunting down those who wronged him. But it's the way it's done that makes it so different. I would go into specifics, but it's one of those films where if you say too much about the plot you will give away vital points which will lead to you predicting what's to come. It's fair to say that there are more than a few twists and turns to keep you interested (or disgusted?) and you will not only need to be ready for those, but also have a strong stomach in terms of content material.
Which brings me back to my thoughts on who it's marketed at. I don't really know people who like revenge movies, but can tolerate some pretty disturbing story lines mainly. Oh, and subtitles. It's got subtitles but then you probably guessed that. However, even though you have to read the dialogue it's still easy to tell that the cast are pretty impressive and there are performances that are going to stick with you even if some of them are for the wrong reasons.
Basically, if you like your foreign revenge films dark then give this one a go. Just don't blame me for any therapy you may require after sitting through it. A classic, but a dark one.