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The 25th Reich (2012)
Highly enjoyable sci-fi pulp
THE 25TH Reich, from Australian director/writer Stephen Amis, is styled as an affectionate tribute to pulp sci-fi of the 30's' ,40's, and 50's, and plays somewhat like an 'Amazing Stories' cover come to life in all its lurid and colorful glory. Based on the obscure J.J. Solomon novel "50,000 Years Until Tomorrow" (soon to be re-printed, I hear), it tells a fanciful tale of American soldiers sent way back in time to prevent the birth of the Reich and fight off enemies such as deadly Nazi spider robots who spit lines like "Heil, Hitler!". True to pulp form, these soldiers have their work cut out for them with their lives jeopardized at every turn. An unexpected bit of nasty (or is that Nazi?) business is the rape of one poor sap by a giant Nazi Robot Spider. Although not quite as visceral as I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, the scene does leave an indelible impression on the viewer as well as the unfortunate victim of antiquity's first recorded instance of non-consensual robot arachnoid buggery. For a relatively low budget effort, the tech credits are very impressive with David Richardson's cinematography showcasing the rich Australian exteriors. Scenes of swastika-shaped spacecraft taking to the sky and various modes of flying saucer activity are totally convincing, contributing to a fun piece of sci-fi that is pure, entertaining nonsense. The soldiers, led by the tough-as-nails Jim Knobeloch (who recently appeared also in the thematically similar but quite different IRON SKY), deliver high-pitched turns as they combat the Nazi menace with varying results. Somehow, writers Amis, Richardson and Serge De Narto manage to drop Nazis, spider robots, time machines, hard-boiled dialog, and a world domination plot into a cinematic blender that has produced a pulp cocktail with plenty of head on it.
Plenty of Nuns, Not Enough Bite
"Nuns That Bite" is a Japanese nunsploitation film that, content-wise, feels like Teruo Ishii-lite. Ishii, for the uninitiated, directed such works as "Horrors of Malformed Men", "Orgies of Edo", and "Love and Crime". He also helmed a number of torture-themed flicks for the same studio, but it is with "Love and Crime", with its glorious catalog of freaks and visual atrocities, that this film shares common virtues.
The set-up is basic and a little protracted. A woman on the run is raped, rescued, then raped again. Escaping, she heads for the hills and finds safe haven at a convent. After becoming a postulant (trainee nun), she catches her fellow sisters engaging in lesbianism, fighting over nothing, hurling snakes at each other, and engaging in mild flesh eating. Compared to the rich convent life presented in Norifumi Suzuki's School of the Holy Beast, the convent in "Nuns That Bite" is a more modest affair. It's a series of rooms in which nuns sleep, make out, and act crazy. The Mother Superior is MILF material (I guess MSILF is more accurate) who oversees various punishments and enjoys the services of a strange boy-in-waiting (her son perhaps?) who appears to exert quite a bit of power over the sisters. This fellow proves himself quite the first-rate tattletale when he reports on our heroine's investigation into the convent non-religious activities. Not surprisingly, she pays a painful price for the little sh*t's loose lips.
The films sounds marginally better in synopsis than it actually is. At times, it's a little slow and pedestrian, and lacks the cinematic energy someone like Suzuki or Ishii would have brought to it. Various bloody atrocities are served up such as a headless body, a severed head, bones stripped of flesh, and various stabbings and piercings. The lesbian lovemaking is erotic enough without becoming repetitious, and there are some deformed, freakish characters who should have been given moire screen time and some story relevance. One sequence involving a crazy woman performing a religious ritual and acting like she's on LSD has the Ishii feel, and could have passed as a deleted scene from "Horrors of Malformed Men".
For director Makiguchi, this is fairly restrained material. Previously, he directed the brutal, visceral "Shogun's Sadism" (aka "Joys of Torture 2: Oxen Split Torturing") and the nasty "Bizarre Crimes of Post-War Japan". "Nuns That Bite" was his last theatrical feature.
At sixty-nine minutes, the film is very short, but it feels longer because there not much plot to speak of.
Still, great to see this little-seen treat in the daylight at last, and still recommended for adventurous fans.
Humble gem from maverick director
Fairly rare Wakamatsu title that I've been after for years. A yakuza flees from his boss with a young waitress and is tricked into returning to the fold. For his efforts, he is tortured and beaten, and she is raped and discarded like trash. Five years later, a similar scenario presents itself -- only this time, the ex- yakuza has learnt from his mistake. The director employs a subtle, documentary style and switches between color and black and white. The women in this film are gorgeous, and there is a plethora of nudity. Structured much more conventionally than many Wakamatsu pictures, and feeling more like noir than pink. It's a humble little gem from a truly maverick director.
Srpski film (2010)
Several months ago, Srdjan Spasojevic's Serbian Movie started to circulate at festivals. Harry Knowles wrote a histrionic review that placed it on the must-see lists of hardcore horror fanatics. Other scribes discussed its extreme nature and went nuts hyping its taboo-breaking content. Some even questioned its reason for existing.
The usual clichéd response to films with inflammatory intent is Why do we need to see this? It's a stupid question because the answer is we don't. Then again, we don't NEED to see Disney movies, either, or TV shows about crab fishermen risking their lives. We NEED to eat, sleep, drink, and breathe. Everything else is secondary.
Hysterics aside, Serbian Movie was clearly made to shock and provoke because it doesn't offer too much else. 99.9% of humans will find it objectionable and offensive and will stay away. The rest, like me, will let their curiosity get the better of them.
The film is very technically polished. The compositions and lighting are on par with any American horror film in the Hostel budget range. The acting is decent, too. The film's lead (Sergej Trifunovic), who plays an ex-porno actor lured back into the business, bears a strange resemblance to Euro porn actor/director Christophe Clarke, and has a laconic, laid back manner that works well for his character. The film's villain (Srdjan Todorovic), a philosophy-spewing porno "artist", looks like a younger, better manicured Coffin Joe. The lead's wife, who is accepting of her husband's profession, is played with quiet authority by Katarina Zutic. Finally, the couple's son, who plays quite a special role in the film, is particularly impressive as an unfortunate young victim of demented minds.
Some of our favorite horror films are notable for extreme set pieces. Emmanuelle in America has a ripper, as do Salo, Cannibal Holocaust, and In A Glass Cage. Serbian Movie definitely deserves to be placed alongside these for its extremity and perversion. One set piece in particular, involving a newborn, is the film's most harrowing. Clearly, no real infant was harmed, but the single angle and sound effects create a very disturbing ninety seconds you won't soon forget. Other horrors include an eye socket being penetrated with an erect penis and two unidentified bodies being carnally assaulted.
Horror in its purest sense allows us to confront the unspeakable in the safe environment of the cinema or home. Serbian Movie definitely dishes up the unspeakable and does so with style and solid craftsmanship. Although you will find material such as this in the literary works of authors such as Edward Lee, Marquis De Sade, and JF Gonzalez, cinematic representations are, not surprisingly, not as common.
Unfortunately, the Serbian Movie script is a little undercooked, and its depiction of organized perversion amongst the elite is not entirely believable. The villain, who not only looks like Coffin Joe, spouts philosophy like him, too. In this case, it's porno philosophy. This nut bag sees 'newborn porn' as the future of the genre, and carries on up the Khyer about love, art, and blood ad nausea. Perhaps expressing the filmmaker's view, he says of Serbia: "...this is no country for real art." On porn, he offers: "(it exists) so those who can't get laid can come." Without a doubt, his most salient observation is: "'Victim sells." No horror fan can dispute that.
What separates Serbian Movie, however, from a true masterwork such as Augustin Villaronga's In A Glass Cage are several things, the primary one being substance. Although its montages of public porno culture suggest that sexualized commercialization is out of control, this thesis is not explored beyond a headline, and it's a stretch to link sexually provocative billboards to horrors such as baby rape and the raping of beheaded women. The gulf between the two is vast.
Ultimately for the viewer, the film is an exercise in waiting for the next shocking set piece that will up the perversion ante. The bits between these are not of zero interest, but they're not exactly vital, either, and there's some narrative confusion in the final quarter as the lead character lurches about in a drug-induced haze.
Even after the final shocking revelation, a closing slice of dialog takes the perversion even further, bluntly re-stating the film's ultimate intentions.
As my brain cooled hours later after the experience, I felt like I'd eaten very greasy, slightly poisonous junk food. This contrasted with my initial reaction to John McNaughton's Henry - Portrait of a Serial Killer, another flick notable for its shocking content, but appreciated for its solid scripting, amazing performances, and characterization. Henry left me with the feeling that I'd seen something very special. Serbian Movie didn't feel special, but it sure felt like raw and courageous cinema.
Director Srdjan Spasojevic's Life and Death of a Porno Gang, his first feature, is well worth checking out, too, and I will discuss it shortly.
Friday the 13th (2009)
Pretty entertaining rehash of the Sean Cunningham original. The set-up is a little different and Jason is a real person from the start. Director Marcus Nispel, who helmed the "Texas Chainsaw" remake, doesn't go for hyper-stylization, even though director of photography Daniel Pearl returns as his co-conspirator. A party of twenty-somethings assemble at a buddy's house for a weekend of dope smoking, drinking, and screwing. The problem is, Camp Crystal Lake is nearby, and Jason is having a bad day. When these marginal adults trespass on his property, he starts killing them in gory and brutal fashion. There is an entertaining topless water skiing scene and some well staged dismemberment. The film doesn't feel as graphic as its source because so much blood has flowed under the bridge since then. Biggest letdown is the scene in which Jason springs out of the lake to take down his last victim. If you don't want to do it properly (and better than the original), don't do it at all, Mr. Nispel.
Lovingly staged violence for the fans
There are many implausibilities in evidence here, but in order to get an action pic to crank, you have to throw reality out the window. Reality and long pieces of action just don't go together. The average shootout lasts a couple of seconds. The average car chase doesn't involve massive amounts of collateral damage. Pierre Morel's thriller traces the kidnapping of Liam Neeson's daughter. Neeson, who has a shady background in international espionage, has a trick or two up his sleeve when it comes to dealing with bad guys. Naturally, he uses all those tricks to maim, chop, break and burn the kidnappers. That's the movie. It works because Morel shoots the action clearly. There isn't much breathing room and the violence is lovingly staged. Some family-size contrivances ruin some of the enjoyment, but the experience is relatively entertaining. Neeson has a great time killing and torturing those who done him wrong.
The Uninvited (2009)
This remake of the Korean "Tale of Two Sisters" is utterly awful. I don't know why, but it's been getting some good buzz and positive reviews. It deserves nothing but condemnation. It's a big mess. The so-called "twist" is stolen from "The Sixth Sense", so why the raves about that? In all seriousness, I only enjoyed watching the film when the female leads were wearing short dresses. I stared at their shapely legs while combating cliché fatigue. The film is also a remake of "The Stepfather" a very good film, except the stepfather here is a stepmother. Australian actress Emily Browning is sexy and vulnerable, a little like Juliet Lewis once was; her performance even reminded me of Lewis's work in "Cape Fear" and "Natural Born Killers". David Strathairn, who is usually very good, plays a totally one-dimensional character here who is required by the script to act irrationally and unrealistically.
Seven Pounds (2008)
Characters stuck in a sea of dramatic sludge
The first half hour of this drama is intriguing. Will Smith, who appears to be working for the IRS, is visiting people who owe the government money and deciding whether he'll give them a break. Why is he doing this? We don't know yet. His brother is calling him all the time and he doesn't want to deal with him. Something odd is afoot. When Smith meets Rosario Dawson, a woman with a heart condition, he decides to anoint her with kindness -- and give her a tax break, of course. At the one hour mark, the film becomes sludge. Its promise fades and it starts birthing clichés and stock romantic situations. We learn why Smith is doing what he's doing, even though it was telegraphed long ago. It's no fun to watch something that had potential crumble. Director Gabriele Muccino shoots everything with long lenses and pulls in and out of focus at every opportunity. His style is plodding and obvious. Everything is so overlit and overproduced that it feels like the characters are operating in a sea of mud. There's no blue sky, not literally or figuratively. Smith is solid.
The Reader (2008)
Hetero love from a gay perspective is problematic
A teenage boy named Michael (David Kross) has a passionate love affair with Hanna (Kate Winslet), a tram conductor in Berlin. Years later, while studying to be a lawyer, he discovers that Hanna is on trial, and he finds himself in a position to alter the outcome. Does he act? You have to see the film to find out. The first half is devoted to the relationship between the teenage Michael and Hanna. Ralph Fiennes, who plays the adult Michael in his usual sooky way, reflects back on his decision, so the film is a series of flashbacks. The second half busies itself with the trial, the outcome, and Michael's effort to balance the scales of justice. I was involved up to a point with this movie. It didn't bowl me over. The sexual relationship between Michael and Hanna was meant to be erotic, but it was shot like incest. I suspect the director is gay because he brought no eroticism to the hetero encounters. Michael was filmed as a gay man would film him. Lots of frontals. I felt that there was no sexual interest behind the camera in Winslet. Is that an issue? Yes, it's an issue because we have to believe that Michael would be sexually into this older woman. I didn't believe it. Stephen Daldry didn't, either, or couldn't. To be fair, a hetero would shoot lots of female frontals if given the opportunity, so it's horses for courses. Daldry was simply a bad choice for this story. Because I couldn't get comfortable with the relationship, I couldn't empathize with the characters. Finnes really irritated me, too. His sullen, closed character was simply not an interesting subject for a film, no matter how convincingly he played him.
My Bloody Valentine (2009)
People with low standards and monkeys may enjoy this
The original "My Bloody Valentine" was never that great; a new special edition that re-instates cut gore has improved it. Still, it was dull and drab. This remake, which is gorier from the outset, attempts to polish its turd-like origins with 3-D. Some of the 3-D works, but it gave me a headache, nonetheless. Director Patrick Lussier is a hack, as are the writers (Todd Farmer and Zane Smith) of this illogical, sloppy slasher. The dialog is obvious and clichéd and the acting is weak; blame Lussier for that because he cast the thing and was supposed to be watching the performances. There are plenty of kills, but they're all variations on being gouged with a pickax. Blame Lussier also for the uninteresting, colorless look of this stinker. Cinematographer Brian Pearson was only serving Lussier's "vision". The best part of the film is watching Betsy Rue run around totally naked for ten minutes. It was a welcome distraction from the irritating predictability. Not much of the original premise is adhered to. It's still about a miner, but the supernatural aspect of the original has been jettisoned in favor of a lame psychological angle. Who cares?! I love good slashers, which is why I didn't like this.