Archive for June, 2014

All Cheerleaders Die (2013)

Posted: June 22, 2014 in Uncategorized
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When Maddy’s cheerleader friend dies she tries out to replace her on the team. But what are her true motives? And how does her Wiccan friend fit in?

“All Cheerleaders Die” is a horror/comedy collaboration written and directed by respected horror auteur Lucky McKee (“May” and “The Woman”) and his close friend Chris Sivertson, best known by most for the execrable Lindsay Lohan vehicle “I Know Who Killed Me”, a strong candidate for the worst film of the millennium.

Without any knowledge of the extent of the collaboration the viewer can only guess as to the specifics. Given the way the film turned out, it would not be a surprise if Mckee and Stiverson had shared duties in a similar way to Tarantino and Rodriguez on “From Dusk Til Dawn”; with each essentially responsible for half a film, something that would explain the wild shift in tone that occurs here.

The film starts off as a dark psychological thriller, with Caitlin Stasey’s Maddy setting off on a twisted revenge mission. The opening sequence, as Maddy follows her cheerleader friend Lexi as she goes about her life, is incredibly effective; with a haymaker of a punchline capping it all off in startlingly brutal fashion. We are kept largely in the dark as to Maddy’s goals and motivations, as well as how far she will go to achieve her aims. It seems an interesting twist on the genre, broadly typical of McKee’s work; a studied pace and increasing creepiness leaving the viewer wondering where this will all go.

The narrative takes a bizarre turn halfway through, with twists stacking up, new rules established and then broken, as the film becomes increasingly breathless. Going from tense, to mildly demented, the film ends up completely insane; sitting in a corner hugging it’s knees and screaming abuse at anyone who dares to come near. It all flies by too quickly, feeling like a script written in a drunken stupor, piling up the silliness until it becomes borderline nonsensical, albeit in a very fun way. Alongside this is a rich vein of humour, pouring exuberantly from both the outrageousness of the situations and the cheerleader’s catty one-liners, many of which wouldn’t be out of place in superior teen comedies such as “Heathers” or “Mean Girls”.

The real problem with the film is the flimsy characterisation. The main characters are one note, with no discernible arcs or development, although the cast battle gamely with the challenge of imbuing their roles with something approaching personality. The supporting players fare even less well; hackneyed teen-movie archetypes that barely register beyond the single traits that define them. The result is that it is almost impossible to care about these characters, even whether they live or die, something that severely detracts from the film as a whole, robbing proceedings of any tension.

Maybe it is due to this general lack of sympathy with the cast, but when the grand finale comes it seems a massive damp squib, as characters you barely care about are offed in quick-fire fashion, often out of nowhere. Even the big final battle is underwhelming, the film threatening a grand pay-off before petering out with a brief, listless burst of unconvincing CGI.

Ultimately “All Cheerleaders Die” is something of a mess. Most of the individual elements are well enough done, and the film is a lot of fun, but it doesn’t hang together as a whole, leaving you with a feeling of promise unfulfilled. If you disengage your brain then the ever-escalating strangeness and off-beat humour is certainly entertaining enough, although long-time fans of McKee (who will likely make up a large portion of the initial audience) are sure to find themselves disappointed by it’s disjointedness and the lack of intelligence on display.

It is still easy to see this film gaining a sizeable cult following in years to come with audiences who will forgive it’s faults because of how surprisingly bonkers and unusual it is, a dumb teen-horror flick on acid making bizarre turns that no viewer could expect; something that was probably the intention all along.

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Wither (2012)

Posted: June 17, 2014 in Uncategorized
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A group of young adults head deep into the woods to get away from it all and party in a remote cabin; but they hadn’t counted on one of them awaking an ancient evil that resides in the basement.

That plot summary feels awfully familiar, doesn’t it?

“Wither” (“Vittra”) is a Swedish horror film from Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wikland that mixes an “Evil Dead” style set-up with zombie mythology. Made in 2012, it’s Swedish theatrical debut came in late 2013 and it will reach UK audiences on June 23 2014 via a DVD release from Signature Entertainment.

Attempting to straddle than fine line between “homage” and “shameless rip-off”, “Wither” can’t maintain it’s balance and ends up collapsing face-first into the latter camp. The overly familiar set-up would have been acceptable if there were any originality on display in other areas, or if the film had a unique feel in some way, but early promise fades away as cliches are ticked off one by one in a rote manner, as if the script were merely a checklist of horror movie tropes. The poorly developed stereotypical characters run headlong into a melange of stale horror cliches; making the same inexplicable mistakes that you’ve seen similar characters make a thousand times before (yes, given a choice between running out of the door and hiding upstairs, they choose certain death).

The acting is truly terrible from the majority of the cast (it is a shame that Johnannes Brost didn’t get more screen-time, as his haunted delivery and craggy features hint at a background story much more compelling than the one told here), largely dull and naturalistic in style with the exception of the inexplicable wide-eyed reaction shots which wouldn’t be out of place in a “Carry On” movie. The only character in the film who has been given a discernible personality is such a monumental arsehat that you assume he will be the butt of all the jokes, but alas, he is supposed to be legitimately cool, lighting up cigarette after cigarette while the female cast try to get into his pants.

Those who like things bloody will likely get a kick, as the gore is well done and plentiful, although fairly unimaginative. The action plays out with a certain style, as Laguna and Wikland attempt to invest proceedings with a credible “Scandi-thriller” dryness. It is a shame in many ways that they didn’t concentrate more on that, as the creepy early section is definitely the most effective aspect of the film, horror seen though the prism of their national identity, threatening an interesting twist on the genre. Sadly the film too quickly descends into a knock-off of American cinema, and there is no way the film can compare to what it apes, especially on such a tiny budget.

“Wither” is a massive let-down from a country that has actually done a sterling job recently in producing high quality genre pictures like “Let the Right One In”, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”, “Frostbite” and even the incredibly fun “Kopps”. Shamelessly derivative in what seems to be a calculating fashion, it really is hard to recommend this film to anyone. It tries to be “The Evil Dead”, but where Sam Raimi made a low-budget film that showcased his skill and originality, Laguna and Wikland illustrate only that they are capable mimics who lack ingenuity and humour. They may have had more luck if they had gone the Raimi route; attacked the premise with some playfulness, called it something silly like “Bork of the Dead”, and had some fun. Instead they have presented us with a dreary and dull film, lacking in imagination and, most importantly, entertainment.

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A bitter and long-running feud between two rival Yakuza gangs takes in the aspiring actress daughter of one of the bosses, the love of her life that she never knew she had and a gaggle of aspiring film-makers who dub themselves “The Fuck Bombers”.

“Why Don’t You Play in Hell” is a comedy-action movie from Shion Sono, probably best known in the West for the dark horror/drama “Suicide Club”. It’s been a lean few years for fans of the talented Japanese auteur, and his most recent films have failed to live up to the high expectations set by his best work. “Why Don’t You Play in Hell” is a rip-roaring return to form, a love letter to film fans that delivers pure enjoyment in the weird, darkly fun way that only Japanese cinema is capable of.

The first hour of the film assembles all the pieces of the jigsaw, and slowly slots them into place. Relationships are established and others formed against a backdrop of silly over-the-top comedy and bursts of extreme violence presented so stylishly that they are absurd rather than off-putting. The set-up most closely resembles that of a farce, as the disparate threads are deliberately woven together to set the scene for the ultimate confrontation between the bizarre cast of mugging grotesques and delusional caricatures. While it is easy to see where the film is heading, something that those unused to the pace of Japanese cinema may find frustrating, there is still more than enough going on to make this all extremely enjoyable in it’s own right.

It is during the big battle between the Yakuza gangs, taking up the bulk of the final stretch, that the film really takes flight. Gloriously excessive, outrageously ridiculous and somehow still surprising in the turns it takes despite how telegraphed the resolution is. There is a real glee to the action, referencing the films of Bruce Lee, “Kill Bill” and even “Bonnie and Clyde”, that draws you in; leaving your jaw hanging in sheer awe at the decadence of the violence. Sono shamelessly pulls out every trick he can think of to keep it all fresh, like a conjurer high on speed pulling rabbits from every orifice without ever pausing for applause.

Despite the sheer volume of bloodshed, it was clearly not Sono’s intention for this film to be taken seriously. Never has the phrase “it’s only a movie” been more apt, given the constant reminders that this is no sort of reality. “Just sit back and enjoy the ride, film fans” he seems to be saying, and what a ride he has constructed. Knowingly weird, wilfully obscure and, at times, borderline nonsensical; this is a terrifically fun film with plenty of laughs and an epic conclusion that will leave you with adrenaline coursing through your veins.

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Henry (Robin Williams) is mistakenly told by his doctor (Mila Kunis) that he has 90 minutes left to live and sets about putting right the wrongs of his immediate past.

“The Angriest Man In Brooklyn” is a comedy-drama from “Field of Dreams” director Phil Aiden Robinson, based on the Israeli film “Mar Baum” (known in English as “The 92 Minutes of Mr Baum”).

The supporting cast is the real treat here, most notably the incredible Peter Dinklage in a fairly major supporting role as Henry’s brother. Dinklage has an innate understanding of delivery and timing, imbuing his underwritten character with an immense likability while teasing laughs out of the slight material. James Earl Jones also has an absolutely hilarious cameo as a electronics salesman, providing the film’s one true laugh out loud moment, and it is genuine pleasure to see him back in front of the camera, however briefly. The ever reliable supporting player Bob Dishy gets the opportunity to react wonderfully to a few lines without being given any of his own and Louis CK is fun but absolutely wasted in a one scene cameo. The only problem with the presence of these sterling performers is that we see too little of them.

In contrast, it is a tragedy, given the talent floating around the rest of this movie, that we end up spending so much time with Williams and Kunis, both badly miscast and horribly uninteresting. Williams may occasionally be an electrifying performer (and much of his dramatic work has shown a surprising depth to his abilities), but it is impossible to feel sympathy for his loud-mouthed creation, oscillating between off-putting over-acting and moments of stillness that merely draw undue attention to how weird and stretched his face looks nowadays. He is clearly supposed to be an angry Brooklyn archetype, a caricature he only occasionally remembers to play up to before reverting back to his standard persona in a performance as inconsistent as it is unconvincing.

Kunis here is a strange blank void (although she is capable of more, as demonstrated by her excellent turn in Aronofsky’s “Black Swan”) and it is hard to believe her as a stressed-out junkie junior doctor. This is partly because no matter how intense the situation she is always pristine, an immaculate porcelain doll, and partly because of the vapid look she has every time she has to deliver any sort of medical dialogue (when she asks “Do you know what a brain aneurism is?” with a weirdly blank expression on her face, it is almost impossible not to shout “Yes, but you clearly don’t” at the screen).

This almost feels like it was conceived as an warm-hearted PG-13 antidote to Bobcat Goldthwait’s similarly themed and under-appreciated “God Bless America”. But where the dialogue in that film was razor sharp and pierced the soul of our society while being intelligent enough to skewer it’s own hypocrisy, here the rants are trite cliche, banal mundanities littered with profanity masquerading as wit. Robin Williams saying the C-word with his buttcrack hanging out isn’t comedy, no matter how much the makers wish it were that easy.

A great deal of the dialogue is delivered in voice-over form by Williams and Kunis, with both sounding bored to death by the words coming from their mouths, half asleep and waiting to be jolted awake by a courier arriving with their paycheques. It is amazing that a film so short (clocking in at 83 minutes in total) can run out of steam so astonishingly early, as if the writers couldn’t think of any more for these characters to do. The runtime is gracelessly padded out by flashbacks that crudely spell out the plot points you need to look out for: “I wanted you to be a lawyer not a dancer, dammit…this will be important later…MORE SHOUTING”.

The lack of subtlety carries over into the music, which wouldn’t feel out of place in the soundtrack to a worthy “Lifetime” drama from the late 90s. Tiresomely jaunty, whimsical melodies let you know which scenes are supposed to be “comedic” before composer Mateo Messina starts clubbing you about the head with ham-fisted mawkishness during “emotional moments”, clearly, and perhaps rightly, not trusting in the material to do the job on it’s own.

The film does do a good job of capturing the diversity and bustle of the Brooklyn streets on occasion, although rarely when the main characters are in shot. This leaves you with the impression that whoever was in charge of the second unit cared a great deal more about the quality of their work than director Robinson did, particularly during the scenes where truly terrible green screen takes over from location shooting, completely undoing the drama of pivotal moments.

Ultimately “The Angriest Man in Brooklyn” has nothing to say, a film with no purpose. It fails comedically and dramatically by not committing to anything it does; ill-conceived, half-baked and thrown together with no care. If you are fond of Peter Dinklage and have a great deal of patience then you may get a kick from his work in the movie, but anyone else would do well to avoid this whole acrid misadventure.