Friday, April 30, 2010

On WTF: Robowar (1988)

I'll just say this: Mattei/Fragasso. Predator. Reb Brown. Things that can never be unseen.

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From Twitter 04-29-2010

  • New blog post: From Twitter 04-28-2010: New blog post: From Twitter 04-27-2010: New blog post: From Twitter 04-26-...
  • New blog post: In short: Wet Hot Sake (1996): Master Mononobe (Toshiya Fujita) owns a successful little sake bar t...
  • How could I not want to watch a film titled "Womb Ghost"?
  • "The Secrets Of Cloth Simulation In Alan Wake"

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

In short: Wet Hot Sake (1996)

Master Mononobe (Toshiya Fujita) owns a successful little sake bar that is quite well known for the quality of its warm sake. If you ignore his daughter Asami's wish to go to America (as Mononobe would rather like to do), the bar owner's life is a happy one.

Until, that is, the "gypsy bar" of Yumedono (Mamoru Watanabe) arrives in town. Yumedono is also known for the quality of his warm sake, and there's no way around it - his sake tastes much better than Mononobe's. Soon, Mononobe's bar is empty every night. Only the old man's favourite regular, the slightly shady Tsuneda (Yuya Miura), who also secretly sleeps with Asami, is still visiting.

Together, Tsuneda and Mononobe decide to find out what the secret of Yumedono's sake is. That's not as difficult as one would think. It turns out that Yumedono puts his wife/daughter into a watertight leotard, fills the leotard with sake and let's her do gymnastics to give the alcohol that womanly aroma men adore so much.

Mononobe tries to imitate his rival's methods, but they sound easier than they actually are. Only with the help of a sake oriented stripper and the inventor of sake stripping will his quest for the perfect warmed alcohol succeed.

After this description, you'll probably expect one of the sleazier examples of pink film, but Wet Hot Sake is neither very sleazy, nor in any way or form mean-spirited. The film turns out to be a weird, yet whimsical and melancholic little comedy with so little on-screen sex I'm not even sure it qualifies as a pinku.

Wet Hot Sake plays by the rules of cooking manga, with a bit more kinkiness, and a bit more interest in sex as part of the natural order of life than most of its manga colleagues show. And when you start to think about it (and lack a moral backbone, like I do), there's really not much of a difference between the glorification of well-tempered bread-baking hands and that of the special temperature and aroma a virginal female body gives alcohol. Well, except that the latter is even more insane, but Wet Hot Sake feels so low-key and pleasant that "insane" sounds like a very unfair word.

It's also a film with a moral, and - surprisingly enough - it's not "girls, stay virgins, so your dad can marry you and use you to warm sake", but "a woman is not a sake bottle", so that feminists with a sense of humour might get through it without cursing the male gender.

It's a very endearing little film.


From Twitter 04-28-2010

  • New blog post: From Twitter 04-27-2010: New blog post: From Twitter 04-26-2010: New blog post: From Twitter 04-25-...
  • New blog post: El Baron Brakola (1965; rel. 1967): Beloved hero El Santo (El Santo!), idol of the masses, is attac...
  • Umm, no thanks, I don't want a hornet in the house. #adventuresinnature
  • Basil Copper's "The Great White Space" turns out to be an attempt to mix scientific romance and Lovecraft. At times neat, at times just too
  • stodgy for a book written in 1974. Still, makes me a bit miffed that the two collections of C.'s short stories by PS Publishing are outside
  • of my price league.

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

El Baron Brakola (1965; rel. 1967)

Beloved hero El Santo (El Santo!), idol of the masses, is attacked by the manly wrasslin' vampire Baron Brakola (Fernando Oses) - please not to be confused with other vampires of similar names.

Santo just manages to fight the angry bloodsucker off, but he doesn't know what sort of problem the undead has with him (except understandable jealousy of the great man's awesomeness). Fortunately, the local wrestling ring's night-watchman Don Luis (Manuel Arvide) turns out to be an undercover night-watchman who took the job only to be able to a) protect his daughter and b) exposit to Santo when necessary. Don Luis explains that he and his daughter Silvia (Mercedes Carreno) share Santo's vampire problem.

In 1765, the then not completely undead Brakola proposed to Don Luis' ancestress Rebeca (Susana Robles). Rebeca found her suitor to be of rather disgustingly low morals and declined his proposal. Brakola was not the kind of guy who could take "no" for an answer, and swore bloody vengeance on Rebeca and her family for the slight. The family decided to put their safety in the hands of Santo's ancestor, the Caballero Enmascarado de Plata (not El Santo!). The Caballero was of course better known for wearing an excellent hat than for being an effective fighter against evil, and thoroughly botched his hero job. Brakola turned a full vampire, kicked the Caballero's ass, turned Rebeca into a vampire and then proceeded to kick the Caballero's ass again. The talentless hero's only achievement was to stake poor Rebeca and then scratch ineffectually at the door to Brakola's sanctum, never to be able to enter. At least staking Rebeca put the vampire lord into a centuries-long sleep and made him the problem of a more heroic guy with a silver mask.

Contemporary Santo has his work cut out for him: he needs to protect Silvia and Don Luis from Brakola, find Brakola's lair and end what his ancestor was to lazy to finish.

El Baron Brakola was the last film everyone's favourite luchador hero Santo did for Vergara Productions. Most of Santo's Vergara films have a peculiar mood, wildly meandering between cheap but loveable Poverty Row pulp shenanigans and utter strangeness, and Baron Brakola is no exception. Much about the film screams "cheapness" and "shoddiness", but unlike in too many of the great man's films of later years and production houses, it is a cheapness and shoddiness produced with a certain care and love. The film's rubber bats, and artificial spider webs might be obvious fakes, possibly just leftovers from larger productions, yet they are used with flair and love, effectively producing a sort of backlot gothic (thanks to Kenneth Hite's and Robin D. Laws' Shadow over Filmland for reminding me of that term) that is very typical for Mexican pulp cinema of its time.

The film's director Jose Diaz Morales isn't one of the more flashy of his contemporaries, and I suspect him to be more influenced by Universal's horror films of the 40s than those of the 30s, unlike many of his Mexican colleagues of higher profile. I'm not too sure I'd put the responsibility for this on Morales shoulders alone, though. It seems to me a rather natural progression in the Santo films, from the slightly more costly and very much inspired by Universal in the 30s films of his Filmadora phase to the less reputable Vergara films, and to the horrors (and delights) that were still to come.

Apart from an amount of bad day-for-night-shots that reaches surrealist levels, Morales is also responsible for some pretty great/strange uses of weird camera angles. Morales has a real thing for low shots where they don't belong and very long shots in action sequences paired with sudden random close-ups that isn't exactly a replacement for the expressionistic use of light and shadow I like in my Mexican black and white cinema (although there are a few moments of that here too), but that is always interesting to watch.

For once, the action sequences in a lucha film are something to behold. Lead bad guy Fernando Oses (who wrote, action choreographed, and wrestled the good guys in more lucha films than most people would want to imagine), is in especially good form here. His fights against Santo and the guy who plays the gormless Caballero are as wild, brutal and energetic as anything you'll find in lucha cinema and work very well with Morales strange style of direction.

Brakola is an interesting bad guy when one is more used to the less physical (I don't want to say whimpish) vampires of today. Brakola is a very hands on sort of monster, the kind of guy who poses as his enemy lucha god's wrestling adversary himself, instead of using something undignified like a robot henchman to do his dirty work.

Where many lucha films tend to stop and smell the roses of filler, Baron Brakola prefers to throw another action scene in. One could get the idea that the film and its director aren't willing to use its cheap nature as an excuse to be boring.


From Twitter 04-27-2010

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Three Films Make A Post: Chained For 100 Years In A Sunken Tomb!

Highwaymen (2004): Director Robert Harmon attempts to re-capture the magic of his The Hitcher in this film about an obsessed man (Jim "Boring" Caviezel) combating the car-based serial killer (Colm Feore) who killed his wife, on the way rescuing Rhona Mitra who isn't allowed to do much of interest.

Alas, Harmon is not all that successful. He certainly knows how to make a conventionally exciting thriller, but it is exactly his keeping too close to formal and structural conventions of the serial killer thriller that gets in the way of the film's more interesting aspects, like the way the traumata and obsessions of the three main characters mirror each other and the nearly there commentary on cars/technology as extensions of the human body.

It's certainly a competent thriller, though.


S&Man (2006): J.T. Petty (who I think is one of the most interesting horror directors with a career starting this century) explores the nature of reality and film (or reality on film), and the reasons we watch horrible things happen to fictional characters by way of a half fake documentary that consists half of Carol J. Clover being clever and uncomfortable and various "extreme underground horror" (aka fake snuff) people doing their respective shticks and Petty's meetings with a director whose fake snuff very possibly isn't fake. It is an at times uncomfortable experience - which comes with the thematic territory - containing thoughts that might be autobiographical regarding Petty's own obsessions, but might also very well be not. There's something deeply confusing (in a good, interesting way) about a film interested in the nature of reality that is asking its questions by making things up.


Kereta Setan Manggarai (2009): A group of random Indonesian teens is trapped in a ghost train. Lots of screaming and running around ensues. This one definitely does not belong to the higher echelons of quality of the mad Indonesian horror boom. It's not the worst film of its kind I have seen, though, because it thankfully lacks the copious amounts of "comedy" that mar some of its peers. Instead of comedy, it's all running around screaming all the time, which could certainly be annoying enough for anyone with a proper sense of taste. Personally, I didn't mind the film one way or the other.


From Twitter 04-26-2010

  • New blog post: From Twitter 04-25-2010: New blog post: From Twitter 04-24-2010: New blog post: From Twitter 04-23-...
  • New blog post: Music Monday: Ballerina Edition: Technorati-Tags: music monday,music,chinawoman
  • A console game that needs an always on net connection? I'm sure it makes sense to Capcom.
  • RT @davidkidd: The year 2000, according to the year 1900.
  • I'd be more excited about Ridley Scott's new Alien film(s) if what he's directed in the years after hadn't been mostly shite.
  • He's the mainstream Tobe Hooper.

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Monday, April 26, 2010

Music Monday: Ballerina Edition

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From Twitter 04-25-2010

  • New blog post: From Twitter 04-24-2010: New blog post: From Twitter 04-23-2010: If I wanted to give money to a ran...
  • New blog post: The Warrior (1981): aka Jaka Sembung Indonesia is plagued by the colonial reign of terror of the D...
  • You had me at "12,000 years later"
  • Yeah, this is very much how I want Doctor Who to be. I might have said that about two other episodes of this series already.
  • Also, the riffing on "Aliens" did warm my heart even further.
  • Explaining the "space jockey" in "Alien" belongs the same school of thinking that felt the need to explain Wolverine's leather jacket.
  • It's a Lovecraftian testosterone party.

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Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Warrior (1981)

aka Jaka Sembung

Indonesia is plagued by the colonial reign of terror of the Dutch. The Dutch governor (played by an actor who looks decidedly Indonesian) is your typical mad sadist, whom even his own daughter Maria fears.

The only ones working against the oppressors are the heroic and pious magical martial arts hero Jaka Sembung (Barry Prima) and his merry band of rebels, who we'll never witness doing much rebelling.

At the beginning of the film, Jaka is already in Dutch hands, but escapes on his way to a penal colony. He hides away in a village somewhere in the jungle, and the colonial oppressors have a hard time finding him. The Dutch think it best to hire local talent to catch their enemy, and proceed to grab the first evil magical martial arts guy they can find for the job. He's big, he's strong, he's impervious to bullets and he spits fire, yet he still is no match for the rebel's superior jumping technique.

The Dutch's next plan is a little better. They hire a black magician with really bad teeth to reunite the head and body of another black magician. The newly revived bad guy - himself an old enemy of Jaka's, it seems - then proceeds to beat our hero thoroughly.

Afterwards, Jaka is jailed, nailed to a wall and his eyes are poked out as if this were a Lucio Fulci film.

But all is not lost for the oppressed people of Indonesia. No, they're not going to, you know, actually rebel.

Instead, Sirta, one single heroic woman from the rebel team with a crush on Jaka, sneaks into the Dutch prison to free her crushee. The blind hero uses the opportunity to bend some steel bars and do Hercules impressions, but is shortly thereafter turned into a pig.

Fortunately, even that is only a minor set-back for him.

The Warrior is a very typical Barry Prima vehicle directed by Sisworo Gautama Putra who made quite a few films in this style (and some black magic movies with Suzzanna). The film is structured in a classic "one damn thing after another" shape, with levitating bad guys followed by heavy-handed melodrama made even more painful by the film's bad dubbing, followed by magical eye transplantation (the eyes, they fly!), followed by rousing patriotic/religious speeches that don't make any sense as the dubbing translates them, followed by more bizarre (and slightly gory) stuff, then even more bizarre stuff, and then a totally tragic ending nobody should be able to take seriously after all the silly crap the film has already thrown at the audience.

I'm of course perfectly alright with a film mostly consisting of silly crap if and when said crap is as fantastically entertaining as it is here. You wanna see a Dutch guy levitating and rotated around his own axis? You got it. You just need to see Barry Prima with a pig's snout? No problem. You have always dreamed of watching a fight against a guy who truly can't be stopped by being hacked to pieces, like a more effective version of Monty Python's Black Knight? The Warrior's got your back. The only thing lacking is the presence of a coterie of midgets, but those guys were probably all over in the Philippines playing not-Jawas in a Cirio Santiago film about post-apocalyptic race car drivers.

Sure, some might say the film is lacking in characterisation, and that its plot line seems rather jumpy and a wee bit illogical, with a decided lack of connection between its scenes or basic human sanity. They'd be right with that, like people without a heart sometimes are. To these soulless people I'd reply with "this movie has flying eyes in it", which is the sort of thing that must end any discussion about characterisation and other useless stuff forever, much like bringing up Hitler in an Internet discussion. Let's just face it, it is an irrefutable fact that The Warrior is the best film ever made.

If you don't believe me, let me just add this: The Warrior kills off its odious comic relief in an odiously unfunny fight scene, as every other film containing such a character should do, yet none ever does. Oh, and there are at least two sequels to look forward to.


From Twitter 04-24-2010

  • New blog post: From Twitter 04-23-2010: If I wanted to give money to a ranting loon, Stephen Baldwin would certain...
  • Night Driving in Small Towns is my band of the minute. I'm easily swayed by a good "ooohooohooohooo".
  • That, and the boy/girl vocals.
  • New blog post: In short: Daglarin Oglu (1972?): A hairy, cackling, knife-throwing rogue named Cuchillo (Yilmaz Kök...

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Saturday, April 24, 2010

In short: Daglarin Oglu (1972?)

A hairy, cackling, knife-throwing rogue named Cuchillo (Yilmaz Köksal?) is riding through the mountains of "Mexico" on a rickety wooden non-coach. Cuchillo is mad at a certain Don Pedro, whom he makes responsible for having spent the last six months in jail. Something to do with stolen mules, it seems. Of course, this treachery cannot stand, and Cuchillo returns to Pedro-Land to take vengeance. But Cuchillo is easily distracted and so finds time to meet up with his main girlfriend (Nalan Cöl?) and get his horse stolen by another hairy guy, Chico. The latter does of course call for vengeance, unless when it doesn't, and both men decide that they have a larger dislike for Pedro than for each other. Chico has somehow acquired a cache of gold Don Pedro would very much like for himself, so Pedro's men are after him.

Of course, this being something of a Spaghetti Western, there will be betrayal and torture, and at a later point in the movie, there will also be talk of the necessity of revolution. That, and a Catholic bishop whom Cuchillo's girlfriend calls "Daddy".

Of course Turkish cult movie directing machine Cetin Inanc did make his own Spaghetti Western, and of course it is the attention deficit disorderly mad brother to the films of so ponderous a director as Sergio Corbucci.

I had the pleasure to see the film with subtitles whose quality is very close to the film's directing style - rough, confused and confusing. The mangled English fits the cackling, shouting and swaggering that stands in for acting perfectly. Honestly, I'm not too sure I'd want to see this film with subtitles that try to make more sense. True, the film randomly inserts moments of melodrama into scenes of Cuchillo jumping around like a flea, of mine fields randomly placed somewhere in the country and of hot knife-throwing action filmed through someone's legs, yet I'm somehow quite sure these moments wouldn't be any more convincing (in a naturalistic sense) if I understood what is actually being said in them.

Turkish pop cinema of this era just doesn't roll that way. It's all about the thrills that can be produced without much technology, and the ability of the audience to see just how friggin' cool movies are, without the need to try to be "believable", or sane.

Daglarin Oglu is all grown men having fun pretending they are cowboys (and pretending that Turkey looks like Mexico), reproducing random elements (and stealing the soundtracks) of a sub-genre that had an element of playing cowboys and Indians (or Mexican revolutionaries) even in its original form in Italy. It might look like a pretty naive way to go about filmmaking - it probably is naive - but films like this exude a sense of excitement that I'm not going to argue with. Daglarin Oglu is not the product of people just making a movie, it's the product of PEOPLE MAKING A MOVIE!!!(!!!), and that is a pretty exciting thing to watch.


From Twitter 04-23-2010

  • If I wanted to give money to a ranting loon, Stephen Baldwin would certainly be a candidate. But I think I'll keep AI as charity of choice.
  • New blog post: From Twitter 04-22-2010: New blog post: From Twitter 04-21-2010: New blog post: From Twitter 04-20-...
  • New blog post: On WTF: Kokkuri-san (1997): Everybody loves the films of Takashi/Takahisa Zeze, right? From time to...
  • Yes, I'm sure a pledge systems should be used to finance music on major labels. Mindbogglingly wrongheaded.
  • Damn, why didn't you tell me earlier that "Kick-Ass" is morally reprehensible? Now I want to see it.

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Friday, April 23, 2010

On WTF: Kokkuri-san (1997)

Everybody loves the films of Takashi/Takahisa Zeze, right? From time to time, the art house pinku master dips his toes into slightly different pools like the horror movie.

But don't worry, as my review on will show, a Zeze horror film is just as bleak and depressing as his softcore films.


From Twitter 04-22-2010

  • New blog post: From Twitter 04-21-2010: New blog post: From Twitter 04-20-2010: Someone should write a dissertatio...
  • New blog post: In short: Trhauma (1980): With the money of his wife Lilly (Domitilla Cavazza), gambling blighter A...
  • "Watch the butcher shine his knives, but this town is full of battered wives"
  • Turning Facebook into an XBoxLive for the web, huh. I thought the web already was the XBoxLive for the web, only, you know, open and good.

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

In short: Trhauma (1980)

With the money of his wife Lilly (Domitilla Cavazza), gambling blighter Andrea (Gaetano Russo) has bought a nice villa in the country, right next door to a sprawling forest. Lilly is not impressed, and what's worse, she's also unwilling to pay for Andrea's gambling habit any longer.

Nevertheless, the couple has invited a bunch of their decadent, yet boring friends for the weekend. Things get exciting when first one of the female members of the group disappears and then more and more unpleasant things happen. Looks like the local necrophiliac and madman is slashing and stalking his neighbours.

But is he working alone or is all the needless slaughter part of a plan concocted by the only person around who has a motive and is additionally indicted by a pre-credit sequence that makes everything that happens absurdly obvious?

Trhauma is usually called a giallo, but you might as well call it a slasher movie for all I care. The handful of more interesting scenes look more influenced by Halloween than by Bava or Argento to me.

There is a more giallo-esque mystery angle to the murders, but the evil evildoer's plan is so obvious and lacking in surprises or suspense that I couldn't shake the feeling that nobody, not even the characters in the film themselves, actually could care about it.

Most of Trhauma is just a plain old-fashioned bore with not very interesting characters doing the expected things for much of the time. Even the sleazy set pieces (one act of necrophilia in front of dismayed sheep and an angry - typical conservative, if you ask me - Alsatian and one act of marital rape) don't work too well. Instead of trying to get the viewer by the throat, they feel like the film's just going through the motions. Very very slowly at that.

Gianni Martucci's film isn't completely without merits, though. The final girl sequence is perfectly alright, yet I couldn't bring myself to get even the least bit excited about it after the depths of boredom the film plunged me into beforehand.

Trhauma just lacks the conviction needed to make a mean and sleazy movie. That it also just plain isn't good enough to entertain in other ways should come as no surprise.


From Twitter 04-21-2010

  • New blog post: From Twitter 04-20-2010: Someone should write a dissertation about the electric fan as death omen i...
  • New blog post: The Yellow Sign (2001): Tess Reardon (Shawna Waldron), the owner of an unsuccessful art gallery, ne...
  • I'm a bit jealous - only Japan has SM puppet animation movies.
  • "My love and I sit in the dark, wondering who sings the dark. Is it Townes van Zandt or is it Guy Clark?"

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Yellow Sign (2001)

Tess Reardon (Shawna Waldron), the owner of an unsuccessful art gallery, needs some sort of monetary success to keep herself afloat. As luck will have it, she has a peculiar dream of herself as a little girl and the paintings of a certain Aubrey Scott.

Tess is quite surprised when her friend Edith (Andrea Gall) explains to her that Aubrey Scott isn't a figment of her sub-conscious mind, but a real painter. For mysterious reasons, Aubrey had only one exhibition a few years ago and disappeared from the eye of the art world directly afterwards. Edith suggest Tess should try and seek out the artist to propose a new exhibition in her gallery.

Seemingly at the end of her rope, Tess agrees. She has no trouble in finding Aubrey (Dale Snowberger). He lives in a run-down apartment building full of ghosts (I'm not speaking metaphorically) and is in fact still painting. After some ranting and raving about painting what one sees (which stands in marked contrast to the certainly non-naturalistic art the man produces), Aubrey agrees to an exhibition of his new works. He has one condition, though. He wants Tess to model for him for one last painting before he can sign any agreements with her.

The young woman agrees to the painter's demand. Sitting for Aubrey however, taxes her mind quite a bit. She starts to have strange dreams of a yellow sign and someone she (and Aubrey) call The Watchman (David Reynolds). The words and symbols from her dreams soak into the waking world, until Tess has problems discerning between dream and wakefulness, as well as sanity and insanity. A play (of course The King in Yellow) the painter gives to her which is supposed to explain what his happening to her only lets her drift off even more. Everything she experiences has something to do with strange happenings in her childhood she had mostly repressed. The question is (as it always is), if she has seen the Yellow Sign.

Robert W. Chambers' handful of stories containing elements like the Yellow Sign and the King in Yellow were of course a major influence on the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Later writers in the Cthulhu Mythos started to incorporate Chambers' ideas into the Mythos itself, with The King in Yellow often becoming an avatar of Hastur. The appeal of a Mythos figure which lends itself to use in stories set in decadent and/or experimental artistic circles Lovecraft's antiquarian leanings didn't usually permit him to use should be obvious. The King is often and with panache used in Mythos tales that want to show the effects of Lovecraft's cosmic horror on a more personal or psychological level, reality as we know it slowly being replaced by another reality that follows an alien logic.

RPG writer John Tynes (in the context of the Delta Green setting for the Call of Cthulhu RPG) used Chambers' creations with special verve and creativity, turning the King in Yellow itself (in a stroke of genius) into a meme, a mental entropic virus.

That same John Tynes is also responsible for the script for The Yellow Sign (the sign here always represented in the form Kevin Ross developed for Call of Cthulhu), causing something like an RPG/Mythos-nerdgasm in your easily excitable reviewer. The short film is very much the sort of thing you'd expect Tynes to write when you're familiar with his RPG work. There's a strong and clever sense for creating the unreal out of cheap and simple materials at work, as well as an obvious love for the script's sources.

Tynes' script needs to limit itself to the cheap and easily realizable, because director Aaron Vanek obviously didn't have too much of a budget to work with. We are in the world of independent shoe-string budget filmmaking here, made by creatives straining to make the limited budget work on screen. The Yellow Sign has some of the typical hallmarks of this type of film: the unpleasant look of digital film, the post-production effects made on home-grade equipment aka a middle of the road PC, the actors not quite on the level (although they certainly aren't bad), the pseudo-string synthie score.

Vanek (and the script) does however manage to work around these problems very well. It is quite clear that everyone involved in the production is trying very hard to make a film that is as good as possible, and actually knows what "good" in the context of the film they are producing means.

What distinguishes The Yellow Sign from your typical backyard horror film is that it works. The film sets out to produce a feeling of reality drifting away, and, although you can see and feel how difficult it is to achieve, arrives at that mood. That's truly all I demand of a short film like it, and that's what the film delivers.


From Twitter 04-20-2010

  • Someone should write a dissertation about the electric fan as death omen in cinema and TV.
  • New blog post: From Twitter 04-19-2010: New blog post: From Twitter 04-18-2010: RT @Agent_M: #cupojoe announcement...
  • Art: it's something only dead white men make
  • New blog post: In short: Moon & Cherry (2004): College freshman Tadokoro (Tasuku Nagaoka), soft-spoken and shy vir...
  • RT @badmachinery: It's 20/4, or as I prefer to refer to it, "Jack Bauer Day". Why not torture a friend?
  • The pulp Western writer Max Brand:
  • Yes, Ubisoft, I'm sure you're scrapping paper manuals completely to save the environment, not to cut costs.
  • Ever had the feeling that PR is only made by idiots who take everyone else to be idiots too?
  • Also: it's the trees!
  • I'm disappointed there's no band named Volcanic Death Cloud
  • RIP Guru, one of the handful of rappers to whose music I had an emotional connection
  • "What's the street value of wizards' bones?"
  • A (right-wing) "political discussion & celebrity poker show" hosted by Biff from "Back to the Future"? I don't even need to make a joke.
  • Sometimes, one just wants to say: "You know why you don't like this cultural artifact? Because you've got no soul!". One of course doesn't.
  • Going over my tweets of the last few weeks, one could start to think I'm a grump. Which just possibly might be right.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

In short: Moon & Cherry (2004)

College freshman Tadokoro (Tasuku Nagaoka), soft-spoken and shy virgin, joins his new school's club for writers of erotic literature. We are very obviously in Japan.

Learning of the shy guy's virginity, Mayama (Noriko Eguchi), the club's only female member, decides to use him as the real-life-inspiration for her new novel. Seducing our hero isn't too difficult, and keeping his interest isn't either, but Mayama's increasingly strange wishes when it comes to Tadokoro's sexual education begin to make him uncomfortable. It doesn't help his case that Mayama's only interest in him seems to lie in using him where he expects sweet, sweet romance.

After a while, even someone as mild-mannered and inexperienced as Tadokoro starts to feel uncomfortable about the relationship (such as it is), but ending it is quite difficult, for he has fallen in love.

During part-time work, Tadokoro meets perky Akane (Misako Hirata). It seems that Akane and he could have a somewhat more healthy relationship than whatever the thing between him and Mayama is, but Akane's incessant perkiness, niceness and superficiality and the fact that the young man isn't actually in love with her, soon lead nowhere.

Leave it to the Japanese to make a watchable sex comedy. Moon & Cherry isn't "only" a sex comedy, though, it's also a romantic comedy about difficult people without much of an ability to express their emotions to each other without the need of voyeurism and prostitutes.

Although I don't think the film is as good as some of the reviews I read make it out to be, it has a lot of things going for it.

Firstly, there's the film's confident matter-of-factness, the way it seems to look its viewer in the eye and shrug laconically whenever something bizarre happens. This doesn't only amplify the comical effect, but also helps Moon & Cherry avoid the drift-off into the plague zone of erotic comedy, the realm of zaniness.

Most of the film's humour is very dry, and director Yuki Tanada is never trying too hard to be funny. The film also lacks the meanness that makes other specimens of the sex comedy so unpleasant to watch. Sure, Tadokoro's inexperience is the basis for a lot of jokes, but this isn't the sort of film that's pointing and laughing at its characters from a position of supposed superiority. Tanada shows a lot of sympathy for the characters' feelings and their plights.

The only character getting short thrift in this respect is Akane, and she's not so much mocked as viewed with puzzlement. This comes as a bit of a surprise when you keep the love of Japanese pop culture (and fetish culture) for exactly her type of (supposedly endearing) shallowness in mind, yet I believe she's mostly there to demonstrate the film's emotional politics. The emotional point is that complicated people with emotional problems (aka the weird ones) are the ones worth to spend one's life/time with, while the people going through life with easiness just aren't all that interesting once you get to know them. And of course, the good old "follow your heart". Cliché as that might be, I'd wager this is actually a rather good idea when it comes to love.


From Twitter 04-19-2010

  • New blog post: From Twitter 04-18-2010: RT @Agent_M: #cupojoe announcement: CASANOVA will be coming to Icon! Augus...
  • RT @matociquala: new #shadowunit
  • The absurd "Neil Gaiman is a racist" kerfuffle and the "Campaign for the Real Daleks" on one day? I should probably start doing drugs too.
  • Like the rest of the Net.
  • I love Girl Genius, I really do, but this endless, endless, endless scene just has to stop.
  • RT @wienna: RT: @pegasusspiele: Der Teufelspakt: Ein Online-Bildsoloabenteuer für H.P. Lovecrafts Cthulhu

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Music Monday: More People Should Cover Robert Wyatt Edition

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From Twitter 04-18-2010

  • RT @Agent_M: #cupojoe announcement: CASANOVA will be coming to Icon! August or September. By @MattFraction, @Gabriel_Ba & @fabiomoon #C2E2
  • That's a retweet of happiness.
  • Too bad that the the Indelicates album people talk so nicely about isn't legally available for download in Germany.
  • Damn, Jaka Sembung with Barry Prima is fantastic.
  • New blog post: From Twitter 04-17-2010: The Asylum does Sin(d)bad. blog post: From T...
  • New blog post: Twin Blades of Doom (1969): Martial artist Chang Qi Lang (Ling Yun), nicknamed "the Twin Blades of ...
  • Well, that third Doctor Who episode is very very silly. I got no problems with that.
  • "The Campaign for Real Daleks"? You're kidding me, Internet, right?

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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Twin Blades of Doom (1969)

Martial artist Chang Qi Lang (Ling Yun), nicknamed "the Twin Blades of Doom", kills another highly respected martial artist in a duel that wasn't supposed to be to the death.

Struck by guilt, Chang retires from the Martial World and hides away with his parents, doing menial jobs. One night, after Chang had to lift his incognito in one of those random sword fights that always happened in ancient China, and just before the swordsman and his parents can move on to another town, someone kills the nice elderly pair for no good reason the film is willing to impart, leaving behind a ghost mask. Chang - who was basically just around the corner for five minutes - is grief-stricken and very very angry.

A bit of research later, he knows that a group known as the Ghost Gang has killed his parents. Of course, being a swordsman, Chang swears bloody vengeance on them. His first bout with a group of the killers doesn't go too well. Although he is able to slay his enemies, Chang is wounded and poisoned by an expert in piggyback fu.

With more luck than anything else, the wounded swordsman stumbles right into the arms of a group of travelling artistes (whom the subtitles dub "art sellers", but who most certainly aren't). Their patriarch (Cheng Miu) has some skill in and the proper medicines for treating poison, and is too nice a guy not to use them. Yin-erh (Ching Li), one of his daughters, falls in love with the sombre swordsman at once, but Chang leaves the troupe at the first possibility to pursue his vengeance.

Little does he know that just going with them would have shortened the way to that vengeance considerably, for the main force of the Ghost Gang attacks the next village the artistes are visiting. Not many of them survive the attack, but instead of running away, the four surviving artistes (among them of course the patriarch and Yin-erh), travel into the next town threatened by the Ghost Gang to warn them about the Gang's plan to steal some precious jade figurines.

The rest of the film concerns itself with further whittling down Yin-erh's family, with Chang's attempts to take vengeance and a lot of back and forth over the jade figurines. Because a wuxia plot can't get complicated enough, Chang and the patriarch also realize that the artistes would have a good reason to take vengeance on Chang themselves.

Twin Blades of Doom is the final directorial work by Tao Qin (aka Ching Doe and variants of that), a Shaw Brothers contract director since the early 50s who was usually specialized in musicals and melodrama. Going by the titles in his filmography, this seems to be his only wuxia or martial arts film, but you wouldn't think him unaccustomed to the rules and regulations of the wuxia genre after seeing Twin Blades. Stylistically, the film stands between more traditional stylings of its genre and its post-One Armed Swordsman brutalization and loss of interest in female characters (outside of the films of Chor Yuen). Like the Cheng Cheh school of filmmaking of that time taught, Tao Qin's film concentrates on a single male hero, but it has much more time for civilians (that is, non martial artists) and especially its female lead Ching Li than a comparable Cheng film would have.

True, Yin-erh isn't allowed to be a fighter here, but the film treats her as respectfully as a heroine can expect to be treated, as if she were a proper grown-up able to take care of herself and not a simpering idiot only fit for being kidnapped.

I also found it quite refreshing how nice of a guy our hero Chang is. I'm used to seeing the good guys helping people in need by slaughtering the bad guys, but Chang is more than once sparing the lives of lowly henchmen of his enemies. Now that's a brooding hero I can get behind.

The fights are full of only the reddest blood the Shaw studios had to offer, but they are not as insane or violent as those in some of the film's contemporaries. Tao often frames the fights in a way that seems influenced by certain Japanese chambara, at times with objects in the foreground purposely blocking out some of the action. Moments of absolute stillness explode into short bursts of speedy violence.

More problematic than the action is the film's plotting. Twin Blades' first half is very straightforward and simple, but the longer the film goes on, the less sure it seems to be where it wants to go. I don't have a problem with the sudden bouts of melodrama in and of themselves - especially since they allow house favourite Ching Li to put on her very effective tragic face - but they seem to bring the film out of balance. I know, the wuxia genre is not exactly known for its focus, but focus is still what the film lacks.

Thematically, Twin Blades is your typical wuxia. It features the usual mix of guilt, karmic debts that have to be paid, the endless cycle of vengeance, the hero protecting the unwilling - you know, the stuff that's nearly always in there. There aren't any revelations about any of these elements, but that's alright with me.

A bit more revelatory, or at least surprising, is that Twin Blades grants its two lead characters a real Happy End, which is not the ending lovers usually get in a wuxia. For once, this is a film that believes in redemption without the need for a heroic self-sacrifice ending in death, and I, for one, am not going to contradict it.


From Twitter 04-17-2010

  • The Asylum does Sin(d)bad.
  • New blog post: From Twitter 04-16-2010: I had completely forgotten how dire "Hellraiser 3" is. Sometimes I get the...
  • Wouldn't it be great if certain professional movie critics would stop talking about media they have never experienced themselves?
  • But what do you expect from the guy who is all for censorship of films he finds unpleasant?
  • I think I'm going to start a side blog where I take famous paintings, don't look at them and declare that paintings can never be art.
  • New blog post: In short: The Doll Master (2004): A group of people without any obvious connections is invited to a...
  • Yes! They killed the odious comic relief!

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Saturday, April 17, 2010

In short: The Doll Master (2004)

A group of people without any obvious connections is invited to a weekend at the doll museum of doll maker Mrs. Im somewhere out in the South Korean countryside. They are supposed to model for some new dolls for the artist, it seems, and are allowed to have a leisurely time in the her creepy, doll-infested mansion. Who wouldn't want to be on vacation in a house that has life-sized dolls in proper strangling position behind the toilet seats?

The strangers are sculptor Hae-mi (Kim Yu-mi), Yeong-ha (Ok Ji-young), a novelist bringing her own (living and talking, she says) doll, sophomore student Seon-yeong (Lee Ka-yeong), professional photographer Jeong-ki (Lim Hyeong-jun) and a certain Tae-seong (Shin Hyeong-tak), who wasn't invited and just showed up anyhow. Tae-seong says he is a model, but will later turn out to be the most ineffectual undercover cop imaginable. A bit later, the disparate characters learn that they do have something in common - their families all initially come from a village in the area around the museum/mansion. I'm sure this has no important on the motivation for anything that will happen later at all.

To nobody's surprise but the characters', very soon mysterious things start to happen in Mrs. Im's homestead. Hae-mi encounters a weird girl named Min-na (Lim Eun-kyeong) who seems to know her from somewhere, someone kills Yeong-ha's doll and so on and so on.

A bit further down the line, doll's aren't the only ones getting killed anymore.

And what does the guy chained up in the wine cellar have to do with everything?

At first The Doll Master promises to be a doll-enriched variation of tropes and mood of the Italian gothic, or perhaps a supernatural update of the Old Dark House genre, but the film never seems to be too sure itself what it wants to be.

There's certainly talent before and behind the camera. The set design, especially the way some of the life-sized dolls are integrated into the interior design, is at times something to behold. The dolls are creepy and uncanny, as dolls are supposed to be, and when they are moving, they really have the feel of things being alive that shouldn't be.

The actors are all at least solid, Kim Yu-mi is a likeable enough lead, and everyone takes even the more preposterous plot points with the stride of an actor willing to convince the audience of even the more silly things in cinematic life.

Still, these elements never truly come together in The Doll Master. Although the film's ideas are creepy on paper, they don't coalesce enough to form the kind of creepy continuum that would make a deeper impression on a viewer. The plot is highly foreseeable, and not in a way that would cause dread or disorientation, but only to make one sigh and shrug and forget about the movie the next day.

As I said, all elements that should make for a satisfying horror film are there, but somehow, director Jeong Yong-ki doesn't seem to have the control over his material needed to make them work together. Jeong's timing in the film's build-up phase is off, never really managing to suck me in enough to feel something about the film. This emotional disconnect killed the movie's final third for me - there's a lot (too much) happening, all supposed to be very dramatic, it does however never feel that way. Instead, it's people going through the motions of a big horror movie finale.


From Twitter 04-16-2010

  • I had completely forgotten how dire "Hellraiser 3" is. Sometimes I get the feeling my subconscious is not my friend.
  • New blog post: From Twitter 04-15-2010: New blog post: From Twitter 04-14-2010: Note to self: T. Zeze films aren't...
  • New blog post: On WTF: The Dead Outside (2009): From time to time, the (zombie or not) outbreak movie is still abl...
  • Every time you use the word "pretentious", a kitten dies.
  • There really is a song called "Jesus Hits Like The Atom Bomb".
  • It's never a good sign when the first vehicle that appears in a post-apocalyptic movie is a dune buggy.

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Friday, April 16, 2010

On WTF: The Dead Outside (2009)

From time to time, the (zombie or not) outbreak movie is still able to deliver things of interest.

In case of The Dead Outside, I had even lower expectations than usual in the genre, because ultra-low budget outbreak films are often a chore to get through. I'm happy to say I was wrong. Why and about what will be explained in my review on WTF-Film.


From Twitter 04-15-2010

  • New blog post: From Twitter 04-14-2010: Note to self: T. Zeze films aren't too good for your mood.New blog post: F...
  • New blog post: In short: Fish Story (2009): It's the year 2012 and a meteor is going to collide with Earth in abou...
  • Wait, so 2K Australia is 2K Marin? Or the other way round? Didn't know the Outer Gods had their confusing hands in game studios too
  • "The schoolgirl, she disappears."

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

In short: Fish Story (2009)

It's the year 2012 and a meteor is going to collide with Earth in about five hours, destroying everything and everyone.

A cynical older guy goes into a record store, where two younger men are listening to music, pretending nothing's going to happen. Turns out that they have talked themselves into the naive belief that a group of five imaginary heroes and the obscure song "Fish Story" (with a mysterious silent minute) by an even more obscure Japanese proto punk band are going to save the world.

Funnily enough, they are right. A handful of stories from the Japanese past that are connected through the song and a few other elements will in the end explain how and why. Before we can understand, we will witness a normal loser like you and me mustering his courage, a champion of justice, a sleepy and sad school girl, an end times cult with bad timing, the recording of "Fish Story" and more.

Fish Story is an utterly wonderful little film I really don't want to say too much about. With some films, there's the need to experience them for oneself without hearing too much clever talk (or bad puns) beforehand, a need to listen to them and find out if they are the sort of films that talk to you.

As a film about - and very much in love and hope and faith with - the strange, nearly invisible (like lipstick traces on a cigarette) influence of cultural ephemera, the obscure, the imperfect and the weird on people's lives and people's hearts, Fish Story does talk to me. These are the things this blog is very much about, after all. I'm even pretty sure it is what I believe in.


From Twitter 04-14-2010

  • Note to self: T. Zeze films aren't too good for your mood.
  • New blog post: From Twitter 04-13-2010: New blog post: From Twitter 04-12-2010: New blog post: From Twitter 04-11-...
  • An XCOM FPS? Well, at least 2K Marin are an okay studio, but still...
  • New blog post: 6:66 - Death Happens (2009): Photo journalist Dao (Susira Angelina Nanna) is on the trace of a hot ...
  • I'm now awaiting the Monkey Island RTS.
  • Oh look, someone's going through Mark Gruenwald's long & fantastic run on Captain America issue by issue. And how cool is it, btw, that
  • the potentially most jingoistic character of CA is one of US comicdom's most left-ish?

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

6:66 - Death Happens (2009)

Photo journalist Dao (Susira Angelina Nanna) is on the trace of a hot scoop in a corruption scandal. A handing-over of money she was supposed to photograph ends with a murder, and nearly her own death. The killer shoots the young woman twice in the chest, but something strange happens at that moment. Bangkok suffers from a sudden blackout, Dao's wounds just disappear and she manages to flee.

A little later, she learns that her estranged father committed suicide at the same moment she would have died. That's weird enough, but even weirder is the fact that the dead father regains his life again very suddenly, although without regaining proper consciousness. That night, nobody who dies in Bangkok seems to be able to stay dead, newborn children crawl back into their mothers and Dao has exceedingly disturbing visions of her own death.

All of this must have something to do with the research the journalist's father has been obsessed with for more than a decade, something to do with death dates and very possibly how to avoid death. Dao can't help but look for explanations for what happens to her and her surroundings, yet one can't help but think she won't like what she finds too much.

As anyone halfway familiar with the cinema of the fantastic will suspect after this synopsis, 6:66 is a Thai variation of Carnival of Souls, but one that gives its characters more agency when it comes to their dealings with death than the American film, and also one that imagines the consequences of someone's run-in with destiny as possibly influential for more than just the individual him- or herself. The latter looks to me like a difference caused by the very different cultural circumstances between the USA of the 60s and contemporary Thailand, and is what absolves this film from looking like a rip-off of the older movie. 6:66 looks at similar themes from a different perspective, but it also adds a thematic plane Carnival of Souls had no interest in whatsoever - the loss of a loved one and the guilt that comes with it.

It is this theme that is responsible for the movie's strongest and most interesting scene. There's one utterly disturbing moment where Dao visits a nurse who was once working with Dao's father. Dao's old man was trying to help the woman save her dying child, but wasn't able to, so there's only a blackened, mummified corpse the woman treats as a living child left of her daughter. If that's not an impressive (and terrible) metaphor for not being able to let go, I don't know what is.

There are other scenes nearly as strong as Dao's meeting with the nurse (the "newborn crawls back" scene definitely among them, as is the moment in which Dao finds out how much her father truly loved her, but in which the viewer should also realize how wrong his way of showing it was), but there's also a lot of problematic moments in the film. Especially Dao's death visions seem gratuitous and unnecessary and only help to strengthen the film's main weakness. This weakness is that the film pretends for most of its running time that what happened to Dao is in any form a mystery to the viewer; too much of the film is spent on revelations that will only be revelations for the most gullible and least experienced of the audience. At least, unlike in many other films, the mystery here makes sense if one is willing to accept its premises, which definitely is something. Even the final (and not obvious) twist plays mostly fair, and is really quite terrifying and appropriate when you think about it.

In the end, 6:66 contains enough interesting concepts and scenes to make it worth the while of anyone interested in horror films that try to be something beyond a revue of kills. It is not completely successful in what it is trying to do, but it fails in a worthy way.


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From Twitter 04-13-2010

  • New blog post: From Twitter 04-12-2010: New blog post: From Twitter 04-11-2010: New blog post: From Twitter 04-10-...
  • New blog post: In short: Rec 2 (2009): It is still the same night as in Rec. The authorities send a four man SWAT ...
  • Usually, I'm not one for Uranus jokes, but this is called "A Rocket to Uranus", so...

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

In short: Rec 2 (2009)

It is still the same night as in Rec. The authorities send a four man SWAT team into the quarantined building with the zombie problem as protection for a Dr. Owen (Jonathan Mellor), a man supposedly from the Ministry of Health. The men are told Owen's mission is to find out what is going on in the apartment building and to rescue any survivors. The SWAT guys don't have the faintest idea what is really happening, so the first zombie contact turns out to be even more lethal than it would have been had they come prepared.

It doesn't take long until the cops learn that Owen isn't working for the Ministry of Health at all. He's a priest, and his mission is to somehow get a sample of the blood of patient zero of the whole zombie/possession mess; survivors are of no interest at all, there's only the blood, and the need to document as much proof on camera as possible (or we wouldn't have a film, and we don't want that). Why the Vatican needs proof for the supernatural is never explained. Probably on a need to know basis.

Separate from the cops and the priest, a trio of stupid teenagers (with a camera, too, don't worry), a fireman and a man looking for his family have managed to sneak into the quarantine zone, too. It's difficult to imagine that this can end good for anyone involved.

If you are one of those people who had problems with the religious zombie explanation of the first film, you should probably avoid Rec 2, because director/writers Jaume Balaguero (who seems to have a thing for the Devil, going by his other films) and Paco Plaza aren't taking anything of that stuff back. Quite the opposite, the religious elements of the plot are much stronger here, and the not necessarily supernatural zombies of the first film become full-grown supernatural menaces. On the plus side, this does explain the tactically sound behaviour the zombies already showed in the first film nicely.

This merry atheist of a reviewer didn't have any problems with any of that. If I can accept the walking dead, I can also accept the walking dead possessed by demons for the length of a movie.

Rec 2 isn't a plot heavy film anyway. Exposition and moments of silence do not amount too much of its running time. Like its predecessor this is a film that proudly wears the banner of the horror film as a chaotic rollercoaster ride. That is not exactly my favourite type of horror film, but - as it was with the first part - Rec 2 is so breathless, exciting and brutal that it just gets the adrenaline pumping. There's a wonderful sense of panic about the proceedings the viewer is allowed to witness, strong enough to help one ignore all implausibilities the script might or might not contain.

Apart from its successes at making me jumpy and nervous, the only other memorable things about Rec 2 are the meanest child zombies I have ever seen and the film's open disgust with authority, here represented by the dubious priest Owen who is as much a servant of a loving god as I am a nun.

That's all, and it's more than enough for a satisfying movie.


From Twitter 04-12-2010

  • New blog post: From Twitter 04-11-2010: New blog post: From Twitter 04-10-2010: New blog post: From Twitter 04-09-...
  • Oh, another one of those RPG books which use "he" "for simplicity's sake". Because using "she" or changing your pronouns is sooo difficult.
  • Remember when we still had astronauts instead of robots?
  • Nightshade Books: not as professional as one would hope.
  • Yeah, sure I'm gonna integrate some dubious code you provide into my blog template for no good reason at all.
  • Want to read a brilliant comparison between Carpenter's The Fog and its remake? @velvetflamingo wrote one!

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Monday, April 12, 2010

Music Monday: Beautiful Haunting Edition

From Twitter 04-11-2010

  • New blog post: From Twitter 04-10-2010: New blog post: From Twitter 04-09-2010: New blog post: From Twitter 04-08-...
  • New blog post: Hard Revenge, Milly - Bloody Battle (2009): Like in the first Hard Revenge Milly film, we are still...
  • Second ep of new Doctor Who still doesn't disappoint. This is what I always wanted from the 21st century version of the show.

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Sunday, April 11, 2010

Hard Revenge, Milly - Bloody Battle (2009)

Like in the first Hard Revenge Milly film, we are still in a (sort of) post-apocalyptic Yokohama, seemingly the city of warehouses and empty industrial buildings. After having taken her revenge in part one, Milly (Miki Mizuno) now whiles away her time in one of those warehouses, smoking a lot, popping aspirin against regular headaches, looking depressed and doubting the authenticity of her own memory, and with it her humanity. It's a Phil Dick thing.

One day, a girl we will later learn is called Haru (Nao Nagasawa) arrives in warehouse central. She wants Milly's help in avenging the death of her boyfriend, but before she can explain herself properly, a group of gas-masked leather freaks (friends of the guys Milly killed in the first movie, it seems) arrive and try to avenge Milly back. They are less than successful.

Haru is wounded, though, and so good-hearted Milly brings her into the territory of something called LAND (no explanation forthcoming), where our heroine usually earns her money by selling the weapons of the people she has killed and knows a mad scientist (Masahiro Komoto) who likes to fondle her mechanical bits. The film calls him a "hentai doctor", so make of that what you will (the "weird doctor" the subtitles use seem a bit weak to me). When she's alright again, Haru explains what she wants from Milly, but finds the older woman not all that receptive. Of course, Haru doesn't know who her boyfriends killer actually is, so the whole discussion seems somewhat pointless.

In the end, Milly decides to train Haru to become a better fighter instead of taking her vengeance for her, but their first training session is again interrupted by weirdoes who want to kill the mechanically improved woman.

This time, it's Ikki (Mitsuki Koga?), the boyfriend of the leader of the last film's evil-doers - a non-effeminate evil gay guy who likes to hump dead bodies - and his brother Hyuma (Rei Fujita), who looks at his sibling's love for men with a certain exasperation. Which is even a bit understandable when you hear Ikki treating him to endearing little pep talks of the "if you weren't my brother, I'd make you gay" variety. Yeah, a price for the positive depiction of homosexuality lies not in this film's future.

Milly loses the fight badly and is only rescued by a clever ploy of Haru. Afterwards, she gets a do-over by her mad scientist friend. With a new pneumatic fist, our heroine now looks perfectly capable of killing the avenging people of dubious morals, but the identity of the person who killed Haru's lover will complicate everything a bit.

Everything I said about Takanori Tsujimoto's first Hard Revenge Milly film applies to its slightly longer sequel, too. Bloody Battle is still a pearl of contemporary Japanese no-budget filmmaking with decently made action sequences, buckets of spurting blood and fine little bits and bobs of weird ideas sprinkled throughout its running time.

Tsujimoto still shows a sure hand at picturing action as well as dialogue scenes (the latter something Ryuhei Kitamura for example has never learned) and still uses natural-looking light in a much more interesting way than most directors working on his budget level. I'm glad to see that the director's achievements in the first part weren't only based on beginner's luck. Now, if someone would kindly give him a lot of money for his next film so that he can leave the warehouses behind.

While she isn't playing the most complex role imaginable, Miki Mizuno has obviously put a bit more thought into her performance than just striking cool poses (which really becomes clear after re-watching the film with knowledge of the plot twist), and comes over as convincing and appropriately grim. Idol Nao Nagasawa is a bit less impressive. Sure, the script doesn't give her too much to work with, but she seems to be trying much too hard in her big emotional scenes. On the other hand, she is trying.

The rest of the cast follows the good old low budget tradition of chewing the scenery as outrageously as possible, achieving a wonderful contrast with Mizuno's permanent tenseness.

The plot, though minimalist, turns out to feature a few more points of interest than strictly necessary, with slight nods in the direction of Philip K. Dick, the question of what makes a human, and an honest attempt at making Milly's psychology work while still having as much outrageous yet very very cheap action as budgetary possible. Milly flows very well, with no scenes that are just there to fill out the running time. It's not a complicated film, but a concentrated one. If you squint, you can also find an ironic commentary on the vicious circle that is vengeance somewhere tucked away between the loudly squirting blood, but the film is not going to hit you over the head with it.

First and foremost, Bloody Battle tries everything in its power to entertain. It's fast, it's absurd, it takes itself not too seriously, yet obviously respects its audience and its genre. What more could I ask for?


From Twitter 04-10-2010

  • New blog post: From Twitter 04-09-2010: New blog post: From Twitter 04-08-2010: New blog post: From Twitter 04-07-...
  • New blog post: In short: Ghost Train (2006): School girl Nana (Erika Sawajiri) is just about to end her high schoo...
  • The Darrel Schweitzer antho "Cthulhu's Reign" is 1/3 awful Mythos fanfic, 1/3 pretty good Mythos fanfic and 1/3 good fiction. As expected.
  • Rule of thumb: the more Lovecraftian terminology a story uses, the less Lovecraftian it actually is.
  • So, with Richard Morgan working on Crysis 2, will the game have atrocious sex scenes?

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Saturday, April 10, 2010

In short: Ghost Train (2006)

School girl Nana (Erika Sawajiri) is just about to end her high school life and go to study abroad at the Miskatonic University(!). It seems as if there's just an ill, hospital-bound mother and the finals standing between her and living through the collected works of H.P. Lovecraft. Go Nana!

Until, that is, her little sister Noriko disappears without so much as a trace. Nana's sister is not the only one who disappeared or died under mysterious circumstances in the last few weeks. A female ghost haunts a local subway station, dropping cursed tickets and jewellery only to then demand them back in lethal fashion. There's also some business about ghosts looking like the disappeared going around and terrorizing their relatives.

Together with young subway train conductor Shunichi who was transferred into the lost property office for seeing one ghost too many, her cursed classmate Kanae and a ghost-damaged woman called Kumi (Aya Sugimoto, seemingly the only actual actress on screen here, and therefore of course only in a cameo role), Nana tries to understand the reason for the increasingly mysterious haunting, in the hope to get her lost sister back.

By all rights, this should be a much better film than it actually is. All the elements that should make for a creepy horror film with a strong thematic line about family love and the troubles with it are there for the right director to use.

Unfortunately, Takeshi Furusawa isn't the right director for the material. Where emotional subtlety would be needed, he goes for daytime soap operatics; where the supernatural should be strange and uncomfortable, he goes for the conventional and the silly.

It doesn't help the film any that the acting is exceedingly poor. Erika Sawajiri is not someone able to shoulder the weight of a film, much less make the melodramatics believable, and the rest of the young cast isn't any better. Aya Sugimoto (fully clothed, for once) is of course much more convincing, but her presence just makes her co-actors seem even worse.

Under normal circumstances, that would be all that needed to be said about Ghost Train, but the film's final third contains at least three surprisingly effective moments, moments that fit the rest of the film so little that I am at a loss to explain how they got in there. Especially the big finale in which Nana finds an older tunnel hidden away in the subway that contains an odd place of obviously cultish use and a virtual hill of dead bodies is quite remarkable, even though Furusawa does his best to ruin the excellent work of his production designer with further melodramatics. This and the following scene where our heroine is hunted by a tunnel full of crawling (on the ground and the ceiling) dead people, are fulfilling the Lovecraftian promise the sweet words "Miskatonic University" made at least a little. It's just too bad about everything else in the movie.

This is by far not enough to let me recommend Ghost Train with a clean conscience, but it is proof that sometimes even the least successful horror films can contain a few scenes that are worthwhile.

From Twitter 04-09-2010

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  • New blog post: On WTF: Haunted Universities (2009): The success of Phobia obviously had to have consequences in fo...
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Friday, April 9, 2010

On WTF: Haunted Universities (2009)

The success of Phobia obviously had to have consequences in form of other Thai production houses doing their own horror anthologies.

I'm not complaining as long as they work as well as Haunted Universities does. You can find out more details in my review on


From Twitter 04-08-2010

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  • New blog post: In short: Forbidden Floor (2006): Single parent Min-Young (Kim Seo-hyeong) and her small daughter J...
  • Sarah Monette about history, fiction and Tombstone.
  • RT @FOURDK: Please Take A Number... SARTANA Will Kill You Soon
  • Ah, what sometimes passes as journalism in "games journalism".
  • How to get me to unsubscribe from a webzine's feed: put "warnings" like "Passing reference to nudity" in front of your stories.
  • Weird Tales covers!
  • Bad news! The Ghost Gang kills people!

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Thursday, April 8, 2010

In short: Forbidden Floor (2006)

Single parent Min-Young (Kim Seo-hyeong) and her small daughter Joo-hee (Kim Yoo-jeong) move into an apartment in a rather shabby building.

It's a bit of a weird place, really. The creepy neighbour from the apartment directly below complains about noises the woman and her child are sure they don't make, strange creaking sounds come from the apartment's valves, and Min-Young develops a tendency to daydreams and visions of a long-haired female ghost spooking in a near-ruined version of her own home.

What happens to Min-Young is nothing compared to what her daughter has to go through, though. At first, Joo-hee only has strange chance encounters with a ghostly boy, but soon enough the girl starts to change from shy and rather sweet to an irrational hopping between aggressive and depressed. She also gets physically ill, showing allergic reactions against asbestos, a material that wasn't used in the construction of the building she spends all her time in.

The high number of deadly accidents in the house does nothing to keep Min-Young's peace of mind. After some time, she decides to just grab Joo-hee and flee to her sister, but the girl is absurdly reluctant to leave the house, and even after they have left, she's driven to come back.

Although Min-Young has never believed in ghosts, she is now absolutely convinced that the place is cursed. It is possible that everything she and her daughter are going through has something to do with their building's lack of a (unlucky like a 13th floor is supposed to be in other parts of the world) fourth floor.

Forbidden Floor is part of a series of films called "Four Horror Tales" that was shot for the South Korean DVD market. It is possibly the best of the four films, but that doesn't say much if you keep in mind we are talking about films like Dark Forest here.

If ever I wanted to describe something as "solid, yet unremarkable", this is it. As is too often the case, the film is seemingly concerned with nothing more than going through a checklist of all mandatory elements of Asian horror post Ringu. At times, it feels like a less intelligent version of Dark Waters, then turns into Phone light only to end on one of the more prosaic feeling explanations for a grudgeful ghost I have ever encountered.

It's not that the things that angered our lead ghost aren't terrible, the problem here is that the film's director Kwon Ho-young (that's at least the name Hancinema gives, IMDB is of a different opinion, but not a trustworthy source when it comes to South Korean cinema) just doesn't have the chops to make what happened to her feel in any way disturbing.

Kwon's direction is professional, yet without imagination or a sense for what makes a situation creepy or scary (hint: it's not jump scares), even though the film's material should warrant these feelings.

The moments of horror that do work do so on account of Kim Seo-hyeong and Kim Yoo-jeong who not only make a very convincing mother/daughter pair (I don't think they are related in real life, the shared last name notwithstanding) but at times also manage to convey the feeling of desperation and desolation Forbidden Floor needed more of to grip its viewers.


From Twitter 04-07-2010

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  • William Browning Spencer's "Résumé with Monsters", where have you been all my life?
  • Dinosaur Comics is Shakespeare.
  • Honestly can't get excited about "Sleep is Death". It's just like playing an RPG on the 'net, but with more constrictions?
  • And yeah, I call P&P RPGs real RPGs. Sue me, poptimists.
  • 14 Blades: Daniel Lee hasn't learned anything about storytelling since "What Price Survival", it seems. A shame.

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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Nightmares In Precinct 7 (2001)

Be warned, I'm going to spoil the ending. I find it impossible not to.

Hong Kong police officer Fong Jing (Andy Hui) is the only cop in the city worth his salary. At least that's what he thinks, and the film isn't going to try to convince us otherwise later on.

Still, even super cops get in trouble, so it shouldn't be too surprising that he's getting a bullet in the head during a shoot-out and falls into a coma. At least, Fong Jing is better off than two of his colleagues present during the shooting who don't survive their wounds.

He wakes up two years later, but it's not all joy and happiness for Fong Jing. His mother has died while the cop was in his coma, and his girlfriend May (Fennie Yuen) has found someone else. The latter turns out to be not that much of a problem. Our hero's nurse Oscar (Loletta/Rachel Lee) has fallen quite badly for him, so he isn't going to be girlfriendless for too long. But his coma experience has changed something in Fong Jing.

He is now seeing and being able to talk to ghosts, an ability that will turn out to be quite useful on his first new case. Someone has been going around raping and killing nurses in the last two years, and since every other cop in the movie is absurdly bad at anything beyond saying "Yes, Sir", only the re-awakened Fong Jing and his ghost connections can solve the case.

Solving the case is getting even more pressing when the cop's ghost buddy Kit (Cheung Tat-Ming) informs him that Oscar's life bar (it seems life is like Tekken when you're a ghost) is looking kinda short. Both the dead and the living man suspect the nurse killer.

And here comes the spoiler: even after Fong Jing has caught the killer, Oscar is randomly crushed by a container, appears as ghost and talks our hero out of committing suicide, so they can have one of those great "no touching" love affairs and he can continue to protect the citizens of Hong Kong. Yeah, I don't know about that one either.

But let me pretend for a moment that ending wouldn't exist. Before the tear-jerking downer ending without any tonal connection to the rest of the movie nearly killed me through the fit of giggling it induced, Nightmares in Precinct 7 (possibly the film's title because the dead nurses' bodies are only found when their ghosts point random cops in the right direction, an element the film forgets again as soon as it has been brought up, never to speak of again) was one of the more entertaining films made by the late period Herman Yau.

Don't get me wrong, Yau is as far from his classics here as possible, with not much of what goes on on-screen seeming to interest him very much, but at least he's doing a professional job of it.

I imagine it must be quite difficult to make a comedy romance cop movie melodrama with ghosts and have it hang together even slightly, so the passable flow of the not very interesting story is something of an achievement, especially when the script is mostly a mess. It looks as if someone had taken every cliché out of half a dozen movie genres, shot them, thrown their bodies against a wall and called that wall a script. There really isn't much that holds the film together, and while there are elements that threaten to cohere to give the film a theme or at least emotional logic, these elements are never given enough room to truly do that.

If one can ignore how little the single scenes hang together, one can still be able to find some entertainment value in them. Some of the romantic scenes between Andy Hui and the quite adorable Loletta Lee are fine in their cutesy way. Even some of the more melodramatic scenes work through the professionalism of the actors and Yau, they just aren't connected to anything in any sensible way.

And then there's the utterly tone-deaf ending. I'm quite positive that it is meant to leave the viewer with a feeling of having witnessed a tragic destiny. Alas, the eighty minutes before never bothered with any emotional preparations for that, so that the feeling the film really left me with was of a production trying to test out how much crap an audience is willing to swallow when it is presented with a "sad ballad" on the soundtrack.