Sunday, January 31, 2010

Blood Creek (2009)

aka Town Creek

About two years ago, Victor (Dominic Purcell), the Iraq vet brother of paramedic Evan Marshall (Henry Cavill) disappeared during a joint camping trip, leaving his brother guilt-ridden and desperate.

One day, a wildly bearded Victor appears in his brother's trailer, asks him to pack guns and provisions for a two day trip and help him "end something". For no good reason, Evan agrees.

Victor leads him to a farm not that far out in the boons and starts to kill its inhabitants without any hesitation. Evan is not completely on board with committing a massacre, leading to the survival of an older woman (Joy McBrinn) and her daughter Liese (Emma Booth, playing someone who is supposed to look like seventeen and just doesn't).

Turns out that Victor has good reason for hating them, though. The family used him to feed the immortal Nazi occultist Wirth (Michael Fassbender) who came to do evil occultist stuff with a runestone situated on their farm (something to do with opening his third eye) some time during the 30s. While preparing his own immortality Wirth also made the family for no reason I could discern. For his troubles, they locked him away in a cellar secured with magical symbols and only let him out at feeding time. The family didn't really mean any harm with their murdering ways, you see, they feed Wirth only to contain him and hinder him from taking over the world with his awesome powers of waking the dead and looking really silly.

Alas, the good doctor does not like it at all when his dinner is late, breaks out and makes the brothers' evenings a bit more exciting than they probably hoped for with his zombie horses, zombie people and various attempts to drink their blood.

Being directed by Joel Schumacher, this is of course a total mess of a film, but it's a mess that's nice to look at and neither uninteresting nor boring. Again and again, you can see the outline of a really riveting occult horror film behind the silliness of zombie horses, magical bone armor and people acting unlike people. Schumacher wastes some pulpy but neat ideas about rune magic and a theoretically fantastic villain (an immortal Nazi occultist who reminds me of a hyperactive version of Fulci's Dr.Freudstein should be impressive and not this silly) on a film that does not take the necessary time to build the mood or character to make them work. Instead, he just goes for a fast-paced "one damn thing after another" tale that would have worked a lot better done in a slow Italian style, given that everything else about it just screams "Italy 1980".

If you're able to stop thinking about the film's obvious lack of internal logic and can stomach its moral ("killing people for a good cause is a-ok") it can be rather exciting, at least until the next bit of idiocy stops it dead in its tracks again, but then you can have a good laugh.

The Internet - as we know always right - tells me that there is a good reason for the film being as excitingly nonsensical as it is. Schumacher seems to have had some kind of falling out with the film's scriptwriter David Kajganich (ironically also the unlucky guy theoretically responsible for the script to Oliver Hirschbiegel's equally unlucky The Invasion), ending with Schumacher re-writing parts or even large parts of the script, and (at least that's my theory) banishing any hope for a moody and intelligent film to the place where the mood and intelligence his other films should have had are hidden away.

On the visual side, there's not as much to complain about. Schumacher mostly goes for something workmanlike and professional here, far from the excesses he seems to love so much.

The effects work and design is a whole different thing again. There are some very iffy digital effects on display, and worse, the main monster Wirth looks silly where he should be menacing, dressed up like a Matrix reject with bad skin and a German accent.

Still, I can't say I don't like Blood Creek. While it is not the effective horror film it could be, it is an entertaining piece of trash, a classical b-picture made by a classical mercenary director whose ego too always gets into the way of his talent. Plus, you know, zombie horses.


From Twitter 01-30-2010

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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Three Films Make A Post: Filmed In Dead Vision

Ghost in the Shell II: Innocence (2004): This anime is perfect proof for the concept that a film can be terribly, annoyingly flawed and still blow many of its less flawed contemporaries away. Yes, half the time I don't know what the film is on about (and I'm not sure director Mamoru Oshii is). Yes, sometimes the digital looking parts of the animation and the hand-drawn looking parts don't seem to belong to the same picture. Yes, there's way too much self-important quoting of literary classics. Yes it is an unwieldy and slow film. But the moments that work and fit together or do not fit yet make the most beautiful friction are what define the quality of this one. Once Innocence really got moving, I felt myself sucked into something quite singular, a film which tries to take the question what "life" or "being human" means head on. As every good piece of SF should, Oshii's film works on the symbolic and the concrete level at once and is not afraid of some intense mindfuck moments.


Shark Attack 3: Megalodon (2002): TV's John Barrowman and his patented slime trail fight a killer shark of rapidly varying size and species, all the while giggling and grinning through what the film thinks is dialogue. The minor characters all sound like they come from the American localization of a Japanese video game circa 1996, but those usually have better scripts.

In the right mood (drunk) this is probably so bad that it's kind of a hoot, at least that's what the Internet tells me. I watched it sober, and would very much like to forget the painful experience as soon as possible.


Apocalypse Zero (1996): Speaking of painful experiences, this two-part OVA incorporates everything bad about its form. It's shoddily animated, stupid, pervy, unoriginal and subtitled by people who have difficulty identifying someone with extremely large breasts as female.

It also has a post-apocalyptic schoolboy in a power armor fighting six-breasted bears, old geezers with a dragon for a penis, a giant clown woman with a spiked vagina and a living nurse fetish with a bearded killer vagina, so I can't say I didn't find it amusing. The mileage of sane viewers will vary.


From Twitter 01-29-2010

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  • Dear Mr. Lee, you are not entitled to my money. Also, condescend much?
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  • (Yes, the "you are morally obligated to buy indie games for any damn price I say" position really pisses me off)
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Friday, January 29, 2010

On WTF: Trancers (1985)

Trancers is what happens when you combine the natural awesomeness of Tim Thomerson with Charles Band in his least annoying mood and subtract any dolls or puppets - a very fun little movie. You can read more about it in my review on WTF-Film.


From Twitter 01-28-2010

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  • Finally realized my problem with everything MMO: my ideal MMO would feature no other people.
  • New blog post: In short: The Strange Case Of Doctor Rx (1942): A mysterious murderer calling himself Dr. Rx (whate...
  • Now that's what I call a zombie.
  • really got Activision's back catalogue (which does include some fantastic Sierra games).

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

In short: The Strange Case Of Doctor Rx (1942)

A mysterious murderer calling himself Dr. Rx (whatever that means) goes around killing gangsters who have slipped through the legal net. Yup, the trope is that old.

Might by any chance Lionel Atwill be the mysterious vigilante, or is he just randomly flashing his glasses into the camera?

Genius private eye Jerry Church (Patric Knowles) is on the case, or at least talking a lot about it while still finding time for a random off-screen marriage to a certain Kit (Anne Gwynne), girl crime writer. Will our hero persist in his dogged pursuit (aka sitting around talking) even when the evil Doctor threatens his life?

By 1942, all appearance of class (and a lot of the talent behind the camera) had left the Universal studios, and they were churning out dire little numbers like this one, directed by long-time Monogram director William Nigh. Nigh probably still had a lot more money to work with than he was used to from his Poverty Row endeavours, but unfortunately didn't have much talent to put that money to good use.

If your ideal mystery is one in which no actual detective work is taking place and nothing at all happens, and if your perfect film is one showing nothing worth looking at, you will find The Strange Case of Doctor Rx to be the best film ever. Otherwise, you'll probably just wish for the pain to stop.

To add insult to injury, the movie's victims/viewers also have to survive the soft attentions of one of the Three Stooges (I honestly don't give a toss which of them the guy is) and Mantan Moreland's usual racist stick, both probably added to drag the film from "boring" into the seldom reached circle of hell reserved for the completely unwatchable.


From Twitter 01-27-2010

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  • One gets up in the morning, sees Ubisoft's new DRM scheme for PC games and is already left speechless by their blessed wish not to sell
  • any more games to anyone.
  • And darlings, if you make the resale of your product impossible, you have to lower its price.
  • New blog post: Hitori Kakurenbo (2009): aka Creepy Hide And Seek A new unhealthy craze has parts of Japan's youth...
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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Hitori Kakurenbo (2009)

aka Creepy Hide And Seek

A new unhealthy craze has parts of Japan's youth in its grip, as far as you can use an excited sounding word like "craze" to describe anything to do with the disaffected and depressed young people of this film. Be that as it may, there's a chat room with people playing something called "creepy hide and seek". It's an interesting game - just slit open a doll, fill it with rice and nail clippings, then sew the doll shut again. Afterwards, tag it with the name of someone you want something unpleasant to happen to (an aspect of the whole ceremony the film chooses not to explore) while you stab it in its doll belly. Then, throw the thing into a basin full of water and hide yourself away in your walk-in cupboard before the water has run out, because you don't want to meet the thing for which you have just opened a door.

The teacher Ryoko (Yukie Kawamura) learns of the game when Ritsuko, one of her problem students disappears, spirited away by the ghost she had conjured up. Ryoko possesses the ability to see ghosts (or tends to hallucinate) even without playing occult games ever since a hide and seek game in her childhood that ended with the death of a friend, so fittingly the strange happenings around the game are bound to find her somehow.

Hitori Kakurenbo is not a film that will convince anyone not already interested in contemporary Japanese horror to develop a taste for it. Still, if you're like me and have a love for the sub-genre, this film will come as a pleasant surprise. The budget was obviously as low as low can be, but director Masafumi (or is it Masashiro? Sources are not in agreement) Yamada seems to have studied some of the stylistic tricks of Kiyoshi Kurosawa circa Kairo. Not that Yamada's film is nearly as good as Kurosawa's, but there is an aesthetic kinship in the very slow rhythm of their films, the lowered affects of their characters and their sense of the day-to-day world being only separated from the truly weird by a thin membrane.

Hitori Kakurenbo is a lot more conventional than Kurosawa's films, though. Yamada seems to go through a checklist of mandatory scenes in Japanese horror and put as many of them on screen as possible. So there's the creeping from a mirror scene, the crawling woman (although this one crawls on the ceiling making disturbing wet sounds and has no eyes), the "the ghost is behind the protagonist but only the viewer knows" moment and so on and so on. While all this is not original, Yamada manages to give those scenes enough small visual twists to let them retain a bit of creepiness even for those among its viewers who have seen it all dozens of times before.

There's a subtle sense of claustrophobia permeating everything, caused by the way the camera frames the small rooms most of the film takes place in and by the emptiness around the protagonists. This lack of humans - I don't think we see more than a dozen people in the whole film - is probably a point where the film's lack of budget helps to intensify the film's aesthetic coherence, but it works out too well for the overall mood not to have been planned this way.

Apart from this lonely mood, I think it is mostly the unhurried tempo that makes the film work for me. Some might find that everything - every camera movement, every character reaction - here happens just too slowly for their tastes, but for me, the slowness carries with it a feeling of inevitability, a feeling that is only strengthened by the near total absence of a normal plot.

Of course, I won't blame anyone who finds the thought of a nearly plotless, incredibly slow movie off-putting. Chances are that Hitori Kakurenbo just wasn't made for you if you think so.


From Twitter 01-26-2010

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  • Just saw the first Mass Effect called an "Eastern style RPG". Umm, what?

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

In short: Bless This House (1988)

After twenty years of toil for his company, an architect whom everyone calls "Uncle Bill" (Bill Tung) finally seems to have hit a lucky streak in his life. Not only does Bill's young and dynamic (yes, this does translate to "highly unsympathetic") boss promote him, he also allows him to move into a large, company-owned home.

Bill and his family - wife Sau-Lan (Dik Boh-Laai), older daughter Jane (Rachel Lee aka Loletta Lee) and little Yan-Yan (Chan Cheuk-Yan) - are at first absolutely delighted by their new home. Soon, however, the first problems with the dream home become all too apparent. The family could probably live with the fact that the house is way out in the boons, or that their closest neighbour is a mad one-eyed guy (Bruce Leung) living in a half-ruined temple who likes to sprout rather unhelpful yet dire warnings.

The family of ghosts sharing their living space is quite a different thing, though. At first, those rather unfriendly sub-tenants are only scaring away Jane's annoying boyfriend Biggie (Stephen Ho), but they are working their way up to bigger things like hoover possession and compelling Bill to sing peking opera parts in the cellar. The final goal of all the spookiness is (of course!) to let the living repeat the family tragedy that killed the ghost family.

Usually, I avoid comedies like ghosts avoid the ashes of holy men, but I just had to make an exception for Bless This House, or more precisely for its director Ronny Yu, who made a handful of my favourite Hong Kong films and is one of the few directors from there whose US films are also at least worth watching. Well, most of them, anyway.

Yu is such an exception to my (only half-real) "no comedy" rule, that I have even found myself laughing about some of his films.

And I did in fact laugh more than once while watching Bless This House. The main reason why the movie's humour worked for me is Yu's avoidance of the two least likeable elements of Hong Kong comedy - a nasty disposition (at its worst displayed in Wong Jing's conviction that rape is really funny) and an over-reliance on slapstick. This is not to say that Yu's film is completely lacking in physical comedy, he is just using it a bit more sparingly than many of his peers, which seems to me an excellent way to keep it funny instead of exhausting.

Yu also shows every symptom of actually having empathy with his protagonists, even when he puts them into highly undignified and agreeably silly situations. The film's heart seems to be in the right place.

Bless This House is also a film that shows its influences as a horror comedy (Sam Raimi, Chinese vampire movies, you know, the obvious) with pride and enthusiasm without becoming a mere copy of them.

As far as I know (and as I said, I don't know much about comedy or your strange human "humour"), though, good comedy succeeds or fails mostly by virtue of its timing and pacing, and it's these points where Yu's talent really comes through beautifully. The film escalates (and regular readers will probably know by now how big I am on escalation) nicely from harmless sillyness to the sort of sillyness that could kill its protagonists, as it well should in a horror comedy, but isn't so nasty to refuse its viewers the appropriate happy end.


From Twitter 01-25-2010

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  • New blog post: Music Monday: Two For The Price Of One Edition: Technorati-Tags: music monday,music,caetano velos...
  • So, this OnLive silliness transfers data with the speed of light? Good to know.
  • People who complain about long cut scenes in Japanese RPGs are like people complaining about zombies in zombie films.
  • Be like me and complain about protagonists who never ask any questions about anything instead!
  • Love it how the Google blog doesn't mention adblocking as typical function of a browser extension. Well, Chrome's not my thing anyway.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Music Monday: Two For The Price Of One Edition

From Twitter 01-24-2010

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Criminals (1976)

This Shaw Brothers production consists of three episodes by different directors "based on true crimes".

The first one, "Hidden Torsos", tells of the rather unlucky attempt of Jenny (Shih Szu) and her little mute daughter to leave Jenny's lover Rong Sheng (Si Wai). Jenny ends up stabbed, her kid drowned. Rong Sheng bricks their bodies in, but chooses such a stupid place for it that they are found earlier than he had expected.

The second episode, "Valley of the Hange" (sic), is about a worker named Hong the Bull (Kong Yeung) and his troubles with his wife Mei Jiao (Terry Lau). Just think, although he paid enough to marry her to pay for quite a lot of whores, she doesn't want to sleep with him anymore! When Hong finds out that Mei Jiao instead sleeps with his foppish colleague De the Prince (Tin Ching), only deadly violence can be the answer. The film approves.

The last part of the film, "The Stuntsmen" (sic, again) tells the story of Shaw Brothers stuntman Chen Zhong (Lo Lieh). Surprisingly enough, many of the stuntmen we see don't seem satisfied with what the Shaw Brothers are paying and work as gangsters on the side. Chen Zhong meets and falls in love with the prostitute Hong (Tanny Tien Ni), who looks exactly like actress Tanny Tien Ni, whom he of course fancies. He has a glorious idea for Hong's prostitute career - pretend she really is Tanny Tien Ni! The plan works out nicely, but Chen Zhong is sucked ever deeper into the gangster lifestyle and soon has his own gang as well as his own gang wars. He survives his new lifestyle nicely until he takes the homeless Kid Liu (Wong Yu, not the regularly one-armed one) under his wing and in his trust. As it goes in cases like these, Liu falls in love with Hong, their affair gives one of Chen Zhong's enemies a convenient method to blackmail Hong, murder happens.

The exploitation arm of the Shaw Brothers was quite active during the second half of the 70s, churning out lurid films like this one by the dozens. This "ripped from the headlines" portfolio film was successful enough to get three sequels. The reason for its success probably wasn't the film's rather dubious quality, but the siren song of cheap, ugly thrills. Of course, I'm perfectly fine with that.

Seen as a film rather than a money-making device, The Criminals is a bit more problematic. Each of the segments is directed by a different director and goes for a different sort of luridness. This makes the film more than a little disconnected.

Cheng Kang's first segment is probably the best of the three. While it is a bit short, "Hidden Torsos" works very well as a tour de force thrill ride. A certain visual pop sensibility, a wee bit of Poe and merry crassness collide in a nice little heap of cheap yet effective thrills without much substance but with a lot of drive.

Hua Shan's second segment is less satisfying. It is as sleazy as one could wish for, but the "horned husband kills his wife" plot just couldn't keep me interested for a whole thirty minutes. On the plus side stands an ensemble of actors camping it up so much that it's obvious nobody here is taking the whole thing seriously. That doesn't make the episode shorter however.

Where "Valley of the Hange" is too long, Meng-Hua Ho's "The Stuntsmen" is way too short to effectively develop anything that is packed into it. At first, the glorious chutzpah of the Shaw Brothers basing parts of an exploitation film on their own bad reputation is very charming, especially when the film goes as far as to have a doubleganger prostitute of one of the studio's actresses played by said actress herself in it, but the segment soon just ignores the enticing and rather creepy self-referentiality and transforms into a standard gangster film.

Alas one that fails at pressing the plot of a two hour film into barely forty minutes. A few scenes like the two big(ish) murder set pieces do pack a bit of a punch (this is a highly professional production after all), but everything else happens too fast and is too superficial  and jumpy to leave much of an impression.

Of course, The Criminals still is the movie in which the Shaw Brothers show the Shaw Brothers as the cradle of protection rackets and prostitution, so nobody interested in the studio's films or exploitation filmmakers exploiting themselves should miss out on it, even though it is not a very good film.


From Twitter 01-23-2010

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  • New blog post: On WTF: The Hereafter (1983): This week on, I enter the realm of true obscurity with M...
  • Watched Fred Olen Ray's "Alien Dead". Want to die now.
  • But found this, which might just be the best thing ever:
  • So staying alive it is.

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Saturday, January 23, 2010

On WTF: The Hereafter (1983)

This week on, I enter the realm of true obscurity with Michael J. Murphy's thriller with supernatural undertones The Hereafter. Like most of its directors work, it's nearly a lost film, and while it's far from being perfect, it is still very much worth watching, as I explain in my review.


From Twitter 01-22-2010

  • New blog post: From Twitter 01-21-2010: Gamers Help Haiti! Join with other gamers & donate now:
  • RIP George Hilton
  • And happy birthday, dear dead Robert E. Howard!
  • RT @jimrossignol: Splendid feature on the nature of indie games, penned by Mr Alec Meer, on RPS:
  • Finally getting around to finishing Batman: Arkham Asylum. 2nd half of the game is a bit weaker than the beginning.
  • Did we really need 3 of the Scarecrow levels? And the Killer Croc bit is so long and repetitive that it becomes tedious.
  • Still a very good game, mind you.

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Friday, January 22, 2010

From Twitter 01-21-2010

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Murders In The Zoo (1933)

"Millionaire sportsman" Eric Gorman (Lionel Atwill) is on an expedition to acquire new animals for a US zoo he is supporting. While he's in the frightening wilds of "the Orient", he also takes care of an admirer of his wife Evelyn (Kathleen Burke). Sewing his mouth shut and feeding the would-be adulterer to the tigers is a perfectly gentlemanly reaction, I'm sure.

Ironically, Gorman's victim is not the man he should have taken care of. His actual enemy when it comes to keeping his wife down is his friend Roger Hewitt (John Lodge). Roger finally succeeds in convincing Evelyn to divorce her husband and marry him. The fact that Gorman is a murderous maniac who needs Evelyn to be frightened to have sex makes Evelyn's wish to flee rather understandable.

Alas, her husband soon gets wind of the plan and kills Roger during a dinner on zoo grounds with a neat little gadget that simulates the bite pattern of a Green Mamba, a type of snake Gorman has gifted to the zoo, purportedly so that the resident toxicologist Jack Woodford (Randolph Scott, looking not leathery at all) and his assistant/fiancé/zoo director daughter Jerry (Gail Patrick) can try and develop an anti-venom for its venom.

In truth, Gorman just thinks that Woodford would make for a wonderful scapegoat. Poor Roger won't stay the millionaire's only murder victim on zoo grounds, as Gorman has way too much fun with his new murderous hobby.

Theoretically, the rest of the film concerns Woodfords and Jerry's attempts to clear their names, in practice, we mostly have to witness the annoying comic relief of one Charlie Ruggles.

Yes, Murders In The Zoo belongs to the exclusive club of films single-handedly ruined by one comic relief actor, playing a character who has nothing whatsoever to do with anything happening in the film yet still pops out again and again without any care for silly little things like tension or sanity. Just think! He works in a zoo, but he's afraid of animals! Yes, I too could hardly contain myself, either.

There are some surprisingly well-done moments to be found when Ruggles is not on screen (probably half of the film, the "comical" escapades however feel much longer), but I never had the feeling that anyone responsible for the film had any clue what worked and what didn't work about it. Murders In The Zoo feels a bit like a movie made by our old friends the monkeys chained to typewriters in that there are small islands of quality among the intolerable gibberish.

It's not difficult to imagine a film that actually makes use of the gusto with which Atwill goes into his role, or of the uncomfortable feeling all his interactions with his wife Evelyn leave the viewer with. What exactly is going on in their bedroom?

The only completely satisfying sequences of the film are the scenes where Evelyn realizes what her husband has done to Roger and (with Kathleen Burke suddenly going from "pretty" to "damn impressive actress") starts to do something about it. This short detour into the world of pro-active and believably written women then ends with Evelyn essentially letting herself being killed by her husband. In other words, it completely goes to waste in the most clueless way imaginable, as is only fitting for the messy state the rest of the film is in.

After that, the film just peters out somehow. The mystery part gets some sort of end, but since the film is still more interested in Ruggles being unfunny than in its purported romantic leads or its plot, it's all very anti-climactic and doesn't seem worth the effort of talking about it or - to be completely honest - watching it.


From Twitter 01-20-2010

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Dating Death (2004)

A group of emotionally twelve-year-old friends who hate each other has a fun time vacating in the digital villa situated on a digital island that belongs to the uncle of (supposedly non-digital) rich girl Sophie (Theresa Fu). It's all fun and games until the friends decide to play the deadliest game of them all - Truth or Dare. The burning question is quite obviously who among the pretty people is crushing on whom. Turns out that every male in the room has the hots for Sophie, which leaves the only other girl in the room, Lily (Stephy Tang) in a rather bad mood, especially since she and supposed Sopie-fan Ken (Yat-long Lee) have secretly been a couple for quite some time. Even worse, Sophie confesses to her own crush on Ken! Whoa.

Lily needn't have troubled herself, though, because the next morning, Ken has disappeared, leaving behind a broken window, lots of blood and one of his hands. Oops.

One year later (Ken's body has of course never been found, or searched for), Sophie, who has spent the last year overseas, returns home. Very soon after that, each of the friends finds a friendly invitation of Ken's to visit the island where he disappeared in his or her pocket.

For some reason, they all decide to go there. Fascinatingly, room number 7 from which Ken disappeared now sports a fabulous black handprint on the ceiling. Since the guys are all still in love with Sophie, they decide to show the dubious size of their brains by sleeping in turn in the possibly cursed room. Would you believe that whoever sleeps there disappears mysteriously? Would you further believe that other mysterious things happen until everyone runs around screaming like the cast of an old Monogram picture?

Dating Death's director Herman Yau has been churning out films in various exploitation genres for more than twenty years now, some of them - like The Untold Story and Ebola Syndrome - classics of tasteless yet awesome Hong Kong horror. As it happens when someone directs three or more films in a typical working year, not everything he does is really worth watching, which segues excellently into the film at hand.

There just isn't anything interesting about Dating Death. The actors are all blandly pretty and absolutely forgettable in a soap operatic way, but they don't have to play characters with more depth than being "the pretty one", "the jealous one", "the junior magician", "the buddhist coward", "the boxer" and "the guy without even that much character", so at least nobody has to do any acting he or she could fail at.

The plot side of the script isn't much better, it being at once stupid and uninteresting, while Yau's direction is as uninspired as it gets without being totally careless. Surprisingly, given Yau's background in gross out films, there isn't even much blood or vomit on display. Worse, what is there is digital, as is the film's lone cockroach. Yes, it's a Hong Kong semi-slasher without much bodily fluids or insects on display, nothing I would ever have expected to witness.

Only three things about the film are somewhat memorable (and one of them is highly spoilerish regarding the identity of the killer). The film features one scene that for some reason ends with our panicked heroes all jumping fully clothed into a jakuzi together, which probably cracked me up more than it should have (I blame Movie Stockholm Syndrome derived from the boringness of everything that came before). Then there's the perfectly reasonable moment when only a handful of survivors are left and everyone points his or her finger at everyone else and goes "You are the murderer!" - "No, you are the murderer!" and so on and so forth for about ten minutes of laughter I'm glad I didn't miss.

Last but not least (and I repeat: spoiler) is the identity of our killer: it is David Copperfield junior in another confirmation of my theory that those magicians are a rather dubious lot, what with their rabbits and swords and wildly floundering arms.

Alas, even for someone with my lowered expectations and taste for the silly and the just plain dumb, these three elements are not enough to recommend Dating Death. If you have a hankering to see what Herman Yau has been doing with his better weeks in the last few years, I can heartily recommend the (comparatively subtle) The First 7th Night and the (comparatively gross) Gong Tau.


From Twitter 01-19-2010

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

In short: A Lonely Cow Weeps At Dawn (2003)

The farmer Sukichi (Horyu Nakamura) works his small farm alone with his daughter-in-law Noriko (Ryoko Asagi). Both are widowed, and both are, without ever telling the other, very much in love with each other. Sukichi doesn't speak of it because he is ashamed and Noriko because she sees him slowly slipping into senile dementia.

It's a very particular case of senility, mostly connected with Sukichi forgetting that his favourite cow Hanako has been dead for quite some time now. Still he gets up every morning and milks her. Or so he thinks. In truth, Noriko stands in for the cow as a way to show her affection for the old man.

Their peculiar idyll is broken when Sukichi's daughter Mitsuko (Yumeka Sasaki) comes for her first visit in ten years, looking for something she probably couldn't explain herself.

An old fuck buddy of Mitsuko who has been trying to talk Sukichi into selling his farm for quite some time now talks her into helping him to acquire the farm in less than legal ways.

Despite the rather pervy sounding woman milking concept, Daisuke Goto's A Lonely Cow Weeps At Dawn comes down on the more tasteful side of pinku cinema. Goto presents the cow-stand-in business in such a laconic way, with a mixture of sympathy and a wink that one would have to be very conservative to get riled up about it. There's a welcome matter-of-factness about much of the film, a sense of reality that seems anchored in the subtle naturalness of the acting performances.

Sympathy with its characters (even the shady arseholes among them), slight irony detachment and the melancholy of lost chances lie at A Lonely Cow's emotional core, all embedded in and strengthened through simple seeming nature shots and a quality of light that suggests autumn.

Of course, melancholy and a spring/autumn romance that doesn't dare to blossom isn't enough when it comes to getting the mandatory number of sex scenes into your film. Goto puts most of the sweatier parts in the hands (well, more or less) of the side characters. The film shows a very un-pinku-like warm sense of humor in their sex scenes. Goto at once uses this to deepen the characterization and to poke friendly fun at genre conventions.

One of the sub-plots between a veterinarian and his vet nurse also shows a romance between an older man and a younger woman that doesn't have to end in renunciation like the main plot does, putting the sad ending between Sukichi and Noriko into the realm of choice rather than destiny.


From Twitter 01-18-2010

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Music Monday: When They Were Good Edition

From Twitter 01-17-2010

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

No Room To Die (1969)

aka Hanging For Django (which is an interesting alternative title for a film without a Django or a hanging)

Some time after the US Civil War. A town near the Mexican border whose surrounding landscape looks a lot like autumnal Italy is the centre of a rather nasty affair. The local land owners, especially the evil Mr. Fargo (Riccardo Garrone, director Sergio Garrone's brother), have invented a fantastic method to replace the slaves who aren't working their farms anymore. Their henchmen smuggle in illegal Mexican immigrants to whom they have promised a better life and money to send back to their families. Obviously, the capitalist menace treats them even worse than they once treated their slaves. If it is convenient to kill the Mexicans to evade discovery by the cavalry trying to stop the human cattle trade, so be it. After all, there are a lot of desperate poor people left where the last batch came from.

It could all go well for our capitalist friends, if not for the fact that most of the people they employ to do their human cattle trading for them have prices on their heads. That sort of people tends to attract the attention of bounty hunters, and it doesn't take long until the first of those arrive. Johnny Brandon (ole wooden face Anthony Steffen) and the preacher Everett Murdock (William Berger) aren't working together, yet still manage to disrupt Fargo's business in their separate but equally bloody ways.

It is getting so bad that Fargo has to lead his next human buying spree in Mexico himself. As if the man didn't have problems enough already with his non-reciprocated love for Mexican landowner Maya (Nicoletta Machiavelli) and his tendency to have expressionist black and white flashbacks!

Brandon proposes to Murdock that they team up and make a little trip to Mexico themselves, so there's no rest for the wicked Mr. Fargo and his men there either.

More dead henchmen later, the capitalist tries to pay the bounty hunters off. Murdock - being a preacher and all - is quite susceptible to bribery, but Brandon isn't in the bounty hunting business for the money alone.

As far as I can remember No Room To Die is the first of the handful of Spaghetti Western directed by Italian Sergio (and isn't that a promising first name in this genre?) Garrone I have seen, and if the rest of them keeps what this one promises, there are quite a few films for me to look forward to.

As is usually the case with Spaghetti Westerns from the second row of the genre, Garrone's film is far from being flawless. It is a highly derivative film that grabs as many stylistic elements from the genre-defining works of those other Sergios, throws them in a hat and pulls them out in a rather random fashion. Fortunately, luck and Garrone's directorial talent (I wouldn't dare to decide which of those two has the greater share after having seen only one of Garrone's films) conspire to let these random elements add up to a surprisingly entertaining film. We might (I certainly have) have seen everything here before, from the Anthony Steffen's crotch to the incessant shots of people staring to the strange rifle (shotgun? mini gatling gun?) Berger uses, but we haven't seen these elements put together in exactly the same way. That doesn't sound like much, yet leads to a very entertaining little film.

When you decide to live with No Room to Die's derivativeness, you can start to admire the cheap but classical form all those stolen elements take here.

And yet, having said that, I also have to say that a feeling of nervousness seems to be lying below the usual emotionally calm but physically brutal surface of the film that isn't stolen or borrowed from anyone else's films, but belongs to Garrone alone. Even the physical and tactical superiority of the violent heroes feels somehow more brittle than usual, not only in the obligatory torture sequence, but even in the most banal of shoot-outs. One could nearly start to think these protagonists are only human.

How much of that feeling got into the film on purpose and how much just happened to manifest itself is for the people who made it to say (and they could very well be lying).

It is also possible I have just made all of this up based on the slightly shaking hands of William Berger and Anthony Steffen's atypically numerous facial expressions. The thought of the latter is a bit disconcerting any way you look at it. Either I have gotten so used to Steffen that I by now count every slight movement of his face as a change in expression, or he really shows at least three and a half different emotions here!


From Twitter 01-16-2010

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Saturday, January 16, 2010

In short: Scared (2005)

A busload of Thai first semester students drives into the deep dark jungle for a first get-together, as you do. Everyone in the group is as annoying as he or she is stupid, so our designated murder meat is not even discouraged from their trip by silly little things like flooded streets and decides to sneak into the jungle on byways. Alas, those jungle bridges ain't what they used to be and break down when a schoolbus full of idiots tries to cross them. The survivors (the names of the characters have been redacted because there's no point, the names of the actors because I'm not that cruel) stumble and bitch through the jungle until the hardest working guy in slasher business begins to cut a bloody path through them.

Things don't get better when the surviving survivors survive to a big yet unpeopled grocery store/gas station. The killer is in fact getting even more enthusiastic.

After more screeching teenies and senseless violence, everything culminates in the stupid twist ending to end all stupid twist endings.

When a film ends on the words "What son of a bitch wrote that script?" you can be sure of the contempt its makers have for their audience. And Scared surely does not disappoint in its hatred for everyone stupid or unlucky enough to throw money at it.

I'll give director and writer Pakphum Wonjinda that the photography is decent and the gore well done (which isn't exactly difficult to achieve for a film that obviously had some money to burn - and possibly really burned it instead of using it), but what good is that when he doesn't give a damn about anything else? I can live with a slasher having no story besides "kill kill kill kill", but Scared also lacks in rhythm, mood, character - you know, those things that you put in a movie when you actually care about what you are doing.

The young actors are all absolutely terrible, too. How much of that is their fault and how much caused by the film's lack of everything is difficult to say. When in doubt, I blame the director and not a bunch of teenies doing their first professional acting stints.

I can only recommend Scared to hardcore masochists/slasher movie fans.


From Twitter 01-15-2010

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Friday, January 15, 2010

On WTF: The Old Dark House (1932)

Being who I am, I find the thought of all the films that have been lost to the ravages of time and/or greedy and stupid copyright owners more than a little depressing. It is all the more exciting when a film which was thought lost reappears, like James Whale's The Old Dark House has. Read my review on to learn exactly how happy I am about it.


From Twitter 01-14-2010

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

In short: A Pistol For Ringo (1965)

A gang of Mexican bandits (as always lead by Fernando Sancho, whose character is called Sancho too) robs the bank of a nameless American town near the border. Sancho is hurt by the posse chasing him and his men and probably won't make it back to Mexico alive without taking care of his wounds first, so the gang (minus the one now very dead guy who wanted to leave Sancho behind), attacks the nearest farm and takes the inhabitants hostage. In a stroke of good luck for the bad guys, the farm belongs to Major Clyde (Antonio Casas) whose daughter Ruby (Lorella De Luca) just happens to be the local Sheriff's (George Martin) fiancee. It also is built (or so the film says) like a fortress and will need to be attacked by the regular military and not just any old posse before it will fall.

The sheriff would really like to get his fiancee and the other hostages back alive, so he is not content with just waiting until the cavallary arrives to blow everyone up. Instead, he has the glorious idea of hiring the dubious yet honorable gunman "Angel Face" Ringo (Giuliano Gemma) to work the gang as an undercover agent (and rogue doctor, just like Black Jack).

Ringo's mission isn't exactly made easier by the fact that the Major decides to fall in love with gunmoll Dolores (Nieves Navarro) who just happens to be Sancho's girlfriend.

A Pistol For Ringo was directed and written by Duccio Tessari, a man whose scripts sometimes have the - very atypical for Italian genre film - virtue of being well paced and rather tightly scripted. Pistol has one of those scripts, which sounds all nice and good on paper but left me a little nonplussed, because this tightness does not leave as much room for the mad or just plain strange flourishes I often love about the Spaghetti Western. The intensity the Sergios brought to their work is of course nowhere to be found either.

In other words: it's a well crafted script, but also a bit on the conservative and riskless side.

The same can be said about Tessari's direction. He is a much less sloppy director than many of his contemporaries, but his film also isn't as stylish or grimy or just plain European as their films are. Tessari's style is at times closer to that of a competent American Western director (so I'm not talking Boetticher or de Toth here) than what I am used to from the Italian arm of the genre.

It is patently unfair of me to feel as lukewarm about A Pistol For Ringo as I do. After all, Tessari probably set out to make just another well-crafted Western, and mostly succeeded in that. So the problem really is mine alone, in that I would have preferred a film that shows a little less competence and slickness and had more of a personality of its own.


From Twitter 01-13-2010

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Kazuo Umezu's Horror Theater: The Wish (2005)

The Japanese schoolboy Yoshiro (Toshinori Omi) is very lonely. Being highly intelligent, yet also extremely awkward socially, he has no friends at all. One day, he takes a detour on his way back from school, and his life starts to turn strange. He decides that if he can't find a friend, he is going to make one.

Yoshiro goes on to build the creepiest person-sized doll this side of an especially freaky SM-cellar. The goddamn thing even has nails for teeth. Because this isn't terrifying enough, the boy then proceeds to christen the frightening thing "Hokubo" and concentrates for days on wishing it to become alive.

His mother (Kyoko Toyama) had been worried about her son even before he became the sculptor of something that makes him look like a future serial killer and sets a fiendish plan in motion to get him to find friends - she sends him to a cram school. Surprisingly enough, her plan works, and it is only a matter of days until Yoshiro becomes friends with the girl Tomoko (Natsumi Okumura). Yoshiro is a sensible boy at heart and realizes that having Hokubo in his room can only lead to tears when he's trying to come closer to other people, so he disposes of the doll from hell on a construction site.

Alas, that is not the last the boy and the viewers are going to see of the nightmarish doll. Turns out that wishes sometimes do come true, and that creepy looking living dolls have a mean disposition when they have been dumped. And, as I said, nails for teeth.

The Wish is yet another of a series of cheaply produced - I think shot on digital - short films based on manga short stories by the great and glorious Kazuo Umezu. It is definitely one of the better episodes of the series. Its director Atsushi Shimizu (whose filmography on IMDb looks rather too bizarre to be believed - starting out as a producer for Transformers, with the newest credit as writer for a pinku sounds a bit improbable to me) really seems to know how to work with his extremely low budget. While there isn't much besides claustrophobic interior sets and the backstreets of suburban Japan to see, Shimizu uses those locations to evoke the mood of sadness and loneliness appropriate for the film's story. It is obviously cheap, yet realized with care and respect for the material.

The same can be said about the quite disturbing design of the film's very special killer doll. Since the manga source isn't available in a language I read, I can't say how much of its look - like a cross between Leatherface and Pinocchio, yet still very much looking like something a child would build - is the responsibility of Umezu and how much that of the film's effects crew. In any case, Hokubo is the sort of sight people like me who find regular dolls often much too creepy for comfort should best avoid or else meet Hokubo again in their nightmares.

I am quite taken by the simplicity of the movie. The plot is quite obvious, but told with the conviction of fairy tale, homing in on the (very typical for Umezu) theme of the loneliness of childhood but intensifying the feeling of despair by letting the magical thinking of children actually be true. Unlike in your typical escapist fantasy (not that I have a problem with those) magic often isn't the road to freedom in Umezu's work. Instead it only makes bad matters worse and doesn't open possibilities so much as closing them off.

I usually have little time for child actors. Most of them are just frightful scenery chewers with an understandable yet still annoying lack of subtlety in everything they do. Toshinori Omi's performance here is a bit more to my tastes. I'm not going to oversell his acting; mostly, the boy is convincing as Yoshiro because he is not doing much visible acting. Yoshiro doesn't talk much, does not smile and does seldom show emotion, but the boy does this quite well.

Personally, I find the film's theme rather touching, especially when it is realized like it is here, in a form that at does not flinch away from showing an unhappy childhood yet also isn't so cynical not to believe in the possibilities of hope and the basic usefulness of growing up.


From Twitter 01-12-2010

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  • Oh, so the Paizo edition of Abraham Merrit's Ship of Ishtar is the full text, unlike most other editions? Lovely.
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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

In short: Nail Gun Massacre (1985)

Before the prospective viewer's eyes have the possibility to even focus properly on the film, a group of construction workers (Nail Gun Massacre's stand-in for all that is depraved in the world) rapes a woman.

Some undefined space of time later, someone wearing a black motorcycle helmet and army fatigues tromps through the ever-same woods and kills men (who are supposed to be the same workers, but aren't always) and - if need be - their girlfriends with a nail gun and/or terrible serial killer smack talk.

For some reason the nail gunner really likes to kill his or her victims in the patch of woods of a certain old lady Bailey. A highly bearded cop and a jeans-obsessed doctor try to crack the complicated case before the audience falls asleep with no chance of ever waking up again.

I would have liked to begin this write-up with something like "films with the word massacre in their title never let you down", but unfortunately Nail Gun Massacre did let me down.

Not that I don't appreciate some of the film's many dubious virtues.

I approve of its nicely grainy film stock that reminds me of backwoods filmmaking perpetrated ten years before Nail Gun Massacre.

I respect director Terry Long's insistence on hiding parts of the dialogue behind traffic noises and the whirring of his camera - I suppose looping would either have been too inauthentic or costly, possibly both. Going by the dialogue I was able to parse, I don't feel the need to understand all of it, especially since the painful punning of our killer is looped and therefore all too audible.

I have also learned a few important things from the film: a) construction workers are evil b) getting a nail gun nail nailed trough one's hand is lethal c) fashion is a bitch.

All these wonderful features notwithstanding, I would recommend Nail Gun Massacre only to the hardened friend of cult cinema, the sort of person who reads the film's title and then still feels the need to watch the damn thing.

Of course, this wouldn't be the first time I gave such a warning to a film I loved, yet I can't pretend to love, like or sacrifice goats to Nail Gun Massacre. It's just too monotonous a film even for my tastes. The film consists only of pointless scenes to set-up the victims, then the kill, then the next victim set-up, possibly one even more pointless cop scene, the next kill, and so on and so forth for the full running time, which would probably be outweighed by the siren song of technical ineptitude and stupidity if the film was only 40 minutes long, instead of the nearly 90 it's padded out to. Frankly, it's slow and boring enough to test even my patience, and I'm the kind of guy who usually likes boring films.

I'm wondering if a less boring murder weapon would have saved the film. On first contact, a nail gun wielding slasher does sound intriguing, but there's a good reason why most slasher movies tend to mix up their murder methods a bit - to avoid repetition and the boredom it brings with it.


From Twitter 01-11-2010

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Monday, January 11, 2010

Music Monday: Like Avatar But Good Edition

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From Twitter 01-10-2010

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Mist (2007)

After a very unexpected storm has hit the house of the Drayton family, film poster artist David (Thomas Jane), is just popping into the obligatory American small town nearby with his son Billy (Nathan Gamble) to gather some supplies.

While father and son are in the local supermarket, a dense mist rolls down from the mountain where Black Mesa an army base housing something called "Project Arrowhead" is situated. With the mist, some decidedly unearthly and exceedingly hungry creatures appear.

The usual cross-section of American movie small town life tries to weather out the troubles by barricading themselves in the supermarket. As if being protected from an alien ecology only by a thin glass wall and some stacked sacks of fertilizer wouldn't be bad enough, the fact that (and you just might have heard that song before) man is the greatest monster of them all does not make anyone's life easier.

As we all know, every Stephen King movie needs an evil religious nutcase to make a bad situation even worse. This time, she comes in the form of a certain Mrs Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden) who has read all the chapters of the bible concerning tentacle monsters and man-eating bugs and would really, really like to hear an "Expiation!" from you. Because the situation is dire, and people start to die in unpleasant ways, Mrs. Carmody even acquires her own little congregation of co-nutbags. Less insane people like Drayton or the new school teacher Amanda Dunfrey (Laurie Holden) are fastly starting to prefer the monsters outside to those locked in with them. At least those outside don't rant.

Ah, the Stephen King adaptation, bane of every right-thinking person's life. It's not that all of them are unwatchable, but too many of them are just sort of bloated and a little boring, yet still successful enough to make it unnecessary for the denizens of Hollywood (or King himself) to try for quality when taking the author's work to the screen.

For some reason, the memo that King adaptations don't need to be any good hasn't reached Frank Darabont,and he has gone and left us with a more than adequate adaptation of one of King's best novellas.

The Mist suffers from its share of clichés. You'll witness exactly the characters you know from everywhere in King's work and in the works of King copists acting in exactly the way you'd expect them to act. The religious nutcase of the week is religious, nutcasy and contagious in a manner I can never find all too believable (but that religion stuff is hardly working for me at the best of times), parents are doing everything for their children etc, etc. But Darabont presents these clichés with so much verve, possibly even conviction, that it's difficult to care much about the lack of originality. I'd ascribe a large part of this effect to the excellent  work of the film's ensemble of mostly experienced character actors who go about their business with the expected professionality.

This will probably not sound like much of a compliment, but we are talking about the story of people hiding in a supermarket so that they won't be eaten by extra-dimensional monsters, and proffessionalism is exactly what a film like this needs to help its audience to the needed suspension of disbelief.

While Darabont does his damndest to make a movie full of the deep cynicism and pessimism regarding "human nature" I love about 70s genre cinema, he's obviously not ashamed about what The Mist also is - an apocalyptic monster movie, where people are dispatched by cool and creepy creatures in rather nasty ways. In fact, Darabont (and/or the wonderful people responsible for the monsters) go all out in making the monsters and the (surprisingly gruesome for what is basically a mainstream horror film) ways they dispatch their victims in at once cool and logically consistent, transforming what might well have been a silly or half-assed monster movie into an earnestly good one.

The best thing about the monsters, though, is that they are looking just fabulous. They are mostly realized through CGI with a few bits of practical effects thrown in, but made with exactly the right style and feel to be at once threatening, strange and familiar.

The film also has (not keeping with a King feel here) one of the more cynical endings I have witnessed in a Hollywood film of the last decades, going directly for the throat of two (or, depending on the way you count, three) big cinematic taboos. I'm not completely sure how I feel about it. On one hand, I'm always glad when a film has the guts to go the consequent and depressing route, but on the other I didn't find the way the ending played out completely fitting for the film that came before it. A more open ending would have been less provocative, but probably just as true to the spirit of the 70s style end of the world The Mist trades in.


From Twitter 01-09-2010

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Saturday, January 9, 2010

In short: My Ex (2009)

Warning: I'm going to spoil the mid-film surprise here, but without explaining it, the plot synopsis wouldn't make a lick of sense. Also, the surprise is only surprising if you have never heard of ghosts before.

Male starlet Ken (Chakrit Yamnam) has the emotional attention span of an hyperactive puppy, and therefore flits from one woman to the next, although he seems to prefer having three girlfriends at once to that old-fashioned monogamy. He has some idiotic spiel about "finding his one true love" to justify himself, but really, he's just a douche. If you need more proof for that than the three girlfriends at the same time business, just watch what happens when Meena, one of the three, makes the most of his sperm and gets pregnant. Of course, sentences like "Are you crazy?" and "Are you sure it's mine?" are spoken.

After their nice little talk, Meena commits extra special suicide by first cutting the foetus from her body and smearing it all over her mirror, then drinking a cleaning agent and then, obviously not satisfied with the melodramatics, cutting her wrists.

Afterwards, she proceeds to act as Ken's ghost-girlfriend (whom he thinks for quite some time to be still alive, although she does things like teleporting and has dream sex with him - he's none too bright, is our Ken). She also proceeds to kill her rivals, a friendly paparazzi and Ken's idiotic manager, avenging things that will only be explained in flashback after the fact.

My Ex is quite a mess. It's one of those films whose writers think that by making the structure of their paper-thin plots needlessly complicated they somehow elevate them into a the realm of artful spookiness. The opposite is the truth here. My Ex's tendency to explain character motivation a long way after the act these motivations are supposed to motivate have already happened, just makes a simple story seem bloated and less believable than it already is.

It's certainly not helpful that director Piyapan Choopetch is neither all that good at delivering the scary set pieces nor the rather silly lifestyle of the rich and famous melodramatics. The expected spookiness happens in the expected way, and I can't say that I cared about it even a bit.

The acting isn't all that hot either, but I wouldn't blame the actors for that one too much. The script just provides them either with nothing much to work with or explodes in the strenuous melodramatics of the suicide scene. It is a bit as if the film had been made by aliens who only know humanity from soap operas.

Another problematic factor is the way the film treats its douchy protagonist. More than once, I couldn't help but think that the film wants us to see Ken as some sort of tragic figure and not as the self-centred arsehole it actually presents him as, leaving me unable to care about what happens to him. Well, unless it would have been a violent death, but My Ex isn't even solid enough to provide that sort of satisfaction.


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From Twitter 01-08-2010

  • New blog post: From Twitter 01-07-2010: New blog post: From Twitter 01-06-2010: New blog post: From Twitter 01-05-...
  • New blog post: On WTF: California (1977): After the short break, my weekly rambling on movies on cont...
  • The next time someone annoys me with the idiotic bit about how much worse online writing is than that done for print,
  • I'll hit him over the head with this review by @KeithATC
  • The second Snowpocalypse of the season is supposed to come to Germany today. I am excited. SNOW!
  • My appropriately short review of "Female Prisoner Sigma": so sleazy, yet so boring.

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Friday, January 8, 2010

On WTF: California (1977)

After the short break, my weekly rambling on movies on continues apace with another Spaghetti Western. California is rather good, if you like not too friendly-minded, loosely plotted films that mostly take place in autumn.


From Twitter 01-07-2010

  • New blog post: From Twitter 01-06-2010: New blog post: From Twitter 01-05-2010: Why did I just watch "Princess of ...
  • New blog post: In short: Blood Revenge (1974): When they hear that the official Kong who was responsible for their...
  • Did I ever mention how much I love Josh Ritter's "The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter"? Well, now I have.

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Thursday, January 7, 2010

In short: Blood Revenge (1974)

When they hear that the official Kong who was responsible for their arrest has grown ill and defenceless, a quintet of bad guys with charming names like Big-Little Eye and Big Beard (overcompensating much?) break out of jail. To prove that they are really evil, they not only proceed to kill their designated victim, but also add a little extra wickedness by raping and killing his wife.

Fortunately, the couple's daughter Tsui Fung (Liu Siu-Wai) isn't at home when all that messy violence takes place and lives to swear vengeance on the unknown assailants, as any good child would. It's just a bit problematic that Tsui Fung doesn't know who did the dastardly deeds.

When she visits the grave of her parents, she meets Wei Shi (Phillip Ko). The young man is the son of another couple that was killed by the gang before they were jailed and so has his own good reasons for hating them. After explaining the identity of the enemy (which he just guessed), Tsui Fung and Wei Shi pick off the killers one by one.

The Taiwanese Blood Revenge is vengeance minded martial arts cinema reduced to the bare minimum. It feels nearly dishonest to speak of the film as having a plot - a bare-bones reason for people to kick their faces in is set up, a few additional bits of characterization and exposition are thrown in from time to time, but the only real content is the kicking and hitting in various locations.

It is quite obvious that this no-content approach to filmmaking is director Li Su's way of coping with a very low budget and the lack of time and possibilities that usually comes with it. This is not as huge a problem for the film than one might think. It is a very fine line that separates a minimalistic genre film from an impoverished one and somehow Li Su manages to keep his film on the more interesting minimalistic side.

He has the professionalism of everyone involved on his side. Li Su's own style of direction isn't exactly what I'd call impressive, but he has no problems keeping his film moving (which, as I always say is the most important thing when you make an action film) or framing the action in a satisfying way. The actors aren't brilliant, but aren't bad either, especially seeing that they aren't giving anything to work with by the film's script. The editing is tighter and cleaner than one would expect and the fight choreography isn't pretty but convincingly brutal. You get the gist.

Of course, all the professionalism in the world can't hide the film's lack of substance. The heroine's love for cross-dressing and the film's sudden absurd turn against vigilante violence in its last five minutes are the only elements besides the fights worth mentioning about Blood Revenge and both are just thrown in there without ever actually leading anywhere.

This does not mean that I didn't have a fine ninety minutes with Blood Revenge, though. As a fan of martial arts cinema, watching people kick each other's faces in is sometimes exactly what I look for in a movie, and Blood Revenge nicely delivers on that point.