Hansel And Gretel

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I’d had this recorded on my box for about five years but finally got around to watching it in a futile attempt to make space. I’m glad I did because Hansel And Gretel is yet another unique and beautiful thriller from South Korea which, while not reaching the heights of Chan Wook Park or Kim Jee Woon, is still a film which raises many questions and merges stunning cinematography with ugly violence.

The film follows Eun Soo, a twenty something man who seemingly fears commitment or settling down with a family. In the film’s opening moments he is arguing on the phone with his girlfriend who is recently pregnant, while driving to visit his own sick mother. The argument causes him to crash his car, and he wakes up some time later in the middle of a dense forest. A young girl finds him and beckons him to follow her home, and as he is lost, hurt, and disoriented he has little choice. Upon reaching the house, things are a little bizarre and tense – the house is filled with kids toys, games, sweets, and chocolate, and the parents of the three children seem overly cheery yet nervous. Before long Eun Soo finds himself unable to leave the forest as if he is trapped by some mystical force, and a series of odd events make him question who the children really are and if he will ever escape.

Naturally I don’t want to give too much of the plot away; the film has twists and turns and constantly forces you to question who the victim is, what the motive is, what the reason for the situation could be, and how it will turn out for everyone. All is eventually revealed and in true Fairy Tale style we… well, we get an ending – decide for yourself if it is a happily ever after. The performances from the children are particularly good – again making you question their purpose, and the film cleverly holds back from anything too obviously supernatural until the final minutes. Special credit to Shim Eun Kyung as the eldest daughter for her mature performance. There is a dream-like quality to the film – from the sets to the cinematography, the music, and the moments where the characters seem to lose track of themselves, it does feel like stumbling into a modern, dark fairy tale where no-one can be trusted and everything is trying to eat you. The film lulls, enchants, and intrigues like all good stories should and each shot is set up to look pristine and artful. This isn’t a tale of woodcuts and creatures, more a child’s vision of an ideal world which engulfs and corrupts whatever and whomever it contacts.

Hansel And Gretel may be more difficult to get your hands on than other adult oriented fairytales such as Pan’s Labyrinth but it’s one to grab if you can find it and indulge in another dark fable which reminds us why we love such stories in the first place. Let us know in the comments if you have seen Hansel And Gretel!

Baskin

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A Turkish horror movie about a bunch of cops who somehow end up in Hell? Sign me (the hell) up! Except, that’s not really what happens. This is a Turkish Horror film – yep, but one which has more in common with the surreal elements of Lynch and Dali. It follows a bunch of cops, but they’re all assholes. Whether or not they end up in Hell is up for interpretation, like the rest of the movie. Basically I was going in expecting Aliens, but ended up experiencing a cross between Vinyan and Triangle – watch the latter, not the former.

What the balls am I talking about anyway? The opening of the film is promising, evocative of Argento, and of Carpenter’s Prince Of Darkness. A young boy wakes in bed, disturbed by female moans coming from his parents’ bedroom. After creeping through his house, a withered, robed arm emerges from the boy’s bedroom and he screams – standard nightmare fare. The film cuts to what appears to be a remote and rundown restaurant where five policemen are talking about football and their sexual histories. There is a brief altercation with the staff where it becomes apparent that the cops may be abusing their power. Additionally, one of the cops suffers a momentary psychological breakdown. Also; frogs. A call for support comes in from another patrol, and the group heads off in their van to help and on route the group comments on the local lore and spooky stories surrounding the village they are driving to. After a few bumps they reach their destination – which turns out to be their FINAL DESTINATION!

It’s a film of two halves, as the old cliche goes, building up the characters, such as they are, and then throwing them into danger. The second half is clearly the more interesting and vibrant and violent. It’s where the director pulls down his fly and whips out six inches of tricks for his and our pleasure. The ‘Hell’ is almost a Clive Barker vision – from the perspective of mixing pleasure and pain, not of demons. It is a place of madness, inhabited by hooded, savaged, bandaged figures who writhe, fuck, torture, and tear. Director Can Evrenol isn’t outlandish with his visuals, perhaps due to budget constraints than creative preferences, but does lend a memorable darkness and gory finale. The place is a type of Hell, but it could just as easily be a building filled with cult members or good old fashioned movie crazies. What they want is unclear – the script spinning off vague poetry and debauched philosophy. The interesting moments for me are where time becomes loose and the film starts to collapse in upon itself – several characters seem aware of this slippage and the film bounces about between time and space leaving the viewer grasping for solid ground. The chief bad guy hints at fore knowledge of the characters and events and there other multiple hints that the film is only going to end one way – I don’t know if what happens was meant to be a twist as it is a fairly familiar trope which I called out about fifteen minutes before it happened. Still, I do enjoy stories of this nature, where time becomes a toy of some greater force.

Gore fans will flock to this, but it isn’t your standard slasher fare – it does have more in common with the more stylized and artistic films of the 70s and 80s – look to Italy for more famous work, but it doesn’t revel in carnage or come close to the levels of blood letting of recent US hits. The performances are fine too, the only standout being Mehmet Cerrahoglu as the creepy little leader – this is surely partly to do with his appearance as well as his acting ability, though there is some Col. Kurtz channeling in there. It’s a film which will find a cult audience and do well with critics, and it will be good to see where Evrenol can go next – anyone who aims for a unique or, at worst, different from the mainstream, visual and storytelling approach gets my vote, even if those approaches have been witnessed on the genre fringes for decades.

Have you seen Baskin? Let us know in the comments!

Ted

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I like Family Guy as much as the next person who watches maybe five episodes a year. It’s fine, the odd piece makes me giggle, and I don’t mind the reliance on the ‘remember the time’ tangent jokes as much as the over reliance on pop culture references. Having seen the trailer for Ted I had no great desire to watch it, but looking for a laugh one night I decided to stream and and hope for the best. I’m glad I did because there are plenty of laugh out loud moments and good performances, and it was a strong outing given the recent dirge of comedy that we seem to be mixed up in at the moment.

I’ve always liked Mark Walberg, I think Mila Kunis is talented, and Seth MacFarlane is the very definition of hit and miss. Ted is clearly more hit – merging the toilet and drug humour with the heart which makes hits like Dumb and Dumber work so well. The difficult trick of making us like these characters is pulled off effortlessly so we have no problem spending a considerable running time with them. Even with the story of a teddy bear coming to life to stay with a child through to adulthood, the plot hits all the notes you’ve seen in every other buddy movie  – the inevitable break-up and recovery for example – but it’s all done with charm and talent. McHale, Ribisi, Minks and others are welcome additions, and all of the Family Guy-esque cultural throwbacks are tied nicely into the plot and the characters. The script allows for lightning fast delivery so that you don’t notice or care when certain jokes fall flat. Crucially, this energy is consistent from start to finish and it never feels like just a collection of jokes or one-liners or a story with the odd laugh thrown in.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of Ted!

Stripes

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I think I have come to a shocking revelation; I’m not a huge Bill Murray fan. Sure I like him, and I enjoy plenty of the movies he has been in – particularly in the early days, but he’s rarely laugh out loud funny for me. Stripes is another good Billy Murray movie where he is supported by an terrific comedy cast – it is those guys who evoke the most laughter from me and I always get that gnawing suspicion that this film, and even a few other Murray classic might have been better with someone else in his place. Blasphemy, I know! I’ve no idea who that other person may be but still, that suspicion rears its head, chomping away at me and saying everyone else is laughing, why aren’t you laughing you weirdo? Stripes is one late 70s, early 80s cult comedy classic that had always somehow passed me by – while plenty of the films made around the same time by the same cast, writers, directors are ones I grew up with, Stripes is a film I only came to in recent years.

Murray plays a deadbeat taxi driver who loses his job, girlfriend, and apartment after a particularly bad day – in classic Murray fashion this all drifts off his back in a carefree way. Looking for something to pass the time rather than any higher notion, he encourages his friend (Harold Ramis) to join the army with him. As this is the 80s, they set off and hi-jinks ensue. We meet a variety of cadets and commanders, as portrayed by some of Hollywood’s finest and a fair few up and coming comedy stars – Warren Oates, PJ Soles, Judge Reinhold, and John Candy are some of the recognizable faces. Like any other number of movies of similar ilk, we get training skits showing how Ramis and Murray rub against authority but eventually, and nonsensically, they complete training and are sent on a top secret mission.

To the film’s credit, it resolves the conflict between maintaining a semblance of plot while the slacker skits are played out – the comedians are given free-rein, but only as much as the plot will allow. The plot is by the by, but it’s enough to keep us engaged whereas a series of unrelated bits would have just fallen flat. The comedy mixes slapstick with deadpan slacker humour, light satire, visual gags, and mini stand-up routines. It doesn’t go the juvenile way of Police Academy though there are moments of raunch and sex comedy, and the general tone is one of playful anarchy. If it was one I grew up with, like the aforementioned cop series, or some of John Candy’s hits, then I’m sure I would hold more fondness for this, but watching as a new customer it gets a few laughs, chuckles, and holds the attention, but not much more than that.

Is Stripes one of your favourite comedy’s? How do you think it ranks alongside other comedies of the time and subsequent slacker type movies? Let us know in the comments!

USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage

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This should have been called USS Indianapolis: Men Of Cloneage, amirite! Coz they all look the same! Seriously, some of the flaws of this movie could have been avoided if they had simply cast some actors with more distinct faces. Throughout the movie I couldn’t tell who was who, which one wanted to marry the blonde, which one was the thief, which one just got eaten etc. In all seriousness, this is a powerful story, one of my favourite true stories of all time actually, and it deserves to be told well. Unfortunately this film doesn’t deliver – its low budget is very noticeable and negative, the performances are forgettable, and too much of the movie is spent attempting to introduce the characters so that we are invested and affected by what comes later – though these early scenes are horribly and confusingly edited in such a way that it simply becomes frustrating and we lose interest. I found myself sadly thinking, just get to the sharks already.

A bit of a personal backstory. When I was young, one of my favourite books was Maneaters by Rupert Matthews. It’s a collection of true stories based on horrific encounters between people and animals – bear and tiger attacks, snakes, sharks etc. One of the stories was about the USS Indianapolis, and that story makes up the bulk of this film. In 1945, the US Military has crafted a couple of atomic bombs and would like nothing more than to drop them on Japan. The A-Team were several decades away, so they decided to send some of the bomb parts via battleship to The Philippines – a mission so secret only the top brass knew about it. The unlucky ship going on this mission was the ship of the title, knowingly being sent into enemy territory without an escort to defend them from submarine attacks which they could not foresee or withstand. They successfully completed their mission, but on the return journey the Indianapolis was spotted by a Japanese sub who torpedoed the hell out of it. Within minutes the ship was in the water. I can’t recall the numbers, but there were over 1100 men on board, and around 900 went into the water. Stranded, cold, and bleeding, with barely any life rafts and thousands of miles of ocean all around them, things were looking bleak. And then the sharks came. And came. And came.

If you don’t think you know the story, you’ve probably heard it famously delivered by Quint in Jaws, thanks to John Milius, Robert Shaw, and Howard Sackler. Yes, Quint tells Brody and Hooper about where one of his scars came from – after he went into the ocean when the Japanese struck. It’s one of the most famous moments in Jaws, chillingly delivered. One of the first stories I ever wrote featured a character haunted by his involvement and memories of the event. I saw Mission Of The Shark when I was young – a TV movie starring Richard Thomas and Stacey Keach, also based on the event and it was then that I learned about the court case aftermath and the dubious plots. Maneaters you see, only focused on the immediate human event – one man’s recollections of what is was like to be trapped, surrounded, and feeling hope ebb away. It’s then that I thought ‘why doesn’t someone famous and powerful actually make a good movie about this?’ When I first heard about Men Of Courage I hoped that movie had finally come, but as reports about the movie, then previews, then reviews came, my hope ebbed too.

The second half of the film is considerably stronger than the first. I was worried it was going to go downhill due to horrible shark effects, but in most cases the sharks are very good. Am I right in saying some were real too? There were some moments which appeared to be ridiculous and not how sharks would actually behave, but on the whole it was fine. The problem is that this section of the movie felt too short. It was low on tension, there wasn’t much emotion, and by that point I didn’t care about most of the characters or differentiate between them. The movie is basically in three large parts, or five smaller chapters – Meeting the team, the mission, the sharks, the court case, the end. I appreciate the attempts to introduce the characters, but as mentioned it simply doesn’t work. Cage’s Captain is really the only character we care for as he is the focal point throughout the five chapters. Cage’s performance is either restrained or flat – it essentially could have been anyone. I appreciate that when making a film like this, you can’t possibly focus on everyone, but you can give us a subset of characters and get us emotionally invested from the outset – make them likable, or real at the very least. Make them stand out, with their own lives, past, fears, and flaws. I’m repeating myself, but the film tries and fails.

To its credit, the film does also show things from the opposing side. We meet several of the Japanese crew and see them as humans forced into a position no-one would ever want to be in. The film neither shies away from pointing the finger of blame squarely at those who actually were to blame. Even though the film essentially ends on a downer, we get some real life footage of the rescue and brief moments from the remaining survivors and other archive footage to re-iterate the courage of those involved. A little over 300 men survived the ordeal.

There was one fantastic moment late in the shark section where the music swells and the camera swings around some of the survivors in long shots to give an eagle eye view of the vastness of their struggle – we see some in rafts, some dead and floating away, some exhausted and gripping on to what they can, and some simply drifting among the ever present shark fins, past caring that they could be the next to succumb. That’s what I want to see – the real struggle, the real pain, and by virtue of surviving, the real courage.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of USS Indianapolis: Men Of Courage. Did you enjoy it more than you expected to, or was it another poor attempt at telling a tragic tale?

Horrible Bosses

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It’s another BLOKES comedy for MEN with TESTICLES. Following such dubious hits as The Hangover, this film caters to men who like their jokes breast fueled and their films boob filled. As a bloke of some description I can see the merits in these movies, and even enjoy them, but I won’t rave about them like many other critics have. Horrible Bosses is an okay movie with a good cast giving okay performances. There are some good laughs, there’s an okay story, and some stuff happens along the way. Okay?

The story follows three friends – all 30 or 40 something – in dead end (decent) jobs who hate their bosses. They’re just like you! At some point a – ahem – Hitchcockian plan is hatched where they decide to kill their respective bosses. The rest of the film follows various japes in the same vein of all these types of films. It has the same loose vibe as all those other films, not as energetic or youthful as Judd Apetow’s films, and perhaps with not as talented ad-libbing comedians, but upping the world-weary frustration. Some good jokes, some laughs, some entertainment from watching Aniston be slutty, Farrell being weird, and Spacey being Spacey, but beyond that there isn’t much to recommend it. It’s fine.

I guess that’s it.. does anything else need to be said? There’s a sequel which I haven’t seen yet. Type words into the comments!

Project X

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Even quite some time after watching this, I’m in two minds over whether I can truly say I can enjoyed this film – on one hand there are funny and entertaining moments as the party escalates, but on the other it panders so hard to an invented subgroup of humans and is so filled with unlikable morons that it becomes laughably juvenile and worthless. There’s a fine idea here, and I have no issue with that idea being taken to the extreme, but the people involved and the people on screen are people who warrant zero attention.

The film’s formula follows the grand tradition of teens wanting to blow off steam – whether that be getting laid, kissing goodbye to school, having a party, or a combination of these. Two loser friends want to throw a party for their other loser friend whose parents are away for the weekend. Plans are put in place, the party kicks off, shit goes viral, and suddenly half the world has descended on the house, with reporters and cops eventually getting in on the action. It basically boils down to the bizarre logic that if your party is going to get out of hand you may as well make it the most epic party anyone has ever seen.

You see, I’m fine with parties where stuff gets broken, and everyone gets drunk, stoned, and has sex. I used to attend such parties not too long ago. They were fine, but I don’t understand this fascination with the party needing to be big and you needing to be accepted. Why would you want people you don’t like coming to your house? What sort of moron wants validation from people they claim to despise and by people who will never remember you once school ends? Why sell yourself out? I know this is me though, but the idea of all those people and all of that shitty music makes me want to have nothing to do with anyone who does like such things. I’ll happily stay in and read, thanks. You see, I have no problems being a loser or being an actual nerd – you know, a nerd before it was cool to be one.

What was I talking about? Yeah, it’s formulaic but it’s directed and styled perfectly for people who appreciate this sort of thing. It may well be the best movie about party’s ever, at least since Animal House – the difference being that Animal House felt genuinely anarchic, groundbreaking, and was of course funny. This is well-acted to the point that I did genuinely hate these people, and I did laugh a few times, and the sheer spectacle is ludicrous, but all of the bruh-aimed, misogynist, selfish bullshit is just annoying. It’s not like walking by a house or club and seeing the walls pulsate due to the music and energy and life breathing within, it’s creeping past the alleyway where the drunk kid slipping in his own pool of vomit is trying desperately not to shit himself. Who’s gonna clean all this up?

What did you think of Project X? I get it, I do, I’ve done half this stuff, but lets not celebrate it like it’s something worth achieving, m’kay?