Rope

*Originally written in 2004 (it goes without saying as my reviews from this period are basically one big plot reveal, but SPOILER ALERT)

Another technological feat from Hitchcock; a film which seems to have no cuts throughout. Although there are five or six, the editing is so swift that you will have trouble finding the cutting points, and the blend between each is seamless. Like other Hitchcock films where he experiments with camera work and conventional methods of filming and storytelling, it is a success and never feels as if it is the main gimmick of the film. The story and acting are all good enough to keep the viewer enthralled, and the balance between plot and camera-work is perfectly balanced, structured and adds to the overall effect of the film. In short – you can enjoy it without knowing or caring about any of the technical aspects, or for everything mentioned above.

The film takes place over the period of a single night in an apartment owned by two young men, students of Philosophy taught by the well-respected, cynical and clever Rupert Cadell. The students, Brandon and Phillip, decide to murder someone as an experiment, to see what it feels like and to see if they can get away with it. They choose to kill a friend, hiding the body in a trunk in their apartment before inviting Rupert and their other friends (including the victim’s family) over for a party. Enjoying the irony and thrill of it all at first, the pressure soon grows; Knowing jokes about death and murder are thrown around, the victim’s family and friends wonder why he is late and cannot get in contact with him, philosophical, moral and political discussions become heated, arguments break out, and Rupert becomes increasingly suspicious as the Brandon and Phillip’s behaviour gets more strange. Phillip becomes more nervous as the irony, dark humour, and pressure from Rupert grows, and eventually the horror is uncovered. The boys explain their actions and Rupert realises that to some degree he had a part in it, because of his subversive teachings. The superiority complex much talked about by Nietzsche is explored, and the boys question of whether it is right to kill another person because you feel superior is discussed with Hitchockian flair and humour.

The dialogue is typical of Hitchcock, full of dark humour and nodding sight gags such as the fact that the food is served from the trunk in which the body lies. The backdrop of the city is impressive and Dall is pretty chilling. The rest of the cast are admittedly average, but Jimmy Stewart makes up for this by giving a memorable performance, almost against type. He easily controls the screen, and we come to feel like he is superior, all the more shocking and ironic when we sense his involvement in the death and his reaction to that knowledge. A lesser known Hitchcock, but one no less worthy of catching today.

Let us know in the comments what you though of Rope!

The Detective

The-Detective.jpg

Ever since I first saw Bangkok Haunted, I’ve loved the Pang Brothers. Then along came Bangkok Dangerous – one of my favourite movies of all time, and The Eye – a wonderful chiller. Since then, the Pangs haven’t had the same impact, with a string of films which were either passable or poor. The Detective is quite an unusual film – it shows that the Brothers haven’t lost their touch –but possibly tries a little too hard to be more than it needs to be. Having said that, it’s a strong film with an equally strong lead performance, and while not a horror film, features some chilling moments, and one of the greatest jump scares I’ve ever seen.

The film follows a down on his luck PI, scrounging around for a living. He is the laughing stock of the real police force who regard him as a nuisance, a conspiracy theory nut who chases loose ends convinced there is always some nefarious plot at work. Tam, the PI, stumbles upon the case of a missing woman who has been tenuously linked to a murder. Having only a photograph of the woman alongside a bunch of other people, and some wild claims, he starts his search. As the people in the photograph begin to die one by one, by accident, suicide, and a variety of grim ways, Tam finds his own life in danger but needs to solve the case.

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I like the idea behind the movie, and I love Tam’s character, brought to life by Aaron Kwok’s vibrant performance. The movie is an interesting whirlwind of genres, with scares, drama, comedy, and action all on screen – car chases, fights, shootouts with elephants, explosions, dialogue and plot intrigue to keep you guessing. With all this going on the directing can feel a little muddled and chaotic, but Oxide Pang manages to hold everything together while keeping it interesting and stylish. The plot does become a little confused, and the surrounding cast aren’t as memorable as Kwok, but it is still an engaging and odd thriller which the more adventurous viewer should seek out. The film was followed by a sequel four years later, and a third in 2013 -neither of which I have seem at the time of writing. If they are as interesting as this first part then they will be well worth a watch too.

Have you seen The Detective? What is your favourite Pang Brothers movie? Let us know in the comments!

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Drug War – DVD Reviews

*Originally written in 2013 based on a free copy provided by Amazon.

Drug-War

It has been a while since I’ve seen a new Johnnie To movie which really impressed and excited me – Drug War brings him almost back to his best with a tense action thriller which draws many comparisons with Michael Mann’s Heat. This has a large case of famous faces, inspired set pieces, numerous explosive gun-fights, and a weaving cat and mouse plot as a criminal mastermind and fierce Detective do battle. There are plenty of stylish visuals and violence, but at the core is a cold story with few easy answers and fewer happy endings for the characters.

Zhang is a no-nonsense Detective who pulls out all the stops to catch notorious Drug Lords, and during the course of the film we see him become more dangerously close to the edge, almost reckless, in his pursuit of taking down the bad guys. Sun Honglei plays Zhang with a lot of skill, morphing seamlessly from zero-emotion cop to jolly criminal impersonator. Equally, Louis Koo, playing the captured drug baron Choi is impressive at conveying grief, desperation, charm, and deadly cunning. Much of the film is a game of wits between this pair, and along the way we interact with a variety of cops and criminals, each with their own story to tell and part to play.

For those who like their action, we do get a few highlights – a factory attack and the final showdown outside a school are directed flawlessly – they serve the plot and do not seem over the top in a John Woo style but are more grounded yet no less exciting or adventurous. This is definitely one for fans of Hong Kong, Asian, or action cinema to enjoy.

The Mannsfield 12

The Mannsfield 12

Craig Ross Jr’s Mannsfield 12 is a story of prison life, of criminals on both sides of the law, and companionship against injustice. Spiced up and let down equally by quickly cut camera work, and slow mo shots akin to atypical Gangsta music videos, the film attempts to show a set of criminals- all admitted murderers, robbers and unsavoury types, in a sympathetic light. They are faced with torture, physical and mental, threats from fellow inmates and from corrupt officials until they learn to stand as one.

The film begins by introducing us to each inmate- members of an elite unit, but each split into different groups such as gang members or smart types. They are all kept together in a specific wing of Mannsfield prison so that the warden can keep an eye on them- he knows that they can bring in a lot of money- and will allow this as long as he gets a fair slice of the pie. Tony Todd’s character is a gang leader, and appears to be the main man. The charcter of Ali is more level headed- keeping to himself and making a genuine friendship with one of the guards, and one of the ‘special lady visitors’. Their fragile balance is put in jeopardy with the introduction of a new inmate- the son of a big wig on the outside. The warden wants this guy protected, and also a bigger slice of the pie. Naturally, things go wrong and their is a death. In order to protect the big wig’s reputation, one of the 12 must be convicted of the murder. They pull together against this injustice and try to find a way out.

The story here, supposedly based on true events, is sound enough and engages throughout. It is not overlong. The main issues are that there are too many characters, mostly with minor parts- if it had been done Dirty Dozen style with big names etc it may have been more enjoyable but less gritty. All the performances are strong, although the warden does ham it up in parts. The sound is not of the best quality, and early on some of the voice overs seems mumbly. As well as that, some of the music while added to the macho posturing and walking is amusing and childish, rather like most music video rappers- in other words, you would be more afraid of their grandmothers than them. I also found the ending a bit of a let down- yes it is meant to be an anti climax, yes it is supposed to be a final show of defiance, but it appeared that there could have been a much simpler way out. Still entertaining though, and i’m sure others will find it more rewarding. One worth catching on TV.