This is a top rate suspense film from Hitchcok featuring many memorable moments, and some very strong performances from Kelly, Milland, and Williams. With a brilliantly executed plot and twisting story, this is one of the most impressively constructed films of the time.
Kelly stars as Margot, an unhappily married woman who has been seeing crime writer Mark behind her husband's back. Her husband Tony is an ex tennis star whose wealth is slowly draining. Mark is an American, and is travelling over to visit the couple in London. However, Tony has known for a year that his wife has been with Mark. Tony concocts an ingenious plan to murder his wife, blackmailing an old college friend into doing it, and getting his wife's money in the process. It is the perfect plan, as Tony believes there is nothing to link him to the murder- a burglary gone wrong while he is not even at the house. However, the murder goes wrong, and Swann, his old friend is killed by Margot in self defence. The police are eventually informed, but not before Tony has come up with an even more impressive plan which will see his wife framed for the murder. Enter the Sherlock Holmes like Inspector Hubbard whose intuition and genius, along with the help of Mark's crime writing paranoia lead to the truth.
There are so many twists in this film that the viewer is completely led in circles by the director. Aside from the brilliantly constructed plot, special mention must go to Williams as Hubbard, whose tongue-in-cheek performance steals every scene he is in. Like Hitchcock, he is in control of the characters and deftly unravels the crime. This should not be overlooked because of Hitchcock's bigger, more familiar hits as this is one of his best.
A light-hearted Hitchcok comedy with some good performances and an interesting idea, but one which fails to stay in the memory. Hitchcocks most notorious and memorable comedic scenes are those which appear in his most tense and thrilling films, working best because of the dark and sexually charged situations his characters find themselves in. In Mr and Mrs Smith Hitchcock spends the entire film dissecting the flaws and perks of married life- becoming overly accustomed to one another, yet knowing that no-one else could put up with them.
After playing their usual, monthly truth telling game in which husband and wife ask each other a question which the other must answer truthfully, a game which will naturally lead to problems, Annie becomes annoyed with her husband David. She asks if he had to do it all over again, would he still have married her. He answers know as he misses his freedom, but says he does not regret anything he has done, and loves her. In an odd coincidence both David and Annie hear that their marriage is void and they simply must remarry. However, both decide to play with the rule unknown to the other, and soon all hell breaks loose.
The two leads are good, and the best moments, aside from the dialogue, are Hitchock deliberately showing the monotony of both married life, and the singles game, and the last few scenes in the log cabins involving husband and wife trying to make each other guilty. Unfortunately this is too soft, and does not have enough funny parts to deserve many watches, but is an interesting film nonetheless as it is a change of pace from what we would expect.
One of Hitchcock's earliest hits, The 39 Steps sees The Master unravelling the soon-to-be-typical plot of an innocent man on the run, trying to prove his innocence. The film stands out for several reasons; Firstly, the performance by Donat as the innocent Hannay, chased by both the Law and the spy ring he must infiltrate to save himself, is probably the best of his career. He easily shows the frustration his character must be feeling as his attempts are thwarted at every turn, but keeps the British stiff upper lip attitude, a sense of humour, and manages to convince us that he has the ability to charm Pamela while handcuffed to her. The rest of the cast are strong, including Carroll as Pamela, Mannheim as the mysterious Miss Smith, and Tearle as the devious Professor Jordan. Secondly, the sets and scenery are fantastic, moving from London to train, to the misty moors of Scotland, and back. Thirdly, we see the beginnings of the technical skill Hitchock was becoming proficient in, with many memorable cuts and fades. Finally, the humour Hitchcok injects into the story raises it above typical thrillers of the day, without having the budget of his American counterparts. There are many visual gags, and subtle sexual innuendo, provided in part by the excellent cameos. As an early Hitchcock chase thriller, this has everything you could wish for.
Depp continued his early nineties love of starring as offbeat characters, the type of characters that most actors would avoid taking on for fear of embarrassment or losing credibility. It may be true that very few actors have the ability to carry off such characters with skill, and make them believable and charming. Depp is the master of these roles, and in Benny and Joon he again proves his great talent and versatility. He may be the big name, and steal most of the scenes he is in, but the surrounding cast and story make it an enduring film of bittersweet romance, comedy, and tries to prove that there is hope for all of us when it comes to love.
Benny and Joon were orphaned at a young age, and Benny has spent the greater part of his life looking after his mentally ill younger sister. Joon is slightly unbalanced and sometimes gets herself in trouble by burning things and causing 'public disturbances'. Benny works as a mechanic in a garage, has never been away from home or had a proper relationship as he feels he must always look after Joon. Recently Joon has been getting more unstable leading Psychiatrists to advise that she be put in a home under care. Benny wants to live a normal life but cannot leave his sister. Joon is an incredibly smart and talented young woman but would never ask to be put in a home. On one of their regular poker nights Benny's friends play cards with Joon as Benny is late. The stakes are high- a week's washing, a troll toy etc. One friend puts his newly found cousin Sam in the pot, a 26 year old who can't read and spends his time watching movies and emulating Buster Keaton. Joon loses, and Benny has a new house guest. At first he seems odd, but as time goes on he proves to be a source of goodness in the household, and Joon falls for him. Sam also manages to get local waitress and B-Movie star Ruthie involved with Benny. However, when Benny finds out what has been going on between Sam and Joon he is furious, leading to Joon being committed. Benny realises his mistakes and asks Sam to help bring Joon back.
Above all this is a warm hearted tale with some good performances. Depp is superb when getting up to his supposedly unusual antics, Masterson manages well with an equally difficult role, and Quinn holds it together with his subtle performance of a character who must cope with the weirdness around him. Moore provides fine support as Ruthie, and there are a few funny moments. The film does not push for laughs or heart-felt tears and therefore is quietly charming and should hopefully leave most with a feeling of good-will afterwards. The director deals with mental illness as many before have, that it makes a person more lovable, and whether or not this is true it does not get in the way of the plot. Joon does not seem that different from everyone else, and Sam is a born entertainer, but a spontaneous one who should not be put on stage. It may be too slow and subtle for some, and it doesn't have the look or emotion of Edward Scissorhands, but it is nevertheless a fine movie and one which is destined to have a cult following.
With Kingdom of Heaven Ridley Scott has made a sprawling epic with authentic sets and costumes, plenty of massive battles and action sequences, and a cutesy liberal story to suit our tempestuous contemporary times. Like the violence which is all around us today in reality the major fault with Kingdom of Heaven is that we have seen it all before. Over the top battle scenes are all fine and good but that is all there seems to be coming out of Hollywood at the moment. Here we feel little emotional contact with any of the central characters, we are introduced to far too many minor characters, and to top it off the action is not filmed or edited particularly well. To give it credit there are some good performances but no-one stands out, and it at least tries to be historically accurate. The anti-war messages are explosively clear and we get to see what devastation comes from petty religious difference. Scott must be commended on making a film that is not afraid to say it is personal faith that should be important, not the billions of different churches which lie on every street corner, and that to find peace and goodness in yourself should be respected. Then again, it is so typically liberal, yet offers no hope for the future. Nowadays terms of agreement over War are not so easily reached, and our leaders are far from heroic, just, or wise. In the end it all seems shallow and pointless and at times there is a sense of absurdity about it all: A supposedly great warrior and general falls for the simplest of traps by being drawn away from his water supply, Bloom's wife is largely forgotten about, and several fights happen for apparently no reason.
Bloom is Balian the blacksmith, a recent widower after his wife killed herself, having lost their child. Out of nowhere comes Sir Godfrey, played by Neeson who claims to be Balian's father and wants him to come along to Jerusalem. He hopes to be forgiven for his past sins. On the Godfrey tells Balian of the prospects of the Holy City, but is wounded and eventually dies. After a ship wreck and encounter with a Muslimwhere Balian proves himself to be honourable, he reaches Jerusalem. There is an uneasy alliance between The Christian King Baldwin (Norton doing a strange Brando impersonation) and the Muslim ruler Saladin (Massoud). Baldwin is a leper and will soon die, leaving his brother-in-law, the sadistic Guy who prays for war without reason. The two rulers have kept peace for a long time, but war seems inevitable. Guy is married to Baldwin's sister Sibylla and will therefor gain power. Baldwin sees the righteousness in Balian and offers him to become King, but Balian refuses knowing he would be the cause of Guy's death, even though they hate each other and Balian has already killed many. The King dies, and war begins. Balian travels to his new stronghold with his knights to prepare for defence, showing he is not a ruler but a normal, working man who seems to have picked up some excellent sword-fighting skills and battle tactics knowledge. He makes all the men of the city knights as this will inspire them to fight with more conviction, and after a series of battles he surrenders Jerusalem to the Muslims. It is not the city that matters, but the people who live in it, and it was neither side who started the age old war. To this day it continues.
The film looks beautiful, and Scott knows how to handle an epic. However, there is nothing surprising here and even though I don't feel originality is a necessary part of the criteria of movies, there seems to be little point in watching another city come under siege from another mass of soldiers with another barrage of arrows and flaming balls. We could accept it in LOTR because nothing like it had been seen before, and they were filmed with a much greater degree of intensity, skill, and detail than in this. Definitely worth seeing but it's about time we brought our movies back down to earth for a while, or at least create some characters who can grab our emotions if you're going to have them parading about heroically.
Probably Van Damme's last big hit, Timecop is a mix of action, sci-fi, time-travel, and revenge with the usual roundhouse kicking fun. The big budget is clear to see with a myriad of special effects and explosions every few minutes. What makes Timecop better though is a decent story, even though it follows the usual revenge theme, a good script, and s decent cast to back up Van Damme.
Van Damme stars as Max, a cop with a difference in the future. Time Travelling has been near-perfected, and Max is a Timecop- an elite crime fighter with the special authority to travel through time to stop criminals. Only a few people are authorised to use this technology, but naturally some bad guys get there hands on it and plan to change the past. A few years earlier Max's wife had been murdered. When Max learns of a sinister plot involving Senator McComb, who plans to become President by going back in time, Max takes the law into his own hands and goes back to stop him. This leads to further trouble of course, and Max soon sets out to save his wife as well.
The time travelling stuff is handled to an average degree, certainly not as good as in Back to the Future or The Terminator, but it's adequate. Van Damme has enough star quality now to carry the film but Silver and Sara provide strong support. The effects are mostly very good, the action scenes are exciting and there is some honour and a few good one-liners. Probably a good one to watch for people coming to Van Damme movies for the first time as it delivers what it promises and doesn't try to be special.
Notable mainly for being John Woo's first Western film after his massive success and excellent films in China. All his trademarks are here- slow motion action, stylish violence, tough but quiet male characters, and a ruthless bad guy. It is not up the standards of his early work, or as good as Broken Arrow, but with a strong cast it remains a solid action movie and very entertaining for people who like this sort of thing.
Van Damme stars as Chance, a tough drifter looking for some work. He sees a young woman being mugged by a gang of crooks and wades in, destroys them without breaking a sweat, and leaves. The young woman, Natasha, played by Yancy Butler is in town trying to find her father who has disappeared. She decides to hire Chance as a protector and help her find her father. They find out that he was homeless and in an attempt to gain some quick cash entered himself in a deadly game run by local sadist Emil Fouchan- Lance Henricksen. He has a team of criminals who are taking advantage of the lax policing in the area, and they hunt helpless humans for sport. He gives his victim the chance to get to a certain point in the city while he chases them with a gun. This is what happened to Natasha's father, and when Chance becomes involved we know there is going to be fireworks.
Henriksen here hams everything as the bad guy but is still very good and enjoyable to watch. Van Damme tries to more cool than any of his previous roles and Woo certainly gets good results from him. Butler is excellent as Natasha and steals most scenes, and the rest of the cast is adequate. The action is not as stylish as other Woo films, and we get the sense he is easing his way onto the Western audience. There are some wonderfully over-the-top scenes though, and everything works well. The simple story is also effective, leaving room for the main draw- guns, kicks, explosions, and killings.
Van Damme was on a role in the late eighties, early nineties, making some of the most fun, simple action movies of the era. His ability to always get a laugh, and being renowned for his nice-guy qualities have ensured his continued success, even if most of his movies now are straight-to-DVD capers.
In Nowhere to Run he stars with an established cast as another misunderstood nice guy, an escaped convict who decides to help a young widow and her family who are struggling against a local developer who is forcing them out of their home. There is a good amount of action, some strong performances, and some very funny moments. Van Damme plays Sam, a mysterious convict who has escaped from prison. He sleeps in a tent outside a small town where two local young kids find and befriend him. Eventually their mother Clydie, played by Rosanna Arquette finds out and invites him into their home cautiously. Of course they fall for each other, much to the distaste of local Sheriff and love interest Lonnie, who decides to look into Sam's background. Franklin Hale, played with typical evil by Ackland is the main bad guy, but his side-arm Levine is the main threat. Sam helps the family, foiling Hale at every turn, but the past is catching up with Sam...
Arquette, Culkin, Levine, and Taubman as the daughter are particularly good, and the story tries to be light-hearted and moral. It may be another attempt to achieve a wider audience for Van Damme, and it is definitely one of his most accessible, thanks to the good cast and humour. The various discussions on Van Damme's naked body are always humorous. Overall another good Van Damme film which will please fans, and may interest a few others.
Probably both Van Damme's and Lundgren's best, Universal Soldier is one of the best action movies of the early nineties, with plenty of explosive stunts, fights, a decent story, some fine acting, and lots of great dialogue. In the wake of Terminator 2 this, and most sci-fi action movies look inferior, but this is a great watch for action fans, and should be seen by non-fans too as it is a good slice of entertainment.
Van Damme stars as Luc Deveraux, a marine in 'Nam. His superior is Andrew Scott, played with menace by Lundgren. Their team stumbles upon a village in 'Nam where Scott goes on a kill crazy rampage, wiping out men, women, and kids, and when Luc tries to stop him, they kill each other. Flash forward to the nineties and the US Army has managed to save and restore both Luc and Scott an their team. The are now part man, part computer, easy to control soldiers with a much higher skill and strength rate than any human could have. The Army has created them for special missions and they have a flawless success rate. Veronica Roberts is a snoopy reporter who wants to follow the mysterious team, but can never get close. The soldiers are autonomous, doing whatever they are told, and with no memory of their past lives. However, as all computers inevitably turn against their masters, Luc and Scott begin to have flashbacks. Soon Scott has killed Veronica's cameraman, and Luc has saved her to become a renegade. He begins to remember everything and Scott takes control of his team with the sole objective of killing Luc and Veronica. The chase begins.
Once we accept the Universal Soldier's abilities etc the story is all simple and will of course end with a final confrontation between the two stars. Between these two points there is a lot of action, gun fights, bombs, the usual, but it is done with a fair amount of skill and style. Van Damme does well as a cyborg and has little to say, but shows off his martial arts skills. Lundgren has less to say but is effectively sneering. Walker is the feisty heroine and gives a fine performance, and the rest of the cast range from grunts with guns to comedic parts. There is a good amount of humour which helps to make the film more appealing, and there is the inevitable Van Damme nudity. There are some interesting elements involving the Government's control of mindless soldiers, sending in faceless masses to do their dirty-work, but of course this is reading between the lines. Overall it is a simple, but effective and well-shot action film, and one of the best of its kind.
One of Van Damme's best, and the first in many 'dual roles', Double Impact has strong martial arts scenes mixed with some old style gun action, some good performances, and a typical story which works well. With a bigger budget Van Damme was able to hire better writers, directors, and actors, and here it shows. Still, there is nothing new story-wise but it is exciting, explosive, and should definitely be seen by those even with a passing interest in the action genre.
Van Damme plays two twins separated at birth after their parents were brutally murdered by a gang-lord. Chad is raised in Paris by Frank- a friend of his parents, and his old bodyguard, and he has had a quiet, safe life where he is a fitness instructor and martial artist. His lost twin is a small time hood called Alex who lives with his girlfriend in Hong Kong. Alex has been raised alone and has had a difficult life where he has learnt to become street smart, tough, and wary of outsiders. When Chad finds out about his brother he travels to Hong Kong to find him. Alex doesn't care, especially as Chad is so damn nice and naive, but he becomes paranoid about his Chad's relationship with his girlfriend Danielle. They find out that the group that killed their parents is in town for a major deal, and soon prepare for revenge. However, the bad guy Griffith has an army of defenders including femme fatale Kara, Raymond Zang, and good old Bolo Yeung. The brothers must confront their differences if they are to avenge their parents.
The story and characters are basic, but Van Damme does a good job in portraying the two in a different manner, and is helped by a fine supporting cast. Some of the dialogue is of course funny like most in the genre, and if you are not a fan of the genre you will probably not ever see this. However it has many good fights and strong action, and the actors are likable enough so if you are not a fan you should give it a try before any of Van Damme's earlier movies. This was a step towards action and away from pure martial arts for Van Damme, and it was his best film so far.
Another of Van Damme's best before he hit the big time, with a story written by himself. Again we have a revenge plot, but this time there is more depth as Van Damme's character Lyon is trying to help his brother, and his brother's wife and daughter from eviction etc. When he hears of his brother's problems he flees the Foreign Legion, a rather large crime, and goes to America to help. Of course, the Legion sends some tough guys after him who he must constantly evade. In order to earn money for his new family he becomes an underground fighter, managed by a likable bum called Joshua. The become close friends, and Lyon gains recognition as a talented fighter, rising through the underground ranks. The money is never enough though, and he cannot tell his brother's wife how he is getting it. A leading, rich promoter called Cynthia has noticed his talents and decides to take arrange fights for him, meaning his money increases. However Cynthia is of course wicked and only in the game for her herself. She pits Lyon against Atilla, the most fierce fighter there is, but she fixes the fight so that all bets will go to her. Lyon must defeat Atilla, but he may lose all his money in doing so.
The fights here are good, well staged and filmed, and there are some good performances. Van Damme is his usual self, but Page and Rennard add some skill to the proceedings, raising it above the average martial arts movie. Pelikan gets our sympathy as the young wife, and Johnson is okay as the daughter. There are enough simple twists to keep us happy and the plot has its cheesy charm. There is some good dialogue which will get a few laughs. Another must for Van Damme fans, this one will appeal to a wider audience also and is worth a look.
Probably the most famous of Van Damme's early work, kick-boxer is another simple story of revenge, and a showcase for his skills as a martial artist. It has some good fights, and some interesting moments showing the difficulty of training and trying to achieve your best while not losing your focus. Although it suffers from some cheesy acting, dialogue, music, and a highly disturbing dance scene, this is a must for Van Damme fans, and those with an interest in martial arts movies who don't want to stray too far from the West.
Van Damme stars as Kurt Sloane, the younger brother of a flashy American Kickboxer. They train together, but his brother Eric seems to be more interested in looking like a good fighter than actually finding the ability and skill to be one. Eric takes part in a fighting competition and is crippled and almost killed by Tong Po, and fearsome Kickboxer with a great rage and discipline. Kurt decides to avenge his brother, but no-one will train him as they believe Tong Po is too popular and strong. Eventually he finds a trainer in the middle of nowhere who teaches him to reach his full potential and push through the barriers which he never though he could surpass. He also meets Winston Tyler who provides some laughs, and Mylee who provides some style. Of course it is the fights that matter, and the revenge plot is safe enough to give the fights reason. Rather than cheap montages, we see the tough training regime Kurt goes through, and see Tong Po kicking a cement wall to build up the strength and invulnerability of his foot. Sounds odd yes, but how else would we know he's a hard lad? Anyway, a good film for fight fans, light-hearted and fast and worth watching.
What was oddly supposed to be a sequel to Dolph Lungren's Masters of the Universe, Cyborg bares no relation to He-Man, Skeletor and Co. and is a strange mix of sci-fi, martial arts, and chase movie. The film is set in a desolate wasteland of the future where bandits travel the land rampaging and killing. Scientists are close to finding a cure for the disease which has almost wiped out every human. Nady Simmons holds the key and she must get to the scientists at Atlanta if there is to be any hope. However, a maniacal group of warriors is after her. She enlists the help of a strong drifter who happens to be a martial arts expert- Gibson, and who has motives of his own for helping her. For some reason all the main characters are named after guitars or parts of guitars- the main bad guy Fender Tremelo seems to be invincible and chases Nady and Gibson everywhere. It is up to him to protect her from the evil forces and get her to Atlanta safely.
This is cheap looking, has poor acting, and some average fight scenes. However, it is still enjoyable, funny in parts, and has an interesting look to it. The plot is simple but throws up a few 'surprises', and there are a few good fights and set pieces. Probably one for Van Damme fans only.
Although it has aged quite badly as most films of this type from the eighties have, Blood Sport is a favourite from my youth and is one of Van Damme's best early efforts. There are no strings and no CG here so the fights are all the more impressive, and it is always refreshing to return to those days. The plot and characters may be simple, some of the acting may be amateurish, and the music may be dodgy but Bloodsport remains an enjoyable no-brainer for fans of the star or genre.
Van Damme stars as Frank Dux, a soldier in the US Army. He has been trained by Tanaka all his life in martial arts, and wishes to travel to the infamous Kumite tournament in Hong Kong to avenge his friend's death. The Kumite is a tournament which attracts the best and most vicious fighters from around the world, many of whom are seriously injured or killed while taking part. Dux breaks orders and travels to Hong Kong, but two soldiers follow him in an attempt to bring him back. There he meets Ray Jackson, a fellow fighter and Janice Kent, a reporter trying to get an inside scoop on the tournament. From there we see many fights as Dux progresses in the tournament whose defending Champion Chong Li (Bolo Leung) is a deadly killer. Naturally they meet in the final.
Once the plot devices of revenge and honour are put in place all we have to do is sit back and watch the fights. They are well-staged, there is a fair amount of violence, some humour, and the main cast do as well as could be expected. This is a must for Van Damme fans, but there will be little for anyone who does not watch martial arts movies.
Kurosawa's most famous film, and arguably the most famous film ever to come out of Japan over 50 years after its release. Endlessly influential, often touted as the first action movie, and full of rich cinematography, brilliantly constructed set-pieces, humour, sorrow, and some timeless characters portrayed by excellent performances. The Seven Samurai is still seen today by fans and critics alike as one of the best films ever made, almost flawless in every department and still as appealing and relevant as it was 5 decades ago.
The film begins by telling us that Japan over 400 years ago was a place of fighting and poverty, with Samurai and bandits wandering the countryside, some with honour, some stealing from the poor. We meet a group of 40 bandits who travel from village to village through the year ransacking and taking whatever they can find. In the past they have murdered farmers, raped their wives and daughters, and taken their livelihood. The decide to raid one village once it is time for the farmers to harvest. A few villagers over-hear this and tell everyone else so they can prepare. Some believe they should fight, some say they should plead with the bandits, others say they should just give in as always or they will be killed. Eventually their Patriarch Gisaku says they should go and hire some help, Samurai who will help them in exchange for food. This seems like an outrageous plan as Samurai are proud, but a small group of farmers led by Rikichi leave with some food to find such Samurai in the hope that their village will be saved, the alternative being worse. They struggle at first and we see how there is no pity for them, that most people are too busy with their own affairs. Just as they give up hope they witness Kambei, a Samurai performing a selfless deed. They follow him and ask for help. Joining Kambei is a young apprentice Samurai Katsushiro who also saw Kambei's deed, and following them is a fiery man who claims to be a samurai-Kikuchiyo. Kambei listens to them and eventually agrees, believing they will need a total of seven Samurai. He and Katsushiro make two, and they begin to look for and test others. Kambei's old friend Schichiroji who he believed was dead arrives making 3. A woodcutting, quirky Samurai called Heihachi joins as well as masterful swordsman Kyuzo making 5, and a man nicknamed strongman makes 6. They leave for the village, followed by Kikuchiyo who wants to be part of their group even though no-one believes he is a Samurai. He proves himself and makes 7 when the villagers do not come to welcome their rescuers. We see how the Samurai and farmers as two different kinds of people mix, and we see mistrust and fear. Many emotions come out adding a depth so rarely seen in action films, there is a love story between Katsushiro and Shino, many twists, prejudices and hidden truths. As the bandits approach, the farmers are trained and a plan is made, but there will be many casualties.
As so many books have been written on this film alone I can only offer a summary. Each actor is excellent, with Mifune standing out. Shimura, Miyaguchi, Tsuchiya, and Kimura all give emotive performances and when a character dies or feels sorrow we genuinely grieve with or for them. There is so much going on and so many story lines that we are completely pulled into the lives of each character. Kurosawa's direction cannot be faulted, and although it is slow at times and the search for Samurai takes up much of the film, we are captivated throughout. The action scenes, groundbreaking for their time still manage to create awe today simply because they are filmed so beautifully. This is an immortal story of winners and losers, of truth and honour, of love in all its guises, and of overcoming personal prejudice which will stay in the mind forever.
This must rank with Dead or Alive (1-3), and The Happiness of the Katakuris as one of Miike's most weird, and along with Audition as one of his best. Thanks to the Tartan DVD distributors once again, as no-one else would have the bravery or intelligence to release such fantastic films as these.
The thinking behind Visitor Q involved a company called CineRocket who made 6 films with the COMBINED budget of under £400,000! Miike's Visitor Q is the final part of the non-connecting series, and according to critic Chris Campion the only rules he had to follow were 'that it had to be shot on digital video and deal with the theme of pure love'. It is probably true that most viewers of this film will find it sickening, insane, and depraved while having no involvement of love, pure or otherwise. However, it is the lactation of the mother which, in a way brings the family together in love for each other, while before there had only been coldness and isolation. Apparently the act of breast-feeding releases oxytocin in the body, an addictive hormone sometimes called the 'hormone of love' (Campion again). Therefore Miike shows love in its purest form.
The film, like so many other Miike features deals with the family, both looking at it as a whole, and looking at the individuals within it. The father is a reporter, shamed by one of his past pieces of work which saw him anally abused by a group of kids. He is searching for a way to boost ratings, to keep his mistress happy, and perhaps redeem himself. He decides to make a film about the youth of Japan and when he decides to get a young prostitute to interview he is surprised to find that it is his daughter who recently ran away from home. One thing leads to another, and almost the first 10 minutes of the film involves Kiyoshi and his daughter in a bed. Questions are asked- 'Have you ever slept with your daughter? Have you ever been hit on the head? Have you ever hit your mother?' Kiyoshi is struck on the head by a mysterious young man who then ends up in Kiyoshi's house. We meet his wife, a heroine addict who is constantly physically abused by their son, who is constantly bullied by other kids. The mysterious Visitor begins to get involved with the family, and when Kiyoshi decides to make a film about the bullying of a son (his) from a father's perspective, the visitor helps, doing some of the camera-work. He does not seem moved in any way by the violence around him, but he manages to teach each member a lesson which brings them together, apparently against the world. He shows the mother how to lactate which proves to her that she is a normal woman, which completely rejuvenates her. Kiyoshi continues to make his film- we see more violence, death, rape, drugs, necrophilia etc etc. It all becomes completely absurd and hilarious, but the narrative never falls apart and by the end we have been completely sucked in.
Filmed on digital, Miike proves to be a master of the format even though this is his first attempt. If you get past the first 15 or 20 minutes the film will suddenly become less revolting, but no less shocking, and you will find yourself laughing uncontrollably with everything happening. Every scene breaks a taboo or shows something new. The story is interesting throughout, each performance is excellent considering the amount of nudity and the content, the scenes of violence, drugs, and sex all look flawlessly real, and we cannot look away. Of course, most people in the West will never see this film, and many that do may switch off before getting to the end because it is extreme. If you cannot handle extreme films, then stay away. Also, Koji Endo provides another excellent score, the final song-'Bubble of Water' by Real Time is perfect for the conclusion ensuring that those final scenes will stick in your head for a long time. If you are a fan of Miike, Japanese film, or extreme movies in general, put this at the top of your list. Unmissable.
The Nineties gave us a surge of impressive, stylish, innovative young film-makers from all around the globe, with Robert Rodriguez leading the way in his ability to make a low-budget film look like a Blockbuster. El Mariachi was filmed in a short time, with a minuscule budget but put him on the map. A solid story, good acting, great music and cinematography, confident and effective editing, and explosive action that many directors fail to achieve with a much larger budget. El Mariachi delivers thrills, laughs, good dialogue, and one of the coolest characters of the decade.
Carlos Gallardo stars as El Mariachi, a travelling musician who simply wants to carry on his family tradition. The next town he wanders into is run by crime-lord Moco. One of Moco's former employees Azul has become a hit-man and is wiping out Moco's men as Moco had turned against him. His trademark is his guitar case filled with weapons. When El Mariachi wanders into the town he is mistaken by Moco's men and he finds himself in constant danger. He tries to find a way to prove his innocence, but when local woman Domino becomes involved the stakes grow. Soon a war erupts in the town.
This is constantly impressive when considering the $7000 budget. Rodriguez ensures that every scene seems like it drips with gold and style. The action is swift and exciting, the performances (mainly by total amateurs), particularly from Gallardo, Consuelo Gomez, and Peter Marquardt are very strong with each portrayal making sure each character sticks in the head. El Mariachi is an innocent forced into a deadly game which will transform his life and haunt him forever. Domino is also drawn into the seedy world, is feisty but vulnerable. Moco is a cigar smoking, white-suited menace who oozes villainy. Truly one of the best low budget films ever.
Kitano comes to America and again shows he is one of the best, most versatile and underrated (in the West) directors. Brother has a lot of action, violence, humour, and style but Kitano still finds time for his usual existential ponderings and quiet, contemplative scenes. It is a film about comradeship, about overcoming racial (amongst others) boundaries to gain respect and friendship.
Kitano stars, with shades, as Aniki Yamamoto a Japanese Yakuza member famed for his abilities, loyalty, and strengths. He is forced to leave the country and goes to America in search of a younger brother he has not seen in years. There he realises that his brother is a small-time gangster, and that he can help his gang to become the most powerful in the city. Soon he sparks up an unlikely friendship between himself and his brother's gang and earns their respect by his coolness under pressure and knowledge of the trade. His plan works well, but soon other local gangsters decide to team up against him leading to death, revenge, and honour.
Again there is more said in a single glance than by five minutes of dialogue, though Kitano realises the difference between West and East in this regard, and the Americans are shouty from the start. There is the usual sadness throughout the film which permeates most of Kitano's work, but there is plenty of humour too. Kitano gives another cool performance, Epps is good as Denny, as is Maki as Kitano's brother Ken who has become Americanised. The violence is not as shocking as in his other films, but is just as sudden, fast, and meaningful. There are few directors around at the moment with this style- emotionally strong, character driven stories with stylish violence, and Kitano is one of the even fewer who can repeatedly pull it off.
Famous for going through several cuts, budget and time problems, and for being slammed by critics at the time for its strange imagery and dark and foreboding tone, Welles's Macbeth has now been recognised as a good, if not great adaptation made even more admirable by the constraints which constantly surrounded it.
The story of Macbeth is simple and well-known: Macbeth, proud soldier and follower of his King Duncan, stumbles upon a Witches' Haven one night with his partner Banquo. The Witches give their prophecy that Macbeth will eventually become King, and that the sons of Banquo will also reign. This worries both men, but they decide to discuss it later. On hearing this, the ambitious Lady Macbeth inspires Macbeth to murder Duncan and usurp the throne, which he does. Soon guilt sinks in along with deep paranoia and Macbeth believes that everyone is out to get him. Welles keeps fairly close to Shakespeare's dark work in dialogue and plot, and certainly gives his film the same feel which the play itself gives. The setting is dark, rocky, full of shadows and isolated, and the choice of Black and White filming adds greatly to the tone. Welles shows he is a master of lighting, shadow and contrast and uses this ability to its fullest. As Macbeth's paranoia grows, the imagery becomes more surreal and ominous, hangman's trees stooping in the background, and long takes to emphasise the growing worries in his mind. Overall, Welles captures the play's atmosphere perfectly. His portrayal of Macbeth as a man not in control of his own fate is good, and of course his acting is fine. The rest of the cast is also strong, including big names like Mcdowall, Herhily, and Napier. Much has been said about the heavy accents but this can be overlooked. The final scenes, full of religious imagery are very good although Macbeth's death has been done better and it seemed that the Holy Father character was only included so that Macbeth could land on...I won't spoil it. Not as good as Kurosawa's, but a very different film with a very different style.
Over 10 years before Elm Street began, Craven was already creating fear, disgust, invention and controversy, particularly with The Last House on the Left, a notoriously banned film which, like most banned films is graphic more in theme than content. For its time though, it was heavy stuff, rape, murder, mutilation, torture, sadism, revenge, chainsaws...
The film begins calmly enough, with two teenage girls going out together to a rock concert, we watch them getting ready at one of their houses with one set of parents telling them to be careful, have a good time etc. However, after looking for pot before the concert the girls are kidnapped by a group of sadistic escaped criminals including Krug, the leader, and his apparent girlfriend Sadie. The girls are then raped, tortured, and eventually killed in brutal ways. Craven directs these scenes so that they are almost unbearable to watch even though we don't see much, and the performances of the cast are excellent. Even after the deaths the killers seem to realise what they have done and there seems to be some sort of confusion in their eyes, if not remorse. Then in a Bergman-esquire twist, the killers' car breaks down and they look for help at a nearby house which just happens to be the Collingwood home, where the parents of one of their victims live. They have called the police as their daughter has not returned home, and unwittingly invite the maniacs in. Soon though each group recognises the other, and the parents go about their bloody revenge using a variety of dentistry and home improvement tools to full, gripping effect.
Like The Hills have Eyes, it is fascinating to watch how a middle class family with strong values etc can quickly become executers when provoked, to see how any person can become a monster in the 'right' circumstances. There are no happy endings here, no moral justification, just revenge pure and simple. The film is set up in every way to disturb, from the infamous trailer, the Texas Chainsaw style 'based on a true story' effect, and the scenes of torture and murder themselves. Krug and co. and thoroughly evil and take great joy in the pain of others, but they quickly change face when bearing down upon a gun or chainsaw. The film is almost entirely grim and grainy although there are some funny moments involving the cops and a chicken farmer. There is some average acting, and it will be too unbearable for some. This should definitely be seen, but do not be expecting a bright affair, you will be uncomfortable throughout.
What is increasingly, and unfortunately looking like John Carpenter's last feature film Ghosts of Mars is another genre blending experiment typical of his illustrious career. Set in the distant future Ghosts of Mars is a mix of sci-fi, action, horror, and western which follows a large group of people including prisoners and prison guards who must work together to overcome a deadly, massing foe, much like Rio Bravo and Assault on Precinct 13. There is a lack of trust between each character, minimal dialogue, a sense of claustrophobia, and the usual cliffhanger ending. Ghosts of Mars is a good film, much better than most critics and fans have said, inferior to his past classics, which unfortunately suffers from some cheap looking sets and odd casting choices. Perhaps if Kurt Russell had been here instead of Ice Cube it would have been a greater success, but this choice would have been too predictable and samey for Russell.
A group of Prison guards are sent to Mars to transport a dangerous criminal, Desolation Williams (Cube) from a remote mining community to a maximum security prison. When Commander Braddock (Pam Grier), Melanie Ballard (Henstridge) and her team arrive, they find the community ominously empty and quiet. As they look around, the sense that someone is watching them rises, and as the team splits we get their two different perspectives of events. Upon further investigation it seems that the inhabitants of the town have somehow been possessed and have become ultra-strong, vicious killers, ready to butcher any intruders. What soon becomes clear is that the survivors must work together to find a way out of the place alive, while not letting Desolation and his team get free. However, certain team members may also be possessed, and they are greatly outnumbered.
Even though everyone gives a good performance, Ice Cube has his critics and sometimes looks as if he is trying too hard to look as serious as possible. Many have spoken about the appearance of Mars, and the lack of logic behind the physics involved, but please try to remember this is 200 years in the future and technology will have changed, and that it is science fiction. Yes, the sets do not look like expensive buildings for millionaires, but this was the desired effect, a ghost town which has been worn down over the years which adds to the atmosphere of isolation. Perhaps there are too many characters, the dialogue is not as strong as in other films, the score will put some off and it is not as memorable as others. It is quite gory though, with some good effects when blood and death is involved, and there is plenty of action and excitement. Although we can probably predict some of the survivors, there is enough intrigue to make us wonder who will be next to die, or turn. The direction is sound, and the split perspective at the start is a good idea. Henstridge is strong, Statham gives probably the best performance, one reminiscent of past Carpenter hits, Clea Duvall is also good, and Grier is fine in a short-lived part. Most people except greatness from Carpenter, and something fresh- this is something he has done all his career so it is hardly surprising when he just makes a fun movie which doesn't try to be serious, and when there is not much originality. The B-movie feel will likely alienate most people, the characters and plot have been done before, but for some gory action this is sure to please, as long as you are not expecting a masterpiece.
A romantic comedy with an unusually varied cast giving good performances. Sigourney Weaver and Jennifer Love Hewitt star as a mother and daughter con-team. They are like the legacy hunters of Ancient Rome, following around wealthy men in order to get their money. Their usual scam involves Max (Weaver) seducing a man, then marrying him. Then Page (Hewitt) appears and makes him unfaithful so that Max can divorce him and get half his money. The film begins with such a scam, taking mechanic Ray Liotta for a ride. Max is annoyed though with their slim pickings, and Page claims she can move out on her own. They decide to go for one last score each, to see who can earn the most. Max sets her sights on aging Billionaire Tensey, played by Hackman and Page follows Bartender Jason Lee who is also rich. However, Page falls for Lee and Max realises she may lose her daughter, as well as Tinsey's fortune as he refuses to die. Also, Liotta has found the two and realised their plans. He wants his money back...
Although this starts out as quite a dark and cynical comedy it soon becomes more light-hearted and typical fare. There remains though a subtle tone of skepticism throughout which is refreshing in a genre which rarely offers any originality, or entertainment. Each actor seems to enjoy themselves fully, some being pulled widely away from the characters they usually play. Weaver is very strong and in control, Hewitt is extremely sexy rather than her usual roles involving screaming, crying or cuteness, and she does very well. Liotta is excellent giving the best jokes in the film, Hackman is also very funny, and Jason Lee, though toned down from his Kevin Smith roles is still capable of getting our laughs and sympathy. You can usually buy this pretty cheap so it would hardly be a waste, better than most of its type but unfortunately it is a type which is limited. Overall, good fun.
Stephen Frears makes another gritty drama which deals with a contemporary issue-this time it is about illegal immigration in England. Taken from the viewpoint of the immigrants we must sympathise with them, and whatever your political viewpoint on the subject Frears again has given the average viewer more to think about. He shows above all the human side of these forgotten people, reminding us that they should not be treated like cattle (even when they are in the film), and that they are simply trying to find a home and survive. Some will view the characters as immoral, breaking the law of a country not their own in order to further themselves, but this is not the case.
Ejiofor plays Okwe, an African immigrant working two jobs in London just so he can raise enough money to get by. He is a doctor, but most of his time is spent as a Hotel Porter. He sleeps on the couch of another illegal immigrant, Senay from Turkey played by Audrey Tautou. She works in the same Hotel as Okwe, but the immigration guys are after her and she changes jobs quickly, going to work in a factory where the owner forces her to give him sexual favours. One night Okwe is unplugging a toilet in a hotel when he finds a human heart. It seems Sneaky, the Hotel's night manager is involved in several dodgy schemes, most involving black-market donors- he exploits immigrants, making them donate their various organs in order to get money for themselves so that they can leave or gain citizenship. Senay wants to join her family in America, but will never be able to afford tickets or passports and she agrees to sell a kidney to Sneaky. She is in love with Okwe, but guilty over giving up her virginity, and Okwe comes up with a plan to save Senay by saying he will do the operation in exchange for passports. These are are the dirty things of the title which are forced upon innocent people with no other way out.
Frears must be praised again for bringing an important and taboo issue to the big screen and deals with it in a clever and honest way. There are funny moments, amidst all the grim details so it never becomes unwatchable. Frears is showing that whatever you believe, the immigration laws in this country are deeply flawed and is drawing attention to the fact that people are being exploited. Okwe does an excellent job in the lead role and gives a memorable, understated performance, showing the strain and pressure of a man in such a situation. Tautou in her first English speaking role is also very good, and although her Turkish accent slips this can be forgiven. She portrays the yearning for a better life accurately and the desperation which comes with such a desire. She was undoubtedly offered many roles like Amelie after that film's success, but deserves respect for choosing to do something different, especially here in such a challenging role. Sergi Lopez is perfect as Sneaky, a slimy man who will do anything to anyone just to get a little more money. Sophie Okonedo is also good as a local prostitute, providing some light relief. The love story does seem a little odd and almost tacked on, but the conviction of the actors mean they pull it off without it seeming unconvincing. A film probably which only fans of Tautou or Frears will come to which is unfortunate as it has much to offer.
Another cheap horror movie which borrows heavily from both big and cult hits of the genre, but one which manages to be quite enjoyable even if we have seen it all before. There are some good performances, some not so good, a few typical scares and jokes(some which work, some which don't), a fair amount of blood, a simple but well executed story, and quite a creepy bad guy. Probably not worth searching for, but worth watching if it is on TV, especially if you are a horror fan.
Mary is a teenage girl with a love for horror movies, always searching for the next scare. When she hears about a new film called The Wisher which has been getting good reviews from terrified audiences, her and her friends go to see it, against her father's wishes. Mary has a habit of sleepwalking which her father believes is caused by all the rubbish she watches. A short time into the movie, Mary vomits and leaves knowing the film is too much for her. After an argument with her father she wishes he would just go away. Soon her father is dead, and Mary believes she keeps seeing the Wisher creature from the movie. She becomes paranoid and after a few more gory events related to what she has innocently wished for, she believes that The Wisher, or someone dressed up as him is stalking her, obsessively carrying out her wishes in the worst way possible. She finds out that the film makers imbued the film with subliminal messages, and thinks that school hunk Brad, who likes her, has been hypnotised by the film. She tries to find a way to reverse the process, planning to watch the film to see how it ended. The Wisher is on to her plan though...
Although everything is pretty predictable there is still enough fun to warrant watching this. There is some cheesy dialogue and effects, and you would think that once you believed that your wishes were coming true you would immediately wish for The Wisher to leave. Liane Balaban is very good as Mary, at times carrying the film on her own, and Ron Silver is good though seems uninterested in a smaller role. The rest of the cast are OK, but the film is quick and never tries to over-achieve. The Wisher itself does look scarier than your typical cheap horror movie bad guy, and the director's best moments are when the Wisher is stalking in the shadows or on reflections. There is not much heavy violence and nothing is over-the-top. Give it a go if it's on, but do not expect a masterpiece, just a quick piece of entertainment.
Carpenter rounded off his eighties career with They Live, an action and sci-fi mix with all the usual Carpenter traits, but which also works as a propaganda piece, and seems to have influenced films such as The Matrix. It is a film about unseen forces controlling us, about speaking out and taking action, rather than sitting back and accepting that what you see is the way the world should be. Featuring many good ideas, minimal and cool dialogue, shady characters and unlikely heroes, They Live is considered by many as Carpenter's last good film, though I have enjoyed most of what he has done since.
The film begins with a drifter walking into town, looking for any sort of work. His name is Nada, though this is never said, and he eventually finds work at a building site. There he meets Frank who introduces him to his slum neighbourhood on the outskirts of the city. Pirate TV broadcasts tell of the upper class getting richer, and the middle class being drained. Nada sees that these broadcasts are coming from a nearby church, but is warned not to get involved or the cops will take him away. When one day the church is raided, Nada finds a box of sunglasses. When he wears a pair he begins to see things- advertisements turn to slogans such as 'sleep' and 'obey', and realises that aliens are walking disguised amongst them, mostly the rich people. He grabs a gun and begins killing them, trying to find out why, who, from where etc. He meets Holly who works for a TV station and tries to convince her, but she doesn't believe him and calls the cops. After a long fight Nada manages to give Frank a pair, and he too sees what has been hidden from the public. They find the people who made the glasses, and set out to stop the aliens who are using humans, and other planets as resources for their own wealth.
This works as a social commentary on class, wealth, the politics of the time, and as an anti-war message for today. Invasion and subtle control are tolerated until a few rebels realise the truth and fight back. We should not be content with buying what we think makes us look good and become numb and dumb. Roddy Piper of WWF fame gives a fine performance as Nada, and of course his strength is exploited. Keith David is as strong as always, and Foster looks chilling and distant. The effects are still effective even if they do resemble something from the forties, and the story is good. After a slow start things speed up towards a typically Carpenter ending. This is another good film by Carpenter which lacks the best scares of The Thing and the fun of Big Trouble, but still is greatly entertaining and worth watching.