Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Short Film: Logorama (France, 2009)

Logorama from Marc Altshuler - Human Music on Vimeo.

"This guy sucks hairy balls"
Big Boy about Mr Clean

Written and directed by François Alaux, Hervé de Crécy and Ludovic Houplain of the Parisian design studio H5 and six years in the making, Logorama is a wonderfully caustic animated film that appropriates virtually every logo you can think of – take your pick: at least 2,000, according to imdb, or more than 2,500 according to Wikipedia – and transplants them within a typically exaggerated Hollywood blockbuster scenario complete with a car chase, Tarentinoesque dialogue (supplied by Hollywood screenwriters Andrew Kevin Walker and Gergory Puss, according to the website Short of the Week), a major shootout and a devastating earthquake. That the film walked away with the 2010 Oscar for Best Animated Short Film is not surprising; what is surprising is that none of the international companies have made problem for the use of their corporate symbols – in this film, for example, both Big Boy and Ronald McDonald are notably less than the shining examples of citizenship than one would expect the respective corps to stomach. Mean and violent and with a vocabulary that renders the film NSFW, Logorama is a visual delight, a nasty laugh and wonderfully enjoyable.
Enjoy this ode to the pervading presence and power of the brand name and global consumerism, A Wasted Life's Short Film of the Month for June 2011.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Dying Breed (Australia, 2008)

"Simple Simon met the pie man playing with a knife Said Simple Simon to the pie man, 'Will you take my life?' Said the pie man to Simple Simon, 'When the time is right.' Said Simple Simon to the pie man, 'Then I'll die tonight'."
Katie (Sheridan Harvey)

In the three-DVD horror package I picked up on my last trip to Groningen, the world's biggest open-air shopping mall with a wonderfully nasty postmodern art museum, Dying Breed is the middle film between Dance of the Dead (2008 / trailer) and Doghouse (2009 / trailer) – a truly inappropriate place for it to be. Dance of the Dead and Doghouse are both zomcoms, whereas Dying Breed is far from a comedy and has nothing to do with zombies – though more than enough flesh-munching is indeed on its menu.
If there is a laugh in the debut feature-length film that director Jody Dwyer serves up, I missed it. Instead, I saw a film that's one cup The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974 / trailer and 2003 / trailer) baked with one cup of The Hills Have Eyes (1977 / trailer and 2006 / trailer), liberally peppered with a spoonful of Deliverance (1972 / trailer) and garnered with Australian accents. About as original as an Elmyre de Hory painting and as predictable as your mom's meatloaf, Dying Breed is a contemporary Ozploitation flick that offers nothing new but remains as effectively grueling once it kicks in as it does remain predictable from the start – nonetheless, it is a depressingly efficient ride with a couple of decent shocks (like the expected but nonetheless nasty bear-trap death)
and a gloomy ending that does not really hold water but still leaves you all queasy in the stomach.
Odd, actually, that the film didn't start with one of those ubiquitous "Based on True Events" statements, for it would have about as much reason to do so as, say, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or (to get closer to Oz) Wolf Creek (2005 / trailer) or even Fargo (1996 / trailer) does. In other words: the inspiration may be based on someone somewhere who once existed, but all that follows is pure fabrication.
The true tale upon which Dying Breed is based is one unknown to the rest of the world but familiar in bits and pieces to most Australians, that of Alexander Pearce. Pearce – whose skull, oddly enough, is now housed far from Australia at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia – was an Irish convict transported to Tasmania during the first quarter of the 18th century; he is remembered today for having successfully escaped Sarah Island (twice) and for having cannibalized his fellow escapees while doing so. He was executed (hanged) at 9 AM on 19 July 1824. Dying Breed, however, begins by doing a bit of history revisionism and has him escaping into the backwaters of Tasmania to live amongst the CGI Tasmanian Tigers...
Jump forward to the 21st century. Nice but wimpy Matt (Leigh Whannell of Saw [2004 / trailer]) accompanies his uptight zoologist girlfriend Nina (Mirrah Foulkes of Animal Kingdom [2010 / trailer]) to Tasmania to search for the extinct Tasmanian Tiger; many years previously, before turning up toothless and drowned in the Pieman River in Tasmania, her sister sent her a photo of a paw print lending credence to the argument that the supposedly extinct creature is still around. Matt has talked his old best bud Jack the asshole (Nathan Phillips of Snakes on a Plane [2006 / trailer] and Wolf Creek) into assisting them, and together with Matt's obviously-not-the-final-girl girlfriend Rebecca (Melanie Vallejo) they go where they obviously shouldn't: deep into the virgin-forest backwaters of Tasmania. After a brief stopover in a hicksville mudhole called "Sarah", populated by inbred psychos, the four boat on up the river where everything more or less happens as is expected in a film about city folk that head into unexplored backwaters, only this time the hicks are cannibals and are in search of new breeding stock…
There is very little narrative creativity in this film and the CGI – of the tiger and an ax in the face – is terrible, but the sense of dread does build nicely and there are a couple of effective scenes. The ending is truly repulsive, but less than logical or truly believable, even if the Older Cop (Greg Parker) knows the truth and is in on a cover-up (alone the shack in the woods would probably bring in a whole forensics crew). The only truly likable character is the first to go, and Jack in general is almost a caricature of the character type he is meant to be – as is virtually everyone in the film. Director Jody Dwyer has a nice grasp of direction even if the scriptwriters are sloppy, and the mood of unavoidable doom that pervades the last half goes a long way towards making the film watchable.
Of course, Dying Breed is only truly watchable if you can deal with mean, depressing and grueling horror films. If not, you should best watch something like Dance of the Dead or Doghouse and skip this meaty slab of carnivorous hillbilly hell…

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Scream Bloody Murder (USA, 2003)

(The following trailer for Scream Bloody Murder is the perfect example of how not to make a trailer. If you have any intention of ever even bothering to see this film, don't watch the trailer, as it reveals everything that happens, right down to the big denouncement and twist. Not good. If this were a film school project, the trailer would get an F minus.)

"I don't think you're too lame to kill somebody."
Beaumont (Drew Droege)

Just so you know, the Scream Bloody Murder discussed here is not legendary and legendarily brainless and gory 1973 cult slasher about Matthew hook-handed killer (trailer). Sorry. The film in question in this review, also entitled Scream Bloody Murder, is the unknown and somewhat brainless direct-to-DVD debut film of director John Hoffman, who followed up two years later with the less-unknown but generally dissed direct-to-DVD flick Scarred (2005 / trailer), which he co-directed with Dave Rock, Hoffman's co-scribe for Scream Bloody Murder. Rock is still around editing films; who know where Hoffman is. Making trailers, maybe?
Scream Bloody Murder is an oddly endearing if totally stupid and extremely ineptly made horror spoof. Oddly enough, as flawed as the film is, it is also inexplicable appealing. Aside from actually generating a number of hearty laughs and an equal number of light giggles, the ending alone is justly noteworthy: it truly and effectively takes the piss out of both the twist ending and typically obtuse explanation of the killer's motivation found in 99% of all body-count and dead-teenager films. For that alone, Scream Bloody Murder is hard to hate completely, no matter how many directorial and technical and narrative flaws it might have. Besides, even if the film never does come anywhere close to showing nipple, who can really hate a film that features 6 nubiles in private school uniforms (as in: mini-dresses) terrorized by an unseen killer? I sure can't. Them girls there be all so durn cute… Here, kitty, kitty, kitty!
Of course, as might be expected, none of them jail-bait babes have since done any other film project of any note.
Five girls from the private all-girls Cherry Mount Academy are set to leave to go to a dance at an all-boys academy, chaperoned by the uptight Miss Beaver (Tara Thomson). Just prior to leaving the academy, Principal Burden (voice-over artist Michael McConnohie, who supplied the voice to the titular Vampire Hunter D [1985], amongst others) ups the count to six by adding a new, bitchy transfer student from Alaska. Along the way to ballroom mania their van breaks down in the middle of the desert and a sub-mental man with a tow truck ends up towing them to his nearby automobile graveyard where he says he'll repair the van. Before you know it, they are being offed one-by-one by an unknown killer and have no means of escape....
Pretty generic plot, huh? But that would be the point, wouldn't it? Needless to say, all characters are stereotypes, so much so that it is surprising that Hoffman didn't literally label them by type with superimposed descriptions – "The Goth," "The Bitch," etc. – as was done in the much better made but less enjoyable semi-spoof Demon Slayer (2003). It is also odd, considering the light gore and "adult" dialog, that not one of the nubiles ever got past their showing their bras – the lesbian scenes, for example, despite the almost childish way they were dealt with, fairly moaned for more nudity. But then, the lesbian angle – like the whole virginity bit – was extremely soph-moronic; both aspects come across as if the filmmaker is the type of guy that giggles at words like "kaka" and "pee-pee." Indeed, Scream Bloody Murder is sometimes so adolescent in its humor that it comes across like a kiddy dead-teenager film – but then, it is this childish, unprofessional aspect to the film that also makes it endearing.
In regard to "horror," the film is about as scary (and as bloody) as a used tampon – in other words, not very scary and there are bloodier things out there even when fit to be used as a Transylvanian teabag. The acting us sitcom level, but cuteness goes a long way to making it bearable, as does the many good one-liners and inspired exchanges. The bitchiness does get tiresome sometimes, and the film would have been well served had Hoffman and Rock cut out more of the endless faux-Agatha-Christie deductions of the unexpected final girl (Stephanie Northrup of Black Magic [2002 / trailer]). Luckily, in-between such stuff the dialog is sometimes truly inspired, both subtly and obviously. Technically, however, the film is a mess – the day-for-night shots, for example, look as if the technique were still in its developmental phase and outdo anything William Beaudine ever did.
But then, the question does arise whether or not the unprofessionalism is sometimes on purpose; sort of an ironic spoofing of the ineptitude of so many body-count films. This concept almost seems too arty, too intelligent for the film, but the scene in which the first dead teenager goes from dark-haired while alive to blonde when dead is such an extreme fuck-up that it does lend credence to the argument of intentional ineptitude. (But then again, maybe I'm overestimating the abilities and intelligence of the filmmakers here…)
Scream Bloody Murder is not a good film in any sense of the word, but it is an oddly fun and enjoyable one. It's like a Butterfingers candy bar or Mountain Dew: so crappy it's hard not to like it. And it goes great with some good smoke.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Splinter (USA, 2007)

"It's okay, we're cutting your arm off."
Polly Watt

On late-night or mid-afternoon local TV you used to catch them all the time: tight and crisp (usually) B&W sci-fi horror flicks of manly male scientists and their resourceful and dependable wives or fiancés or girlfriends who suddenly get confronted by a danger new and unknown that could destroy the world; often the couple alone must overcome and destroy the menace because no help is on the way, other times the army might be called but it is the sudden insight of the manly male scientist or an off-hand remark of the resourceful and dependable token curves that leads to the world's safety. We're not talking of teen-hero films like The Blob (1958 / trailer) or The Giant Gila Monster (1959 / trailer / full film), which are a genre of their own, but of films with unambiguously manly males and curvaceous but smart women being as brave and intelligent as the social concepts of the time permitted them to be – for example: Them (1954 / trailer), The Monolith Monsters (1957 / trailer), or Tarantula (1955 / trailer / full film). More recent example of the genre – a genre that substantially lost popularity as other genres such as the body count and slasher film grew – would be womanless but nonetheless manly The Thing (1982 / trailer), itself a remake of a far more innocent classic of the genre with woman, The Thing from another World (1951 / trailer), Tremors (1990 / trailer), and Slither (2006 / trailer).
Unlike Tremors and Slither, however, Splinter pretty much jettisons the humor and instead goes for pure tension and horror – and succeeds aces down! Splinter, the debut film of Toby Wilkins, who went on to do the much less interesting and arguably totally unnecessary horror film The Grudge III (2009 / trailer), is very much an updated version of the Jack Arnold and/or Bert I. Gordon and/or Gordon Douglas films of yesteryear. (Indeed, were any of the three named dead dinosaurs living Young Turks in today's film market, they might well be making films like this one.) The script supplied by Ian Shorr and Kai Barry reduces the ingredients of the genre to the barest minimum – tiny cast, deadly and unstoppable danger, isolated location, a vulnerable haven – and the result is a lean and mean and quick monster film that never bores but almost always keeps you at the edge of the seat.
Splinter might be a low budget baby, but its sights are set high and it succeeds at what it aims for: to thrill you, chill you, gross you out and make you feel like you just saw some scary shit. Unlike most films of its ilk, the origin of the titular splinter monster is never explained; it is simply suddenly there – one can easily assume, however, that like most films of the genre the origins of the creature must be astral for otherwise the world would have long gone spiney. But this lack of explanation is typical of the leanness of the film: Why explain something that really doesn't need to be?
(Some spoilers.) Splinter opens on a sunny day at some backwoods gas station with a brief scene in which the attendant (Charles Baker) falls victim to an attack by something and then, screaming and contorting, begins to bloodily mutate. Then two couples are introduced: a young Starkweather and Fugate on the run named Dennis (Shea Whigham) and Lacy (Rachel Kerbs), whose car dies on them, and the curvaceous wife Polly (Jill Wagner – seen here not as she appears in the film) and her wimpy biologist husband Seth (Paulo Costanzo of Road Trip [2000 / trailer]), who are out on an anniversary camping trip. In no short time, Seth and Polly are the hostages of Dennis and Lacy, and a flat tire later, when their truck overheats, they pull up to an isolated, backwoods gas station... and what starts out almost like a psychos-on-the-loose-takes-hostages film – see The Sadist (1963 / full film), Kalifornia (1993 / trailer) or Perdita Durango (1997 / trailer) – goes hardcore monsters-terrorize-helpless-humans horror instead when the four are confronted by a mutated and aggressive attendant, his bloody body a horrific version of a porcupine, who, as his body contorts to the sound of breaking bones and tearing flesh, attacks and kills Lacy. The other three take refuge within the store, where they see the dead Lacy mutate in front of their eyes into another spine-covered, voracious monster. With no way out and no way to fight back, a bad situation gets worse when Dennis realizes that the splinter he took in his hand while changing the flat tire is beginning to cause his hand to mutate, too...
Splinter follows the structure of the classic 50s monster films down to the T, but of course with totally contemporary clothing. Polly is hot, spunky, intelligent and a fighter, but in the end her main function is to be eye-candy – which she is. Her husband might seem like a wimp, but he's the scientist that puts the clues together to explain what the monster is and why it does this or that; by the end of the film, he has won the respect of Dennis as much as Dennis has won his and Polly's respect. Dennis does a fine and convincing job in his transition from psycho to simpatico, complete with an end that would make Hemingway proud.
In all truth, Splinter really doesn't even add anything new to the genre other than the form of the monster, but derivative or traditional or not, the film is an enthralling and well-acted ride, both scary and exciting, and thus it manages to overcome its own traditionalism and occasional narrative flaws – an exacto knife amputation? – to become enjoyable.
And, damn! Finally: no vampires, no zombies, no unstoppable psycho with a hidden grudge.
One really wonders why, after making a film like this, director Toby Wilkins was "awarded" a project as pointless as The Grudge III.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Zombie Holocaust (Italy, 1980)

Zombie Holocaust

Dr Butcher, M.D.

Many a year ago, when I was an impressionable young lad who had to shave but twice week (vs. my decision nowadays to shave but twice a week), an advertisement in the local San Diego newspaper did lure me downtown to pre-Gaslamp Quarter Horton Plaza to see a film entitled Dr Butcher MD. (A few years later, at art school, going through a pile of back of some old art magazine at a friend's studio, I discovered that the mad man in the center of the poster to the film – seen at the bottom of the page – was cribbed from a photo of Salvador Dali – how fitting, I thought, and still think. A comparison of the two images, found on the net, is at the left.)
I remember that, as I stumbled out of that venerable grindhouse theater (that stood directly where the Horton Plaza shopping mall now stands – indeed a sorry-ass exchange of structures if there ever was one) and into the glare of sun-baked, then-homeless-inhabited Horton Plaza, I felt that my eyes and brain had been raped by a nonsensical, pointless, badly made, badly acted and badly dubbed excuse of a film that lacked any and all indication of any cinematic talent. Man, I hated that piece of celluloid flotsam, which I considered a total worthless piece of shit, and I bitched about at it at high school for weeks afterwards... But of course life continued and the film slowly drifted from my memory, much like everything about San Diego did after I finally left the small town.
But then, the other day at our weekly bad movie night, after we had finished the mandatory complaining about our respective other halves' most recent unreasonable demands, a pal o' mine gave me a nice beer (Pilsner Urquel – my favorite Czech Pils) and as we munched away on our yuppie designer potato chips (with "real" olive oil!), he popped in his most newly procured horror flick, a film whose title he had forgotten and we knew nothing about other than it was Italian (always a plus) and about zombies. The film soon revealed itself to be something entitled Zombie Holocaust, a name that sounded familiar but that I didn't think I had yet seen.
Already with the slow opening pan across the night-time NYC skyline and up to a lit window followed by a hatted, trench-coat-wearing figure in a darkened hallway that saws the hand off a fat corpse, I had a feeling of familiarity. Could it really be? Within minutes, when the Amanda Lear lookalike doctor Lori Ridgeway (Alexandra Delli Colli of The New York Ripper [1982 / trailer]) finally got onscreen, I knew: yes, indeed, it was Dr. Butcher MD. And the film was exactly as I remembered it: a nonsensical, pointless, badly made, badly acted and badly dubbed excuse of a film that lacked any and all indication of any cinematic talent. What can I say – I loved it! What a fucking great film!
A little on-line research later revealed that Zombie Holocaust is also known as Zombie 3, and that the Dr Butcher MD version of the film I saw as a spit-n-vinegar teen had a different soundtrack and a few different scenes, but truth be told I could notice no differences. Both versions, I would hazard to say, are enjoyably incompetent pieces of gore filmmaking that are so badly made and gory and narratively all over the place that it is hard to believe that Bruno Mattei isn't the director hiding behind the obvious pseudonym of "Frank Martin." But no, Frank Martin is the Anglo pseudonym of the unknown Italo low budget director Marino Girolami (1914–1994), the father of the much better known Italo trash filmmaker Enzo G. Castellari. Girolami specialized mostly in comedies but also made an occasional crime flick like the highly entertaining and sleazy Dirty Harry (1971 / trailer) inspired Violent Rome (1976 / trailer). That film, along with Zombie Holocaust, would seem to be Girolami's masterpieces.
Zombie Holocaust came into being because producer Fabrizio De Angelis figured that the best way to follow up on the success of Zombi II (1979 / trailer) and Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals (1977 / trailer) was to combine both subjects in one film – sorta. This time around, on that distant South Seas islands, the zombies – unlike the cannibals – never actually get around to eating anybody; they just shuffle about and do the bidding of the evil doctor that made them zombies by exchanging their brains.
As can be surmised by the previous sentence, the plot of Zombie Holocaust is a non-plot, and the film is heavily padded with scenes that do little to advance the non-story but do fatten the running time. In NYC, after the desecration of a number of dead bodies, a hospital worker is caught devouring a human heart. (His suicide is grand: watch his arm fly from his body when he hits the ground after his nosedive out a high-rise window, only to reappear attached in the next scene outside.) Dr. Lori, a doctor at the hospital who also happens to be an anthropologist, also happened to grow up on the same Moluccan island where the window-diver came from. Dr. Chandler (cult actor Ian McCulloch of Contamination [1980 / trailer]) reveals that similar acts of cannibalism have been happening at other hospitals, all by immigrants of the Moluccas. Accompanied by Chandler's assistant George (Peter O'Neal – in his only film ever!?!) and his obnoxious reporter girlfriend Susan (Sherry Buchanan of What Have They Done to Your Daughters [1974 / trailer], The Heroin Busters [1977 / trailer] and Last House on the Beach [1978 / trailer]), they all go, logically enough, to the Moluccan islands to find out, well, something. There they meet up with Dr. Obrero (Italo trash and spaghetti western mainstay Donald O'Brien of Run Man, Run! [1968 / trailer], Tough to Kill [1978 / trailer]), Keoma [1976 / trailer], Mannaja [1977 / trailer], Ghosthouse [1988 / trailer] and much, much more), the occasionally titular Dr. Butcher, though they don't know that yet. With four of the good doctor's men they continue their journey, finally ending up on Keto, the island they seek, whereupon their numbers steadily dwindle as the guides get devoured one by one. Do they return to the boat and leave? No, they go doggedly on, the result being that soon George becomes lunch, Susan loses her hair and her brain to the good doctor, Lori gets kidnapped by the cannibals where she willingly submits to nude body-painting session before being made queen of the tribe (sounds a lot like The Mountain of the Cannibal God [1978 / trailer] here, doesn't it?) and Chandler is tied down awaiting a brain exchange...
The gore is often and intense, and it really is the true heart of the film, a showpiece of 80s blood and guts excess. Some of it has aged rather badly, but most has withstood the test of time and looks way better than today's CGI. There is absolutely no tension in the film, but more than enough laughs intentional and not – particularly the scenes with Susan and Dr Butcher offer some extremely black humor (and gore). To say the acting variable is probably an understatement, but the thespian ineptitude fits well to the overall stupidity and senselessness of the scattered script. Dr. Lori gets naked a lot, too, which is definitely a plus, and Dr. Obrero/Butcher more or less walks away with every scene he's in due to his campy overacting.
Whether you see Zombie Holocaust or Dr Butcher, M.D., rest assured it will be an eye-opening experience. A definite must for anyone who claims to like bad films – they just don't make them like this anymore.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Sha ren zhe Tang Zhan / The Assassin (Hong Kong, 1994)

This film came my way via a pal runs a place here in Berlin called Silver Disc. Whenever his pile of "unsellable" trash DVDs gets too high, he lets me raid it in exchange for a couple of beers or euros. Normally, the films in the pile are as unknown to me as the nether regions of an elephant, but in my never-ending search for the great unknown film I always find something that looks like it might be promising. His pile of "unsellable" DVDs is always much smaller after a visit from me.
In all truth, however, I have yet to find one film in that pile that actually delivers the promise it (or at least the DVD case) initially seems to promise. And this Hong Kong film, Sha ren zhe Tang Zhan / The Assassin, Siu-hung "Billy" Chung's 1994 Cat III period piece slicer and dicer, is no exception. Which isn't to say that the film doesn't have its good points or that it is completely unwatchable; it's just that the film isn't particularly memorable or interesting. (Rather unlike Siu-hung Chung's extremely idiosyncratic and memorable horror comedy Gui qing ni di hu / Last Ghost Standing (1999 / trailer), a gobshit film that rather deserves a bit more than the zero attention it has gotten to date.)
The Assassin is of slight note for having garnered a Cat III rating only for its violence, as there is little to no overt sexuality in it. That said, although the version being reviewed here, at 84 minutes, is 4 minutes longer than the supposed length of the uncut film (as in accordance to imdb), and although the film also has more than enough blood and gore, online sources say it has been trimmed of about 3 minutes of spurting ketchup and flying appendages (as is typical of German-language versions, even those labeled "adults only"). Worse, perhaps, is that the transfer doesn't seem to have been made from the film itself but rather from a video. Thus, though the film remains completely intelligible and its innately simple story easy to follow – something that is not always a given in Hong Kong flicks of any genre and/or budget – any possible cinematic eye candy suffers greatly.
That the colors and composition of The Assassin might originally have looked a lot better than they do in the Laser Paradise Eastern Edition release immediately comes to mind during the winter massacre in which all the killers wear white, the later village massacre in which the child monk is killed, the burning village scene in which the film's nominal hero ends up decapitating his former mentor, the burning graveyard scenes, and the final confrontation in the endless and foggy chambers of the Big Evil Kaiser; in all these scenes (and many other), the washed out colors and bleeding pixels of the Laser Paradise Eastern Edition do obvious and severe damage to any and all cinematographically artistic intentions. (Oddly enough, though the decapitation mentioned above is badly cut in the German version, a later one seems to have been left fully intact. The vagaries of censorship are hard to understand.)
For a Hong Kong period piece of the 1990s, The Assassin is totally devoid of any and all humor – unless, perhaps, the bad-hair wigs worn by the various men was meant as a joke. (There is also a sword-through-the-body executed in such horrendous CGI that loud laughter is a spontaneous though probably unintentional result.) The intended total lack of humor of the film does well in reflecting the nature of the film's nominal hero, Tong Po Ka (Fengyi Zhang, seen most recently in John Woo's big budget monumental epic duet Red Cliff [2008 / trailer] and Red Cliff II [2009]): seldom has there been an actor of less expression, of less emotion – but then, for most of the film he is also playing a man dead inside. Regrettably, he is so dead inside that often it comes across as if he is more bored with the film he's in than he is trying to reflect a character. For that, the evil Kaiser chews the scenery with admirable aplomb.
The Assassin opens with Po Ka and his love Yiu (Rosamund Kwan of Once Upon A Time in China [1991 / trailer]) trying to escape so that they may marry. They don't make it, and Po Ka soon finds himself tied up in prison with his eyes sewn shut being whipped. Surviving a round in a gladiatorial ring, he is trained as an assassin and, renamed Tong Chong, becomes a loyal member of the coterie of killers of a power hungry ruler. As one of the best killers he is even given an apprentice of his own to train, Wong Kau (Siu Chung Mok), who is torn between his loyalty for his master and his desire to replace him on the corporate ladder. During a daytime assassination of a child monk, Tong runs into his former love, now married with child, and suddenly his scruples and humanity return. An attempt to leave his life as a killer ends badly, so he returns to the fold, unaware that the ruler has ordered Wong Kau to eliminate him...
For all the violence and gore, the film is oddly boring at times – like, between any all set pieces. It also suffers severely by having such a wet-rag, uncharismatic hero. The low budget shows a bit at the seams, but in general director Siu-hung Chung does well with the little money he has to create bare but convincing sets and some well-done crowd scenes. The fight choreography ranges from passable to excellent, though the latter is definitely the less common occurrence. Even in its cut form, the blood and gore in The Assassin is notable – and one unintended result of all the gushing red is that it quickly becomes apparent that in this type of period pieces, blood and gore are not a satisfying replacement for an intriguing story, sympathetic characters, consistently well choreographed fight scenes and decent pacing.
Were The Assassin not as bloody as it is, it would be a marginal genre offering from Hong Kong. With blood, and with its low budget kept in mind, it is still little more than an acceptable film to pass the time with if nothing better is around, but if given the choice there are many a much more memorable film out there, both older and more recent.
Anyone for a rewatch of The Bride with White Hair (1993 / trailer)?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Flying Virus (USA, 2001)

Gabrielle Anwar (The Marsh [2006], Rutger Hauer (Hobo with a Shotgun [2011 / trailer]) and Craig Sheffer (Nightbreed [1990 / trailer]) must have had a three-for-one offer going in 2001, for the trio was promptly cast as a group in two direct-to-DVD productions that year, the doo-doo extra-ordinar Turbulence 3: Heavy Metal (trailer) and this less extra-ordinar doo-doo killer bees flick, Flying Virus. Turb 3 is definitely the "better" of the two, if the concept of "good" can even be tossed around when discussing the two films, but Flying Virus does have a cheesy scene or two – not to mention a hundred and one or so explosions, some of which are lifted directly from Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985 / trailer) – so it isn't a total washout. Still, Flying Virus is closer to being a washout than it is to not being one. When it comes to low budget cheesy killer insect movies, this one is powdered mustard in a house empty of liquids – though liquids (with alcohol content) will surely help the viewer enjoy the film better, if at all. (If the last bit about mustard seems construed and left-field and to make no real sense, no matter: it fits the film.)
Flying Virus could almost justifiably be called Turbulence 4: Killer BuzzKiller Buzz being the a.k.a. of the film – seeing that half the film takes place aboard a plane. And it is on the plane the film has its most cheesy moments, but with the exception of the enjoyably cheap and stupid scene of Martin Bauer (Craig Sheffer) hanging out of the flying airplane by a rope, nothing is so memorable as to be even slightly imperative viewing. Ditto with the whole film, although Rutger Hauer is rather enjoyable in his laid-back turn as the amorally psychotic Ezekial – but one mellowly professional and mildly camp character does not a film good make. But Hauer, along with the Brazilian scenery, may well be the best thing of the film – as he (much like fellow bad film stalwart Brad Dourif) often is.
Perhaps the most impressive thing of the film is in passing: there is a scene of Gabrielle Anwar (as the Ann Bauer, the no-nonsense reporter heroine with a ticking biological clock that is the center of the film) in which, as she walks, the blue veins traversing beneath the skin of her chest (and oddly immobile breasts, one could suppose) are so aglow that were they protuberant she could well qualify as a model on That scene, along with that of Martin hanging out of the plane, definitely got the most spontaneous commentary at the guys' night screening I was at.
Oh, yeah: the plot – oddly enough for a B-film of so little pretensions, the flick has a political message of sorts. White man greedy, white exploit, white man bad – what can you say but: the film might be crappy, but the message is true. Reporter Ann (Anwar) is down in Brazil with her on-again and off-again swish cameraman Raka (Mark Adair-Rios of Candyman: Day of the Dead [1999 / trailer]) covering the story of a how Big Biz petroleum has reached an accord with the aboriginals in the forest in which Big Biz are allowed to drill for oil only so far into the jungle in exchange for a road that ends. Just as Ann wants to snuggle up to the noodle of the Big Biz rep Scotty (Jason Brooks), the "Shadow People", a legendary and rarely seen and amazingly non-Indio-looking indigenous Amazon tribe attack and blow things to kingdom come. An Indio manages to gasp out something about the devils from the sky to Raka before dying, and soon Ann is out wandering around the forest playing reporter and looking for, well, something. A bullet wound and a couple of bee stings later, she wakes up in the hospital to argue with her estranged hubby Martin, who just ain't ready to make babies yet. As they argue, her doc and (going by the look of things) occasional fuck Dr. Stephen North (David "I once thought my career had promise" Naughton of A Crack in the Floor [2001 / trailer]) goes out into the wild and finds a pile of metal crates full of genetically altered bees, which Big Biz is using to clear the forests of bothersome natives. A greedy prick, he promptly hightails for the NYC with a crate 'cause he is convinced they have magic healing powers. A couple of oiled palms later and the crate is on his plane, which just happens to be the same one the rejected Martin ends up taking home, but damned if there isn't some Turbulence and the bees get out and the incredibly few people on the plane face a stinging death. As plans are made by Big Biz to cover their tracks by blowing the plane from the sky, Ann and Raka go in search of the Shadow People so as to get the antidote to the killer bee's sting, unaware that Martin and the duplicitous Scotty are on their trial... There are a couple of other laughable Z-level subplots to pad the film to a decent running time and to add unfunny intentional laughs, but none are really worth mentioning.
Sound exciting? Well, it isn't – but as said before, Flying Virus is good for an occasional laugh. But not enough laughs, to tell the truth. There are a lot of explosions but there is no blood, there are enough female characters but absolutely no flesh (tho there are Anwar's veins and one wet-shirt scene which does more to show how immobile her breasts are than how enticing they might or might not be). The film is, truthfully, so unmemorable in every way as to be totally unnecessary and dispensable. In fact, I expect that, at the latest, by this time tomorrow I will have forgotten I ever saw it...
Uh, what film were we just talking about anyways?
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