Friday, 27 September 2013

ATE DE JONG - An interview by Paul Worts

DEADLY VIRTUES: LOVE.HONOUR.OBEY,  a contemporary thriller directed by cult director Ate de Jong, will have its world premiere at the 2013 Raindance Film Festival in London.  Ahead of the premiere, Ate kindly agreed to meet with me to discuss his new film, and the two films for which he is widely regarded as a ‘cult’ director: HIGHWAY TO HELL, and a personal favourite of mine: DROP DEAD FRED. But before I indulged my love of all things FRED, I asked Ate how his path into films began...

When I was 17 I went from a very remote area in Holland to Amsterdam to go to the Film Academy. And during the Film Academy I really didn’t know anything – I had literally seen only one film at that point – which I didn’t understand! But everyone was older than me and everybody knew so much so I thought the only way to know things is to write, so I started writing for film magazines. It’s that simple, I needed to catch up, so I went to see every film I could. So the whole print thing was to get to know people and to sharpen myself in film. It was always with the intention of making films.
Was it always your ambition to be a film-maker then?

To be honest: no. I had an enormous desire to express myself for a variety of reasons, but that it became film is an absolute coincidence. It could have been theatre; it could have been journalism, writing (novels or whatever). It could have been a variety of things. The fact it became film is a very lucky circumstance because I can’t imagine anything else anymore. But no, I did not want to make films when I was 5 or 6; I didn’t know what film was. I’d seen one film in the cinema.
And that was...?

It was a sex education film - the only film my parents allowed me to see (so that they didn’t have to tell me) – and I didn’t understand it! There was a scene – actually I still remember it very vividly. A boy of 15-16 was lying in bed and then you saw the sheets moving a little bit, and his father came in and started to hit him! I thought: why’s he doing that? I didn’t know what masturbation was – I had no idea.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

R.I.P.D. - 3D - A review by Paul Worts

Director: Robert Schwentke. Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Kevin Bacon, Jeff Bridges, Mary-Louise Parker,
Stephanie Szostak. USA 2013, 96 mins.

This film was well and truly R.I.P.P.E.D. to pieces when it was (eventually) released in the US. Completed back at the end of January 2012, it's release date was pushed back until June 2013 - and then there were no advanced critic screenings. Was the ripping unfair? Yes and no. To put my review in context, I viewed R.I.P.D.(3D) on the August Bank Holiday Saturday at 9pm on the massive Empire One screen as part of FrightFest 2013. The audience put on their 3D glasses and with popcorn buckets in hand, prepared to meet the film at least half-way.

Based on the inevitably darker 'Rest In Peace Department’ comic book by Peter M. Lenkov (Dark Horse Entertainment), R.I.P.D. shamelessly rips off M.I.B. Such is the extent of this 'wholesale borrowing' you wonder whether the creators have had their own memories of MEN IN BLACK  wiped by either Tommy Lee Jones' / Will Smith's neutralizing pens - or perhaps they think the audience has...? Instead of hunting down aliens, the R.I.P.D. (consisting of deceased law enforcement officers) track down "Deados", spirits that have failed to cross over and are trapped on Earth as ghost monsters. Grumpy old grizzled Agent K - oops - I mean grumpy old Sheriff Roy Pulsipher, (Jeff Bridges), a former US Marshal from the old Wild West, is partnered with newly recruited and newly deceased Boston Detective Nick Walker (Ryan Reynolds).

Bridges delivers his dialogue as if chewing a gob-full of tobacco whilst sucking on a Willy Wonka everlasting gob-stopper. It must have been tempting to add subtitles in post-production - but it's worth pulling your ears back as he delivers some real gems. I can't recall many other mainstream 12A's which include a character relaying how he watched a coyote pleasuring himself with his dead skull, to which his partner replies: "I hope he got both eyes Roy". 

Another nice touch is that the two deceased cops are assigned avatars back on Earth. Ryan Reynolds appears as an elderly Chinese man (played by James Hong) and Bridges is perceived as a stunning blonde (Marisa Miller) - who keeps getting wolf-whistled by workmen. Mary-Louise Parker (in the Rip Torn role) pulls off a deadpan interview with newly arrived Detective Walker, nicely juxtaposing the spectacular preceding sequence when he is sucked up into the clouds and plonked in the stark white interview room. 

But, apart from this set-piece, the CG ghost monsters are somewhat ropey, surprisingly ropey given the film's alleged budget - and the majority of the effects work on screen looks very run-on-the-mill and clichéd.

The post-conversion 3D is intermittently effective - the aforementioned 'heavenly-calling' sequence being particularly striking - and there's a few in-your-face: duck! moments thrown in for good measure.

Ultimately however, R.I.P.D. doesn't amount to a great deal, with the seriously unimpressive finale almost single-handedly deflating any goodwill the film has previously built up. The underlying feeling is that there are promising elements jumbling around within the vortex of this film - but rather than them fusing together into a cohesive whole, they shoot off at tangents - sometimes hitting the target - and sometimes flying well wide of the mark.
But on that Saturday night at FrightFest it provided an undemanding and largely entertaining 96mins - not enough to justify the zero's in the budget - but certainly worth a carton of popcorn.

*** (out of 5*)

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

THE ASSASSINS - A review by Paul Worts

Directed by Linshan Zhao, Starring: Chow Yun Fat, Liu Yi Fei, Tamaki Hiroshi, Historical Drama, China, 2012, 103mins approx, cert 15.
Released in the UK on Blu-ray and DVD by Universal Pictures (UK) on the 9th September 2013

First-time director Zhao’s historic tale opens underground with an ant scrabbling towards the surface to investigate a disturbance in the earth above. The cause is a young boy and girl running to escape the clutches of horse-back riders. Both are swiftly captured and find themselves herded into a vast cavernous ‘place with no sunlight’ together with scores of other children. There they will spend years being mercilessly trained to be assassins. As time passes, our two ant-disturbers Mu Shun (Tamaki Hiroshi) and Ling Ju (Liu Yi Fei) grow up to become lovers. But the course of true love most certainly does not run smooth. Ling Ju is (somewhat unwillingly) castrated and Mu Shun is dispatched to the Bronze Sparrow Tower to become the concubine of Chancellor Cao Cao (Chow Yun Fat) – “the most powerful man in the world” – the man they have unknowingly been training all those years to assassinate...
I cannot lie, my knowledge of this period in Chinese history - known as the ‘Three Kingdoms’ - was (and still largely is) non-existent. It’s by no means a prerequisite in order to enjoy the film, but you will need to pause and rewind the end title cards of historical facts which flash up so quickly that they’re impossible to read on first sight.

What isn’t possible to miss is the superb Chow Yun Fat. The film sets out to portray the infamous warlord Cao Cao in a more sympathetic light than in previous incarnations, and Chow Yun Fat’s performance is subtle, majestic and mesmerising. In fact he is so good in the role, that the scenes in which he doesn’t feature seem relatively flat in comparison.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

HATCHET III - A review by Paul Worts

Director: B J McDonnell. Cast: Danielle Harris, Kane Hodder, Zach Galligan, Caroline Williams, Derek Mears. USA 2013, 81 mins.

After watching HATCHET III it is my sincere hope that the ghost of Victor Crowley is now finally at peace because I cannot imagine a better send-off for the deformed swamp monster than HATCHET III.
Picking up right where HATCHET II left us, Danielle Harris’ Marybeth is caked in Victor Crowley’s blood having shot-gun blasted his deformed head to pulped jelly. Kicking his trusty hatchet away into the swamp grass she staggers exhausted toward the camera, collapsing onto her knees, bloodied fists still clenched. After a moment’s pause she rises and moves off at the exact same moment Victor (Kane Hodder) sits bolt upright in the background ala Michael Myers in Carpenter’s original HALLOWEEN.

Yes we’re back in those swamps, but this time we’ve got a new swamp-tour guide at the helm, Steadicam / camera operator extraordinaire BJ McDonnell, making his directorial debut after being given the directing reins by HATCHET creator / gatekeeper Adam Green. Having been involved on both previous instalments and boasting an awesome resume of previous film credits, the choice of giving McDonnell his first directing gig was a shrewd – as well as incredibly generous – decision. McDonnell rewards Green’s faith in him with a thrilling juggernaut of a film. Lensing duties rest with another HATCHET veteran, Will Barratt, who together with McDonnell present Victor’s swamps in glorious widescreen ‘scope.

Green’s script is a splatter cake sprinkled with crowd-pleasing in-jokes and cameos. His own cameo follows on from the previous two instalments to form a (drunken) character arc – and there’s a fine gag involving his own writing abilities. The director doesn’t miss out either as he’s briefly glimpsed holding a roll of toilet paper alongside Green during a quick camera pan across a prison cell. I won’t spoil any of the other goodies, but given that the two previous outings have included cameos from the likes of Robert Englund, John Carl Buechler, and legendary Lloyd (Troma) Kaufman, you can be sure the writer has a few bunny rabbits up his sleeve.

But with all these fan-spoiling nods and winks going on in the background, there’s still a story to tell here, and in Danielle Harris’ portrayal of Marybeth with have yet another outstanding performance from the genre’s most consistent and reliable actress. Harris is a gift for directors and McDonnell is smart enough to invest generous screen time in her. He is also given strong support from genre favourites Zach Galligan as Sheriff Fowler and Caroline Williams as Crowley expert Amanda who both throw themselves into their roles with unabashed gusto.
And then we have Derek Mears’ no-nonsense SWAT officer Hawes, nonchalantly flicking a pair of severed testicles dangling from a tree, who of course is in those swamps to provide us with the much anticipated (albeit brief) Jason vs. Jason showdown with Hodder.

The Crowley make-up is more defined this time thanks to a switch from traditional foam latex to silicone – allowing more expression in Hodder’s performance. The total weight of Kane’s make-up appliances added up to a staggering 50 pounds, which when coupled with the sweltering Louisiana swamp conditions meant Hodder suffered for his art like never before on this shoot.
But despite all those layers of silicone, Victor’s gory un-rated hands-on mayhem is still all present and correct – complete with arterial geezers – although the actual kills are snappier and less lingering than in the previous outings.(The one exception being the protracted punishment suffered by Crowley himself both at the hands of Marybeth and by an unfortunate misplaced and fully-operational chainsaw).

The finale where the remaining participants attempt to lay the spirit of Victor’s ghost to rest for good brought, I must admit, a touch of moisture to my eye. Not so much out of sentiment, (although there is a startling moment of pathos amidst the gory-soaked resolution) but more so out of shear relief that Green and McDonnell hadn’t f*cked up at the end but had instead given the legend of Victor Crowley a truly worthy and satisfying send-off.

Having been in the 2006 FrightFest audience when Adam Green first came to London with HATCHET (which had the rather daunting task of playing immediately after the UK premiere of Guillermo del Toro’s PAN'S LABYRINTH), I’ve always felt an affectionate affinity for the HATCHET films. Clearly created by someone with a genuine love of the genre - and by a genuine fan of the genre – and I’m very pleased to report that HATCHET III is no different.

***** (Out of 5)

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

FOR ELISA ( PARA ELISA) - A review by Paul Worts

Director: Juanra Fernandez. Cast: Ana Turpin, Ona Casamiquela, Luisa Gavasa, Jesus Caba, Sheila Ponce. Spain, 2013. 80 mins. Spanish with English subtitles.

MISERY meets THE BABY (1973) in this creepily effective Spanish shocker.

In order to raise the 1,000 Euros needed to pay for her post-graduation trip, student Ana (Ona Casamiquela) answers a job advert pinned to a post outside her university for a temporary nanny position.  Arriving at the apartment, Ana is offered a cup of tea by Elisa’s mother Diamantina (Luida Gavasa), a former professional pianist who reminisces about playing at the Royal Albert Hall and is fiercely protective of her collection of antique dolls. Unbeknown to Ana, this is merely the prelude to a nursery-rhyme nightmare in which she will soon find herself trapped as a living doll for Diamantina’s daughter, and Elisa (Ana Turpin), has a tendency to play rough...

Writer/director Juanra Fernández’s debut feature is a strikingly assured piece of work. Richly photographed in ‘scope, from the mesmerising opening credits sequence through to Ana’s ascent into the forboding shadows of Diamantina’s apartment, it’s a visual delight.

The lead female trinity are all superb, bringing subtle detail to their respective and equally challenging roles, adding a layer of conviction which helps to accentuate the madness which eventually surfaces in Diamantina’s demented dolls house.

Fernández orchestrates the increasingly bloody playtime within apartment 3B with such panache that the interwoven scenes involving Ana’s drug-dealing boyfriend Alex’s increasingly desperate attempts to locate her become almost unwelcome distractions.

FOR ELISA (PARA ELISA) boasts a relatively short running time (80mins), but it’s a deliciously disquieting and ultimately disturbing tale which lingers long in the memory.

**** (out of 5)