Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Friday, October 30, 2009
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Bitch Slap is, perhaps, the cleavagiest action film of all time. There are so many big-breasted women in bikinis and low cut tops on display that it deserves a new word to be invented to describe it. Our three lead characters are introduced with their boobs before their faces are even shown. In slow motion. Decide for yourself if that's a recommendation or not.
In a film that is a proud and shameless homage to Roger Corman, we meet our three leads, in the middle of the dessert. Hel (Erin Cummings) is a high powered and bitchy professional business-like woman, with big tits. Camero (America Olivo) is a psychotic lesbian who flies of the handle at every turn, with a huge rack. Trixie (Julia Voth) is a naïve and kind stripper, with enormous bosoms. The reason for mentioning the assets (boobsets?) of these women is because this is the purpose of the film. These three women have a scheme, a hostage, secrets, and a penchant for sex and violence.
The film has a convoluted structure, constantly flashing back to reveal occasionally relevant parcels of information, and yet halfway through the film it becomes apparent that no one – on screen, or in the audience – knows what’s going on. The audience isn’t supposed to; we’re just to watch the cleavage and noise. This is deliberate. The performances, also, are bad across the board, but they’re supposed to be. There just isn’t any way that the cast could be that bad; Olivo, in particular, snarls or yells all of her lines in place of acting and picking an appropriate tone for any given scene. If director Rick Jacobson had wanted a more subtle performance from her, he would have asked, and she would have given it. He didn’t. While the desert portion of the film was shot on location, the flashbacks where green-screened. This was due to limitations of budget, the filmmakers decided to highlight this artificiality rather than hide it. This is distracting, and that is the point. And while the stunt choreography, by Death Proof’s Zoe Bell, is quite good, the editing is too choppy to appreciate it. But when the purpose of the film is its loudness, this must be a choice of the filmmakers too.
In short, everything that is wrong with Bitch Slap is supposed to be wrong with Bitch Slap. It’s best to look at the film like a home movie some fifteen year olds got together to make, except they’re not fifteen year olds, they’re established television producers and filmmakers, and most backyard movies don’t have Lucy Lawless cameos. The film was written Jacobson and Eric Gruendemann; the two worked together on both the Xena and Hercules series of the nineties, so Kevin Sorbo gets an appearance too. The two made this film together wanting to have a riotous time and they definitely succeeded in doing that, at least during production. Bitch Slap, if nothing else, looks like it was a lot of fun to make.
The most interesting part of the film is that, despite the endless low cut tops on display, despite the result of a character being blown up is that her clothes get skimpier while she is uninjured, despite every female character making out with every other female character, there is no actual nudity. This film is perfect for anyone who loves Maxim magazine but is terrified of proper sex. Then again, thinking about this film is not the point of it, at all.
Bitch Slap is a deliberately bad in a way, say, Snakes on a Plane wasn’t. Whereas that film was made as a bad movie as soon as producers picked up on everyone wanting it to be a bad movie, Bitch Slap was made as a bad movie from the get go. It can’t be rated on its quality, because it isn’t supposed to have any. And so how much you enjoy the film depends on how willing you are to go along for the ride, how good a mood you are in, and how much of a teenage boy you are at heart. Therefore, feel free to ignore this number.
The filmmakers, and the cast, and Zoe Bell (second from the right), were all on stage for this one. All I remember of it is that Bell is adorable and all of them made a bunch of sex jokes.
Meanwhile, check this trailer out:
You see how it almost looks like it has a plot? All those lines in this trailer that look like they’d move a story forward, or at least offer exposition? There isn't much, but look hard. That stuff is not in the film. Jacobson must have had a much more coherent movie on his hands, which he decided to get rid of to make a messy, cleavagey pile of noise. More power to him, I suppose.
More to come!
The original [Rec], a Spanish film remade in the US as Quarantine, has a reputation as one of the scariest films of all time. It is not an unearned one. Part of the found footage subgenre of horror – think Blair Witch, Cloverfield and the excellent (and finally getting a wide release) Paranormal Activity – the film took place in a Barcelona apartment building that quickly became overrun with 28 Days Later style ‘zombies’. Few films rival its intensity, particularly in its final half hour. It is a rare horror film with a climax as scary as (if not scarier than) its build up. The writers and directors of the first film, Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza, took a risk, banked on its success, and made a sequel.
Set minutes after the first film, [Rec] 2 takes us back inside the zombie-infested apartment building of the first film, now with a group of SWAT-type soldiers and a doctor from the health department. One of the team carries a video camera; most of the footage comes from here, but this time around it is intercut with the headcams of the our characters, and, later… well, that would be telling.
[Rec] has a well-deserved reputation of being a terrifying film. Beyond the sheer unrelenting nature of the action, what worked so well was how trapped in the film the audience felt. Just as the characters were trapped in the building, we were trapped in the camera’s point of view. If something happened – and it would, and did – the camera could never cut away, because we were watching uninterrupted takes of found footage. So the multiple points of view in play in [Rec] 2 could, in theory, lessen this effect. This is not the case. [Rec] 2 comes very close to matching the intensity of the first film. Aside from a gear change halfway through the film, introducing new characters, the film does not relent. Upon entering the building, our characters go straight to the location of the climax of the first film. This final act of [Rec] was a rarity in horror, in that it matched the levels of fear of its build up, and where this scene took place was a huge part of that. When [Rec] 2 takes us directly to there, we know we’re in for terror. The climax of [Rec] 2, is should be noted, comes very close to being as memorable as its predecessor, although it goes for extreme creepiness over nerve-shredding terror.
More than this, [Rec] 2 is more than just a rehash of its predecessor. While few moments echo the first film, this sequel builds on and changes the mythology of the first film in huge and unexpected ways. Balagueró and Plaza could have got away with copying what they know, but they turn expectations around, so what we thought we were dealing with in the first film is something else altogether. It is a risky move that plays out to great effect, adding another level of dread to and already very scary movie.
The biggest problem of the film is the lack of a character to get us into the film. The SWAT characters are mostly interchangeable, and Jonathan Mellor, as the health department doctor, is too shifty to become a likable character. [Rec]’s Angela Vidal (Manuela Velasco), the lead character of the first film, was a great character who easily allowed an audience access to the film. Such a presence is missing here.
Nonetheless, [Rec] 2 is scary enough, and has enough shocking turns of plot, to make it a very good film. It would have been hard to come close to being as good as the first, so that it doesn’t quite get there cannot be held as a sleight against it. It almost gets there, and that’s a thing that’s worthy of praise.
Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza were present for a Q&A - that's them there - but getting into detail on that would be spoiling the film. It was revealed that they made the first film with no plans for a sequel; I asked how much of deepening of the mythology present in [Rec] 2 was planned in part one; the said very little. They also said there were no current plans for a third film, although there are now rumours of a third without Balagueró and Plaza’s involvement.
Meanwhile, Paranormal Activity, which I mentioned in the review and well near shat my pants during earlier this year, is going really well, having passed the $30 million mark in the US box office. That sort of things happens when you actually release a film rather than letting it sit on the shelf, Paramount. It has a wide release in the states, at last, after a city-by-city roll out. It's coming to Australian cinemas in early December, but its local distributors seem to want to go the viral route here as well, and appear to be having free screenings all over the place. If you go to university, or know someone who does, I'd advise seeking out their film society to enquire if they have tickets to a pre-screening of it. They just might.
More to come!
Sunday, October 4, 2009
It was, of course, not the first Australian horror movie – it wasn’t even the first of this decade – but Greg McLean’s Wolf Creek is rightly seen as responsible for the revival of the country’s genre cinema. In terms of pure horror, there has not been a great Australian film since. Some have been quite good: McLean’s own follow up, crocodile flick Rogue, was a lot of fun; Storm Warning had some intensity. On the whole, however, the films have ranged from adequate to appalling. Enter Sean Byrne, and The Loved Ones.
Brent (Xavier Samuel) is a high school student in a country town. A stoner and self-harmer, he has almost climbed out of a depression caused by a tragedy six months earlier that he feels responsible for. He has a goofy best friend Sac (Richard Wilson), who is courting Holly (Victoria Thaine), the goth daughter of the local cop, and a girlfriend Mia (Jessica Macnamee) willing to put up with his stunted state. He also has a would be suitor, Lola (Robin McLeavey). A shy, pink-clad thing, Brent turns down her invitation to the school dance. Brent doesn’t know about Lola’s past, her father (John Brumpton), or what he will do for her.
No Australian horror film since Wolf Creek have reached the levels of intensity that The Loved Ones has; no Australian film in memory has reached its levels of violence. Brumpton – his character is credited only as “Daddy” – is a skin crawler, with his clear lust for his daughter and his willingness to oblige her every twisted whim. Lola herself is spectacular, with McLeavey going all out for her performance. She is breathtaking, scary, unstoppable and hilarious, and deserves to be remembered as a horror icon. Her performance is fearless, and her final moments in the film are mesmerizing. Everyone else is very good – our hero Samuel does fine work in what is, for a lot of the film, a silent role – but it is McLeavey who steals the film. And just wait until you meet Bright Eyes.
Byrne, like Greg McLean before him, has made a bold and brave first feature, unafraid to mess with audience expectations, and to have them writhing in their seats. His script turns the high school movie on its head, while his direction pushes the audience right to the edge, and then further.
The Loved Ones is as intense as a horror movie can get while still holding onto its humanity. It is the best Australian horror film in years, and one of the best from anywhere in the last decade.
This film - rightly so - won the audience award for Midnight Madness. The reaction on the night was amazing, so it wasn't a huge surprise, as great as it was. For me, this film was one I knew little about, and my excitement levels were low.
After the film, they were high.
There's something special about seeing a great local film that does enormous amounts with little money, especially if they're genre movies. The budget wasn't made explicit in the Q&A, but it wasn't high, but the film looked amazing.
Enough gushing. The film is released in Australia early 2010, and hopefully it will make it in overseas markets as well. It's not for the faint of heart, but if you like your horror intense, you've got something to look forward to.
Saturday, September 26, 2009
Stuff goes on in Toronto that can be described as "rad". One such thing - and it goes on elsewhere, including in Sydney - is an annual zombie walk, where people make themselves up as undead, and shamble through the city's streets.
George A. Romero, the man responsible for zombie as we know them, is now a Canadian citizen, living in Toronto.
George A. Romero's latest film, which was shot in Canada, screened on the third night of TIFF's Midnight Madness program.
These three things come together. The zombie walk is ordinarily in October, but an extra event was organised to celebrate Romero's new citizenship and he premiere of his new film. Zombies of Toronto walked through downtown, arriving at Dundas square to be greeted by Romero before a free public screening of Night of the Living Dead. His first film. Later that night, his newest.
Survival of the Dead
It is without question that George A Romero is the godfather of the zombie film. His slow-moving, mindless creatures are iconic and unforgettable. Sure, we have the creatures of Return of the Living Dead and their cries of “brains”, and the more recent development of zombies running, but Romero’s creatures are the classics. After the 1968 release of Night of the Living Dead, he made one zombie film a decade; the 70s had Dawn of the Dead and the 80s Day of the Dead. Then, after a quiet, this decade has had the man bring zombies to cinemas three times. It should be something to celebrate. While 2004’s Land of the Dead was decent, Diary of the Dead, Romero’s found-footage style reboot of the series, was a mess. It does not bode well for Survival that it uses a minor character from that film as a launching pad.
Said character is Crocket (Alan Van Sprang), a former army man who now leads a small troupe around the zombie-ravaged land, trying to survive using general amorality. We are also taken to an island off the coast of Delaware, to a pair of feuding Irishmen, Patrick O’Flynn and Seamus Muldoon (Kenneth Welsh and Richard Fitzpatrick) and their kin. O’Flynn has been traveling the island, killing the infected and the undead without mercy, while Muldoon believes that there must be a cure, or a fix to the problem. O’Flynn is banished, and soon meets with Crocket and his crew, before the whole group takes a stolen ferry to the island.
As expected, amongst the anarchy, social commentary is at play. Romero’s target in Survival is conflict. Not just war; this metaphor can be applied to something as large as that, or, on a smaller scale, the two main opposing sides of western politics, or any opposing fundamental beliefs. O’Flynn and Muldoon opposing viewpoints, neither of which is wicked at heart, but their conflict is so strong that what their fighting is about is overshadowed by the fighting itself, and the destruction that comes with it. It’s a worthy message for the film, and a relevant one, but the film itself is the opposite of that. Romero is an important filmmaker, and his past work has earned him deserved and everlasting respect, but Survival of the Dead is a tired film. The scares are barely there, and arrive with cheap shock sound effects. The characters are for the most part weak, speaking flat dialogue. The gore is fine, but good zombie effects are not a rare thing. There are some fun moments, and the characters of O’Flynn and Muldoon provide some laughs. Overall, however, this film is, unlike its moral, unimportant and uninspiring.
It is heartening to see a director, going into old age, continuing a filmmaking career with the same soul and passion forty years after starting. Perhaps he is messing with his audience: a major sequence of Survival involves the question of whether a zombie will or will not bite a horse. It takes guts to put that kind of surrealism into a horror movie. The film’s final shot, too, is a killer. But it might be time for the auteur to move on. Not away from filmmaking; not even away from horror. Perhaps he needs to find a new theme, to tackle something different. Romero should not be written off, but he needs to make better films than this one.
Some more pictures of the zombie walk, and of Romero at Survival:
Security at the event, backed up by police officers on bikes - in the background - was handled by people actually dressed up as Umbrella Corp guys from Resident Evil.