Thursday, 30 January 2014

Jackie Chan's Who Am I?

An elite special commando ops team heads to the jungle of South Africa to kidnap a group of scientists who are working on a new type of natural compound that has the ability to power a small town. However, a fraction of this natural material has the explosive energy of a nuclear weapon. When the team secure the compound and head back to base, their helicopter is rigged to crash into the African desert. Only one agent survives (Jackie Chan) but after falling from the helicopter just moments before impact he wakes up in an African tribe, with no recollection of what happened or who he is. He now has to discover his own identity and what happened. Written by Jackie Chan and directed by Benny Chan and Jackie Chan, Jackie Chan’s Who Am I? (1998) is one of the most underrated action Jackie films of the 90’s. Its compelling mystery narrative, imaginative style, directing skills, phenomenal choreography both vehicle and fighting makes this one of the greatest action films.
Like most Jackie Chan films, Jackie’s performs has some pretty amazing escape routes that would even leave Harry Houdini perplexed. No Jackie Chan film is ever complete without seeing him jump from building to building and parkour from bedroom to living room, up and down construction sites and using the environment to his advantage. Even massive skyscrapers like the Willemswerf building are just slips and slides for Jackie Chan.
With brilliant choreography comes a phenomenal chase scene with the Mitsubishi Lancer. Performing a 180 degree bootleg turn and reverse into an empty parking spot and watching the police just drive by, a classic getaway. The chase scene is both extravagant and beautifully imaginative, the awesome power of German BMW engineering chasing the Japanese Mitsubishi gliding and ripping its tires through the streets of Johannesburg. It is performances like this that give such a brilliant atmosphere of thrilling suspense, action and even give a comedic value.
As the film draws to an end, we see Jackie’s Harry Houdini escape tactics, Spiderman like parkour skills but not enough martial arts. However, all is not all lost and the Willemswerf rooftop fight sequence makes up for this with some kickboxing mayhem. The last fight sequence between Jackie Chan, a henchman and Dutch Kickboxer champion Ron Smoorenburg is both comedic and intense. Two against one with Jackie Chan’s frantic speed and deadly precision is a fantastic last fight sequence that leads to the traditional Jackie Chan keep away sequences. With such a huge space to fight on, the choreography between the three definitely makes for a brilliant showdown. 
Jackie Chan’s Who Am I? demonstrates excellent stunt work, brilliant car chase and a phenomenal  final showdown fight scene that gives enough emotional drive to make this one of Jackie’s greatest action and adventure films.  With Chan’s signature comedy-action also give a brilliant charm to the 90’s relic.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Dead Man's Shoes

This British psychological thriller tells the story of a disaffected soldier Richard (Paddy Considine) who returns to his Midland home town back to his mentally-challenged younger brother Anthony (Toby Kebbell). But the real reason for his return to Derbyshire is to get revenge on the drug dealers who brutalized and tortured his younger brother when he was absent. Written and directed by Shane Meadows, Dead Man’s Shoes (2004) takes us on a brutally raw revenge endeavour where an ex-military servicemen takes the law into his own hands and turns the quite streets of Derbyshire into guerilla hunting warfare. An utterly disturbing and yet gripping drama, Dead Man’s Shoes shows that even the most deranged men out for revenge are also faced with moral ambiguity between crime or punishment.
The film begins as a mysterious and portentous journey of two brothers taking a stroll through the Midlands countryside under a grey lowering sky. As the pair arrives in a small farm just outside the country town in the valley of Matlock Derbyshire, Richard heads into town and we begin to see signs of a crazed killer. He stirs up trouble by stalking the thugs, breaking into their homes and terrorizing them everywhere they go. The psychological anguish ends when the thugs get picked off one by one with DIY tools, axes, plastic bags and knives. It seems that Richard has been planning his revenge spree for quite some time and will stop at nothing to get his vengeance. As the thugs exile themselves and try to escape the wrath of Richard, a series of black and white grainy flashbacks begin that reveal what lead up to the abuse of Anthony and the dramatic end that made Richard seek revenge on the thugs. However it seems that while burying those who tormented his brother, he might be his digging his own grave.  
Dead Man’s Shoes is certainly a Midlands tale of revenge, violence and haunted images of the past, but the film steers away from revenge to murder. The British psychological thriller and drama veers to a bloody and brutally raw reality of a siblings looking after one another.  However the moral question always seems to come to play when you begin to feel sorry for the thugs as they slowly become victims of Richard. With an extraordinary performance from both Paddy Considine and Toby Kebbell and the juxtaposition between the beautiful countryside of Midland’s with a gritty and raw plot. Dead Man’s Shoes proves to be both a provoking and powerful British low key film.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Vanishing on 7th Street

A horror mystery and supernatural thriller, Vanishing on 7th Street (2010) shows a post-apocalyptic vision of Detroit, where it seems that an entire city has been abandoned. A hospital full of patients now a void, movie theatres packed are suddenly empty and the busy downtown streets of Detroit are silent. Cars have crashed into each other with no drivers and planes come crushing down with no pilots or passengers. All that remains are the clothes. When civilisation is wiped out by a virus, zombies or extra-terrestrials, director Brad Anderson shows that with the intensity of silence, suspense and the fear of darkness can create an atmospheric post-apocalyptic horror.
Among the debris of vacant cars, rubble of clothes and empty sky scrapers, a few stragglers remain. A physical therapist called Rosemary (Thandie Newton), who finds herself completely alone at work, is now on a desperate mission to find her missing baby. A distraught and wounded cinema projectionist named Paul (John Leguizamo) finds himself bleeding under a bus shelter. Twelve year old James Leary (Jacob Latimore) is left alone in a tavern waiting for his mother, and finally a television reporter called Luke Ryder (Hayden Christensen) who unwillingly becomes the leader of the group. As the remaining survivors stumble into a bar on 7th street, they have to work together to keep the bar’s electrical generator running. However as the survivors mental status comes into question, something in the darkness lurks and hovers closer.
Vanishing On 7th Street certainly does know how to build up a great amount of tension and suspense with the eerie darkness that creeps closer to our survivors but the film doesn't hold up for much longer. For a post-apocalyptic film it should have a message about humanity or the destructive direction we are heading to. If we look at George A. Romero's post-apocalyptic zombie horrors, Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys (1995), John Hillcoat’s The Road (2009) or even Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later (2002), each film not only portrays a world that is devastated by nuclear war, a global cataclysm or a virus but a destroyed world with civilisation on the brick on extinction and provides a terrifying insight into humanity and how society would tear itself apart. 7th Street failed to deliver a message into humanity or give any indication of what the film was focusing on, apart from survival. This independent low budget film does have a brilliant horror atmosphere with the creepy shadows whispering, lurking in the blackness and grabbing anyone who lingers astray from the light and into the darkness. Never seeing the figures gives a more profound effect on the viewers when they themselves have to imagine what is in the darkness.
The film certainly does end on an exceedingly unsatisfied and ambiguous finish but Brad Anderson’s abstractness and unique style created a great horror for the first half of the film. No film has ever made silence seem more unsettling and eerie. With no gore, monsters or virus, Anderson used only shadows and whispers to terrify his viewers. 

Thursday, 23 January 2014

The Spirit of Jeet Kune Do: Once Upon a Time in High School - Maljukgeori janhoksa

Written and directed by Ha Yoo, The Spirit of Jeet Kune Do: Once Upon a Time in High School (2004) is a Korean film set in the 1970’s with our protagonist Hyun-Soo (Kwon Sang-Woo) who finds himself in one of the most notoriously violent schools in Seoul. Being a Bruce Lee fanatic himself Hyun-Soo makes friends with other Bruce Lee fans Kim Woo-Shik (Jeong-Jin Lee) and their overweight friend who they nicknamed Hamburger (Hyo-jun Park). Like most Lee fans, they  spend their time re-enacting “Fist of Fury” and “The Way of The Dragon” and getting themselves into class mischief. It was the best of times for Hyun-Soo but because of the harsh reality of a violent school life it was truly the worst of times. The constant bullying by the superior year, class patrol and a school system that seems to be a military style Junta with class inspections, beatings and public humiliations from teachers slowly takes its strain on the group of friends and their friendship is put to the test.
What makes this such a fantastic film is the transgression from a drama into a martial arts film. Just like The Karate Kid (1984) but focused in Korea, the harsh reality of a violent school as well as violent bullies does make this film descend into a much darker  and realistic story. Our protagonist started off as a shy and recluse student but the constant surrounding of violence drove Hyun-Soo to violence.  As the school fights slowly spiralled into more chaos and the schools harsh discipline seems to backfiring. The school fights become more grittily choreographed with wild flying kicks and punches. When Hyun-Soo decides to train himself in Jeet June Kune Do, the last fight scene is brutal and realistic depiction of a Bruce Lee film with the traditional Lee films 1 against 10 with nunchuks.
Once Upon a Time in High School is truly a gripping story of your traditional drama in a harsh gritty reality of the everyday life of the Korean school educational system and life during the 70’s. It really does take you on a journey of friendship, love and harsh teaching and bullies which truly is the foundations of any high school film.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Splinter

When a young couple Polly (Jill Wagner) and Seth (Paulo Costanzo) head out into the wilderness for a romantic camping weekend, their idyllic getaway is ruined when they are car jacked and taken hostage by convict Dennis (Shea Whigham) and his junky girlfriend Lacey (Rachel Kerbs). On the run from the law the foursome travel the rural back roads of Oklahoma. The couple find themselves in even deeper parasitic trouble when the group get trapped in an isolated gas station by a blood-crazed, voracious, bug, Splinter. The parasite creature absorbs and transforms its dead host into a living parasitic, deadly nightmare. With the couple and the escaped convict in the sights of the creature, the group now have to work together using their wits and any weapon they can fashion to survive this terror.
Directed by Toby Wilkins, Splinter is certainly a creepy-crawlie-slimy horror film. As we watch the panic-stricken folks shelter in at the abandoned gas station with no phone or any form of rescue, the real question comes to play how can they fend off the parasitic creature when they can’t even trust each other? Remember the couple would have never been in this mess if it wasn't for being hijacked by the convict. Nevertheless differences are put aside when an insatiable monster is on the loose. Like in most survival horrors rather than figuring out how to kill it, they would rather work together to escape and outwit the parasite. However after a gruesome scene that involves an unaware state trooper who is mangled and ripped in half by the creature, the group discover that escape wasn't going to be easy.  
Apart from being a competent indie horror flick, Splinter certainly does have enough gore to satisfy the genre fans. The fast-paced editing, shaky camera framing and jarring effects are a brilliant touch to create a suspenseful atmospheric ambiance. Very similar to another indie horror, Brad Anderson’s Vanishing on 7th Street (2010), you don't actually need to see the figure to get frighten. That leaving it to the viewer’s imagination has far more profound effect. 
Being labelled as an indie B movie horror, Splinter should certainly be praised for its suspenseful narrative, a well groomed and acting cast and most importantly its minuscule budget is never seen or felt throughout the film. Director Toby Wilkins does a great job with the tools and budget that he had and managed to assemble a great cast. I do love my gore and horror but there is a thing of too much blood and guts. Splinter never crossed the line as an explicit gory horror like the Saw franchise or Hostel trilogy. Splinter shied away from the gore and kept in the realm of horror and thriller that closely resembles John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982).

Monday, 20 January 2014

The Divide

When a catastrophic nuclear attack hits New York and devastates the big apple, nine survivors seek refuge in a basement apartment building bunker. Thinking they survived the devastation of the atomic blast, they soon realise it is only the beginning of the horror. Trapped in the bunker and supplies dwindling away with no sign of any rescue, the bunker becomes a prison for the survivors. As tensions flare and their sanity begins to descend into madness, the threat of each other becomes fair greater than diminishing provisions. A post-apocalyptic horror directed by Xavier Gens, The Divide shows how humanity can turn from honourable citizens to psychotic psychopaths when trapped in close quarters and rescue is hopeless. It seems ‘the lucky ones died in the blast’.
There are no heroes in this film, only survivors. This claustrophobic, catastrophic post-apocalyptic horror shows us how moral decisions to stay alive are straight away thrown away when faced with death. When civilisation comes to an end, so does our sanity. Xavier does a brilliant job in creating a claustrophobic atmosphere that slowly builds on the tension with the survivors. The catastrophic element is not only witnessing the desolations of New York but also perceiving the annihilation of humanity both physically and psychologically when watching the group torment each other. While the bunker is a sanctuary from the ruins above, it eventually becomes a tomb of desperation, hopelessness, loss of humanity and madness.
No matter how pessimistic and negative the film may look on humanity, The Divide shows a realistic perception on what civilisation would do when faced with pandemonium mayhem. With a mixture of sci-fi, horror and psychological thriller, Xavier shows the grim reality in a violent and disturbing way. The cinematography shows how even in the most chaotic and traumatic of places, can be beautifully captured in the most confined places. The most gripping aspect of Xavier Gens The Divide is the disgust in humanity and how low a group of people may go to survive. Gens would rather see them suffer than seek salvation.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Butler

In a decaying vast mansion, an old fragile man is haunted by the ghosts of his past. With only his butler to accompany him, the pair endeavour into a bizarre journey of sanity shaken by the past. Butler is certainly an interesting and utterly absorbing psychological short film of a butler’s marginal life of serving his master. A short film with little to no dialog but is driven entirely on its narrative structure. Directed and written by William Powers, Butler is somehow a parallel depiction of Edgar Allan Poe’s short story The Tell-Tale Heart. Poe’s short story is about a butler that narrates his murder of an old man and how his sanity delves into monomania and paranoia. Powers short film is an endeavour of an old man haunted by his past and a butler that cannot escape his.
With the introduction, we are plunged into a vast empty mansion that seems to be decaying with the occupant. The tortured inner world of the old master is greeted with breakfast in bed served by his butler. Straight away the tension builds when the old master mistakes his butler with his last house keeper and verbally attacks him for forgetting his butter. The awkwardness of the butler and frail old master shows a character confused by a sense of pain; this is evident very clearly in the scene. William Powers shows through the face of the gaunt and haunted old master, that this is an agonised old man that has become twisted by alcoholism and is swallowed by the misery of his past. The Butler that serves his master with no regret or repugnance is a man who wants to escape his own past, concerning his father, by caring for another. By the end we see the pair both embrace each other by realising that the old master may have lost his biological son, but has now found another and the butler does not see his master as a superior, but rather as a father.
What really drives this short film is its uniqueness of showing the past. By watching the master we know that this old fragile man is haunted by his past, but we don’t need to see dream sequences or flashbacks to know that. By the look of his age he hasn't quite reached that time in life where he needs a wheelchair. There is also nothing wrong with him physically. However it is his mental status of being psychologically damaged by his past that has left him so crippled. Butler shows that with an ambient film making technique of little dialogue but strong narrative and beautiful cinematography, that this is a short film that even Edgar Allan Poe would certainly have enjoyed.



Watch on Vimeo in HD: https://vimeo.com/71578671

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Chestwyrm

There’s nothing more terrifyingly gruesome than self-mutilation. A spine-chilling tale of a man feeling entombed in his own home. As his sanity slips into madness, our protagonist is shaken to the core by what’s inside him. This is not a 3 minuet short film about self-mutilation but rather a 3 minuet short about a man driven to self-destruction, psychologically first then physically. Trapped in his own body and confined as a prisoner in his own home, our self-mutilator can only find refuge in death. The eerie atmosphere is filled by the claustrophobic soundtrack by the unnerving protagonist narrating his madness. As a 3 minute short film focused on self-destruction and an emotional descending journey of self-mutilation. Director and cinematographer Gary Rogers builds up the tension with the short time that he has with the ultimate decision of how our protagonist will sever out what’s inside of him.
There are no basic guidelines to make a good short film; as with feature and independent films. The obvious element that combines all three films is having an exciting and original idea, a strong script and the production value. Chestwyrm had both elements and didn't need the third. Written by Adam Millard, Chestwyrm’s horrifying plot is more than enough to feed the horror enthusiasts lust for blood and gore. The screenplay didn't seem like a script at all, but rather a memoir of madness narrated by a man whose psychosis has been driven to mutilation. A gory horror with a psychological thriller element takes the short film deep into a psychological voyage of vicious bodily harm.
In Chestwyrm we are subjected to constantly feeling like we are trapped with the protagonists. However I felt that we are not necessarily trapped within him but rather we are inside him with the parasite. This is not a metaphor of claustrophobia but rather a metaphor of being the parasite eating away at his sanity, a parasite that’s slowly devouring his body to a point of no return. The moment we finally leave the confines of the protagonist body is when he horrifically and gruesomely severs out the pest. Metaphorically he frees himself from being the victim of the parasite and would rather mutilate himself then continue being the slave of the pest. What really drove the short film was a question of when. We knew he was eventually going to do it but unsure of how and at what point. The short’s narrative drive is getting to the point of acting on what we all know is going to happen. For a 3 minuet short film to fit so much, this is certainly a great contender for the Who's There Film Challenge 2013.


Monday, 13 January 2014

999

When two fire-fighters enter a smoky scorched house after a fire, they soon discover that the routine dangers of caving in roofs and floors, fire, toxic smoke and collapsing buildings are the least of their worries. As they check the hallways and rooms of the empty building, they soon discover that nothing is what it seems to be. As these brave fighters enter burning buildings and have a passion for public safety and help saving lives, can these two survive the terror that awaits them? Directed by Ben Fullman & Stephen Oxborrow, 999 is a reverential tribute to the noble fire-fighters that run into burning infernos but at the same time takes the existing dangers and throws the fire-fighters into the supernatural demonic unknown. It seems that the routine callouts to smouldering flames and toxic smoke would have been a more appealing job, but not tonight.
999 is a thrillingly suspenseful short film that not only shows the dangers of fire and smoke in this vast empty building, the fear of paranormal activity is hidden by the smoke and darkness. Even though the building had been fully evacuated earlier on, there are after reports of someone still inside the building. Fire-fighter James (Tim Seyfert) and his colleague Mark (Stuart Milliner) enter the building once again to find a dead body or something else? The first few scenes look as though the building is all clear. However like most horrors this is a thrilling build up to the dramatic moment when both fighters finds themselves trapped in an opaque vast building chased by a burnt victim or a burnt demon.
Horror films can be a complex and problematic genre to work in. To enter into our deepest fears and leave us lying in bed at night with the light on takes quite a little more than some gore, blood and screaming faces. Writers and directors often meddle in cultural taboos, use violence and even base their films on actual events to create this theme. That having a “Based on a true story” tagline will fuel the imagination with realistic fears and the terrifying thought that this could happen to them. However if the audience can’t see the realism in the horror and can’t seem themselves in horror, then the execution of the film has failed to reach its target to send shivers down a viewer’s spine. 999 shows how even the bravest of people with all their training an expertise, that they too can be shaken to the core. With only 3 minutes, directors Ben Fullman & Stephen Oxborrow shows how with a confined space, dark and misty atmosphere and an evil twisted demonic human chasing our fire-fighters, that even the bravest of people can be haunted and hunted by their greatest fears.


Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Jouet

The year is 2031 AD and Britain has lost forty thousand troops in operations in the US leaving many wives widowed. To support the British war widows, cybernetic robots called Jouets have been issued to them. However, some Jouets have experienced problems, becoming emotionally unstable and engaging in relationships with humans.
Winner of Best Sci-Fi Director in London Limelight Film Awards, Mike Buonaiuto tells a beautifully dark and compelling tale of genetically engineered machines cable of loving. Jouet embarks on a question of “Can robots have emotions?” and if so “can they fall in love?” It is clear how deeply science is entwined in our lives. Imagine a world without any synthetic plastics, modern medicine or worse, no iPhones! The wonders of science have given us so much and answered many questions but honestly I'm still waiting for my jet pack and android friend.
Starring Mark Phillimore as the artificial Jouet, Buonaiuto explores the question of robots and emotion. Left alone, we follow Jouet around a vast and empty house in the not too distant future. The curious Jouet investigates the bedroom of the wife's deceased husband and suddenly overcomes by furious rage and jealousy. Shooting the vast and void house with the Technicolor's CineStyle Picture Style For Canon HD-SLRs creates an eerie and tense but beautifully lit atmosphere. As a viewer we feel trapped in a huge house with a robot that has unbalanced emotions, that fill the tension with an uncertainty of stability. Through Jouet, Buonaiuto gives a machine with all the functions that make us human with personality, emotion and thought. Watching the short film we begin to connect with Jouet knowing that most of us have been through a situation where we have unavoidable fallen into forbidden love. We develop a very human emotional bond with Jouet, despite the fact that this human link we have with him is just mere wires, computer chips, conductors, metal, motors, and an exoskeleton that resembles a living man.  It is not the skin, hair or eyes that make him human but rather the ability to feel and have a conscience.
Jouet proves to be a fantastic Sci-Fi with a brilliant plot that paves the way of raw human emotion all in one android. Even after the short finishes and you finish your cup of tea, you begin to endeavour into questions of how in the future we would deal with robotic politics. If they have the power to feel, learn and even think should we grant them human rights?

Monday, 6 January 2014

Smokin’ Aces

When a Las Vegas big time magician called Buddy Israel (Jeremy Piven) thinks he has it all, he then decides to turn big time Mafioso. After an unsuccessful heist that turns our wannabe gangster into a snitch, Israel decides to testify against the mob. Under FBI witness protection in the lavish Las Vegas penthouse hotel, FBI agents Richard Messner (Ryan Reynolds) and Donald Carruthers (Ray Liotta) are assigned to protect him. However when the mob put a one million dollar hit on Buddy Israel, contract killers all over the country want a piece of the magic. From master of disguises and impersonations Lazlo Soot (Tommy Flanagan), two hired hit-women Sharice Watters (Taraji P. Henson) and Georgia Sykes (Alicia Keys), mercenary and torturer Pasquale Acosta (Nestor Carbonell) and finally a psychotic neo-Nazi trio called Tremor brothers, Darwin (Chris Pine), Jeeves (Kevin Durand), and Lester (Maury Sterling). Four different groups of killers, one reward and one location, there is certainly plenty of chaos, carnage, mayhem, blood, guts and tears in Smokin’Aces.
Written and directed by Joe Carnahan, this American crime film is certainly an action film that would satisfy the empty void for the action junkie. Carnahan right away sets the plot with multiple scenes that right away engage in a fast paste tenor. With FBI briefings with Israel’s lawyer Morris Mecklen (Curtis Armstrong) and secret meetings with contract killers discussing they’re plans to go in quietly or guns blazing. You just know the ticking time bomb of bloodshed and devastation is about to go down at the five star Las Vegas hotel. As we get closer to the deadline we begin to realise the FBI is not only outnumbered, but their out gunned and trapped in the middle of a contract killing reward war. It does seem to drag on with countdown but trust me, the dazzling massacre display of contract killers doing what they do best is certainly a parade of pandemonium violence.
One of the most interesting developments is Buddy Israel’s journey from showbiz king, to crime kingpin then finally to manically depressed, coked-up snitch. It seemed that our magician took the same Frank Sinatra route but went in deeper with the mob and preferred to have his own little family. However continuous parties with hookers, coke and a failed life of crime left Israel realising it was all just a lie. Just like his illusion to fool the crowd no matter how great of a magician he may be “but seeing behind this motherfucker and knowing... that it's all bullshit.”
Carnahan certainly does mix a variety of genres into Smokin’ Aces from Martin Scorsese Goodfellas (1990) mob crime drama to a violent disarray of a Quentin Tarantino style of Reservoir Dogs (1992). With a plot that constantly twists every twenty minutes that leaves us with an unpredicted ending. It certainly is not the next Departed or Pulp Fiction but it is certainly a stylish action thriller with plenty of characters that do some serious carnage.