Monday, October 17, 2005

Ab-Normal Beauty

Title: Ab-Normal Beauty
Cast: Race Wong, Rosanne Wong, Michelle Mee, Anson Leung
Director: Oxide Pang

Jin has just won yet another award for her photography, but the young art student isn’t as impressed by her work as the judges. When she is confronted by a car crash, she shocks herself by taking pictures. But with her shock, she has to admit she is also somewhat excited by the images. With this, she moves on from the accidental image to the deliberate, seeking out death that she can capture. Her girlfriend Jas is distressed by Jin’s behaviour, and the unwanted attention of Anson, a fellow art student who seems to be stalking Jin, doesn’t help matters. As Jin pursues her attraction to the aesthetics of death things escalate and get out of hand, Jin becoming increasingly unstable in the process.

Ab-Normal Beauty has echoes of a variety of films – Cronenberg’s Crash, Tsukamoto’s Snake Of June, Stopkewich’s Kissed, among others. The Pang Brothers showing the flair they have demonstrated in films like Bangkok Dangerous and The Eye, then taking it to a new level. Showing in the Asia Extreme 2005 season alongside Shinya Tsukamoto’s Vital the two films compliment each other well, sharing strong thematic and visual similarities. The Pang Brothers perhaps even out Shinya Tsukamotoing Shinya Tsukamoto.

Casting Race Wong and Rosanne Wong as the leads and a couple is an interesting move. Putting a lesbian couple so central to the narrative and managing not to be exploitative. The characters are treated in a mature fashion, the relationship between Jin and Jas being central and believable. Jas’s jealousy over Anson’s attention, and concern for Jin’s stability, providing an in to the character of Jin who at times seems distant and unattainable.

Ab-Normal Beauty makes good use of colour from the start, Jin and Jas go out taking pictures – buildings gaining colour washes to make them stand out against black and white backgrounds. While a number of scenes take place in Jin’s dark room, giving them that red glow. These are just a couple of examples of the little things that are done throughout, and while the touches may be fairly straight forward, it is always nice to see someone who actually makes the effort.

Ab-Normal Beauty starts off as a visually striking piece, leading us into the lives of these engaging characters. There is a clear darkness here, the nature of death and art’s response to death being central. It is this kind of territory that makes Ab-Normal Beauty comparable to Vital, both being strong examples of cinematic art. However the Pang Brothers twist things around, pulling the carpet out from under our feet and knocking us over. Ab-Normal Beauty is dark, and then it gets very dark, and with that very nasty. Of the six films shown in Tartan’s Asia Extreme season 2005, Ab-Normal Beauty is striking and undoubtedly the most extreme.


Title: Vital
Cast: Tadanobu Asano, Nami Tsukamoto, Kiki
Director: Shinya Tsukamoto

When Hiroshi Takagi (Tadanobu Asano) wakes up in hospital he has lost his memory. His parents tell him he has been in a car crash. They had already been concerned about him, having been dropping out of medical school and disappointing their expectations that he would be a doctor. However, when he comes across his text books he can recall some of his studies, and decides to go back to medical school after all. There he quickly has an unconscious rivalry with Ikumi (Kiki), who would be top of the class if it were not for him. Between the rivalry, which becomes a relationship, and the dissection class that makes him confront mortality he starts to regain his memories. Haunted by the car crash, his mind slips between Ikumi and Ryoko, a girl he had a past relationship with. For Hiroshi reality is not entirely stable, slipping about and melding so that memories and the present mix.

Vital is a film by director Shinya Tsukamoto, who is likely most well known for his Tetsuo films. Vital is showing in the Asia Extreme season, an annual event that included his film Snake Of June previously. To some degree Vital might be considered to be one of Shinya Tsukamoto’s more mainstream endeavours, but it is still cinema as art. The colour in the film is vibrant, from the dank, fetid textures of industrial surfaces to the luminescent glow of nature. There are even a couple of scenes of dance, the car crash as dance being particularly affecting. With Vital, Shinya Tsukamoto would seem to display an influence from David Cronenberg, from the undercurrents of Crash to Takagi’s experience with the lift doors that recalls the typewriter in Naked Lunch or the video in Videodrome.

Vital is a graphic film, by measures wallowing in death then celebrating life. Full of a dark eroticism, complimented by the striking appearance of the three leads. The sound is charged, the visuals are charged, the characters are charged. Vital is a beautiful film that certainly delivers the extreme for the Asia Extreme season, and does so in a challenging fashion.

Another Public Enemy

Title: Another Public Enemy [AKA Public Enemy 2 ]
Cast: Sul Kyung-Ku, Jeong Joon-Ho, Kang Shin-Il, Eom Tae-Woong, Byeon Hee-Bong, Jeong Gyoo-Soo, Lee Moon-Sik, Yoo Hae-Jin
Director: Kang Woo-Suk

Public Enemy was included in the first Asia Extreme season put on in 2003 by Tartan and then UGC (now Cineworld), and was one of the few that I missed that year. It wasn’t one I particularly fancied, and while I intended to catch it, I never really got round to it. Of the 6 films selected for Asia Extreme 2005, Another Public Enemy was the one I fancied the least, given the season trailer that was being shown. However this year the films have been shown in two sets of three, with Another Public Enemy falling slap bang between the two films I wanted to see the most.

Given the Korean title that goes up at the film, I would have expected the translation to have been more like Public Enemy 2 rather than the clunky Another Public Enemy. Though having not seen Public Enemy it is hard to say to what degree this works as a sequel to the original. Kang and Han were in school together, where Kang learnt life’s hard lessons about power and wealth, thanks to the way that Han could do anything, but thanks to his background never got into trouble. It was this that led Kang to becoming a Prosecutor. When Han’s father and brother have accidents that suddenly put Han in charge of billions of won, Kang becomes suspicious. Is he being driven by school boy spite or is Han really guilty of murder, blackmail, and a list of other crimes?

Another Public Enemy follows the rivalry between Kang and Han, Han developing his master plan, while Kang tries to piece together enough evidence to stop him. Another Public Enemy is a Korean crime drama, though it recalls the kind of film that Hong Kong did in abundance – Infernal Affairs and Island Of Greed being just two examples that spring readily to mind. With that, my expectations for the film were fairly low, projecting a fairly run of the mill piece. Instead Another Public Enemy has a little bit more than that.

The film packs a punch at the start to catch the viewer’s attention. Going from gang fights between rival schools involving Kang and Han, to a police raid lead by Prosecutor Kang against a criminal gang – both having a certain kinetic impact, lots of people and lots of action. The film slows down from there, switching from fast moving, to concentrate on the plot. With that the dialogue keeps the film moving along, the relationship between Kang and his boss and the rest of his team has a warmth and banter that gives the film an unusual depth.

At over 2 hours Another Public Enemy is perhaps over long, which can be a difficult sell. The film perhaps drags a little at times, with the to and fro of Kang and Han taking the lead in terms of advantage, and Kang becoming increasingly frustrated and losing it. For the most part I was surprised to find I enjoyed Another Public Enemy – the characters and direction bringing out the best from a familiar set up – though being a little shorter would certainly have helped.


Title: R-Point
Cast: Woo-seong Kam, Byung-ho Son, Tae-kyung Oh, Won-sang Park, Seon-gyun Lee, Nae-sang Ahn, Byeong-cheol Kim, Kyeong-ho Jeon, Yeong-dong Mun
Director: Su-chang Kong

1972, Vietnam, and the radio stutters into life - Mad Dog 3, Mad Dog 3 to HQ - help us we are being massacred. The soldiers of Mad Dog 3 disappeared 6 months ago; the only "survivor" lies in a hospital bed and swears that the rest of his company are dead. So is it the keeps radioing for help?

After the latest incident, a jinxed officer is assigned the mission of going to R-Point to find out what happened to Mad Dog 3. The rest of his group made up by soldiers who would have been sent back to Korea at the end of their tour, if they weren't being treated for the syphillis they caught while in Vietnam.

The area of Vietnam covered by "R-Point" is regarded as sacred and holy by the locals, and they won't enter it. The soldiers find ramshackle temples, mass graves, and the warning from the times when the Chinese killed an entire town. From the start, strange things happen, each event abrading morale.

Despite the trailers for R-Point suggesting all kinds of ghosts and zombies, the film is more of a psychological horror. Shapes in the dark, figures drifting out of the night to go about business as usual, leaving chaos in their wake. The sound is cranked up, so that some of the film's most intense sections result more from the sonic assault than what is actually going on on-screen. Like a lot of the Asian horror films that make it over here, there is the obligatory woman in white - her presence never really explained past a token "well obviously" clue.

R-Point is a decent enough film; the characters are kept on edge, and progressively worn away. But it isn't really a film filled with suspense or surprises - from the start we have a good idea of what happened here, and from that we know that this is a bad place. So none of the usual, bad things happen, clues appear, we learn the big bad thing that happened that left a big bad thing stain, or whatever you want to call it.

R-Point is a film from South Korea, which apparently has already been signed up for an American remake - which given the American connection with Vietnam, and even an encounter with American soldiers in the film, should translate quite smoothly. The film is showing as part of the 3rd annual Asia Extreme season put together by Tartan distributors and Cineworld cinemas. Not particularly extreme, not particularly special, but watchable enough.

One Nite In Mongkok

Title: One Nite in Mongkok [Wong Gok Hak Yau]
Cast: Cecilia Cheung, Daniel Wu, Alex Fong, Anson Leung, Kar Lok Chin
Director: Tung-Shing Yee

One Nite In Mongkok is one of those films that you tend to get coming from Hong Kong, a mix of styles and plots, that progresses and hangs together in a way you don't really get from anywhere else. Starting in one genre, flipping to another, then working back again. The film starts with a group of police officers sitting around on Christmas Eve after a hard day. The film then flashes back to days previously, working forward to Christmas Eve - providing the events that lead to the brink of gang war, and the chaotic rush to prevent things from getting out of hand.

Mongkok is the densest part of Hong Kong, the densest population on Earth the film suggests. Where two rival gangs try and sell bootleg goods - seeing who can sell the fake Rolex for less. A clash over a sale escalates, leading to fighting and the deaths of members of each gang. Unfortunately, one of the gang members killed is the son of the gang leader. He wants to take revenge by killing the leader of the other gang.

Christmas Eve. Mongkok. Things are strangely quiet. The police are watching the tension, wondering how it can last, when they find out that a killer has arrived from mainland China. If the killer succeeds in killing the gang leader then war will erupt - the police must at all costs find the killer and the gang leaders and prevent violence.

To a degree the initial set up has similarities to the successful Infernal Affairs - the tensions between gangs and police, and trying to out guess each other. But then we switch to follow the hit man, just a regular guy who has come from a poor village in China, looking to earn some money for his family. While there he is looking for his childhood sweetheart, who came to Hong Kong before to make money, and has most likely become a prostitute. Instead he meets another girl, who comes from a similar background to him, who has also come here, sold her body, made her money and is hoping to go back home now. This brings us more into territory reminiscent of Fruit Chan's Durian Durian with a slice of the Pang Brother's Bangkok Dangerous.

One Nite In Mongkok has a variety of things going on. To a degree we are contrasting the affluence of Hong Kong versus the small towns of China. With that we have the contrast between two young men - the son of a police officer who has just joined the team looking for the killer, trigger happy and youngly naive, versus the killer himself, who is also a young man with a gun, though he is more reluctant to use it, and comes from an entirely different background. With that we have the exploration of killing - the man who is paid to arrange the killing, who is interested in nothing but money; the man being paid to kill, who wants the money to help his family, but is happy to help the girl he meets with it as well; the police officer in charge of the team, who is wracked by guilt from having killed in line of duty; the young officer who is killed without thought and will happily kill again without thinking.

For me the most enjoyable parts of this film are those with the killer and the girl he meets. The interaction and characterization of the two. His dour seriousness, mixed with a cleverness that keeps him ahead of the police. Contrasted by her bubbly gushing nature, her glee at the glories of Hong Kong, and her savvy pushiness arising from trying to get the most of her money before she goes back home to her family. Here there is humour, humanity and warmth, the kind of thing that makes a film worth watching sometimes.

One Nite In Mongkok is showing in the UK at the moment as part of the Asia Extreme season 2005 - one of six films from Hong Kong, Korea, Japan and Thailand that are shown each year. As a film, this isn't a particularly extreme one. There is a moment early on, where someone hallucinates, which suggests that there is going to be a more experimental approach to the film, but that is the only scene, and it is of course referenced in the trailer to affect your perceptions before seeing the film. For the most part the film isn't especially violence, though there is one scene late on, which would likely be categorised as being "extreme". Of the first three films in this year's Asia Extreme season, all showing at once, I would say that One Nite In Mongkok was the one i enjoyed the most - particularly because of the interaction between the killer and the whore.

Tell Me Something

Title: Tell Me Something [Telmisseomding]
Cast: Suk-kyu Han, Eun-ha Shim, Hang-Seon Jang, Jung-ah Yum, Seok-Hwan An, Cheol-Ho Park, Jun-Sang Yu, Hwan-Jun Lee
Director: Yoon-Hyun Chang

When a series of bodies are found, a respected police officer who has just been investigated for corruption is given the job. With this he will he either be damned, once and for all, or redeemed from any implication. The bodies are jigsaws - limbs, torsos, heads from different people - left in public places to be reassembled and tease the police. When it is found that all the dead men have been involved with one woman, the focus of the investigation shifts to her. From no clues, they move to trying to find out everything about her - who will be the next victim and who is the killer?

Tell Me Something is a blood soaked serial killer film. Starting with a graphic amputation. Then continuing with a series of bloody discoveries. Via at least one nightmare sequence. Through the film we are provided with a number of suspects, none seeming as convincing as my first instinct. And sure enough we wind our way towards where i expect. From which it is clear that there will be twists, which in turn are delivered on schedule.

I can never decide - does the fact a film turns out the way you expect make it bad? The alternative can be a twist that comes so far out of left field that the film becomes nonsense. So in turn surely the answer is to find a middle ground. Tell Me Something does that to some degree - the suspects are there - but is it enough? For me, I would tend to say no.

Tell Me Something is a Korean film from 1999, currently showing in UK cinemas as part of the 2005 Asia Extreme season. While it is certainly the most graphically extreme of the first three films in the season, which are currently showing, it seems a little disappointing that the season includes something as old as this, presumably knocking out something more contemporary. For instance, this is the first year not to include something by Miike Takashi!

Memories Of Murder

Title: Memories of Murder [Salinui Chueok]
Cast: Kang-ho Song, Sang-kyung Kim, Roe-ha Kim, Jae-ho Song, Hie-bong Byeon, Seo-hie Ko, No-shik Park, Hae-il Park, Jong-ryol Choi
Director: Joon-ho Bong

Many of the films to come out of Korea over the last few years have tended to be contemporary. In that we tend to see a country of bustling metropolises, with occasionally harsh under currents. Memories of Murder is different in that it is set in 1986, showing a different political cultural climate. Between 1986 and 1996, 10 women were raped and murdered in a small Korean town. Memories is based on those events, and just as it shows us something different from Korea, it has a different approach to the genre of serial killer films.

Rather than concentrating on the killer or giving us Hollywood twists, where the big name actor turns out to be the killer, Memories has a more realistic and interesting approach. The investigation starts in a farcical manner, corrupted crime scenes and bumbling police officers. Keen to solve the case, anyone considered to be a suspect has a confession beaten out of them. Against a background of air raid drills, student riots and political unrest a young officer arrives from Seoul. Determined to make the investigation more official and effective, actually looking for clues and trying to find patterns in the murders.

While unfamiliar with the details of the actual case, Memories of Murder is based on real events. As such the characters are frustrated, banging heads against each other – leads going down blind alleys, no witnesses, tenuous clues and more bodies.

Memories of Murder is an atmospheric film, capturing an idea of a certain climate and the frustrating unfulfilling nature of real police work. The performances of the three lead police officers is memorable – the thuggish brutal officer, his brighter partner and the young officer from Seoul. The result is a unique piece.

This Charming Girl

Title: This Charming Girl [Yeoja, Jeong-hye ]
Cast: Jeong-min Hwang, Ji-su Kim
Director: Yoon-ki Lee

The “charming girl” of the title lives a quiet life. Living in a flat by herself. Working in a postal company. Occasionally, and grudgingly, going out with her work colleagues. To some degree this makes for a sparse narrative – something that in Korean cinema is most event in the work of Kim-ki Duk. Although, the style and delivery of This Charming Girl isn’t as memorable as Kim’s work.

The story unfolds by degrees. The girl takes in a stray cat, has lunch with an ex-boyfriend, attends a funeral. Each even triggering brief flashbacks. These snippets of memory as under stated as the girl’s present. Such that the point is never really laid out on a plate for the viewer. In fact, the plot development is teased out, so that we are pretty far in before the pieces that clue us into what is going on fall into place.

The title of this film is an oddity, we don’t really get the impression that this girl is “charming”. With flashbacks to her mother’s death, to relationships broken, there is a melancholy, and there is something unfulfilled, missing in how she relates to those around her. The film kind of starts, continues, and ends, with a sense that it is lacking landmarks. To a degree, This Charming Girl is the model of subtlety and suggestion. On the other hand, I found it to be a little unremarkable, lacking any real impact, especially given what lies at the centre of the story.


Title: Serenity
Cast: Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk, Morena Baccarin, Adam Baldwin, Jewel Staite, Sean Maher, Summer Glau, Ron Glass, Chiwetel Ejiofor, David Krumholtz
Director: Joss Whedon

After the end of the TV series Buffy The Vampire Slayer, creator Joss Whedon moved on to develop Firefly. Firefly being something of a space western, putting the wild west on the screen with the shape of frontier planets. Providing a Civil War in the shape of the rich central planet Alliance against the frontier planet Independents. At the core of the crew of the Firefly class ship Serenity; we have the captain and first mate, who fought on the side of the Independents - the losing side.

In the TV series they picked up a couple of passengers who turned out to be fugitives from the Alliance. This nudged the crew of Serenity into even more shadowy territory than they had already been engaged in. Taking legal shipping jobs where they could get them, and increasingly borderline and into outright illegal work. The TV series was cancelled after 14 episodes, with the film Serenity picking up sometime after.

It is not essential that the viewer should have seen Firefly before seeing Serenity. The film takes a good chunk at the start, establishing the characters involved. With this we are brought up to speed - River was a bright child, experimented on by the Alliance, until her doctor brother Simon broke her out and they went on the run. As well as being bright, and representing a large investment for the Alliance, it seems that during the time she was being experimented on River learned something she shouldn't have. So now a nameless, rankless, operative from the Alliance is on the trail of Serenity, and he is willing to kill, to kill everyone, to ensure the secret remains secret.

Serenity is easily one of the best science fiction films in years, with more depth and substance than most films that end up merely using SF as a backdrop to something much more mundane. While you can watch Serenity without having seen Firefly, it certainly helps to have seen what there is of the series. It helps to inform the idea of the environment events take place in, as well as the relationships between characters. Additionally, it is also evident that there has been a shift in budget and scale in moving Firefly to the cinema. From the cities we see on the various planets to the space battles that are bigger and more animated than those in the series.

Serenity is not perfect, there are aspects that will leave fans of the TV series frustrated. Questions left essentially unanswered, but given the job of delivering a film that works as a film and deals with the main issues of the Firefly/Serenity story this is a pretty successful outing. The big question that is left outstanding is what next? Will there be more TV or more films, or is Serenity the end of Firefly?

Regardless, Serenity is must see cinema - great dialogue, great action and great fun.

Wallace & Gromit - The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit

Title: Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
Cast: Peter Sallis, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Peter Kay, Nicholas Smith, Liz Smith, John Thomson, Mark Gatiss, Vincent Ebrahim, Geraldine McEwan
Director: Steve Box & Nick Park

Its coming up for the annual competition to see who can grow the largest vegetable. Giving the Wallace and Gromit a new business opportunity - vegetable protection, the humane disposal of rabbits that might be tempted to raid the resident's gardens, allotments or fields. The competition is a serious business, and with their usual inventiveness Wallace and Gromit are raking it in. They have even come to the attention of her ladyship, who Wallace quickly falls for, and suspects he might have a chance with.

However one dark night trouble strikes. A horrible beast attacks the town, leaving carnage in it's wake! Terror greets the coming dawn, and the horror of losing large vegetables to the Were-Rabbit is awakened! The town turn to Wallace and Gromit - can they save the day??

After a series of short animations Ardman Animation and Nick Park finally bring us the feature length Wallace & Gromit. From the start, and the familiar sounds of the theme tune, we are in the mood for good claymation fun. In contrast to the TV series it may feel like The Were Rabbit is less funny, but that’s because it has more space to build itself up, explore characterization and establish plot.

The film stays true to everything that made the series, while glorying in the influence of classic horror films. The Were-Rabbit appropriately having a King Kong parody in the year that we get a new King Kong film, as well as references to the likes of the wolfman, Frankenstein, Jekyl and Hyde et al. Wallace & Gromit is one of those family families, lots of action and fun for the kids, with subtle little gags in there throughout for the grown ups.

Howl's Moving Castle

Title: Howl’s Moving Castle [Hauru No Ugoku Shiro]
Cast: Jean Simmons, Lauren Bacall, Christian Bale, Billy Crystal, Blythe Danner, Emily Mortimer
Director: Hayao Miyazaki

One day on her way to visit her sister, Sophie is accosted by a couple of soldiers. A man steps into help her out, but it quickly becomes cleat that he is using her as a diversion against those that are after him. Creatures are coming out the walls, and they only escape through the use of magic.

Unfortunately for Sophie, this wizard is the notorious Howl. Having unwittingly become involved with Howl, she attracts the attention of the wicked witch of the waste, who is pursuing Howl. As such she puts a curse on Sophie, so that the young woman becomes instantly old.

Rather than show her current state to her family, Sophie flees into the waste. There she stumbles upon Howl’s moving castle – a ramshackle, shambling construction. Somehow getting inside, she pretends to be a housemaid for Howl, in the hope that some how she will find a way to break the curse.

However, war has broken out, two kinds and their wizards clashing flying ships and demons. So things become chaotic, each kind has a call on Howl’s loyalty and the witch of the waste is still out there. Sophie getting drawn in deeper and deeper.

Howl’s Moving Castle is the latest film from Studio Ghibli, directed by Hayao Miyazaki, the man behind Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away. In terms of core plot, themes, style, Howl’s takes a setting like that in Porco Rosso or Kiki’s Delivery Service, with the creature design/influence of Spirited Away, mixing in the environment/darkness of Princess Mononoke.

Despite the fact that Princess Monoke was the big crossover for Ghibli, the first the Japanese studio’s films to be picked up by Disney, it is my least favourite Ghibli film. So I am pleased to say that while there is a similar kind of darkness, Howl’s Moving Castle is a better film. But it is definitely a dark film, filled with flaming war ships crash landing, war torn skies and demon transformations – making it hard to compare to the likes of Spirited Away, which is a more uplifting and brilliant film.

Kings Game

Title: King's Game [Kongekabale]
Cast: Anders W. Berthelsen, Søren Pilmark, Nastja Arcel, Nicolas Bro, Lars Mikkelsen, Ulf Pilgaard
Director: Nikolaj Arcel

After a period of political corruption, the public are only just starting to regain trust in Danish politics. On the run up to the election the opposition party are confident that they can win at last. However, returning home from a rally the leader of the party has a car accident - with both him and his wife ending up in hospital.

Ulrik Torp is the son of a former prominent minister and a junior reporter. But after the accident he is handed his dream assignment - reporting from parliament. After turning up for his first day reporting from parliament - he is handed a prime story. A story that will look bad for the prime candidate for replacing the leader of the opposition if he dies in hospital. From there things start to get worse for the opposition party, and Torp starts to suspect that he is being manipulated.

King's Game is a tense drama. Political, journalistic, suspenseful. Who can be trusted and who is manipulating whom? King's Game is one of those films that with each new scene you are breathless with anticipation as to just what will be revealed next. Who is lining the pockets of whom? Who is being stabbed in the back and betrayed? With the Torp struggling to keep on top of the matter, becoming increasingly desperate - will he manage to avoid going down with the sinking ship, will he manage to claw his way back out of the hole he has dug for himself?

Fascinating and compelling, undoubtedly one of the best thrillers I have seen in a long time.

Land Of The Dead

Title: Land of the Dead
Cast: Simon Baker, John Leguizamo, Dennis Hopper, Asia Argento, Robert Joy, Eugene Clark, Joanne Boland
Director: George A. Romero

The zombie holocaust is a fact. The post-human age has started. The remains of humanity are shored up on places where the zombie horde can't access them. At the centre of The Land Of The Dead, we have an island city - surrounded by water, and with protected access. The rich life in luxury, in their glorious ivory towers, the poor live closer to squalor.

The film starts with a raiding party, small town zombieville, the living dead go about their every day business. Without warning nasty humans come screaming in with their motorbikes and trucks, creating noise and havoc, and wilfully blowing the heads off of poor zombies. This is how the humans survive, scavenging from various towns - rolling in, grabbing what they can, and getting back to the island.

However, things have changed. The zombies of zombieville are not impressed. The zombies of zombieville are going to put a stop to this kind of behaviour. Gathering together the zombies of zombieville march on the city, determined to air their grievances in a civilized flesh-eating manner. Of course at the same time, humans are a squalid and nasty race, and a group of raiders have fallen out with their bosses.

The Land of the Dead is a mixed film, on the one hand it projects zombie evolution, introducing the possibility that they could be smart, and if zombies were to become smart perhaps they would represent the post-human. In science fiction the likes of Ian McDonald and Peter Hamilton have both dealt with the dead as post-human, reanimated dead taking over overwhelming the human race. On the other hand, this is a post-apocalyptic film, concentrating on the scrabble between groups of humans to try and survive with the limited resources that are left to them.

The Land of the Dead is not entirely your regular zombie film. Sure there are shuffling undead, chewing up people, there are people running around shooting undead. But there are a few little scenes in there that are more humorous, in a nod towards the Sean of the Dead kind of humour. The regular action/zombie stuff is the surface material, the ticking of boxes required to make a film these days. It is the humour, and the little details, and the whole evolution of the post-human zombie that makes The Land of The Dead more interesting.

Wolf Creek

Title: Wolf Creek
Cast: John Jarratt, Cassandra Magrath, Kestie Morassi, Nathan Phillips
Director: Greg McLean

Wolf Creek is one of the biggest meteor strike sites in the world, the biggest in Australia, and is located in the outback. Two English girls are sharing a car with an Australian guy, travelling across country, with a planned stop to see Wolf Creek. However, once they get there they find their car won't start again. Alone in the dark and rain, in the middle of nowhere the three get into trouble.

Wolf Creek is a film of two halves. The first is upbeat and enthusiastic. The trio full of life and enthusiasm. Enjoying a party lifestyle and celebrating the glory of the crater site they find. The second half sees a shift, getting into the darkness and violence. The film on the whole captures the two moods quite well, with some particularly striking landscapes to back the whole up.

However Wolf Creek is on the whole a pretty average example of the genre. There have been plenty of films with similar plots in recent years. To the point where many scenes in this and others become somewhat interchangeable. There is one scene which is particularly nasty, but even that doesn't really tip the balance into making this especially scary or memorable.

Red Eye

Title: Red Eye
Cast: Rachel McAdams, Cillian Murphy, Brian Cox, Jayma Mays
Director: Wes Craven

Red Eye is a tidy little thriller from Wes Craven. A departure from films like Scream and Cursed which have made his name in recent years. A woman gets on a plane to fly home, only to find herself threatened by the man in the next chair. If she doesn't phone the hotel she works in and change the reservation of a prominent politician, the man will have his associates kill her father. The bulk of the film is set on the plane. Creating a claustrophobic and tense atmosphere. As she tries to find someway of thwarting his plans, and he tries to keep one step ahead of her. This leads to a terse mental sparring, and at times physical confrontations. Surprisingly, this feels well paced, and keeps things going until the plane lands. From there we get into more predictable territory, but with that we have an explosive release. The characters suddenly have space to work into, and a desperate drive to see if they can change anything that has happened over the course of the flight. Red Eye keeps things simple, well paced and moving, so that it feels like a well-contained, smart thriller. Lead performances by the blossoming Rachel McAdams and Cillian Murphy contribute to the success of the film.


Title: Ghosts [Gespenster]
Cast: Julia Hummer, Sabine Timoteo, Marianne Basler
Director: Christian Petzold

Ghosts is a day in the life of a teenage orphan in Berlin, and the two encounters that shape events. First she witnesses another girl being attacked, afterwards the two drift around together. The new girl homeless and looking for the next person to take advantage of. In their travels they meet a French woman, who is looking for her missing daughter, becoming convinced that the orphan girl could be her.

Ghosts plays with a variety of themes - loss, loneliness, sexuality, celebrity, grief and the like. The performances of the three leads are interesting, the two characters pulling at the girl in the middle – each with their own agenda and looking to come out on top. The film really being about the girl’s quiet tragedies.

However the big problem with Ghosts is that it is too focused on the one day. Of the three characters, only the mother has any kind of real history – that of the missing daughter. We only really get glimpses of who the two girls are – which is frustrating on the whole. The two teen girls come across as being the ghosts of the title, too fleeting to really understand who they are and what their motivations are.

When Will I Be Loved

Title: When Will I Be Loved
Cast: Neve Campbell, Fred Weller
Director: James Toback

I can only imagine that if When Will I Be Loved didn’t have Neve Campbell, and Neve Campbell naked at that, it would likely and deservedly have disappeared without trace. A Richard Linklater wannabe, with dialogue that has the flat feel of uninspired improvisation, and tries to compensate with random “celebrity” cameos (Mike Tyson and Lori Singer).

Ironically there is enough plot in there that the film could actually have been worthwhile – instead, other than Campbell, the performances are poor, the direction is unfocused, and the film has ambitions of being pretentious. The story follows Campbell and her boyfriend – switching back and forward in a jarring flow. She has a classical soundtrack, contrasting in a clumsy manner his hip hop accompaniment – both mixed too high in the sound flow. Both of them liars and deceivers. He is poor, full of lies to manipulate money out of people. She is rich, full of lies to manipulate sex out of people. He meets a rich Italian man, and a deal is made where he will introduce the Italian to Campbell.

Exploring the potential of a love triangle, and the motivations of sex and money should provide ample material to work with. As the meeting between the Italian and Campbell demonstrates there is a potential here. However, one good scene can’t save the film from its own sense of worth. When Will I Be Loved is an excruciating cinematic work, best avoided.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Title: Tartan Asia Extreme
Films: R-Point, Tell Me Something, One Night In Mongkok, Abnormal Beauty, Another Public Enemy, Vital
Broadcast: Cineworld Cinemas - October to November

Kicking off this week in Glasgow, the third annual Tartan Asia Extreme season in association with Cineworld Cinemas (formerly UGC) and sponsored by Tiger Beer. Watch local listings for details, it must have started in some places across the UK already, and is supposed to cover 12 cities. It appears that the format has changed this year, rather than each film playing for 2 weeks to be replaced by the next film, 3 films are showing this week in mixed time slots. The season starts with R-Point, Tell Me Something and One Night In Mongkok, to be followed by Abnormal Beauty, Another Public Enemy and Vital.

Also, HMV are running a promotion to go with the Asia Extreme season - selling a trailer disc for all these films for £3.99. A disc which includes the complete film Bangkok Dangerous - a hitman thriller by the Pang Brothers, who did the The Eye and this years Abnormal Beauty. Well worth the money.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Title: Dead Code: Ghosts of the Digital Age
Author: Jeff Noon.
Broadcast: BBC Radio 3 - Thursday 6 October 2005 22:00-22:45

This Thursday coming sees the broadcast of the radio play "Dead Code: Ghosts of the Digital Age", written by the science fiction author Jeff Noon. His most recent novel is "Falling Out of Cars", though probably most well known for his "Vurt" trilogy. The BBC website offers the following summary:

"Set in the ruins of a housing estate in a futuristic, post-digital age world, where music haunts the streets, Joe and Dixie are struggling with the loss of Charlie. Dixie is doing her best to hold on to Joe, but will she succeed when the force of Charlie's memory is so strong?"

The piece can be heard online through the BBC website, live on the night, and streaming archive I would expect for at least a week there after.

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