Monday, 23 August 2010

Steve's Review - Alien Vs Ninja

Grimm Up North Movies: ALIEN VS NINJA (Seiji Chiba)

The title pretty much writes the review. This really is exactly what is says on the box - Ninjas fighting Aliens.

No subtleties of characterisation, no intricate narrative set ups. Just 80 minutes of martial arts mayhem and cartoonish gore; a delirious pop-pulp-trash mash-up, harking back to the much-loved catchpenny monster slugfests of Toho Studio’s golden era. The plot, such as it is, is simple to the point of idiocy. Essentially, it’s the set up of PREDATOR in the landscape of THE WATER MARGIN. Two parties of Ninjas are sent out into a large forest to investigate a mysterious meteorite which has fallen close to a neighbouring, rival Han. Their Feudal Lord fears it might contain something of value that he does not wish his enemies to get hold of. In reality, however, it contains - yeah, you guessed it - alien beasties.

From there on in, it’s one long wire-work-enhanced fight to the death. The Ninjas, clad in black leather armour and sporting rockstar haircuts, look more like members of a Japanese heavy metal band (Except, obviously, for the fat, bald, screaming, cowardly comic relief character, who has to be the world’s most unlikely assassin). The aliens look like men in rubber suits - but let’s face it so does Ridley Scott’s ALIEN, probably because that’s what it was.

However, ALIEN VS NINJA director Seiji Chiba is far less concerned than Scott was with creating a credible alien menace. In fact, he’s less concerned than Edward L. Kahn was in IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE. AVN is all about the ass-kicking. This is cinema as Pro Wrestling. It’s a mindless monster manga come to life and coming to a midnight movie screening near you. And it’s a laugh a minute.

Prepare to choke on your popcorn.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Steve's Review: All About Evil

ALL ABOUT EVIL (Dir: Joshua Grannell)

Why do we love horror movies? What is it that we love about them? What needs do they fulful for us? These are the questions posed by Joshua Grannell’s outrageous feature film debut ALL ABOUT EVIL, which interrogates even as it celebrates the wilder excesses of genre cinema.

The film tells the story of Deborah Tennis (Natasha Lyonne), a mousy librarian, who inherits a grind house cinema specialising in cult b-movies and gory 70s and 80s horror flicks. Haunted by her failure to become the child star her beloved father dreamed she would be, tormented by her cruel and rapacious mother, Deborah is driven over the edge into committing murder. But her crime is caught on camera, and accidentally screened to her cinema audience to rapturous applause. Suddenly, all of Deborah’s dreams of cinematic success start to come true. She is feted as a visionary director; her screenings become the hottest ticket in town. The only problem is the continual need to find new performers to appear in her films. Fortunately, however, Deborah has a lot of rage issues to work out. Enlisting the aid of her embittered elderly projectionist Mr Twigs, degenerate hustler Adrian and psychotic twins Veda and Vera, she quickly builds the ideal crew for her cinematic endeavours, and sets to work. Meanwhile, horror film buff Steven, her biggest fan, longs to get to know her better…

Were I pitching the idea to Hollywood Executives, I’d probably describe it as WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE directed by Hershell Gordon Lewis… And of course they wouldn’t have a clue what I was talking about, because the people financing films today have no sense of Cinema History - particularly the less “respectable” parts. ALL ABOUT EVIL, however, is steeped - soaked! - in that bloody history. Grannell is better known as his demonic drag diva alter-ego Peaches Christ, host of San Francisco’s infamous “Midnight Mass” screenings, celebrating all that is camp, gory, and gloriously tacky in cinema past and present. Grannell’s love for the horror genre is evident in every frame of his film. Opening with a beautiful title sequence, incorporating re-imagined versions of dozens of classic B-movie posters, and crammed with visual and verbal in-jokes, arcane allusions and mischievous references galore, this is a cult cineaste’s delight, a multi-layered slice of self-referential meta-cinema, with even the title being a cheeky bit of wordplay on the seminal Joseph L. Mankiewicz / Bette Davis movie ALL ABOUT EVE.

Yet however post-modern the film may be, this is not at the expense of narrative, character and sheer creative chutzpah. Grannell never forgets that first and foremost his film should be fun. ALL ABOUT EVIL’s purpose is above all to entertain, and in this it is a roaring success, both as a fast-paced 80s-style slasher movie thrill-ride, and as a blackly comic parody, with the cast catching the tone perfectly. Natasha Lyonne’s star turn as Deborah is a cunning compendium of filmic femmes fatales, skilfully leaping from Mae West, to Bette Davis, to Joan Crawford (or perhaps Faye Dunaway’s nightmarish caricature thereof in MOMMIE DEAREST), to Queen of the New York Underground Lydia Lunch. The rest of the cast deliver equally well-judged turns. Cult character actor Jack Donner (you name it, he’s been in it!), exudes seedy, gleeful malice as Mr Twigs, and there is a magnificently witchy turn from the Amazonian Julie Caitlin Brown, as Deborah’s vile mother. Ironically, but altogether appropriately, it is the stars most associated with camp who are given the warmest, most sympathetic roles: Elvira, Mistress of the Dark herself, Cassandra Peterson, is effectively cast against type as Steven’s bemused but understanding mother, while John Waters regular Mink Stole brings unexpected humanity and pathos to the role of the elderly spinster chief librarian whose well-meant interference Deborah so resents.

The result is a riotous splatter-satire, which is not afraid to mix laugh-out-loud black comedy with some genuinely queasy moments of violence and gore. The casting nod to the “Pope of Trash” John Waters is entirely fitting. The film’s closest relative is probably Waters’ CECIL B. DEMENTED - another lament for everything that has been lost in this blanded-out world of pre-sold, pre-tested, corporate-sponsored, product-placement-stuffed multiplex fodder. Joshua Grinnell - or is it Peaches Christ? - offers us a chance to enter a world where the carnival barker antics of William Castle, and the blood-drenched excesses of H. G. Lewis, the cartoon bawdiness of Russ Meyer and the huckster genius of Roger Corman, are not forgotten. Where Cinema remains…magic!


Thursday, 12 August 2010

Noel's Review: Amer

Directed by Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, Amer is a Belgian, French language movie that I've been lucky enough to see ahead of FrightFest. Going in, I was aware of suggestions that it owed much to the work of directors like Argento, Fulci and Bava and was something of a love letter to the giallo style of horror film making. Of course, this was enough to peak my interest, but I have to say that ultimately I was in no way prepared for what lay in store for me.

Without going in to too much detail on plot, what I can say is that Amer evolves over a very tight 90-minute, three act narrative. In its first section, which is arguably its most heavily inspired by Argento, we follow a young girl exploring the creaking hallways and rooms of her childhood home. As she wanders from one place to another, catching the tail-ends of her parents' conversations and hiding from her terrifying lace-clad grandmother, we're treated to some of the most compelling and engaging cinema I've seen in as long as I can remember. With a light dusting of Guillermo Del Toro, this thrilling exploration of childhood fear and confusion moves comfortably between outright creepiness and mind-bending surrealism.

For the second act, we rejoin our heroine - although this time she is in her teens and outside the confines of her large and imposing family home. However, this new freedom brings with it a level of burgeoning sexuality that regularly seems as if it might explode on the screen at any moment, but manages to be intermittently subdued by moments of tension and the intervening touch of her authoritative mother.

In its final third, we return the house that had such a presence in the film's first half hour, along with the giallo-esque aesthetics that made it so powerful. However, this is not before a beautiful and hazily-paced taxi ride in which the threat of overwhelming desire is ramped up to new heights for its lead, this time a fully-fledged woman in her sexual prime.

In its first five minutes, Amer had me absolutely gripped and I stayed that way for every remaining glorious 85. Sure, in parts it more than a little reminiscent of 1970s European horror, but this is by no means the only trick it has up its sleeve. As a piece of art, this is a film that is as visceral as any I've ever seen. It has a visual style that is surpassed only by its stunning sound design, making every breath, every gasp and every bead of sweat as tangible for the viewer as it is for the characters on screen.

Elegantly paced, infinitely watchable and by far one of the best films I've seen this year, Amer is a film I cannot recommend enough. While the plot will undoubtedly leave some scratching their heads, this is an exercise in arthouse cinema that is as sensually involving as anything else you are likely to see this year - possibly even longer.

- Noel Mellor, Web and Social Marketing Co-ordinator, GRIMM UP NORTH