Tuesday, 31 July 2018
Thursday, 26 July 2018
Wednesday, 25 July 2018
Tuesday, 24 July 2018
Although not as caustic, The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter takes a similar tact as Jody Hill's previous film Observe and Report, examining floundering male identities and the ways in which they resist change or, really, even the notion of growth. Josh Brolin plays Buck Ferguson, the star of a series of washed-out, wipe-transitioned hunting videos in which he, beaming ear-to-ear, tracks and kills deer. Unfortunately for Buck physical media sales are drying up, necessitating a fresh angle. Ferguson's big idea to improve these sell-through numbers is an idealised father-son hunting trip, culminating in his child's first kill.
Montana Jordan's Jaden has never hunted before, but despite this complication - since Buck is incapable of examining situations from any perspective other than his own - the father hopes that his son will embrace the family trade. Naturally Jaden couldn't give two shits about his Dad's passion project, he'd rather spend time on his phone, listening to music and talking down to his girlfriend. Even Buck's gift of a totemic, lever-action rifle pales in comparison to the kitted-out Call of Duty weapon given to the boy by Greg, the new man in Jaden's mother's life. Buck has spent his life trekking around the world shooting animals then drinking his pains away, consequently his relationship with his son is wobbly at best, reliant on sneaky McGriddles to keep it ticking over. Craving a role model, a listless Jaden has latched onto the aforementioned live-in boyfriend, played by Scoot McNairy.
Greg is flashy and shallow where Buck is simple and staid. Greg preaches a doctrine of minimal effort but, like Buck, projects his own failings onto the boy regardless of whether or not they fit the child's actual personality. Jaden is bombarded and overwhelmed, desperately seeking distraction. Buck is similarly stuck, an unemotive sort unable to be truly effusive about anything other than his great white hunter persona and how Danny McBride's cameraman captures it for home video. Buck's attempts to engage with Jaden as a subject within the falsified narrative of their landfill DVD project fail miserably. It's only when the two began to collaborate and exchange ideas that a bond truly develops. Buck may have missed out on a ritualised bloodletting but, as the team hurtle down whitewater rapids together, Jaden steals glances at his father and is reassured by his calm. Buck, unknowingly, has been briefly glimpsed as present and unyielding in the face of adversity.
Friday, 20 July 2018
Like the majority of Toho's monster movie sequels, The War of the Gargantuas isn't content to simply pick through its predecessor Frankenstein Conquers the World for narrative grist. Instead Gargantuas magnifies and expands certain ideas from that film while overwriting and rejecting others. Writer-director Ishiro Honda and co-writer Takeshi Kimura reconfigure their previous work, abandoning a Nazi super-science backstory, that might otherwise muddle the thematic aims of their latest iteration, to stage a monumental clash between nature and nurture.
Gargantuas concerns two hirsute titans, Gaira and Sanda, the former a savage green people-eater, the latter his dignified, morally mature parent. Gaira, played with manic glee by Showa era Godzilla actor Haruo Nakajima, is squat and animalistic, the unloved result of his parent spilling some of his invincible, fissile flesh into the ocean. This hellish, fish-eat-fish environment has produced a creature whose idea of recreation is to bound about quaking Japanese airports, gobbling up as many women as he can lay his hands on. His (eventual) rival Sanda is the opposite. Raised in captivity by Kumi Mizuno and Russ Tamblyn's chummy scientists, Sanda has grown into a noble loner, content to roam snowy mountains like an atomic age Yeti.
Special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya uses Japan's well-funded Self-Defence Force as the centrepiece in a series of scale confrontations between the giants and clatters of increasingly spectacular tanks. These forest-shredding military manoeuvres also introduce the Maser Cannons, a satellite-tipped artillery designed to blast monsters with a stream of lightning that scours and burns their flesh. These fantastical batteries are essentially War of the Gargantuas' third monster and are therefore photographed with the same loving care. The Maser technology, and indeed even the exact film footage featuring these weapons, was recycled repeatedly throughout Toho's 1970s Children's Festival output, bolstering Godzilla's then-money poor effects work.
Honda and Tsuburaya's biggest coup though is the simmering interpersonal tensions they weave between Gaira and Yu Sekida's Sanda. Although mute and essentially, biologically, the same being, the two have evolved into completely different beasts. Sanda breaks his leg trying to save the scientist who mollycoddled him; Gaira treats people like squirming delicacies. This ideological clash marks the beginning of their falling out, facilitating the film's most perfect moment. After rescuing his goblin offspring from Japan's futuristic lasers, Sanda discovers the child chowing down on some teenage ramblers. As the abashed parent raises an uprooted tree trunk to clobber the bad thoughts out of the youngster's head, a blistered, defeated-looking Gaira gazes up at his horrified father, completely unable to parse the horror creaking into Sanda's latex features.
Thursday, 19 July 2018
Wednesday, 18 July 2018
Frankenstein Conquers the World roars to life with a prologue set during the last days of the Second World War. This brief, exposition orientated sequence offers director Ishiro Honda and special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya the opportunity to present that globe-spanning conflict as a series of intricately detailed, scratch-built dioramas. The European theatre is glimpsed as a static stretch of chewed up earth, stained grey and clouded with sparks and explosions. An absurd wunderwaffe laboratory, the cradle of Dr Frankenstein's unkillable heart, is depicted as a fantastical, swirling snow globe. Most impressive of all though is Honda and Tsuburaya's portrayal of the Hiroshima bombing.
Honda and Tsuburaya avoid the typical, some might say triumphant, sight of a mushroom cloud to focus instead on a human scaled destruction. Blazing atomic fire cascades down onto squashed, pathetic miniatures. Flames as tall as skyscrapers utterly overwhelm the fragile, wooden city. The effect is total. In terms of pure imagery, that's as good as the film gets. After this barnstorming opener, Frankenstein Conquers relaxes almost completely, exchanging expertly curated models for dull lab work. We catapult forward into the 1960s where Nazi Germany's miracle organ has since grown into a lurching primitive who has been captured then displayed like a Junior Kong. While Koji Furuhata's Frankenstein may have the same towering forehead as Boris Karloff's monster his dull, mottled skin and warped features evoke the regressive gaze of radioactive mutation.
While not in the same league as the calcified horrors of Toho's later, frequently truncated Prophecies of Nostradamus, Honda's monster is a uniquely disturbing take on the transformative powers of the atomic age. Conceptually he's the explicitly Caucasian product of Nazi super science, a curdled Ubermensch rendered as a sloping, diseased child. His brutish looks and grasping obsession with Kumi Mizuno's Dr Sueko Togami can't help but recall the engorged, cannibalistic threat of the Western powers, as depicted in Japanese wartime propaganda. Frankenstein may be foreign and misunderstood but he is also, ultimately, an innocent. The blame for the people gobbling that has rural Japan in uproar lies with the film's B-creature, an indigenous, tunneling lizard with the face of a slow-witted Pug dog.
Baragon is basically an aside, glimpsed in bracketed blips apparently shuffled into the feature at random. Both monster's small-for-the-genre size and Furuhata's light, make-up focused costuming change how the film's (infrequent) fight scenes are structured too. The overcranked histrionics of the Godzilla series are replaced with a spry, scrappy combat focused around the rough-and-tumble interactions between a human actor and his bulging, suited up opponent. This exciting, disorganised approach to Kaiju grappling, as well as Frankenstein's racist, occult science background, stand out in a film mostly content to meander around Nick Adams' perplexing domestic set-up.
Tuesday, 17 July 2018
Thursday, 12 July 2018
Tuesday, 10 July 2018
Better in every conceivable way than its predecessors, The Purge: Election Year stops mucking about with wishy-washy paranoia and instead goes straight for the throat. America is ruled by a cathedral full of mummified Freemasons who fix elections by sending white supremacist death squads after popular third-party candidates. Homocide: Life on the Street's Kyle Secor is their Great White Hope, a frothing pastor who plays vanilla and civil in-front of the cameras then snarls and clicks in private. Writer-director James DeMonaco invests his film with a slyness lacking in his previous efforts, there's more of a sense that he's reacting to our fracturing reality rather than just pushing at an iterative franchise idea.
This new vitality is most obvious in how Election Year re-organises the idea of The Purge along explicitly religious lines, meaning the recent, absurd diktat is treated as if it has been chiselled into ancient stone. Likewise, pro-Purge politicians talk around the cull in the sanctimonious circles of someone pretending there's a chance they might somehow offend God. Faith is wielded like a cudgel, beating down the grasping serfs until they comply with their own extermination. Threat in the third Purge film springs from a moneyed, comfortable political class unwilling to share their success with anyone else. The New Founding Fathers would rather everyone else fought over scraps. They are old, white and functionally presentable which actually contrasts nicely with the lightly diverse, prim-and-proper middle class seen in DeMonaco's first film. If you're not Caucasian you can climb but only so far.
The bee in the plutocrats' bonnet is Elizabeth Mitchell's Charlie Roan, an anti-Purge Presidential candidate, herself a survivor of the night's dubious festivities. Targeted by Nazi stormtroopers and her own security detail, Roan and her bodyguard escape into the streets, colliding with the working class people powering Election Year's B plot. Up until this point, the series has struggled to fold its disparate storylines into one cohesive whole. The Purge featured an unhinged boyfriend that seemed to be a way to introduce the prolonged threat of a cuckoo into Ethan Hawke's nest before revealing itself as a disposable device thrown in to make sure Adelaide Kane's daughter stayed half-dressed. Election Year is the most successful Purge yet then because it unites its characters and threads into one adrenalised push of political upheaval. The resulting violence may be a little Hays Code but the effort is appreciated.
Monday, 9 July 2018
Two films in, it's clear that James DeMonaco's The Purge series lacks the raw, blood-and-guts determination to really deliver on its exploitative, class war premise. DeMonaco's first instalment took the perspective of the upper middle-class, people who had accumulated wealth and had something to lose. Aside from an exceptionally slack second act, DeMonaco fumbled his sitter with situational writing that seemed incompatible with a central idea that demands citizens compromise themselves utterly in the face of their new America. It was also pretty difficult to get excited about a Lena Headey performance that choose teary-eyed compassion over the actresses' trademark venom.
The Purge: Anarchy makes a few key changes. First the scale is exploded, taking place across an entire city rather than one walled estate. Government extermination squads trundle around in 18-wheeler trucks, attacking tower blocks while opportunist street gangs kidnap defenceless poors to be auctioned off during well-to-do ballroom functions. Secondly, this Purge follows characters with objectives that are compatible with, rather than upset by, the chaos. There is opportunity. Frank Grillo's Sergeant stands to make a personal gain from the prolonged lawlessness. DeMonaco frustrates his revenge by loading him down with helpless strays that only he, a hero, has the training and inclination to protect.
DeMonaco, himself the credited writer on 2005's buttoned-up Assault on Precinct 13 remake, is happy to tread water, using this film to invoke the individualist, anti-authoritarian cool of John Carpenter's oeuvre without any of the associated grit. Grillo, decked out in magic sunglasses, stomping and gunning down a scrum of rich but incompetent hunters may be fun but Anarchy's decision to tie its emotional summit up in fake-outs and last minute change-of-hearts stinks like compromise. The Purge: Anarchy does have one excellent scene though, one predicated on the idea that guns and the permission to use them does not, as the NRA would have it, equalise situations, rather they needlessly raise the stakes of basic, domestic disintegration from weepy and intolerable to pointlessly lethal.
Thursday, 5 July 2018
The United States, as seen in The Purge, has undergone a soft coup, now governed by a group of blood-thirsty braggarts calling themselves The New Founding Fathers. Although details are sketchy, since the central premise is really only an excuse to stage a siege, this new ruling party have seized upon a Peruvian community festival as a way to both hold onto power while also expunging the populace of its grumbles. Takanakuy centres around hand-to-hand straighteners to settle grievances and determine social standing. The American expression naturally skews more homicidal, involving the suspension of all police and emergency services for a 12 hour period in which citizens can pretty much do whatever the fuck they want.
Writer-director James DeMonaco has a great premise on his hands but is content to use it simply for scaffolding. Indeed a lot of The Purge's most interesting ideas are abandoned to talk radio detailing. This America survives thanks to a bubble economy centred around personal and architectural self-defence. Presumably everyone spends the year either preparing for (or recovering from) The Purge. Ethan Hawke's financially secure James Sandin enjoys the benefits of this system. He has made his family's fortune outfitting his jealous, gated community neighbours with state-of-the-art safety features. Sandin is passive though, reluctant to really engage with The Purge as anything other than a way to get himself a sailing boat.
DeMonaco never holds Sandin to account for his profiteering, instead writing him as someone on the used car salesman spectrum who has to tap into his inner cowboy to protect his homestead. In terms of familial interpersonal drama, Sandin is unusually reasonable too. He's interested in his children's lives, no matter how much they pout about it. Lena Headey's Mary isn't obviously bored or resentful either. There are no extramarital affairs looming on the horizon. The Sandins are humdrum. DeMonaco doesn't use The Purge as a device that has already warped his character's moral or ethical perspectives. Although apparently long established, the state-sponsored cull is treated as a new danger that will force the family to make tough decisions, tonight. This is the film's biggest problem - DeMonaco's characters react to events as fresh rather than established circumstances. The Purge reassuring its audience when it should be puncturing them.
Wednesday, 4 July 2018
Monday, 2 July 2018
Sunday, 1 July 2018
Mark Goldblatt puts his time as Paul Verhoeven's second-unit director to good use with The Punisher, an impatient set-piece generator that combines the interlaced fuzz of RoboCop with the vulgar, home video opportunism of The Cannon Group. Dolph Lundgren plays the titular vigilante as a disconnected and bereaved. The pure machinery of Marvel Comics' ruthlessly motivated exterminator is in here somewhere, massaged by a depiction that screenwriter Boaz Yakin likely hoped would register as, at-least, semi-human. Cursed with essentially the same backstory as his newsprint forebear, Lundgren's Frank Castle glooms in biker leathers, loaded down with army surplus and branded stiletto daggers.
Lundgren's chiselled, beautiful, face is shaped into a glaring death mask with heavy, waxen make-up and a pencilled in beard that gifts the actor a knife-edge contouring. Lundgren's louche violence and the lovingly photographed automatic weaponry would be star-making if the film wasn't so thin. The actor is working at being iconic; he's a heavy metal Elvis gyrating in a piece that is happy to be simply diverting. The film's main dramatic push concerns a back-and-forth between a legion of anytown Mafiosa and a gang of arrogant, marauding Yakuza. Naturally the depiction of the Japanese gangsters combines every possible permutation of video shop Orientalism.
Shuriken, sexualised cruelty, white slave trading, and Kim Miyori's one-dimensional (but enjoyably vindictive) Dragon Lady boss are all pressed into service to illustrate the sub-human otherness of the invading criminals. This blunt exoticism combined with The Punisher's decision to team up with Jeroen Krabbe's heavily accessorised mob don lends Goldblatt's film the air of 40s propaganda. American criminals are still American after all. In this sense The Punisher is not so much an adaptation of Gerry Conway, John Romita Sr and Ross Andru's character, rather it is a stuttering live action run-through of the imagery that Frank Miller lifted out of sombre Samurai manga then transplanted into the Western comic canon via his electric Daredevil run.