Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me

In interviews Twin Peaks co-creator Mark Frost has said that the goal of Twin Peaks was to do “something original”. While it achieved originality in spades the idea of a story about a girl who is murdered from the get-go stems from the 1947 Robert Wise film Born to Kill. In Born to Kill the victim’s name is Laury Palmer, in Twin Peaks it’s Laura Palmer. So it’s quite fitting that we never get to know Laura in the series but follow a whole week or so of her life in the movie Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.

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Howard the Duck

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Steve Gerber was a comic genius – Man Thing was my favourite comic ever pretty much hands down yessiree no competition the bomb and all that jive. His other fuck up Howard The Duck– while not in the same league for me was up there too, hell I live by Howard’s call sign – “Trapped In A World He Never Made” – that there was my life as a teenager, it still is. But the movie of old Howy well that’s a completely different ball game. Sure its got Howard and even Beverly but they aint the same at all. Hell, Beverly was much hotter in the comic than Lea (Caroline In The City) Thompson could ever hope to be. Although Lea does scrub up all right in her scanties it must be said. Enough to give any Duck a woody. The big problem is Howard though – I just kept thinking of Hornswoggle in the WWE! This poor fucker is trapped in a ducksuit he never made… and they needed 8 ducks according to the credits to do it! What? couldn’t find one kid dumb enough to do the whole flick? I’m no fan of CGI technology but in this case I wish they had invented it sooner. Howard needed something to make his case more believable. But just to contradict myself, there’s a great old fashioned harryhausen stop motion monster at the end that had me cheering, so what the hell do I know anyway? I hate the kid in a duck suit but love the stop motion harryhausen… but its that kinda movie you know? Confusing, strange, full of holes, dumber than a reality show contestant but for some reason still fun. Continue reading

Suicide Club

SuicideClubDVDA subway station loaded with people await the arrival of the express train to Tokyo. As the announcement of its approach is made over the loudspeaker, 54 schoolgirls move to the edge of the platform in one long line. They hold hands, count to three, then all leap in front of the oncoming train, showering the entire station in a massive spray of blood. As opening scenes go, it is hard to top.

So begins Shion Sono’s Suicide Club.

More suicide follow, apparently completely unrelated to each other. The police, led by Detective Toshiharu Kuroda (Ryo Ishibashi from The Grudge and Audition) move to investigate and make a grisly discovery – two rolls of human skin, stitched together in ten centimetre strips from around 200 people. Combined with a mysterious web site that counts the suicides before they occur, it becomes quickly apparent there is some kind of force behind the suicides…

Suicide Club is a difficult film to categorise. Part mystery thriller, part horror movie, part social commentary, it shifts tone a number of times and even protagonists. Despite this somewhat disjointed feel, the core mystery – why are people killing themselves? – gives the narrative momentum. Add to this some often surreal imagery and ambition that far outstrips its modest production budget and it is clear why this is often regarded as something of a cult classic.

The facets of the mystery – including the possible involvement of pre-teen J-pop band “Dessert” (alternatively called “Desert” and “Dessart” in the subtitles) – are diverse enough to maintain interest as red herrings and bizarre occurrences litter the story. This is engaging, energetic stuff.

If there is a flaw in the film, it is that the final stages are somewhat confused, to the point that the central “live for yourself, not for the approval of others” message of the story risks being muddled. But the scathing view of the way modern culture jumps on trends, no matter how foolish or even destructive they are, remains acidic throughout.

With such rich subject matter, it is a bit of a shame that this DVD is a bare bones release. A commentary or even interviews to discuss some of the issues raised would have been extremely welcome. The transfer is also quite grainy, but certainly adequate enough.

An effective blend of entertainment and a blacker-than-pitch sense of humour with some worthy intellectual musings, Suicide Club is an excellent film and deserving of more than its avid cult following. Are you connected to yourself?

Available from Madman Entertainment.

The Bettie Page Collection

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A five DVD set of Bettie Page? Has this cult icon really come that far? Of course, technically it isn’t five discs solely of Bettie, it’s just that she appears in all of them. But still I’m impressed. Bettie Page has become more than just a cult figure, she’s a symbol for sexy without being slutty, a girl who had a look, a style, a figure that stopped you in your tracks and even today, still has that power. From the classic films of auteur Irving Klaw with Bettie and a bevy of scantily clad models in bondage gear to her burlesque turns in Varietease and Teaserama, it’s all here and more besides.

The Bondage Queen disc introduces us to a world where girls always seem to walk around in their scanties before being grabbed by some other girl in her scanties who then ties the first girl up. Of course it is very frustrating trying to play strip chess if some girlie keeps knocking over the pieces, she deserves to be tied up! Although anything but pornographic, there’s an exotic feel to this early raunch, a world of Bridget Jones size undies and pointy bras, that makes you wonder just how straight your grandparents really were. Bettie though doesn’t appear until about 30 minutes but it’s still an entertaining peek at what porn was before it became silicon and meat shots. The wanky narrating gets on your nerves though. Why try and justify it all? We just want to look at girls getting tied up. What’s wrong with that? Bettie looked good in her undies, that’s enough justification for me! Of course the bonus photo gallery of Bettie all tied up was pretty much justification for the whole damn box set if you ask me. Continue reading

Army of Darkness [Blu-ray]

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Has there been a movie in the horror pantheon as endlessly quotable as Army of Darkness? And a hero – not a villain, but an actual bona fide good guy – as enduring as Ashley J Williams? But amidst all the nostalgia and love for Bruce Campbell’s grandstand performance in the lead role, it is often forgotten what a mixed bag the actual movie is.

At the dawn of the 90s, Sam Raimi was not yet the household name he is today. Indeed, outside of the Evil Dead movies, he only had the minor success of Darkman and the calamitous failure of Crimewaveto his name. But the Evil Dead brand held a lot of stock, particularly amongst horror fans, and when the third was announced as being the big budget (relatively speaking), epic Grand Guignol capper to the series, anticipation ran high. Continue reading

Survive Style 5+

Survive.Style5.

A man with a seemingly unkillable wife. An advertising executive with ideas as bad as they are frequent. Unrequited homosexual love. A husband and father hypnotised into thinking he is a bird. All of these and much more are packed into the madcap Japanese cult hit Survive Style 5+.

The structure is of five interlocking stories, connected by the travels of a hitman from London (Vinnie Jones) and his business partner/translator. His catchphrase is the direct, “What is your function in life?” that he uses on his targets and pretty much anyone else who annoys him. When he is hired to kill a hypnotist (and does so, onstage!), he inadvertently leaves a middle class businessman stuck in the belief that he is a bird. The man’s wife and two children must then deal with life where the man of the house cannot communicate and spends his days on the roof trying to fly.

The most eye-catching of the stories, however, involves a man (Ichi The Killer’s Tadanobu Asano) repeatedly killing his wife (the impossibly gorgeous Reika Hashimoto) for reasons unknown, only to have her return again and again from the grave. Each time, she has new powers and a thirst for vengeance.

Director Gen Sekiguchi juggles these elements with a terrific line in dark humour and a visually dazzling style. Of particular note is the eye-watering production design, which crams a rainbow of bright colours into seemingly every shot. The detail is extraordinary, like an assault on the eyes, but perfectly fits the surreal world the plot plays out in – a world where it is fine for a woman to fire her arms like rocket launchers or for an assassination agency to have framed photos on its walls of the victims it has been hired to kill.

Although not an anthology film, the interlocking stories approach does lead to the flaw common with that type. The individual plots are simple and do not carry sufficient weight in terms of narrative to retain interest. Fortunately, Sekiguchi’s mobile camerawork, superb soundtrack and striking imagery more than make up the difference. And, despite the simplicity of it all, the film manages a gloriously happy ending that would affect even the sternest of hearts.

Frenetic and stylish, Survive Style 5+ plays out like the dictionary definition of a cult film. Energetic, fresh and absolutely impossible to watch without a smile on your face. It may not be high-brow or deep, but Survive Style 5+ is damn fun filmmaking.

Survive Style 5+ is available on R4 DVD from Madman Entertainment

Killer Condom

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Based on a comic book by gay German artist Ralf König, Killer Condom is a deadpan horror / comedy that pokes fun at religion and politics while blatantly flaunting its pro-homosexual stance.

Sicilian born Luigi Mackeroni (Udo Samel, star of Herzog’s Kaspar Hauser and a coupla Michael Haneke flicks among other things) is a hardboiled, chain-smoking (even in the shower), trench coat-wearing detective patrolling the filthy, crime-ridden streets of New York… he also happens to be a flaming fag and has one of the biggest cocks around. Continue reading

Stone

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When I was maybe eleven or twelve my mate Barry’s parents had the soundtrack to this movie Stone. They were more country and western fans so I’m guessing it was left over after a party. There were a lot of parties back then. We always found cigarettes and beer and shit like that, plus records, there were always records left behind, Stone was one of them I’m sure. And we dug it. On the cover was this skull in a digger’s hat and on the record was this weird ass music with didgeridoos and guitars and chaos and power and man, I used to go over to Barry’s everyday to hear that record. We had no idea what the movie was really about and it would be years before I saw it but that soundtrack gave me a taste and when I finally did see Stone, I wasn’t disappointed. Continue reading

Luther the Geek

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geek (gek)

n. Slang

Outrageous sideshow performer: A carnival performer whose show consists of bizarre acts, such as biting the head off a live chicken.

As a child, little hillbilly Luther once witnessed a sideshow geek doin’ his thing in a barn and was immediately transfixed by the man’s bloody antics. Now Luther is grown and incarcerated on three counts of murder, but he is about to be granted parole… Continue reading

Battle Royale

imagesIn 2000, Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale hit like a cultural bomb. Adapted from the popular novel by Koushun Takami, the film managed to be scathing social criticism, teen melodrama and ultraviolent thriller all wrapped up in one. Its timing being so close to the Columbine massacre hamstrung its potential for a Stateside release, but it was a smash hit in its home territory has gone on to be one of the biggest cult films of the 21st century.

Ten years on, Arrow Video has released a brand new edition of the film, spread over three DVDs and including redone transfers of both the original theatrical cut and the ‘special edition’ cut that adds a bit of CGI blood and uses additional footage shot six months after the main shoot. It is an impressive package of a film that is definitely worthy of the treatment.

The set-up is classic exploitation film fodder. Every year, as an example to youth delinquency, a random school class is chosen to take part in the annual Battle Royale. The class of 42 pupils are sent to a deserted island, armed, and left for three days. Last child standing…gets to live.

Amongst the students is the reluctant Shuya Nanahara (Tatsuya Death Note Fujiwara) and the girl he likes, Noriko Nakagawa (Aki Maeda). Together they have to find a way out of the situation without being killed – or killing each other.

What elevates Battle Royale beyond its lurid premise is the way the children stay steadfastedly children throughout. They worry about friendships and who they have a crush on, who is cool and who is not, even in the face of impending annihilation. Because for teenagers, of course, these issues are as important as life or death.

The story often breaks into vignettes following specific characters, be it the returning survivor Kawada (Taro Yamamoto) who may or may not know a way off the island, abuse survivor turned murderess Mitsuko (One Missed Call Ko Shibasaki), rebel boy genius Mimura (Takashi Tsukamoto) or the homicidal Kuriyama (Masanobu Ando). Also among the cast is Chiaki Kuriyama, playing defiant track star Chigusa, the role that won her the part of Go-Go Yubari in Kill Bill.

Each of these stories-within-a-story showcase tragedy and the effect of social pressures on the young. The disassociation between youth and adults (here personified by Takeshi Kitano, playing the former teacher of the class) is a prevalent theme. Adults do not understand the young and children do not trust their elders. It is a gulf that the film paints as being potentially destructive for society.

Directed by the late Kinji Fukasaku in his 60th film at the helm, Battle Royale also contains some terrific set-pieces, from the massacre of distrust in the lighthouse to the showdown between Kuriyama and Kawada amongst the flames. If the film does spiral into heavy-handed melodrama at times – particularly at the end – this is a minor complaint to stack up against the power on display elsewhere.

Ferocious, deceptively clever and above all – entertaining, Battle Royale remains one hell of a film.

This new release feels pretty definitive, with extras ranging from video of stage appearances and press conferences through to footage of the score being recorded with the Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra. Some excellent ‘making of’ material is present, often of a candid nature that is considerably more revealing than the usual Hollywood electronic press kit type of material. A comprehensive package.

Extras
  • The Making of Battle Royale: The Experience of 42 High School Students
  • Conducting Battle Royale with the Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra
  • Takeish Kitano Interview
  • The Correct Way to Make Battle Royale (Birthday Version)
  • Tokyo International Film Festival Presentation
  • Opening Day at Maro No Uchi Toei Movie Theatre
  • The Slaughter of 42 High School Students
  • Premiere Press Conference
  • The Correct Way to Fight in Battle Royale
  • Royale Rehearsals
  • Masamichi Amano Conducts Battle Royale
  • Special Effects Comparison
  • Behind the Scenes Featurette
  • Filming on Set
  • Trailers
  • 32-page comic
  • 36-page booklet of essays
  • 16-page concept art booklet
  • Postcards

Battle Royal is available on R2 DVD from Arrow Films.