The Protectors [Series 1]

Protectors-DVDWith the success of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo it was inevitable that there would be interest in any new (and a revival of old) Scandinavian crime related sensations. First it was the murder mystery series The Killing with its Twin Peaks-esque whodunit tease-fest and now the Danish series The Protectors.

The Protectors also known as “Livvagterne”, is a series about a Danish Personal Protection Unit. We follow three recruits: Arab born Jasmina El-Murad, Danish born Rasmus Poulsen, and Jewish Jonas Goldschmid as they go through the annual admission test and go on to become protectors.

The show focuses on the three protecting their clients, while exploring their lives, the clients’ lives and some major political themes affecting Denmark. The most central recurring theme is the impact of Muslim culture and its assimilation into Danish culture. To balance this out it also deals with issues such as White Extremists, political, environmental, and moral corruption.

The Protectors is a very multi-cultural show and in the eyes of Anders Behring Breivik this aspect would serve to prove his notion of the “Islamic Threat” and how Scandinavian culture is being destroyed. In wake of his actions watching a show like this does make you consider how traditions and cultures might get forgotten amidst so much culture. Having said that it’s really up to the individual to judge the nature of the show. This is obviously an issue in Denmark and they are not focusing only on extremism but the reasons for it.

Ultimately The Protectors is a nice break from the typical cop/action series. We get something a bit more fleshy and realistic although it still manages to provide some action and suspense sequences. One thing Scandinavian films and TV always excel in is character development and the show is more about the characters than the action which again is a nice change. Recommended for those who liked The Killing.

Madman’s release of Series 1 consists of 10 episodes spread over 3 discs with no special features.

Available on R4 DVD from Madman Entertainment.

Headshot

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The past decade has seen a progressive rise in Thai cinema. From the martial arts films headlined by Tony Jaa to horror movies like Shutter and plot-driven thrillers like 13: Game of Death genre work has transcended often limited resources with sheer talent and enthusiasm. If there has been an Achilles’ Heel, it tends to be a lack of maturity in the scriptwriting department, perhaps indicative of a burgeoning industry yet to be fully established.

Action thriller Headshot demonstrates this perfectly. It has a script grappling with cliche and deeper meaning, caught between trying to offer layers but at the cost of set-pieces.

The basic concept is a hoary one. Tul (Nopporn Chaiyanam) is a reluctant hitman wanting to quit the business. It is a storyline that has played out dozens of times before, but Headshot, to its credit, does try to shake the formula up a little. 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.

Mother

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Do-joon (Bin Won) has a widowed mother (Hye-ja Kim) who is utterly devoted to him. He may be simple, but he’s all she has and she works hard to support them both. Doting and protective, she only wants the best for him.

Then, one night, a local schoolgirl is found brutally murdered and the evidence found at the scene points to Do-joon, who has no memory of the night. Naive and easily confused, he is quickly taken into custody and ends up confessing to the killing.

But his mother is not so easily convinced and begins a one-woman campaign to find the truth about the murder and clear her son’s name…no matter what it takes. Continue reading

Hellphone

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“Horror-comedy” is a genre that I have spent most of my adult life avoiding, in terms of entertainment value I put those combined terms in the same category as “cheese-grater” and “testicles”. But I must say that Euro director James Huth straddles both genres with aplomb and style.

The titular phone is just that, a phone spawned from the bowels of hell…and if you’ve ever had connectivity problems and an exorbitant phone bill you might be able to relate.

Sid comes into possession of the phone one day after visiting a mysterious Chinese bazaar; the phone is a sleek red number, complete with devil’s horns and a mind of its own. Continue reading

Himizu

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Based on the Manga by Minoru Furuya but altered slightly to include recent events, Himizu tells the tale of two disturbed 14-year-olds trying to find hope in a devastated post-quake Japan.

Opening with documentary-style handycam footage of the disaster sites, we are immediately given a taste of the bitter flavour that will permeate the rest of the film. Then enters Sumida, a coldly nihilistic teen whose goal in life is to be nothing more than ordinary; living in a ramshackle hut with some older homeless folks, he assumes he’ll one day take over his father’s business renting boats. Then his mother abandons him and his father racks up a rather large debt to the Yakuza then goes on the lam leaving Yuichi to deal with it. Though he does occasionally return to mock and belittle his son, urging him to commit suicide. To add to these hardships he has a very intense and obsessed girl named Keiko following him around.

Keiko’s home life is hardly any better. Her parents are in the process of building a gallows in their living room for her to end her life on. She attaches herself to Sumida and, despite being constantly physically and verbally abused by him, slowly earns his trust and friendship. Together they seem to find some kind of solace while violence rages around them.

There’s also a sub-plot concerning one of Sumida’s elderly friends befriending a pickpocket in an attempt to learn his skills and pay off the debt which involves the burglary and murder of a violent (Japanese) Neo-Nazi youth, complete with SS bolts shaved into his hair and Swastika flag prominently displayed.

Though very different than previous works such as Cold Fish or Love Exposure – in fact I’d say it has more in common with something like Wakamatsu’s Go, Go Second Time Virgin than these titles – Himizu still retains Sono’s unmistakable thumbprint. It’s an incredibly powerful film with a palpable undercurrent of emotional instability running throughout. And whether it’s Keiko’s uncomfortably hyper state or Sumida’s homicidal outbursts, the looping Mozart piece that serves as the score only works to heighten things.

With the constant references to the country’s state, nuclear power and mass stabbing epidemics, Himizu is perhaps Sono’s message of hope to Japan in the wake of disaster: in spite of all odds the teens manage to “never give up!”.

There’s a 72 minute Making Of and a selection of deleted scenes as extras. Clearly the Making Of is the stand-out extra here both in terms of quality and quantity and it’s not just focused on making the film, there’s interviews with actors and producers which helps it from becoming too stale.

DIRECTOR(S): Sion Sono | COUNTRY: Japan | YEAR 2011 | DISTRIBUTOR(S): Madman | RUNNING TIME: 129 minutes | ASPECT RATIO: 1.85:1 Widescreen | REGION: 4 / PAL | DISCS: 1

Jar City

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“A typical Icelandic murder,” proclaims one investigating cop early on in Jar City, “messy and pointless.” Whilst the killing of a lonely old man named Holberg with an ashtray does appear that way at first, it soon becomes apparent this is the tip of a complicated and far-reaching case.

Director Baltasar Kormákur’s Jar City, adapted from the novel by Arnaldur Indriðason, is one of the biggest films in Iceland’s history. It also established a strong track record on the festival circuit, including the 2008 New Zealand film festival. Continue reading

Adventure Time [Complete Second Season]

Adventure-Time-The-Complete-Second-Season-15529902-4Most people have heard of Adventure Time by now, but if you happen to be one of the willfully ignorant it’s a much-hyped animated series that airs on Cartoon Network. Despite being presented as a kids ‘toon, it has quickly gathered a “cult following” of teens & 20-something man-children, inspiring fan-fiction, cosplaying and all the money-grubbing merchandise you can think of.

The central plot revolves around the show’s protagonists Finn, a pre-teen boy, and Jake, a talking shape-shifting dog and their wacky adventures in the magical land of Ooo. On their travels they often come into contact with some of the various recurring characters such as Princess Bubblegum, Ice King, Lumpy Space Princess and Cinnamon Bun. Continue reading

Princess

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When famous porn star Christina Christensen dies, her brother August arrives on the scene to take custody of her five-year-old daughter, Mia. August, a priest, quickly find that the little girl has been deeply and cruelly affected by her association with the seedy world of pornography and so he begins a violent crusade of vengeance to wipe all traces of his sister’s career from the face of the Earth. His main target is Charlie, the nebulous porn king and lover of Christina, the man responsible for setting her on the path to notoriety.

Anders Morgenthaler’s debut film is a strong piece in every sense of the word. It has a singular vision, it does not shirk away from the darkness and it features superbly stylish animation blended with live-action footage. Plotwise, it is pretty adherent to the conventions of the revenge flick, but this is a movie far more interested in matters of theme and tone. Continue reading

Black Mirror: The Collection

Black-MirrorUK TV critic and writer Charlie Brooker is best known as an acerbic columnist for The Guardian newspaper, but his own ventures into television have always been met with critical approval. From his Screenwipe and Newswipe series to the zombie mini-series Dead Set and even the erratic Nathan Barley, Brooker has been able to air his blackly comic, cynical worldview. But none of them met with the acclaim – and the Emmy – that the anthology series Black Mirror has obtained so far.

Comprising two seasons to date, each three episodes long, Black Mirror is a Twlight Zone-esque set of ‘what if’ stories based around technology and social media and their effects on modern society. These are subjects close to the heart of Brooker, himself an avid Tweeter. Continue reading