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

The Walking Dead [Volumes 1 and 2]

jul068351AUTHOR: Robert Kirkman | Order Vol. 1 | Order Vol.2

Zombies are a horror trope that have gone through a number of phases in their undead history. Originally, they were very much the subject of pulp from their voodoo origins as unwilling victims brought back from the dead to serve evil masters. Then, in 1968, George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead changed the perception of the zombie forever, making them very much a harbinger of apocalyptic visions. It became a creature of the horde, shuffling flesh-eating masses that inexorably consume mankind in a variety of siege situations.  Continue reading

American: The Bill Hicks Story

American-Bill-HicksOf all the books and films I have devoured on Bill Hicks there is no doubt that American: The Bill Hicks Story is one of the most comprehensive and authoritative. What makes it so is that it’s narrated by his closest friends and family members.

The film delves into his comedy roots which started at a mere 15 years of age, the people he created his art with and follows his career in small clubs through to his breakthrough in England and his last tours in the US. And of course his tragic death from cancer. The only thing that was missing was any input from his girlfriends or any mention of any (he did have a fiancée).

The most interesting interviews are those with his best friend Dwight whom Bill started his comedy act with. Stories of rebellious teens sneaking out to go and perform comedy are golden and most importantly unheard. There’s also some tales about mushroom trips at a ranch the friends frequented. The archive footage is awesome, there’s clips of Hicks performing when he was just a baby, he’s so clean cut and his style is so different, but you can see his voice forming.

What I dug about his background is that his formative years are actually interesting. Sometimes its a bore to have to listen to or read about someone’s background. Comedy was in Bill at such a young age that the facts go from “born here, raised by, friends with” and then it’s straight to the good stuff, much like Andy Kaufman he was born to do comedy and knew it at a young age.

The film also utilizes a really neat method of telling the story. The directors went and captured images of different areas Bill lived in, hung around at and have used photographs of Bill (and his friends, family) to put them in the scenes and try and recreate events. It’s sort of a Tom Goes To The Mayor style but without the spazz-y movements and photoshop effects. It’s far more appealing than talking heads or unrelated stock footage and works well.

If you’re expecting a cash-in film this is not it. The film took three years to make and is crafted with love and respect, the Hicks’ family were also very involved in the film, thus ensuring a high standard.

There’s a whole assortment of extras here which makes this DVD release even more appealing if you’re into the extras thing.

Extras

  • Austin Panel and SXSW (10 mins) – Interview with Steve Hicks and various comedians, they discuss meeting Bill and the first time they saw him perform.
  • Dominion Tour (8mins) – The Hicks family travel to London and reminisce with director/producer of the Revelations performance. A neat short that focuses on the concept of the show.
  • Festivals in the UK and USA with the Hicks’ (14 mins) – A bit of a filler extra, this one consists of Mary (Bill’s mother) and his siblings Lynn and Steven at various film festivals including London, Austin and Toronto.
  • Hicks and Abbey Road studios ( 4 mins) – The Hicks family found some cassette recordings Bill had made and while they were in London they took the tapes to Abbey Road to have them remastered.
  • Kevin Shoots His Film in LA (4 mins) – A little segment on Kevin’s (one of Bill’s friends) film about the war on drugs.
  • 15th Anniversary Tribute (8mins) – A clip of the Hicks family attending the 15th anniversary tribute of Bill’s performance in London.
  • Comedy School (18 mins) – Bill’s friend Dwight gives his thoughts on comedy.
  • Dwight in London (5 mins) – Clips of Dwight’s stand-up and of him discussing the difference between UK and US audiences
  • Making of Arizona Bay (7 mins) – Footage of Bill making the album.
  • The Ranch (7 mins) – Clips of Kevin Booth showing us around the ranch where they used to take trips and relax.

As if that weren’t enough already, there’s also 7 minutes of deleted scenes, 8 minutes of early and alternative scenes, 15 minutes of early and rare clips of Bill’s stand-up and three decent audio clips of Bill. This release also features subtitles for the hard of hearing and has reversible cover art.

Another excellent release from Madman. A must see for those who have never heard of Hicks and a must own for those who have.

American: The Bill Hicks Story is available on R4 DVD from Madman Entertainment.

Tokyo Zombie

Tokyo_Zombie_MadmanBased on a manga by Yusaku Hanakuma, Tokyo Zombie is a wild ‘n’ wacky ride through the zombie-ridden, post-apocalyptic carcass of Tokyo city.

Fujio (Tadanobu Asano) and Mitsuo (Sho Aikawa) work at a fire extinguisher factory in midtown Tokyo… well, I say work but in reality they spend most of their time practicing Jujitsu. Mitsuo is attempting to transform Fujio into a master of this particular martial art, but he’s not having much luck.

Meanwhile, the gargantuan garbage dump that dominates Tokyo’s skyline, Black Fuji, is starting to vomit out zombies. Over the years the people of Tokyo have dumped everything from cars and stacks of gay porn to satellites and dead bodies here and it’s starting to take its toll. It seems the permutation of noxious gasses have somehow triggered the resurrection of the various corpses discarded at Black Fuji and they’re on the lookout for fresh meat.

When the zombies begin invading Fuji and Mitsuo’s factory, they make the best out of a bad situation by putting their Jujitsu moves to work on them. Eventually though, they are driven out of their factory and have plans to migrate to Russia – which they say is a more manly country – until Mitsuo gets bitten and things begin to fall around their ears.

Jump to five years later: zombies have overridden Tokyo and the few wealthy survivors have built towering apartment blocks wherein they hold gladiator-style games in which the underprivileged are forced to fight zombies to the death. Here we are reintroduced to Fuji who has gone on to become a Jujitsu master / zombie killer. In one of his last matches he is doomed to fight the “strong zombie” who has defeated over 150 humans and has a fearsome reputation, only to discover it is his old friend & mentor Mitsuo. Who will win this final showdown?

Directed by Sakichi Sato who is probably better known for his script-writing and acting abilities, having written & acted in both Ichi the Killer and GozuTokyo Zombie is a worthwhile addition to the horror-comedy genre. Tadanobu Asano and Sho Aikawa, one sporting an afro, the other a bald cap, make a great oddball duo whose straight-faced slapstick shenanigans were the main point of hilarity for me.

With the humour often bordering on the absurd – as is Japan’s predilection – I was slightly disappointed there wasn’t more blood ‘n’ guts thrown into the mix as it could’ve made for some additional bad taste comedy. As it is there are few zombies and very little blood onscreen. Another small point of contention is the abrupt switch in tone that occurs halfway through the film: with the jump five years into the future comes a (slightly) more serious mood that ultimately knocks the film off balance.

Although minor shortcomings aside, Tokyo Zombie is an enjoyably retarded romp into “zom-com” territory that is inherently Japanese in all of its facets.

Extras:
  • Making of Tokyo Zombie
  • Q&A Session
  • Original Trailers

Available on R4 DVD from Madman.

Rubber

Rubber-DVD-Madman

Directed by French DJ Mr.Oizo (Quentin Dupieux), Rubber is a bizarro horror-comedy about a killer tire named Robert and his murderous adventures in the Californian desert.

Opening with a fourth-wall-breaking monologue concerning the film being a homage to the “no reason” theory often employed in cinema, Rubber proceeds to mess with genre conventions by having an on-screen audience watch the film – alongside the viewer – with binoculars and they comment on the action intermittently. There is also a sheriff who frequently acknowledges the fact that he’s in a film.

Ironic self-awareness aside, Rubber‘s star is without a doubt Robert the tire and his psycho-kinetic head exploding skills. As we witness Robert awake and begin to roll through the desert, he first encounters small obstacles such as a rabbit or a crow on which he tests his telekinetic abilities, thus reducing them to piles of gore. Then he moves on to a small town where he commences to explode the noggins of anyone in his way.

After finally being tracked down by law enforcement, Robert is shot to pieces but reincarnates into a tricycle and trundles off down the road, heading towards Hollywood.

Honestly, there’s really not much to Rubber. When I first heard the premise I thought how could this possibly go wrong? but after a while it does become slightly redundant.

There are definitely humourous moments and the idea itself is genius; it’s the execution that seems flawed. Had it been presented as a goofy Attack of the Killer Tomatoes-type deal minus the witty self-referencing perhaps it would’ve worked better, or maybe as a short film rather than feature length.

Nonetheless, it is definitely worth a look, just didn’t live up to my (admittedly high) expectations.

Rubber is available on R4 DVD from Madman Entertainment.

Outrage

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Actor/director Takeshi “Beat” Kitano is probably most well known for his string of ultra-violent Yakuza films in the ’90s. Masterpieces like Violent Cop and Sonatine cemented Kitano’s stone-cold demeanor, deadpan humor, and often Zen-like atmospheres into the cannon of must-see Japanese cinema. After those films Takeshi went on to make more lighthearted comedy/drama fare (with the slight exception of his The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi remake), but now, 10 years after his last Yakuza oriented film, Brother, he makes a long-awaited return to the blood-spattered stage with his latest film, Outrage.

Outrage deals with the simmering-until-boiling-point conflicts between (and within) the Iketomo and Murase crime syndicates. It’s a rivalry that involves many complicated angles, but ultimately breaks down to: a long-ago vow made in prison, turf wars over drug territories, and a power struggle for the Boss’s favour. Also coming into play are a corrupt detective, a blackmailed African ambassador, and plenty of superbly choreographed and explicit violence.

Kitano describes the initial development process of Outrage as beginning by envisioning the various ways in which the characters would die, then shaping a story around the deaths. He wanted to make a film with no ambition other than to entertain, and it shows. Gone are the existential idiosyncratic gangsters that populated Beat’s early films and gone are the lingering poetic visuals, leaving only a cold and heartless Yakuza action epic, but a stylish one nonetheless. Which is fine, I’m all for violent Japanese genre flicks, it’s just almost hard to tell this one’s made by Kitano himself, despite his always entertaining grim-faced presence. Continue reading

Bobby Fischer Against the World

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Bobby Fischer Against the World is a documentary that explores the life of chess Grandmaster Bobby Fischer. You might be thinking “urrrgghhh a chess documentary” but this is not a documentary about chess, it’s a documentary about one man’s journey to becoming the best chess player in the world but at the same time becoming so obsessed by the thing he loved most that he loses his grip on reality.

The film covers Fischer’s rise to chess fame and other aspects of his life, but the core of the film focuses on the 1972 match between USSR World Champion Boris Spassky which was hyped and broadcast as a Cold War battle. Bobby wasn’t just winning a chess title, he was out to give the Ruskie the finger and prove America’s greatness… kinda like the plot of Rocky IV. It really is a piece of theater to watch as Bobby turns up late, gets in a huff about noise and makes a huge rookie mistake, but Spassky also starts in with the drama as he thinks that there are devices in the room causing him to lose focus. In 1975 Fischer lost the title by default and faded into obscurity but it doesn’t end there! 17 years later Fischer became a fugitive and was exiled by the US government because he broke UN regulations and had a rematch with Spassky in Yugoslavia (there was an embargo on sporting/economic activities in Yugoslavia at that time).

If you thought the media was at their worst with Britney Spears, well they were fiends for Bobby Fischer. I was born in 1986, Chinese checkers was the chess of my youth, so it was unreal for me to see the media and the general public go completely ape over chess and a goofy looking guy who made it “sexy”. I mean the reaction and the attention that match generated was something more suited to a world title boxing match. Obviously this had a lot to do with the political climate but man I don’t think a chess game between Obama and Gordon Brown could create that much excitement and interest today. And to think all this attention was before Fischer started looking like Grizzly Adams and became more vocal about his antisemitism (despite the fact that he was Jewish!).

A well made documentary that tells an exceptionally bizarre and fascinating story. Regardless of whether you are a chess fan or not it’s really worth checking out as it deals with obsession, genius, human tragedy and captures an intriguing cultural/political climate. If you’re not into eccentric characters then the documentary might not hold your attention but it’s worth checking out to see how much of a cultural impact chess had at the time.

Extras

There’s also a whole heap of extras (25 minutes worth) to round out an already awesome release. The two most noteworthy being The Fight for Fischer’s Estate (7.04) which tells of the efforts of those who tried to claim his two-million dollar estate and Chess History (5.04) which explains the origins of chess and has some interviews with some pretty big names from the chess world. Taking on the Grand Master (1.39) sees Sunday Times Online Culture Editor takes on a Grand Master, basically a filler and there’s also an 8 minute documentary by some London Film School students called Kings in the Ring about chess boxers.

Bobby Fischer Against the World is available on R4 DVD from Madman Entertainment. 

Silence in the House of God: Mea Maxima Culpa

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By now most of us are aware of the sexual abuse happening within the Catholic church. It seems every second news story concerns yet another “Pedo Priest” scandal and subsequent cover-up by the church. Alex Gibney’s latest documentary traces this pattern back to some of the first victims to speak out against this unchecked abuse of power.

Silence in the House of God centers around Father Lawrence Murphy, a priest who taught at St. John School for the Deaf in Milwaukee from 1950-1974, and molested over 200 boys in the process. In the mid-60s four of these young men decide to speak up about his ongoing offenses against children. First, following in the activist spirit of the times by handing out flyers, then as the years passed, by eventually suing the church, all to no avail. As has been evidenced, the church looks after its own. Father Murphy is merely transferred to another parish (where he continues with his predilections) and after many years and numerous suits against it, the church simply declares bankruptcy. Continue reading

Elles

Elles-DVDThis French/Polish erotic drama centers around an investigative journalist writing an article on student prostitution for Elle magazine.

Juliette Binoche coldly portrays Anne: mother, housewife and work-obsessed journalist. In this “day-in-the-life-of” she is nearing the completion of her piece focusing on two university students working as part-time prostitutes to help pay their way through school. As she goes about her daily routine, preparing a meal for her husband’s boss that evening and putting the finishing touches on her article, she continually flashes back to her interview sessions with the girls.

Both are from vastly different backgrounds. Lola is French middle-class with a loving family, Alicja (Joanna Kulig, who was actually featured on the cover of Polish Elle mag this year) is a Polish immigrant with nothing to fall back on but her body for currency. As they tell their tales of various encounters with clients with seeming indifference we are treated to often explicit reenactments, perhaps occurring in Anne’s imagination. At first she is taken back by how nonchalant these young girls are about selling themselves to married men twice their age, but slowly she comes around to their world-view and begins to question her own values and morals.

The roles and stories of the prostitutes are partially based on the testimonies of legitimate hookers director Malgorzata Szumowska met and interviewed as background for the film. Her fantastic visual use of mirrors in various scenes perfectly illustrates the double life/split personality employed by all the characters within.

Overall, the film is fairly slow-paced and uneventful but it’s Binoche who holds it all together with her usual finesse; witnessing her character of Anne gradually slip into sexual erraticism and emotional turmoil is indeed a trip worth taking.

Recommended viewing for fans of heavy arthouse fare à la Michael Haneke.

Available on R4 DVD from Madman Entertainment.

Tim Winton’s The Turning

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The story is there in the title – Tim Winton’s The Turning. Such is Author Winton’s impact on the Australian literary scene that we don’t just call this film The Turning, no it’s Tim Winton’s The Turning! And so it should be for his voice still holds sway even with 17 different directors giving us their versions of the stories that originally formed the 2004 short story collection that has birthed this amazing event. Yes I did say 17 directors, actually there are 18 with an animated preface of TS Elliot’s Ash Wednesday kicking things off. Using various styles, narration, flashbacks, straight storylines or even no dialogue at all these directors have attempted to tell these overlapping stories of community, of people, of place but each in their own way. Continue reading