Wednesday, 14 September 2011

REVIEW: A Serbian Film

One of the most depraved films of recent years has shocked the world and, at the very least, put the Serbian film industry (who knew they had one?) on the map.

It's a clever move calling it A Serbian Film. For sheer marketing reasons, it is out-there enough to put Serbia at the front of the torture-porn thing that has settled somewhat now, and it will forever stand alone as that film from Serbia, A Serbian Film. What the people of Serbia might say about this film standing up for their country is redundant and it doesn't make Serbia look like an amazing place to live, though there does seem to be an infinite number of hot women, so can't be all bad.

The film is about an ex-porn star who is brought back into the business by the promise of huge amounts of money. The first hour you can see things aren't looking good in this weird porn film he's agreed to star in, but for that first hour it slowly sets the scene until the final act where all hell breaks loose.

Though a lot of people would say this has been made purely for shock value, it could in fact be viewed as quite a strong social commentary. The crazed director in the film would mirror what people would think of director Srdjan Spasojevic - arguing that all the horrid ordeals he's putting them through is 'art', that there is a finesse to this grotesque horror. We all know that it is in fact not art at all which could also be applied to the film itself making it completely self-aware. However, there's a bit more going on then just torture-porn.

The idea of a 'happy Serbian family' and it's violent history, the way it literally fucks themselves over, it's lack of identity, the idea of the rich controlling the poor and taking away more than just their dignity. The notion that the rich and powerful make brothers fight, families go against each other and that there's no sense of unity. This isn't surprising since it's only just become a stand-alone sovereign republic since 2006 when it separated from Montenegro marking the end of Yugoslavia (thanks Wikipedia). It's also a commentary on it's apprehension with Western, often sexualised, influences in what was a Communist environment. By feeling so restricted, they have gone off the deep end into pure Western freedom - 'free fucking' as they call it in the film.

Anyway, that's enough serious stuff. I have to say that, in a completely non-depraved way, I enjoyed the film. The bleached out colours, the way everything was shot, it's relentless assault on your human condition, the characters and the general plot all serve to be quite a strangely entertaining film. As regular readers might know, I'm a big fan of the slow-burn beginnings if the pay-out is amazing - and you can't say the payout here wasn't intense. There are a couple of stupid bits and pieces that don't make sense, but to be bold and brave enough to deal with necrophilia, (extreme) paedophilia, incest, rape and the idea of just fucking anything and taking it to such extreme levels is astonishing. Even though it's quite horrific to watch, I did find it funny. I'm sorry but killing a guy by driving your boner through his eye and into his brain is nothing to be sniffed at (it is literally quite an eyeful). It has numerous scenes that if spread out across several films, would still make those films the top of disgust, even if nothing else happened. Yet here, they've rolled it all into one fairly decent package.

If none of this shocks you in any way, then you might need to see someone because it really goes off into the extremes of the psyche. However, you cannot take it seriously. The last line of the whole film for instance, I couldn't help but laugh out loud at. After having quite a serious ending, a five minute sequence or so of silent reflection, to end in such a manner is pure genius.

A lot of people will view this film and think it's just a disgusting piece of shit. It's not exactly something you can take someone to on a first date or sit with mum and dad and watch, but if you, like me, are one of those people that joke about disgusting, sick stuff, you'll love this. Otherwise if you like horror films, it doesn't go for the scare, it just pleases to shock.

Keep an open mind and you'll enjoy. I guarantee you that you'll be talking about it for the rest of your life.

Rating: 8/10

Sunday, 11 September 2011

REVIEW: Dead Space 2

Sequel to one of the most original games ever, there was a very high standard for this game to live up to. But did it deliver?

I had a problem with this game. Literally. In that my second disc on my Xbox wasn't working. So after putting it down after intensively working my way through the first disc, I finally returned to Hell on Earth, or in space should I say after a 5 month hiatus.

Dead Space 2 takes place not long after the first game and Isaac is in a psychiatry ward in a settlement on some planet or other. Immediately, things start going wrong again. After an escape, your back with the monsters and you are left to survive - alone. Well, mostly. There's some woman who is helping you out a bit along the way as well - but she's hardly there so don't worry.

I can't really remember much of the story. You generally have to get from A to B via C and press a few buttons and do some things to turn things off and on in the grander scheme of things or whatever, but I never really understood the story at any point. You're also seems you're against the military as they are to recover the artefact, this ancient huge structure that seems to be the key to everything. What makes this game enjoyable is that the artefact and the story around it might seem like the main story, however it is in fact the story of Isaac's peronal issues that are the most interesting - and in fact make for the heart wrenching power behind what would usually be dismissed as a no-brainer action game.

In case you didn't know, the first Dead Space was actually Isaac coming to terms with his inner demons in relation to his wife. This denial continues in Dead Space 2 where is trying his hardest to let her go, but he cannot. She appears, calling him back into madness, Isaac trying desperately to hang onto his sanity. Again, the monsters are just personifications of his mental breakdown and it's these two levels of interpretation that make the game work. For the action shoot'em'uppers, it's a man killing monsters with a big bit of stone in the middle and some weird stuff going on, but for those who wish to, the story can be read in a multiple of ways.

In any case, EA have taken Dead Space 2 in a different direction. There's a lot more action, you get thrown about the city which has huge landscapes and more larger scale battles. However, what it makes up for in action it loses in it's original appeal. The reason why I loved the first game is that on the Ishimura spaceship, the corridors were tiny, claustrophobic, making you constantly on edge. The tension was unbearable at times and it dotted the gameplay with action set pieces that fulfilled the odd blood lust. Dead Space 2 does have tension, but it's so open that you can't help but feel like they've missed the point slightly. It's the same feeling as if it's like a Hollywood remake of a Japanese horror film. However, at one point when you enter back into Ishimura, it was one of the most emotive sequences I've had in a game. The recognisable set, the horrible closed corridors, the long elevator rides, it all came flooding back in a wave of dread upon me in a too-brief chapter that made it clear to me that the original Dead Space was definitely better.

An annoying aspect near the end, when you're up against an invincible Terminator-esque monster (which made me recall Resident Evil 3) took me quite a few attempts as I had ran out of ammo and health. I'd recommend saving at regular intervals on different slots because I'm used to just overwriting my save files again and again and I was gutted I couldn't go back to fill up on more health and ammo before launching into this battle against a load of creatures and someone that can't die. The same for the final boss battle, which took a few attempts and then suddenly through a stroke of chance I completed in about 20 seconds.

The gameplay however is a lot smoother, the graphics more colourful yet washed out and they have taken painstaking effort into the small details that grace the game's every moment. The voice acting is superb but, much like the first game, the overall story arc as I said before could have been more simplified. Why am I pushing this button again? Who is this guy? Why am I going back into Ishimura again? Luckily, it never stays like that for long and you're quite happy just to follow where you mean to go and kill some things along the way.

I did thoroughly enjoy the game and it was definitely a great purchase. However, it wasn't the survival horror that the first one was and also I didn't collect near as enough ammo or power nodes etc. by the end as I had done in the first game, so I felt like they somewhat rely on the fact you might want to replay the game keeping all your stuff again and adding to it. I just think that it's a worthy sequel but can't touch the amazing experience that I took during the first game.

Great fun but somewhat lacking in areas. I can only hope that another game like the first, or perhaps a sequel that might do something a bit different will come about. As much as I love those weird monsters, I can't help but feel that I'm going to be a bit sick of them if it's the same thing third time round. They should definitely make it more disturbing, which doesn't always mean less action.

And please no Terminator type monsters. As tense as it was, it was also very annoying.

Go out and buy it. You won't be disappointed but if you haven't done the first one? Definitely do that first.

Rating: 8/10

Friday, 9 September 2011

NEWS: Josh Brolin As Oldboy

One of my all-time favourite films is about to get molested by Spike Lee as he gives Oldboy a going over. Oh and Josh Brolin's going to be in it.

Do you remember when Spike Lee used to make films about racial equality? Some that were a bit hard hitting? Maybe he feels with Obama President that everything is equal, but whatever it is, why is he doing Oldboy? Handled so carefully by one of my favourite directors Chan-Wook Park, it's hard to think that such an effortlessly perfect film should be put under the Hollywood gloss.

In any case, they are doing it and will ruin it for the millions of people that will see it, then see the original and say the original is better - but then these are the people who should just watch the original anyway.

In any case, Josh Brolin is going to be in it and I like him, so it can't be too bad, and Christian Bale is rumoured to be playing the rich, young man out for blood. Also it will apparently be closer to the original manga rather than the Korean film - which at least promises to be different. However because Roy Lee is producing it, after converting Infernal Affairs for The Departed, people are hoping it will be a high caliber. However, I thought The Departed was a shoddy interpretation of Infernal Affairs to be honest, so I'm not that bothered. Also, this was the film I took my girlfriend to see on our first date, almost 7 years to the day ... wow ....

NEWS: Sony's New 3D Visor

Don't have a 3D TV? Want To Pretend You're In Tron:Legacy? Then You Might Want To Purchase This Little Number!

Sony have released a new head visor that gives you 720p HD 3D images that come from two separate OLED screens to be released later this year in Japan.

People have already started calling it the new Virtual Boy but the HMZ-T1 as it's less commonly known will come in at roughly $799. Boom. 

Not only this but Sony have said they will try to make it wireless and it's currently looking like you will have fully immersive surround sound technology built into it's headphones for a full immersive experience. Worth it just to sneak up on these rich gamers! It's another step towards becoming one with the computer like The Matrix - but will we live to see it?

Probably not.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

REVIEW: Kill List

Gruesome. Terrifying. Horrific. Disturbing. These were all words that inspired me to go see Kill List, one of the most talked about British films this year. But was it a killer of a movie or rather a slow death?

Director Ben Wheatley first caught my attention with Down Terrace, a different take on a gangster film that is really about a suburban family trying to get along and then takes a turn for the worst. It was quite shocking in places, but it’s non-chalant undertaking in such a recognisable environment made people feel quite perturbed, and although I didn’t really like the film, I respected what it was trying to do.

Wheatley’s next film, Kill List, takes everything I enjoyed about Down Terrace and twists it into something quite stunning, if only for it’s ugliness. There had been a lot of hype surrounding this film and I came out thinking it didn’t quite offer what others promised, a lot of other cinema-goers were pissed off with the ending and after a while, I thought about it more and more and I realised I actually really enjoyed it. In fact, the idea that it pissed people off makes me like it even more.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t going to be for everyone’s tastes. The general set-up goes from kitchen sink drama to gangster thriller to horror and the exquisite blend of genres makes for an enjoyable ride, no matter what people say of the outcome. The bones of the film is that it’s about a hitman who is having some domestic arguments with his wife, they’ve run out of money and he needs to get back on the game with his mate. There’s talk of the war, of something disastrous that happened in Kiev and as they go through their kill list and down the rabbit hole, things start to get weirder and weirder.

Throughout the film are scatters of extremely strange, disturbing moments that come out of the blue. A sign carved into the back of a mirror, visions of people outside the window, photos being taken of them in secret and then the victims thanking them for being killed. These little scatterings of strange events in a real world is what makes the ending become somewhat believable in it’s audacity at going completely off the radar.

As a film, I thought it was extremely well made. I hate it when people use the word ‘gritty’ to describe a look of a film, as usually I think it means ‘grainy’ – which is generally a big no-no for any cinematographer. However, it’s handheld shaky-cam technique makes you feel like you’re in the thick of the action and the use of light is extremely well designed. The darkness is a symbol of our protagonist’s state of mind, it is in the dark where all the true horrors come to light. The sound editing is also some of the best I’ve ever seen (or heard), it’s a masterclass of building tension and unease then relief, it’s done in such a way that it brings you even deeper into the film.

Some of the sequences are horrific, terrifying and absolutely brilliant. My favourite scene was their escape through the tunnels underground which felt like a Silent Hill moment if ever I’ve seen one. The ending is purposefully left open for interpretation. It could be argued that the whole thing is real and that this group of people have had their eyes on him for a while, perhaps the whole thing is a metaphor for his relationship with his wife? Look how similar the people she shoots look to himself? It’s essentially an invasion of his home, of his inner keep and it is there that he finds the deepest horror – a Freudian hatred of his family. Perhaps it’s him coming to terms with his violent tendencies? There’s the idea that men don’t have anything to live or die for, that killing Iraqi civilians is as unjust as killing people on a list, what’s the difference? It could be the blood lust which becomes too overbearing. Perhaps it’s his isolation from everyone around him, he becomes so self-absorbed and disturbed that he loses all connections with the real world.

The sudden shock ending might not sit right with the audience, but I feel it was actually the best possible ending to create. Not only will it keep people talking and discussing, but it also allows the viewer to fill in the gaps themselves and it was never really about the kill list – it’s a MacGuffin if ever I’ve seen one. Unlike other British gangster films, this isn’t about the killing – it’s not cool and it’s not hip, it’s a horrific insight into the psyche of a man that turns into a strange Lynchian escapade that puts The Wicker Man to shame (not just because of the straw). I highly recommend you check it out yourselves and tell me what you think.

Rating: 9/10

Friday, 2 September 2011

REVIEW: The Inbetweeners

I should get this out of the way immediately - I don't find The Inbetweeners that funny. However, I can understand why people like it, but I don’t think anyone was really prepared by how well the film has done.

I’m not going to go into numbers and bore you, but put it this way, The Inbetweeners movie has done really, really well. The tale of four young lads on their first proper holiday has been quite a fan favourite but despite this, I can’t help but think it’s relatively average at best. In fact, I felt the film was worse than the episodes, which I don’t rate that highly either.

I should go into why I don’t like it as people might be opposed to the review if they think I’m just trying to be anti-mainstream (yes Inbetweeners is mainstream). Firstly, I hate the way it constantly flashes back to what’s happened earlier in the episode. I’ve just seen it, why do I need to see it again? It’s as if they are trying to waste time or make some kind of Wonder Years immediate nostalgia feel to the episode. Nostalgia again cropping up with it’s use of music, old and new, so that the older folks can remember being kids and listening to The Cure etc. It’s a subconscious attempt to involve all and then proceed to make fanny and dick jokes.

I do think some of the jokes are well constructed but the plots are quite feeble at best and sometimes the horrible cliché of a catchphrase reers it’s ugly head, Wetherspoon’s becoming full of people throwing Inbetweener’s in-jokes at each-other like they’ve just discovered wanking and want to tell everyone about it. It’s easy for me to say this though from the outside looking in, but what I find strange is essentially this Middle England youth culture that’s depicted is actually a glorified, feel-good jaunty that has no-one ever really learning a lesson or developing at all. The movie tries to do this, but essentially it’s just a bunch of scenes linked together with the writer’s thinking ‘how can we make this scene more awkward? Shall we throw another dick joke in?’

The acting is also terrible, which can be seen in the recent Chickens where, again, the Inbetweener’s actors play just another part of themselves. The acting in the film is just as bad, if not worse.

Oh yes, the film. I forgot about that. Right well, firstly there is absolutely no way those girls would be interested with those guys and the ending made me want to throw a grenade onto the boat and end them all for being so sickly ‘nicey nice’ and everything working out perfectly. It’s just so bloody feel-good cheesy nonsense that is ‘cutting-edge’ because it uses filthy humour. Sorry, I digress again.

You have to understand, I don’t hate The Inbetweeners. If it’s on, I’ll watch it. I just don’t get the fascination or the ridiculous success of it. It’s sometimes quite lazy and feels like a dirty Grange Hill – the times where it’s supposed to be emotional or dramatic are instead cringeworthy.

Anyway, the film just feels like the crew of the show wanted a bit of an excuse for a holiday. I must have laughed about once every ten or fifteen minutes, which is good for a comedy film, but not great. The middle sags to a horrible degree and I’d rather they just squeezed this into a one hour special on channel 4 or something, but then it wouldn’t have made multi-millions I guess.

One good thing about it is it seems that it brings people together. Everyone remembers the awkwardness of being a teenager, the creative namecalling, the comraderie of your mates and the obsession with anything that was rude. Dick jokes have always plagued comedy for centuries, so I guess why should it stop now? It doesn’t matter how old you are, a dick joke will always go down well (that’s what she said).

So the movie has it’s awkward moments, it’s stupid moments, it’s physical slapstick and some clever set-ups, but I never once thought this was a great comedy. The end also had got me hating it even more by the time I walked out and everyone saying how much they loved it and already talking about ‘that bit’ and ‘remember when’ – yeah, I just saw it. I went home and watched some American Office instead and felt a lot better.

See it if you fancy a chuckle, but it’s ‘alright’. I also doubt I’ll ever bother to sit down and watch it again either, which is saying something itself.

Rating: 5/10

REVIEW: Silent House

From Uruguay comes a real-time horror flick which has the unique selling point that it's all been filmed in one take. Come inside and enter The Silent House ... please wipe your shoes.

There's something brave about this film. Is it the sheer bravado that comes with announcing that it has all been rehearsed to such a scale that a horror film can literally be made in ninety minutes? Or the reality of it? There is so much darkness that it would be sheer stupidity if they didn't cut along the way - and so I will end any questions now. Let's presume it wasn't done in one take.

Now that that's out of the way, we can delve through the hype and into whether this is a good film or not. However, I'm slightly on the fence about it. The slow burning beginning might seem a tad too long for some, but I always find that it helps set the scene, examine characters and build up the tension which is always a plus. Once everything starts going wrong, you wander around the house with our protagonist Laura as things start going bump in the dark. I do have a few issues with this . Mainly, she makes a somewhat meagre attempt to escape the house but by no means puts any effort into it, so the initial creeping around the house seems a bit stupid. If there's some kind of killer around, why would you be snooping trying to find him? Also, when she does ever go outside, it's dusk at best, never night-time, which makes it less scary and I question why they were going to sleep while the sun was still up in any case.

However, for it's faults, the film allows the viewer to snoop around the spooky house with Laura as she uncovers stranger and stranger things. Little girls turn up, weird paintings, the staircase leading to the dreaded upstairs, strange photos on walls, noises in the distance, they all create an atmosphere that plays on the audience's imagination by giving you glimpses of things - one inspiring sequence with a Polaroid flash was brilliant to say the least. Once you start nearing the end and you fathom what the hell is going on, you feel cheated and it's a real shame that they couldn't have come up with something slightly better or at least more original. In fact, it means the entire story doesn't make any sense and the strange credits sequence leaves you feeling like the attachment you built up for Laura got severed, that you were perhaps punished for rooting for her.

By going into this in too much detail, I'll be giving the game away. It's safe to say though that I did enjoy the film and is one step further in the evolution of horror, especially modern ones like Paranormal Activity where low-budget scares are more than often the best way to go. Whatever is going bump in the dark in your head, will always be scarier than reality.

Don't mistake this film for the American remake that will be coming out soon either. Apparently it's not much different and, like a lot of remakes, a lot worse. Find this out and have a look because, for the majority of the film, I felt I was with Laura in a horribly creepy house and for that scare alone, it's worth the money. Minus a point for the ending though.

Rating: 6/10