Sunday, 3 April 2011

UK trailer for Takashi Miike's '13 Assassins'

Earlier this week I mentioned that 13 Assassins (which I've reviewed over at Brutal As Hell) is the most amazing action movie of the year thus far.

Indeed, it may be the most amazing action movie of the decade. This trailer only hints at its power.

May 6th, UK cinemas; available in the home now in the US. SEE IT.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Review - does 'Sucker Punch' punch as hard as it sucks...?

Just before seeing this movie, I voiced my hopes on Twitter; it's the done thing now, you know. "Hoping for nothing less than a live-action Heavy Metal, for better or worse." Thus tweeted Ben.

To an extent, I wish this was just a live-action Heavy Metal; that it was literally nothing more than a series of utterly nonsensical but downright cool sequences of tripped-out sci-fi fantasia, and that the plot device to justify it all was simply that Baby Doll was sniffing the urine of a defensive male cat and revelling in the subsequent psychedelic nirvana.

If Zack Snyder had made that film, it would have felt honest. Sure, he'd have complaints of sexist objectification and anti-intellectualism hurled at him from all corners, but he would have well and truly scratched the principle creative itch that brought this film into being. It would have been crude and sleazy, and bought no favour with high brow critics, but generations of fanboys - and fangirls, for that matter - would have thanked him for it.

However, Snyder clearly had loftier goals in mind with Sucker Punch; to balance the eye candy with a message of female empowerment and the power of imagination. Not since the sequels to The Matrix - also Warners productions, curiously enough - has a megabudget Hollywood production made so bold (or possibly foolish?) an attempt to balance spectacle with philosophy, and in so doing crafted a film as likely to alienate as to enthrall the viewer. Ten minutes after viewing, I thought I hated it and was fully prepared to give it a scathing review. Over 24 hours later, i.e. the time of writing... I'm not so sure.

The nuts and bolts of the story: the girl we come to know as Baby Doll (Emily Browning) is framed by her abusive stepfather for the murder of her little sister, and promptly thrown into an asylum, where corrupt administrator Blue Jones (Oscar Isaacs) quietly arranges to have her lobotomised. However, the caring experimental psychiatrist Dr Gorski (Carla Gugino, sporting an amusingly theatrical Russian accent) encourages the girls to retreat into their imaginations in order to literally combat their personal demons. Baby Doll takes this advice to heart somewhat, as before we know it the asylum is a burlesque house/brothel, the inmates are dancers/sex slaves, Gorski is their choreographer/madam and Blue Jones is a mafioso running the joint. But it doesn't stop there, for Baby Doll soon retreats into a further realm of fantasy within this fantasy; and that's the world the film is really sold on, the steampunk-Tolkein-Manga-Edgar Rice Burroughs dreamworld in which she and her new friends do battle with demonic samurai, robot Nazi stormtroopers and dragons in a bid to win their freedom.

Once again - if Snyder had just gone ahead and made a simple adolescent wish fulfillment movie, which I can't help thinking he really wanted to make, then it would have been fine. We wouldn't have this awkward balancing act between sexploitation and feminism, as the pretty young ladies in their provocative costumes battle male oppression, figuratively and literally. The temptation is there to simply dismiss the whole enterprise as wank fodder, but to do that is to overlook a great deal. Yes, the women are young and attractive and their attire is somewhat fetishistic, but Snyder's camera does not leer; there are no obvious lingering up-skirt or down-blouse shots. Sex appeal is meant to be part of their arsenal in the fight against their captors, as the fantasy battle sequences only occur when Baby Doll dances for a male audience; her dancing, which is notably never shown, is said to make her irresistable to any man. There's no escaping the feeling, then, that Snyder and the film are trying to have their cake and eat it; to invite us to gaze longingly at these female fantasy figures, but then remind us of the ugly realities behind the glamour. It is this perhaps above all else that makes the film uncomfortable to watch, and not necessarily in a good way.

This may go without saying at this point, but all in all Sucker Punch smacks of simply trying too hard. The young leads all feel a bit out of their depth, none of them really ever convincing, and they're not helped by a script full of rather limp dialogue and obvious characterisations. Carla Gugino and Scott Glenn do fine in their respective mentor roles, but the only truly compelling performance comes from Oscar Isaacs, every bit as effective as both the unscrupulous administrator and the cartoonish mobster. Then there's the soundtrack; playing out like a high school mix tape or the set list of an ambitious covers band, we have contemporary renditions of classics from the Beatles, the Pixies, the Stooges, the Smiths and more besides, and although I was not aware of this until after viewing they're all sung by the cast themselves; for, on top of everthing else, it seems Sucker Punch was initially also intended to be a musical, with full song-and-dance routines having been left on the cutting room floor. Clearly, Snyder had no fears of baking a heavily overegged pudding.

I gather that the singing and dancing are not the only things to have been cut from the final movie. Sucker Punch is Snyder's first 12A/PG-13 film, and with its themes of abuse and fairly brutal battle sequences it pushes the envelope pretty far; as such, one feels the spectre of compromise hanging overhead. Much like Apocalypse Now and Blade Runner (and indeed Snyder's Watchmen) before it, there are almost certainly a couple of revised versions of this film waiting to see the light of day on DVD.

Yes, I did just compare this to Apocalypse Now and Blade Runner; and yes, in so doing I implicitly placed Snyder on a pedastal alongside Francis Ford Coppolla and Ridley Scott. I'm no huge fan of any of his work to date, but like it or not Snyder is a modern auteur, his directorial identity clearly recognisable in all his films. But after three adaptations in a row (Dawn of the Dead, 300 and Watchmen, in case you needed reminding), Sucker Punch was the first Snyder film to really stand on its own, able to be judged on its own terms. It may simply be that he was too anxious to craft his own distinct vision, hence the film turned out so heavily overloaded. But all in all, Sucker Punch is neither a film that can be fully embraced nor fully dismissed after a single viewing. It will bewilder and frustrate as much as it thrills and delights, but either way it does stand apart as something different, special and worthy of consideration. And above all, it stands testament to the fact that even in the contemporary mainstream, distinct cinematic voices like Snyder's can still be found, and that in itself is inspiring.

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Lazy-arse DVD review round-up

Pardon me getting the violin out, but man... this whole movie review blogger gig can get tiresome. You do your bit. You take a look at whatever comes your way, and do your utmost to give it careful consideration, even though you don't know that your opinion necessarily counts for much in the eyes of many. But now and then, you're faced with films that you really just don't give a toss about. Such is the case here. They're not necessarily the worst films I've ever seen; that would be something. If you really, truly despise a film, you've got just as much to write about as if you truly love it. But these films inspire almost no reaction beyond... meh. Hence I'm dismissing them with a paragraph each, as follows.

Cobra Woman from Odeon Entertainment - in fairness, I didn't dislike this film at all, I just wasn't particularly excited by it and find it hard to imagine many people will be, unless they happened to see it as kids. It's an old-fashioned matinee adventure made by Universal in the 40s. Don't get too excited by the presence of Jack Pierce in the make-up department and Lon Chaney Jr in front of the camera, for there are no monsters to see; the Cobra Woman of the title is the evil high priestess of a snake worshipping cult on a remote tropical island, whose power is threatened by the arrival of her twin sister, both in the not-unappealing form of Maria Montez. There's some nice location photography and jungle adventure antics, but it all feels a bit mundane, small scale and terribly dated; the abundance of casual racism doesn't help in that regard. Oh, and Chaney Jr's role is so small you hardly even notice he's there; barely a whisper in the man's sad downward spiral.

The King Maker from Anchor Bay Entertainment - no, this isn't a biopic of Nick Clegg, nor the second most popular band to come out of Hull in the early 90s (...anyone? Anyone?). Rather, it's a bizarre blend of martial arts movie, historical epic and swashbuckler, apparently based on a true story. However, I'm at a loss as to quite what that story is, for this thing is so badly put together it borders on incoherence. Seemingly a Thai/US co-production but shot in English, its cast are either hopelessly lacking in charisma (leading man Gary Stretch) or struggling to perform in what is clearly not their first language (the largely Thai cast). Or they're John Rhys-Davies and they're just slumming it, because every old British actor does. Melodramatic and silly, this may garner a few so-bad-it's-good giggles here and there, but on the whole it's just tedious.

Primevil from Revolver Entertainment - riddle me this. What looks like a cheap and tacky Predator rip-off with a bit of The Descent thrown in, sounds like a cheap and tacky Predator rip-off with a bit of The Descent thrown in, smells like a cheap and tacky Predator rip-off with a bit of The Descent thrown in, and tastes like a cheap and tacky Predator rip-off with a bit of The Descent thrown in? Nuff said. Revolver: this shit is beneath you. Lance Henriksen: surely you don't need the money that badly...

Universal Squadrons from Kaleidoscope Entertainment - look, no matter how hard anyone tries Iraq just isn't as fertile a breeding ground for soldier movies as Vietnam was. It doesn't carry the phantom of defeat, and the desert just doesn't look as cool in action movies as the jungle does. Okay? Just saying. Anyway, this movie does nothing to help the status of Iraq-related action films, telling of soldier coming home from an uneventful tour of duty only to learn he's been experimented on by the military to be a computer-operated super soldier. Yes, it's as dumb as it sounds. No, I didn't like it at all.

None of this matters because last week I saw the best damn action film of the year so far. It's Takashi Miike's 13 Assassins, and my review is at Brutal As Hell. Make damn sure you catch it when it comes out in May. As for the aformentioned 'meh'-fests... they're all out now on DVD, if you really must. Rather you than me.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Natalie Portman's Arse. Ahem, I mean 'Your Highness' redband trailer.

New trailer for the upcoming sword and sorcery stoner comedy from the director of
The Pineapple Express. It's got Natalie Portman in a thong, plus various bare chested wood nymphs. Why are you still reading this?

Incidentally, my virtual buddy Dustin Hall has seen the film, and his review is here. He was sort of lukewarm on it, but that's not about to deter me. Again - Natalie Portman in a thong.

<a href="" target="_new" title="Exclusive: 'Your Highness' Trailer (Mature Audiences)">Video: Exclusive: 'Your Highness' Trailer (Mature Audiences)</a>

Don't want whitey in 'Akira?' Read on...

Was forwarded this by a Facebook friend.

On March 21st, 2011, reported that eight actors have been solicited for the roles of Tetsuo and Kaneda in AKIRA. All of the actors solicited were white. If not in a film called Akira, for characters named Kaneda and Tetsuo, when will Asian Americans get to star in a Warner Bros film?


Please virtually "attend" this petition event to show your support! It will provide us with a headcount so we know how many people feel strongly about this issue.

We would like to present the numbers from this petition to the studio to show them that all media consumers--not just Akira fans and not just Asian Americans--support casting Asian Americans in the lead roles in AKIRA.


1. You support the casting of an Asian American actors in Akira.

2. You agree that Asian American actors should have the opportunity to play Asian characters in film adaptations like Akira especially since many movie productions choose to cast non-Asian actors instead. (As a result only 1.2% of lead movie roles go to Asian actors!)

We'd already heard Mila Kunis was up for Kay. The first two names mentioned for Kaneda and Tetsuo (going back a couple of years now, I think) were Leonardo DiCaprio and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The actors named by Deadline: "for Tetsuo, Robert Pattinson, Andrew Garfield and James McAvoy have been given the new script. For the role of Kaneda, the script has been given to Garrett Hedlund, Michael Fassbender, Chris Pine, Justin Timberlake and Joaquin Phoenix. The two leads are expected to come from that group of actors."
So not only are they all too white, they're also way too old. With the possible exception of  R-Patz and Garfield, not one of them could pass for teenagers anymore. This can only mean significant changes have been made to the story.

I'm not one of those who thinks any adaptation must not stray from the source material, nor am I much of an anime fan; of the little I have seen, Akira is the only one to really stay with me, at least in part because I saw it at the cinema aged 10 or 11 (believe it or not, the BBFC originally passed it as a 12!) and was left vaguely traumatised by the experience. But I fail to see how any live action Hollywood version can do justice to that mind-boggling vision of an apocalyptic future, especially when it will almost certainly be toned down for a PG-13. As with any remake, there's the question of why do it in the first place, when the original hasn't aged badly at all. And then there's the small matter of just how tasteful it would seem given what's going on in Japan right now (a dilemma which I imagine will also be facing Garth Edwards' upcoming Godzilla reboot).

But if a live action Akira is going to be made, and it's going to retain its Japanese setting, then surely it makes sense to have an Asian cast.

Show your support here.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Another 'Pirates of the Carribean: At World's End' Trailer

There's every reason to be dubious about Pirates of the Carribean: On Stranger Tides. Specifically, there's Dead Man's Chest and At World's End, the painfully overlong, overcomplicated and self-important duo of sequels that opted to ditch the light-heartedness of the original in favour of being 'dark.' They may have wound up being two of the biggest moneymakers in film history, but they were damn near unwatchable.

Yet somehow I'm very optimistic about On Stranger Tides. Maybe it's those three words Jack intones in the earlier trailer: "mermaids... zombies... Blackbeard." Maybe it's Penelope Cruz as a pirate wench. Maybe it's the fountain of youth macguffin. Maybe it's knowing that neither hide nor hair of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley will be seen.

One gets the impression that Bruckheimer and co realise this time around that it would be preferable for a big summer swashbuckler to be, well, fun. Everything I've seen thus far would suggest that, and this trailer is no exception. Feast your eyes and ears below - and keep an eye on Ka-Boomski for more pirate related shenanigans, as in the near future I'll be reading the Tim Powers novel that inspired this film, which all being well should result in the first Ka-Boomski book review. But until then... click play.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

'Red Dawn' remake just got even sillier.

This has to be the most hilarious, jaw-dropping movie news I have heard all year. Were it the first of April, I'd think someone was taking the piss. This shit is worthy of For Your Consideration.

MGM are changing the nationality of the villians in the Red Dawn remake. TWO YEARS AFTER FILMING ENDED.

Honestly, I'm astonished it took that long. LA Times break it down: how China is "the fifth-biggest box office market outside of the United States, with $1.5 billion in revenue," quite apart from the well-reported financial power it has over much of the west. China has long since proven it has no qualms about banning or otherwise censoring anything the government deems derogatory, and I say that from first-hand experience having lived there for a while. During my stay Mission: Impossible III was withheld from release owing, I believe, to images of washing and/or dead chickens hanging outside aparment windows (which, yes, you see everywhere in urban China), and reports on Ang Lee's best director Oscar for Brokeback Mountain championed the win as a coup for China, failing to mention that in his acceptance speech Ang Lee expressed pride in his Taiwanese heritage, and also failing to make any reference to the film itself lest they be seen to endorse homosexuality.

And with that paragraph this blog has now most likely been barred in China.

But, as Dan Mintz of DMG Entertainment is quoted by the LA Times, "the film itself was not a smart move." Boy, is he right. Red Dawn is a great bit of gung-ho action fun, but 100% a product of its time, its anti-Soviet paranoia being fairly absurd even by 80s standards. Its Brat Pack cast makes it even harder to take seriously, particularly as it includes both the leads of Dirty Dancing and a (presumably) saner Charlie Sheen. John Milius may have aimed for a serious war movie, but he turned out a camp classic. To attempt to revisit that concept in a post-9/11 America, where it's tricky to find a comparable adversary to whom the 'red' label is still applicable, the results were invariably going to be awkward at best.

So now begins a process of "digitally erasing Chinese flags and military symbols... substituting dialogue and altering the film to depict much of the invading force as being from North Korea, an isolated country where American media companies have no dollars at stake." And, guaranteed, every single review or feature on the movie will make reference to the fact.

In short, there is no way people aren't going to know. As Ren Brown of CHUD says, the net result of this is "audiences will get to play 'spot the thing that used to be Chinese' the entire movie," much as we all looked out for the doubles/digital simulations of Brandon Lee in The Crow and Oliver Reed in Gladiator. And I shouldn't think I even need to emphasise the inherent racism in the assumption that all Orientals look the same.

That MGM would go to such cynical, some-might-say cowardly lengths is perhaps no surprise given their well documented descent down shit creek minus paddles in recent years. There seems to be a great deal of hope/expectation that post-Thor Chris Hemsworth will be a big enough box office draw to save them, but overall I think the lesson here is simple: just because you can do a remake doesn't mean you should. Alas, I don't think Hollywood is going to learn that lesson anytime soon.

(By the way, the T-shirt above is from 80s Tees - what can I say, I Google image searched Red Dawn and that was the funniest pic I saw.)

David Slade rebooting 'Daredevil'

It's been  a while coming, but Variety reports that David Slade has landed the job of reviving Daredevil. Rather than start from scratch, it seems the plan is to make a semi-sequel with a whole new cast; worked for The Incredible Hulk, so I see no reason it shouldn't work here. (And it sounds much better than the pisspoor pitch Xavier Gens gave recently.)

I seem to be in a bit of a minority inasmuch as I didn't mind Mark Steven Johnson's take on the Man Without Fear. It could have done with a sharper script and a shitload less nu-metal on the soundtrack, but it looked great, was well cast (racists go to hell, no one in Hollywood was more suited to Kingpin than Michael Clarke Duncan) and had an impressively action-packed final reel. In fact, I'm even more in the minority in that I preferred the theatrical edition to the overlong, overindulgent director's cut. But there was a definite sense that it took itself a little too seriously, and it dished up a pretty watered down version of the classic Elektra saga, with needless changes made to the character (and, of course, the costume); then Fox proceeded to add insult to injury with the Elektra movie. Poor Jennifer Garner; she really wasn't a bad choice, but she had no chance with the material given to her.

Oh, and I could give a monkey's about Kingpin being black and Bullseye being Irish, but why the hell wasn't Matt Murdock ginger?! And Affleck said he was serious about the part. I mean, even Matthew McConaughey could be arsed to dye his hair black and put in green contacts to play Dirk Pitt in Sahara.

But anyway - David Slade doing Daredevil? Could be worse. Sure, it's hard not to label him a shameless corporate sell-out sucker of Satan's cock for directing Twilight: Eclipse, but let's not forget that Hard Candy was a genuinely smart, atmospheric and unnerving shocker. And while I had my issues with 30 Days of Night, most of those were the exact same issues I had with the comic, so I can't really hold Slade culpable.

In short, it's hard to get excited just yet; get a good cast and a good writer and we'll be in business. Hmm... given that Slade's worked with him before, can anyone else envisage Josh Hartnett donning ol' Hornhead's red leathers? Or would getting Affleck's sloppy seconds again be too reminscent of Pearl Harbor...?

Friday, 11 March 2011

DVD Review - More MMA Melodrama in 'Beatdown'

Rudy Youngblood (best known for sprinting through the jungle, speaking a dead language and brutally killing his enemies in the phenomenal Apocalypto) is Brandon, a salt of the earth kind of guy and one tough bastard. How tough, you ask? Get this: his dad is Danny Trejo. Need we say more? Capitalising on this toughness, Brandon is an underground prize fighter, with his flaky brother serving as manager. But when his brother is mugged and murdered, he leaves behind nothing but some sizeable gambling debts; money which the local ponytailed shark is none-too delicate in requesting from the recently bereaved. In need of a place to hide, Brandon swiftly exits the big city and heads out to the obscure backwoods farm town that his estranged father calls home, and finds work as a labourer. But wouldn't you know it, turns out there's a bit of an underground fight club scene down in Hicksville too, which Brandon is quick to make himself part of. And there is much drama to follow, both in and out of the octagon.

Coming from the producers of Circle of Pain, an endearingly braindead microbudget MMA movie, Beatdown follows much the same MO, which seems to indicate these kind of DTV fight flicks are here to stay. However, this film has a somewhat stronger emphasis on plot and character, as indicated by the higher calibre cast. By comparison with the outright trashiness of Circle of Pain, Beatdown is a relatively more upmarket affair.

Bear in mind I did say relatively.

Apocalypto didn't exactly launch Rudy Youngblood in Hollywood, but on this evidence he's certainly got the chops to pull off being a leading man. Almost makes you feel sorry for the guy having to take on so bog-standard a production as this. Credit where it's due, there are real efforts made to craft layered character relationships, principally Brandon's difficult relationship with his father and his burgeoning romance with local girl Erin (Susie Abromeit, pictured with Youngblood), and all actors involved give it their all. It's also a pleasant surprise to find that Eric Balfour, hitherto more familiar in nerdy roles in 24 and the remake of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, actually makes for a pretty decent tough guy, as Erin's overprotective brother and the reigning local fight champion. He has a couple of decent fight scenes, including one against Circle of Pain's Heath Herring, who thankfully they were smart enough not to give any lines to this time.

However, just when you think they've ensured they only cast real actors in this movie, up pops Michael 'The Count' Bisping (pictured second left). And straight away the question arises: what the hell were they thinking? Yes, he's an internationally renowned MMA fighter with experience in front of the camera thanks to his time on The Ultimate Fighter, but he's also got the thickest Lancashire accent you're ever likely to hear; so thick that The Ultimate Fighter tended to subtitle him! Sure, he's not the first guy with a distinctly un-American accent to break into American action movies, and he does make for a credible enough hard case, but when surrounded by Texans there's no way he can't stick out like a sore thumb and prompt unintentional laughs, even if he is given backstory as a one time superstar pro-fighter who, not unlike Brandon, is forced by circumstance to hide out in buttfuck nowhere. Not that what these guys get up to could exactly be called keeping a low profile, as together they conspire to elevate Brandon to the top of the fight food chain, where the big money is.

Along the way we have plenty of the obligatory training montages and street brawls, generally set to rap metal songs in which the vocalists scream about how they're gonna knock you out motherfucker, bring the shit and smash yo' face in the ground, and so on and so forth. Oh, and near enough every fight begins with a punch to the face that sends the recipient's head flying sideways in slo-mo, accompanied by a spray of blood from the mouth. Which gets old rather fast. Also quick to get tiresome are the incessant, gratuitous camera and editing effects: rapid cuts, focus pulls, lens flare, quick cross fades, anything to pass the time when things get a bit dull. I don't know if first time director Marc Gunther (formerly a stunt co-orinator and second unit director) is trying to be a microbudget Michael Bay, but while the tricks he employs may have been intended to keep the viewer interested, they tend to only make proceedings more tedious and silly.

Clearly the hope was there for Beatdown to work as a real movie, and maybe with higher production values it might have. An improved script wouldn't have hurt; the mafia confrontations which bookend the main action have very little bearing on the core of the film, and again only serve to make the film that bit sillier. Certainly it's nowhere near as silly an MMA movie as Circle of Pain, but then perhaps that isn't necessarily a good thing; with these kind of straight-to-DVD affairs, oftentimes the sillier it is the better. But MMA fans may well find plenty to enjoy.

Beatdown is released on Region 2 DVD on the 14th March 2011, from Chelsea Films.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Stallone/Schwarzenegger: Latest on the Action OAPs

Remember not so long ago, when I lamented that The Expendables "really could have been the explosive epic we were dreaming of, with only some minimal adjustments to the script, and someone else in the director's chair; someone able to commit themselves 100% to that job, rather than spreading themselves thinly across the whole thing like Stallone has"...?

Well, the man himself may have been paying attention, for Stallone has announced he will relinquish writing and directing duties for The Expendables 2.

Delusional? Moi?

In all seriousness though, this is encouraging news. That feverishly hyped action star ensemble piece wasn't a fraction of the film it should have been. Even so, it did good business worldwide, and as such it seems unlikely they'll have any difficulty getting a slightly bigger budget this time. The whole cast are said to be happy to return, and there are whispers that Jean-Claude Van Damme might join them this time around, and others besides I'm sure. Get a good old-school action director behind the camera and we're away. Hey Stallone - still got your old pal Renny Harlin's number...?

The other big news regarding the action old school is, of course, the now ex-Governator declaring his return to acting. (Quite surprised I haven't seen more "He Said He'd Be Back" headlines.) His presence in The Expendables 2 doesn't seem too unlikely, but on top of this he's reportedly been offered remakes of many of his most famous films and, perhaps most intriugingly, an as-yet unspecified comic book character; the long-mooted Sgt Rock, perhaps?

Now, I don't want to be a killjoy. BUT...

I can't really picture Arnie coming back the way we'd like him too. Age has been harder on him than his old BFF/arch-nemesis Sly. Yes, he's been out of the picture moviewise for most of the past decade, but let's not forget that in the movies he made immediately before that - Terminator 3, Collateral Damage, The Sixth Day, End of Days - he looked past his best already, truly too old for that shit. Oh, and let's also not forget that all the aforementioned films were crap. His last truly great film was True Lies, and that was - yowser - seventeen years ago.

Given all this, it's a little hard to picture the man jumping back into all the running, punching and shooting the-shit-out-of-everything that we once loved him for. So failing that, what is he going to rely on... his (gulp) acting?

Well, they've battled commies, terrorists, drug lords and the like; I suspect Arnie and Sly won't be giving up their battle with old age just yet.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Review - 'Drive Angry'

His name is Milton and, as the opening monologue informs us, he is a badass motherfucker. He's staged a jailbreak of some kind, and he's out for some serious payback. Shortly he crosses paths with Piper, a gorgeous young waitress who owns a souped-up vintage muscle car and, it soon transpires, also happens to be quite the badass motherfucker herself. Soon enough Piper agrees to give Milton a ride to the place he needs to go to get his revenge, and save his newborn granddaughter from the same fate as his murdered daughter. But as weird as things may seem to be at first, they will soon reveal themselves to be a whole lot weirder; for Milton isn't just any old condemned man, and he didn't bust out of just any old prison...

Yep; you know it. They came out and said it in the trailer, and there's a clue in our (anti-) hero's name. John Milton has broken out of Hell itself, and he won't go back until he's sent a great many more bad people there to keep him company.

As I write this, Drive Angry is disappearing from most UK cinemas, having failed to break the top 10 during its first week of release. I gather it's not doing great business in the US either. After the notable underperformance of The Sorceror's Apprentice and Season of the Witch, this surely doesn't bode too well for Nicolas Cage, once very much a bankable leading man. Are audiences losing interest in him? Perhaps. Also a distinct possibility is that audiences are losing interest in 3D; what with seemingly every other blockbuster since Avatar being released in the format, a great many are getting fed up with paying more money for the sake of something which adds almost nothing to the cinema experience. (Hell, I didn't even realise until after posting my review of The Green Hornet that I'd failed to make any reference to its use of 3D; a dreadful oversight on my part, I admit, but also indicative of just how little impact the format has.)

So given this popular indifference, Drive Angry must be nothing to write home about, right? Surely there's no inherent entertainment value to a film that features roaring muscle cars, blood-spattered gunfights, indestructible demonic entities, psycho devil worshippers, ample gratuitous nudity, a screeching guitar-fuelled soundtrack, and an achingly sexy leading lady in a pair of butt-hugging denim short-shorts...? None of that sounds like fun, does it...?

Yep; you know it. Drive Angry is almost certainly the best time I've had at the movies so far in 2011. Chalk another one up to the general public having shit for brains. (Incidentally, Big Mommas: Like Father Like Son is enjoying its second week in the top ten at the time of writing.)

I would assume that writer Todd Farmer and co-writer/director Patrick Lussier have taken much inspiration from the Satanic Panic movies of yesteryear of which I have heard tell but, alas, not yet seen myself: movies like The Devil's Rain and Race With The Devil, which I understand combine car chase action and devil-worshipping cults. (Mental note made to make a point of tracking said movies down.) What I can say for sure is that they have made a film very much in the same spirit of Robert Rodriguez at his best; a trashy, sleazy, old-school cool affair that reeks of the southern states. It may not achieve that sense of swagger quite as effortlessly as Desperado or From Dusk Till Dawn, but it's got a similar sense of humour and style, and follows the same ethos of playing everything to excess.

Perhaps surprisingly given the title, there isn't so great an emphasis on car chases as you might expect. It's a road movie for sure, but the bulk of the action occurs on the pitstops taken along the way; showdowns in a road house motel, a church, and others besides. So it ain't no Mad Max or The Driver; no biggie. In many ways, Drive Angry really does feel unlike any other movie; it draws on a disparate enough range of B-movie materials that it winds up tasting like a whole new recipe for trash cinema.

Not unlike Clive Owen in Shoot 'Em Up (whose shoot-out sex scene is duplicated here, arguably to greater effect), Cage plays things largely laconic as Milton. It's not a million miles away from his performance in Con Air; the kind of off-the-wall action hero stuff he can do in his sleep. As such, honestly, Cage is pretty much the least interesting thing on screen here. And maybe it's just me, but with all the moments of people remarking they thought he was dead, I couldn't help but imagine how Kurt Russell would have been in the role...

It's the supporting cast who really steal the show. Amber Heard, as we've established, is sexy as hell (pun intended, naturally), but above and beyond that she's also a perfect fit for the role of Piper, able to effectively convey both her sensitivity and toughness; when she says "I'm gonna fuck you up," you believe her. I'm now officially sold on the idea of her playing Red Sonja (though I'd still sooner it was Christina Hendricks, of course). Also cool is Billy Burke (pictured right), an actor I've hitherto been unfamiliar with, who takes the role of megalomaniac cult leader Jonah King. With his sleazy southern drawl and imposing presence, he comes off like a younger Tommy Lee Jones. It's a sweet bad guy performance that, under different circumstances, just might have stolen the show.

Alas, Burke never had a hope in hell (I'm not doing it on purpose, I swear), as one man walks clean away with the entire movie without even breaking a sweat. That man is William Fichtner as the Accountant (pictured below). An enigmatic figure pursuing our heroes - not unlike Jason Bateman in Paul, a movie which, curiously, has quite a lot in common with this plot-wise - his quirky blend of an utterly straight, square demeanour and occasional outbursts of effortless profanity and ultraviolence is utterly enthralling and hilarious from start to finish. He does a little trick with a coin that's reminscent of Doctor Who's psychic paper; seems kind of appropriate, as he's almost like an evil Doctor, an all-knowing all-seeing figure who revels in his superiority and sees no reason to behave like ordinary people. Fichtner takes what might have been an underwhelming supporting role and makes it the most captivating thing in the whole damn movie. Bravo.

Is the whole enterprise a bit contrived? Overblown? Overloaded? No doubt about it. But I don't see that as a problem at all. Much like Piranha 3D, this is a film that takes a ludicrous premise and sets out to wring it for as much juvenile, non-family friendly fun as possible, with its tongue firmly wedged in its cheek throughout. There's an infectious, joyful spirit at play here that was sadly lacking from Lussier and Farmer's last venture, My Bloody Valentine. After that film I had little-to-no interest in what those guys did next; now, I'm confident that they've got plenty more great movies like this in them. None of which, however, does anything to change my opinion that they are wrong for Hellraiser, as I explained a while back at Brutal As Hell. Hey, how about this: why don't the Red Sonja producers ditch Simon West and hire these two? I'm sure there's room for Mr Farmer to get his seemingly obligatory naked cameo.

In many respects, it seems only proper that Drive Angry should crash and burn on the big screen. Ultimately, this is a movie that will play best over beer and curry in the living room on Friday night. There's more than enough eye candy to ensure no-one will miss the 3D, assuming (as I do) that home 3D doesn't take off the way the home entertainment industry wants it to. And with an ending that leaves things ever-so-slightly open for a sequel, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if we get one or two direct-to-DVD follow ups. We only get a couple of teasing glimpses of Hell, so there's certainly room to explore that universe further. In fact, you know what seems most likely? A prequel showing how John Milton went to Hell in the first place. Most likely starring Dean Cain as Milton. Were I a betting man, I would put money on that.

But regardless of whether it prompts a fully fledged sequel, or a cheapo DVD sequel, or a rip-off from The Asylum, Drive Angry has immediately earned itself a spot in the cult hall of fame for the 20teens. It's a rip-roaring good time, and if you're lucky enough to have a local cinema that's still showing it, get yourself a ticket. Otherwise, look forward to the DVD from Lionsgate sometime in the next few months, and keep a six-pack and takeaway curry menu handy.