Saturday, 18 June 2016

Demon Empire


Made in 2006, DEMON EMPIRE is a superb Korean movie that fans of Tsui Hark’s Zu Warriors (either version) should enjoy. After he saves a village from demons, local folks and ungrateful wretches, betray their vagabond saviour, Yi Gwak (Jung Woo-sung, from Musa: The Warrior and The Good, The Bad, The Weird) to his enemies in a wicked dynasty. The superhero takes a fall, but wakes amidst the towering pagodas of ‘Midheaven’ for his purgatory walkabout, supposedly awaiting reincarnation, although he’s not actually dead. Yi Gwak is reunited with lost love Yon–hwa, but she’s now a higher spiritual being without memories of her previous mortal existence…  

It’s a romantically tragic fairytale about transcendent love, misplaced guilt and the importance of forgiveness, but Demon Empire never stoops to be simply preachy. This is also an enjoyably spectacular fantasy actioner with flying daggers, boomerang swords, chain-whips like living tentacles, much CGI, and wire fu galore. Yi Gwak follows a philosophical path, intent upon protecting the human world, not changing it, so chief villain Ban–chu, who sits on a hot–tub throne, becomes so angered by our hero’s morality that his hair turns white as he calls forward an apocalyptic blood Moon.

There’s a requisite mcguffin - the ‘holy stone’ of ultimate power, as symbolised by sacrificial angelic heroine Yon-hwa, whose tortured body radiates glorious light. For the grand finale, there’s a citadel–wide mêlée as Yi Gwak single-handedly takes on an entire army. Demon Empire is not a masterpiece, or a breathtaking epic, but it’s at least on a par with the likes of Goemon.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Mirrors 2

“I started seeing things... but I’m not crazy.” Losing touch with your own reflection? Don’t hate your image, it may hate you back. MIRRORS 2 (2010) is a sequel to Alexandre Aja’s 2008 remake of clever Korean mystery–chiller Into The Mirror (2003). Max (Nick Stahl, that ‘yellow bastard’ in Sin City) had a breakdown and suffers misplaced guilt over surviving the car accident which killed his fiancée. He takes a new job as security guard at his father’s commercial property, but adopts the bad habit of seeing premonitory visions of death.  

 
As directed by Victor Garcia, maker of Return To House On Haunted Hill (a sequel to a remake), and yet another pointless sequel, 30 Days Of Night: Blood Trail, Mirrors 2 is further evidence that here’s a filmmaker making a name for himself as someone without any obvious ambition or creative merits that involve any measure of originality (note: Garcia’s next picture was Hellraiser: Revelations). Anyway, Max’s sympathetic dad, Jack (William Katt), owns a shopping centre in New Orleans. The building is visibly haunted and is due for re–opening, like those in Aja’s New York, and in that Korean film. Have shop ghosts gone viral?

Waitress/ heroine Elizabeth (always busy B–movie starlet Emmanuelle Vaugier, Far Cry, Dolan’s Cadillac) is concerned for her missing sister, who Max ogles in mirrors. Twisted perceptions and looking-glass unreality conceals a comparatively mundane rape and murder crime. Needless flashbacks, some inserted with extreme clumsiness into climactic sequences, deflate what little suspense is generated here. Despite clichéd scripting and WYSIWYG plot construction, Mirrors 2 does boast a couple of impressively staged/ visualised death scenes (decapitation in shower, ‘self’ disembowelment).

 
Overall, it is predictable and distinctly un–involving but nonetheless watchable as a below average time–waster. Sequel trains do need to jump off the rails, and be unpredictable, if filmmakers ever hope to create a worthwhile follow–up instead of just a carry-on. More sightseeing from a continuance of the original journey is simply insufficient to appeal to discerning genre–literate viewers who have seen it all before. 

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Predators

An effective if rather simplistic monster–movie, PREDATORS (2010) by Nimrod Antal, is poor SF–horror which does not compare favourably to obvious sci-fi genre inspiration, Aliens (1986). A mixed group of imperfect strangers with an international multi-ethnic mix (one warrior woman among the chosen men) are all UFO abductees parachuted onto a hell-planet hunting reserve.  

 
Mercenary, Royce (Adrien Brody, Brothers Bloom) is the nominal leader for jungle rebel Isabelle (Alice Braga, Repo Men), cartel enforcer (Danny Trejo, Machete), enigmatic ‘doctor death’ (Topher Grace, Dollhouse), hulking Spetsnaz soldier, taciturn yakuza hitman, Sierra Leone revolutionary, and a death-row convict - as most-dangerous-game targets for inter-world safari scenario. Discovery of empty cages leads humans to a first encounter with tusked and horned mega-wolf-boar creatures, bullish attackers under a green canopy and an overcast sky which conceals the panoramic view of alien view finally seen from a clearing, in a supposed revelation that’s telegraphed by an international poster’s blurb strap-line.

 
Sequel, or franchise reboot, this copies its signature elements (mini-gun mayhem, camouflage/ invisibility fields, primitive booby traps, energy weapons, human slaughter in camps), including music cues, from John McTiernan’s original Predator (1987), but lacks the fun entertainment drawn from macho parodies of muscle–bound heroes. The predators are revealed to be classic ‘tracker’ sort or new black ‘berserker’ type, as racially different castes/ breeds apparently engaged in a blood feud (perhaps one affecting their entire tribal species’ evolutionary development beyond that of savage conflict?), whilst eagerly preying upon other species’ morality, seen here as the primary human weakness.

 
Even while looking out for a plot ‘ambush’, Noland (Laurence Fishburne, a black actor with genuine screen presence in an era of repurposed rappers), is a surprise as the schizoid loner, survivor/ scavenger, but he only explains the movie's xenopedia back-story, and then betrays everyone. Aptly, for a picture that proceeds through levels of skill, just like standard video games, the cast do role-play, instead of even basic acting, yet confidence without any competence invites disaster.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Bad Lieutenant

A vague remake of and/ or sequel to Abel Ferrara’s notorious 1992 movie, BAD LIEUTENANT - PORT OF CALL: NEW ORLEANS (2009) comes from Werner Herzog, an unlikely choice as the director for such a project. With levee systems broken, post–Katrina, policeman Terrence McDonagh (Nicolas Cage), recklessly saves a trapped inmate from his flooded prison cellblock, and the cop receives a promotion for bravery, but also suffers a severe back injury. This prompts his painkiller addiction to cope with daily New Orleans’ grind of trying to locate and build a strong case against local gangster Big Fate (rapper Alvin ‘Xzibit’ Joiner, at least making an effort to abandon the daft moniker by admitting his real name here).

While supporting his girlfriend/ hooker, Frankie (Eva Mendes, also Cage’s co-star for Ghost Rider), Terry indulges in coked–up zany mania (and such craziness is the key appeal of Cage’s favoured screen persona, of course), runs up big debts to ‘understanding’ bookie Ned (Brad Dourif, remarkably, so restrained, he seems like someone else), flubs a homicide case by threatening the granny of a witness, and then he loses said witness in a Biloxi casino. Mainstream crime drama is cunningly dovetailed with episodic surrealism enhanced by the haunting score.
 
With alligator road-kill, weird iguanas, break-dancing souls, Terry’s work and home life unravels gradually, due to unspecified psych disorder, and it’s all greatly amusing as unhinged diversion into unfamiliar territory rather than story interruptions for theatrical hallucinations. Sometimes it’s funny to a blisteringly mischievous degree, especially when Cage is quite un-hesitantly wringing a dozen shades of lunacy from his quirky or mildly ‘pretentious’, and even unadventurously procedural, dialogue. (“I’ll kill all of you. To the break of dawn... To the break of dawn, baby.”) Meanwhile, at other times, the film’s cloggy aural swamp feels like some already too creepy semi-Cajun soundtrack that’s been slyly remixed by David Lynch.
 


It’s worth mentioning Val Kilmer (nowadays seemingly intent on carving a niche as a proper character actor, if only to escape from motley mediocre supporting roles), and grossly underappreciated Fairuza Balk (Humboldt County, American Perfekt, The Craft), both of whom turn in solid but un-showy performances here that contrast with and inevitably elevate Cage’s unstable drifting away from routinely horrid reality. For the ending, there are more ironic twists and darker tragedies (albeit tinged with hope) than expected, making for a sublime pay-off. This is very highly recommended, whether you’re a fan of Ferrara’s classic sleaze–fest original, or not.   

 

 

Saturday, 14 May 2016

7th Dimension

British weird sci-fi horror THE 7th DIMENSION (2009) harks back to a time of subversive conspiracy theories of 1980s, filtered through surreal coincidences with a distinct Quatermass vibe. Students Zoe (Lucy Evans, Mayo, Rocket Man) and Sarah (Kelly Adams, Bronson, Holby City) visit a tutor’s flat, inadvertently meeting the computer hackers of ‘Beacon77’.  

Radical–atheist Declan (Jonathan Rhodes) is the amusingly prickly character who turns psycho, Malcolm (David Horton, Asylum Night) offers a voice of reason - but to no avail, and Kendra (Calita Rainford, Return To House On Haunted Hill) is an ‘assisted’ suicide case. Scurrilously indulgent anonymous Internet radio fills number-crunching break times, as our self-proclaimed hacker heroes crack Vatican security, to read bible code in the 4th dimension, scan torah pages, and hope to predict the future... any futures.  

Director Brad Watson might be the new Terry Gilliam, or John Carpenter. Weaving together manic dialogues and crazy genre notions, this recalls 12 Monkeys (without enough monkeys!), and Prince Of Darkness (sans gory zombies). Spectral visitors appear to be ‘remote viewer’ spies from a top secret Pentagon lab. Murder via mind–control is just one SF concept in the flurry of ‘pseudoscience’ gibberish that remains genuinely fascinating, and highly enjoyable. Despite this movie’s obviously low-budget production, it is imaginatively unrestrained with an instantly engaging sense of edginess and a fervently dramatic intensity.

As the miraculously-cured cripple’s consciousness uploads to a higher reality, and “the paper is burning” line refers back to destroying the sketch of metaphorical flatland, an apocalypse seems to face the surviving heroine. The 7th Dimension is heartily recommended to all fans of strange psychotronic movies!