Short Film Safari - Mis-drop

Score Card

MAY

    Akira ☆☆☆☆
    Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon ☆☆☆☆
    Wolf of Wall Street ☆☆☆☆
    Fist of Legend ☆☆☆☆
    Hero ☆☆☆☆
    Shawn of the Dead ☆☆☆☆
    Léon ☆☆☆☆
    Magnificent Warriors ☆☆☆☆
    Mr. Vampire ☆☆☆☆
    Once Upon a Time in China ☆☆☆☆
    I Confess ☆☆☆
    Armor of God ☆☆☆
    Last Hero in China ☆☆☆
    Legend of a Fighter ☆☆☆
    Lost in Translation ☆☆☆
    Odd Couple ☆☆☆
    Once Upon a Time in China 2 ☆☆☆
    Police Story 3 ☆☆☆
    Return of the Living Dead ☆☆☆
    The Evil Dead ☆☆☆
    The Nanny ☆☆☆
    The Witches (1966) ☆☆☆
    Warriors Two ☆☆☆
    Wing Chun ☆☆☆
    Yes, Madam ☆☆☆
    Prince of the Sun ☆☆
    Red Wolf ☆☆
    Golgo 13 ☆☆
    Holy Weapon ☆☆
    The Viking Queen ☆☆
    The Wrong Man ☆☆
    Black Mask ☆☆
    Evil Dead 2013 ☆☆
    China O'Brien ☆
    Demons of the Mind ☆
    Family Plot ☆
    No Surrender 2 ☆

Weekend Roundup - Horror bites

"It worked in the movie!"

For whatever reason Dan O'Bannon's zombie comedy Return of the Living Dead feels like something that gets overlooked these days in comparison to more stoic horror features. But as I've probably mentioned in past reviews this kind of thing with the corpses staggering about and chewing on people is always kind of silly as a genre. Sometimes a comedy works just better than a straight horror, though I'm still a big fan of Romero's original flesh eater trilogy with Dawn of the Dead taking top spot.

It's interesting to note why the phrase 'Living Dead' is only used in the title of the one of those films - once this could have been a serious sequel to that first entry. It was co-writer John Russo who retained those name rights and penned a follow up in novel form, though I think anyone who has seen his Anniversary cut of Night of the Living Dead is probably glad it never happened on screen. For me all this super serious stuff still is overshadowed by the total madness of something like Braindead, where the total insanity of early Peter Jackson reigns and humour is laid on in broad strokes as blood covers every surface. This one falls firmly into that comedy splatter category.

 
Fun for the whole family

To my frequent amusement this can by filed under none-more-80s style cheese and ham fests like Creepshow with a similar style of (over)acting. It has a few neat practical effects courtesy of puppeteers from Jim Henson's Creature Workshop, and a lot of silly characters including assorted teen punks, shady businessmen and a gun wielding mortician. The rock and synth music also leaves it as a product of it's time, but it fits perfectly with the tone.

Personally I found that it loses momentum towards the third act, as things become more like a standard siege movie and the goofy dialogue takes a back seat somewhat, but overall it's a likeable experience. There are plenty of obvious reasons why it's got such a cult status. Though why the lasting pop culture mark it left is that one random idea about zombies eating brains is more of a mystery. I thought it comes off as a throwaway gag here, and people being eaten entirely is something that gets featured far more in these kind of stories. Overall it's just a fun time though other films remain king of the zombies.


On the theme of horror comedy, I also revisited a favourite of mine from the archives of Hong Kong cinema with Mr Vampire. It's a great blend of the usual martial arts stunts and humour you get in many of these, plus some of the weirdest vampire lore I can think of. Forget the garlic and the holy water, these are Chinese style bloodsuckers. They hop about on two legs because of rigor, and death also leaves them blind so you can hold your breath to avoid them as they can find you by smell for some reason. They also have a strong dislike for certain kinds of rice... yeah I don't know either. It's just another take on the idea though I guess, and once things get moving it all fits with the tone perfectly.


A Taoist priest come exorcist (Lam Ching Ying) has to deal with physical and ghostly forms of the living dead here, with his two incompetent helpers and the local police captain hindering his efforts along the way. It's all played for laughs but retains some atmosphere as the reburial of his client's father goes awry and both father and son become long nailed creatures of the night.

Did I forget to mention that other vampire attribute? They grow blue claws too during the process. There's less biting and a lot more neck stabbing here. With a lot of spells and Eastern culture it shares many similarities with Sammo Hung's Spooky Encounters, and Tsui Hark's A Chinese Ghost Story. The latter is probably a stronger movie overal but for supernatural fun all of them are well worth a look.

Review Roundup - Nothing succeeds like Excess

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (2013)

After going into some uncharted territory with the family friendly adventure Hugo, a fun diversion into the history of cinema; Martin Scorsese returns to familiar ground. Ground that is drenched with bodily fluids, where the air is blue and every scene is populated with grotesque yet compelling characters. In a follow up to both Goodfellas/Casino and his previous collaborations with Leonardo DiCaprio this is another stylised, self narrated non fiction story about crime and corruption. At nearly three hours, this is a monster just like it's central character; at times it's excessive and extreme. Luckily the proceedings are nearly always entertaining no matter how ridiculous and obscene things turn out to be. In a story about seedy financial dealings and crime it's also surprisingly funny in a lot of places even if most of the the humour is incredibly dark.

 
'I have to return some video tapes'

After some great turns in Inception and Django Unchained, Leo goes one better as wannabe broker turned self made millionaire Jordan Belfort, who after a short lived entry level position in a Wall Street corporation begins his journey to build his own shady stocks and shares business - apparently through hard drugs and charisma alone. It's a mesmerising performance as the small time dealer becomes a narcotics addled money making machine. The idea this guy built up an entire personality cult within a few short years is easy to imagine when the acting seems so effortless. My major complaint is that unlike the rise and fall of Henry Hill, the character arc here isn't particularly strong despite the lengthy running time - early scenes where he is at the bottom level of this questionable game are rushed through while his earlier life is skipped entirely; and his fall never feels like it's that much of a come down. Success comes too quickly, and when it all goes wrong the recovery at the end seems almost too simple. That being said the series of events are still very engrossing (emphasis on the gross) with a lot of great dialogue and some good supporting cast members. It's never dull even though none of them are in any way sympathetic.

There has been some question on that subject, can you enjoy a film where the central characters are just so detestable; but I never found it to be a problem and spending so much running time in their company never felt like a drag. Quite often it comes across as very natural, perhaps a credit to the screen writer and the actors involved; though a few moments feel perhaps too ad-libbed or allowed to run longer than intended. But restraint is not the subject of the story here after all. The main credit goes to Jonah Hill's Donnie who gets the best interaction with Belfort though there are a lot of good performances, Matthew McConaughey has only a few scenes but leaves an impression early on; and there are fun moments with Rob Reiner as Belfort's conservative but outspoken father. Sure this is no Goodfellas but as a journey into the limits of excess and unsavoury goings on, the trip is a lot of fun.

4/5

BONUS REVIEW
EVIL DEAD (2013)

 
'Should we bury this or lock it away?' 'Ah this bin bag and wire is fine'


So this is just Evil Dead, rather than The Evil Dead. Which is a appropriate, since it gets nasty enough in a few all-out blood spewing sequences but has none of the charm or personality of the original films. In spite of all the skin peeling and limb slicing, it's too boring too often. The weak characters are all written for plot convenience, with a drug addict who won't be taken seriously, a brother to share her family issues, a nurse at hand to dismiss her behaviour; and a spectacle wearing bookworm ready to unleash the demonic spirits on cue. It has none of the humour of Evil Dead 2/3 and none of the low budget experimental vibes from the original where even the camera movements had crazy sound effects. Surprisingly the acting is at times worse than those oldschool outings. Their attempts at adding "more story" to both the characters and the Evil itself just fall flat and come across as lazy A to B writing that adds clichés rather than any substance and exists to move events along. Yes the splatter is here, but I just don't care since everything is so dull. Yes it's about demons, but I don't want my own eyes rolling like someone possessed. Maybe I am desensitised but it's not even that bloody - after all the talk of gore it's just a disappointment, and in the end it has no soul to swallow.

2/5