Review: “Repo Man” (Film)

Well, for today, I thought that I’d re-watch a film that I’ve been meaning to take another look at for over a decade. I am, of course, talking about Alex Cox’s 1984 film “Repo Man”.

I first found this film on a market stall in either 2006 or 2007 and, knowing literally nothing about it, decided to take a chance on it because it looked interesting. All I can remember about my first viewing of this film was that it was unlike anything else that I’d ever watched before, that I thought that it was “cool” and that I didn’t really understand it. So, with almost a decade and a half of extra maturity and knowledge than I had back then, I wondered if this film would make any more sense to me a second time around.

So, let’s take a look at “Repo Man”. Needless to say, this review will contain some MAJOR SPOILERS. The film itself also contains some FLICKERING IMAGES (although I don’t know whether they’re intense enough to be a problem for some viewers or not).

The film begins with a car speeding along a desert highway somewhere in America. A nearby cop notices and pulls the car over. The sweaty and nervous driver tells the cop that he really doesn’t want to know what is in the boot of the car. Needless to say, the cop instantly becomes suspicious and decides to check it. When he opens the boot, a glowing light engulfs him and reduces him to little more than two smouldering boots. The car then drives off.

Yes, this isn’t your typical gritty crime thriller…

We then see a bitter young man called Otto (Emilio Estevez) get fired from his job at a supermarket. When he tries to console himself by visiting a raucous party at his friend’s house, he finds his girlfriend sleeping with another man. Miserable and disillusioned, he wanders off and ends up drinking alone in the middle of a field. The next morning, he is still wandering the streets when a man called Bud (Harry Dean Stanton) parks his car beside him and offers him ten dollars if he will help him.

After some initial misunderstandings and insults, Bud explains that his wife is in labour and he needs someone to help him drive a nearby car to the hospital. After some haggling about the price, Otto agrees and takes the car keys. Whilst getting the car to start, a couple emerge from a nearby house and try to stop him from stealing their car. Otto shrugs and drives off, following Bud to a rather sleazy-looking car impound.

When Otto enters the office, he realises that he’s been tricked into helping Bud repossess a car. Angered by this and not very keen on becoming a repo man, he spills the beer that the repo firm offers him, reluctantly takes the money they give him and storms out of the building. Meanwhile, several government agents investigate the mysterious death in the desert.

Is it just me or does that beer look incredibly similar to water?

Otto soon finds that can’t seem to find any money anywhere else. His parents have given away the money they once promised to give him and almost every job advertised in the paper seems to be very much of the dead-end variety. So, reluctantly, he joins the repo company. Within days, he is wearing a suit, taking copious amounts of speed and revelling in the chaotic nature of the job.

However, after reposessing a sports car and cruising around in it for fun, he ends up giving a lift to a mysterious woman called Leila (Olivia Barash) who tells him that she’s on the run from government agents who are trying to find and cover up the remains of four aliens….

I would say “cue the ‘X-Files’ music”, but this film was around before “The X-Files” were.

One of the first things that I will say about this film is that, whilst I still don’t fully understand it, it is certainly a unique film that really has to be experienced first-hand. There’s no real way to describe it that really does it justice, but it’s worth a try. I just hope that this review at least makes some sense. Where do I even start?

Despite the sci-fi surrealism of the film’s plot and the wonderfully quirky atmosphere, this is a surprisingly angry film. Many of the characters feel resentful towards the world for one reason or another. When Otto is introduced, we see life dealing him a bad hand – but he’s already shown to be more than a little bit embittered and disillusioned before all of this happens.

In some ways, this is possibly a punk film – with a real undercurrent of cynicism and anger running underneath it. But, whilst the film is certainly critical of authority, capitalism and the establishment (eg: evil government agents, the repo men being presented as little more than legalised car thieves etc…) and also contains some punk music, most of the film’s “punk” characters are a group of amoral criminals whose lives revolve around recreational robbery and serious drug use. They are “anarchists” in the very worst sense of the word – who quite literally treat life like a game of “Grand Theft Auto”.

For a “punk” film, these punk characters are some of the most villainous in the entire film.

This film is also possibly a criticism of the “macho” culture of the 1980s too. Otto and many of the other repo men are shown to be swaggering, insecure, homophobic, violent, hard-drinking/drug-fuelled, sleazy (and sometimes aggressive about it!) and almost constantly angry. They are not meant to be sympathetic characters by any stretch of the imagination.

And, as mentioned earlier, they are also shown to basically be car thieves too.

In fact, there are virtually no sympathetic characters in this film. Literally the only vaguely sympathetic character is a drug-addled homeless man who lives at the repo yard and rambles about the universe. But, this is probably part of the film’s satire. It is set in a nightmarishly hyper-intense version of Reagan’s America. In other words, pretty much everyone is heartless, cynical, brusque, violent, bigoted, amoral, angry and/or unprincipled. This links in to the film’s criticism of the economics and culture of the age, with almost everyone in the film being motivated by money, status, pleasure or personal gain of some kind or another.

Yet, when one of Otto’s criminal friends is shot during a robbery, he gives a ridiculously melodramatic dying speech about how society is truly to blame. Otto, on the other hand, disagrees with him. Despite the fact that the characters are clearly shown to be a product of 1980s America on steroids, this small segment adds some intriguing nuance and ambiguity to everything that raises all sorts of questions. Are people a combination of themselves and the society they live in? Is personal responsibility just a political myth used to ignore social problems? Am I reading way too much into this comedic scene?

One other interesting satirical detail is that there is literally no product placement in this film, and the film makes a point of showing you this. Pretty much everything that can be eaten or drunk has plain white packaging with a (usually very generic) product name written on it in bland blue letters. For example, whenever a character drinks a beer, it is literally “Beer”-brand beer. Not only does this lack of branding contrast absolutely perfectly with the greedy “world” of the film but it also points out just how omnipresent things like advertising and branding are.

Mmm… A delicious can of “Food”.

The film also includes some satire about spirituality and capitalism too. For example, one of the many things that annoys Otto at the beginning of the film is the fact that his stoned parents have given $1000 that they were going to give him to a televangelist instead. A televangelist who is later revealed to be in hock with the film’s mysterious government agents. This is also a film where the stoner-like ramblings of a homeless man who lives at the repo yard actually turn out to have more truth in them than anyone else’s theories about the nature of the universe.

I always thought that parodies of televangelists were more of a ’90s thing, so it’s interesting to see this in a film from the ’80s.

Another interesting thing about this film is how several of the main characters end up turning into the things that they hate the most. Whether it is how Otto goes from being a rebellious, anti-establishment punk who hates even the idea of repo men to becoming an enthusiastic suit-wearing repo man or how Leila goes from being a whistleblower on the run from the government to not only joining the mysterious agency that has been chasing her, but also enthusiastically helping them to “interrogate” Otto too.

Then again, I might be reading too much into this. She possibly just wants revenge on Otto for harassing her earlier in the film.

So, yes, this film is very much a satire with a lot to say. And, even though this is the second time I’ve seen the film, I’ve probably still missed a lot of subtle details or satirical comments hidden in the film. Either that or the film is just messing with the audience and intentionally makes no sense.

In terms of the actual plot, the film does have one. Sort of. And it is probably a metaphor for something, although I can’t work out what. In short, the film’s story mostly revolves around a car that contains what are implied to be alien remains – which are also radioactive enough to disintegrate anyone who looks at them directly. These alien remains are kept in the boot of a car which constantly keeps getting stolen by different people before, eventually, it starts glowing and allows both Otto and the homeless man at the repo yard to ride it into the cosmos. I’m sure that this is almost certainly a metaphor for something, but I can’t work out what.

In the context of the film, the glowing car is maybe a time machine designed to populate an ancient version of the Earth via a time loop. Possibly.

Visually and musically, this film is fairly cool and unique. Unlike the coke-fuelled 1980s pop music you’d expect to find in a satirical film like this, the music is instead the kind of “cool” rock and punk music that is also sometimes reminiscent of a dystopian version of the 1960s (which might be another satirical theme in this film?). Likewise, the film sometimes makes brilliantly creative use of lighting and set design in the kind of way that films from the 1980s and 1990s are famous for 🙂

Although many of the locations look fairly “ordinary”, there are some really cool-looking places in this film.

All in all, this review probably hasn’t done this film justice. It’s either an intricately-constructed multi-layered masterpiece of social satire or a giant film-sized practical joke. Or both. There is nothing else quite like this film.

I would say that this is a film that you will either really love or really hate, but – if my reactions to it are anything to go by – your reaction will probably be “WTF?”. But in a good way. Sort of. Even though you probably won’t fully understand this film, watching it is still an incredibly unique experience – fascinating and disturbing in equal measure- that will probably linger in your imagination for quite a while afterwards.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get… Honestly, I really don’t know.

Review : “Scooby-Doo On Zombie Island” (Film)

Well, I was in the mood for some silly comedy horror, so I thought that I’d take a look at an animated film from 1998 called “Scooby-Doo On Zombie Island”. Although I rediscovered “Scooby-Doo” a year or so ago – thanks to both seeing a few episodes of “Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated” and reading an excellent Lovecraftian dark comedy parody novel called “Meddling Kids” by Edgar Cantero – this film completely passed me by at the time. In fact, it also passed me by during my childhood in the 1990s too for some bizarre reason.

In fact, I only ended up finding this film after watching a couple of 1990s nostalgia-based videos by the horror movie critic Ryan Hollinger and being intrigued enough to get a second-hand DVD of it, even though I already knew quite a bit about the film’s story from the reviews.

Note: The 2003 UK DVD edition of “Scooby-Doo On Zombie Island” is actually a double-sided disc that allows you to choose between watching the film in 4:3 or 1:33 (?). I ended up choosing 4:3 for this review, mostly because this side of the disc seemed to be less scratched/smudged.

Anyway, lets take a look at “Scooby-Doo On Zombie Island”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS. The film itself contains some FLICKERING LIGHTS (lightning effects mostly), although I don’t know whether they are intense enough to be an issue or not.

The film begins with a dramatic scene set in a creepy old mansion, where the Scooby gang are being chased by a monster. In a twist that will surprise absolutely no-one, the “monster” actually turns out to be a man in a costume who is trying to scare the “meddling kids” away from his counterfeit money factory in the mansion’s basement.

Sometime later, the Scooby gang grow up and go their separate ways. Scooby and Shaggy end up working (incompetently) for US customs and Velma opens a bookshop. Fred and Daphne stay in the paranormal investigation business, albeit for a TV show hosted by Daphne. During a chat show interview to promote the next series of the show, Fred has the idea to get the old gang together to join in with the production.

What could possibly go wrong?

Needless to say, their next few cases all involve people dressed in silly costumes. Daphne is disappointed that they haven’t found any real evidence of the paranormal. But, whilst visiting New Orleans, a local woman called Lena happens to overhear their complaints and suggests a visit to her employer’s chilli farm on a haunted island on the bayou called Moonscar Island….

An invitation to a haunted island? What fun!

One of the first things that I will say about this film is that it’s a rather amusing comedy horror film, which also has some rather cool-looking artwork too. Although some elements of it are a bit like an extended episode of the TV show, this film actually does a few innovative things with both the show itself and the zombie, werewolf and vampire genres too. Plus, some early parts of the film also reminded me a little of a much more light-hearted version of Edgar Cantero’s excellent 2018 parody novel “Meddling Kids” too 🙂

In terms of the film’s comedy elements, they’re reasonably good. Although some of the show’s trademark food-based jokes do seem a little bit over-used in this film (and there’s a slightly random running joke about Scooby not realising that he’s a dog), the film’s comedy elements still work really well. The scenes involving ghosts, monsters and zombies are played in a hilariously melodramatic way that is just fun to watch, plus the film also has a wonderfully self-referential sense of humour too.

Not only does the film include a montage scene showing the Scooby gang unmasking numerous villains but, throughout the film, Velma and Fred keep trying to think of classic-style theories about what could be behind the strange events on Moonscar Island. Still, this film relies a lot on slapstick comedy and food-based humour. Quite a lot of this is actually really funny but, as I said earlier, it sometimes feels a little over-used and the film would have probably been even better if there was a bit more variety in the humour. Still, this is a reasonably small criticism.

Yes, these food-based scenes are very funny but they would probably work better as more occasional moments.

The film also makes excellent use of character-based humour too – with the scenes showing what the Scooby gang get up to after they “retire” from solving mysteries being some of the film’s funniest moments. Whether it is Scooby and Shaggy working as customs agents trying to stop food smuggling or the fact that Velma has opened a horror-themed detective novel bookshop, these amusing details really help to add a little bit of extra depth to the characters whilst also emphasising their wonderful weirdness (and how they only really seem to thrive when investigating the paranormal).

Seriously, the customs-based scenes are some of the funniest moments in the film.

In terms of the film’s horror elements, they’re surprisingly good. Although this film will only actually scare younger viewers who have less experience of the horror genre, the film’s horror elements are actually handled in a vaguely “serious” way that is more dramatic than the original TV show.

Not only are there a few brilliantly dramatic set pieces (such as ghostly writing appearing on a wall in a way that might remind you of the Overlook Hotel from “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines) and a relatively grim and creepy backstory, but the film’s plot also allows for some wonderfully random plot twists that wouldn’t be entirely out of place in an old-school 1950s horror comic too 🙂

So, this is where “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” got the idea for that terrifying jump scare from! Who would have thought it?

Yet, despite the gleeful silliness of the film’s plot twists, the film’s story is actually quite well-structured. Not only is there some clever visual foreshadowing of a later plot twist, but the fact that only Scooby and Shaggy actually see anything paranormal for part of the film also adds a tiny amount of tension and drama to the story. Plus, as wonderfully bizarre as the plot is (seriously, think 1950s horror comic 🙂 ), everything in the film actually makes sense in context.

The film’s backstory is fairly dramatic too – with random cat-worship, evil pirates and alligator-related deaths portrayed in a reasonably “serious” way. Still, although the film touches on some of the historical context of 19th century Louisiana, this is very airbrushed (eg: the film presents the sides of the US civil war in a “neutral” way and, despite being set on a plantation – albeit a “pepper plantation” started by spice traders- the film doesn’t mention slavery). Yes, the film was aimed at kids but – even in the 1990s – things like “Horrible Histories” were able to explain the grim parts of history in a way that was accessible to younger audiences. So, the airbrushed history here is more than a little bit odd.

As mentioned earlier, this film actually does something innovative with the zombie, vampire and werewolf genres. Although the zombies are initially presented as frightening (and can also turn into ghosts too), they actually turn out to be trying to protect the Scooby gang by warning them away from the island. Plus, although the film includes a few Voodoo doll based scenes, the zombies aren’t actually traditional Voodoo zombies, but are the victims of werewolf-like cat monsters who have survived for centuries by draining people’s life-force in a vampiric kind of way. And, yes, it’s also awesome to see a “Scooby-Doo” story where the monsters are actually real for once.

Not to mention that it also allows the film to include a hilariously macabre twist on the usual “unmasking” scene too 🙂

Plus, I have to praise the design of the zombies too. If you’re a fan of the heavy metal band Iron Maiden (and you should be – they’re amazing), one of the really cool things about this film is that the zombies seem to be at least slightly inspired by the band’s famous mascot too 🙂

Hmmm… Must be one of Edward T. Head’s long-lost cousins.

Talking of designs, I cannot praise the artwork in this film highly enough 🙂 This film is made using traditional animation and this allows for all sorts of cool painted backdrops that look absolutely spectacular, not to mention that the slightly larger budget (compared to the TV show) means that the animation also looks a bit smoother and more seamless than the old cartoons from the 1960s/70s, whilst still being very reminiscent of them too. Seriously, like with other TV shows like “Cowboy Bebop“, 1990s animation has a wonderfully distinctive look to it that is always awesome to see 🙂

Seriously, this is a really cool-looking cartoon 🙂

Musically, this film is very ’90s too 🙂 In addition to a few pieces of classic-style “creepy” music, the film includes a couple of rock/pop-punk style songs that are wonderfully ’90s in the best way possible and even come vaguely close to the lighter and more melodic edge of the heavy metal genre at times too 🙂 Seriously, I really miss the days when this type of music was a lot more popular. The 1990s were awesome.

All in all, this is a really fun and amusing comedy horror film that is definitely worth watching. Not only does it have a reasonably well-structured, if gloriously silly, plot that also does some innovative things with familiar horror monsters but it’s also a really cool-looking piece of visual art too. If you enjoy old-school 1950s horror comics, have read Edgar Cantero’s “Meddling Kids” and/or just miss the 1990s, then you’ll probably enjoy this film.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a four.

Review: “Network” (Film)

Well, I was still in the mood for films from the 1970s, so I thought that I’d take a look at the 1976 satirical dark comedy film “Network”.

Although the film’s famous “I’m mad as hell!” speech has been sampled in numerous songs, I only really learnt where it was from when I happened to watch this fascinating online video (SPOILERS) about the film and then decided to look for a trailer for it afterwards. Naturally, I was intrigued and was also delighted to find that second-hand DVDs of this film were going cheap online.

So, let’s take a look at “Network”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

The film begins with a voice-over stating that UBS News presenter Howard Beale (Peter Finch) has been given two weeks until redundancy due to personal troubles affecting his work. We then see Beale getting drunk with his friend and colleague Max Schumacher (William Holden). At first, they laugh about the silly moments in their careers, but their thoughts go in a more melancholy direction later in the night.

Of course, their woeful discussion also foreshadows when…

The next day, Beale concludes one of his live news broadcasts with an unscripted rant that ends with him promising to shoot himself live on television in several days’ time. Needless to say, this causes a flurry of shock and controversy. Although the station want to fire Beale immediately, Schumacher manages to convince them to let him on the air once more for an apology and a dignified send-off. Of course, Beale uses the second broadcast for a cynical rant about “bullshit”.

What are they going to do? Fire me?

Superficially concerned about Beale’s mental health – but more concerned about their own reputation, the studio dismisses him immediately. However, not long after this, the head of the station’s TV entertainment division – Diana Christiansen (Faye Dunaway) – realises that Beale’s controversial on-screen rants have given the studio their highest viewership figures in years. So, she immediately starts campaigning for Beale to get his own show…

Any publicity is good publicity, it seems…

One of the first things that I will say about this film is that, although it can be a little stodgy or dated at times, it is a brilliantly cynical work of satire that is not only more relevant than ever, but also has a wonderfully wicked sense of humour too. If you’re a fan of 1990s comedians like Bill Hicks or 1990s comics like Warren Ellis’ “Transmetropolitan”, then you’ll probably enjoy this film. Yes, this film isn’t “100% perfect”, but most of the film is the type of unflinchingly cynical satire that really flourished in the 1990s. Not bad for a film from the 1970s.

Even the televangelist-like theming of Beale’s show has a surprising amount in common with satire from the 1990s too.

Thematically, this film is absolutely fascinating. At it’s most basic level, it has a lot in common with Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” – a dystopian sci-fi novel set in a future where people are too distracted by shallow entertainment to really even consider thinking for themselves. In some ways, this film feels like a prequel to that novel – showing what happens when a television station only cares about money and sensationalism. When the quality or ethics of what they’re broadcasting doesn’t matter as long as the audience are “engaged”.

And, despite the ’70s setting, this film still feels shockingly relevant today. It feels like the type of satirical film that should be updated into something more modern if anyone actually had the courage to do so. After all, we live in a world where social media makes the film’s sensationalist “news entertainment” show appear quaint by comparison, where politics is more about style than substance, where “reality TV” is actually popular, where controversies have gone from being occasional things to being a constant fixture of modern media and where the modern focus on brevity (such as character limits on micro-blogging sites etc…) promotes sweeping and polarising statements, instead of complex and nuanced discussions.

…Sorry, got sidetracked there. But, yes, this is the kind of film that should be updated for the modern age. It should be more well-known in this age of the “attention economy”. But, a film like this probably couldn’t be made today. It would cause too much of a fuss.

In short, this is a film that predicted how the “soma” of the modern age actually consists of Orwell’s “two minutes of hate”. And, if you don’t get either of those references, then read Huxley’s “Brave New World” and Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four”. Seriously, don’t just Google them. Actually read both books. In combination, they will tell you a lot about the modern world.

Ironically, for a film about sensationalism, this is a surprisingly slow-paced film that really feels like the two-hour film it is. For the most part, this works well – adding a feeling of realism to the film and actually giving the audience time to think about everything that is happening. The slow pacing is also deliberately meant to counterpoint the rapid-fire shocks and sensationalism of the TV show it revolves around. But, saying all of this, the film can be a little bit too slow-paced for it’s own good at times. Whether it is long business meetings or lazy exposition-filled voice-overs (that are only made bearable by a few comedic moments), this film can feel a little bit stodgy or bloated at times, but don’t let this put you off.

Yes, there are a lot of meetings in this film and some exposition-filled voice overs, but don’t let these moments put you off of watching this film…

Although satire doesn’t always have to be comedic, this film contains a lot of comedy. And, although there are a few “politically incorrect” moments and/or dated elements that are a bit cringe-worthy when seen today, the vast majority of the film’s comedic moments still feel fresh and are often laugh-out-loud funny.

For the most part, the humour is slightly more on the subtle side – with numerous irreverent lines of dialogue, witty character moments and stuff like that. But, the whole premise of the film – where a TV station gleefully exploits a veteran news presenter’s nervous breakdown for financial gain – is also a hilariously cynical piece of dark comedy too. If you have a slightly twisted sense of humour or, as I mentioned earlier, are a fan of Bill Hicks and Warren Ellis, then you’ll probably find this film to be as amusing as it is disturbing.

A good example of this film being both amusing and disturbing is when Beale randomly starts ranting at people even when he isn’t on TV.

Another interesting theme in this film is capitalism itself – and, for all of the film’s cynical satire, it is actually a call for moderation and corporate temperance that is needed more than ever in this greedy age. The film makes the case for a sensible, moderate attitude towards business and the economy by showing the very worst extremes of both “sides” in a very cartoonish fashion.

On the one hand, there are completely amoral hyper-capitalist suits who treat business like a religion and, on the other hand, there are violent communist revolutionaries. For all of it’s outspoken cynicism, this is a film about the danger of extremes, of the danger of paying too much attention to people who will do anything to get attention. And, these days, this is also more relevant than ever.

In terms of the characters and acting, this film is excellent – with the stand-out characters being both Howard Beale and Diana Christiansen. Not only does Peter Finch play the role of Howard Beale with just the right mixture of understated realism, unpredictability and earnest fury, but Faye Dunaway plays Diana Christiansen with just the right mixture of comedic brilliance, villainous cynicism and serious drama. Not only does a lot of the film’s comedy rely heavily on these two well-written and well-acted characters, but they are also absolutely essential to pretty much every satirical point that the film makes.

Diana is simultaneously a hilariously funny, chillingly villainous and surprisingly tragic character.

And Beale is a complex and mysterious enough character that you’ll probably never be quite sure what to feel about him.

All in all, this is a film that is more relevant than ever – yet probably wouldn’t be made these days. It’s a mostly timeless satirical film that will also make you laugh too. Yes, it hasn’t aged 100% perfectly, but it is still an incredibly refreshing film to watch. If you want a film that actually has something to say and you don’t mind the occasional tedious or dated moment, then this one is well worth watching. Likewise, if you want to see what satire should be like these days, then watch this film (or watch a Bill Hicks DVD).

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.

Review: “The Warriors” (Film)

Well, I thought that I’d take a look at a film that I’ve been meaning to watch for absolutely ages. I am, of course, talking about the 1979 thriller film “The Warriors”.

If I remember rightly, I first heard about this film in the mid-2000s when I happened to read a magazine article about a videogame based on it. At some point in the late 2000s, I ended up buying a second-hand DVD of it but didn’t get round to watching it. In fact, I’d forgotten that I even owned it until a couple of weeks before writing this review when I was looking through a stack of old DVDs for films to watch and stumbled across it again.

I should probably point out that I am reviewing the original theatrical version of this film, rather than the later “Director’s Cut” version. Likewise, more modern UK DVD releases of the film also -quite rightly- have a lower rating than the over-zealous “18 certificate” on the 2001 DVD edition that I watched.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “The Warriors”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

Set in New York, the film begins with nine members of a street gang from Coney Island called The Warriors travelling to another part of the city by train. A powerful gang leader called Cyrus (Roger Hill) has called a large outdoor meeting of delegates from many of the city’s gangs. The rules are that each gang can only send a few members and that everyone has to be unarmed.

Of course, since this is a thriller film, don’t expect the story to remain this joyous and peaceful for too long…

When The Warriors arrive at the crowded park, Cyrus begins to give an inspiring speech about how much more powerful the city’s gangs would be if they joined forces and took over the city. During this speech, several people in the audience furtively pass a revolver to a man called Luther (David Patrick Kelly) who is the leader of a gang called The Rogues. He takes aim and shoots Cyrus. Alerted by the sound of gunfire, the local police suddenly show up to the meeting.

So, naturally, Luther confesses to the crime and hands himself over to the relevant authorities. Only joking!

In the panic and chaos that follows, Luther loudly accuses The Warriors of killing Cyrus. As their leader – Cleon (Dorsey Wright) – is swallowed up by the vengeful crowd, the rest of The Warriors manage to escape to a nearby graveyard. After a brief argument, Swan (Michael Beck) takes over as leader of the gang. But, he’s got a problem. Not only are they quite a few miles away from home, but both the police and most of the city’s other gangs are looking for them too…

One of the first things that I will say about this film is that it was a hell of a lot of fun to watch 🙂 Not only is it a compelling thriller that is refreshingly different from a typical action movie, but it also has a wonderfully distinctive atmosphere and a high level of visual flair too. It’s a timelessly cool classic 🙂 I just wish that I’d watched this when I was a teenager, since I’d have probably found it even more amazing back then.

Not to mention that it’s also a really compelling “David Vs. Goliath” type of film too.

One of the interesting things about this film is that, although it hints at all sorts of intriguing background details, it tells a relatively simple small-scale story with almost laser-like focus. Surprisingly, this works really well. By making the main focus of the film The Warriors’ perilous journey across New York, everything feels lean and compelling. Not only does this streamlined plot mean that the film’s faster pacing actually feels appropriate and fitting for the story, but it also helps to build suspense and drama too.

Another thing that adds to the suspense is that the only form of transport available to The Warriors are the city’s subway trains. Not only is the idea of a chase-based film revolving around public transport refreshingly original, but the fact that The Warriors have to rely on the trains also adds a lot of extra suspense – since they often have to rush to stations in order to catch trains, not to mention that – because train routes are public knowledge – there’s always the risk of other gangs and/or the police showing up at later stations along the route too.

Needless to say, the train journey has more than it’s fair share of unscheduled stops and changes.

All of this suspense is also enhanced by the fact that this film was made before mobile phones existed, meaning that – for example – when the gang get separated and agree to meet up at a station, these scenes have a much greater feeling of uncertainty than they would do in a modern film.

Unlike a lot of more spectacular superhero-influenced modern action movies, yet another thing that makes this film so gripping is the feeling of realism. Despite the highly stylised premise, everything that happens in the film is something that could realistically happen. This grounding in reality helps to make every scene in the film matter more and helps to build up suspense. The Warriors aren’t immortal and, when outnumbered, they are more likely to run than they are to fight. This feeling of vulnerability really adds to the grippingly suspenseful storyline and it means that every fight scene matters more in narrative terms.

And, although there are fight scenes, this isn’t really an “action movie” in the modern sense of the word. It’s a little bit closer to an old-school suspense thriller (like John Buchan’s “The Thirty-Nine Steps”), where the main characters are accused of a crime they didn’t commit and have to navigate a world that is out to get them – relying as much on stealth, tactics and/or luck as they do on whatever weapons they can scrounge together. By focusing on realism and not turning The Warriors into over-powered action heroes, this film really sets itself apart from a lot of action movies and is really refreshing to watch as a result.

The film’s fight scenes are reasonably well-handled too, with enough choreography and flair to look dramatic but with enough understated grittiness to still feel grounded in reality. My only real criticism is possibly the editing of the fight scene in the train station bathroom. Like in some modern films, this scene relies a little bit too heavily on quick jump cuts and multiple camera angles – which not only lessens the impact of some moments, but can also make the events of the fight very slightly difficult to follow. Even so, this technique is used to great effect during a couple of moments – like the dramatic camera angle used after one of The Warriors hurls someone through a door.

Although the multiple camera angles don’t work well in the rest of the scene, the camera is really well-placed during this dramatic moment.

I should probably also talk about this film’s atmosphere, which is absolutely awesome in so many ways 🙂 Not only does it have that “edgy” late 1970s/early 1980s type of rebellious punk/heavy metal atmosphere that wouldn’t be entirely out of place on an early Iron Maiden album cover or in an old 2000AD comic, but the film also includes a lot of more “classic” 1960s/70s-style elements too which give everything a really cool countercultural ambience that is pretty much timeless.

And, yes, thanks to the stylised premise, understated “realistic” special effects and streamlined story, this film holds up surprisingly well when viewed today. Plus, although a few individual moments could be considered “politically incorrect” if seen out of context, the film as a whole is surprisingly modern in it’s outlook on a variety of topics. For example, whilst one member of The Warriors is very homophobic and misogynistic, the film actually presents these things as character flaws (which eventually lead to his downfall).

This film is also a brilliant work of visual art too 🙂 In addition to lots of intriguingly run-down urban locations and seedy-looking train stations, the fact that almost the whole film is set at night allows for lots of really cool and creative lighting designs too 🙂 If you love glowing neon, high-contrast chiaroscuro lighting and/or rain-drenched streets, then this film is an absolute joy to watch 🙂

The lighting in this dramatic dialogue scene is especially cool-looking.

And just check out the cool composition and lighting in this scene too 🙂

Another interesting thing about this film are all of the bizarre gangs too. It could be because I’ve been playing “Saints Row: The Third” recently, but highly stylised and unrealistic themed gangs are something that is both absolutely hilarious and oddly compelling at the same time. At least a couple of the gangs wear wonderfully silly costumes and this really lends the film a gloriously unique “larger than life” atmosphere.

Like these bizarre mime artists…

…Or the “Baseball Furies”, a gang that loves baseball… and face painting.

As for the characters, they’re really good. Although you shouldn’t expect in-depth characterisation here, this actually works in the film’s favour. Being set over a small period of time in the seedy underworld of New York means that any moments of mystery or ambiguity actually work in the film’s favour by piquing the audience’s curiosity. Likewise, because this film sets out to tell a focused small-scale thriller story with a simple premise, the lack of deep characterisation actually helps to keep things streamlined here.

Even so, the characters are fairly good. The Warriors come across as a realistic group of morally-ambiguous anti-heroes who suddenly find themselves out of their depth. They make mistakes, they do stupid things and sometimes they really don’t have a clear plan about what to do. They’re rough and crude enough to feel dangerous, yet the “David and Goliath” situation they find themselves in means that it’s next to impossible not to care about what happens to most of them (apart from one particularly obnoxious character). The film’s supporting characters are reasonably good too, with Luther coming across as both menacing and pathetic at the same time and a character called Mercy (Deborah Van Valkenburgh) who ends up joining The Warriors being a more complex character than she initially seems.

Although Mercy might seem like a cliched character at first, she has more characterisation and more of a story arc than you might expect.

In terms of the special effects, this film uses practical effects and clever editing in a way that really adds to the feeling of “realism”. All of the effects are also kept reasonably small-scale too – with, for example, a few small fires instead of the action-movie explosions than you might expect. Again, this adds a feeling of realism to the stylised events of the film and helps to keep everything compelling.

Musically, this film is better than I’d initially expected. Whilst punk music or old-school heavy metal would have been a really great choice for the film, it instead uses more traditional 1960s/70s-style rock music. This lends the film more of an old-school countercultural atmosphere, not to mention the fact that most of the music is linked to a mysterious pirate radio station (which provides news updates for all of the other gangs too) also helps to make the music a more seamless and atmospheric part of the film too.

Not to mention that the radio station studio also has some really cool-looking red lighting too.

All in all, this film is a timelessly cool retro thriller film that is refreshingly different from more traditional action movies 🙂 In addition to lots of cool lighting, set designs and atmosphere, this film tells a brilliantly streamlined small-scale story that is realistic enough to feel suspenseful and gripping whilst also being stylised enough to feel wonderfully “larger than life”.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.

Review: “Galaxy Quest” (Film)

Well, although I’d originally planned to re-watch the horror classic “Jacob’s Ladder” today, I found that I wasn’t really in the mood for horror. So, I thought that I’d finally take a look at the 1999 sci-fi comedy film “Galaxy Quest” instead. This is a film that I’ve been meaning to watch for quite a while, given that it is a parody of “Star Trek” 🙂

On an amusing film censorship-related side note, more modern UK editions of the film actually have a slightly higher rating for one of the most ludicrous reasons I’ve seen in a long time – namely the very same censorship that allowed the film to get a PG rating in the US and UK during the 1990s. Seriously, the BBFC’s current policy of treating muted/bleeped/overdubbed/asterisked etc… four-letter words the same as uncensored ones is one of the most hilariously prudish and silly things in the world. A film can get censored because of censorship! The mind boggles!

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Galaxy Quest”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS. Likewise, the film itself contains some FLASHING LIGHTS although I don’t know whether they’re fast or intense enough to be a problem for some viewers.

The film begins in California, at a fan convention for an old sci-fi TV show called “Galaxy Quest”. The show’s main cast are burnt out by constant public appearances and barely make it through the convention with gritted teeth. Eventually, Captain Taggart (Tim Allen) snaps at a fan and storms away from the autograph booth. On his way out of the convention centre, he meets a group of strange-looking people who introduce themselves as Thermians and request his assistance in his capacity as captain. He thinks they’re talking about a store opening ceremony the next day and brushes them off before going home and spending the evening with a bottle of whisky.

The next morning, a very hungover Taggart is awoken by the Thermians knocking on the window of his expensive house. Still thinking that they’re there to take him to the ceremony, he hastily puts some trousers on and gets into a limo with them before falling asleep when the Thermians begin telling him about their people’s desperate plight. When he wakes up, he finds himself on board a spaceship that looks suspiciously similar to the one from “Galaxy Quest”. Thinking that it is a fan project of some sort, he plays along and casually orders the crew to fire all of their weapons at the mothership of the Thermians’ feared nemesis and oppressor, Sarris.

And, yes, I can’t help but think of the “Star Trekkin’ ” song here…

When he asks to go home, he is taken to a teleportation booth – before being covered in transparent mucus and catapulted through a wormhole back to Earth. Suddenly realising that everything he has experienced was actually real, he rushes to the opening ceremony and gets there late. Needless to say, his fellow cast-members aren’t exactly convinced of his story. Even when the Thermians return to Earth a few minutes later to say that Sarris has survived the attack.

The main cast are sceptical about this and begin to leave before realising that the Thermians could be talking about a new acting job. So, they rush back to Taggart and only realise that it isn’t an acting job when one of the Thermians is revealed to be a hologram and their mucus-covered bodies are flung across the galaxy onto the Thermians’ ship. Before they can say anything, the Thermian captain gives an inspiring speech about how their civilisation has advanced and developed thanks to important “historical documents” broadcast from Earth and that it is a great honour to have Earth’s finest spacefarers on board to help with the battle against Sarris…

One of the first things that I will say about this film is that it was a lot of fun to watch 🙂 Like the best parodies, it is very much its own thing whilst also both gently ridiculing and paying homage to the source material. If you are a fan of “Star Trek”, then this film is definitely worth watching. Not only is it a really creative and funny parody, but it’s also a fascinating window back in time to the golden days of the 1990s/early-mid 2000s – when space based sci-fi TV shows were a lot more popular than they are now. *Sigh* I miss those days.

“Star Trek: The Next Generation”, “Farscape”, “Battlestar Galactica”, “Andromeda”, “Bablyon 5”, “Stargate Atlantis”… *Sigh* They don’t make ’em like they used to.

In terms of the film’s comedy, there’s a really good mixture between more subtly amusing moments and laugh-out-loud moments. Although the inventively farcical premise of actors in a sci-fi show having to command an actual spaceship is played as much for drama and nail-bitingly awkward “out of their depth” suspense, it also allows for a lot of comedy too.

Even so, the show’s humour is at it’s absolute funniest in the scenes featuring the hilariously goofy Thermian characters (who are a laugh-out-loud inversion of the logical, elegant and emotionless Vulcans from “Star Trek”) and the TV show’s obsessive fans – who are presented in a surprisingly nuanced and varied way.

Although the show has a couple of funny moments where fans are depicted in this sort of way…

…One major plot point in the film is that, as you’d expect, the fans know more technical details about the show than the actual actors do.

There’s also a lot of sci-fi humour here too with – for example – the spaceship being powered by a large beryllium sphere (don’t ask me why, but this is hilarious) and a few amusing riffs on the idea of teleportation technology too. One of the major strengths of this film is the sheer variety of different types of comedy on offer. In addition to sarcastic humour, cynical humour, meta humour, gross-out humour, irony, slapstick humour and amusing characters, the film absolutely nails the tone and style of it’s source material.

There’s even a quarry-like desert planet at one point too!

But, as I mentioned earlier, the film is also very much it’s own thing too – with original characters, original spaceships, original aliens and an original premise. This gives the film a lot more creative freedom than if it was just a direct parody of “Star Trek” and, like with the sci-fi parody TV show “Red Dwarf”, this also means that this film is still amusing and compelling even for people who haven’t watched any “Star Trek”.

In terms of the film’s sci-fi elements, they’re surprisingly well thought-out. The idea of an alien civilisation mistaking TV broadcasts for historical records is the sort of thing that could easily turn up in a quirky 1950s/60s story by a writer like Philip K. Dick or Isaac Asimov (and I couldn’t help but think of Asimov’s hilarious short story “Victory Unintentional” here). Plus, because a lot of the spaceship has been reverse-engineered from the TV show, this provides a fairly good in-universe explanation for all of the sillier elements of the film’s technology.

Such as this hilariously gross teleporter accident.

The film also innovates beyond it’s source material too, with – for example – the Thermians using holographic devices in order to appear human (since they’re actually octopus-like creatures, which of course allows for some comedic moments) and the film also including a gloriously silly alternative form of high-speed transportation too.

Involving a protective covering of slimy mucus too.

The film’s plot is also really well structured, with a real sense of progression throughout. At first, it is a sombre drama about a bitter group of washed-up actors doing a gruelling tour of fan conventions and beginning to crack from the grinding stress of it all. Then it is a suspenseful thriller with lots of comedic elements and a few serious moments. By the end, the film has pretty much become the very thing that it is parodying – even down to a “separate the saucer” type moment – yet, because of the journey that leads to this, these moments are some of the most dramatic, fun and “feel good” things that I’ve seen in a while.

I cannot praise the characters and acting in this film highly enough. Not only do the main cast really get the tension between acting and reality absolutely right, but a lot of the film’s humour comes from the often sarcastic, fractious and/or panicked interactions between them. Whether it is the contrast between Tim Allen’s optimism and Alan Rickman’s cynicism or the way that Sigourney Weaver occasionally points out the many shortcomings of the original TV show, this film’s characters are what make it so excellent. Plus, as mentioned earlier, the Thermian characters are absolutely hilarious in almost every scene that they appear in too.

The bickering cast are also a glorious parody of Roddenberry’s original “No conflict” rule too.

And almost every scene involving the Thermians is comedy gold.

As for this film’s special effects, although they are a mixture of practical effects and “old CGI”, they work absolutely brilliantly here. Not only do they often actually look similar to or better than the TV shows the film is parodying but, thanks to the characters, plot and humour, you probably won’t be paying too much attention to the exact details of the special effects.

All in all, this is a really fun sci-fi comedy thriller film that is an absolutely excellent parody of “Star Trek” whilst also being it’s own thing too. It’s also a relic of a better time too – when Hollywood not only put out mid-budget films, but space-based sci-fi TV shows were still such a popular thing that an entire parody movie based on them could be commissioned 🙂 If you’re a trekkie or if you just enjoy sci-fi comedy, then this one is worth watching 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least a four.

Review: “Citizen Kane” (Film)

Since I was in the mood for a “high-brow” film, I thought that I’d take a look at Orson Welles’ 1941 film “Citizen Kane”. This is a film that I’ve heard a lot of praise about over the years and which has been referenced and parodied a ridiculous number of times. It is often regarded as a classic. So, I was curious about whether it was actually as good as people say that it is.

And, luckily, this film’s fame and reputation meant that it was fairly easy to find a reasonably cheap second-hand DVD of it 🙂 Seriously, this wasn’t the first “high-brow” film that I’d thought of watching – but all of the others I found during my search seemed to be way more expensive than I’d expected. Seriously, book publishers regularly reprint both public domain and copyrighted “classics” in affordable formats. The film industry is really missing something here.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Citizen Kane”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS (yes, you probably already know the famous twist, but I’ll be explaining why it is so dramatic etc…)

The film begins with some ominous shots of a large gated mansion on a hill. Then we see an old man called Charles Kane (Orson Welles) dying alone inside one of the bedrooms. In his final moments, he drops a snow globe and utters the word “Rosebud”. Moments later, a nurse arrives to cover up his body.

When the film starts like this, you can probably guess that it isn’t a “feel good” movie…

We are then treated to a jaunty 5-10 minute newsreel about the life of Charles Kane. A newsreel that shows his life as a powerful newspaper magnate, his unsuccessful attempts to enter politics, his troubled love life, the building of his opulent “Xanadu” mansion, his meetings with some well-known people of the time (including a very evil one), a mixture of public opinions about him, hints about his influence on history etc…

When the newsreel finishes, we see that it is being watched in the gloomy offices of a magazine. The editor tells the assembled journalists that he doesn’t think that the newsreel really tells the whole story about Kane. And, remembering the stories he’s read in the press about Kane’s mysterious last words (presumably overheard by the nurse outside the room), the editor asks several of his journalists to interview people who knew Kane, in order to work out who or what “Rosebud” was…

It’s a film about journalists researching a journalist. This is wonderfully meta 🙂

One of the first things that I will say about this film is that, whilst it takes a little while to really become compelling, I can easily understand why it is a revered classic.

Or, to put it another way, when I started watching it, I initially thought “This is hilariously corny and old-fashioned” but, by the end, I was glued to the screen and quite literally moved to tears by parts of it. Yes, this film is a bit of a slow burn at times and it requires you to pay attention and to think in the same way that you would if you were reading a novel, but – like a good novel – it is well worth paying attention.

And, yes, this film should be compared to a novel. There is unreliable narration, complex character-focused storytelling, a frame story, moral ambiguity, deep ideas expressed in clever ways and all sorts of other stuff which you might not expect to find in an old-school Hollywood film. Even the structure of the film – a man’s life story pieced together from the memories of others – is almost novelistic in some ways, with the film quite literally consisting of people telling stories. If you are used to reading novels, then you’ll really enjoy this film or at least “get” what it is trying to do.

Likewise, this is a “slow paced” film by film standards, but moderately-paced by novel standards.

It also has a level of thematic complexity that might surprise you too. It is a film about journalism, about the corrupting influence of wealth, about fame, about power (and it’s limits), about unreliability, about life, about death, about loneliness, about truth – but, most of all, about memory. Not only is it a film about how we all live on in the fragmented and unreliable memories of other people, but one of the most powerful and tragic moments of the film is when we learn that Kane’s final memory is of the innocent days before he became wealthy.

Yes, pretty much everyone knows that “Rosebud” is a sled, but when you actually see the film, you’ll understand why it’s such a significant and emotionally-powerful twist. It’s the thing Kane was carrying in the moment before he was adopted by a wealthy banker, the thing he was carrying the last time he saw his mother etc…

Yes, it might be one of the most well-known plot twists in history. But, when I actually saw it in context, it was such a powerful moment that I suddenly burst into tears.

All of these themes are handled through some of the best and most complex characterisation that I’ve ever seen in a film. It is practically novelistic. Not only do we see Kane’s journey from an idealistic and irreverently cynical young man to a bitter and lonely old eccentric, but all of this is presented in the kind of unvarnished – yet ambiguous – way that makes Kane feel like a complex three-dimensional person.

We see him at his best and at his worst, and everything in between. Unlike the newspaper that he runs, the film never leaps to judgement about him. Instead, the audience are left to make up their own mind and piece their conclusions together from the opinions of other people.

Although Kane is very much a tragic character – dying alone in an opulent palace built for a lover that he drove away – he is an extremely compelling one, whose life is filled with all sorts of contradictions and mistakes that make him feel real. His flaws and inconsistencies make him more than a typical movie character. He’s someone who writes a manifesto about truth, yet runs a scandal-filled tabloid newspaper, yet also upsets his opera-singer lover by “truthfully” completing a critical review of one of her concerts that a drunken critic has left unfinished. Yet, after this, the critic then implies that he’s abandoned his principles. It is these moments, these many contradictions, that make him such a fascinating and realistic character.

Likewise, Kane also thoroughly and completely contradicts the second point of his manifesto in the way he treats many other characters throughout the film.

Kane certainly isn’t a “likeable” character by any stretch of the imagination, but he comes across as deeply human because of everything we see about him – and, more importantly, everything we don’t. One of the most interesting omissions in this film is the time gap between the sullen child Kane was when he was adopted and the cheerful, yet deeply cynical, twentysomething he becomes a decade or two later.

By not really showing this phase of his life, the film leaves it at least slightly ambiguous whether his flaws were inherent in him or whether the circumstances of his life drove him to become the bitter, lonely and controlling person that he is at his death. His nostalgia for the past implies the latter, but almost everything we actually see of him implies the former.

And, to reflect all of these contradictions and ambiguities, the film itself is structured in an unusual way. Not only is a lot of the story told through flashbacks that aren’t always in chronological order (though this never really gets confusing) and filtered through the perspective of several different characters, but even the “authoritative” newsreel at the beginning of the film – which a magazine editor later says isn’t the whole story – contains a brilliantly contradictory montage scene showing one person denouncing Kane as a communist and another person denouncing him as a fascist before Kane describes himself as an American (and, yes, the film can be read as a critique of all three ). Even the structure of this film is designed to make you think for yourself and come to your own conclusions.

For example, this front page initially seems like a “plot spoiler” when it appears in the newsreel but we later see the full context behind it, which calls into question the reliability of the newsreel.

Yes, all of this ambiguity requires you to pay attention to the film and actually think about what you see, but it results in a deeply compelling and powerful experience that is almost like reading a really good novel. Even though some parts of the film certainly show their age, this film’s focus on complex, naturalistic and ambiguous characterisation makes it pretty much timeless.

Not only is it a very unique and creative film, but it’s many points about the pitfalls of power could easily be seen as a satire of modern celebrities, politicians, journalists, “influencers”, corporations etc.. in the same way that the film was probably intended to be in the 1940s.

Visually, this film is spectacular. Not only are there lots of fascinatingly detailed and/or opulent locations, but there are also numerous clever uses of lighting, composition and perspective that really add a lot of visual interest to everything.

Likewise, the fact that this film is in black and white not only gives it a really interesting “film noir”-style look (which is another genre that focuses heavily on complexity, moral ambiguity etc…), but it also helps to leave a lot more to the audience’s imaginations too. Whilst colour film was around at the time, this film really wouldn’t “work” in colour. Amongst other things, the “unrealistic” look of the B&W film adds a lot to the film’s themes of unreliable memory and ambiguity.

The set design in parts of this film is absolutely amazing 🙂

Although this isn’t a “film noir”, it certainly does a good impression of one at times.

The film’s lighting design is utterly superb too. Not only does the B&W film really help to add an extra level of drama to the lighting but this film was also apparently one of the influences on the amazing lighting design in “Blade Runner”. Need I say more than that?

Do you like our owl?

Musically, this film is interesting. One of the most memorable musical moments is a jaunty music hall song (later parodied in “The Simpsons”) that is commissioned to celebrate Kane’s leadership of the paper. Not only does this scene emphasise the sheer size of Kane’s ego (and how powerful he thinks he is) but, in an absolutely genius move, an instrumental version of it is played over the ending credits just after the poignantly tragic ending.

All in all, this film is a classic for a reason. Yes, it takes a little while to really become compelling and some parts are a bit old-fashioned, but – as a whole – it is a timeless and extremely powerful film. It’s a film that has the thematic depth and complex characterisation of a novel, which does some really creative stuff with the medium and which also looks absolutely spectacular on a visual level too. If you can handle ambiguity (narrative, moral etc…), slower-paced storytelling and the idea of thinking for yourself, then this film is well worth a watch.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.

Review: “Virtuosity” (Film)

Well, I thought that I’d take a look at a film that I’ve been meaning to watch for quite a while. I am, of course talking about the 1995 sci-fi action movie “Virtuosity”.

If I remember rightly, I ended up finding this film back in either 2016 or 2017 when I was going through more of a cyberpunk phase than usual (and trying to find as many things in this genre as I could). Although I ended up getting a DVD of it back then, I got distracted by other stuff and it ended up languishing on my “to watch” pile until shortly before this review.

So, let’s take a look at “Virtuosity”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS (and the film itself contains some FLICKERING LIGHTS, although I don’t know whether they’re fast/intense enough to cause a problem for some viewers).

The film begins with a uniformed policeman called Parker Barnes (Denzel Washington) and another cop getting off of a train in a city filled with eerily similar-looking businesspeople. They are looking for a suspect. As they run through the pristine streets, the walls distort slightly. When they find the suspect – Sid (Russell Crowe) – a frantic gun battle begins between them. However, things start to go wrong and Sid quickly gains the upper hand.

It is then revealed that this is a VR police training simulation, developed by a large tech company, that is currently undergoing testing on convicts before being put into service. One of the convicts dies from a brain overload after being killed by Sid – an A.I. program based on the personalities of history’s worst murderers – in the simulation. The police chief, who is watching the demonstration, orders the program to be shut down before Sid fries Parker’s brain too.

And, yes, there is dialogue about how there are supposed to be safety features in the program. Which Sid has somehow overridden.

Parker – an ex-cop who has been jailed for seventeen years after taking violent revenge on the person who murdered his family – is returned to prison. The prison’s cruel guards deliberately send him to a general wing of the prison where, as an ex-cop, he is hated by the prisoners. After winning a fight with a far-right hooligan who has been suspiciously let into the hallway between the cells, Parker is later interviewed by a criminal psychologist called Dr. Madison Carter (Kelly Lynch), who is researching a book.

Meanwhile, the head of the tech company has a conversation with Sid and – for some bizarre reason – decides to find a way to allow him to exist in the real world. After tricking a nanotechnology researcher with a seductive A.I. program called Sheila, the company boss substitutes Sheila’s program with Sid’s. When a robotic clone of Sid emerges from the incubation chamber, he kills the researcher and leaves the facility in order to carry out a series of ever more vicious and sadistic crimes.

The police need someone to deal with Sid. Since Parker was the only one who stood a chance against him in the simulation, they offer him a pardon in return for stopping Sid…

Reluctantly, he accepts it. After all, it would be a rather boring film if he didn’t.

One of the first things that I will say about this film is that it’s a reasonably fun and vaguely cyberpunk-influenced 1990s action movie. Imagine a mixture of “Demolition Man” and “Terminator 2”, but with a slightly lower budget and a slightly grittier atmosphere and this should give you some idea what to expect.

In terms of the film’s sci-fi elements, they’re fairly interesting in a retro-futuristic kind of way 🙂 This film is set in a very 1990s version of the future where realistic virtual reality, advanced fifty terabyte A.I. programs, data crystals, sophisticated bionic limbs and humanoid robots that can self-repair by absorbing glass into their bodies sit alongside CRT computer monitors, low-polygon CGI and old-school broadcast television. It’s a really interesting contrast and it gives the film a wonderfully ’90s atmosphere 🙂

There isn’t a single mobile phone in sight, but there are bulky video-screen payphones 🙂 I love 1990s sci-fi 🙂

Interestingly, this film uses the phrase “Interactive Sandbox” two years before the first “Grand Theft Auto” game was released.

Still, although the film takes some thematic influence from the cyberpunk genre – with self-aware A.I and amoral tech companies being major parts of the story – the film is probably more of an exploration of the nature of evil, infamy and narcissism. Throughout the film, Sid always wants a larger audience for his crimes (even going to the point of creating a TV show called “Death TV”) and, when watched today, it is hard not to see this as some kind of eerily prescient satire of the “attention economy”, social media in general etc….

But, given the controversies of the time, this was probably originally intended as more of a satire of violence in the media – with Sid giving a content warning about how “Death TV” is unsuitable for younger viewers, before cheerfully informing the rest of the audience that they won’t be able to look away. The film’s old-school satire of media violence also extends to the way that Sid often treats reality like a computer game and the way that at least one of his murders is shown to be a “copycat crime” based on an infamous serial killer.

But, saying this, this film is much more of an entertaining action film than a “serious” sci-fi movie. And, in this regard, it works really well. Not only does Parker have to deal with inner conflict about his past and obstructive bureaucracy, but Sid is also a suitably formidable adversary for him to fight too.

The film’s decision to allow Sid to heal by absorbing glass into his body creates a really good balance between making him an unstoppable Terminator-style villain and actually giving Parker a fighting chance against him.

Not to mention that the scenes where Sid heals are both hilarious and creepy at the same time.

Although this film contains some fairly dramatic and well-choreographed fight sequences and car chases, it’s probably slightly more of a suspense thriller in some regards. Throughout the film, Parker is playing a game of cat and mouse with Sid – with the balance of power between them shifting throughout the film. The film also adds to this by giving both characters very different motivations, with Parker wanting some way to either avenge his family’s death again and/or clear his name and Sid gleefully treating the whole thing like a game.

Again, this film came out two years before the first “Grand Theft Auto” game. So much for videogames being a “corrupting influence”.

Even though some of this suspense can get fairly predictable or cliched at times, it’s still really refreshing to see an action movie that focuses slightly more on a suspenseful premise and a carefully-calculated battle of wits between two characters in this age of hollow CGI spectacles.

Plus, unlike more modern and sanitised “PG-13” action movies, the fight scenes and car chases here actually have a bit of dramatic weight to them thanks to the fact that they make heavy use of practical effects and don’t really shy away from the painful emotional and physical consequences of violence.

Still, this film’s thriller elements do come at the expense of story to a certain degree. Yes, the film takes a bit of time to show us Parker’s tragic backstory and to give him some characterisation, but if you’re expecting a more contemplative or cerebral sci-fi thriller (like the original “Ghost In The Shell”), then you’re going to be disappointed. Not only are a few plot elements incredibly contrived, but the film’s pacing is slightly too fast too. Yes, it’s an action movie, but the film’s futuristic atmosphere and characterisation suffers slightly because of the relative paucity of slower-paced and more contemplative moments to counterpoint the frantic action and suspense.

Yes, there are some slower-paced and more serious character-based moments. But, not really as many as you might expect.

Plus, although this film tries to be a bit of a detective movie – with Parker and Madison visiting crime scenes and looking for clues about where Sid might be – this element of the film feels somewhat under-developed. Thanks to the faster pacing, they often seem to pretty much instantly work out the answers (which are always correct) without the kind of contemplative uncertainty and methodical investigation that makes the detective genre so compelling and suspenseful.

Yes, it’s good that the film shows Parker and Madison actually investigating crime scenes – but this is very much an action/thriller movie rather than a detective story.

As for the special effects, they’re reasonably good. Yes, the CGI effects look very old – but the film-makers made the sensible decision to only use them when absolutely necessary to the plot, allowing them to serve a narrative/dramatic purpose that helps to distract from their shortcomings.

Still, for the most part, this film makes use of timeless practical effects 🙂 Although the film’s action sequences feel very slightly more “low budget” than other blockbuster films from the age, they are still reasonably dramatic. Not to mention that the film’s practical effects are at their best during the more “sci-fi” moments – such as when Sid emerges from some kind of bio-pod after taking physical form.

The film’s effects are at their best when they are practical and sci-fi based.

And, even though the CGI looks really old, it still works because it is only used when absolutely necessary. Modern films take note of this!

As for the characters and acting, this film is really good. Although some story elements are rather cliched and stylised, the main cast handle the material really well. Denzel Washington plays an ex-cop with a morally-ambiguous past who is trying to get both redemption and revenge,with just the right mixture of tragic bitterness and sympathetic “goodness”. Kelly Lynch plays a fairly “realistic” psychologist/detective character and Russell Crowe plays Sid with cartoonishly villainous glee (which also helps to add some dark comedy to this rather gritty and serious film too).

The film’s set design and lighting is reasonably good too. The futuristic version of LA is kept fairly understated (basically just being 1990s LA, but with slicker architecture and a few well-placed pieces of “futuristic” tech), and the film also includes lots of the kind of gloomily industrial and gothic “futuristic” 1990s cyberpunk-style locations that are always fun to look at.

Although the futuristic version of LA looks a lot like 1990s LA…

…there are still some cool-looking 1980s/90s sci-fi style locations too 🙂

All in all, this is a fun action movie with a bit of a cyberpunk flavour to it. Yes, it’s slightly too fast-paced and a little bit cliched/predictable at times, but If you’re a fan of 1990s sci-fi or just want to see an action movie from a time before sanitised spectacle and over-used CGI became common, then this one might be worth watching.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a four.

Review: “Turtles Are Surprisingly Fast Swimmers” (Film)

Well, I thought that I’d take a break from horror films and watch something a bit more light-hearted. In particular, a Japanese comedy film from 2005 called “Turtles Are Surprisingly Fast Swimmers” (also known as “Turtles Swim Faster Than Expected) which I found whilst looking online for second-hand DVDs.

Although I hadn’t heard of this film before, the title intrigued me enough to find out more about it and – after watching a trailer online – it seemed like the kind of film that could either be really brilliant or really terrible, so I decided to take a chance on it. And I’m so glad that I did 🙂

Note: I should probably point out that the UK DVD edition of this film I watched only contains a subtitled version of the film. Whilst I personally prefer subtitles (and the film’s comedy still works really well with the subtitles), I thought that I should mention this in case anyone prefers dubbed films. Plus, although the film itself is in widescreen, the aspect ratio of any screenshots I took changed depending on whether they included subtitles or not (as such, many of the screenshots here may not represent the film’s actual aspect ratio).

So, lets take a look at “Turtles Are Surprisingly Fast Swimmers”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.

The film focuses on a twentysomething woman called Suzume “Sparrow” Katakura (Juri Ueno) who is stuck at home whilst her husband works abroad. Still, he calls her every day – to remind her to feed their pet turtle, Taro. Needless to say, Suzume is thoroughly bored by life and is also considered so boring by everyone else that she is – functionally – invisible in many situations.

After an attempt at filling the turtle’s water tank goes hilariously wrong and Suzume ends up flooding the balcony of her flat, she calls a plumber to sort the problem out. The plumber tells her a story about discovering a cooked squid blocking the pipes during another job. When Suzume doesn’t believe him, they argue and he insists on showing her the squid. Reluctantly, she travels to his house to inspect the squid (which is pickled in a jar) before deciding to walk home after yet another bizarre argument with him.

And, yes, this film has voice-overs too 🙂

On the journey home, Suzume reaches a set of steps that are rumoured to be lucky if anyone runs up them in less than thirty seconds. However, as she nears the top, someone knocks over a cart of apples and she dives to the ground to avoid getting knocked over by them. Whilst lying on the ground, surrounded by apples, she spots a postage stamp-sized poster on a nearby railing that says “Spies wanted” and gives a phone number.

Sometime later, she calls her best friend Kujaku “Peacock” Ogitani (Yu Aoi) and arranges to meet up in a local cafe. When Suzume arrives at the cafe, she gets a call from Kujaku telling her that she will be two hours late. Feeling bored and disappointed, Suzume eventually decides to call the number and become a spy…

…And discovers that she is perfectly qualified for the job.

One of the first things that I will say about this film is that it’s a really funny and creative film with a lot of personality 🙂 Imagine a combination of Winston Rowntree’s “Subnormality” webcomic, a TV show like “Monty Python’s Flying Circus”, a comedic “point and click” computer game like “Normality“, the more light-hearted parts of “Twin Peaks” and some of Lise Myhre’s “Nemi” comics and this might give you a very vague idea of what to expect. But, saying that, there is nothing quite like this film.

In terms of the comedy, this film made me laugh out loud quite often. In addition to a few well-placed moments of slapstick comedy, a lot of the humour here comes from absurd characters and surreal situations. These quirky moments are often kept understated and small-scale enough not to feel too silly, whilst still being bizarre enough to be hilarious.

Whether it is a “competition” that is a sneaky way for two fishermen to get random strangers to do their job for them, a character suddenly dancing, several moments involving a plumber, a shop that sells mediocre noodles (and advertises itself as such), Suzume making a “kidney” from a melted drinking straw etc… this film is hilariously bizarre in a vaguely “Monty Python”-style way.

Somehow this is both hilariously funny and incredibly cool at the same time.

And this scene where Suzume is pulled over for keeping to the speed limit is pure “Monty Python”.

This absurd humour also extends to the film’s ironic plot – which revolves around someone who is so ordinary that she is literally invisible to many people suddenly finding herself acting noticeably strangely and attracting a lot of attention as soon as she actually actively tries to “act ordinary”. Although this element of the film seems more than a little contrived at times, it allows for an unpredictable mixture of subtle and less subtle comedic moments. Likewise, this contrast between normality and strangeness is very much in the tradition of things like “Subnormality”, “Monty Python”, “Normality” etc… too 🙂

Plus, this film is set in a wonderfully random and stylised “world” too. It is similar enough to reality to look realistic, but it operates on it’s own bizarre dream-logic in a way that instantly makes the film feel fascinating and unpredictable, yet reassuring. For the most part, this is very much a “feel good” film that has a rather creative perspective on the world.

Yes, there are one or two brief moments that may seem slightly dated and/or “politically incorrect” – but, as a whole, this film really is an excellent comedy. It gets the balance between surrealism and realism right and there’s also a wonderfully unpredictable mixture of more subtle humour and more overtly silly and/or immature humour (such as a hilarious scene involving a blocked toilet) and – like the best comedies – this film really has it’s own distinctive “personality” too.

This is immature toilet humour at it’s most puerile, yet I couldn’t stop laughing throughout.

Not to mention that Suzume’s laughter during this scene, and another scene set in a supermarket, is one of the funniest laughs I’ve ever heard.

The film’s characters and acting are really good too. Not only does a lot of the humour come from the way that the characters react to various things, but – in a film about “normality” – almost all of the characters are strange or eccentric in one way or another. Although this is sometimes exaggerated to the point of silliness, it still works really well in this film and also gives everything a vaguely “Twin Peaks”-style atmosphere too.

Seriously, this film’s characters are wonderfully eccentric 🙂

Another cool thing about this film is how low-budget it is. Not only does this instantly give everything a vaguely sitcom-like atmosphere, but it also means that the film’s relatively few special effects stand out a lot more.

This is a film where it quite literally feels like anything can happen, and yet this is all achieved through the kind of creatively low-budget methods that feel considerably more “realistic” (due to their simplicity, brevity and/or practicality) than most slick, large-budget films do. Likewise, the low budget also means that the film has to focus a lot more on things like characters and/or storytelling too 🙂

I’m not sure if this is CGI or traditional animation, but the film’s “flick book” style intro is really cool.

Still, talking of storytelling, don’t go into this film expecting a traditional comedy thriller. Even though the film does have a plot, it can occasionally slow down a little bit too much and/or go in some utterly nonsensical directions (even by the surreal standards of the film).

Although the fact that some parts of this film don’t make sense is probably intentional (with the ambiguity adding to the comedy and the dream-like atmosphere), it does mean that some parts of the film’s ending feel a little underwhelming in dramatic terms. Yes, the film ends on a high note with a hilarious call-back to an earlier part of the film, but the resolution of the main story arc is still a bit of a disappointing “WTF?” moment.

After all of the build-up to this segment of the film, it is a bit disappointing in dramatic terms.

Even so, one thing that helps to keep the film’s plot reasonably coherent is the strong focus on the main character. Throughout the film, Suzume will often tell the viewer her thoughts via voice-overs. Not only does this instantly lend the film a lot of personality, but the frequent voice-overs are also evocative of the style of observational humour found in many classic “point and click” computer games (and this is really awesome to see in a film 🙂 ), whilst also lending the film a slightly novelistic/comic book style quality too 🙂 And, although some of these voice-overs are the textbook definition of “exposition”, they still somehow work astonishingly well in the context of this film.

The voice-overs in this film are a brilliant riposte to the tired old “Show, don’t tell” advice usually given to writers.

All in all, whilst this film isn’t “100% perfect”, it certainly comes close to it. If you want a unique, creative and hilariously funny “feel good” surreal comedy movie, then this one is definitely worth watching 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.

Review: “The Shining” (Film)

Well, since I prepare these reviews several months in advance of publication, it was Halloween when I wrote this. So, time for another horror movie!

Although I had a couple of other horror films lined up, I eventually decided to re-watch Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film “The Shining”. Even though I still haven’t got round to reading the Stephen King novel it’s based on, I wanted to re-watch the film because it’s been at least a decade and a half since I last watched it and I guessed that I’d probably find a more sophisticated horror film like this one scarier now than I did back when I was a teenager.

Note: Looking online, there are apparently multiple versions of “The Shining” out there. The slightly older UK DVD I watched is the shorter 115 minute version. I should probably also point out that more modern UK reissues of the film actually have a lower rating than the older DVD edition that I watched.

So, let’s take a look at “The Shining”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

The film is set in Colorado and begins with a man called Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) driving to a remote hotel in the mountains called the Overlook Hotel for a job interview.

The hotel needs a live-in caretaker for the off-season and Jack sees this as a perfect opportunity to work on a novel that he’s been writing. Although the interview goes well, the manager makes a point of mentioning that – ten years earlier – the extreme isolation drove a previous caretaker to murder his family with an axe. Jack laughs this off and doesn’t think that it will be an issue.

I mean, it isn’t like this is a horror movie or anything….

Meanwhile, Jack’s wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and young son Danny (Danny Lloyd) are waiting at home for Jack to call. Danny talks about his “imaginary friend” and, after Jack calls Wendy to tell her that he’s got the job, Danny has a strange vision of blood pouring from the doors of a lift.

When the family arrive at the hotel, the staff show them around. The head chef, Hallorann (Scatman Crothers), senses something strange about Danny and contrives a reason to talk to him in private. Like Danny, Hallorann also has psychic abilities. He warns Danny that past events that have happened in the hotel can sometimes linger and leave traces that are visible to people with their abilities. He also warns Danny to stay away from room 237.

The family settle into the hotel and life initially seems to go well for them. But, of course, it isn’t long before hints that history might repeat itself begin to emerge…

Who would have guessed?

One of the first things that I will say about this film is that it was indeed creepier than I remembered. Although this film isn’t outright scary, you’ll probably be feeling on edge and more than a little disturbed during quite a few parts of it. This is a creepy, suspenseful film that drips with menace and is filled with all sorts of ominous mysteries that your mind will probably grapple with for a while afterwards. And, although it has been parodied and referenced so many times over the years that some moments have lost their sting, it can still catch you by surprise sometimes.

So, I should probably start by talking about the film’s horror elements – which mostly consist of suspense and psychological horror. This is achieved through all sorts of methods. Not only does Jack gradually become more violent and unhinged as the film progresses, but the hotel itself is a creepily mysterious location filled with all manner of strange ghostly visions and apparitions. Most of these are kept relatively understated, creating a sense that reality isn’t as reliable as it first appears to be, whilst also lulling the viewer into a sense of false security that makes the film’s gruesome and/or surreal moments even more dramatic.

Fun fact: This isn’t red lighting. The camera is literally drenched in blood.

Although the hotel is a large building in the middle of a large mountain range, the film still manages to create a creepy feeling of claustrophobia that gradually builds in intensity as the story progresses. One of the many clever ways that Kubrick does this is through the intertitles that appear abruptly at various points in the film. In the earlier parts of the film, they reference large amounts of time passing. However, as the film progresses, they go from charting months to days to hours, which adds to the feeling of claustrophobic tension.

It’s a really subtle thing, but the ominous countdown really adds extra tension to the film.

But, for all of the paranormal malevolence lurking in the background, most of the horror in this film comes from the characters. This is as much a film about a violent relationship as it is a ghost story – with Jack gradually becoming more and more menacing towards Wendy and Danny as the story progresses.

Even without any paranormal elements, this film would still be a very disturbing and nerve-wracking tale of human evil. Most creepily of all, the film also heavily implies that all of these violent tendencies were lurking within Jack long before he ever set foot in the haunted hotel, with a disturbing dialogue segment about an “accident” involving Danny several years before the events of the film.

The grimly suspenseful horror of all of this is also emphasised by the fact that Jack is also shown to be an extremely intelligent villain. In contrast, Wendy is presented as being very naive, weary, downtrodden and/or frightened. Danny is a young child who is troubled by all sorts of strange visions and hallucinations that he doesn’t fully understand. And, even though Hallorann is shown to be a resourceful character with a good understanding of psychic phenomena, he is still somehow outsmarted by Jack. By giving Jack a lot of intelligence, Kubrick makes him seem even more dangerous and threatening than you might expect and makes Wendy and Danny’s struggle for survival feel even more nerve-wrackingly suspenseful too.

Seriously, this is a slasher film/ survival horror videogame in all but name at times.

Yet, for all of Jack’s intelligence, the film adds to this threatening atmosphere even more by showing that- compared to the evil spirits that haunt the hotel – he’s fairly stupid. The ghosts are easily able to manipulate him into a murderous rage and, at one point, even help him out during one of the few moments when Wendy manages to briefly gain an advantage over him.

Another way that this is shown is a scene earlier in the film involving Jack meeting the ghost of the previous caretaker – Grady (Philip Stone). Despite the grisly backstory we’ve heard earlier in the film, Grady still initially seems to be a “friendly” comic relief character… before he gradually turns more evil throughout the conversation (eg: his comments about the murders he committed, his racist comment about Hallorann etc..). Jack, surprisingly, doesn’t really seem to be too repulsed by some of the things Grady says – hinting at the malevolent influence Grady will have on him later in the film (and/or possibly the evil already lurking within Jack).

Yes, Grady might appear charming at first, but he’s actually as much – or more- of a villain than Jack is.

Still, all of the film’s horror is also counterpointed with some well-placed moments of comedy. Not only are some of Jack’s delirious monologues and bizarre facial expressions played as much for laughs as for frights, but the creaky voice Danny uses when his “imaginary friend” is speaking through him is also hilariously funny too. Yes, it is probably meant to be scary, but I just couldn’t stop laughing during these scenes. Likewise, at least a couple of moments involving the ghosts are comedic in a slightly surreal way.

In terms of the lighting and set designs, they are absolutely excellent 🙂 Although the film certainly has it’s fair share of the kind of dramatic and cool-looking gloomy lighting that you’d expect from a horror movie, it also uses much brighter and starkly “realistic” lighting during many scenes in order to add to the grim atmosphere. And, in keeping with the theme of history influencing the present day, the film’s sets are a mixture of “modern” 1970s/80s interior design, old forests/mountains, grandiose 1920s art deco interior design and a few Native American-style details (that hint at the hotel’s history of being built over an ancient burial ground). Plus, the film isn’t afraid to really be creative with it’s lighting and set design sometimes:

Such as how this scene uses a red colour palette to add to the feelings of horror and tension.

Or the absolutely sublime lighting in this short scene.

Likewise, the film’s sound design really helps to add to the tension too. Although the film’s musical soundtrack isn’t really that memorable, the film makes excellent use of ominous violin notes and other ambient background noises to really heighten the tension during many scenes.

All in all, this film is a horror classic for a reason. Yes, it might not scare you, but you’ll be on edge throughout large parts of it. Even though this film has been referenced and parodied so much that some parts aren’t really frightening any more (eg: “Heeere’s Johnny!” etc…), it is still a creepier film than you might expect. This film makes excellent use of suspense, atmosphere and creepy characters in order to tell a timelessly disturbing horror story.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.

Review: “Only Lovers Left Alive” (Film)

Well, although I was in the mood for something a bit less scary than the previous two films I reviewed, I still wanted to watch something vaguely horror-related. So, I thought that I’d take a look at a really interesting vampire-themed drama/art film from 2013 called “Only Lovers Left Alive”.

Although I vaguely heard of this film when it came out, I only really became interested in it after watching the first season of “What We Do In The Shadows” (and the film it was based on) last year. Not only is “Only Lovers Left Alive” referenced in the TV series, but it also made me curious about quirkier and more modern versions of the vampire genre too. So, when I later stumbled across a copy of this film whilst looking online for second-hand DVDs, I decided to take a chance on it.

So, let’s take a look at “Only Lovers Left Alive”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

The film begins with a montage sequence showing the two main characters, Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton). Both are ancient vampires who are deeply in love with each other. For unknown reasons, Eve has moved to the Moroccan city of Tangier where she hangs out in cafes with a vampiric version of 16th century playwright Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt).

Seriously, this is really cool. And, yes, there is a “Faust” reference later in the film too.

Meanwhile, Adam has moved to the American city of Detroit. He lives in a remote mansion in a semi-abandoned part of town, where he composes rock music that he doesn’t want anyone else to listen to. Between occasional disguised visits to the local hospital to buy blood, he also hangs out with a roadie called Ian (Anton Yelchin) who serves as a kind of familiar to him, buying instruments and other things on his behalf. Overcome by ennui and despair, he asks Ian to find someone who will make him a wooden bullet. A wooden bullet he secretly plans to shoot himself in the heart with.

This scene is also a really clever twist on the whole “Chekhov’s Gun” thing too.

After he gets the bullet, Adam loads it into a pistol but decides against using it. Sometime later, Eve phones him from Tangier and they end up having a video call. She can tell that something is wrong with him and reluctantly decides to make the long nocturnal journey to Detroit to be with him.

When the two meet, things go well and the they settle into a relaxing and understated routine, broken only by a brief argument when Eve finds the wooden bullet. However, things start to take a disturbing turn when both of them begin having dreams about Eve’s annoying younger sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska).

Needless to say, Ava suddenly shows up at the mansion one night and their relaxing life together becomes slightly less relaxing…

One of the first things that I will say about this film is that, whilst it probably isn’t for everyone, it is most definitely a work of Art 🙂 By the time the end credits had rolled, I found myself changed emotionally. It was a slightly melancholy and lonely mood, but tinged with gothic glamour and vintage beat generation hipness.

This film affected me a lot more than I’d expected. Not only is it a stunning work of visual art, but it is a film that is much more about atmosphere and mood than anything else. So, if you’re expecting more of a traditional drama or even a horror movie, then you’ll probably be disappointed. But, if you go into this film in the same way that you would listen to music, read a novel or look at a painting, then you’ll get a lot out of it.

Seriously, I cannot praise the atmosphere of this film highly enough 🙂 It has the gothic gloom and vaguely tragic existential ennui that you’d expect, but this is also paired with retro-style rock music glamour, a few knowing hints of modernity and a slightly gloomier and more brooding version of the 1960s counterculture. This is very much a film about atmosphere more than anything else, and it absolutely excels here 🙂 I’ve never seen anything that evokes quite the complex mood that this film does.

Seriously, this is a film that is worth watching for the atmosphere alone 🙂

I’m wary of using the word “hipster” here, but this film is – in the best and most traditional sense of the word – very much a hipster film. Not only are the segments of the film set in Tangier an absolutely brilliant nod to Burroughs, Ginsberg, Kerouac and all of the other beat generation writers who made the city so famous during the 1950s/60s, but the focus on things like vintage guitars, retro technology and various themes mean that this is a “hipster” film in the very best sense of the word 🙂

If you read Kerouac, Burroughs etc… when you were a teenager, then you’ll enjoy this film. It has that same sense of understated edginess, the same mixture of down to earth realism paired with stylised strangeness and the same alienated feeling of being an outsider.

The film’s depiction of vampirism is fairly interesting too. For the most part, it is kept very understated – with the film following several of the traditional “rules” of the genre (eg: vampires need to drink blood, they can move very fast, they have retractable fangs, they live for centuries, they can’t be around sunlight etc…), but without the horror elements that you’d typically expect. Most of the time, the vampires just buy blood from hospitals rather than biting people. Like the computer game “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines“, this is very much a film about the everyday mundane reality of a vampire’s life.

But, most of all, this film uses vampirism as a way of exploring various themes, rather than as a source of horror. The main one here is the theme of history and immortality.

Throughout the film, Adam and Eve will occasionally make passing references to history and the film even includes a vampire version of Christopher Marlowe too. These centuries of life affect the main characters in different ways, with Adam becoming depressed and jaded and Eve still seeing a certain amount of magic and wonder in the world (whilst also being slightly saddened by humanity’s mistakes and follies, albeit in slightly less of a pessimistic way than Adam). Likewise, both of their names are fairly obvious references to their extreme age too.

In a further nod to writers like William Burroughs, another theme of this film is addiction. The lives of the vampires revolve around getting a discreet and regular supply of blood, and the film reflects how this shapes their lives. Although the vampires clearly get high from drinking blood, the less glamourous sides of their lives are shown too. A good number of the film’s most suspenseful and dramatic moments involve the vampires’ blood supply in one form or another. For most of the film, Adam and Eve make a point of getting their blood in a more “moral” way by discreetly buying it from hospitals and are genuinely shocked when another vampire actually bites someone. Yet, by the end of the film, their blood supply dries up and it is heavily implied that they have been forced to go back to biting people (which they consider to be very “15th century”).

Even so, the film isn’t afraid to include a few moments of quirky blood-related humour too 🙂

But, most of all, this is a film about being an outsider. It is a film about living in a parallel world or parallel culture to mainstream society. Not only is this reflected in the film’s small-scale focus on Adam and Eve, with a good portion of the film taking place in Adam’s house, but it is also reflected in everything from the music to the set design.

Although there are occasional glimpses of modern technology, the vampires surround themselves with things and places that would easily fit into the 1950s-70s (or even earlier). For example, when Adam disguises himself as a doctor to buy blood from the hospital, at least two other characters point out that the stethoscope he carries as part of his disguise is a relic from the 1960s. This lends the film a lonely, yet fascinating, feeling of existing outside of time and/or of keeping the modern world at a distance.

For example, Adam has a laptop but still uses an old TV for video conversations.

Earlier, I mentioned this film was a stunning work of visual art. Being set entirely at night allows the film to use lighting in all sorts of wonderfully creative ways 🙂 Not only is almost everywhere bathed in the kind of gloriously atmospheric gloomy chiaroscuro lighting that was more common in films from the 1990s, but the film also uses lighting to establish a distinctive colour palette too 🙂 For most of the film, this is a blue/orange colour palette and – although this contrasting colour palette is very common in modern films – it actually “works” here because it is used in all sorts of clever ways.

For example, in this scene, Adam and Eve are lit in blue to symbolise their feeling of distance from the world.

But, during a more tragic moment, the colour scheme is reversed in order to show how cold and empty the world feels to them.

Likewise, the set design in this film is absolutely exquisite 🙂 Most of the locations have a wonderfully cluttered and/or “old” look to them that is instantly intriguing. Whether it is the piles of antique books on Eve’s staircase, Adam’s 1960s/70s-style music studio, the evocative exterior shots of the streets of Tangier (which are both timeless and also evocative of the beat generation) etc… This excellent set design is also helped by the fact that the film focuses on a relatively small number of locations, which gives the viewer time to look at all of the details and immerse themselves in the atmosphere.

As someone who has lots of random piles of books lying around in real life, I was overjoyed when I saw this scene in the film 🙂

And this location has an almost “Blade Runner”-like level of detailed set design too 🙂

As for the characters and the acting, this film is excellent 🙂 Although this film may not appear to have a huge amount of characterisation on the surface, not only do we gradually learn more about the characters’ personalities from numerous subtle moments, but there are also a lot of intriguingly mysterious hints at their long backstories too. You really get the sense that this film is a “realistic” (yet also very stylised) look at what the lives of vampires might be like.

Likewise, the film also uses the contrast between the characters’ personalities and worldviews as an excellent source of small-scale drama during various parts of the film. Seriously, I cannot praise the acting and characterisation in this film highly enough. It is the kind of subtle characterisation that wouldn’t be out of place in a prestigious TV series or a novel 🙂

In terms of the pacing, this film is interesting – since most of the actual story of the film happens during the second half of it, with the first half of the film mostly being there to set the mood, to introduce the characters and to provide a certain amount of narrative and emotional contrast to the second half of the film. Needless to say, this is a very “slow-paced” film that is more about characters, atmosphere, visuals and mood than telling a story.

This is the cinematic equivalent of a literary novel. It’s more about the journey, atmosphere and characters than about the story.

Personally, I really loved this about the film, since the slower pacing gives everything a slightly more hypnotic and/or realistic tone that fits in perfectly with the film’s gothic atmosphere and also allows the film to build suspense and evoke emotions in a more subtle way than you might expect. It’s a film that gives the audience time to think and to drink in the atmosphere. But, again, this probably isn’t for everyone. If you enjoy reading novels, watching things like the third season of “Twin Peaks” and/or looking at art, then you’ll love the film’s unusual pacing. But, if you’re more used to blockbuster movies, then you’ll probably find this film to be very “boring”.

In terms of the music, it is really good and helps to add a lot of atmosphere to the film. The film’s most memorable and dramatic musical moments are probably various types of slow, distorted guitar music which are evocative of songs like “The End” by The Doors or possibly some of the slower songs by Black Sabbath. It really adds a lot to the film’s gothic 1960s/70s-style atmosphere in a subtle, but very powerful way 🙂

All in all, this film is a work of Art 🙂 Yes, it probably isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but if you want a slower and more contemplative film that looks amazing and really evokes a powerful atmosphere/mood, then it is well worth watching. Likewise, if you want a fairly fresh and innovative version of the “gothic vampire” genre with subtle hints of traditional beat generation-style hipsterism, then this is the film for you 🙂 Plus, it’s an intelligent, sensibly-paced character-based low-budget film that was released less than a decade ago too 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a five. But, YMMV. This is very much a “love it or hate it” kind of film.