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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Killer Inside Me (2010)

Much has been made of Jim Thomson’s pulp novel in which this film is based on, labelled as one of literatures great ‘unfilmables’ - like Naked Lunch and American Psycho before it - but for British filmmaker, Michael Winterbottom of 9 Songs infamy, filming the unfilmable is his bread and butter. Here though, instead of hardcore sex he’d be filming material far less explicit, but equally repugnant as Kieran O’Brien’s erection; hardcore violence, more specifically – hardcore violence against women. Blasted as misogynistic from the get-go, it all goes to show a startling level of narrow mindedness when dealing with context; as The Killer Inside Me is a serious study of a man losing control, and the danger he poses to those around him.

Casey Affleck plays Lou Ford; a small town Texan deputy in 50’s America who is seemingly loved by all around him for his gentlemanly southern manners and his will to do good towards his neighbours and township. Just because they grew up with Lou though, doesn’t mean they understand him; as we’ll find out. He’s in a strong relationship with the town’s sweetheart Amy Stanton (Kate Hudson) but little does she know he’s also having an affair with prostitute, Joyce (Jessica Alba).

He’s passionate and himself around Joyce, as they explore various acts of kinky intercourse which he would never dream of acting out on Amy. This penchant for rough sex and violence isn’t new to Lou though, as a flashback provides us with a shocking glimpse into Lou’s horrific past. It’s this traumatic past that will set in motion a series of events that will see Lou take multiple lives while trying to maintain his guise as town deputy and not slip into complete psychosis while trying to rid himself of any blame for these horrific crimes. As each mistake brings with it more trouble, Lou’s mask of sanity slowly starts to slip.

First of all, nobody could play Lou Ford better than Casey Affleck. Taking his creepy introverted, yet somehow endearing, persona of Robert Crawford from 2007’s under-appreciated The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Crawford, Affleck gives the performance of his career here. He’s polite and likeable one minute, then grinning with malicious intent the next; while random acts of aggression are carried out care free. He gives the most lifelike depiction of a serial killer since Michael Rooker’s groundbreaking take on Henry Lee Lucas in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer – only this time, it’s more frightening for the fact that Lou CAN hold back when he wants too, he decides when he acts and his charm is his ultimate weapon.

Winterbottom fills the film with equally hate-filled men. Every mean natured act carried out in this film is a result of male hate. Women are portrayed as loving and caring, to a fault it seems, whereas men are nothing but beasts that’ll destroy anything to get what they want. Is this sounding misogynistic at all to you yet? The womens' willing to accept and to trust this man is their fatal flaw as Lou exploits this for his own gain. Now, the violence is indeed hard-hitting – especially for a mainstream American picture with A-list actors – but anyone who knows anything about the film or the book will know to expect this. When violence does arrive, its stomach churning for the fact that it dares to show the consequences of the act - some call this extreme, I like to call it sensible filmmaking: Show this to your kids.

The film does disappoint somewhat though, the strong opening half hour leads into a slow burning middle section that doesn’t quiet feel right. It’s too drawn out, something seems to be lost in translation here – it could be the faithfulness to the book having it’s affect on the adaptation, so those who have read the book may benefit more during this period. It’s this extended period of nothingness that brings the film down and prevents it form becoming something truly spectacular. The final third though picks up the speeds and provides a literal stomach punch for the audience as Lou’s illness takes full control of him.

Michael Winterbottom’s first American film might not be the classic a lot of us hoped, but thanks to its beautiful cinematography, knock-out lead performance and a uncompromising look at some horrific material ranks Killer Inside Me as one of 2010 must-see movies, those who have read the book may view the film and see parts that others will miss but regardless of the fact, you’ll walk away with a respect for the film; weather or not you truly like it is another matter – can films this unflinching truly be likeable? It’s a tough one, but I look forward to re-watching this in the comfort of my own home, which may benefit the film second time round. Come Oscar time I’d like to see at least 3 nominations for this movie (Actor, Cinematography and best Adapted Screenplay, please), but how far has Hollywood come? Guess we’ll see next May.

The Killer Inside Me is in cinemas now.

Fire of Conscience (2010)

Hong Kong Action cinema used to be a thing of beauty, whenever the names John Woo, Ringo Lam, Tsui Hark and even Wong Jing graced title sequences you knew you were in for a full-throttled experience of bullets and bloodshed. The turn of the millennium though saw the industry come to a grinding halt, much of the talent eloped to America in search of wider fame; more money and more than likely better working conditions. The genre became stale during the late nineties, and the ‘heroic bloodshed’ genre, once loved, died its death, replacing it were gritty cop dramas like Infernal Affairs and PTU.

However, if Fire of Conscience is anything to go by, there is a talent out there by the name of Dante Lam and he’s bringing the heroic bloodshed back into Hong Kong cinema, and he’s keeping it as gritty as he is ballistic. This my friends, is one of the finest Hong Kong movies in 20 years and it cements Lam’s calling card as the man in Hong Kong cinema right now, watch out Jonnie To – there’s a new kid in the sandpit and he means business, bloody-brutal-business. For all the nice production values of recent historical blockbusters like Ip Man, Bodyguards and Assassins, Mulan and Confucius – here is what Hong Kong cinema fans have been waiting for.

Detective Manfred (Leon Lai) has had it tough, real tough. He’s lost his wife, lives out of a car, drinks hard and is obsessed with his work; all the while sporting one hell of an un-fetching beard. Due to his violent tendencies towards suspects Internal Affairs are called in to keep a watch over his methods. During the investigation of a hooker’s homicide, in which one of his team are a suspect, Manfred makes acquaintance with high-flying officer Kee (Richie Ren), the two become friends and this bound increases after a huge teahouse shoot-out forces them upon a huge explosives operation involving a crazed bomb-maker.

Taking the heroic bloodshed valour from yesteryear and injecting it into the more common police procedurals of recent, Dante Lam has created an explosive concoction that rivals the bomb-making prowess of the films antagonist. His eye for realism is matched by his overly elaborate set-pieces, from the John Woo-esque teahouse bullet ballet to the Ringo Lam style populated city chase sequence, he’s taken what has already been done yet still manages to make it feel fresh; a true sign of talent if there ever was one. The urgency in these action scenes are reminiscent of Michael Mann, but there’s an added gorilla filmmaking vibe at play here as pedestrians look on bewildered as the actors run around, bloodied up, waving automatic weapons!

There may be nothing ‘new’ so to speak with the film, story wise it’s all been done before, but from the opening shots it’s apparent that we’re going to be treated to something visually new and exciting. The level of aggression displayed in the action scenes also stand out, the guns sound terrifying when they are fired, which is often, explosions combust and make sure the surrounding area stays aflame in gritty realistic fashion, but Dante isn’t above letting some disbelief soothe in as guns seemingly have limitless magazines when needed and bullet wounds aren’t stopping anyone from continuing to blast their piece! As cartoon-y as the violence can be, the characters remain battered through-out which again adds shades of realism not normally de rigueur in Hong Kong cinema.

I could talk on and on about the great daylight shootouts and chases, or indeed the effective use of brutal violence and the lack of melodrama that normally plagues Hong Kong films, but I won’t as this film deserves to be discovered and scrutinised over and over by any self-respecting fan of Hong Kong cinema. This is the best Hong Kong film I’ve seen in years and if it doesn’t win Best Film and receive a respectful UK release I’ll take a leaf outta Manfred’s book and sport one of hell of a dishevelled beard until it gets one! This, I hope, will be the future for Hong Kong film production; tough, balls-to-the-wall actioners with its pulse on realism but its tongue never too far from its cheek when needed. Highly recommended viewing.

Purchase the DVD here.

Universal Soldier: Regeneration (2009)

Back in 1992, a then unknown German director by the name of Roland Emmerich was flown in to replace Oscar-winner Andrew Davis (The Fugitive) to make a big-budget action/sci-fi extravaganza featuring two of Hollywood’s biggest muscle-heads, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren. The film was Universal Soldier and it would become a smash-hit worldwide and one of the last good films Van Damme and Lundgren would appear in!

TV Movies and a theatrical sequel followed, I’ve not seen them as the negative reviews and crappy trailers kept me away, but what bought me to the third instalment? Or fifth if you include the TV movies?! It’s director, John Hyams. Son of Peter Hyams, the man who gave us The Relic with Tom Sizemore, Time Cop and Sudden Death (the last good Van Damme films!) all of which entertained me greatly as a kid. Seeing as Peter was working on this title as DP boosted my interest.

Two teenagers are kidnapped by a band of mercenaries, it transpires that they are the children of the Russian Prime minister and the groups’ leader is demanding the release of hundreds of political prisoners, if this request is not met within 72 hours then they will kill his children and blow up a nuclear reactor they have secured in Chernobyl. To make matters worse, the terrorists also have a Next-Gen UniSol (UFC badass Andrei Arlovski) in their ranks.

Luc Deveraux (Van Damme) is now living in Switzerland and being rehabilitated to integrate back into society by Doctor Sandra Fleming, it’s a bumpy road to recovery however and he still suffers from violent outbursts. When the NGU wipes out the American army and it’s few remaining UniSol’s, they turn their attention to Luc. Pumping him full of drugs and programming him to get the kid’s, stop the nuke and kill the bad guys, but the bad guys still have a trump card up their sleeves…

To think, eighteen years after the original an impressive sequel to one of 90’s cinemas biggest guilty pleasures would be produced, but its here folks and it sure-as-shit is enjoyable. Brutal, well-paced and excellently choreographed, Regeneration does exactly that; maybe not so much for the Universal Soldier franchise as this pretty much brings the film to a satisfying close, but for all the other 90’s genre films out there that deserve the decent sequel they never got, I’m of course referring to films like Cyborg, Blood Sport, Kick Boxer, Red Scorpion, hell, even Showdown in Little Tokyo! It’s about time these films had worthwhile follow ups.

What comes as a surprise is how mature the movie feels; the original had a disposable, even bubblegum, vibe to the proceedings but this one has a harsh sense of realism from the get go that is a pleasant surprise. Part of this stems from the setting and it grounds the story in an area affected by one of mankind’s worse man-made disasters; it would be disrespectful to have a lightness too the proceedings in an area that has seen some of the darkest days in recent history. It’s this maturity that gives the film a quality not many action films can claim these days, and it’s to the creators merit that the film turned out this good. Don’t let the quick release fool you, this is one of 2010 pleasant surprises and deserves its place on the shelf of any action fan, especially those of Van Damme, Lundgren or mixed martial arts.

Purchase the DVD here or Blu-ray here.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Here's something you don't read everyday...

A landmark event in British censorship took place over the past couple of weeks, one in which I was lucky to be - a small - part of. Dario Argento’s Inferno is due for release later this year from Arrow Video, but the BBFC decided that a 5 second scene of a mouse being eaten by a cat (!) was obscene and would damage the British public, and thus demanded its removal.

Upon hearing this news uproar ensued from genre fans, ranging from confusion over the BBFC’s logic to refusal to purchase the British edition due to the omission. Boutique companies like Arrow Video need all the support they can get from us fans of Cult film; and a group of members, including myself, over at Cult Labs decided to question the BBFC on their logic over this cut. Some said it was a fruitless endeavour that would not result in anything other than a waste of our time; others continued to bitch and moan about waiting on the uncut version to be released. After receiving this email from the BBFC, things weren’t looking good:
Dear Phillip Escott

Thank you for your email and interesting comments.
I should point out that no decision has been made about INFERNO. We have not classified this work, and it would not be appropriate to comment on a title under consideration.

As you know, the BBFC has a statutory obligation under the Cinematograph Films (Animals) Act 1937 to ensure that no scene "was organised or directed in such a way as to involve the cruel infliction of pain or terror on any animal or the cruel goading of any animal to fury" in regards to works intended for cinema release in the UK. The same consideration is also given to works released on video and DVD. This approach was endorsed by the Home Office at the time of the designation of the Video Recording Act 1984 and subsequently supported by legal opinion.

The BBFC takes its legal obligations very seriously. If our examiners have any doubts or concerns over the treatment of animals in the works they view, assurances of well-being are sought from the distributors and / or film-makers. Expert veterinary advice has also been taken on a number of occasions to determine whether cruelty towards animals has been involved during the making of a film. Cuts will be made to films or DVDs where there is clear evidence of on-screen cruelty, or the makers are unable to provide convincing assurances.

While a cat eating a mice is a natural, real-life occurrence, if such an incident has been "organised or directed" specifically for the purposes of being filmed - rather than captured on film while occurring naturally as in a wildlife documentary - and involves the cruel infliction of pain, we are legally required by the Act to remove the scene. I hope this explains the situation for you.

Yours sincerely,

J L Green
Chief Assistant (Policy)

Well, who’d have thought that taking 10 minutes out of our day would overturn the BBFC’s original decision to cut the movie? Not many, but it’s happened! For the first time in recent history the BBFC have waived an initial cut after peer pressure from the public! Yes folks, us, the people, have been able to apply common sense to a senseless decision and one of Dario Argento’s finest movies can now be enjoyed, for the first time on British shores, uncut!!

Will it be the definitive edition of the film release? Only time will tell. For British fans however, this release has made a little bit of history, and for that it certainly deserves our support. Here’s to letting the BBFC know that we are adults, and wish to be treated as such; though a well-done is indeed due to the BBFC for taking in to consideration our comments on the issue and taking a second opinion on their initial cut. 2010, finally a year in which British genre fans had their opinion taken into consideration in this ever-crazy country we live in!

For those on the fence about buying this release due to BBFC interference, you no longer have to worry; this release will be fully uncut and by the looks of things – packed with some juicy extras! At long last, Argento’s masterpiece will once again be available within Britain; it’s only taken 20 years!


- Reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned art work

- Double-sided fold out Poster

- Collector’s Booklet featuring brand new writing on Inferno by Alan Jones, author of Profondo Argento

- High Definition Presentation of the film (1080p)

- Optional 7.1 DTS-HD/2.0 Stereo Audio


- Introduction to Inferno by star Daria Nicolodi

- Dario's Inferno (16 mins interview with Dario Argento)

- Acting in Hot Water: An Interview with Daria Nicolodi (18 mins interview)

- The Other Mother: Making the Black Cat (16 mins) In 1989 director Luigi Cozzi (a long time friend and collaborator of Dario Argento) decided to make the unofficial follow-up to Inferno and 'complete' the Three Mothers legacy. This feature looks at the torrid history of The Black Cat, with plenty of clips too!

- Dario Argento: An Eye for Horror (57 mins) Mark Kermode narrates this documentary on Argento’s career including interviews with George A. Romero and John Carpenter

- The Complete Dario Argento Trailer Gallery [18 films]

- Easter Egg (5 mins of Dario Argento in English, with random memories of Inferno)

Pre-order this essential release here for the DVD or here for the Blu-ray.