Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Hunger Games

  I'll keep this short and snappy because it deserves as few words as possible:

The Hunger Games is a poorly written, sloppily directed piece of shit, a soulless enterprise with as much warmth as two Daleks fucking. The build-up to the game is endless and unnecessary, doing very little to color its world interesting.  That world, if you must know, is a blend of  The Running Man's worst aspects (and fashions) crossed with 'American Idol'. Add a dash of '1984', too, but remember to do it badly. Also: hint at satire, but fail to follow through on the issues that satire raises.

The picture's biggest flaw is the almost total lack of conflict in the first hour. Everything that comes before the game -- in this hour --  could have been compressed into a five minute montage. Instead, it plods through enough expositional sludge to occupy close to half its running time.

I haven't read the books, so I hope they're a major step-up from this underwhelming feast for the young and easily raped of their earthly possessions.

Yes, the idea of a contemporary, media-driven game is culled from Kenji Fukasaku's Battle Royale, which was thematically aided by Peter Watkins' grossly underseen masterpiece Punishment Park. Both films, not surprisingly, are a hundred times smarter, more entertaining, and more economical than this. Other even earlier influences, conscious or unconscious, are Robert Sheckley's novels The Seventh Victim ('53) and its sequel The Tenth Victim ('66), as well Stephen King's Richard Bachman novel The Long Walk ('79), filmed quite poorly as The Running Man.

In contrast to the beautifully directed and photographed scenes of conflict in Fukasaku's masterpiece of raw cinema, director Gary Ross scores an  "F" for  haphazard and chaotic jigsaws of blurred movement. The action is frequently impossible to follow, impatiently edited, and there are a surprising amount of out of focus shots for a big studio film.

Jennifer Lawrence, looking like an updated version of Juliet Lewis, acquits herself well considering the trash she has to work with, and is forced to contend with a character whose fate is determined by scriptwriters, not her inner being. If she suffers from uncertainty about her commitment to a game that may kill her, we're not privy to it. In one ludicrous example of scriptwriting schizophrenia, she explodes at another key character, only to behave as if she didn't explode at him in the following scene.

The distributor of this film has done a masterful job exploiting what is a truly awful, flat-footed movie. Cheers to them for their seamless trickery!

4/10 for me (and that's generous). Oh, and 1/10 for the silly haircuts and fashions.

Why are there so many bad haircuts and ridiculous fashions in pathetic 'Dystopian' films like this? And why do the rich always behave like wanna-be Bret Easton Ellis characters? It's an insult to Mr. Ellis.

I suggest you go and buy Battle Royale or Punishment Park  on BluRay instead , or shell out some bucks on the just-released The Raid, a sincere celebration of cinematic animalism. Just try to avoid contributing to this stinker's swelling coffers like I did. Hopefully, I'll be forgiven one day.

If you're only ten year's old, you'll be all over this poorly executed garbage and its groundbreaking "satire"

The excellent Series 7: The Contenders ('01) was sharp satire on reality TV; The Hunger Games, with its kiddie-friendly rating, is about as effectively satirical as 'Punky Brewster'.

Afterword: On its second weekend of release, the film dropped 72%, a clear indicator that word of mouth amongst initial viewers has not been good enough to keep enthusiasm high.

Friday, March 30, 2012

The New Female Convict Scorpion

 The original 'Female Convict Scorpion' films (from Japan's Toei) are uneven masterpieces. Made between '72 and '73, and influenced by American Women in Prison (WIP) films such as The Big Bird Cage ('72), School for Unclaimed Girls ('68), Women in Chains ('72), The Detention Girls ('70), and the French Prison Without Bars ('38), they established a new standard for the genre while adding intense surrealism and a psychedelic edge. 

The 'Scorpion' films are more brutal than most of their foreign counterparts and fit into a Japanese 'art' film category also. If you've never seen the four originals, I urge you to make haste to experience their sweet nectar.

Four years after the beautiful Meiko Kaji was immortalized in the original Scorpion pictures, Toei restarted the franchise with New Female Prisoner Scorpion: 701 ('76) . Unfortunately, Meiko Kaji did not return as the mysterious and lethal Scorpion/Nami, but newbie Ryoko Ema fills her shoes adequately, if not spectacularly.

Following a standard premise for this series, Ema is wrongly imprisoned for exposing political corruption at the highest level, and is marked for murder in a concrete hellhole run by state-sanctioned rapists and murderers. The prison's warden is a depraved maniac who supervises a staff sharing his proclivities. Although there are a few decent employees, they are forced to toe the most vile line possible.

Four years after the first series ended, this 'Scorpion' entry represents a big elevation in the series' sleaze factor. The beatings here are as nasty as they were in the original films, but the raping in this entry is harder, longer, and more frequent. Some of the set-ups reminded me of Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs in their raw sexual candor, and director Yotaka Kohira, who also made the sixth and last film, stages and frames every sequence with unbridled enthusiasm and creativity. The film doesn't capture the original film's almost orgasmic surrealism, but there are some theatrical touches that are pure poetry.

Naturally, and thankfully, Nami exerts her female power, castrates her jailers, escapes from prison, and take revenge on the animals who wronged her, but the film's final image is a dramatic mixed blessing for her.  

In New Female Prison Scorpion: Special Cellblock X, Yoko Natsuki takes the role of subdued super- feminist Scorpion/ Nami, replacing Ryoko Ema, who replaced Meiko Kaji from the originals.

Although this was made one year after the previous entry, it ignores that film's events and introduces us to the new prisoner as she is brought back to jail after yet another escape and rampage. We learn that Nami, whose rampage was not associated with the previous Nami's actions at all, has been convicted for murder, a crime she was forced to commit. One again, she is beaten and raped, and subjected to long periods of confinement, before she unleashes her girl powers once again.

This sixth film has something in common with the very first 'Scorpion' film in that much of its narrative takes place with its leading lady on the run. But, to make matters worse for her, she is handcuffed to a prison guard who hates her guts and she his. This development is a novel Eastern take on the Sidney Poitier/Tony Curtis cons-on-the-run classic The Defiant Ones.

The chase sequences give the film great scope and a sense of high adventure. The relationship of dependence that develops between the chained couple is not romantically developed, but they do acquire a grudging tolerance for each other, and he quickly learns that the real pussy on this jaunt is not between the lady's legs.

This final entry in the series, like the entry above, is not as widely distributed as the original four; it's a weeping shame because both films are superior to almost all other WIP films, and proudly stand alongside the originals.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Phantom Film Chart Vol.1_No.1_ March, 2012

I'm happy to post the first volume of the film review chart, and I want to thank all who responded to the call for raters.

If this chart performs, I'll create a "classic" chart also for those folks out there who are not seeing a lot of current releases.

This chart was inspired by a chart that used to appear in the early issues of the late Frederick S. Clarke's Cinefantastique magazine. Thanks, Fred.

The chart has also been cross-posted to a new blog:

Please bookmark or 'follow' this new blog as it will eventually become the dedicated home of the film chart and its successors.


Friday, March 23, 2012

Upcoming Films That Excite Me


The Ferrara/ Carpenter Movie Club

An Abel Ferrara film getting a U.S. theatrical release is not par for the course these days, but 4:44:Last Day on Earth is marginally more deserving than the drab 'R Xmas, Chelsea on the Rocks, Napoli, Napoli, Napoli, or the excruciatingly dull Mary.

The film is about the world ending shot from the point of view of two lovers in an apartment.  Willem Dafoe, who is always interesting to watch, is a vital centerpiece here, but Ferrara has trouble sticking to his premise.

Yes, Ferrara still gets to make films because he has some residual goodwill from people who remember that he once gave a shit with films like Ms.45, China Girl, Body Snatchers, The King of New York, and Bad Lieutenant. But, if he were a filmmaker starting out today with stuff like this, he'd be crucified and eaten by dogs.

 My favorite Ferrara film with the stunning (and, unfortunately, dead)  Zoe Tamerlis.

He joins the club of cinematic indifference that John Carpenter has been a member of for some time. George Romero shows up for a beer now and then, too. It's a place where directors who once cared get together to polish turds, pick up paychecks, and tell a few lies about their enthusiasm for said turds.

I'm heartened that David Cronenberg, who's of the same generation, was recently denied entry to this club .

Clearly the work of a director who still cares.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Boy Wonder

This film surprised me a lot.

Pissed me off, too.

Why isn't actor Caleb Steinmeyer getting more offers?

Why is this 2010 film virtually unknown?

Yes, I'm pissed off that it's gotten very little publicity and has almost zero awareness.

This is a dark, dark, moody, stunningly shot (low budget) thriller about a young man in pain (Steinmeyer) who's searching for the killer of his mother.

What he finds, how it plays out, is not something I'm going to reveal because it's surprising and disturbing and extremely well handled by freshman director Michael Morrissey.

And for the first time in a long time, a writer/director has created a teenage character who isn't obnoxious, cliched, irritating, or smarmy; Steinmeyer's  'Sean Donovan' is a kid you give a shit about, and you get the sense that he'd give a shit about you if you approached him as a human being, not a douche.    

The film has Death Wish vigilante elements, but it has depth and detail that most variations on this subject lack. The violence is hard and brutal, the sound design is imaginative, and all the performances (including a turn from the always-stellar James Russo) are top notch.

Seek this out, and then come back and tell me how you feel about it.

I walked away from this feeling cinematically revived. That doesn't happen often. 

All art is by the talented Nick Runge.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Zoom Up: Rape Site

This Zoom Up: Rape Site poster is subtly spectacular with its color foreground and chillingly colorless background.

This Koyu Ohara flick, which gave Nikkatsu many headaches, is not on DVD, VHS, or Blu-Ray.

For an enterprising distributor, this is THE pick of the bunch.

Although available in Japan, Ohara's White Rose Campus: Then, Everybody Gets Raped is also begging for broader Western exposure.

The Earliest Works of Toshio Saeki

This had been eluding me for some time, but I finally got my hands on it, and I was not disappointed.

Saeki's very early works lack none of the perverse imagination of his later creations, and it's inspiring to see how themes have remained constant.  

For mine, nobody blends the grotesque with the erotic as sincerely as Saeki, although I am certainly not discounting the beautiful and eclectic work of Suehiro Maruo, Jun Hayami, Hiroaki Samura.

Saeki's art, for me, is the purest extension of Japanese woodcuts, and explores the theme of man/woman/beast unions with a commitment that's sometimes dizzying for its freshness.

The best of the best mines the darkest human catacombs and excavates the brittle beauty of fresh experience. 

I've written extensively on this blog about Saeki, 
so use the search function if you want to see more.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Happy Bloody Birthday To You

 Killer kids were a novelty before they started shooting up schools and acting like pint-sized Charles Whitmans. John Wyndham, who essentially created the killer kid genre with The Midwich Cuckoos, was really onto something, and cinema responded with Village of the Damned, Children of the Damned, These Are The Damned, The Bad Seed, and dozens of variations on little shits breaking bad.

Exported from England recently was The Children, a very decent effort about homicidal rug rats, and let's not forget the wildly entertaining Orphan, a killer kid flick that cheated on its age requirement, but did so smartly What makes a killer kid flick official is the age of its killers. They must be pre-teen.

 If you want to see kids killing and maiming and behaving in a way that is consistent with their age, I urge you to RSVP to the retro DVD event that is Ed Hunt's Bloody Birthday (Severin). It is one party that delivers, and the cake they cut will be you (!)

I'm not sure how I managed to avoid this gem for thirty-one years, but I suspect it has something to do with the title.  I was never a big fan of Happy Birthday To Me (even though I enjoyed watching 'Mary' from Little House on the Prairie going psycho), so it's  possible I avoided movies with "birthday" in the title, even if the birthday promised to be a bloody one. Well, shame on me, because this little number is an exceptional piece of 80's exploitation that never drops the ball.

Bloody Birthday is not a bad title (I vote for California Cuckoos), but it doesn't tell you squat about this movie. There is a birthday party, and it does get marginally bloody, but this flick is about three kids born during an eclipse who grow up to be ten-year-old killers. These moppets want to kill like teenage boys want to masturbate. Every time they turn around, they want to take someone out. When some fuck looks at them sideways, they know they should die. Why waste time doing good when you can do a shitload of bad?

The film is relentless. Once the kids are born in a California hospital, director Ed Hunt leaps forward ten years so the murders can begin. Although it's not a stylish or well shot film, it has a disturbing quality because it's stark. The beating of a cop is particularly grim, as is a terrific scene in which a killer kid opens fire twice on his enemy with a handgun, a gun so big it dwarfs the murderous squirt. A school teacher gets shot, a boy gets locked in a refrigerator, and the film's heroine gets chased through a junkyard by a car; the car is driven by an unlicensed (!) ten-year-old  in early Jason head gear.

Does it get any better than this, folks? Can ecstasy this sublime be truly surpassed?

Not really.

What allows the killings to occupy almost constant screen time is the lack of police. The town's top plod bites the dust early on, so that leaves a deputy who looks like he transferred in from 'Hazard County' or Last House on the Left. This ninkumpoop couldn't stop a snail with a jackboot. Which is great, because he's not around to stop the murders.

Because it wasn't enough to make the kids killers, screenwriters Hunt and Barry Pearson make the two males perverts also. The mini-skirted female of the trio charges the junior Larry Flynts a quarter each to peep on her teenage sister through a hole in the wall. They get to see some ass, some bra, some mild nipple action, but no pussy. The hole (the one in the wall) is also used as an opening by the vicious little vixen to shoot innocent people in the eye with arrows.

I could go on and on all day about this charmer, but I'll spare you that and wrap here with a big, meaty, bloody, subversive "Highly Recommended".

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Hong Kong Cinema Record

 I discovered this annual round-up of Hong Kong movies in the early Nineties and often found it helpful.

Although the English synopses were less than truly English, the information on box office grosses, release dates, cast, and Chinese characters was invaluable to anybody covering Hong Kong cinema.

 At the time, I was writing my 'Chinatown Beat' column for Michael Helms'  FATAL VISIONS magazine and co-contributing (with Frank Bren) to a Hong Kong review column in Melbourne's THE HERALD-SUN newspaper, a position that, in retrospect, I find quite miraculous. Frank and I were quite stunned when an enterprising editor allowed us to run our column in the paper's Thursday entertainment pages alongside regular review Leigh Paatsch.

These hefty volumes were published by the Hong Kong and Kowloon and New Territories Motion Picture Industry Association Ltd. Almost all ran over 200 pages and underwent some formatting changes over the decade.

One of the most interesting aspects of these is definitely the box office grosses. I constantly find myself scanning entries for the lowest grossing movies and then fixating on them.

 One of the lowest grossers in the '94/'95 volume is Date in Portland Street (HK$103,255); that's not even US$20,000.

A super-low grosser in the '91 volume is the Ray Lui/Alex Fong film Thunder Run (HK$91094); I recall seeing it with Alien Wife.

I'm not sure if these are still published, but I'd sure like to pick up recent volumes if they're still available.

If anybody else has them, let me know your thoughts.