Martha Marcy May Marlene Marvelous Majestic Magnificent

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I’m the kind of man susceptible to the charm of charismatic leader. Deep down I consider myself a vulnerable soul searching for some place to belong. In the past I’ve contemplated signing up to an Alpha Course and even going along to take a Personality Test in a Scientology Centre. I just want to feel part of something. Practically speaking I would be living rent free. There would be freshly grown food and kool aid.

The idea of a commune has also always appealed to me. Joining a ‘family’ that lives together outside society’s boring boundaries seems appealing. Trouble is human nature dictates that there would be a hierarchy, someone would assume a leadership role, would dominate and ultimately destroy any possibility of collective harmony.

We’ve seen David Koresh and Charles Manson seductively lure a bunch of vulnerable people to worship them as living God’s. I was always drawn more to the Manson Family, given that their place in the dark side of popular culture coincides with my favourite period of modern history, the decaying counter-cultural movement of the late sixties. Charles Manson was an unlikely charismatic figure, a psychopath who somehow managed to get a bunch of women to fall for him as he played the role of spiritual guru and struggling musician. Things went predictably awry in ’69 as Charlie wanted to start a race war, and descended into madness, getting his devilish followers to make a few murderous statements.

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Would a Manson figure thrive today? Possibly not, we’re too drawn to the cult of celebrity. Our God’s can be followed on Twitter. But imagine uf a celebrity inviting their followers to literally follow them. Say for example the Australian actor Alan Fletcher purchased a plot of land, set up camp, and invited the weak-minded and emotionally needy to join him. He begins by serenading his followers with covers of Britpop classics on a battered acoustic guitar, then things get darker as night falls and he pulls out a velvet bag full of penile toys.

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‘Martha Marcy May Marlene’ is a film about what might happen today if someone left the modern equivalent to Manson’s family and tried to adjust from cult member to fully functioning member of normal society. Understandably such a person would be fucked up. They’d have no concept of time, no idea about social conventions. They would be confused and bemused, and scared about what the future might hold for them.

Elizabeth Olsen is Martha, who was once known as Marcy May. Marlene is the name she used to use when answering the cult’s phone. The film follows Martha after she escapes from the cult and shelters with her sister, and her sister’s wealthy English husband in a lake side home. Throughout the film we flashback to Martha’s time in the cult, and discover the reasons why she chose to leave.

The clever aspect of the film is that we assume after early flashbacks that the reasons for Martha’s departure were chiefly because of the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of Patrick (the film’s Charles Manson figure), yet quickly Martha becomes implicated into the cult herself as she willingly shacked up with Patrick again, grooms other young women for Patrick’s bidding, and begins breaking into people’s home to forage. Such foraging inevitably ends in tragedy.

Martha is vulnerable; a wet leaf of a woman, and throughout the film appears completely lost. She has no real identity other then the one Patrick bestowed upon her. She constantly seeks love, care and support, yet is unable to process and receive genuine affection. Martha is unable to let anyone in, to bring her guard down. This is noted both by Patrick in Martha’s early days in the cult, and by her sister, who is worried about Martha’s state of mind.

Olsen, in this, her breakthrough role, plays it perfectly, she frowns, cowers and cries, she erupts in frustration, wets herself and freaks out. Her complicated character – a woman who we the viewers never really gets to know, towards the end of the film struggles with reality. We’re not sure if she is having a post-traumatic breakdown, or is seeing very real and possibly sinister things. As the temporary sanctity of her sister’s lakeside accommodation is taken away, everything she has run away from begins to catch up with her.

I don’t think we see enough of Patrick, played sinisterly by John Hawkes, and it is therefore tricky to know what drew people to live in the commune and follow his lead. How did Martha end up there? Why does she stay after being raped? Did she get brainwashed, did she genuinely feel that she had nowhere else to go?

Martha is an unreliable witness throughout the film, we see things through her perspective, however her viewpoint is skewed and confused. She has endured trauma, and is maladjusted. Even when she witnesses something horrific, she appears on the periphery, not quite there, not able to comprehend what has happened. Therefore the ending, left open to our interpretation, is perfectly apt.

– RJW

Martha Marcy May Marlene on IMDB
Buy Martha Marcy May Marlene [Blu-ray]

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I wonder why the dog is called ‘Grandpa’: Thoughts on Evil Dead

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By the end of the movie the sole survivor of a horror film has bloodshot watery eyes, juddery hands, and usually is slumped in a sorry state of frailty. Throughout ninety minutes of nightmarish pursuit they end up going through an accelerated mental disintegration that ordinarily someone wouldn’t face in a whole lifetime of toil.

The afternoon before I watched ‘Evil Dead’ I had two terrifying encounters with men who had entered their twilight period, men who had lived a lifetime of toil. I was told to wander down to the food hall of the department store that I work in and escort from the premises a gentleman who was banned from entering the store because previously he had shoplifted a punnet of strawberries. This guy must’ve been nearly eighty, wiry with bottle thick glasses and a walking stick. I tried the soft approach and politely informed him that he would need to leave because of what happened last time. He told me he only wanted to buy a lettuce. I told him there were other shops nearby that sold fresh vegetables such as Sainsbury’s and Tesco. “Fuck Tesco” he replied. I put out my hands in exasperation, and gestured for him to calm down. Mainly because I was afraid that he might keel over as his cheeks had reddened instantly. The man became increasingly irate and yelled “Don’t touch me; if you touch me then I’m going straight to the police”. I didn’t want to touch him because he smelt of urinated beetroot juice.

Twenty minutes after this perplexing incident fizzled out I was wandering about, lost in daydream. I ran into one of the ‘regulars’, an old guy who I bump into every Wednesday. We usually have one of those, are you well? Ok good, now let’s talk about the weather conversations. I asked this man, with his messy silver hair and crooked yellow teeth, how he was. The man told me that things had been difficult for him recently; his wife had suffered a brain haemorrhage and was in a bad way. The most important person in his life was about to be taken away. He welled up, and sobbed. There is something horribly uncomfortable about an old man crying. Particularly when he was doing so in a busy department store next to the main escalator, dozens of people stared at the curiosity. A Security Guard stood next to a blubbering mess. The awkwardness conquered my noble display of empathy.

Work was finally finished, the fifth day over. I meandered down to the cinema, emotionally exhausted. Had I been going to see a drama then I would have dozed. Thankfully I was there to see the rebooted / remade / revisited / rebirthed version of ‘The Evil Dead’, minus the ‘The’. There was likely to be bloodcurdling screams and scares aplenty.

Jumping to the end of this little anecdote, as I left the cinema with belly full of Haribo Starmix and waited for the bus home I wondered why the dog in ‘Evil Dead’ was called ‘Grandpa’. None of the characters exclaimed “Grandpa, that’s a weird name for a dog. Why’s he called that?”. I wondered if I had misheard the dog’s name, but yes, a Google search reassured me that I was correct. The dog is called ‘Grandpa’. Was this because the dog was old? That wouldn’t make sense, because the dog would have had to have not been named until much later into its life, or maybe he was renamed, his original name might have been Pops. Perhaps ‘Grandpa’ was not the dog’s real name, but a nickname. This was not unusual. I refer to my dog as ‘Pipkin’, even though it isn’t his name. I was left flummoxed by this little irrelevant detail of the film.

2013’s ‘Evil Dead’ is a different beast to the 1981 cult classic. Everything is amped up a notch to reflect the sadistic gore trend we’ve come to expect after several noughties remakes of horror classics from the past such as Rob Zombie’s ‘Halloween’, various output from Michael Bay’s production company Platinum Dunes and Alexandre Aja’s crossover into Hollywood and the overiding influence of the New French Extremity movement. In fact, probably since the phenomenal success of the Saw franchise there has been consistent mainstream appetite for the macabre, which reflects some kind of insatiable cinematic desire for no holds barred animalistic violence.

It’s weird, I know we like to be scared, to jump out of seats and spill the popcorn, and how seeing a horror movie can be a fun experience, but there reaches a point where you begin to question the enjoyment levels of what you are watching, particularly when all you get is a series of gore set pieces. A woman cuts off her own arm, gets shot, beaten, and bashed up. Another woman gets her skull caved in, in that cold brutal fashion reminiscent of Gaspar Noé’s ‘Irréversible’. A bloke gets stabbed repeatedly, hit with a crowbar and shot with a nail gun. It’s best not to think too hard about this. It’s just gore. Fun gunge. This isn’t real life.

The share nastiness of ‘Evil Dead’ actually helps the film, and differentiates itself completely from Sam Raimi’s original cult classic. In 2013 four lifelong friends help Mia, their junkie pal, kick the habit by taking her to a cold turkey cabin in the middle of the wilderness. When the friends discover a trapdoor in the cabin, the menfolk in the group go down into a dank den of depravity where they find a book locked by barbed wire alongside several dead cats that hang from the ceiling. The curious bespectacled man of the group uses some tin snips to open up the book. Evil is unleashed and a demonic spirit possesses Mia.

Jane Levy’s performance as Mia grants her iconic scream queen status, and a likely sequel will put her up there with the Neve Campbell’s of this world. She endures pretty much everything that could possibly be thrown at her.

Before I head off, I’d like to waffle on a bit more about ‘Grandpa’ the dog. I think my fascination with a dog’s name explains why I didn’t really care much for ‘Evil Dead’. If after watching the film I’m spending time contemplating the name of a dog, then I think that really the film’s gore washed over me, coating me in crimson contemplation. I was desensitised by the visceral bombardment of unrelenting violence to the point that I can’t quite conjure enough words to sum up the relative merits of ‘Evil Dead’. The dog is named ‘Grandpa’ for people like me who attempt to criticize a film that is strictly for the gore gobblers.

– RJW

Evil Dead on IMDB
Buy Evil Dead [DVD] [2013]

Manborg (2011)

From a casual glance through films available to watch on my service, I decided to pick this. The second full-length film from Troma-associates and short film experts Astron-6, this is still pretty short (a shade over 60 minutes) but has the benefit of not being boring. And being good!

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There’s a war against hell. Is it a planet called Hell (we’ve seen them before)? A race called the H’El (again, something that’s been done before)? No, it’s the actual Hell, and they’re on Earth and after our blood. We see a small group of soldiers fighting against the demons from Hell (for such a no-budget production, they look surprisingly good, with their cracked skin and exposed teeth), and they get picked off by the near-invincible baddies. Our curly-haired hero goes to protect his fallen brother, only to get picked up by the main baddie, Count Draculon. He tries to hold his own, but he’s finished off…

…only to come back, some time later, after a marvellous part-Ray Harryhausen opening credits sequence, as the mighty Manborg! Because this film doesn’t mess around, we’re introduced to his friends almost immediately – the martial artist #1 Man, and the brother/sister fighting duo Mina and Justice. They’re all captured very quickly and become fighters in an arena for the edification of the people of Hell who’ve now taken over Earth.

I was a little worried when I started watching this. The title worried me – a cyborg is part man, part robot, so a “manborg” just sounds pointless. Fortunately, within a few minutes the tone of the film calmed me down – this is a no-budget homage to those 80s sci-fi action films we all know and love (well, if you’re a regular reader of this site, you ought to love them). There’s a ton of comedy in here too – the Baron, one of the main villains, takes a shine to Mina and spends a portion of the film trying to romance her, and Justice is so over the top at all times that you can’t help but laugh.

So, Manborg and his friends take on the amassed hordes of hell. It’s a riot of handmade sets, claymation, surprisingly coherent action sequences (you always know who’s fighting who, and where they are) and a ton of gore. You want to see limbs get broken and heads get punched clean off? Then you’re going to love this.

I know it’s mostly a different thing, but I want to compare this to a previous film I reviewed on this site, “Iron Sky”. This film has some of that sci-fi parody element to it, but it’s got genuinely decent comedy, and shows what you can do with next-to-no resources (the listed budget for this film is an amazing $1,000). “Iron Sky” wanted to be more and failed, whereas this film wanted to be less, but because the people making it have talent, flair and senses of humour, it ended up being more.

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Astron-6 is five friends who met due to a shared love of short films, and this is their second feature, after a film for Troma. I’m pleased there are people like this out there, doing stuff like this and showing that you don’t need a million-dollar Kickstarter to put out a decent entertaining film. More please, Astron-6!

Manborg on IMDB
Buy Manborg DVD

Barfly (1987)

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Directed by: Barbet Schroeder

Charles Bukowski ruined my life. He made me believe that I could be a poet. Under that delusion I wrote ‘Dead End Road’ and ‘Gord’, and spent the best part of thirteen years scribbling down misanthropic drivel on the back of bus tickets and napkins. I was a critical success but commercial failure. People, to my great surprise actually liked my poems, I got some good reviews, but ultimately it led nowhere and coincided with the bleakest, most unstable period of my life.

Watching ‘Barfly’ took me back to those glory years, and I remembered how I first encountered old Buk, unsurprisingly it involved a woman, and alcohol. But, I’m not going to regale you with that anecdote here, because it involves ouija boards, outdoor sexcapades and manorexia.

In the last couple of years, long after my Buk obsession I found a copy of ‘Hollywood’ in the Oxfam Bookstore on Bedford Street. The novel recounted Bukowski’s experiences in Tinseltown and most of the events are loosely based upon the making of ‘Barfly’. Though Bukowski seemed like a fish out of water, by then he had begun to taste the milk that trickled down from the fickle teat of fame. His books were selling, and his reputation had gained cult status.

A vastly different film in tone to 2005’s ‘Factotum’, ‘Barfly’ is a cinematic ‘Candide’, a series of humorous unfortunate events seen through the blissful eyes of a drunkard. The film concentrates on the drunken legend of Bukowski’s alter-ego Hank Chinaski. In ‘Barfly’, clips of Chinaski the writer are few and far between; every once in a while, in a moment of alcohol assisted enlightenment Chinaski puts together a stanza. But mostly this is a story about two lonely people who come together because the share the self-destructive interest of getting pissed.

What makes this film is Mickey Rourke’s performance, played with an easy going, California drawl, a lumbering crooked walk, and eyes full of wonder. Rourke makes for a brilliant Chinaski. Bringing to life the man we see in our minds when reading Bukowski’s words.

Much of the action takes place in a seedy bar called The Golden Horn. Chinaski has a volatile relationship with the barman Eddie, which leads to bloody backstreet brawls. One night he meets an elegant alcoholic named Wanda (Faye Dunaway) who sits on her own. Not put off by her reputation as a crazy broad, Chinaski sidles up on the stool next door and the two engage in an unusual courtship.

I’ve often wondered why Bukowski’s lifestyle is so attractive to a great deal of aspiring writers, many of whom who neglect to realize that the most important thing is not the lifestyle, or the pose, but getting the fucking words down. Many pop upon the bottles, or loiter in bars. Yet they are only able to act like an outsider.

Back in my more impressionable days I was seduced by the lure of working menial jobs, and drinking hard, and then in the hazy morning after period I would recount what happened in the form of straight to the point ‘poetry’. There is a cult of imitation around Bukowski, and many write similarly. I often fell into that trap. But why did this man resonate with so many? Was it his honesty? Was it that he wrote about the futility of life that we are so afraid to acknowledge? In essence he was saying that we are all doomed, and we may as well enjoy life’s simple pleasures – stroking cats, drinking wine and listening to Shostakovich.

Although my decision to become a postman was definitely inspired by reading Bukowski’s ‘Post Office’, I don’t think his other works inspired me to work the factory jobs, the minimum wage data entry jobs under tyrannical hotheads ,or even working as a Security Guard. I had little choice after a while. It dawned on me that I could never earn a living from writing poems. It was work or the dole queue. And besides, when you are unemployed you don’t have any drinking money. I put down the pen aged 28.

The authentic LA bar scenes capture neon murk. Buzzsaw laughter, coarse and unceremonious lingers in the smoke. There are the regulars, who though familiar with each other, because drinking is a nightly ritual, don’t come across as the cast of ‘Cheers’. These same people will bet against you in a bar fight, will offer you back alley blowjobs and exchange an STD for a fistful of dollars and leave your prone body in the cold if you pass out.

Director Barbet Schroeder makes all the daytime scenes surreal, almost dreamlike. Because in a sober state people are mystifying. There is a scene when Chinaski and the angelic book publisher Tully go for a drive back to her place for drinks and hanky panky that features hookers, road rage and the wisdom of Chinaski.

Bukowski was not too fond of Rourke’s performance, perhaps because Chinaski is his alter-ego and he believes that Rourke was playing a version of himself that was somewhat hammy. For me Rourke perfectly fits the chaos of the film, and his daddy-o deadbeat demeanour moulds together well with Faye Dunaway’s manic Wanda.

Rourke doesn’t play Chinaski too tough. He’s mostly easy-going, and surprisingly despite his tendency for a dust up, not overly volatile. Chinaski’s frustrations tend to come in isolated outbursts and usually end with egg in the face, such as when Hank throws Wanda’s clothes out of the apartment window, and then when he realises she is coming back he hastily retrieves the strewn laundry from the lawn.

The sanctity of the bar is crucial to Chinaski. It’s a place where he can escape the ‘real world’ and dwell introspectively over a few glasses of the strong stuff. His apartment is broken into, the landlord is on his case, and the nutty neighbours are noisy. Pretty much everyone tries to get at him outside of ‘The Golden Horn’. His shaky safe house.

– RJW
8/10

Barfly on IMDB
Buy Bukowski’s Barfly [DVD] [1987] [US Import]

Homeboy (1988)

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Directed by: Michael Seresin

Written by Mickey Rourke, ‘Homeboy’ is about a wonderfully named journeyman boxer called Johnny Walker who struggles to make an honest living, with his better days long behind him. A ‘Rocky’ story, penned by an actor who was also a pugilist, the film carries added authenticity given Rourke was an amateur boxer in the sixties and seventies, who after experiencing a couple of concussions initially took a break from the ring. Around this time, Rourke stumbled into acting, success and self-destruction followed before he returned to the ring as a professional way past his prime, a couple of years after ‘Homeboy’ was released.

Likely ‘Homeboy’ was to blame for what happened next, as Rourke was bitten by the bug. He thought he could climb through the ropes and things would be different this time around. Somewhat humbled Rourke fought in several four rounders, more as a test to himself; there was never any serious consideration that he would be a contender. The fights were spectacles, the likes that are comparable to the borderline farcical ‘professional’ contests fought in recent times by Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff’ and beardy ex-MMA fighter and street scrapper Kimbo Slice. In which, Rourke mostly prevailed.

The Rourke we saw on screen in the eighties, the handsome, wild and dangerously charismatic presence was not too dissimilar from the man who lived the vice life off screen. There are several wild aspects of the cowboy boxer Johnny Walker’s character that resembled stories from the dirt sheet tattle rags that lifted the lid on Rourke’s eccentric behaviour. I think Rourke has always seen himself as an outsider, a cowboy in Hollywood.

To give this film some more context. Rocky was over ten years old, and three other sequels from the Stallone penned franchise had followed, Raging Bull had wowed the critics, and by the late eighties there was no demand in Tinseltown for another boxing movie. Especially given that Mike Tyson was providing such drama and violent excitement in real life. ‘Homeboy’ was therefore destined to fail, and the curious way that Hollywood works meant that years later, Rourke’s finest performance to date in ‘The Wrestler’ would fall somewhere between a trio of award winning boxing movies in ‘Cinderella Man’, ‘Million Dollar Baby’ and ‘The Fighter’ as a decline in mainstream interest in boxing coincided with a cinematic resurgence that celebrated the Sweet Science.

‘Homeboy’ doesn’t sugar coat the brutal world of boxing, Johnny Walker takes some hits, and a brain injury illustrated by woozy point of view shots show the risks involved. Rourke’s input enabled the fight sequences to be realistic and his simple, almost goofy mannerisms perhaps illustrate the early onset of some degenerative conditions caused by multiple concussions.

Aronofsky’s ‘The Wrestler’ shares numerous elements with ‘Homeboy’, beginning with Rourke playing a washed up has-been who hopes for one last shot at glory, a womanizer who likes his liquor, an outsider figure, who falls for a woman who also has lived a difficult life. The main difference is that it doesn’t feature Christopher Walken gallivanting around as a low level criminal / boxing promoter named Wesley Pendergrass.

In my opinion there is too much emphasis on Pendergrass’ criminal behaviour, the jewellery store hold-up at the end of the film, which sees Walken dressed as a Hasidic Jew, and the comical getaway seem out of place, as it segues in and out of Johnny Walker’s last stand in the ring. By all means include a corrupt promoter, with possible criminal connections, but don’t let it ruin Johnny Walker’s story. Unlike the crooked, yet loveable Dicky Eklund in ‘The Fighter’, Pendergrass isn’t even an essential part of Walker’s life.

Then there is Debra Feuer, who plays Ruby, Walker’s love interest. It is hard to believe that Rourke and Feuer were married at the time given the couples awkward chemistry. Ruby’s backstory is almost as drab as the beach side Fairground she runs, and the surprisingly non-sexual relationship with Walker makes her vaguely mysterious if not a vacant screen presence. Comparing this to the intensely volatile relationship between Rourke and Marissa Tomei in ‘The Wrestler’ underlines just how different ‘Homeboy’ would need to be, if remade today in order to appeal to a cinema audience who crave honest, brutal realism with bite.

Bob Dylan once wrote in his Chronicles about how mesmerized he was by Rourke’s screen presence in ‘Homeboy’, and though a young, handsome Rourke has a certain magnetism about him, there is also an arrogant air, a pose that is in places almost narcissistic (i.e. perfected in the mirror) as opposed to a natural presence oozing from the screen. The camera loves Rourke, and cuddles up to his rugged mug one too many times, before it becomes a tad unsettling.

Johnny Walker is a dirty fighter, who takes cheap swings after the bell, riles the crowd and turns boxing from a noble art into a grappling brawl. Outside the ring, there is a tender innocence, as loyalty and naivety lead him to love, and meeting the kind of men who take advantage of an out of town sucker. There are better boxing films out there, and watching ‘Homeboy’ provides an interesting look at the career of Mickey Rourke back in ‘88, and that above all, here was a man who wanted to make a sincere film about a sport he loved. The sincerity isn’t in doubt, but this film doesn’t hit you hard like a good liver shot. It’s a swing and a miss, and before you know it a phlegmy gum shield rolls around on the canvas as the exhausted body falls with a dull thud.

– RJW
5/10

Homeboy on IMDB
Buy Homeboy [2007] [DVD]

Mark Wahlberg’s perplexing portrayal of a working class (usually Irish-American) tough guy

I watched ‘Four Brothers’ for the second time last night, and I must say, this time around with wiser eyes, I noticed holes, gaping flaws and a worrying thing, so disturbing that it led me to wonder if I was delirious after mixing my rums last night, going from Havana to Captain Morgan’s by way of a miscellaneous bottle that I couldn’t pronounce, so instead I pointed to this heavenly looking light blue bottle at the back of the bar and likely the barmaid poured me a Japanese whiskey and coke. It didn’t really matter because by then I was too drunk to notice… anyway, this worrying thing, one of those gooseflesh and a spine shiver after finding a lump-like (which turns out to be verruca) moments that perhaps, and I’ve tried to suppress this over the last few years – that I am a fan of Mark Wahlberg, and I appreciate his tendency to play salt of the earth hard nuts.

Similarly to Denzel, Wahlberg is a comfort blanket for this film viewer. See, when I notice Wahlberg is in the cast of an action movie I let out a long sigh of relief, because I know the film is going to be ok. It might not be great or brilliant, but it will be ok.

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John Singleton’s wintry tale of brotherhood and revenge features Wahlberg, Tyrese from the Fast and the Furious and Transformers franchises, Andre 3000 and Garrett Hedlund as adopted brothers who come home after the murder of their Mother.

The strange thing about ‘Four Brothers’ is Singleton’s presentation of violence, which seems oddly tempered. This is quite an odd thing to say given an old woman gets shot, there are gangland style executions, Policemen die, a whole house gets shot to Swiss cheese and the finale delivers a violent hand to hand snowy slugfest. Yet the ever reliable IMDB tells us that the squibs in the shootout malfunctioned, and were less bloody then intended. The death of Evelyn Mercer was also censored. For me such restraint took away the realism. Guns are nasty and bullets are brutal, the impact of lead on flesh should make for gory scenes. There isn’t enough bloodshed.

After Evelyn Mercer gets blasted in a convenience store, the brothers Mercer return to the family home. Seeing four masculine men fight back tears as they grieve the woman who raised them is unintentionally funny. It appears Tyrese was born without tear ducts. Tyrese is a floundering screen presence, and lumbers around delivering the occasional wisecrack when needed. Singleton gives him a busty piece of feisty Latin arm candy in the wonderful shape of Sofia Vergara (obligatory sexy picture included below) to make his character more interesting. The women in ‘Four Brothers’ are either accessories, made to eat food from the floor like a dog, shot dead in a convenience store or in the case of Taraji P. Henson, a panicky, long suffering house wife with hardly any lines who is left to take care of the kids.

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But screw women, this is an action film, about blokes with guns. Or is it? On a deeper level this film touches upon police corruption, the shady nature of trade unions, Detroit gangsters and racial harmony within a foster home. To detach itself from being too serious ‘Four Brothers’ does contain a Gotham-esque villain in the shape of Victor Sweet (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Sweet is magnificently menacing, and very much an all mouth and no trousers man who rules by fear, but cowardly hides behind money. Ejiofor is introduced a little late for my liking, and his dominating presence, in which he steals every scene, seems underutilized. But then, Singleton doesn’t expand on anything throughout the film, the action comes and goes; interesting ideas are raised and then left on the backburner.

What derails the movie completely plot wise is that Jeremiah (Andre 3000) is largely responsible for his Mother’s death, given that he gets involved with Sweet, and though the other bro’s discover this information, which later leads to the death of Jack (Hedlund), Jeremiah isn’t blamed, he isn’t ostracised from the family, he just kinda gets away with being weak willed.

The brothers are painted as violent hot heads that take action first and think about the consequences later, but this changes after Jack’s slaying. The surviving trio suddenly get really clever at the end of the film, putting together an ice cool plan that goes completely against all character and logic.

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Thankfully Mark Wahlberg is in ‘Four Brothers’, and any faults can be instantly forgiven. Wahlberg knocks back the booze, berates everyone and then becomes the hero of the hour, in true Wahlberg style, and with that I remember the reason why I enjoyed this film first time around.

– RJW

Four Brothers on IMDB
Buy Four Brothers [DVD]

The Blob (1988)

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The 80s was a golden decade for horror and I mean really good horror, John Carpenter was at the height of his powers, David Cronenberg was moving up a gear, Wes Craven and Robert Englund were teaming up on Elm Street and a certain Stanley Kubrick made The Shining. The list, as always, goes on and hidden away underneath all the gold is The Blob, a film that knew it would never dine at the top table but was able to stand proud as a solid, entertaining genre piece.

I love 80s horror like this. I love the use of prosthetics, the 80s of course was a time before widespread use of CGI, and I love the schlocky nature of The Blob and its tongue in cheek approach. It was a remake of the 1958 film of the same name starring Steve McQueen but it wasn’t purely a cash-in, it was a bit of fun, it even sold itself alongside other, far superior, remakes of the time like The Thing and The Fly just for laughs.

It stars a heavily mulletted Kevin Dillon, a poor man’s Matt Dillon who also happens to be Matt Dillon’s brother, as a bad-boy loner who prefers passing time on the periphery of town life performing motorcycle stunts and pestering tramps. The remaining cast of ‘that guys’ include Emil from RoboCop, Dale from TV’s The Walking Dead and Saw franchise mainstay Shawnee Smith who also fronted 2000s punk-metal band, Fydolla Ho.

The deaths are fantastically inventive, people get crushed in phone booths and sucked down plug holes and the satire extends to playing with genre stereotypes like the young couple making out in the car on a hilltop road overlooking the town who meet a violent end as he gets dragged through her breasts during a fondling session. Meeting your maker by the late 80s not only had to be a stunt in itself but it also had to look unbearably good and this was achieved with disgusting aplomb by Rick Baker alumni, Tony Gardner whose credits include The Addams Family, 127 Hours, Zombieland and creating the signature helmets for the electronic dance duo, Daft Punk.

Kevin Dillon’s mullet deserves its own credit; it’s the best looking thing in the film and effortlessly precipitates his coolness by never once looking messy or unkempt and it’s starched to the point that it still stays straight even when he tilts his head forward so he can chin people standing behind him. I raise a glass to the makeup and hair department for this magnificent specimen of hair control.

The Blob was written by then up-and-coming screenwriter Frank Darabont alongside his friend Chuck Russell who also directed the film. The inventiveness of some of the bigger sequences, the parodical subversion of the standard genre tropes of 50s horror (a military created space blob terrorising a small town) and 80s horror (the film showing at the cinema is called Garden Tool Massacre) and the formulaic dialogue showcase the vibrant talent buzzing under the surface of the fledgling Darabont and also some of the rawness which he’d learn to shed.

It was a wise move of Darabont to move on from Russell early in his career as he’d go on to turn anything he touched into gold including Green Mile, The Mist and Shawshank Redemption whereas Russell would prove his limitations with basic output such as Eraser and The Scorpion King. He did make The Mask but this still suffers from his dour touch and only shines when Jim Carrey is bouncing around onscreen surrounded by those fantastic effects.

If you’re looking for a stupidly violent, ridiculously 80s and wonderfully hair-styled horror send-up that’s perfect Saturday night fodder then you can do a lot worse than check out The Blob.

– Greg Foster

The Blob on IMDB
Buy The Blob [1988]

Hansel and Gretel (2013)

I promised after my last review that I’d feature something either much better or much worse than the depressing nothing that was “Collision Earth”. Let’s see how long it takes you to figure out which one this is!
 
hansel-and-gretel-poster
 
I’m going to have to spoil this film a bit, in the end. But, if I stop you from watching this film, I’ll be doing you a favour. First and foremost, this is the first time I’ve been completely fooled by an Asylum Entertainment film. Thanks to the public domain nature of the origin story, they got to name their film exactly the same as the big-budget “Hansel and Gretel”, even though I’d lay good money on the two films having just about nothing in common.
 
After a cold open where we see a poor unfortunate girl try and escape from…somewhere…only to be captured and killed, we’re introduced to Hansel and Gretel. Gretel’s a goody-two-shoes who is friends with Lilith, the friendly middle-aged owner of the local café. Hansel is a douchebag computer game-playing teenager, and our two twins are plunged into conflict when their Dad and stepmother say they’re moving and the kids now have to fend for themselves. To make us suspect the stepmother, maybe?

Anyway, as anyone who’s ever seen an episode of “Supernatural” or any other fantasy themed programming will know, Lilith is the bad guy, and the film turns into a fairy-tale-meets-torture-horror. The kids get stranded at her house, which appears to be deep enough into the woods that no-one could possibly get back to civilisation from it, even though it’s near a special tree which all our main characters remember from their past…I guess getting frustrated about the geography of a cheapo horror film is just a waste of typing, but it’s just frustrating that no-one during the making of this film went “you know, it’d be literally no extra effort to sort this out”.

It boils down to this – Lilith is an immortal creature who uses humans for food, which keeps her alive down the centuries. And we come to roadblock no.2 – she seems to have quite the appetite, with 5 teenagers captured during the course of a few days. If I was munching on people at that rate, and lived in a small town, I reckon people might start to get a little suspicious. Luckily, the police aren’t, in the slightest, and might be said to be almost too calm. Or they just got bad direction, which is a bit more likely.

Lilith and her two “sons” try and entice Gretel to come and live with them, and be part of their family. Eternal life awaits the person who’ll brutally murder people then eat them! All the while, Hansel is downstairs, in the cellar with a few other teenagers. They’re being fattened up, which I guess is part of the original story? Here, bolted on in a place where it makes no sense.

So, Gretel eventually tries to escape and gets thrown down into the cellar with her brother, and the group of them work out a way to escape. Not only is the cellar enormous, with multiple rooms, long corridors and so on, but it also has an extremely specific escape-defence system, which is to pump hallucinogenic gas through the entire place and let the main cast have horrible dream sequences.

Oh, there’s a breadcrumb trail used near the end as well, if you want a hollow laugh at the waste your life has become that you’re watching garbage like this…anyway. People die, but Hansel and Gretel escape and all seems well with the world. Until, that is, Gretel decides to eat one of Lilith’s pies (made out of a person, lest you forget), put on the apron and take over the shop, and presumably Lilith’s former career.

Now, I don’t mind a twist ending. Well-done ones can enrich the film that came before them.This, on the other hand, is another empty cinematic gesture, something that was put in because someone thought it’d look cool without having the slightest idea of how it would affect the plot. The film has a smattering of other scenes like this, but the ending is the worst – rather than accept the offer near the beginning of the film, and save a bunch of lives, she waits til a bunch of people have died trying to rescue her before doing it anyway.

People of Asylum Entertainment, I hope they pay you well, and congratulations for getting work in the industry, I guess. But I really need to pick the films of another company to start reviewing (I think this is the third or fourth one of these I’ve done for the site). If you watch this film after reading this review, I want to fight you.

EDIT: Turns out another low-budget film company put out another Hansel and Gretel film this year, starring Eric Roberts. Maybe I dodged a bullet (although if someone had shot me before I watched this film, it might have been more fun to just bleed out).

I’m sorry, everyone. I promise I don’t pick bad films deliberately.