Living in a time where we have such things as Lovefilm/Netflix, Orange Wednesdays, and Cash Generator (£1 DVDs!) means I can see SO MANY FILMS.
I wouldn’t watch a pirated film, though, as it’s the same as stealing a handbag, or something, despite being completely not like that in any way, shape or form.
Anyway, what I’m saying is, I’ve got access to lots of cinema just now, for cheap. It doesn’t all have to be like that time I paid £13 to see Dr3Dd.
I’ve seen a lot of things recently. I also have opinions on them, that might help, annoy, or wash over you. Choose a possible reaction, then read on and see if the results match up! (Assume there will be spoilers)
SIGHTSEERS directed by Ben Wheatley, written by and starring Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, 2012
I saw this at an actual cinema (A Picturehouse one, which will hopefully not become reprehensible now they’re owned by Cineworld, like how Gamestation became shit after it got bought by the Game people), and was immediately reminded by how much I hate the moviegoing ‘experience’. An utter fuckton of adverts (I think this blog has established my hatred of adverts, if nothing else), including one wildly insulting one for the Marines (the only Marines I care about are Nurgle or Slaaneshi), some terrible trailers, more adverts, and an eye-rollingly clichéd short film that may as well have been an advert, such was the whole middlebrow whitey “DIY” Feist-doing-1-2-3-4-esque retrogressive Braffian whimsy dogshit that may as well have had a ukulele in it and probably did.
THE CINEMA MAKES ME ANGRY.
It DID get me in the mood for this film, though, which promised GRUESOME MURDER.
I went into this film not expecting tooo much, and it pleasantly surprised me by being really rather good. It’s being marketed as one of those “LOL ZANY BRITCOM” sort of things, and it is just not like that all, thankfully.
Basically, it’s about two people that go on a caravan tour and murder people along the way. It’s more complex and less dull than that sounds, though, and there’s a lot to pick apart about power dynamics in relationships, class, misogyny, the dreary horror of modern living, and the things we do to be loved.
It has a bleak, recognisable atmosphere somewhere between (or touring around) Alan Partridge, Mike Leigh and League of Gentlemen, and there’s a great sense of pathos for the characters in it, absurd flaws and all. Despite playing two ‘boring’ characters, the leads are immediately compelling, watchable, and just believable enough.
Seeing their relationship develop is a treat, and in the end, despite the gruesome violence aimed at small-scale everyday annoyances (reminiscent of Howard Chaykin’s “Petty Crimes” story in Batman: Black and White volume 1, Bat-fans!), I grew rather fond of them and left the cinema full of an odd, melancholy sense of contentment.
Go and see it! It’s probably better than whatever else is on at the moment?
BEYOND THE MATT directed by Barry W. Blaustein., starring a load of wrestlers, 1999
This was five pence in a shop, on VHS. FIVE PENCE. How could I say ‘no’? I bought this, dear reader, and I watched it. Why did I do this, other than the amazing price tag? Well, basically because the wrestling world is soapy and endlessly interesting, and appeals to me in the same way a lot of superhero comics and fighting game backstories do (though the actual wrestling matches themselves are mainly a dreary slog, to me).
You’ve seen The Wrestler starring Mickey Rourke, right? Well, a lot of that seems pretty influenced by this ’99 documentary, and I can see why.
The material in this documentary is GOLD, though the actual direction/editing/soundtrack is frequently amateurish and somewhat crass. For instance, there’s a crack-influenced Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts talking sadly in a hotel room about his awful relationship with his family, and how his life is basically terrible, which is harrowing stuff, and somewhat undermined by shots from the scene being tackily blurred into each other, while atonal, squiggly ‘drunk’ music plays over the top.
It’d be hard for a director to fuck up material like this, though.
SEE: the incredibly likeable Mick ‘Mankind’ Foley feeling rotten and guilty as he watches a recording of his kid’s heartbreaking reactions to him getting knocked about in the ring (by that other alpha-charisma wrestler, The Rock, in his full-on excellent ‘Jabroni’ period).
WEEP: to Terry Funk hobbling his way to the end of his career well into middle-age, bad knee and loving family with him at all times.
FEEL RAGE: as WWF owner, Vince McMahon gives a wrestling hopeful his new name of ‘Puke’, then horribly taunts him into performing his ‘gimmick’ of producing a tiny amount of vomit into a bucket.
WEEP AGAIN: as you watch talented ‘indie’ wrestling hopefuls try to make it in the big leagues to general indifference from the people who make the decisions.
There’s very little uplifting material here, and the film has a postscript which just knocked the wind out of my sails completely, but it’s an excellent insight into the horror of the real lives involved in Sports Entertainment.
Let’s just say it was well worth the indignity of buying something for five pence.
THE MACHINE GIRL written and directed by Noboru Iguchi, starring Minase Yashiro, 2008
Had high hopes for this film, which is basically what you’d expect from the cover: stupid live-action animé-esque larks about a girl with a gun for an arm.
Shame it was a total bag of steaming dogshit. Look, I like gore, I like action and fun and pop and the parts of exploitation cinema that aren’t just rapey misogynistic titillation for jerks, and all that, but this film is just not good.
It’s not even “ironically” good. Like most films that are apparently “so bad” that they’re “good”, this was just dull, dull, dull.
This was on Lovefilm on my xbox, and I was going to trashily luxuriate in this, Tokyo Gore Police and Vampire Girl vs Frankenstein Girl, films it is apparently similar to. But on the strength of this slab of balls (that’s right, a slab of balls) , I don’t know if I can muster up the enthusiasm, even if the films are incredible (which I have been told Tokyo Gore Police is).
So what’s the problem, other than the aforementioned dullness?
Well, cheap gore is one thing, but it’s done in this with no wit or verve or imagination or impact whatsoever (damp squib violence? You know, how people use squibs in filmmaking gore?). I like ludicrous martial arts, but the action in this is so lacking in kineticism or style or ‘oomph’ that it just takes up space and time that could be used on other things, such as making the film shorter by having nothing there instead.
I like Japanese super-sentai ‘nods’ and that, but this film earned so little goodwill from me that when they arrived, I just thought “wow, clichéd referencing, filmmaker!”, though I imagine in a better film the group of parents of dead bad guys, enthusiastically called the “Super Grieving Team” or something to that effect, would have made me laaaaugh.
It got off to an especially bad start, really. Hopes were high when it leaped right into the action from the get-go, with the lead character glibly explaining the backstory to the film while shooting some people and running about, but then, for some bafflingreason, the film then skipped back in time and spent the next twelve hours (I’m not sure how long this film was, but it felt long, even though I fastforwarded some bits) showing us how the characters had reached that point, EVEN THOUGH WE HAD JUST BEEN TOLDDDDDDDDD.
Bad filmmaking. Pleasing brevity completely undercut, momentum ruined by stock characters saying terrible, clichéd dialogue that is so predictable you may as well already have seen and discarded this film when you were 14, even though it wasn’t out then (unless it was). There’s such a dearth of wit, skill, talent and imagination in this film, and it actually made me a wee bit angry.
Oh, and it’s got the requisite completely unnecessary rapey bit.
I guess I expected Braindead or Versus or Planet Terror but what I got was a weak Troma film.
But let’s end on a positive note!
BULLET BALLET written, directed, edited by and starring Shinya Tsukamoto, 1998
Could not believe my luck when I saw this for £2 in the second-hand section of a record shop. ‘Maverick Auteur’ Shinya Tsukamoto (of the Tetsuo films) plays an advertiser who returns home to find his girlfriend has shot herself. He subsequently becomes obsessed with the gun she used, and finds himself embroiled in a world of gang violence, despair, and Cool Industrial Imagery.
Shot in black and white, this film looks fucking ace. Tsukamoto has great visual flair, and basically knows how to use tones and light and shadow and all that to make even the most ‘normal’ of scenes feel atmospheric and important. It doesn’t feel like there’s a shot wasted, at all.
And I’m not even sure what sort of film this is. It’s almost a thriller, maybe, but it’s totally not really, and it’s not hyperactive sensory-attack industrial-fetish homoerotica like the Tetsuo films, though it kind of is, sometimes? Yakuza drama? Coming-of-age story of trapped youth versus The Man? Dinnae ken.
It’s both low-key and over-the-top at the same time, and it just feels unique. I’m not sure I’ve seen anything like it? Which is a good thing, obviously.
A great thing.
I have been wary of the non-Tetsuo films of Tsukamoto, as I fear they will be art-over-content worthiness or something, like how I unfairly fear Crispin Glover’s films, but ‘Bullet Ballet’ is event-filled and thought-provoking, and even though the acting is top-notch (and it really is), I think I’d like it even if the reverse were true, as it is so confidently shot and edited that it never feels dull.
And speaking of the acting, Tsukamoto gives an excellent performance as the central character, who just seems to inhabit his authentically beaten-down character to such a convincing degree that his frequently absurd actions seem understandable and logical (not to mention emotionally affecting) within the confines of the film.
There’s a bit of a cliché in the young gang member female in the film, sadly, a troubled waif in supercool leathers. She IS humanised to some degree, but not, in my opinion, enough of one. She’s enough of a character for you to give a shit, but I dunno, she veers a weeee bit close to Manic Pixie Dangerous Girl at times.
I like the horrible gang she’s in. They are intimidatingly young and cheekboned in their industrio-greaser outfits, and though they are violent sociopaths, there are parts in the film to remind you these are people, with emotions and hopes and dreeeaaaaams, so that you do actually care about what happens to them. There’s some shorthand characterisation of them, but this is done effectively. Unlike in Machine girl.
Fuck off, Machine Girl.
There’s a lot of horrible violence in Bullet Ballet, but tellingly, a lot of it is off-screen, save for the odd kick or gunshot, but it’s no less effective for that. Intimated violence, the power of the imagination, just show the after-effects.
Good filmmaking, see.
The soundtrack, by frequent Tsukamoto collaborator Chu Ishikawa, works perfectly in synch with the film, providing emotive industrial clanking and grinding, particularly on the short, ocassional montages of guns and machinery, which help ramp up the tension and feeling of intense foreboding.
And for all the foreboding, hopelessness and constant feeling of threatened violence, the film climaxes with a low-key scene of vague redemption and catharsis. Life for these characters might never get ‘good’, but it might get just a wee bit better.
Plus, Bullet Ballet has a clubbing scene that actually feels like it’s in a real place. And how often does that happen?
This film is recommended, yes.