R.I.P.D. (2013) Howard the Duck Dressed as Jonah Hex?

Film poster for RIPDThere are many reasons that R.I.P.D. (Rest in Peace Department), the Dark Horse limited edition comic-based film died a dismal death on screen and Jeff Bridges announced that the “suits” screwed the whole thing up after the movie got panned universally and was even compared at one point to Howard the Duck. Critic Roger Moore also blasted the film and called it the worst comic book adaptation since Jonah Hex.

Ouch.

A trifle unfair of Moore as at least R.I.P.D. did not have Megan Fox in it. Although the film is a stinker overall despite having a good cast to work with. Starring Jeff Bridges, Ryan Reynolds, Mary Louise Parker, Kevin Bacon and Stephanie Szostak the film should have entertained with so much talent shoved into one film.

Directed by Richard Schwentke (RED, Insurgent) the film confuses more than it entertains and spends far too much time on the James Hong, Marisa Miller gag which appears to be a lift from Dead Like Me where the returned deceased look different from when they were alive. Having said that, the joke could have been used to much better effect with a little more emphasis on the interaction of the two “avatars.”

The comic book, published by Dark Horse Comics; who published, amongst other cult favorites, Hellboy and Sin City, ran for four issues. Not unusual for the comic publisher who seems to specialize in “one-offs” and limited editions of comics. In the comic, the joke includes the fact that Nick Cruz and Roy’s big boss is indeed “God” and that there is a heaven and a hell. While the film skirts around this issue by referring to “judgement” and they mention hell, Nick’s old partner Bobby Hayes (Bacon) mentions that he refuses to go there, the big boss thing aka, God, is shuffled off to the side.

*To be fair, however, I have never read the comics and apart from the odd synopsis of the short-lived series, can only guess at the “God angle,” although it does seem that this was part and parcel of the wry tongue-in-cheek delivery of the comic.*

The plot of the film, which apparently does follow the comic’s main premise, has Nick Cruz being killed, although in the Dark Horse publication he does not know who killed him and in the film Nick knows his crooked partner did him in.

*A major complaint that I had with the film was the whole “shot in the face” schtick that is mentioned several times in the movie and the scene where Reynolds as Cruz is pumped full of lead, not one of the bullets hits him in the face. Was this considered too graphic or horrid for the film’s PG-13 rating or just on oversight?*

Watching the film one cannot help but have a sort of Deja Vu feeling. It is not too dissimilar to Last Action Hero; the Arnold Schwarzenegger hodgepodge where the comedy made no real sense, such as the inclusion of a cartoon cat as cop, and the producers used a “kitchen sink” approach to the comedic mix. R.I.P.D. feels much the same. The biggest difference between the two films is reception, Roger Ebert actually admitted to liking parts of the Schwarzenegger film.

It should be pointed out that Bridges got a chance to pay respect to his late father Lloyd Bridges with a visual lifted straight from Airplane!. Father Lloyd played a character named McCroskey in the 1980 film who had “picked the wrong time” to stop a number of things, including sniffing glue. At one point in the hysterically funny film, Bridges Senior has a close up of his wildly smiling face and his hair is standing straight up. The camera repositions and the audience can see that McCroskey is upside down. Jeff Bridges replicates that shot as his Sheriff Roy hangs upside down under a building overhang holding a rope attached to a “dead-o.” Complete with wild smile and long hair dangling Bridges does the shot, although without the camera repositioning.

R.I.P.D. iS just not as entertaining as it could have been. The lack of direction, the kitchen sink attitude towards its comedy and the missing coherency hurts the film overall. Bridges and Reynolds fail to mesh as the former seems to be channeling his Rooster Cogburn and the latter plays it all too serious. The two styles never quite fit together.

Watching the film, I kept wanting to see more of Miller and Hong in action and wondered how Mary Louise Parker could still look so young and attractive. This is a 2 out of 5 star film with little to recommend it except for the presence of the beautiful Parker and Szostak who each brighten up the film with their performances. The chaps in the movie are never really given a chance to shine.

Sorry fellas.

While the film is not really Howard the Duck dressed as Jonah Hex, it is a curious blend of both these misbegotten films where direction and focus were both lost by those making the film and the actors never stood a chance. Wait for this one to show up on telly.

10 June 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Heir (2015): Disturbing Dark and Powerful

Poster for Heir
Written and directed by Richard Powell (Worm, Familiar, Consumption) the 2015 short film Heir from Fatal Pictures is a walk on the dark side of life. This disturbingly dark movie will have its world premiere at Montreal’s FanTasia International Film Festival this summer.

Robert Nolan plays Gordon, the father of Paul who harbors a dark secret side to himself known only to Denis played by Bill Oberst Jr. Nolan (Mourning has Broken, Worm, Familiar) is a Powell regular and worked in several of his films. The actor specializes in bringing a lot to any of the roles he plays. His characters have an impressive depth and he brings an air of believability to the table.

Bill Oberst Jr. (Scary or Die, Take This Lollipop) as Denis is disturbingly twisted and terrifying. Only Oberst can deliver a character that simultaneously comes across as perverse and knowingly evil with such conviction. From the moment we meet the man in a cafe, with the sign behind the counter advertising British meat pies, the viewer knows that this is not a nice chap at all.

The film begins with Gordon sitting in front of his computer. The room is dark and the screen lights up his face as he crops a picture of a boy and woman while flashing back to the day he took their picture. The man is setting up a “play date.” Glancing nervously and guiltily around the room he gets directions.

Still from Heir
Gordon and Paul meet Denis

The man at the other end of the computer conversation is Denis, an old “school” buddy of Gordon’s. This soon reveals itself to be a lie of convenience, when the man jokingly asks the father of Paul about what subjects they “shared.” At first glance it seems that the only thing these two share is a taste for perversion.

“It smells in here,” the boy says as the buzzing of a fly is heard in the background. We are as uneasy as the youngster and Denis begins to become aggressive in his desire. The conflict in Heir appears initially to be the contrast of both men. Gordon who has been, apparently, attempting to control his urges where Denis has allowed himself to go with his base desires and is rotting in his den of evil.

Cinematographer Michael Jari Davidson has the camera crisp and clear until he allows the shadows to fall across Gordon’s face at the appropriate moments. Lighting plays a clear role in the film and is used to emphasis the underlying moods of the players. Davidson continues to go above and beyond, just as he did in Mourning Has Broken.

Oberst Jr and Nolan deliver as different sides of the same coin. The two actors are excellent at what they do and their casting was spot on. Powell is an expert at showing the darker side of the world in unique and disturbing ways. There should be a few gongs for this film in Montreal and both Bill and Robert should walk away with some honors.

Still from Heir
Gordon and Denis

This is a brilliantly dark film with a disturbing feeling of depth and one which should prompt some heavy duty discussion after viewing. Prepare to be surprised, disturbed and entertained. Heir will have its world premiere at the Montreal FanTasia International Film Festival this summer.

27 May 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

A Blood Pledge (2008) Whispering Corridors 5 Review

The last in a series about South Korean all-girl schools, A Blood Pledge also known as Whispering Corridors 5, is the only one set obviously in a Catholic School. It is interesting to note that each film in the series, which are all considered part of the franchise, has a different director and writer.

All have similar themes, an emphasis on friendship and betrayal of same, fierce competition for grades/scores in class, which in turn leads to even more competition to get into a good university.

Girl crushes, teen pregnancy, Korean teenage girls portrayed as bitchy, bullying and overly obsessed with money and class, dysfunctional family units, and betrayal all are part of the franchise formula along with curses, urban myths and of course supernatural occurrences.

The first three films in the series are really the best. In my honest opinion, as the “sequels” continued they borrowed freely from whatever new trends in Asian horror were prevalent at the time of filming or when writing screenplays.

A Blood Pledge is directed by Jong Yong-Lee, who was actually a co-writer on the superior 2002 film Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Yong-Lee also wrote the screenplay for A Blood Pledge and the film marks his second time in the director’s chair, his second credit for writing and first feature length film.

Now, despite what IMDb maintains the storyline is; it is not about FOUR friends who make a suicide pact. There are only three who decide to swear an oath that they will die before their time. The mistake seems to have been brought about because a fourth joins the group later, after the blood oath, or pledge, and she is the only one who perishes.

Leader of an elite trio of friends, Eugene, or Eun-Jo, is a manipulative little schemer who does not like losing at anything. As she has been knocked off her spot as student with the highest grade average, mainly because of her “out of school” romance with the rich love rat Ki-ho, she comes up with a plan to knock current leader Yoo-Jin out of the top spot. Her grades have slipped so much that she is no longer in the list of top ten best students.

Eugene kicks an old established member out of her group and woos Yoo-Jin’s best mate Soy into her little trio, with the idea that the former straight A student will become so upset that her grades will drop. The plan backfires when Ki-ho goes after the new girl and in the process, dumps Eugene and impregnates Soy.

Oops!

She then plans to kill Soy, win back Ki-ho and resume her place as top straight A student. Unfortunately everything goes wrong when Yoo-Jin goes over the side of a school building instead of Soy and dies. The dead girl soon begins appearing and her younger sister keeps approaching Soy for answers.

The school, broken into various cliques and class loyalties, is a hotbed of rumors, theories, backbiting and mudslinging between the different factions.

A Blood Pledge is entertaining. Sadly, though, it is not a fitting end to the brilliant trilogy that started the whole thing off. While it does not borrow quite so heavily from the franchise as Voice did for example, the film feels like a poor relative to the series and seems as though it was meant to be a “made for TV” version of the franchise.

It is confusing and hard to follow at times, mainly because of flashbacks and the fact that Eugene, Eun-Jo and Soy resemble each other so much. It would have helped if the director had at least changed their hairstyles a bit. At times other events transpire that never have a real explanation of why or what exactly had been done. The locker scene in particular, you’ll know what I mean when you see it.

Another example is the “evil mother of the rich love rat” car scene. Good stuff, but it did not really fit the motif here…

I would recommend watching A Blood Pledge, and Voice actually, just so you can finish the franchise off. Then sit down and watch the first three and enjoy the best the series has to offer.

That’s it from me this week so until next time, keep watching the movies and have fun!

Here is the video from my YouTube channel where I talk about the film. Enjoy:

22 May 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014): Black and White Brilliance

Film posterIf the title has not provided a clue, let me spell it out, I adore this film. Written and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour with a cast that trounces their respective roles, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a study in black and white brilliance. The decision to make this a monochrome production was bold and fitting for an urban myth story set in an Iranian town, called Bad City.

Apparently life in the petroleum pump filled burg is cheap, or at least not valued too greatly as there seems to be a wash, or gully, on the edge of town filled with dead bodies. One wonders whether or not the stiff “cadavers” piled deep are not mannequins until later when the local “master” criminal is killed and his body dragged to the local “pit” and dropped in.

The film begins with a young man, Arash (played by relative newcomer Arash Marandi) who collects a large cat from an abandoned building. After a young boy begs him for money he gets in his prized car, that he bought after performing well over 2,000 odd jobs, and goes home to his heroin addicted father. A visit from the Jack-of-all-trades crime lord Saeed (This guy is Bad City’s Godfather of naughtiness; pimp, drug pusher and an all round nasty bit of work.)

As Arash’s father, Hossein owes Saeed money, he takes the son’s car keys and vehicle in payment. While the one man crime wave is collecting money from his hooker, he sees a cloaked figure in the dark. He keeps all the money given and knocks Atti, his prostitute, out of Arash’s car. He later talks to the hooded figure, who turns out to be a beautiful girl, and entices her to come into his home.

The film really begins its first twist in this scene and continues to shift in mood, purpose and destination throughout. Set in Iran, but filmed in Bakersfield and Taft, California, Amirpour has delivered a feature length treatment of her original short 2011 film of the same title.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is clever, stylish, funny, thoughtful, eerie and impressive as hell. I dare anyone who loves film to watch this and not get totally swept up in its imagery and delivery. Sheila Vand, who plays “The Girl” will captivate the viewer with an aura that makes her both alluring and vulnerable.

There is a scene with the actress where she comes in possession of a skateboard. This incident in the film begins on a scary note which suddenly shifts moods. All of the actresses chosen for the three main roles, Rome Shandaloo and Mozhan Marnò and of course Vand, are beautiful women who are impressive actors and not just “pretty faces.”

The lighting for this black and white masterpiece is spot on, with scenes set up by utilizing a delicate balance between light and shadow. The decision to have things go very dark at emotional turning points is a brave one that works extremely well.

Arash Marandi is the male equivalent to Vand’s “Girl” and he is another actor for audiences to keep an eye on. This young man will most assuredly become a star with an appeal not seen since Omar Shariff made people swoon, “back in the day.”

Fans of world cinema will adore this quirky tale, filmed in Persian with subtitles. For those who are not fans of having to read the dialogue at the bottom of the screen, you are missing a brilliant film. It is streaming on Netflix at the moment and well worth the 100 minutes spent watching it.

5 out of 5 stars.

Watch it.

20 May 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Getting My Mojo Back…Sort Of

Trailer for my new channel

Well, it’s been a long time coming, but I’m getting my Mojo back…sort of. For a good while I had a fair presence on the Internet. My blog and two channels on YouTube where I talked about film, one of which was a co-channel with my daughter, who now has a new channel – Critique Quest. On a side note, if you’ve not seen her channel, head on over and subscribe…tell her I sent ya.

My time spent working for the Internet publication that “shall not be named” (Thanks for that little quote Marilyn!) suddenly pared down my contributions for anything other than that particular site. Learning later that the publisher utilized black hat techniques frowned upon by Auntie Google, I was very glad to leave.

Now I’m back on track with having my dulcet tones and balding head back on YouTube. My good friend Jacob Tiranno on Chasing Cinema allowed me the wonderful privilege of being a guest on a number of his podcasts and while one could not feast their eyes on my old-ness, they could hear me. These “appearances” made me yearn for the days when I reviewed favorite films and talked World Cinema.

It has been a while since I left the Vegas area and the publication, but I’ve now sorted out a new channel and will be loading a new video tomorrow and will be attempting to keep this new venue moving. For those who have not seen my announcements via the old channel, here is the link.

If you are not too tired of hearing my opinions and stories on here, please stop by. Kick off your shoes, relax and enjoy yourself. For those who may wonder what I used to sound like in my reviews, check out my old channels, here and here.

Here is the “trailer” to my new channel:

Plus, my “notice” on my old channel (Which explains the different accents):

If you are not “bovvered” by this news, disregard the post and wait. I’ll be doing another one very, very soon.

24 April 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Spring Cleaning in the Middle of Winter & A New Lease on Life

Seems like only yesterday...
Seems like only yesterday…

Okay, not really, it just feels like the middle of winter. Of course the added bonus of the sun shining brightly outside, even though all my toils have been “under-cover” makes my energy levels rise accordingly.

Regardless of how flaming cold it is, and will be throughout the entire month of April the helpful weathermen are saying, my energy level has sky-rocketed. I don’t have quite the high levels that, say, Superman has, but compared to my practically non-existent levels just six and a half months ago, I feel like I should be wearing a cape and my underwear on outside of my clothes. (Any references to a young Madonna will be ignored)

Part of this cleaning frenzy is down to the sunshine and down to the departure of my daughter and her fella who had been living with me. Meg has been living under the same roof as me since she finished uni.  Max was a recent addition to the household while they both searched for their first abode together. I am not intimating that they were messy, it’s just that I couldn’t be bothered to clean around half-filled boxes and piles of items that were awaiting their fate.

The other reason I’ve had this energy boost has to do with the last visit to my surgeon. While I sat there, heart pounding, (which to be fair it always does now after the surgery) we looked at each other wordlessly for a moment. He then grinned and said, “Well, it looks like the tear has healed.”

I sat for another moment, stunned by this information. I looked at him and said, “What??”

He went on to explain that as they could not do  yet another bypass operation around the injured Aorta after they’d torn it, that he decided to “take a chance” and put a couple of stitches in the tear. As he put it, “It couldn’t hurt and at any rate it wouldn’t matter if we had to bypass it later on.”

So, here we are. I’ve been given, in essence, “a break” and despite the fact that I still have damage to my veins and capillaries, etc, that will have to be monitored for the rest of my life, I can now do pretty much anything I want. Even wrestle with prisoners, although with the alarming alacrity that the Prison Service ill-health retired me, I would not want to return to their world.

Call me bitter, but that’s how I feel. I now have to attend some rehabilitation sessions (which they would not book me on before, because they were afraid they were going to kill me) and try to get some sort of work that pays me, before my one-time payment runs out.

I still don’t know what I want to do.

Wow!
Wow!

My options are many, and some, have been most surprising. The wonderfully talented Natasha Harmer over at Films and Things has asked me to be the lead in her new (and first) independent short film Once Bitten, Twice Shy. I accepted with a speed that probably made her immediately regret asking. It will be the first time in a very long time that I have stepped in front of a camera in a professional capacity (I don’t count YouTube). I am excited, nervous and very pleased. I may have to wait for a while as the project is pretty much dependant on the generosity of others for funding.

If you can afford to spare a bob or two (or a buck, guilder, et al) click here and you’ll find the indiegogo site for the film.

I’ve also just started working for the web magazine Rogue Cinema, the main guy what’s in charge Duane L Martin has thrown caution to the wind and allowed me the privilege of writing reviews for his “zine” and I’m tickled to death.

Of course I never would have gotten this great opportunity if it weren’t for Misty Layne over at Cinema Schminema so I have two lovely and talented ladies who are responsible for my life taking a new and exciting turn.

It goes without saying that you really should go and check their sites out and stop by the Rogue Cinema magazine as well. They specialise in independent film and Duane is currently working at a frenzied pace to get this month’s issue out.

Stop by and tell em I sent ya. You won’t get any special treatment if you do, but, it would make me feel good.

In the meantime, I need to cook myself some tea, and then relax. This spring cleaning malarkey is good for building up and appetite and the urge to go lay down on the sofa is becoming too strident to ignore.

Until next time, Ciao and bon appétit!!

Photo on 23-03-2013 at 16.37

The Detective (2007): Pang Bros Noir

The Detective (2007)

I am continually amazed and impressed by the Pang Brothers. Just when I think I’ve seen everything they’ve ever made, another gem and another genre of film pops up out of nowhere. Directed by Oxide Pang and produced/written by both the Pang Brothers, The Detective is film noir at it’s finest.

Set in the back alleys and streets of Bangkok, we follow private detective Tam (Aaron Kwok). Tam’s income as a private detective obviously leaves a lot to be desired. At the beginning of the film Tam is seated behind his desk and his fan is busily rotating back and forth. He suddenly notices that the fan may be moving but the fan blades are not.

After he turns the fan off, a man he knows from a bar comes in and hires Tam to find a woman who, he says, is trying to kill him. He wants Tam to tell her that he (Lung) had nothing to do with the other thing and that she should leave him alone. Tam doubts that Lung is serious, until he pulls a wad of cash out of his pocket and drops it on Tam’s desk. Lung tells him that it is all the money he has.

After taking Lung’s picture, Tam goes to have a bite to eat at a local cafe where he bumps into his childhood friend Chak (Kai Chi Liu) who is on the police force. Tam cannot join the police as his eyesight is very bad. He suffers from extreme short sightedness. After exchanging pleasantries with his friend he pays him back some money he owes him and tells him of his latest case.

Chak jokes that he will be there to help Tam if things get too difficult.

Tam then starts his meticulous investigation and tries to find this nameless woman. As we accompany him on his journey, we learn a lot about Tam and how he works. Pictures are taken of everyone he interviews and everyplace he visits. Not long after he starts questioning people he finds his first lead and his first dead body.

Tam follows more leads, discovers more dead bodies and relentlessly continues trying to find the woman and what her connection is to all the dead people he keeps finding.

The Pang Bros signature is on every scene and every frame of this film. Their usual combination of odd and sometimes oblique camera positions and use of natural lighting helps to sell this ‘noir’ crime story. The plot is full of twists and turns and it will keep you guessing right up until the end.

Aaron Kwok portrays Tam as a likeable and tenacious man who has scars from the disappearance of his parents when he was a child. His character makes mistakes and clearly loves solving the puzzles he encounters. Tam is  the Sam Spade of Bangkok if not in action, he definitely has the spirit of Spade in him.

The whole film shows Tam’s process of following first one clue then another and going through each step of his investigation as logically as he can. He pretends to be a policeman when this can help him in his pursuit. Despite being told off by his friend Chak for impersonating a police officer, he continues to use this ruse several times.

Inspector Chak and Tam

The list of suspects and the elusive woman who Tam has been hired to find makes for a very satisfactory mix of intrigue, mystery, danger and confusion. Despite the fact that this noir crime thriller doesn’t fall into the usual catalogue of Pang Bros films, it does follow their winning formula of good story, good characters, great cinematic moments and a very satisfying ending.

My final verdict is that this film is one to see. Put on your noir thinking cap and enjoy this twisting and turning journey.