Category Archives: 2010s

Apollo 11 (2019)

Director: Todd Douglas Miller

I couldn’t let Gibson’s gorefest be the only film I watched in 2019, and I thought it was high time I actually watched something new, given that I haven’t watched any new films since 2016, hence tonight’s viewing. Of course, tonight’s film was actually shot entirely in 1969, so… so much for “new”? Whatever.

Anyway, Todd Miller had apparently just finished making a film on Apollo 17 when someone suggested he tackle 11 as well, and while preparing it a bunch of never-used 65mm film footage was unearthed. Alongside the normal 16 and 35 film plus video, this gives an added sense of awe to an otherwise fairly straightforward film. Don’t know why but the launchpad footage in particular and the shots of the many and varied spectators watching (and recording—the only difference between these people and our generation, clearly, is that they used actual cameras, both film and still) the event put me in mind of Koyaanisqatsi for some reason.

I say straightforward because that’s what it is; Miller opted for the Senna approach of sticking only to the original video and audio and not adding new interviews or narration; all he adds is some diagram animation and captions (which I only wish he’d made a bit larger; they weren’t easily read on the TV screen). It doesn’t really need anything else, though, does it? There’s other documentaries about the space program that do that; I like Miller’s decision to just let the original footage tell the story and watch it unfold without comment. And at 93 minutes it’s finely proportioned and never dull.

And OH how good is that original footage? Scrubbed up beautifully (the video footage from the Apollo cabin and the closed-circuit TV cameras around the launch site looks genuinely remarkable for its age, quite apart from being impressive that it exists at all), the whole film looks amazing, glad I got it on blu-ray. The film might be fairly and straightforward with what it does, but there’s also something thrilling and moving about it as the flight moves through its various stages, from leaving the Earth to landing on the Moon to the lunar module rejoining the command module and the final splashdown.

And also terribly saddening in a way. Cos with hindsight we know now that, in many respects the whole Apollo program was a bit of a Cold War stunt by the Americans to finally actually beat the Soviets at something in space, though obviously that doesn’t take away from the American achievement (the joy at mission control was well-earned). And I grew up in the 80s when there was still some excitement about that… I mean, yeah, there was also the very real threat of nuclear annihilation before we got back into space, but there was also the feeling that we would actually do so nonetheless. We had probes going to the outer planets, and if we hadn’t returned to the Moon since 1972, not to worry. We’d be back there soon enough. There was a vision there.

Not any more. I mean, even at the time there was criticism (not unjustified) that the money spent on the Moon mission could’ve been better spent improving conditions on Earth, but there was still the sense that the knowledge we would gain from the mission was important however much it cost, that the science was worth it in and of itself and would, you know, actually make humanity better. Not any more. In just half a century we’ve slumped into an age where science doesn’t matter to people any more, blowing up the Middle East is more important than anything, and shit like the flat Earth has staged a comeback. However much it may have been driven by political ambition in real terms, there was still a vision to the space race and a sense that it would take us somewhere. I haven’t felt that for a long time, it’s not like people—at least not the ones in a positiont to do anything useful—even seem to care about making this world better instead. Enjoy this film if you watch it too. It’s good to remember that at least at some point this sort of thing mattered.

Red Christmas (2016)

Director: Craig Anderson

I don’t often engage in “Christmassy” things, cos I’m not particularly into Christmas itself, but eh… thought I might make an exception and watch this (which is itself something of an exception to my general rule this year of not watching stuff of any sort). And, yeah, I probably shouldn’t have bothered… I was expecting a bit more in the way of comedy for some reason, possibly because director Anderson’s background is TV comedy (things like Black Comedy, Maximum Choppage, Double the Fist), and partly because the premise is fucking deranged; basically we’re dealing with a slasher film in which the killer is an aborted foetus that somehow survived, grew up, and is now out for revenge on mummy dearest. (And the foetus is called Cletus. Amazing.) That idea is so brilliant that it’s such a shame the film is, really, just a slasher film after all (it’s also one of those old school-style Ozsploitation films that evidently brings in an American lead actor—Dee Wallace in this case—mainly if not solely to help sell the film in the US). A perfectly competently made one (the rather strident and bold use of colour in the second half of the film is really striking), but that’s all.

As a study of the ramifications of abortion, it’s obviously lacking in subtlety, though the question of whether it swings pro-choice or against it isn’t terribly clear-cut… you can’t really call any of the characters particularly sympathetic—apart from Jerry who has Down’s Syndrome; this is a quite lovely performance (much the best one in the film) by Gerard Odwyer, and he gets probably the best scene in the film when he discovers just why mother dearest chose to terminate her youngest child—and that includes Cletus; unlikable as the rest of the family kind of is, it’s weirdly hard to feel for him when he’s slicing them up just for having the temerity to have, you know, lived (the first victim, too, is the adopted daughter). Basically I think I just wanted something kind of epic trash from Red Christmas, mostly because of the berserk central premise, and I didn’t really get it; obviously you can take a berserk central premise and play it fairly straight and do so effectively, but here I think a more excessive and black comedic approach might’ve served it better.

A Serbian Film (2010)

Director: Srdjan Spasojevic

Well, HERE’s a bit of a change in pace from our last couple of items… a film I’m pleased to finally wipe off my ever-increasing backlog (just because I’ve hardly been watching anything for months doesn’t mean I haven’t stopped accruing new things to watch, even if it will take me the rest of my useless life to do so) and will be even happier to wipe off my hard drive and never see again. WHAT A PIECE OF SHIT, and that also goes for the people who made it. By now I suspect this film’s many and varied censorship woes around the world (obviously including this crappy country, where it’s banned not only uncut but in two separate censored versions, one of which was actually passed and nearly released before the OFLC review board stepped in) don’t really need to be recounted here, the film’s Wiki entry will do that just fine… let’s just say it both does and doesn’t earn its reputation for hideousness.

I’m willing to bet that director Spasojevic took at least some inspiration from Gaspar Noé, even if it was only to set about making something even more fucked and extreme than the latter’s work, and, if you believe him, he was also motivated to make some sort of political commentary on the state of modern Serbia. Which is as may be, but any such commentary the film throws up—basically, the rape/snuff film our former porn star “hero” finds himself roped into making is supposed to be a metaphor for how the country fucks its people or something—is hammer-handed enough to make Cannibal Holocaust look subtle and sincere. As for the actual content on screen… yikes. Actually, while most commentary on the film brings up such obvious things as, you know, the “newborn porn” business and the climactic skull-fucking, I was personally more repulsed by the opening business where the child is watching one of his dad’s old starring efforts and, frankly, it has a certain effect on him. Serbian authorities apparently investigated the film over crimes about protecting minors, and I’m not entirely sure I disagree with them for doing so.

But it’s so BORING. And I probably should’ve expected that; in my experience, self-conscious censor bait such as this, especially in the last couple of decades, generally proves to be hugely tedious once you get past the shock value. Indeed, I actually probably found Serbian Film more repugnant in theory than in practice, and was kind of surprised by how comparatively not extreme it is. I’m not saying that just to sound like some jaded aesthete of extremity who can only get it up these days to actual death footage or something; the vile stuff is clearly there but the actual on-screen depiction of it was actually not as explicit as I’d expected. I mean, there’s no actual peen shown in the excerpts from our hero’s porn career that we see, that’s more about the off-screen sounds. Actually, there’s not a lot of overt cock in general, and the aforementioned climactic skull-fucking just looks… kind of ridiculous. And once you strip away that sort of thing, there is fuck all else going on it.

Unlike this reviewer, with whom I am otherwise in broad agreement, I have no problems attacking Spasojevic personally for making this; I suspect the man is an absolutely complete scumbag and moral vacuum, and if he were to meet the fate of the filmmaker character in his film, I for one would not exactly be sorry to see him go. Shitty, vacuous exploitation of the most cynical sort; fuck this film and everyone involved in it.

This is Not a Film (2011)

“Directors”: Jafar Panahi, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb

Which kind of begs the question “well what the hell IS it, then?” One thing I’m fairly sure it’s not, at least not entirely, is a documentary, at least in a conventional sense; apparently it was filmed over a number of days rather than actually being the “day in the life” it purports to be, for one thing. So what is it? Well, basically, it’s a filmmaker making a film he’s not supposed to be making… Jafar Panahi is now one of the most famous cases (outside of Soviet-era eastern European cinema) of a government (Iran) cracking down on one of its national artists; in 2010, after years of run-ins with Iranian censors, he was not only sentenced to six years in jail but also banned from making films for 20 years. In the meantime, he’s under house arrest, which is how we first meet him, and I have to be honest and say house arrest for Panahi frankly looks… not uncomfortable (I mean, I don’t have a wall-mounted flat-screen TV). But, obviously, it’s still a narrow and limited world for him. So what’s a filmmaker to do when he can’t make films? Make a non-film…?

There’s a key moment early in the film where Panahi watches a scene from one of his earlier films, Mirror, in which the child actress ostensibly has a bit of a freakout and refuses to act any more, whereupon that film suddenly turns “real”. Which I gather it wasn’t, but anyway it opens up the question of how much of This is Not a Film can necessarily be called real. Cos there’s an undeniable air of artifice to proceedings, which the film partly acknowledges when Panahi declares his unhappiness with the shots of his daily routine at the start of it. But what about after that? How much of the film becomes “real” once co-director Mirtahmasb joins Panahi? Well, one thing at least: Mirtahmasb jokes at one point about falling foul of the authorities himself, which would in fact happen to him a few months later on another production… and there’s one hilarious bit where Panahi’s neighbour asks him to babysit their dog for an hour or so and the dog goes into a clearly unscriped rage at being on camera… A certain portion is taken up by a real film that isn’t, Panahi describing the script of another film he was banned from making, but it’s hard to tell if even this is 100% authentic or contrived to enhance the point about censorship.

It’s the last scene, however, when Mirtahmasb is leaving and the garbage collector comes in to collect Panahi’s waste, and the latter decides to follow him down in the lift. Something about this seems so natural, partly because most of it plays out in one extremely long uncut shot, that it’s hard to believe it’s not an actual moment of reality… at least until it gets to the bit where the young man encounters the aforementioned dog, and something about that felt just a little too neat. Maybe it was, maybe not. On the whole, a strange and not entirely satisfying experience that I clearly don’t know how to fully process, though one helped by its brief runtime…

Wyrmwood (2014)

Director: Kiah Roache-Turner

This reminds me of Undead in several ways; apart from the whole Australian zombie movie thing, there’s also the whole kind of homemade aspect as well. In this case, the brothers Roache-Turner apparently set out to make their opus in six months for just $20,000; that actually turned out nearer $150,000 and four years. Persistence surely paid off, though, cos—and this is the other way it reminds me of Undead—it’s a shitload of fun. Albeit very thinly explained fun; if Undead‘s alien visitation was clear enough, the meteor shower that somehow triggers an outbreak of zombies in the sticks of Victoria—yeah, we’re going there again for a second night in a row—is somewhat more obscure (one character compares it to the falling star in Revelations, but God Almighty never appears at any point to confirm the theory). And we never do quite find out what the doctor’s experiments are really for, do we… What Wyrmwood may lack in motivation, though, it makes up for in spades with gore, character and overall vigour, and an occasionally black humour that kind of arises from what I can only call the “Australianness” of the thing. This is what separates it from Charlie’s Farm from last night; the latter could just as easily have been set in the US without even having to rewrite the script that much, whereas you couldn’t transplant this quite so easily cos there’s something specifically Australian about the characters, how they behave, how they speak (e.g. Frank’s deathless “this is bullshit”). Leon Burchill as Benny, goddamn. I want to see him in everything now (I now see he’s in Stone Bros, which I was needing to check out anyway). And though you can see various homages to other movies of this sort, this film’s original contributions to the genre—particularly the use of zombie blood as fuel—are delightful. More blase than most films about such niceties as plot, coherence, etc, but an awful lot of fun. Will be interested to see what the RTs do next…

Charlie’s Farm (2014)

Director: Chris Sun

The DVD packaging for this film prints a couple of enthusiastic critical notices, including this one which calls it the very thing the slasher genre was needing… by which I can only assume what the genre was lacking was rural Victorian settings (as in the Australian state, not 19th century Britain), cos otherwise I’m damned if I can think of anything else this film did that was, you know, new in any way. Otherwise it ticks most of the usual cliché boxes… bunch of young folk bumming around rural Victoria go to visit the farm of the title, where some 30 years earlier there was a bit of a massacre… cos the farmer and his wife were, shall we say, fucked, and they liked to kill and eat travellers who came their way. So the locals eventually up and killed them, but they missed the somewhat backwards child, Charlie, who’s said by some to still lurk around the old farm. And those people are right, as our Expendable Meat… er, heroes eventually discover. That other enthusiastic critical notice I mentioned can be found here, “Charlie’s Farm is the R rated film Australia has been dying to see”, and insofar as we don’t actually get a lot of R-rated films any more (I actually just did a check of the OFLC website; of the last 250 decisions listed on the site, I think only 6 things were rated R and only one of those was an actual film. The MA rating covers a lot of the old R-rating’s sins), that may or may not be fair… but if it is, damn, we’re evidently starved for something. I’ll give Charlie’s Farm points for what it does right, mostly Charlie himself—impressively massive and well made-up—plus the gore is reasonable and it nicely… subverts, shall we say, the final girl trope. Good Christ, though, until Charlie does finally go rampant in the last half hour, it’s as dull as duckshit; apart from him dispatching a couple of other backpackers before the credits and the flashback to the townsfolk killing the farmer and his wife, bugger all actually happens. It’s a crushingly long setup to establish some characters of not much interest before they get wiped out, and Charlie himself hardly constitutes a character as such, we’re not dealing with Mick Taylor here… Yeah, a bit bullshit. Director Chris Sun is apparently off to the US soon, where he’ll probably do better churning this sort of crap out than he will here… this does not inspire me to check out his other work, though.

Big Ass Spider! (2013)

Director: Mike Mendez

Apparently this film’s distributors wanted to retitle it as Mega Spider, but director Mendez fought to keep his preferred title—exclamation mark and all—on the grounds that it was the “right” one. And that logic is hard to argue with, since Big Ass Spider! really is the right one; indeed, the exclamation mark is what makes it so. As with Zombeavers, the title sums up what’s on offer, in this case a MOTHERFUCKING BIG BUG running rampant… and yeah, I know I’ve spoken before about my, er, issues with the descendants of Arachne, but in this case we’re kind of in Horrors of Spider Island territory, where the beast is so patently not real (albeit not as unrealistic as in the older film) that it didn’t trigger the same sort of AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH! response from me that a real one would do. In this case, the spider is an unfortunate side effect of an experiment in using growth hormones from alien biological material to create bigger and better food to solve world hunger; in short, not unlike Tarantula except played far more for comedy. Our hero is a kind of schlubby everyman, a pest exterminator called Alex who finds himself investigating an apparent big spider at a hospital and who finds it’s actually a lot worse than anyone realises. Alex and his ethnic comedy stereotype sidekick have to find a way to squish this thing, and fast, cos she’s growing exponentially and she’s got eggs to lay… Indeed, the astounding speed with which the initially smallish bug becomes big ass is kind of matched by the storytelling; it’s not done in “real time”, but it certainly doesn’t drag its feet in getting down to business, and all is admirably over and done with in 80 minutes or so. Unabashedly B, marred by particularly shitty CGI gore, but quite a fun watch.

What We Do in the Shadows (2014)

Directors: Jemaine Clement & Taika Waititi

There was news a few days ago about this becoming a TV series, and somehow I wasn’t surprised to hear it; having actually seen the film now, I find myself even less surprised. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the film acts like a series pilot as I said about Megaforce the other day, cos it is pretty self-contained and doesn’t feel like it’s trying to be that. And yet, watching it, I couldn’t help but feel it’d actually work better in serial form. The premise is splendid, a documentary crew (who remain offscreen) follow a group of vampires (two of them played by the directors) who live together in a flat in Wellington, with complications ensuing when one turns a prospective meal into another vampire who then brings a human mate with him when they go on their nocturnal adventures, and who makes the even bigger mistake of, you know, actually telling people he’s a vampire. The film is pretty episodic and not really narrative-driven as such; it’s far more about the characters, and the characters are terrific, not just our three leads but the secondary ones as well… particularly the werewolves (“not swearwolves!”), who I can imagine being bigger parts in the TV version. There is much charm to it, a lot of fun to be had with the genre tropes (the vampires struggling to be invited into nightclubs, the werewolves dealing with practicalities like what clothes to wear at transformation time) and some fairly simple but great effects (e.g. when Nick starts turning into a vampire and his reflection in the bathroom mirror is out of sync with him). Going to be very interested to see how the TV version pans out.

Zombeavers (2014)

Director: Jordan Rubin

It was Tim at Antagony’s kind of glowing review that made me reconsider this one. Cos I’d seen the DVD on the shelves at my local JB Hifi and, you know, naturally assumed it had to be shit. You would, wouldn’t you? But Tim being into it made me think “hmm, must be something to it after all”, and so I bought it. I liked the fact that it was inexpensive, and I appreciated it being under 80 minutes long. And, well, yeah, it actually was worth whatever I paid for it, perfect for a Saturday afternoon. It’s… high-concept, to say the least. The title tells you absolutely fucking everything about the film; there’s no metaphor or subtext or poetry, it’s about beavers turned into undead horrors by chemical waste. You know EXACTLY what you’re in for, and the film delivers on its absurd premise with a kind of trashy magnificence. The impressive thing is that it’s quite watchable despite almost none of the human characters being particularly likeable, which is usually a sticking point for me, but they go about being unlikeable with some verve that’s kind of winning. Obviously this is not a film about which a lot really needs to be said—I direct you to Tim’s review above for more analysis if you want it—but it’s appealing in its low-budget ludicrousness and in the joy it takes in its own silliness, and especially the brevity with which it goes about its business: quick set-up, introduce characters and setting, sic zombie beavers on them, all over and done with in 77 minutes including credits and post-film bloopers. That sort of efficiency is something worth learning from.

Yakuza Apocalypse (2015)

Director: Takashi Miike

The current challenges at the ICM forum are action films and Japanese cinema, plus there’s an ongoing challenge for films from this decade. This film handily ticks all three of the boxes, which was, to be honest, possibly the main reason I watched this… I’ve not been enamoured of Miike before, but, admittedly, I’ve only seen three of his films (plus his segment of Three Extremes) and that’s not quite enough to form a serious opinion on someone with a hundred directorial credits on IMDB, but I also know two of those films I disliked (Audition and Ichi the Killer—can’t remember what I thought of Katakuris, which is the third full Miike I’ve seen) are among his best regarded, so… Anyway, I don’t think this really endeared me to him any further. It’s a genre mashup of the sort he evidently likes, being essentially a yakuza movie with vampires. The top yakuza in this particular town just so happens to be undead, yes. Unfortunately he’s not indestructible, as we find when some never fully identified other organisation sends specially armed assassins to wipe him out. But! He manages to pass on his powers to his lieutenant, who doesn’t really know how to use them and inadvertently creates a plague of other yakuza vampires. And that’s about as much of it as makes sense; around that point Miike seems to have decided coherence be damned, cos I’m buggered if I can work out exactly who’s on what side and why anything in particular is happening… By the time the main villain—a martial arts master in a giant frog costume—is introduced, there’s obviously no going back, until it culminates in an ending that could most charitably be called not really an ending. The whole thing is undeniably looney, but equally the madness almost never feels anything but contrived and forced, and the film is so enervatingly long that it becomes kind of insufferable long before said non-ending. So yeah, another not-exactly-a-hit for me with Miike. At some point I suppose I may find something in that filmography I like, but I’m not hurrying to find out…

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