Category Archives: Punk

Trailer Review

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) 3.03/5 (17)

 

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Rating: The Good – 83.5
Genre: Action, Science Fiction
Duration: 120 mins
Director: George Miller
Stars: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult

Few films have been as eagerly awaited as the fourth instalment in the Mad Max franchise, not simply because of its jaw dropping series of trailers but because the highly selective George Miller, who hasn’t put a foot wrong since the third offering, was back behind the wheel determined to shoot the entire thing old school. Under a sand storm of hype, it opened to resounding commercial success with glowing critical reviews hot on its tail. Amidst such expectations, it’s possible for fans of the genre to be overly forgiving and for its disciples to be overly harsh. And it may just be that both will have a case.

In Mel Gibson’s place, Fury Road gives us an overtly (but appropriately) monosyllabic Tom Hardy as the former family man roaming the wasteland of a post apocalyptic Australia while dodging one manic tribe of lunatics after another. A self-described personification of the will to survive. When he’s captured by Hugh Keays-Byrne’s Immortan Joe, the leader of a cult like settlement of high octane warriors who turn him into a “blood-bag” (don’t ask!), he inadvertently gets dragged into an epic desert pursuit of Immortan’s wives fleeing under the protection of his most famous soldier, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron). Fear not if the premise feels a little bewildering, for it’s used to do little more than provide an admirably modest funnel for the high-gear auto carnage that runs non-stop for the first 45 minutes of the movie not to mention the final 25. Contrary to much of what we’ve heard, there’s plenty of CGI but it’s used on the periphery of the invigorating real life stunt work. The result: a feast of cranked-up, rust-eaten behemoths cutting swathes of dust trails through the Nambian desert, sideswiping, spearing, devouring the gravel, flipping like tossed coins, and exploding into rocketing balls of shrapnel! Within the wonderfully narrow parameters of the pursuit, and with no small help from John Seale’s (who came out of retirement to shoot this) cinematography, Miller brings this action to life with with hectic tension and pure excitement and there will come a moment when everyone watching will look away to give their eyes a rest and use that brief reprieve to exhale the words “Bloody hell!” or something along those lines. In the modern age of generic computerised action and simulated movie stunts, this isn’t just rare achievement, it’s a downright reason for celebration. More than that, it’s the blueprint for the future of the action genre!

But it gets better! The characters (though not well developed – wrong movie for that) are plump with personality and coloured with unusual mannerisms befitting a world so different to ours. And it’s in this regard, that writer-director Miller succeeds most impressively. For the first two acts, Fury Road completely owns itself. Dialogue, set-up, plot, characterisation, production and costume design are uniquely organic to Max’s anarchic world, meaning there’s a depth of originality to the movie that’s truly rare. Beyond an awareness that the three main characters are going to make it at least to the last act, little else is predictable. Even Hardy’s Max persona is unfamiliar, an erratic collage of communicative grunts and base intentions (to the extent that he sometimes sounds like a befuddled cartoon character). It’s missing the outback spirit of Gibson’s portrayal but it’s so damn wacky, it seems somehow more in line with this more deranged world. Theron’s Furiosa is played somewhat more accessibly than Miller’s character concept but she is nothing close to derivative in her mannerisms (though in all honesty, she’s still a little bland). Keays-Byrne (Toe-Cutter from the first film) is a law onto himself so its unsurprising that his Immortan Joe qualifies as unique. But that he (and again Miller’s character conception helps abundantly) represents the horror of this futuristic world so viscerally is legitimately arresting. Of course, as is the point, this degree of originality all adds to the integrity of the premise.

Where the film fails to reach the high ground of The Road Warrior and Mad Max, however, is in its final act. Maintaining a single link between premise and pursuit in the first half of the movie worked a treat so it’s all the more disappointing that they went overboard in explaining the motives of the final charge. Worse still is that those motives are no different to the motives of any number of post-apocalyptic characters from Logan’s Run to Battlestar Galactica. With each heartfelt emotion and yearning for a life of green and plenty we get slowly drawn back to normality and everything seems less exotically savage. Miller is essentially repeating the mistakes of Beyond the Thunderdome here. Letting familiar sentimentality intrude on a world where it doesn’t belong. There can be sentiment, for sure, but it should bear the hallmarks of its world’s stripped-down motives. Like those that carried us through the first two acts: survival with a splash of self-determination. Max says it himself in his opening monologue:- he is driven by the instinct to survive and nothing more. As streamlined and action-friendly a motive as you could hope for, an idea which the first two acts champion (to the film’s emphatic benefit) but which the last act loses grasp of. It doesn’t ruin the film, it just tempers its brilliance.

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The Lost Boys (1987)

 

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Rating: The Good – 77.8
Genre: Horror
Duration: 97  mins
Director: Joel Schumacher
Stars: Jason Patric, Kiefer Sutherland, Corey Haim, Dianne Wiest

The film that redefined the vampire genre by blending the traditional mythology with the swagger and verve of MTV Generation. Two brothers move to Santa Carlo with their mother to make a fresh start only to fall afoul of a group of troublemaking bikers who have a penchant for sleeping upside down and drinking blood. Although it’s over twenty years old now, The Lost Boys has lost none of its coolness thanks chiefly to its terrific soundtrack. The actors were a who’s who of up-and-comers at that time and armed with the witty script they give the movie a refreshing vibe. Jason Patric and Corey Haim are great together as the brothers, Diane Wiest is (as always) excellent as the mother, while Kiefer Sutherland chews the scenery as the charismatic leader of the vampire gang.

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Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981) 4.93/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Good – 90
Genre: Action
Duration: 94 mins
Director: George Miller
Stars: Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence, Michael Preston

George Miller’s post-apocalyptic sequel picks up with the psychologically scarred Max after he takes the last of the V8 Interceptors deep into the Australian wasteland. A wasteland where life is ruled by a constant search for fuel and the desperate avoidance of the anarchic tribes bent on taking everything. The Road Warrior is quite possibly the most original and compelling post-apocalyptic film ever made as writer-director Miller dials up the action and Mel Gisbon responds with the performance of his career. As an action movie, it’s a startling achievement as Miller brings a thunderous and near crazed momentum to the desert roads with the end product being a searing and relentless white hot ball of road fury. The stunt choreography has never been bettered and the sense of foreboding and terror that comes with being an inhabitant in that world is palpable. Astonishing.

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Escape From L.A. (1996) 3.43/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The Good – 74.7
Genre: Science Fiction
Duration: 101  mins
Director: John Carpenter
Stars: Kurt Russell, Steve Buscemi, Stacy Keach, Pam Grier

Kurt Russell is back as Snake Plissken 16 years after the original only this time L.A. is the penal fortress and instead of the President he needs to recover a doomsday weapon. John Carpenter and co-writer Russell were having a lot of fun with this one and they really quite bravely used it as a means of poking fun at the nature of sequels and at Hollywood blockbusters in general. Escape From L.A. pushes the boundaries of satire to their limits (to the point where some people didn’t realise the film was a satire!) as Snake takes on a South American drug lord in a series of set-piece scenes each more mad-cap than the last. The dialogue is as cool as ever, the wit is razor-sharp, that iconic score is back (if not slightly re-imagined), and there’s a host of great actors from Pam Grier to Steve Buscemi on show. What more could you ask for? How about one of the great sci-fi endings? Okay, you got it!

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Escape From New York (1981) 4.48/5 (3)

 

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Rating: The Good – 86.5
Genre: Science Fiction
Duration: 99  mins
Director: John Carpenter
Stars: Kurt Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Harry Dean Stanton

John Carpenter’s (partly) tongue-in-cheek, seminal sci-fi classic is set in the not too distant future (in fact it’s come and gone) when New York has been turned into an island prison run by the inmates and plagued by all sorts of horrors such as marauding gangs of underground cannibals and people with awful fashion sense. Kurt Russell plays the iconic Snake Plissken, war hero turned criminal, who is given the opportunity to escape life on the island if he rescues the President whose plane has just crash landed there.

Punk sci-fi might seem dated now but it was in movies like this and Mad Max where it crept into our subconscious. Carpenter was always an expert at giving his films an off-kilter feel and this is wonderfully realised here. The extraordinary set-design along with the miniature modelling and matte painting of New York all combine to feed this sense of other-worldliness and the result is a film unlike anything we’ve seen before or since. The film also plays well on cinematic stereotypes with Russell’s performance in particular being a delicious nod to those conventions that are closest to our hearts. There are many straight-up funny moments thanks primarily to Plissken’s no-nonsense/no-patience demeanour but Donald Pleasance and the great Ernest Borgnine are also a howl. The support players in general are brilliant and how great was it to see Lee van Cleef given another dose of scenery to chew on?

Escape from New York is classic Carpenter. The palpable attitude, the way it all plays out so unorthodoxly, according to its own rules. It’s much more than a movie built around a great antihero as the film’s architecture reflects Snake’s personality on a grander scale. In the same way that there are superhero movies, Escape From New York is an antihero movie. In fact, it’s *the* antihero movie. Critics of this movie almost invariably bemoan the absence of the formulaic signature gloss of modern Hollywood pictures, claiming there are too many moments and incidents irrelevant to the plot (talk about not getting the point and behaving like a child watching a cartoon!). These are the concerns of the movie-going consumer zombie who (by lining up for one Hollywood dross-fest after another) is responsible for the decline of the industry into remake purgatory and reboot hell. The simple fact is that movies, at their essence, are about imagination and originality and Escape from New York is a testament to that ideal.

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The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011) 3.47/5 (3)

 

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Rating: The Good – 78.9
Genre: Thriller, Mystery
Duration: 158 mins
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer

With Zodiac and particularly The Social Network, David Fincher was proving that he was maturing beyond the edgy young talent who created Fight Club and Seven to a genuinely masterful and commanding director. Thus, when news broke that he was going to remake Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo only two years after the Swedish adaptation, one could be forgiven for assuming he had a dramatic reinterpretation in mind. After all, the book was hardly literary perfection and the Swedish film had already and very recently presented a faithful adaptation. Add to that Fincher’s own claim that this movie would be his “Chinatown” and there was reason to be very excited indeed. Of course, Fincher was never a writer but he certainly imposes his style on the structuring of his films and he’s demonstrated on numerous occasions that he should have the sensibilities to spot the weaker elements to the Larsson story.

Surprisingly, Fincher and writer Steven Zaillian had no such reinterpretation in mind but as it turns out, that’s not what this story needed. What it needed was a sophisticated story teller who could plum the rich depths which the book only ever really pointed towards. And that’s exactly what Fincher did. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is an ultra slick and cinematically luscious version of the original adaptation which embraces the more idiosyncratic nature of the original story but gives it a steely focus. Like the book and the original adaptation, the three main plots (Lisbeth Salander’s ordeal with her new guardian; Blomkvist’s search for Harriet Vagner’s killer; and his quest to prove his innocence in the liable case) are all present and run in parallel to each other linked through the same overt manoeuvres used by the book. We have the same ‘false’ final act (including the bizarre shift in gears towards popcorn serial killer movie mode) followed by the actual final act where the most interesting plot conclusion is wrapped up in a mere 15 minutes. Given the sprawling and eccentric nature of the story, one might wonder how Fincher turned this into the focused and immersive experience it is. The answer lies in the force of Fincher’s vision and the meticulous craftsmanship which it stimulated from every corner of the film-making process.

From Fincher’s perceptive framing and composition to Rooney Mara’s electric portrayal of the disturbed young woman at the centre of the story, this film is immaculate in its execution. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ scene-bridging score is softly energetic and combined with Kirk Baxter’s and Angus Wall’s editing, it commendably ties the various and not always complementary subplots together so that Fincher’s steady, unerring, and magnetic momentum is maintained. Under the auspices of Fincher’s commanding direction, Jeff Cronenweth’s polished cinematography and Donald Graham Burt’s rich yet stark production design lure us into Larsson’s depraved world of corporate corruption, rape, and serial murderers to the point that we don’t mind being there –  a rare achievement. The acting is first class throughout with Daniel Craig’s Blomkvist being a fine counterpoint to Mara’s lethally focused Salander while Zaillian’s screenplay seems to add layers of intrigue to every last one of the characters. Combined, these forces seem to imbue the film with a richness and substance that bootstraps the story onto another plane.

For all its focus, there are some peculiarities which require addressing. In this day and age, when audiences are used to reading subtitles even on television shows (many of them Scandinavian), the decision to set and partially shoot this film in Sweden but have American, English, Canadian, and even Swedish actors all speaking English in Swedish-ish accents is a little perplexing. Some might argue that the use of English and consequent lack of subtitles is a plus but, from an intellectual point of view, that’s difficult to defend. The question must be asked therefore, if the film must be shot in English, could it not have been set in northern Canada where a similar geographical and meteorological atmosphere to the book could be maintained? After all, the themes addressed here are universal and not distinctly Swedish.

In the final analysis, Fincher’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is an eminently slick thriller and a marvelous piece of entertainment. It’s easily one of the better thrillers of 2011 and may even be one of the better thrillers in recent decades. More importantly, however, it is a testament to the power of a great director working over a talented cast and crew.

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The Warriors (1979) 3.71/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The Good – 75.9
Genre: Action
Duration: 92 mins
Director: Walter Hill
Stars: Michael Beck, James Remar, Dorsey Wright

The Warriors is set in a New York of an unspecified time where the city has been overrun with different gangs who are all at war with each other. The opening scene follows the various gangs as they each make their way to a mass gathering where a charismatic leader attempts to bring them together under one banner. Not long into the meeting, however, he is assassinated and the Warriors of Coney Island find themselves framed for the murder. The story then follows the Warriors as they make their way back to their own turf on foot through the territory of different enemy gangs all bent on destroying them. Walter Hill’s seminal film was the immediate forerunner to cyberpunk classics such as Escape from New York and Blade Runner and it was really quite edgy on its release. It’s also one hell of an action film with some genuinely astounding action sequences. This is thanks mainly to Hill’s experimental directorial style but also to some great stunt choreography. The movie has a built-in cartoon quality which adds a lot of humour at the right times, although this might have been to assuage real anxieties of the time when gang culture was beginning to pose a serious and foreboding threat. However, social commentaries aside, this is pure entertainment and on that note it doesn’t disappoint for a second.

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Savage Streets (1984) 2.29/5 (4)

 

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Rating: The Ugly – 65.3
Genre: Action
Duration: 93 mins
Director: Danny Steinmann
Stars: Linda Blair, John Vernon, Robert Dryer

Glossy 1980’s exploitation flick which has Linda Blair in firecracker mode and taking on a local gang after they raped her deaf sister. Savage Streets is marked by a protracted build-up. We follow Blair and her girlfriends around as they go to school and get involved in nudity-resulting cat-fights. We watch them as they party around town, commit disco and fashion crimes, and run afoul of the local punk gang called the “Scars”.

There’s no deep character construction here nor is their much in the way of plot set-up. But there’s a broad sense of fun to it, which sets the tone for the remainder of the film. This of course stops the story (which by itself should be intensely disturbing) from becoming too dark and it gives the ensuing vengeance a more frivolous feel. This is a defining feature of some of the great exploitation flicks like Coffy or Foxy Brown in that what would be seriously dark and anchoring material in any other genre, is somehow neutralised by the inherently exploitative nature of the piece. However, whereas the latter films had the sharp personality of Pam Grier to give them a focus point, Blair’s appeal is as nondescript as the the rest of the film leaving Savage Streets to be enjoyed (or not) entirely on that level. That’s not a criticism per se because Blair’s appeal is there but like many of the 80’s films, the gloss is more important than the substance.

As leader of the Scars, Robert Dryer gives as ham-fisted a villain as you’ll find in movies from this era (and that’s saying something) but there’s enough malevolence in it to hook the audience and give the key scenes a sarcastic sense of danger. The same goes for the rest of his gang and there are some interesting dynamics played out within the gang that are quite considerately (given the nature of exploitation films) given time to breathe and develop.

Danny Steinmann’s stewardship falls mostly between the levels of basic and competent but there are a couple of sequences such as a well constructed body-off-bridge murder scene which show touches of inspiration. That said, the ending which involves a leather-clad Blair armed with crossbow and bear traps is so firmly camped (no pun intended – seriously) in outrageous territory that any hints of directorial style take backstage to the wilfully inane.  All in all, Savage Streets is an eminently enjoyable but trashy teenage crime feature defined by an easy personality.

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Class of 1984 (1982) 3.36/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Good – 70.3
Genre: Crime, Action
Duration: 98 mins
Director: Mark L. Lester
Stars: Perry King, Merrie Lynn Ross, Timothy Van Patten

Perry King stars as a school teacher who finds his new school much more than he bargained for when the worst of its teenage gangs begins a vendetta against him led by their magnetic and viscous leader (Timothy Van Patten). Class of 1984 was made in 1982 so technically the events take place in the future but this isn’t really a science fiction film. It strikes a similar vibe to Walter Hill’s The Warriors by colourfully playing with the possibilities of where the gang culture of the early 80’s was heading. That said, Class of 1984 is far more extreme in where it takes those predictions (with stark echoes of A Clockwork Orange) as it gleefully dives head first into exploitation cinema and does a decent job too.

Writer Tom Holland (the man behind Fright Night) and director Mark Lester (him behind Commando) could’ve easily turned this into a farce but behind all its 1980’s glossy future-punk, this is an intense watch. Similarly, the dialogue is quite low key but there’s an uncomfortable desolation to it and when spat from the mouths of the well drawn punk kids, it becomes wonderfully acidic. Van Patten is tremendous as the deranged and dangerous Stegman who surely must go down as one of the great movie villains, rated or under-rated. Moreover, his posse aren’t just the usual faceless henchmen as they are each nicely developed and mutually complementing in their individual thuggery. King too is very watchable as he follows the Gregory Peck school of acting, portraying the man who finds his strength in his morals. He is also supported well by Roddy McDowall’s delicious turn as his world-weary colleague.

Ultimately, despite its obvious similarity to aforementioned classics, Holland and Lester had their own idea about this movie and they went with it. Yes, much of it comes across as pure 80’s cheese but it’s undeniably a unique movie which plays ferociously on sensationalist themes. In other words, it’s a fine exploitation flick!

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