Tag Archives: gooey

Tag (Riaru onigokko)

[3 stars]

When Tag kicks off, there is a familiarity to the scene of Japanese girls on a school trip, having a pillow fight, and generally being silly. That is until the blood starts flying. Well, that’s not too unusual in Japanese horror either. At that point you’re sure it is going to be in the vein of Battle Royale. However, it doesn’t quite go there either.

Instead, writer/director Shion Sono creates a surreal world where running and pillow fights become driving symbols in a shifting landscape. Yes there is carnage… massively over-the-top carnage, but there is also emotion. And, more impressively as the story continues, some serious directing chops holding it all together despite the genre and any assumptions that may bring with it.

Tag is a film about not only the human condition, but also about the nature of reality, fate, and life generally. It isn’t a philosophical treatise by any stretch, but neither is it completely empty mayhem. It all builds to a purpose and a point.

Reina Triendl, in particular, gives us a focus and a connection for the story. She draws you in with her innocence and desperation, as well as her strength and determination in the face of overwhelming insanity. Her counterparts, with Sono’s guidance, in Mariko Shinoda and Erina Mano carry that torch well which pulls it all together. Yuki Sakurai, Ami Tomite, and Aki Hiraoka all deliver too. Most of these young women have worked with Sono in the past and their c.v.s are almost entirely unknown to US viewers, but they are worth keeping an eye on. For all of its absurdity, the success of this movie is down to their commitment and interactions.

If you enjoy Japanese horror, this is a bit unusual and worth seeing. I was expecting gooey silliness given its write up, but it really is meatier and more interesting than you might expect.

Tag

Blood Glacier

Yes, it is time for silly again. I needed some silly, and boy could I find it. You gotta love the hyperbole in a title like this one. I mean: Blood! Glacier! It is everything you’d expect, and perhaps just a little bit more. This crazy B-flick is an unabashed riff on The Thing, but with a more environmental message. The result: an over-the-top environmental horror.

It isn’t as bad as you’d expect with that set-up. There is some actual attempt in the script to make it all seem a bit more realistic. Of course it uses a lot of shortcuts, bad science, and even worse science characters. But it moves along crisply, has some amusing f/x, and doesn’t apologize for any of its predictability or its genre.

In its favor, it isn’t all splatter. A few of the characters are entertaining and even have a bit of a real story to go with them. It also has a couple strong female characters. And there is, of course, a twist(ish) ending; that’s the genre and you can see it coming for miles. There is an aspect to the plot which I did find a tad objectionable, but I understand why it was there and why it had to be such a strong choice. Still, I suspect many folks will cringe when it is revealed as it weakens one of the characters particularly badly.

I do suggest seeing it with the subtitles rather than the dub. I checked out the dub (evil curiosity) and it was really pretty bad. For a rainy night or just a silly afternoon, I kinda enjoyed this film, but this isn’t  a movie for everyone… but for those who it is for, you know who you are.

Blood Glacier

Witching & Bitching (Las brujas de Zugarramurdi)

Imagine From Dusk till Dawn in Spanish … and with witches rather than vampires… and you have some sense of this horror mash-up. It manages to ride the line of dark humor and midnight horror well, never quite flying off the rails of the genre it has embraced. And within that boundary it succeeds. That is a credit to director/co-writer Álex de la Iglesia (Oxford Murders). A more general assessment of it would be considerably less kind, but it isn’t pretending to swim in the big pool.

The acting is, by design, broad and unrealistic. This allows for a considerable amount of slapstick humor as well as situational. Eventually it provides the bedrock for the insanity that is the final act. Though full of well-awarded actors, only Javier Botet (Mama) had hit my radar before, and he is more often than not loaded down with heavy make-up so you could be forgiven for not recognizing him in this or previous roles.

Witching is a movie for popcorn lovers of horror. But, be warned, the subtitling is rapid fire. If your Spanish is strong, no problem. If it is weak or non-existent, prepare for a marathon. The movie is also full of splatter and intentional grotesqueries. It is a fun run, but not a brilliant one. It does really try to have complete throughlines, motivations, and plot at least. Sit down expecting nothing more than entertainment and you’ll likely have enough fun to make it worth your time.

Witching & Bitching

The Girl With All the Gifts

You have to respect a horror film that really considers the biology and implications of their conceits. Zombie films, in particular, tend to be rather silly, even when fun. It has been a long while since I’ve seen a world where the science was derived from real life and thought through to give us a plot. Think 28 Days Later or Pitch Black (or even to some degree The Great Wall). Girl is a plague story with planned and realistic motivations, and with a script that doesn’t insult the viewer. In fact it goes places and considers issues with an incredible intelligence that belies its gory genre.

At the head of it all is the diminutive Sennia Nanua in her first major role. Expect to see more of her. She is confident and layered in her performance in a way that few young actors can achieve. She is supported by a talented adult cast as well. Paddy Considine (Miss You Already), Gemma Arterton (The Voices), Fisayo Akinade (Cucumber), and Glenn Close (The Great Gilly Hopkins) round out the main cast and become Nanua’s way to understand her world.

I have to believe that part of the reason for the success of this picture is the wide range of material under the directorial belt of Colm McCarthy. He does a great job of revealing the world and focusing the performances for Carey’s adaptation (of Carey’s own novel), navigating the genre without losing its humanity. McCarthy also understands the rhythms needed, keeping the emotional intelligence and human moments suitably calm so that the explosions of violence have impact. Even where it is predictable it is often unpredictable or satisfyingly complete; it never feels cheap. It is a rare that a director doesn’t give in to the histrionics and clichés in established horror tropes.

If you are looking for something fun and intelligent, this is your bowl of popcorn. It is full of action as well as thought and is every bit as good as you may have been hearing. If it weren’t for the genre, you’d probably have heard a whole heck of a lot more about it.

The Girl with All the Gifts

Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse

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Oh, the wasted promise of this film. It really had potential. In fact, as it started out I though it might be for Cloris Leachman (The Wedding Ringer) what Lake Placid was for Betty White. But, alas, her part is too small. And, overall, it is just a silly movie that never quite gets out of its own way or delivers on the promise of the title despite some good performances.

Tye Sheridan (X-Men: Apocalypse), Logan Miller (Take Me to the River), and Joey Morgan play a triumverate of friends whose bonding began with meeting in the scouts at a young age. Of course, they’re older now and some are ready to move on.

There are, naturally, some females in the mix to prompt our hormone laden lads with some incentive. Sarah Dumont provides a serious kick-ass character who helps guide the boys to being men. And Halston Sage (Goosebumps) has a sweet role as an older sister, if not exactly a strong woman.

Director and co-writer Landon (Disturbia) kept things grounded most of the time. But, like Lazer Team, it kept overstepping the mark for me and rarely had surprises to offer. It also never quite figured out who its audience was: young adolescent boys or a more general audience. Aspects like the running joke that is David Koechner (Krampus) just got tiresome and never really paid-off because it was both too convenient and too silly.  And, though scouting is central to the theme and story, the idea of “always be prepared” and survival skills never get their showcase except in the most oblique way. 

For a rainy Saturday afternoon or a late-night, slightly altered experience, it wouldn’t be bad with popcorn and libation. As a pure flick, it just doesn’t quite have the chops.

Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil

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In a year that included Deadpool and Final Girls, which were both wonderfully subversive backlashes to their genres, Tucker & Dale sits comfortably, if not as ably, as its antecedents.

This crazy tale of misunderstanding, economic divide, and classism is driven primarily by the insanely prolific Alan Tudyk (Maze Runner) and Tyler Labine (Rise of Planet of the Apes). The two are a perfect buddy pair just trying to survive a really, really bad day. The two are joined by Katrina Bowden (30 Rock) who is as comfortable with prat-fall as she is being an ingenue.

By design the feeling is over-the-top and everyone is just a bit pushed. Jesse Moss however, as the main nemesis, is a bit too much so. He needs to be out there, but sometimes it felt like he was in an entirely different movie. Perhaps that is unfair given the intent, but comedy horror is never easy to balance, and this is one spot where it was a little off and where aspects of it could have been covered by story (for example, overuse of steroid based inhaler making him nuttier than usual). He was, to be fair, consistent, so I can’t fault his effort.

I will say that first-time feature director and co-writer Craig navigates the dangerous cliffs of comedic horror with tongue solidly in cheek, and still manages to make a good back-woods slasher flick that evokes Wrong Turn. Clearly fond of the genre and the tropes, he makes fun of them consciously and openly in the scenes and dialogue, which helps with the sense of reality. His sense of structure, though, isn’t quite fully satisfying. The opening and the closing of the film don’t quite work together, but he does seem to know when to end a joke, which helps the whole not collapse in on itself.

It is a gooey sort of laugh-fest but, if you can stomach that kind of thing, you’ll have a rather good time in this lake-side slasher comedy.

The Hateful Eight

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Unlike The Revenant, another snowbound Western epic of revenge and survival, The Hateful Eight is at least entertaining and clever. It may not be as self-consciously art, but it is interestingly constructed and willing to entertain along with its points.

Samuel L. Jackson (Kingsman: The Secret Service) gets to drive most of the story, and does so with his typical gusto and humor. It isn’t anything new, but there are no cracks in the character that make you doubt him on screen. And, as a bonus, he manages to make the most gruesome moments funny.

In the main supporting roles, Kurt Russell (Furious 7), Jennifer Jason Leigh (Kill Your Darlings) and Walton Goggins (American Ultra) play off Jackson and into the story well. They’re characters, sure, but there are some surprising turns and layers to each of them. Tim Roth (Broken) and Demián Bichir (The Bridge) add some of their own fun to the mix as well, though with considerably less to work with in the story and script.

In smaller roles, Bruce Dern (Nebraska) and Channing Tatum (Hail Caesar!) have their moments. Particularly Dern, who has the most complex character of the entire group. His work is subtle and contained, but very impactful. It is also worth calling out Zöe Bell (Oblivion), who has her own all-too-brief moment in the sun.

Like writer/director Tarantino’s Kill Bill volumes 1 & 2, the two halves of this film have distinct flavors. The second half is more than a little self-aware of its position on screen and uses it to its advantage. The change in style is used to re-energize the flick after its brief intermission at around the 90 minute mark. In the theatrical release, it was less useful, but for the 3+ hour roadshow version, it was likely necessary. While the story remains intriguing throughout, it doesn’t tend to move along at a fast clip.

The Hateful Eight stands as the end of Tarantino’s alternate history trilogy that began with the rip-roaring Inglourious Basterds, and continued with the surprising and poignant Django Unchained; it is the weakest of the set. It is entertaining, well-constructed, full of humor, violence, and a distinct lack of political correctness, but it has none of the heart of the previous films. This installment is a pure and simple story that will pull you along, but is far from a topper to the previous entries. That doesn’t make it bad, but it wraps things up with a quieter exit than the collective probably deserved.

With these films out of his system, and with a taste for 70mm on his tongue, I’m curious to see what Tarantino comes up with next. He is a unique storyteller and is a distinctive director, unafraid of public comment and willing to tackle and thumb his nose at social mores. And, if you can stand the blood and violence, he has one of the nastiest wits out there today.

He Never Died

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First, do yourself a favor and don’t read the blurb of what this movie is supposedly about. If I intrigue you at all, just watch it, you’ll get a lot more enjoyment out of the experience for that decision.

Now, that said, don’t get your hopes up either. This is a delightfully (and gooey) dark humor piece with a few really fun ideas, but no fully realized plot or story. It feels more like a pilot than a flick… but not a pilot that would ever likely get made. Then again, these days, who knows?

This story works entirely because of Henry Rollins (Sons of Anarchy). His flat and exhausted delivery is at once both funny and sad. He truly brings you a man who’s lived so long he has no idea who he is or what he should be doing anymore. That characterization is consistent and weirdly believable, even if the story is full of holes and questions.

Rollins runs in a circle of people, none of whom are truly good. Each is massively flawed, but Rollins isn’t one to judge, until he decides he is. Within those borders are Booboo Stewart (X-Men: Days of Future Past), Jordon Todosey (Between), and Kate Greenhouse (Murdoch Mysteries). Each is a piece in the bigger puzzle, though none is more than a pawn in the game.

Of the bad guys, only David Richmond-Peck (Hemlock Grove) stood out as worth mentioning. He was the only character with, well, character. The rest were all cliches.

While this isn’t a great film, there are many fun moments. This is definitely a tongue-in-cheek view of a supernatural horror. It would have been so much better fully thought through, but there is enough to entertain if you like these sorts of films, though it isn’t as easily categorized as you’d expect. By the time it peters out at the end, either through choice or absence of funding, you’ve had a good ride, but likely more questions than answers. However, Rollins is a great deal of fun to watch. For late night or a rainy Saturday afternoon, it isn’t a bad choice to spend some time.

The World of Kanako (Kawaki)

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Time and truth are mutable in this hyper-violent suspense mystery that evokes other films like The Vanishing, Happiness, Audition, and Oldboi. If that description hasn’t scared you off, you’re in the right place. If any of that gives you pause, run the other way, this isn’t a road you want to travel.

Kanako is an odd sort of story of self-discovery wrapped up in a dark mystery and set of revelations. It is as much about the love a parent has for their child as it is the love a person has for themselves. It peers into the dark corners of the adult addict and the high school outcast. It is not a fun ride, but it is fascinating and the story is told well enough to keep you going through to the end if you can stomach the scenery.

The style of the film that director and co-writer Nakashima creates is part Manga/part internal dreamscape. It is filmed and edited with care and great energy, managing to bounce between 3 time frames successfully to provide a mosaic that eventually resolves into the complete story.

This is one of the films you will either love or hate. I can’t imagine having a middling response to it given the intensity of the violence. The story will ultimately resonate for you or it won’t. I do not think it carries the emotional impact of the films I mentioned at the top, but it certainly accomplishes some incredible feats of storytelling, keeping you engaged with unlikeable characters through till the end because you need to know how it all comes together.

OK, you’ve been warned, now make up your own mind on how to spend your time.

Turbo Kid

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Before the opening credits roll, you have a good sense of what you’re in store for with this flick. It is utterly self-conscious, but completely earnest. And, more importantly, is is also fun.

Turbo Kid manages to walk the razor edge of satire and genuine with relative ease. But there is no question that this film is a send-up of just about every science fiction film and show made during the 70s and 80s. In fact there are so many references that I could have filled this post with the list, so stopped in order to actually talk about the production rather than describe the points it was trying to make. Suffice to say, it is great fun to spot the nods to everything from Solar Babies and Mad Max to Blade RunnerBig Trouble in Little China, and Soylent Green… and so much in between.

A combination of things helped this movie succeed and compete successfully for many awards. It starts with Laurence Leboeuf (Being Erica), who manages an innocence and edge that is utterly charming even as it is absurd. In addition to this supporting character, Aaron Jeffrey and Michael Ironside (Top Gun), add their more established talents. And there is a host of, well, a host to fill in the battle gaps and plot needs. This entire ragtag collection of characters is held together well by the main role of the Kid, Munroe Chambers (Degrassi: The Next Generation). His genuine mien on screen keeps it all grounded and focused on the story.

The tag team of co-writers and co-directors Simard and the Whissells worked seamlessly together to create the world and story of Turbo Kid. It so easily could have spun out of control, but they kept it tethered without losing their sense of humor and heart.

For a wonderfully diverting time, especially if you love the sci-fi from the 70s and 80s, you have to see this film at some point. It will have  you laughing and cringing, cheering and wincing. Make of it an excuse for popcorn or a drinking game, but make the time.