The premise of the swimmer sounds like the sort of ridiculous idea you come up with when you are a little drunk and anything seems possible. Basically Burt Lancaster turns up in one of his friends swimming pools. No one has seen him for ages but his unannounced arrival seems as natural as anything. Whilst he looks out over the county he formulates a plan, to swim home via a string of pools in his neighbours gardens– rather ignoring the fact that in reality he’d be walking at least as far as he swam, and in all likelihood quite a way further. Even more to the point, he assumes his neighbours will even let him. It is not just a ridiculous premise, which, for the record, does involve a drink at almost every stage; it is something of a journey of self discovery. Because the county is full of typical, affluent American homes (and pools) it’s a sort of social commentary on the state of 1960s suburban living. It is good, and far more gripping than you’d imagine a film that is essentially a man swimming in a load of pools should be. What is more interesting though is that it got made at all. It is no indie weirdo flick, it has big name stars and a producer who made Shaft (in Africa) movies. It is tempting to put it down to sixties silliness but The Swimmer is about more than taking a zany concept and running with it, it actually has a salient and to some extent still valid point about, amongst other things, the slightly vacuous nature of what it is to be ‘successful’ and how that is measured by those around us, as well as a hefty dose of class commentary. The end of the film builds steadily and skilfully to a moment of realisation, were it slightly less obvious, to rival the classic Statue of Liberty scene in Planet of the Apes, all mediated through the rubric of swimming pool silliness. The film is worth checking out just to marvel at the obscurity of tackling pressing social issues in this way, but then perhaps it is precisely because those issues are so pressing that the film exists – it’s the only way The Swimmer makes sense.
Murderdrome is a campy exploitation serial killer movie based around the sport of roller derby. That is it. The whole review. Stop reading. The review is over. Seriously. Why are you still reading, there isn’t anything else to say about Murderdrome. Still reading. Fine. For its B movie budget the special effects are pretty impressive. That is all you are getting though, its a campy exploitation serial killer movie based around roller derby with pretty good special effects. Ok. Done. Really? You really need a better review than this? Ok, you asked for it. Murderdrome was a disappointment. Look, look what you made me do. I didn’t want to say this, I wanted everyone to love Murderdrome and we’d all be happy, I wanted to love Murderdrome. But you had to carry on reading, and now I have to explain myself. I was pretty excited about this movie, the premise sounded amazing, the dvd case looked amazing, the trailer was amazing. It seemed like my favorite type of silly shlock horror, and the fact that it all takes place on eight (tiny) wheels seemed to make it all the more special. And it does, to an extent, if you take away the roller skates the film would become pretty pedestrian (get it? Yeah.) but this isn’t the issue. Its that a pretty large percentage of the dialogue was cranked up to eleven on the terrible scale. I don’t have a problem with crappy dialogue, especially in a movie like this, but when the first act entirely comprises skating scenes interspersed with said crappy dialogue, I have to wonder if Murderdrome could have been something more. Now I have to admit, I have no idea what the rules of roller derby are, and I am none the wiser having watched Murderdrome, but I do know that for some people it is a sport as much about appearances and hilarious team names as it is the skating. What I am hoping is that for people who are actually into the sport some of the more annoying dialogue will have some sort of significance. Like I said, I really want people to like this movie. It clearly has been made by people who care about making it as fun and scary and gross as possible, it had so much potential, I just wish it had made me smile as much as it made me want to go roller skating.
What a movie. The eponymous Cobra (Stallone) is part of the ‘zombie squad’, an elite section of the LA police force that does the jobs no one else wants, also known as killing bad guys when all the regular cops are sat twiddling their thumbs. That it is called a ‘squad’ is actually a misrepresentation, it seems to pretty much just be good old Sly all on his lonesome. He has a buddy, but he seems to be there just so Sly has someone to direct wisecracks at. Obviously, a guy named Cobra, on the zombie squad needs something a little more sinister than just your regular old criminals to deal with. This is the 80s, and nothing says excess like a serial killer gang with an axe obsession. It pretty much all goes down exactly as you expect it to, but there are a few little things that make this film slightly more awesome than … well … almost all other films. Look out for the crazy product placement. It is seriously in your face, and whilst you might well think that it is all about pepsi, one scene later in the movie features a Coke vending machine so prominently that it absolutely has to have been put there on purpose. The weird thing about it is though, this vending machine sits right in the middle of the only scene where everyone is truly safe and happy, the Pepsi stuff is equally conspicuous in the shoot out/fight scenes. Were I conspiratorially minded I’d argue that Coke paid a good chunk of money to have their product associated with the happy, nice scenes, whilst Pepsi takes more bullets than the bad guys. The second interesting thing about Cobra is that politically, it is on rather shaky ground. Cobra doesn’t believe in the judicial system, preferring to blast holes in bad guys instead. This isn’t a throw away line or two, it quite literally bookends the movie making the whole thing a manifesto for a sort of Judge Dredd style outlook on justice. The movie starts with Stallone listing some pretty grim crime statistics which serves to place the blasting the faces off the bad guys action that follows within a real world context, there is the potential to read the film as literally saying we should begin to police our cities in this fashion. We’ll put it down to 80s excess again, there is probably no point being a cop if you don’t just kill all the bad guys. Speaking of 80’s excess, Cobra was directed by George P. Cosmatos – probably the most 80s director of them all. There is a brilliant sense in Cosmatos movies that if something looks cool it should probably be in there, even if the storyline doesn’t really require it. So Cobra has millions of these little things, totally inappropriate police cars, dirt bikes, climatic fight scene in a foundry, shoot up in a superstore with added shotgun blasts of fruit, crazy awesome red filter over the whole of the opening credits, robots … the list goes on and on. Really it is a lament. The only movies that are being made at the moment which are even close to this on a silliness level are far too low budget to really get these things done right and properly, whilst all the big budget movies are too full of CGI or, for some weird reason, have storylines that are actually believable. That is, I suppose, except for The Expendables series. Ah Stallone, this is why you are my favorite.
I think its fairly pointless to explain the plot of Cockneys Vs Zombies. If you can’t guess it yourself then frankly you should be ashamed of yourself. In the league table of Vs movies this one rates pretty highly, this is because unlike, say, mega shark vs giant octopus, where really you don’t have anything emotionally invested in either the mega shark nor the giant octopus, Cockneys are actually quite easy to relate to. What with them being human beings and all, albeit rather ridiculous stereotypes. Cockneys. Everyone loves Cockneys. Actually, the same applies to Zombies, they are universal, everyone loves zombies. This might be because they used to be human beings, and when they get their heads/legs/arms/torsos blown to bits with automatic weapons it serves a cathartic release of the frustrations we frequently feel towards our fellow humans. It might be because it looks bloody awesome when semi-humans get their heads/legs/arms/torsos blown to bits with automatic weapons though. This is neither the time nor the place for a philosophically grounded discussion of the appeal of zombie movies. It might be interesting to address Cockneys though. Why Cockneys? Unless the film was conceived to appeal to a curiously specific subsection of the population of London, we must assume that Cockneys hold some sort of fascination for the rest of the country. As I said above, everyone loves Cockneys, but I am not sure its so easy to articulate exactly why this is. Lets get specific, a Cockney, in this context is an oft used film and television stereotype. Straight talking, aside from the accent and the slang, usually involved in something a little dodgy, but ultimately with a heart of gold. It is perhaps the combination of first and the last parts which holds the appeal, the Cockney allows the viewer to vicariously live out their anarchic fantasies without having to fundamentally undermine their position in the hierarchical order of western society. What ever rules they break they will always come out ok, because that heart of gold still stands for certain values such as family, honor, community and respect, even if it is frequently framed within the rubric of crime. This is why your film Cockney will kneecap every person in a room without a hint of remorse, but will break down crying if their Mum tells them off for it. You wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of these guys, but ultimately films about Cockneys frequently place the viewer on their side, no film more so than Cockneys Vs Zombies. Next time you see a movie with a Cockney character, ask yourself just why they are there, they could have been from anywhere in the country, but for some reason the stereotypical representation of residents of this small part of East London represent a disproportionate amount of our home grown characters. Maybe we all have a little Cockney in us, or maybe we just all secretly wish we could go out, do a quick bank robbery and be home in time for a cup of tea and a biscuit.
Unleashed is fully the most confusing film I have seen recently. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it makes perfect sense (mostly), but in terms of who it is aimed at, and where it positions itself in terms of genre – who knows. The premise is fairly simple. Perpetual saaaaf landan wide boy Bob Hoskins plays an asshole loan shark. His secret weapon is Danny, a sort of man child with insane martial arts skills, played by the always brilliant Jet Li. Hoskins has trained Danny to be a sort of human attack dog. Like, literally, he has a collar (largely symbolic, obviously) and is kept in a cage. All is going well in the being a loan shark asshole game until Danny finds his way to the incredibly accepting and brilliantly laid back Sam and Victoria (Morgan Freeman and Kerry Cordon). Here he realizes that, you know, being a human attack dog probably ain’t that cool. Of course various other plot points fill in the minutia of the situation and make it vaguely make sense. That said addressing the plot holes and general “really?” moments would take an awful lot of time, but you know, efihr never had any real issues with films that don’t make a great deal of sense, and the issues here are more in the ‘why is there no one in that car that just got squished’ league. What is completely weird about Unleashed though is the way the film mixes ultra violence with super soppy…family stuff. Now, don’t get me wrong, the film does an outstanding job of pulling at the heart strings in some really nice (exceptionally cliche) ways, but it takes the entire second act to get this across, which is immediately followed by a sort of gladiator style death match. It is like two completely separate films were cut together by some sort of maniac. In one hand we have a really quite beautiful story about a young man finding love and happiness with people who will accept him for the beautiful person he is, and on the other we have quite a beautiful story about a young man beating the living shit out of some other people. This is not your standard recipe. I am used to action films with one or two minutes at the beginning of perhaps a family being brutally murdered, you know, for motivation, or … like, not action films where people actually care about each other and have feelings, but where perhaps someone, in one scene, has a fight. Unleashed is just a huge 50/50 mash up of the type I have never seen before. What I am waiting for is a film that does it all in thirds, I want a third rom-com, a third violent revenge horror and a third anime. I shall wait patiently.
We have become very used to seeing bad things happen in films only to allow for a much bigger cathartic pay off at the end. When someone does something horrific we know that later on we are probably going to see them get their just desserts – and if they have been suitably awful they will probably die in some horrific way. Depending on the context, I usually embrace this and ignoring the fact that, for instance, Judge Dredd, is a terrible and scary vision of a world without due justice and fair trial, am pretty happy when the bad guys die. What makes 12 Years a Slave especially impressive is its absolute commitment to showing the reality of the situation the characters find themselves in. Importantly, this ultimately comes down to no one really being punished for the wrongs they commit, when it would have been so simple to spend a little more time building up emotion at the end the reality is that perhaps returning home after all those years was never going to be as simple as just turning up. The film looks beautiful, and the acting is impressive, if a little cliche at times, but I think the main reason the film has won a lot of awards because it deals with an incredibly difficult subject in the manner which it deserves. It does not go too far with it, probably safe in the knowledge that what you’ll see is terrible enough that emotionally you’ll be as engaged with with characters as much as if it had gone down the simpler, less meaningful cathartic revenge route – you always have Django Unchained if you fancy a bit of that.
Let me just preface this by saying that La Jetee is one of my all time favorite films ever. 12 Monkeys is an abomination and an insult to that film. That speaks more to my love of the former, rather than indicating a dislike of the latter. 12 Monkeys is a great film, it just doesn’t hold a candle to the film it is based on, which is intelligent, thought provoking and beautiful. 12 Monkeys is fun, silly and, whilst it is somewhere on a spectrum aesthetically, it isn’t near the end occupied by beautiful. It’s more in the area of “crammed full of interesting stuff that looks cool”. Some parts are a sort of steam punk wet dream, whilst others are exactly what most of the other films set in near future, but made in the 90s, look like. If you are unfamiliar with the story it is time travel silliness with Bruce “greedy and lazy” Willis and Brad Pitt. Greedy and lazy has to go back in time to sort some shit and it all goes a little wonky. For once, its not the “you changed things in the past” motif which runs through so much time travel sci-fi which is a welcome change, and the story, taken as it is from one of the best films ever, almost holds up, even after intense screwing around with its internal organs. The film works as a good sci-fi flick, it looks good and it has got some great moments. But it has not aged especially well, and watching the film it is based on will really highlight just how bloated the story becomes. Watch it, enjoy it, then watch La Jetee and see how it was supposed to be done.