Blame! (film) – Review

blame

Maybe it’s just me, but I find Netflix’s rating system to be pretty useless. Lots of woeful content seems to inexplicably maintain a five-star rating, while really solid shows and movies get stuck with two or three stars. Blame! is the latest one to confuse me, the full-length anime movie debuting recently to a 2.5 star rating. I don’t know whether this is due to pissed-off hardcore fans, or low ratings from people who just hate anime, but I thought Blame! was pretty good.

Blame!: the movie is based on a 20-year-old manga, set in a (naturally) dystopian world dominated by a vast megastructure known as “The City”. The City was once controlled by technologically-advanced humans, but they eventually lost control, and humanity came to be viewed by the City as a disease which needed to be exterminated. The City therefore unleashed a variety of hi-tech entities, collectively known as The Safeguard, to wipe out the remaining humans (hints of The Terminator, then). With humans no longer in control, the City has expanded uncontrollably, and it’s hinted that the structure could have reached the size of a star. It’s an interesting concept with a great deal of potential, and Blame!’s setting is well brought to life by an impressive art style.

I’m a little surprised that they chose to make Blame! as a movie rather than a series, like fellow Netflix original Knights of Sidonia, as the scenario seems well-suited to the serial form. The movie’s plot covers the interaction between main character Killy, who is on an odyssey to find the “Net Terminal Gene” that could help regain control of the City, and a small community of humans known as the Electro-Fishers. The community is on the brink of starvation, and their immediate struggle to survive provides the kind of clear narrative hook needed for a film of this length. T. commented while we were watching it that Blame! does the same thing as Mad Max: Fury Road, using the silent loner character from a wider world to introduce a largely self-contained story. I found Killy to be a bit underdeveloped, but at least the supporting cast are varied; what’s more, characters you might expect to be completely useless actually end up contributing to the story, which kind of subverts your expectations. Blame! leaves you wanting to see more of its world, and I would certainly be interested in seeing a follow-up movie or, even better, anime series.

Visually, Blame! is really good, with solid animation and an appealing and coherent style. The art and animation reminded me a lot of Knights of Sidonia, and apparently they were made by the same people. I thought the sound effects were pretty good too, especially the satisfying clunkiness of the Electro-Fishers’ weapons and armour. The film’s main problem is probably its pacing: although it starts out very well – the opening sequences are breathtaking – its 106-minute run time is probably 15 minutes too long, and some sections could have been shortened or edited out. I found the repeated extreme close-ups of Killy to be somewhat naff, but fans of the source manga might be more tolerant of this.

Overall, then, Blame! is worth a watch for anime fans. It reminded me a lot of seeing Gantz: 0 a few months back – both times I went in knowing nothing about the source material, but was pleasantly surprised by the films and really enjoyed them. Here’s hoping we get to see more of Blame!’s unsettling world in the future.

7/10

Warlock (film) – Review

warlock

Warlock is a campy 1980s Gothic horror film, featuring Richard E. Grant as witch hunter Giles Redferne and Julian Sands as the eponymous villain. The film’s plot bears a certain resemblance to The Terminator, as Sands escapes from the clutches of witch hunters in 1691 Boston and enters the present day  – well, 1988 anyway – in search of pages from an ancient grimoire which has the power to destroy the world. He’s followed through time by Grant, who sports a hilarious hairdo and silly outfit. Both of them really give it a go, and the film is well-served by having two such capable actors in the main roles. It helps elevate some otherwise silly fare.

The film also stars Lori Singer as Kassandra, who acts as Redferne’s reluctant helper and guide in modern America. The warlock casts a sadistic curse on Kassandra which makes her age 20 years each day, which obviously limits the amount of time she has to lift the curse. Allegedly, Singer didn’t want to wear the facial prosthetics designed to make her character look older, and this results in a somewhat unconvincing ageing process.

Sands is great in the title role. Films about witches aren’t that common – compared to, say, vampires, zombies, and ghosts – and films about male witches are pretty rare. But Sands’ character is as evil as he is powerful (read: very), and is established early on as a huge threat. Although the special effects are lacking, this is by no means a no-budget film, and it’s surprising to see some relatively gruesome content here reminiscent of so-called “video nasties”, which managed to make me wince. Sands is an effective villain and he carries out shocking and despicable acts in a matter-of-fact fashion.

Warlock reverses the normal trope of the witch hunters being evil: in this case, the witch hunters are completely in the right, and God help us all if Redferne is unsuccessful. Apparently writer David Twohy attempted to write a movie about the innocent victim of a witch hunt “escaping” to the present day, where he faced the same sorts of problems and biases as he did in the 1690s. However, Twohy gave up because it was too complicated, and so we have this instead. It probably worked out for the best, as Warlock is a really entertaining movie: it’s fun, well-paced, and you’re unlikely to tire of it before the end. The special effects look very, very bad these days, but this adds to the film’s undeniable camp appeal. It’s definitely worth a watch for all aficionados of horror and 1980s “style”.

7/10

The Raid 2 (film) – Review

the-raid-2-berandal-11

Within the scope of its limited ambition, 2011’s The Raid was a perfect action movie. The Indonesian film, written by Welshman Gareth Evans, featured astonishing action set pieces choreographed by martial arts experts Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian. The film garnered a huge following, so it was no surprise that it was swiftly followed by a sequel. The Raid 2 is a much more ambitious film: whereas the first was set in a single tower block, the sequel is a sprawling two-and-a-half hour epic set across Jakarta’s criminal underworld. Taking place right after the events of the first film, surviving badass cop Rama (Uwais) is sent undercover to build a case against the corrupt senior cops who protect the city’s criminal overlords. Rama has strong personal reasons for agreeing, but it’s nevertheless one of those occasions where you don’t really have a choice: if he says no, Rama will almost certainly be killed, as will his family. The only way out is to keep moving forward, winning the trust of senior mob bosses while also managing incompetent and uncaring superiors in the police force. As someone points out to Rama later in the film, the only way to extricate himself and protect his family is to eliminate all the crime bosses, and their police patrons, for good.

The plot brings to mind movies like Infernal Affairs, and Rama is a very sympathetic character. He’s also, once again, an extremely effective one-man-army and the film features several lengthty and brutal fight scenes, both one-on-one and one-versus-many. The first film was very violent, of course, but The Raid 2 really ups the ante and features spectacular set-pieces and some quite gruesome executions. For the most part the violence makes sense, but the second half of the movie does see a move towards more stylized violence. We are also introduced to two assassins who are each based around the idea of a single gimmick: one uses a baseball and bat, and the other is a stylish young mute lady who uses a pair of claw hammers and always wears shades. These characters revel in brutal executions, and I really disliked their presence. They felt very out of sync with the sincere tone of the rest of the film, and more like a knowing nod towards the Tarantino style of ironical comic book violence. It’s a bad sign for the franchise, and I really hope that future films don’t go further down this path.

When the film is making an effort to be sincere, it is capable of producing decent characters. The crime family which Rama infiltrates is led by the gruff but charismatic elder statesman Bangun, while Rama befriends Bangun’s hotheaded son Uco, who looks uncannily like Bruce Campbell. Bangun’s consigliere Eka also gets a moment to shine towards the end of the film. Many of the film’s events are precipitated by Uco’s egotistical behaviour and desire to usurp his father, meaning he conducts an underhanded alliance with rival mobster Bejo. Bejo was one of the film’s problems for me, largely because he is devoid of menace, physical appeal, or any charisma. He also sports physical disabilities, which is fine in itself but taken with his lack of discernible mob boss attributes means he lacks credibility. He is often seen bringing in defenceless victims to be executed like beasts, but we never see how they are supposed to have been overpowered or defeated. The whole Bejo storyline feels incongruous, and I would have preferred they had cut him and his his faction (including the gimmicky assassins) out of the movie and shortened it by a good half hour.

Indeed, at 150 minutes the film is far too long, and especially considering the body count and level of violence, sitting through it is a test of endurance as much as anything. It’s a shame, because the film is not without moments of compassion and human feeling, but in the absence of any real humour (sorry, watching a girl slaughter a group of grown men with a pair of hammers doesn’t count), it turns into a slog. It’s an impressive film, with some wonderful technical and artistic achievements, but it only partly lives up to its lofty ambitions.

7/10

Krull (movie) – Review

Krull6-615x346

Krull is an unusual movie, a big-budget British sci-fi/fantasy hybrid released in the early 1980s that cost an absolute fortune to make and was a critical and commercial failure on release. I remember seeing it on TV a number of times as a child in the early 90s, when frankly it scared me to bits. Although in some ways it’s pitched as a family film, Krull is actually quite dark, which probably contributed to its lack of commercial success. However, it means that the film stands out now and it has something of the status of a cult classic.

Krull begins with an alien spaceship landing on an Earth-like planet, and we soon learn that the ship contains an alien race known as the ‘Slayers’ who intend to subjugate and enslave the planet’s humanoid population. The Slayers are a frightening bunch: they appear to consist of a sort of large, fleshy insect which resides in the helmet of a suit of armour which functions as a sort of exoskeleton. They are seemingly devoid of individuality and the only sound you ever hear from them is a piercing death screech if you somehow manage to kill one. The Slayers are technologically advanced and much more martially capable than the kind of cannon fodder you encounter in something like Star Wars. Indeed, this is one of the things that used to scare me most about Krull: an early scene sees a royal wedding attacked by Slayers, and their brutal efficiency is quite different from the kind of comic ineptitude you’d expect from Stormtroopers and their ilk.

The Slayers are led by a big bad who is known only as ‘The Beast’. The Beast is a hideous, giant monster who captures a beautiful young princess (the stunning Lysette Anthony) and tries to force her to marry him. Meanwhile, her betrothed (Ken Marshall) sets out to rescue her, recruiting a ragtag band to assist him along the way. The plot is quite standard, but what’s unusual is the setting. Krull’s world features an unusual fusion of medieval fantasy tropes with futuristic sci-fi flourishes and architecture, and the result is something quite unique. The film has also received a lot of plaudits for its score, but personally I actually find this to be one of the weaknesses of the film: it just strikes me as a second-rate imitation of a John Williams score, which is not a style I’m fond of at the best of times. Still, the set design and cinematography make up for it.

However, possibly Krull’s greatest strength is its knack of setting up surprisingly moving and poignant set pieces and conversations. Having seen the film as a young child, I’ve never forgotten the story of the cyclopses: a powerful ancient race, they were tricked by the Beast into trading their second eye for the ability to see into the future–the problem being, the only thing they could see was their own death. Or there’s the scene featuring the Widow of the Web, a memorable and pathetic sequence featuring some characters with a deeply tragic back story. Scenes like this give the film a lot more resonance than one might expect given the genre. Krull also has a surprisingly high body count, and death (particularly of the ‘good’ guys) punctuates the movie from beginning to end.

Krull is surprisingly scary, and has some moments that wouldn’t be out of place in a horror film. It’s not quite the same experience now as when I watched it as an 8 year old, but it’s still decidedly creepy at times. Another odd aspect of the film is the number of British TV and movie actors present here in early roles: everyone from Liam Neeson to Robbie Coltrane, Todd Carty and the aforementioned Lysette Anthony. It won’t mean anything to youngsters now, but anyone who grew up in the 80s and 90s might do the odd double take.

For me, Krull is one of the most enjoyable fantasy romps of the 80s, up there with movies like Willow and Labyrinth, and its arguably aged better than the likes of Legend, Neverending Story, and Dark Crystal. If you haven’t seen it, it’s definitely worth tracking down.

8/10