VIKINGS VIA ITALY
My third review for entertainment podcast website 60 Minutes With went live yesterday, so this is just a heads up and polite nudge to follow THIS DIRECT LINK to read my take on Arrow Video‘s new 2K restoration – and sumptuous double-disc, dual-format release – of Mario Bava’s 1961 swashbuckler Erik the Conqueror.
15 – 102mins – 1974
“Seven women in the palm of his hand…”
I open-handedly own up to the fact that I laughed when the check disc for Arrow Video’s recent high-definition restoration of this forgotten Blaxploitation classic turned up in the post unannounced. I’d never heard of amoral pimp Willie D, so my expectations were low for a film to rival Shaft, Super Fly or Sweet Sweetback.
… Keep Scuttling!
18 – 105mins – 1999
“Go home if you don’t like it!”
Two years after Rainy Dog, Takashi Miike closed out his uneven and indecent Black Society Trilogy with another hard-hitting drama exposing the disreputable underbelly of his home country. Sick of being bullied and treated like outsiders, three optimistic Japanese youths of Chinese decent (among them Kazuki Kitamura, who would go on to star in Hollywood action sequel The Raid 2) move from the countryside to seek their fortune in Tokyo… and end up falling foul of the trigger-happy boss (Naoto Takenaka) of a city crime syndicate.
… Keep Scuttling!
18 – 95mins – 1997
Two years after his theatrical debut with the ultra-icky shock-fest Shinjuku Triad Society, Takashi Miike returned to his thematically-connected Black Society Trilogy with this precipitation-lashed middle segment, shot entirely in a washed-out Taiwan and with star Tomorowo Taguchi returning, albeit in a new and unrelated antagonist role.
… Keep Scuttling!
18 – 102mins – 1995
PEARLS BEFORE SWINE
Perhaps now best known for the gruesome 1999 torture porn paragon Audition or 2001’s iconic crime thriller Ichi the Killer, before his Western exposure and box office success, Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike was highly prolific in Japan’s straight-to-video “V-cinema” market. 1995’s Shinjuku kuroshakai: Chaina mafia sensô (to give it its homegrown title) marked a major stepping stone in the outlandish director’s career: his first release for a major studio and his first release to receive a theatrical run.
… Keep Scuttling!
15 – 90mins – 2015
A miserably ‘atmospheric’ and tediously slow set-off which takes an excruciating 25 unexciting minutes to reveal a Sixth Sense-esque supernatural “twist” which was given away in the first line of the back cover synopsis meant that I didn’t journey beyond half an hour the first time I tried to traverse this gloomy psychological thriller from Australia.
Utilising his naturally soft delivery and strained expression, Adrien Brody is perfectly cast as psychiatrist-with-inner-demons Peter Bower, himself seeking help from fellow professional Duncan Stewart (the ever-dependable Sam Neill), following a family tragedy the guilt-ridden family man has failed to recover from.
A mystery surrounding the identity of a strange young girl who keeps showing up at his practise leads Peter to question not only his sanity but his memory, too, and one particular date in 1987, for some curious reason… Backtracking (groan) to his quiet rural homestead in the aptly named False Creek, Peter returns to where his retired cop pa (George Shevtsov) is living a lonely existence to see if he can find some answers in his past and exorcise his troubled mind.
Penned and directed by The Book Thief (2014) and Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010) screenwriter Michael Petroni, I hopped back on board the derailed Backtrack after a couple of days out of service, and I’m extremely glad I did. While the pace never races beyond a gallop, once Peter sets the path to clarity in motion, a truly gripping narrative rises to the fore which links all dangling plot threads effectively and culminates in a horrendously grim – but successfully unpredictable – reveal.
If you can look past the hokey pun of a title, persevere through a mopey, stalling introduction, and don’t consider daylight or dry weather a requisite stipulation in your movies, then when you alight at the end of the line, Backtrack will have rectified its shortcomings and delivering a tense and spine-chilling dark mystery.
15 – 106mins – 1974
“KILL THE TABERNACLE!”
Ignoring the maxim “less is more”, this dystopian sci-fi from the director of the more–fondly-remembered Deliverance (1972) and Excalibur (1981) is a trippy and continually baffling amalgam of myriad discordant genre ideas (talking data rings, psychic powers, memory rooms), existentialist theories on life, death, society and religion, sex education (seriously!) and bonkers fancy dress costumes, starring a former 007 as a nappy-wearing Executioner.
Having spent the first twenty minutes wandering silently through ever-more bizarre and diverse locations from a flying stone head to a country farm, Sean Connery’s Zed is enslaved and has his memories probed by a community of unlikable immortal bread bakers who at one point engage in an uncomfortable kissing orgy to extract the “life” from him.
John Boorman’s film attempts to justify its incomprehension with lofty literary references (L. Frank Baum, T.S. Eliot, Nietzsche) and elevate its standing with an oft-repeated refrain of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony, but it all just comes off as too clever for its own good. Entertainment really shouldn’t be this difficult to digest.
Much like the film itself (oh, how meta of me), I am going to end my review with quotes from the script to justify my opinion. “It is certainly very fragmented,” someone comments after watching a vidscreen of Zed’s life as a gun-toting Brutal. While as a man lays dying at the film’s busy conclusion, he utters the perfect summation: “It was all a joke!” Pity unimpenetrable cult claptrap Zardoz isn’t a funny one.