December Already

There is an odd perceptual trick that as you get older, time goes by faster. This phenomenon likely has its roots in the crush of past experience pressing up against the present moment, with a constant increase in supposedly adult matters burning away your time. I suppose the current administration was the solution for that, as there were instances when time ground to a maddening crawl, like a perpetual few seconds just before the impact of a car crash. Hurricane Harvey was only three months ago; it feels more like a year.

Life definitely feels like a circus act where you’re pressed up against a board and some idiot with a blindfold keeps throwing knives at you. December’s always hectic, and I doubt it’s going to calm down until the year is nearly over. Maybe not even then.

I think you’re getting at least one more post out of me this year. In the meantime – since I have a few minutes to catch my breath – here’s the few movies I’ve had the chance to watch:

The Limehouse Golem is based on a Peter Ackroyd novel, and delights in moving the timeline back and forth as Inspector John Kildare (Bill Nighy) is a sacrificial detective set up by Scotland Yard to investigate the Limehouse Golem murders, a series of bloody mutilations that predate and outdo Jack the Ripper for sheer ghoulishness. His investigations run counter to the murder trial of music hall star Lizzy Cree (Olivia Cooke), whose poisoned husband seems a very likely suspect for the Golem.

The world of the English music hall wasn’t something I was expecting to be immersed in when I started the movie, and that was a pleasant surprise. Douglas Booth, as music hall superstar Dan Leno, is a continuing thread through the story as it unfolds, enabling the unique story structure. I’ve not read Ackroyd’s novel, but that structure feels uniquely literary, and director Juan Carlos Medina pulls it off well. While I can’t hand it an enthusiastic recommendation, I can still say it’s definitely worth a look. If you’ve not had your fill of Edwardian murder mysteries, you can certainly do far worse.

I finally watched Atomic Blonde, and I’m sort of glad I didn’t get over my animosity toward theaters to see it. It’s a pretty good retro spy movie, taking place just before and during the fall of the Berlin Wall. Charlize Theron is Lorraine Broughton, an asskicking troubleshooter for MI5 tasked with finding a wristwatch containing microfilm with the names and records of every agent on both sides of the Cold War, including a double agent known only as Satchel. She meets up with the local handler, Percival (James McAvoy), who has gone native in a big way. She spends most of the movie getting the crap kicked out of her, but you should see the other guy(s). What’s left of them, anyway.

Let’s be frank, Charlize Theron just plain owns me, and has for years. She is incredible as the agent James Bond would rightly be afraid of – except incredible doesn’t really cover it, she is credible in the role. Great supporting cast, too – John Goodman, Sofia Boutella, Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan. Incredible soundtrack. Great editing. Pretty much what you would expect from David Leitch, who was one of the directors of the original John Wick.

My only real complaint is that the movie feels over-extended at nearly two hours, giving me far too much time to figure out the true identity of Satchel. Minor complaint. Some directors would have stretched it out to two and a half hours.

That same day I saw Takashi Miike’s Blade of the Immortal, so I must have been in the mood for a fight. If you dug on the 45 minute long battle scene that ended 13 Assassins, good news! This is basically a movie-length version of that! In the very first segment, Manji (Takiya Kimura) informs a mob of about a hundred lowlife bounty hunters – who just slaughtered a girl for fun – that he is going to kill each and every one of them. And does. As he lays dying from his wounds, he is infected by bloodworms, which will heal any wound, even rejoining severed limbs to his body.

As Blade is based on a long-running manga series, I don’t know if there is ever a good reason given why a mysterious old woman gives Manji this curse/blessing – it still hurts when he gets injured, and the healing is far from instantaneous. He just can’t die from his wounds. He eventually takes up the cause of young Rin (Hana Sugasaki), whose family was killed by a group of rogue martial artists who want to take over the Imperial Guard (a ploy familiar to fans of “rule the world of martial arts” movies). The story gets somewhat involved from there, with plots, counterplots, a bloodworm poison that significantly slows down Manji’s healing, many colorful opponents, and my second two exhausted, bloody combatants still taking each other on fight scene in one day.

Overall, I liked it, but I wanted to love it. Miike’s samurai flicks are really good, though – see it and make your own decisions.

I watched two more movies, but I promised the review for one to Daily Grindhouse, so you’re going to have to be satisfied by closing things out with S&M Hunter.

I’m always downloading movie trailer collections and watching them at my leisure; one group was some movies available from PinkEiga, which specializes in Japanese “Pink” movies – so called because they involve nudity. That’s a subject that has a Wikipedia page all to itself, so I’ll direct you there for the broader picture. Pun definitely not intended, by the way. S&M Hunter caught my eye with its outrageous stylization and definite kinkiness (it’s right there in the title, after all), so I sought it out.

A man comes to “The Pleasure Dungeon” and chooses to whip a submissive dressed (briefly) as a nun until she faints. The Dungeon Master states “You are not a true sadist. I can see it in your eyes.” (Never mind that both men are wearing sunglasses) It turns out that new customer has a massive hate on for women because he’s gay and his lover has been kidnapped by a high school girl gang and is being used as their sex slave. Enter the dungeon’s superhero, S&M Hunter, dressed as a priest with a skull eyepatch, who agrees to rescue the boy. His super power is an amazing – and like all super powers, essentially impossible – mastery of rope tricks and the fact that every woman he is up against gets pleasure from the act of being tied up.

S&M Hunter would be classified in the realm of “Pinkie Violence”, I guess, but the whole setup is so silly and over the top that it comes off as a lighter parody of that genre. S&M Hunter has his own spaghetti western theme song. The Hunter’s archenemy feels it necessary to dress up in a gestapo uniform, complete with Nazi flag. The Dungeon Master has all the good lines. It’s only an hour long.

I was considering this for a Crapfest entry. But. It still remains a sex film, and that’s a level of tawdry I’m not willing to subject the fest to – titillation is fine, but S&M Hunter, while not explicit, still crosses that line. It is a pretty subversive entry in that genre, though, as the only truly loving, normal relationship is the homosexual one. Here, have a censored version of the trailer that sent me on this odd sidetrip:

Things only get busier from here on out. Hope to see you betwixt Christmas and New Years, if some moron doesn’t get us all killed. Happy Holidays, everybody, as possible.

 

Midnight Confessions

Oh. Hi there. Christ, what a month, huh?

Yessiree. Quite a month.

As usual after a movie marathon like Hubrisween, I find myself glutted on film and unwilling to head back to the trough. (Due diligence: I still watched a few movies, but with the blissful intent of not writing a word about them) Last year at this time I went back to my first love, reading. This year, I returned to my second love, gaming.

You tell kids that these days, and they won’t believe you.

If you were to extrapolate my college days’ obsession with Dungeons and Dragons (when it was only three booklets bound in card stock covers) you’d find what brings me joy: dungeon crawls with turn-based combat. It’s what drew me to the Final Fantasy games, until the combat systems grew too action-oriented (and I could no longer afford new consoles, but that’s a complaint for another time).

So imagine my elation when I discovered that there was a Battle Chasers dungeon crawl with turn-based combat, Nightwar. I really liked the comic book – even when it could only manage to come out every six months or so – and the game has really good presentation on the rich characters. For the uninitiated, those would be Warrior With A Cursed Sword, Little Girl With Gauntlets of Ineffable Power, Protective Sentient War Golem, Alcoholic Wizard and Voluptuous Bounty Hunter. Best of all, with a little tweaking, it would run well on my ancient, wheezing computer. That it’s got a decent crafting system is gravy.

As is usually the case with such games, I hit a point where the challenge ramped up considerably and it was time to engage in what is known as Grinding: playing the game not to advance the storyline, but to get stronger, to buy better stuff, to beat tougher enemies. And it was at that point that Steam sent me a message that a game I had shown some interest in was on sale. At less than ten bucks, I took a gamble on Sakura Dungeon – and that is where things get complicated.

“Sakura” is Japanese for “cherry blossom”; it is also a continuing franchise of hentai games from the Winged Cloud studio. Most of these fall into the “visual novel” category, with Dungeon being the only RPG in its catalog. As it is, it’s a fairly stripped-down affair (pun not intended, though as a hentai game, unavoidable). Move in first person through a dungeon labyrinth, encounter monsters, get treasure, get to the Boss at the end, save the world. That really all I need, and all I wanted. However, I got more, and in that more is the source of my headscratching and chinwagging this month.

There are two main characters in Sakura Dungeon: Yomi, an ancient fox spirit and former dungeon lord, and Ceri, an adventurer and dungeon raider. Yomi has been asleep for several centuries, imprisoned in a crypt by whoever took over her dungeon, and is awakened and freed by Ceri, looking for treasure and glory. The vastly more powerful Yomi easily brushes aside Ceri’s attacks, and enchants her to become Yomi’s servant, her right hand in a crusade to regain her dungeon.

It’s an interesting storyline; the inhabitants of the village just outside the dungeon are glad to see Yomi return (they’re all monsters, too, though they look human – and more on that in a second). Ceri will be forced to reconsider her opinion of monsters as something to be despised and immediately killed, and under Yomi’s tutelage will become an extremely powerful warrior. The major twist to the combat is the possibility of capturing any defeated monsters and placing them under the same enchantment as Ceri; they can be added to your party and fight on your side. You’re allowed six party members at a time, though only three are playable. The other three step in if any of the primary three fall in combat. That’s an intriguing system, but it also means that a lot of the captured monsters will wind up in the dustbin without ever being played. That seems a lot of design work for nothing, but that’s also a common thread through all these party-based games.

Now, you’re thinking, didn’t you say this was a hentai game? Yes, we’re getting to that. All the monsters are cute anime girls, even the ones who are just supposed to be wild forest animals (Ceri has a thing for the Panda girls. “So cute!” “I’m not cute! I’m fierce!” “Aw, that’s adorable!”). As anime characters, all are pretty scantily clad. We are told that this is magic cloth, though, so it affords the same protection as a full suit of armor. That’s kind of dumb, but it’s still a better explanation than any fanboy has ever given me for Red Sonja’s bikini armor. So, naturally, a critical hit in combat shreds their clothing. And if you employ the readily-available-with-a-little-effort adult patch, a second critical hit renders them completely nude.

Without the adult patch the game provides a little cheesecake. With it, holy crap do things get explicit. A common chase item in these games are CGs, which I guess stands for Character Graphics – artwork of the characters you unlock and collect. With the adult patch these increase and become the smut that fanboys love and fill internet boards and tumblrs. Monsters are a lot more sexual than you’d think, and Yomi is quite the libertine – one of her goals is getting Ceri to loosen up. With an astounding variety of revealing costumes.

The closest thing to a man you’ll find in Sakura Dungeon.

What keeps this from becoming ugly is there are absolutely no male characters. None. Zilch. Dildos aplenty, but it’s all girl/girl action. It’s intriguing to me how much, in my eyes, this seems to elevate the relationships here. Though the game itself still leads to worrying about myself.

Like I said, what a month. We’re in the midst of a long-overdue housecleaning and discussion about the darker side of sexual politics in this country. I received my card for Team Burn It All Down some time ago, and now it’s starting to look like I should have gone for the Platinum level membership. I’m male and I’m horrified and flabbergasted and wondering about my own level of complicity.

So sitting in my office whiling away the hours looking at cartoon girls, in a game engineered to reward the Male Gaze. Am I part of the problem? Probably. Almost certainly. I can take some small comfort in knowing that I am horrified and flabbergasted and wondering about myself, and that I seem to lack whatever fucking chromosome that causes other men to think whipping out their penis automatically leads to immediate sex. I literally cannot comprehend that mindset, and I am thankful for that.

And then I encounter an early access game called Mirror.

Mirror is a gem-matching game like Bejeweled, with a tactical bent. The different color of jewels provide physical attacks, magical attacks, healing and (in this case) something called Rage, which ups your attacks and healing percentages. Link more than three jewels, you get bigger effects. If you’ve played Puzzle Quest, you’re familiar with this; my last encounter was something called Hell Girls where, with a choice of three of the title characters with different abilities, you played Destructo-Bejeweled to rid the map of monsters, find their bathing suits, and unlock their hentai CGs. Pretty straightforward, and entertaining enough in small doses.

Mirror has more of a involved story mode. At this stage of development it involves three girls: a dark elf, a demon hunter, and a hopping vampire/zombie festooned with prayer talismans. Each has a different method of attack via the jewels, like the zombie setting various jewels on fire, and each flaming jewel causing you damage until you eliminate them.

Beating them in three rounds advances their story and allows you to play the end scene, which is where things get truly ugly. The mechanics of each of these scenes is going to be familiar to you if you’ve ever played porn games. Let’s just say that options for your mouse cursor include hands, tongues, candles and in one instance, tentacles (of course). Each is meant to be as humiliating as possible to the girl; winning four matches unlocks “Free Discipline Mode”, which should tell you everything you need to know about this game. You shouldn’t turn your back on it, and this is coming from a man with his own kinky twists.

Oh, there’s even worse – if you unlock Free Discipline Mode, you also unlock an extra story mode which allows you to heap even more degradation upon your hapless opponents. The story modes posit the player as being exclusively male, which is probably the most canny/cynical design choice ever, and is the source of the strange angst running roughshod over my soul at the moment. Sakura Dungeon seems so carefree and positive in its female-centric antics, while Mirror, exclusively male in its outlook, is ugly, dark and brutal.

I wish I was clever enough to derive some sort of metaphor or lesson from this, other than the obvious and apparent Good God, but men suck; but the fact that I am confused even by my own actions would render anything I had to say suspect at best. It’s an odd confluence that occurred in my month off from movies, made more profoundly affecting by events in the real world, and the best I can can hope for is to simply report on it, continue to ponder the questions presented to me, and hope that enables me to be better for it.

 

 

Post-Hubrisween: Life (2017)

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I was going to review this for Hubrisween, but Gavin had a prior claim to it. Cool, I did The Living Head instead, because I was sure Gavin would have more interesting things to say. So here is a post-Hubrisween review. It’s wafer-thin!

Okay, show of hands: who passed this one up because it was so obviously this generation’s Alien? Um hm, yeah, okay. Me too. Until I needed an “L”.

In the near future, the crew of the International Space Station is waiting for the return of the Mars Pilgrim 7 probe, carrying with it soil samples. The probe has been hit by space debris and is off-course; it is only through a risky maneuver that the craft and its precious scientific cargo is retrieved.

Knowing what you know, you can pretty much write the movie from here: a dormant microbe is found frozen, they manage to revive it, it begins developing and evolving rapidly, and at some point, it gets hungry.

Don’t touch, dummy

That is ridiculously simplistic of me, of course; the script does a far better job of developing our monster (as the result of a national contest among schools, it is named Calvin) and its threat. The creature is fast, ridiculously resilient, resisting cold and heat, and intelligent as hell.  Our six person crew is various flavors of doomed, and the film’s success will depend on how creatively they meet those dooms, as they attempt, with very limited resources, to rid themselves of a creature that must not be allowed to reach Earth.

Life does a good job of distinguishing our cast; the heaviest hitters box office-wise are Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal. Gyllenhaal’s character has been in space for a record amount of time, and his body is beginning to atrophy dangerously – he just doesn’t want to go back among billions of people, most of them assholes, and dirty air (tell me that’s not identifiable). The biologist (Ariyon Bakare) is a paraplegic who enjoys the increased mobility microgravity allows. Miranda (Rebecca Ferguson) is the Contamination Officer who has her work cut out for her, and whose contingency plans are constantly screwed up by human error and the unforeseen ingenuity of the enemy. Director Daniel Espinosa keeps things moving, and the character notes seem to flow organically (which seems an unfortunate turn of phrase here).

The influence of Cuarón’s Gravity is definitely felt, with all the null-gravity choreography and attempts to keep the technology reasonably realistic. So yes, this is Alien with floating, but it’s well-produced floating.

And also yes, this is this generation’s Alien. Which was that generation’s It! The Terror from Beyond Space. We can play that game for some time, but let’s take it in another direction.

Let’s say it’s more of a prequel.

Life becomes much more interesting and less derivative if you consider it as the movie leading up to something like The Quatermass Xperiment. What happened on that particular doomed spacecraft was left to a damaged camera reel and surmisal. Here it is as a complete, well-rounded story. I find myself considering Life far more charitably in that light.

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Z: The Zodiac Killer (1971)

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After four weeks of dwelling on the fantastic, I suppose it’s only fitting to wind down with something bordering on the all-too-real. I’m lying, of course, there is no really good reason to return to the hellscape of real life, but we’re at the letter Z, there’s no way I’m watching Zaat again (maybe next year), so here we are.

You don’t have to be a David Fincher fan to know about the Zodiac murders of the late 60s, but that’s probably a better excuse than being a true crime freak (or, like me, a constituent of Ted Cruz). I’m going to have to cop to the sick fascination angle (well, that and trying to vote him out of office). The Zodiac murders and the Manson family were impossible to avoid on the news at the time, and they were that decade’s proof that the world was going to hell in a handbasket. Robert Graysmith’s book in 1986 allowed me to get a fuller picture of the case, and would also come in pretty handy when watching not only Fincher’s 2007 flick, but also Tom Hanson’s more contemporaneous 1971 movie.

Grover and his toupee. “Don’t touch the hair!”

We’ve got some zero-budget recreations of the first two Zodiac killings intercut with the lives of two suspects: Jerry (Hal Reed) a put-upon postal worker, and Grover (Bob Jones) a divorced truck driver who likes to put on a toupee and cruise the local bars in the guise of a successful businessman. Grover’s got a temper on him, and is under a lot of stress, so you can be sure he isn’t the Zodiac. In fact the movie gets rid of him via suicide by cop at about the 40 minute mark and yep, Jerry – who raises bunnies in his basement – he’s the Zodiac.

SPOILER: NOT THE ZODIAC

(I was frankly disappointed it wasn’t 50s kid show host Doodles Weaver)

The point at which this is discovered is one of the better scenes, beginning with a tight shot of his mouth during a whispered phone call to the police to let them know they got the wrong guy, gradually pulling back as he gets more agitated, hangs up and launches into an amazing unhinged speech that’s pretty much taken from Zodiac’s letters to the press. After this the movie becomes a series of vignettes of Jerry being a likable, helpful guy alternating with more of the Zodiac murders. Eventually they run out of confirmed Zodiac kills and start improvising. We find out Jerry’s father is in a mental hospital and is quite violent, make of that what you will.

Jerry and his friends.

The final scene is Jerry walking down the street, as his voiceover reminds you he still hasn’t been caught, and there are lots more like him. Maybe you pass them when you walk down the street. Maybe they’re sitting behind you at this theater. See you around. Mwoo-ha-ha.

Tom Hanson’s lack of a budget is apparent in almost every frame, but that doesn’t stop him from getting the occasional fantastic shot. The matter-of-factness of the simple approach this lack of money requires actually causes some of the murders to be quite disturbing, and a whole lot can be accomplished with enthusiasm and a knife with a collapsible blade. It plays like a low budget regional horror movie because that’s exactly what it is. After a certain point it starts to feel like a dry run for Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.

Yet the most intriguing part of the movie isn’t even on the screen: The movie’s premiere had a contest sponsored by Kawasaki. A motorcycle would be awarded to the best answer to “I believe the Zodiac kills because…”Hanson had handwriting experts poring over the entry cards, looking for a match to Zodiac’s letters. I have no idea if Hanson even cleared this with the cops, who were getting hammered by the public at the time. There’s a reason Dirty Harry was a monster hit; Scorpio was a thinly-veiled substitute for Zodiac, and Harry Callahan was everybody else.

Whether or not you want to check out The Zodiac Killer is going to depend on your tolerance for/interest in extremely low-budget filmmaking and attendant acting shortcomings, a historical context that is gobsmacking, or needing to see something that is basically Toxic Masculinity: The Movie. Cuz holy jeezum, those guys – all of them – are real jerks.

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Y: The Yin Yang Master 2 (2003)

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0383543Ha! My hard-won strategy for gaming the system strikes again!

In 10th century Kyoto, a demon is killing various members of the gentry, in each case carrying off a different body part, and sorcerer supreme Abe no Seiman (Mansai Nomura) and his companion, Lord Hiromasa (Hideaki Itô) are called in to investigate. Don’t worry, the perpetually cute butterfly girl Mitsumushi (Eriko Imai) is back, too.

Another magician has cropped up amongst the peasantry, healing disease and injuries, Genkaku (Kiichi Nakai). Several of the lords, trying to bring Seiman down a notch, bring Genkaku in on the case, but he demurs respectfully to Seiman, who feels the murders are not the work of “a true demon”. Hiromasa, as usual, falls in love with the wrong woman, this time the tomboyish daughter of another lord, Himiko (Kyoko Fukada). This lady also possesses surprising healing powers. Hmmmm, I wonder if there’s a connection…

Our heroes at 221B Baker S... er, Abe no Seiman's sanctum.

Our heroes at 221B Baker S… er, Abe no Seiman’s sanctum.

Onmyoji 2 has a more complex plot than its predecessor, and sadly suffers somewhat for it. It takes a little too long for the usual plot to destroy Kyoto to solidify; it involves a war crime fifteen years earlier, which has of course been glossed over by the government as a glorious victory over evil. Though the culmination of the villain’s plot feels a little too similar to that in Omyoji, it gains its own identity when Seiman underestimates his opponent, and has to journey to the afterlife, where, accompanied by the loyal Hiromasa and his flute, the magician must dance in drag as “the trickster goddess” to gain the attention of the goddess Ameratsu.

onmyoji-stillIt saddens me that this appears to the last movie in the Onmyoji series, which featured a largely subtle, non-bombastic approach to magic, nonetheless engaging and exciting. The Seiman/Hiromasa version of the Holmes/Watson synergy is compelling, and certainly could have supported more adventures. But sometimes we just need to be happy with what we got.

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X: X-Cross (2007)

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Last Hubrisween I ran out of Xtro movies and had to resort to the Blank Scrabble Tile rule and substitute a movie with a number for X (The 7th Victim, if you’re too lazy to search). Then, while casting my nets wider for this year’s movies, I came upon this entry from Japan. How fortuitous!

Shiyori (Nao Matsushita) and Aiko (Ami Suzuki) are headed to a remote hot springs spa to get away from it all. Shiyori is trying to get over a bad breakup with her first love, Asimiya (Hiroyuki Ikeuchi). The two girls couldn’t be more dissimilar, typified by their cell phones: Shiyori’s is plain and unadorned, Aiko’s is blinged out to the max and probably weighs five pounds from the excess decoration.

I use this distinction as we will find cell phones are central to the story.

Ashikari village is at the top of a mountain; the cabins for the patrons are quite nice, but the villagers all seem to be various forms of twisted and vaguely sinister. Some friction grows between the two girls – the free-wheeling Aiko with her many lovers versus Shiyori’s mourning for her sole, unfaithful boyfriend. The two separate, and as you might suppose, this is where the trouble truly begins (particularly since Aiko calls someone on that sparkly phone to report that everything is “going as scheduled”).

Shiyori finds a phone in the closet of their cabin and answers a call from the brother of the phone’s previous owner, whose fate we saw in the film’s opening. The brother (Nozomu Iwao) fills us in on the necessary backstory. Ashikari has a dark history, a logging village that in olden times went to the hideous extreme of chopping off their wives’ left leg to keep them from running away while they were at work; this mania soon extended to any traveling women unlucky enough to wander into the area. Ashikari is now home to a full-blown cult that lures in women with the hot springs, cuts off their leg, then worships their mummified remains as goddesses. They also cut the tendons in their own left legs, which makes running after the escaping Shiyori a bit ungainly.

So this sounds rather like an Asian version of The Shadow Over Innsmouth, and it might have turned out that way, but there are various twists with the modern technology of cell phones that add layers of paranoia and doubt to what might have been a simple chase movie. Also, Aoki is having problems of her own: the jilted girlfriend of one of her former lovers, Reika (Ayuko Iwane), dressed like a goth Lolita from hell, has tracked her there and is determined to murder her with scissors, which adds an entirely different kind of weirdness and tension to the story.

The director is Kenta Fukusaku, and that last name should be familiar to you: his father was Kinji Fukusaku, a towering presence in Japanese cinema, from The Yakuza Papers movies to The Green Slime to Tora! Tora! Tora! to Battle Royale. Kenta wrote the screenplay to that one, and took over the directoral reins on the sequel when his father passed away (the sequel is, shall we say, not loved). His career since has been rather speckled; X-Cross was preceded by a Sukeban Deka movie and followed by a string of movies that hover around the 6.5 stars rating on IMDb, when they have a rating at all. He hasn’t had his breakout hit on these shores yet, and that’s a pity, because I really enjoyed X-Cross.

Though it doesn’t reach true Christopher Nolan levels, Fukusaku does mess with the timeline to show us what is happening in the parallel stories of our two stars, literally rewinding the footage to show us where we are, event-wise, even providing a couple of laughs along the way. The best part for me is when odd details in one girl’s sequence are explained in the other girl’s flashback, so I guess I should have invoked Tarantino rather than Nolan.

Generally I liked X-Cross not because it transcends its genre – it doesn’t – but because just when I think I have it figured it makes me say things like, “Holy shit, where did that crazy Reika get a five-foot pair of scissors?”

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W: Wither (2012)

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Wither was mentioned to me when it first came out as “a Swedish Evil Dead” to which my response was yeah, okay, cool as it was entered in the Infinite Watchlist until I had need/time/desire to track it down and watch it.  And I have to say that I wasn’t expecting that description to be quite so literal.

High hopes at the beginning, as we find a hunter searching through a rainstorm for someone named Lisa. He finds her – apparently his daughter – but someone is chewing on her. He shoots that someone in the head, and they get back up anyway.

Credits.

We are now going to go into setup mode for the next twenty minutes, as we meet our seven young cannon fodder characters as they prepare for a weekend at a remote cabin: four women, three men (Lisa Henni, Amanda Renberg, Jessica Blomkvist, Anna Henriksson, Patrik Almkvist, Patrick Saxe, and Max Walmo). The father of our male lead, Aldi (Almkvist), who owns some property in those woods, found this cabin, seemingly abandoned, for his son’s outing.

Seven characters might seem a lot for a horror movie, but then, since it’s a horror movie, we can be pretty sure that most of them won’t be around for the end credits. Especially since they seem to keep making the requisite dubious choices that make such movies possible. The first being Marie (Blomkvist), boosted into the locked cabin (to supposedly surprise Aldi at the front door) deciding to, instead, investigate the mysterious cellar she finds dug under the cabin.

This is Dubious Choice Prime that makes the rest of the movie possible, you see.

Instead of finding a recording raising ancient Sumerian demons, there is some kind of legendary race that lives underground, and gazing into their eyes allows them to swallow your soul, you see, and it’s not ten minutes later that Marie goes all white-eyed and bitey. The hunter from the opening (Ralf Beck) drops by to give us the backstory, and to advise that they burn Marie (like he did his wife and daughter, who had also found that basement). And oh, yeah, anybody who gets bitten or has possessed blood slopped on them will get infected, too. So right away we are able to go, okay, you and you, and that list will get expanded thanks to further dubious choices.

The FX are practical, gory and frequent. Marie’s goopy transformation doesn’t even wait for the half-hour mark, and after that the movie is pretty much non-stop – the only problem is that what is happening is so damned familiar. It manages to etch out a bit of identity by having the cat-and-mouse between the possessed and still-human take place in a two-story house, but otherwise, this really is Evil Dead without the very real weirdness Raimi and party brought to the proceedings.

Writer/directors Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wiklund (who also double as camera, sound, and FX men) know their genre chops well, and Wither is a well-made movie on all those fronts. The actors all get a chance to be scary (and speaking as an actor, we love that shit). If I had never seen Evil Dead, I would have really gotten into this movie – but I have, and therefore all I can say is, good job everybody! But I do really wish you’d brought just a little something else to distinguish yourselves from your inspiration.

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