On the day that I came to finish off this latest instalment news began to filter of the horrific events in Las Vegas. Anyone who knows me knows my love of that city, a place I call my second home and since I started visiting there has changed my life in so many positive ways too numerous and personal to mention. In many ways Vegas is the place where I am allowed to be more than myself than at any other time in my life.
It’s a hollow gesture and I truly wish I was there to do more, but my heart goes out to anyone affected by this tragedy and my thoughts are with the many locals, workers, bands, entertainers who have made Vegas such a fun city to visit.
After my rant about some movies that cause me the pain, normal service is now resumed as I return to the land of positive feelings and spread the joy that four films have bought to my largely misspent life.
As always I choose four films: one a cult style movie, one a black and white movie, one a foreign language film and a film that was released in the past ten years. And what an diverse quartet I have for you this week. If these four movies were sat at a table at a wedding together it would be a very awkward afternoon of silences, strained conversation and probably a fist fight by the time the cake was cut.
Toxic Avenger IV: Citizen Toxie (2000)
The wonderful thing about being a movie fan is there is always something new to discover. Some exciting, obscure genre you never knew existed until you heard it being discussed by fellow geeks on a podcast. Or an actor, actress or director that you stumble across while picking a film at random action film one night while drunkenly browsing Netflix. Before you know it you’ve opened yourself up to an entire back catalogue of work you never knew existed allowing you to explore further into exciting and fresh subculture of the fringes of the movie world.
Right now I’m on a pilgrimage working my way through the films of the studio Troma, the brainchild of guerrilla film genius Lloyd Kaufman. For decades Troma has been thrilling an appreciative cult audience with B-Movie style self aware schlock, mixing horror, comedy and parody to push the boundaries of taste and hilarity. If you around in the video store days you’ll probably remember such over the top titles as Surf Nazi’s Must Die and Class of Nuke Em High and their most famous creation, the one that became the icon for the whole studio and even spawned a cartoon series “The Toxic Avenger.”
Toxic Avenger (1984) introduced us to “Toxie,” a superhero paraody character who starts out as a bullied nerd who falls into a vat of nuclear waste and is mutated into a super powerful but deformed monster. Toxie goes on a violent and gory kill spree on the criminals of Tromaville (the fictional town where most Troma films are set) while getting revenge on the jocks who made his life hell and earning the love of the town residents and even gets romantic with a conveniently blind waitress Sarah.
Toxic Avenger slowly became a cult hit and was followed by two blah sequels. Then some fifteen years later Toxie returned in a back on form fourth instalment, which ramps up the gross out, humour that gives zero fucks for political correctness and adds some great satire and so far is the funniest and favourite of all the Troma films I’ve seen so far.
It should be warned that Toxic Avenger may well cause offence if you are at all sensitive to jokes about the physically or mentally disabled, abortion, Mexicans, the overweight, Nazis, murdering of the eldery, school massacres, compulsive masturbation, sex and nudity, blind people, deaf people, gay porn and scenes of very violent gore. In fact there is something to offend or gross out most people in this movie (gotta admit I turned away at a couple of shit and cum gags). But if you have an open sense of humour you will probably also find Toxic Avenger 4 absolutely hilarious as it’s full of sharp gags and one liners throughout, firing with the relentless pace of the Airplane films or Police Squad series. Especially hilarious are the twin news readers who deliver the news with eye rolling sarcasm and fantastic cameos from Stan Lee (in the form of a voice over intro that apologises for Toxic 2 and 3), Ron Jeremy surprisingly in the role of straight man as the mayor and Motorhead’s Lemmy who only has a few lines but is amazing in delivering “That’s a damn shame happening on Take a Mexican to Lunch day and all!”
In Toxic Avenger 4, Toxie saves a “special needs” school from being blown up by the terrorist group the Diaper Mafia but accidently opens a dimensional rift with a mirror reality and he swaps places with a doppleganger the evil “Noxious Offender” Noxie. As Noxie goes on a bloody rampage on the citizens of the regular Tromaville and smashing through the town’s other superheroes led by Sgt Kabukiman (another Troma creation making this a shared Troma crossover universe decades before Marvel started the trend), Toxie has to survive the dangerous ruined Troma of “Noxie’s” crime ridden world where evil reigns.
Watching a Troma movie for the first time can be a shock to the system of what’s to be expected of a professional movie. Some will bail in the first five minutes mistaking the campy acting and corny dialogue for being bad, but for those who “Get it” and recognise them as deliberate parody and done for laughs a whole universe of fun awaits, providing you have the stomach for Toxie dismembering and crushing the skulls of wave after wave of villains in glorious explicit gory scenes.
What also becomes obvious is that for all their celebrated low budgets, Kaufman’s films are extremely well shot and put together. The camp and gore is presented in some really imaginative scenes and Kaufman’s direction keeps the film together when it gets crazy towards the end. The long showdown between the Toxic Avenger and Noxious Offender within Tromaville Hospital, mixes the scenes with the battle between the pairs unborn children still in Sarah’s womb…..Yes this actually happens, so add being offended by brawling unborn babies twins to the list of things that may turn you off this movie.
Toxic Avenger 4 is wild, original, actually witty and tons and tons of fun, especially if you get a kick out of laughing at stuff you know that 21st century sensibilities will chastise you for finding funny. Like with most Troma films it isn’t for everyone, but even coming from Kaufman’s studio it’s a movie unlike anything you’ll find either from Hollywood or the B-Movie scene. Toxic 4 takes the notion of “Guilty pleasure” and takes it to a whole other level.
It’s heartening that in this day of CGI where a hundred starships can fly across the scene in every direction without inciting the merest flutter of my eyebrows, a film from 1927 can still feature science fiction that make me feel a sense of awe in it’s simplistic beauty.
The tour of the futuristic city landscape in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis with low flying aircraft flying between it’s giant skyscrapers while looking down on a bustling trail of vehicles, looks amazing and wonderfully creates the sense of an epic, sprawling society through the use of angles that give depth to the small models that bring it life. But Metropolis does this throughout, with scenes such as the nightmare drudgery of the giant industrial machines where workers are practically living cogs and the huge riot scenes where every one of those people in those vast crowds is an actual extra. Metropolis is all the more impressive when you consider the time it was made and the best of the resources Lang had to make the best of.
Even more impressive and iconic is the haunting scenes of the robotic woman, which was an inspiration for George Lucas’s design for C3PO.
The actual story of what happened to Metropolis after it’s 1927 release in German are as fascinating as the story being told on the screen. The plot centres around Freder the son of an industrialist and member of the social elite who’s eyes are opened to inequality of the society and plight of the working masses when he falls in love with a political demonstrator called Maria. Worried by her influence on his workers the father attempts to use a robot to take the place of Maria and discredit her and quell any potential organised rebellion. However the robot using Maria’s image instigates a violent uprising bent on destroying the city.
The politically charged themes open to interpretation meant the film was subject to cuts and reediting internationally for fears of a Communist subtext. At home in Germany the film unwittingly gained Lang the respect of the Nazi party who embraced the narrative and despite his Jewish heritage would later offer him a role as the head of the German film studio. Lang got the fuck out of dodge that night and fled to Paris.
The various edits and versions meant that the original cut of Metropolis was lost and over time what existed was a patch work put together of scenes from various sources and reels from around the world and stills employed to attempt to fill in the gaps in narrative by missing scenes. A 1984 restoration took the controversial and to some blasphemous step of colour tinting the film and adding a modern soundtrack with music from rock acts from the likes of Queen (this was my first viewing of the film and film nerd that I am I turned the sound off and turned the colour of my TV down to try and get as classical an experience as possible).
A more faithful restoration emerged in 2002, which used the film’s original score and added more scenes which were slowly being discovered in museums and private collections. Finally in 2008 a damaged but salvageable complete print was discovered in Argentina. The negative was restored (aided by adding some scenes from a recently discovered New Zealand print that contained scenes that were too damaged on the Argentine print). The result was a 2010 release that was almost the complete original film, with only two scenes that were beyond the repair and have yet to be found anywhere else.
Metropolis is a fascinating film to watch due to it’s technical and artistic achievements and it’s heavy handed but engaging politic commentary that is sadly still relevant almost a century later.
The Villainess (2017)
Keanu Reeves, Hugh Jackman, Charlize Theron, Ben Affleck, Vin Diesel you all gave it a good go for most spectacular action movie of 2017, but sorry last week I saw a Korean film that saw the intensely charismatic Kim Ok Bin outdo you all.
I had to go out of my way to find an independent “art house” cinema that was showing “The Villainess,” but the blistering experience as reward for my effort was so worth it. Incidentally, this cinema was so old school I had to be guided to a seat by a lady with a torch so pitch black dark was the cinema.
The Villainess starts with a long point of view scene where we’re looking through the eyes of a complete badass storming through corridors dispatching wave after wave of villains with guns, swords, axes, kicks punches and smashing through a fair few windows along the way. Finally the person looks into a mirror and we’re looking into the reflection of a woman, which I’m not sure if this is supposed to be a twist (like in the Prodigy video for Smack My Bitch Up!) as I don’t recall anything that suggests it’s a woman up to this point but let’s face it it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who’s bought a ticket to see this.
From this point on we see the lady shoot, kick and stab through more bad guys with breathtaking pace, agility and choreography which practically screams “Fuck you John Wick!” as she slaughters her way through some revenge fuelled crusade. After been arrested for mass murder the young woman is taken into a hidden assassin programme by the secret service where she spends several years learning a variety of skills as well as bringing up her new born baby (oh yeah it turns out she was pregnant when she was murdering an army of Korean gangsters). Eventually she’s released in everyday society as a sleeper agent to be called up on when her assassin skills are required.
Long term readers of Couchzone Movie club (and if there are any of you God bless you) may recognise this plot from the French film Nikita and yes it was obviously an influence. There’s even a recreation of the scene where the assassin has to take a trip to the bathroom and use the postiton as a sniper nest to take out a target.
But Villainess defers from Nikita in that she is no empty slate and comes to the agency with a backstory that slowly unveils to show how she grew up to become so skilled as a killer and consumed by revenge.
Villainess isn’t wall to wall action. The film wisely lets the audience settle after the frantic opening and instead focuses on Sook-Hee coming to terms with her new life as she’s unknowingly manipulated by her superiors, has to contend with a rivalry with a psychotic fellow agent and has cope with a twist in her mission that sees her past catching up with her threatening the life she is trying to build with her child.
We’re allowed to get to know Sook-Hee, become invested in her and so the tension builds suitably and we’re ready when the final showdown with her target explodes with a finale of crazy stunts and an exhausting display of martial arts, brimming with violence and emotion.
The Villainess is played by Kim Ok-Bin and she is absolutely stunning, both in looks and charisma. She has a quiet almost shy manner for much of the film, but with a seething intensity that makes her slip into a violence fuelled raging warrior totally believable. Even when she’s slashing her way through hordes of villains she seems to be working her ass off to achieve every single kill, each draining and fatiguing her as she fights on.
I loved The Villainess, a crazy over the top movie that left me in awe and worn out by it’s intensity. South Korean cinema is doing for me what Hong Kong cinema did for me in the 90’s, offering me something wild and fresh and I hope to see more. And I definately hope to see more of Kim Ok-Bin hopefully in Villainess 2.
Cassette/ Identity Crisis (2012)
If you’re open to viewing film making on a budget then It’s really worth going out of your way to find the first full length feature film by the awesomely talented David Irons. Irons cut his teeth on music videos and a short black and white noir film called “Callback” before deciding to make his own film in 2012, filming it in Hertforshire, England on a budget of around £2000 (a further £2000 was spent on the filming equipment).
Four years later and the finished result that made it’s way to Cannes was “Cassette” an atmospheric and sometimes spooky tale of a teenager Robyn living in a small village who becomes obsessed with a mysterious, older rebellious girl. Spurned on by a mixtape abandoned by the girl known as “Phoenix” Robyn begins to copy like her idol in her clothes, attitude and lifestyle. She even goes as far as getting the job vacated by Phoenix in a small vintage clothes shop.
It’s an engaging coming of age story, questioning the idea of identity as Robyn drifts further into her role as the Phoenix. Blurring the lines between the two characters is the actress Kelby Keenan who takes on both roles as Robyn and Phoenix. As Robyn’s journey takes her into dark and potentially dangerous situations there are complex twists in store that make repeat viewings extremely rewarding.
Set in the 80’s “Cassette” really has a tone that fits in with that era without being sickeningly nostalgic. With some inventive shots the film at times looks beautiful, making use of the remote Hertfordshire countryside to convey the lonely environment for a girl like Robyn to have to discover herself in. It also makes stunning use of colour, with vibrant images of afternoon sunsets and deep blue tinges with the dark night and club scenes.
There is also an authentic 80’s style soundtrack, but rather than filled with famous hits (which even if attainable would no doubt have skyrocketed the budget) is all original music. All found on the abandoned cassette tape it fits perfectly with the narrative of the film and is of a quality that alone is worth checking the film out to hear.
Cassette appeared at Cannes and gained a fair amount of attention and good feedback and Irons was able to sell the movie to a studio with talk of the film getting an American release, with DVDs and an appearance on Netflix’s library due in 2016.
Sadly it’s near the end of 2017 and movement on Cassette appearing for a wider audience seems to have stalled. The studio in question insisted the punchy and apt title of “Cassette” be changed to the more generic “Identity Crisis” and apart from that nothing seemed to happen. In a recent interview with Radiodrome Irons had obvious frustration with the situation but it was clear was unable to go too in depth on what ever issues have landed the film in limbo.
It’s disappointing, because Cassette/Identity Crisis is a little cool movie, a real passionate labour of love that showcases Irons as a genuine talent who appreciates the fine art of movie making. It’s creative, looks great and sounds great and should be seen by a larger audience.
Officially it’s unreleased. But it’s out there and right now it’s not that difficult find (though hurry as who knows how long it will remain that way).
Next time out I’ll be looking at the following little treats. Michael Caine gets Sylvester Stallone to play in goal against the Nazi’s, a film about working in a shop, a classic anime that hasn’t been tarnished by a Hollywood live remake and an awesome monster movie that came out this year and none of you fuckers went to see.
Til next time,
Try to be nice to each other