Welcome to the Jungle (2007): Warning this Film Can Cause Drowsiness

We stopped by Blockbuster’s today as they are having a “going out of business” sale of all their existing stock. Oddly enough they are also still renting movies. Also in the odd category is the fact that a lot of their “second-hand” games were more expensive than the same game new on the internet.

Still, some of their deals on Blu-ray pre-owned films were pretty hard to ignore and I picked up three. The most expensive of the lot was £3.85, not bad for a Blu-ray. One of the cheaper ones (£2.80) was Welcome to the Jungle, a horror film that sounded tantalizingly familiar.

I thought at first it was because the name of the film was the same as the comedy film with the Rock and Christopher Walken; a vastly superior film to the one I purchased today as it was at least funny.

Welcome to the Jungle was written and directed by Jonathan Hensleigh who may be a bit more familiar to folks as a writer than director. Hensleigh wrote Jumanji and Die Hard with a Vengance as well as Armageddon. Unfortunately Welcome to the Jungle is not his finest work. In fact watching the film (for the second time) I devoutly wished that he’d left his pen at home instead of scripting this abysmal mess.

As I watched this slow-moving (treacle dripping from a cold bun moves faster than this film) story, I kept thinking that it seemed familiar but I really could not understand why. About halfway through the film, Meg tweeted me that she was pretty sure that we’d seen it before. She mentioned “white-painted” people who were stalking a couple on a river. I was at that point exactly in the film.

The second I read her tweet and saw the couple drifting down the river while being “menaced” by tribal cannibals who were painted white, it hit me with all the power of a wet slimy noodle; I had seen the bloody thing before. I can also tell you quite honestly that I was just as unimpressed then as I was with today’s second viewing.

The story centres around two young couples; two all American boys and two Australian girls. One couple, Colby and Mandi have been a couple for a while. Mandi invites an old friend from the land of Oz to come visit her on Fiji. Her mate, the oddly named Bijou, is not pleased to see what she’d planned as a “girlie” adventure turn her into a third wheel.

Colby hooks Bijou up with an American bartender named Mikey and as both of them are pretty much shallow carbon copies of each other, they hit it off. Mikey tells the others about a helicopter pilot who saw an old white guy in Papua New Guinea who he thinks might be Michael Rockefeller.

Michael Rockefeller went missing in that area in 1961. Rumours of his being adopted by one of the cannibal tribes in the area have been around for years. Colby decides they should find Michael and interview him, selling his story to the highest bidder. With an estimate of a million dollars as their starting point the couples go off in search of the missing Rockefeller.

This is another of those “found film” movies that has glutted the market since Blair Witch. I would go on record as saying that this is one of the worst found films to date. The first 55 minutes of the film are dull beyond belief. We get to see a lot of the group’s interaction with each other and very occasionally the locals.

The interaction with the locals is kept to a minimum mainly, it seems, because the company could not afford to pay the local extras enough money to talk. Only when the group of explorers attempt to cross the border do the local’s speak, but it is without the aid of subtitles. On one hand, not translating increases the unease of the group and us when one of the border guards yank Mikey out of the van and shoot an AK-47 over his head. On the other hand we don’t really care about Mikey or any of the others really so they could have translated anyway.

We get to see the disintegration of the social ties within this little group. As time and distance goes by, the two couples divide into a pushy couple and an anarchic couple. Presumably we are meant to side with the pushy group but again; we don’t care as neither couple consist of fully developed characters.

This film runs for 79 minutes and it is only in the last 24 minutes that anything really happens. It’s only after the two couples split up, Bijou and Mikey go off on their own with all the food and the map, that things start to pick up. Unfortunately even the “exciting” part of the film is pretty low-key and leisurely.

The case of the Blu-ray had the quote GUT WRENCHING and the phrase DON’T GET EATEN on it. It should have had a warning on the front that said, “Caution watching this film may cause drowsiness.” Definitely don’t pay one red cent for this film, either to purchase or rent it. Wait until it comes on Netflix or on HBO or some other film channel.

Even at the knock down price of £2.85 the cost is too high for the entertainment it does not deliver. In fact I think that people should be paid to watch this dross and the pay should be a lot more than what I spent on it.

It’s okay dear, it’s almost over…

Junk Shiryōgari (2000): Yakuza, Robbers and Zombies

Filmed in 1999 this schlocky bit of fun is a remake of a Japanese Mafia film called Score. Both were directed and written by Atsushi Muroga and both films pay tribute to the films Reservoir Dogs although Junk specifically pays tribute to Re-Animator and the original Dawn of the Dead. [Courtesy of Wikipedia]

The film is about a joint American/Japanese science experiment that deals with re-animating dead tissue. Due to a mistake, the experiment creates zombies. While the experiment is going on, a bunch of thieves rob a jewellery store that belongs to a Yakuza gang.

The thieves run for their lives being chased by the police and the Yakuza. The thieves take refuge in the building where the experiment has gone awry and pretty soon it’s every “man” for himself as the military, Yakuza and jewel thieves all fight zombies and each other.

Now this film is not going to win any awards for the acting. It is a real toss-up between the American General and the Japanese scientists English speaking as to who comes off worse. For my money it is the General hands down. I have never laughed so hard as during the scene where someone comes into the General’s office. His acting in the scene should have won a giant Raspberry.

But bad acting aside, it is one hell of a fun movie to watch and the main zombie (complete with white hair) is kind of scary and pretty much indestructible. Things do get a bit confusing in the middle and there could have been a few more Yakuza, but it all works out at the end.

The main has to do with the drug that the two governmental agencies have developed. The drug gets out of control with a bit of help by the first zombie. It then reanimates every dead thing it comes in contact with; creating an army of aggressive corpses.

There is a sort sub-plot about the scientist and the dead girl that they are experimenting on. She is either his fiancé (or rather was) or girlfriend and he’s hoping that the experiment will bring her back in a good way. But she comes back with scary white hair and one hell of an attitude that shows just what a bad idea this was.

The film is a little bit predictable in the ending, with the two characters that most people will pick as the obvious survivors. Until the end though the action is fast and furious and at times almost claustrophobic in places; it’s a great ride and the Yakuza with their bad-boy attitudes are quite funny.

If you are looking for a witty doppelgänger for Shaun of the Dead or the scariness of the Dawn of the Dead remake, you’ll be disappointed. But if you like your zombies wild, wacky and damn near unstoppable you’ll love Junk.

If you get a chance to see this you should. The atrocious acting by the American actor (who was obviously taken off of the local US Army base or the American Embassy) in his scenes with the scientist are worth the price of admission alone.

Not a “star” movie by any means, but a movie that is just so much fun to watch; you won’t forget it. Like the dead corpses that are inadvertently brought back to life (repeatedly) in the film, it will keep popping up in your head long after you see it.

 

R-Point (2004): Ghosts & Ghoulies Vietnamese style

This 2004 South Korean horror “war” film was the first horror film I’d seen set during a war. More importantly it was the first horror film set during the  Vietnamese war. This highly unpopular war (protested vehemently in the US on university campuses across the country and more draft dodgers than all the wars ever fought) has not featured a lot in the horror department. Except for the superior 1990 film Jacob’s Ladder.

Of course filmmakers might have been a bit leery about trying to compete with the brilliant Jacob’s Ladder; which to be fair was a great film based around the backdrop of the Vietnamese war and not during it. I know it scared the ever-loving crap out of me when I saw it and I don’t think I was the only person to be totally “creeped out” by the film.

But South Korean writer/director Su-chang Kong rose to the challenge and came up with a film that had all the creep factor of Jacob’s Ladder combined with the chills and uneasiness of the unknown and dead people who don’t look or act dead at all.

Set in 1972, R-Point is about a radio message from a patrol that went missing six months ago on a Vietnamese island and the men are all assumed to be dead. The commander of the base decides to send out another patrol to find the missing men.  Lieutenant Choi Tae-in (Woo-seong Kam) is a highly decorated war hero who is also in a lot of trouble for going to an off-limits part of town to visit a prostitute and while he’s there, the soldier who accompanied him is murdered by a VC insurgent. Choi kills the woman responsible, but the soldier is still dead.

After being told that this mission is his chance to redeem himself, he and eight other soldiers are to find the missing soldiers and bring their dog-tags home. The men who have “volunteered” are from the local base’s “Clap clinic” and men who are near their rotation date. They have all been told that if they are successful that they’ll take the jet back home to a heroes welcome.

Posing on the beach.

When the squad reach the island they take a picture of themselves on the beach and begin heading towards the location of the radio signals. While going through a forest, they get ambushed by an old man and a woman. When the ambushers are taken care of, the old man dead and the woman dying, the men come up to a Chinese message on a stone.

One of the men, who can read Chinese, reads the message that says years ago, Chinese troops killed Vietnamese villagers and put their body in a lake; later the Vietnamese filled the lake in and built a shrine over the mass grave. It is now a sacred place. As the men leave one of the men urinates on the stone revealing the rest of the message; it says that anyone who has blood on their hands will never leave the place.

The men find what they think is the  “temple” and use that as their base of operations. While they are there, they meet a squad of American soldiers who aren’t what they seem and they find out about a French garrison that was wiped out years ago. As the men begin searching the island, the radio operator starts getting messages from a French radio operator who tells him that he and his brother will come over to visit. When he tells the Lieutenant, the first thing the lieutenant asks is how the operator knows what the Frenchman is saying as he does not speak French.

So when did you learn to speak French?

This film is atmospheric, scary, uneasy, and will have you jumping at any loud noise. It is a “look behind you” movie. It will seriously “creep” you out and the many plot twists will have you second-guessing throughout the entire film. The film actually starts entering the land of “creepy happenings” from the moment the squad reaches the island. When the film ended, Meg and I went back to the beginning and found a lot of things that we had missed the first time, this not only showed the film makers cleverness but it  seriously added to the effect  of the film

All the actors are top-notch and really sell their characters and you can connect with them quickly. The film looks great considering it was shot on a shoe-string budget. All the scenes were filmed in Cambodia around Bokor Hill Station which is an actual French ghost town.

I have watched this film repeatedly and it never fails to give me goose bumps. I will leave you with one bit of advice: if you watch this film, do not watch it in the dark or watch it alone. It’s that scary. From the first scene where the radio picks up the static ridden signal of the “missing men” to the last frame, it is war horror gold.

The “missing” patrol.

War Horse (2011): Sobbingly Sentimental Spielberg

I am not a huge fan of films that are just made to make the audience tear up and blubber at the screen. The Champ for instance; both the original and the remake put me right off. I don’t want to see a film that makes me cry. If I wanted that, I’d just look at the injustices of the everyday world. But sometimes; just sometimes, I do like sentimental films and War Horse is just such a film.

Directed by Stephen Spielberg and released in 2011 under the auspices of Disney, War Horse does not feature a cast of “stars” because he wanted the emphasis to be on the horse and not the actors presumably. That is not to say that the actors in the film were not of stellar quality. The cast features a lot of England’s finest screen Thespians extant. I saw a lot of familiar faces from actors whom I know to be considered top-notch in their profession and not without good reason.

I was particularly pleased to see one of my favourite “new” actors Toby Kebbell who I’d first seen in Shane Meadows‘ film Dead Man’s Shoes. This young man is a brilliant actor and should be seen more often. I am hoping that his appearance in a triple A feature by the undisputed master of sentimental saga’s (Spielberg) will bring him to the notice of the “big boys” in Hollywood land.

But enough about the actors;  I now want to talk about the film for a little bit.

War Horse is a giant leap into the past of films and film making. It is almost an equestrian version of Lassie. The story is certainly familiar enough; Boy and horse unite, get separated, horse passes through many hands influencing all who meet him, and despite astronomical odds survives a war (the only difference from Lassie really) to become re-united with the boy at the film’s end. How’s that for a brief summary of the film?

The film opens with the birth of the horse and its eventual sale to a local farmer who, a bit worse for the drink, outbids the leaseholder on his Devon farm for the animal. Much to the landlord’s derision of course, for the man needs a plough-horse not a thoroughbred. The farmer, Ted Narracott (Peter Mullan) takes the horse home to more derision by his wife Rose (Emily Watson) and to the delight of his son Albert (Jeremy Irvine).

Albert names the horse Joey and trains him not only to follow commands but to shoulder the harness for the plough. The landlord Squire Lyon’s (played with suitable nastiness by David Thewlis says the horse will never break to the plough and that he will repossess the farm if Ted comes up short on the rent he owes.

Of course Albert or Albie as everyone calls him does get Joey to plough the field; much to the delight of the villagers who’ve come by to watch. Meanwhile, the German’s are busily starting WWI and when war breaks out Ted, whose crop of turnips is partially ruined by bad weather, takes Joey and sells him to an officer in the army.

The officer seeing Albie’s distress at the sale of Joey promises to get Joey back to him at the end of the war, if he is able. With this somewhat ominous promise Joey joins the war effort on the English side. Unfortunately we all know how the first war to end all wars was waged. A lot of men died under machine gun fire and in the trenches. And on Joey’s first charge his rider is dispatched in due course and he becomes the property of the German army.

Joey in the trenches.

The film follows Joey’s journey through the battle fields and the backdrop of the European countryside where it was fought. It is pretty wrenching stuff to watch. I sat through most of the film with a knot in my throat that would have choked an elephant. At least three times towards the end of the film I actually had tears in my eyes. And when actual sobs broke unwillingly from me, I cursed Spielberg for this horribly wonderful film.

Spielberg specialises in bringing the child out of us. He has the ability to make me cry more than any other director. E.T., Hook, and now War Horse have all made me blubber like a baby. Thankfully I did not see this film in the cinema or I’d have been mortified at crying in public.

The cinematography is on par with all of Spielberg’s best films and the war scenes are touching, sad, and criminal. Criminal because the First World War cost so much in lives of young men who romantically joined the army to fight the “Hun” and return home heroes; unfortunately, a lot of them came home in a box or not at all.

So despite that fact that I felt that Mr Spielberg had gone straight for the sentimental jugular, so to speak, I loved the film; every sad and teary-eyed bit of it. If you have got a box of tissues handy (or two) and don’t mind crying your eyes out; watch this film.

Oh and if you can wipe your eyes clear enough, watch out for Toby Kebbell’s turn as Geordie in the last part of the film. It’s a great scene that has been done in war films before (you’ll know what I mean when you see it) but that doesn’t take away from the effectiveness or the humour of it.

War Horse is a definite 5 star film that received critical raves and was a box office smash; it received a plethora of award nominations and goes down in celluloid history as the first film that Spielberg edited digitally.

Watch it.

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Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975): Oblivion in the Outback

Directed by Peter Weir (The Cars that Ate Paris) and adapted for the screen by Cliff Green from the book written by Joan Lindsay. The film has the “unofficial” title of being Australia’s most loved film and it was a critic’s favourite when it opened in 1975. It has since risen to a cult favourite. The screenplay should be counted as one of the best adaptations of a book it is amazingly faithful although the ending was altered a bit.

The film got off to an inauspicious start when the actress cast as Mrs Appleyard fell ill at the last moment and Rachel Roberts agreed to step in and take over the role. Such tricks of fate can seldom be so advantageous. Roberts gave the role as the schools headmistress a sinister and cold air that was apparent in the book and that helped the adaptation seem all the more faithful.

The remainder of the cast was split into well-known Australian actors and most of the children were unknown. Helen Morse, Jacki Weaver, Tom Llewellyn-Jones, and Anne-Louise Lambert were all well-known to the Australian public with Morse and Weaver being somewhat better known than the rest. Weaver seems to have enjoyed a “Barbara Windsor” type of reputation and Morse had been extremely active in television.

The film, like the book, is set in the year 1900 on St Valentine’s Day. Appleyard’s College for girls, which is a boarding school for European wealthy off-spring (and the odd Australian rich girl) are going out for a picnic at the local geographical wonder, Hanging Rock. Only one girl is left behind; because of her stubborn refusal to learn a poem she has been punished.

Also like the book, the girls and their chaperones (the French teacher and Miss McCraw) as well as the drag driver Mr Hussey all arrive at the picnic spot. Unfortunately not all of them return. Three of the girls have gone missing as well as Miss McCraw. While we know that the girls have gone exploring the rock, we never really know what happened to Miss McCraw apart from the chubby Edith’s story of seeing the teacher in her pantaloons when she alone ran down the rock full of screams and hysteria.

The class before everything goes so wrong.

The film then shows just how deeply this event has affected everyone and the resultant hysteria and shock of the Victorian inhabitants of this ancient and savage country.

Weir maintains an air of eeriness that pervades the entire film. This combined with the odd nature of Hanging Rock and the haunting (and sometimes very obtrusive) music builds a state a languorous tension that slowly builds throughout the film. The cinematography is misty and foggy, high lighting the ephemeral look of the film and the images of the missing girls, especially the otherworldly Miranda, and swans heighten the feelings of a mythical aura.

The overall feeling of the girls outing is one of impending doom. Weir’s use of slowing the frame rate as we follow the girls (and the other people at the site) movements during the picnic and later as they climb the rock on their journey into oblivion; he also uses the slower frame rate when dealing with other emotional or crucial scenes.

Like the book, the film shows the heat of the summer and the sounds. Cicada’s buzzing while heat waves shimmer over the napping girls; the rising dust from horses and the drag (carriage) and the heavy uncomfortable clothes that everyone wore in the oppressive heat. It also showed the misty appearance of Hanging Rock itself, viewed from the distance and looking like some eerie and dangerous monolith waiting for victims to come close enough for it to devour.

After finally reading Joan Lindsay’s brilliant book that the film had been made of, I searched for a copy of the film. Luckily there was a three disc Deluxe Edition for sale via Amazon and I snatched it up. It has the Director’s cut; the original theatrical cut (made from a negative as the original theatrical cut could not be found) and a disc devoted to the making of and other documentary films about the movie.

I have not seen the director’s cut yet, but I did watch the theatrical cut and watch most of the special features. These were priceless bits of interviews with the cast and crew; they also included an interview with the author Joan Lindsay. It was very interesting to find that not a lot of people were pleased with Peter Weir’s decision to re-cut the film years after it had been made.

I also noted on Amazon that a lot of folks did not like the “new” director’s cut either. I will watch it, just to see what slant Weir adds or takes away from the original. Either way, it is easy to see why this has been declared Australia’s favourite film. The film has aged well and my only complaint  was that the music was sometimes so loud that I could not easily hear the dialogue. This was actually solved by putting the subtitles on. I am sure that part of the problem lay with my laptops limited stereo capabilities though and not of the soundtrack.

Picnic at Hanging Rock is a classic film that should be right at the top of “films to see before you shuffle off this mortal coil.” If you haven’t seen it, do rush out and find it, stream it, rent it, and try to get hold of the special features. It is definitely worth the time it takes to see what went on “way back then.”

Climbing to oblivion?