1993 / Director. Patrick Allen.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
Remember Martin Grove? He was the bad guy from THE KARATE KID who ran the Cobra Kai dojo. And remember William Zabka? He played Johnny, the blonde thug from THE KARATE KID. Well they star alongside each other in SHOOTFIGHTER: FIGHT TO THE DEATH. It's a martial arts movie from the early 90s about an illegal fight scene known as Shoot Fighting. It's a no-holds barred, ultra violent fight movie where every fight is to the death and any weapon of choice is allowed. This movie eluded me over the years and I only recently discovered it for the first time. Ha, it's pretty fucking cool. In the opening scene Martin Grove walks into the ring and literally tears out his opponents throat. I was kind of shocked by the graphic nature of it and suddenly realised that I was watching a kick-ass flick. Two brothers are tricked into fighting in a Shoot Fight tournament in Mexico and when they've in too deep their sensai comes to their rescue (played by the legendary Bolo Yeung). The movie doesn't offer anything original and the script is mostly contrived, as expected... but the fight scenes are well staged and the contact is brutal. I love it when movies pass me by and I discover them decades later. SHOOTFIGHTER is certainly a cut above many other DTV movies and probably deserves more respect than I got. It must have been popular enough because it spawned a sequel four years later, which included the same cast. If you love BLOODSPORT then this is the next best thing. Pretty cool.
2013 / Director. James Ponsoldt.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
I knew very little about THE SPECTACULAR NOW prior to seeing it but the cover art and synopsis had me sold. The film begins like a typical frat-house style of comedy. Parties, keg taps and beer pong... in fact the star of the film (and the centre of all of this action) is Miles Teller, who starred in 21 & OVER and PROJECT X. This is the type of schtick we've come to expect from him and in many ways THE SPECTACULAR NOW is almost a serious sequel to 21 & OVER. Always drunk, ever the "fun guy" and a heart bigger than Texas he is a tormented soul and doesn't even know it. He meets a nerdy girl and falls in love with her. Their love is strong, although they reach mutual ground at a different pace to one another. The film then takes these characters on a journey of discovery. He is struggling to find his identity and place in the world while she knows exactly what she wants and is determined to succeed. This is a very smart film and the script is wonderfully written. It is as much a teen comedy as it is a dramatic romance. Miles Teller delivers a sterling performance and has, no doubt, silenced a lot of critics. This guy can act and from a quick IMDb search it's clear that his career is going places. He's set to star in the new FANTASTIC FOUR movie as well as play Dan Aykroyd in the upcoming John Belushi biopic. The female lead is played by Shailene Woodley who also starred in THE DESCENDANTS (amongst a heap more) and she is really lovely too. They both give heartfelt and genuine performances, which lift this film above the typical teen movie. It's a movie with smarts and has a lot of depth. Every generation has a few truly solid and significant coming-of-age films and the current generation are lucky to have some really decent ones like this. THE KINGS OF SUMMER, THE WAY WAY BACK and MUD are a few others that offer today's teens something more substantial and true. I wish I had seen it sooner... I loved it and highly recommend you see it.
2013 / Director. Bille August.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
The title NIGHT TRAIN TO LISBON has a ring to it and it's a name that feels ingrained in the psyche... and yet its story was unknown to me. I picked up the blu-ray yesterday and quickly read the brief synopsis. Not giving it much thought, I was convinced enough favour it over other films vying for my attention. To my surprise NIGHT TRAIN TO LISBON told a completely different story to the one I had anticipated. Jeremy Irons plays a Swiss high school teacher who stops a young woman from leaping to her death. She flees, leaving behind her red overcoat and a book. When the teacher finds train tickets to Lisbon in one of the pockets he has an uncharacteristic moment of impulse and drops what he's doing and leaves everything behind. During his travel he reads the book and finds himself overwhelmed by it's true story. This is where the film became something unexpected to me. Call me naive but I was expecting a simple story of self-discovery as this man searches for the woman he saved... but instead, it becomes an intricate and twisted tale of historical significance and heartbreak. The book is autobiographical and takes place during the last revolution of Lisbon and the film alternates between past and present. At times the narrative becomes confusing and matching the past characters with the present ones isn't always easy, but once you have your head around it the story is absorbing. Jeremy Irons is solid in the lead and he's given wonderful support by the rest of the cast. I wouldn't call it a great script by any means but were it told more simply then perhaps it would have been. NIGHT TRAIN TO LISBON might not have been the personal journey I was hoping for but it delivered a mystery that kept me glued and genuinely intrigued. It also has a wonderful end-scene that, while contrived, left me with a huge smile.
2013. Director. Caradog W James.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
THE MACHINE is a low budget science fiction thriller that looks incredible. It opens with an intense opening scene that is not only candy for the eyes but is also horrific. From the get go you know that you're in safe hands. The SFX are immediately impressive and the script is already clearly solid. The film is set in a future setting and tells the story a scientist working for the military to resign super artificial intelligence that is self-aware. The title of THE MACHINE refers to his latest project, a self-conscious female droid who hasn't the comprehension of her capabilities. Using knowledge of her master's private life she tries to piece together a human level of existence. The consequence of her strength turn violent and deadly and the greater powers behind the project begin to exploit her. There is so much to grasp with this impressive film. Firstly it was made on a limited budget of less than £1 pounds and yet has the polish and aesthetic of a multi million dollar Hollywood movie. The first half of the film hints to some classic sci-fi of the 80s and could be described as John Carpenter meets Ridley Scott. The set design is fantastic and the score is hugely reminiscent of Carpenter. And then the second half evolves and becomes highly sophisticated and hi-tech. As the story unravels the film begins to draw comparisons to films like SPECIES and SPLICE. Clearly THE MACHINE draws influence from all kinds of sources (GHOST IN THE SHELL is another big one) but it is still very much it's own thing. Wonderful performances, a smart script and a disturbing psychological thriller component make it a hugely impressive film. People with short attention spans might switch off because the story does meander and unfold at a very slow pace. This made it more haunting for me and allowed me to grasp the human story that underlines the greater narrative. If you love smart sci-fi then definitely check out THE MACHINE.
2003. Director. Vincenzo Natali.
Review by Glenn Cochrane
NOTHING was the film that confirmed Vinenzo Natali as a contender for my top 10 list of directors. His debut film CUBE did a number on my brain and his follow up, CYPHER, pummelled it some more... and then came NOTHING. It's an apt title because after his first two films this one left the contents of my head exactly that. This is the second instalment in Natali's proposed "Minimalist Trilogy" with the first being CUBE and the second yet to be made. 90% of this movie takes place in a cast expanse of nothingness. A never ending atmosphere of white. Everything but two best friends and their house has vanished. Where? How? Why? DUNNO! It just has and our two quirky friends are faced with being the only humans in existence. Much like CUBE, the film relies on the viewer's acceptance of the situation and provides no answers. Answers are irrelevant and the character interaction and circumstance it what matters. So what exactly does one do with nothing? And how the fuck do you make a feature length film out of it? Natali and his two stars, David Hewitt & Andrew Miller (who also co-wrote), have delivered low budget experimental movie that plays for laughs and explores the absurd. The performances are fantastic as these two mates spiral into insanity amongst a sea of white. The gags keep on rolling and the nonsense escalates to an inevitable, yet highly amusing climax. NOTHING has a very limited appeal and as the owner of a video store I can confirm that it pisses more people off than it pleases. "Suspension of disbelief" seems to be an unreasonable demand on most folk.... but not me. Weird is good. Strange is wonderful. And a surreal mind-fuck is good for the sanity every now and then.... one must stay on their toes.
2013 / Director. Stephen Frears.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
With all of the cult films and b-movies I've been consuming lately I thought it was high time I turned my attention to something more serious. PHILOMENA has been on my radar since it's theatrical run and tonight I finally sat down and watched it. To say that it left an impression is an understatement. It broke my heart. It reduced me to tears and it amused me all at once. It tells the true story of Philomena Lee, an elderly lady who has been searching for her son for fifty years. She fell pregnant in her late teens and was abandoned by her family to a convent, which housed "sinful" mothers and their children. All children were kept separate and most were sold off to wealthy Catholic Americans. The mothers were forced to work gruelling, laborious jobs seven days a week as repentance. PHILOMENA tells the story of one woman's search with the assistance of a journalist who is desperate to redeem his career after a public sacking. Together they travel to America looking for the smallest of clues. I needn't say any more about the story, only that it is full of ups and downs and twists and turns. This is an amazing tale that will warm your heart one minute and infuriate you the next. Judi Dench and Steve Coogan deliver stella performances and have been paired with each other brilliantly. Coogan plays the cynical atheist while Dench is the ever-faithful Catholic. The film has received as much criticism for being anti-Catholic as it has received accolades from just about everywhere else. It is not an anti-religion movie at all, but it is definitely a condemnation of the institute itself and the crimes committed behind its walls (cue the anger). PHILOMENA is a beautiful film that manages to balance the drama and comedy equally. It never lets the comedy undermine the drama and the performances given are both charming and heartfelt. A definite winner and another score for director Stephen Frears. A brilliant filmmaker.
1997. Director. Vincenzo Natali.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
CUBE sparked my love for Canadian filmmaker Vincenzo Natali. It was made at a time when I was exploring cinema on a deeper level and was beginning to overlook a lot of mainstream stuff in favour of the more subversive. I was also living in Canada at the time and my interest in local directors was at fever pitch. The day I first saw CUBE was a day when I had my mind well and truly fucked. I went along to a double feature which also included Jean-Pierre Jeunet's CITY OF LOST CHILDREN and by the time I walked out of the cinema I was fried. What the hell had I just seen? CUBE is both simplistic and incredibly complex. The set-up has a group of people waking up inside a cubed room. All 6 walls have doors and each door leads to another identical room with 6 more doors... and so on. Some of the rooms are rigged with deadly booby traps, while others provide safe passage to the next room. The characters have no recollection of how they got there or what the place even is. By methods of deduction and sheer luck they soon unravel secrets of how to decypher numerical codes, which are branded into each room and discover that each of them has a specific purpose for being inside the cube. The premise is simple but the solution is complex and astronomical. This is a smart film that's intricately constructed, well written and brilliantly told. For a film that takes place in one setting and is, for the most part claustrophobic, CUBE is about as captivating and suspenseful as they come. It's a psychological thriller, gently seasoned with horror. Brainiacs will rejoice the complexity of the mathematics and the rest of us will relish the mystery. To fully understand CUBE, you need to resist the obvious questions. What? How? Why? ... these are all irrelevant. We are presented with one simple fact... that they ARE in this predicament and HOW will they get out of it? CUBE is a belter and if you've never seen it, then what are you doing? It was followed by two sequels, neither of which lived up to this original... although number three (CUBE ZERO) does offer some very satisfying revelations. You should also explore Vincenzo Natali's career... his films are unique, divisive and wonderful. NOTHING is the highlight for me. Simply stunning.