Monday, 25 July 2011

Film Review! Detective Dee And The Mystery Of The Phantom Flame (2010)

Back in the late nineties I was a fiend for Hong Kong films – from ‘heroic bloodshed’ films like Hardboiled to ‘category III’ gorefests (Bunman, Horrible High Heels), but I always had a soft spot for the epic ‘new wave’ kung fu efforts of directors such as Tsui Hark, who married old-school kung fu action to advancing special effects and opulent set design and cinematography – Films such as Zu: Warriors From The Magic Mountain, and The Storm Riders blew me away with their scope and operatic intensity. They felt like nothing Western cinema had ever produced, they were exotic, they were wild and untamed.

Of course, Hollywood has a tendency to cannibalise and appropriate the cinema of other countries – Witness the mass exodus of the German expressionists to the major studios back in the Golden Age, or the number of directors from the new-school of French horror who have already made the leap to mainstream pictures. Sure enough, within a few years, directors like John Woo and Ronnie Yu were making films in America, where of course their wilder excesses were curbed by studio pressure and the ‘film-making by committee’ culture. Before 1999 if you wanted a decent fight scene then Hong Kong was the place to look to, after The Matrix, and the success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (a lone example of a Hong Kong-turned-US director returning to his roots and getting major distribution), Yuen Woo Ping was the ‘action director’ on every single Hollywood blockbuster. Even master martial arts stars Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Sammo Hung made watered-down Western versions of their earlier work.

Of course, with this appropriation came familiarity, and, aside from a couple of last hurrahs in the work of Zhang Yimou (whose ‘Hero’ is the definitive high-art martial arts movie, and not likely to be bettered any time soon), and Stephen Chow’s OTT comedies Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle, the Hong Kong and kung fu film industries went sharply into decline, over taken in the Eastern pleasures stakes by Japanese horror and the fresher climes of the Korean and Thai film industries

And so it was for nearly ten years, until John Woo seemingly came back out of nowhere with his Red Cliff (2008), an opulent, big budget and expansive historical epic which garnered Western releases. Your reviewer found this film a little dry, to be honest, but the collective gasp of relief from fans of the old Hong Kong glory days was nearly audible around the globe.

Detective Dee and The Mystery Of The Phantom Flame then, is Tsui Hark’s ‘comeback’ – Hark was the progenitor of the ‘new school’ kung fu movement way back in 1983 with the aforementioned Zu : Warriors From The Magic Mountain, and he went on to direct and produce classic fare such as Once Upon a Time In China and the Swordsman series. Again, since the 90’s his output has slowed and become less vital, although in 2005 he helmed the somewhat underwhelming epic Seven Swords. Detective Dee has not had a wide release like Woo’s comeback film, but if you catch up with it on DVD, and are a fan of his previous output you will certainly not be disappointed.

The plot of the film is somewhat convoluted – Which is fitting, as it is being sold as a ‘period detective story’ rather than a straight-up kung fu film – Indeed the fights are not non-stop (although what is there is great). The excellent Andy Lau (Infernal Affairs) stars as the titular detective, who is sprung from prison (where he had been sent for treason) by the soon-to-be Empress (who, incidentally, will be the first woman to hold such a post), to investigate a spate of unexplained deaths where the victims have literally appeared to burn up from the inside. He is joined in his task by Jin’ar, the Empress’s right hand woman, and the albino lawman Pei Donglai. To give away more of the plot would be spoiling things rather too much, however.

The film is, first and foremost a visual delight – A gigantic statue of Buddha which towers above the city is both a focal point for the film and where it starts and ends, the fight sequences (courtesy of the great Sammo Hung, who sadly remains behind the scenes) are flamboyant and imaginative, plenty of wirework and gusto, especially in the fight with the demonic ‘chaplain’, whose sleeves can fight independently of his body! We even get a kung fu deer fight later on, which is something I can happily say I’ve never seen before. The production design and cinematography are, for the most part, flawless. As for the plot, it’s actually pretty interesting, and certainly beats the usual kung fu revenge movie nonsense, although you will likely not find yourself as emotionally involved as Hark perhaps imagined. The subtitling on the UK DVD deserves a special mention for it’s rather more verbose than usual nature – It’s almost like professional brainbox Will Self was doing it for a quick paycheck.

Anyway, slightly disappointing drama aside, the film does what Hong Kong/Chinese cinema has been failing to do for the best part of a decade – it has a sense of wonder and fun that marks it apart from any Western fare on the market – The visuals, strange cultural/mythological references (talking deer, shape shifters, fire beetles), fight scenes and general not-too-gloomy feel of the film all combine to make it feel fresh, and that’s a heart-warming thing indeed.

Check out the trailer here!!

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

So the legend says, there is an ancient Chinese saying along the lines of ‘may you live in interesting times’. (actually there’s some doubt over the origin of said saying, but we’re not here for that conversation).

Interesting times indeed – The world’s biggest empire is under the spotlight, the press, the police, politicians all being dragged through the mud. As David Cameron said “We are all in this together”, and, as much as it pains me, he is telling the truth.

It’s enough to make you want to throw your hands up and give up really.

BUT! In these interesting terms, we need to take a step back, close our eyes and remember what is important in this life – Love, friendship, art, the human spirit.

And,of course, pumping house music.

And it is to this end I present to you, The House Of Dellamorte, July 2011. 40 mins of house grooves, from the warm-up to the full-on mental.


House Of Dellamorte July 2011 by Dj Dellamorte

Monday, 18 July 2011

So, here is, as promised, a film review! I've not written any reviews for over ten years, ever since I wrote write-ups of video nasties under a pseudonym for a now-defunct website. Please enjoy, any feedback appreciated!

SIREN (2010)

In these days of torture porn and zombie overload it’s rare (and nice) to find a British horror film that dares to do things a little differently. Siren is one such beast. Not only does it not feature anyone tied to a chair or any instance of the walking dead, it’s also based on a legend which, to my knowledge, has not yet had a fright flick based on it.

The film starts with a nice sleight of hand – A stunning temptress in a short red dress and high heels is hitching a ride out in what we shortly learn is the landscape of rural Greece, she is picked up by an English guy in a posh car and proceeds to, well, pleasure herself under his watchful gaze. Soon they pull up to a seemingly abandoned public toilet and proceed to get it on, although this is interrupted when she believes she sees a woman’s face spying on them. We then learn that the man and woman are actually a couple role-playing the encounter, and that this is merely a game they are playing en route to taking a boat to a remote island, which, legend has it, is the same isle mentioned in The Odyssey (as one character amusingly puts it “Greek Mythology! Didn’t you ever see Clash Of The Titans?”) where Odysseus and his crew encountered the Sirens, a race of deadly seductresses who could paralyse men with their songs.

Along for the ride is the woman (Rachel, played by Anna Skellern, also of The Descent Part 2)’s old university friend Marco (Anthony Jabre), who, we soon learn, is an old flame who now regrets having deserted her. Her current boyfriend (Ken, played by male model-turned-actor Eoin Macken, who wanders around with his shirt off rather a lot) turns out to be a bit of a cocksure idiot, of the sort that we hope is going to suffer a horrible death at some point. They come across a man desperately signalling for help in the water, and get him aboard to find he is ranting and raving, and waving a knife about, before they realise his ears have been perforated. Soon after, the man expires, and they decided (rather stupidly) that rather than be strangers in a strange land turning over a dead body to the authorities (“They hang people for this here don’t they?”), they should bury him on the island. However, they are discovered in the act by a beautiful yet mysterious woman who claims to be connected to the dead man, yet seems to be suffering from shock. They take her in, and, gradually, she begins to seduce all three of them...

Well, the film is called Siren, so the true identity of ‘Silka’ (played by the attractive Tereza Srbova, who heats up the screen but is wisely given little dialogue, mainly due to her heavy accent) isn’t exactly a massive mystery, but that’s not what this film is about – It’s about attraction and seduction, with the interplay between the characters being the intrigue, and the sun-bleached setting (actually filmed in Tunisia) fitting the steamy interaction perfectly. In some ways the film reminded me more of the languid erotic nightmares of Jean Rollin than anything in the modern horror pantheon, although here we have believable characters with fairly good dialogue, and some halfway decent acting (especially in the case of Skellern, who stands out). The film is strangely chaste in it’s depiction of nudity – most of the characters (yes, including the two women) end up sleeping together or kissing, yet apart from Ken (aptly named!) showing off his hairless six-pack, and a shot of the women’s posteriors, that’s all we get (and, sorry to all you bloodhounds out there, there’s not tons of gore either, aside from a couple of stabbings, some bleeding ears and a rather gruesome corpse), yet it works because of it’s steamy and pervasive atmosphere, heightened by both the excellent cinematography of Will Humphris and the siren’s song itself (‘Elephant’ by the currently uber-cool band Warpaint).

In doing a spot of research whilst writing this review, I was rather surprised by the reaction to it online – IMDB has an average user rating of 3.4 out of 10, a level usually reserved for the sort of films parodied on Mystery Science Theatre 3000. Many of the negative reviews seem to focus on two points – Firstly that the film is boring – a charge also levelled at the films of the aforementioned Jean Rollin, who has a rabid cult following who love the dreamlike fluid pace of his movies, so perhaps this film may find it’s audience in time? Secondly, they seem to be complaining that the DVD cover, of a bikinied lady carrying a bloody knife, has nothing to do with the film itself. I agree that this is utterly misleading. I had the good luck to catch this film on the big screen at the excellent Abertoir Festival in November 2010, so I had no expectations, and was delightfully surprised at this obviously very low budget but intriguing film – If you are being sold it as a boobs-and-blood mayhem fest, you are definitely going to feel cheated. If, however, you approach with an open mind and don’t expect the earth, perhaps you too will be seduced by this Siren.

PS I was saddened of the death of director Andrew Hull at the age of 46. Siren was his first feature film, and it would have been great to see what he could have done with proper studio backing.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Sorry, Glasto Sunday review been slightly delayed due to parent visitation, but in the meantime, here's a mix I did for the excellent Peter Nelson over at - . Without being too melodramatic about it, I think it's quite possibly the best thing I've ever committed to 'tape'. An hour on the nose of dubstep, drum & bass, techno, breaks and all kinds of ravey nonsense. It's got balls, it's got beauty, which obviously makes for an arousing yet slightly disturbing combination. Please enjoy.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Glastonbury 2011 Part The Third - Saturday

So Saturday at Glastonbury, on flicking back through the line-up to jog my memory, seemed a little flat, and I was surprised at how little I saw. Partly this was due to the mud, which, after Friday’s constant downpour and then the heat of Saturday’s sun, had transmogrified into that horrific ultra-sticky stuff that only Glasto seems to produce – The kind that will suck your willies right off your feet (well, it would have if my wellies were not horrifically difficult to remove at the best of times. Ow).

Saturday morning our crew went for a wander about site to take in the festival a bit – There was much laughter at amusing acts going on in the caberet field, most notably a man riding a piano (seriously, he sat on the seat and rode it sideways like a bike, whilst playing and singing – very impressive!) and two apparently normal-sized people dressed as tiny chimps with enormous rucksacks (you had to see it to get the full effect). By the time we got back to our tent we realised pop sensation Jessie J was playing opposite us, so we sat in the sun and drank beer and cider whilst watching the last few numbers. I was rather surprised to discover that Jessie had a broken leg and therefore was sitting on a massive throne throughout the set. Anyway, I don’t really go for her music much, although I have to admit she has a great voice and is obviously a hyper-talented lady.

A band much more to my liking are Those Dancing Days, so we made the trek up to The Park to catch their all-girl Scandinavian northern soul/indie pop, and I am very glad we did this, as it was double ace (even though they finished one song, realised they had finished it too early and played the second half again. Also the singer was coming down with something and looked pretty ill towards the end, but gamely finished the set anyway). Our little group of 4 ended up having a discussion about which of the band was our favourite, and we all had a different one (although, to be fair, it was fairly difficult for me to choose). I’ve gone for the drummer, though, because she’s extra cute and lovely. I’ll even forgive her for my favourite zip-up top coming off somewhere during the set and presumably getting lost in the mud (sob!)

After that I had a bit of a disappointment as the I had the wrong stage times for the G Stage (or something had gone wrong somewhere) and I didn’t get to see DJ Yoda as I had planned, so the back-up plan was to wander back to the Park a couple of hours before Saturday’s Special Guest and get a good spot (as, earlier in the day, we had been told it was definitely Pulp). On the way myself and my partner-in-crime Daniel popped into the Stonebridge Bar and discovered Hip-Hop Karaoke. Now I’m a bit of a fiend for rapping along to anything and everything (let’s just clear this up – I can’t rap, because I can’t freestyle, but I’m OK at talking in time), so I was interested to check out the competition. My conclusion? Bar one dude who blatantly IS an actual rapper (note perfect Busta Rhymes rendition = VERY impressive), everyone else got lost on the second line, proper car crash time. There was also a Japanese dude who kicked off Nuthin’ But A G Thang very well, but accidentally went off-beat and never got back on track. Seriously, I should have gotten up there, but I’m FAR too shy.

After a bit more hanging around and chilling, and rescuing the ladies from a half-naked mashed hippy who kept eying them up and down in possibly the most leery way I have ever seen, it was time for Pulp! I had actually convinced myself that it wasn’t going to be Pulp at all, but this time I had positioned myself away from shovey types (although, sadly, I was now in the middle of over-talkative types instead) and near enough to the top exit to beat a retreat if/when the Killers came on, but, heavens be praised, it was indeed Pulp! They played a pretty much chronological best of set, moving from Joyriders all the way to Sunrise, and pulling Common People out at the end. The highlights for me were Acrylic Afternoons (the soundtrack to being 16 for me!) and a majestic This Is Hardcore. Jarv’s patter and moves haven’t diminished at all since their heyday (despite the increasingly-white beard), and the whole thing was very much worth the wait and effort. On returning home I discovered that Kate Moss had tried to gain entry to the field too late and had been refused, prompting her to ‘get all Croydon’ on the security. Ha. That’ll teach you for hanging out backstage with The Kills, lady.

And then it was back to the G Stage, as it was Saturday night and Lee Perry was headlining! But before him was Don Letts – usually one of my favourite DJs. I don’t quite know what happened here, but instead of his usual selection of roots reggae classics, he was mostly playing fairly uninspiring digi-dub and dubstep to a half-full area. At least one of our party got very very bored at this point and wandered off to see the Chemical Brothers (apparently amazing). Those of us who stayed the course were eventually rewarding with the great, and very short, and pink hair-and-bearded, Lee Perry himself, working his onstage magic and seemingly freestyling lyrics over a tight-as-hell backing band blazing through renditions of some of his classic productions, such as Roast Fish, Collie Weed and Corn Bread and, rather wonderfully, Return Of Django, with sax played by a beautiful and shockingly talented Japanese lady. Perry also came out with one of the best onstage ad-libs of the weekend, which, frankly, modesty prevents me from repeating in polite company.

It was during Lee Perry, however, that I tragically RAN OUT of my whisky! Luckily Daniel was on hand with a bit of Rum, and had Vodka untouched for the next day...

After that, I’m afraid to say, I went straight to bed! I’m not a young un any more, and by this time I was aching all over (blame that sticky mud!) and desperately in need of sleep. Sunday report soon come!

Friday, 1 July 2011

Glastonbury 2011 wrap-up part the second

After the Wu, we attempted to catch a bit of Katy B in one of the dance tents, but, as I predicted when I originally saw the line-up, we couldn’t get near it for love nor money (not that I attempted to bargain using either, it has to be said). So, again, we gave it up as a bad idea and re-grouped.

We had been hearing various rumours regarding the ‘very special guests’ at the Park Stage. This was a bit of a difficult decision for me, as I rather wanted to see Morrissey, but the rumour was that the special guests would either be Pulp, Radiohead or The Killers. In the end I decided to take the gamble (helped by the fact that no-one I was with wanted to see dear old Moz). If it was Pulp, I would be elated, if it was Radiohead, and they played the old stuff, it would be cool, and if it was the Killers, well, I could go to the bar. We made the wise decision to get there early, which meant we caught Big Audio Dynamite’s set, which was actually pretty good, although Don Letts is a much better DJ than he is a singer (well, I do change my mind a bit later on. How’s that for foreshadowing in my narrative). Between bands things get a little crushed however (we were pretty close to the stage). And, although most of the crowd around us are having fun and making jokes, quite a lot of the aforementioned pushy young people are out in force and determined to get further in despite the laws of physics being against them. After a while, we started chatting with everyone in the immediate vicinity and making up rumours that the band were not going to be anyone good at all, which culminating in my leading the entire crowd in a chant of ‘Susan Boyle! Susan Boyle!’. This was possibly my finest achievement ever.

What Radiohead thought of hundreds of people chanting for SuBo just as they were about to go on is still making me smile....

So, yeah, it was Radiohead, but they confused me by coming on and saying ‘hello! We are Radiohead’ whilst not looking like Radiohead. It was about 5 mins in until I realised that it actually WAS Thom Yorke, albeit with very long hair. My heart sank, however, when they announced that they would be playing stuff from their new album. Oh. I lasted about 20 mins before a difficult fight back through the packed crowd to get booze and food. Still gutted I missed Moz but the SuBo chanting pretty much made up for it.

Eventually all our crew re-grouped and headed to the rather cool Cubehenge stage in the pouring rain and danced to Red Dwarf’s Mr Craig Charles. He surprised me actually – I was expecting a bit of Northern Soul, some James Brown etc, but what we got was funky breakbeat, and very enjoyable. Was surprised at his DJing too – He doesn’t mix as such, but cuts between tracks of similar tempo in a pretty effective way. He doesn’t half make some faces when he plays, though, that Craig. Far scarier than any Xenomorphs in Red Dwarf..

Unfortunately our crew had to cut it a little short as it was time for the headliners. Rather than submit ourselves to the will of Bono and his U2 band, we decided to hotfoot it over to the John Peel tent, where DJ Shadow was about to take the stage. Quite possibly my favourite thing of the entire weekend (SuBo expected) – for the first twenty mins or so he played, I kid you not, in a giant ball. There were 360 degree visuals projected onto the ball, and every once in a while it would light up so you could just about see Shadow’s shadow doing his thing. The music was brilliant, as well, mashed up versions of many of his classics, usually going double time for some drum and bass action, and eminently danceable. After about half an hour, the Shadowsphere turned around, and there he was, hunched over decks, drum machines, samplers and all kinds of gizmos. He even spoke! A little bit about how much of an inspiration John Peel was to him and how much it meant to be headlining that stage. Awww! I made friends with the only other man in the crowd who recognised I Gotta Rok too. Awesome.

After that I was a bit knackered and had been drunk off my face for about 9 hours, so headed back to the tent and sheltered from the rain, before drifting into a very deep sleep!

Pt 3 soon come, containing Secret Pulp, dubious hand signals and pop stars with damaged limbs.