Bushwick

bushThanks to its outrageously preposterous storyline, this film has an awful lot in common with John Carpenter’s classic Escape From New York, and to be honest Carpenter’s film came to mind several times during the film. Its certainly something I most appreciated from it- Carpenter had a knack of coming up with a killer (albeit ridiculous) premise, whether it be turning New York into a State Prison or an old police precinct under siege from a murderous street gang or a coastal town terrorised by ghosts of pirates after revenge, and spinning it into a compelling low-budget thriller, the low-budget, no-frills approach only adding further verisimilitude to the project. Less gloss, more grit. The low camera angles, the long single-camera shots, the rather odd funky 1970s-like soundtrack… Bushwick shares a great deal of the style and sensibilities of early Carpenter work, with particular echoes of Assault on Precinct 13.

The casting of David Bautista (so good in BR2049) brought me to it, and to be honest I really didn’t expect much other than a derivative b-movie action flick and an opportunity to see Bautista in an early career effort. I even thought the title referred to the Bautista characters name, like in films such as Shaft, Bullitt etc- I didn’t realise it referred to a NYC district.

Sometimes films pleasantly surprise, because on the whole this film was pretty good. Shot in the style of Cloverfield, as one long continuous take as if in real time, that conceit wears a little thin as you play a bit of a game spotting the trickery that they use to join all the seperate takes (lens flare giving them an artificial fade-out/fade in to white, sometimes the shot slipping into dark shadow like a momentary fade to black, sometimes a split screen created by the scenery) which is a little unfortunate, in the same way as found-footage movies get distracting when you start wondering who keeps on filming stuff in such moments of stress or how did someone later find it and edit it together. But the film somehow still draws you in, ultimately becoming compellingly fascinating viewing.

The core fascination is that daft premise, and also its nightmarish reflection of the American Dream gone amok- in this respect it often reminds of The Purge series. Its a uniquely American thing, that mash-up of patriotism and gun ownership, where it fits in society and modern civilization, how easily that could break down and the country return to the Wild West myth of good vs evil, right vs might and the power of the gun.  It reminded me a great deal of DMZ, a comic book by Brian Wood set in a near future Second American Civil War in which Manhattan Island has become a Demilitarised Zone caught between the opposing factions. I bought the deluxe hardback collections a few years back and had heard it was going to become a miniseries or something- perhaps this movie dates back to this project, because it does seem awfully close.

bush2Lucy (Brittany Snow) returns to Brooklyn with her new boyfriend Jose, to find the underground station oddy deserted and alarm sirens sounding. Nearing the exit they are confronted by a screaming man racing by, all aflame, and sounds of explosions and gunfire ahead. It transpires that the city has been invaded by an armed militia, arresting and killing people in the face of an armed response from the locals. Anarchy has broken out, criminals and police and this mysterious militia attempting to take control of the streets through gun battles with innocents caught in the carnage and looters taking advantage of the bedlam. Helicopters patrol the skies and snipers take shots from rooftops at everyone passing by, lawlessness is everywhere.

Lucy falls in with Stupe (Dave Bautista) a veteran US navy medical officer traumatised by past experiences and the loss of his family in the 9/11 tragedy. They both get injured and have to work together to survive, heading for a US army extraction point, during which they get caught in lootings and gunfights and encounters with the armed militia, discovering that Political elements have broken free of the Union, and commenced a new civil war between rival States.

Its daft and crazy but somehow it works. I think its low-budget, no-frills approach works mightily in its favour, especially in how the gritty visuals, camera work and largely electronic score evokes so much of John Carpenter’s films. Its hardly groundbreaking but I’d much rather see low-budget, novel films such as this than your typical, anodyne blockbuster films: in some ways it reminded me of the early VHS era when stuff like this seemed to be on the rental shelves.  Admittedly its use of CGI etc betrays it as a modern film but on the whole in its sensibilities it really does feel very low-fi 1980s in mood and approach. Nothing particularly groundbreaking here but a pleasant surprise nonetheless-  I enjoyed it.

Assault at Last

prec13Readers may recall that my first disc purchase this year was Second Sight’s new edition of Assault on Precinct 13 on blu-ray, which I then inexplicably failed to actually watch (although I did watch the discs most interesting featurette, Do You Remember Laurie Zimmer, which was all kinds of poignant and profound and just downright fascinating).

So anyway, here we are, the end of the year, and yes, I finally got around to watching it last night. Hurrah for me. I’m pleased to say that Assault was as entertaining as ever and indeed looked finer than ever. Sure, its early Carpenter and he had better films ahead of him, but for an indie, low-budget b-movie/exploitation flick it remains just plain brilliant. It’s one of those films where the cheapness increases the films veracity; it feels gritty and real somehow, almost like a docudrama, and yet it remains a brilliantly choreographed widescreen ode to old Westerns, it is so self-consciously reverential to old Hollywood. Sure, some of it is clumsy and there are often moments when you can feel the film pushing against its limitations in budget and shooting schedule. Overall though it’s just plain cool and enriched by that throbbing, almost timeless Carpenter synth soundtrack that became such a staple of his movies.

*Whatever Happened to Laurie Zimmer?

Well I didn’t have time to watch Assault on Precinct 13 , but I did find time to watch a few of the extras on the disc. The first was an interesting interview with star Austin Stoker reminiscing about the film and talking about his background prior to appearing in it. Its a great piece; I always like these fairly contemporary interviews that look back on films wherein the subjects benefit from the perspective that the passing of time (in this case, entire decades) grants. He’s affectionate and proud regards Assault, but it’s clearly not the usual glowing EPK fluff piece that discs are usually dumped with.

laurieThe second was the documentary Do You Remember Laurie Zimmer, which suckered me in being initially unaware of its lengthier than expected (nearly an hour-long) running-time. I thought it was just a featurette but its actually an independent doc shot back in 2002. Its an elegant and quite engrossing piece and worth the price of the Assault disc alone; a fantastic edition to the extras. Laurie Zimmer of course plays Leigh in Assault, but although she was clearly beautiful and talented,  it didn’t launch her into a great career (why she never went on to star in Carpenters next film, Halloween, is a particular mystery).

Do You Remember Laurie Zimmer was made by French filmmaker Charlotte Szlovak (hence English subtitles running throughout for her narration). Szlovak had shot an ill-fated film project Slow City, Moving Fast starring Laurie Zimmer in the mid-seventies, and the documentary chiefly features footage from this project, mostly of Laurie driving a convertible through 1970s sun-drenched LA.  I’ll admit I was suckered from the start- the first sequence of the film hauntingly features a woman who certainly looks like Laurie walking from a house to a  huge 1970s-era car on a sunny morning and going out for a drive. I wasn’t sure if this was modern footage or authentic 1970s footage (it’s the latter, obviously) but something about it just pulled me in; the sense of time and place I think is quite enchanting. We learn that after shooting the film (which is inferred to have been never finished), Szlovak went back to her home country and the project was forgotten, but occasionally she would wonder whatever happened to the young actress that featured in her little film.

So, returning to LA many years later, Szlovak goes on a search for Laurie and shoots it as a film project, little realising how difficult the search would become. Cut between sequences from the 1977 film, her camera prowls the city of dreams in a fascinating journey into the past, a detective story of sorts and an exploration of the impermanence of LA’s fame and fortune. Old films, old studios and old movie theatres are like ghosts haunting the streets of this post-millennium LA and Szlovak’s search to discover whatever happened to Laurie is informed by her musings about unfulfilled dreams.

I love this kind of stuff, particularly the depth and profundity of real life set against the tinseltown legends of fame and fortune. It reminded me of the doc Searching For Sugarman that I watched a few years ago. The idea that success can be fleeting and that you can be forgotten in no time at all. That maybe you can have some kind of later validation, or that such validation means nothing anyway, that lives can have value away from wealth and fame or even being remembered.

Anyway, I won’t spoil the doc regards whether Laurie Zimmer is ever found or what happened to her, but it’s a great doc, a really fascinating and well-constructed piece. Certainly a brilliant extra for this disc, and yes, worth the money I paid for it alone- it almost relegates the Assault film to a bonus feature to be honest.  I’ll be watching this particular ‘extra feature’ again, which isn’t something I could say about many.

 

Decent Ben Wheatley movie shocker!

free12017.72: Free Fire (2016)

Frankly, I didn’t see two things ever happening; one, me ever watching a Ben Wheatley film again after the frankly execrable A Field in England and High-Rise, and two, ever admitting I enjoyed a Ben Wheatley film. Well, colour me surprised, thanks to Amazon Prime putting this film up to watch and the cast enticing me in (Sam Riley, Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Armie Hammer, Sharlto Copley, Michael Smiley, Noah Taylor… I mean, Christ, it’s a cast to die for, really…). Ben Wheatley’s name on the credits hardly seemed a factor. Lucky me, because this is one of those films that goes with its almost one-line premise and actually delivers a little cracker. And hey, it’s nearly Christmas. Perfect.

Both A Field in England and High-Rise were competently-made high-concept films that drowned in pretentious arthouse shenanigans – Free Fire actually reminded me of 1970s John Carpenter. In a similar way to how Carpenter would skillfully craft a classic film from simple b-movie ideas with Assault on Precinct 13 or Halloween, here Wheatley shoots (unfortunate turn of phrase, all things considered) a taut, funny action-drama from a simple set-up.

Its 1978 and a bunch of IRA members meet some arms dealers in Boston to buy a van load of machine guns. A varied and eclectic group of misfits and crooks, the tense dealmaking collapses into a violent stand-off in an abandoned factory, with the two sides in a violent conflict that lasts through the entire film. Yeah, its one long gun-fight and most of these goons ain’t going to walk out of the showdown. Its simple, it’s effective, it’s littered with great dialogue, performances and twists and turns. Sure, it’s not perfect, certainly not as cool or as hip as thinks it is but for a Ben Wheatley movie it’s quite surprisingly brilliant.

It’s a decidedly pulp film just lacking the widescreen elegance of Carpenter in his prime or Tarantino’s witty dialogue or Scorsese’s gritty realism (Scorsese actually features in the films credits as a producer) but its a ball for the ninety minutes it lasts.  Maybe it was a case of extremely diminished expectations (I call that the Wheatley Factor) but I really quite enjoyed it. Great fairly mindless fun and yeah, a great, great, cast. The wrap party must have been an absolute ball.

free2

 

The 2017 Selection

2017selection1

 

I don’t buy too many discs these days. Not because there isn’t any I want, it’s more a case of trying to be selective before I get buried under the piles in the spare room. There have been quite a few releases over the past few months- The Flight of the Phoenix, Paths of Glory, Fedora, many others- that in the old days I would have just ordered without hesitation. Maybe a sale will give me an offer I cannot refuse, but up to now I’ve been pretty strong. Indeed, in all of December I bought just one film on disc- the Criterion disc of In A Lonely Place.

So it’s got me thinking, and I’m going to launch a series of posts about my purchases this year. See if all my bold talk about keeping the quality level up (and the outlay down) bears fruit over the next twelve months. This month I’ve already been seduced into buying five discs, which I’ve pictured here in a crummy photo which I’ll surely revise when I get more time. What I plan to do (other than watch them and review them, ‘natch) is take a revised photo as I add to the pile; so here’s the initial five. I’ve already commented on buying Assault on Precinct 13 about a fortnight ago (and no, I haven’t watched it yet- horrors!). Last week I bought the fifth and final season of Person of Interest as it was in a sale on Amazon.com (I still have Season 4 to watch though so the shrinkwraps staying on this one awhile), and 10 Rillington Place last week, and today I received Arrows’ Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia and Donnie Darko.

Catalogue titles rule the day it seems, and Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia is the only film I have not seen before (although the DC of Donnie Darko is new to me too). My viewing habits have changed over the past year or so- I tend to leave the new, untested films to streaming services and save disc purchases to films I know and enjoy with extras that add extra value. Certainly these four films I have bought on disc are all excellent editions with extensive extras. So we’ll see if ‘The 2017 Selection’ measures up, and how much money I end up wasting…

Whatever Happened to Laurie Zimmer?

Well I didn’t have time to watch Assault on Precinct 13 , but I did find time to watch a few of the extras on the disc. The first was an interesting interview with star Austin Stoker reminiscing about the film and talking about his background prior to appearing in it. Its a great piece; I always like these fairly contemporary interviews that look back on films wherein the subjects benefit from the perspective that the passing of time (in this case, entire decades) grants. He’s affectionate and proud regards Assault, but it’s clearly not the usual glowing EPK fluff piece that discs are usually dumped with.

laurieThe second was the documentary Do You Remember Laurie Zimmer, which suckered me in being initially unaware of its lengthier than expected (nearly an hour-long) running-time. I thought it was just a featurette but its actually an independent doc shot back in 2002. Its an elegant and quite engrossing piece and worth the price of the Assault disc alone; a fantastic edition to the extras. Laurie Zimmer of course plays Leigh in Assault, but although she was clearly beautiful and talented,  it didn’t launch her into a great career (why she never went on to star in Carpenters next film, Halloween, is a particular mystery).

Do You Remember Laurie Zimmer was made by French filmmaker Charlotte Szlovak (hence English subtitles running throughout for her narration). Szlovak had shot an ill-fated film project Slow City, Moving Fast starring Laurie Zimmer in the mid-seventies, and the documentary chiefly features footage from this project, mostly of Laurie driving a convertible through 1970s sun-drenched LA.  I’ll admit I was suckered from the start- the first sequence of the film hauntingly features a woman who certainly looks like Laurie walking from a house to a  huge 1970s-era car on a sunny morning and going out for a drive. I wasn’t sure if this was modern footage or authentic 1970s footage (it’s the latter, obviously) but something about it just pulled me in; the sense of time and place I think is quite enchanting. We learn that after shooting the film (which is inferred to have been never finished), Szlovak went back to her home country and the project was forgotten, but occasionally she would wonder whatever happened to the young actress that featured in her little film.

So, returning to LA many years later, Szlovak goes on a search for Laurie and shoots it as a film project, little realising how difficult the search would become. Cut between sequences from the 1977 film, her camera prowls the city of dreams in a fascinating journey into the past, a detective story of sorts and an exploration of the impermanence of LA’s fame and fortune. Old films, old studios and old movie theatres are like ghosts haunting the streets of this post-millennium LA and Szlovak’s search to discover whatever happened to Laurie is informed by her musings about unfulfilled dreams.

I love this kind of stuff, particularly the depth and profundity of real life set against the tinseltown legends of fame and fortune. It reminded me of the doc Searching For Sugarman that I watched a few years ago. The idea that success can be fleeting and that you can be forgotten in no time at all. That maybe you can have some kind of later validation, or that such validation means nothing anyway, that lives can have value away from wealth and fame or even being remembered.

Anyway, I won’t spoil the doc regards whether Laurie Zimmer is ever found or what happened to her, but it’s a great doc, a really fascinating and well-constructed piece. Certainly a brilliant extra for this disc, and yes, worth the money I paid for it alone- it almost relegates the Assault film to a bonus feature to be honest.  I’ll be watching this particular ‘extra feature’ again, which isn’t something I could say about many.

 

Assaulting 13 again

assaultBought this blu-ray disc today. I don’t buy many discs these days, as I’m trying to be a bit more selective on what gets added to the collection/pile. Frankly, despite my efforts last year, I still have too many unwatched waiting on the shelf as it is, but this one is a special case. For one thing, its a John Carpenter film, and one of his very best at that. Its a genuine classic film. Lets just agree to never mention that awful remake from a few years ago, yes?

I remember first watching this on a Friday night on BBC 2, it was probably back in 1981 or something like that, as I remember I recorded the film on audio cassette so I could listen to the Carpenter score (I did strange stuff in those analogue days, with cassettes of Carpenter’s Dark Star and The Fog too- I was/am a huge fan of Carpenters scores).  It would be many years before I managed to get the original soundtrack on CD, several years ago now.

I never bought the film on VHS (an off-air recording onto VHS did me nicely for awhile), but the eventual move towards widescreen editions with the DVD format  convinced me to get a copy on R1. This new edition with its bountiful extras has got me double-dipping again, to finally get it in HD. The packaging looks great; its got some pretty nice artwork and housed in a black amaray case, it really works well.

I’ll write a review when I get around to watching it, hopefully within the next week or two. I hope to spend some time with those interesting extras too.

Oh, and here’s a twist, I actually bought this in a shop, rather than via the internet. Shock/horror! I almost regretted it, as it took me ages to actually find the bloody thing- its as if they purposely design shops and arrange contents as awkwardly as possible. Different Blu-ray sections dotted all over the bloody shop without any sense at all, mixed up amongst sale displays… nightmare.

The Purge (2013)

purge12016.31: The Purge (TV, Film 4)

The Purge is another near-future dystopia rather like The Hunger Games series. On one night every year the citizens of the United States go on a murder/rape/whatever-goes spree without any fear of criminal prosecution, the theory being that by thus exorcising them of all their pent-up frustrations and violent rage they can be law-abiding citizens the rest of the year. It’s a twelve-hour period when the police and emergency services step back and let the citizens run amok, a ‘purge’ to cleanse the soul of America, after which normal civilisation returns and survivors honour those who died ‘for the greater good’. We are told that for the remaining 364 days of the year crime is largely unheard of. All of this by the year 2022.

Whoops. 2022? Six years from now? There goes any credibility. At least The Hunger Games set itself in some distant post-Apocalypse future; this thing looks like it might happen next week. Unfortunately this film doesn’t have a big enough budget to create a far-future society, it has to be set pretty much in the here and now, hence the leap of faith and required suspension of disbelief with the date set in 2022. Its your standard modern dumb movie with a grand idea and subsequent mediocre execution.

More than that, the Purge itself is largely off-camera and the subject of news broadcasts watched by the protagonists on tv, because this film is really more an unofficial remake of Assault on Precinct 13 (oddly starring Ethan Hawke who was himself in an official remake of Assault on Precinct 13 some years ago-yes it’s all very confusing, I almost had to second-glance which film I was watching).

Hawke plays James Sandin, a wealthy engineer who has sold advanced home security systems to the rich that turns homes into armoured fortresses so Purgers cannot get in and kill owners during the annual Purge. On this particular Purge night however, after Sandin and his wife and children hunker down for the night, tech-wiz son Charlie sees an injured and bleeding man begging for help outside and allows him entry. Unfortunately for the Sandins. the man has been targeted by a gang of rich blood-thirsty Purgers who want the man released back to them so they can kill him. Otherwise they will lay siege to the house and kill all the Sandins too. Very Assault on Precinct 13 territory here.

Which brought me to the realisation that, while the film is by no means bad, it would have been immeasurably superior had it been directed by John Carpenter, a director well-accustomed to delivering real tension and thrills in films like this- hell, he directed the original Assault on Precinct 13 and very best example of this kind of siege movie. He could have made this into a tight, riveting action b-movie that was more than the sum of its parts. Hell, he could probably do it in his sleep.

Ethan Hawke in The PurgeOne other observation- Ethan Hawke is in his mid-forties now and looks incredibly similar to how Harrison Ford did in his heyday- particularly how Ford looked in Blade Runner in 1982. They could cast Hawke as a young Deckard for flashbacks in Blade Runner 2 and it’d be quite convincing. Really, give it a look. It’s quite spooky, particularly when he nervously patrols the darkened house with gun and flashlight.

Anyway, The Purge is by no means a bad film, just not as good as it might have been, even if it is saddled with a premise that isn’t really as clever as it thinks it is. I gather the second Purge movie is better and that there’s actually a third on the way. I guess audiences don’t mind their films to be stupid as long as they are simple, undemanding and violent. These Purge movies could run and run then.