Tag Archives: Hollyweird

BLOG: YTC_EpisodeXXIX: Blog Vs Blog!

Episode XXIX: Blog Vs Blog!

Our once proud Hollyweird woke up one morning to find it had become a giant insect. An insect of two halves, with a blog under one name and a podcast under another. With too many figurative legs in two (sic) many pies, Hollyweird rallies it’s brain cells and decides to become one with it’s other half.

In a flash the estranged halves amalgamate. A new force emerges to once more to bring balance to the force. Well, um, the blog at any rate.

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NEW Hollyweird blog photoWelcome to this inaugural episode of the You Total Cult blog. This blog is very much a continuation of its former state as Hollyweird. I will still be writing my thoughts on the more unusual cinema offerings in the same way, which is either a blessing or a curse depending on whether you enjoy this blog for fun or out of loyalty!

The name change of this blog from Hollyweird to You Total Cult is purely to allow it to be keyed into my other work, both as a Podcast co-host and as a Twit-terer.

You Total Cult_new photo FINAL black white

(Shameless plug: You Total Cult Podcast is available on iTunes and also directly from http://www.chrisandphilpresent.co.uk/blogs/youtotalcult/ . Our Twitter address is @You_Total_Cult. The co-host of the You-Total Cult Podcast, Craig Lakin Ennis also has his own blog of recently viewed films at http://www.chrisandphilpresent.co.uk/blogs/scragg/ )

R.I.P. Hollyweird, we hardly knew ye. But what the heck, it’s all the same really. In fact, I’m even going to keep the numbering system in place without re-setting it. That’s what happens when you grow up rereading 1960’s American Superhero comics- a longing for continuation rather than constant reboots.

So this may well be the first You Total Cult blog, but it is also Episode 29. Given then that this is a tale of two blogs, it seems only fitting to pick apart a film with a perfectly suited title to opposing forces- Japan’s 2000 release, Versus!

 

versus-poster_350
Versus, as the title may imply, is a film of conflict. Not the sort of internal conflict via a deep character study but more the straightforward conflict of a Martial Artist-Samurai-Mass-Murdering- Convict fighting a bunch of Gangster-Zombie-Demons in a forest.

2r7afqtThe Martial Artist-Samurai-Mass-Murdering-Convict, known only as ‘Prisoner KSC2-303’, has been broken out of secure transit by a small crew of Yakuza hoodlums. Also along for the ride is a kidnapped girl, known only as ‘The Girl’. Prisoner KSC2-303 is not sure why he has been rescued or why The Girl is there, so being a Martial Artist-Samurai-Mass-Murdering-Convict, he decided he’s had enough of the Yakuza. He grabs The Girl and they high tail it through a forest.

This is no ordinary forest, though. The forest itself is a Portal To hell where dark energy is leaking through. As it turns out, the secretive boss of the gangsters, known as ‘The Man’, is actually a reincarnated force to be reckoned with. The Man, Prisoner KSC2-303 and all the other players in this tale have fought previously on this very ground 500 years ago.

This dark power means that no-one can die in the forest, instead they just come back as zombies. Unfortunately for the oblivious gangsters, this is where they have been hiding dead bodies for many years. Consequently there is a lot of Undead-cannon fodder around as all the forces come into conflict once again.

 

Ketamin's bad for raves, fool
Ketamin’s bad for raves, fool

 

Although this ‘dark power’ from the Portal To Hell is never quantified, it’s enough of a reason to fight as any. Each cast member essentially goes at it for the entire run time of the film based on this premise. Versus showcases a prisoner against gangsters, gangsters against zombies, self-serving gangsters against loyal gangsters, a good spirit against a bad spirit and pretty much every variant in-between.

In fact there are also two more characters who slowly become introduced over the film. These are both detectives chasing the escaped Prisoner KSC2-303, but one happens to be serial-killer and the other a braggart. Invariably both of these detectives become involved in the numerous fight scenes, too. Evidently sometimes Zombies, Yakuza, Samurai, Convicts are not enough for a non-stop action film, You also need murderous Policemen.

Cop Killa!
Cop Killa!

In fact, all-in-all, it is safe to say that Versus has a perfect title. It can be fairly accurately described as 119 minutes of ever changing action set pieces, with the occasional calm moment thrown into the midst of the combat.

Versus plays as a film whereby the film makers took everything they loved and threw it all into a DIY picture. When I first saw the film in 2000 this made the film a refreshing blast of disposable action. It led to me forcing it onto friends for evenings in with beer and snacks more times than I can shake a pointed stick at a zombie’s brain.

Yet a decade or so after this gluttony of Versus, the film now sadly feels dated and duller than I first thought. How can a non-stop, Zombie-Kung-Fu-Gunplay film feel dull I hear someone at the back cry? Well, partly because it is just too much genre-love thrown in together with no weight behind it.

 

The Eyes have it
The Eyes have it

From a visceral perspective, Versus is too rammed up with characters and fight scenes for its own good. Films such as The Raid prove that an action film can be virtually non-stop and still be highly watchable, even though it is rare. One thing that The Raid possibly had in its favour was an incredibly clear, simple genre. It is a Martial Arts film. So if a viewer likes the hard hitting, impact-style of Martial Arts movie then they will likely enjoy The Raid. Regrettably though Versus as though is a case of ‘jack of all genres, master of none’.

There is some swordplay, some gun play, some zombies and a fair amount of cameras spinning around many of hand-to-hand combat scenes. Yet none of these elements are played for their individual worth. Instead they are constantly jumbled together.

Prisoner KSC2-303 has the typical ‘Warrior Progression’ as his skills improve from Boxer- Gun Smith- Swordsman throughout the film, this progressive drama of him becoming prepared for his ultimate fight with The Man. But this ‘skill progression’ is totally undercut by all of the other characters action scenes. Any pace of following Prisoner KSC2-303 as his skills become more impressive is interrupted so often by the gangsters’ fights, or the detectives’ fights or The Man’s fights that the film as a whole suffers from a muddled flow. Unfortunately this result in all of the films action scenes as a whole feeling jarringly repetitive rather than smoothly flowing.

Never bring a knife to a gunfight. Unless it's a Katana.
Never bring a knife to a gunfight. Unless it’s a Katana.

(Besides all of which, Versus is certainly not aided by a hideously-dated Techno soundtrack)

 

However, before this blog reads as too much of a list of Versus’ shortcomings, there is a fantastic aspect to the movie. The most curious thing about re-watching Versus is that its unclear plotting is also perhaps its saving grace. Surprisingly, Versus’ muddled story and vague characterizations means that by the end of the movie it is entirely possible that the audience have been following the villain of the piece all along!

 

"Say What?!?!"
“Say What?!?!”

During the final battle between Prisoner KSC2-303 and The Man, both men fight to the death via an epic, Supernatural/Gun-addled Swordfight. The Girl and Prisoner KSC2-303 come out victorious and they ride off into the horizon together for anew life… At least until a title card informs the viewer is it is now 99 years later.

A generic dystopian image
A generic dystopian image

The world has now become a charred, barren dystopian place. A mysterious figure carrying a sword cautiously walks into an abandoned building. Before him lay a gang of Cyberpunk-Zombies in wait… the very same, resurrected gangsters from the Forest! Leading them is Prisoner KSC2-303 who now holds The Girl as a captive. He explains in a monotonous tone that there is nothing left to destroy on Earth. He is bored as there is nothing left to ruin. As the man advances we see him to be… The Man!

The Girl then cries something that is perhaps the key to this entire sequence. She shouts to The Man that “I was wrong! I should have joined you all along!” The Man and he Prisoner launch into a fight as the film ends with their seemingly eternal conflict.

The line “I was wrong! I should have joined you all along!” possibly puts all of Versus’ events into a different spin. Upon a first viewing in 2000, I assumed this to mean that the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ characters swop roles every re-incarnation. Thus The Girl is saying on this occasion she chose the wrong one of the two men to support.

However on this latest viewing it occurred to me that maybe The Man was always the hero and Prisoner KSC2-303 was always the villain.

idea-lightbulb

Going back over the earlier moments from the entire film, The Man never truly does anything ‘evil’. He only kills the Gangsters, all of which he knows will either return as zombies or be reincarnated. The one person he turns into a Demon was a Yakuza boss who had tried to kill The Man first. In fact the nastiest thing he does is lie to The Girl about intending to sacrifice her when he really wants Prisoner KSC2-303.

Meanwhile Prisoner KSC2-303 is presented throughout the movie as much more of a bad man. His very first appearance flashes his motto up onto the screen- ‘Some people deserve to die’. After that he knocks out The Girl quite a few times, eviscerates anyone he comes into contact with, cuts off a Policeman’s Hand and successfully challenges one of the gangsters to a fist fight- who Prisoner KSC2-303 then immediately pulls a gun on.

versus111
You mean this dude may be the hero???

 

What is interesting is that for both The Man and The Prisoner, their actions can be seen as either good or bad. The Man is either playing games with everyone else in The Forest whilst believing everyone is too beneath him to worry about. Or it is equally possible that The Man is actually trying to avoid hurting anyone directly. He could just want to ‘go to the other side’ via sacrificing a murderous sociopath and without upsetting anyone else.

Similarly Prisoner KSC2-303 can either be a slightly bad boy struggling to do the right thing , or else he’s out to do whatever wants so long as it gives him an excuse to kill- and along the way he gains enough power to become deadly on a global scale.

It is actually surprisingly tough to know which way around Versus is. Maybe the typical good guy is the hero, or maybe he is the bad guy. Or maybe The Girl’s piece of dialogue about picking the wrong side does not mean anything significant. After all, Versus is a very loosely constructed film with barely any explained story in place that has been translated into English.

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Whatever the true intention though, there is no denying that this possibility of Prisoner KSC2-303 being the evil all along makes Versus is a much more intriguing watch from the start.

Whilst Protagonist= Evil plot twist takes place in Thrillers such as The Usual Suspects or No Way Out, it is not one known to myself to occur in Martial Arts\ Action Films very often (Sonny Chiba’s Street Fighter series is a notable exception).

This may be because with thrillers, audiences are invited to go on twisting turns and enjoy the elegance of deception within dubious moral comfort zones. In action films though it seems clearer to simply want a good guy to hurt bad guys. Any reversal of that principal runs the risk of seeming sadistic.

Whatever the intent of the film makers and wherever the truth lies about who the hero of Versus I supposed to be, it is encouraging to be able to still find something new and exciting in a film that seemed less fun than in the past. It just shows that we can all take something new from the old- even if it is just a new blog title for an old blog.

Next time on the You Total Cult Blog I will be recapping Frightfest 2013 for y’all. Unless I get fired. You never know.

Thanks for reading,

MJ

 

BLOG: YTC_Hollyweird: Episode I: A New Menace

Follow me on Twitter: @You_Total_Cult.

In the short term, the YTC podcast can currently be found at http://www.chrisandphilpresent.co.uk/blogs/youtotalcult/

BLOG PIC

The blog below was under an older name of Hollyweird. I have kept the numbering the same so that I could keep track of my posts, but this is where it all begin back in the heyday of 2012…

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Hello and welcome. This is my new blog, which is also technically my first blog. But I’ve left enough rants and insightful moments of genius on other people’s blogs to have gotten the gist of it all; Make a point, add some cool pictures and hope for a book deal.

Laugh at me, will they?!?!?

 

I have decided to call this blog Hollyweird for two reasons. Firstly I want to focus on some lesser known films and/or film-related subjects over these blogs. These will not always be ‘weird’ films. I refuse to paint myself into a corner by only going for articles on ‘out there’ films. Many ‘out there’ films are only out there because they escaped when they were taken outside to be put down for the good of film fans everywhere. Unusual or overlooked films are certainly going to be the predominant subject matter, just not the sole subject matter.

The second reason that I chose Hollyweird is simply because it was the best pun-related thing I could come up with whilst pretty damn hungover. A whole two weeks later and still I cannot decide if it a great pun or a terrible one. Either way, excessive Guinness has sealed my literary fate.

 

What with this being the first entry and all, I really weighed myself down with what would be the best opening piece. Perhaps a list of obscure Brazilian horror films? Maybe a dissection of the rare Sci-Fi soundtracks? Possibly a comparison of Samuel Fuller to Dr. Uwe Boll? Hardly. Instead, the mounting pressure of deciding on an opening topic led to over-thinking. Coffee after coffee mixed with thought after thought. Yet when the coffee ran out, my brain did not. Soon my mind was cannibalizing itself to avoid picking a topic. I became more and more self-reflective. Eventually my mind endlessly mulled over one overriding idea; How in the hell did I ever became curious enough about the silver screen to analyse films so much?!?

 

Here is a quick catch-up on what my fascination with films has led to in my life so far. For those of you unfamiliar with me (which will be none of you if only my friends end up reading this, or millions of you if that book deal ever comes through), I have a degree in film theory and practice.

I have made several short films alongside my partner Craig (er, professional partner, not my life-mate or anything). Some of these short films have been for competitions, and although we have yet to win anything other than higher debts on our credit cards, we have had some short films screened in both London and Brighton cinemas which is a coup.

Shhh! Genius’ at work

We have also made several music videos for lesser-known- but not lesser talented- bands. One of these music videos aired on MTV2 at Stupid O’clock in the morning in the UK and another was screened in France a few times which I guess makes us internationally broke film makers rather than just localised ones.

Finally, I used to work in Television. Incidentally, the best part of that is learning how to abuse an expense account. But then again that could be why I no longer work in Television.

 

So does any of this make me an expert on films? Well technically yes, but realistically no. Anyone can be if they watch enough. What it shows is that film has dominated far too much of time over the years. Time when I could have been asking girls out or learning to drive. Time with which I could now be talking to girls or learning to drive, but instead I have begun a blog about more bloonin’ films.

So it is with all of this in mind that I am dedicating the opening blog of Hollyweird to pay homage to the influences that have led me here today. In no particular order………….

 

  1. My Granddad Ricky. My Granddad had a very unusual way of keeping us kids quiet for weekend visits- he would get out his 8mm projector, a 4x4ft projection screen and run reels of cartoons for us. It was like having a private cinema every Sunday! In fact to this day, Tom & Jerry have never been the same without the sound of a projection machine, the smell of a pipe and the taste of flat cola. So thanks to Granddad for either buying or stealing that equipment after leaving the WWII entertainment division. Thanks for letting us endlessly watch the same cartoons every weekend for years and years. Thanks for letting us eat Nan’s butterfly cakes and flapjacks which probably made us even more hyper! In summary; Thanks for being a cool Granddad.
  2. My Sisters. The eldest, Debbi, is now a professional in the cinematic field. She runs a team in an effects company in London. You may have seen some of her work in small, independent films such as Inception, the Harry Potter Franchise, The Dark Knight, Iron Man, James Bond, John Carter, blah blah, blah…. Debbi went off to university (via a grant, dogdarnit! No loans for her!!) to study media when I was a wee nipper. I have a very distinct memory of her watching Predator on VHS whilst making notes on the sexuality of it. I was too young to understand what she was writing about, but she was writing about a film I loved…. you could do that?? Re-watch a film again and again and write about it??? Hot damn! So here’s to Debra for foolishly showing me that film could be studied and not just re-created with action figures. I would thank her more, but she already has access to a Bafta and an Oscar, so she’s been thanked enough.
    Going For Gold

    Meanwhile, my other sister Joanne had perhaps a more valuable lesson to teach me…. the lesson of the cult film! I can possibly blame a long running fascination with cult-dom on this lady. Far, far too often we watched The Lost Boys, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers or The Breakfast Club. In fact thinking about it, it’s quite amazing I haven’t ended up dressed like the oiled-up Saxophone dude from Lost Boys, bellowing out an instrumental version of ‘Bless My Beautiful Bride’ to a Transvestite convention. But since I live in Brighton I suppose there is still time for that. Anyhoo, thanks to Jo for showing me that the odd films could be the most fun films!

    Not Joanne- she was too busy crying over some little sister
  3. A final family one- just in case anyone is curious how I could have seen things like Predator at a really young age, I’m now going to say cheers to my parents. They had a simple rule about films; They’d tell me when to cover my eyes in really horrific moments, and if I still felt uneasy I had to leave the room. But otherwise anything and everything was game. So thanks you very much for the lenience, also and thank you that I can now officially blame my Predator and Freddy Krueger tattoo’s on childhood negligence. Oh, and ironically, now that I have baby nieces I actually hope you have tightened your reigns in. Wow, you really do get more right wing as you get older.
  4. The anime-movie, Akira. This was a revelatory moment in my life. I was about 8 and watching a copy taped off of TV. Throughout it several confused adults kept asking what was happening. I could follow it no problem, both the story and the wider implications. This was the moment that it started to dawn on me that films could have layers beneath plot and that I wanted to look for more examples of them….

    Cool bike, shame about the helmet
  5. El Mariachi. There I was, a cool, bowl-cutted 13 year old on holiday in Blackpool. My family had rented a holiday home and I was given the sofa in the lounge to sleep on. I was too excited at the thought of a TV with film channels to sleep so when a Mexican film came on 1am I just propped my eyes open and stayed up. Heck, I’d been studying Spanish for a few months at school, so it was practically educational! And it really was- albeit for very different reasons. Suddenly I saw that anyone could do it, that anyone could make films. El Mariachi looked amateurish in so many ways and but it still exploded off the screen with talent. It’s not that I hadn’t seen hundreds of good, indie-films at this point, but never something that looked so cheap- and that is no insult. It showed me captivation comes from resource. I may have never reached its heights, but who knows if I would have even tried messing around with a camera without Robert Rodriguez’s début. So thanks, Rob!

 

Phew, OK. So I know this was a bit of a long-winded ramble and that none of it was particularly weird. But hey, what do you expect for the first entry??? To appease those who feel hard done by, the next entry of Hollyweird will justify the ‘weird’ part for years to come. I feel confidant in saying that it will almost definitely not be something that anyone out there has heard of. It is a film concerning an unhygienic a man whom is given magical powers by a tramp for no particular reason, and uses them to become a girl. Oh, and it’s a grim horror film. Sort of. You’ll see……

 

 

Thanks for reading,

-MJ