Coolest extra: Interview with director Takashi Miike (DVD/Blu-ray)
Complex says: A lot of praise has been thrust upon director Michael Bay for the tremendous, CGI-thick action that’s crammed into the extended finale of Transformers: Dark Of The Moon, and for good reason. Bay ends the box office smash with breathless special effects mayhem, a long battle sequence set in the heart of Chicago. But Dark Of The Moon isn’t the year’s first movie to end with a massive fight; Takashi Miike’s excellent samurai flick 13 Assassins wraps up over the course of 45 breathless minutes, with a thirteen-versus-hundreds brawl that escalates in sickness as it progresses. It’s a phenomenal cap-off for an altogether superb action film.
Recognized more for his grotesque genre movies (Ichi The Killer, Audition), Miike is on his Akira Kurosawa shit here, telling the story of unemployed samurai brought back into the slice-and-dice workforce to kill off an evil ruler intent on sending feudal Japan into war. Miike, no stranger to gore, favors expository dialogue throughout the flick’s first two acts, splicing in a few nasty bits of carnage (such as a stunning decapitation) just to remind folks that he’s a master of bloodshed.
Once the final act’s showdown begins, though, all bets are off, and 13 Assassins quickly generates feelings of nostalgia toward old samurai cinema and sets its Japanese director apart from his international peers. In Transformers, Bay needs computers, alien robots, and underwear model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley to inspire awe; in 13 Assassins, Miike requires little more than physically ready actors, fluid camerawork, insane fight choreography, and practical imagination.
Buy it now: 13 Assassins
Hobo With A Shotgun
Coolest extra: “More Blood, More Heart: The Making Of Hobo With A Shotgun” featurette (DVD/Blu-ray)
Complex says: Filmmakers both proven and unknown could learn a thing or two from Jason Eisener, the first-timer behind one of 2011’s most enjoyable flicks thus far, Hobo With A Shotgun. For one, the Canadian director accomplishes something that J.J. Abrams tried to do with the much bigger Super 8 yet wasn’t nearly as successful in achieving: saluting his favorite films of old without losing himself in overdone homage (Abrams loved Steven Spielberg’s sentimental sci-fi pics; Eisener, meanwhile, clearly adored the trashy exploitation cinema of the late 1970s and early ’80s). And, two, Eisener more than delivers on the promise of ultra violence and other extremities; Hobo With A Shotgun goes out of its way to offend, and it’s all the better for it.
Genre veteran Rutger Hauer stars as the titular hobo, a quiet and hardened old salt who can’t stand watching society suffocate beneath corruption and degradation, so, like any valiant hero would do, he gets a heavy firearm from a pawn shop and starts blowing deviants away. This doesn’t sit well with the local crime lord, called The Drake (Brian Downey), leading to a vigilante tale of sorts, with Hauer’s antihero teaming up with a young prostitute (Molly Dunsworth) to take the decrepit city of “Scum Town” (technically named Hope Town) back.
The plot, wisely, is kept simple in John Davies’ funny and unrelenting script, a smart exercise in playing matters straight without losing the inherent tongue-in-cheek vibe of a modern-day exploitation throwback. Eisener uses music that sounds like it’s been lifted straight out of sleaze pics like Cannibal Holocaust, inserts absurdist visual cues for no reason other than to elicit high-fives from horror aficionados (Bumper cars with human heads as roadblocks? Amazing!), and allows Hauer to nail a couple of hilariously deadpan monologues.
Simply for seeing its ridiculous premise all the way through, Hobo With A Shotgun earns its place as a sure cult favorite better served in home video format than in multiplexes. It’s the kind of flick that’s perfect for a Friday night with the fellas in front of the tube with a cold 30-pack of brew in the fridge and cheddar cheese popcorn in Tupperware bowls.
Buy it now: Hobo With a Shotgun
Coolest extra: Deleted scenes (DVD/Blu-ray)
Complex says: Better judgment tells us to not recommend Wake Wood, the second production from the new incarnation of Hammer Films (the first: last year’s underrated vampire remake Let Me In), the iconic U.K.-based horror brand that cranked out Gothic chillers throughout the 1950s and all the way into the late ’70s. Directed and co-written by David Keating, Wake Wood has logic gaps and plot holes that you could ram an amusement-park-sized hammer (pun intended) through, as well as one too many obvious clichés in both plot and imagery. And, near its end, Keating’s bizarre horror flick turns into a series of random kill scenes that, while admittedly cool in the “nasty” department, happen without any real purpose.
Despite its many flaws, though, Wake Wood is just too bonkers to overlook. The film, about grieving parents who indulge in some pagan hoopla in order to bring their little girl back to life for three days, works hard to shock; within the first five minutes, Keating shows the young girl getting mauled by a ferocious dog, and that’s hardly the director’s calling card here; the guts and crimson liquid gradually increase in volume as Wake Wood wears its wall-to-wall genre influences proudly. Keating takes cues from every “creepy kid” movie ever made, inserts a visual nod to Nicolas Roeg’s great Don’t Look Now near the end, and steals a great deal of plot from both Pet Sematary and the old tale “The Monkey’s Paw.”
But Keating also refuses to ground his characters in any kind of reality; for a movie with such outlandish ideas, Wake Wood needs at least one of its characters to question such unusual concepts as bringing the dead back to life. From the parents to the sinister townsfolk, everyone in Wake Wood accepts the strangeness as if it's just another trip to the local town pool, or a picnic. Keating’s film loses all tension and plausibility as a result, yet, thanks to the flick’s dread-heavy mood and overboard violence, Wake Wood is one wicked clusterfuck.