A dark and dynamic ride through Budapest’s labyrinthine subway system, “Kontroll” stylishly careens through genres, thriller, drama, comedy, horror and romance, at the breakneck pace of a runaway train. Life has turned upside-down for brooding Bulcsú (Sándor Csányi), a ticket inspector who patrols the platforms and trains of the city’s underground network with a motley crew of colleagues. Bulcsú has forged a series of ‘relationships’ with other long-term denizens of this neon-lit world; the serial fare-dodger, the shadowy serial-killer, the veteran whose seen it all before, and the mysterious, beautiful woman who rides the rails in a bear suit. The most successful Hungarian film of 2003 and selected for the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival, Kontroll”, with its echoes of “Run Lola Run”, is a fascinating tour of an unseen world and an atmospheric, pulsating search for redemption.
2003 – Certificate: 15 – Hungarian Film
Rating Details: Strong language and violence
8.0 out of 10
Today I’m being angry about dry pasta. Dry pasta is a total rip-off. By which I mean the price charged for some types is a blatant attempt to feed the insecurity, snobbishness and stupidity of a significant percentage of the population. Normally I buy Ocado (own brand) Fusilli pasta at 113p / kg. But on a whim, last time I did my ‘big shopping’ I also bought a bag of Giuseppe Cocco Fusilli Pasta at 598p / kg, to find out what’s so good about it. That’s over 5 times more expensive! The latter comes in a smaller bag and has fancy Italian writing all over the packet (that could be telling me to go fuck myself for all I know), but beyond that it isn’t any different. It looks and tastes just like the cheap stuff. People are soft in the head if they’re stupid enough to buy the expensive version and think it’s superior in some way. Listen up. It’s exactly the same! Whether you like it or not, it’s only bought by the dull-witted and easy led, who actually believe it’s better; or food snobs who’re clearly lacking something in their lives that impressing themselves, their family and friends with grossly overpriced food, helps them to cover up. It you really want to impress your peers, buy the cheap stuff and donate the £60 or so you’ll save each year to charity. And while I’m on the subject, why is it that if you don’t buy spirals, spaghetti or tubes, the price of pasta also goes up hugely? Another rip-off! In fact, the only thing more ridiculous is bottled water. Being a Brit who lives on a small island, I’m genetically programmed to think just about everywhere else in Europe is basically like one place as it’s joined together, such as Italy and Hungary…
I went to Hungary once. (Yes, it’s hard to believe isn’t it?) I arrived with no local currency and had no idea what the exchange rate was, so for quite a while I based my estimate of prices on the bottle of overpriced Coke I bought from a vending machine at the bus station in Budapest. (Based on this, a bottle of lager was about half the price of Coke.) I never went on the underground there, which now having seen this film I’m quite glad about; the bus was quite traumatic enough. This movie follows the exploits of a scruffy team of five ticket inspectors on the Budapest subway. It starts with an introduction from someone claiming to be from the subway company, explaining why permission was given for the film to be made (entirely underground) and for the company to be depicted in the way it is. I’m not 100% sure if this was serious or just a clever bit of writing. The whole movie has a well developed script and provides plenty of nuanced observations and WTF moments. The subway environment provides a great atmospheric background too, as the action switches quickly between different genera and pacing. Ticket inspectors are depicted as being very low on the ‘food chain’ of careers, with questionable management, rivalry between teams and a general antagonism towards them from the travelling public. A dark comedy (with a bit of romance and horror thrown in), this is a pretty fun, mind-fuck film that uses its setting well. A great film. Enjoy.
Musically it’s not an especially interesting movie as there’s not a lot used, although its scarcity does give it an impact when it does appear.
The trailer’s pretty decent, but I couldn’t find a copy of it with subtitles anywhere on the Internet. There’s a copy on the DVD though.
Recommended for ticket inspectors, tourists, serial killers and fare dodgers.
No cats, chainsaws or decapitations.
Top badass moment? For most of this film the ticket inspectors are on the wrong end of abuse from passengers who haven’t got a ticket. In one incident, an especially annoying woman threatens to report one for groping her if he hassles her any more about not having a ticket. So the guy promptly grabs her boobs, much to her horror and embarrassment. Now I’m not condoning this in any way, but somehow she deserved it. Calling someone’s bluff is always badass, if you get away with it.
I spent this afternoon working, updating my financial budgets. I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time on these, yet somehow they never seem to be quite up to date or accurate enough for anyone. Numbers on a spreadsheet, there must be more to life than adding up endless numbers on a spreadsheet. It doesn’t achieve or change anything. A chief executive of a small, community regeneration charity in London once told me that “regeneration was invented to keep the liberal middle-classes happy”. I think she meant projects that are set up to make a difference to people don’t really achieve much, but keep a lot of the latter group in jobs that make them feel good about what they do. This film offers a similar view of the world. Its main character Andreas even spends his days in an office adding up numbers on a computer screen. Oh God, I think I’ve become him! I need to go find a window and throw myself out of it; (which someone in this film appears to do as well.)
2006 – Certificate: 15 – Norway
Rating Details: Scenes of strong gore
If you don’t like films with neat, tidy endings, or that make it clear what they’re about, then you’ll probably hate this one. I viewed it as a statement on the mundane, superficial and uncaring lifestyles that many of us live these days, but maybe that’s just me. As someone whose way of life is tissue-paper thin and pretty meaningless, I could relate to it. A mindfuck of a movie, this is a nicely made black comedy that’s well worth a watch. The snogging scene at the beginning is really quite disturbing and sets the tone for the rest of the movie. The best bit of escape tunnelling I’ve seen since “The Great Escape” too; and a much better plan than trying to play with subway trains. The more I’ve thought about it since I watched it a few days ago, the better it seems to become. It represents 20% of my entire Norwegian film collection as well.
Recommended for people who enjoy thinking about the films they watch.
No cats, decapitations or chainsaws. However, at one point a finger does get amputated by an office guillotine machine.
Top badass moment? Andreas digging a tunnel to try to escape from his mundane life. Despite being frequently surrounded by the mundane myself, it’s something I’ve personally never considered doing. Trying to escape from the mundane is badass.
I was born in London. I lived there for many years. I’ve travelled on the Underground thousands of times; in fact I could probably draw a pretty accurate map of the Tube from memory, with most of the stations marked on it too. Last weekend I went to go to a gig in London, at a venue I know, using a part of the Underground which I also know very well. After making no less than four navigational errors on the Tube (getting on the wrong line, going in the wrong direction, getting off at the wrong station, etc), I decided that no lesser person than God himself was trying to drop a hint that I shouldn’t go. In the end I gave up and decided to come home, convinced that on my journey back I’d be involved in some sort of ‘incident’ that would offer me the chance to become a national hero. A major train crash perhaps, a little old lady being mugged, or a cute kitten stuck up in a tree, that sort of thing.
Ready for action, I stood in the vestibule bit of the train from Paddington Station. (For the thickos amongst you who don’t know what that is, it’s the bit of the train where the carriages are joined together.) Now I was dressed in what I normally wear when I go to see bands, which means just a t-shirt and shirt on top; coats are a pain at gigs, but not wearing one in the winter means you can get bloody cold afterwards. So I was cold; and knowing that I was very likely to be called on to perform some sort of heroic action in the near future, I’d decided not to trap myself in the bowels of a carriage. The train was actually quite full, so I’d have been unlikely to find a spare seat to sit on that didn’t involve me sitting next to someone; and I didn’t want to force myself on anyone in that way and spoil his or her evening; (yes, I’m very self-confident I know). So anyway, there I was, standing by the door. Joining me in my vestibule was an early 20s no-one; let’s call him Puppy Boy. Puppy Boy decided it would be a good idea to open the window, a lot. This was bearable for a few minutes, but once the train got moving it got colder and colder, as the wind howled in through the window at over 100mph and made a bee-line for me. Meanwhile, Puppy Boy just stood there, playing with his stupid little phone, seemingly oblivious to the near absolute-zero, super-cooled air that was blasting into his face and then travelling across the carriage to crush my life force in its icy grasp.
Ever seen a dog in a car that likes to stick its head out of the window? Well now you know where Puppy Boy got his name from. In my hypothermic condition, I started to hallucinate about Puppy Boy sticking his head out of the window and being decapitated by a passing train and wondering where the emergency alarm was, so I could alert the drive to this fact; and considering, in some detail, how much of a mess the headless remains of his body would make on the floor in front of me.
However, revenge is sweet. So along comes the ticket inspector. Like the upstanding, pillar of society, good citizen that I am, I proudly brandished my ticket and Railcard for the gentleman to inspect at his leisure. Then he turned to Puppy Boy. Oh dear, Puppy Boy had ‘forgotten’ to buy himself a ticket. I guess at a huge station like Paddington that has thousands of ticket machines and a massive ticket hall, it just slipped his mind. Yeah, right. I personally think they should arm ticket inspectors and licence them to carry out on-the-spot executions on people who have obviously tried to avoid buying a ticket; and if you can afford a snazzy little phone on which to surf the web and text your equally annoying and boring Coldplay worshipping friends, you can afford a ticket. Anyway, Puppy Boy doesn’t have a ticket, so has to buy one for the full single price, which was more than my return ticket, which also included all my Underground travel too. This didn’t warm me up in the slightest, but it did give me a great deal of satisfaction. When we got to Reading, Puppy Boy got off the train in front of me and I pushed him onto the track into the path of an oncoming train, in payment for making my journey so bloody uncomfortable. No wait, I just imagined that last bit. And please, don’t ask me why didn’t I ask him to close the window; I’m a Brit, we don’t do things like that, we just suffer in silence! Oh, and I wasn’t called on to perform any feats of heroism either, so I’ve no idea why I became so clueless on the Underground.
Right now I’m listening to “My Lady’s Games” by Blyth Power.
This film features a Britain that’s been entirely depopulated by an infection; just about everyone who wasn’t evacuated is now dead. (And to think it all happened because of some cruel and pointless experiments on animals in the prequel “28 Days Later”). Most of it’s filmed in London. It’s set around six months after the first movie and focuses on the repopulation of the country, which has started in and around Canary Wharf. NATO (mainly the US Army) is in charge of this. While watching this movie I was struck by just how inexplicably uncomfortable the later felt. There’s no suggestion in the film that they’re doing this for any other reason than the obvious one, but it made me realise just how undesirable the armed forces from another country might feel if they were in your country and in control of things. I suppose it’s a feeling of powerlessness and not totally trusting people who aren’t ‘your own’. Needed perhaps, helpful possibly, but not really wanted. I think I now understand a little more about the relationship between the West and elsewhere and why countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya (and even Russia) react they way they do to Western involvement in their affairs. All politicians and soldiers should watch this part of this film.
2007 – Certificate: 18 – United Kingdom
Rating Details: Strong bloody violence and gore
This is a sequel that’s actually better than the original. It’s an action-horror and possibly one of my ten favourite horror films of all time. It’s weird seeing so many shots of London entirely empty of people and traffic. With some great special effects, it works well as both a horror and an action film. It’s only its MTV-esque fast editing (which gives anyone over the age of 16 a headache) during some of the action scenes that I don’t like. It has a few classic “oh that’s so stupid” plot moments, but by and large it’s edge of the seat stuff; good music too. And did I get the very slight feeling that it might just have ended with a set up for another film? I think I did. This is a film you should watch.
Recommended for anyone who thinks zombies would be much better if they didn’t tend to stagger around very slowly; and for anyone who doesn’t like banks.
No cats and at least six decapitations. (You’d need to watch parts of it frame by frame to get the correct number; a helicopter blade can do a lot of damage!)
Top badass moment? Seeing the City fire-bombed to bits by the US Air Force. That’ll give us a banking crisis to really whine about. Bye-bye Canary Wharf Tower; a building that normally contains thousands of people who’re employed to press buttons all day; how constructive. Far more useful I’m sure, than a plumber, a carpenter, a scientist, an engineer, a teacher, a farmer, a nurse, a care worker…
I’ve probably made thousands of journeys on the London Underground in my life, a lot of them early in the morning or late at night. I think I can say that I’ve never noticed anyone famous, seen any fights, heard a gun-shot or met any homicidal maniacs. I’ve met a small number of weirdos, but that’s about it. I’m always secretly impressed by people who seemingly see a politician or film star on the Underground nearly every week, have tales of gunman or knife-wielding hoddies to share, or who regularly get trapped for hours in tunnels on broken-down trains. Maybe it has something to do with my ability to put on an iPod and fall asleep in almost any location; to me, the Underground is basically an uncomfortable, mobile bed. It’s like sleeping in a communal dormitory, where half the people look as miserable as sin, wear suits and never speak, whilst the other half talk all the time (but never in English), wear a range of strange clothing (I guess it’s all in fashion somewhere in the world) and continually look with confusion at a pocket-sized map of the Tube. However, I love the Underground, it’s a great social leveler. It’s a place where everyone can share equally in its sweltering, fetid, humid, summer ambience; enjoy having their faces pushed into other peoples’ armpits; or try desperately not to end up standing in the middle of an aisle, miles away from the doors that they’ve got zero chance of getting to when they want to get off and where whoever’s sitting adjacent to where they’re standing will have an eye-level and close-up view of their crotch, whether they want to or not; (remember kids, don’t get ‘excited’ and always go to the toilet and check your undies for the dreaded VPL, before you travel). It’s another example of a great bit of British engineering! (The Tube, not crotches.)
2004 – Certificate: 18 – United Kingdom
Rating Details: Strong bloody violence
This is a pretty good horror. The London Underground has plenty of potential to provide a creepy environment in which to trap people and it’s cool to see it used in this way in a film. It does drift off into torture porn territory towards the end, but it’s still entertaining. There’s loads of unrealistic stuff in it too, but let’s not dwell on that, as it will only spoil an otherwise pretty good movie. It also does a good job of making you have some sympathy for the ‘baddie’ too. I do hope all the survivors got checked for Weil’s Disease afterwards; it would be shame to escape from everything, only to succumb to an unpleasant disease a few weeks late; that would really suck.
Recommended for Tube fans, commuters and people who enjoy swimming in sewerage. If you fall into all three groups, then you’re in for a real treat; and you’re one sick puppy too.
No cats and no decapitations. There were a lot of rats and some decent neck cutting scenes though.
Top badass moment? It really has to be Kate throughout most of the film. She has to try to save the life of a guy who tries to rape her, deal with unhelpful London Underground staff, swim around with rats in sewerage, watch several people get killed, deal with the baddie herself and then still have to get home afterwards. Shit happens; dealing with it is badass.