Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Within the Woods

Before there was Evil Dead, there was Within the Woods. To prove that they could make films, Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, Scott Spiegel et al. set out to make a "prototype". I had only heard about this as I have recently read "If Chins could Kill" the autobiography of Bruce Campbell (well worth a read, he writes just as I assume he talks!). Then not long after I finished the book, a guy called Phil Edwards (aka @Live_for_Films) posted four YouTube videos on his Live for Films blog which show the short 30 min prototype: Within the Woods.

But what's the film like? Well the plot is simple. Young couple go for romantic picnic on haunted ancient Indian burial ground, which is fine as long as you don't defile the graves. Ooops! Trying to dig a pit for a fire and, Oh look, there's a grave! Bruce disappears as his girl falls asleep, only to be found dead and bloodied in the wood. Of course he's not really dead, just possessed and so goes on to kill the others in the party (well not quite, but I don't want to give everything away!)

Well, it's hard to make much comment because the quality of the videos is bad (it was shot on Super8 tape in 1978! It is all very dark, and fairly difficult to see what is going on, you can't even really tell that it's Bruce Campbell in the film. About the only thing that is evident is Sam Raimi's use of camera. The "Evil Spirit" is demonstrated by a shaky camera near the ground (apparently the camera was attached to a plank of wood that the cameraman could run with, not attached to a skateboard as I thought it was). This is a technique also used a lot in the Evil Dead films, and also (maybe a bit tongue in cheek) in Spider-man 2 (I wanted to say homage, but I'm not sure that's correct given that it's the same director!)

So, that's about all I can say about Within the Woods really, at least about what I've seen of it. But rest assured, I will be wanting to watch Evil Dead soon, so there'll be a review of that in the not too distant future.

Evil Dead Trailer

Friday, 22 October 2010


This was on our Love Film list due to a recommendation from a friend. I might add, a usually trustworthy friend! He did say it wasn't really a child's film, that is was all about grief. That's fine, there was the underlying story of loss. But it just didn't jump out at you the way Monsters INC or Finding Nemo did. The main trouble really was Russell. Yes, that's right. Finally my name gets recognition in a film and he's a fat, irritating, incompetent kid. He's supposed to be a Wildlife Explorer, but it comes across as if he's never left the couch his fat ass was born on.


Now I know it's a cartoon, but an 80 year old man jumping around and swinging off ropes is just daft, and it wasn't done in a tongue in cheek way, just part of the plot. And though I did find the daft talking dog quite amusing (in an otherwise bland film), why was the bad guy breeding talking dogs?? And why was Alpha's voice squeaky? Because it was broken? Woop de doo. Would it not have been funnier to have seen him inhaling helium? That's what it sounded like.
Everyone agrees I think that Cars was a flop. Don't know, haven't seen it, don't want to. But I think UP was definitely a down for me.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Make it So

Last weekend (16th October) Film4 showed all 10 Star Trek films. Yeeesh that's a lot of Star Trek! Now I must point out at the outset that I am not a Trekkie! I'm firmly in the Star Wars camp. I know there have been many arguments over which series is better over the years, but to make a singular point here's mine as to why Star Wars is better: Lightsabers! There, said it!

Of course I didn't watch all ten films, that would be nuts. I saw some of the first film (The Motion Picture), but as we had friends over, it was muted. Which probably made it better as we could imagine what was being said, which was probably more interesting. Also great when subtitles say "ROAAR!"! I watched about half of Undiscovered Country (that's the one where they try to make peace with the Klingons and Kirk ends up in a gulag right?) That was fairly painful, with the usual wooden acting from Shatner et al. And Scotty is just terrible, as is his script: Bridge (could have been Spock at this point, I can't remember): "Try going to backup (reserve/auxiliary I can't remember) power!" Scot: "Shit yeah, good idea, why didn't I think of that, I mean, I'm only the fucking engineer!". Or something like that! Oh yeah, and Samantha (Kim Catrall) from Sex and the City is in it!

So the only two films I watched in their entirety were Generations and First Contact. Generations, yeesh. Shatner, bad; Patrick Stewart, alright I suppose, even Malcolm McDowell was bad. The plot was so obvious you could see it coming a mile off. Picard finds out relatives have died, and the plot revolves around the bad guy trying to get back to a different "reality" where everything is perfect, where you will never be so content. Mmmm, do you suppose Picard will end up there for a short while and his dead relatives will be there? Oh look, he wants to be in a Victorian Christmas day where his dead nephew speaks with the worst plummy English accent ever "Hello Uncle. I love you Uncle" (vomits quietly into a bucket). I think that this is another thing that routinely annoys me about Star Trek; there are often sections where the characters are not in the universe they live in. Well I guess they are, but they're not, they could be on a old sailing ship, or riding horses across a field, something that is totally incongruous to the film. I'm not denying it makes sense to use the holodeck, or that there are worlds in their universe where grassy fields and horses exist, that is fine, but it just looks dumb as part of the film. But that's just like my opinion man, perhaps I'm the only one!

Oh and as for the light comedy relief provided by Data and his emotion chip; well it's as bad as Jar Jar Binks.

On that cringeworthy note, on to First Contact, which I actually quite enjoyed. Probably mainly because Shatner isn't in it. Ah yes, now I remember, the Desperate Housewives episode! Hawk played by weird neighbour Dave Williams, and James Cromwell's sidekick played by weird neighbour Betty Applewhite. Still, this is the first film where the next generation crew made it their own, and a breath of fresh air it was. Directed by Riker (Jonathan Frakes) the script was far better than some of the old guard films, and the Borg make an interesting new enemy (to my mind; in the films; remember I'm not a Trekkie) as we were getting bored of Klingons and Romulans with dodgy make-up. Though some of the Borg outfits did remind me of an assassin cyborg escaped from a prison world in a Red Dwarf episode! Mercifully no light comedy from Data this time.
Well I've probably stirred up enough shit for a review of Star Trek, I couldn't face any more films that night, and besides, the new series of Desperate Housewives was starting on E4!

Still, I guess no blog on Star Trek would be complete without this:

Tuesday, 19 October 2010


If I was a flower growing wild and free, all I want is you to be my sweet honey bee.
And if I was a tree growing tall and green, all I want is you to shade me and be my leaves.

And with these lyrics, the intro sequence of Juno begins.
Having become pregnant by Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera), Juno MacGuff (Eellen Page) decides she is not ready to be a Mum and finds a family wanting to adopt. Vanessa (Jennifer Garner) and her husband Mark (Jason Bateman) seem a mismatched couple and eventually Mark splits (I guess he still has some growing up to do) and so Vanessa adopts the baby by herself.

I guess that's the plot, but it doesn't do justice to how sweet and quirky the film is.  Cera is dorky, Page is dorky and nuts, Jennifer Garner is, well Jennifer Garner, and JK Simmons is great as Juno's dad (almost as good as his role as the editor of the Daily Bugle in Spiderman: Next time I see that Bleeker kid I'm going to punch him in the wiener!), and the soundtrack is great too.

It's cool that just seeing the stills from the intro I can hear the music:

Barry Louis Polisar – All I Want Is You

But don't take my word for it, go see it!

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Social Network

I suppose I'm surprised that there isn't more hype surrounding this film given its subject matter. I enjoyed the way that computer geek Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) 's techno-joy at hacking Harvard's computer network and the ensuing set up of the facebook phenomenon, was intercut with the two legal proceedings that were being brought against him. Then perhaps there hasn't been the hype, because as soon as the phrase "legal proceedings" enters a film synopsis, your average joe who doesn't want to think while watching a film, falls asleep.

I thought I was going to struggle initially, because in the first scene with Zuckerberg's girlfriend breaking up with him, they both talk at like a million miles an hour! Not to mention lots of references to I don't know clubs, fraternities whatever, which meant nothing to me and confused me more. Still it settled down and I did like the smarmy, un-flappable,  know-it-all character of Zuckerberg. Reminded me a lot of the know-it-all in the Sontaron episodes of Dr Who, who invented the ATMOS!! Zuckerberg's character is definitely of the "It's been a long time since anyone said no to you isn't it?" brands.

The one thing that was very impressive was the handling of the Winklevoss twins. Two actors, but in post production the face and speech of Armie Hammer was computer-ally added on to the unfortunate other actors (Josh Pence) head. I seriously couldn't tell the difference between the twins.
The thing that was awful was the cgi breath that was added to Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) as they discussed the beginnings of facebook outside in the cold in one scene. Truly is was terrible! Not a case of "is that cg or not?" it obviously was, instantly.

That's really my only gripe really. I guess the other very good effect was discovering that Justin Timberlake is quite a good actor!

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

What are you looking at Butthead?!

Often when someone remembers a great film from their childhood, and makes you watch it for the first time as an adult, you hate the film. I've made people watch The Lost Boys & Star Wars, and at best received a shrugging of the shoulders in return. The only film I can think I've been exposed to like this is Dirty Dancing, which being more of a chick-flick isn't a fair comparison I guess. But when I watched Back to the Future in its entirety just a couple of months ago (Yes I've never seen it all before, I've seen bits over the years), I was surprised that I really enjoyed it. Maybe this should be the hallmark for a great film; if you can watch it for the first time 25 years after it was first released and still think it's great, it must be good!

Therefore, as it has just been re-released for its 25 year anniversary, I saw it for the second time. Disappointing that there was only 8 people at the Belmont cinema to see it though! That's only 2 more people than there was when I went to see AVP in Berlin!!
As far as the film goes, was there anything that could go wrong? There's humour, romance, fast cars, time travel, extremely quotable lines, The Power of Love, and executively produced by Steven Spielberg. I guess MJF could have turned out to be a total bust, but even he's great. It's hard to think of many other films that are as pure entertainment as Back to the Future, apart from Indy films (Oh, Spielberg again), and perhaps Transformers! (sorry, but I was always going to love Transformers since I was a HUGE Transformers addict when I was a kid; Oh and look, Spielberg again!). So maybe I should redefine my great film criteria to one where Steven Spielberg is a producer! Erm checking IMDB I quickly retract that, I'd forgotten about Revenge of the Fallen, Jurassic Park 3, and some other clangers!

Lost the plot a bit there! Back to the Future. Great film, even 25 years on, doesn't look too dated. Cool enough to inspire not one but two Last Exit to Nowhere shirts! Go and see it if you haven't already!

“Doc, are you telling me that it’s 8.25?!” “Precisely” “Dammit, I’m late for school!”
Back to the Future

Monday, 11 October 2010


There used to be a time when Joss Whedon could do no wrong. Obviously many (me included) think that he was doing pretty damn good when he wrote Firefly. TV networks thought otherwise. Despite the fact that it was funny, clever, exciting, had a small number of characters who played off each other very well, had some very interesting character arcs set up, had a back story/had history, had several subtle touches that made the universe in which they lived more real/have more depth, and despite the amount of SHIT TV that runs to several seasons; Firefly was cancelled before even the first series had finished. We didn't even get to see one maybe two character arcs completed. Oh, and it had a great intro/song that Whedon wrote:

(Rant over). So to complete some arcs, give something that the fans were hankering for, Joss Whedon made Serenity.

Simon (genius doctor) and his sister River (even more of a genius, but was taken by the Alliance (intergalactic governmental body) to be studied/experimented on because she is so clever) were picked up as passengers by the crew of Serenity in the pilot episode of Firefly. Simon had recently rescued River from the Alliance, and so travelling "off the radar" with the crew of Serenity allowed them to escape their attention (mostly) for a while. This was obviously the main story arc of the first series, but due to cancellation was never finished. So the film Serenity (the name of the ship, and also the name of a battle (with horrific losses) in the fight between Alliance and Independents many years ago (told you there was back story!)) focusses on tying up this story to explain why the Alliance is so keen to hunt River down.

Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) is captain of Serenity, who along with his second in command Zoe (Gina Torres) fought for the Independents (Browncoats) in the war. Mal is your all round Han Solo kinda character I guess. Rough around the edges, heart in the right place, generally does the right thing but blunders along while doing it, you know. It's mostly this attitude in Mal that makes a lot of Serenity funny, along with his relationship with Jayne (Adam Baldwin) and Inara (Morena Baccarin).

The film is very nicely made, and that's no surprise as it had a bigger budget than any of the episodes. The first scene is great. The name Serenity appears on screen (looks like a screensaver, papyrus font!), but then this becomes part of the logo on the side of the ship, which we then pan around. The ship begins to land on a planet, and we see Mal through the cockpit. There is a bang, and suddenly the camera is inside the ship with Mal asking pilot Wash (Adam Tudyk) if something fell off! We follow Mal around the ship as we are introduced to the rest of the the crew, and for the first 5 minutes or so, apart from the bang when the camera is suddenly in the cockpit, the whole intro is one shot. Which looks very cool, and I always think is very impressive and takes a lot of skill. Maybe I should do a blog post in the future just about cool single shot scenes.

Anyway, back to the film. The plot of the film is explaining why the Alliance are so desperate to find River, as deep down somewhere she knows a secret that the Alliance have been keeping for many years. Of course the danger is she might suddenly remember and try to find out about this secret; and then the galaxy would know the Alliance can't be trusted, and would all come tumbling down. The suspense/danger is increased in the film by The Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a very calm, calculated mercenary, employed by the Alliance to hunt River down. Of course, it makes far more sense and has more meaning if you've already watched Firefly. However, the film is still great (though I guess I could be biased because I love Firefly), but even my wife's Godmother thought Serenity was great and she hasn't seen Firefly! Of course I've lent it to her now!

Friday, 8 October 2010


A brief synopsis of the plot:

Luke Skywalker Eragon lives on a farm on a planet furthest from the bright centre of the universe miles from anywhere, with his Uncle. When he buys 2 droids finds a dragon egg, the evil empire King Galbatorix (Malkovich) hunts him down to again destroy the Dragon Riders. Helped by ex- Jedi knight Dragon Rider Obi-Wan Kenobi Brom (Irons), Eragon evades capture, only to find his Uncle killed by the Empire Sorcerer Durza's (Carlyle) assassins (his homestead even burns!). The dragon hatches, and Eragon learns to ride it.

One day night Luke Eragon is training sleeping, and has an image of Leia Arya as a captive of Vader Durza. Then follows a shot by shot copy scene of Luke Eragon leaving Dagobah camp, with Obi-wan Brom trying to dissuade him, saying that it is he, Eragon, that the Emperor Galbatorix wants, that is why his friends have to suffer. Luke Eragon get up on his X-wing Dragon looking down on Obi-wan Brom saying he has to go. (Honestly it's shot by shot!!).

Anyway, the princess Arya is rescued, Obi-wan Brom is killed at the hands of Vader Durza during the rescue. They seek out the Rebel Alliance Varda, who are intent on bringing down the Empire King Galbatorix. There's some kind of a Helm's Deep scenario at the end and Eragon kills Durza. 

Anyway, I'm bored of this. You get the idea, no novel ideas at all!! Star Wars plot (there's even a binary sunset shot FFS!!!!), shot like Lord of the Rings. Awful film.

Oh, and Eragon has a suit of armour at the end like he should be dancing on ice! Very spangly looking, many sequins!

There Will Be Blood

If MI2 was a film that said "Look how cool Tom Cruise is!" (though nothing beats Top Gun for that!), then There Will be Blood is the film that says "See how Daniel Day Lewis is a damn fine actor". From the first dialogue-less 15 min of the film, to the final "I drink your Milkshake" scene, Day-Lewis really owns the screen. He really grabs you by the ears, and doesn't let go. Though you start to want to shake him off as you realise he's become a greedy, power hungry oil magnate.

Maybe my one criticism of the film is the soundtrack. Composed by Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood, it can often be as random and jarring as Radiohead can be. For example; when the oil well explodes, Jonny's music is very industrial sounding, which works; but it's very loud and goes on and on and on. I think in this instance the music really pulls the viewer out of the film, rather than just adding to the atmosphere and immersing the viewer further, which surely music should do.

Though this is only a minor gripe, and the film really is great; there's even a cameo from The Mummy's Benny!

Wednesday, 6 October 2010


I enjoyed this the first time I saw it, and on a second viewing it was still quite a neat film. A fairly simple idea, tweak the rules a bit as the film goes on, don't try to be too clever or self-indulgent, and any film of this sort should do alright. Hayden Christensen proves that he can act, Samuel L Jackson is cool as usual (even with white hair), and Rachel Bilson is quite cute.
It all starts when Hayden almost drowns, and the emotional stress causes him to teleport himself (Jump) to somewhere he's been before. After a bit of practise he finds he can jump anywhere in the world he has seen (been or in a picture). All sorts of trouble ensues when Sam L Jackson (who hunts down and kills Jumpers) tracks him down. A short (just over 90 min I think) but sweet film, that doesn't try anything too fancy and is very enjoyable. The concept reminds me a bit of the Dr Who episode "Blink"; a very simple idea that is very effective, and goes to show that less can be more.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

High and Low

I had put this on our Love Film list after it being recommended by the manager of the Aberdeen Picture House cinema: The Belmont (Dallas King,!/Dallas_Belmont). As he had raved about it, citing it as one of the high points while completing his Empire Top 500 films challenge, I had high expectations of it. Though it wasn't the knockout film I was expecting I did enjoy it.

The plot revolves around a case of mistaken kidnapping; the target: the son of a successful businessman, but actually his chauffeur's son is taken instead. The first half of the film is quite tense as it is shot almost exclusively in the living room of the businessman Mr Gondo. As they come to terms with the kidnapping, the arrival of the police, speaking to the kidnapper and hearing his demands the tension builds as emotions boil over. Following the handover of the money to the kidnapper, the second part of the film is concerned with the police hunt for the kidnapper. Though this is all very well shot and scripted, it just didn't sit with me so well.

The police kept saying they were really keen to catch the kidnapper in a way that made it sound like a favour. As if they felt sorry for Mr Gondo as he had lost millions because of paying the ransom. Fair enough, but it was said so often that it made me think that if he wasn't such a great guy and had so much money, that the police wouldn't have given a shit. I also kept expecting a twist at the end, expecting that the kidnapper was one of Mr Gondo's rivals who was trying buy his shares in the company; but that never materialised. However, that said, the film is very good and I enjoyed it, I think I'm probably just being over-cynical for a 1963 film; tastes and expectations change. The plot is very methodical, but I think that is also one of it's strong points; the police investigation is also very methodical and thorough, everything is explained carefully in meetings in the police station (reminds me of how methodical and realistic Bullitt is). The script is also pacey; though it is a fairly long film (2 hours 20 min), the story doesn't feel like it drags at all.

Anyway, enough rambling. If you don't believe me (chances are you don't), go and see it (chances are you haven't already!).

Monday, 4 October 2010

The Thing

I remember as a kid (probably age 10 or something like that) watching The Thing. I was probably trying to appear cool to my older friend from next door who watched a lot of horror. I remember saying something like "This could be my first horror film". Needless to say, it scared the bejesus out of me! Of course now I'm a lot older (not necessarily wiser), I can see it for what it is: a great film.

I've seen The Thing several times since, and I felt an urge to watch a film to restore my faith in movies, having watch Eragon the night before! The film starts with some Norwegians trying to shoot a dog. Doesn't sound like much, but the desperation of the Norwegians is brilliantly enhanced by Ennio Morricone's simple yet effective music.

Dominik Hauser – The Thing (Ennio Morricone)

Actually, it's interesting that when you first see the film you're probably routing for the dog, hoping it escapes. But in subsequent viewings you're thinking "Just shoot the dog! How hard can it be?!". Which leads nicely to my only problem with the film. When the Norwegians land their helicopter at Outpost #31, they try again to shoot the dog using a rifle with sighting scope as the dog is jumping up at one of the Americans. The shot misses and hits the guy in the leg. However, when Garry (Donald Moffat) tries to shoot the Norwegians (who have somehow blown up their own helicopter), he first smashes a window to shoot out of (why? It's the Antarctic, it's freezing, open a door!), and then shoots the guy from miles away with a pistol!

Onward from the niggles. The rest of the film plays out as a suspense/horror. Though some of the special effects may not look as smooth as what may be "run of the mill computer graphics", I think this makes it better. If heads growing spider's legs, or chests opening to reveal big teeth were done in a computer, it just wouldn't look as physical or gruesome as it does. I think CG often have the effect of pretty-fying effects that should be scary. E.g. I still can't watch American Werewolf in London, it still scares the hell out of me (I couldn't watch all of this video! So it might be the wrong one!), but watching the recent Wolfman starring Benicio del Toro at the cinema wasn't really scary, I think simply because there was so much CG, it looks too smooth and pretty!

You gotta be fuckin' kidding.

But the suspense is done brilliantly (maybe that should be tension? (see here)). Doors banging in the wind, the isolation of being out in the Antarctic, people missing, and of course the blood test scene, putting a hot wire in a Petri dish of blood to see who is not what they seem! Not knowing who might be The Thing, is very nerve racking (I guess it's best not to see the film too often for this to still be tense). I also love the way the characters become ever more desperate, not knowing who is human or not, losing all power and heat, and eventually the realisation that none of them are going to get out alive. The lack of happy ending just adds to the tension and bleakness of the film. I was also reminded of Pitch Black as Keith David (Childs) is one of only three survivors in this film too.

Brilliant film, one I could watch again and again, and I'm sure I will.

Why don't we just wait here for a little while, see what happens.