Tuesday, 17 December 2013

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (2009)



Adapted from the novel by John Godney, The Pelham 123 is a train that leaves Pelham at 1:23 pm, and the taking of it is by a terrorist called Ryder.  I’m not sure whether Tony Scott developed the same affinity with trains later in his career as he has with Denzel Washington, as they were both involved with his next film: the insufferable Unstoppable (2010).  Also starring Denzel Washington, The Taking of Pelham 123 starts as an enjoyable thriller as Washington’s rail network-coordinating character happens to be at his desk when Ryder (John Travolta trying to reprise his Swordfish persona but woefully wayward) hijacks the train.  The banter between these two is lively and really drives the first half of the film, however when Washington sets off to deliver the ransom to Ryder (hindered by some lazy writing and inept police) the plot becomes formulaic and boring.  By the time the climax is reached (with more incompetent police) I really didn’t care how it turned out. But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

The Polar Express (2004)


I'm under the impression that a lot of people love this film in a romantic Christmas kind of way. And that's what I expected and hoped for.  However, I rather think that director Robert Zemeckis was trying to channel the spirit of his earlier action adventure films into this, and this is not the Christmas spirit.  Action sequences akin to those in Romancing the Stone (1984) or the Back to the Future series (1985-1990) are completely incongruous, and just seem to be padding in a film which should be about the magic of Christmas.

However, when it comes (in the last 15 minutes of the movie) instead of magic, we are bludgeoned over the head with a pseudo-religious "I want to believe" message!  OK, I get that the kid doesn't believe in Christmas at the start of the film, but by the time he's seen the elves and present factory etc, you think he might have cottoned on.  Instead we are repeatedly told that he wants to believe, until he can finally hear the sleigh bells.

There are a few nice touches, including one when the camera follows the fate of a train ticket all in one shot.  Until you remember that this is a cartoon and you can do what you want with a camera; and the whole reason for the ticket flying about is a stupid bit of plot that had me screaming at the telly!  I am no Scrooge when it comes to Christmas, but The Polar Express did not fill me with a warm glowy feeling; rather like Blackadder in his Christmas Carol I became increasingly annoyed.  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Gravity (2013)


Sci fi is always most effective when it says something about the human condition.  Whether it’s fear of new powerful technology (2001: A Space Odyssey; 1968, and Westworld; 1973), environmental concerns (Silent Running; 1972), or the fear of male rape (Alien; 1979).  In the case of Gravity, the themes explored are of human fortitude in extreme isolation, and how terrible circumstances can be overcome.  These are by no means unheard of situations as told in the true stories of Aron Ralston trapped alone in a Utah canyon in 127 hours (2010); Joe Simpson left for dead on a mountain in Patagonia (Touching the Void; 2003) or the Antarctic expedition of Ernest Shackleton as portrayed by Kenneth Branagh in the TV movie Shackleton (2002).  The fact that we can relate to Dr Ryan's predicament (less mainstream than hiking in the desert or climbing a mountain) I think is a testament to writer/director Alfonso Cuarón.

Of course the most striking aspect of the film are the visuals, and they are simply stunning.  The first shot, the one that lasts 20 minutes, is simply phenomenal.  There are some tremendous continuous scenes in Children of Men (2007), and also some clever camera work in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004), but in Gravity, Cuarón’s vision is out of this world.  These extremely long takes I think really help the story.  In that first shot, Alfonso gives us the backdrop, introduces the principle characters, gives us the background to a potential problem, and then bang!  It happens, and we are spinning off into space.  The fact that it's all one shot, apart from being amazing, makes us feel like the director is holding our hand and guiding us slowly through an environment with which we are not completely familiar.  I think this makes the film far more accessible and coherent than it would if there were lots of fast edits; Gravity is far more elegant.

Needless to say Clooney is great, his suave persona is perfect for Matt Kowalski, the astronaut who stays calm and initially takes control of the situation.  Arguably one of the best achievements of Gravity is the discovery that Sandra Bullock can carry a film almost by herself.  Dr Ryan Stone is almost the opposite of Kowalski, nervous, initially unsure of anything outside her comfort zone and sometimes has trouble keeping her food down on a spacewalk.  We can all relate to this, and Bullock epitomises this unease brilliantly.  She slowly realises that she is capable of taking control of her situation, and while she isn’t ballsy like Ellen Ripley, she is determined enough to do what she has to.  I don’t claim to know all of Bullock’s roles, but I don’t think that she often gets to do anything this intense; except for perhaps Crash (2004), so I was very impressed with her here.

Gravity is proper edge of the seat stuff, there are few films that engross the viewer as much as this.  Certainly part of this success is due to the sound design and score.  Having helped edit music alongside Hans Zimmer for Batman Begins and Howard Shore for The Two Towers and Return of the King, we can assume that composer Steven Price knows a thing or two about film scores.  For Gravity, Price has demonstrated restraint, in the knowledge that less is more.  In the quiet moments in space, his music has an almost ethereal quality, full of wonder, reminiscent of James Horner’s score for Avatar.  As the action builds up so does the music, almost as a distorted heartbeat echoing that of Ryan, until rather than reaching a crescendo, the music drifts off into space again.

Ultimately, this story of human resolve and fortitude has a happy ending, as perhaps the more memorable stories often do.  Ryan has been through a terrible ordeal and comes out the other side with a new outlook on life.  Sandra Bullock is very good at conveying all these emotions; coupled with an amazing vision from Alfonso Cuarón and incredible, flawless special effects; Gravity is one of those films whose impact remains long after leaving the movie theatre. But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)


Having been disappointed with Universal's Frankenstein (1931), I was hoping that Hammer's Frankenstein Created Woman might tell the second half of Mary Shelly's excellent book.  Admittedly I haven't seen Hammer's The Curse of Frankenstein, but as FCW also stars Peter Cushing, I was hopeful.  This optimism was sadly misplaced.  "Woman" is created (completely off screen, we don't see a thing) from a girl who drowns herself because she's has just seen her lover guillotined for a crime he didn't commit.  Oh, and she now has the brain of said guillotined lover!  Queue some revenge killing against the toffs who initially framed lover boy.

It all sounds a bit Young Frankenstein, and it is.  Despite not really connecting with James Whale's film, at least there were great sets, tremendous lighting and a dramatic creation scene.  There is none of that here.  It's a point and shoot film with no obvious creative vision, no "It's Alive!" scene, and a ludicrous plot.  Peter Cushing does his best, and his complete disregard for anyone’s feelings and his contempt for superstitious folk (as long as his research is undisturbed) is fun, but it's not enough.  Where Christopher Lee is able to rescue Rasputin: The Mad Monk by chewing the scenery, Cushing’s more reserved style isn’t enough to animate the lifeless body of FCW.  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

Monday, 18 November 2013

2012 (2009)


Ridiculous nonsense.  Quite entertaining, but very stupid.  People often talk about films for which you need to leave your brain at the door; well if you did that and had never seen a movie before, I think that you’d still shout at the screen during 2012!  There is some spurious science involving solar flares and mutating neutrinos melting the Earth’s core (isn’t it already molten?), which all gives licence for some destruction on a global scale.  The latest creation on Roland Emmerich’s CV of disaster movies, 2012 seems to be the culmination of destruction that began 13 years ago with Independence Day, continued with some monster destruction in 1998’s Godzilla, and still further in 2004 with The Day After Tomorrow.  This time he obviously thought “Ah fuck it, let’s destroy the entire planet!”

John Cusack is the average Dad who is separated from his wife, doesn’t see his kids too often, and is way out of his depth.  He acts like he is way out of his depth.  It’s not his fault, I can’t think of anyone who would be able to play this role any better; the character is just cursed.  Of course he needs to be an average Joe, but at the same time we don’t for a second think that he might not survive; the bloated 158 min length simply means that Cusack’s Jackson Curtis spends an awful long time engaged in some “knees bent running around”.  Unfortunately this is true of all the heroes.  For any worthwhile performances, we have to look to the Government representatives; Chiwetel Ejiofor’s geologist, Oliver Platt’s Chief of Staff and to a lesser extent Danny Glover as The President.  These are the people who hold the film together, and help give some semblance of a reason for all of the heroes shenanigans.  The verbal sparring between Ejiofor and Platt was probably the highlight of the film.

No doubt 2012 was spectacular on the big screen, I’m sure some of the impact was lost on TV punctuated with adverts; but there’s no escaping that it’s a dumb film.  Spectacular, but dumb.  Because every time there is a spectacular scene, which should be terrifying in an end-of-the-world kind of way, there is some dumb driving/running/flying through the carnage nonsense.  I thought that it was entertaining escapism, ridiculous nonsense, but nevertheless somehow enjoyable-ish.  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Nosferatu (1922)


As part of this year’s Halloween programme, our local Picturehouse cinema The Belmont screened Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau’s 1922 horror film, Nosferatu.  This is the first time that the character of Dracula had been portrayed on the silver screen, though due to the inability to secure the rights to Bram Stoker’s novel, names and locations had to be changed.  Most notably Count Dracula becomes Count Orlok, and the location of the heroes moves to Germany; understandable as Murnau was German.  This all has no effect on the final product because Nosferatu is tremendous.

The plot really does follow that of Dracula: estate agent Hutter travels to Transylvania to help Count Orlok purchase a property in Wisbourg where Hutter and his wife live.  During Orlok's voyage across to Germany, all of the ship’s crew are mysteriously killed or disappear.  Once in Wisbourg, a mysterious plague strikes the inhabitants, blamed on infected rats brought ashore by the ship that carried Orlok.  Count Orlok himself makes Mrs Hutter his personal mission, ever since he noticed from a photograph that she “has a beautiful neck”!

Max Schreck is incredible as the sinister Count Orlok, certainly one of the most enigmatic and iconic portrayals of the Dracula character.  I’m not sure how tall he is, but the long slim coat he wears, the bald head and the pointy ears serve to make him look even taller and even more disquieting.  Shadows and lighting are used to tremendous effect, so that the audience shares the same dread that the characters do.  The shadows perhaps give even Raiders of the Lost Ark a run for its money, and it is obvious where Francis Ford Coppola got his inspiration for Dracula’s menacing shadows in his 1992 film.  Schreck has such an overwhelming presence that any time he is on screen, the viewer is sure that something terrible is about to happen.  In this way Orlok is as ominous as more contemporary baddies such as Darth Vader or Anton Chigurh; not bad for a silent movie from the 20s.

Of course there are noticeable technical issues due to sections of the film being lost, found and restored by one way or another, but none of these issues diminish the power of the film; the music and the presence of Max Schreck make sure of that.  The film is also perfectly paced, with a run time of little over 90 minutes it clips along at a fair old pace, but never feels rushed or that any important exposition scenes are cut out; I certainly didn’t have time to get bored.

In Nosferatu, Murnau created one of the most iconic horror villains ever to appear on film, and at the same time shot some of the most memorable scenes in cinematic history.  These shots have been oft copied in movies and are now an accepted cinematic technique; almost a prerequisite for a horror film.  A wonderfully atmospheric gothic horror with an incredible performance and evil presence from Max Schreck, Nosferatu changed the way horror was made, and also happens to be magnificent.  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

                                   
                                            

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Season of the Witch (2011)


I've been quite interested in seeing this for a while now, I think I was hoping for a Gothic horror/thriller that was dripping with atmosphere and lots of detail.  Shame.  What I got was a fairly silly movie, with little atmosphere, a puerile plot and a bad script.

Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman were OK, but in all honesty they were probably simply the pulling power for a film which otherwise would have slipped completely under the radar.  Both have been much better.  There is also a tiny and unnecessary cameo from Christopher Lee, probably just to keep his imdb entries ticking over!

I was never really sure who some of the peripheral characters were, even though they seemed to be more than red shirts.  Even worse was Stephen Graham’s character, who was specifically freed from his stocks to be the guide for the expedition.  Except he probably only said half a dozen sentences.  And after his inevitable death, no one seemed to care about the loss of the guide; they just carried on their merry way, thereby rendering the entire character pointless.  Rubbish!

OK, that's the specifics.  Overall; some of the locations were quite cool, (mostly eastern Europe according to IMDB) and the sets, in particular the towns, looked great - dirty and lived in.  I guess the (I use this word in its loosest possible way) twist at the end was nice, but overall the plot was sedentary, boring and predictable.  The finale put me in mind of Blade, but at least the SFX were better.  Director Dominic Sena seems to specialize in middle of the road thrillers: Kalifornia, Swordfish and now Season of the Witch.  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

Monday, 21 October 2013

The Reptile (1966)


A spurious reason involving a snake-tribe from Borneo is given to account for the fact that there is a Human-Reptile living in a stately home in the English countryside, but it’s not really worth going in to.  Actually, that’s about it!  A few unfortunate folk get bitten, and shortly after, they froth at the mouth and then die (at varying speeds depending on who the character is!), including Private James Frazer (John Laurie) from Dad’s Army!  No explanation is given as to why the Reptile is so bitey; it doesn’t seem to want to poison, trap and then eat its prey; or even collect them as a trophy; it just bites and lets its victim wander off to die.

It’s all rather silly, and even though I saw it yesterday, I can’t remember much of what happens, because actually, not much happens.  In the same style as Dracula: Prince of Darkness and Rasputin: The Mad Monk, The Reptile and The Plague of the Zombies were filmed back to back using some of the same sets, the graveyard in particular was very familiar; and indeed Michael Ripper, who was a policeman in POZ is Tom the friendly landlord of the local pub.  In fact he is the best thing in this; it’s a bit of a shame his role is only a peripheral character.  Jacqueline Pearce also pops up from POZ as the daughter of the mysterious Dr Franklin (Noel Willman).  Actually, Willman was also pretty good, weirdly creeping up behind folk, and almost gliding around with his big black cloak on!

However, none of this manages to raise the movie above what it is; a hammy Hammer production with a daft plot, bad make up and huge swathes of nothing happening. I implied that Christopher Lee was the only thing worth watching Rasputin for; The Reptile is what happens if you have a naff film and don’t have Lee to rescue it!  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Los Ojos de Julia (2010)


Directed by Guillem Morales and produced by Guillermo del Toro (amongst others), Julia’s Eyes is a tense thriller with many twists, turns and hide behind a cushion moments.  A story involving two sisters who have an degenerative disease of the eyes means that the titular Julia spends a lot of the film virtually, if not totally blind; which really ramps up the creepy.  Belén Rueda is good as Julia, really making the viewer sympathise with her predicament, despite some questionable decisions later in the film.  Óscar Faura does some great cinematography work, creating some wonderfully subtle bleak and gloomy moments; then the flash photography is used to great effect as its starkness contrasts the rest of the movie.  A really atmospheric, creepy, psychological thriller which had me grimacing at the screen on several occasions.  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

Monday, 30 September 2013

Rasputin: The Mad Monk (1966)


Rasputin is a humble monk, but he has a special gift: he is able to convince people to do as he says and carry out his wishes.  Oh, and he can drink anyone under the table.  So, by virtue of his ability to essentially hypnotise others, Rasputin leaves his monastery, and tries to make a name for himself in St. Petersberg, with eventual designs on ingratiating himself within the Royal Court.  Of course his rise to power makes enemies, some of which want him dead.

This is a fairly forgettable film, doubtlessly historically inaccurate, which is remarkable for only two things as far as I see it.  One: it was filmed back to back with Dracula: Prince of Darkness, using some of the same sets and cast.  Two: Christopher Lee.  He is completely mesmerising in this film, you really can’t take your eyes off him.  In the riotous role of Rasputin, Lee shows a confidence and bravado that never lets up, even to his final scene.  Whether he was directed to play the character like this or whether he just allowed his personality to shine through it doesn’t really matter - he is superb.  I don’t think I’ve seen him in another role where he just lets rip as much as he does here.

Erm, I think that’s about all there is to say.  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

The Plague of the Zombies (1966)


When Sir James Forbes receives a letter from his friend Doctor Tompson - a GP in a small distant village - which describes a strange disease that is wiping out villagers, Sir James and his daughter Sylvia pay a visit hoping they can get to the bottom of the mystery.  As with all of the Hammer Horror films, The Plague of the Zombies isn’t very horrible by today’s standards, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t suspense, mystery and a foreboding sense of menace; especially when the enigmatic Squire Hamilton turns up.

It turns out that after the villagers have died of a “plague” (actually a voodoo curse), the bodies are then disinterred and via another voodoo ceremony, become zombies.  These zombies are very much the slow walking variety made famous by Night of the Living Dead, two years later; and as such, their victims are seen to be paralysed with fear before they can be strangled/bitten.  The make-up is pretty good, the zombies all having a suitable recently-dug-up look, and the white eyes are particularly creepy.  The idea that voodoo is behind it all is a nice idea, rather than there just being zombies for no reason; so by the end of the film Sir James and Dr Tompson are clear with what they have to do.  The only thing that was a bit odd was the fact that the zombies were being created for use as a work force in an old mine!  It struck me that zombies probably aren’t the best choice for slave-labour, what with their predisposition for falling apart!  It put me in mind of Boris Karloff’s Mummy finding himself gainful employment for 10 years while waiting for the modern embodiment of Anck-es-en Amon to show up.

The main cast are fine; André Morell and Brook Williams as Sir James and Dr Tompson are both pretty good; serious but then incredulous, yet determined when it matters.  The two ladies Jacqueline Pearce and Diane Clare are both rather wet, but I guess that’s what passes for female victims in this genre at the time.  Certainly John Carson as the mysterious Squire Hamilton has the most memorable role; he gives a suitably sinister performance but manages to present an mask of benevolent normality which hides his true motives.

The Plague of the Zombies is perhaps not deemed a classic and is doubtless overshadowed by Hammer Horrors more illustrious ancestry; however, its inventive story, cool zombies, atmosphere of death, its “rationale” for the zombies and solid lead roles make it an absorbing & very enjoyable movie.  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

The Nanny (1965)


It’s always the films that you have no expectations of that turn out to be real gems.  I certainly didn’t expect a tense thriller which kept me guessing as to who to believe right to the end of the film.  The nanny in question is played by the excellent Bette Davis, and she has worked for the Fane family for many years; however, about 6 years ago there was an accident which resulted in the death of the youngest Fane child, Susy.  Shortly after, Susy’s elder brother Joey was shipped out to a home for disturbed children; but now Joey is coming home, will the past catch up with everyone?

The film is full of mystery as it is not until a good way into the film that we start to get an idea of the history of the nanny (I don’t think she actually had a name), and even then we don’t know whose version to trust.  It is clear that Joey is very mistrustful of Nanny, and at the heart of this relationship is a wonderful performance from Bette Davis and William Dix who plays the role of the 10 year old Joey.  William (who actually was 10 when the film was released) is truly brilliant; he’s very sure of himself and is having none of the fussing that Nanny is foisting upon him.  He is a little cocky but stops short of being arrogant, consequently I loved every scene he was in, and his scenes with Bette Davis were full of an intensity you wouldn’t expect from one so young.

The black and white photography adds to the mysterious ambience of the movie, and there are a few noticeable tracking shots which help give an idea of the size of the Fane house and give the movie a more polished feel than perhaps you might expect.  Actually this might be expected of cameraman Kelvin Pike, who was good enough to get the attention of Stanley Kubrick, consequently he can list The Shining and 2001: A Space Odyssey on his CV.  Everything comes together beautifully; the intriguing plot, the marvellous relationship between Nanny and Joey, the cinematography and the camerawork to give an excellent final product that had me guessing all the way through.  A great and hugely enjoyable Hammer production.  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)


The Hammer sequel to the 1958 classic Dracula (both directed by Terence Fisher), with a script so bad that Christopher Lee refused to say any of his lines, I nonetheless enjoyed Prince of Darkness.  I certainly enjoyed it a lot more than the “classic” Bela Lugosi Dracula from 1931; for a start there were no rubber bats or armadillos.  The cast are fairly run of the mill 60s horror material, apart from the creepy butler Klove (Philip Latham) who makes a good job of turning a fairly minor part into a sinister and memorable character; and of course Christopher Lee who despite not having any lines has an electrifying presence.

The film begins with a very brief synopsis of the 1958 Dracula (unfortunately not part of my Hammer boxed set), to let us know that Count Dracula is no more.  Of course this means that he has to be resurrected in this film, and the only way that can happen is with human blood.  Our four “heroes” naturally ignore all the warnings about castle Dracula and end up providing the necessary bodily fluids to revive the Count in a surprisingly gruesome scene.  Once resurrected Christopher Lee obviously dominates every scene he is in; his Dracula is so enigmatic and full of menace it is hard to take your eyes off him.

I really like the set for Castle Dracula, it has a very grandiose feel to it as well as managing to be mysterious, with the potential for secret passages everywhere.  In fact the only thing I really didn’t like was the end. Spoiler!  Dracula is killed by running water, but the water seems to be under concrete (though it’s probably ice) which seems to be just outside the castle wall, which is on top of a hill!  Is there really frozen running water at the top of the hill under the foundations of the castle?  I was confused!  However,this doesn’t really spoil what is an entertaining Dracula film with an excellent Christopher Lee and plenty of atmosphere.  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

King Kong (1933)


Often considered to be the original and definitive monster movie, despite the animations reminding me of the old Chewits adverts, I nonetheless really enjoyed King Kong.  Only 100 min long it still manages to tell a story that feels that it should belong in a much longer film, however it is not an overbloated behemoth like PJ’s 187 min “monster” film.  Fay Wray is Ann Darrow, with whom Kong becomes obsessed; she does a very good job interacting with the animated monster.  She also manages to sell the fact that by end of the film, Kong has changed from the horrible protagonist of the first half of the film to a creature that deserves our sympathy.  Robert Armstrong as filmmaker Carl Denham and Bruce Cabot as Ann’s love interest John Driscoll are really peripheral characters to Fay Wray’s lead, but they both give solid performances and are completely believable within the terms of the movie.

I’ve mentioned how Kong is a little reminiscent of this, but the animation is ground-breaking for 1933, and the fight with the T-rex is still pretty damn impressive; especially when watching some of the animation 33 years later in One Million Years BC (yup as long again after the turn of the 20th century as King Kong).  What was also ground-breaking was composer Max Steiner’s idea to have the music to in time to the action.  For example when Kong is first trying to undress Ann Darrow; or at least this is what I have been led to believe by Neil Brand in his series on The Sound of Cinema.

A monster movie in every sense; grand in scale, grand in design and excellent performances from Fay Wray and King Kong himself!  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Lake Placid (1999)


Where most movies about an enormous crocodile eating people may try to concentrate on trying to scare and shock people, Lake Placid does its best to make us laugh.  Essentially a B-movie, (in style if not in budget) Lake Placid has one main thing going for it; the script.  Wry, witty and sarcastic the main characters always seem to be taking the piss out of each other as this disparate group of people are all thrown together as events develop.  At the centre of everything is local Sheriff Frank Keough played wonderfully by the under-rated Brendan Gleeson. Bill Pullman (fish & game), Bridget Fonda (museum curator) and Oliver Platt (crocodile hunter) complete the main characters, and all their personalities bounce off each other delightfully, particularly Gleeson and Platt who are always superbly sarcastic to one another.

Gleeson to Platt (who is about to dive into the lake): “I brought a pork chop for luck. Maybe you could hang it around your neck.”

Platt: “That’s sweet. Maybe later you could chew the bark off my big fat log!”

We only see glimpses of eye and teeth for possibly half the film, but when we do see the croc in all its glory for the first time it leaves quite an impression.  Generally it’s a case of less is more, so we don’t see the croc all that much, but the CG elements still look great, and since the animatronic sequences were created by the Stan Winston studio they look as tremendous as you would expect.  None of it is terribly scary, but then that’s not the point.  Sure there are a few gruesome moments in the film, but the emphasis is definitely on the sarcastic humour.  With a clever script and diverse yet great cast, Lake Placid is a very entertaining and funny film. And there’s something endlessly hilarious about Betty White feeding a cow to a giant crocodile shouting “Come and get it!”  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Capitalism: A Love Story (2009)


Capitalism: A love Story is a documentary by the indefatigable Michael Moore  This time he tackles the state of America’s economy due to the unstoppable force of Capitalism.  Some of the facts that he comes out with are astounding and it’s a wonder the country doesn’t fall apart.  Of course Michael Moore makes documentaries about contentious issues, and for that reason he tends to be shocking, and perhaps a little sensationalist.  So for what is essentially a one-sided account of capitalism we should maybe take some of it with a pinch of salt.  Though one can scarcely believe the completely amoral (if not illegal) behaviour of companies such as Walmart who take out life insurance on their employees (unknown to them) on the off-chance that they die giving the company a healthy payout, while grieving family receive relatively little.  Not to mention the idea of sub-prime lending which helped the world into a financial crisis.  Capitalism: A Love Story is a very interesting film which is likely to make your jaw hit the floor or have you shaking your head in disbelief.  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (2011)


Morgan Spurlock, famously of Super Size Me, wanted to make a documentary about advertising and product placement in today's movies.  However, wanting to do it differently, he made the movie purely using money that he raised from sponsors and advertising within the film.  Which he managed.  The film itself is simply Spurlock trying to generate interest in potential advertisers to invest in his film, the product of which you are watching.  Which is all a bit weird.  Towards the end he is excited about the release of the film and how it’s all starting to come together, and then of course it ends, because that was the film!

The result is an interesting documentary about how powerful advertising is within the movie industry.  There is the occasional interview with the likes of J. J. Abrams, Quentin Tarantino and Brett Ratner, but Spurlock spends most of the time discovering the techniques that the industry uses to target audiences.  One company even does an MRI scan on him to see how he responds to various product images!   I think perhaps I expected a little more from the film, such as a few case studies of specific films and how advertising influenced the production/direction.  Of course perhaps he wanted to, but wasn’t allowed.  A very interesting film, and a window into a business we don't really know much about, all told with Spurlock's enthusiastic, perceptive and amusing style.  I for one will probably be more aware of product placement in movies now.  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Get Carter (1971)



Following his excellent performance in The Italian Job playing the cocky cockney Charlie Croker, Michael Caine stars as an equally cheeky chappy in Get Carter but this time he has a vicious side too.  Following the mysterious murder of his brother, gangster Jack Carter (Caine) travels from London to Newcastle to find out why, and to make the perpetrators pay.

A very enjoyable romp, Get Carter is brought alive by a dazzling performance by the indomitable Michael Caine who takes the great script by Mike Hodges, polishes it and really makes it shine.  Initially Caine’s character is similar to his Italian Job persona, but it’s not long until the body count increases and it’s clear that Jack Carter is more likely to blow the bloody doors off on purpose if it would kill someone who conspired against his brother!  Mike Hodges’ direction is inventive and dynamic creating a very stylish film; sometimes flipping the camera upside-down during a chase, and there’s a great scene where Jack is rescued from pursuit by a woman in a sports car (very 007), and the whole thing is seen from a birds-eye camera.  And that’s not to mention the wonderful 60s and 70s decor in the various apartments, giving the film a wonderful gritty working class feel.

There are many revenge movies, the more modern ones being flashy, slick affairs generally with explosive set pieces, however they rarely do anything new.  Get Carter hardly breaks the mould in terms of story, but it does have bags of style, a smart script, clever direction and of course Michael Caine. But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Gainsbourg (2010)


Gainsbourg tells the story of Serge Gainsbourg (born Lucien) and how he became a famous musician and sex symbol (apparently).  The thing is, I didn't care.  When I've watched other films concerning characters that I’ve known little if anything about, I've immediately wanted to know more about them; eg Walk the Line, Mesrine or A Royal Affair.  However with Gainsbourg I would not like to know more, in response to the Starship Troopers question.  I actually thought the young Lucien had a far more interesting story, and could had watched a film all about him, (the kid was a more dynamic actor too).

The structure of the film is all a jumble.  Suddenly he was married?  Who to?  Then later he's married to someone else - oh they're his kids are they?  Then suddenly he's in Jamaica?  Now I'm all for non linear plots, but this just felt very messy and confusing.  Because of these seemingly random events the film is boring and lethargic at best.  And I really didn't know what the Frank Sidebottom character was all about.  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)



I thought I remembered X-men Origins: Wolverine being far worse than it really is.  For example, I'd forgotten that Stryker (Danny Huston) puts together a team of mutants at the beginning of the film.  I'd forgotten that the intro credits are really cool showing the passage of time as the two brothers (Jackman and Schreiber) grow up and demonstrates their indestructibility.  I'd forgotten that Ryan Reynolds was in it and his sword wielding character is pretty cool.  I hadn't realised that Game of Thrones screenwriter David Benioff wrote the screenplay for it.  All I really remember are the badly rendered claws, the farcical action (including the most ridiculous casual walk away from a huge explosion), and a really shoehorned in ending so that it ties in with the first X-men film.  And that’s the problem with it; they’re the bits that everyone remembers.


So, like I say, not all that bad, Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber and Danny Huston are all accomplished enough actors to prop the movie up, and the story is interesting enough; it just gets woefully let down by the ill judged central act.  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Pacific Rim (2013)



Having already been a little disappointed with the only other blockbuster I’ll probably see this year despite having respectable names attached to it, I was wary about getting too excited about Guillermo del Toro’s latest offering.  The Hellboy films and Blade 2 both demonstrated that del Toro was able to create intelligent mainstream films with a mostly believable yet fantastical plot and at the same time fill them with plenty of inventive and (crucially) understandable action.  So it was my hope that Pacific Rim would up the ante in terms of spectacle yet still retain the attention to detail and storytelling that typifies some of del Toro’s previous work.

I wasn’t disappointed.  The design of the film was tremendous, the level of detail in the Jaegers (Hunters; huge robots) and Kaiju (huge monsters) is incredible.  There was also plenty of design to create the world inhabited by these two creations; downtown Hong Kong was as detailed and as full of character as the Troll Market in Hellboy 2 and I really loved the fact that there was a healthy black market in Kaiju body parts.  I was surprised that two guys had to physically be in the Jaegers to control them, I thought it would have been far more sensible to control them by remote.  On the plus side for the movie, there is far more danger and threat given that the drivers are literally in the heart of the action.  This gives the film a far more human element, especially as the two drivers have to mentality "drift" together (some sort of shared thought/memory thingy to be able to control both "hemispheres" of their Jaeger), an idea without which the film wouldn't have the same impact .

The cast were fine, and did well in bringing this human element to life, where otherwise we may not have cared.  Idris Elba was certainly the standout performance, perfectly cast as Stacker, the military general running the Jaeger project who provided an immovable point in whom everyone else could depend.  The "hero" duo of Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi were OK but were fairly prefabricated and copy/pasted from any other action/adventure film.  Of course del Toro favourite Ron Perlman is in the mix, but his is a rather light-hearted role as Kingpin of the black market.  Charlie Day and Burn Gorman are the fairly irritating and cringeworthy stereotypical science nerds, but at least they’re fairly integral to the plot.

As well as introducing a very human story to the film, del Toro managed to create a lot of spectacular fight scenes that was still perfectly understandable.  The movie steered well clear of any Michael Bay-ish tendencies for fast over-editing and generally “fucking the frame”, so that we haven’t a clue what’s going on.  Though the whole premise of the film is rather over the top, the action never is; for example, even when a Jaeger takes out 2 Kaiju in Hong Kong, relatively little of the city gets destroyed, which seems to be a prerequisite for action movies these days (Superman destroyed far more of Metropolis killing far more bystanders in Man of Steel).  Throughout the action the CG was generally flawless, these massive beasts given a real presence, and the wind and the rain really lashes off the robots.

All in all I really enjoyed Pacific Rim.  Sure there were daft bits (Ron Perlman’s cameo), clunky bits (Idris Elba saying he’d die if he stepped into another Jaeger - simply for the payoff in the next scene), and cheesy bits (Today we are cancelling the apocalypse!); but the smart story, characters to relate to and care about, some tremendous action set pieces as well as del Toro’s eye for detail all combine to make a worthwhile robot/creature feature.  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec (2010)



Luc Besson's film about a woman who travels to Egypt to dig up a Mummy (a doctor) with the idea to bring it back to Paris for resurrection so it can cure her sister (who is currently in a vegetative state following a tragic tennis accident), is kooky in the way that only a French film can be; but perhaps not enough to be that memorable.  I never felt invested in the titular character Adèle or what happened to her sister, and when Adèle went flying through Paris on a Pterodactyl that had been brought to life, the film went from kooky to a bit silly.  There was some obligatory love interest and some "humour" involving a group of inept policemen, but none of the peripheral characters were engaging either.  There is the kernel of an interesting story, I just think it should have been developed a bit more, along with the characters.  In which case The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec could have been a more memorable film, as it is, I'm struggling to think of anything else to say as I can't remember much about it!  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Dracula (1931)


I am Dracula. I bid you welcome.

Believe it or not, there was a time when cinema wasn’t replete with Vampire films.  Bram Stoker published Dracula in 1897, but in a time when movie studios didn't instantly jump on any novel idea, it wasn't until 1922 that the story was adapted for the silent film Nosferatu.  Then in 1931 director Tod Browning adapted the stage production featuring Belá Lugosi as Dracula and Edward Van Sloan as Van Helsing for Universal's Dracula.  It sounds like it should be a classic. Unfortunately it’s far too clunky to be anywhere near it.

The opening couple of scenes are spooky enough, and I can live with the obvious matte painting (it is 1931 after all); however, any pretence of atmosphere goes out of the window as soon as the rubber bat makes an appearance “driving” the carriage!  I kid you not.  The bat makes many appearances, but that’s not all; there’s plastic spider of unknown scale, and some armadillos.  Yup, you heard me.  Honestly, I don’t know; perhaps they’re meant to be giant rats?  Or maybe Dracula has pet armadillos in his castle.



I think Belá Lugosi is trying to be enigmatic, but most of the time he’s daft.  He manages to be creepy weird when he is bending over someone to bite them (no teeth or blood though), and he does something sinister with his hands (think Saruman’s claw hand as he tries to use the palantir), but when he speaks with his stilted Hungarian accent he doesn’t sound enigmatic at all.  He’s more Manuel from Fawlty Towers: “I speak Eeenglish, I learn it from a book” than iconic vampire!

Most of the acting is high school amateur dramatics, and some of the direction is too.  Edward Van Sloan as Van Helsing is probably the best thing, and he certainly rescues most scenes he’s in from tedium.  That’s not much of a compliment though, as everyone else is so bad; the worst thing is the Cockney Music Hall orderly at the mental asylum saying “Your maaad aint cha!”; it’s a wonder he doesn’t slap his thighs at the same time.  Probably the best part of the film were the sets, in particular inside castle Dracula and a magnificent staircase in Carfax Abbey.


I started watching with high hopes, sure I was about to see a masterful understated and sinister performance from Belá Lugosi.  I was sorely disappointed, and I look forward to seeing the 1958 Christopher Lee version.  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Man of Steel (2013)


After the disappointment of Sucker Punch with its wayward non-existent story, my hopes were high that Man of Steel would combine the visual flair of Zack Snyder with the superior writing of David S. Goyer and Chris Nolan.  Where Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns was very much in the style of the original movies and would comfortably slide right in among them, Man of Steel is very much a re-interpretation of the mythology.  As was expected from a film written by Goyer and Nolan, Man of Steel is far more “grounded” and “down to earth” than other Superman films, and whether you like it or not it is certainly spectacular.

However, it is this “grittiness” that throws up some of my dislikes.  I thought there was too much shaky cam, particularly noticeable at the beginning.  I think this was to introduce a documentary feel to proceedings, but it gave me a headache; especially when Jonathan was talking to Clark on the back of a pickup telling him that he shouldn’t save drowning kids from buses - the camera was all over the place for no reason.  I also felt that it was over-edited, particularly during fights, presumably for dramatic impact; but it just ended up looking a bit Michael Bay ish!

Speaking of directors, Man of Steel doesn’t look like a Zack Snyder film.  There were none of the trademark quick-slow-quick sections; there were a lot of fast zooms with the camera taking a second to focus.  This gave the movie far more of a Joss Whedon feel than anything else.

I really enjoyed the first half of the film; the events on Krypton, the non-linearity of the story with flashbacks to Clark’s childhood, as well as seeing him drift through life as he tries to find himself.  Though this wasn’t usual for a Superman film, it worked for me and seeing Clark struggle with who he was was OK by me.  I liked the update to the destruction of Krypton, the relationship between Jor El and Zod, and by extension the natural feeling that Zod really should be the antagonist in a Superman genesis film.  However, when Zod and his cronies arrive on Earth (my heart yearns for Terence Stamp) the film seems to concern itself with huge explosions and destroying as many buildings as possible.  While this is initially quite fun as Smallville is wrecked (and the sequence is really spectacular), it soon gets boring.

Boring when Metropolis is also wrecked, and pointless when there is some attempt at creating a sense of peril as Laurence Fishburne’s Perry White and two co-workers are in “danger” of being killed in the ruins of a building.  We've hardly seen White, and I’ve no idea who the other two are, so I really didn't care what happened to them.

Boring or not, these sequences didn’t disrupt the flow of the film.  What did pull me out of the movie was some of the sloppy writing that is not expected from Goyer and Nolan.  I’m sure there were some questions raised in the Krypton intro, but I actually really enjoyed that sequence, so I didn’t notice too much.  However, Jonathan Kent’s death was rubbish, it was quite possibly one of the worst things they could have come up with.  There’s nothing like scarring someone for life by making them watch your father die when it was completely preventable!  I also thought it daft that it took Kal-El 30 years to discover all his powers on Earth, but Zod seemed to manage it in a few days. I mean, HOW long did it take Clark to learn to fly in Smallville?  But Zod seemed to figure it out quite quickly.

Finally Kal-El kills Zod (not a spoiler, we all know it happens), and suddenly he is anguished that he had to kill what could be the last living Kryptonian other than himself (think The Doctor having to destroy The Master).  Except that there wasn't any build up to this at all; previous to this they were throwing each other through buildings, presumably killing lots of innocent people (way to go Superman).  I certainly didn’t notice this many plot holes, but the story wasn’t as great as I was expecting.

Henry Cavill is a good enough Superman, and Russell Crowe is a good Jor-El; certainly Snyder got more value out of him than Richard Donner got out of Marlon Brando.  Amy Adams might be a good Lois Lane, but in all honesty her character isn’t really important.  No really.  If you cut Lois out of the film, I don’t think anything would missing from the plot; which is just silly.  Lois is integral to a Superman story, whether you're in 1978, 2006 or the Smallville series; so to make her as pointless as Perry White or the other two suckers trapped beneath falling buildings is nonsense.

Despite all this negativity, I did enjoy the film, just that thinking about it afterwards you start to realise that it wasn’t everything you hoped it would be.  One thing that was done really well was Hans Zimmer's excellent score.  It was obviously a concious effort to avoid any of the typical Superman themes, and I thought that was refreshing and worked really well.  Certainly a very spectacular and cinematic film (even in the glorious 2 dimensions in which I saw it), I feel I may not have enjoyed it quite so much had I seen it at home without the big screen experience.  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

Monday, 17 June 2013

The Book of Eli (2010)


Set in a post-apocalyptic world, The Book of Eli tells the story of one man’s journey to the West and the challenges he has to overcome to get there.  The main character Eli, who is very handy with a machete, is well portrayed by Denzel Washington.  He’s fairly one-dimensional and un-engaging, but that’s his character and I think it works well; Eli is completely focussed on his mission and does his best not to be distracted by others’ problems.  Gary Oldman’s character (Carnegie) is the complete opposite of this, in typical brilliant Oldman villain style; determined, with his own sense of morality and with a total disregard for all others.

The story is fairly straightforward and interesting; it slows a bit when Eli meets Solara (Mila Kunis), but not for any romantic entanglement; rather she behaves like a viewer such as ourselves and Eli gives her answers for our benefit.  This may sound rather clumsy and not respecting the intelligence of the audience, but it actually works quite well.  Eli and Carnegie’s stories finally catch up with each other in the finale which has a nice twist, I for one was not expecting it.

The Hughes brothers have crafted a stylish and atmospheric film.  Don Burgess’ cinematography is very high contrast which suits the post-apocalypse world perfectly; the whole film is essentially black & white apart from some indoor scenes which are more sepia.  There is a great action scene featuring Eli dispatching some bandits, but before he does he steps back into a subway so that the whole fight is in silhouette.  Little touches and ideas such as this make this more than the ordinary film that this could otherwise have been.  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Animal Kingdom (2010)


Nothing like the Lion King, Animal Kingdom is a melancholy Australian crime film with some very unwholesome characters doing some very nasty things.  There is something slightly Goodfellas about it; the film is narrated through the main character “J” (James Frecheville) who becomes involved with his family’s criminal activities, and when he starts interacting with Sergeant Leckie (Guy Pearce) you start to think it end the same way as Henry’s story did.  However, J hasn’t wanted to be a gangster as far back as he can remember, he just gets involved because it’s his family, and the final acts of the film are surprising and shocking.

All the members of the Cody family, each with their own personalities, are portrayed by a very accomplished cast, though none of them are very familiar to me.  Joel Edgerton, Luke Ford, Sullivan Stapleton, Ben Mendelsohn, and Jackie Weaver are all really great and really breathe life into the Codys.

OK, so I started writing this review 2 weeks ago and I really can’t remember anything else I was going to say.  I will therefore conclude quickly by saying that Animal Kingdom isn’t your usual gangster movie, but with a great script, cast and a very accomplished debut performance from James Frecheville, director David Michôd has made a very smart film that may well get overlooked by many because of its name.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

One Million Years B.C. (1966)


Made 2 years before Kubrick’s masterpiece, this is most definitely not A Space Odyssey.  Following two tribes of cave people (one dark-haired and dirty, the other blonde, more advanced), the movie tells the story (I’m using the word in its loosest term) of Tumak (John Richardson) who is banished from his tribe but is saved from exhaustion by the more advanced tribe.  The technological state of this new tribe seems to stretch to spears, mullets and push-up bras, modelled perfectly by Loana (Raquel Welch).

The “story” is by-the-by and the real reason for the film is to put some of Ray Harryhausen’s animated creatures on screen.  The fight between the T-rex and the Triceratops is OK, but I was most impressed by the giant sea turtle, which looks really detailed and most life-like.  Unfortunately before these animations there is some live action forced perspective nonsense.  A “giant” tarantula seems to be doing press-ups over a presumably captured bug, but worst of all is a lethargic iguana that simply shuffles along occasionally making a Rehhhh “roaring” noise (just go Rehhhh yourself and that’s exactly how it sounded!).  Did you do it?  Stupid eh?  Well it was worse.  Apparently the lights under which it was filmed made it very sleepy, so the iguana wrangler essentially had to push the lizard along!


There was the occasional nicely shot landscape and swift camera move, but for the most part One Million Years B.C. is ludicrous prehistoric nonsense.  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Into the Wild (2007)


Based on the Jon Krakauer book of the same name, Into the Wild is the true story of Chris McCandless and his desire to disconnect from society and live on his own for a while in the Alaskan wilderness.  Directed by Sean Penn and lensed by Eric Gautier, this is a truly beautiful film; there are many lingering landscape shots and they all look spectacular.  I have read the book but I can’t remember how the narrative flows, however the decision to make the film non-linear mixing Chris’ childhood with his journey, his time in Alaska and his parents’ reaction to his disappearance, works very well and prevents the story from being boring or drawn out.

Emile Hirsch is very good as Chris McCandless, injecting some humanity into a character who came across as an arrogant and pretentious twat when I read the book.  I could see where he was coming from wanting to leave society behind for a while, but I got the impression that he believed that everyone else was less of a person just because they led a normal life.  This does bubble to the surface in the film occasionally when he misses opportunities right in front of him because he is so intent on being above societal conventions.  At least he finally realises when he is alone in Alaska that happiness is only real when shared.  Emile makes the journey of discovery very easy to relate to which I think is important for the film, if he came across as an arrogant twat all of the time, we wouldn't care what happened to him, no matter how beautiful the film was.

Accompanied by a great soundtrack from Eddie Vedder (here for those with Spotify) which is suitably filled with wanderlust as well as a feeling of isolation and loneliness, Into the Wild is a very watchable film due to a fine performance from Emile Hirsch and some wonderful cinematography.  Even the supporting cast are good, most notably William Hurt, and an impressive serious role for Vince Vaughn! Of course, Kristen Stewart is as bland as always.  It’s a film that inspires you to get out there and see more of this beautiful world, and that can’t be a bad thing.  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Edge of Darkness (2010)


I’ve harped on before about how I think the purest way to see a film is to know nothing about it at all beforehand, to go in with a tabula rasa as it were.  In this way one takes no preconceptions or prejudices with them and so the movie is completely fresh; such was the case for me and Edge of Darkness.  Directed by Martin Campbell (better known for Goldeneye, Casino Royale and Green Lantern), Edge of Darkness is a tale of investigation and revenge based on a 1985 BBC mini-series directed by, well, actually directed by Martin Campbell!  Now, I’ve not seen the 1985 series of the same name so I can’t make unfavourable comparisons; though it does strike me as surprising that for the movie version the story was moved from Yorkshire to Boston.  Though after a little digging this is probably because despite it being a BBC film it was funded to an extent by Mel Gibson’s production company Icon Productions.

So naturally, it stars Mel Gibson in the main role: Thomas Craven, a Boston police detective, whose daughter Emma is brutally gunned down on his front porch (not a spoiler, it happens in the first 5 minutes).  The story is then about Tom finding out why Emma was killed and finding those responsible.  Gibson is good, being at the same time suitably down-beaten but also having that gritty determination that a detective would have.  I’ve not seen Payback, but I’m imagining a similar role, though the emphasis here is probably more on the investigation as to why his daughter was murdered than rather out and out revenge.  Danny Huston makes an appearance as the head of the Northwood research facility in his usual rent-a-creep way; not to belittle his performance at all, he is after all usually very good.  Completing the famous names is Ray Winstone as an enigmatic British agent whose role is intentionally ambiguous, demonstrating that Emma’s death is part of a far larger conspiracy.

Technically I didn’t think Edge of Darkness did anything fancy.  It’s not just a point and shoot movie though, it is made with enough craft to enjoy watching, but it’s not as accomplished as Casino Royale or as cumbersome as Green Lantern.  The music, composed by Howard Shore was suitably mysterious and tense, but largely atmospheric rather than bold and thematic.  Overall, I found Edge of Darkness to be very watchable with enough intrigue and acting talent on show to make it a worthwhile way to spend an evening. But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Blade: Trinity (2004)


David S Goyer wrote the first two Blades, but it has taken until the third and final instalment for him to get behind the camera as well.  Though he is better known as a writer, Goyer has directed one film before; and though it’s never going to win any awards, Blade Trinity is never-the-less quite fun.  This time around Blade discovers and teams up with some a small group of humans who are battling the vampire blight.  One of them is Whistler’s daughter, Abigail (Jessica Biel), another is Hannibal King (Ryan Reynolds), and together they have to defeat the ultimate vampire.  Yup you’ve guessed it, they have to defeat Dracula!

I had been warned that “Trinity” was fairly awful, but actually I thought it was quite entertaining; possibly due to my diminished expectations.  The set pieces were still more exciting and inventive than anything Stephen Norrington came up with in the first film, there was no truly awful CG, and there were no vampires wearing sunscreen!  Though I do think the key to the film was casting Ryan Reynolds as King; his script is quite funny, but Reynolds really manages to bring it alive and despite my best efforts I did laugh quite a bit.  Snipes is still fine as Blade, though I don’t know enough of Blade canon to know if anyone else could do a better job.  Reynolds provides the levity that the film needs, and Biel is fair enough. Dominic Purcell is fine as Drake (the contemporary name for Dracula!), and is physical enough to be a match for Blade.  However, Parker Posey (yes that’s someone’s actual name) is rubbish as the vampire that helps resurrect Dracula; her face is all wrong if she tries to sneer and her delivery is as wooden as one of Van Helsing’s stakes.

Like I say, it’s not a classic; but as a final instalment to a trilogy that started as a good idea with poor execution, graduated to a higher level of movie with a proper director, it’s a fairly funky finale.  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Thunderpants (2002)


I can't believe that I actually watched this!  I turned on the telly as I started feeding my son, and it just so happened to take about 90 minutes, so I ended up watching it all.  Is that a valid excuse?  It's quite odd because pains have been taken to style the whole film so that everything is green: black and green T-shirt on Patrick Smash (the boy with the titular pants), green cars, all the décor in the school is green.  This is all evidence that the style has been thought about quite a lot; and not only that, but there are quite a number of high-profile actors.  The likes of Paul Giamatti, Stephen Fry, Celia Imrie, Simon Callow and Ned Beatty and all make more than a passing appearance.

Yet at the end of the day the story is that of a young boy with persistent flatulence who wants to become an astronaut!  Totally stupid, and it's not a good film; but perhaps worse is that there are plenty of "serious" films that are aren't as good as Thunderpants!

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Zombieland (2009)



Many now respected directors started their careers in the zombie splatter genre.  Peter Jackson made his bones with Bad Taste (1987) and Braindead (1992), Sam Raimi first made Within the Woods (1978) and more famously The Evil Dead (1981).  More recently Zack Snyder’s first feature film was a visceral remake of the George A Romero classic Dawn of the Dead (2004), and Edgar Wright’s first feature was Zom-Rom-Com Shaun of the Dead (2004) (though I’m intrigued as to what his video short “Fun Dead” starring Keith Chegwin is like!).  So given that Zombieland is director Ruben Fleischer’s first feature length film, perhaps we can expect interesting things from him in future (though I didn’t hear amazing things about Gangster Squad (2013)).

Zombieland is definitely more in the vein of Shaun of the Dead than Bad Taste, less of the over the top gore (though there is plenty of that too).  Narrated by the main character Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) we are quickly introduced to the 5 rules for surviving a Zombie attack (cardio, double-tap, beware of bathrooms, buckle up and travel light), and after that the film is full of dark, gory humour.  Jesse Eisenberg is a likeable main character; a quiet conscientious kind of guy who seems to have applied logic to the zombie apocalypse, and so far his brain has kept him alive.  Tallahassee (Woody Harrleson) is a maniac in search of a Twinkie, whose unbridled joy at battering zombies has kept him alive; and though he seems an unlikely friend for Columbus, they get on together and form an unlikely alliance.  Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin complete the human cast, and they are both fine, but don’t really have as substantial a role as Eisenberg or Harrelson.

From the opening steady-cam tracking shot, and the subtle background CG effects to the way that the text for “The Rules” is integrated into the film, it is apparent that thought has gone into the making of Zombieland.  Ruben Fleischer is suitably inventive with his shots and camera work, so that the movie clips along nicely and keeps us down amongst the characters for much of the time; all helped by Cloverfield DP Michael Bonvillian.  The zombie effects are a mixture of practical and visual effects, but despite all of the blood being computer generated everything looks suitably gooey and convincing.

Everything amounts to a great little film with a wicked sense of humour, Eisenberg and Harrelson play off each other really well and enough is done differently to keep the zombie genre fresh and exciting. But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Blade II (2002)



Before Guillermo del Toro found mainstream recognition with his two Hellboy films, he directed the second of the Blades.  This second installment is far more entertaining than the first, probably because it's simply a better film.  The first 5 minutes are more creative and dynamic than the entire first film; the cast are a lot better, and at no point do vampires try to be day-walkers by wearing sun block!

Wesley Snipes seems to have settled into his role a little, and doesn't seem as stilted as he did in the first film.  Surprised as I was that Luke Goss was great as Prince Nuada in Hellboy 2, I wasn't aware that del Toro had used him before; he was very convincing as the mutant vampire Nomak.  And he's not the only surprise; Cat from Red Dwarf (Danny John Jules) features as a vampire in the first half of the film!  I was a bit disappointed that Tony Curran wasn't used more though; he's great as Marcus in Underworld Evolution and wonderful as Vincent van Gogh in Doctor Who.  Ron Perlman is Ron Perlman playing a vampire, and is therefore quite cool. So the standard of acting is a significant improvement from the first film.

The plot was one of the (highlights is too strong a word given the inconsistencies I didn't like) lights of the first film, and there is no disappointment here either.  A more consistent and engaging story, and even a little twist; David S Goyer showing that he is continuing as an inventive writer worthy of his plaudits.  I have quite a soft spot for Vampire mythology movies (Underworld and Evolution are real guilty pleasures), so I was rather disappointed by the first Blade; happily Blade 2 belongs to the guilty pleasure pile, helped by creative direction a smart story and a pretty decent cast.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Scanners (1981)


Probably most famous for THAT scene, Scanners has more to offer than exploding heads.  Ok, so it is an iconic scene and rightly deserves that status, but there is actually a great story in there too.  Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack) has a powerful telekinetic power but without guidance can't control it; because of this he is living as a bum.  When Dr Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan) who works for ConSec (a company which OCP from Robocop is surely based on) takes him under his wing, Cameron learns to control this "scanning" power and is sent on a mission to find a very powerful and dangerous scanner called Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside).

I really like this film; it is a well written story and David Cronenberg is creative in his direction.  There are several instances of mundane scenes that are made noticeable by the movements the camera makes.  I love the 70s vibe and the almost animalistic noises when someone is being scanned.  Add to this Howard Shore's rather weird but perfectly placed score and the result is a slightly unsettling film whose atmosphere really sticks with you.

Scanners is not without its faults; probably most obvious is the acting, which is average at best.  That is of course except for Michael Ironside who is brilliant as the unhinged Darryl Revok.  Though the only substantial piece of dialogue he really has is during his final confrontation with Cameron, Michael's Revok has a presence that casts a shadow over the whole film.  This can't be said of Stephen Lack though; I can't quite decide whether he just can't act; or if that is how Cronenberg wanted the character played, and Stephen's William Hague-esque voice just doesn't do him any favours.

The special effects are suitably gooey, very much in the style of The Thing.  Of course the highlight is the exploding head, achieved with a shotgun behind a prosthetic head full of offal.  Almost because of the early spectacular scene, it's easy to overlook the final confrontation which is also fairly spectacular, Cameron clawing at his own face is pretty gruesome.  Though the final reveal is a bit perplexing.

Scanners does look very dated, a fact that I think would distance an audience looking for slick special effects and not much else; but look beyond this and you realise that the film is so much more.  After all, no one ever accuses The Italian Job of being rubbish just because it looks old.  Scanners deals with themes of social misfits (rather like the mutants in X-men) and corporate/scientific conspiracy; everyone loves a good conspiracy.  Cronenberg would revisit the scientific meddling perhaps more famously in The Fly.  Maybe not the most original ideas, but Scanners manages to squeeze a hell of a lot into 90 minutes, and does it with style. That maybe a 70s style, but with such a strong script and a great Michael Ironside, that style works really well.

Sunday, 31 March 2013

True Grit (1969)



Far more traditional and technicolour than the Coen brothers' excellent 2010 remake, this version is never the less a great western.  Not a hotel chain.  There is some glorious cinematography of amazing landscapes, a rousing if repetitive score and a great performance from John Wayne.  Even Matty Ross is really good despite reminding me of a very young Prof Brian Cox!  I really expected her to be fairly wooden in light of how brilliant Hailee Steinfeld is in the 2010 film, so I was impressed with how effortless Kim Darby's performance is. 

                                              An early still from Wonders of the Universe!

Having not been too enamoured of Wayne's performance in The Searchers, here he gives us a far more understated, and in my view a more convincing one.  Rooster Cogburn is a cantankerous US Marshall who spends half his hours drunk; who'd have thought that all-American John Wayne would have been excellent at this.  Rooster is far more of an anti-hero than John's character in The Searchers (and I imagine a lot of his other roles), which is probably why I prefer it.  Rooster is far more in the mold of The Man with No Name from Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns than John's usual American hero image.  Glen Campbell is good as Le Boeuf, and the banter between him, Rooster and Matty is sharp and witty.  The film also throws up a few cast surprises in a very young Dennis Hopper and Robert Duvall, both of who do very well in their minor roles.

Like I say, this isn't quite in the same class as the Coen brothers film, but is still a very enjoyable movie. At the heart of the film is the relationship between the three main characters.  John, Glen and Kim are great together, and it is their quick, witty interaction that drives the film, making it a cut above similar westerns.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Blade (1998)



I must admit that the reason I got the Blade trilogy boxed set is that I was most interested in seeing Guillermo del Toro's Blade 2.  I hope it was worth it, because Blade isn't really.  Actually there are several things to like, it's just that the overall result is a bit meh.

Wesley Snipes is good as Blade, he is able to do the martial arts required, able to be gruff and deliver his aggressive lines well; well some times.  Actually Blade is rather like a terminator; he seems to be fairly indestructible and is belligerently violent and aggressive, which admittedly does take any tension out of the film.  I thought Kris Kristofferson was ok as Whistler, though I'm sure there are plenty actors who could do just as good a job.  The same goes for Stephen Dorff who is Deacon Frost, the main antagonist; he's a fairly unconvincing bad guy.

The story itself is well paced; it sets up Blade's character well at the beginning and waits until a natural break in proceedings to give us more background; which leads to a surprise near the end.  This is all thanks to David S Goyer's writing, this is the guy who is half responsible for giving us the story behind the superb Dark Knight trilogy.  He also wrote the story for the next two Blade films, so there should be some consistency between them at least.

However, I'm not sure if he's responsible for one of the things that bugs me about the film, and that's the inconsistencies there seems to be with vampire lore.  Why is silver important, isn't that werewolves?  The pure-blood vampire, Dragonetti, (the head of a vampire "family") starts to smoke when he's taken to watch the sun rise even before he's been stripped, yet all the others are fine wearing biker gear.  Then Frost happily talks to Blade in the middle of a sunny day because he's wearing sunblock!  On his eyeballs too?  I don't know if this is lore from the comics, but it just looked sloppy and inconsistent in the film.

The main problem though is Stephen Norrington’s direction.  It is uninspiring, and unimaginative; he just generally seems to point the camera, and it’s usually static.  Given what's generally happening on screen he could have been been much more dynamic; the initial reveal of Blade could have been so much better; and given that the chamber for creating the blood god is a tall cylinder, so much more could have been done with sweeping, diving camera moves.  With a little more imagination this could have been a very slick movie.  That being said, I did like the speeded up nightfall and the sharp shadows cast on the skyscrapers, I thought that was very effective.

When you consider that The Matrix came out the following year, there are some particularly ropey special effects towards the end with some blatantly computer generated blood.  Though I did really like the way the vampires all died by turning to cinders and skeletonising.  For all my slagging, Blade is a watchable film, I just feel with a better cast (Underworld managed to get Bill Nighy and Derek Jacobi for goodness sake!) and some more inventive direction, it could have been very cool.