Sunday, 24 February 2013

Unstoppable (2010)

Utter rubbish.  Think Snakes on a Plane, but instead molten phenol on a train!

From a scientist point of view, WTF?  Molten phenol?  Pure phenol is solid at room temperature (but only just), normally you buy liquified phenol, definitely not molten.  No doubt it's really nasty stuff,  but it is not highly combustible; indeed I've never felt scared that it might catch fire when I've used it.  Oh, and why is that radioactivity sign on the front of the train upside down?  That's meaningless.  Quite a good symbol for the film then.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

The Wolfman (2010)

The Wolfman is Joe Johnston's remake/homage to the 1941 film The Wolf Man, and though the effects are obviously updated, it is rather a case of style over substance.  Benicio del Toro's Larry Talbot is not the victim as portrayed by Lon Chaney in the original.  The film is actually more a story about a dysfunctional family with some werewolves thrown in, rather than a character story about the victim of a terrible curse.

The case for the film isn't really helped by the cast; del Toro is fine but just acting by numbers, with an awful hairpiece (as Larry Talbot, not as the wolfman!), and Anthony Hopkins just seems to be bored.  Emily Blunt is the vague love interest, she is ok but unfortunately for her, her character is not as interesting as Gwen in the original film.  Hugo Weaving' s character is completely pointless.

I do like the design of the film, the wolfman looks great and the overall ambience is very sinister and atmospheric, helped by a suitably haunting score from Danny Elfman (though against all the odds doesn’t actually sound like a Danny Elfman score).  The special effects are of course much better than 1941, but though the CGI is good, the transformations are never as gruesome as American Werewolf in London, or as gooey at The Thing.  Though I did like the horrible way his teeth pop and rearrange when he transforms in the asylum.

Overall this is a distinctly average film, it looks good and has some nice special effects.  I like the fact that The Wolfman is the same design as 1941, and there is a very threatening atmosphere, but otherwise the film is simply a few set pieces strung together by a sub par plot.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

The Mist (2007)

Following a devastating storm, a mysterious mist rolls in off a lake and envelops the local town.   David Drayton and his son Billy are in the local supermarket when the mist finally covers the town, but now they can't get out; there's something in the mist! 

As this is based on a Stephen King novel it means that the characters are well written, they're not just 2 dimensional cannon fodder.  The dialogue isn't hammy, in fact it's a lot sharper than I would expect from a horror such as this.  When Drayton (Thomas Jane) asks William Sadler's character if he is being "wilfully dense", it quickly became our phrase of the week!  Jane is good as Drayton, a fairly natural lead; the other main character is Ollie Weeks, the supermarket bag packer played by the excellent Toby Jones.  Even the local religious nut, Mrs Carmody, is a great (yet annoying) character played very well by Marcia Gay Harden. 

Director Frank Darabont does well at creating tension and at getting the conflict of personalities between the cast just right.  He also gets the balance right between seeing some of the creatures within the mist, while leaving enough for our imaginations to create fear of the unknown.  When we do see some creatures, the design is pretty good; everything is suitably weird and has a greyish colour which seems to suit the fact that they come out of the mist.  Actually some of the huge creatures reminded me of those in Monsters.

Overall I got more out of this film than I expected; smart direction, clever script, great cast and interaction between characters; oh and one hell of a climax!

Thursday, 14 February 2013

FilmsRruss' Favourite Directors

Many people have a favourite actor/actress that they will follow religiously; sometimes for a good reason, sometimes the reason is rather more spurious; perhaps they look good in tight trousers (I'm looking at you Kate Beckinsale!).  I honestly don't think there is any actor that I would particularly try to see all their films.  There probably are some whose films I see a lot of, simply because I like the genre they tend to stick with.  I am far more likely to follow a director's career and actively seek out the movies they make.  This article is testament to that.  These are guys (yes I'm afraid that they're all men) who I think make amazing films, and I'll always want to see their creations no matter the genre.
In no particular order then.

Matthew Vaughan 

Having cut his teeth as a producer for Guy Ritchie, Matthew Vaughn has made an amazing transition to the Director's chair.  His first film was the excellent Layer Cake; very much a crime caper in a similar vein to Lock Stock or Snatch, which oozes cool and has a hell of a cast.  From there he hasn't looked back, taking him all the way to the great X-Men reboot and even rumours linking him to the new Star Wars films. 

Zack Snyder

There is no doubting Zack's visual flair, he has made the slow-quick-slow camera work a very distinctive trademark; and I for one love it.  He created a very enjoyable remake of Dawn of the Dead, but it was when he brought Frank Miller’s graphic novel 300 to our screens that we took notice.  It strikes me that Zack is at his best when interpreting other works, because when he wrote and directed Sucker Punch it looked phenomenal but the story was woeful.  So having said that, I'm really looking forward to Zack's Man of Steel which is written by David S Goyer and Chris Nolan. 

Films to see: 300, Watchmen, Dawn of the Dead. 

Christopher Nolan

There is nothing that this man has directed that isn’t superb.  From the simple but very very clever Memento through to The Dark Knight Rises, he hasn’t missed a trick; and I haven’t missed a film (apart from Following).  Not afraid of making people think, he doesn’t pander to the lowest common denominator.  Memento didn't let you lose concentration for a second, The Prestige kept you guessing, Inception is a total mind-bender, and the Batman films have no right to be as clever as they are.  He has done a truly remarkable thing, he has actually made intelligent blockbusters, proving that you don't have to leave your brain at the door to enjoy spectacular films. 

Films to see: All of them! But especially Memento, Inception, The Dark Knight Rises. 

Duncan Jones

Born Zowie Bowie, Duncan obviously wanted to distance himself from his famous father.  This guy is definitely the new kid on the block in this list having only directed two feature film; the superb Moon, and Source code.  He has also made a short film called Whistle which is also well worth a look. Of course he doesn’t have a very long CV, but it's pretty good, and I'm excited as to what he'll do in the future.

Films to see: Moon, Source Code, Whistle.


Guillermo del Toro 

Del Toro is probably the one director on this list that I am least familiar with, however I love the films I have seen and there is no doubting that he has a very distinctive style.  Usually a lot of eyes are involved!  Whether it's the beast at the end of Hellboy, or The Angel of Death in Hellboy 2, or the Pale Man in Pan's Labyrinth, eyes are important to him.  I'd love to have seen his Flies and Spiders if he had directed The Hobbit!  Similar to Chris Nolan, the Hellboy films are much cleverer than you would expect, and Blade 2 (though I haven't seen it for a long time) equally so.  Hellboy is a great fantasy film, the second one in particular is fantastic and has Del Toro's wonderful style all over it; Pan's Labyrinth even more so.  As I say, I'm less familiar with much of Del Toro's work, but I now have Blade 2 to watch again, Cronos is on my LoveFilm list, and I am hoping that he brings his quality to Pacific Rim, because it looks spectacular, but could so easily be rubbish in someone else's hands. 

Films to see: Hellboy 2, Pan's Labyrinth, Blade II

Ridley Scott 

Often referred to as a very visual director, Ridley Scott has made some tremendous films.  I only really understood what was meant by being a visual director when I watched some of the extras on the Body of Lies DVD.  To explain on set how he wanted a scene to look, he would grab a pencil and paper and very quickly draw the storyboard so that the crew instantly knew what he was thinking.  Often it seems like he is the only one on set who is calm and knows exactly what he wants.  Amid the carnage of filming Black Hawk Down, he was the one unfazed by all the explosions; an oasis of serenity.  All this allows him to concentrate on how best to tell his story, and he is excellent at that; and usually his films are visually stunning. 

Films to see: Alien, Bladerunner, Gladiator 

Stanley Kubrick 

Kubrick was a real artist, everything he did was deliberate and had a reason.  He was also a perfectionist, often leading him to do many takes of any particular scene.  Of course this sometimes led to clashes of personalities on set, but there is no doubting that the finished product was always tremendous.  As an artist he produced works of art, and nowhere is this more evident than 2001:A Space Odyssey.  Not a film for everyone, but I think it is a joy to watch; utterly captivating and a sublime piece of film-making.  Even the "Ultra - violent" Clockwork Orange has moments of beauty.  Widely regarded as one of the best directors of all time, having watched eight of his most celebrated works I can certainly see why. 

Quentin Tarantino 

Generally known for making violent films with a lot of bad language, Tarantino nevertheless has demonstrated over and over that he can write and tell a great story.  Perhaps he should be better remembered for his great characters, their development and the irreverent script he usually writes for them.  Who can deny we really understand Vincent and Jules when they are discussing "Le Big Mac".  Equally, we get a real sense of Kiddo's desire for revenge as we learn about the characters that wronged her.  And of course witnessing the superb Christoph Waltz's "Jew Hunter" in Inglorious Basterds, we understand why Shosanna goes to such desperate measures at the end of the film.  A brilliant writer and certainly also a great director. 

Films to see: Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Inglorious Basterds.

All images from IMDb

Sunday, 3 February 2013

The Wolf Man (1941)

Far from being a standard creature feature, The Wolf Man is more of a tragedy than a horror film.  Lon Chaney's Larry Talbot is very much the victim in this story; as the wolf man he can't stop what he's doing but he is wracked with guilt about it.  To add to Larry’s tragedy, Gwen (Evelyn Ankers), despite being betrothed to another, becomes very sympathetic his misfortune and cares more for him than her fiancĂ© by the end of the film.  Evelyn is very good as Gwen, as is Claude Rains as Sir John Talbot; as Larry’s father he is very serious but always defensive of his son, not believing the fairy stories surrounding werewolves.

It is a very atmospheric film, with the marshes being very gloomy and misty, full of old gnarled trees.  Clearly the special effects of the transformations are not very, well, special; essentially we see his shins get hairy!  But since it’s not the effects that are the point of the film, it hardly matters.  I’ve mentioned the tragedy, but the film is also very much a fairy story also; everyone in the town seems to know about werewolves (though not believing in them), and everyone knows the rhyme: Beware the Judderman when the moon is fat! “Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.”

A great movie, full of atmosphere, well written characters, well acted, and Bela Lugosi. What else do you need?