Monday, 30 September 2013

R.I.P.D - Rest In Peace Department

Brown Breadquarters

R.I.P.D - Rest In Peace Department
2013 USA
Directed by Robert Schwentke
Playing at UK cinemas now.

Warning: There are some slight spoilers about the basic set up of 
the plot here, most of which are already detailed in the trailer anyway.

R.I.P.D is one of those simple concept pitch films which comes up every now and again and, for all intents and purposes, the trailer is not really far from the truth of the movie. With apologies to Mark Kermode and his recent comments on summing up a movie in a few words, the trailer was pretty much "Men In Black does Ghostbusters". And that’s not a million miles away from the truth, in actual fact. Maybe a bit less Ghostbusters and more Men In Black sequel in tone perhaps but... well you’ll get the idea.

The plot involves young cop Nick (played by Ryan Reynolds) who is killed by his partner Hayes, played by Kevin Bacon. Instead of rising up to the pearly gates to face his "Judgement Day", he is instead whisked sideways and joins up with the R.I.P.D... that’s Rest In Peace Department to you. Here he is partnered up with the always watchable Jeff Bridges playing a 19th Century cowboy called Roy... although I think its fair to say that the character as Bridges plays him is less inspired by the name Roy and the connotations that has with the "All American Western" at a certain stage in its history and more informed by Bridges stint playing Rooster Cogburn in the Cohen Brothers version of True Grit. He does seem to be channeling that part a little, although he manages to make his pronunciation and delivery only just comprehensible at times, it has to be said. But it’s a fun performance and certainly entertaining when pitched against Reynolds fish out of water rookie in the R.I.P.D.

So, anyway, the job of the R.I.P.D is to track down all the escaped “dead ‘uns” who have fled to earth and bring them back for their final judgement. Thus endeth the plot and thus begineth the rooting, tooting and shooting. And there’s not much else involved, to be honest. It’s a very formulaic movie but there’s certainly nothing wrong with formulaic entertainment done right.

There are some very obvious clichés right from the outset though, it has to be said. You don’t put someone like Kevin Bacon into a picture like this, for example, playing a minor role so, even before the first ten minutes are up and he’s betrayed his true colours, you know that he’s going to be more involved in the plot later on. As it happens, a transgression Reynold’s character has made means he needs to make up with his fresh widow, who is under the spell of Bacon and it’s here that the film really does go exactly the way you think it’s going to go, I’m afraid. I’m not going to tell you want happens but I’ll be amazed if you can’t work out the little twists and turns before they occur.

That being said, it’s a nice bit of Men In Black style chemistry the film has going for it, without quite the same level of rich details and twists which that specific film series tends to bring to bat. You could, however, argue that it’s more streamlined with less deviations, entertaining or not, from the story line and, if you did, I’d be happy to defer to that judgement. The relationship between Bridges and Reynolds is strained and unforgiving a lot of the time, but that actually works in its favour. Do you really want to go through this whole movie where the two lead protagonists are acting all “nicey nicey” with each other?

On the whole, the performances are all excellent. I especially enjoyed Mary-Louise Parker’s Proctor character, and her relationship with Roy, but all the performances are as dead on, if you’ll excuse the inadvertent pun, as they need to be for a ‘popcorn fodder’ kind of movie like this one. And, as it happens, it’s supported by excellent special effects, supportive scoring, good solid direction and, helpfully, editing which won’t confuse you in the action sequences which, considering what happens during those sequences, seems to be to be a bit of a minor miracle right there. One thing I can’t tell you for sure though is whether it’s a good adaptation of the Dark Horse comic book it’s based on... I’m sorry, I just haven’t read it.

The film is predictable, as I said, but there are really two ways the ending, given its target audience, could have gone and you won’t know which of the two possible versions, involving Nick’s widow, they go with until right at the last knockings. That’s okay though, at least you’ll be guessing up until the last minute. As is expected in films of this nature, it’s easy to see where you could get a sequel from on this one and I certainly would like to see where the studios would go with this as I did find myself quite entertained through most of the running time. Alas, I don’t think it’s been at all successful financially and so it’s unlikely now that we’ll be seeing a sequel to this one anytime soon... unless it manages to pull an Austin Powers or The Transporter in terms of its DVD takings. Time will tell I guess... but I’m not expecting much from that revenue avenue.

However, fans of good time Hollywood blockbusters where you really don’t have to be thinking about anything while your watching should have a fair enough time with this one. Worth a watch before it leaves the cinema, I think.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Blue Jasmine

All That Jasmine

Blue Jasmine
2013 USA
Directed by Woody Allen
Playing at UK cinemas now.

I‘ve been a Woody Allen fan for a long time now. Ever since I was about 8 years old, back in 1976, after seeing one of his movies on late night TV. I’ll always remember the comment made by a good friend after we left a screening of Allen’s Shadows And Fog, his souped up reworking of his stage play Death, which we saw at a late night showing at the Lumiere cinema in London... now sadly gone. My friend said, on leaving, something along the lines of... “Wow. That was just Woody Allen flexing his muscles. Showing people he can make movies better than any of them.” I didn’t disagree and it’s a moment I’ll treasure because of my friend’s reaction, but I will say that, as the years have worn on, I have found Allen to be a little hit and miss... especially in the last two decades.

If Shadows And Fog was Woody Allen flexing his muscles, though, then I have to say I found his new film, Blue Jasmine, to be Woody Allen sitting back and relaxing on a sofa, watching the world go by and just bringing out the usual stuff. This is not to say it’s in any way a bad movie. It isn’t. But I don’t find it to be the revelation that a lot of people seem to be finding this one to be either. I find it strange that people are picking on this movie to lionise when it seems to me to be... not so much unremarkable but certainly less interesting than some of the work he’s been doing lately.

This film stars two of my favourite actresses - Cate Blanchett and Sally Hawkins.

That Cate Blanchett has been singled out for praise and made a fuss over for this particular movie is something I also find quite strange. That she’s one of the most incredible actresses of her generation is not to be denied. Nor is the fact that she can do the brilliant performance she gives in this film in her sleep because she really is that good. She’s worked with some of the greatest directors and turned in some of the most interesting performances going. She’s worked with Jim Jarmusch, Wes Anderson, Lasse Hallström, Tom Tykwer... even Steven Spielberg. Why she’s getting singled out just for this role at the moment is beyond me. But still, she does it really well, as expected, so I certainly don’t begrudge her the attention she’s getting. I think she’s fantastic.

Sally Hawkins is kinda interesting in this film because the very first scene she’s in she is totally transformed both in looks and in tone of delivery. But then, as the story progresses, she quickly seems to revert to something more bubbly and Sally Hawkins like... which is fine, I like bubbly Sally Hawkins. But it’s like somebody forgot to reshoot the first couple of scenes to match the acting style and tone of the rest of her performance. I felt that a bit disconcerting.

All in all, though, all the acting in this film is superb... well you’re really not going to go wrong with a cast like this. And Blanchett’s performance of Allen’s Jasmine is certainly more compelling the more you see of her. As we see this woman getting bad breaks after a life of wealth and not working, we are interested in her madness and the impending breakdown that we can see coming from afar. From any other actress this would be incredible but I guess I’m expecting something more challenging... which is wrong, I know. Why should I expect actors to be challenged? And, to be fair, I’m sure this was a very demanding role actually. Seriously, that Blanchett can carry off this stuff with that amount of ease is no surprise.

Maybe my dissatisfaction comes not from the acting but from the general tone and writing of the piece. Allen has done serious works before and this one is certainly a straight piece (although the audience I was with seemed to be programmed to laugh at any slight character quirk because, I assume, they went to see a Woody Allen movie and were therefore expecting to laugh). I just think it’s a pretty slight piece too, especially when we’ve been getting such strong stuff from my childhood hero just recently (see my reviews of Midnight In Paris and To Rome With Love).

The film is cleanly shot in Woody’s usual, uncluttered style and the structure of the writing, as Jasmine hovers in and out of flashbacks from her life, which slowly fill us in on the tragedy of her past, and the way in which Allen chooses to present this, without fanfare on screen did, I have to confess, remind me of Ingmar Bergman and the fact that Allen was constantly getting compared to that great director’s work in his early career. Indeed, if truth be told, I would much rather be watching Allen’s early and much Bergmanised straight movie Interiors to this one. That’s always been one of my favourites though. I don’t think Blue Jasmine is comparable to some of those earlier works if I’m being honest.

All that being said, though, it’s not a terrible movie and certainly something the majority of Woody Allen fans will want to take a look at, I think. He doesn’t hit any wrong notes and the central characters of Jasmine and her adopted sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) are watchable and compelling enough to hold your attention. So I would still recommend it and it still blows away most of the other stuff at the cinema at the moment. It’s not exactly his best film but, heck, it doesn’t have to be. And I’m glad he’s got a hit out of it.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Die Hard 4.0 (aka Live Free Or Die Hard)

Yippee Ki Hard

Die Hard 4.0 (Live Free Or Die Hard)
2007 USA/UK
Directed by Len Wiseman
20th Century Fox Blu Ray B

Warning: Spoilers exploding out of the paragraphs

John McLane never had a cell phone in the first three Die Hard movies.

Amazingly, when you look back at the way technology has progressed over the last few decades, mobile phones were not something that almost the entire population had with them back then. Only a minority of people would have them. In fact, in the first two films in this franchise McLane is shown to be “technically up there” in that, well... he has a pager.

It’s a good job mobile devices weren’t so prominent when it came to writing the scripts for those first three movies because, sad to say, technology has made their plot lines redundant in a modern world. In their first one, if McLane had been carrying a phone, he could have just called for police assistance and that would have made for one short movie. Ditto for the “communications outage” in the second movie. A quick call to one of the planes (oh, by the way, when you land, your sea level has been dropped by 100 metres) and the story is completely junked. And in the third movie, running around from phone booth to phone booth to get the next instruction.... err... yeah, right.

However, Die Hard 4.0 (as it is known in this country) was made twelve years after that initial trilogy. It is set in a world where the character and his ways are sadly out of step with the era. So what do the script writers do to balance the necessities of this character, in terms of giving audiences the kind of situations they are familiar with from John McLane... well, they make sure the phone networks are switched off as a part of the plot. A plot which is based on a newspaper article, in this case, and not on a random script or novel like the other sequels prior to this.

I remember thinking it was a bit late to make a Die Hard movie in 2007. I figured the writers would make a load of mistakes and concentrate purely on the action at the expense of plotting and character detail. Well... I was wrong (they saved making all those mistakes for the fifth movie, reviewed here). This fourth expedition for McLane is every bit as enjoyable as the previous installments (although the third movie is still my favourite) and, to boot, it’s the cleanest, nicest looking of the films to date with a beautiful sense of composition and some lovely colours pitched against each other in the shots. You might think this is at odds with the generally grimy milieu of the original films but, no, Wiseman manages to make it all work beautifully and, what’s more, it doesn’t just look good.

The plot is a little cliched in one hand... escort the witness (or hacker in this case) back to headquarters and don’t let him get killed. This plays out for the first third of the movie before the real story of a “fire sale” (the disablement of the IT systems across the city to render everyone, including all the authorities, pretty much powerless) kicks in properly and it becomes about McLane and his new hacker friend Matt (played expertly by Justin Long) taking on the bad guys and, incidentally, rescuing McLane’s estranged daughter Lucy (played by the always more than watchable Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who is taken hostage by the leading villains towards the end of the movie.

The story is really fine, putting McLane back in a situation where the odds are stacked against him and, also, there is the secret weapon of Kevin Smith (Silent Bob himself) playing a Star Wars obsessed super hacker who Willis also employed to rewrite the dialogue for his scenes. I gt a real kick out of seeing him in this and just wish he had a little more screen time throughout the film.

There’s one bad thing about this movie though... and that’s the credibility factor. Bruce Willis is fairly long in the tooth by now and, although he is in terrific shape, there’s no way you can really buy into him winning fist-fights with the likes of Maggie Q and Cyril Raffaelli (a man who, prior to this, I’d seen acrobatically beat up whole roomfuls of people with his bare hands as one of the two main action leads in the District 13 series). Sometimes the baggage an actor brings with him to a movie is good and, other times, it can strain credibility a notch, it has to be said.

But who cares, Die Hard 4.0 is brilliant, sometimes way over-the-top (jumping your car to take out a helicopter) fun and you still really care for the character and his friends in this one. There is one sad thing, however...

Michael Kamen, the composer of the first three Die Hard movies had already died tragically young by the time of this one. Here, the musical reigns are handed over to composer Marco Beltrami but, I’m happy to report, he does a good job. Writing in a modern action style while still weaving in some of Kamen’s original themes and ways of handling certain situations from the first three movies. It falls somewhere in between an homage to the late, great Kamen and a strong, appropriate score and it succeeds brilliantly on all levels. I wouldn’t have expected anyone to be able to recreate Kamen’s style all that easily but, in the scenes where that kind of respectful tribute to the franchise history is called for, Beltrami does really well and my respect for him truly went up a notch on this film. He does it even better in the fifth movie in the series. Nice work.

And that’s about all I have to say about this one. A great movie and a great Die Hard movie. Mission brief fulfilled. Job done.

You can read my reviews to the others in the series here...

Die Hard
Die Hard 2: Die Harder
Die Hard With A Vengeance
A Good Day To Die Hard

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

The Bay

Bay Tripper

The Bay 
2012 USA
Directed by Barry Levinson
Momentum Blu B

Warning: Spoilers on this one but nothing that isn’t already 
foreshadowed quite overtly at the opening of the movie itself.

You know, I really wanted to like The Bay. 

I saw the trailer online, maybe a year ago now, and it looked pretty good to me. And then I waited for what seemed an interminably long time for the film to hit my local cinema. It never did and, I suspect, it probably went straight to video (barring the odd FrightFest screening, I would imagine). When I found out that it had bypassed the cinema I got really angry because the specific trailer I’d seen looked so intriguing and I’m an admirer of “found footage” horror movies when they’re done well. These things should get a cinema release.

After the film hit the home sell-through market, I started getting some pretty mixed quotes and word-of-mouth on it. On the one hand you had the critics saying it was an intelligent horror movie for grown ups, or some such stuff (I’m still not sure if I’ve ever met a grown up but I’m sure one or two must exist somewhere), whilst various comments from people on Twitter and the bloggers who had seen it were more of the opinion that the film was, well, a bit rubbish.

I’m sorry to say, although this does seem to ring true these days when you pitch the majority of critics against bloggers and the general public at large, that the bloggers were right. I can understand why the film never got some kind of wide cinema release in this country (to my knowledge) but, having said that, I don’t want to fall into the obvious trap of blaming an old guard classic Hollywoodland director like Barry Levinson as being someone who would have been best leaving well alone and in the hands of a lower budget, younger film-maker either. Quite frankly this movie, and I may be way off base here in this speculation, looks like it’s been tampered with “after the fact” and that there’s been some “studio intervention” along the line. Maybe not but, well, that’d be my guess anyway.

So the film is about an attack on the coastal town of Cheasapake Bay which is pretty much wiped out by something appearing at first to be a contagion caught from the water... although this is a little murkier in terms of what is actually happening... but I don’t want to give too many plot details away.

The film comes at us with the premise that we are watching “banned but hacked” footage from many surveillance sources which the government has suppressed, and is narrated via Skype by one of the main protagonists... as much as this movie can be said to actually have a main protagonist. It’s a film she’s making to ensure that “the truth is out there” but the modus operandi that worked so well in George A. Romero’s Diary Of The Dead really falls at the first hurdle here.

The truth is, the footage that Levinson has shot and edited is, for the most part, quite sound and interestingly made but the presentation of that footage really works against it in terms of giving us something that is a) credible as found footage and b) actually scary.

Okay, so the first big problem has to be the use of music. If this is a compilation of footage constructed to show the world what is happening, then surely the use of diegetic music which is then continued into several other shots not related to the original shot in question, in other words it’s transformed into non-diegetic sound, would in no way, shape or form find itself in something that is supposed to be some kind of document of events. This is pretty bad in and of itself... why would the character cut the footage in this manner? Things get worse though because, after this happens fairly early on in the film, we then start to get scenes throughout the movie, quite a lot of them in fact, where sinister incidental music has been used.


In a movie posing as, for all intents and purposes, a “found footage” film. I mean, c’mon, I know a lot of documentary makers do this all the time but that’s because documentary film-making is rarely the embodiment of the truth, its the embodiment of a personal agenda. However, the only agenda the fictional character has in this work is to go public with the story. This is not about making people feel uncomfortable or hitting them with atonal shock notes when something scary happens... it’s about getting things out there. This movie has a full blown score... and it blows away all credibility of the movie’s central premise. And the really sad thing here is that the footage Levinson gets is done well enough to be scary on its own without sacrificing your illusion of “point of view”.

Another problem the movie has is that you really don’t need one of the characters giving you voice-over narrative about what’s happening as the events unfold. The dramatis personae is not needed and the footage cut together by itself, and without music, in such away that things build in a more linear fashion, would have been a much better proposition, I reckon, than the film as it’s been edited here. I suspect the studio wanted to make sure everyone in the audience is crystal clear on what is going on but, you know what? They don’t have to be. The footage, cut differently, would have pushed the atmosphere on its own terms and maybe then people would pick up the other stuff on repeat viewings if they liked it well enough.  With the additional narrative asides over the top of it, it just sounds a little like overkill when you really need to just be lulled by the scares on their own terms. Worse, it makes it look like the director didn’t get all the coverage he needed on the footage and that he’s trying to explain the stuff he’s missed or pad it out or something. I don’t think that could actually be the case, though, on a Levinson movie. At least I hope not.

Another annoying thing is the use of constant “flashback footage” scenes which are dotted throughout the running time. I’m all for this approach and can understand why these might have been deemed necessary... but I think they stall the narrative, repeat things you’ve already picked up on and are just generally bad for the movie when structured like this. Perhaps a better way to do it would have been to lump all that footage into one or two chunks and just have one of the characters find it three quarters of the way through the movie and play it all back in one hit then. This tactic worked pretty well in the first [REC] film with all the stuff about the Catholic church and their investigation of the horrors in that film’s milieu... so maybe this is something the studio could have considered?

Again, for all I know, this was not a mis-step from Levinson, who I respect a lot as a director, but possibly some kind of studio interference to help build suspense where it wasn’t needed. I guess if that’s the case we won’t find out for a long time but I wasn’t appreciative of the way this stuff was edited in at regular intervals and I did find myself getting confused by things at some point because of this kind of thing. I think found footage probably needs a fairly linear structure to it if you want it to play out right... or go with larger chunks of overlapping time frames like [REC] 2 maybe?

The saddest thing about The Bay is that the premise is cool, the acting is not terrible (mostly) and the effects and make up are really quite good. Like I said, it’s the way it’s been edited together and presented which really dulls its impact, I feel. It needs a more progressive, escalating rhythm than it has and the attempts at foreshadowing what’s going to happen, only serve to take away any suspense the movie might have had. This is not a film I could, in all conscience, recommend to many people, although I would love to see a better cut and treatment of it attempted at some point. Heck, even a remake might be a good idea because this film has a nice central premise (clichéd but nice) and would have been brilliant as, say, a third movie in The X Files franchise. Unfortunately, the film isn’t scary and the fake found footage feels exactly like what it is... a fake. And nobody likes it when you fake it, people!

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Mr. Forbush And The Penguins (Cry Of The Penguins)


Mr. Forbush And The Penguins (Cry Of The Penguins)
1971 UK
Directed by Alfred Viola
Network DVD Region 2

Warning: Sorry for the long lead in to get to the actual review 
on this one, but I had to get this stuff out of my system.

Mr. Forbush And The Penguins is written by the famous Anthony Shaffer (identical twin of Peter Shaffer, apparently) and based on a novel by Graham Billing.

Cry Of The Penguins is what this movie was known as in America... and even then it didn’t get a release over there until a full ten years later than the UK got it (which is why some of the actors and actresses involved have this listed in their IMDB filmographies as coming out in 1981, although one look at just five minutes of it should be able to signal it as a product of the late sixties/early seventies to anyone half interested in the short history of cinema).

I didn’t know about the American title and release date until today... but I did know of the film because it’s always been a lurking presence in my mind since I used to catch snatches of it on television in my pre-teen years throughout the seventies. Back in the dark ages, that is... before the commercial release of video recorders, when you caught what you could catch at whatever time the TV channel in question decided you were going to have the opportunity to watch it... and even then in the wrong aspect ratio.

It’s a film I’ve always had a vague memory of being very impressed with as a child, but one which I have never been able to catch up with properly until now. The timing of which was a bit of a tiny miracle in itself seeing as it was obviously bubbling up in my mind again. I used to check out the listings on Amazon regularly for a while to see if it would ever turn up some day. Maybe I should have been looking for Cry Of The Penguins after all, eh?

The story of this review, though, starts just a few short weeks ago, on Saturday 7th September 2013, at a celebration screening of Jim Jarmusch’s Down By Law to mark the completion of a film called Noirish Project, to which I have done the promotional campaign and provided opening credit cards for. After the screening I got together with a bunch of people in a restaurant/bar thingy and had, what I worryingly call in my fear of such incidents... a social situation.

It was a strange day because I had been angry with one of my best friends, Chris B, for about four years now. Four years where I hadn’t been able to forgive him something he’d done to me and, consequently, hadn’t seen him or talked to him for all that time. This was partially my fault too, though, because of being in a bad and suicidal headspace when he did what he did, so it took me four years to cool down again and contact him. Which I did, and I arranged to meet him on a Saturday... forgetting that I had already committed to the director of Noirish Project to go to the aforementioned Down By Law screening. So I met with Chris in a pub for two hours before, so we could hopefully forgive each other, and then I took him along with me to this screening where we met a bunch of cool people at the aforementioned restaurant/bar thingy and had a thoroughly good time. I don’t do well in social situations and tend to stay quiet and characteristically dumb under such cordial hostilities, but the people at this thing were all pretty bubbly and so the “Talky Tawny” part of my personality came out to play and regale everyone with complete nonsense at a substantially energetic rate.

At least that’s how I felt about it anyway.

Present at the event, who I actually talked to, were the great writer/director and co-starring actor of Noirish Project... James Devereaux, the astonishingly lovely, actress extraordinaire Lian-Rose Bunce, who also has a role in the film, the incredible soundscape composer Jay Harris, expressive character actor John Giles and, last but not least, the film's other main co-star, the always hat-worthy thespian and Carry On expert, Mr. Alfie Black. 

Oh, there was also another sexy goddess woman there with fair hair on our table who was properly interested in world cinema, sitting to the right of me, but I never caught her name and so she will have to remain, sadly, un-highlighted in this article.

So there we all were and my friend, Chris B, was regaling a few of these people of the story of the day he met John Hurt at a signing... well met may be the wrong word but it’s good enough for this already interminably long blog post, at least. I chipped in with my... “Oh. I’d love to see Mr. Forbush And The Penguins again but, sadly, it’s never been released on home video, from what I can tell.” Everyone, and when I say everyone I mean, not everyone... just a few people, looked at me blankly. “You know.” I went on, “The one where it’s just John Hurt and a load of penguins.” Glazed eyes and the thoughtful looks of people trying to sugar coat an answer met my outburst. Finally, my mate Chris, being as he’s lost none of the definite lack of panache which has rubbed off from me like an acid eating away at ones subtlety, chimes in with... “Hmm. Yes. Well there’s a reason these films don’t get released, you know.” Which everyone laughed at, including me, because, ha, it was good to see Chris again and be with all these wonderful people. Plus, I always give him an equally hard time about a multitude of minor sins whenever we’re in the same room together.

So that was that evening which was, frankly, one of the better “talking with real people” evenings I’ve had in a very long time when, less than 48 hours later, midway through the following Monday morning, I got a mailshot from Network video telling me that this weeks new release was, yeah you guessed it, Mr. Forbush And The Penguins. I leapt into action immediately and ordered it from Amazon that very evening.

And yesterday it arrived.

As I slowly started to watch it, the film felt odd at first. I can’t remember if I ever, before, saw it all the way through or not. I suspect I had, but even if that was the case, I certainly couldn’t remember the beginning of the movie. Which is a shame because it sets up the arrogance of John Hurt’s rich and privileged title character immediately, by showing him failing to show up for his graduation ceremony because he has been in bed with a gal all night. The cross cutting between the two situations, John Hurt in his apartment and his awaiting graduation ceremony, are used to both highlight his main concerns while also proving you with a name check with who he is. It’s quite nicely done and, although this kind of thing was done a lot more in this era of cinema, it’s not so common these days when big movie studios don’t trust their younger audience to make even the faintest leap in their brains from two sequences without some kind of over defined establishing shot thrown into the mix.

We then go through a nice, comedic half an hour which establishes three very important things about Mr. Forbush. One is that he has a very brilliant mind. Two is he is very rich, spoiled and ultimately rarely interested in anything outside of his fairly small and narcissistic world. Three, the only thing he is interested in is sleeping with a number of attractive young women and this is what gives the movie its thrust. When one of these young maidens, played by Hayley Mills, says “No” in many ways and in no uncertain terms to him, it suddenly becomes very important to him to do something big enough to impress her and attempt to win her heart. Being as he is seen as something of an embarrassing and unmanageable prodigy, he is offered the job of spending 6 months in Antarctica* in Shakleton’s old hut to observe and research the penguins when they arrive back, give birth and attempt to fend off attacks by hostile birds, called skuas, before they leave their cold stomping ground until the next time.

Much to Forbush’s surprise, he ends up accepting the job role, stocking up on Beluga caviar, champagne and the like, just to help get him through those cold, Antarctic days and nights. He says good bye to his friends and relatives, including such character actors as Thorley Waters, Joss Ackland and Dudley Sutton, and its off to the cold climate for him. The fact that he has a girl who is now interested in him is a shrewd move because when he writes letters to her or tapes recordings of himself to send to her in her flat in London, we get to hear his inner thoughts about his lonely life with the penguins and we get to see how he changes.

Yeah, I know. He changes.

Changed by the things he sees in the Antarctic into a more humble and generally warm blooded human being while he is away... a cliche, to be sure, but it’s all done quite well and young John Hurt is a wonder to watch and listen to as the tale plays out and we start to sympathise with the plight of him and his, now beloved penguins. We  see him slowly go mad and when human interaction takes him by surprise, like when Dudley Sutton’s Starshot character, who is entrenched in a similar job somewhere not too far away, in husky and sled terms, drops in for a Christmas celebration (Forbush is unaware, even, that it Christmas)... he almost rejects human company and has to remind himself what it is to be in the land of the living again.

The movie is more than competently filmed, with long looks at the landscape which make up in sheer beauty and desolation what they might lack in shot design. Being as it is, at least on some level, a silent movie for much of it’s last hour (not literally, but certainly metaphorically), it does tend to rely on a lot of montage sequences to get its message across, which is fine actually.... it doesn’t feel too overdone and it’s the best way to solve certain situations and get the right kind of tone across, I think.

Two scenes which stood out in my memory and which I relived again in the movie yesterday were the sequence where John Hurt battles a blizzard (and barely wins, it has to be said) and the ‘almost climax’ of the movie where he builds some kind of elasticated trebuchet device to attack the ‘headquarters’ of the skuas, before sanity finally catches up with him and he once again remembers his place in the great scheme of mother nature, and all who sadly sail in her. Unfortunately, when John Hurt is shouting his heart out at said birds and yelling at them to die, his voice does sound a lot like a Dalek and you can certainly imagine him replacing that word with “Exterminate!” quite easily. Ah well, maybe that may serve him well in the upcoming Doctor Who 50th Anniversary story being broadcast on November 23rd, later this year, in which he plays a “dark incarnation” of The Doctor.

It was great seeing this movie again. I even remembered bits of John Addison’s sometimes beautiful, sometimes irritating, score for the picture, a 40 minute suite of which is included as a maddeningly unsearchable or in any way wind-able/rewind-able extra on the new Network DVD. I can appreciate that anyone who didn’t grow up seeing bits of this on TV back in the seventies may find it a bit clunky and unwatchable in places, but personally I found it a joy to behold and it’s a film which is definitely all about performance. Thankfully, when you get an actor like John Hurt in a role like this, even in his early thirties, before he was properly internationally famous, you really cant go wrong. An actor’s film perhaps... but one which everyone can enjoy, I think.

*I recently found out that Antarctica is the only place on Earth that doesn't have ants. I find this very strange, given its name.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Licence To Kill

Off Licence

Licence To Kill 
1989 UK/USA
Directed by John Glen
EON Blu Ray Region A/B/C

After having my faith restored in the Bond franchise after the trauma of Roger Moore, with Timothy Dalton coming aboard for The Living Daylights, I was ready to see more of Dalton’s excellent portrayal of Fleming’s most famous creation in action. That previous excursion for 007 had been a rare mix - we had a great performance by Dalton as Bond and a great script to work with. Unfortunately, while Dalton is indeed still excellent in his second and final outing as 007 in Licence To Kill, it has to be noted that it’s a really awful movie. Not quite as bad as Octopussy, obviously... but still pretty dreadful.

It's said at the time that the original title of this movie, Licence Revoked, was changed because it was thought an American audience wouldn't understand the word revoked. I don't know if that's the actual reason the title was changed but, title change or not, this movie is interesting in a lot of ways.

For starters, it’s the last film for a lot of the EON Bond personnel. Timothy Dalton, Caroline Bliss, Robert Brown and even regualr director John Glen would end their run on the series with this one. Similarly, it’s the last one where Cubby Broccoli was actually on set, after being taken ill halfway through the shoot on this one. After this, he still produced but took something of a back seat, is my understanding.

But there’s lots of other interesting stuff going on here... especially on the acting front. Pedro Armendáriz Jr, son of Pedro Armendáriz, who took his own life after completing filming on From Russia With Love, has a few little moments in this one and, golly, he really does look like his dad in some respects. I remember doing a double take when I saw this at the cinema for the first time with a “doesn’t he look like” moment, before I even knew he was the son of the actor in question.

More importantly, we have David Hedison returning to the role of Felix Leiter and, up until Jeffrey Wright played the character for a second time in A Quantum Of Solace, he was the only actor to have reprised this role. And he’s still my favourite Felix actor. Interestingly, his previous performance as Felix was in Roger Moore’s opening film Live And Let Die, which is ironic because the sequences in this film directly following the opening credits, with Felix being half eaten by a shark, are pulled directly from the novel of Live and Let Die (both Live And Let Die and For Your Eyes Only also have sequences pulled directly from this novel). Now the thing about Felix, is that this happened to him in what was actually the second novel and his arm was chewed off. So for the rest of the books he had a hook for an arm and was retired from the CIA and working for the famous Pinkerton’s Detective Agency, turning up to assist Bond at incredibly well timed moments. Unfortunately, Hedison didn’t reprise the role a third time and, possibly because of the impact of this sequence, the Felix Leiter character was not brought back until Daniel Craig’s first movie in the series, which was the third version made of Casino Royale.

So... interesting stuff.

You have Robert Davi as Sanchez, the main villain of the piece, and one of his men is played by Grand L. Bush. Of course, these two had already been teamed up together as CIA agents in the original Die Hard movie, which is kind of an interesting thing too (more on Die Hard in this review a little later... although, if you want to read my review of the first Die Hard film, it’s here). The film also has a young Benicio Del Toro in it as another Sanchez henchman and, as if all this wasn’t enough, this film sees pretty much the most scenes and contribution Desmond Llewellyn’s “Q” has had in any of the movies. A shame his parts seem to get bigger in the worst films in the run, but there you go.

Licence To Kill had a lot of pressure on it to perform. Since The Living Daylights had been released, Hollywood had started getting serious about action again. The intervening two years had seen the start of, not only the Die Hard franchise (still going strong to this day) but also the equally successful Lethal Weapon franchise. Bond was perceived as being a bit old fashioned and corny so the producers wanted to make the content of this movie more adult. Which I’m all for in some ways. Bleeding bullet holes, an intelligent plotline, a bit of sex and other grown up malarkey would not harmed the film in any way, I suspect, and possibly brought Bond back to the status the writers and producers had in mind.

Unfortunately, what we have is a film which is just plain nasty. Torture sequences where a man’s head explodes due to deliberately changing the air pressure on him, grinding machines and so on. This is not adult... in some ways it’s quite a childish, knee-jerk response, actually. It’s just got an unpleasant edge which I find hugely questionable for something which is supposed to be a Bond film. Dalton plays the “grown up” Bond very well, just as he had in the previous film, and you certainly can’t miss his excellent performance in the role as it is giant steps above what Moore developed into during his tenure... but just having the perfect casting does not a Bond film make and the tone is just a little too edgy throughout most of the movie for my liking. I think this plays a big part in why I consider this film to be one of the most disappointing entries in the series.

And watching it again, I can identify another element which goes a good way towards undermining this movie which I didn’t necessarily realise when the film was released. And it’s this...

John Barry had scored his last Bond film with The Living Daylights, due exclusively, as far as I can glean, from his bad experiences working with the pop group A-Ha and his failure to negotiate control of the opening Bond song in any of the later Bond projects he was approached for. He simply refused unless he could do what was wanted for the films and, I have to say, when it’s John Barry you’re talking about, you can replace that phrase with “do what was needed for the films”.

In his place the director went with the late, great Michael Kamen, who had already cut his teeth on the very same two action franchises that had lead the Bond producers to try and up their game a little... notably the Die Hard and Lethal Weapon series. And, to be absolutely fair to him, Kamen delivered an absolutely cracking action score to this which fully integrated the John Barryesque arrangement of Monty Norman’s original Bond theme. However...

It’s just not a Bond score. It’s not over the top enough. Barry used to really make you feel the tension and pulled no punches in the fight scenes with trumpets, trombones and whatever else ballsy brass he had up his musical sleeve... and you would really feel it. Kamen, instead, delivers and slightly Bond flavoured Die Hard score... and it just doesn’t really rip into you the way it needs to. Now it’s probably not his fault, he was probably told to score it like this and, certainly, his own stylistic voice is probably something I’m hearing in this too... it just doesn’t feel appropriate or hit you hard enough, is my feel. And while I think Kamen’s score is perfectly fine, even excellent, as a stand alone listen... I really feel that with a John Barry score on it, the movie might have gained a little bit more traction with me... and possibly with it’s target audience too.

As it is, despite some well thought out action scenes, two of the most beautiful Bond women to grace the screen since Thunderball and Timothy Dalton’s beautifully played “hard man’s attitude” version of Bond, the film still manages to fall very flat. It’s not one I’d recommend and I think it says something that, when legal complications stopped the producers from making any more Bond films for six years after this one, I’d just assumed that it was because everybody was as disappointed with it as I was (apparently this did not have strong box office) and realised it was a terrible movie. So I was disheartened with the franchise once again... but things would be getting better once more. Brosnan’s era was just around the corner.

EON James Bond Movie Reviews on NUTS4R2

Thursday, 19 September 2013

The Blood On Satan's Claw (aka Satan’s Skin)

Here Comes Satan Claws!

The Blood On Satan's Claw (aka Satan’s Skin)
1971 UK
Directed by Piers Haggard
Anchor Bay Region 0

Warning: Spoilers gathering in the woods for you.

Directed by Piers Haggard, who genre fans might recognise as being the man who directed Nigel Kneale’s incredibly scary, fourth Quatermass serial... um... Quatermass (also known as The Quatermass Conclusion in its mutated movie version)... The Blood On Satan’s Claw is not the film I was expecting it to be. I steered clear of this one for years because I’d always assumed, just like the DVD cover states, that it’s a kind of companion piece to Witchfinder General which, frankly, is not the kind of film I have any liking for. However, I’d recently been given the impression by either something I’d read or something I’d seen that it was a proper monster movie with loads of naked women dancing around a big, rubber, tentacle, 50s B-movie style creature... and I was all for that.

Sadly, this is also a far cry to what the actual content of the movie turned out to be.

The film starts off in its country village location with the main protagonist, Ralph, catching site of a misshapen skull in a field. Obviously, when the judge he works the land for comes out to look, there’s no skull in sight. Then the rumours about a resurgence in witchcraft start up and at this point the film did look like it might start going into Salem witch trial territory but, thankfully, it’s demonology at work here and, not only that, but a real live demon taking over the minds of the majority of the youth of the village and turning them against their fellow villagers.

Things get off to a flying start with the appearance of a “thing” in the attic of the Judges house. After Peter, played by Simon Williams, brings home his new bride to be, she sleeps in the attic but is soon driven insane by the thing, which nobody knows is lurking under the floorboards in the attic. Peter stays there the next night and is startled to find the devils claw clutching at him through the loose floorboard. It’s here that we get the impression that he’s not all that bright, however. After wrestling with the claw a bit he forces it back under the floorboard and then holds it down with a heavy box. Then he goes back to bed. By the box. In the attic. Because, yeah, obviously. If you found out you were staying in a room with a devil beast under the floorboards... you’d stick around too, wouldn’t you? Have these people been eating too many mushrooms?

Anyway, good old Peter is woken by a hairy, devil hand clutching at his throat so he hacks it off with a knife, only to find that it was his own hand he’s hacked off, bizarrely transformed into something similar to what had grabbed him earlier. After a couple more occurrences of weird stuff, the judge goes off to London to study up on battling demons and, in his absence, the village is struck with murders, nudity, people bearing the hairy mark of the devil and general mayhem as the demon takes the minds of the best and brightest in the surrounding area.

Well, I say best and brightest. To be fair, everyone in this film seems to have been dropped on their head shortly after birth because, it has to be said, there isn’t a lick of common sense among them. If I hadn’t already seen one of the actresses in a much smarter role than the one she’s in here, I wouldn’t have realised just how good an acting job everyone is obviously doing in this movie to get the “simple” life of the villagers up there on screen. They’re actually quite brilliant at it.

Said actress is former companion to Patrick Troughton’s incarnation in Doctor Who, Wendy Padbury. She used to play Zoe opposite The Doctor and Jamie and I have to say, she’s always been one of my favourite companions in the show.

The links with the great British TV institution don't stop there, however. There are two other Doctor Who performers in this one too. The other primary one being the character of Reverend Fallowfield, played by Anthony Ainley who also played one of the incarnations of The Doctor’s arch nemesis The Master at the end of Tom Baker’s time in the role, and right through the show opposite Peter Davidson, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy too, if memory serves me correctly.

The third Doctor Who connection is that of an uncredited Roberta Tovey as one of the group of people who I can only refer to as “the Devil’s villagers”. I missed noticing her, I have to say, but I am reliably informed that she has an uncredited performance in the movie. She, of course, played the much younger incarnation of Susan, The Doctor’s grand-daughter, in the two cinema adaptations of the TV show starring Peter Cushing as The Doctor (or in the movies’ case, as Doctor Who) in the sixties.

But enough of that. Regardless of a load of characters who are a bit less than quick-witted in their actions and a script which is kinda okayish but really goes off into disappointing territory at the end, I have to say that this movie has a lot on offer. The cinematography is astonishing, it has to be said, and for a moment there I was expecting to find it had been shot by Sidney J. Furie (who directed The IPCRESS File) because of the amount of unusual Dutch angles and interesting shot set ups throughout its length. Great things like shots being recorded entirely from low down on the ground in some places and other ones where people are split within the frame in small slats with the camera pointing through bannisters and such like. It’s all rather good and I have to say this aspect kept me entertained. It’s not a scary movie, and I can imagine this being a possible, future “comfort horror” to put on for when you want to chill out with something interesting on in the background (yeah, I know that’s not the best way to watch a movie but some films can just make you relax).

The other thing which did keep me most entertained was Marc Wilkinson’s absolutely brilliant and quite striking score, which features the Ondes Martenot and the Cimbalom (one of my all time favourite musical instruments - thanks John Barry!). This is a great stand alone listen, as well as a good support for the movie and score afficionados will want to take notice of this one.

The Anchor Bay packaged version is a bit of a strange beast. The cover artwork proclaims the movie to be Blood On Satan’s Claw (which it apparently is called on some prints) but the print included in here is definitely THE Blood On Satan’s Claw. The opening credits on the actual print also manages to misspell the great James Hayter’s name as James Hoyter, for some reason, although they seem to be able to get it right in the end credits somehow. Oh well... what’s in a name?

My one big criticism of this film would be the weak ending although I understand it was never the intention of the writer to conclude it like this. The Judge rushing in to fight the devil with a big cruciform sword in slow motion is more than a little anti-climactic, to tell the truth, after the rest of the movie has built the atmosphere so well, but I’m more than willing to forgive it this element because I enjoyed the film so much. It won’t be everyone’s pint of devil’s brew, that’s for sure, but those of you for a taste of late sixties/early seventies British horror movies should feel right at home putting your feet up in a pair of slippers and watching this one with a nice cuppa tea in your hand. Definitely recommended for people who like Hammer, Amicus, Tigon and studios of their ilk.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

White House Down

Going Down
In The White House

White House Down
2013 USA
Directed by Roland Emmerich
Playing at UK cinemas now.

They always seem to release these movies in twos, don’t they?

It seems like, as soon as somebody has a “just slightly different” concept for a movie, then suddenly two studios are putting very similar movies together at the same time. A cynic would say that this is just what happens when one movie studio wants to nick a chunk of the same box office of the other studio’s production... and I suspect the cynic would be right.

This happens all the time. Meteor movies, remakes of the same film being made as both a movie and a rival studio’s TV mini series at the same time etc. I remember Robert Altman, when he beat the Catch 22 release date out with his own military comedy M*A*S*H, had a poster put in his office which read, Caught 22. It seems to be a little game that studios, directors and producers like to play with each other... but with big stakes.

Inevitably, one movie is always seen as better than the other because they are usually released within six months to a year of each other and are, naturally, very closely compared by their target audiences, who are presumably the exact same target audiences based on the chemical make up of whatever concept is being pitched to them.

This year we have two films released which are, pretty much, Die Hard in the White House. The first of these two out of the gate was released back in April and called Olympus Has Fallen (reviewed by me here) and I have to say that the film took me by surprise by being, not only well made, but also quite entertaining. I seem to remember it had a lot of head stabbing in it for some reason but only, I guess, because stealth tactics are required when you are sneaking around the White House trying to avoid bad guys with big guns. It was an okay film and I gave it an okay review.

White House Down, on the other hand, while being a competently put together action movie at some level, really isn’t nearly as good a movie as Olympus Has Fallen.  It’s been suggested the two films should be treated as different beasts but, honestly, they’re both about sneaking around the White House trying to rescue the president and a young, close family member while avoiding machine gun fire and, incidentally, saving the western world. There’s really not a heck a lot of a difference between the two except... well Olympus Has Fallen seemed to me to be more economical and pared down when compared to this latest Emmerich movie, which did seem rather bloated.

Both movies try to build up some decent background detail on the main characters but Olympus Has Fallen seems to do it in half the time and more effectively than White House Down, which is surprising to me because I am not the biggest fan of Gerard Butler, who plays the main protagonist of the former film... whereas I do quite like Channing Tatum, who plays more or less the same kind of role in the latter. White House Down just seems to take more time than necessary setting up characters whereas the first movie started on an unrelated “incident” which absolutely explained the emotional stakes involved.

White House Down is not a bad movie, and if I had seen it in isolation, I might have thought more of it. But it just tends to go for grand gestures and over the top characterisations... which is, I hasten to add, no fault of the brilliant actors involved. It also takes itself a hell of a lot less seriously than Olympus Has Fallen and, while I would normally applaud going with that kind of tactic in a big action movie, there seems to be so much less here at stake as a result of that...  even though the stakes are pretty high.

Tatum’s character actually does team up, through quite a chunk of the running time, with Jaime Foxx’s character, the president, and although the two have fairly good chemistry between them and are entertaining as a double act, it does tend to act as an antidote, in a way, to the long and overwrought suspense scenes and action sequences which make up the majority of the last two thirds of the movie.

I think one of the problems was that I just didn’t care much for any of the characters, even though the casting is brilliant and the talent on display here is without question. James Woods, for example, is always going to make the perfect version of the role he’s chosen to play in this and a big shout out, too, to actress Joey King who plays Channing Tatum’s young daughter... she was really here.

The action sequences too, were a little more confusing than I could cope with in places and I think the editing could have been little more generous and maybe not got in the way so much at times. Having said that, there were some fairly conscious artistic choices made in the editing room, to be fair but, even so, some of this seemed a bit over-indulgent for the kind of movie this is. At one point a reverse shot matched to a scene of one character leaving through a door juxtaposed with another character coming through a different door in another part of the house did throw me for a second. It just seemed the wrong time to be doing stuff like this.

I’d like to tell you what I thought about the score to the movie but I didn’t really notice it as it struggled to be heard over the constant soundscapes of gunfire and explosions... which brings me onto something else. For a lot of the film, the bad guys are trying to find the good guys in a “locked down” White House. In Olympus Has Fallen, there was a lot of stealth plays involved and, as I remarked earlier and in the review of the film itself, lots of head stabbings as a result of this. In this one, however, the good guys seem to be comfortable with making as much noise as they want while taking out bad guys without their buddies a floor or so up taking much notice. You’d think at some point somebody would have said something along the lines of... “Hey, Frank! Does that sound like heavy artillery fire to you? I bet that if we followed the machine gunny sound, it would lead us straight to the good guys.” But, no, nobody seems to be able to work out stuff like this here, it would seem.

The other thing that annoyed me is that there is a twist antagonist revealed right at the end of the movie but, honestly, if you’re anything like me you would probably have him pegged as such right from the start of the film. This wasn’t, in any way, a surprise and I would have thought that the writers could have at least tried to throw us off the scent a little at some point. So this was a shame.

Anyway. I’ve seen the movie and I’ve cast my vote. If you want to see a half decent action movie at the cinema this month then White House Down will deliver all the adrenalin and machismo you’ll need as much as anything else out right now at your local. If, however, you liked Olympus Has Fallen and you’re hoping for something similar, well... yeah, okay... it is similar. But it does seem to be more a case of “Never mind the quality, feel the width” I’m afraid.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Insidious: Chapter 2

Tempus Forget

Insidious: Chapter 2
2013 USA
Directed by James Wan
Playing at UK cinemas now.

Warning: Big spoilers for both Insidious movies 
waiting to pounce from another dimension as you read.

It’s funny. I seem to remember being a lot more disappointed with the first of the Insidious movies than my review here seems to show. Maybe I was being a little kinder to it than I would be nowadays. I remember being really annoyed with the last half hour when the weird “other dimension” creature showed up, turning it into a boring teen nightmare monster flick. However, I also remember being impressed enough with the execution of the on-screen scares which built up to this last half hour to the point where I guess I cut it some slack, maybe. Although, you could see the end of the movie coming a mile off.

Insidious: Chapter 2 is not, as many reviewers would have you believe, a sub-standard carbon copy of the original movie but is actually a valid sequel to the first film which, yes, truly tries to hit the same points that its fan base loved in the first one, but which does so quite validly because of the history of the events which were visited upon this same family in the first movie. I have to say that there was enough going on in the new one to keep me interested and that, although there are some pretty annoying weaknesses in this one, overall I felt a little more entertained than the first time around.

Okay, so this one starts of in a somewhat scary pre-credits sequence where we re-meet the father of the family, Josh, but as a little boy. He’s obviously having some problems with the spirit world and we also meet a younger version of the psychic, Elise, who was killed at the end of the last movie. This opening sets the story up to get back to the family in the present, one day later after the events in the first movie.

Well, Josh is still possessed, as we knew from the end of the last movie, by something which came back in his place and so most of the first half of the running time is setting up the same kinds of scares but with the audience knowing about what’s going on a lot quicker than any of the regular characters realise. The problem here is, because there’s a lot of story to cover in this one, the scares are a lot quicker to come than they were in the first movie and so there’s no real pacing involved. Scares of this kind usually need to exist in an atmosphere of lurking dread and slow build and here... it’s just not scary because the timing seems wrong and rushed. It’s like coming in straight into the third act of a horror movie without bothering to set the scene.

Another big problem with things going on here is... all anyone needs to do is take a photograph of pseudo-Josh in our dimension and all would be revealed. Just as they’d twigged in the last film. Seems like all the characters in this movie decided to have collective amnesia on that front. Bit of a shame really.

However, this movie makes up for what it lacks in scares with some interesting plot spins leading off from the first movie and, by the time you’ve got a couple of the film’s main hero characters wandering around in the afterlife guided by Elise (Lin Shaye reprising her role from the first movie) then things start to get interesting. It seems that in the realm beyond our senses, the people who dwell in this strange, halfway dimension, are able to travel in time and this kind of temporal relocation means we get to discover the other viewpoint of some of the things which went on in the first movie plus other perspectives of things which went on in the pre-credits of this movie. It’s all a bit like Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning appearing to themselves at the start of an old Doctor Who episode, to be honest, but I do like these kind of “tempus fugit” style shenanigans, truth be told, so I don’t see any fault here. The film also gives us a nice new villain and a nice new ally character, included in an arsenal of interesting characters, so that’s all good. It’s also got rid of that creepy surreal neon guy from the last bit of the first movie so... yeah, good call.

Ultimately, it’s not that effective as a scary movie and I can understand why some people are disappointed with it. I think though, it does have a lot of nice things to say about the events of the first movie and gives it a more grounded place to live in. It’s still quite surreal in places, which is a good thing, but it’s not as in your face and unsubtle at that kind of stuff as the first one and so, consequently, this film is more effective in that sense, at least.

It’s also good that even when characters are dead, they can still go running around and helping people out and the fact that, even at the end of the movie, Elise is still working with her two assistants from the first movie (although they themselves don’t even know she’s there) gives the Insidious universe a more interesting and durable texture to it than some movies in this genre have going for them. And the ending of this actually sets it up for a third installment where you just know someone has been left behind (and consequently someone bad has come back in a form we don’t know yet) and I hope a third movie gets the green light so I can see what Elise is seeing at the end of this one.

All in all, the Insidious movies put together are not half the film that the same director’s The Conjuring (reviewed here) is. If you want to see a truly creepy horror movie, go catch that one. But I can see how Insidious: Chapter 2 might win a certain following and I can certainly imagine many people would use this as a comfort film, much like they would a zombie film. It’s not the best horror movie out there, by a long shot, but it’s certainly got its own thing going for it and the performances are all great, including the always watchable Patrick Wilson as, not one, but two versions of Josh. If you liked the first movie then I think this one is worth taking a look at sometime.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

The Queen Of Black Magic (Ratu Ilmu Hitam)

Head Robs and Boom Sticks

The Queen Of Black Magic (Ratu Ilmu Hitam)
1979 Indonesia
Directed by Liliek Sudjio
Mondo Macabro DVD Region 0

Okay then. So the day after I watched Mystics In Bali (reviewed here), I watched another Indonesian “horror” movie and, although it’s mostly a completely different experience to that film, I noticed the two films did share a certain “less than common” moment which gave me pause to think. I was expecting it in the first film but didn’t realise something similar was going to feature in this one... more on that a little later.

So this film is wonderfully shot and also, I’m guessing, filmed on a different kind of stock than Mystics In Bali. The colour schemes are quite vibrant and rich and it reminded me a lot of the kinds of films the Shaw Brothers were producing back in the 50s and 60s. Stuff like the four Monkey movies, for example, or the Golden Swallow series.

Now this one tells the tale of Murni, who is in love with a guy who promises her the earth but instead, just has his wicked way with her and then goes off to marry the daughter of the village leader. However, the marriage never goes through because “black magic” intercedes in the wedding and he blames Murni, since she lives in the general direction from whence the forces of darkness came.

With no evidence or anything remotely sensible guiding either the actions of the resultant angry mob, or indeed the course of the movie, Murni is thrown off a cliff to her death in retaliation for her unproven crime. However, there she is caught and befriended by a master of Black Magic... who turns out to be bad guy number two. He teaches her his dark arts so she can go and take “cheapo special effects revenge” on the people who tried to kill her and also, as it happens, have now killed her mum.

So, after a little time passes, she starts appearing before her enemies and uses her psychic powers and strange interlocking thumb gestures to destroy them, in some cases making them grow and expand like a transformation scene in a typical episode of Manimal... except... you know... bursting into bloody sprays of death instead of transforming into a leopard or something. After a while, it doesn’t take long to realise that her mentor is the man responsible for the whole wedding fiasco in the first place... and he wants the whole village dead. So he continues to manipulate her into causing more deaths... such as when she gets bad guy number one to spasm around so much that he pulls his own head off.

Of course, the head then flies up off the ground, its eyes glowing, and starts trying to eat people, nipping on whoever happens to be nearest. And this is what I was talking about at the start of this review. In two days I watched two films from Indonesia and they both featured flying heads ripping free of their bodies and doing bitey stuff. Is this some kind of cultural trademark of Indonesian cinema? Seriously people, flying heads? What gives?

Enter the good guy who, once Murni has finished her work, falls in love with her. Of course, he is also a white magic force for lightness and he and Murni are totally unaware that they work for opposite forces of the magical spectrum. After a while the evil black magic dude tricks Murni into thinking the truly righteous white magic dude is totally into another woman, after he’s promised to marry Murni, so she immediately relapses into the whole “I’m going to destroy the entire village” frame of mind again.

At the end of the day it’s black magic queen up against white mystic and then black magic mage against... well I’ll let you discover that if you ever get around to seeing this one. I think it’s kind of interesting though that in both the Indonesian movies I watched that weekend, they both featured a woman whose black magic powers were either controlled or manipulated by a more villainous person  in order to achieve their own goals for them. I’m wondering, also, if this particular story trait is endemic of the culture it's coming from or whether it’s just a coincidence. Would be interesting to find out. Of course, it could just be a “successful formula” thing being exploited as much as the producers could.

The film is far better put together than Mystics In Bali, it has to be said. Even the acting is far more competent than what passes for it in the other movie. That being said though, while The Queen Of Black Magic is a more satisfying movie in all round sheer cinematic competence (relatively speaking), it has to be said that it’s nowhere near as fun a movie as Mystics In Bali was. It lacks, for the most part, the sheer gob-smackness of the content of the other movie and even a scene where a person blows up towards the end, has inappropriate sound effects (if someone has forced you to spontaneously combust, you presumably make wet squishey noises, not the sound of a power plant blowing up?). All in all, an enjoyable watch but not as necessary an experience as Mystics In Bali is. Still an education, mind you.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Mr. No Legs (aka The Amazing Mr. No Legs)

I Am Leg End

Mr. No Legs 
(aka The Amazing Mr. No Legs)
1979 USA
Directed by Ricou Browning
DVD Gear Region 0

Warning: Seriously! You care about spoilers on this?
Are you ever gonna watch it?

I went out of my way to turn up a copy of this movie to be able to review it for you here... and almost wish I hadn’t.


Okay... so this appears to be directed by Ricou Browning, who some of my regular readers will recognise as being one of the two primary 'actors' in the gill-man costume in Universal’s iconic Creature From The Black Lagoon trilogy. It’s interesting, though, that if you follow the link from this movie into the IMDB entry for the man himself, you will not see this film listed there as being something he has directed. I suspect he wanted to get this one deleted off his CV, is my guess.

Having seen it now... I can understand why.

Now, when I first heard about this film... and it being a “wheelchair guy of death” movie... I was stunned and imagined it was kind of like a Death Wish meets Ironside kind of deal. I was wrong... but that premise maybe does need looking into at some point (Hollywood take note!). The movie also does put a strain on good taste (if you subscribe to such a ridiculous notion) and it’s really just not as good as its central gimmick sounds. And there are some easy identifiers as to why.

The thing is, this film has an actor called Ron Slinker who genuinely has no legs and out of all the cast in this film, he does a pretty good job actually... although this is the only movie he’s been in, according to the aforementioned IMDB. He isn’t however, in this single role at least, someone who you can sympathise with. In this film, which seems inappropriately titled to me, Mr. No Legs is actually a villain... and for pretty much all of the movie he is just a henchman. This has got to be an unusual phenomena in movie history I reckon. Can you imagine if they’d have named a Bond movie after the villain? We’d have movies like Oddjob or From Grant With Love. My only clue as to what the producers were thinking on this is that Slinker’s act is so much of a novelty that, compared to the rest of the film when he’s not on screen (and he really isn’t on screen all that much), the novelty of his character kind of carries the movie in some respects.

So, okay. Let me tell you about the one good thing in the movie, mostly represented by one scene in which the title character’s boss has sent some assassins to get rid of his insubordinate henchman, Mr. No Legs. This guy is muscular and dextrous enough to be able to jump out of his wheelchair, spin around on his arms and kung fu the bad guys to death (well... badder guys) while making silly Jim Kellyesque noises with his mouth (believe it or not, Jim Kelly actually turns up in a blink and you’ll miss him long shot cameo in this film... which I think may even be a stolen shot for all I know). Slinker also has his trusty wheelchair which is a rolling arsenal of death, since it has shotguns built into the arm rests and a handy ninja throwing star hidden on it, which Mr. No Legs uses in this particular scene.

So yeah. Antagonist with no legs, who does unnecessarily noisy kung fu, has shotguns built into his wheelchair and uses a ninja throwing star. And as brilliant and as mind blowing as that sounds... this still manages to be a drab and terrible movie.

The film features another longtime 50s horror/sci-fi B movie legend, John Agar, as the two main protagonist detective’s police captain but, although there are a few character actors like him scattered around here and there, the majority of the acting is pretty useless. Now some of that might be the very... well let’s just say 'naive' scripting. There’s stuff here which the heroes and villains alike get up to which seems to have no 'real world' impact or follow through and it’s kinda like the whole cast of characters are living in some kind of mythical screen land where the only real rules of cause and effect are dictated by whatever the writers want to happen... as opposed to the natural course of what would actually happen.

The framing is not particularly good either and, though the editing is certainly competent, some of the transitions between scenes seem like they’re not really transitions at all. In fact, they look like weird blackouts in the middle of a scene where the production ran out of money to film the rest of those scenes or just forgot to send the second unit out to do pick-up shots. I’m not saying hand on heart that is what happened, I just don’t know. But there does seem to be a heavy atmosphere of unexpected curtailment hanging over the majority of the movie. At least, that’s the way it seemed to me.

The film ends with what amounts to a massively long car chase which, bafflingly, mostly doesn’t feature the two main protagonists or, indeed, Mr. No Legs... up until the very last few minutes when our 'heroes' kinda cameo in their own denouement. It’s pretty unspectacular, consists mostly of long or medium shots with the occasionally baffling 'in car' shot cut in randomly for good measure but... frankly I was just waiting for it to be over to get to whatever happens next. Which turns out to be the end credits, as it happens.

Overall, while the “what the heck” premise and promise of this film were too tempting for me to resist ever being able to see it, I would have to say that I found the film lifeless, naive and ultimately just very dull. I don’t feel I could recommend this to anyone except those who are as seduced by the idea of the central character and his weaponised wheelchair of mayhem as I was... and only then, not without a severe warning and world of apology.