Sunday 30 May 2010

Land of Hope and Gory!

Zombieland 2009 US
Directed by Ruben Fleischer
Sony Pictures DVD Region 2

Been a little while since I saw Zombieland at the cinema... so thought I’d make a purchase while it’s still at Tesco’s chart prices and give it a spin.

Still a good movie. Well written dialogue and a friendly voice over narrative give this film a charm you wouldn’t expect. Also, the characters, while not completely fully developed (it’s 84 mins and it’s a zombie movie people!), are actually quite well fleshed out and they are well enough performed by the leads to make you care about what happens to these people.

It has kind of a buckshot humour to the jokes... they’re not all good but there’s so many of them thrown around that some of them are bound to hit. Bill Murray’s cameo turns into something very obvious, very quickly, but it’s okay. He doesn’t outstay his welcome and it’s nice to hear the Ghostbusters song again in a movie.

Nice set up for a sequel, quite a bit of heart in it... this one deserved to be the success it was at the box office. A gentle, zombie comedy.

Wong At Heart

Mr. Wong, Detective 1938 US
Directed by William Nigh
Monogram/VCI Home Entertainment
DVD Region 1

So... taking a break from the Mr. Moto series until I can get the second box at a “more reasonable price” (aka cheaper) I am continuing my pet obsession with USA made oriental detectives with the VCI set of the six Mr. Wong films. The first five of whom star Boris Karloff in the title role (with Keye Luke taking over in the sixth one!).

Ok. First things first. I love Boris Karloff. Think he’s an incredible actor and personality but... you have to be warned... at no time in these movies does Boris make any attempt to put on an oriental accent... like Warner Oland, Sydney Toler or Peter Lorre did, for example. He just ploughs through the role in his typical English “I am Boris Karloff” voice with absolutely no vocal concessions to the ancestry of his character. I don’t know how he got away with this. Maybe in the late 30s in Hollywood, English accents sounded unusual enough in a US movie that no extra vocal hijinks were deemed necessary. Who knows?

Rest assured though, the usual gravitas of Karloff’s performance more than makes up for the lack of oriental colouring.

This is very much a slow plod of a film but, refreshingly perhaps, this is a movie which goes out of the way to prove how grounded in science it is. Mr. Wong's scientific skills are pushed to the fore as he solves the riddle of the glass spheres which shatter and release their deadly poison glass at the sound of approaching police sirens. So the film kind of plays out like a typical 1930s Doc Savage pulp, but without the breakneck action pacing that hurtled you through the pulse-pounding prose of Lester Dent (aka Kenneth Robeson). Perhaps then, the film may have better been entitled Mr. Wong, Science Detective.

Lots of fun character actors in this one... including the guy who played Perry White in TVs The Adventures of Superman... and some series regulars, in the form of the blundering chief inspector and his screwball comedy fiance, are nicely set up here too.

Not as good as Chan or Moto but certainly worth a watch if you’re into Karloff!

Blood and Scales

Doctor Who: Cold Blood
Airdate: May 29th 2010.

Oh come on people. This is really getting to be upsetting. I am so trying to like this new series of Doctor Who and it just keeps getting more and more rubbish.

I can’t believe after the Eccleston and Tennant seasons, which were mostly sensational, turned on TV... we get this. It’s a real let down.

I don’t know if you can call this a review because I can’t quite focus my thoughts on anything major to latch on to. It just seemed a really... I don’t know... mundane mess of an episode.

And then we get this tagged on conclusion with the notorious crack in time and space chasing “our heroes”... and I’m just left confused. Why am I left confused? Because I actually know most of what happens at the end of this series... the whole “plan” and its diabolical coalition of antagonists are not something I am going to reveal out of respect to the creators of this programme... but even knowing what I know, the whole thing still doesn’t make any sense continuity wise.

Ok... so Rory is not just killed off but wiped from existence... but Amy can somehow forget him but remember all the other times this has happened. Funny that.

So future Rory and future Amy were waving at the start of the episode... time passes... enough time for a whole adventure... future Rory has been wiped... and Amy is STILL bloody standing there waving at the end of the story? What? Trainspotter much?

So it’s not okay to take Rory’s body with them because... well... the light is all around him... Um... but it’s okay for the Doctor to put his hand in the light, pull out a part of the exploded TARDIS and put it in his pocket for later. What the heck?

And pardon me... if the crack wiped out all the stuff that happened down there... um... shouldn’t Stephen Moore’s Silurian narrator have stopped commenting on it by the very end of the show... instead of, you know, talking about it in the past tense like he is around to remember it... and that there’s something left from the crack to remember?

Honestly... with this season of the show, Doctor Who has stopped being a family show and gone back to very firmly being a children’s programme. Why? Because only very young children are not going to notice the incredibly bad continuity errors contained in this programme. I am really surprised they’ve let it get like this. Seriously not happy. I hope there’s a way this series can be somehow retro-corrected in a later series. Am I right in thinking the ratings have been steadily dropping? This show needs to get a lot better very fast. Still holding out hope that it can do that.


Saturday 29 May 2010

Klaatu barada [•REC] 2

[•REC] 2 2010 Spain
Directed by Jaume Balagueró
and Paco Plaza
Screening at cinemas now

In the words of River Song... this blog will contain “spoilers”. Spoilers! Got that! Spoilery, spoilery spoilers.

So, if you want to go into [•REC] 2 without knowing anything about it... don’t read this page. But please, come back and read it after you’ve seen the movie? Pretty please?

OK. I really liked the first [•REC] movie, and I’ll tell you why... but first I have to say up front that, to me, like 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later, I consider [•REC] and [•REC 2] to be zombie movies. Why do I consider these films to be zombie movies? Well, firstly, they’re obviously hugely influenced by the more fashionable strand of zombie movies proliferated by directors such as Romero and Fulci. Secondly, they seem to display and play with the long established traits of the survival horror genre which traces its lineage back to those specific styles of zombie films. And thirdly because they are, in fact, reanimated corpses. You could, of course, quite legitimately argue that in this case they are demonically possessed souls out for a quick apocalypse and a friend of mine did argue just that in the pub after the movie... but let’s face it Jake, you have to be bitten and die off and be infected with the zombieistic virus before that happens so it’s still basically following the rules.

Besides which... weren’t Lamberto Bava’s Demons 1 and 2 basically just zombie movies?

Right, so now I’ve firmly established that [•REC] and [•REC] 2 both belong in my new “quasi-religious zombie” genre... I can continue my train of thought ;-)

So, as I was saying, I really liked the first [•REC] because it was a zombie movie that was, for once, actually genuinely scary. I mean lets face it, most zombie movies are really not scary movies and are presumably not designed to be. They’re basically just body-count style action movies with a little extra gore and cannibalism thrown in. And, to be fair, the [•REC] movies have their fair share of that element too... but the first one is also generally intense and scary.

Now... I hate to admit this but, the second [•REC] film is really not scary like the first one was... and it does have one terrible flaw... but other than that I have to say that I did find it really entertaining. Zombie movies may not be scary but they do have a kind of restful predictability to them so that you can let your brain relax and do some extra thinking to them.

[•REC] 2 uses exactly the same building that the crew shot in for the first one (it was used a couple of years ago in an episode of a Spanish horror TV show and it pretty much looked the same there too... think it might even have had the same directors). Anyhow, it’s pretty much been redressed to show the aftermath of the first movie. This film starts off with the army going into accompany a “doctor” into the building giving us the promise that this movie might be to [•REC] what ALIENS was to A L I E N. Thankfully it doesn’t make the same mistakes that ALIENS did and we are left with a piece of moviemaking that is still very much “low-budget independent” as opposed to Spainywood blockbuster.

At the start of the film the last shot from the first movie is replayed, giving the audience the impression that the events start a short time after. However, right near the end of the movie, just after something which is, unfortunately, way too obvious to be a proper twist is “revealed”, we find out that the time frame is actually located so that this movie starts about ten to fifteen minutes before the final scene of the last movie.

As I said, there is one really bad thing in this movie and it is this... instead of sending in a crack professional military team as the film would have you believe, they have instead sent in crappy Hollywood-movie style soldiers... that is to say, soldiers who get angry very quickly when confronted by things they don’t understand... and then make every stupid Hollywood-soldier mistake in the book and endanger all their lives needlessly because they let themselves be ruled by their emotions. Yes, these are the typical movie soldiers you would never want to accompany you for protection if you need to go into a zombie infested building.

That being said though, there is plenty to like in this movie. They’ve really played up that religious angle which they threw in for the last quarter of an hour of the first movie (and which, I am told, was eliminated from the American version) and run with it here. When the “doctor” is revealed to be a priest with the secret mission to bring back the original “possessed” childs blood so an antidote can be made, things get very interesting. Blood that reacts in a combustible fashion to the holy cross, zombies which channel the original demonically possessed girl so they can have Father Merrin-style conversations with the priest... zombies which back off when trapped by rosaries and recited religious verse. Some camera shennaniganary to demonstrate that there are two plains of existence within the penthouse of the building. You might think that the overabundance of this kind of material would spoil things somewhat but the way it is handled here is very credible and it is indeed a pretty good “take” on the merging of the zombie genre with the demonic-possession genre...

There’s a slight weak point about halfway through when the camera is killed and we resee some of the events of the last three quarters of an hour from a different perspective via a different camera following another set of characters... who then catch up to the original characters and pick up the story again... but this is just a small irritant.

The ending of the first movie gave us a strong possibility for a sequel through its last quarter of an hour. This time around the last 5 minutes provides us with a very definitive nod to a third movie with a very definite promise that things will need to be upscaled perhaps to Cloverfield proportions... so if they are planning to do a third one, well, budget wise they're going to need a bigger boat!

All in all then, [•REC] 2 is a good, solid, entertaining horror picture... so if you like that kind of thing then rush to see it!

Monday 24 May 2010

Viva Bardot! Viva Moreau! Viva Maria!

Viva Maria! 1965 France
Directed by Louise Malle
MGM (restored epilogue)
DVD Region 2

Wow! What a brilliant and stupid film!

Ok... this is directed by Louis Malle and stars French screen sirens Brigitte Bardot and Jeanne Moreau and, if that wasn’t pedigree enough... two of the assistant directors on this brilliant mess of a movie are Juan Luis Buñuel (basically, Luis Buñuel’s son) and Volker Schlöndorff (he who went on to direct some brilliant movies, among them the amazing adaptation of Gunter Grass’ The Tin Drum).

This film is just so ludicrous it would not get made today... all the more reason to watch it, say I!

After a series of flashbacks to the late nineteenth century which establish Brigitte Bardot’s childhood as an IRA terrorist who grows into someone who’s very good with explosives and weaponry in general (well... that was obviously perfect casting then) we come to her witnessing her fathers death and blowing up the people responsible as the film catches up to the first years of the twentieth century.

On the run she catches up and ingratiates herself with Jeanne Moreau’s character who is a music hall singer with a travelling music hall show (which is basically half musical revue and half circus). Since both the characters are called Maria, and since Jeanne Moreau’s partner has just committed suicide the two girls form a new musical partnership... but, on their first night performing together, they accidentally invent the striptease! Seriously, I’m not making this up. The two Maria’s take the international circuit by storm, their names adored and loved everywhere. Bardot sleeps with almost every guy she meets, including three guys all at once on the night of her “musical” debut, while Moreau seems to be holding out for someone special. She finds that someone special in the form of a revolutionary leader (played by George Hamilton who is fortunately not in the movie for very long). On his death, the girls and their travelling... well it’s pretty much a travelling circus but without the animals... get mixed up in leading the Mexican revolution and blow up and kill lots of people. The film by this point has turned into the kind of circus/spaghetti western that Gianfranco Parolini used to specialise in.

But the church get worried that their names and images are revered by the people so they kidnap and try to torture the girls under the inquisition. However their torture equipment is all rusty and disused so it keeps falling apart before they can do anything. Then the rest of the company rescues them and all the bad guys get killed... and so the girls go back to stripping (in the restored ending print) and are a massive success. The end.

Seriously... what a blindingly bizarre movie. And frankly, no matter how bad and hammy it gets in places... I could watch Brigitte Bardot and Jeanne Moreau squeeze into and out of tight corsets all day.

Outstanding and striking visual images would be the two girls in their fine dresses destructively using a gatling gun (also some iconic publicity stills of them exist doing this but not from the scene which is in the film) and a wonderful sight gag as the company cross the burning desert and come across a skeleton in a ten gallon hat still mounted on a skeleton of his horse. Great stuff.

So... bizarre and campy sixties film filled with some very surreal imagery and blatantly unsubtle camera tricks, two extremely strong and overpowering female characters, a touch of Delerue on the score and lots of shooting and explosions.

Seriously... do I need to write anymore?

The Miniatures of Mr. Moto!

Mysterious Mr. Moto 1938 US
Directed by Norman Foster
20th Century Fox DVD Region 1

Now this is more like it. An absolutely entertaining Mr. Moto movie, very much in the style of one of the Chans!

This one’s set in London and has not one bad Big Ben miniature... but two completely different Big Ben miniatures! The earlier Big Ben establishing shot has an incomplete top... like the top of Big Ben has been completely lopped off and the camera was not supposed to frame it that far up... I recognised this one from it’s later appearance in on of the Toler Chan films.

The second Big Ben has a more complete top... but gor blimey guv’na... it’s the wrong colour. A white Big Ben!

Anyway... once you’ve got over that and the fact that the studio couldn’t find any right hand drive taxis, so all the cabbies are driving ordinary, non-taxi, right hand drive vehicles... you’ll find that this is a pretty good hour and a bit’s entertainment if you’re into those old thirties detective B movies.

This Moto film includes a fight in a pub which is the exact carbon copy cliche ridden saloon fight you’d see in an old thirties Western. No furniture or bottle unbroken. People getting hit by other people before they get to bottle our “heroes”. People climbing the chandeliers for absolutely no apparent reason. Great stuff. Also features a nice high speed car chase which is pretty exciting for the time.

And Harold Huber turns up. Harold Huber! And get this... he’s not playing a comical Brooklyn cop and he’s not playing a comical French police inspector... he’s playing a villain. So instead of cracking smiles and bumbling about as usual... he pretends he’s a dead ringer for Tristran Coffin for most of the performance.

Peter Lorre is taking the role into much more of a caricature of himself by this time but it works really well and... and this was a big shock to me after the other three I recently watched... he kills nobody in this movie! Even the not too hard to spot “surprise” villain at the end gets away lightly as Mr. Moto merely beats him up and captures him... doesn’t strangle or stab him to death when no-one is looking.

This one is well recommended!

Saturday 22 May 2010

The Drills Have Eyes

Doctor Who: The Hungry Earth
Airdate: May 22nd 2010. UK. BBC1

Ok. This is probably not a review that’s going to be looked upon very favourably given some of the tweets I’ve seen flying about but... well I’m sorry... I was bound to turn up a positive review for a Doctor Who episode at some time for the current series and this one is it.

It might be that I had considerably low expectations but The Hungry Earth seemed to me to have all the hallmarks of a classic, mid-seventies Doctor Who story... but certainly not because they “revived” the Silurians. Has anyone else noticed that the current series feels very Jon Pertwee in style? The bit in this where Amy and Rory from the future (we are told, we’ll see what they do with that later I guess) are waving at themselves is typical of the Pertwee era. Remember The Doctor and Jo Grant running into themselves in one of the Dalek stories (think it might have been Day of the Daleks but don’t quote me on that... can’t quite remember).

Anyway... a refreshingly A to B storyline (which makes a change for this series and is much needed to get one’s breath back, I think). No real surprises but, then again, no real need for them. Just a clear, linear, classic Doctor Who story and the best bit, for Matt Smith, is that they get Amy Pond out of the way for most of the screen time. Yeah, yeah. I know. Amy Pond is the best companion since The Doctor took a piece of sliced bread into the TARDIS but she drowns out Matt Smith’s personality something chronic. Believe me.... if they started up a show called Time Travels With Amy Pond I would be watching it noon ‘til night. It’s not called that though... it’s called Doctor Who and with Amy out of the way, Matt Smith is really allowed quite a lot of glory on this one.

So saying, they’d better get Amy Pond into it again, pronto! She’s the best thing about the new show. And she got the best line again... “Did you just shush me?”

And the Silurians would be a good monster... except they’re SO NOT the Silurians. What happened to those great Silurians from the Pertwee and Davison eras with the third eye in the middle of their heads? First they bugger up the Daleks... now the Silurians. What’s going on!

Okay, that’s about it... not much to be said. Fully anticipate the second part next week to go back to being rubbish again. Now if I can just keep those low expectations going I might enjoy that one too!

Now I have a different dilemma however. By a really bizarre and unlikely twist of fate I have come into quite a lot of information about the penultimate episode... Pandorica Opened. Now I know stuff about... um... appearances in this episode asides from the already publicised ones that the BBC obviously don’t want the public to know yet. Including what the Pandorica is and why it is and which character in which episode (which also hasn’t been aired yet) is kinda responsible for the Pandorica in the first place. But I can’t bloody tell anyone because I don’t want to compromise anyone. So that’s out the window then. Ever have a secret you’re just itching to tell someone but you just know you really shouldn’t? Rats. I so want to give a hint but even a few words would be major spoilers.

Never mind. Not that many more weeks to go.

221 b.p.m... Baker Street

Sherlock Holmes 2009 USA
Directed by Guy Ritchie
Warner Brothers DVD Region 2

I don’t know Guy Ritchie’s films. Not seen any of them apart from this one. It came as quite a surprise to me, however, that I really liked his take on Sherlock Holmes. Holmes purists might find this version of the great detective somewhat harder to swallow than a lot of his previous screen incarnations but maybe they should go back to the original, classic pulp stories by Arthur Conan Doyle.

Watson, for example, is a lot closer to the Watson than, say, the version of him portrayed by Nigel Bruce in those classic Basil Rathbone movies. And don’t get me wrong here please... I love Nigel Bruce’s portrayal and can watch it time and time again... but that’s not really much like Watson a good deal of the time. Jude Law’s portrayal of him is somewhat closer to the original... although, as with all aspects of this movie, the usual film liberties have been taken.

Downey Jr’s portrayal of Holmes is, like most of his work, entertaining and always watchable. Downey Jr is actually a brilliant comic actor and his humourous approach informs all of his characters. His Holmes is no exception and he brings a more “human” quality to the part which might not sit too well with some members of the audience... but you can’t please everyone.

This version of Sherlock Holmes is a version which is trying to compete in a market where almost the entire output of current movie-making is action oriented. The Holmes here is a bare knuckle boxer, as he had been for a while back in the original stories, and Ritchie’s brilliance with the way to adrenalise the Holmes experience is to have a couple of scenes where you see (and hear) Holmes working out the fight in his head and each blow is seen in slow motion as he calculates what he is going to do and the probable physical and psychological damage it will do to his opponent. We then get to see it all strung together at “fast speed” in one hit. This maybe a cheap trick designed to lend a certain credence to the elevation of Sherlock Holmes as a modern action here... but honesty, for me it did the trick.

And added to all this you have a, frankly, near perfect score by Hans Zimmer. I’ve reviewed the score here... ... but it deserves another mention because it is just so catchy and infectious. He makes use of a well worn Steinerism too... which I hadn’t noticed in my initial viewing... permeating the action scenes around the Westminster area in the last twenty or so minutes of the film, he uses two long sustained sets of four notes in the baseline of the background which, if played faster, are the chimes from Big Ben. Really nice little musical joke for those of you who appreciate such things.

Performances are all wonderful... you’ll see some familiar faces here... and the obligatory action editing is nowhere near as confusing as a lot of modern action movies. Definitely a whole hearted recommendation from this quarter. The game is afoot!

Wednesday 19 May 2010

Pandorum's Box

Pandorum 2010 USA/Germany
Directed by Christian Alvart
Icon DVD Region 2

I remember seeing this movie at my local cinema towards the end of last year and getting a little disappointed that it didn’t really take you anywhere new. But, I’m a sucker for shiny objects and the 3D lenticular packaging acting as a dust cover to Pandorum’s box, aided by the not inconsiderate cheap price tag, persuaded me to take another look at this movie.

When the first trailers for Pandorum came out last year, they sold this movie as being a claustrophobic and intense sci-fi tinged horror movie... a kind of The Descent among the stars. What we have here, instead, is a horror tinged sci-fi movie. And it’s really not a bad little movie, but... well if you’ve recently seen the trailer you’ll probably remember to be anxious for the first 20 mins or so... if you’ve forgotten the trailer then it probably won’t do much for you... at least not in terms of the scare factor.

The film plays out like an overextended episode of a fairly good Doctor Who... two crew members on a starship awake from suspended animation with memory loss. One of them runs around trying to get the generator started while avoiding big ferocious aliens and forming alliances with muscly ferocious non-aliens. The other struggles with his inner demons but doesn’t realise that is what he is doing until near the end.

There’s some great camera work with lighting schemes that come straight from Mario Bava and Dario Argento as seems to be the vogue again at the moment. So some standard shots saturated in either fluorescent reds or greens which show that the director might have watched Planet of the Vampires more times than was good for him.

There’s also some nice acting on show and you do actually care about what happens to the characters in this one. However, the denouement kind of lets this one down a lot... it’s not that there’s no surprise... just a sense of “seen it all before”. Modern genre cinema at the moment seems to be continually mining and retreading old 1950s scifi stories for their premise and moviemakers might want to stop to consider that... just because special effects have moved on and they can realise these old “amazing stories” really well... doesn’t mean that they necessarily should. They’ve been done to death... as the not inconsiderate Surrogates and the excessively unnecessary Avatar recently proved.

Still, there’s some nice quirky things here hiding among the cliches (love the “laser razor blade” at the start) and if you’re a die hard fan of running down dark metallic corridors and beating up monsters with sticks... then you might like this one.

Tuesday 18 May 2010

Chasing Amy

Doctor Who: Amy’s Choice
Airdate: May 15th 2010. UK. BBC1

There you go then. This was probably the best episode to date for this series of Doctor Who. So far, so good.

Now don’t get all excited. I’m not giving it my unqualified approval... it’s definitely not the best story going and it’s, hopefully, not this years Blink or Love & Monsters. Hopefully we’ve still got that to come (fingers crossed).

I think my main pleasure at watching this episode, apart from getting to see a pregnant Amy Pond and listening to all the jokes about that, is the fact that the writer hoodwinked you into thinking that the conclusion of the episode must be a pretty humdrum affair because... well... the outcome is obvious isn’t it? The story sets our three intrepid time travellers the task of identifying and choosing between two alternative realities and the audience almost already knows that the correct version must be the version which is most like a standard Doctor Who episode format... so Amy Pond pregnant in a spooky village VS the TARDIS in space. Pretty obvious choice, yeah? Now normally I would see through this kind of writer led shilly shally and start looking for that third option... but, in my defence, when I was viewing this episode I was in the middle of suffering a terrible cold manifesting itself as a lot of coughing, a lot of sneezing, a splitting headache and limbs dull and aching... so I rest firmly in the knowledge that my mental faculties were already severely compromised and the bleeding obvious was in no way apparent to me. So when the Doctor decides to blow up the TARDIS and throws up the third option... I was at one of those whack myself on the forehead, how could I be so stupid as to miss that moments in my life. They don’t happen often... the Doctor caught me out when I was virally compromised.

So... there was some really nice stuff. The place they picked out for location shooting of the village was a really nice place... the kind of place I’d want to live, as long as it was less than an hour from the heart of London. The Dream Lord was cool and charismatic and I’d like to see more of him but, given the nature of the episode, I think he’s a little bit of a one trick pony in terms of reappearance possibilities.

Red headed Amy, as usual, stole the show and I’m really beginning to think that we may well not be seeing her as the regular companion past the end of the current season. I hope that’s not true but given the track record over the past few years of any companion who isn’t Billy Piper... coupled with the fact that her personality really drowns out The Doctor's... I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they chucked her at the seasons end and left her as the little girl version from when The Doctor first met her. Just a wild theory of mine.

And, of course, Amy gets to utter what is probably going to be the best one liner of the current series in this episode... “My boys, my poncho boys! If we’re gonna die, let’s die looking like a Peruvian folk band.”

You know I think the whole dynamic of this particular Doctor works best when Rory’s around. Pretty much following in the footsteps of the Jamie and Zoe days I think. Rory gives the Doctor a slightly knocked back personality to play off and explain things to; when you know Amy’s not going to need or want any explanation. Actually... has anyone noticed how aggressive Amy’s been getting just lately? Gets angry and growly at the drop of a hat? Moody red head on acid or is there something more here?

Okay... so what have we got next time? The first of a two parter featuring the return of the Silurians. Now honestly... I would try and get excited about this except, if the shots I’ve seen are anything to go by, they’ve redesigned them to such an extent that they don’t look anything like the Silurians. This will be their third appearance in the show to date but really! If they are going to make the Daleks look like plush toys you could grab out of a seaside crane game and they are going to make the Silurians unrecognisable as Silurians... well I’d rather they just didn’t bring back any more old monsters, thank you very much! I’m much more looking forward to Matt Smith’s Doctor meeting Katy Manning’s Jo Grant in the next series of The Sarah Jane Adventures than I am at seeing the Silurians on Saturday. And at seeing the last episode of Ashes to Ashes, since reality finally seems to be breaking down for all the “people” in the 1980s in that show. They all keep seeing stars... will they bleed it into Doctor Who? Is Sam Tyler’s sister Rose Tyler? Nah, probably not but it would make for some compelling viewing.

Oh, well. Let’s give it a chance. My expectations are so low for the next two episodes that they’ll probably turn out to be my surprise hit of the season.

Sunday 16 May 2010

Sorry People!

Hi there. Very sorry but I'm just too ill to write any new blogs today. Please check back in a couple of days... I hope to start writing and making up for the time lost this weekend as soon as I feel on the road to recovery.

I'm just in no condition to write just now but hope to be on the mend soon!

Saturday 15 May 2010

Blog Writer Struck Down: Vampire Virus

The irony doesn’t escape me that, as I write about a man who is the sole human survivor of a virus that has killed the rest of the world and left the rest of the population as vampires, I am struggling desperately to string this sentence together through all the sniffing, coughing and splitting headache that I have at the moment. I presumably don’t have the same vampire virus that kills the world off in this movie, but I can tell you now... I’m finding this hard just to find the right keys to hit... let alone focus on the screen properly. So apologies if the grammar and spelling go a bit wrong on this blog post... or at least, wronger than usual.

The Last Man on Earth 1964 Italy
Directed by Ubaldo Ragona
MGM Midnite Movies DVD Region 1

Okay... it’s been a while since I last saw this movie and the only reason I thought I’d check it out again now is because I recently... kind of accidentally... bought yet a third DVD version of it... due to it being the second half of a double bill on one of those brilliant old MGM Midnite Movies release, dual-sided flipper-discs. I desperately wanted to see Panic in Year Zero so I ended up with another digital print of Last Man by default.

The Last Man on Earth is an Italian movie and is the first of four loose “adaptations” of Richard Matheson’s excellent novel... I Am Legend... the other three being The Omega Man 1971 with Charleton Heston, I Am Omega 2007 with nobody special and I Am Legend, also 2007, with Will Smith. Out of the four of them, The Last Man on Earth is by far the most faithful to the original source novel... perhaps because, before he disowned the movie on it’s release, Matheson wrote the rejected Hammer Films screenplay on which this movie was based and is credited under a pseudonym. It has to be said though, that while this is a great little movie... The Omega Man, which throws a lot of the book out the window, is by far the most fun version.

Just in case there’s anyone left in the world who isn’t already familiar with this story, the main character played by Price is a doctor who is the last survivor of humanity (his blood is the vaccine but he hasn’t figured out why yet). By night he barricades himself in against the vampire attacks... and they are proper vampires like in the novel in this version with garlic and crosses and stakes through the heart... and tries to find any human survivors on his ham radio by day and also kills and buries vampires by day. Not realising that a group of vampires who have been working on their own cure all fear him as a monster and that he has become “Legend” to these people.

There’s not much bad that can be said about this version of the movie. Vincent Price provides a voice over narrative during most of the film as he talks to himself in his head. It’s a real tour-de-force for Price and viewers perhaps only familiar with his more “hammy” roles will be surprised to see what a great actor he really was. He really knows how to hold your attention through body language and it’s a pretty challenging role to have to carry most of the film with no large chunks of dialogue.

There’s this moment in it where you think he is going over the top and then... how to explain it... you know Kevin Smith’s Dogma. There’s a scene near the end where Ben Affleck’s fallen angel starts laughing hysterically and then it turns into tears because he is not sure if he is happy or distraught and he’s caught between these two emotions which he’s trying to express simultaneously... the point when you realise, despite contrary opinion, what a great actor Ben Affleck actually is. Well, Vincent Price got there first... he does exactly that kind of thing here... an over the top Doctor Evil laugh which turns into an absolute expression of grief and tragedy. There’s not that many actors who could really pull that off methinks.

Another thing to recommend on this movie is... you know how in those old movies you’d get a montage of the hero and heroine in love with shots of them having a good time superimposed over various places... or a montage in a hard boiled detective movie which shows the detective constantly plodding while various location names float around him... well I’ve been trying to think of another one but I reckon this is the only movie I can come up with that has a hunt and stake vampires montage done in the same tone! Anybody else know where a vampire killing montage has been attempted? I’m sure there must be one... I just can’t think of one.

There is also an almost iconic shot of Price burning bodies in a pit, wearing a gas mask to protect himself from the smoky fumes of the dead.This film really doesn’t pull any punches like a modern movie might in certain scenes. Like the scene where he sees his freshly dead young daughter thrown into that same burning pit from years before.

If you like of sci-fi movies and especially post-apocalyptic movies or just vampire movies in general... The Last Man on Earth is definitely worth at least a look. And now, having done my duty and written this... I can collapse back into bed and try to ignore this horrible virus that’s eating up my body. Thank goodness for spell checkers.

Tuesday 11 May 2010

Centipedal Force

The Human Centipede (First Phase)
2010 Netherlands
Directed by Tom Six
Six Entertainment DVD Region 0

Ok, I’ll admit it. I wasn’t that much interested in seeing this movie to be honest. I’ve been around the block a bit and I’m way jaded beyond my time and so I assumed that this film was in no way going to be anything as horrible as people were saying... and to a large extent I was right about that (seen it all before)...

However... there’s a small problem getting in the way of me dismissing this as something on a par with the grubby little j-horror clone I thought it was going to be.

If you don’t know why this movie is getting a lot of knee-jerk hype at the moment, this is the basic plot. A mad German doctor joins a Japanese guy and two all American gals backside to mouth so they make up a human centipede sharing a cobbled together digestive tract (and all that your imagination might struggle with at that last half a sentence).

I was prepared for the movie to be a bit of a “one joke repeater” in terms of it’s plot development... and yes, to be fair... it is.

But... what I wasn’t prepared for was for it to be really well acted, not terribly written and having some of the best cinematography I’ve seen in movies for a long time. Seriously, if you want to see some of the most beautiful and colourful and, frankly, very clean but not quite clinical shot composition... then take a gander at this flick. The look of it reminded me of the beauty of the design of Hal Hartley’s Simple Men or No Such Thing. You know that kind of carefree but informed look which you only get from good European cinema or independent US films?

And the lighting is fantastic too. They’ve used a suggestion of a fire and the suggestion of a swimming pool to have moving light bouncing off walls so that if a shot is in danger of being too static, you’ve got all this going on in the background. Really amazing work. Renoir filtered through Ridley Scott! And it has nice, slow, leisurely paced camerawork which slowly reveals things to you... not a shaky cam MTV job for the kiddies.

And the performances are just amazing. Dieter Laser as the “enthusiastic” Dr. Heiter, the villain of the piece, is absolutely riveting. A really interesting person to watch on screen who will have all of your attention. And the three “segments” of the centipede are all quite sympathetic characters in their own right. A little speech by the Japanese guy towards the end of the movie before he does... something which was a bit silly all things considered... and the doctors reaction to his words is truly compelling and it’s a shame there wasn’t time to see a proper dialogue between these two characters in the earlier stages of the film.

Would I recommend this film to people who are primarily interested in story as their main response to cinema? Heck no... there’s nothing you don’t know about this movie from a one sentence synopsis. You will know how it’s all going to pan out and there’s not a whole lot of variety to be had.

Would I recommend this film to lovers of cinema who don’t give a damn about the story and are more conscious of their cinematic pleasure by the way it is conveyed through the medium? Absolutely. A film for the discerning cinephile if ever there was one.

So... I don’t know who this Tom Six guy is but...

Kafka meets Cronenberg with some spit and polish so as not to dirty the camera lense... the joy of Six!

Sunday 9 May 2010

Gojira Mon Amour

Godzilla 50th Anniversary
Soundtrack Perfect Collection Box 6
Various Artists Toho Music (THM)
No: 0304 of 1954

Well. That was a bit of a monster to get through!

The sixth and final volume of Toho’s Godzilla 50th Anniversary Soundtrack Perfect Collection is finally released 6 years after the inaugural box set and, like the 4th and 5th in the series, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. This 9 disc set covers the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th films in the “third wave” of Japanese Gojira movies plus a re-issue of La La Lands 2 disc limited issue of David (007) Arnold’s score for the US Godzilla movie. Plus there’s a special bonus if you ordered your copy, along with the previous 5, from Ark Square Soundtracks in Japan... but more on that later.

The box opens strong with female composer (they’re a comparatively rare breed in soundtrack composing circles for some reason) Michiru Oshima’s pretty cool score to Godzilla X Megaguirus: The G Extermination Strategy. This is some nice work and the main theme seems to me to have a distinctly British sound to it... kind of like Goodwin’s 633 Squadron meets Knott’s Curse of the Wererabbit. It works really well as a kind of throwback to Ifikube’s old Gojira theme... which they keep splicing back into these movies anyway so it does its job.

The second score in the set, Kow Otani’s Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack is pretty ropey but this is followed by two more Michiru Oshima scores, for Godzilla X Mechagodzilla and Godzilla X Mothra X Mechagodzilla: Tokyo S.O.S which stylistically and thematically cover the same ground as her first Big G score but aren’t quite as punchy... although the latter has a couple of interesting new renditions of Akira Ifikube’s Mothra song in it.

Then we have the score I was most interested in hearing... Keith Emerson’s score (of Emerson, Lake and Palmer fame) to the last, to date, Japanese Godzilla movie... Godzilla: Final Wars. If they were to list every monster that makes an appearance in that movie (including the US Godzilla from the Emmerich production who gets demolished by the Japanese Godzilla in three seconds flat) then the title of this movie would go on for pages. Just be thankful that they called it Final Wars.

Ok, so the three Emerson discs for this score were a bit of a disappointment for me. I really admired his work on various giallo and horror scores (his score for Argento’s Inferno being a particular favourite of mine) but this one leaves me a bit cold... until you hear his original demo cues on the third disc. These have all the vibrancy and playfulness that I feel was missing in the actual score. So that third disc will definitely be getting respun in the future.

The last score is Arnold’s score for the US “reimagining” of Godzilla and all I’m saying on this one is just that it reiterates one thing really well... just how professional Arnold is as a composer when he delivers this fantastic score to a dreadful movie that didn’t deserve it. Possibly the best thing in this sixth set.

If you order the box from Ark Square in Japan and provide the numbers on your personal editions of the previous boxes, you also get a bonus Region 2 DVD of a lecture by Akira Ifikube (shame they didn’t put any subtitles on it) and some footage from some scoring sessions of Ifikube’s scores. A nice little extra for those of us who have been scraping the money together to buy these bloody expensive sets since 2004.

In summation, the sixth box set is nowhere near as consistently listenable as the Akira Iikube and Masaru Sato scores which made up the first three boxes of the 50s, 60s and 70s Godzilla films comprising the First Wave... but it’s got some nice stuff in it and if you’re a fan of the Big G’s music, probably a bit of an essential purchase.

Mr. Moto's Community Chest

Mr. Moto Takes A Chance 1938 US
Directed by Norman Foster
20th Century Fox DVD Region 1

Well this could be one of my shortest blog posts ever.

For some reason Fox, in their infinite wisdom, have decided to put the third Moto film in their second box set... which is not yet in my possession. Therefore I have to skip straight to the third disc in box one, which is the fourth in the series.

Ok, It has to be said. In my humble opinion this fourth movie might have been better entitled Mr. Moto Drags On. This film is only 63 minutes long but for the first 50 of them time crawls by slowly. Everything about this movie is duller than last weeks razor blade and the only bright spot was when the token comic relief character pegged Peter Lorre as somebody Hollywood would cast as a murderer. And like the previous two Moto films I’ve seen, the central character does do his fair share of murders... this time stabbing two guys and strangling another.

Fortunately, the last ten minutes of this movie livens up. The lacklustre writing suddenly becomes sparkling and witty for the final tommy gun battle in a temple in Angkor Wat. As brilliant as the last ten minutes are, however, it can’t save this movie from being the worst of the Mr. Moto films I’ve seen so far.

Maybe I’ve been spoilt from watching too much Charlie Chan.

Saturday 8 May 2010

Dates For Your Diary!

Midnight Media's
"London Film Collectors Fair"
Saturday 5th June 10am - 4pm
Electric Ballroom, Camden High Street
Admission £2

Ed Mason's "Collectors Film Convention"
Saturday 10th July 10am - 4pm
Central Hall, Westminster, Storey's Gate
Admission £4

London Film and Comic Con
Saturday 17th 11am - 6pm and Sunday 18th July 11am - 5pm
Earls Court 2, London
Admission £5
First guests announced...

Lady and the Vamp!

Doctor Who: The Vampires of Venice
Airdate: May 8th 2010. UK. BBC1

Another episode down. Not such a great episode but a little bit better this time around for Matt Smith I reckon.

The latest adventure sees Matt Smith's Doctor taking Amy and her fiancee on a “romantic date” on the eve before their wedding as a way of dealing with Amy’s sexual overtures from the close of last weeks episode. Instead, they get an adventure involving fish creatures posing as vampires looking to destroy Venice in its heyday in order to survive the genocide of their race via what sounds like that same old familiar crack in time which has been following “our heroes” throughout the series. Sounds like the Doctor’s going to have a lot to feel guilty about by the end of this series.

As I said before... not such a great episode. Nothing frightening or gripping or in any way intriguing... but... you have the addition of Rory, Amy’s fiance, as a new companion. And the good news is that, while he’s a solid character, has a go at the Doctor AND has some cleverly written lines... he’s no Amy Pond in the personality stakes. Now Matt Smith has someone he can play off and actually come out on top with and it does seem like his personality is finally beginning to show itself up from under the writing. Think he’s definitely an “angry” Doctor... so perhaps stretching back to William Hartnell’s portrayal in tone somewhat... who turned up in this episode in the form of an old library card of the Doctor’s. Matt Smith has been quite shouty and irate this series. Not something we’ve seen in a while as a major character trait. Think they might want to tone that down a little though if they want the character to remain popular with a generation of viewers where “anger” isn’t in fashion.

Bit, on the fence, on this episode I think.

Let’s see how it progresses.

Thursday 6 May 2010

Three Colours: Blood Red

Let The Right One In 2008 Sweden
Directed by Tomas Alfredson
Momentum DVD Region 2

Let The Right One In
Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
By Johan Söderqvist Moviescoremedia MM508022

Glad I finally caught up to the DVD release of this movie. Been a while since I saw it at the cinema and at that time I hadn’t had the benefit of having read the source novel by John Alvide Lindqvist, who also wrote the screenplay. Actually I read the novel last summer and I have to say that I’m glad I went into the movie blind. The novel was okay and the movie adaptation is not unlike the best of movie adaptations considering there were whole characters and subplots left out of the film version.

I actually prefer the movie in many respects and I think the writer and director were very wise in choosing to leave out the amount they did because, although I’m sure a lot of the excised material could have easily been accommodated in a two hour feature... you wouldn’t have been able to ramble along at the same pace that this movie has and that would have been very much to it’s detriment.

There are also things that are ever so slightly alluded to in the movie which you won’t necessarily pick up on unless you know the characters from the book and I’m pretty sure that this has been done to raise the commercial profile of the film and lessen risk at the box office more than anything else. Like the fact that as the burgeoning love affair between the twelve year old Oskar and Eli, the vampire “girl” who has been twelve years old for a great many years now, grows throughout the running time... it is not made clear that Eli is in fact a permanently young, castrated “boy” vampire who chooses to pass himself off as a girl. When Eli in the movie twice alludes that she’s “not a girl”, the general interpretation of that... with myself and the other people who I know have seen this film, is to think... no you’re not a girl, you’re a vampire. The sexual identity of the vampire is never really called into question but once you’ve read the novel these little passing references take on a more significant meaning.

It’s all pretty meaningless anyway because the film is an absolute treat for the senses. The film starts with a shot of snow so it had me right from the opening. I’m a sucker for good snow shots. But the framing and lighting and subdued colours and sheer elegance of the shot designs are nothing short of visually stunning... shot after shot after shot. They feel like they’ve been ripped ruthlessly from the lense of a Krzysztof Kieslowski movie like The Double Life of Veronique or one of his Three Colours trilogy and then delicately spliced into this little masterpiece. Alfredson is a director who’s not afraid to use long takes and to use medium and long shots as opposed to close ups to tell the story. Good for him. Characters can walk off frame or be out of focus or be seen as a reflection and the director never once flinches at going for the jugular when it comes to camera placement. The shots are deceptively simple and are just genuinely blinding. For example, there’s one where a dark green pastel room is framed by a red wall on the left and by a red chair and wall on the right... it sounds like something out of an Argento movie... but it’s closer in subtlety to something Andrei Tarkovsky or Hal Hartley or the aforementioned Krzysztof Kieslowski would have shot.

The score too, by Johan Söderqvist (which I’m listening to as I type) is a great achievement. At times subdued and spare but not afraid to swell up into a passage of orchestral beauty when the mood is called for. One of the most genuinely beautiful and intelligent scores of the last ten years. Definitely a treat for the ears and if moviescoremedia have any of their 500 limited edition CDs left, it’s worth checking out. Or you could always purchase it as a download from itunes if you are so inclined. Seriously worth a listen.

In many ways the score for this movie seems to perform the same kind of function that Zbigniew Preisner’s score used to produce for Kieslowski. And yeah, sorry to push the metaphor again but I think I’m going to have to go on record now as saying... to all fans of the genius of Polish cinema...seriously... if Krzysztof Kieslowski had ever deigned to address the subject matter of blood drinking vampires in one of his films... Let The Right One In is what it would have looked and felt like.

The UK DVD has a commentary track by both the director and the writer (who also wrote the novel). I haven’t the time to listen to this right now but you can bet that it’s worth listening to.

For anyone who is truly a fan of the art of cinema... this film will help you to remember why you fell in love with film in the first place.

Monday 3 May 2010

A talking vagina, a talking Christmas Tree and some talking animals...

42nd Street Forever Vol 5:
Alamo Drafthouse Edition 2009 US
Synapse FIlms DVD Region 1

Volume Five of 42nd Street Forever is, in fact, the sixth volume (don’t even ask) of the successful series of exploitation cinema trailer collections. I thought by now that Synapse would have run out of fiendishly entertaining trailers to really bad movies that should never have been made, especially as the last two volumes did seem to drag a little. This edition, however, has been compiled by the crew of the famous Alamo Drafthouse cinema in Austin, Texas and I’m happy to report that this edition is one of the more entertaining entries in the series and it even includes a documentary about the Alamo Drafthouse itself which is worth a watch.

Along with the trailers there are also a few old cinema ads for food but the first little advert is a real humdinger. Folks, if you want to own three minutes of a young, bearded, tennis racket wielding Charlton Heston at the peak of his career explaining to you... the parents of America... just how their screwed up ratings system works... then this is the DVD for you.

And there are some wonderfully messed up trailers for some seriously messed up films on here... Do you want to see a young woman beat up a guy in a martial arts movie to the strains of Bernard Hermmann’s overture from North By Northwest? Then check out the trailer for Sting of the Dragon Masters. Do you want to see some people “Ninja’d to death” and learn how young female Ninjas are trained in their deadly arts by having them wear bikini’s while mud wrestling? Then the trailer for “A Life Of Ninja” is for you. Do you want to see the trailer for a movie that is a remake/homage/rip-off of that French movie about the woman with the talking vagina? Chatterbox.

A science fiction/horror movie called The Terrornauts starring... Charles Hawtrey? A sex comedy murder mystery starring Rock Hudson, Angie Dickinson, Telly Savalas, Roddy McDowall and a whole bunch of naked cheerleaders called Pretty Maids All In A Row? They’re all here!

A rip-off of Ridley Scott’s Alien movie incorporating naked women raped by mutant space worms? Mindwarp is for you.

I could go on... there are over 40 entertainingly bad trailers here to some terrible movies... and I only own one of those actual movies myself (mental note to self... “So far!”).

It even has a Franco Nero trailer!

And now... a few words culled from the front cover of this DVD...

“Vigilante Killers!”... “Weird Mutants!”... “Heroes With Beards!”... “Busty Barbarians!”... “Babes and Beer!”

An obvious Christmas present then, for any pesky intellectual friends you may know! If you like trailer collections, then this is one of the good ones. Miss it at your peril!

Today’s blog is dedicated to the humble exclamation mark!

The Criterion genie out of the bottle...

The Thief of Bagdad 1940 UK/US
Produced by Alexander Korda
Criterion Edition DVD Spine No. 431
Region 1

Alexander Korda’s troubled 1940 production of The Thief of Bagdad is one of those timeless movies that you never get tired of revisiting over the years and is very much a father of the full-colour special effects movie. Many of those old effects movies had effects which, if not easy, were fairly run of the mill for black and white movies but this remake of The Thief of Bagdad developed processes to do the kinds of effects needed in colour for the first time and so this will always be an important film.

It’s also brilliant in almost every other way you can want too... shot design, colours, music, acting and screenplay are all first class. Actually, the way the action flows may well be endemic to the awful problems of struggling to get the picture completed (Korda had to go to America in the end when he ran out of money on the project... fortunately, the US realised just how brilliant the footage he already had in the can was). There is an economy to the scenes which may well be due to the limitations of the process. For instance, instead of showing the two lead characters escaping from a dungeon cell, the characters say what they are going to do and then in the next sequence they are already out and on a boat. Directors should maybe take this kind of approach more these days.

This brilliant Criterion Region 1 release has everything you would expect from a Criterion edition... a great print, a flawless transfer and a whole load of extras - a Michael Powell propaganda film made while The Thief of Bagdad was on hiatus, a documentary about the special effects featuring such luminaries as Ray Harryhausen, a radio interview with composer Miklos Rosza and one of the commentary tracks is by Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorcese... plus a few other nice extras.

All in all, the best possible DVD release so far of this classic movie. A must buy!

Sunday 2 May 2010

When dinosaurs explode...

At The Earth’s Core 1976 UK
Directed by Kevin Connor
Amicus DVD Region 2

Blimey. I remember seeing this movie at Butlin’s when I was a kid! The first, and as far as I know, only film based on the first of Edgar Rice Burrough’s seven Pellucidar novels (there was even a Tarzan At The Earth’s Core), At The Earth’s Core is in many ways a terrible movie. I loved it as a kid though and I still loved it when I watched it today... Why? Well for all the wrong reasons.

Let me tell you about this movie...

First of all it headlines Peter Cushing and Doug McClure (along with Troy Donahue, he’s one half of the composite Troy McClure character in The Simpsons... you may remember him from such films as...etc.) and the one truly great reason for watching this movie more than once... the ever so gorgeous and talented Caroline Munro! Yes, she’s fantastic!

Pete and Doug drill their giant mechanical drill machine into the earth’s crust and through to a strange underground world where you have bad rubber “Man In Suit” monsters that look less realistic than the teletubbies. I would have been embarrassed to put even one of these things up on screen. Ooh... and did I mention that the dinosaurs explode when you drop them or kill them for some strange reason. Maybe they have flammable liquids trapped in their bellies. The good guys mostly fight various reptilian creatures using back projection shots. Irritatingly, those back projection shots are really well done... which makes the fact that they’re just geezahs in terrible rubber suits even more frustrating.

Pete and Doug run away from monsters, get captured by other monsters, escape, fall in love with Caroline Munro who turns out to be a savage, tribal princess (well Doug does anyway) and then mobilise the tribe to attack the monsters and their giant, half pteradon, half man in suit boss monsters who turn out to be ruling this underground civilization by their powers of telepathy (yes that’s right, telepathic dinosaurs). Doug gets into a fight with a big dinosaur at the end to save Caroline Munroe, but luckily he is armed with a pointy stick and after he has hit the dinosaur several times... it luckily explodes! After the last dinosaur has exploded and the home of the monsters has also exploded... Pete and Doug have finally brought peace down under (literally down under) and then leave without taking the marvellous Caroline Munroe with them, who stays behind in the hopes that they will come back for her in a sequel of some kind. Alas... that was not to be.

So to summarise... this film has bad acting, big rubber monsters, young tribal ladies in various states of half undress perspiring hotly and one of them is Caroline Munro.

Reasons to watch this terrible film...

1. Well it has great lighting which is reminiscent of the late, great Mario Bava at times. Wonderful purples juxtaposed with great greens.

2. Young tribal ladies in various states of half undress perspiring hotly (see above).

3. Before becoming hypnotised by a telepathic dinosaur, Peter Cushing shouts out the truly epic line... “You can’t mesmerise me... I’m British!”

4. It’s got Caroline Munroe in it... that’s reason enough.

A truly terrible film which deserves a truly large following.


Thank You Mr. Moto 1937 US
Directed by Norman Foster
20th Century Fox DVD Region 1

Within the first 10 minutes of 20th Century Fox’s second entry into the Moto series, Thank You Mr. Moto, the title character has already viciously stabbed a man to death (he was attacked himself but the response was quite gratuitious) and buried his victim so nobody will know about it. Within another ten minutes he has stabbed to death another would be villain with some, off screen this time, innapropriately judged violence. As I said in my review of the previous Mr. Moto film... this guy is NOT Charlie Chan!

This entertaining romp through Hollywoodland studio China sees Mr. Moto on the trail of the fourth of a set of seven ancient Chinese sacred scrolls which, when placed together, will reveal the exact location of the tomb of Genghis Khan. As the viewer will soon realise, in his quest to track down the fourth scroll, and being as he is already in possession of the seventh scroll and has access to the other five, the film is actually in no way about finding the lost treasures of Genghis Khan. It is about the skullduggery and villainous shenanigans of various “interested groups” trying to obtain the scrolls and the knowledge they hold for their own purposes.

In this story, Mr. Moto is aided and abetted by various actors, half of who already played different characters in the previous film... Hollywood B-movies seemed to do a lot of that in the thirties and forties. John Carradine also turns up as a short lived, shady art dealer... looking every bit as shifty as he did when he went on to those Universal horror movies over the next decade.

The fist fight at the end of this movie... goes one step further in it’s enthusiastic execution than the previous movie did. This time we are in definitive Republic serial mode. Almost every bit of furniture in the room, plus the odd bottle, gets chucked or wasted in some fashion.

Another enjoyable Moto adventure but still not as well written as some of the other genre B-movies of the time.

Saturday 1 May 2010

While My Angel Gently Weeps

Doctor Who:
Flesh and Stone
Airdate: May 1st 2010. UK. BBC1

Woohoo. Okay, first things first. This was another thoroughly entertaining episode of Doctor Who... that’s two in a row now this season. Perhaps the show is finally getting back on track. I do have a bad thing or two to say about it but ultimately, before I do, I just want to go on record by saying that I really enjoyed it... the pacing was good and, for once in this season, the Doctor’s personality was allowed to come to the fore and he was a timelord to reckon with. Hooray.

However... there was some not so good stuff here too. First up... was that really supposed to be a revelation with River Song? I thought we were supposed to know... or at least deduce pretty quickly... that River Song had killed the Doctor off... or at least one of his lives. Thats the only way the narrative structural poetry would best work... surely... if they are both witness to each other’s death. Did they not already say she’d been in prison? And for the Doctor’s death? And here’s one for thought which is probably totally off base but I just want to throw it into the mix and see if it works... assuming that River Song is a time lord (and for the moment I am because, how else are they going to get out of the fact that she needs to get younger every time she meets the Doctor?), then is Amy Pond (which by the way might be a further Duck Pond reference from the first episode of this season) actually a future regeneration of River Song? Just a thought.

Anyway... two big problems I had with this episode and both to do with the way in which the monsters are written and both to do with certain ground rules of physics set up in the David Tennant episode Blink.

1. The human brain contains a memory image of the angels in your head when you look them in the eye... thus turning you, yourself into an angel, right? At least that’s what they’ve implied in this story. Therefore my first question is... how come Sally Sparrow and her friend didn’t turn into angels in the space of time between her meeting the angels and giving the Doctor the transcript of the conversation he needs to have with her in her past in Blink? Don’t be making up new monster rules if you’re going to screw up the past stories!

2. Ok... the angels can’t move when anything sees them because they’re quantum locked to stone when they’re being looked at, right? In fact, that’s how the Doctor defeated the angels in Blink... by dematerialising the Tardis and leaving the four angels that were around it looking at each other and thus trapping themselves, never to move again (without outside interference). Sooo... how can you have a whole army of them moving to grab Amy (moving very slowly considering they’re the fastest things in the universe I might point out) when they can all see each other? That’s rubbish... they would quantum lock each other out.

So those are my two minor gripes... looking forward to next weeks episode a lot but not as much as the one which comes after. Vampires in Venice could be good but Amy’s Choice sounds fabulous.

The Doctor is getting back on course to being essential viewing. Keeping my finger’s crossed that the next two will be really something.

Any Old Iron

Iron Man 2 2010 US
Directed by Jon Favreau
Screening at Cinemas now

Well that’s a shame. I remember a couple of years back, going to my local cinema with a friend to see the first Iron Man movie and really not expecting much from it. What was nice on that occasion is that I was blown away by it. Not because of the action scenes, which seemed a little unevenly handled to me, but because the script was just so darned good. The dialogue in the first Iron Man film is basically straight out of a 1930s screwball comedy in both tone and pacing. And to up the ante you had some first class actors like Rob Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeff Bridges to deliver these brilliant, slickly written, witty two handers. Really quality.

Cut to last Thursday. Went to see the new Iron Man sequel expecting great things from it. The end result... a movie which neither blew me away or left me feeling that satisfied.

There’s nothing really terribly wrong with it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not one of these regular sequels we seem to be getting these days that actually let down the memory of the first film like, say, The Descent Part 2 or Transformers 2. There’s a lot to like in this new movie and some nice ideas... it’s just not a great movie by any means... whereas the first one was, pretty much, “a great movie.”

So what’s wrong with it and what’s right with it? In... you know... my humble opinion.

Okay... on the good side there’s only three real action sequence set pieces. Looks like certain little corners of Hollywood are beginning to relearn that if you want an action piece to stand out and feel spectacular and exhilarating... you don’t surround it with yet more action that dulls everything down in comparison. You surround these sequences with everything but action and I have enough respect for the director/actor Jon Favreau to know he’d take this kind of approach. And putting the first real action scene straight in the middle of the track at the Monaco Grand Prix and wasting as many cars as they did gives this film a very nice, James Bond international feel.

Another good thing was Jon Favreau himself. As a director he only gave himself a few scenes as Tony Stark’s bodyguard in the first film but in this film he lets loose and gives himself a much larger role... and a brilliant fist fight intercut with a Black Widow beat-em-up fest and a nice comic pay off towards the end of the movie.

Sam Jackson is back from the last movie reprising the modern incarnation of Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D (probably better than David Hasselhoff’s version of the character from the Nick Fury movie some years back) and there are also a few other references to the Marvel universe. There are two guest “props” which make an appearance which will be seen again in two up and coming Marvel movies of the next year and which will all, ultimately, lead up to the new Avengers movie in a few years time. If you are a fan of Marvel comics characters then you will recognise them when you see them but... be warned... you will need to wait until all the end credits are played out at the end of the movie to catch a site of one of them... a reference to an upcoming Kenneth Branagh movie, no less ;-)

Right then... onto the bad.

The dialogue is not terrible... but this movie just doesn’t have the sparkling, witty dialogue which the first movie had in spades. It tries to rise above that of most other movies playing today... and in a few scenes it’s certainly elevated to something better than most... it’s just not nearly as good and so consequently falls flat.

Point 2: There’s not enough Pepper Potts in this movie. She’s barely in it compared to the first one. Perhaps that’s why the dialogue is not sparking up where it should do.

Point 3. I adore Scarlett Johanssen... in films like The Girl With A Pearl Earring, Ghost World and Vicky Christina Barcelona she rules... but she’s no Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow)... and that’s the character they’ve got her playing here. It’s not so much that she’s playing the character they’ve written here badly... it’s just that the character as written here is so much different from the character as I remember her. Plus her hair looks fake. Now it’s been some time since I read a Black Widow comic... probably not since the early to mid-seventies, but I do remember she was a very emotional, bleak, depressed and ultimately tragic character... certainly not the frigid, calculating character on show in this movie. And what’s with her “Widow’s Bites”? They can clearly be seen in some shots around her wrists where they should be but I don’t recall seeing her use them once... which might be because...

Point 4. This film is yet another casualty of modern MTV editing. The action scenes are cut so frenetically and haphazardly that you really can’t see what’s going on here... it’s just confusing. There seems to be a popular convention going on that in order for a big action scene to work it needs to be cut at a frenetic pace with no shot lasting for more than about a second and a half. That’s rubbish. Big films like the second and third movies in the modern Bourne trilogy and Quantum of Solace all seem to suffer from this... and it’s just plain confusing and in no way a substitute for a well edited action sequence. Cut it out guys!

Ok... that’s about all I have to say. If you don’t recognise the character of Rhodey in this second film, and he’s quite a major character in these films, that’s because they fired the actor from the first film because he wanted more money and replaced him with the more up-market Don Cheadle. Great actor... but wasted because he’s trying to play the character like the last guy played him... and it doesn’t quite work.

Iron Man 2 is an okayish entertainment to while away two hours of your life with... just don’t go expecting great things.

Roman' Around The Scottish Countryside

Centurion 2010 UK
Directed by Neil Marshall
Screening at Cinemas now

I’m beginning to think that British writer/director Neil Marshall is beginning to lead a bit of a charmed life... at least in respect to his amazing cinematic track record. Centurion is his fourth feature film following on the heels of his previous box office successes: Dog Soldiers (a really great werewolves VS the military movie), The Descent (a group of women trapped in an unexplored cave system trying not to be slaughtered and eaten by cave dwelling monsters movie... and one of the greatest horror movies of modern times... the cobbled together throwaway sequel did not live up to Marshall’s original) and Doomsday (a pretty good blend of Escape from New York cross pollinated with Mad Max 2 set in Scotland - a pretty solid movie with some nice, underused ideas amidst all of the familiar cliches which, perhaps, deserved to be a little better known over this side of the pond than it currently is).

His films have all done “quite well” in the UK and, apparently, quite phenomenally well in the US... making him one of our more successful exports I reckon.

Centurion is his first real stab at a non-sci-fi/non-horror movie, being as it is set in, where else, Scotland at the time nearing the end of the Roman occupation of Britain. It’s basically the story of seven Roman soldiers stuck behind enemy lines, trying to survive being hunted by ferocious Picts as they try to make their way to what turns out to be a fairly dubious definition of safety.
The film is headlined by Michael Fassbender (so good in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds), ably supported by a handful of Marshall regulars (such as the solid bear of a man, Liam Cunningham) and also... is it... yes it is... it’s Mickey from Doctor Who. Mickey Mick Mickey! Hello Mickey! Um... sorry, just had a moment there... the film also features successful writer/director Noel (alright there Mickey!) Clark as one of the Roman soldiers and as usual he does a good job... would have liked to see him used a bit more prominently but whatever. You can’t headline everybody. I’ll go and see his new film he’s written and directed in a few weeks time... he’s probably got more of a role in that one.

So anyway... where was I before somebody slipped me a Mickey (typecast muchly?)... oh yeah... Centurion is not what one might call a “woman’s movie”. There is basically not much plot (although there is a quick stab at love interest in the last half an hour of the movie to square things with the American box office) and it’s basically a movie which features lots of bloodthirsty, goriness of Romans and Picts slaughtering each other... and the occasional bit of Romans fighting amongst themselves when there’s no Picts around.

So... big on slicing and dicing, not bad on quick character sketches that let you know where you are... not so hot on story development but it’s not that kind of movie.

Couple of minor grumbles though...

Now don’t get me wrong, the handling of the “lads” in Dog Soldiers is more than enough to show that this director can write and direct perfect dialogue scenes... he’s a genius at it. Right up there with Tarantino for really connecting with his audience. However, it is my belief that Neil Marshall is, basically, a great director of silent cinema. Lots of sequences with no dialogue, beautifully handled to move the action along and no speech necessary at all. A very visual director in his approach to his craft. Which is why I was a bit miffed that he has a Michael Fassbender voice-over going on through the movie, more often than not telling you what is happening when there’s absolutely no need of any explanation whatsoever for anyone with an IQ greater than that of a lemon. It was really quite annoyingly unnecessary at times and it seemed to me that it might well have been a producers fear of leaving dialogue off for long sequences of film that we have to thank for that. Only guessing mind you. Would be interesting to know if the voice-over narrative was in the original script.

The other thing is... there were a couple of disorienting jumps in the narrative when you weren’t quite sure what was what. Little revelations like... “Oh. They obviously didn’t all run off in the same direction then because there’s only three of the in this scene” might actually have been better served with some of that annoying narrative which was strangely absent when it was needed most. In spite of what I said about Marshall’s visual genius, I feel like some of the scene transitions could have been handled a little better.

These are really minor gripes though... I thought Centurion was a great little movie which I suspect will be rediscovered (along with all of Marshall’s previous moments of cinematic genius) in a nice, big, healthy retrospective of his work some twenty years from now.

Neil Marshall...Veni, vidi, vici.