Thursday, December 29, 2016

5 things to love about The Neighbour (2016)

What’s it about:
Josh Stewart plays John, a man who lives with his girlfriend in a remote house in the woods. He makes a living changing car license plates for a low rent drug smuggling operation and has plans to run away to Mexico when he gets enough money. However, he has one problem. His neighbour who it turns out is doing something equally illegal on his property.

5 things to love:
1. The escalating tension in the first act is great. I particularly liked the way the neighbour comes over uninvited with a couple of beers and proceeds to nicely warn them to stay out of his business. I love these types of scenes in the film where characters say one thing but very obviously mean another.

2. Once again Josh Stewart is great in the lead. His weather beaten face and near constant look of fatigue really fits the character well. I’ve got to check some more of his films out.

3. The lighting really stood out. Director Marcus Dunstan is clearly getting better and better with each film. He uses lots of very vibrant blue, pink and yellow lights to keep the picture visually arresting.

4. The use of the telescope was great. Obviously, not as good as Rear Window but I’m a sucker for films that have the hero forced to use binoculars or telescopes (Someone’s Watching Me, Body Double) because it makes them really vunerable and unable to stop events.

5. There’s a neat little visual cue that’s repeatedly used in the film where it cuts to Super 8 footage. I enjoyed this and thought it could have been used a little more, perhaps during the more tense scenes to make them scarier.

1 thing it did need:
More originality. As much as I still enjoyed the film – it’s very solid – it does feel like a variation on the same themes as The Collector and The Collection. Bad guy has to save people from REALLY bad guy. I’m happy that Dunstan and Melton have dropped a lot of their usual gore but the neighbour and his secret activities aren’t anywhere near as intriguing as the collector which is a shame as it loses a lot of tension in the last third.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

5 things to love about The Collection (2012)

What’s it about:
Picking up from the previous film Arkin is released by the Collector into his latest trap/murder spree in a nightclub. He manages to escape and is taken to hospital where he is quizzed by the police. A man offers Arkin money to help him track down where the Collector lives so that he can rescue his daughter – the Collector’s latest victim. Reluctantly, Arkin agrees and together with a group of hired guns they track down the Collector’s hideout – a vast abandoned hotel.

5 things to love:
1. The film really ups the ante and has a much wider scope and scale. The writers (Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton) have clearly borrowed the blueprints of the movie Aliens. It has the same hero goes back to face villain with armed escort. And just like Aliens the hired guns are far less effective than you’d think they’d be.

2. The concept is great. I can’t believe no one’s done it before. The Collector’s hideout is basically like a serial killer’s version of the Batcave – complete with trophy cabinets and everything.

3. Needless to say the traps are even more gory and ludicrous. I won’t spoil any of them here. The film also throws in some nice twists such as a woman who the Collector has imprisoned and wants to help Arkin.

4. At just over 70 minutes this is really fast paced and doesn’t have an inch of fat. I wish more film were like this.

5. The fact you never see The Collector’s face. I thought this was incredibly well done, the camera avoids his face where he takes his mask off which means he retains and air of mystique and terror.

1 thing it did need:
Very few complaints about this film. It did exactly what I wanted it to. Maybe an extra 5 minutes to let the film breath would have been nice. The thing I really wanted is a sequel but apparently it’s highly unlikely the third film The Collected will be made.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

5 things to love about The Collector (2009)

What’s it about:
Josh Stewart plays Arkin, a thief who is masquerading as a handyman for a wealthy family. When he returns to their house at night to break into their safe he discovers that that they (and now he) have become victims of a serial killer called the Collector who follows a very particular MO. He breaks into your house, locks all the doors, sets up Saw-style traps and then waits until only one person remains alive who he bundles into a box and collects to take to the next house. Will Arkin get out alive? Will he be able to save any of the family members?

5 things to love:
1. It goes without saying but this film will primarily be of interest to Saw fans. The writers Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton wrote Saw IV,V,VI,VII and this film was intended at one point to be a Saw prequel. I was never a fan of the Saw movies at the time but I caught up with them on DVD and enjoyed how insane they got in terms of convoluted plot. The traps in this are much more simple but no less gory and squirm inducing. The worst fate actually falls to the family cat!

2. Josh Stewart is a solid leading man. He’s got this tired, worn out face that really suits the character he plays. His character Arkin is resourceful and smart which makes a refreshing change from the usual stupid protagonists you get in horror films.

3. The film is really nicely shot considering its tiny budget £3million budget. There’s some really good camerawork. I particularly liked early on when the Collector and Arkin don’t know the other one is in the house and the camera looks down from overhead as they go in and out the rooms.

4. The film does a nice fake out ending where the hero escapes only to realise he has to go back in. I know this type of stuff annoys some horror fans but I enjoyed it. (Look out for the humorous alternate ending on the DVD).

5. The Collector is a pretty memorable villain. He doesn’t speak and is only seen wearing his black mask but his viciousness and seemingly indestructibility make him stick in your mind after the film is over.

1 thing it did need:
An explanation for how the Collector managed to set up some many elaborate traps in the house in such a short space of time. It’s a big plot hole that the movie asks you to swallow. It would have been good if there was some kind of explanation.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

5 things to love about The Spirit (2008)

What’s it about:
Frank Miller adapts Will Eisner’s classic 1940s comic book hero. Gabriel Macht plays The Spirit (aka Denny Colt), a masked avenger who helps out the police to protect his beloved Central City. One night, he interrupts his arch-enemy The Octopus (Samuel L Jackson) who is buying a mysterious box from a thief called Sand Serif. Of course, Sand is a childhood friend of Denny's who turned to crime, can The Spirit turn her back to being good, and will he be able to stop The Octopus’ master plan?This film was pretty poorly received at the time but I kind of enjoyed catching up with it recently. 

5 things to love:
1. The film uses a similar stylised black and white look that Robert Rodriguez employed on Sin City (which Frank Miller co-directed). It’s a gorgeous look and really enhances the film. Don’t expect any of the same crazy levels of violence as Sin City though this is very PG-13.

2. The film has a goofy screwball sense of humour. I think this put a lot of people off but I found it refreshing. Audiences don’t like seeing superhero be goofy. The Spirit goes back and forth between seriousness and silliness. At one point the Spirit is hanging off a building by his coat when his trousers fall down exposing his boxer shorts. Think more 60s Batman than Nolan’s Batman.

3. Frank Miller’s comic book experience means that he sets up a lot of shots as if they are comic book panels. Very dynamic shot selection. One of my favourites was that often when the Spirit fights someone he punches them off screen and you see his shadow beating them up on the wall. The film also, I feel, is Miller trying to draw some larger themes about comic book heroes and villains and how one creates the other and then they proceed to fight each other in a never-ending battle.

4. The eye candy in this film is off the charts. Eva Mendes, in particular, as Sand Serif has never looked hotter. The part where she photocopies her ass is amazing.

5. It’s a very bold film and doesn’t try to go down the same routes as other superhero hero films. It’s a crazy, weird, strange story. And given how similar so many superhero movies have become it's refreshing to see something that goes off the rails.

1 thing it did need:
This film had a number of problems. The acting is so large and broad it makes the film feel cheap. I think the whole thing could have been remedied somewhat if there was a better actor in the lead. I thought Gabriel Macht did well but it really needed someone with star quality to take control of the material. Johnny Depp maybe?

Thursday, December 1, 2016

5 things to love about The 13th Warrior (1999)

What’s it about:
In the 900s an Arabian court poet, Ahmad ibn Fadlan (Antonio Banderas), is banished from Baghdad and sets out northwards. He meets up with and agrees to join a group of Vikings led by Buliwyf (as the titular 13th warrior) as they head out to protect a village that is being attacked by a vicious creature called the Wendol. Sound vaguely familiar? Yes, it’s basically the story of Beowulf told from an outsider's perspective. Based on the novel Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton, it tries to make a realistic origin for the fantastical tale.

5 things to love:
1. The reveal of the Wendol is fantastic. I won’t spoil it here but it’s a pretty good concept that works great visually. The first time you see the creature winding down the side of the mountain is awesome.

2. There’s a great central performance by Antonio Banderas playing Ahmad (one of the few positive Arabian character in a US film). The only downside is that the film can’t, by its nature, make him take the lead. Having him chronicle the adventure works perfectly in the book but it’s a little strange to have the protagonist be so sidelined in a film.

3. The film has great little bits of detail about certain Viking rituals which I’m sure are taken from Crichton’s novel. Crichton was always a stickler for filling his novels with as many facts as possible. One particularly interesting (though slightly unbelievable) bit is that initially Ahmad is speaking English (for the audience) and the Vikings are speaking un-subtitled Norwegian (I think) and then slowly, as Ahmad picks up their language, they start speaking English too.

4. The storming of the Wendol’s lair is a great set piece. The Viking group basically have to sneak into an elaborate cave system and abseil down a huge internal waterfall. It’s tense and very well directed by John McTiernan (and a little reminiscent of Predator which is never a bad thing).

5. Lastly, you’ve got to love that the film doesn’t shy away from some strong bloody violence and has some big, epic, practical sets. 1999 was a bit of watershed, most films this size would subsequently be made with CGI and be 12A rated (see The Mummy, also 1999).

1 thing it didn’t need:
The film suffered from some reshoots by Crichton rather than McTiernan which maybe(?) improved the film from its initial rough cut (I don’t know, it’s not available) but give the film a very disjointed feeling. You can especially tell that the ending was a hurried reshoot. It’s a shame because it spoils an otherwise solid film.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

5 things to love about Green Room (2015)

What’s it about:
A small time punk band called the Ain’t Rights are touring the US playing crappy bars and it’s not going well. They are flat broke and, desperate for a payday, they agree to play a neo-Nazi club in the middle of the woods. Though the concert goes okay afterwards one of them goes back to the green room to get their phone and they witness the aftermath of a murder. The band lock themselves in the room while the neo Nazis (led by Patrick Stewart) try to lure them out so they can kill them.

5 things to love:
1. How good is the premise for this movie? Neo-Nazis scare the hell out of me. For the first two thirds the film is super tense and unpredictable. The idea of a left leaning punk band playing a right wing punk club is highly believable. There’s a great irony that the band are in-your-face on stage but frightened and weak later on.

2. Like Blue Ruin, the film doesn’t make either the heroes or the villains superhuman. They both screw up, they are both weak, they are both resourceful. A lot of people call Green Room a "horror movie" but I think that does it a disservice. The director’s goal isn’t to take you on a rollercoaster, it’s setting up a scenario and watch it play out as messily and realistically as possible.

3. Anton Yelchin gives a great performance as Pat, the bassist. Such a shame he died just after the film was released. It’s easy to hype up an actor’s performance when they die but I genuinely think this particular role plays to all his strengths as an actor.

4. Again, the cinematography is great. There’s a sickly, oppressive green filter throughout the film which really sets the tone.

5. Having pretty much only known Patrick Stewart from Star Trek and X-Men I had reservations about his ability to play a neo-Nazi leader but he’s actually pretty good and disappears into the role. I won’t say it’s a stunning performance but it works. He’s actually most intimidating when you just hear his voice talking to the band from outside the door.

1 thing it didn’t need:
For me, the film went downhill a little in the last third. There’s a part in the film about halfway through where Anton Yelchin starts giving a speech but gets cut off by one of his friends. I was really glad because “the rallying speech” is such a movie cliché – one of the characters even says “Is that a pep talk?”. I was really hoping he wouldn’t finish it but towards the end of the film he does. I was a little disappointed about that.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

5 things to love about Blue Ruin (2013)

What’s it about:
Macon Blair plays Dwight, a man so emotional crippled by deaths of his parents he has been living out of his car by the beach for years. When he learns that his parents’ killer Wade Cleland is being released from jail he decided to take the law into his own hands and kill him. However, Dwight is way, way out of his depth and cannot quite understand the circle of violence he’s started.

5 things to love:
1. The film has a refreshingly un-macho atmosphere considering it sort of belongs in the vigilante/thriller territory. Dwight isn’t Charles Bronson. He’s just an ordinary guy who reacts, screws up and gets hurt just as anyone would. It makes the whole movie a really tense experience because his character is so fragile and unskilled. He’s expertly played by Macon Blair.*

2. The other great performance is Devin Ratray (Buzz from Home Alone!) who plays Dwight gun-toting childhood friend. He’s perfectly cast and does a great job with just a handful of scenes. The quiet, low-key way he helps out Dwight is really touching – not because they seem like great friends, but because he just seems to want to do anything to feel alive.

3. Although the film is very downbeat it’s peppered with moments of dark comedy. For instance, Dwight confesses to his sister in a roadside diner that he’s just murdered someone and gets interrupted by a guy on the opposite table who asks him to pass the ketchup. It’s the kind of humour that accentuates the mundanity of murder.

4. The film’s best sequence is the sparse, wordless opening 20 minutes where we follow Dwight around his ‘normal’ routine – eating out of dumpsters, selling cans, breaking into houses to have a bath etc. The film similarly concludes on a wordless series of sequences where Dwight sits around a house waiting for his enemies to come to him. It gives the film a nice symmetry.

5. The film has great washed out, blue cinematography throughout which really sets the tone, highlighting the cold, uncaring world the characters inhabit.

1 thing it didn’t need:
Honestly, it was really hard to find fault with this one. I guess, the only point I can think of (and it is nit-picking) is that the film didn’t quite have enough plot for 90 minutes and either needed something more or 10 minutes less.
* Don’t think about how much he looks like Joe Lo Truglio from Brooklyn Nine Nine or it may ruin the film. Luckily I didn’t realise until after.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

5 things to love about Leif Jonker’s Darkness (1993)

What’s it about:
A young man called Toby joins forces with a group of teenagers after they return from a concert to discover their parents have been murdered by a group of roaming vampires who are travelling from town to town. They set out to track the vampires down and destroy them once and for all. The whole thing is shot on Super 8 over the course of 2 and half years and had a budget of $5000.

5 things to love:
1. The gore is the main reason to watch this film. It isn’t perfect (at times it’s obvious they haven’t mixed the fake blood right and it looks too pink and watery) but they really go for it in terms of quantity. The interesting idea with the vampires in this film is that they attack in groups and don’t bite necks, they tear into victims and let blood spray everywhere. The film also ends in a spectacular climax where a huge group of vampires get caught in the sunlight causing them to melt and explode.

2. The opening of the film is probably the best scene of the whole film. It’s a great set up for a film. A guy covered in blood runs into a gas station and starts raving about vampires to all the patrons inside. It’s tense, mysterious, fast-paced and is a fantastic opening.

3. The movie has a lot of low budget ingenuity. I was genuinely impressed that, given the miniscule budget, they had a lot of outdoor scenes and a lengthy sequence involving a guy wielding a chainsaw.

4. The film has a really good pace and gets pretty intense in places. As I said, the budget is tiny but there’s some well-directed sequences of people getting chased through the streets at night by vampires.

5. In terms of innovative ways of killing vampires I’ve never seen anything as genius as the scene where Toby leads a group of vampires through a river and then turns around and blesses the water!

1 thing it didn’t need:
Constant metal score. Just my personal taste. I get that horror and metal seem to go hand in hand but it hurt the atmosphere this film was trying to build up.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Review of John Carpenter Live at the Troxy, London – 31st October 2016

I’m a huge John Carpenter fan. I’ve got a books, CDs, posters and DVD collection of every film he’s ever been involved with from Dark Star to The Ward with everything – and I mean everything – he’s even tangentially been involved in (Vampires: Los Muertos (urgh), Black Moon Rising (okay), El Diablo (still need to see)). 

I was a little hesitant when it was announced a few years back that Carpenter was going to release new music but thankfully when I got round to listening to them I thought Lost Themes 1 & 2 were both very good synth albums whose only problem was that there wasn't a kickass movie to accompany them and firmly place the songs in your brain.

When I found out he was touring to the UK playing the themes from his films and recent albums Lost Themes 1 & 2, I knew I had to get tickets. After all, he was playing on October 31st and what better way to spend Halloween than listening to the director of Halloween playing the theme from Halloween. With it being Oct 31st the venue suggested fancy dress so I decided to go as a combination of three Kurt Russell characters – Jack Burton, Snake Plissken and RJ Macready (see photo – I’m on the right).

The venue was the Troxy in London – a large old fashioned theatre with a seated upper circle and standing room on the ground floor. Me and my friend Mitch got there around 8 but still managed to get comfortably close to the front. There were a few good cosplay entries from people that put in more time and effort than me – a few Jack Burtons (easy – just need the vest), a couple of Michael Myers, a handful of Snake Plisskens, and some guys wearing full on They Live masks (true dedication given the hot and sweaty atmosphere in the venue).
Around 8.30 the band came on. John dressed completely black, thick framed glasses, his long white hair tied back in a ponytail. He seemed in very high spirits, bopping over to his keyboard in the centre of the stage. Throughout the show he'd continue bopping along in the same 'don't give a shit' attitude of his anti-authoritian characters. As to be expected he was a man of few words, never saying more than a one brief sentence to introduce each song, but he seemed very comfortable and happy to be on stage. 

The band consisted of 3 guitarists, 1 drummer, John on keyboard and his son Cody on dual keyboard to the side. They kicked off with the theme from Escape from New York which I loved – it’s my favourite track he’s ever done – but I was a bit disappointed that he’d began with his high point rather than built up to it. Still the rest of the concert was good and the band flitted back and forth between film themes and Lost Themes.
The backdrop to the stage was a huge white screen which projected clips from the films he was playing. It was a good idea and the crowd lapped it up. There were whoops and hollers when certain people and scenes showed up. The first shot of Kurt Russell as Snake got a cheer which was to be expected but so did the first shot of Adrienne Barbeau in The Fog which I thought was a little odd but nice. The whole band put on sunglasses for the theme to They Live which was a fun touch and got a laugh from the audience.

Obviously with Carpenter being accompanied by a full rock band the movie themes were a little rockier and edgier than the original versions but I was happy with their fidelity.

The only thing I wished he had played but didn't was the song 'Big Trouble in Little China' – that would have brought the house down – but I guess he considers it a Coup De Villes song maybe. It seemed a much more obvious choice for an encore than Christine.
The tracks from Lost Themes slotted in fairly well. Unfortunately they didn’t have any clips to play for them which slightly diminished the theatricality when they played them (could they not have used clips from the music videos they did?). I think 'Night' was the only one that struggled to work because it’s such a minimalist song and basically the band sat back while lead guitarist Daniel Davies had to solo the whole song. 4 minutes is an awful long time for anyone (other than Pete Townshend) to do a guitar solo. 

Still all in all, it was a great show and I’m glad I went. If nothing else I'll never forget looking over the crowd when 'Halloween' was playing and seeing Michael Myers nodding along to it. It was like a surreal meta moment worthy of In the Mouth of MadnessI have a feeling Carpenter may have found a second career and I’m willing to bet he’ll come round again when Lost Themes III comes out.
Set list:
1. Escape From New York: Main Title
2. Assault on Precinct 13: Main Title
3. Vortex (from Lost Themes)
4. Mystery (from Lost Themes)
5. The Fog: Main Title Theme
6. They Live: Coming to L.A.
7. The Thing: Main Theme – Desolation (Ennio Morricone cover)
8. Distant Dream (from Lost Themes II)
9. Big Trouble in Little China: Pork Chop Express
10. Wraith (from Lost Themes)
11. Night (from Lost Themes)
12. Halloween Theme – Main Title
13. In the Mouth of Madness: In the Mouth of Madness
14. Prince of Darkness: Darkness Begins
15. Virtual Survivor (from Lost Themes II)
16. Purgatory (from Lost Themes)
17. Christine: Christine Attacks (Plymouth Fury)

Thursday, October 27, 2016

5 things to love about Tuff Turf (1985)

What’s it about:
James Spader plays Morgan Hiller, a new kid at an inner city school. He falls foul of a rough gang of students led by Nick (Paul Mones) first by foiling a mugging and later by romantically pursuing Nick’s girlfriend Frankie (Kim Richards). Basically, it’s like a John Hughes movie gone bad! The tone of the film is all over the place but that’s part of what makes it so enjoyable.

5 things to love:
1 I think the biggest thing I took away from this film is how awesome the Jim Carroll Band are. They use three tracks from Carroll’s 1980 album Catholic Boy – ‘Voices’, ‘It’s Too Late’ and the amazing ‘People Who Died’. The rest of the soundtrack is an awkward mix of bubblegum pop ‘Breakin’ the Rules (What Do You Do When Opposites Attract)’by Lene Lovich and a collection of 60s R&B covers from Jack Mack and the Heart Attack.

2 James Spader more often than not plays either out and out assholes (Less Than Zero, Pretty in Pink) or dark and eccentric characters (Crash, Secretary). It’s pretty rare that he plays a straight forward hero. I don’t really think it’s terribly suitable for the role of Morgan Hiller but it’s fun to see him playing a good guy for change.

3 So, apparently, it was only decided after the script was written and the film was prepped that they wanted to up the music and dance elements (to compete with Footloose). As a consequence, there’s a number of lengthy dance sequences in the film. The best (or worst depending on your opinion) is Kim Richards’ go for broke dance sequence. Watch it here.
4 Another awkward addition is James Spader’s impromptu song that he serenades his friends with when they crash a country club dinner. Again, simultaneously terrible and awesome. Watch it here.
I’m sorry to report that isn’t Spader singing and the song isn’t on the soundtrack.

5 The last great thing about the film is we get a young Robert Downey Jr playing Spader’s friend Jimmy. This was the first time they acted together (see also: Less Than Zero and Avengers: Age of Ultron). He gives a memorable performance, spending most of the film not wearing a shirt.

1 thing it didn’t need:
At 1 hour 50 minutes, this film is way too long. There’s not enough plot to sustain that runtime. Had this been a shorter film I think it would be more memorable. Still, for 80s nostalgists this is definitely a film to visit when you’ve worn out your John Hughes tapes.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

5 Batman movie audiobooks reviewed

I’m a huge Batman fan and I collect a lot of stuff from the movies – particularly the Burton and Schumacher ones that I grew up with.

I always used to hate movie novelisations as a kid and found them pointless. I’d usually have the film on video and couldn’t understand the point of reading a long, slow, duller version where I had to build the image up in my head.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve had a lot of nostalgia for stuff from my youth and I recently purchased a lot of Batman novelisation audiobooks off eBay (curse you eBay) and transferred them from tape to mp3. Here’s my thoughts:-

Batman (1989) read by Roddy McDowall
At around 90 minutes this is a little shorter than the movie it’s based on. Roddy McDowell is a nice choice given that he played the Bookworm in the 60s series and voiced the Mad Hatter in the animated show. His high pitched, slightly camp voice makes him more suitable for the Joker and Vicki Vale than he does for Bruce Wayne and Batman. It’s not an especially dynamic reading and definitely could have been improved. It sounds a lot like McDowall is reading his lines for the first time. Overall, it’s fine but no real surprises or additional scenes.

Batman (1989) novelisation read by Nathan Pierce (unofficial release 2016)
This is an unofficial recording made by a YouTube group called Audiobooks for the Damned who record themselves reading old movie novelisations unabridged. At 5 and a half hours this is very slow compared to the movie. It’s a straight read through of the novelisation by Craig Shaw Gardner. Hilariously it’s unedited and a few times Nathan slips up and swears to himself. Don’t let your kids listen to this. One interesting element is that it includes one of the cut subplots from the film in which the Joker defaces a statue of John T Gotham (the founder of the city) with his own face. If you go looking through some background material on the film you will find that they did build this statue but never shot the unveiling scene.

Batman Returns (1992) read by Michael Murphy
NOTE: No youtube version of this. You’ll have to find the tape.
Spread over 2 tapes this is around 2 and half hour. A little more than the film’s runtime. Michael Murphy plays the role of the mayor in the movie. He’s actually really good and has a much more suitable voice for Bruce Wayne and Batman. Again, no major additions here though there are one or two extra sleazy puns from the Penguin. This is actually really enjoyable and probably the most recommended of all the audiobooks.

Batman Forever (1995) read by René Auberjonois
Again, this uses one of the cast. Auberjonois played the small role of Dr Burton in the film. He’s a decent narrator but like McDowall suits the villains more than the title hero. A few extra lines here and there. Strangely, it begins with a flashback of Edward Nygma being bullied as a kid at school and vowing one day he’ll get his revenge. I’ve always wondered if this was ever part of the script. Overall, a good reading and at 2 and half hours, it’s about the right length. One thing I always liked is that it opens with Danny Elfman’s superior score rather than Elliot Goldenthal’s.

Batman & Robin (1997) An Audio Action Adventure
This one is the odd duck. Rather than have someone narrate the novelisation they chose to do it as a radio play with sound effects. The voice artists, uncredited, are super cheesy and very over the top (not unlike the movie). The recording also boasts “special 3D sound effects” which are really grating. It even drops the Elliot Goldenthal score for some cheesy stock library music. It’s a real dud. The only saving grace is that it’s 35 minutes.

That’s all for now. Expect some more Batman-related stuff in the future.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

3 most devastating dad deaths in movies

I know, I know. Why the hell are you writing about such a morbid topic? The answer is I don't know, it's just something I have to get off my chest. I'm rarely affected by movies but for some reason scenes involving fathers dying just devastate me.

(SPOILERS... obviously)
Big Fish (2003)
What happens:
Will is sitting at his father’s side at hospital. He’s spent his life frustrated by his father’s infidelity and penchant for telling fantastical tales rather than the truth about his life. As his father dies he asks Will to tell him a story. Seeing his father has little time left Will spins a yarn about them escaping the hospital and driving out to the lake where his father transforms into a fish and swims off.

What’s really going on:
What makes this such an effective scene is that there’s a dual layer to it. There’s the reality of the situation and the fantasy of Will’s story. One is tragic while the other is triumphant. And most importantly, it’s Will, who has spent the whole film rolling his eyes at his father’s stories, is the one who spins the most fantastic tale of them all. It rings so true that as much as you try not to be your father, inevitably, there is a lot that connects you.
Tron: Legacy (2010)
What happens:
Kevin Flynn, who has been locked in the computer world of ‘the Grid’ for 30 years, has gotten his son Sam to the portal to the real world. Standing between them is Clu, a computer programme modelled on a younger version of Flynn who has gone rogue who wants to stop Sam. Flynn calls on some mysterious force, pulls Clu back towards him and he and Clu merge before exploding in a burst of light.

What’s really going on:
Tron: Legacy – a film a lot of people were fairly cool on (Daft Punk score withstanding) – is actually a really effective film. It’s about an errant father who has missed his son growing up. Yeah, technically Flynn was locked in ‘the Grid’ but really that’s just a metaphor for the way fathers get obsessed with work and other commitments and miss out of their children growing up. The end of Tron: Legacy is Flynn realising he hasn’t been there for his son and that rather than force a reconnection he should step back and let his son grow up.
Man of Steel (2013)
What happens:
Jonathan Kent has spent years telling his adopted alien son Clark not to show the world his superpowers. When their car breaks down and a hurricane swirls in, Jonathan rushes back to the car to rescue his dog. He twists his leg in the process and is forced to accept that he cannot get out of the way of the hurricane. Though Clark could save him Jonathan holds out his hand to tell him no.

What’s really going on:
There’s two things going on underneath this scene. The first is Jonathan is saving someone – something that Clark will later do lots of when he become Superman. I always thought it was kind of silly that it was saving a dog but on reflection it makes his death all the more tragic and mundane. The second layer is that Jonathan is staying true to his beliefs that Clark shouldn’t show his powers. Again, a lot of critics and fans had a problem with this but as a father of 1 (and 2 more due next year!) I can totally understand his reasoning. Sure you want your son to exceptional but not at the expense of being a freak. I think what Jonathan Kent really wanted for his son was normal life.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

5 things to love about Cat People (1982)

What’s it about:
Natassia Kinski plays a young woman who reunites with her long lost brother in New Orleans. She falls in love with the curator at a local zoo. She slowly begins to realise that she and her brother are shapeshifters who turn into panthers when sexually aroused.

5 things to love:
1. The score by Giorgio Moroder score is a synth masterpiece. Just listen to the “Leopard Tree Dream” or the title song “Putting Out Fire that he wrote with David Bowie.
2. The tone of the film is fantastic. I mean it’s a deeply, deeply silly concept but writer/director Paul Schrader takes it utterly seriously and the whole thing feels like some half remembered dream.

3. The performances are all great and contrast really well. Malcolm McDowell could play crazy in his sleep. John Heard (best known as the dad in Home Alone) meanwhile gives a super intense performance reminiscent of William Peterson.

4. Though there’s no huge set pieces, the swimming pool sequence stands out as a super tense scene (it’s borrowed from the original 1942 film). Annette O’Toole strips off and dives into a swimming pool when she thinks she hears a panther. The lights go out and she’s left treading water in the middle of the pool, too scared to get out.

5. The transformation sequences are bizarre and totally unique. Most of it occurs off screen but once or twice you get glimpses and rather than it being the cat people morphing into panthers, instead panthers burst out of them leaving behind an outer shell of human skin!

1 thing it did need:
A better ending. Don’t get me wrong the ending is has is okay but I was hoping for something a bit more climatic and shocking.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

5 things to love about Extreme Heist aka Wicked Game (2002)

What’s it about:
Ex-Power Rangers actors Johnny Yong Bosch and Jason Narvy play a couple of criminals who stumble across a money laundering enterprise and steal a huge amount of money. Together with a FBI agent they must stay one step ahead of the cartel who want their money back.

5 things to love:
1. The stunts. My word, this film puts a lot of big budget films to shame. All the stuntmen throw themselves around with complete disregard for safety. People jump out of planes, off cars, down stairs, off roofs. At time it feels like a stunt show. A few bits look faked but most of it looks very painful and very dangerous. It’s akin to watching an episode of Jackass in places. Take a look at this sequence:-

2. Johnny Yong Bosch (terrible haircut aside) gives a fun, light-hearted performance and has a great rapport with Jason Narvy. Both of them aren’t great actors by any stretch of the imagination but the friendship between them both is palpable. Bosch I feel could have maybe given Mark Dacascos a run for his money if he’d been given a few more roles.

3. The plane scene. Okay, now I’m getting into spoiler territory. The film begins with a skydiving sequence (that’s shot for real, no blue screens here) and I sat there thing, okay so that’s cool. But then at the end Bosch and the main villain jump out of a plane together with one parachute and fight over it as they fall. It’s a sequence I’ve seen in other films (Point Break, Eraser, Terminal Velocity) only this time it’s a genuine sequence with no digital trickery. It made the whole thing really exciting to watch.

4. A lot of films have terrible ideas of how computers work and how you make money transfers but this one takes the cake. Everyone seems to be using technology from early 90s.

5. I’m a fan of the original Power Rangers TV show (it was a gateway drug for a lot of Japanese media) and it was great to see a cameo from Paul Schrier (Bulk from Power Rangers) playing the owner of a restaurant. He and Narvy (who played Skulk) give each other a knowing look which made me smile.

1 thing it did need:
Better cameras. The whole thing looks like it was shot on MiniDV and it’s super grainy. Had they got a better DOP and budget this might have been a cult classic. As it is it’s too ugly and rough around the edges for most viewers. I loved it though.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

5 things to love about Doctor Mordrid (1992)

What’s it about:
Jeffrey Combs plays Doctor Mordrid (a thinly veiled version of Marvel’s Doctor Strange) a powerful sorcerer who protects Earth from supernatural threats under the guise of being a criminal psychologist. An evil villain called Kabal wants to find the Philopsher’s Stone and unleash monsters from the fourth dimension on to Earth. Only Mordrid and his neighbour Samantha can stop him.

5 things to love:
1. The cast is top notch. Jeffrey Combs is clearly relishing the opportunity to play a rare heroic role. Brian Thompson as the bad guy is suitably intimidating and Yvette Nipar (who co-starred in the 90s Robocop TV series) is at peak hotness.

2. The production design of Mordrid’s apartment is awesome and clearly where most of the budget went to.

3. The climatic fight between Mordrid and Kabal takes place in a museum where they both take control of dinosaur skeletons who proceed to battle it out. It’s a short sequence but lovingly composed by Dave Allen who also did the effects on other Charles Band produced films like Robot Jox and Prehysteria.

4. Spotting where writer C Courtney Joyner has ‘borrowed’ from the Marvel comic Doctor Strange. Apparently the script was originally supposed to be Doctor Strange but the rights elapsed so they just tweaked the story.

5. The scale of the story. Comparing this to most blockbusters nowadays it’s kind of awesome how small and intimate it is compared to X-Men Apocalypse and Batman v Superman.

1 thing it did need:
More for Brian Thompson to do. He doesn’t really have a lot of screen time and at 74 minutes the running time could have been padded out a little more.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

5 things to love about Shopping (1994)

What’s it about:
Jude Law plays a criminal who is released from prison and quickly returns to a life of crime stealing cars and ram-raiding with his girlfriend. However he incurs the wrath of local crime boss Sean Pertwee who feels he is encroaching on his territory.

5 things to love:
1. The cinematography is really good for such an obviously low budget film. This was Paul W S Anderson’s debut film* and although it never quite comes together there are some fantastically creative shots throughout the film.

2. Although not “top tier” the soundtrack for the film is pretty great. My favourites were Utah Saints – ‘I Have Something to Say’ (which sadly removes the Highlander dialogue sample), Orbital – ‘Halcyon+On+On’ and The Sabres of Paradise – ‘Theme’.

3. The cast is like a who’s who of British actors. Jude Law, Sean Pertwee, Jason Isaacs, Sean Bean, Jonathan Pryce. I can’t say they are great performances, the script is too stilted and stylised, but it’s fun to see a lot of them in early roles.

4. I liked what the film was trying to be. A sort of A Clockwork Orange for the 90s. It doesn’t succeed but I appreciate the effort. The way Anderson sets the film in ruined buildings, tower blocks and empty streets had a powerful vibe.

5. Lastly, you’ve got to love the terrible 90s clothing that everyone wears. If you didn’t live through the 90s you won’t understand.

1 it didn’t need:
There’s a lots about this film that doesn’t work – Jude Law is very, very hard to take as a working class thief – but the thing that brings the film to a grinding halt every time is Sadie Frost awful performance as Law’s girlfriend Jo.

* Full disclosure: I don’t think Paul Anderson’s a terrible director and enjoy almost all his films (bar AVP) on a turn your brain off and have fun-level

Thursday, September 8, 2016

5 things to love about Wolfen (1981)

What’s it about:
Albert Finney is a New York cop tasked with investigating the brutal murder of a real estate tycoon and his wife. All the clues point to the killer being a group of wolves, possibly even werewolves(!), who are hiding out in the ruins of the Bronx.

5 things to love:
1. The POV shots in the film are really well done. It’s similar to Predator but rather than pixelated bright colour it’s done with an effect I’ve never seen before. It sort of inverts certain colours. The camerawork in these sequences are super smooth. There’s a part where it ascends a spiral staircase that I can’t figure out how they did so well. It’s mesmerising.

2. The setting is also very cool. A lot of it is shot in the ruins of New York’s Bronx district. I’ve seen glimpses of this period before but never in such detail. Rubble strewn blocks with single burnt out buildings still standing. It all looks amazing. Hats off to cinematographer Gerry Fisher (Highlander, Exorcist III).

3. At one point Finney’s character climbs the Brooklyn Bridge to talk to a group of Native American construction workers. It’s a super tense scene with Finney using safety lines to secure himself. You can tell they didn't fake this.

4. The film is full of great performances: Gregory Hines as a morgue attendant, Tom Noonan as an animal expert but far and away the most memorable is Edward James Olmos who gives a crazy and ballsy performance - both figuratively and literally - as at one point he runs around a beach naked at night pretending to be a werewolf.

5. Though the film is very down to earth and realistic for most of the running time it occasionally bursts into flurries of super insane violence. At one point, a wolf bites a man’s head clean off. The head falls to the floor and the man is still able to blink for a few seconds before the car next to his body explodes!

1 thing it didn’t need:
The sex scene between Albert Finney and his love interest. No thanks, didn’t need to see that.