Friday, 22 June 2018

A Real Friend (2006)

Estrella is a socially awkward girl of about 10-12 years age.  She lives with her widowed mother in an apartment building and spends most of her time reading horror stories and watching horror films.  She's got no real friends, and instead uses the various monsters of her favourite media as her imaginary companions.  She's particularly fond of Leatherface, from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre films (this movie never actually names him, but it's a very faithful recreation of the character).

Of course, the question is, are all of Estrella's imaginary friends as friendly as she believes them to be?  Or as imaginary as everyone else assumes?

I quite enjoyed this Spanish horror movie, but I'm giving it a not recommended for two main reasons.  One, because I think the people who will get the most out of it are hardcore horror buffs, and they'll probably see it regardless.  And two, because the ending didn't feel like quite the right one for the movie: I think something a bit more direct would have worked better.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Into the Badlands, Season 1 (2015)

Does "post-apocalyptic wuxia western" sound like the kind of thing you'd be into?  Because it sure as heck does mine!  And yet I find myself only lukewarm on Into the Badlands, at least so far.

Following an unspecified catastrophe, a section of the world has come under the control of a group of "Barons": men and women who hold power through personal strength and charisma, and who rule over a society of free citizens and indentured servants known as "cogs".  Each Baron controls certain resources, and is served by an army of trained killers known as "Clippers", who are led by whichever one of them is the most deadly.  Oh, and the Barons have banned guns, so all killing is done up close and personal, with swords and axes and fists and suchlike.

Into the Badlands charts, in parallel, the power struggles among the Barons, and also the efforts of some of their subjects who are trying to escape the messed up society of which they are a part.  There's lots of skulduggery, secrets, and shifting alliances, all of which are liberally punctuated with lashings of over the top martial arts action.

As I said above, it's a show filled with ingredients I like, and yet when they're all put together this particular dish doesn't quite come together for me.  I think it's mostly the characters that are the issue.  They all feel a bit archetypal - terse bad-ass, conniving heir, whiny guy with powers, leather clad vixen, etc - and I haven't really warmed to any of them over the six episodes of season one.

I'll give season two a shot at some point and see if it warms me up to the show, but right now I wouldn't really recommend it until that "post-apocalyptic wuxia western" pitch is something you just can't stay away from.

Friday, 15 June 2018

Spectre (2006)

A man in his 60s returns to the village where he grew up.  He's drawn there by the mysterious delivery of a tarot card, which reminds him of the woman with whom he had an affair while he was in his late teens.  That he bears some emotional scars from that time is pretty evident: just how deep they are, and how they came about, is the subject matter of this film.

Spectre is not what you'd call an "in your face" kind of horror film, and in fact it is probably at its worst when it goes most directly for traditional "scary movie" tropes.  A bath overflowing with blood is honestly not something that still generates much in the way of chills for me.  The more understated moments of the film tend to work much better, particularly as they relate to purely human horror, rather than to any supernatural aspect.

Overall, I found Spectre a relatively watchable film in a low-key way, though I do feel it lacks a sympathetic lead.  Our protagonist is a callow youth, somewhat misogynistic youth, and his older self is so bound up by the events of the past that we don't see much difference in him.  There are also some (possibly unintended) thematic elements that I found a bit off-putting.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Avatar: The Last Airbender, Season 1 (2005)

Water, Earth, Fire and Air.  The peoples of the four elements lived in harmony until the Fire Nation began a massive, globe-spanning war.  Perhaps the only force that could have stopped them was the Avatar: the only person able to control all four elemental powers.  But he vanished at the very start of the conflict.

One hundred years later, as the war grinds on, two young members of the Water Tribe find a boy frozen in an iceberg.  Somehow, he isn't dead, and perhaps even more improbably, he commands the power of air (making him an "airbender").  None are known to live who still have this ability, and the long-missing Avatar was also an airbender ...

So yeah, the identity of the newcomer shouldn't be too much of a surprise.  Nor should it be a surprise that he has a long and arduous quest ahead of him if he wants to unlock all the powers of the elements and ascend to his destined position.  Or that there will be those who seek to hunt him down and prevent his success.

This is a pretty renowned animated series, being one of the few such western-produced shows to invest in a long-form narrative (albeit with each episode also having a self-contained story, or being half of a two-parter).  This was something seen much more often in anime, the influence of which is also clear in the character designs, the Asian-themed setting of the show, and the slightly more "grown-up" content.  Not that it's racy or gory, but characters do have romances and sometimes people are hurt or killed by the fighting.

If you're okay with watching animated shows, and like epic fantasy quest narratives, Avatar: the Last Airbender is a good option for you.  It took me a while to warm to the Avatar himself, as he starts out pretty bratty, but the supporting cast is excellent, and a lot more nuanced than you might expect.

Friday, 8 June 2018

Cold Prey (2006)

If you like slasher movies at all, you can skip the review and just go see this.  It's a good one.  In fact, I's go so far as to say it's the film that Manhunt wanted to be.

If you need more info than that, well I guess I can oblige.

Five friends head out for a day of skiing in a remote part of Norway, far from the crowds of holiday makers.  Unfortunately, one of them suffers a fairly serious leg injury, and they are too far from their car to carry him back there before dark.  It thus seems a stroke of good fortune when one of them spots an apparently abandoned alpine hotel in the next valley.  They will be able to shelter overnight, and seek help in the morning.

Of course, the hotel isn't quite as abandoned as they believe, and as they will discover, the current inhabitant is very, very unfriendly ...

So first things first, yes this film is in Norwegian, so you will need to deal with subtitles.  Well, that or wait for the English-language remake.  But that's coming from WWE Studios, so I am less than confident about how well it will turn out.

The script is solid, not waiting too long to get things going, and keeping the pace solidly balanced after the killer begins his attack.  The characters are sketched out quickly and deftly, and are for the most part generally fairly decent people, which makes the kills that happen - and of course not everyone is going to get out alive - have more impact.

Definitely recommended for fans of the form.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Archer, Season 6 (2015)

After their spectacularly unsuccessful efforts to be international drug dealers, Sterling Archer and his colleagues are back in the spy game, this time as freelance contractors to the CIA.  Which generally means that they get the missions the CIA either doesn't really want, or can't complete without some particular resource they possess.

In the midst of dealing with assassins, aliens, stuck elevators and Welsh separatists, Archer must also confront the most terrifying thing imaginable (with the possible exception of his mother): being a father.

I enjoyed this series of Archer, though I do feel that the show's formula is starting to wear a little thin.  The Fantastic Voyage pastiche this season is not a patch on the Moonraker knock off from season 3, for instance, and the peccadilloes of the characters are becoming more and more extreme in order to retain their edge.  It's likely, given the change of focus last season, and the fact that it seems seasons 7 through 9 have also gone in different directions, that the show's creators agree.

Still, if you like your humour deeply inappropriate and enjoy seeing horrible people frequently being hoist by their own petards (and much less frequently, actually managing to be not-horrible for a few seconds), then Archer still has you covered.

Friday, 1 June 2018

The Cars That Ate Paris (1974)

In economically-depressed 1970s Australia, it can be tough for a small town to survive.  Or in the case of the seemingly idyllic hamlet of Paris, it can be tough for outsiders to survive them.

You see, just outside Paris is a steep, unsealed road with sharp turns.  The locals have discovered that is you dazzle night-time motorists at just the wrong moment, they're almost certain to suffer a nasty accident.  Their belongings and many of the parts of the car can then be seized for the use of the townsfolk.  Any traveller who survives the crash, meanwhile, is either forcibly adopted into the town (if young enough) or dragged to the town doctor for some very unethical treatment.

The film follows Arthur, a grown man who survives one of these engineered crashes, but who for some reason isn't sent to the doctor and thus retains his full faculties.  Quite why the locals should make this one exception is not explained, which is frankly a fairly major flaw in the script, but it has to be said that the diffident and meek newcomer doesn't seem like he could possibly be much trouble.

But there are strong tensions swirling in Paris, tensions that are on the verge of exploding, and even the smallest spark might be enough to finally set them off.

The Cars That Ate Paris struggled to find an audience on its release, not least because no-one was sure how to market it, but it has become something of a cult hit in the forty years since then, probably due to its quirky premises.  I wasn't much impressed with the film as it is actually executed, though: it lacks a real protagonist (Arthur is far too insipid to qualify, and everyone else is a villain), and it feels like they didn't know how to end it after the tensions in the town finally come to a head.