Tuesday, 30 September 2014

The Gymnast (2006)

A world-class gymnast in her youth, Jane Hawkins suffered a career ending injury at the age of 22.  Her life never really recovered.  Two decades later she works in a job she doesn't seem to enjoy, and is married to a man she doesn't seem to much like all that much.  She sinks most of her energy into attempts to have a child, but without any success.

Ennui eventually drives her to attend a gymnastics class for adults, and the instructor there asks her to join another woman to put together an aerial gymnastics show: something flashy and impressive that could play in a casino in Vegas.  Jane's not entirely sure about that idea, but she does enjoy the physical experience of it and soon commits to the project with a passion.

When the instructor has to leave town due to a family emergency, Jane and her partner Serena continue to meet and train together.  As they develop their act and overcome hurdles together, Jane slowly begins to realise that their bond goes beyond just friendship.

Because yes, this is a film with a lesbian romance in it.  But if you're looking for titillation, you'll be disappointed.  The core of the film is on the emotional journey of the characters - mostly Jane, but to a lesser extent Serena - as they confront their self-doubts and the things that have held them back in their lives.  This is a film about letting go of the things you can't have in your life and embracing the things you can.  It's no accident that the film closes with Jane performing a gymnastics routine for the pure joy of it.

This is a solid film with some stunning dance and gymnastics moves sprinkled throughout.  It certainly won't be to all tastes, given the subject matter, but it is easy to see why it won a bunch of LGBT film awards - it's a cut above the average romantic drama.

Monday, 29 September 2014

The Corpse Vanishes (1942)

Rubbish, but fun.

That was my immediate response on finishing this film, and as I write this a couple of hours later, I see no reason to change that assessment.

There's been a strange phenomenon sweeping the land: young women dropping dead at their weddings.  Even stranger, the bodies of the young women have then all vanished!  This has happened four times now, and unsurprisingly, people are getting a bit nervous about tying the knot.

Another wedding does go ahead though, after the police emphatically say "we can't speak to the young woman's health, but nothing will happen to her body if she does die!".

... which is not exactly the most encouraging of promises.

In any case, surprise surprise she does drop dead at the altar, and - you might want to be sitting down for this bombshell - the police fail to prevent her body from vanishing!  Yeah, I was shocked too.

Fortunately for everyone, a young female reporter from the society pages is a bit more on the ball than the authorities, and she notices the strange flower in the bride's bouquet.  Eager to investigate a 'real story', she sets out to discover if there is a link between the unusual bloom and the strange events that have been unfolding.

There is, of course.  And frankly, despite being the product of nutty cinematic science fiction, the perpetrators' motives for their crimes are one of the less silly plot points of this film.  I mean, compared to the straight-faced delivery of the line "I have no recollection of that conversation, but it is possible I was speaking to her while in a somnambulistic state", harvesting an elixir of youth from the bodies of young women seems pretty reasonable.  Of course, it would perhaps have been smarter to choose a less bizarre and attention-getting method of acquiring those bodies, but it's not that kind of movie.

So I enjoyed this.  It's dumb as a box of rocks, but it has a female lead who actually comes up with plans and does stuff, and that's pretty impressive for a 1940s film.  Plus it's just dumb enough to be entertainingly stupid.

So yeah: rubbish, but fun.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl (2005)

This is one of the most aggressively 3D movies I've seen.  By that I mean that it has a lot of scenes and sequences that are clearly designed with the 3D format in mind.  Naturally, a lot of those scenes and sequences involve things flying out at you (including in one memorable case a CGI brain which actually "hits" the camera lens and then slides down the screen).

Now I'm no fan of 3D, and watched this movie in its 2D version, but I understand the decision to make the feature a focus of the film.  For one thing, it's aimed at a pretty young audience, and they're more likely to find the "in your face" element appealing.  For another, the story's rather slight and the visual gimmickry might help distract from that.

Max is a geeky loner at school, teased by the other kids for keeping a dream journal and talking about his imaginary friends Sharkboy and Lavagirl as if they are real.  He's also having a tough time at home since it seems his parents - in a barely there subplot that gets resolved in about five seconds later in the film - are having problems with their marriage.

As Max endures another terrible day at school, a hurricane blows up.  But riding out of it come Sharkboy and Lavagirl!  They take him with them to their home planet, where things have gone terribly awry: the planet runs on Max's dreams, but lately all those dreams are turning into nightmares.  The trio will have to traverse the world's puntacular geography (including taking a ride on the Train of Thought and swimming the Stream of Consciousness) in order to find and thwart the evil-doer who is ruining everything.

There are some fun elements to this film, and it's cool that writer/director Robert Rodriguez has developed his script from a story originally dreamed up by his then 7-year-old son, but he probably should have spent a bit more time on that development.  The film has a tendency to tell, not show, and most elements feel pro forma in their execution.  Scenes that are probably supposed to be big stirring moments just don't have the 'oomph' I would expect of a properly refined script.

Now Rodriguez plays pretty fast and loose with the script in say Spy Kids as well, but that still feels a bit more polished (and the puns are much cleverer - I'll forgive a lot for a clever pun).

Seek this out only if you have little ones you need to keep entertained, and even then I think you've got a lot of better options.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Invisible Ghost (1941)

At some point in his career, Bela Lugosi probably played someone who is not a murderer, but I am yet to see that film.

In this nonsensical bit of fluff, Lugosi is a respected pillar of the community.  The only whiff of scandal around him is that some years before his wife ran off with another man.

Oh, and the unsolved murders that keep happening in his home.  So you know, nothing major.

As we the audience soon discover, Lugosi's character is the murderer.  But he doesn't know that.  How can this be?  I'm glad you asked.  Buckle in for stupid.

So, for poorly justified reasons, the gardener is keeping Lugosi's wife in his shed.  She was injured in a car crash when she and her lover tried to flee, you see.  And so the gardener has kept her secretly, ever since.  Why?  Well, there's a bit of waffle about how 'it would destroy' Lugosi to see his wife in her current state (she looks fine, but has neurological damage).

However, the gardener's really bad at keeping Lugosi's wife locked up, and she occasionally sneaks out of the shed at night to steal some food from the house. Whenever Lugosi sees her do this, he mistakes her for a ghost, goes into a fugue state, and murders someone.  Why does this happen?  Because that's what the script says it does, that's why.

After the latest murder, the police - who are colossally incompetent throughout this film - arrest the boyfriend of Lugosi's daughter.  The latest victim was an ex-lover of his, you see, who was trying to break up his relationship.  So he had motive, and - lacking an alibi for the night in question - gets executed.  But don't worry, his identical brother will turn up in the very next scene to investigate.

Several more murders will happen, while the police scratch their heads over the baffling "mystery" that would be solved by, you know, searching the grounds of the house where all the murders happen, before things finally get resolved.  My favorite moment of script lunacy in all this nonsense is the scene where one of Lugosi's victims wakes up in the morgue, then dies before he can say anything.  Why does this scene exist?  Your guess is as good as mine.  Perhaps it was supposed to create tension in some way: 'will Lugosi be discovered?  Will he go into a trance and murder the witnesses?'.  That's all I can think of.

The cast does their best with this nonsense, and make it watchable enough if you don't mind how stupid it is, but there's no way to save it from being preposterous.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Equilibrium (2002)

When I saw the film of Fahrenheit 451, I found it very slow and a bit dull.  When I later read the novel, I added pretentious as well: I didn't care for the snobbish overtone of "printed fiction is more worthwhile than visual fiction".  Or to be more succinct: "Books rule, TV drools".

Don't get me wrong: I love books.  I own far too many of them.  But there are many good films and TV shows out there, which tell interesting stories of their own.  And there are plenty of trivial, substance-free books.

This film seems to me at the very least to be a response to the first problem: because this is Fahrenheit 451 with a ton of kung fu/gunplay action baked in.  Where it stands on the second is a little more subjective.

After a Third World War in the early 21st Century, the survivors abolish what they perceive as the cause of war: emotions.  Hatred and anger are the catalyst for violence.  Suppress them, and there will be no risk of a Fourth World War.  Of course, suppressing emotions means the good ones as well as the bad, but joy and love are worth sacrificing for an end to warfare and murder, right?

Unfortunately, there are things out there that can cause us to feel, even when we don't want to.  Books and art and music and computer games and TV and movies.  These things are therefore outlawed.  The script specifically references cases of the first three during the movie, as well as other pleasures such as a pleasing fragrance.  Ironically though, its main use of film is as a medium of oppression and control.

In any case, the chief agents tasked with hunting down 'sense offenders' and the contraband they traffic are the Grammaton Clerics.  One of the most senior of this order is John Prescott, who is implacable, unfeeling death on legs to those who oppose the regime.  Or at least, he is until a worm of doubt begins to crawl into his mind.  What will happen when the man tasked to destroy art and beauty finds himself compelled to preserve it, and can he keep his change of heart a secret from his former masters?

The film does a pretty good job of the keeping all its "balls in the air" plot-wise.  There are a couple of fumbles that you might need a bit of handwaving to deal with but most of the big questions get answered and in the mean time you have a solid cast and well-staged action sequences to keep you occupied.

If you're looking for a fun action romp and don't mind it with some Science Fiction trimmings, this is worth a watch.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Dark Eyes of London (1939)

In Bowery at Midnight, Bela Lugosi plays an apparent philanthropist who maintains two identities and is secretly a murderous mastermind.  In this film, he plays an apparent philanthropist who ... well, I'm sure you can guess the rest.

The similarities between the two films were probably what led to them being paired together.  Here, they form part of a 10-pack, but they were originally a "two movies on one DVD" deal, as evidenced by the cover picture on the back of this boxed set:

Honestly, I think that matching the two movies together, at least in this order, does this film (which you can also find under the title The Human Monster) a disservice.  For one thing, it was filmed three years earlier; for another, it's based on a story by Edgar Wallace.  In the early years of the 20th century, Wallace was an extremely successful mystery writer, though these days he is probably best remembered for writing King Kong.  What that means is that this film actually has a solid core to work from, with the result that we get a movie which, if it's not good enough for me to recommend it, at least makes some kind of sense.

Here, for instance, Lugosi's dual identities actually assist him in his nefarious deeds, instead of being a glaring Achilles Heel in his plans.  What a concept!

Now this is not to say that the film lacks flaws: Lugosi's plan requires his victims all die by the same method, and for them all to be insured by his insurance company, which unsurprisingly draws the suspicions of Scotland Yard.

But you know, it's not random zombies out of nowhere and people recovering from being dead, so it's certainly a step up from the last Lugosi film I watched.

Overall, I didn't mind this, but there's not enough to it that I'd give it a recommendation to anyone who wasn't an aficionado of Edgar Wallace's works.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

The Great Race (1965)

The most famous scene in this movie is an enormous pie fight that apparently took several days to film.  At the end of each day, the actors had to photographed so that the next morning, they could be slathered in matching patterns of multi-colored goop.

And right there is a perfect encapsulation of what's wrong with this film.  "If someone getting hit in the face with a pie is funny, then twenty someones getting hit by hundreds of pies must be exponentially funnier!"  No, movie, it's not.

The Great Race was apparently Blake Edwards's attempt to make"the funniest comedy ever".  From this, I can only surmise that Edwards thought the Road Runner cartoons were highlarious, since this is two and a half hours - yes, two and a half hours - of the bad guy attempting to use some gadget to nobble the good guy, and instead having it blow up in his face.  I mean, I'm exaggerating a little, but only a little: "Ha ha!  Professor Fate's contraption has backfired!" is the punchline of the vast majority of the film's attempts at humor.

The unfortunate Professor is one of two daredevils who perform dangerous stunts to impress audiences in pre-WWI America.  Fate is a mustachioed, black-clad villain straight out of a silent films (the debt owed to early cinema is openly acknowledged by the film).  His bĂȘte noire is "The Great" Leslie, a dashing exemplar of heroism who always dresses in immaculate white.

Leslie comes up the idea of a transcontinental car race, from New York to Paris (with a short sea voyage from Alaska to Russia).  Fate immediately enters, intent on defeating Leslie (why does he hate Leslie so?  The movie never bothers to say.  He just does).  There are other entrants, but Fate's assistant sabotages most of them, so only suffragette Maggie DuBois manages to last any amount of time.

Various set piece contrivances ensure that Maggie, Leslie and Fate continually run into each other during the film, from bar room brawls to encounters with polar bears and even a 'Prisoner of Zenda' knock off.  If it was handled with an ounce of dexterity or finesse it would probably be pretty good fun, but it's not: there's a leaden obviousness to all the jokes, and none of the principal actors seem entirely at ease in their roles.

This one doesn't make it off the starting grid.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Bowery at Midnight (1942)

For much of its length, this film seems an odd inclusion in a 'horror' pack.  Not that dubious genre selection is a rarity in such packs, as the presence of gloriously stupid James Bond knock-off Laser Mission in the "Sci Fi Classics" box set demonstrates.

The film begins with a crook ("Fingers" Dolan) escaping from prison.  Bad editing then makes him suddenly teleport to a suburban neighborhood where he mugs someone for their clothes.  We next see Fingers in the Bowery, a seedy part of New York populated by those down on their luck.  Overhearing exposition that there's a mission nearby where he can get a free meal, he goes for a bowl of soup and a place to stay out of sight of the cops.

Imagine his shock then, when the owner of the mission (played by Bela Lugosi) immediately recognises him.  His alarm recedes however when he learns that the mission is the front for a criminal gang, and that the apparent philanthropist is the mastermind behind it.  Fingers is soon a member of the gang.  Perhaps he shouldn't have relaxed so quickly however, as his new boss is pretty quick to rub out anyone who displeases him in even the smallest of ways.  The cellar under the mission has several graves in it already, and Fingers will soon get one of his own.

Meanwhile, there's a subplot about a young woman who works at the mission (and knows nothing of its seedier side), and her sort-of-fiance (he hasn't quite got around to proposing yet, though he hints at it pretty broadly).  The not-fiance is frankly very punchable, though I suspect we're not actually supposed to find him that way.

In any case, by one of those happenstances of narrative fiction, not-fiance's university professor is also the proprietor of the mission, under an assumed name.  Why he's not just openly running the place, I don't know.  The whole point of the mission is to give him an "innocent reason" to be in the Bowery, and using a fake identity seems like a good way to put the cover in jeopardy.  But trust me, that's far from the biggest pot hole in the plot.  Buckle up, it's going to be a bumpy ride.

Anyway, after about 40 minutes of crime thriller: surprise zombies.  The drugged-up doctor who our villain keeps on his team for unclear reasons has secretly been treating the murdered gangsters with a compound that turns them into the undead.  Why?  Hey look, a shiny thing!

Not-fiance discovers that his professor is the man behind the mission, and eats a bullet for his troubles.  This made me happy.  He joins the zombies.  The young woman he was not yet engaged to tries to find out what happened to him.  Fortunately for her, the bad guy's trigger man doesn't kill women.

The bad guy gets eaten by the zombies who've had all of 15 seconds screen time before then, and the movie ends with the not-fiance recuperating in bed, apparently none the worse for the experience of dying and becoming a cannibalistic undead monster.  How?  Yeah, like the movie's going to bother to explain that.

This feels like they had a crime script with no ending, then got Bela Lugosi on the cast and were like "just throw in some vampires or something".

Not good.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Spider-Man (2002)

I was heavily into comics in the early-mid 90s, at a time when the idea of superheroes dominating the cinema landscape seemed pretty ludicrous.  Sure, we'd had the Batman films, but that franchise had gone seriously awry in the 3rd and 4th films, much like the earlier Superman movies.  The idea that Hollywood could make films about the spandex set without seeming embarrassed by its own source material seemed pretty unlikely.  Even 2000's X-Men, while a decent film, toned down the costume element pretty sharply.

Which is probably why Sam Raimi's Spider-Man was such a breath of fresh air, as it shows none of that self-consciousness.  This perhaps should not have been a surprise, given Raimi's earlier tilt at the genre with his own creation Darkman, but it certainly was a pleasant one for me.

High School outcast Peter Parker lives with his aunt and uncle and pines for the girl next door.  Bright, but of small stature and lacking in confidence, Peter is picked on by his class mates (except for his love interest and his one male friend).  Everything changes when he gets bitten by a genetically engineered spider and develops super-powers: heightened strength, speed and resilience, a sixth sense for danger, and the ability to scale walls and produce web from his wrists.

While he's basically a good kid, Peter's first thought for using his powers is to make some money so he can buy a car and impress the girl he likes.  Which is a refreshing 'normal' response to sudden opportunity.  Even when confronted with a chance to use his powers to stop a crime, he steps aside instead.  This is nicely done, as the victim of the crime has just stiffed him on their deal, so it's easy to sympathise with Peter's choice.

Alas, as Peter has already been told in the film: "with power comes responsibility". The crook goes on to murder Peter's uncle, catapulting the remorseful young man into the role of masked crime-fighter. I trust I'm not spoiling anything by telling you this, since Spider-man's been around for over 50 years.

In any case, the yin to Peter's yang is Norman Osborne, father of Peter's only friend, whose scientific experiments have given birth to his own costumed alter ego: a sociopath known as the Green Goblin.  The film nicely juxtaposes the two characters, with Peter's "power brings responsibility" philosophy directly opposed by the Goblin's "might makes right".  I don't know the original comics well enough to say if that's original to the film or not, but it is cool in any case.

The cast of the film is good, with Tobey Maguire doing a good job as both the awkward Peter Parker and the confident, wise-cracking Spider-man.  There are some hokey bits in the script that will probably trigger giggles rather than the pathos intended, but on the whole it is quite serviceable.  Action-wise, it hasn't quite got the scope and inventiveness of later superhero movies (including its own sequel) but it holds its own.

Spider-Man is not a flawless film, but it's an engaging and entertaining one.  Unless you're pathologically opposed to watching a 'comic book movie', it is probably worth your time to see.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Castle, Season 1 (2009)

Nathan Fillion's first show after Firefly crashed even faster than the SF western had.  I therefore had doubts about Castle when it was announced.  Especially since the premise appeared to be "Murder, He Wrote".  I suspect, given that the show was a mid-season replacement with a mere 10 episode order, that I was not alone in these misgivings.

As it turned out, however, Fillion's time had finally come.  That he was able to be simultaneously infuriating and charming as wealthy mystery author and manchild Richard Castle would come as no surprise to anyone who saw Firefly.  Couple this with fun, quirky scripts and a strong ensemble cast and ... well, it wasn't enough to let Joss Whedon's show survive, but police procedurals are a far more accessible genre to the mainstream audience than "science fiction western".  Trading heavily on snappy dialogue and good chemistry between Fillion and co-lead Stana Katic, Castle quickly carved a niche for itself as the light dramedy cousin of Law & Order, CSI, and all those other franchises that have been slowly consuming the airwaves for the last couple of decades.

The premise behind the show is simple: tiring of his successful mystery franchise, author Richard Castle kills off the lead character just as a series of murders occur that bear an uncanny resemblance to his books.  This brings him into contact with NYPD detective Kate Beckett, whom he immediately decides will the muse for his new series.  There is, of course, no small amount of "phwoar she's hot" in his decision.

Castle is able to get away with tagging along as an 'observer' on Beckett's cases - much to her chagrin, at least initially - due to being personal friends with the mayor.  Of course, you'll not be surprised to learn that Castle soon shows a flair for solving murders.  Happily though, the show also makes the actual cops pretty good at their jobs too, so it's not just a retread of Angela Lansbury showing up Sheriff McStupid every week.

As noted above, this show's strengths are its snappy dialogue, the on-screen chemistry between Fillion and Katic (Castle and Beckett, of course), and the strong ensemble cast.  Castle's mother and daughter are an important part of the show, as are the other NYPD detectives in Beckett's team.  If you're anything like me, you'll find yourself wishing the show spent more time with these secondary figures.

Packed with quirky cases and dialogue, Castle is a fun TV show.  You should definitely check it out if you're looking for some light entertainment.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Hell's Asylum (2002)

This ten pack's run of modestly entertaining films comes to a very definite end with this clumsily made effort from Full Moon Pictures.  Full Moon's heyday was the early 90s, with direct to video franchises like Puppet Master, Trancers and Dollman.  The age of DVD has been far less kind to them however, and they seem to be stuck in a spiral of making bad movies which make no money which mean they have no budget which means they make bad movies.  As an exmaple: IMDB estimates this film's budget at $35,000.  1989's Puppet Master, meanwhile, had a budget eleven times greater - and that's not taking 13 years of inflation into account.

On the other hand, Full Moon had a hand in unleashing the Josh Kirby films on the world, so they kinda deserve whatever they get.

The premise of this film is that a shonky  TV producer wants to film "Chill Challenge", a reality TV show in which five attractive young women must spend the night in a haunted house filled with hidden cameras.  The women will be given tests that play on their fears, and those that manage to endure them will share in a $1 million payout at the end of the night.

We're then introduced to the five competitors: they're all one note archetypes who won't be given an ounce of character development, so don't bother to learn their names.

The show then begins with the producer giving a spiel about all the terrible things that happened in the "house" (which clearly isn't a residential home, since it has one of those green and white "Exit" signs over one of the doors).  The film seems a little confused about whether he was just making all this up or not: some of his dialogue suggests he is, but one of the competitors seems to genuinely believe in ghosts and talks about the stories she's heard about the place.  Quite possibly they made script changes while filming and didn't bother to get things consistent.

I say quite possibly because this is seriously low grade film making: the ghost/monster costumes of the - naturally very real - creatures haunting the house look like they came from a Halloween thrift shop, and the film tries to disguise the lack of any ability to actually stage a 'kill scene' by shaking the camera a lot and throwing around buckets of offal from a local butchers.  It doesn't work.

What's the story behind the creatures haunting the house?  The movie doesn't care and neither will you.  In fact, since they're killing the idiot characters in the film, pretty much all of whom are obnoxious, you'll probably be cheering them on.

Well, you'll be cheering them on if you're dumb enough to keep watching, anyway.  But frankly, you'd be better off turning the TV off and doing something else.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Zoolander (2001)

I don't generally watch a lot of comedies.  Not intentional ones, anyway.  And I'm certainly not a fan of the crass, bodily fluids kind of comedies that originally launched Ben Stiller to stardom: I've seen the trailers for Meet the Parents and There's Something About Mary, and that's more than I need to see of either film.

Despite that, I like this film a lot.  It's by no means a subtle or especially insightful example of humour: "models are vain and not very bright" and "a lot of 'fashion show fashion' is deeply stupid" are not exactly observations of stunning perspicacity.  But the film commits to its jokes 200%, ramping them up to such utter levels of absurdity (and simultaneously sending up various tropes of fiction with much the same energy) that it's hard not to smile as you're watching it.

The plot?  The new prime minister of Malaysia plans to raise the minimum wages of garment workers, a policy that will have dire impacts on the profitability of the fashion industry.  The secret cabal that runs the industry appoints the eccentric Jacobim Mugatu to find and train a male model as an assassin: but not just any male model.  Only the most vapid simpleton could be brainwashed into a killer in the scant 14 days available to Mugatu.

Derek Zoolander (Stiller's character) is that male model.  He's hysterically stupid, vain and self-absorbed, making him the perfect patsy for Mugatu: but he's also questioning his place in the fashion industry after losing the Male Model of the Year award to newcomer Hansel.  Will Derek accept Mugatu's job offer and become an unwitting assassin?  Will the film pile ridiculous stunt cast after ridiculous stunt cast on top of one another?  Will there be incredibly nerdy gags buried in the blizzard of stupid?  Will Derek ever perfect the new 'look' he's been working on for the last eight years?  The answer to these questions will never really be in doubt, but surprises are most definitely not the point of this film.

If you're in the mood for a deeply silly, deeply absurd bit of cinematic nonsense, you could do worse than Zoolander.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Christina's House (2000)

I'm confused.  Five movies in a row from a budget box set that I've enjoyed?  This sort of thing just does not happen.

Note that I didn't say five movies that were good.  That really would be crazy talk.  But - much like Fangs and the Mommy films - this is cheesy horror fun.  There's no way you could mistake it for 'art', but it has no pretensions to be.

What Christina's House is, more or less, is a modern re-imagining of the 80s slasher film.  Or at least, modern as of 14 years ago.  You've got the (for most of the film) faceless killer, who seems possessed of unusual strength and resilience: in the opening scene he shakes a young woman so hard her neck snaps.  You've got a parade of attractive young women to be murdered.  You've got the 'final girl' protagonist.  You've got the gratuitous nudity (though in a change of the formula, it's the 'final girl' whose clothes come off).  And you've got the messed up sexual and mommy issues.

Christina lives with her dad and younger brother in an old house that she finds rather creepy: she keeps getting the feeling that there is someone else there, and the house makes all sorts of odd noises.  Christina's mother is in a mental institution, and the younger woman worries a bit that she might have inherited her mother's issues.  In a way, she has - like I said, there are definitely some mommy issues at play here.

Anyway, despite stripping off for a bath about five minutes in (a scene that attempts to justify its sleaziness story wise, by introducing an 'is daddy a pervert?' sub-plot ... which is even sleazier, really), Christina establishes her 'final girl' credentials a short time later when she shoots down her boyfriend's intimations about sex by saying she isn't ready yet.

We then get a long period of build up, interspersed with surprisingly bloodless kills, as the film tries to set up multiple potential suspects.  If you've seen more than a handful of movies, you'll probably figure out which of them it is well in advance of the reveal, but once the killer is out in the open, we get a goofy but enjoyable escalation of the slasher tropes: tools as weapons, bizarre death traps, wacky mannerisms, and of course the final showdown.  They finally break out the fake blood for this part.

There's a coda at the end where they try to do the "maybe it's not over" thing, because of course you want to establish the possibility of a sequel - it's a slasher movie, after all - but it's really not terribly convincing.

All in all though, if slasher movies are at all your thing, this is an interesting little curiosity to check out.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977)

When the best chemistry in your film is between a secondary character and a stop-motion baboon, you should perhaps reconsider your casting choices.

Casting is one of several serious issues afflicting the third and final Harryhausen Sinbad.  Patrick Wayne (second son of the Duke) is a handsome man, but he's not got the screen presence of his father by any stretch of the imagination.  Coupled with the equally beautiful-but-bland Jane Seymour as his love interest, he struggles to hold your attention.

He's not helped by the script, which gives Sinbad himself very little to do.  The stop-motion baboon (actually a magically transformed prince) is the hero more often than not: it's the baboon who spots the evil sorceress when she sneaks aboard their ship, and the baboon who defuses a tense situation with a powerful troglodyte.  Sure, Sinbad has his 'moment' in the film's climactic battle, but in a stunningly obtuse decision, said battle occurs after the day has already been won.  Bizarre.

The film's script missteps in smaller ways, too: there is some painfully silly stuff, beginning with "there's a plague, so the town is quarantined at night".  Apparently the plague is nocturnal?  This turns out to be a lie, as it happens, but it's a rather stupid one.  There's also stuff like "my father and I can communicate by telepathy", an ability that will never ever be used again after that scene.  Oh, and the film features the most inept interrogation in cinema history.  Even moreso than those guys who get played by Black Widow in Avengers.  At least Widow was actively trying to trick them.  Finally, there's the Minoton, a cool bull-headed bronze statue that the sorceress animates.  Sinbad's totally gonna have to fight that bad boy right?  Well, maybe in a good movie.

I wish I'd enjoyed this film more - it includes a performance by Patrick Troughton, who remains favorite regeneration of The Doctor, so I was more than willing to like it - but it makes too many bad decisions, and ultimately ends the Sinbad trilogy with a whimper, not a bang.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Mommy's Day (1997)

Comedy-horror films often founder on the fact that they figure it's enough to be "a horror movie, but silly!", without first grasping that a lot of horror movies are pretty silly to begin with.  The end up feeling like they're just badly made horror films.  Scream is one of the few to avoid this trap.

I mention this not because this film is a comedy-horror, but because it's a perfect example of the silliness of 'normal' horror films.  It has some wonderfully goofy murders in it, from death by ice skate to killer cassette recorders.  I laughed out loud on several occasions, though I doubt that humour was the intent.

Well, except with the cassette recorder.  There's no way that death scene isn't supposed to get a laugh.

Anyway, this film is a sequel to Mommy, which I reviewed a couple of days ago, and they got almost the entire cast from the original back for this.  Even someone whose character died in the first one gets another go 'round here.  We begin with the pending execution of the murderous mommy: an execution she manages to forestall via what is merely the first of the film's many silly moments.

A year later, mommy is released from jail under an experimental program: she has a device implanted in her which regularly doses her with chemical suppressants that mean she can't commit homicidal acts.  Sure, sounds legit.

Mommy has to stay in a halfway house of course, and she's not allowed to see her daughter due to a restraining order.  We can be sure she'll abide by that, right?  (No, of course we can't).

Not long after mommy gets out of prison, people who upset her start turning up dead.  Is she back to her murderous ways?  Or is someone trying to set her up for their own purposes.  The answer is fittingly goofy.

I honestly can't call this a good film, or recommend it to others, but I had a ball watching it.  I found it just nutty enough to be fun.  That makes four out of four films I've enjoyed from this movie pack, if we include the one I watched before starting this blog (White Zombie).  Even if all the other six are terrible, that's a pretty good hit rate for one of these budget packs.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973)

I watched the first of Ray Harryhausen's Sinbad films (7th Voyage) before starting this blog, so you don't get a proper review of that.  But in summary: an okay adventure yarn, though Kerwin Matthews was a bit bland in the lead (I liked him better in Jack the Giant Killer and Battle Beneath the Earth, though).

In this film, Sinbad's out a-sailing when a strange birdlike creature flies over his ship, a gleaming object in its grasp.  One of the sailors shoots at the beast, and it drops a golden pendant onto the deck.  Sinbad decides he likes the bauble, and after fighting off the small creature's efforts to get it back, he goes ashore.

There, he is challenged by The Doctor.  Well, by Tom Baker, anyway.  Apparently his performance in this film is what got him his most famous role.  NotDoc's name is Koura, and he's an evil sorcerer.  Sinbad evades him, and a man in a golden mask then gives us an info dump to set up the film.

I like that the Sinbad in this film is a bit more of a rascal than he was in the first.  Pretty golden bauble?  Yoink!  Guys says it's his?  Run off with it!  Other guy wants you to babysit his layabout son?  No thanks.  He'll throw in Caroline Munro in a teeny tiny top?  Okay then!

Munro's character turns up - along with the actually quite funny comic relief character that is the layabout son - shortly after the info dump I mentioned above.  She's a slave girl with a tattoo like one that Sinbad saw in a vision related to the pendant, so he does actually have a reason to bring her along other than the obvious fact that she's Caroline Munro.

We then set off for the usual Harryhausen shenanigans: stop-motion monsters and living statues, oh my!  The big set pieces here are a statue of Kali, which wades into battle with six scimitars, and a fight between a centaur and a griffin.

If you're looking for an old-fashioned adventure yarn, or a dose of Harryhausen's renowned effects work, you can certainly do worse.  This was a fun hour and a half.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Mommy (1995)

It's a bit disconcerting to find both the first two films in a budget box set to be watchable, but that is indeed what has happened with the not-so-imaginatively titled Horror Ten Movie Pack.

Not that I'm going to be running out and advocating that people see this film.  It's a solid effort for a cheapie thriller, but it's still a cheapie thriller, and there's nothing especially memorable about it.  Really, the most interesting thing about it is that it's an unofficial sequel to one of the most successful films of 1956 - The Bad Seed.  In that film, child star Patty McCormack plays an 8-year old sociopath.  In this, she plays a sociopathic mother.

McCormack's performance here is - deliberately, I think - hammy, to the point where I almost expected her to produce a flock of winged monkeys to do her bidding.  The youngster playing her daughter gives a more nuanced performance than she does, though to be honest it's also less fun.  McCormack's scenery chewing is the most entertaining thing on offer, here.

So why is Mommy so homicidal?  Well, the movie never really says.  There's a mention of how she's always got her own way all her life, being so beautiful and her parents' favorite, and there's a strong indication she's killed in the past for personal gain - she's outlived two husbands, at any rate.  Her initial murder in this film, however, seems to be more out of pique than anything else.  Her daughter misses out on an academic award, despite getting all As, and the teacher (played by Majel Barrett, for the nerds in the audience ... which is probably all of us, come to think of it) refuses to change the result.  So teach has to die.

McCormack's character (she never gets a name other than 'Mommy') claims that the teacher was dead when she went to meet her, due to falling off a ladder, but the police are dubious about her story and the school janitor may have overheard something incriminating.  One murder will quickly lead to more, and when push comes to shove, will even her daughter be safe?

This is a harmless way to spend 90 minutes, but it's also not anything particularly memorable or out of the ordinary.  If everything had been as gonzo as McCormack's performance, I would probably have given it a qualified recommendation, but as is, I can't.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Hellboy (2004)

I must confess that it was with some surprise that I realised I own a copy of Hellboy.  I wasn't a huge fan of the film when I saw it at the cinema - I thought it was okay, but nothing more - and I don't remember when or why I bought it.  I can only surmise that at some point, I saw it for a sufficiently cheap price that my "bargain DVD!" reflexes kicked in.

So did I like the movie any better on the re-watch?

Honestly, not really.

There are aspects of the film I like.  Ron Perlman is good in the lead role, for instance, and I like the way the film develops Hellboy's relationship with his father figure, Professor Bruttenholm.  I also like the romance the film introduces between Hellboy and Liz Sherman.  While the transformation of the normally confident-to-the-point-of-arrogance Hellboy into an insecure bundle of nerves around Liz is pretty much 'movie romance 101' it's well executed here thanks to the skill of the actors involved.

Alas, the core of the movie fails to live up to these ancillary elements.  The action sequences are generally well-staged, but they're also sometimes distractingly silly, and they form part of a central narrative that frankly (a) isn't all that interesting and (b) has an extremely weak ending.  If your bad guys spend the whole film trying to summon an unstoppable menace from beyond time and space, and succeed, then it's a bad idea to have said unstoppable menace get stopped in about five seconds flat.

Oh, did I just spoil the end of the movie?  Because the good guys do win, in case you thought there was any chance of any other outcome.

There are some good ideas in Hellboy, and some good performances, but to me it feels like the film is assembled wrong, and ultimately fails to be truly satisfying.  The problem recurs to an even greater extent in the sequel, which has been most excellently deconstructed by Peter M Ball.

Unless you're a fan of the original comics, there's not a whole lot of reason to track this one down.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Fangs (2002)

I had pretty low expectations of this movie going in, and to be honest in a lot of ways the film lives down to those expectations.  It's cheesy nonsense and about the only way it could telegraph its plot points more obviously would be to hire Western Union to send you literal telegrams of them.

In a small college town in the rural US, a pair of vapid female students are doing some work for one of their professors.  Specifically, they're feeding his bats, a bizarrely convoluted process involving special (inaudible to the human ear) sounds.  In the process, one of the girls is bitten.  She threatens to tell the school board, and the professor offers the pair automatic As in his class if they keep quiet.

Then that night, said professor gets eaten by his bats.

On the murder case are Detective Ally Parks - a transfer from the mean streets of LA - and veterinarian John Winslow, who is called in as the local 'animal control' representative.  Parks is not pleased to have some civilian messing up her crime scene, and the two have a snarkfest at each other.  They're totally gonna make out later, of course.

Anyway, the town's being bought up by sleazy property developer Carl Hart (Corbin Bernsen, who is a man born to play sleazy property developers), who wants the death kept quiet since any controversy might hurt his sales pitch to wealth out of towners.  There are no prizes for guessing that the Police Chief is in Hart's pocket, and is soon telling Parks to write off the professor's death as 'natural causes'.

Of course, the bat attacks continue, and we as the audience are pretty quickly clued in to the fact they aren't random.  In fact, Carl Hart may well be the common factor that links them all together.

Will killer bats spoil the town's annual Apple Blossom Festival?  Will Carl Hart get his just desserts?  Will Winslow's 'girl reporter' daughter and her brain dead boyfriend continually get themselves in danger?  Will the killer's identity be blindingly obvious?  The answer, of course, is yes.

And yet despite all that, I had fun with this film.  The actors in the main roles all seem to be having fun, and pitch their performances well.  This is a comedy horror with the emphasis very much on the comedy.  There's basically no onscreen violence and very little gore.  Apparently this causes a lot of horror fans to dislike it.  I can see why that would be: if you came for chocolate cake and get vanilla slice, you're bound to be disappointed.

Also note that it's not a spoof.  The 'horror' elements, such as they are, are played pretty much straight.  There's no riffing on horror tropes, or nods to famous horror franchises.  It's more or less a situation comedy where the situation just happens to be "Someone's using killer bats to commit murders".

Which frankly seems like a premise with a pretty small target audience, but apparently I'm in it.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Tales from Earthsea (2006)

"Not Recommended" is not a thing I thought I'd write about a Ghibli film, but unfortunately Tales from Earthsea is not a good movie.  I mean, it's not anywhere near as bad as the SyFy Earthsea miniseries, but that's like saying "it's not as bad as being set on fire".

Ursula Le Guin gave permission for a film adaptation of her Earthsea novels because of the success of Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away, which I reviewed not too long ago.  Alas, the grand old master was busy with Howl's Moving Castle (also reviewed on this blog) at the time, and the directorial duties fell to his son, Goro.  The elder Miyazaki was apparently opposed to this appointment, but the film's producer liked Goro's willingness to make rapid decisions.

If only he'd checked that those decisions were also good, this might be a better film.

Something is amiss in the world of Earthsea: Dragons are fighting each other, magic is failing, and pestilence and drought stalk the land.  The Archmage Sparrowhawk, and a young traveler named Arren (actually a prince) set out to find the cause of these woes.  Well, that's what they state is their aim.  They seem to do very little to achieve it however.  Ultimately the story only progresses because the bad guys keep coming to them.

Melding elements of the 3rd and 4th Earthsea books into a rather uneven whole, the film largely focuses on Arren in the first half of its running time, which is a mistake because he is (a) a bit of a jerk and (b) an idiot.  I mean sure, part of the movie's thematic arc is him growing into a decent person, but I've had forty minutes of wanting him to go away by then.  Not a good plan.

The film also makes a mistake in centering Le Guin's Taoist concepts in the narrative, but being slow to explain those.  I've read the books (and some critical theory on them), so I understood what was happening, but I suspect the average western viewer is going to find it all a little murky.

We finally get to the climactic encounter around the 90 minute mark, and it's here that the movie completely fell apart for me.  It's twenty minutes of meaningless activity and dragon ex machina.  A terrible conclusion on almost every front.

Even the usually reliable Ghibli visuals seem muted in this: the character designs are pretty simple, and it looks to me more like one of their early works than a contemporary of the visually lush Howl's Moving Castle.


Wednesday, 10 September 2014

The Babysitter (1969)

Given that this is a black and white film from 1969 I expected it to be one of those flicks that tries to sell itself on salacious content, but without actually having any.

As it turns out, I was way off target.  This film enthusiastically embraces salacious content.  In fact, it's pretty much the first black and white sexploitation film I can remember seeing.  We've got nude dancers, multiple sex scenes (one of them lesbian) and I don't remember a female character under 40 who doesn't end up topless at some point.

So at least it wasn't guilty of false advertising when it promised adultery and other naughtiness, but is it any good?

Well, it's not terrible.  It's not good enough that I'd be running around recommending it or anything, but the acting's mostly solid enough, and the script gets its job done, provided that one accepts that its job is titillation.

George Marshall is a successful public prosecutor, about to try the case he things will allow him to rise to higher public office.  Alas, while his career is going well his private life is in the dumps: since a wild night that gave him and his wife an unexpected second child, his marriage has descended into a loveless and distant round of tedious bridge parties and dinners.

But the presence of the baby brings Candy Wilson into his life.  This nubile babysitter makes no secret of the fact that she'd like to show George the affection his wife will not, and while he declines the not so subtle offer, it's obvious he's tempted.

Meanwhile, the girlfriend of the defendant in George's trial is looking for ways to make sure he isn't convicted.  Hearing that the Marshall's first child - a college age woman - is a lesbian, she aims to ingratiate herself and use photos of the this daughter to blackmail George into deliberately losing the case.  Unfortunately for her, while the audience gets an eyeful of the sapphic shenanigans, she doesn't get the shots she wanted.

But then Candy turns up at the house, and both George and the would-be blackmailer get exactly what they wanted.

Will George submit to blackmail?  Will he lose his job and his marriage if he doesn't?  If these are actually questions you care about answering, or if you just want to see lots of naked monochrome bosoms, then this is for you.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

The Little Mermaid (1989)

It may seem hard to imagine now, but back in the late 80s there was considerable conjecture as to whether Disney would continue to make animated feature films.  The much touted Black Cauldron had been a major flop, and while the two films after that had done okay commercially, they were far from the cultural touch-point that Snow White or Cinderella had been.  The last film, Oliver & Company (which I have never seen) was especially derided by critics.  The magic, they declared, was gone from the Magic Kingdom.

The one group of people who weren't predicting the end were Disney themselves.  The critics might not have liked Oliver & Company, but it had still been a financially viable release, and it confirmed to them the strategy of returning to musicals.

On its release in 1989, this film showed that it never pays to bet against The Mouse.  It would launch a decade long run of hits, and give Disney confidence to press on when another lean patch hit in the early 2000s.

There's a very simple reason that The Little Mermaid restored the fortunes of Disney animation: it's a very, very good film.  The animation is good, the character designs strong, and the voice cast excellent.  The soundtrack - such a vital part of a musical - is also excellent, from the romantic anthem 'Part of Your World' to the joyful romp of 'Under the Sea' or the Calypso-inspired croon of 'Kiss the Girl', this is a film that wholeheartedly embraces its status as a musical and delivers songs that will stick with you long after the movie's final scenes.

The script is also good.  The humorous scenes consistently deliver chuckles, the dialogue is good, and the characters are as deftly drawn in words as they are on the screen.  King Triton might not get a whole lot of screen time, for instance, but we get a very good sense of who he is in the times we do see him.

All of which adds up to this being my second favorite animated film of all time (The Lion King is number one).  It's an exceptional piece of film-making, and - unless you hate joy - you should make sure to see it.  Great stuff.

Monday, 8 September 2014

The Teacher (1974)

The IMDB bio for Angel Tompkins makes a comparison between the launch of her career and that of Bo Derek approximately a decade later.  Both made a splash as 'the other woman' in a comedy film.  Interestingly, though it talks about Tompkins' later films, the bio fails to draw the parallel between the rest of the two women's careers.  Like Derek, Tompkins ended up working in movies where the film makers were more interested in her physical attributes, and willingness to show them, than in her acting abilities.

Which is something of a shame in Tompkins case, because she's actually been pretty good in the two films I've now seen here in - certainly better than Derek.

This outing begins with not one but three men ogling a topless Tompkins through binoculars.  One of these future sex offenders ends up dead as the result of a squabble between the three.  I shed no tears over that, I have to say.

One of the survivors is the dead guy's nutty brother, while the last is the dead guy's best friend, and a former student of Tompkins's character.  He's going to be her love interest in the film.  That's a bit icky, given what he was just doing, but for the most part the romance between the two characters (who are 10 years different in age) is quite well done.  Tompkins comes off as a little predatory early on, as she is definitely the one who pushes for the relationship, but once they're together they make a pretty nice couple.

There's much scandal over the relationship, of course, though in an interesting change from the norm the mother of the young man is one of its main defenders. "Sean needs a good woman." she opines.

Alas, crazy other guy is out there, lurking with a knife and blaming Sean for his brother's death.  Sean, who lied to the police about what happened when his friend died, feels that he can't now admit what really happened (the death was an accident, but he might not be believed).  Will crazy guy kill one or both of the lovers?  Well, you'd have to watch the movie to find out.

Should you watch the movie?  Eh, probably not.  It's got solid performances in the central roles, but the script's got some rather silly moments in it.  Also the soundtrack makes some very poor choices, which really undercut several dramatic or theoretically exciting scenes.  There are better thrillers out there, so unless seeing Angel Tompkins (admittedly lovely) body is enough to sell you on the film, you can skip it.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Scarface (1983)

The original King Kong is a taut 80-some minutes.  Peter Jackson's remake is twice as long and half as good, if that.  Something similar can be said of this update of the fine 1932 film by the two Howards (Hawks and Hughes).  Not that De Palma's effort is anything near as tiresome and bloated as Jackson's, but at 170 minutes it is indulgently long.  Not even a strong cast - including Al Pacino looking a lot younger than his then-42 years - can save it from feeling like it could stand to lose a half hour or so.

Pacino is Tony Montana, an exile from Castro's Cuba.  He leaps into the Florida underworld with both feet, swiftly rising to be one of the right hand men of a local crime boss, Frank Lopez.  Tony's not the best of fits for the lieutenant role, though.  He's too fond of making decisions for himself, and entirely too fond of Frank's wife.  It won't be long before relations between the two begin to break down.

Well actually, it will be quite long, because like I said: this movie could do with being shorter.  Frank and Tony don't really get down to settling their differences until the 90-100 minute mark.

It's here the movie loses some steam for me.  I also find the opening a bit slow, but once Tony's become a wise guy it moves along pretty well until Frank meets his sticky end (Pacino's on the cover of the DVD, so I don't think it's a spoiler to tell you he supplants his former boss).  Thereafter, it feels more like a very loosely connected series of vignettes rather than a cohesive whole.  It's been a film that always took a pretty relaxed attitude to narrative; plenty of leaps in time and changes of focus; but I feel like this is done more deftly in the first half.

It sounds like I didn't like the film, and that's not a fair appraisal.  The performances are strong, with Pacino offering his usual strong effort.  I do wish they'd given Michelle Pfeiffer more to do, though.  Many of the vignettes are well done, too.  They convey Tony's restless, aggressive style and the way he rides the edge in most things he does.  This is not a character who gets everything his own way, and there's a nice juxtaposition in how his flaws and his virtues ultimately erode the power and wealth that he's built up.

A well-made film, it's just a bit too long.  It's also got lots of strong violence and bad language, so consider that a warning if those are things you dislike.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Carnival of Crime (1962)

If the title of this film conjures images of larcenous clowns and acrobat bank robbers, well you're going to be as disappointed as I was by this stultifyingly boring film.

The carnival in question is the Rio carnival.  Which honestly could be the setting for a pretty awesome heist film, all things considered.  But this is not that film.  Instead, this is a film about an overworked architect whose wife disappears.  As he investigates, he discovers her many acts of unfaithfulness, and becomes the chief suspect for the very crime he's trying to solve.

And written down in short form like that, the plot sounds like it might actually be tolerably entertaining.  Trust me, it's not.  The only moments of the film where I felt engaged were during a 10-minute segment in which a pair of (presumably American) agents attempt to capture a revolutionary.  It's not that the segment is well written or acted - it's not - it's just that I kept trying to figure out how it related to the main plot and when the two would tie together.  The answer: it isn't and they don't.  After the agents encounter the revolutionary, they are never referenced again.  It's like ten minutes of another film just suddenly appeared in this one and refused to leave.

If you need an insomnia cure, boy do I have a movie for you.  Otherwise, stay well away.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Stardust (2007)

This is a movie that in theory I should really enjoy: it's a fantasy, based on a Neil Gaiman novel, and it has an excellent cast.  And yet, despite those seemingly "can't fail" ingredients, I feel it falls short of the mark.  We'll get into why, but first a quick precis.

We begin with an overly long prologue to establish (a) the existence of a fairy tale realm known as Stormhold and (b) how the main character came to be born, and then leap forward 18 years.  In a fit to impress a girl he likes, our 'hero' Tristan pledges to venture into Stormhold and recover a fallen star for her.

Shock!  In fantasy land, the star takes the form of an attractive young woman.  She and Tristan don't exactly hit it off to begin with, but if you're suspicious that we're going to see a romance between the two, well, you've probably seen a movie in the past.  Tristan intends to take her to his paramour, and then let her go back to the sky.

Of course, there are a couple of villains out there who will complicate matters.  One is a witch who wants to cut out the star's heart.  The other is a prince who wants the gem that knocked the star out of the sky in the first place.

Shenanigans ensue.

There are good moments in this film. Normally to do with humor.  There's a sword fight in the climactic sequence that has some great physical comedy in it, for instance, and the wicked prince and his ghostly relatives are good fun too.

Unfortunately, on the dramatic front, things are not so rosy.  Tristan, frankly, is kind of an ass.  While we're supposed to cheer him on as he grows from being a boy to a man, the film doesn't portray this journey all that convincingly, and it also fails to make the inevitable romance between him and the star in any way plausible.  Frankly, the villains (especially Michelle Pfeiffer's gleefully wicked witch) are far more entertaining to watch.

The film's also a bit too long, I think.  It runs a solid two hours, which feels about 20 minutes more than it needs as it crams in a few too many set pieces en route to the inevitable showdown between "good" (for want of a better term) and evil.  None of the set pieces are bad, and they generally do lead into the climax ... they just don't do so as efficiently as I think they should.

Something of a disappointment, in the end.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

The Lurkers (1988)

This is one of those horror films that aims for 'steadily increasing unease' and instead hits 'steadily increasing boredom'.  70 minutes of the main character seeing a little girl who shouldn't be there, and then freaking out about it, while we learn that her apparently caring fiance is secretly a douche ... well, it doesn't actually lead to much of actual interest happening.

Cathy had a pretty terrible childhood, with an abusive mother who ultimately murdered her father, and neighboring kids who apparently tried to choke her with a skipping rope.  Those kids should be out on the rodeo circuit, earning their fortunes with their rope trick skills.

Once she's grown up, Cathy seems to have things together.  She's a professional musician, engaged to a photographer.  Of course, she still has bad dreams, and they've been getting worse lately.  Maybe due to the stress of her upcoming nuptials, and the worry over whether her brother - who seems to blame her for their father's death - will attend.

Or maybe it's due to the incredibly convoluted plan that a bunch of Satanists have cooked up to murder her.

When I saw the film Arlington Road, my reaction was "anyone smart enough to make that plan work should be smart enough to come up with a better plan".  And this film suffers from the same problem: the Satanists ultimately want to get Cathy back to her childhood home so they can kill her, a task to which they dedicate what appears to be years of effort, infiltrating multiple aspects of her life.  Having one of the characters lampshade this by griping "Bob always makes things too complicated. We should have just grabbed the girl." does not actually make it not a problem, movie.

Speaking of problems: the film associates lesbianism with devil worship.  Screw you, movie.

After the (interminable) build up, we get the final act of the film.  Frankly, this takes about twice as long as it should, and climaxes with a long speech from the bad guys as to why they're doing what they're doing (short form: "Because we're evil").  Then there's an overlong epilogue that aims to offer one last 'chilling twist', but mainly just offers relief that the movie is over.

Skip it.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

1990: Bronx Warriors (1982)

This film begins by telling us that in 1990 the authorities gave up on trying to administer the Bronx, and left it to "the riders".  It never bothers to provide much explanation for this, given that the rest of society seems to be operating okay, but I suspect the real reason is "Because Escape from New York was a big hit the year before".

A young woman flees into the Bronx, and men in suits stiltedly inform each other that she must be recovered.  She, meanwhile, runs afoul of a gang of uniformly dressed men on roller skates.  I see we're ripping off The Warriors, too.  I guess the film's title might be a give away of that fact, though.

Our heroine is saved by the arrival of the aforementioned riders, led by the seriously pretty Trash.  Trash is a guy, but 'pretty' is definitely the right word for him:

Trash and his buddies beat up the roller skate gang and rescue the girl.  We next see them driving down to the riverside, in what anyone who knows New York will be able to tell is not the Bronx.  For ... reasons ... there's a guy playing drums there who will continue to play throughout the ensuing scene as Trash has a meeting with "The Ogre", the biggest, baddest gang leader in the Bronx.  Try not to remember this meeting when the script later makes a big deal about how hard it will be to get from Trash's territory to The Ogre's.

The Ogre, by the by, is played by blaxploitation great Fred Williamson, who is approximately 47 times too good for the rest of this movie.

Anyway, the men in suits send "The Hammer", a ruthless police captain, to recover the missing young woman, who gives no indication of wanting to be rescued.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  The Hammer isn't much interested in what she wants, though.  His first attempt to kidnap her is thwarted, but he won't give up easily.  With the authorities chasing his lover and the roller skate gang also reappearing to threaten her, Trash must make the long trek across the Bronx, tangling with various other gangs, in order to enlist the aid of the Ogre.

So frankly this is a bad film, badly acted, with a bad script and an almost complete lack of an ending.  And it's pretty obviously a pastiche of better films.  It does have some surprisingly well done action sequences, and occasional moments of endearing lunacy (like flamethrower-wielding police on horseback), but unless you're like me, and grew up in the 80s seeing the film in video stores and being too young to rent it, then it's safe to give it a miss.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Ratatouille (2007)

I wasn't much impressed by the first teaser trailer for this film, which mostly just showed a rat running through a restaurant kitchen while stuff gets thrown at it.  But a friend who got to see an early screening told me it was good, so I did check it out.

He was right, it is a good film - which is why I bought the DVD - but I'd still only rate it as a middle tier Pixar film.  Of course, even 'mediocre' by Pixar standards is pretty good.

Before I discuss my quibbles with the movie, and the reasons I think it's not up to the standards of Toy Story 2 or The Incredibles, or yes, even Cars, but first let's start by talking about what I do like.

Firstly, there are the character designs.  As you can see from the image above, they're not photorealistic by any means, but they do perfectly suit the characters.  Whether it is the vulpine loom of food critic Anton Ego, or the gangling, disheveled appearance of Linguini, they're all distinctive and engaging in their look.

Backing that up is the voice cast, which is uniformly excellent, and well chosen for their roles.  Peter O'Toole is a particular delight as the disdainful Ego.

The third thing I like is that the film chose a topic so simultaneously mundane and wonderful.  Food is something we all have to deal with every day, but it's also something that can bring great joy.  The film acknowledges this and celebrates it.  Importantly, it shows that food doesn't have to be fancy to bring great pleasure (as anyone whose ever downed a tim tam slam would know).  Consciously or not, I wouldn't be surprised if my friend appreciated this part of the film.  He's a keen barbecue cook, you see.

So what didn't I like?  Well, while the film doesn't break the rules of the setting it creates, it does require an awful lot of my suspension of disbelief.  A rat who wants to be a chef?  Okay.  A rat who wants to be a chef and learns to understand human speech and writing?  Well, okay ... I guess.  A rat who just happens to meet a human he can control like a marionette by yanking on the guy's hair - and the guy is okay with that?  Well, now you're pushing it.

I feel like the script could have been reworked to rely just a little less on these steadily mounting contrivances, and that would have made for a better film.  What we get is good, it's just not great.

Still, unless you have a pathological aversion for family-friendly animation, you won't regret making a reservation with Ratatouille.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Bloodlust! (1961)

There have been many adaptations of The Most Dangerous Game.  A lot of them expand the story's cast.  That's not surprising given that the original really has only the protagonist, the antagonist, and the antagonist's henchman.  Having more characters means more people to talk to each other and interact.

Or to spout exposition at each other, if you're not terribly good at this 'making movies' malarkey.

I'd ask you to guess which one Bloodlust! does, but the use of the exclamation point in the title is probably a pretty big hint about that, huh?

Four young people are on vacation together.  With the subtlety of a sledgehammer, the script lets us know that the blond guy is an awesome shot, while his blond girlfriend is a judo master.  Their brunette friends are ... well, they're on screen as well.  That's going to be a theme for the movie, by the way.

Spotting an island they haven't seen before ("It must have been hidden by mist!") they decide to investigate.  They're surprised to find that the island has a tenant: a friendly if slightly overbearing fellow.  He introduces them to his wife, and another house guest of his, and insists that the four youngsters stay the night, as the walk back to shore isn't safe after dark.

Of course, he doesn't mention that the reason it isn't safe is because he likes to hunt people then.  But his wife and other guest are more than willing to 'fess up, as they're ready to make a run for it themselves.  This pair persuade the newcomers to stay behind while they go for the boat, but of course they don't make it: our villain adds a couple more trophies to his collection, instead.

Eventually the 'heroes' decide they'd better save themselves.  For some reason, they don't think to simply try overpowering the guy, despite him regularly being in a room alone with them while there are four of them, one of whom is a judo master.

I'll give the film this: the judo master does eventually (if not terribly convincingly) bust out her moves on one of the villain's mooks.  And I was never actually bored in the film's scant 68 minute run time.  It moves along at a breezy enough clip, and while it feels like it was written by someone who was yet to master the 'show, don't tell' part of narrative, it's not too terrible for something that was obviously made on very limited resources.

At the end of the day, though, there are many adaptations of The Most Dangerous Game, and no reason to settle for this one when there are better to be had.