Friday, 29 January 2016

Hackers (1995)

When Hackers came out, a number of my IT-enthusiast friends were deeply critical of its unrealistic "Hollywood" depiction of how computer systems and the hacking culture actually function.  Their complaints were all factually accurate, but I think they were rather missing the point.  This film is not trying to depict realistic modern-day technology, in the way that say Sneakers had done a few years before.  Not in the slightest.  Because despite its then-contemporary setting, Hackers is a cyberpunk film.

Don't believe me?  Consider its depiction of the digital realm as a virtual cityscape, or the way that computer programs are represented by graphical avatars.  Consider the punk fashions worn by the hacker characters, and the importance of music within their improbably public, anti-establishment community.  Consider that the good guys are the disaffected youth and the bad guy is a corporate stooge.  Consider that said bad guy (who is admittedly a pretentious ass) describes them as "cyber samurai".  Consider that the super computer in it is named after (renowned cyberpunk author) William Gibson.  This is a movie that does everything it can to make its inspiration clear, short of wearing a pair of mirrorshades.

The plot?  Oh, it's some pleasantly goofy nonsense about a corporate security guy trying to bilk his own company of millions of dollars while covering his tracks by blaming hackers for a series of cyber attacks on the organisation.  The hackers, of course, roll up their cyber sleeves and fight back.  It's frankly all delightfully over the top and carried along by the charm of its cast, including Jonny Lee Miller, Matthew Lillard, and a frighteningly young Angelina Jolie.

Go into it with your eyes open as to what it really is, and you should enjoy your time with Hackers.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

The Hunger Games (2012)

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past few years, you probably have some idea of the premise to The Hunger Games.  But just in case there are any of you with sub-lithic homes, here's the brief:

The nation of Panem consists of the Capitol, and twelve districts.  There were once thirteen districts, but one was annihilated when the districts rebelled against the Capitol.  Every year, the remaining districts are reminded of the failure of that rebellion when they are forced to provide two randomly-chosen youths - one male, one female - to participate in a televised death match known as The Hunger Games.

Katniss Everdeen lives in district 12, the poorest of the districts.  When her younger sister Prim is chosen for the games, Katniss volunteers in Prim's place.  She does so without any expectation of victory, but since she's the protagonist of the film, you can probably guess that she has a better chance than she realises.

This is a smartly put-together film.  It efficiently establishes the setting and Katniss's selection, then effectively builds up tension for the games themselves by showing the training given to the competitors: who are explicitly called "Tributes", so that the in-universe purpose of the games is not forgotten.  It also makes good use of the televised nature of the games to have commentator characters deliver some handy exposition.

Strong performances also aid the film.  Jennifer Lawrence is excellent in the lead role, while Woody Harrelson does a great job as former games winner Haymitch, who is detailed with the job of preparing Katniss for the competition.  Haymitch is an important character because he shows that even if you win the games, they mark you for life, and Harrelson owns the role.

This is a good, though often rather bleak, film.  If you prefer a more up beat and escapist tone to your entertainment, you should probably look elsewhere - that's why it only gets a qualified recommendation.  If you like the sort of thing this is, though, the execution here is excellent.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Cathy's Curse (1977)

"Just like The Exorcist, only dreadful!" probably isn't the most appealing of tag lines, but it would in this case have the benefit of being truthful.

A woman runs away from her husband.  She takes her son with her, but for some reason leaves her daughter.  The daughter and her father go tearing off in a car at great speed, for no clear reason, and end up dying in a crash.

Thirty years later, the son, now grown up and with a family of his own, moves back into the house.  This whole "moving into a house that's stood empty for decades" thing is a common staple of horror movies.  Isn't it amazing how well-maintained they all are, after their long abandonment?

Anyway, the son now has his own wife and daughter (Cathy, naturally), and it doesn't take long after they move in for the daughter to begin acting strangely.  She finds a creepy looking doll that belonged to her now-dead aunt, and becomes inseparable from it.  And to everyone except her father, she becomes steadily more hateful and malicious.

Child actor Randi Allen, who does not seem to have done anything else in the field, is surprisingly effective in the title role.  She spits her (often obscene) dialogue at most of the other cast members, while being gushing and adoring with her father.  Alas, her dialogue is about the only memorable thing in the script.  While the story is a slurry-like morass of hackneyed horror tropes (blood gushing from a faucet - never seen that before!), the writers seem to have had a passion for inventing colourful vulgarities for Cathy.

A review on IMDB indicates that certain important plot-related scenes may have been cut from this DVD version of the film.  It's unlikely you'll be interested enough in the movie to care, though.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Gamera: Super Monster (1980)

I was really tempted to give this film a Qualified Recommendation.  Not because it's in any way good, you understand.  Because it is really, really, really, really not.  What it is, however, is so deliriously, dippily dreadful that it kind of infects you with a Cinematic Stockholm Syndrome and you - well, I - like it despite its complete absence of anything resembling quality.

I'm not going to bother you with the plot since it is (a) the usual 'aliens want to take over the world and Gamera stops them' thing we've seen before and (b) flagrantly an excuse to re-use footage.  About 1/3 of the run time, and 98% of the scenes that actually involve Gamera, is recycled footage from the old films.  Instead, I'm going to share with you the dreadful joy of some images from the film.

Such as the opening shot.

I dub thee the USS It's Totally Not A Star Destroyer, Honest

Or the bit where Gamera flies past the Yamato from Star Blazers

Yes, this is really in the film

Or pretty much anything to do with the good guy "Space Women" who help Gamera fight the bad guys.

"Help" may be exaggerating their contribution

Actually, you know what?  Have a trailer.  It's in Japanese, but it won't matter.

Transcendentally awful

Monday, 25 January 2016

Monkey Business (1952)

Director Howard Hawks apparently felt this comedy was not as funny as it should be because the premise was not believable.  I think the film's not as funny as it should be because it only has one joke.  Or I guess three jokes, if you consider "young people are irrational", "young people are impulsive" and "young people are superficial" to be separate things.

Barnaby Fulton is a research chemist searching for an elixir of youth.  He's having only limited success until - for no readily apparent reason - he decides to test this latest formula on himself rather than his usual chimpanzee subjects.

The formula is bitter, so Barnaby takes a drink from the lab's water cooler.  Unknown to him, however, one of the chimps made its own elixir and dumped it into said cooler, so he's unwittingly drinking that concoction as well.

The results, of course, are miraculous: he finds the aches and pains of his middle-aged body are gone, and his eyesight is as sharp as when he was twenty.  And then he goes out and buys flash clothes and a fast car and goes roller-skating with Marilyn Monroe.  As you do.

Despite nearly crashing his new car multiple times when his eyesight fades again, and leaving himself very sore from all his escapades, Fulton plans to take an even larger dose of the formula as a second test (I guess being irrational and impulsive is not purely the province of the young), but his wife intercedes and takes the dose in his place - and once more, drinks from the cooler to wash away the taste.

And thus the pattern of the film is established: someone unwittingly drinks the chimp's formula, regresses to an age between 5 and 15, and "shenanigans" ensue.  It's honestly a all rather tiresome, despite the gallant effort of stars Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers.

Not much to recommend here.

Friday, 22 January 2016

The Americans, Season 2 (2014)

I rarely give flat out recommendations, but I gave one to the first season of this show.  It was expertly-crafted TV, with smoothly executed narrative twists and strong performances from the cast.

Despite the qualification added to the recommendation for this season, the show continues to deliver the goods here.  The qualification is wholly and entirely "provided you've watched and enjoyed the first season, you should check this out".

Elizabeth and Philip Jennings are continuing their double lives as real estate agents and KGB agents.  With Reaganomics gathering steam, the stakes are mounting for both the US and the USSR.  The Nicaraguan conflict, the birth of the internet, and the development of the stealth bomber all play significant roles in the progress of the season.

But perhaps more immediately pressing than even these potentially world-changing political and technological struggles are the issues which strike much closer to home: the murder of two fellow agents with whom they were close friends; a dangerous new contact whom they must blackmail into aiding them; and the growing independence of their eldest child.

There are plenty of other plots and schemes afoot with other characters, as well, and you'll probably find yourself alternately cheering them on and biting your nails over their potential fates.  You may even find yourself cheering on one character even as their actions put another character into fingernail-chewing territory.

Really good stuff.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Mythica: The Necromancer (2015)

Does it make me want to play D&D?

As a metric for whether or not I enjoyed a fantasy film, that question is actually a pretty reliable one.  If the answer is "yes", the movie's obviously done something right.

I'm pleased to say that after what I found to be a slightly shaky second chapter, the Mythica series returns to form in what now appears to be the middle entry of a five part series (though it also also serves as a satisfying end point for the trilogy of films to date, which is nice).

Marek's history as a slave returns to haunt her when one of her friends is kidnapped by her vengeful former owner.  She, Dagen and Teela must now complete a dangerous task for the man, if they want their friend back alive.  And of course this task will once again bring them into conflict with the "big bad" who was introduced in the previous film: and he is rather more prepared for the encounter than they are.

Arrowstorm continue to show that they know how to get their money's worth out of their budgets.  The cast they've assembled remain solid, and the costumes and sets look good.  They are perhaps a little too ambitious occasionally, with some larger scale action and effects sequences that they don't quite manage to carry off, but I certainly don't count that as a major blemish.

On the non-action front, I think the character work in this film is the strongest of the trilogy to date: the relationships between the cast feel convincing and natural.

The kickstarter for Mythica 4 launched a couple of days ago and runs until 17 Feb 2016.  I'm already a backer.  Now, does anyone wanna play some D&D?

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

The Blancheville Monster (1963)

Alternatively known under the single word title Horror, this is a low rent knock-off of "The Fall of the House of Usher", complete with madness, mesmerism, and someone being buried alive.  And to its credit, it tries its darnedest the capture the elaborately Gothic atmosphere of Poe's original tale.  Alas, it does so at the cost of pretty much every other factor of the film.

Emily Blancheville returns home from an extended absence.  Her brother confesses to her that her father - whom he had told her was dead - in fact still lives, but is horribly disfigured, horribly mad, and intent on murdering Emily before the end of the week!

There is a prophecy, you see, that the house of Blancheville will fall when a female member of this generation reaches the age of 21, and Emily just so happens to have that important birthday fast approaching.

Now you may be wondering to yourself "Self, why didn't dad kill Emily when she was still a baby, if he believes in the prophecy?  Surely it would have been easier."  Well if you are, congratulations, because you have spotted the first of the many (many) flaws in the villain's dastardly plot to see her dead.  Though not so egregious as their inexplicable failure to actually, you know, try to kill her.  Instead they repeatedly mesmerise her and make her wander the mansion grounds.

Is this villain the slimy new family doctor?  Or is it the beautiful but strange new governess?  Well of course not.  It's transparently obvious it's the brother, because in any "drive them mad and then kill them" Gothic tale it's always the closest relative who's to blame.

Eventually brother dearest mesmerises Emily so deeply she appears to be dead, and she is buried alive.  This scene is actually quite effective.  Or would be, if they could decide whether Emily's eyes are open or not during the burial.

Fortunately, Emily manages to get out of the family sepulchre, and her brother is so surprised he falls down a well.  There, I've generously spoiled the whole thing so you don't have to waste 85 minutes of your lives watching it.  Feel free to thank me in the comments :-)

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Gamera vs Zigra (1971)

After what was a pretty good film, at least by the standards of original Gamera movies, the series plummets back to its usual form with this 1971 effort.

It is the last years of the 20th Century.  Humanity is expanding into space.  Japan has even founded a moon base ... but we are not alone among the stars.  A strange spaceship appears and devastates the moon base, then flies down to Earth.  There, it kidnaps four humans in a small boat.  This being a Gamera film, two of the four are "cute" (for which, read "obnoxious") children.

The alien invaders then explain their evil plans of evilness.  Why the aliens do this is anyone's guess, since they demonstrate they have the ability to broadcast to the whole planet.  Anyway, it's your typical "conquer the planet and eat the humans" deal.  Humans seem like they'd be a very inefficient food source, to me.  Pigs have more meat and grow to maturity much faster, alien dudes.

Then we follow the standard drill: Gamera turns up to stop the aliens.  He gets beaten in the first fight of course, though not until after he smashes the alien ship, which is revealed to be just a shell for the actual alien, which is a massive shark monster.  Later, Gamera recovers and wins the day.  In between those few minutes of "excitement", we have lots of ... not much, really.  The alien uses its brainwashed human minion to chase the obnoxious brats for a while, and then there's lots of scenes of people standing around looking worried while mouthing painfully bad dialogue.

Not even entertainingly terrible.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Love Nest (1951)

Jim Scott returns home from the war to discover that his wife Connie has bought an apartment block with the wages he's been sending home.  Not a bad idea on her part, on the face of it: it gives them not just a place to live, but also rental income from the tenants.

Unfortunately, Connie rather got fleeced by the unscrupulous previous owner.  She paid above the market price, and there's the little matter of faulty plumbing, crumbling plaster, and dodgy lights.  The place is, in other words, a money pit.  Just how much of one becomes clear when the Department of Housing gives them two weeks to fix all the wiring or the building will be condemned.

All of which would put any marriage under strain, but Jim rather compounds the problem by renting one of the apartments to an old army buddy.  An old army buddy who happens to be a member of the Women's Auxiliary Corps.  An old army buddy, in other words, who happens to be Marilyn Monroe.  A wife who hasn't seen her husband for nearly three years might be forgiven for feeling a little threatened in the circumstances.

But at least there's nothing else for Jim and Connie to worry about.  I mean, it's not like the nice old man who just moved into the place is secretly a notorious confidence trickster, or anything like that, right? ... right?

This is a pretty fun little situation comedy.  None of the situations it throws up are going to be unfamiliar - after all, they weren't exactly new when the film was made, and the movie's old enough to draw the pension, now - but it has a breezy air to it that's quite appealing, and the actors playing Jim and Connie work very well together.

If you're in the mood for something feather light and fun, this isn't a bad option at all.

Friday, 15 January 2016

Department S (1969)

I believe I've said before that writing mystery shows is pretty tough.  You've got to come up with a crime that's convoluted enough the solution is not immediately obvious when the show starts, but simple enough that the audience can follow along ... and then you have to set it up, stage the investigation, and hit a satisfying conclusion all in the space of 45 minutes.  Oh, and if you could work in some character stuff in the process, all the better.

It's probably not surprising therefore that a lot of shows rely on a bit of prestidigitation to help them along: either by introducing some means of magical mystery-solving (Holmesian "logic" in any Sherlock Holmes adaptation, forensic science in any brand of CSI) or by distracting you with other things.  For an example of the latter, consider Castle, which has the romance between the leads, a solid dose of humour, and the charisma of its supporting cast, to make up for any deficiencies in the mystery of the week.

Department S goes for a little of both strategies.  On the one hand we have the uncannily accurate deductive leaps made by Jason King (he of the mustache, above).  On the other we have the gimmick that the mysteries they face are inevitably peculiar.  "Why would someone break into a morgue and shoot a corpse?" or "Why would someone steal a crate of soup cans ... and then dump all the cans?" being typical examples.

Alas, neither of these devices really work that well.  In fact, the latter one often actively detracts from the show, as the answers to the questions are almost never as interesting as the questions themselves, which kind of inevitably leads to disappointment.  There are some reasonably fun episodes - the soup can one is pretty good, and there's one involving chemical weapons which I also liked - but more often than not you're left with the feeling that if the criminals / Soviet agents responsible for the mystery had simply chosen a less bizarre method of completing their objective, they'd have had a much greater chance of success.

The show is also let down to some extent by the cheapness with which it was made.  There's an unintentionally hysterical scene where two characters are "jogging", for instance, and it is painfully clear they're running on the spot in front of a green screen.  But if the hit vs miss ratio of the mysteries were better, I could forgive stuff like that.

If you're looking for groovy 60s detectives, I suggest you stick with Steed and Mrs Peel, instead.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets' Nest (2009)

I very much enjoyed the sober, methodical style of the first film in this series: it made a refreshing change from the more action-oriented tone of a Hollywood techno-thriller.  I was therefore a bit disappointed when the sequel became exactly what I'd liked the original for not being.

This last film of the trilogy (or at least the original trilogy: apparently there's been a fourth book by a different author) continues to be more in the "car chases and fistfights" oeuvre, though it is significantly more restrained than its immediate predecessor.  There's no scene of Lisbeth Salander clawing her way out of her own grave this time, for instance.

Though to be honest, there's no scene of Lisbeth Salander doing much at all in this film.  She spends most of the movie's run time in police custody, either at hospital or in a cell, while other characters do the work of disproving the allegations brought against her by a secret cabal of intelligence officers.  It's an unfortunate position for the title character and one-time proactive, independent woman to be in.  Even the script itself seems to realise that, as it includes a sub-plot that exists solely to give Lisbeth an action scene to take part in, right at the end of the film.

Neither the above flaws nor the film's other weakness - a distinct failure to generate any real tension over the outcome - prevented me from enjoying the movie while it was on, but it never rises above the status of being a tolerable time-waster.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Messiah of Evil (1973)

You probably haven't heard of this film, either under the title above or the alternative appellation of Dead People.  Had it been released six months later, however, things might have been different.

This is not because the film is all that great.  Nor is it because the extra time would have let them fix its problems - the issues are too profound for that.  It's because the husband and wife who wrote and directed this film were also the co-authors of a little film called American Graffiti, which hit cinemas three months after this.  Had the order been reversed, this might have got a higher profile release.

Or maybe it wouldn't, since as I mentioned, it is a deeply flawed film.  Not entirely without merit - there are some interesting visual themes and a couple of really well staged sequences that frankly deserve to be in a better film - but deeply flawed.

The two biggest flaws?  First is its tendency to tell, not show.  There is a lot of narration in this film.  A lot.  There's narration over a chase scene.  Frankly, part of what makes the good sequences stand out so much is that they are among the few times the narrator shuts up.

The second biggest flaw is that for all the narration, the characters' motivations aren't at all clear.  We get to see (and hear) what they do, but there's little indication why.

The plot's straightforward enough, albeit told in a deliberately obfuscating manner.  A young woman comes to a seaside town in search of her father, a well known artist.  She falls in with a trio of alternate-lifestyle-types who are also from out of town, and spends her time alternately reading her missing father's diary and sort-of-flirting with the male member of the trio.  Eventually, we learn what happened to daddy: vampires.

As I said, there are two really well done scenes in the film (the supermarket and the cinema, should you want to try googling them), and some interesting visual themes (the vampires are all dressed in respectable upper/middle class attire, putting them at clear odds with the more counter-culture 'good guys').  These interesting elements can't save the film, however.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Gamera vs Jiger (1970)

This is one of the better entries in the original series of Gamera films, but that's honestly more down to how bad some of the others are than how good this one is.

World Expo 1970 was held in Osaka, and this film makes use of that fact in its story, with much of the action being set there.  Most importantly for the film's purposes however, the Gamera-verse Expo will feature a mini-sub (which looks suspiciously similar to the one in last week's review) and also a strange, ancient statue from tiny "Wester Island".

When a team of archaeologists begins their plan to airlift the status off the island, Gamera turns up and attempts to stop them.  Apparently these guys have somehow managed to not hear about any of the big turtle's previous adventures, because they treat him as a dangerous monster and open fire with rifles.  This can't really hurt Gamera of course, but it does distract him enough that the helicopter with the statue is able to leave.

Surprise surprise, a giant monster subsequently emerges on Wester Island.  This is Jiger, a bulky reptilian quadruped with a truly odd assortment of powers: it can jump great distances by expelling steam from its body, shoot quills from its head, emit an arc of high frequency sound, and inject eggs into other giant monsters via an ovipositor-like barb in its tail.

It'll use all of these abilities in its subsequent tussles with Gamera, of course, with the ovipositor having the largest story role.  Injected with a larva, the big turtle falls into a coma, and the inevitable group of precocious kids must pilot the minisub inside him and perform a Kaiju-sized abortion.

If you're a guys-in-rubber-suits-fanatic, you'll probably get some value out of this, but everyone else can safely skip it.

Monday, 11 January 2016

Let's Make It Legal (1951)

Like the last two films from this pack, this movie dates to the period where Monroe was still making her mark, and she again has only a minor role: that of a young model unsuccessfully trying to win the attention of millionaire bachelor Victor Macfarland.

The reason for Monroe's character's failure is Mrs Miriam Halsworth, whom Macfarland loved twenty years earlier, but lost to another man.  Miriam is on the verge of divorce however - the man she married was an inveterate gambler, and though he was actually quite successful at it, she grew tired of him paying more attention to the race track and the poker table than he did her.

Macfarland sees his opportunity and begins a pursuit of Miriam.  This does not sit well with the soon-to-be-divorced Mr Halsworth however, who has ambitions to win Miriam back.  Not that he seems to be inclined to give up his gambling habits as part of pursuing those ambitions, mind you.

It's nice to see a film structured around a romantic tussle over a woman who is explicitly a grandmother in the script, and who is played by an age appropriate actor, but my appreciation is definitely undermined by the fact that neither of the men chasing her appears to be worth a damn.  Macfarland is just as quick to put his business and political ambitions ahead of her as her ex was to prioritise his gambling, and I've already pointed out the obvious problem with the latter man.

The film itself has good performances and some amusing patter, but at the end of the day my dislike for both suitors made it hard for me to care who Miriam chose, and on that basis, I can't recommend it.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Magnum P.I., Season 1 (1980)

Andy Sidaris's 1985 film Malibu Express features a handsome, moustachioed private investigator with a fancy car and a knack for bumping into beautiful women.  I can't imagine where he might have got the inspiration for that character.  It's so very original, and had never -- oh ... wait a second.

So obviously there might have been a tiny bit of inspiration from this show.  Oh well.  At least, unlike later Sidaris films, Malibu Express is not set in Hawai'i.

Thomas Magnum is a private investigator who lives in a guest house on the estate of reclusive author Robin Masters.  Very reclusive: we never see him on screen.  We do hear his voice though, which is provided by Orson Welles.

In any case, Magnum did a favour for Masters in the past, which is why he's allowed to stay on the estate, much to the chagrin of Masters' majordomo, Higgins.  The prim and proper Higgins is not a fan of Magnum's rather free-wheeling approach to life, and is not above setting his doberman dogs on the PI when he's finding Magnum particularly irksome.

Anyway, the show's a "mystery of the week" type deal with Magnum being called on to solve a case that pretty much invariably involves an attractive young woman in some way.  Either she's the client, or the daughter of the client, or he's hired to find her ... well, you get the idea.  Basically the formula of the show is handsome lead + fast car + gorgeous scenery + attractive woman = ratings.  I'm sure Sidaris figured the same thing.

The thing that separates Magnum P.I. from Sidaris's film - other than the need to stick to TV content regulations - is that the people making this show knew what they were doing.  They know how to hit the light and breezy tone they're going for, and they're not above a little stylistic cheekiness: Magnum often delivers voice-over narration of the type you might get in a noir film, even though the show is pretty much as not-noirish as you could imagine.

Magnum P.I. was a very successful show of its time and it is not hard to see why.  It's certainly not deep or challenging TV, but it has a likeable cast and a solid formula, and it delivers engaging light entertainment.  Despite the very different character line-up and setting, it fills a similar role to something like Castle would today.

Friday, 8 January 2016

The Avengers (2012)

When The Avengers was announced, there was still something of a question mark hanging over the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Yes, Marvel had made several solid films, but (1) only the two Iron Man entries could be considered bona fide hits, financially speaking and (2) they'd not previously tackled a team film, and there was a lot of scepticism about whether audiences would embrace the larger roster of characters.

Yeah, well we can consider that question mark well and truly blown away.  Audiences flocked to The Avengers: as of the time of writing, it is the 4th highest grossing film of all time, though I suspect a certain other Disney property will knock it down a spot (it it hasn't already).

I'm pleased to say that the success of the film is wholly deserved.  Marvel assembled a great cast over the course of the "phase one" films leading up to this one, then it gave them a smart, funny, action-packed script to work with.  Whether it be Black Widow's interrogation scenes, the banter between Iron Man and Captain America, or the city smashing climactic action sequence, there's almost certain to be something about the film that charms you.  For me, it's the way the film shows the central cast being heroes, not just soldiers.  Given the choice between saving lives and just punching bad guys, they invariably and instinctively choose the former.

The plot?  Rogue Asgardian Loki arrives on Earth and steals a very dangerous artefact.  Only an eclectic group of powerful but-not-exactly-easy-to-work-with individuals can stop him.  If they can get on the same page long enough to gel as a team, that is.

Great stuff: if you only see one Marvel film, it should probably be this one (though honestly it does work even better if you've seen the first Thor, Iron Man and Captain America films before sitting down to it).

Thursday, 7 January 2016

The Girl Who Played With Fire (2009)

While the three-tier rating system I use on this blog has the advantage of simplicity, it does also mean that the qualified recommendation, as the middle band, tends to cover rather a wide range.  For instance, it stretches from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - which I only nudged down from a full recommendation because of the sexual violence and the fact that lots of people are funny about subtitles - to this film, which only just scrapes into the bottom of the band on the basis that I know lots of people are really into this sort of cinematic nonsense.

And make no mistake, this film is nonsense.  The measured and compelling mystery of the first movie is jettisoned in favour of car chases and contrivances.  Which doesn't necessarily make for a bad film, mind you.  The Fast and the Furious franchise is pretty much built on such silliness, and the last four films in the series have all been good fun.  On the other hand, I think that a big part of their success comes from their rapid pace and non-stop spectacle.  For my money, that momentum is what is missing from this movie.  Its pace is simply too methodical, leaving the weaknesses of the plot exposed because I have enough time to stop and think about them.

Said plot involves the murder of a young journalist who is on the verge of exposing a sex trafficking ring.  The murder weapon is left at the scene, and proves to have the fingerprints of Lisbeth Salander on it.  Lisbeth goes into hiding and she and the dead man's colleagues - which include the journalist whom she helped in the previous movie - separately begin investigations into what really happened.  The mystery will soon prove to have deeply personal implications for Lisbeth, while also seeing her survive stuff even John McClane would have trouble walking away from.

It's a tolerable action-thriller I guess, but it's a pale shadow of the first film.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972)

Like a lot of low budget horror flicks, this film is "blessed" with multiple titles, so you might find it as Night of the Dark Full Moon or Death House.  Unlike many of them, though, it is also endowed with a remake (Silent Night, Bloody Night: the Homecoming), while a sequel is reputed to be in production.

So does this film have something that others of its ilk do not, to explain why it generated enough interest for a remake and sequel?  Well honestly, I suspect that the main reason for its endurance is its Christmas Eve setting.  About five years after its release it became a regular part of the late night film rotation during November and December, which doubtless means it was seen by a lot of teenagers in the late 70s and early 80s.

Despite my rather prosaic suspicions about the cause of its success, I must give the film some credit.  While the script is errant nonsense - and creepy for all the wrong reasons - the central performances are all solid, and there's some fine giallo-style direction, right down to murders from the killer's and/or victim's point of view.  The writer/director was definitely better at the latter than the former.

So what's the less-than-stellar story about?  Well, a man dies and leaves his estate to his young grandson.  As part of the bequest, he stipulates in his Will that his house must be preserved unchanged.

Twenty years later, the grandson wants to sell the home.  But when he and his lawyer arrive in town to arrange a sale to a group of notable locals (the mayor, the sheriff, and so on), someone starts murdering everyone involved in the transaction.  Who?  Why?  Well honestly the answers to those questions are not worth your time, even if the journey to get to them is significantly better than the destination.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Gamera vs Viras (1968)

You know, Godzilla's turn to the side of good wasn't the most rousing moment in cinema history - it involved him and Mothra bellowing at one another while the miniature women from Monster Island translated - but at least it happened on screen.  In the space of three films, Gamera's gone from "dangerous energy-eating monster" to "friend to all children" without a single syllable of explanation.

This movie opens with aliens from the planet Viras planning to conquer Earth and make it their new home.  But Gamera flies up into space and smashes their goofy looking space ship to pieces.  They do however manage to get off a message to their homeworld before they are destroyed.

Meanwhile on Earth, a pair of deeply annoying boy scouts play silly pranks with a miniature submarine.  Somehow this results in them being allowed to take the sub out for themselves. They encounter Gamera and have a race with him, but their "hi-jinks" are interrupted by the arrival of the second spaceship from Viras.  It looks identical to the first, of course.  Wouldn't want to build two models.

The bad guys temporarily imprison Gamera and scan his brainwaves to assess his powers and weaknesses.  This involves playing ten straight minutes of recycled footage from the previous three films in the series.  It also alerts them to how protective he is of children, so they turn that against him by kidnapping the two boys.

Most of the rest of the film is actually taken up by the brats running around the alien spaceship, though we do also get a few scenes - again all recycled from earlier films - of a now brainwashed Gamera rampaging through Japan at the command of the aliens.

After a bunch more plot points so stupid that I refuse to recount them, Gamera is freed of enemy control.  He smashes the second alien spaceship like he did the first.  Then the leader of the Viras grows into a giant octopus monster and Gamera smashes him too.  Mercifully, the movie then ends.

Monday, 4 January 2016

As Young As You Feel (1951)

A man with extremely impressive whiskers loses his job when he reaches the mandatory retirement age for all employees of the Consolidated Motors group.  Which surprises him, because he doesn't work for them, but for Acme Printing.

When he investigates, however, he discovers that Acme is a subsidiary of a subsidiary of a subsidiary of a subsidiary of a subsidiary of a subsidiary of CM.  He resolves to write a letter to the president of Consolidated Motors, asking them to change the policy and allow older employees who are still willing and able to work to continue to do so.

Which is when he discovers that no-one in Acme's personnel department can even tell him who the president of CM even is.

And so, a simple scheme is born: to impersonate the president of CM and persuade the executives of Acme to change their policy, so he can have his own job back.  There's no way that could possibly get out of hand, right?

This is a mostly good-natured comedy that does not take itself too seriously.  It's also another film in this boxed set where Monroe has a fairly minor role - she plays the secretary of Acme's CEO - but she does well with the relatively limited time she's given.

Barring some of the old-fashioned social attitudes that you can expect from a film of this era, As Young As You Feel is a pleasant little romp.  The lightest of light entertainment, and a total cinematic souffle, but sometimes that's exactly what you want out of a film.

Friday, 1 January 2016

Carver (2015)

Nearly two years ago, I reviewed Pathogen for this blog.  This was a zombie film that was written and directed in 2004 by the then-13 year old Emily Hagins.

Apparently there is something about the name Emily, because this film was written and directed by thirteen year old Emily DiPrimio.  It's not a zombie flick this time, though: instead it's a slasher film that deliberately echoes the style of 80s 'classics' of the genre like the original Friday the 13th films.

Now DiPrimio has some advantages over Hagins, starting with the fact that she was making her movie ten years later, when better equipment had become available.  Also, her father is in the industry, so she had been on film sets since she was 4 years old.  Finally, crowdfunding had become a thing: she was able to raise money on kickstarter (which is how I got my copy of the film), which gave her considerably more resources than Hagins had.

So is the end result a better movie?  Well, technically speaking, definitely.  The lighting is better, the sound is way better and the acting - from the adult cast at least - is of a much higher standard.  Though this is hardly surprising given that Hagins did much of her casting by door knocking in the neighbourhood.

However, to my mind a slasher film lives and dies (so to speak) on its killer and their kills.  And I think here the movie stumbles.  "The Carver" isn't a particularly memorable or interesting figure visually, and the kill scenes - though they employ an enthusiastic amount of fake blood - mostly feel a bit static.  They lack the impact and visceral edge I would have liked to see.  It was probably also a mistake to draw out the 'the killer revealed' scene quite so long: it's a big old block of exposition and flashback.

Carver is clearly the work of a novice film-maker.  I think I could only recommend it to you if you're both (a) a fan of slasher films and (b) curious to see a 13-year old's attempt at the genre.  But I definitely don't regret the money I spent to back the project, and I'll be curious to see more from Ms DiPrimio in the future as she matures as a writer and director.  Her web series Violet already shows some development of her skills.