Saturday, 22 September 2007

Ain’t looking good for Britain…

Ever since the dawn of time (e.g, 1900), film-makers have been fascinated with the future and what lies ahead for mankind. Some seem to have pinned the metaphorical tail straight on the donkey of time, with Metropolis (1925) predicting the rise of momentous monorails and everyday flying machines; through to The Matrix (1999) who predicted our love of little blue pills. Boing.

Some of the more unforgettable science fiction movies have been created by our own British novelists: Mary Shelly, Victor Hugo, and John Wyndham. Not forgetting George Orwell and H G Wells; the very creators of British sci-fi, who are still churning out Hollywood hits such as War of The Worlds and Animal Farm. Maybe these two film giants should not be placed on the same scale, but WoTW will hopefully soon discover their mistake of believing weeds are so much cooler than pigs. Have they ever been to Yorkshire?

Let’s focus on H G Wells, a personal favourite of mine. Having read The Time Machine, and seen the movie (not counting the more recent one, but who honestly does?), anyone can see they jazzed up the original though-provoking book into an action-packed testicle fest with daring rescue missions, cannibal scenes and lava pits. I enjoyed both versions of the story, but I still wonder why they turned a cowardly scientist (let’s call him Shaggy), into a hunky liberator for the future, (let’s call him Alex). It’s quite creepy to think that even though this film was created in 1960, they added the threat of nuclear war, during the year of 1966. This kind of plot isn’t unheard of; A Clockwork Orange, 1984 and Brave New World are but a few more examples of Britain’s grim future, yet they’re all set in our past.

As I mentioned before, WoTW has become a huge hit over the last few years thanks to great actors, effects, music and directed by the legendary sci-fi guy himself; Spielberg. Although many changes were made, one of the more major ones was to shift the location from London to New York. They’re similar I guess, in that they’re both in charge, the people are large and not much else. What I really liked about the original WoTW, was the fact that I could share the protagonist’s journey through Britain and recognise certain accents or landmarks I’ve seen myself. Well that, and the hilariously appalling crash scene at the finale. Wanna know what really exterminated the alien menace? Morgan Freeman and his penguin horde.

Speaking of hordes, America has had more than it’s fair share of apocalypses. They can keep their fancy Terminators, and we’ll stick to our Triffids, thanks very much. A handful of futuristic American dystopias such as I, Robot and A Scanner Darkly are the brainchildren of writer Philip K. Dick. Although they are staged and located around the US, they all seem to stem from the typical British sci-fi themes: corrupt government, hallucinogenic drugs and the use of needless and new technologies. Sounds like a day at the races for the States, but still has it’s roots buried in the little Empire that is the United Kingdom. I should probably stop digging on at them so much, as without their superior budgets and resources, superstar films such as Blade Runner, Logan’s Run and The Running Man would never have been created! And where would that leave us? Very unfit I guess….

Another gruesome end that Britain may inevitably face thanks to cinema is the threat of zombies, and all the merriment that surrounds them. 28 Days Later was perhaps the most profound British zombie movie, causing quite a stir in horror-circles for containing themes that remained unused until now. The zombies are quite alive in this film, but having ingested the Rage virus, they are drawn into a blood-thirsty and ultraviolent unconsciousness, where memories and reasonable thought are lost completely. To be true, it’s not the first appearance of such a style, but never has it been applied so delicately. Even the director, Danny Boyle identified “John Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids as the original inspiration for the story”. Cillian Murphy and Christopher Eccleston, both renowned British actors, are to be found amongst the credits, playing their roles superbly and realistically. With the introduction of 28 Weeks Later, and the planned 28 Months Later (2009), one cannot feel disappointed at the film industry for failing to realise once again, LEAVE THE FRIGGING SEQUALS OUT OF IT.

One of the most recent British classics and, in my eyes, one of the greatest but disturbing dystopias ever created for our tiny island. Children of Men blew me away when I first saw it, and not because of the amazing action towards the end, or the stylistic directing, or the brilliant acting on all accounts. It was the scarily realistic plot that won it over on me. The idea that all immigrants were to be placed in a Nazi-themed concentration camp, and treated like an inferior species until they rose up and took on the country by force, scared the shit out of me, as I could see it happening before my own eyes. It really felt as if we were heading for such a bleak future, where all over superpowers have fallen to war or poverty, teenagers violently rule the streets and racism is rife once again. It’s hard not to see the similarities between this future and a past that we encounted only a few decades ago. This is a must-see for anyone that I know, and that I don’t, and I can guarantee that if you aren’t worried about this possibility, then you’re in the wrong country mate.

Soon to be heading our way is an American style “last man on earth” wasteland movie, starring New York (peopleless) and Will Smith (topless). The idea branches from earlier movies on this genre, but with the twist that he’s not alone in the city, and that diseased mutants are hiding and waiting to unleash an ugly and brutal revenge. To be honest, I’m pretty excited about I Am Legend, and although I could be wrong about this film, I’d still like to go see. There are also tales of a similar tale coming out in 2009 aptly named Doomsday, written and directed by Neil Marshall, starring Malcolm McDowell, who excellently played Alex in A Clockwork Orange 40 years earlier. If this kind of story really interests you so, give Stephen King’s Novel The Stand a checkout, a long story of fear and hope in a post-apocalyptic America, fuelled by religion and warfare. Definitely one to keep away from the kids…

And so, I put it to all you out there, that we British have a great knack for a certain genre; the post-apocalyptic, fascist governed, drug controlled, zombie ridden, deceptive dystopias that we so love. And to think I was worried about the lack of llama farms…

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Run, Fat Boy, Run Review

Run, Fat Boy, Run has caused some friction in the I Hate How Fake Hollywood Is... camp. Initial reviews haven’t been consistent; Empire gave it 3 stars (which sounds fine until you compare it to the 4’s it gave to Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, Pegg’s previous gems) but it faired reasonably well on Rotten Tomatoes and they’ve split us slightly. Ben, low on cinema going funds with many possibly better opportunities on which to spend his pennies deemed it something he’d wait for the DVD of. Fair enough, but I’m not that patient and so with a freshly paid allowance I decided I’d give it a shot and so did Alex (although I bagsied reviewing privileges before hand.) So a motley crew was gathered together, and we were cinema bound! Get on with the review I hear you shout, well, fine…here it is.

I was pleasantly surprised…the film I saw wasn’t nearly as bad as the one described in its reviews, but then I suppose they could have mixed the reels up. The gags weren’t predictable (as Empire had described them) and Pegg easily led the film, backed up by a whole host of excellent comedic actors playing some great characters. Run, Fat Boy, Run had a couple of pretty successful and handsome big brothers to try and live up to (despite not being part of the Ice Cream Trilogy, it’s always going to be compared to Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) and it did very well with style and ease.

The plot goes that Pegg’s character leaves his pregnant girlfriend at the altar (basically because he’s scared shitless, but there’s an excellent cameo by a ginger hair piece in the early movie) which leads to him falling into a life of slobbish disregard for himself. He then finds out about the new man in her life and sees competition he’s never had before. And thus the duel begins, the outcome you’ll have to find out by getting your butt to the cinema, but lets just say our anti-hero is helped along the way by the Irish cousin of aforementioned girlfriend and his over weight, spatula wielding, moped riding landlord. While Whit (who I have cunningly renamed ‘the Twit’) needs the help of no one, not that there’d be any space in the room, his ego is already lounging on every available surface.

I think Simon Pegg deserves an award simply for being filmed in the most appalling pair of lycra shorts cinema has ever seen, seriously - new category at the Baftas. His slob was made likeable and realistic (with the help of a fat suit), you can’t help but for him to beat the living monkeys out of Twit or whatever his name was. He made up for the lack of Nick Frost by taking advantage of good chemistry with the rest of the cast, particularly Dylan Moran (his Irish friend, a regular collaborator with Pegg) and Harish Patel (his slightly unhinged landlord.)
Moran was brilliant as the Irish best friend/cousin (seemingly part of the most multi-cultural family in all of filmdom) who was something of a scene stealer, involved in a seedy gambling group, chain smoking and inclined towards worryingly incestuous comments.
The American ‘perfect’ guy, Whit, who turns out to be an utter bastard (oh, come on. We all saw it coming) is played by Hank ‘voices most of the minor characters in the Simpsons’ Azaria. Previously I’d only ever seen him act, act in Friends and then a Julia Roberts movie where he ponces around in Speedos and talks in a funny accent – so I wasn’t sure how he’d fare against his cast makes. I’m happy to say I under estimated him, he plays an excellent bastard.

Thandie Newton, who most people will recognise from Crash and possibly the Pursuit of Happyness, I sadly recognised from her brief stint in ER – but no more should be said about it. Her character was probably the one with the least ‘funny potential’ written into the script, but she played Libby well, to the extent that you didn’t immediately label her as the one put in to bump up the serious factor. She had quirks rather than obvious funniness and I think that stopped the film from being a little too sickly in the laugh department.

It has to be said the old ones were still the best. The profanity spewing little old lady, the inappropriately disgusting expulsion of bodily fluids (from a highly unlikely place – you’ve seen it in the trailer, but the entire scene is just so much better), the Asian landlord who came up with an excellent metaphor that made me chuckle long after the rest of the audience had stopped (its about toothpaste, look out for it) and the kid spewing profanities - not that this film bases itself on comedic swearing.

David Schwimmer should be very proud of this film, he’s doing something quite brave by switching from acting – a career for which he is so well known and this may help him lose the ‘Ross from Friends’ tagline that voice work in animated films was never going to touch. It is most definitely the best of his directing efforts thus far and I look forward to seeing more of like this in the future.

The general consensus from my fellow cinema goers was that it was ‘dead good’ – and these people are taking English, worrying isn’t it? But yeah, it seemed to go down better than expected, even if they did only have sweet popcorn at the schnack stand, which put something of a dampener on the opening. And this wasn’t deemed to be ‘too boyish’ by the owners of two X chromosomes as Hot Fuzz was (something I, a couple of shiny X’s completely disagree with by the way, Hot Fuzz was brilliant.) I warn ye, this isn’t one for the squeamish…or those with a nudity phobia but it’s most definitely worth the price of a cinema ticket.

Genre Value: 4/5
Entertainment Value: 4/5
Style: 3.5/5
Overall Rating: 4/5

Monday, 17 September 2007

Death Proof Review

Ah, Grindhouse. The UK's biggest disappointment of this calendar year, hyped by critics, ignored by idiots. Sorry, Americans. The dream-team of Tarantino and Rodriguez, working together but seperately... how could someone ignore one of the most exciting movie prospects of the past couple of years, all due to a not-particularly-bum-numbing 3 hours? If people can sit through three Rings films, surely they can have a blast watching Grindhouse?

When I found out that Girndhouse was to be split for the UK, I was furious. Surely, I thought to myself, this defeats the whole point of the Grindhouse experience, the entire essence of the film's creation? Why ruin it for us, just because the Americans didn't "get" it? Not only was it loved by critics, but lots of people who did go and see it, loved it. The news came that Tarantino was going to extend Death Proof with footage he wanted in the film originally, before deciding it was too long. I was worried - would this be half the film I was expecting?

The answer is no. The long and short of it is, Death Proof is absolutely brilliant. From the opening shot, once again showcasing Tarantino's foot fetish, to the fantastic close, the film is always incredibly entertaining. At times it's exciting, at times it's sexy, and, as ever with QT, it's effortlessly cool. The whole film is incredibly well directed, deliciously authentic and decidedly witty. It's standard Tarantino dialogue, but that still means it a huge cut above the average, Tracie Thoms especially benefitting from some hilarious comic timing. Some people do not realise that a slight plot and simple plot are not the same thing. Death Proof is definitely the latter, an interesting premise gloriously realised and not over-complicating itself for the sake of it. Kurt Russell is especially good as deranged killer Stuntman Mike, all slashed face and malicious grin. But he's also surprisingly charming, even when it's part of a facade to lull his victims into a false sense of security. To be honest, half the time you can't really blame them.

As previously stated, it's magnificently well made. QT, sometimes praised more for his writing, is such a talented directed that only the blind couldn't see how competently he's made this. Despite the 2-Hour running time [which, to be honest, is mostly talking], there's always something interesting to look at, be it the shots themselves or the various blips, crackles and missing frames used. It's all done to stunning effect - it's so captivating you can't help but feel transported to a different time. I particularly enjoyed the short monochrome section at the start of the film's second half, and the opening warning about it being rated 'R'. One horrific scene, approximately an hour in, is replayed from so many different angles that you feel slightly disorientated from watching it [in a good way].

The film is very much in two halves - two sets of victims, two different cities, two opposing outcomes. In the first we meet minimal big stars, not counting the extended cameos from QT himself and his splatter-buddy Eli Roth, and it's all about the build-up. Some people have complained that there is no build-up, but it's so subtly done that they most likely didn't realise. Each scenario always feels like it's leading somewhere, making it all the more watchable. In the second half, the big names come into play, with a fabulous array of colours illuminating the less-scratchy-flickery screen.

Rosario Dawson is excellent as usual, Mary Elizabeth Winstead is left slightly trailing, but it's Zoe Bell [Uma Thurman's stunt double in Kill Bill] that deserves the big mention. Playing herself, she's a great character, and does all of her own [amazing] stunts. The finale is taut and exciting, a real-edge-of-your-seat unpredictable chase before reaching its crowd-pleasing destination. QT's made his own sub-genre by mashing others together [grindhouse, serial killer, stalker, thriller, action] - stalk 'n' smash to hugely entertaining effect.

There are one or two small negatives to that large amount of positives. For starters, it's by no means the "slasher movie at 200 MPH" that Tarantino initially promised. It starts reasonably slowly, like all of QT's films, before steadily gaining more and more digits on its speed-o-meter. Also, the film is really great, but Quentin hasn't really moved on much. I guess he has his own style, but it's not wildly different to what he's done before. He's even re-used the "feature presentation" retro starter that he's used before.

But these are only very slight downers in what is otherwise genuinely one of the best films of the year. It's so well made with so much passion, lots of [interesting and amusing] talk mixed with some of the best car chases I've ever seen. Usually, there isn't somebody on the bonnet... it's so striking you can't ignore it, and it's all the better for its OTT factor. It feels so genuine that now I'm more annoyed about the split than ever before. Bring on Planet Terror.


Genre Value: 4.5/5
Entertainment Value: 4.5/5
Style: 4.5/5
Overall Rating: 4.5/5

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

I Don't Want My Mummy

Whilst this year was officially the "year of the threequel", one franchise managed to escape, delaying itself by another 12 months or so - luckily for us.

The original remake of The Mummy was an entertaining, ghoulish thrill ride, all sand-whipping CGI, walking dead egyptians and killer beatles. It was genuinely scary [well, I was only 8...], guiltily using any plot device at its disposal, be it mummies, plagues or wartime rivalry, but always managing to chundle along pleasantly enough.

The sequel - with it's oh so original title The Mummy Returns - is one of the worst films I've ever seen. It tried so hard to exceed its predecessor that it left out what was so enjoyable about it. The Rock sucked. The CGI went backwards, and it was frankly ridiculous. The plot rambled, the action was disengaging and yet it still spawned a spin-off, The Scorpion King - another failure in my eyes.

So it shall come as no surprise that the Mummy 3 does not have a lot going for it. Director Stephen Sommers took a break from the series to direct the abysmal Van Helsing, and even he hasn't bothered returning to the franchise that made his name. Neither has Rachel Weisz, who has since moved on to bigger and better things. Also did I mention that it's called The Mummy: Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor? Having read a simple plot outline, I found myself reading the words "shape-shifting entity", "curse" and "wizard". Oh dear.

I'll let you make your own mind up, but you can be sure I won't be reviewing this one. Unless we start an "awful films" section. Which I might well do.

In other movie news, Indy 4 gets a title! Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is released on 22nd May 2008. Awesome!

Friday, 7 September 2007

Just Joking

Is anyone else getting incredibly excited about the Batman Begins sequel - The Dark Knight [due for release next year]? Every new picture released gets me even more excited. If you've seen any, you'll know why.

At the end of the [incredible] Batman Begins, the Joker is hinted at as the next villain to be used. When a casting call went out and Heath Ledger was eventually chosen for the role, I was wary, unable to picture him as a real bad guy after seeing him in A Knight's Tale and 10 Things I Hate About You. My faith has been comfortably restored and surpassed.

Does that not just scare the crap out of you?! The Joker looks seriously twisted, and like a real villain [something I feel Begins rather lacked - sure there was a crime gang, but Scarecrow wasn't featured much...]. Ledger's described his character as an "anarchic, junkie Joker".

Not only does the villain look amazing/terrifying, but other highlights of the re-boot have been improved, such as the Batmobile - there's now a bat bike [awesome!] and the suit has been re-designed [thankfully without nipples] to be harder, tougher and stronger.

I guess I'll have to wait for the film to be released to see if it'll be better than Begins. May can't come soon enough...

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Shock Shock Horror Horror

I'm hoping to write a lot more on this blog in the future, just about anything film related, really. I shall soon be watching Blades of Glory [the Will Ferrell ice-skating comedy] and may well be reviewing that, and am looking at starting a new "classic reviews" section, reviewing, you guessed it, classic films. Ellie is mid-Airplane! review, so watch out for that soon.

Today I will be adding my two cents to the 1408 debate [handily rhyming]. Many people have said to me to go and see it, but the truth is that shlock horror no longer interests me. If you spoke to me a year a go, I would've gushed about House of Wax and Final Destination, but not today. No sir-ee. One day I realised that most horror movies are complete wastes of time. Scares are often manufactured through creaky doors and dark rooms until they are no longer scary - just uninteresting and uniform. I laughed out loud [lolled?] at the similarity between these two posters, from the same team of producers/writers or whatever.

This a perfect example of the point I'm trying to make. All horror movies seem to have the same themes, stories and conventions [I know this is obvious, but look at negatively]. Not only are these two posters exactly the same, but Apartment 1303 looks as if it shared a writer with 1408. I'm looking for originality in horror, something thats actually scary, not some crazed japanese ghost or haunted house. If you want something genuinely scary, look for The Descent or Severance. The premise of each is disturbingly possible - well, maybe not the Descent's creatures, but the shocking beginning and primal fears involved are - and is much better for it. Don't let Severance's "horror-comedy" tag fool you - the horror vastly outweighs the comedy, and it is honestly terrifying. Hell, even the first Saw film is worth a watch - if only for that stunning twist. Looks past the pretty awful dialogue and the declining sequels [Saw III belongs in the sick and twisted bargain bin] and there is an exciting, intelligent thriller [not really horror - trust me on that] with more brains than gore. And if anyone tries to tell you that Hostel is good, there's obviously something wrong with them.

Basically, what I'm trying to say is, most horror films are shite.

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

The Prodigal Son Returns

After what was, let's face it, a rather long and unnecessary absence, I've returned to my old film blog. Summer's come and gone, and, when you think about it, it was slightly disappointing for movies. There were some great new franchise starters [Transformers, The Simpsons Movie], some entertaining/exciting sequels [Pirates, Spider-Man, Bourne Ultimatum, Harry Potter], but also some real crap. Fantastic Four, Rush Hour and Shrek all came out with cash in hand, but with significantly dwindling reviews and feedback, and didn't live up to any anticipation/hype set around them. Nowadays, just slapping some people and FX on a screen does not a good movie make. The people behind these movies obviously didn't get the memo. It was a real shame, especially for Shrek The Third, which became the very thing it was trying to be different from, and was the big red cross in the previously enchanting, daring and hilarious record.

But now it's time to look on at the rest of the year. The Golden Compass is released towards the end of the year, and is undoubtedly going to be the christmas movie. But I don't want to have to think forward that far yet. In the next couple of weeks, I'm certainly looking forward to Disturbia and Superbad, both of which did very well at the American box office and have been given surprisingly positive reviews. It appears Judd Apatow is the flavour of the month. Ratatouille, the next Pixar movie, also looks brilliant. After Cars, it looks like a definite return to form, and is a contender for Oscar nominations.

This week I've been keeping my eye on Kevin Smith. Anyone that knows me is likely to have heard me quote his movies at some point, and this week he's finished the script for his forthcoming "horror" movie, Red State. He has two projects planned - a comedy [Zack and Miri Make a Porno] and Red State, which he says is a "horror movie, but not a traditional horror movie". I can't wait for it - Smith claims that it's completely different from anything he's done before. Here are some quotes that I've picked up, of people describing the script:
"It's so bleak"
"it's a helluva provocative script"
Maybe not "snootchie bootchies" then...

But that's definitely one to watch out for. My thoughts about the plotline are thus: maybe about politics, giving power to the wrong people, and the world/economy going down the drain as a result. I guess we'll just have to wait and see. It's no secret that I love Kevin Smith, so you can expect lots of updates from me.

I guess that's all for today.