Sunday, 17 August 2014

Review - Not of This Earth (1957 - Dir. Roger Corman)

I haven't done very well trying to watch all of the films mentioned in F. Paul Wilson's 'Nightworld' but I'm going to try and rectify that in the coming months. So here we go with Roger Corman's Not of This Earth.

An alien agent from the planet Davana (sounds like a seventies variety act) comes down to Earth and cases the joint. He's after blood you see - aren't they always - and he uses his wily alien ways to kill unfortunates, nick their blood and performs his dastardly experiments. He enlists the help of a petty thief Jeremy and a nurse called Nadine (the saucy old devil). In fact, he pays the nurse to live in his house to "take care of him". 

I decided in true 'Nightworld' fashion to watch this at night and I'm glad that I did, much of the atmosphere would probably have been lost in a bright sunlit room. The film was made on an obviously shoestring budget but it still manages to impart a sense of dread. To turn Paul Birch into an alien, all the special effects fellows did was slap some white contacts into his eyes. Which you don't see for the majority of the film due to his Peters and Lee glasses. He is made even more alien by his Jedi mind tricks where he talks directly into people's minds. Again this is cheaply done by a bit of dubbing in post production. All simple things but, along with his performance it's pretty convincing stuff.

The music helps with the whole atmosphere thing. It is fairly typical of fifties sci-fi B-movies but it does the job very nicely. It all feels distinctly creepy and made me think that I was watching something that actually happened in 1956 and this was just a Crimewatch style reconstruction.

The story plods along in a standard kind of way. It's obvious where it's going from early on and I can't say that there's anything that memorable. Unless you count a doctor being attacked by an umbrella creature as memorable. Mmm, maybe. But the story does its job. 

As you may have guessed the special effects are poor, especially on the umbrella creature, but this also extends to the sets. One sliding door that features prominently doesn't so much slide as judder along a bit as it's pushed by some behind the scenes chain-smoking technician. It all adds to the charm, I suppose.

There was a remake of this made in 1988 as a result of a wager. Someone bet the director that he couldn't make it on the same budget (allowing for inflation) and in the same time frame as the original. This sounds quite interesting you may think, until you hear that the director was Jim Wynorski. Oh dear. On the positive side it starred ex adult specialist film starlet Traci Lords. Okay, it still sounds really bad.

Not of This Earth makes a change from the usual alien invasion stories we get nowadays. It's a lot simpler and a lot quieter experience. Yet it's surprisingly chilling at times. A good late Friday night film.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Review - Dead Space (1991 - Dir. Fred Gallo)

I'll tell you now: Marc Singer is out of the cup. Jennifer Connelly has got it sewn up and she only got 5/10 for The Hulk. Dead Space (nothing to do with the games) is a very poor film that homages to within an inch of its sad and sorry existence.

All it says on the IMDb summary is, "A deadly virus attacks the crew of a Saturn space station." Yep, that's about it. Oh as long as by 'virus' you actually mean 'alien'. And that is 'alien' in the sense of Alien and Aliens. The virus idea is virtually non-existent in the film; despite it being a mixture of every known disease, everyone quite happily walks around without hazmat suits or even face masks. In fact, their high level protection against this virulent virus is to "keep away" from it. So it's an alien then.

It thieves blatantly from the Alien franchise. But even then it does so in a tedious fashion. An android gets torn in half. Amazingly, it's not a patch on the shot from Aliens. It's so blatant that it nicks a complete line from the same film. As time goes on the alien, I mean virus, becomes quite large, a bit like the alien queen perhaps. But whereas the proper queen charges around scrapping with Ripley and chasing Newt through ducts in a manner befitting Scooby Doo, this virus quite spectacularly stands still for a bit. Well, for a while really. It's not the most mobile of creatures.

Marc Singer does nothing to liven up the proceedings; in general he wanders around aimlessly shooting. That about sums up his performance. At least he would have been able to buy himself a chip butty from his wage packet. As long as he cadged a quid off his mum.

Is this film recommendable to anyone? Maybe. There is one small subset of society that may benefit from watching this turgid piece of poop: blue spandex fetishists. Even then they could fast forward to a couple of scenes where some ladies get a bit frisky in said garments, and forget the rest. Even lovers of futuristic ear rings shouldn't bother; the best they can manage here are some curly telephone cables. Pathetic.

The only thing that Dead Space has going for it is the most prolonged bout of a creature being stabbed by a dart committed to celluloid and some waking up acting to rival Grandpa Walton. Avoid at all costs.

If you like this you could also try:
Blue Spandex Babes VI.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Review - 7 Days (2010 - Dir. Daniel Grou)

After making a resolution through watching the likes of Martyrs, Them and Eden Lake to avoid nasty, ‘real’ horror films, I found myself suckered into watching 7 Days. The cover looks like the standard Japanese ghost story and I honestly thought that was what I was about to experience. Usually not reading the blurb is a positive move, however in this case it was possibly a mistake, because 7 Days is one of the worst examples of the ‘nasty & real horror’ genre. And just like Martyrs, Frontiers and Switchblade Romance it’s French! At the risk of upsetting yet another nation; What’s wrong with these people? Lighten up a bit! (Cheers. That's all of our French readers gone. And for an alternative view on Martyrs, click here - evlkeith)

If you need a heart warming and uplifting experience this is possibly not your best film choice and there’s a big spoiler in the following paragraph. When Dr. Bruno Hamel’s (Claude Legault) daughter is abducted, abused and murdered, the good doctor manages to kidnap the perpetrator and then torture him for seven days. End of story. He uses all that medical training to good effect, but ultimately there are few other positive aspects.

It does have its interesting points however, as we can all empathise with his extreme pain, and on a reptilian level, his actions. But it’s unnerving how the nation seems to support his actions on TV, how the officer in charge (Remy Girard) empathises so deeply and how the public aid his escape. I’m guessing this may be very true to life under the circumstances. The film asks you if revenge is ever justified? But leaves you in a depressing grey area clouded by instinct, grief and doubt. Let’s just say it does its job, but it's extremely disturbing viewing. 

In many ways a good film, but without the sense of hope that I need to propel me through the darkness. Not something I enjoyed and not something I’ll watch again, but it challenges your beliefs and attitudes to retribution in a brutal fashion. Not one for Grandma and best avoided if you have a weak stomach.

If you like this you could also try:
The Horseman, Big Bad Wolves.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Review - Hulk (2003 - Dir. Ang Lee)

I'm becoming increasingly doubtful that Requiem For a Dream will ever come up as a random choice for Jennifer Connelly in this year's FA Cup. When Hulk cropped up I can't say I was that enamoured. I have seen it ages ago and all I can remember are some really stupid CGI dogs. Apart from that it made no impact on me.

Let's give it a try anyway. I actually found it more entertaining this time. I think that with low expectations it was a lot more fun. Well, kind of. It's by Ang Lee, so it's a really weird mixture of characters chatting about important stuff in a drama based fashion and then a portion of Hulk smash. Bizarre is not the word. But 'a bit of a mess' could be the phrase. Even so I couldn't help enjoying it.

Surely everyone knows the origin story of The Hulk so I won't bother going into it too much apart from there is a slight change in the form of Bruce Banner's dad, played by a wild haired Nick Nolte, who has been naughtily experimenting on himself and passing on his altered genes to his unborn son. It doesn't really add anything apart from giving the film its CG based villain for the final act. Regardless of the details, Bruce soon turns green (and not through a tequila binge) and hits things. Hard.

As a one off the comic book style employed is actually pretty non-irritating with some interesting transitions between scenes and it suits the smashy side of the film well. Split screen features at times and again is non-irritating in this context. It's a good thing that other superhero films haven't adapted this style though or it would have got very tired very quickly.

Iron Man, Superman and Captain America work well on film whereas other superheroes don't. Batman hasn't yet worked nearly as well, apart from in animated form (and yes that does include the vastly overrated The Dark Knight, I've just never been able to get over Bale's ridiculously stupid gravel voice and the fact that, despite having seen it recently, I can remember virtually nothing about it). Thor? Daredevil? Not really. The Hulk started off firmly in this camp. But he's not as bad as I originally thought in this version, although still nowhere near great. The Edward Norton version improves matters a tad but it's taken The Avengers to bring him into the A-list of screen superheroes. Still not convinced he can hold a full film on his own.

Jennifer Connelly is well cast as Betty Ross. I can completely believe that she would be able to do all of those scientifical things. She also makes the drama based scenes with Bruce (Eric Bana) bearable amidst all of the comic book mayhem. It's just a shame that Betty Ross doesn't go out on a date with Freddie Prinze, Jr so that the Hulk can have a good old rant about him and maybe cave his face in.

The Hulk himself looks a bit like he may take up flower pressing. They've obviously gone for the emotional approach but I couldn't really take this seriously when he's chinning a demented poodle. Things definitely improved in the 2008 version with him looking a lot more savage. The Avengers version goes back to being a tad more friendly looking but it keeps the olive green from Norton's version. Judge for yourself:

I still wish Requiem For a Dream had come up but never mind, it's not as painful as I remembered. I actually enjoyed it in an average kind of better than I was expecting kind of way. Connelly is up against Marc Singer in this round of the cup so what will he be able to pull out of the bag. I've got a suspicion that he may be out (unless by some miracle he randomly gets The Beastmaster).

If you like this you could also try:
The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Review - Brotherhood (2004 - Dir. Je-gyu Kang)

Undeniably epic, Brotherhood is a second dip into the dark, vast pool of Korean cinema and an enjoyable enough experience it is too. As with all war films, you’ve got to ask where it sits in relation to Band of Brothers, Private Ryan and Days of Glory? The film aspires to this level of greatness, but somehow fails, with the end result something weirder and at times more interesting, but not always in a good way.

There’s a definite touch of reality on show here. Soldiers, civilians, children and animals are blasted with bullets, bombs and copious amounts of blood. The only people immune from the flying shrapnel are apparently the two brothers at the heart of the film. They walk through the battlefields seemingly invincible, like east Asian versions of Robert Duvall in Apocalypse Now. It makes for a preposterous viewing experience and adds a sense of unreality that permeates the whole film.

And here lies the main problem with the film. On the one hand it attempts to illustrate the true horrors of war (and for the extras it certainly succeeds), but on the other hand there’s the epic almost supernatural tale of the two brothers that veers from over the top joyfulness usually only witnessed in musicals, to full scale anti-communist propaganda. It’s an odd mix of fairy tale, human drama and bloody conflict that almost never gels.

That’s not to say that there aren’t plenty of positives; the scale of some of the battle scenes is awe inspiring for starters. The acting of the two brothers (Jang Dong-Gun and Won Bin) is over the top, but never less than convincing, with younger brother Jin-seok displaying excellent character development as the film progresses. There’s moving scenes, especially when the anti-communist vigilantes grab Kim Young-shin, there’s dismay in the hospital scenes and complete abandonment in the finale. It’s enough to power you through the film without questioning the overarching oddness of the experience.

It’s not a great film, but it’s interesting and definitely different from the standard combat offerings. With low expectations and a pinch of salt it’s more than moderately entertaining and thought provoking. However be prepared for the ‘there’s something not quite right here’ feeling from beginning to end.

If you like this you could also try:
Days of Glory, Assembly, My Way.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Review - Smart People (2008 - Dir. Noam Murro)

Probably not one of Ellen Page's most well known films - in fact, I'd never heard of it - and despite the fact that I was hoping Super was going to be randomly selected, this is the film I've got to watch and review for her second round match against Radha Mitchell whose entry only received a not very good 3/10 (Melinda and Melinda). 

So here we go. Wait a minute, it's got Sarah Jessica Parker in it. I have a not completely irrational dislike of Parker. I saw one episode of Sex and the City and despised it. Nevertheless, I will enter this review with an open mind. An open mind ready to slate Parker.

Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid - shame it wasn't Randy Quaid, purely to give me an excuse to type the word 'Randy' and if Randy Wayne (Hold Your Breath) had been in it too, I probably would have died from a nasty bout of giddiness) erm, where was I? That last brackety bit was way too long. Ah yes, Lawrence Wetherhold is a professor who witters on and on about literature (but not the name Randy) and gets a bit too academic. His wife has died relatively recently and he lives with his daughter Vanessa (Ellen Page) and his unwelcome adopted brother Chuck (Thomas Haden Church). Due to an unfortunate accident he meets one of his ex-students (Parker) who just so happened to have had a crush on him back in the day. Romantic happenings happen.

I bet even now you know the whole plot. And you've probably got it bang on. But, in a similar fashion to horror films, it's how you get there that matters, and the characters are all important in this film.

I like Dennis Quaid. He's a bit of an unsung hero of films. Recently I've seen him in Flight of the Phoenix, Horsemen and this. And he's been pretty solid in all of them. He's spot on here with his pompous behaviour and total lack of any lady wooing skills (he doesn't even wink and click). His character does undergo a change, as you'd expect, but it's a lot more subtle than in most films of this ilk.

Ellen Page, for once, plays a different character from her usual quirky teenager type. So different in fact that she takes her dead mum's clothes to a charity shop just so that she can get a tax break. Plus she's got a picture of Ronald Reagan in her bedroom. As a consequence, she's not as likeable as she usually is. But it makes a change from her normal performances. It will be interesting to see the roles she gets in later life and watch how her acting talents develop.

The front cover of the DVD makes Thomas Haden Church's character look like a comedy uncle who is incredible fun and really wacky and zany (a bit like Russ Abbot), the sort of comedy character that makes you want to peel your eyeballs with an angle grinder (again, a bit like Russ Abbot). Mais non! He's actually funny, but again in a subtle, dry way. His humour is very dry and he doesn't have to resort to gurning to get a laugh. A way better performance than the cover would suggest.

Parker. Here she comes. Dragging the proceedings down as usual. And she does. But it's not her fault. All of the other characters fit together well: Quaid and Church look like they could be brothers and Page does a grand job being the daughter (her brother crops up too, but not very often). Although Parker's performance is a little dull and she seems severely uninterested at times, she's not actually too bad. I didn't hate her completely after seeing this. The real problem here is that there is zero chemistry between her and Quaid. Due to this lack of chemistry it seems completely preposterous that they would ever get together, especially after his behaviour at the start of the film. Something went badly wrong at the casting stage.

Luckily it doesn't completely break the film. There's enough going on to keep the interest for the entire running time. I've actually watched it twice recently and I wasn't that keen initially but it's definitely grown on me. Easily enough for Ellen Page to cruise through into the semi-finals of the FA Cup of Actors.

If you like this you could also try:
Juno, The East, Super.