Thursday, 20 November 2014

Review - Broken Arrow (1950 - Dir. Delmer Daves)

I'm not that keen on Westerns. Spaghetti Westerns, yes, but not your usual run of the mill Western. (Perhaps that's why this is my first review of one.) So when Broken Arrow came up as James Stewart's randomly selected entry for the FA Cup of Actors, I was skeptical and thought that maybe Jamel Debbouze was in with a chance of nicking this match.

James Stewart plays Tom Jeffords in his standard Mr Smith Goes to Washington style (and there's nothing wrong with that). In a twist on the average Cowboys and Indians film where the Indians are subjected to genocide by our heroes, Jeffords befriends his Native American chums on the basis that he's sick of all the scrapping, so he wants everyone to kiss and make up and generally get along with each other. Funnily enough, Cochise (Jeff Chandler), the leader of the Apaches, is suspicious of this outsider and his American buddies want to give him a good kicking for knocking about with untrustworthy savages. It doesn't help that he falls in love with Sonseeahray (Debra Paget).

Let's start off by getting rid of the obvious problem of the filmmakers using white actors made up to look like Native Americans. It was made in the unenlightened 1950s so we can forgive them this error. But let's face facts, we're better than that now: it would be completely offensive to peddle that kind of thing in current times, especially if you were a massive family film studio, like Disney perhaps.

The plot made for a welcome change and I found myself enjoying it despite my misgivings. The scenery is stunning on occasions and for once The Native Americans aren't portrayed as scalp pilfering psychos but as a mostly noble, honourable group of people. There are a few wrong 'uns but that's fair enough. The settlers meanwhile are generally big racists. 

James Stewart is a consistently bankable fellow and his performance here is no exception. Obviously I haven't seen all of his films but I'm betting that they're all eminently watchable. Here though, he is matched by Chandler, perfectly cast (apart from the skin colour issue) as a strong leader who is willing to negotiate a peace treaty. Paget meanwhile looks a tad young to be Stewart's love interest. In fact, she was born in 1933, so she's only seventeen at most. All a bit dodgy.

In the final analysis this just pips Jamel's entry sending our plucky underdog out of the competition and despite Broken Arrow never setting the world on fire it is still an above average film deserving an above average...

If you like this you could also try:
Vertigo, Rear Window.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Review - The Violent Kind (2010 - Dir. The Butcher Brothers)

For the first half hour of the film you’re never quite sure what genre the film is heading for. It’s an unusual and pleasant feeling as we criss-cross from biker gang violence into spooky supernatural happenings and back again. In fact the first half of the film is a thoroughly enjoyable romp at the junction of gritty motorcycle gang street and spirit possession avenue. In fact I had little idea that this was anything less than a big budget production with some quality acting, with Cory Knauf and the tasty Taylor Cole the most noticeable.

Possibly the most notable feature of the film is the amount of punching in the face that takes place. It’s a veritable festival of bare knuckle fist fighting throughout in a semi-slapstick fashion that reminded me of a combination of Rocky, Bottom and The Sweeney. A heady cocktail if ever there was one. If you like seeing people, and sometimes demons, get punched in the face, then you’re in for a treat.

Sadly however, this is a game of two halves and just as the film reaches fever pitch everything goes pear shaped. After the half time jaffa-cakes it all looks cheap and amateurish, and not in a good way either. The actors drafted in are not a patch on the originals and you really want to put your head in your hands, with Pussywagon and Trixie straight out of pantoland. The plot changes from a decent horror story into a jazz hands infused, Clockwork Orange meets Grease parody of Rebel Without a Cause on steroids. In a capitulation not seen since Halifax Town visited Belle Vue in the early 90’s, the film snatches defeat from the jaws of victory in a big way.
(That was a bad, bad day - evlkeith)

The spooky and atmospheric ending is too little too late as I was left with a bitter taste in my mouth, and a feeling that I’d been cheated out of watching the actual second half of The Violent Kind. If you want to make a rubbish film then make a rubbish film, but don’t make half a good film then dash our hopes by drafting in the acting equivalent of Chico and the Cheeky Girls from the X-Factor halfway through. We were robbed!

7/10 for the first half, 0/10 for the second half.
0/10 overall for cheating us.

If you like this you could also try:
Doing something really great - like eating toast spread thickly with gorgeous Marmite - and then do something fairly horrible, drinking liquidized cat vomit, for instance.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Review - Let's Talk About The Rain (2008 - Dir. Agnès Jaoui)

We return to rank outsider Jamel Debbouze who managed to impress with his first round effort, Outside the Law, in this year's FA Cup of Actors. He is up against some stiff opposition in this match though (James Stewart) so he better be on top form if he wants to be a giant killer. Here he is then in Let's Talk About The Rain.

Agathe Villanova (played by the director) is a politician being interviewed for a documentary by Michel (co-writer Jean-Pierre Bacri) and Karim (Debbouze). Agathe's sister and her husband, plus Karim's mum, get thrown into the mix and the relationships get increasingly complicated due to numerous affairs. None of the characters are particularly happy throughout the majority of the film but will they attain a greater level of contentedness by the finale?

The first half an hour or so is not that engaging and, as you've probably guessed, it takes a while to work out who's who and what their initial relationships are to each other. But once everyone has been identified things start to improve and it develops into a pleasant little tragicomedy that manages to raise a few smiles.

One of the most amusing characters is the sister's husband. His son is choking so Michel deals with it with a good hearty slap to the back. Problem solved. But no. Laddo complains that he did it wrong. He should have used the Heimlich manoeuvre. Brilliant idea mate. Give him serious internal injuries rather than try a less harsh method first. Top parenting. He also moans at his wife for that most heinous of crimes: reading in bed. They really should bring back the birch. Okay, so maybe he's more irritating than amusing, but I laughed at him regardless.

A slightly more traditional comic figure is Michel, who makes documentaries for a living. He is truly a premium quality professional; he doesn't press record before the interview starts and misses getting some cracking footage and has a tendency to be generally incompetent. But at least he's got the cheeky fellow Debbouze to help him out.

He's his usual likeable self and shows that he has a wider range than just war films. Subtlety is the key here as he contemplates having an affair with his co-worker. He is completely believable and is in good company with an equally impressive cast. I wasn't looking forward to his films at the start of this competition but he's managed to get past my gruff miserable shield and be adopted as one of obscurendure's favourite actors.

The film deals with the lofty themes of depression and the role of women but it still manages to throw in a sheep gag. And no, not a dirty one. Dear me. The comedy here comes from the noise they make and their ability to follow people down country lanes. I did say that it was a pleasant little film.

It all adds up to a well-made subtle film that is quietly entertaining. But for me, the spark that takes it into the above average category just wasn't there. For you, it may well be. I enjoyed it but it's not a film that I'd watch again. James Stewart will be raring to go and donning his shin guards when he sees the rating this one's been given (if he was still alive, admittedly) and I'm doubtful that Jamel can pull off anything better than a draw in this match. It's a shame. But you never know...

If you like this you could also try:
Look At Me, Two Days, One Night.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Feature - Celluloid Screams 2014

Despite not feeling great, I managed to drag myself along to Celluloid Screams this year, although I did have to miss a fair few films including the allnighter (Bride of Re-animator, Maximum Overdrive, Night of the Creeps and Killer Klowns from Outer Space). The only film that I missed that I wouldn't have minded seeing was Night of the Creeps but I'll get that on DVD soon. I missed two of the new films ABCs of Death 2 (I haven't bothered to see the first, it really doesn't interest me) and What We Do In The Shadows which went on to be voted as the best film of the festival. I'd watched the trailer which was supposed to be funny and didn't raise the merest glimmer of a smile. I didn't look like my sense of humour so I didn't bother.

Here's a quick run down of what I did watch:

The Editor - Tribute/parody of giallo films that despite my love of the genre didn't raise a smile and bored me silly.

Rating - 2/10

Housebound - Horror comedy from New Zealand that had an unlikeable first half but picked up in the latter stages to attain the lofty heights of averageness.

Rating - 5/10

Creep - Disturbing and, well... creepy, this had some effective scenes and a quality wolf mask named Peachfuzz but was a tad reliant on cheap scares.

Rating - 5/10

Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla - Repetitive and dull for the most part, this could have been a lot better if there had been more killings in the second half once the main character of the ice-cream man was established.

Rating - 2/10

Starry Eyes - Rather than watching this low contrast dirge fest watch Black Swan or Mulholland Drive instead.

Rating - 1/10

Spring - Initially engaging love story that plummets down the ratings due to the second half dragging on for what seemed like years.

Rating - 3/10

Society - It's a fair while since I've seen this but it holds up pretty well; the shunting is still fairly disgusting.

Rating - 6/10

Suburban Gothic - From the director of Excision, this horror-lite film is more of a quirky comedy love story type thing but it does manage to have one really funny line from Ray Wise.

Rating - 5/10

Dagon - Despite some early ropey CGI work this manages to be atmospheric and brutal especially in the face removal scene.

Rating - 7/10

Asmodexia - Really low quality exorcism film that was a real disappointment as the secret film.

Rating - 1/10

Dead Snow 2 - I wasn't that enamoured with the first and this hasn't done much to change my opinion but maybe with a bigger budget (for more zombies) it could have tipped into above average.

Rating - 5/10

The highlights were easily Society and Dagon and it was great to listen to Brian Yuzna talking about his career. But as you can see from my ratings I wasn't that keen on the new films shown this year. I thought that last year was weak with only a couple of good films but this has easily been the worst. I can't blame the organisers because they can't magic up great new films. I've been thinking for a while that the horror genre is dying a death and this has cemented that opinion. Will I go next year? The jury's out...


Sunday, 12 October 2014

Review - Robot Wars (1993 - Dir. Albert Band)

(Many apologies for the lack of posts recently but I haven't been that well. It's even a bit of a struggle writing this. With luck I'll be able to get round to writing a review of the excellent Wolf Children soon too.) 

I thought that Barbara Crampton could provide us with the first major shock of the FA Cup of Actors. After Émilie Dequenne failed to make the most of her goalmouth chances in The Girl on the Train (only receiving a rating of 6/10), I thought that Crampy could sneak in a cheeky little last minute winner with Robot Wars. Robots fighting. Great stuff. And as long as it didn't turn out like the underwhelming BBC series of the same name, where the flamethrower and chainsaw attachments never really amounted to much, how could it go wrong?

Pacific Rim went for a similar formula of robots fighting monsters and the fights were pretty great. It was the completely useless story that the fights hung off that let the whole film down. Well in Robot Wars, there's a similarly useless story, but sadly, the fights are virtually non-existent.

The Earth has had a bit of a bad time due to the toxic gas scare of 1993 (must have been that jar of curried pickled eggs I had from the Abbey Friar). The survivors are at war with a rebel faction called the Centros who want to resurrect a hidden mega robot. Luckily they've got their own mega robot in the form of a mechanised scorpion complete with nippy little pincer things. Drake, (Don Michael Paul - sounds like his parents couldn't make up their minds on his first name so they gave him three) a mega robot pilot, teams up with archaeologist Leda (Barbara Crampton) to thwart those pesky Centros. And no, there's not a hint of Lara Croft style costumery.

Yep, the plot's rubbish but it's the fights that are unforgivable. The first battle consists of close ups of the scorpion mega robot loping along, occasionally shooting, and a tank that, again, occasionally shoots. This goes on for ages. There is never a sniff of a wide shot to show any kind of manoeuvring. The whole thing feels like the scorpion and the tank are in two completely separate locations (which they are) and as a viewer I felt completely removed from the supposed action. (To simulate this battle just stare at the first photo below for five seconds then look at the next. Then repeat. For added fun, make a few shooty noises.)

The second (and final) battle isn't much better. At least this time the two protagonists share the screen for a bit of what can best be described as wriggling. It's pathetic. Without great fights there's nothing else going on that's worth your time.

I know that Barbara Crampton isn't known for her stunning performances in art films, yet her films are generally enjoyable (apart from the dire You're Next). The best you can say about her performance here is that it at least paid for a few jars of industrial size Marmite. (It's ironic that Crampy knocked out Joan Fontaine in the last round who suffered from the same phoned in performance in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.) Given that, she's easily the best aspect of this sorry mess. (Apart from the fact that it only lasts 71 minutes.)

I wasn't expecting much from a Charles Band production but when one of the highlights is a Puppet Master joke you know things are getting desperate. So sorry, Barbara you haven't managed to knock out the odds-on favourite in a startling giant-killing fashion. Dequenne, you're through to the semi-finals.

If you like this you could also try:
Pacific Rim, Robot Jox.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Review - Fear in the Night (1947 - Dir. Maxwell Shane)

I was expecting all of the films listed in 'Nightworld' to contain some kind of monster or other, for example the umbrella creature in Not of This Earth. But no, this one only relates to the book by its title. No stupid low-budget monsters. Shame.

Vince Grayson (DeForest Kelly in his first film role) is a banker who has a rather nasty nightmare in which he kills a fellow in an octagonal mirrored room. Soon after he begins to suspect that it wasn't really a dream and maybe he actually killed the man. (He even says, "I'm a banker, not a murderer," at one point. Well, okay, that's a lie. He doesn't.) His brother-in-law Cliff (Paul Kelly) is a cop and decides to look into his case.

Based on a story by Cornell Woolrich called "Nightmare", Fear in the Night is a film noir thriller with the obligatory narration and moody shadowy atmosphere. The plot was probably quite original at the time but now it all seems pretty obvious what's happening from early on in the proceedings. Even so, I couldn't help but be gripped when the two blokes and their lady friends took shelter from a storm in a house, only for it to turn out to be the one from Vince's dream. There was a certain sense of inevitability about it all and I hoped that the rest of the film would be set in the nightmare house. It isn't though and a fair bit of atmosphere is lost from that point on. Especially when we learn the secret of the nightmare.

Again in 1947 the secret was only too plausible and scary. Yet now, it's common knowledge that the reason for his sleep walking murder spree just doesn't happen. It's a bit like a film's finale requiring the audience to believe that the world is flat. It wouldn't work in these enlightened times. So to enjoy the latter stages, a certain amount of "going with it" needs to be done.

Dr McCoy is great. One of the classic TV characters ever. Yet here DeForest Kelly looks a little wet behind the ear. His acting isn't entirely convincing and his narration seems forced rather than being a natural flow of thoughts emanating from his head. Fortunately the narration stops fairly early on and the more experienced Paul Kelly takes a more prominent role as the gruff no-nonsense cop.

On a positive note there are some quality screen cracking animations, similar in style to the one at the finale of City of the Living Dead. If that's not a selling point, I don't know what is.

Not the greatest of films then, seen in today's light but it is entirely suitable for a late Friday night. Switch off your brain for a while and it's not too bad.

If you like this you could also try:
Hollow Triumph, Somewhere in the Night.