Saturday, 31 December 2011

Feature - New Year Honours List

And so we come to our first obscurendure New Year Honours List. This is for individuals who have greatly contributed to the field of filmic obscurities. 

It's tough to get into the list; there are only two people who have passed the required tests. Next year should see more as others prove themselves worthy.

To find out who has cut the mustard you can either go to the Pages section on the right-hand side (down a bit, down a bit) and click on New Year Honours List or click on the link below.

New Year Honours List

Have a great New Year!


Thursday, 29 December 2011

Feature - Doccortex's Top Ten Films of 2011

Here we go with Doccortex's favourite films that he's seen this year. Same rules apply as for mine in the previous post. I'll let him tell you all about them (but I still can't quite believe he managed to get a Cheaper by the Dozen reference into obscurendure; the whole site will need a thoroughly good scrubbing with Domestos/napalm now):

10 Ink

A weird blend of sci-fi, fantasy and children's television drama. Not one of the best, but pound for pound it's possibly one of the best 'effects' films ever made.

9. The Lovely Bones 

Unfashionable and not an obscurendure film, but possibly the scariest film I've ever seen. The creepy guy makes Lupin the Third look like Mother Theresa. Admittedly some of the 'heavenly' backgrounds look a bit like PC Wallpaper, but overall this is well worth a watch even for obscure fans.

Streetwise cops, guns, drugs, torture and dancing to 'Shiny Happy People' combine in this gritty, brutal tale of everyday life in Rio. A mainstream hit in Brazil and it even has a story!

7. Monsters 

Surprisingly, I enjoyed this slow paced, sci-fi journey across South America. The monsters are low-key but beautifully created on the cheap by the director. The 'making of' extra on the DVD is well worth a watch too.

6. The Carriers

I just couldn't resist another low-key tale of global destruction. The Carriers is a journey into a future virus infected world that basically does what it says on the tin. The eldest sister out of Cheaper by the Dozen is the pick of the actors.

Not one for the faint-hearted but the best attempt yet at gritty/horror crossover. Brutal, bloody and gut-wrenching but still maintains a sense of humour.

4. Kick Ass 

Again not the usual obscurendure film, but I really enjoyed this knock-about super hero caper. Evlkeith's read the comic and wasn't all that impressed, but if you come to it cold, its a breath of fresh air for us grit fans.

3. Splice

This is standard b-movie material, but strangely engaging and atmospheric. Apart from 'Dren', all the acting is useless, the plot is ropy and the timescale preposterous, however the overall film is way better than the sum of its parts.

2. Time Crimes 

Middle aged, sweaty time travelling fun on a budget. Hector roams around rural Spain causing all kinds of rifts in the space/time continuum and all because he spots a naked lady in his binoculars.

I'm not sure why I like this as much as I do. It's like a gritty version of a 1950s black and white comedy drama, but presented in the most visually striking way imaginable. Both actors relish their moments in the spotlight so much that the whole thing turns out to be a gritty little joy-fest.


Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Feature - Top Ten Films of 2011

Here we are, at the end of the year, with the inevitable top ten films chart. To qualify for the chart, the film has got to be one that I've seen for the first time this year. You may think that this would be dead easy: find your 10/10 films, they go first, then your 9/10 films etc... Nothing's ever that easy. I've disregarded any ratings and gone by a gut instinct of what I would most like to watch again. Funnily enough there is a strong horror bias, but anyway, here we go. (If you want to read the full review of each film, just click on the title. I spoil you.)

10. Ice Cold In Alex

A perfect Sunday afternoon film, plus you get to learn what the best beer in the whole of the Middle East is. What more do you want from a film?

Top quality Australian revenge film. Brutal and unrelenting, but surprisingly well acted.

A gentle film about life between the two World Wars. Another great Sunday afternoon film.

7. Inbred

The title and picture says it all really. And it's set in Yorkshire, which is a bonus.

Beautiful anime by the director of The Place Promised In Our Early Days, Makoto Shinkai.

Possibly the biggest surprise of the year. I got this from Poundland, so wasn't expecting much. It gets gradually darker as the film progresses and ends on a very bleak note.

Er... the picture above looks a bit dodgy, especially taking the title of the film into account. Honestly, it's not that sort of film, you haven't just stumbled into a more specialist website. This is a great film, still worth 10/10 and still worth watching when it comes out on DVD. But it's not my number one. The overall feeling and atmosphere of a film tends to take precedence when I'm choosing my favourites.

Yes, it's a horror film. Yes, it's a comedy. But it's the relationship between the father and daughter that makes me want to watch this again. Another surprise.

Watch the trailer. If you think that you're going to be offended, don't bother watching the full film. If not, you're in for a treat.

Totally stupid idea for a film, but I can't wait to see it again just for the atmosphere. This is the film that has wormed its way into my brain, just as The Pack did last year.

So there you have it. Ten quality films. But what's the worst film I've seen this year? That dubious honour would have to go to 127 Hours. If anyone can take a perfectly good book and mess it up it's Danny 'Ooh, look at me I'm a director. Look at all the flashy camera and editing effects I can use, just to remind you that I'm the director. And I've never made a zombie film. Even though they moved like zombies, chomped on people's necks in a similar fashion to zombies and generally looked like zombies, they're not. They're infected. I'm the director and my word is final! Don't you realise that I had a 'Feel Good Hit of the Summer'? By the way, did I mention that I'm a director?' Boyle. Biggest waste of time this year, by a long way.

I wonder what delights the next year will bring us. Will there actually be a mainstream film in the top ten in the form of The Avengers? Hopefully Joss Whedon will pull it off. Fingers crossed...


Saturday, 24 December 2011

Review - The Castle Of Cagliostro (1979 - Dir. Hayao Miyazaki)

Here's a little Christmas present for you, dear readers: one of my favourite films. 
(Reader - 'Couldn't you have got us a PS3 game, or something alcoholic?' 
evlkeith - 'Don't be so ungrateful, it's Christmas and it's the thought that counts.'
Reader - 'Yeah, but even a bottle of vodka would make me happier than a thought, wouldn't it?'
evlkeith - 'Fair enough. Point taken.')

I can watch The Castle Of Cagliostro at any time of year, but the nostalgia factor seems stronger at Christmas. Just hearing the first few notes of the opening theme instantly takes me back to my childhood. I can't say that I saw this when I was little, but it perfectly sums up the type of animation I watched and loved as a child.

Lupin is a 'gentleman' thief. I can't quite recall the word 'letch' being in the definition of 'gentleman', or the action of 'sticking out your tongue and waggling it around at scantily clad ladies' being referred to either, but at least Lupin is more restrained here than in Lupin The Third: The Secret Of Mamo. He rescues the Lady Clarisse d'Caglisotro from the clutches of the Count's evil henchman. Subsequently, she is captured again and Lupin is embroiled in a plot involving counterfeit money, the ineffectual Inspector Zenigata from Interpol and the titular castle.

The castle is one of the stars of the film, full of hidden doors, moving walkways and traps. There is also a great sense of verticality to it, with many scenes inducing vertigo in the viewer; Lupin running and leaping between the peaks of the towers is a major highlight. Lots of events within the film are foreshadowed by things you see or hear earlier. The ending could be straight out of a Hitchcock (or Harold Lloyd) film. It also contains a very grisly, but subtle, crunch sound effect (remember this is supposedly a family film). 

The animation is a little bit rough around the edges (it was made in 1979), but there are so many great little touches and ideas that you can ignore any shortcomings: Lupin trying to swim back up a waterfall (and almost succeeding), the refraction of light as Lupin peers at Zenigata through a waterfall, plus there's a rocket-powered car that can drive up and down cliffs.

This is my favourite Miyazaki film. Just. I know that it doesn't have the loftier environmental themes of some of his other work, but it is a cracking adventure story. And the villain must have the biggest head and hands of any human villain. What more do you want? (Reader - 'Er... that bottle of vodka?')

If you like this you could also try:
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Laputa: Castle in the Sky, To Catch A Thief.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Review - Duck Soup (1933 - Dir. Leo McCarey)

Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without a bit of the Marx Brothers. Many years ago, Channel 4 had a Marx Brothers Season at Christmas, showing about four of their films late at night. Hence their inclusion in our Christmas Season.

If you've never seen a Marx Brothers film prepared to be baffled, especially by the black painted rectangle that is supposedly Groucho's moustache. The jokes come thick and fast, particularly from Groucho as Rufus T. Firefly. Try to have an ear rest for five seconds and you've probably missed about eight jokes. You've got to work to keep up with him. Here's a sample bit of dialogue from Groucho after hearing that Mrs Teasdale's husband was dead:
Firefly: Will you marry me? Did he leave you any money? Answer the second question first.
Mrs Teasdale: He left me his entire fortune.
Firefly: Is that so? Can't you see what I'm trying to tell you? I love you!

Chico and Harpo are more at home with slapstick. The completely unnecessary scene where they are selling peanuts and fighting with a rival lemonade seller is comedy genius: hats are swapped repeatedly, things are cut off with a large pair of scissors (a recurring occurence throughout the film) and many legs are put into hands (you'd have to watch it to understand).

That's not to say that Groucho can't partake in a portion of silent comedy. Another standout scene is where Harpo is pretending to be Groucho on the other side of a smashed mirror and has to copy his every move. It involves many funny walks and dances. You can see the family resemblance in this scene as Chico also tries his hand at a Groucho impersonation.

By the end Duck Soup descends into something resembling one of Ernie Wise's plays as the four brothers go to war. Everything gets very frantic and random. Not that it hadn't been fairly random before that. But this is as good a place to start as any if you haven't seen any Marx Brothers films. 

(If you have seen Duck Soup you will be aware that I've seriously contradicted my last review where I had a rant about musicals. It does contain a few songs, but they are funny, especially when Groucho whips out a little piccolo mid song. The musical numbers subvert tradition. In one scene, the four brothers do some really stupid dance manoeuvres that the rest of the cast then copy. Anyway, you need an exception to prove a rule, so leave me alone.)

If you like this you could also try:
Animal Crackers, A Day at the Races, A Night at the Opera.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Review - The Secret of NIMH (1982 - Dir. Don Bluth)

Here's the first film in our Christmas Season. I know, it's got nothing to do with Christmas, but I tend to watch it at this time of year and it always makes me feel festive. Maybe it's down to the twinkly lights that seem to be all pervading. Even if something in its natural state isn't twinkly, it is in The Secret of NIMH. It's hard to show in a still photo, but trust me, everything's well twinkly.

Mrs Brisby is a mouse. And she's got four mousey children (early appearances - well, vocal anyway - for Wil Weaton and Shannen Doherty), but one of them's ill, and can't be moved. Oh, and the field where her home resides is going to be ploughed soon. And Mrs Brisby has to go to visit a massive mouse-devouring owl to get help. Good luck with that then, love.

The story is fairly standard issue with some rather large plot holes. Given the reasoning behind why the rats in the story can talk and behave intelligently, how come Mrs Brisby and all the other animals can talk too? But I don't watch this for the story. I watch it for the lush, hand-painted backdrops and gorgeous animation and the overall atmosphere. This was directed by Don Bluth, who worked at Disney, and you can see his influence in the character designs. Just look at those gnarled hands on Nicodemus (recalling his work on the laserdisc game Dragon's Lair). It's a shame that more companies aren't still making 2D animations. I'll have to stick to anime to get my 2D fix.

The main bonus of Don Bluth leaving Disney, apart from how great the film looks, is the lack of songs. The story never breaks its stride to make way for an Elton John penned waste of time in which the story barely moves along at all. I hate musicals and I hate characters spontaneously singing. It has the power to spoil even the best of films. I really, really hate it. Rant over.

Aside from a villain who never really gets the screen time to get really villainous, and a strong whiff of deus ex machina in the ending, The Secret of NIMH is enjoyable enough and I've watched it many times. Mainly at Christmas. Give it a try if you want a bit of twinkliness.

If you like this you could also try:
The Dark Crystal, Watership Down, Titan A.E.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Review - Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010 - Dir. Jalmari Helander)

You might be wondering why this film isn't part of the upcoming Christmas Season. It's because it's a Christmas film obviously. It would be crazy to have a Christmas Season that actually contained Christmas themed films. For a film to qualify for the season, it has to be one that I watch at this festive time, but have no Christmas content. Hope that clears that up.

On to the film. I went into this expecting a low-budget dirty grimy Finnish festive tale with a sideline in creepy nastiness. Rare Exports feels more like a Spielberg film (if he made obscure low-budget family unfriendly films). I was surprised at how gorgeous it looked. The lighting in both the interiors and exteriors, along with some super-smooth camera moves, make for a more polished experience. Even the odd bits of grime and grit look shiny. Straight away my expectations were dashed.

I don't think that it's a spoiler to give away some plot details (the trailer gives away far more). A company dig up something strange in the mountains of Northern Finland. Turns out that it's Santa. Not the cuddly (slightly worrying) Santa we all know and love, but a Santa from fairy tales who rips bad children to shreds. This affects a small nearby community who, after a really bad 'harvest', come up with a crafty plan to make some cash. Pietari (Onni Tommila) is a small boy from the village who knows from the start what is happening, but no-one believes him (funnily enough).

Rare Exports contains some cracking visual sequences and looks so good that I feel I should like it more. Was it my initial expectations clouding my judgment? My main problem is that the material seems to be stretched to feature film length. At many points, it seems to drag along at such a slow pace. I'm all for a patient build up, but this is a tad too patient. My other gripe is that seeing as though this is based on a dark, violent, child-shredding fairy tale Santa, there's not really a lot of blood and gore. A pig comes off the worst but it's nothing that you couldn't see just wandering through your local Morrisons. The whole thing comes across as being gentler than your average episode of Heartbeat (definitely tamer than the episode where Nick 'Wicksy' Wicks catches Greengrass gutting a pensioner with a pickled onion fork, just to thieve his bag of Werthers). 

Again this all come backs to my feeling of Spielberginess: great visuals, gentle humour, children at the centre of the story, plus there's a shot of some crates that recalls one of Spielberg's greats. It's worth seeing on DVD, but only just.

If you like this you could also try:
The Thing, Tekkonkinkreet, Dead Snow.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Review - Another Earth ( 2011 - Dir. Mike Cahill)

Here's a pitch for a film: 'Another Earth appears in the sky. It appears to be a carbon-copy of our Earth. A competition is held to go to the other planet in a cool space rocket.' You may now be imagining ships blasting off, zooming through space and possibly, fingers crossed, encountering some nutter aliens hell-bent on chewing the recently digested contents of the astronauts' stomachs, without them gipping it up first. 

Forget all that. Another Earth is a psychological drama in a similar vein to The Night Following by Morag Joss. A tragedy occurs that slings two strangers together into a dark and depressing world. The story of the second planet is ever-present, but in the background for the most part.

The story throws up some interesting questions, such as: What would you say if you met an identical version of yourself, with identical memories? ("Give me all your cash, or I'll grass you up for that unpleasant incident involving the vicar, a lorry full of marmite and the Swedish ladies rugby team.") Are there any differences between you and them? Have they made better choices? Would you even want to meet them? (At least, I'd be able to talk about films without being on the receiving end of a blank, slightly worried look.) The concept of a second Earth got so ingrained in my brain that I found myself expecting to see it in the sky as I drove home. All I really saw was a white rabbit. Not in the sky. On the road. I felt like I was in a David Lynch film.

The two leads Brit Marling and William Mapother (who supposedly worked for very little money) are both convincing and draw you into the story. To be truthful, Another Earth doesn't have the most gripping of starts, but due to the quality of the acting and script it lures you into its obscure little ways.  The film finally becomes interesting when a discovery is made by SETI during an attempt at first contact. And anyway, any film where a fella tries to woo a lady by playing a saw can't be all bad. It sounds gorgeous, (probably best listened to in a cinema) as does the atmospheric music by Fall on Your Sword. For some saw action have a listen to the Saw Lady who actually played the piece in the film for William Mapother to mime over.

I saw Hugo the day before. It has a really butt-numbingly dull start and then gets a little bit better. This film is way better than that even though it follows a similar pattern of gradual improvement and was made for a fraction of the budget. (Four thirty thousandths to be precise. Ish.) Well worth seeing  if you don't mind the lack of space marines blasting aliens into chicken nugget style chunks. 


If you like this you could also try:
Monsters, Mulholland Drive, Starship Troopers (if you really want alien death).

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Review - The Beastmaster (1982 - Dir. Don Coscarelli)

So we come to the final entry in our Sword and Sorcery Season and I've saved the best till last. This was the first film I ever saw on a new-fangled technological device called a VHS Video Recorder/Player. It was round at a friend's house and what a cracking film to see. I was sold on the ideas of videos from that moment on.

Marc Singer (from the original series of V) plays our animal-loving friend. Due to a strangely attractive witch's intervention, he is born from the belly of an ox and from that moment on has a certain affinity for all manner of creatures. He can even see through the eyes of beasts and hear their thoughts. I sometimes wonder whether I was cut out of an ox's stomach because my rabbits talk to me (no, that's just clinical insanity).
Suffice to say, he goes on an epic quest in the search for vengeance, meets some chums and gets the girl.

Straight out of the Sword and Sorcery Checklist, Beasty comes up with a crafty plan to bed a bathing slave girl, Kiri (Tanya Roberts), who in true Sword and Sorcery style has a problem keeping her blouse on. In a similar fashion to Lupin, the Beastman comes across as a bit of a pervert, peeping and chuckling in a really dirty fashion. Funny, though.

The story is fairly bog-standard but it is very well told. Even with studio interference (what a surprise) and the insertion of some dubious visual effects shots (again, the studio's fault), the story is coherent and cracks along at a good pace. It's two hours long (blatantly ignoring the 'good film = one and a half hours' rule) but it more than justifies the extra length. It's almost got more endings than Return of the King. Almost. But  all of the plot threads get tied up satisfactorily. The story-telling is a definite cut above its genre-mates The Sword and the Sorcerer and The Warrior and the Sorceress from roughly the same time period.

There are so many memorable moments in this film: Beastial Man getting sucked down into quicksand and rescued by ferrets, the creepy tree/bird people who liquidise their victims and let's not forget the insane Death Guard who charge about causing mayhem and general unpleasantness. Shame we don't see more of them. Don Coscarelli (Phantasm) knows the power of the simple still shot. The brilliantly designed Jun horde (the baddies) stood atop a hill waiting to attack a village is another standout. Loads more great stuff awaits those willing to watch a slice of 80s obscurity. 

You could never accuse the leads of being great actors, but  the performances are enjoyable across the board. Even though it was filmed in December in the freezing cold (including the scene where Tanya Roberts swims in the pool), the actors all seem to be having fun. Marc Singer is likeable and obviously worked hard to get into shape for the role. His sword swinging abilities have become legend. Try to pick up any sword-type implement and not do The Beastmaster swing manoeuvre. It's a physical impossibility after watching this film.

A great film that still stands up today. Don't bother with the dubious sequels though. They're not directed by Mr Coscarelli and you can tell.

If you like this you could also try:
Phantasm, Spacehunter: Adventures in Forbidden Zone, Bubba-Ho-Tep, The Dark Crystal.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Review - The Hidden (1987 - Dir. Jack Sholder)

The Hidden is not too bad as low budget sci-fi horror films go, but I do feel it is a tad overrated. It starts off well, with a fairly surprising start involving CCTV footage of a bank. The car chase that follows is well handled. This section also includes the film's funniest moment, involving a Ferrari, high speed and a wheelchair. Plus occupant. I'm not condoning this sort of behaviour in real-life because, even though wheelchairs have a high points value, it's just not polite. I also learnt that in America it is an offence to smirk in a cocky manner, punishable by having a car exploded right next to your face, incurring severe burns. Harsh.

Kyle Maclachlan (Blue Velvet) plays an FBI agent, Lloyd Gallagher, who gets teamed up with Tom Beck, a streetwise, grizzled cop (Michael Nouri) to catch a hedonistic killer on a rampage. Maclachlan is spot on in his role. I won't say any more, for fear of spoiling it. If you've seen any science-fiction at all, chances are you'll be in familiar territory with the rest of the plot. It's hard to say how original it was at the time, but it bears some similarities to Invasion of the Body Snatchers. 

As a late 80s film, it hasn't dated too badly. The music and technology are definitely from that era but the cop scenes hold up well. The special effects are also surprisingly good. The highlight is the transfer of an alien from one body to another. One of the heads is ropey but the other is very effective and on first viewing doesn't even look like an effect.

The rest of the main cast do a half decent job of playing it straight. Claudia Christian (Babylon 5) gets to shoot some really big guns and show her butt cleavage. William Boyett does a good job of looking like he's on the brink of a major heart attack. This is intentional, it's part of the plot, he hasn't just been eating too many Ginsters. There is also a 'blink and you'll miss it' appearance from Danny Trejo (Machete).

So far so good. The main problem I have with it, is that it's not very exciting, or very gross, or very emotional. In fact, it's all quite flat and low-key. It commits the cardinal sin of promising something earlier in the film that it doesn't deliver on later. If I see a little tentacle burst out of someone, in the finale I want to see loads of bursting tentacles whipping around. The technology was available at the time, the facehugger's tail in Aliens is one example, so it's a real missed opportunity.

It's still worth watching, and you never know, you might be one of the people who rates it more highly.

If you like this you could also try:
Lifeforce, Split Second, Dark Angel, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (any version).