Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Review - Scorcher (2002 - Dir. James Seale)

Think back to the sort of straight-to-DVD films that Channel 5 used to show in an evening: Scorcher is a prime example.

You might think that this is a criticism. Films of this ilk invariably have good intentions but are hampered by low budgets, poor quality scripts and Amiga level CGI effects. This is very true of Scorcher. Even so, it's fun and never dull. 

Ryan Beckett (Mark Dacascos) is a Colonel tasked with saving the world from becoming hotter than the extreme temperature that hot drinks are served at in football grounds around the country. Accompanying him on this merry little jape is scientist Julie McGrath (Tamara Davies) and a bunch of loosely sketched dodgy army characters (in a similar vein to Armageddon but with a hundredth of the personality). They have to detonate a nuclear warhead in downtown LA to stop the Earth's plates from shifting. I'm not a world renowned scientist (that may shock you), but I have a strange feeling that the science in this film probably makes no sense whatsoever. Oh well, never mind, at least Mark Dacasos gets to do some of his top ninja moves on people's unfortunate faces...

Erm... he doesn't. He gets to do the odd little bit of grappling, but you wouldn't know from watching this film that he's a death machine in human form, capable of causing pain equal to one thousand paper cuts. In intimate areas. As ever, he's a likeable kind of guy, apart from the dubiously scripted first ten minutes. Even though his acting is never totally convincing, especially in emotional scenes, you're with him all the way. Scorcher reads like a veritable who's who of straight-to-DVD actors (who have previously appeared in fairly big films): the underused, sleepwalking Rutger Hauer as the president (?), John Rhys-Davies as Julie's dad, Mark Rolston (Aliens) as the villainous Special Agent Kellaway and G.W. Bailey (Police Academy) as Mr Combustible Pants, General Moore. Together they lend an air of respectabilty and watchability to the proceedings (sadly any acting talents they may have are lost due to the script).

I've already touched on the dire effects earlier - a classy snowstorm followed by flames shooting up from cracks in a glacier is a particular lowlight - but the music deserves just as much credit for sending this straight to the bargain bins. When it's bombastic standard action fare, it's okay. When it's underscoring emotional scenes, it's shocking. It makes the acting look worse, amazingly. This is proved later on when a tender scene is sans music; it is way more effective. 

Watch this with low expectations and a willingness to gloss over its many faults and you may actually quite enjoy it. If you're lucky.

If you like this you could also try:
The Core, Alien Agent, Drive, Crying Freeman.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Review - Rampart (2012 - Dir. Oren Moverman)

This sounds like a great idea for a film: Woody Harrelson as a tough/brutal LA cop, described by his own daughter as a bigot, racist, sexist, womaniser and misanthrope (had to look that last one up). What could be better?

And at the start everything is as you'd expect. Dave Brown (Harrelson) breaks in a rookie cop by showing her some of his special moves. It's funny. Then, after Dave gets caught on camera 'apprehending' a perp who just crashed into the side of his car, it all gets very dull and grim.

The script is to blame as it doesn't seem to go anywhere. As things spiral out of control they never get too bad. Dave has a minor descent into drugs and visits a specialist club for people who like to swing and play on roundabouts and stuff. Well, maybe not the roundabout bit. Although there was was an interesting revolving table with a hole cut in the middle on Eurotrash once. Ahem, let's move on. Where was I? Oh yeah, his descent. In Requiem for a Dream everything goes really pear-shaped for the three main characters. Rampart doesn't even approach this. It doesn't even get to apple-shaped.

The humour pretty much disappears after the initial section and I came out of the cinema with a general air of depression. Maybe the point is that Dave doesn't develop as a character or learn anything over the course of the film. He stays just as bigoted and tries to worm his way out of trouble. It doesn't make a satisfying experience though. I went straight home and watched an episode of Bleach (my chosen anime guaranteed to cheer me up after a bleak experience). 

Documentary style camera work supposedly pulls you into a film and enhances the feeling of realism. Here, it just irritates and pushes you out of the film. The director clearly has a case of dannybolyism

The acting is in no way to blame. Harrelson is genuinely worrying in his beliefs, and his attitude to women has to be seen to be believed. Post rumpy-pumpy he has a smoke, covers his eyes with a pillow and ignores his partner. Classy. He knows how to treat the ladies. Harrelson is backed up by some top talent from some top films: Sigourney Weaver (Alien), Steve Buscemi (Fargo), Ned Beatty (Deliverance), Ice Cube (erm, Trespass?), Tim Russ (Voyager?) and Anne Heche (oh, I give up). 

Admittedly, I went into this expecting something different. Reflecting on the overall film experience I still can't say I'm very impressed. Watch it if you'd just had a full litre bottle of Lucozade and you've gone a bit giddy. This will knock that happy edge off your mood.

If you like this you could also try:
Requiem for a Dream, Bad Lieutenant.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Review - Fitzcarraldo (1982 - Dir. Werner Herzog)

At the minute I'm trying to get into into natural yoghurt. It's fairly rank and not to my taste, but strangely, I find myself looking forward to it with my breakfast. Werner films are a bit like this.

The original tale of Fitzcarraldo is about a bloke who pulls a small boat, a dinghy perhaps, over a small isthmus to get to a nearby river. Werner, in a fit of ego to rival Big Jim Cameron, decides to get his Fitzcarraldo to lug a huge steam boat over a blooming great hill/mountain.

Klaus Kinski plays the title role and is completely bonkers. His sticky-up blond hair doesn't do him any favours in the 'looking vaguely normal' stakes. I'm not sure if it's supposed to be a comedy but I found myself chortling away at numerous points. The portrait of Fitzy and his brothel owning lady friend is a highlight.

As with all of Werner's output, don't expect anything too pacy. In fact, expect something really slow. Even then you may be disappointed by its ability to drag. As usual. You are rewarded with some gorgeous sights. The steam boat at a forty degree angle, wreathed in mist with the mad-looking Kinski in the foreground is worth the admission price alone.

The final heartwarming shots (well, as heartwarming as Werner gets) show that even though Fitzy isn't overly concerned about who gets injured/crushed to death by a steam boat, his heart is in the right opera-loving place.

Supposedly Kinski's behaviour was so crazed during the making of the film the native extras wanted to kill him. Amazingly Werner talked them out of it. So the rumour goes anyway. I'm surprised Werner didn't let them and film the ensuing murder in his trademark documentary style. Possibly he thought it would have been a tad too exciting for one of his films.

If you like this you could also try:
Any Werner film.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Review - Martyrs (Part 2) (2008 - Dir. Pascal Laugier)

When Doccortex (I keep asking for his medical certificates, but he is being far too evasive about them) sent me his Martyrs review, I thought his rating was a touch harsh. So here we go with our first tag-team review.

The thing that I like about Martyrs is the fact that you think you know what sort of film you're watching and then the rug gets pulled from under your feet. A couple of times. What starts off as a fairly standard, but good, revenge story, mutates into something far more disturbing and deeper by the end. The ending, in particular, provokes much thought; I've got a couple of theories, my preferred one involving eternal hell and Satan jabbing his red hot poker up evil-doers nether regions.

Everything in Martyrs suggests a director making a quality product on a relatively low budget. The make up effects are simple, yet very effective (and wince inducing). The soundtrack by 'Seppuku Paradigm' is excellent. Just as I could watch the intro screen to the Blu-ray of A Bay of Blood for hours because of the music by Stelvio Cipriani, the same applies to Martyrs. The two leads, Morjana Alaoui and Mylène Jampanoï are believable throughout and performed many of their own stunts; Alaoui actually broke three bones, in a safe non-stunty scene, which stopped them filming for a month.

Now to the controversial matter of misogyny. There are some very harsh images of a young woman being systematically beaten, force fed and humiliated. Taken out of context, you just can't defend this. But the first half of the film makes you care about the woman in question; when she is tortured you want: A) her to escape, B) her captors to suffer intensely and C) her captors to suffer intensely due to hedgehog insertion. There is no point - unlike when you cheer on Jason in every Friday the 13th - where you side with the captors and want to see what they are going to do to her next. You want it to end. Couple this with the ending and I think you have a film that explores what people will do for their beliefs and not one that celebrates violence on the female form. (Doccortex thought it was great that I was doing a review championing Martyrs because he gets to look like the sane one, and I get to look like a mentally unhinged psychopath. Thanks for that buddy.)

It isn't a film that is pleasant to watch. It has a great atmosphere but after the credits roll you will probably need a palate cleanser: Antiques Roadshow or Mrs Brown's Boys perhaps. I had to watch an episode of Bleach to return to a happier place. From reading both reviews you will know whether you even want to bother giving this a go or not. Horror fans with strong stomachs will have a stronger chance of liking it than most.

If you like this you could also try:
Frontiers, Switchblade Romance, Inside.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Review - Martyrs (2008 - Dir. Pascal Laugier)

Martyrs is not exactly a laugh a minute. The film crosses my personal line for when horror stops being enjoyable and starts to become a little worrying. There is none of the humour present in the likes of Frontiers to balance things up and the film becomes a war of attrition to keep viewing in the second half.

Martyrs is definitely a game of two halves. In the first half two past victims of abuse turn up at  their abusers' house to exact revenge. There's lots of shooting, violence, dirt and blood, all filmed in a single house, giving the whole film a sense of cheap convenience. None of the first half is particularly enjoyable.

I'd stop the film bang on the half way point and take some half time refreshment as this will be the most enjoyable part of the film for you. Have a cup of Bovril, a cereal bar, a balti-pie, read the back of the DVD and brace yourself for the second half.

The second half is particularly uncomfortable viewing with plenty of torture, abuse, hair cutting and degradation. The main problem is that all this nastiness goes on and on and on. Until we finally get to the plot, which surprisingly helps you to make sense of all the unpleasantness, but not in an especially good way.

After watching this and Frontiers, I've got to say I've got significant concerns about France. The only positives are that none of the actors look like they're acting and the 'cheapness' factor tended to disappear in the second half. I can't wait for the Hollywood remake that is apparently on the agenda!

If you like this you could also try:
Frontiers, Switchblade Romance, Inside.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Review - Essential Killing (2010 - Dir. Jerzy Skolimowkski)

In a similar (ish) vein to The Artist, Essential Killing is a silent film. Well, virtually. It just seems to be missing a little fellow in a penguin suit playing his organ on a little podium as accompaniment. It would certainly help, as it needs a bit of livening up.

Vincent Gallo plays a... well, you never quite know what. Is he an insurgent, blowing up Americans left, right and centre with a rocket launcher or has be been caught in a situation just by accident. He could be a pork butcher from Grimsby for all we know. The director never lets you in on the secret. Regardless, the American army bang him in a Guantanamo Bay style camp and take him for a spot of water-boarding. Bless 'em. They don't go the whole hog and take him to Skegvegas though. In true Fugitive style, he escapes and legs it into a snowy forest. The rest of the story then concerns his hardships and exploits.

As hunger sets in, he pretty much does anything to survive. Even when he gets up to some fairly unpleasant malarkey with a woman breastfeeding her baby, you're still not sure what kind of a character he is: a desperate man willing to ignore his morals to stave off his life-threatening hunger or just a pervert. Like Lupin.

In an interview, the likeable director talks about how he didn't want to make a political film. And he hasn't. It's just a bit dull. You never fully engage with Gallo's character or care what happens to him. His morally ambiguous nature makes him distinctly unappealing. Some politics may have made for a more interesting film; make the character an insurgent and then attempt to get the viewer to care for him. Mmm, challenging stuff.

As it stands, it's not the best example of a silent film; there's not enough visual interest or emotional impact. A shame, seeing as though the director is such a pleasant little fellow.

If you like this you could also try:
Rabbit-Proof Fence, Papillon, The Fugitive.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Review - The Sky Crawlers (2008 - Dir.Mamoru Oshii)

Not to be confused with the more specialist title The Kerb Crawlers, The Sky Crawlers is a traditional anime/CGI mutated hybrid type thing. Where this worked really well in Summer Wars and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, due to the separation of the disparate worlds the animation depicted, it doesn't work so well here. In fact it is seriously jarring when the film leaps from a quiet hand-drawn scene to a full-on sky battle with fully rendered planes and landscape. It could have gone down the Vexille route of the whole shebang being CGI but The Sky Crawlers ends up as a mish-mash of styles that doesn't suit the tone of the story.

That's my rant out of the way. What's the pesky thing about then? Yuichi is an ace fighter pilot talking part in a staged war. But he's a child. And he'll never grow up. But not in a sugary-candy-floss-sick (try it, it's a right laugh) Peter Pan kind of way. He is one of a strange subset of humanity called Kildren, destined to stay young forever and fight in wars just for a laugh.

The majority of the film is a mystery, centred on the mysterious death (?) of the last pilot to fly Yuichi's plane. Clues are drip fed to the viewer slowly. This is mildly engaging, but if your telly suddenly exploded you wouldn't be too bothered about finding out what happened to the missing pilot. The Sky Crawlers doesn't shy away from asking some tricky questions that I'm not sure I know the answers to. Maybe I can't be bothered to think, or (more likely) I'm too much of a thick northerner to work out the possible ramifications of their philosophical musings.

If the smoking product manufacturing industry ever wanted a cracking advert, they couldn't do better than The Sky Crawlers. The characters are so desperate to have a quality smoke all the time, it's like the scenes surrounding football grounds around the country at chucking out time (or in the toilets during the game).

I vaguely enjoyed this quiet film (in both meanings of the word - vast swathes are musicless). Don't expect Appleseed: Ex Machina and you'll be okay.

If you like this you could also try:
Vexille, Appleseed: Ex Machina, Summer Wars, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time.

Intermission - Dinner Party Tips Part 2

People are always coming up to me down the local bingo hall and saying, "evlkeith, you hold all these swanky, sophisticated dinner parties for your many friends, can you give me some advice? I'm serving some fancy bread (I may even go down the highly decadent Kingsmill route) and I want to know what sort of cold fat to spread on it. Please, please can you help?"

You have many options. Let's go through them:

  • Lard. Cheap and cheerful but it does tend to clag up your throat as it goes down. Only use lard if you're really desperate.

  • Trex. Not bad and it's a lot lower in fat than butter. But who wants low fat when you're supposed to be enjoying yourself? No-one. Next option.

  • I Can't Believe It's Not Butter Because I Have No Taste Buds Due To Drinking A Bottle Of Hydrochloric Acid. Enough said.

  • Olive oil. Come off it. There's fancy and there's just showing off. You can't even spread it. Next.

  • Let's face facts, there's only one real option. It has to be the King of cold fats: Lurpak. Once you've tasted it you'll recoil in horror at the mere mention of using a substitute cold fat. Give your guests Lurpak and they will be talking about your dinner party prowess for years to come. Go on, give it a try, you won't be disappointed.