Saturday, 31 March 2012

Feature - Top 10 Children's TV Intros

This feature was inspired by Chris over at movies and songs 365 and his quality post on the top children's TV intros. Never one to look a list horse in the mouth, here's my top 10. (To see Doccortex's favourites visit our sister site.)

10. Pipkins 
This programme aired at dinnertimes and was notable for Inspector Pig of Trotters Yard. I can't see this kind of thing being allowed nowadays. I love the intro for the comedy noise that Hartley Hare makes when the last piece comes down in from of him. It makes me laugh every time.

9. Cloppa Castle
I never realised until I watched this again that Emerson, Lake and Palmer did a theme tune for a children's TV programme.

8. Star Fleet
You can see how liking Star Fleet led to my love of giant robots and all things anime. Sadly Brian May also liked Star Fleet and did a terrible cover of the theme tune. Avoid at all costs. (Barry Hercules - cool name.)

7. Chorlton and the Wheelies
There is definitely no way in a million years that this would get made now. All of the villains are total stereotypes: Fenella the witch was Welsh, the talking book, Claptrap Von Spilldebeans, was German and the Toadies spoke in Japanese. Funny, but may have caused offence to German talking books.


6. Yoho Ahoy
Possibly just in there because I love the programme. The intro is short and sweet and hints at the piratey goodness to come. The best moments are when Bilge, the captain, says 'Yoho' - or if he fancies, 'Ahoy' - in an aggressive tone and then laughs at someone who has had an unfortunate mishap. BBC, I know you're completely useless but I would change my tune forever if you release this on DVD.

5. Rainbow
It had to be in there somewhere. My childhood dinnertimes revolved around Rainbow (and Heinz tomato soup with cheese and half a loaf of bread). Four questions spring to mind: Is George male or female? How camp is Bungle? What the hell is Zippy? And what kind of a sick pervert is Geoffrey for living with the three of them? As for Rod, Jane and Freddie... the mind boggles. Top theme tune though.

4. Battle of the Planets
Again, you can see where my love of anime comes from. I can remember making a Phoenix out of Lego with all of the different ships and bikes that fitted together. (Lego used to be way better. You had to be creative rather than being handed it all on a plate. Interestingly, I also made a working crossbow from Lego. I was probably sat on the toilet too, when I made it. My childhood was great.) 

3. Thunderbirds
I still watch Thunderbirds now and am amazed at how great it still is. One of my most hated things is Thunderbirds spoofs. People walking around pretending to be puppets. Scum of the earth. (Plus, if anyone wants to debate which is the coolest Thunderbird, don't bother, it's Thunderbird 2.)

2. Batman: The Animated Series
Best children's TV programme ever? Quite possibly. Easily my favourite screen version of Batman. Great theme tune by Danny Elfman too.

1. Mr Rossi
Not the best children's programme ever, but what a cracking theme tune. All together now: Viva viva happiness! (Or maybe not.)

There is one theme tune I couldn't include because, basically, I can't remember what it's called. It starred a strange black and white space bird that had the power of splitting itself into multiple copies of itself, amongst others. If anyone knows what it is, please leave me a comment. I would be very eternally grateful.


Review - Only the Strong (1993 - Dir Sheldon Lettich)

Capoeira porn.

That's it in a nutshell. If you're new to capoeria, it's Brazilian kung fu. Think of Eddy Gordo in Tekken. Or alternatively, think of someone doing a slinky little dance, then flailing their legs around wildly and kicking seven shades out of their opponent. That's capoeria.

The legendary Mark Dacascos plays Louis Stevens, an ex-special forces soldier, who has come back to the hood where he grew up. The teacher who put him on the straight and narrow, Mr Kerrigan (Geoffrey Lewis - Tango and Cash), has a problem. He's a teacher. And he has to teach the biggest bad bottoms in the whole of America. They spit, swear, bring knives to school and are generally unkind to small mammals (not necessarily shown in the film). Enter Louis who is going to teach them some capoeira moves and some respect.

Okay, you already know the rest of the plot already. But Only the Strong is top fun. When Dacascos starts doing his funny little capoeira dance I have to admit that I agree with the miscreants. It looks stupid. Not the coolest way to start a fight. But then when the legs start flying, it all becomes clear. Dacascos has some seriously cool moves. The fight choreography is also great; the final fight culminates in head kick after head kick. Very cool.

There has to be a villain for Dacascos to pit his skills against. He comes in the form of local drug lord Silverio, (Paco Christian Prieto) the cousin of one of Louis' students. At one point he offers money to Louis to train his men in the art of capoeira. Which is strange, seeing as though he is supposedly better than him. Wouldn't he just do it himself? Never mind. Inconsistencies are all part of the fun.

There has to be some love interest for Dacascos (as you can see, it is fairly formulaic). She comes in the form of fellow teacher Dianna (Stacey Travis - Phantasm II). She looks suspiciously like Brigitte Lahaie, the famous french porn star. Er... how do I know that slightly compromising fact? Think fast. Oh yeah! She's in Jean Rollin's Fascination. Phew.

This is definitely a film I will revisit. I think Crying Freeman is the better film, (I've maybe been harsh on that, only giving it 7/10, in fact I'm going to go and up it right this minute) but this is still cracking. Sadly, there's no region 2 release of Only the Strong yet. Someone release it sharpish. One very strange thing that this film throws up is that it was filmed nearly twenty years ago and Mark Dacascos only seems to have aged about ten years in the intervening years. Maybe all that leg flailing keeps him young. Or in my case, it just gave me a hernia and a prolapsed bowel.

If you like this you could also try:
Crying Freeman, Drive, Brotherhood of the Wolf.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Short Film Review - Familiar (2012 - Dir. Richard Powell)

Short films are never as satisfying as full length features but they can highlight the work of promising new creative teams. This is the case with Familiar

Familiar is definitely a film of two halves. The first half is fairly horrific. We get to hear the inner thoughts of a middle-aged man. His daughter is leaving home soon and he is looking forward to starting the rest of his life. He doesn't particularly like his wife and feels like she's held him back. Then she breaks some news to him. She's pregnant.

The initial section will probably resonate with a lot of people. It evokes similar emotions to the end sequence of Heavenly Creatures, where you have a character that is content with their life but you know that someone else is plotting something generally unpleasant against them. I audibly said, "Oh no!" a couple of times when his schemes were revealed. The acting is mainly good, apart from a very strange piece of moustache twitching. It's a definite talent but possibly not that appropriate.

Eventually, schizophrenia is suspected as it becomes evident that he has two voices inside his head. This was all very promising and I was really looking forward to what was coming next. 

Then it all goes severely pear-shaped and standard issue. Body horror. I like a bit of body horror. Who doesn't? But after such a strong build up, giving us an insight into the mind of someone suffering from mental illness, was body horror the right path to take? There's a nice bit of gore, but again did it need it? The Wicker Man has shown that the most horrific films can be completely bloodless. This could have done the same. The time devoted to bloodletting could have been used to further examine the psyche of this moustachioed fellow and produced a more satisfying result.

So, think of it as two films, the first one great and the second one... okayish. Short films are a showcase for new talent and Familiar definitely shows a lot of promise. My review score is based on other short films. (Compared to the Virgin Shorts put on before films in England, this is a world-beater.)

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Review - The Kid with a bike (2011 - Dir. Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne)

I like horror films. That may not come as that much of a surprise to you. Most of them are completely unrealistic and rather than being horrific are just funny. They are pure escapism. Then I watch a film like The Kid with a bike and it is so realistic, worrying and bleak that I realise that if I want to be scared and horrified I should be watching dramas based on real-life. Not my cup of tea, really.

Cyril (Thomas Doret) lives in a children's home. His father has left his apartment without leaving a forwarding address. All the lad wants is contact with his dad. And his bike. Like many children, there's nothing he likes better than haring about on his bike. (In the British remake, set in Rotherham, his bike will be four sizes too small for him and he'll bomb around busy roundabouts causing mayhem, giving a berzerk looking dog a coggy.) 

Eventually, he meets a hairdresser, Samantha (Cécile De France - Switchblade Romance), who takes him in and looks after him at weekends. Things take a turn for the worst when he meets a dubious local bad lad. Thomas Doret is so natural in his role as Cyril, and although he seems outwardly strong, you can see always see how vulnerable he is. And how easy it is for people to take advantage of this. His acting is pure quality. He bites, he kicks, he breaks down, he cries and he shows a tender, relaxed side, all with equal ease. Without him the film wouldn't have reached the level of realism it was striving for.

Although it is set in France, you can easily transpose all of the characters to the UK. It reminds you how easily young people can be exploited. Fortunately, it isn't completely bleak. There is a little rayette of sunshine. The film pushes you to think, 'Why doesn't Samantha send him back to the home, the ungrateful little tinker?'. Thankfully, it pulls you back from this generally unpleasant view by the end.

So, it's not the type of film I'd usually watch and I'm not sure that I liked it. But it is a good film and many people would enjoy it, if only for Thomas Doret's central performance.

If you liked this you could also try:
I've Loved You So Long, This is England.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Review - Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2010 - Dir. Eli Craig)

After the first five minutes of Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, I was fearing the worst. A group of college kids are driving along, when one of them pops up from the boot and makes a comment along the lines of, "Oh no! We've forgot the beer!". The others recoil in overacted horror. Things looked bleak. Could it be that I was watching a... spoof? Please, not that. Anything but that. (Well, apart from musicals that spurt forth from Satan's butthole when he's mixed up a particularly noxious batch of bum gravy.)

Spend another five minutes in the film's company and you get it (phew). It's a horror comedy, that luxurious blending of genres. The story is told from two points of view: the college kids and Tucker and Dale, two mountain men. The original part of this film is that these men of the mountains are loveable and kindly (okay, this stretches the believability factor of the film, but stick with it). The college kids, out for a good time, obviously see them as the more commonly held view of moonshine-drinking raccoon-hunting hillwilliams ever since the release of Deliverance. (Squeal, boy.)

What follows is really funny and heartwarming. Don't worry. It's not a feel-good film (sorry, for using that dirty word and any resulting mental damage that may have been inflicted by it). The humour revolves around chainsaws and tree shredders (phew, again). To complement the visual comedy you are also treated to a sharp script. I knew Alan Tudyk (Tucker) can turn his hand to comedy from Firefly and Serenity. But Tyler Labine (Dale) was an unknown quantity. He is actually the more likeable of the two in this instance. His relationship with one of the college girls, Allison (Katrina Bowden), is strangely touching, but completely preposterous. I don't like the look of his other films, but he's good in this.

The main downside is that the jokes dry up after the first half. It's not that the second half is rubbish, but after the laughs in the earlier scenes, it does put a slight downer on the proceedings. Even so, this is one of the best new films I've seen in a while and I will be adding it to my Blu-ray collection very soon. (I've included the trailer, as usual, but it's probably best going into it cold.)

If you like this you could also try:
Hobo with a Shotgun, Return of the Living Dead, Evil Dead 2, Braindead.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Review - Lars and the Real Girl (2007 - Dir. Craig Gillespie)

The whole premise of Lars and the Real Girl sounds seedy in the extreme; a geeky, mustachioed loner forming a relationship with what is essentially a high class blow-up doll called Bianca. It doesn't sound like the kind of film that you'd buy for your impressionable teenage niece for Christmas (yeah, sorry about that - evlkeith), but once viewed it emerges that this is a gentle but deceptively thought provoking drama dealing with issues of life, love and bereavement. It's warm, intelligent and surprisingly intelligent and well scripted.

There are some stunning performances which lend an air of believability to the distinctly odd situation. Ryan Gosling as Lars is a quirky romantic lead, perfectly balancing the dual roles of besotted lover and mentally unhinged victim. His performance underwrites the whole film and bizarrely manages to simultaneously bring the inanimate character of Bianca to life in the sincerity of his interactions and dialogue. All the acting is superb, but the female characters of Emily Mortimer (Karin), Kelli Garner (Margo) and the excellent Patricia Clarkson (Dagma) are all worthy of special mentions.

The one criticism of the film is that you know where the plot is headed after about twenty minutes, but this really doesn't matter. As with all the best heart-warming movies, the story is carried by the wave of empathy and emotional we feel for all the characters and the ultimate resolution seems natural and satisfying rather than contrived. Lars is not about what happens, it's about how and why it happens. I suggest watching this in a three way heart-warmathon with Waitress and The Notebook as we did over Christmas for maximum impact.

(Imagine a world where people with mental illness are treated with compassion and respect; that's what you get with Lars and the Real Girl. Alternatively, think of the real world where we would take the mad woman who looks like Yoda and eats raw fish out of a wrapper as she walks out of Somerfield, and slap her on X-Factor or Britain's Got Talent and have a right good laugh at her. 

I really enjoyed Lars too. A hidden gem - evlkeith.

If you like this you could also try:
Waitress, The Notebook, Garden State.

Or for more blow-up doll action:
River's Edge, City of the Living Dead, Bottom Live.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Review - Attack the Block (2011 - Dir. Joe Cornish)

What would happen if an alien landed in South London and was found by some teenage gang members? Mmm, an interesting premise for a film. They do exactly as you'd expect. Batter it. (Not literally, but I know a local chippy that would be quite happy to do it for you.) They lug it around London, showing their mates and generally having a right laugh. Then the alien's mates arrive...

My initial thoughts on this film were not that positive. For the first fifteen minutes the gang are all quite obnoxious and irritating. Plus they mug Jodie Whittaker's character, Sam. But gradually you warm to the little tinkers. By the end I quite liked the happy little fellows. I suppose I fell into the director's (Joe Cornish from out of Adam and Joe) evil little trap. 

Being a thick northener, I could have done with subtitles for most of the London speak. (Simon Howard, who plays Biggz, is incomprehensible in real life. Every other word is 'like' or 'that'. That made me warm to him even more.) Out of the gang Pest (Alex Esmail) is my favourite, being an expert in the use of fireworks as weapons. His rap in the extras is quality as well. John Boyega as Moses looks so much like a young Denzel that it's spooky. Not the most endearing of characters, but he gets a top hero moment at the end of the film. The flies in the ointment are Luke Treadaway and (surprisingly) Nick Frost. Both of them irritated me and were blatantly unfunny. Everyone else is great. The group of girls are really convincing, possibly more so than the lads.

The effects on the aliens are great, all bristling black hair and glowing teeth. They were rotoscoped in a Ralph Bakshi fashion. This is a way better use of computers than making a fully computer generated creature. They look believable as they charge about chewing everything. 

Joe Cornish has done a great job with this film. You can tell he has researched how the characters would talk and made them believable. An impressive debut. Just hope he doesn't go all Source Codey big-budgety like Duncan Jones.

So, well worth watching, if only to see Doncaster Rovers' El Hadji Diouf as a South London drug lord. Shame he didn't get to spit on anyone (or any aliens for that matter.) Just wish the aliens had landed in Rotherham. Now that would have been a film.



If you like this you could also try:
The Warriors, Bronx Warriors, Return of the Living Dead.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Review - π (1998 - Dir. Darren Aronofsky)

π is a joyless psychological thriller and the directorial debut of Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream/Black Swan). It's difficult to say who would like this kind of film. It's bleak, black and white and serious, with choppy, arty camera work and a complete lack of any sense of humour. 

The action centres around Sean Gullette's character Max Cohen, who is an introverted, maths geek with psychological problems. Max becomes obsessed with his mathematical hobby when he discovers a new 216 digit constant that apparently unlocks all aspects of the universe. Obviously he doesn't use it to unlock any of these aspects, but instead gets all intense and depressed by the unwanted attention of some mysterious baddies and some mysterious Jewish guys with big beards. It sounds pretty fun-packed entertainment, however it isn't at all.

It's basically slow moving, self indulgent dirge with a plot that goes nowhere of any interest. Admittedly the beardy Jewish guys provide some hope of a modicum of something interesting, but it's too little too late. Having previously never zero rated a film on obscurendure, I'm trying to look for some positives, but there really aren't any. It's rubbish.

(I can remember seeing this when it was first released. I can't say that I was that impressed either. It started off okay - number theory can be really interesting - but then the camera work got in the way and I can't really remember much happening. Never a good sign. I've just realised that my sadness quotient has risen dramatically with the phrase 'number theory can be really interesting'. Don't get me started on countable and uncountable sets. They're great. As for the Foundations of Mathematics...
- evlkeith)

If you like this you could also try:
Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan, Fermat's Last Theorem - Simon Singh (Book), The Code Book - Simon Singh (Book)

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Review - Inside (2007 - Dir. Alexandre Bustillo)

Crikey. Where to start with this one? Pregnant ladies in films are generally exempt from being stalked and stabbed by some total nutter. You can see where this is going.

If you've come to this review because you've enjoyed some of the gentler films on obscurendure like This Happy Breed or The Girl Who Leapt through Time, then it might be an idea to give Inside a wide birth. It is definitely anti-gentle.

Sarah (Alysson Paradis) is the pregnant lady in question. She is involved in a nasty car accident very early on in the proceedings and her partner is killed to death. Some months later, the pregnancy is going well (by some miracle). Then a suspect woman turns up at her house who knows her name and knows all about the accident. For some reason she wants to get into the house.

The initial part of the film is quite tense. It is shot in cheapo-budget-o-scope-o-vision, but even so I was looking at the shadowy areas on screen to make sure that nothing jumped out and made me soil my pants (well, a mild spattering maybe, enough to warrant wipeage). Then there is an incident with a fella's chicken nuggets and a rather large pair of scissors. All tension is lost and it descends into a blood bath (not necessarily a bad thing, but in this case it is). 

The special make-up effects are serviceable but the CGI baby is shocking. It's not that Inside is very gory, it's just very bloody. By the end Sarah's house, and the other occupants, are drenched in the red stuff. 

At two points in the film, I was completely speechless. One point is where what can only be described as a supernatural event takes place. Everything else in the film could feasibly happen, but this bit... it's just completely bonkers. The other moment is one of those 'I can't believe they've filmed that' moments. Not pleasant. I'm not entirely sure whether they were just being shocking for the sake of it, trying to outshock Martyrs (very possibly). Whatever reason they had, it doesn't lend the film an endearing quality and it would have been better without it. 

After all that, I did vaguely enjoy Inside (maybe too many vodkas helped - adjust the rating accordingly). You could never accuse it of being boring. So if you're not faint of heart, and not pregnant, then drink some serious quantities of pop and give it a go. You have been warned though.

If you like this you could also try:
Martyrs, Frontiers, Switchblade Romance, Three Men and a Baby.