Friday, 29 June 2012

Review - Crossworlds (1996 - Dir. Krishna Rao)

I saw this on good old VHS when it originally came out in 1996 and my rose-tinted memory tells me that it was... fun. Easily the best way to describe it: fun. Watching it again sixteen years later, I was pleasantly surprised to reach exactly the same verdict.

Joe Talbot (Josh Charles) is your average kind of guy who is not that successful with the ladies (he should use the wink/click combo more, that always works for me). He has average buddies, one of whom is Jack Black in another irritating role. But as luck would have it, a lovely lady called Laura (Andrea Roth), with a rather fetching costume (wink/click), appears in his bedroom and seduces him. Well, that's if you class nicking his necklace as a seduction technique. Everything then goes lairy, with the introduction of a villain, Ferris (Stuart Wilson) and a magical staff that takes the action into multiple dimensions. And Rutger Hauer is in it too.

He must have had a right laugh. He doesn't take the script seriously in the slightest, which is a good thing. At times, he has a similar tone to Rik Mayall taking the Peters and Lee out of the entire proceedings. His performance goes a great way to ensure the jovial tone of the film. The other leads are both likeable sorts too. Josh Charles is a precursor to the monkey swinging Shia The Beef and Andrea Roth plays a straight role as a foil for Mr Hauer's camp antics.

I can remember being amazed at the effects on my first watching. Now, you could knock them up using iMovie. They do the job, though and we can be thankful that they didn't try to create a CG creature.

There are some similarities to The Matrix (1999), but the Wachowksis homaged loads of different films. Every film maker is influenced by what they have seen, it would be unreasonable for them not to be and the two films are different enough to stand on their own as separate entities. Their homaging skills didn't work too well for them on the sequels though... Filthy little homagers.

Crossworlds has its faults. The mythology is not fully explored and the villain's demise is a little lacklustre. But, its tone reminds me of another fun film from that sort of time period: Warlock. So, I think we've all got the idea that it's fun. And there are a lot worse ways to describe a film than that. 'Whipped up bowel contents' being one of them.

If you like this you could also try:
Warlock, Waxwork, Split Second.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Review - A Horrible Way to Die (2010 - Dir. Adam Wingard)

We've had A Lonely Place to Die. Now, we've got A Horrible Way to Die. What's next? An Inconvenient Time to Die? A story about a lad who makes a gorgeous cheese and onion sarnie, accompanied with chips and maybe a sprinkling of cress, but a murderer comes round. "Of all the times to kill me! Can't you give me half an hour to finish my dainty snack?" the lad whines. (If this film ever gets made, I want a writing credit. And some cash.)

I really struggled with this film initially. It's all to do with the style: a camera that is constantly wobbling about a bit and differential focus gone crazy. A severe case of the Boyles, I thought and it was very close to being unwatchable. Things do improve. I was never totally convinced by its use but there are some effective scenes enhanced by the style. A strangling is made more disturbing by the juddering camera moves, better than the rather disappointing offering in Snowtown. At one point the main character's mental state is shown by some severe shakage and loss of focus. Good stuff. When it's used subtly it also works. It became less intrusive as the film went on. Or maybe I was just able to ignore it.

Sarah (Amy Seimetz) and Kevin (Joe Swanberg) are recovering alcoholics - ironically I watched most of this drunk - and they become chums, then get all kissy kissy. It turns out that her ex is a serial killer. Er... see you later, love.

Their relationship was the main thing that kept me going through the first half an hour. The acting is realistic and you especially feel for Sarah. AJ Bowen makes a cracking killer too - I don't know whether he dabbles in his spare time - all lovely and calm and then, WHAM! knife in someone's gut.

It's not a particularly gory film. The worst it gets is a scene inspired by Dario Argento's Opera. It is disturbing though. There is a similar gritty feel and atmosphere to Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. The score by Quilted Crystal adds immeasurably to this feeling. Another reason why I kept going with it.

The ending is great: true to the theme of the film and what has gone before, a very clever script. It pulled me round and brought the rating up by a good few points. If the style had been toned down in some scenes it would have been higher still. 

The title is misleading but I didn't really mind. What the film delivers is better and more intelligent than the title implies. A much better take on the serial killer genre than the aforementioned Snowtown. Well worth a watch.

If you like this you could also try:
Wolf Creek, Snowtown, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Feature - Competition Time!

Yes. It's the first obscurendure competition.

We have one copy of the 10/10 rated Brotherhood of the Wolf on DVD or Blu-ray (you choose) to give away. How do I win Mr Keith? I'm glad you've asked. For every one of the following things that you do, I'll put your name is a hat, well... more of a peaked cap really. If you refer a buddy and they let us know that you referred them, then you'll both get your names put in. Bonus! The more things you do, the better chance you have of winning this prestigious prize. (If you already own it then we can come to some mutually agreeable solution.) If you're lucky, I might even throw in a couple of my DVDs that I've already watched and reviewed in these very pages.

So here's the list:

And that's it. Don't worry if you already follow us, your name is already in the cap.

The closing date for entries is the 18th July 2012. The lucky winner will be notified soon after. Good luck!


Friday, 15 June 2012

Review - Tidal Wave (2009 - Dir. Je-gyun Yun)

Look at the cover. Read the title. Imagine the low quality CGI wave effects. Mmmm... If ever a film screamed Channel Five at the top of its little lungs, this would be it. 

I imagined that the first half would be fairly dull setting up the titular wave and then the second half would have an excitement injection with some 'squint and it looks okay' action. It's actually the other way round.

The story centres on Man-Sik and Yeon-Hee, who may or may not become romantically entangled. There is the small matter of Man-Sik causing the death of Yeon-Hee's dad which is always going to be a sticking point. Numerous little sub-plots abound in the initial part of the film, the funniest being the relationship between Hyoung-Sik and a lovely lady who he has rescued. In one scene she pretends to be his distraught girlfriend, becoming near hysterical, to show her acting credentials. He looks so embarrassed and shocked by all of this malarkey that I had a little chortle to myself.

It's all on the soap opera side of things and it does get melodramatic at various points; it still didn't stop me being quite touched when Man-Sik and Yeon-Hee are talking to her dead father at his grave. I got suspiciously caught up in all of this relationship drama and was slightly disappointed when the tidal wave finally arrives. And sadly, the tidal wave is disappointing too.

My pre-emptive strike on the CGI was fairly accurate but with this type of film, overblown excessive effects are expected; not a three foot high wave that wouldn't trouble a knotted hankie wearing pensioner on Skeggie beach then. Okay, a minor exaggeration, although the wave quickly seems to lose momentum and dissipates into a trickle. For most of the time the characters seem more in danger of slipping and spraining their ankles than being swept away. 

Made in South Korea and surprisingly the budget was larger than that of The Host ($16 million compared to $11 million). Yes, The Host is the better film - though still far from perfect - but Tidal Wave, with its gentle humour, slapstick and likeable characters, is possibly better than a lot of films that have much bigger budgets. 

If you like this you could also try:
The Host, Earthquake, An Empress and the Warriors.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Review - The Cave (2005 - Dir. Bruce Hunt)

I had some vague recollection of hearing bad things about this film. But I saw it in a '3 for £5' offer and decided to give it a chance. It could turn out to be one of those films that most people hate but is actually quite enjoyable.

Sadly, it's not. There are moments of fleeting excitement although they are few and far between. The overwhelming downside of The Cave is the lack of characterisation. To say that the characters all gaze in awe at Paper Mario's surfeit of dimensions is an understatement. It is a relatively easy task to write a description of every character in one word; 'relatively easy' because I can't even think of one word for some of them. 

Why did the film-makers bother then? The plot is an excuse for some lovely cave footage, both above and below water. And also an excuse to homage Aliens. A group of scientists led by Dr Nicolai (Marcel Iures) are investigating a Carpathian Cave system aided by tip-top diving brothers Jack and Tyler McAllister. They soon run into a spot of bother when a cave in occurs and Jack spouts the only cool blockbuster dialogue in the film - 'We are the rescue team.' More problems arise from the inclusion of some cave-dwelling creatures. 

The creatures were designed by Patrick Tatopoulus (Dark City, Pitch Black) and I was disappointed by their derivative nature. They recall the unfortunate alien/muppet hybrid from the conclusion of Alien: Resurrection. Having a better look at them in the special features, they are slightly more interesting with their exposed brains and elevated bone bike helmets (for want of a better phrase). The director chooses to show the creatures off by juddering the camera about and cutting rather quickly, rendering them indecipherable onscreen for much of the action.

When the action kicks off towards the end there is some fun to be had. The highlight has to be the free climbing sequence of Charlie (Piper Perabo). Admittedly it all gets a bit Lara Croft but this was the first time I got behind one of the characters. It was short-lived. 

I'm not a Professor of Sciencey Business BSc PhD but if a cave smells of methane there shouldn't be any flames in there. Fire of any kind would cause an explosion, surely? Later on in the film the cave blows up - I'm guessing it's the methane - so why don't the numerous fire ignite it earlier? Maybe they're special non-heating cold flames. The sort you use to cool yourself down on a hot day. That must be it.

At one point I was going to rate this as either 0 or 1. It does pick up in the latter half and provides some of the promised blockbuster thrills. Watch it for the cave photography and you may get something out of it.

If you like this you could also try:
The Descent, The Core, Pitch Black.

Intermission - Smells

People are forever coming up to me when I'm having the corns cut off my feet and saying, 'evlkeith, you're a knowledgable kind of guy, what the worst smell in the world?' Easy peasy lemon squeezy as Zippy would quite rightly say.

There are many bad smells: the smell of a dog eating another dog's poop (somehow worse than a static dog poop), the strong whiff of ammonia that emanates from most musicals and not forgetting, the stench that poured forth from Randy Milliner's backside when I was stuck in a stuffy hot car with him (I've never opened a car window so fast in my life). But these are mere fledglings in the world of stench...

As a young evlkeith, I used to make artefacts out of toilet roll paper and a sugary syrup that I knocked up by boiling sugar and water - newspaper and glue were an extravagance in the early eighties. With these primitive materials I was able to fashion, amongst other things, a Freddie Krueger mask and a human heart, glazed with the same sugary substance to give it a fresh, wet look.

What has all this got to do with smells? Good question. I'll get there soon. 

I decided to venture into unknown paper mache territory and purchase some wallpaper paste. Oh, the joys of mixing up a batch of a proper craft material in an orange bucket. I can't remember what I actually made but the important point is that I had about half a bucket full of pastey papery loveliness left. So, in a typical teenager fashion, I forgot all about this precious bucket and left it hidden under a table in my bedroom. 

Weeks later, I decided to check on the state of the paper mache. Was it still wet? Still usable? After a bit of a stir I stuck my head into the bucket to have a good look... and nearly broke my neck from severe whiplash. The stench was incomparable to any known stinky smell. It made me want to physically retch until my bumhole popped out of my mouth. This brilliant creation needed a name. And so Fomponce was born.

Friends (and enemies) from miles around came to partake in a whiff of the fabled Fomponce. Due to the far too sharp head movement caused by the pong, all left with a stiff neck at best, and at worst... a trip to A&E to get an emergency neck brace fitted. Even the Devil gave an impressed nod of his little head when he got a nose full. The Fomponce was fed with more paper, more water, more earwax, bogies and everything that could possibly make it smellier. The Fomponce became the stuff of legend throughout the whole of South Yorkshire for its sheer extreme fetid power. Eventually the Fomponce gained sentience and is now happily married in a two-bed terrace in Hull.

If anyone is stupid enough to try to make a Fomponce clone, don't blame me if you get struck down by some dubious lung disease. Strangely, everyone who had a sniff of the Fomponce now has chronic lung failure. A case for Quincy to get his teeth into, I think.

Sorry. Wrong Quincy.

That's better.


Saturday, 9 June 2012

Review - Favela Rising (2005 - Dir. Jeff Zimbalist & Matt Mochary)

A laudable and interesting documentary based in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro.  It's possibly as gritty as documentaries get in terms of both style and subject matter, but never really registers on the excitement-o-meter. The film follows the lives and work of  Brazilian musicians and youth organisation AfroReggae as they battle to save local kids from the clutches of the drug cartels and lure them into more wholesome pursuits of music making.

The star man in the proceedings is head honcho Anderson Sa, who comes across as a man of complete integrity and honesty. He strives to educate children on the dangers of becoming drug soldiers, performs with his rap group and generally acts like the voice of common sense. The moment where he stands firm against a lynch mob from the neighbouring favela is particularly impressive, however the most moving scenes in the film show his stunning work in drumming workshops with local children banging a range of plastic containers and tins to produce inspiring music. 

The documentary is shot in a edgy, gritty style with handheld cameras, silhouetted interviews and secret footage of the drug gangs, which combine to give the impression that the film-makers were taking their lives into their own hands on the streets of the favelas. There are also some lovely panoramic shots of Brazilian landscapes which add to the feeling of the vast scale of urban poverty in Rio. It's ultimately successful in presenting this dangerous and deprived area in a more positive light, and almost acts as a perfect source of background information for South American gritty film fans. The real life Elite Squad cops make an appearance and if anything are even more extreme in their real life exploits than in the film, Elite Squad!

Despite all the positives you can't help but feel that the film would be better suited to the small screen and doesn't quite have the cinematic star quality or detail of top documentaries like Into the Abyss. It's enjoyable and inspiring, but possibly only suited to committed grit fans or world music lovers.

If you like this you could also try:
Carandiru, Elite Squad, Bus 174, Sin Nombre.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Review - A Lonely Place to Die (2011 - Dir. Julian Gilbey)

Have a good look at the DVD cover. Consider the title. Okay, what's the film about? Climbing, obviously. A lady gets stuck up a mountain, without any hope of rescue and it's all really tense.

Nope. Another example of some quality misleading marketing (this seems to be becoming a regular occurrence - see The Raid review for more deceit). It has got a smidgen of climbing in it. And she does get stuck on a cliff. But A Lonely Place to Die is really a thriller about a kidnapping. In a similar vein to High Lane, the climbing action is soon dispensed with and it morphs into an altogether different film. (I think I'll have to watch a proper climbing film soon, but not the slightly whiffy Vertical Limit.)

Melissa George (Alias, Dark City) is on a climbing trip with some of her chums when they find a kidnappee. The rest of the film is spent trying to keep a safe distance from the slightly unhinged kidnappers. The film is set in Scotland, which makes the film visually quite pleasant, what with all the lovely views and the rather bizarre street festival where some red-painted ladies get their raspberry ripples out. This is supposed to be in Scotland, surely they would have some substantial wool cardies on and some quality technical wicking undergarments (undershirt, undergloves, underhats, underunderpants, the works).

My main problem with this film is Ed (Ed Speleers - Eragon). Initially, he cracks a very obvious poker gag and is generally obnoxious. But then... but then, he states that he doesn't like sandwiches! What kind of a sick pervert doesn't like sarnies?!? (Sorry. Severe punctuation overload. I was goaded though.) I was severely hoping that he'd get maimed or shot for this major misdemeanor. A kind lady has made him a lovely little picnic for his dinner and he starts moaning when he finds out that two slices of bread and a filling are involved. What was he expecting? A full Sunday dinner with all the trimmings? What other possible food substance can you have in a lunchbox? My only thought was... DIE!

Apart from Melissa George (who is just about passable) and Alec Newman, the acting is just one notch up from the soaps. Not Mary's dad standard in the slightest but when it's noticeable that someone is acting, something has gone awry. 

A Lonely Place to Die is a thriller but I was never really that thrilled. It was entertaining enough but I never felt any tension, just a feeling of preposterousness. Who are the two hunters at the start and what are they up to? Why do characters seem to appear for the sole purpose of being killed? Why does our heroine seek refuge in an occupied house when she is being chased by a shotgun wielding miscreant knowing full well what will happen? And why does that freak not like sarnies?!? (Let it lie... let it lie.)

From watching the Special Features it looks like they had a lot more fun making this film than I did watching it. (In truth, I enjoyed the extras a lot more than the actual film.) The director deserves some respect for getting Canon 5D footage into a fairly large feature film and any film containing a man wearing a pig mask can't be all bad.

If you like this you could also try:
High Lane, Kill List (it has a similar atmosphere in parts), Touching the Void.