Monday, 25 February 2013

Review - Mamma Mia (2008 - Dir. Phyllida Lloyd)

I hate musicals. I hate Abba. Being a total masochist I've decided to review Mamma Mia for you, dear reader. I've decided to do something a little bit different with this review because of the slightly non-obscure nature of the film. I wrote the review as I watched the film, in timeline form (admittedly some of the timings may be slightly off due to extreme shock) so that you have to experience the whole thing along with me. Because of the family nature of this site, be aware that many words have been omitted from the review. Liberally sprinkle my words with blasphemy and harsh swearing and you're closer to the reality. So strap yourselves in, assume the crash position and prepare yourself for a bumpy ride. 

0:54 Already into an Abba song. Nightmare. Let's check how long this abomination lasts... 1 hour and 42 minutes!!! They're having a laugh. 

2:16 Firth. This is not looking good.

2:56 Some girls are hugging each other in what can only be described as fake girliness whilst screaming, "OH MY GOD!" at each other.

4:12 Dire acting with yet more fake girliness. This film is aimed at six year old girls.

4:45 Who actually likes this? The singing and the backing vocals and the dancing are all choreographed. Just how do they know these routines?

6:16 Yet more fake girliness. Does it ever end?

6:18 Streep.

7:09 Fake English swearing from Firth.

7:19 More "OH MY GOD!"ing.

10:12 Some young posh lad has just walked in with a cowboy hat and cigar and did a comedy shimmy. Die.

11:20 Why is everyone so fake and hamming it up? And now we get some fake girliness with some pensioners.

12:34 Why can't they just act properly?

14:30 This set looks so fake.

15:35 A really embarrassing misunderstanding about the new fangled internet by Streep.

16:28 Streep is singing. Someone make her stop now.

17:26 Now a load of extras are joining in with a hearty, "HA".

18:24 Streep is doing a Titanic. What possible enjoyment value is there in this for anyone?

19:33 Bad thong gag about flossing that was old when cavemen wore fur thongs.

20:50 They all look really badly green screened onto a comedy island background. Eldorado had higher production values than this.

22:50 Firth being really posh and representative of about 0.1% of the UK.

24:40 Firth being really posh again. I need a cup of tea.

25:01 Avatar was bad and would get 0/10, but this in a completely different league of film torture. Can I go into negative numbers on the rating for once?

25:20 Streep's singing again. People above fifty should be banned from singing in public.

26:40 Now she's clawing at the air like she's overdosed on over-acting pills.

27:25 Ooh. Comedy fall. Genius.

28:50 Is that oh-so-subtle camera move suggesting that Streep and Brosnan are going to get together at the end of the film?

29:50 Now Walters is singing. Why do they have to sing?

32:20 I hate Abba. When I invent my time machine, I'm going to nip back and imprison them in separate isolation booths, all on different continents. They can be fed hummus and liver piping for the rest of their miserable lives.

35:09 Walters is waggling her backside - another activity that should be banned for the over 50s.

36:10 Streep's doing a jumpy splits thing. Banned.

36:50 Comedy gold.

37:21 I can't believe there's another hour of this. Kill me now.

38:25 Streep + Air Guitar = Banned.

38:45 My heart is racing. I'm getting properly stressed.

39:40 Firth's got a guitar. Please no. Don't let him sing.

40:07 Oh come off it. This has gone way beyond the pathetic joke it started out as.

40:35 What the hell is Brosnan singing for? He peaked with Goldeneye on the N64 (and he wasn't too bad in the Bond films) but now... What was he thinking? How to lose all self respect in one easy step.

41:15 This young lad is really irritating. Please die.

44:20 Beethoven has got more going for it. At least that had a dog in it.
45:20 I'm speechless. There are men in Speedos and flippers. Dancing.

46:37 Abba should be ashamed for giving birth to this monstrosity.

47:20 I don't think I can cope with the rest of this.

48:33 All of these actors are busy counting their money in their heads and laughing at everyone who bought this (luckily, I nicked my copy).

49:50 Where's Andy Bell when you need him?

50:47 "Someone up there has got it in for me." Exactly how I feel Streep.

54:00 Just do a DNA test and stop singing!

54:47 This is endless torture.

55:06 Now we're into Alan Partridge territory.

56:00 Dancers. I can't really comment on dancers without writing something massively offensive that would result in my incarceration.

57:56 More comedy gold from Walters.

1:00:25 I'm getting concerned that my will to live has been secreted away in some secret location that I will never locate for the rest of my sorry life. I need vodka.

1:03:21 Brosnan, please, no more. I submit.

1:05:23 Nobody who worked on this film should be allowed to work ever again.

1:06:00 This really bad actor is going to be a dancer, isn't he?

1:07:35 Dancers over-acting. Well I never.

1:08:28 Oh aye, here he goes. Filthy little dancer.

1:10:05 It's not even well directed. We're in true soap style here. Over the shoulder shot of her. Over the shoulder shot of him. Repeat ad deatheum.

1:12:17 The songs never stop. 

1:12:48 I honestly feel ill. Properly physically ill.

1:14:25 The plot would only take up about five minutes of a normal film. But oh no. Let's shoehorn in 17 million Abba songs.

1:20:04 Has anyone got a tub of aspirin?

1:20:10 Or a razor blade?

1:20:40 Failing that, a blunt rusty butter knife?

1:27:28 So yeah, that one clumsy camera move earlier on did give away the whole minuscule plot. Why did they bother?

1:29:56 A sides weren't enough. They've had to delve into B sides too.

1:33:15 Now Brosnan's got his shirt off. Streep, keep yours on. And you Walters.

1:35:15 Yes!!! It's finished!!! :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D
Now let me just go and chuck up, give my brain a scrub with Vim and maybe I'll only suffer severe nightmares for the next 37 years.

1:37:42 NO! THERE'S MORE! 

1:37:43 I bet some people misguidedly think that it's great and empowering for all these pensioners to be dancing, singing and enjoying themselves. No it's not. It's embarrassing and sad and probably an indicator of dementia starting to kick in. Nobody should find enjoyment in that.

I thought that Mamma Mia would be bad but I never realised quite how bad it could be. I feel dirty. I feel violated. This kind of filth should be on the Nasties List. At least that's the end of The Musical Season. Anything's got to be better than this. Sleep well. I won't.

If you like this you could also try:
Taking brain medicine.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Review - Dawn of the Dead (2004 - Dir. Zack Snyder)

I saw this when it first came out at the cinema and I quite enjoyed it. As time has passed I've wondered whether some parts of it are actually better than the original. For the first time, I've watched them both back-to-back to see which has the edge. 

I was expecting it to be closer than it turned out. Fickle memory played its sneaky tricks on me again. The original is a far better film, with loads more atmosphere. That's not to say that the remake doesn't have its good points. But it also has some infuriating points too.

To illustrate: one of the initial shots is a beautiful overhead shot of our protagonist Ana (the excellent Sarah Polley) driving home but it's spoilt by the Stereophonics crooning over the top of it. It may have been relevant lyrically but surely something a little less sappy could have been found. The overhead shots are one of the defining features of the film for me, they were the shots I remembered the most when I left the cinema, a great way to show the chaos spreading through the suburbs.

Ana soon meets up with a group of zombie-avoiding buddies. Jake Weber, as Michael, is obviously the love interest and is pretty convincing despite some logic stretching dialogue later on (if Ving Rhames was shouting at you to tell someone to get out of a dangerous situation, I can't say that I'd be faffing about actively avoiding telling them to escape). As you might have gathered Ving Rhames is in it too as a naughty bottom cop. He's maybe a bit too well known, the original seemed so realistic because it was filled with unknowns, which is a similar problem with Mekhi Phifer. Mr Phifer is also saddled with some dubious motivations that don't ring true when he is trying to protect his wife and child.

Which brings us neatly to the unpleasant greenish hue that seems to permeate most of the film. It is nauseating, not horrific. The worst scenes are in an American version of Mothercare that has been painted with the most disturbing green paint they could find. (When I moved into my current house, the bedroom was decorated with a similar colour. It gave me nightmares. And made me throw up my supper of Space Raiders on numerous occasions.) To make matters worse the light they use is green too. This doesn't help to make the whole baby sub-plot engaging. In fact, if Mr Phifer and his irritating partner Luda were cut out of the film completely, it would be a better experience.

After the baby episode my least favourite part is the post-credits found footage section. To me it is completely unnecessary. Zombies have overrun the world, anywhere they go will be full of zombies, they are dead wherever they go. So the director can end the film with a supposedly up ending, as in the original, but there is always the suspicion that they will die very soon. Now when I watch the remake, I turn it off before the credits start; it's a much better ending.

I'm not normally that keen on cameos but one of the most powerful moments is an appearance by Ken Foree, preaching on the television. Scott H. Reiniger and Tom Savini also cameo but there are no appearances from David Emge or Gaylen Ross, although the latter gets her name on screen as the name of a clothes shop in a department store. I didn't see (or hear) a David Emge reference anywhere but if you know of one let me know.

From this review, it sounds like I hate the remake. And yes, it has many faults. But, I actually like it. There is an A-Team vehicle modification sequence - always guaranteed to improve any film. Plus there's an engaging subplot with a bloke called Andy in a gun shop across from the mall. The main issue is  what it's being compared to. (A similar problem exists with The Wicker Tree.) I've seen it a fair few times now and still enjoy it. This must be down to the strong relationship between the two leads and the aforementioned overhead shots that never fail to impress. Not as good as I remember, but this is definitely one of the better remakes.

(Average rating for the season so far = 5.6)

If you like this you could also try:
Dawn of the Dead (1978), Night of the Living Dead, Day of the Dead (1985), The Horde.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Review - Appleseed (1988 - Dir. Kazuyoshi Katayama)

Appleseed (1988) is probably the most faithful visual representation of the manga by Masamune Shirow (creator of Ghost in the Shell). The later films Appleseed (2004) and Appleseed Ex Machina are both CGI and due to the 3D nature of their character models differ greatly from their 2D inspiration. Ex Machina makes the furthest departure by making Deunan worryingly attractive especially compared to the fairly butch shot-putter in this version.

It may be faithful visually but the names are all over the place. Deunan Nat (normally known as Deunan Knute) and Bularius (Briareos in the manga) are members of SWAT in the utopia known as Olympus. You wouldn't think that SWAT would have to lot to do, or even exist in a utopia, but exist they do and they've got problems; someone is not happy in paradise. So unhappy that they decide to thieve a mobile gun platform and obliterate the city. But how have they done this? Maybe they've had some help from a cop on the inside...

Appleseed combines mecha, cyberpunk and sociology to produce something a little bit different. The way it's written makes the viewer identify with the terrorists - always a risky choice. When one of the characters discusses how some of the city's inhabitants are still not happy, despite having everything they want they have nothing to fight or strive for, I can see where he's coming from. This brings to light the important distinction between what people want and what people need. What I want is a huge Scalextric set with all the trimmings, but what I need is a slap.

The mecha action is only so-so and there are better examples out there (Neon Genesis Evangelion to name but one). The finale involving the mobile gun platform never quite gets going and feels like a bit of a letdown. The designs are pretty cool, especially on the baddie Sebastian's landmate which is particularly nasty with its evil claw action. 

The main draw of Appleseed, as always, is the relationship between Deunan and bunny-eared cyborg Briareos. They obviously work well as a team but deeper feelings are also hinted at. The depth of their relationship is never revealed in its entirety. It still all feels a little underdeveloped though and this aspect maybe only fully comes to fruition in Ex Machina.

This is quite an old slice of anime and it has dated, but at only 67 minutes it doesn't outstay its welcome and I managed to get it dirt cheap. If all of this doesn't convince you that it's at least worth a punt, it contains a pipe smoking lady and a male cop called Karen. But there are better entries in the series...

If you liked this you could also try:
Patlabor, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Ghost in the Shell.

Review - The Martian Chronicles

In the seventies I remember watching the Martian Chronicles TV series and promising myself that one day I would read the book that the series was based on. I can recollect very little of the episodes I viewed other than a fast food restaurant on an atmospheric Martian desert and alien land yachts cruising across the horizon. To a young boy this looked like a serious brand of Science Fiction unlike the Star Wars and Buck Rodgers I was used to.

I finally read the book this year and to say it's only a short novel I really struggled to get through it. It's not what I expected at all. This is 1950's style Science Fiction with a great deal of stiff upper lip, traditional family values and lots and lots of pipe smoking. It's more a collection of connected short stories than a novel and Bradbury uses the colonisation of Mars to reflect the ills and abuses he saw in 50's American society. The stories explore religion, racism and modern warfare amongst other issues, but in an obtuse way that is neither subtle or particularly engaging.

The features of the television adaptation are all present, but jumbled in an almost surreal collage of Martian folklore. None of the individual stories are satisfying or enjoyable, but the the tale of the deserted Walter Gripp in 'The Silent Towers' is straightforward and the prolonged story of Spender in 'And the Moon be Still as Bright' is at least thought provoking. The atmosphere of the book is its strong point, with a hallucinatory quality that lets you drift in and out of Martian life never really knowing if it is reality or a dream.

It's clear to see that the book has dated considerably and as a work of modern Science Fiction it doesn't quite hold water, however at the time of publication I'm sure it was a relevant piece of work with cutting edge social comment. Read the Martian Chronicles for a history lesson of the genre and be grateful that pipe smoking has gone out of fashion. There is little wonder that the first expeditions went so badly, when the astronauts turned up puffing clouds of noxious Condor fumes over the Martians. I'm glad I've read it but honestly can't recommend it.


Friday, 15 February 2013

Review - I Am Omega (2007 - Dir. Griff Furst)

Mark Dacascos vs. Zombies. Is there a better pitch for a film? (Mark Dacascos vs. Zombies vs. Pigeons vs. Beardy Gingers?) 

Following in the footsteps of Vincent Price, Charlton Heston and Will Smith, Dacascos takes a crack at Richard Matheson's novel 'I Am Legend'. He plays Renchard, the last man on Earth (not strictly true). He has made his house into a nice little compound with wire fence and alarms to warn him of the lurking zombies. When one breaks in, he nips out and either gives them a good kicking in the chicken nuggets or goes for the headshot. He comes up with a quality plan of blowing up the city. What kind of explosives has this man got access to? Dee-na-mee-tay (watch Hoodwinked for an explanantion) is not going to cut the mustard. C4? Not really. Let's face facts, he needs a nuke. Which he hasn't got. Instead he straps some pathetic looking parcels to numerous telegraph poles around the city. That should do the trick.

The worst thing about the opening of the film are the zombies. Their faces look like halloween masks where you can blatantly see the circular opening around the eyes. As things progress, the make-up effects get better and by the end, the zombies are passable. It's as if they shot the film in continuity and were learning as they went along. Which they possibly were.

It would be very hard for one actor to sustain a whole film and it's not too long before we get introduced to a few more characters. Vincent and Mike are obviously dodgy from the first time they appear. At least Renchard has someone human to scrap with for variety. Love interest comes in the form of Brianna, (Jennifer Lee Wiggins) a survivor who possibly carries the solution to the whole zombie crisis in her veins. 

Dacascos plays the character of Renchard as a fairly emotionless fellow, which is reasonable. Living with the constant threat of zombie-flavoured death attacks must have  taken a toll on his mental state. Later on, when he meets Brianna, there is some chemistry between the two of them. (Don't get your hopes up. They don't get the retort stands and bunsen burners out and start making salt. Or soap.) Only then does he start to show some emotion. Let's face facts: he's the only reason to watch it.

I Am Omega is quite entertaining for such a low budget production. It gets better as it progresses. I've never seen the Will Smith version, but I'd put big money on this being better. The best version of this is still the original book though. It would have been nice to have a slightly larger budget to fulfil the promise on the cover. And include some rabid pigeons. And beardy gingers.


(Average rating for the season so far = 5.6)

If you like this you could also try:
The Omega Man, The Last Man on Earth, I Am Legend (the book by Richard Matheson).

Monday, 11 February 2013

Review - Biutiful (2010 - Dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu)

The blurb proclaims that this is a near perfect film, and in so many ways it is just that.  The whole thing is a technical masterpiece; it's shot perfectly, the imagery is perfect, the plot, characterisation and atmosphere are all perfect. However the question needs to be asked, "Why is it not a particularly enjoyable viewing experience?"

The answer almost creates a new genre of film in its own right. This is a grimy little film. There is no hint of positivity here, no hope, no humour. Just grimy degradation, exploitation, illness and deprivation. With more guns, drugs and prostitutes it would be full on gritty, but we are even denied this level of excitement and are left with a seedy, dirty and depressing picture of real life for the Bacelona underclasses. Call it what you want; 'Grimy', 'Grime-core' or 'Grit-lite', Biutiful almost writes its own grimy checklist.

There's no criticism of the actors and Javier Bardem (Vicky Christina Barcelona) in particular is stunningly downbeat and depressing. Parcel him up in a world of immigrant workers, disease, marital problems, guilt, lawlessness and bizarrely, clairvoyancy(!), and you have a deeply disturbing 141 minutes ahead of you.

The start and the ending are fantastically weird, it's the two hours in-between that almost make you lose the will to live. It has something in common with other grimy offerings like Sex Party & Lies, Y Tu Mama Tambein and Amoros Peros, but takes the whole genre down to a new level of hopelessness. The best gritty films add a sprinkling of hope to proceedings (City of God), but Inarritu ignores this convention and we are left looking into the abyss. Only watch if your world looks rosy, because a couple of hours later it will certainly have a darker tinge.
9/10 for technical.

1/10 for enjoyment.

If you like this you could also try:
Butterfly's Tongue, The Sea Inside, The Secret in Their Eyes.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Review - The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue (1974 - Dir. Jorge Grau)

A young evlkeith in training (age 8) was given a book for Christmas. It was a horror book. It was filled with stills from all manner of horror films, in particular the Universal monster films and Hammer Horrors. One particular image stuck in my mind of a man with a bandaged head and a large sutured scar running right down the middle of his body. My little underdeveloped mind dreamt of this forbidden film, filled with terrifying sights like this.

You may have guessed that the film in question is The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue. What you might not have guessed is that when I was a very little baby evlkeith they were filming this just down the road in the Peak District near Sheffield. I could have gone and been a baby zombie extra. But for a film with this title it didn't actually get that close to Manchester. Or to its morgue.

Title pickiness aside this is a pleasant surprise considering some of the other low quality zombie efforts from around that time. You can tell that Jorge Grau has thought carefully about his film. He refers to ecological disasters, is particularly irreverent towards the police and put a lot of effort into the sound design and music. Shame he didn't put more thought into cutting a distinctly dubious shot comparing a young girl with Down's Syndrome to a leering zombie face. 

George (Ray Lovelock) is a cheeky cockney fellow who runs a swanky art shop. He soon runs into Edna (Christina Galbo). Well, rather she runs into his bike. They embark on a journey to Windemere for various reasons but some naughty zombies have different ideas. The first of many iconic zombies we meet is Guthrie (Fernando Hilbeck) who drowned and died until he was dead. Another interesting move by the director was to constantly shoot Guthrie wet as if the zombies are permanently stuck in their moment of death. Things then go increasingly downhill for our two chums with them being accused of committing the zombie perpetrated murders by the slightly over zealous police Sergeant (Arthur Kennedy).

One aspect that lets down the slightly more intelligent feel of this film is the dubbing. It is more like Eurotrash. Ray Lovelock has a particularly unfortunate cockney accent and sounds similar to Eric Idle. Being a Spanish/Italian co-production it seems doubtful that there was ever an undubbed version. To be kind you could say that it adds an air of frivolity to counteract some of the more gruesome goings on.

The gore now is a tad on the tame side but the entrail eating was probably too much for Mary Whitehouse at the time. (It got on the illustrious Video Nasty list, perversely guaranteeing that everyone wanted to see it.) As with some other zombie films of this era (Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror and Nightmare City) the director included a scene of breast reduction surgery performed by a zombie. Not entirely pleasant.

It's worth watching, if only for the memorable zombies. Given that the make-up is nearly non-existent, they are still hold up well against the current crop of zombies. Throw in a couple of comedy scientists and a bizarre streaker incident, and an entertaining time post-pub on a Friday night is ensured.

(Average rating for the season so far = 5.8)

If you like this you could also try:
Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror, Zombie Flesh Eaters, City of the Living Dead.