Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Review - Footsteps in the Fog (1955 - Dir. Arthur Lubin)

I was always going to like this film. It's got the the word fog in the title and stars Stewart Granger. Who could resist giving those little grey bits of hair at the side of his head a stroke? I know I couldn't. Well, maybe not now, seeing as though he's dead, but at the time this film was made...

Strangely I can't give much of a plot synopsis apart from it's about a recently widowed fellow called Stephen Lowry (Granger) and his maid Lily Watkins (Jean Simmons). And that's about it. Any more would give away far too many spoilers. 

Footsteps in the Fog has more story content in the first five minutes than the whole of Pacific Rim. There are so many aspects to it: thriller, drama, romance, violence and a little bit of twisted sexuality (sadly no pirates). I was never quite sure where it was all going and what would happen next. It became the film I was expecting at one point, but it happens midway through rather than at the end and it only lasts about five minutes. 

So it's got a twisty-turny story. What else has it got? Stewart Granger not playing a swashbuckling hero or charging about shooting elephants in a Charlton Heston/Prince Phil type fashion. He hasn't got the range of James Stewart but it's good to see him playing something different. It's also in colour so black-and-white-ists can enjoy something that has the atmosphere and pace of a black and white film, but without all of that pesky greyscaliness.

Yet again in a film from this era our aged hero ends up romantically entangled with a lady half his age. It's those grey bits that does it. So I've got a scheme. When this miracle hair growth cream comes out in a year or so, I'm going to grow some really thick luxuriant hair. Stage two - dye it black. Next, wrap masking tape around the top portion of my hair. And finally, recreate that Granger greyness using some grey car spray paint. It can't fail.

Anyway, back to business. Footsteps in the Fog is a minor gem. It lacks an emotional punch but for sheer story content it's a winner.

If you like this you could also try:
Gaslight, The Spiral Staircase, Rebecca.

Book Review - Roadside Crosses - Jeffrey Deaver

When Jeffery Deaver developed Kathryn Dance he created a character that directly contrasted the uber-logical, evidence hungry mantra of Deaver's greatest detective, Lincoln Rhyme. Dance is softer, more intuitive, feminine and human. She is family oriented, less driven, emotionally complex and the settings have more of a laid back, sunshine feel to the breathless pursuits of Rhyme and Sachs.

Having said all this, 'The Sleeping Doll' was possibly my favourite of all the Deaver books I've read. Kathryn's abilities as a kinesics expert were particularly interesting and intriguing, and her hunt for sect leader and super psycho, Daniel Pell was a sublime piece of storytelling. So it was with great excitement and anticipation that I commenced the second full Dance novel, Roadside Crosses.

The story explores aspects of the on-line or synth world, such as multi-player game addiction, cyber bullying and the dark side of blogging! When a teenager is abused on a popular blog for killing two girls in a car crash, he goes on the rampage to avenge his on-line attackers as he starts slaughtering them using similar tactics to the ones he uses in his favourite fantasy role playing game. Dance must use all her body language reading skills to track down the youth, both in the real and synth worlds.

It all sounds complex, relevant and thrilling, and to a certain extent it is, but for a 'Deaver' it is surprisingly disappointing. For starters, it's incredibly slow paced. We live in Kathryn's work and family life in what feels like real time. The human relationships and back story which were so enjoyable in the first novel seem overplayed and drag on endlessly in the first half of the book. The story itself takes a while to gather momentum, but once started the synth world setting is an excellent foyle for Dance's softer skills. Sadly, there's an element of predictability in the end of chapter cliff hangers and the ultimate resolution of the story was on the preposterous side of Ken Mckenzie.

Don't get me wrong, I love Jeffery Deaver and this would be a great crime novel by most authors, but for Deaver it just doesn't quite cut the mustard. Kathryn's world is still a lovely place to be, and she is still an original and highly alluring character, but hopefully the pace and predictability will be addressed in the next novel, XO. After so many perfect thrillers perhaps Deaver was due one slightly substandard outing, but don't let that put you off. it's definitely worth a read if you have any interest in crime-fighting fiction.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Review - Exit Humanity (2011 - Dir. John Geddes)

I recently bought a film called Dead Genesis that I thought I could review for this festival of all things decaying. It was cheap so it was worth a punt. I only got about five minutes into it before giving it the flick. Low budget doesn't have to be bad. But here it definitely seems to be. Maybe one day I'll give it a chance. Possibly.

So it was with some trepidation that I started to view Exit Humanity. Low budget. Zombies. Cheap looking zombies at that. Mostly set in a forest. Things really didn't look good.

At the end of the American Civil War, Edward Young (Mark Gibson) suffers a fairly traumatic experience and due to a promise to his son, sets off on a journey. Through lots of forests. (I can't see the father of evlkeith going through what Edward Young goes through based on a promise. We went to Brid when I was little, and there was a ball pool. He said I could go in it on the way back. Then proceeded to take me a completely different way back, bypassing the ball pool. Cheers.) So Exit Humanity scores one point for having a setting in a different time period. But will it get any more?

Actually, it's pretty good. The forest setting looks moody and atmospheric due to some gorgeous cinematography and colour grading. The acting is generally convincing too. (There are some known stars, well... known to me and probably you: Stephen McHattie (Pontypool), Dee Wallace (Critters) and Bill Moseley (Army of Darkness).) The only time the lowness of budget rears its ugly head is when the zombies appear. They look more like zombies from a micro-budget film. And strangely despite the technical quality of the rest of the film, the zombies are even shot like they're in a badly made micro-budget film. 

As with most great zombie films the shambling leg draggers aren't that important. It's the characters and the emotions they're put through. And that's what Exit Humanity focusses on. Not gore effects. Friendship, conflict and gut-wrenching emotional trauma are the order of the day. Which is okay by me.

In a bit of mixed-media type action there are some animated sequences to break things up. The animation's not up there with the best but it fits the style and tone of the film. It also helps to expand the scope of what is on offer.

Narration is normally useless, yet here it adds to the atmosphere. Brian Cox lends his voice to the proceedings and made the film reminiscent of the Xbox Live game, Bastion.

On most films, watching the extras makes me appreciate them even more. Not so with this one. It appears to have a bigger budget than I expected. They had money for set construction and all the proper technical gear. They've still made a good film but based on the zombie effects I thought they had a very tiny budget, and the achievement in making a film of this quality was a lot greater. 

Despite all that John Geddes seems to be a director to keep a sneaky eye on. Hellmouth is in post-production (again with Stephen McHattie) but - and here's a fortuitous link to the start of this review - his first film Scarce is another low-budget film that I only got five minutes through. Ah well, onwards and upwards I suppose.

If you like this you could also try:
The Dead, Undead.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Review - Prey (2010 - Dir. Antoine Blossier)

Doccortex had the idea that if you're going to try to get into the Olympics there's no point having a go at something like the 100m. You've got no chance. It's way better to partake in something that you don't need a lot of specialist equipment for, keeping the cost down (skiing, sailing, both useless). Yeah, go for something that no-one else really cares about. Until you win the gold medal. Then everybody will want a piece of the action. Maybe something like Championship Cribbage. That'd do.

Antoine Blossier has obviously had a similar thought process when making his first film. Aim for a genre that is virtually non-existent: the killer pig genre. Admittedly they made an appearance in Hannibal, but the whole film didn't focus on them. And Razorback was made way back in 1984. Antoine has spotted a gap in the market and filled it.

Nathan (Gregoire Colin) goes to a family reunion, a fairly dysfunctional family reunion. His wife Claire is pregnant and in the middle of making some tricky decisions about her father's failing pesticide business. Things all kick off when Claire's father is attacked by a startled deer. The men of the family decide to go on a hunting trip...

Pontypool is a great example of a film that has a scale way beyond its budget. It uses sound to make the zombie threat more... well, more threatening. Prey uses the same idea. Pig sounds snuffling all around you, while you hide in some bushes is undoubtably going to make you slightly tense. It works in the film too. There is also the knock on effect that the filmmakers don't have to show the actual pigs too often.

The pigs are rendered in animatronic form and are pretty much just snappy little pig heads, but along with some clever lighting and the sound effects mentioned above, the effect is convincing. I was dreading a badly CGI'd porker leaping out from the undergrowth and flailing around with our hero. Even mega-budget films struggle with animals, such as deer for example. But the abomination never appears. Hooray.

Pretty much all of the main characters eventually reveal themselves to be rather unpleasant fellows. But it doesn't fall into the trap of making them really irritating. You can empathise with some of their more dubious actions. After all, it's been shown time after time that people do strange things when pigs attack.

I wasn't expecting that much from Prey and yet I ended up quite enjoying it. It's not the greatest story ever told and I doubt that there's going to be a mad rush of killer pig films. But in this undercrowded market has Antoine Blossier achieved the gold medal? I think I need to watch some more killer pig films to find out. Shouldn't take too long...

If you like this you could also try:
Razorback, Hannibal, Pig Hunt, Chawz.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Review - Zombie 108 (2012 - Dir. Joe Chien)

Doccortex couldn't resist getting in on the zombie action. Let's see what he thinks of Zombie 108 - evlkeith

Taiwan’s first ever zombie film almost defies belief let alone description. It’s a shocking experience in every sense of the word and not in a particularly good way either. Maybe it’s a cultural issue or perhaps it’s our higher expectations of the genre, but although Zombie 108 sounds great on the back of the DVD box, in reality it’s a terrible piece of film making.

There are very few positives, other than the opening credits signalling a much higher quality viewing experience. It’s all downhill once the film starts. Our heroine and her daughter escape the Zombie Apocalypse only to be abducted by a disturbed, psychopathic, meat-faced torture merchant. That’s about as far as the plot goes, as cops, gangs, Americans and zombies combine in random acts of attacking each other, usually with guns, but occasionally with kung fu. At times you have little idea where the story is heading or indeed if it is heading anywhere.

It’s all very seedy, sleazy and unpleasant with women treated particularly harshly, and no matter what role or character they represent, they always wear hotpants. Even the lady cop wears them as part of her uniform! Perhaps this is the female garment of choice in Taiwan, but I seriously doubt that they’re that omnipresent.

All in all it’s rubbish, with few, if any redeeming features. There’s a weak plot, poor special effects, unconvincing make up, cheap camera work and comedy acting. It did however make me laugh a lot when I discussed it with evlkeith, so for that reason alone, it scores:


(To stick to my pledge of watching one zombie film a week, I've watched this too. I completely agree with Doccortex's findings except I would be a bit harsher on the rating. Generally, the inclusion of hotpants in a film lifts the rating a couple of points, e.g. Tombs of the Blind Dead, but any film that sullies hotpants is always going to receive an extremely low score. Terrible, terrible film. As for Meat Face, even looking at his picture makes me want to scrub myself clean with napalm - evlkeith)

If you like this you could also try:
Sticking a slice of Pek to your face.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Feature - evlkeith's First 3D Film Experience

In 1983, I went to see a 3D film that I quite enjoyed. It was Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone. But since Avatar hit the cinemas, I can't say that the thought of 3D has really inspired me (especially after seeing Avatar in 2D and finding out that the 3D aspect was all it had going for it). To my mind, 3D screams 'gimmick'.

I was expecting the 3D fad to dwindle but it's lasted a surprisingly long time. So, I decided it was time to go and see one of these new fangled cinematic experiences. I tried to go and see The Avengers, but there was a massive queue and I couldn't be bothered. Since then I've also attempted to watch Iron Man 3 and World War Z but have been thwarted both times.

Finally with the release of Pacific Rim, and hearing good things about the 3D, I decided this was the one. I booked tickets online (ooh) which took me ages due to me not being able to reminder all of the passwords, having my card frozen, ringing up the bank and being interrogated for hours about my identity. Oh, and the tickets cost a tenner each. (Seeing as though I've just bought Deep Red on blu-ray for £9 and I get to keep it to watch numerous times at my leisure, it all seemed a bit steep.) Things weren't going well.

Things didn't get any better. I picked up the tickets, to avoid any queues, at about 4 o'clock. Funnily enough they only had one person serving, and I had to wait for loads of Hollister-wearing Mini-driving rich kids buying their coke and popcorn for £7.85 (?!?!!). So that took me ages too.

On arrival at the cinema, we looked around for the ticket attendant type person. No-one around. Eventually someone arrived and gruntingly gave us our glasses. Yet more fun was to be had when my seat was covered in popcorn. Great stuff. At least I had a little chuckle when I started having a cheeky cereal bar and Coke that I'd smuggled in.

Finally, after half an hour's worth of adverts, we reached the 3D experience in the form of a trailer for Wolverine. It looked rubbish and the 3D made me feel sick. Oh dear. Fortunately as Pacific Rim started I became accustomed to the effect. 

So what do I think of 3D? Well, 3D is at its best when you forget all about it and it looks like 2D. The rest of the time it was like a really annoying child trying to get my attention by kicking my chair, throwing crisp crumbs over my head and then shoving two fingers right into my face. The worst offenders were the holographic computer displays. The endless shots of the holographic computer displays. At least I didn't gip. The parts that people were raving about were the particle effects: the sparks, the rain etc. All I could think about was the fact that I was watching a 3D film. Pretty, but doesn't gel well with a supposedly story led medium.

It wouldn't be a stretch to say that the effect did its very best to drag me out of the story. But (and here's the mini-review of Pacific Rim) there isn't really a story. Only two moments even vaguely surprised me, the rest of the time I was in Avatar land. In my mind, stories should have events that happen to characters that they aren't expecting. But more than that, they should happen in a way that the audience doesn't expect too. Otherwise it all becomes very predictable. I know the film is aimed at children but even they must feel a tad insulted by this. 

70% of the film is completely dire. I was so bored by the first half, I almost didn't enjoy what I'd gone for: giant robots vs. monsters. That 30%, where they have a good old scrap, is fantastic. Interestingly, the only two good story moments occur in fights. Just imagine if there'd been a half decent story behind it, how good it could have been.

So, would I go and see another 3D film because I was so excited and inspired? Or is it just a gimmick? 

No, I wouldn't go to another. And yes, it's a gimmick.

3D experience = 1/10 (for the lack of sick)
Pacific Rim = 3/10 (for the fights)

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Review - Dead Snow (2009 - Dir. Tommy Wirkola)

Zombies. Nazis. I'm in.

Possibly the only thing that could make me giddier is: Zombie Nazis vs. Dinosaurs. Just imagine when the T-Rex gets bitten, turns into a flesh-muncher (er, isn't it already?) and then goes on a crazed blood-fueled rampage. Obviously whilst dragging its back leg in a slow, shambling zombie fashion. What am I supposed to be writing about? Oh, yeah. Dead Snow.

Hailing from Norway, this low-budget horror comedy has its work cut out. Going up against the likes of Braindead and The Return of the Living Dead is never going to be easy. At one point I was thinking that it might come close with an irritating character (aren't they always?) getting ripped in two. Vertically. An industrial sized vat of Savlon was needed to repair the damage. Sadly, that's as inventive as the gore gets. One scene involving a chainsaw is not too bad, but as the characters ran out of weapons to use against the Nazombie horde I wondered whether the producers ran out of money. It felt that way.

Some of the lighting in the film looks a tad flat. A soap opera feel is not that desirable for a full feature. It only occurs in the cabin but the outdoor scenes look fine with some rather delightful scenery.

I can't really say that any of the characters were particularly engaging but despite all of these problems, there are worse ways to spend an hour and a half of your life. (Asking a rhino to raise its foot and then nail-gunning your chicken nuggets to it?) The special features included also helped to endear it to me. Watching them struggling to film when the weather is not on their side, solving union disputes and having difficulties setting the cabin on fire despite copious quantities of petrol made me more charitable towards its failings.

Dead Snow contains possibly one of the most romantic love scenes in any film. A rather rotund chap has just been to lighten the load in the outside privy and before the smell has dissipated even in the slightest, a lady enters and proceeds to  do rudies, with him still sat on the lav. Classy.

Zombie and Nazi films are always going to be entertaining and Dead Snow is no exception. Next time, throw in some dinosaurs and I'll be a happy little fellow.


If you like this you could also try:
Outpost, Shock Waves, Zombie Lake.