Saturday, 23 August 2014

Review - Space Battleship Yamato (2010 - Dir. Takashi Yamazaki)

Based on the anime series from the seventies, Space Battleship Yamato is a live action space based actioneer. I've never seen the original anime so I can't comment on how well it translates from 2D. From looking at screenshots though it seems that the character and ship design are pretty much spot on.

The Earth is under attack from an alien race known as the Gamilas. The planet is generally in a radioactive state so the Earth Defense Force decide to launch a counter attack at the pesky aliens. After a severe whooping things go from bad to worse until some crafty alien tech falls (literally) into the hands of our human chums. They rebuild the Space Battleship Yamato using this new and fancy technology and go in search of Iskandar, the co-ordinates of which came with the alien tech.

Space Battleship Yamato reminds me of two films in particular - well, actually a lot more than two but I'll come to that soon. The first would be Hell's Ground, a little known zombie film hailing from Pakistan. This was a film that heavily borrowed from loads of other horror films, but did so in a way that was fun and entertaining. Space Battleship Yamato homages Star Wars, Battlestar GallacticaStar Trek and to a lesser extent Serenity, and just about gets away with it. This is probably due to its desire to put on a large epic scale show despite a relatively meagre budget for this type of sci-fi thing ($23.9 million). I got carried away by the sheer exuberance of it all. Saying that, I'd be moaning if a big budget film had done the same. Maybe more time should have been spent at the script and planning stages to develop some more original ideas. That probably comes down to money though.

The other film it reminds me of is Casshern, another live action adaptation of an anime. Casshern is overlong and the pacing is all over the place. When I watch it I always end up slightly disappointed and think about what could have been if the editing had been different. Yet I still keep going back to it. Space Battleship Yamato feels very similar. The final act should be an action spectacular but it gets bogged down with lots of emotional chatting. It really drags. But again, I felt the need to watch it again.

This hasn't been too positive so far so you may be thinking, why bother watching it again. It does get some things right. The space battles, despite being way too short, are some of the best I've seen in years. They take their cue from bullet hell shooters and are suitably exhilarating with ships swooping through a barrage of laser fire. Admittedly the ships can do some pretty stupid things such as grow arms that can pick people out of space and give them a little cuddle, but that's all part of the fun.

The effects are pretty great too given the budget. They have stuck to one of the strengths of CGI: rendering hard metallic spaceships. There are some creatures and they don't look too hot but at least they are simple enough to be effective. They are normally only seen from a distance and in hordes so the effects don't come under too much close scrutiny. One of the highlights - and quite rightly so - has to be the reveal of the titular battleship as it rises from beneath the ground. It's a quality design and there's something delightfully quirky, in a Terry Gilliam way, of seeing what is basically a naval vessel charging about through space.

The characters are all fairly standard issue with only Yuki being that interesting (and I think that's only because she's stunningly attractive). Yet at the end, when little photos are shown in the credits of all the characters - many of which are killed within the film - I found myself looking back on them with fondness and wishing that they could all be in a sequel. There is something endearing about the whole production that is hard to put my finger on.

One example of this endearingness is also one of the funniest moments of the film. When something positive has happened in a space battle the action cuts back to the bridge and the characters cheer and give cheeky little fist pumps, yet it's all done without any accompanying music. It feels distinctly odd, but due to the fact that it happens about three times it gets funnier each time.

The music is also another source of quirk. When I watched some visual effects extras the soundtrack was playing along with the footage and I thought, crikey this music is pretty good. But in the film it's feels out of place at quite a few points, and at worst, exceedingly cheese ridden. There are also moments where you would expect music where it just doesn't appear (like the celebration scenes above). Again in all comes down to the editing.

Another positive though: the lead character Kodai has lovely luxurious locks.

It's hard for me to recommend this but it's struck a chord with me. I'm even considering shelling out £15 for the blu-ray.

If you like this you could also try:
Any of the above films that it thieves from.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Review - Not of This Earth (1957 - Dir. Roger Corman)

I haven't done very well trying to watch all of the films mentioned in F. Paul Wilson's 'Nightworld' but I'm going to try and rectify that in the coming months. So here we go with Roger Corman's Not of This Earth.

An alien agent from the planet Davana (sounds like a seventies variety act) comes down to Earth and cases the joint. He's after blood you see - aren't they always - and he uses his wily alien ways to kill unfortunates, nick their blood and performs his dastardly experiments. He enlists the help of a petty thief Jeremy and a nurse called Nadine (the saucy old devil). In fact, he pays the nurse to live in his house to "take care of him". 

I decided in true 'Nightworld' fashion to watch this at night and I'm glad that I did, much of the atmosphere would probably have been lost in a bright sunlit room. The film was made on an obviously shoestring budget but it still manages to impart a sense of dread. To turn Paul Birch into an alien, all the special effects fellows did was slap some white contacts into his eyes. Which you don't see for the majority of the film due to his Peters and Lee glasses. He is made even more alien by his Jedi mind tricks where he talks directly into people's minds. Again this is cheaply done by a bit of dubbing in post production. All simple things but, along with his performance it's pretty convincing stuff.

The music helps with the whole atmosphere thing. It is fairly typical of fifties sci-fi B-movies but it does the job very nicely. It all feels distinctly creepy and made me think that I was watching something that actually happened in 1956 and this was just a Crimewatch style reconstruction.

The story plods along in a standard kind of way. It's obvious where it's going from early on and I can't say that there's anything that memorable. Unless you count a doctor being attacked by an umbrella creature as memorable. Mmm, maybe. But the story does its job. 

As you may have guessed the special effects are poor, especially on the umbrella creature, but this also extends to the sets. One sliding door that features prominently doesn't so much slide as judder along a bit as it's pushed by some behind the scenes chain-smoking technician. It all adds to the charm, I suppose.

There was a remake of this made in 1988 as a result of a wager. Someone bet the director that he couldn't make it on the same budget (allowing for inflation) and in the same time frame as the original. This sounds quite interesting you may think, until you hear that the director was Jim Wynorski. Oh dear. On the positive side it starred ex adult specialist film starlet Traci Lords. Okay, it still sounds really bad.

Not of This Earth makes a change from the usual alien invasion stories we get nowadays. It's a lot simpler and a lot quieter experience. Yet it's surprisingly chilling at times. A good late Friday night film.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Review - Dead Space (1991 - Dir. Fred Gallo)

I'll tell you now: Marc Singer is out of the cup. Jennifer Connelly has got it sewn up and she only got 5/10 for The Hulk. Dead Space (nothing to do with the games) is a very poor film that homages to within an inch of its sad and sorry existence.

All it says on the IMDb summary is, "A deadly virus attacks the crew of a Saturn space station." Yep, that's about it. Oh as long as by 'virus' you actually mean 'alien'. And that is 'alien' in the sense of Alien and Aliens. The virus idea is virtually non-existent in the film; despite it being a mixture of every known disease, everyone quite happily walks around without hazmat suits or even face masks. In fact, their high level protection against this virulent virus is to "keep away" from it. So it's an alien then.

It thieves blatantly from the Alien franchise. But even then it does so in a tedious fashion. An android gets torn in half. Amazingly, it's not a patch on the shot from Aliens. It's so blatant that it nicks a complete line from the same film. As time goes on the alien, I mean virus, becomes quite large, a bit like the alien queen perhaps. But whereas the proper queen charges around scrapping with Ripley and chasing Newt through ducts in a manner befitting Scooby Doo, this virus quite spectacularly stands still for a bit. Well, for a while really. It's not the most mobile of creatures.

Marc Singer does nothing to liven up the proceedings; in general he wanders around aimlessly shooting. That about sums up his performance. At least he would have been able to buy himself a chip butty from his wage packet. As long as he cadged a quid off his mum.

Is this film recommendable to anyone? Maybe. There is one small subset of society that may benefit from watching this turgid piece of poop: blue spandex fetishists. Even then they could fast forward to a couple of scenes where some ladies get a bit frisky in said garments, and forget the rest. Even lovers of futuristic ear rings shouldn't bother; the best they can manage here are some curly telephone cables. Pathetic.

The only thing that Dead Space has going for it is the most prolonged bout of a creature being stabbed by a dart committed to celluloid and some waking up acting to rival Grandpa Walton. Avoid at all costs.

If you like this you could also try:
Blue Spandex Babes VI.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Review - 7 Days (2010 - Dir. Daniel Grou)

After making a resolution through watching the likes of Martyrs, Them and Eden Lake to avoid nasty, ‘real’ horror films, I found myself suckered into watching 7 Days. The cover looks like the standard Japanese ghost story and I honestly thought that was what I was about to experience. Usually not reading the blurb is a positive move, however in this case it was possibly a mistake, because 7 Days is one of the worst examples of the ‘nasty & real horror’ genre. And just like Martyrs, Frontiers and Switchblade Romance it’s French! At the risk of upsetting yet another nation; What’s wrong with these people? Lighten up a bit! (Cheers. That's all of our French readers gone. And for an alternative view on Martyrs, click here - evlkeith)

If you need a heart warming and uplifting experience this is possibly not your best film choice and there’s a big spoiler in the following paragraph. When Dr. Bruno Hamel’s (Claude Legault) daughter is abducted, abused and murdered, the good doctor manages to kidnap the perpetrator and then torture him for seven days. End of story. He uses all that medical training to good effect, but ultimately there are few other positive aspects.

It does have its interesting points however, as we can all empathise with his extreme pain, and on a reptilian level, his actions. But it’s unnerving how the nation seems to support his actions on TV, how the officer in charge (Remy Girard) empathises so deeply and how the public aid his escape. I’m guessing this may be very true to life under the circumstances. The film asks you if revenge is ever justified? But leaves you in a depressing grey area clouded by instinct, grief and doubt. Let’s just say it does its job, but it's extremely disturbing viewing. 

In many ways a good film, but without the sense of hope that I need to propel me through the darkness. Not something I enjoyed and not something I’ll watch again, but it challenges your beliefs and attitudes to retribution in a brutal fashion. Not one for Grandma and best avoided if you have a weak stomach.

If you like this you could also try:
The Horseman, Big Bad Wolves.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Review - Hulk (2003 - Dir. Ang Lee)

I'm becoming increasingly doubtful that Requiem For a Dream will ever come up as a random choice for Jennifer Connelly in this year's FA Cup. When Hulk cropped up I can't say I was that enamoured. I have seen it ages ago and all I can remember are some really stupid CGI dogs. Apart from that it made no impact on me.

Let's give it a try anyway. I actually found it more entertaining this time. I think that with low expectations it was a lot more fun. Well, kind of. It's by Ang Lee, so it's a really weird mixture of characters chatting about important stuff in a drama based fashion and then a portion of Hulk smash. Bizarre is not the word. But 'a bit of a mess' could be the phrase. Even so I couldn't help enjoying it.

Surely everyone knows the origin story of The Hulk so I won't bother going into it too much apart from there is a slight change in the form of Bruce Banner's dad, played by a wild haired Nick Nolte, who has been naughtily experimenting on himself and passing on his altered genes to his unborn son. It doesn't really add anything apart from giving the film its CG based villain for the final act. Regardless of the details, Bruce soon turns green (and not through a tequila binge) and hits things. Hard.

As a one off the comic book style employed is actually pretty non-irritating with some interesting transitions between scenes and it suits the smashy side of the film well. Split screen features at times and again is non-irritating in this context. It's a good thing that other superhero films haven't adapted this style though or it would have got very tired very quickly.

Iron Man, Superman and Captain America work well on film whereas other superheroes don't. Batman hasn't yet worked nearly as well, apart from in animated form (and yes that does include the vastly overrated The Dark Knight, I've just never been able to get over Bale's ridiculously stupid gravel voice and the fact that, despite having seen it recently, I can remember virtually nothing about it). Thor? Daredevil? Not really. The Hulk started off firmly in this camp. But he's not as bad as I originally thought in this version, although still nowhere near great. The Edward Norton version improves matters a tad but it's taken The Avengers to bring him into the A-list of screen superheroes. Still not convinced he can hold a full film on his own.

Jennifer Connelly is well cast as Betty Ross. I can completely believe that she would be able to do all of those scientifical things. She also makes the drama based scenes with Bruce (Eric Bana) bearable amidst all of the comic book mayhem. It's just a shame that Betty Ross doesn't go out on a date with Freddie Prinze, Jr so that the Hulk can have a good old rant about him and maybe cave his face in.

The Hulk himself looks a bit like he may take up flower pressing. They've obviously gone for the emotional approach but I couldn't really take this seriously when he's chinning a demented poodle. Things definitely improved in the 2008 version with him looking a lot more savage. The Avengers version goes back to being a tad more friendly looking but it keeps the olive green from Norton's version. Judge for yourself:

I still wish Requiem For a Dream had come up but never mind, it's not as painful as I remembered. I actually enjoyed it in an average kind of better than I was expecting kind of way. Connelly is up against Marc Singer in this round of the cup so what will he be able to pull out of the bag. I've got a suspicion that he may be out (unless by some miracle he randomly gets The Beastmaster).

If you like this you could also try:
The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier.