Saturday, 29 March 2014

Review - Run Lola Run (1998 - Dir. Tom Tykwer)

(To increase your enjoyment by a factor of 2.35 when reading this review have a listen to a lovely bit of Kool & the Gang - evlkeith.)

This is a low key German offering with the faint aroma of Groundhog Day permeating its soul. Lola (Franka Potente) must run to save her dodgy boyfriend Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu) from certain death, after gormlessly leaving a gangster’s substantial wedge of drug money on the tube. Why she bothers to save him I have no idea, because she could seriously do better, but she tries anyway. Over three distinct episodes she tries, tries and tries again, each time making subtle differences to each separate reality.

It’s well made and relatively enjoyable, but it leaves you mysteriously unsatisfied. Obviously there’s lots of frantic running from Lola as she dashes about breaking the laws of time and space. This is fine, but her outfit is woefully inappropriate for the task and you really want her to get changed into some gym kit for her subsequent outings. Sadly this never enters her head and the horrible tattoo around her belly button doesn’t help matters. The sub-plot of her father’s mysterious relationship is a welcome and interesting embellishment, but it’s unfortunately only short respite from the breathless pounding of those streets.

It’s cleverly plotted to an extent, but there’s little of the time travelling wow factor of Timecrimes or even Harry Potter and Prisoner of Azkaban. It’s a clinical but underwhelming experience, and this isn’t helped by the superficial main characters who are neither likeable or particularly nasty. In the end we are left ambivalent to their fate(s) as the film performs like a mid table Bundesliga team; efficient yet without the creativity to climb the table.

It’s not a terrible film, but it falls under the most damning of categories; somewhere between faint praise and mildly annoying. Yes it’s mediocre! It neither offends nor enlightens. Watch with limited expectations at best.


If you like this you could also try:
Good Bye Lenin, The Lives of Others.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Review - Slither (2006 - Dir. James Gunn)

I was secretly quite pleased when this was randomly generated as Nathan Fillion's entry for his FA Cup of actors match against Émilie Dequenne. To be honest though, the odds are stacked against him; Émilie's entry looks pretty decent.

I saw this on its original release and despite the passing of time my opinion of it hasn't changed: it's fun, but ironically lacking in any real meaty goodness to get your teeth into. This is the directorial debut of James Gunn, writer of the Dawn of the Dead remake (not bad nipper), the live action Scooby-Doo (ah well, we'll allow him one mistake) and Scooby-Doo: Monsters Unleashed (ooh, he's pushing it now). 

Bill Pardy (the legendary Nathan Fillion) is a sheriff in a small town that becomes the landing place for a very small meteor. As luck would have it, inside the lump of space rock there's some kind of alien creature that latches on to an unwilling human host. The unlucky victim then proceeds to become rather hungry and has a proboscis or two peep out of their stomach that can make ladies pregnant with lots of lovely cute slugs. The slugs then infect yet more people and what you have is a cross between Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Slugs (obviously) and a zombie film. How bad can that be?

Not bad at all, despite his Scooby-Doo origins. It's a pretty tight B-movie experience that cracks along at a fair old pace. There's never a dull moment. Conversely, there aren't many fantastic moments either. There are a couple of highlights: the naming of the character Grant Grant (which always makes me chuckle) and his obsession with eating meat. Raw meat. Tonnes of raw meat, that is occasionally rancid. Sweet. His desire for meat is up there with your average football supporter at half-time (shame there's no meat content in football pies, just gristle, spinal cords and floor sweepings: gorgeous).

Nathan Fillion is eminently watchable, as he is here, yet its not his greatest role (that would have to go to Serenity in my book). This is down to the writing as it doesn't allow Fillion to be at his wise-cracking best. He does get his fair share of good lines but it's quite telling that the best Fillion action in Slither is in one of the special features where he constantly repeats, "I am Bill Pardy". Okay, it doesn't sound like the greatest of things but you would have to watch it to appreciate it.

Fillion is surrounded by some other accomplished thespians: Michael Rooker and Gregg Henry for two. I still find it hard to accept Michael Rooker as an actor. His performance in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is so great that I can't help thinking that he is a real serial killer and they were just making a documentary of his unsavoury ways. Gregg Henry steals his fair share of scenes as the inappropriate mayor. He basically swears and rants a lot but it is very funny.

Things fall apart in the final third when it starts to resemble a low budget zombie film more than anything else. Gurning people surrounding cars and dragging them out in a shuffling manner hadn't been overdone in 2006 but now it's starting to get a tad tiresome. Luckily, the ending manages to pull it around.

A mention has to go to the special effects which are quite good to say the least. The slugs in particular are really realistic, which is a rarity for CGI creatures. There's even an infested deer that enters the fray, this time it's a practical effect, and it fulfils its comedy role beautifully.  

James Gunn seems to be a director to watch on the basis of this and the excellent Super (I'm really hoping that comes up as Ellen Page's entry in the next round so I can watch it again). He's currently working on Guardians of the Galaxy which looks pretty splendid too. Anyway, it's not about him, it's about our beloved Nathan Fillion. Will this just above average rating be enough to take Fillion into the next round? He is after all facing the might of Émilie Dequenne. We will see very soon...

If you like this you could also try:
Splinter, Super, The Crazies.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Review - Hemoglobin (1997 - Dir. Peter Svatek)

Jennifer Connelly managed an average 5/10 in her first round match with Inventing the Abbotts. Now it's time for Rutger Hauer to hit back with full force.

After the first ten minutes or so of Hemoglobin (originally titled Bleeders) things seemed to be going quite well. The screenplay was written by Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett (of Alien fame) plus Charles Adair (of nothing else that has granted him any fame whatsoever). It's loosely based on H.P. Lovecraft's "The Lurking Fear", so that's another positive in its favour. What's more, it starts off with a little tale of narcissism where a lady has a dalliance with her twin brother because it's the closest she can get to having some 'How is your Father' with herself. This is taken to the logical conclusion with the inclusion of a character who just so happens to be an hermaphrodite. Topical stuff indeed in this celebrity selfie obsessed culture who would love nothing more than doing rudies with themselves because they're so great. 

You can probably sense that things go wrong with Hemoglobin. And they do. The main story revolves around a pale bloke called John Strauss (Roy Dupuis) who has a rare blood disease. His wife Kathleen (Kristin Lehman) and a disgraced Doctor (Rutger Hauer) are helping him to find a cure. Yet this is another of those films that I can't remember much about it despite only seeing it last night. This goes to show that the characters aren't up to much. Rutger Hauer was obviously just in need a pay cheque and knocked this off without any effort (as he occasionally does, but the poor fella has to eat.) Sadly there aren't any memorable Hauer moments, which is a shame seeing as though that's the only reason I got this.

There are some memorable moments though. One lady has a haircut that only be described as a monstrous grey helmet. It is so fake and so huge and so full of mullet that I couldn't help thinking that it was hiding some special effect creature head type thing that would be revealed later in the film. Yet no. It's just a bad wig. Or - and my sympathies go out to the lady if this true - it's just a bad haircut. (Unfortunately I can't find a photo to show you the helmet in all its glory but if you have a look at 9:30 on this little clip you're in for a treat. And it's in German too.)

On the subject of special effects, they're not too bad. But the creature design is. Despite their passable appearance in photo form the monsters are laughable on screen looking like mutated versions of Yoda crossed with Frank Sidebottom. Saying that, they become quite creepy when seem from a distance en masse. 

The music is quite effective in the early stages and coupled with the cinematography it gives Hemoglobin the feel of Dead & Buried (another Dan O'Bannon/ Ronald Shusett script and also one of my favourite film posters). Apart from that there's not much else. (Oh, apart from the ridiculously thin moustache that Hauer has groomed.)

I hope Rutger Hauer managed to buy himself a couple of Pek and lamb fat sarnies from the proceeds of this film, then at least someone will have got some pleasure from this tedious offering.

At the end of that not so tense encounter Jennifer Connelly goes through to the next round of the FA Cup of Actors and poor old Rutger is out. She now faces Marc Singer in the quarter finals. Surely she has to be the favourite in that match. Oh well, we'll see...

If you like this you could also try:
Necronomicon, Dagon.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Review - Inventing the Abbots (1997 - Dir. Pat O'Connor)

Jennifer Connelly vs. Rutger Hauer in this first round match in the FA Cup of Actors. And it's up to Connelly to kick off with this little film that I'd never heard of before now. I don't really feel that qualified to review it as it is massively out of my comfort zone. Being used to horror, anime, and general B-movie rubbish this came as a bit of a shock. Inventing the Abbots involves lots of chatting, family matters and emotional issues. I'm a lot more at home with people smacking each other in the faces with frying pans.

Doug (Joaquin Phoenix) and Jacey (Billy Crudup) are two brothers living in a small Illinois town in the greasy fifties. They come from a poor family who may or may not have been wronged by Lloyd Abbott, the father of a local posh family. Lloyd is a rich fellow and has three lovely daughters: Pamela (Liv Tyler), Eleanor (Jennifer Connelly) and Alice (Joanna Going). The two brothers find the Abbott girls distinctly alluring, yet they're not quite sure which they fancy the most...

Be warned that this is a tricky film to watch if you struggle recognising people. The two brothers look very similar, as do the three sisters. Also it can be hard work keeping track of which characters are winking/clicking at each other, are holding hands or have slept together. It's all quite involved. It's as if they've packed a full year's worth of Eastenders style relationship twists and turns into one film.

Seeing as though this is Jennifer Connolly's shot at goal she's hardly in Inventing the Abbotts. Although she didn't get the main starring role, she's well up there in the billing. That's why I thought it would be acceptable to have this as her entry. Nevertheless she makes a sizeable impact. I've never seen her playing a sultry sauce machine before and she manages it very well indeed. Despite her absence from a large portion of the film her presence is felt in many scenes.

The main acting duties fall to Joaquin Phoenix and Liv Tyler. I've never been that sure about Phoenix and I'm still not entirely convinced now. I liked him in Signs but I generally disliked everything about Gladiator. He's likeable enough in this - especially when he uses a black marker pen to draw on some Elvis style mutton chops and then proceeds to go to a swanky party - and maybe his performance is just enough for me to give him another chance by watching another of his offerings and reevaluate what I think about him. With Liv Tyler I feel that I shouldn't like her, for some irrational reason, yet I can't help warming to her. She has a couple of quite touching scenes with Phoenix that warm even an old cynical gorehound's heart.

Billy Crudup is a completely different story. For starters, his name sounds like a lad called Billy has a severely messed up digestive system that has started backing up and causes the unfortunate lad to start throwing up turds. Infantile jibes aside, he's way too miserable and sulky in this. I can't remember him cracking a smile, however miniscule. All the time he mopes around and broods (despite getting a large portion of hanky panky from Jennifer Connelly). It's telling that he was also cast as Dr Manhattan in Watchmen

Surprisingly enough I quite enjoyed Inventing the Abbotts. It's a definite change from what I'm used to and it was quite refreshing (at least it wasn't another useless low budget zombie film). If you like this kind of thing you'd probably get a lot more enjoyment from it than I did. Saying that, it's not the strongest film in Connelly's arsenal so let's see how she fares against Hauer's offering.

If you like this you could also try:
Stealing Beauty, Two Lovers.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Review - Stories We Tell (2012 - Dir. Sarah Polley)

Stories We Tell has intrigued me since I first read about it: a look into a family's life through interviews, old Super 8 footage and photographs, and it's Sarah Polley's family to boot. Seeing as though I love Shooting the Past and Perfect Strangers, I was always going to like this.

And in a predictable fashion, I do. Whereas the stories in the above dramas were completely cracking little tales, usually involving nazis somewhere along the way, the main story in Stories We Tell isn't really that interesting. But that's what makes it good. 

The film is all about the relationship between Sarah's parents, Michael and Diane Polley. Michael is a bit of a loner who quite likes the company of solitary flies (he's not that keen if there's more than one though) - a man after my own heart if ever there was one. Diane is a fun-loving extrovert who loves going out dancing. Not really a couple that you'd put together, but Stories We Tell documents their life together.

Interviews with Michael and his three other children (Sarah is the interviewer) form the bulk of Stories We Tell. There are other players in this tale, other people from the past, who also get their fair share of interview time. The stories they tell don't always gel, possibly due to their perspective and the unreliability of memory. 

These interviews are supplemented with photos and Super 8 films, both real and fake. The photos and real footage are great, as you'd expect. The fake footage meanwhile has the effect of pulling the viewer out of the story. At its worst, its like a really bad Crimewatch UK reconstruction. Except with a comedy porn tache. The actor playing Michael gets the job of wearing the offending furry item and it always raises a smile. It would have been preferable to have 100% real footage but obviously this isn't always possible. The fake footage is a compromise that is probably needed to help tell the story. Shame about the tache though.

The story isn't stunning in any shape or form. It is a slice of real life and that's what makes it so powerful. In films we generally expect stories to be really cleverly written with twists and turns and exciting incidents. But here we get a relatively simple story (not to say that there aren't some little twists) and we  can watch the effect it has on a family and the real emotional impact. This film has surely got something that will resonate with everyone. (Okay, maybe not with a reclusive pig coveting mountain man called Mary.)

This isn't a film that I would rewatch on a regular basis but it was an enjoyable experience nonetheless. I think, based on this evidence, that Sarah Polley has booked her place in a future FA Cup of Actors.

If you like this you could also try:
Shooting the Past, Perfect Strangers, Joe's Palace.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Review - Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time (1991 - Dir. Sylvio Tabet)

Jeffrey Combs was off his usual form in his entry in the FA Cup of Actors, Night of the Living Dead 3D: Re-Animation (only receiving a rating of 2/10) so this round is all for the taking. Although when I saw that Marc Singers attempt at goal was Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time I was dreading another replay. I saw this when it was first released and was disappointed in it to say the least. The original Beastmaster is a bit of a classic but the sequel just dumbs everything down and plays it for cheesy laughs.

Watching it again now isn't such a bad experience. I actually quite enjoyed the late eighties/early nineties cheese factor. It is certainly more enjoyable than Combs' entry. I'm finding at the moment that I would rather watch something of this ilk than a more worthy film like 12 Years a Slave. It's no doubt a good, thought provoking film but I'm much happier watching a bloke falling forty foot and landing in the seat of an open-topped car without even bumping his coccyx.

It's got a really stupid plot too: (Jim Wynorski was involved in the writing, after all) Beasty is told early on that he has to find his lost brother before the Autumn equinox or the world will end. Cilla Black never had that kind of pressure on Surprise, Surprise. His quest involves him going through the titular portal into modern day L.A. and suffice to say, lots of fish out of water hi-jinx take place.

His modern day chum to guide him through this minefield is spoilt teenager Jackie Trent (Kari Wuhrer - who I remember from Stuart Gordon's King of the Ants, can't think why?) and initially she's every bit as annoying as you'd expect. She does come round to being slightly more likeable in the end and even gets a couple of furry little presents from our bestial buddy. Sadly she doesn't do a Tanya Roberts (or for that matter wear a costume like the one on the cover).

Every great animal loving hero needs an evil Ginsters eating villain and here it is Arklon (played by Wings Wauser of Mutant fame). He is a complete panto villain with mucho swooshing of his cape and general charging about laughing like a maniac. One of the funniest scenes involves him in a department store acquiring some new clothes from a rather camp manager. Predictably enough, it all ends in tears. In another mildly amusing scene he blasts some huge rocks with his laser (?) and they proceed to roll around crushing all and sundry under their gigantic mass of polystyrene.

Marc Singer fits back into the role of Beast Boy easily, although this time he seems to be more of a passenger. He gets to swish his sword around in trademark style but it's not given as much weight as you'd expect. It's a little bit throwaway. Even so, he's eminently watchable. And you'd have thought that being an animal lover he'd be a vegetarianialist. Well you'd be mistaken. He tucks straight into a gorgeous slice of Pek with gusto. I wonder if he can feel what the Pek feels and see what the Pek sees as it slips down into his belly.

Not content with showcasing the work of such stars as Singer, Hauser and Wuhrer, there are also appearances from Michael Berryman (The Hills Have Eyes), Robert Z'Dar (Maniac Cop) and Sarah Douglas (Superman II) who gets the most screen time as a witchly companion to Arklon.

Don't expect this to be anywhere near as great as the original and you shouldn't come away too disgruntled. It's good enough to put Marc Singer through to the next round of the FA Cup of actors and sadly we have to say goodbye to Jeffrey Combs.

If you like this you could try:
The Beastmaster, Beastmaster: The Eye of Braxus.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Review - Night of the Living Dead 3D: Re-Animation (2012 - Dir. Jeff Broadstreet)

Jeffrey Combs faces Marc Singer in this first round match of the FA Cup of Actors and it's got the potential of having a scoreline that your average football match could have. (I'll tell you now that Singer's entry isn't looking promising.) Anyway let's see what Jeffrey Combs is like in a goalmouth scramble.

I thought I'd escaped these pesky undead shamblers for a while after last year's Year of the Dead season. But no. Up comes this abomination as Combs' entry. The DVD came with two pairs of 3D glasses, not the posh new ones that would mean I'd need to fork out a fortune on a new telly but the old red and blue ones. I thought - in my stupidity - that the 3D aspect, plus the presence of Jeffrey Combs, would at least make it fun. 

I gave up on the glasses after about fifteen minutes. The 3D isn't even as good as Friday the 13th Part 3 and it started to make my head hurt. Suffice to say all of the usual 3D fun and games is present; things are thrust at the camera with stunning regularity and predictability. The other downside of the process is that the colours look very murky and brown. It makes a dour experience even worse.

The first half of the film pretty much involves people chatting, normally in pairs. Establishing shots, then close-ups of the two actors abound. For ages. And ages. It wouldn't be so bad if what they were talking about was interesting. It's not.

I suppose I better get round to the plot. Gerald Tovar (Andrew Divoff, from the low quality Wishmaster) runs a mortuary. But - and I can't believe I'm back to writing this so soon - the dead come back to life and some flesh munching ensues. Along comes Gerald's brother, Harold (Jeffrey Combs) who is in debt and needs some cash desperately. As you would in these situations, he comes up with an organ harvesting idea. Throw in a scene of necrophilia - probably written by a thirteen year old lad - and you're in for a classy experience.

It's all quite embarrassing really. The acting is pretty dire all round and makes this look immensely cheap. Despite that I found Divoff easier to watch than Combs, which surprised me a fair bit. Combs hams it up so much I half expected him to launch into a rendition of "Munch, munch, I want my lunch. Tea and breakfast too." (Many apologies for the highly obscure Porky Pig reference.) The worst offender in the acting stakes has to be Sarah Lieving. She wanders round - or even just stands - with the strangest baffled expression on her face. It looks like she's been given Xylazine just to get her through the whole sorry mess.

The effects are also poor. Surely one of the points of a zombie film is to see some poor hapless fellow have his head blown off with a shotgun. It's not that tricky. Make a fake body and head filled with all manner of loveliness. Add a blood pump or two. Then blow the head off. Gorgeous. Nope, not here. Rubbish CGI abounds. Saying that, the make-up effects on the zombies are not too bad. Standard issue, but professionally done.

There is one positive to this debacle. A scene that crops up about halfway through takes place in the crematorium and it is pretty atmospheric. You can almost smell the stench of rotting flesh - though sadly, this isn't helped by the overuse of buzzing fly sound effects. The points in the final rating all come from this one scene. Don't be fooled though, it really isn't worth the price of admission.

So my return to my rotting chums hasn't been the happy family reunion that it could have been. I was hoping for something along the lines of Dagon to come up as Jeffrey's entry but I suppose I've got to take whatever the random film generator throws at me. Now, you'd think from the rating that Combs is well out of the FA Cup. Just wait for Singer's entry and we'll see.

If you like this you could also try:
Having a look at any of the good entries from the Year of the Dead season.