Thursday, October 27, 2011

That Darn Cat Will Be The Death Of Us All

Well, after the disaster of dullness that was the last film, I promised you a good film. Now, I don’t know if it is a good film or not, but it has been the long time source of joviality between my friend Alyson and myself. And, it’s a live action Disney film – c’mon, how bad could it be? Disney know how to do pretty decent live action family fun; The Parent Trap, The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, Shaggy Dog, The Absent Minded Professor, Freaky Friday, the Herbie series...sure, not highlights of technological or plotting brilliance, but all pretty good for what they are. And today’s film promises to be no different, so let’s dive on in to the zany adventures of That Darn Cat! (it MUST have the exclamation point to show you how crazy it is).

Released in 1997, That Darn Cat! is a remake of the 1967 original and stars (a still B list at the time) Christina Ricci in the Hayley Mills role, Dyan Cannon, Cool Runnings’ Doug E. Doug and long time live action Disney stalwart, Dean Jones (who featured in the orginal in the role now played by Doug) and a whole host of nifty other actors showing up on the Disney dime. That Darn Cat! basically plays out the way you’d expect an animal-centric live action Disney film to play out. The wackily misplaced Patti and her darn cat (which is, unsurprisingly named DC – Darn Cat) get mixed up with a pair of inept robbers, who have already kidnapped the wrong person; and have to help the law find and rescue said person. And since the only one who can communicate where the kidnap victim actually is is That Darn Cat!, you can imagine the zany scrapes and wacky misunderstandings the humans have to go through to find her.

This film makes absolutely no bones about what you are in for, as right from the opening minutes you are greeted with a kooky quasi ska opening theme (hey, it was the late 90’s – EVERYTHING was ska then) full of whistling and screams of “THAT DARN CAT!” From there, we get thrown into the plot pretty darn quickly – the kidnapping of a rich man’s wife that gets screwed up, a teen who doesn’t like living in small-town USA, John Motherflippin’ Ratzenberger AND Big Mike as duelling mechanics and all the animatronic cats that money could buy. And Biff. This is not a film that I have to spend paragraphs explaining the intricacies of the plot, character motivations or history behind every little thing.

This is a Disney family film, so there is nothing even remotely close to challenging, truly tense or scary moments or anything that you could be offended by. But, really, if you go into a Disney film expecting any of that, then you are setting yourself up for disappointment. What you do get is a goofy little story, some pretty decent performances and a perfectly pleasant way to kill 90 minutes. And an awesome cat. You know what? There were even a few moments when I found myself chuckling out loud. All in all, That Darn Cat! was an entertaining little romp.

And really, sometimes, that is all you want.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

I Wish Cthulhu Would Rise And Kill These Asshats

As they say - "Image Unrelated". And a damn sight better than the subject matter.

Now, in my last review, I briefly mentioned that films based upon H.P.Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos tend to run the gamut from the rare good one, to the not so good. It is in my experiences that those that deal directly with the Mythos, rather than being inspired by, tend to be the bad ones – with the previous film being, rather than outrightly bad, ultimately lazy and uninspired. I recently came upon a bunch of films, shorts mainly, that are adaptations of Lovecraft’s stories (and since the last time I dealt with a direct adaptation, it turned out pretty damn well, I am filled with a little bit of hope). However, I am going to be covering the single full length film in the collection, and one that I have heard bad things about. And now, I am going to see if the simply named Cthulhu is as bad as I have been warned.

First impressions: Oh shitfuck, it’s basically Mumblecore – my most hated of the annoying artfilm conceits. This is going to be a fucking chore. I will not be able to adequately describe what I have just watched, without swearing my everlovin’ head off. It’s going to be easier to say what I didn’t like about it than what I did. Sigh, let’s get down to it... Warning, I will be comparing the various aspects of this film to other, better films.

WHY THE FUCK IS THIS IN THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST? OK, I get that there is some lovely scenery, architecture and the like (an aspect that I mentioned in my Wicker Man review); but goddammit – if you are making a film CALLED Cthulhu; you set that shit in fucking Lovecraft Country. Now, for all its faults, at least The Last Lovecraft got that right. Yes, I understand that not all of the Mythos stories themselves were set in New England, but they at least started there or mentioned there or something – this...NOTHING! It’s all Oregon, Alaska and NOT New England.

There is absolutely ZERO sense of dread in this story. Would you like to know something about H.P. Lovecraft? Sure, he may have been a borderline insane, xenophobic shut-in at times, but dude knew how to build a sense of dread (something he learned from his fandom of Edgar Allen Poe). This managed to fail on every level of dread build – anything even remotely strange; our supposed hero was able to get away from with nigh on zero interaction. Honestly, there was a better sense of dread in Garden State.

No-one in this festering crapheap of a film can act, or if they can, they came to set not caring a whit about what they put on screen. There were better performances in Primer, and they were fucking scientists. I am going to presume everyone involved in this is (or at least was) an actor. Seriously – when the only person in the entire cast who is remotely not mumbling their way through the proceedings is Tori Fuckin’ Spelling, then you should just shut the whole thing down...well, her and Drunky McScreamingplotdevelopmentguy.

Oh FFS – there is a pointlessly shoehorned in “main character is gay, main character’s daddy hates main character and is all ultra religious” aspect. There is nothing wrong with being gay, but really? Pushing that particular agenda in through a Mythos story (which at times was secondary to the “accept my sexuality, you closed-minded family” story) isn’t really a good, or even fitting, mix. Does it go anywhere? I think we all know the answer to that one...And, to top it all off, you have Tori playing a man-hungry slutbag who throws herself at our hero in a ham-handed “re-telling” of The Wicker Man (whoops, I ruined the plot for you – thank me, this means you don’t have to go through the pain of this film).

The film, rather than having the sense of dread I was talking about, mistakes being slow for building dread – and rather than that, just ends up being boring as batshit. I started checking the timecode about 30 minutes in, and, upon seeing how much of the film was left, had the only real scare of the entire film.

And now, the positives... Well, as I said, at least the landscape and surrounds were pretty and creepy (having been to the area myself, I can attest to that – and, OK, I will be nice; if you aren’t going to set your Mythos story in Lovecraft Country, you can do a lot worse than the Pacific Northwest); so there’s that. Also, at least the script writer didn’t fuck with the core tenets of the Mythos too much – he just had no fucking idea how to write a compelling story without taking from other, better, properties and twisting them for the worse.

In conclusion – this was the worst film I’ve seen all year; and I have seen Troll 2, The Room, Birdemic AND Megapiranha multiple times. I promise, the next film I review on this thing WILL be a good film – I swear to you.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Last Lovecraft: Relic Of Cthulhu

Now, it is no secret that I am a pretty big fan of the writings of H.P. Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos in general. I have most of his core writings; have read a lot of other author’s takes on the mythos; own most of the Call of Cthulhu RPG books, card games and several other bibs and bobs of paraphernalia. I’ve seen many a film project that has been inspired by his work (and, in fact, one of my first reviews was for the HPLHS production of The Call of Cthulhu) – some have been quite good, some have been...well, the phrase “not so good”, would be drawing a very long bow. Alas, it seems to be that, for the most part, it is the projects that draw directly from the mythos that are the worst; while those who are merely “inspired by” are the far better. Today’s film falls in the latter category, so we shall see how it fares – let us delve into the eldritch madness that is The Last Lovecraft – Relic of Cthulhu.

Promising to “do for the Cthulhu Mythos what Shaun of The Dead did for zombies”, The Last Lovecraft tells the tale of Jeff, an office bound shlub who finds out that he is, as is oft the case in films of this nature, much more than he first thought – he is the last in the bloodline of H.P. Lovecraft. And, much worse than that, the creatures that his ancestor wrote about are real and threatening to destroy reality (as those loveable, gibbous scamps are want to do). Together with his best mate, Charlie and Lovecraft nerd, Paul; he must go on an incomprehensible journey to stop the loathsome Old Ones. See the fat bastard in the center of the poster up there? Yeah, that’s Paul – third banana comedy fat guy gets the prime poster spot...

Made on a budget of $FUCK_ALL_AND_A_DREAM by a cast and crew of almost total unknowns, the film actually manages to do some decent visual acrobatics with itself – it’s not Avatar, nor does it ever claim to be, but we get some decent gore, and the Old Ones, Elder Things and their underlings themselves look as good as you could imagine they would, given the anaemic budget; the Deep Ones come off looking like badass Mugwumps, and it really worked for me. Of particular note, and really the highpoint of the whole film, is an animated history of The Old Ones. It’s not what one would call a “feast for the eyes”, but if the rest of the film had the same level of skill as the make-up, animation and brief uses of CGI, then we’d really have something special. Alas, this is where the really good stuff ends and the film starts to collapse in on itself.

A cast of near unknowns (Freaks and Geeks’ Martin Starr is probably the most recognisable face in the cast, seconded by That Guy Who Tried To Kill Himself In Office Space) do the best they can with a script that doesn’t really do what it is dearly trying to do. Instead of the charm and wit of Shaun of The Dead, Fanboys, Lesbian Vampire Killers or even Free Enterprise; the cast don’t seem to be able to play anything more than varying degrees of unrepentant asshole – when the most sympathetic character is a near mute who drowns to death, then you know something has gone wrong. I have seen worse acting, but I have also seen a lot better – were I to describe the overall, I would say “unfortunately forgettable”. There were a few minor giggles, but really, the script couldn’t reach the heights of what it wanted to do.

I went into The Last Lovecraft hoping that I would get another film that could be looked on as good, as I do like the concept behind the story – unfortunately, a weak script and varying degrees of mediocre acting from people who don’t seem to fully grasp the concept of “likeable” make for an effort that should have been a lot better than the final product. I’m not going to say don’t watch it, just – don’t go out of your way to hunt it down.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Rescue From Gilligan's Island

Today, one of my shortest reviews ever. Why? Because there really isn’t a whole hell of a lot that one can say about Rescue From Gilligan’s Island, that’s why. Now, for anyone who has spent the last 40 years lost on an uncharted desert isle, this video is all you need to know about Gilligan’s Island.

And that is all you need to know about the show, and subsequent series of telemovies. Now, you’d think that with a name like Rescue From Gilligan’s Island, that this would be the final one – but no... it’s actually the first, and was actually broadcast as two eps, rather than the standalone movie I see before me now. 

 In a nutshell – Gilligan’s antics, so often the cause of the Castaways never leaving the damn island, finally get them rescued after 15 years on the island (proving that they are not on the island from LOST). But, of course, that’s not all – through a zany series of contrivances too mind numbingly stupid to bother recounting, they end up getting rescued by the Coast Guard. And that ends part one. In part two, Gilligan ends up with a data disc dropped from an exploded spy satellite (which is not even the wackiest thing to ever happen to him, mind) and our now free Castaways end up getting chased around the place in a plot that even Hanna Barbera in their most desperate wouldn’t even touch. Long story short, they all decide to go on another cruise (me, if I’d just spent 15 years shipwrecked, would stay far the fuck away from the ocean – but there is no place for smarts in the world of Gilligan’s Island) and, thanks to yet another storm, end up back on the island again. WACKITY SHMACKITY DOO! 

 There is a lot to dislike about this film, especially if you are a fan of the show (which was hardly the high water mark of good television to begin with). First and foremost, this project was made 12 years after the show had finished, so the cast – who were no spring chickens during the heyday of the show, are now beginning to show some real age; so seeing the buffoonish antics of people who are long past middle age is kinda sad – much like the New Leave It To Beaver or I Love Lucy Again (look ‘em up, they both existed), but second only to the later Three Stooges shorts. Bob Denver, in particular, is a sad site for one’s eyes – you can see in his face that he is resigned to playing this role the rest of his life. 

 What to like? Well, Vincent Schiavelli plays one of the “Eastern European” baddies who try to get the data disc back from Gilligan. And...well...that’s about it. Seriously – the film’s one bright spot is one of my favourite “That Guy” actors. And, literally, that is it.

 As a good reviewer/critic, I look at myself as not above watching and reviewing bad films (hit up the Bad Film tag for others that I have put myself through). Hell, a lot of my favourite films, other people would look at as “bad films”, hell, some of them, so would I – but they are not without their charm. This, however, has no charm (at least the show had a certain zany charm) – this is just sad, like watching your parents using the latest lingo to prove that they are hip. I don’t think you can even enjoy this ironically or with a sense of kitsch. 

 Now that I have watched it, I can see why it fell into the public domain. I spent a dollar on a disc that features this and The Wackiest Wagon Train In The West (which is not even the most obscure thing Bob Denver did, but in every one, he was still playing Gilligan), and I think I was ripped off. To use the parlance of the internet – bad film is bad. 

Now who’s being hip?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Behind The Mask - The Rise Of Leslie Vernon

Michael Myers.

Freddy Krueger.

Jason Vorhees.

Three names that are well known, not just to horror fan, not just to film fans; but names that have long crossed over into the cultural zeitgeist. However, they are, to us, nothing more than film characters – but what would happen if they were real, if their killing sprees had actually happened? And what would happen if someone looked upon these acts and thought, “I think I can top that?” And it is this idea that is the core of the film Behind The Mask – The Rise Of Leslie Vernon.

The film opens with a documentary crew being invited to a small town in Midwest USA, where they meet with the titular Leslie Vernon, a friendly, loving, intelligent young fella with an interest in magic, anatomy, history – no different to anyone really. Except of course, he wants revenge on a town that (perhaps erroneously) tried to put him to death as a child. Since the town, and world at large, thinks that he is still dead, he has to plot his revenge in the shadows, working with the legends that have sprung up around his death. Instead of being some inhuman, supernatural embodiment of evil, though, Leslie is just a man, so what we get is the documentary crew following him through his preparations – mentally and physically. Watching him plot out every step until showtime.

Leslie has meticulously devised a plan to strike fear into the hearts of the town, and soon pulls the documentary team into the roles of (un)witting accomplices in his plan, first introducing him to his “father figure” – an old time killer named Eugene who stepped down when “Fred, Jay and Mike” elevated killing to an artform, then bringing the crew along as he stalks his teenage victims through all the standard slasher set pieces. However, they soon learn that everything isn’t as it seems as Leslie soon finds himself an “Ahab” who soon unravels his whole story, leading to some rather interesting reveals and showdowns.

Working as equal part comedic mockumentary and deconstruction of the mores and rules of 80’s slasher horror, Behind The Mask isn’t perfect, but what it does, it does well. You definitely get the sense that the makers have a real love of slasher films. While the narrative itself treads no new ground, especially for someone who was raised on the same films the makers obviously were, the love and respect afforded those films through this definitely comes through, particularly in the narrative parts of the film. The mockumentary parts of the film too tread no real new ground (having been used before in films like Man Bites Dog and The Last Broadcast), but the aforementioned love of the genre, coupled with the charm of the main actors, pretty much had me cheering with every unfolding of the story – both narrative and mockumentary sides.

As I mentioned in my Last Exorcism review, what makes a mockumentary work so well is having a cast of relative unknowns. And, outside of Freddy Krueger himself, Mr Robert England (who shows such a creepy joy showing up in things that deconstruct the genre that put him on the map, especially here, where he is playing Donald Pleasance ramped up to 11), the only real name in the cast is Zelda Rubenstein, and she herself isn’t really that well known to anyone bar more dedicated movie fans. Like I said, though, this really works in the film’s favour, as there is no real connection to the actors, rather the characters that they play, and it is only the filmmaker’s decision to switch from mockumentary to narrative styles during the “scare” parts that stopped me from fully buying into the illusion – yes, I did like both sides of the storytelling coin being used, as I stated above, but the switching did pull me out of things.

If you have any love at all for slasher films, and haven’t seen Behind The Mask, you can do a whole heck of a lot worse than to see this film.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Witches Of Oz

“Your grandfather’s stories are in the public domain – we can basically do what we want with them.”

And with that one line from today’s movie, we are able to sum up exactly what the SciFi (or SyFy) Network went through starting in the mid to late 2000s, whereby they came up with a bunch of fantasy retellings of several of your favourite childhood tales. Of course, this being SyFy, their final products varied wildly, from the good (Tin Man) to the not-so-good(Alice). However, the overall success of them meant that others jumped on the bandwagon – and you cannot have a bandwagon without The Asylum getting their sticky fingers into the mix. And now, not only do we get them – but we also get another revisiting to the work of L. Frank Baum – this time, a slightly more modern take on The Land of Oz; The Witches of Oz.

Directed by long time Asylum Films A1 director, Leigh Scott (Transmorphers, Flu Bird Horror, The Pirates of Treasure Cove), The Witches of Oz tells the tale of Dorothy Gale (not THE Dorothy, rather her granddaughter) a children’s writer, who has crafted the Oz stories based on childhood imaginings. After getting a lucrative publishing contract, she gets pulled to New York City and soon discovers that not only are the stories of Oz real, but the denizens are even more dangerous than she could have imagined as Ozma, at least one bad witch and a buttload of flying monkeys and Nomes are out to restore their own power to Oz by way of The Changing Word, stored in a magic book taken from them after their first defeat. Thankfully, Dorothy (after learning who she really is) proves to be a far more formidable opponent than she was, even in the first film.

A cast of near pantomime level over-actors, ranging from paycheque roles for Billy Boyd, Sean Astin, Christopher Lloyd (and a barely recognisable Jeffery Combs) and the always awesome Lance Henrikssen to relative unknowns Ari Zagaris, Paulie Rojas and Barry Ratcliffe (amongst many others – and wrestling fans, everyone’s favourite jobber, Al Snow, makes an appearance as well) all seem to be having a fine ol’ time – and it really helps make the story work, especially when we get to the massive battle in Times Square.

As charming as the film is, it is not without its faults. As stated above, pretty much the entire cast is prone to the odd spot of overacting – not to levels that render the thing unwatchable, but there were definitely a few rolled eyes throughout and a few of the roles were underwritten to the point of not even needing to be there (Frick and Frack, I am talking to you). However, the most glaring disappointment with the version that I have is that, according to my research, nearly one hour has been edited out, which may well have done a lot to flesh out the story and a few of the more underwritten characters. That said, overall, the look of the project was pretty darn good, with a lot of quite well done computer effects (which look better than a lot of much higher budget things I could mention), however it was shot with Red One cameras which shows in pretty much every visual aspect.

Taking feel in equal measure from pre-existing Oz film and Lord Of The Rings (primarily the opening and several battle scenes in the second half) mixed with the standard Asylum sheer-lack-of-budget-made-up-for-by-balls-and-moxie, we end up with a final product that is equal parts ludicrous and oddly charming. Is it something that you’ll come back to again and again? Probably not – but you can do a lot worse with three hours than watch this.

Oh, and just to tie it all together – The Witches Of Oz will be shown on SyFy UK.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Film As Art

In my time on this planet, I have seen a LOT of films, for a lot of different reasons – I like the cast, I like the story, I’m bored and want to kill a couple of hours, you name it and I’ve probably used that as a reason. And from this, I come out of the film with any number of feelings – and my favourite would probably be “my god, that film was beautiful”. I am of the opinion that filmmakers and cinematographers are the “great masters” of the modern era.

And with that in mind, here are a couple of my “Most Beautiful Films”.

Suspiria : The newest member of the “My God, This Film Is Beautiful” list, and what stand out most to me in Dario Argento’s horror masterpiece is the colour scheme. Sure, people had used the “colour as clues” device before, and have since, however I have long heard the argument that it is done best in this film – and, having now actually seen it, I would have to agree.  The scheme is a nice, direct palate, with minimal mix’n’match (the few scenes that do mix and match do so in complimentary ways).

What strikes me most about the film, though, is (as was said on a film podcast I listen to) that just about every frame Suspiria could be used as a print, and sold as art. This I would have to agree with, as I could see several shots that would not look out of place on my walls (I have a lot of film based art on my walls at the moment – most coming from FilmBarcode). The entire look of the film is a labour of love between Argento, cinematographer Luciano Tovoli and an art staff just as dedicated as the two heads.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford : The first thing that struck me about this film was the pacing – very slow, very deliberate, not allowing the viewer to take any path but its own. But what stuck with me through each subsequent viewing is how beautiful the film is – from the first frame, the viewer is met with a palate that is part Autumnal pastoral and part living sepia photo print. Both colour choices are done intentionally, as the film takes place in the late 1800’s, thus giving the viewer a sense that they are watching photographs for the era.

But what really strikes me, every time I watch the film, is that every frame of the film could be its own photograph or even painting. The framing, the positioning of the various players, any number of lighting and shooting tricks employed by Andrew Dominik and Roger Deakins all come together to make a film that is beautiful to look at through and through – and I have paused the film at multiple places in multiple viewings, just to stare with wonder at the beauty that they have put on screen. Even something as simple as a boot on the ground or a water pump, right the way up to a train robbery and several shots set to look like old timey stereoscopic images – all of it looks amazing, both moving and still.

Tideland : Say what you will about Terry Gilliam’s much maligned take on the Alice In Wonderland story, but you can’t say it’s not a gorgeously shot film. In fact, a good sized part of the film was shot having been influenced by Andrew Wyath’s painting, Christina’s World – a fact that has been pointed out by better men than I (on further research, the whole film could – minus the darkness and fucked up characters, of course – be influenced by pretty much all of his work). Much like The Assassination of Jesse James, this film is drenched in a palate of pastoral warmth which play against the darker colours introduced by way of the story itself, both of which play of each other to increase their light and dark traits.

In addition to the three I just spoke of, other films that I look on with the same sense of wonder are The Fountain, Speed Racer, Paprika, The Fall, Hero and (tying back to a name I mentioned above) just about anything shot by Roger Deakin. Sure, there are plenty of others that I have seen, and that I haven’t seen – but that doesn’t mean they are any less impactful. I just figured I would shine a light on a couple of my favourites.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Film Musings #1

Well, after a break that went a whole heck of a long time longer than I first expected (depression and being scared to get back to it is a bitch, let me tell you), I return, with a slight change in format. Not only will I have reviews, but general commentary as well. And this, I hope is the first of a new push into the future.

Now, partially inspired by a column on another site that I frequent, I would like to talk about films that everyone else seems to love that I don’t. As much as a film fan as I am (as anyone who knows me can attest), I don’t like everything. In fact, I have quite a weird taste in film – for every one “popular” film that I profess I liking for, I can pull out an obscure Eastern European fantasy film, 50 year old sequel to a film that wasn’t all that popular to begin with, or experimental art piece. I don’t expect everyone to share my taste, and I sure as heck don’t share my taste with everyone else either. But there, as I said, are some films that have big followings that I just flat out don’t get.

These are just a few.

Keep in mind, I am not giving anyone grief for liking these films, merely stating my case for not liking them, so keep it in your pants unless you are willing to be civil.

Blade Runner: Granted, by the time I was actually shown this film in its entirety it was the early 2000’s, and it had long been part of the Science Fiction Nerd’s zeitgeist (and, hell, that of any decent film fan in general), but for one reason or another, I’d never got around to seeing it. And then I did – and all it got from me was a resounding “meh”. Sure, it looks pretty, but beyond that, it’s a pretty yawn inducing plot; actors who are either borderline sleepwalking through their roles, or filling them with so much overwrought ham that even Dennis Hopper would tell them to dial it back a bit; and ideas that never get fully realised or explored to anything close to satisfactory levels (which is a complaint that I have with pretty much all Philip K Dick adaptations).

300: First things first, as far as comic book adaptations go, 300 is one of the more accurate that I’ve ever seen. It’s just that the source material is paper thin, dull, incredibly overrated and the weakest effort that Frank Millar turned out. And it shows even more on screen, with a film that is devoid of life and soul, having them replaced with sweaty pecs, CGI blood and so much slo-mo that the film would be shorter than your average sitcom were it to be removed. And none of it raised more than a yawn from me.

Napoleon Dynamite: Don’t get me wrong, I do like awkward nerd centered humour as much as the next guy (my love of things such as Revenge Of The Nerds, Mr Bean, the works of Wes Anderson and pretty much everything that Andy Kaufman did show this to be true), however I have always found this film to be painfully unfunny and soulless at best, calculating and “cult movie by committee” at worst. For months leading up to release, all I heard was “great new cult film”, “hilarious” and frikkin’ catchphrases from the film (don’t even get me started on the fact that this bloody film forced me to change my manner of speaking for fear that people would think I was quoting it). Now, I am no stranger to being marketed to, but everything about this film – from leadup, to advertising, to the film itself and the fandom it spawned, just screamed “calculated effort to market to awkward nerds by a company that never gave a shit about them until it realised they had money to spend” and “see this freak – this is what you look like to us, now dance for your new nerd hero” to me (much like my distaste for The Big Bang Theory). And that’s not even the half of it – seriously, I could write an essay on all the things that I hate about not only this film, but everything Jared Hess has put his name to.

Casablanca: Yeah, yeah – I’ve heard it all before; “it’s a classic”, “everyone loves it”, “critical darling”. You know what? No, it’s bloody not. It’s a middling, at best, love story that was saved from mediocrity by the fact that it featured a cast of people who were pretty beloved at the time, with a couple of leads who were the Hollywood IT couple of the day. You know what? So was Gigli, and it gets lambasted by all and sundry. And to prove to you that I am a fan of other films that are critical darlings, and classics in their own right – among my favourite films are Citizen Kane, The Third Man and The Maltese Falcon; all who share more than passing similarities (cast, plot point, genre, etc) to Casablanca. To me, this film is one of the prime examples of “only as well looked on as it is, because there was nothing else better at the time” – well, there is now, so we should be able to look on this as the middle of the road flick that it truly is.

Scarface: Thankfully, the love for this film seems to have now limited itself to idiot thug rappers and douchebag frat bros (much like another film that I could talk about – The Boondock Saints). And, really, I shouldn’t rail against this film as much as I do, as I have yet to watch it all the way through – I’ve tried on a couple of occasions, and given up about 30 minutes in both times. To me, this is just the worst excesses of the 80’s, filled with more neon, “gayness” and garbage than even Batman and Robin. And to top it all off, to me it’s one of DePalma’s worst films, made all the more glaring in that it comes between two of his best.

I could rail on and on about other films that people love but I don’t, no matter how much they try to push, but I won’t. I have to save things for other columns, because who knows how long it’ll be before I run out of mental steam again.

That’s my lot, and I am outtie.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

If Stuntman Mike Wasn't A Psychopath, He'd Be Jack Burton

One thing I said I was going to stay away from as much as possible when doing this blog, was the so-called “Internet Nerd” favourite films. I figured they have been covered so many times in so many places that me doing the same thing would end up being boring and trite. But since I have done films like Clerks, the Indiana Jones series, the Back to The Future series and even a bunch of films from the ‘nets favourite actor, Mr Nicolas Cage; I would throw that rule out the window. What can I say, as an Internet Nerd, I tend to like these films myself, so it’s only fitting that I give my opinion on them too.

Today’s film is, well, a classic of 80’s cinema and is one of the best blends of action and comedy that I have ever witnessed. It’s one of those films that is so ubiquitous in my life that I just assume everyone has seen it. Today, our film is Big Trouble in Little China.

For those one or two of you who legitimately haven’t seen it, Big Trouble In Little China tells the tale of one Jack Burton (Kurt Russell), driver of the Pork Chop Express, as his truck breaks down in San Francisco Chinatown and he accidentally gets embroiled in an ancient Chinese plot hatched by the fiendish David Lo Pan (James Hong) in which he is seeking eternal life and ultimate power. Along the way, Burton gets dragged, kicking and screaming, into being a hero and rescuing the kidnapped Gracie Law (Kim Cattrall, in one of the few roles where I can actually tolerate her) by Egg Shen (Victor Wong), neighbourhood wise man and leader of the resistance against Lo Pan.

Straight out of the gate, this is one of THE defining movies of my childhood (as well as the childhood of a LOT of others, I would imagine), and it is really not hard to see why – not only is it full of martial arts, crazy monsters, hilariousness and just about every trope of the genre turned on their heads; but it’s also got three leads at their most charismatic best, all pulled together by a director who was deep within his most creative era – Mr John Carpenter.

And yes, when I say turns the tropes on their head, I mean it –first and foremost, let’s take a look at our protagonist (if one could even call him that) Jack Burton; big, manly, truck drivin’, cocky, white male is thrown into the role of reluctant hero at the role. As soon as he is confronted by the goings on in Chinatown, he starts running for the exit and doesn’t stop until Shen loads him up with “ancient Chinese medicine”. But, even then, he is nothing but in the wrong place at the wrong time – and has to be rescued just as much, if not way more, than the typical “damsel in distress” that is Gracie Law (and even she is more suited to the events than he).

Kurt Russell is great, playing Burton with a cocksuredness that comes from never actually facing any real challenges, which soon gets replaced with sheer terror and outright “what the bloody hell is going on here?” It shows up during his first experiences with Lo Pan’s army in the alleyway (one of the best fights I have seen in any film, martial arts or otherwise – and the addition of Mr Al Leong certainly doesn’t hurt matters either), and does nothing but increases the more elements he becomes aware of. James Hong (the KING of the Asian-themed “Hey, It’s That Guy” actors) is at his best, playing essentially two roles – both Lo Pan (you’ll see), and imbuing them with two completely different types of terror, both performances being as memorable as one another; David Lo Pan having that creepy “I bet that dude can kill me a thousand ways even though he is 200 years old” terror, and Lo Pan having a more direct “I KNOW that dude can kill me...with A FUCKING DRAGON” terror. And, like I said, both are as damn good as each other.

I could go on and on about every aspect of this film, from the set design, to the sound design, to the great lines, to the fact that not only do the hero and princess not get together; but they leave the film hating each other as much as they ever did, to all stops in between. But the fact is, this film is awesome. It was a huge part of my childhood, and I love it as much as I ever have.

See it, before it sees you.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


After a bit of a break yesterday, I am back. And today, I bring you the big screen debut (and as yet only outing) from one of my favourite comedy troupes. Canada’s number one comedy troupe, at that – Kids In The Hall. Today’s film is Brain Candy.

Released in 1996, two years after their self titled TV show ended, Brain Candy is a “twisted take” on the mid 90’s increase in society’s propensity to rely on drugs to stabilise their moods. Here, though, it’s taken to the absurd extreme that you would come to expect from the KITH team; whereby a pill is designed that locks the taker into their happiest memory. Along the way, Dr Chris Carter (Kevin McDonald), the creator of the drug, gets pulled headfirst into the crazy world of celebrity worship as the drug becomes the hottest thing in town. But not everything goes according to plan, because there are side effects. It’s up to Dr Carter to first win back the trust of the development team that he abandoned, and to try to bring down the company that unleashed the drug on the public. Can he do it? You’ll see.

Now, if you are a fan of the show, and go in expecting all their most popular characters to show up, you will be disappointed, as the only show holdovers are barely C list characters (with the cops and Cancer boy being the biggest of names) and barely in the film as it is. However, you do get a good deal of signature KITH style humour, so it’s not all lost. The lads introduce a bunch of new characters with some pretty memorable folk being revealed to us, particularly chemical company boss Don Roritor (Mark McKinney doing Lorne Michaels better than Mike Meyers did for Dr Evil), and Bruce McCullough taking the piss out of Glenn Danzig with emo rocker Greevo. And yes, because this is Kids In The Hall, each guy busts out multiple roles and even (with the exception of Dave Foley who was only in the film due to contractual obligation, being on the outs with the rest of the team at the time) frocking up multiple times.

Now, the honesty – Brain Candy is not the best thing they have ever done, but it does have some pretty decent laughs. Is this a film that will top your favourites list for years to come, probably not – but it is an overall likeable, moreso if you are a fan of the KITH, way to spend a couple of hours.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Doo Dah Doo Doo, Doo Dah DOOOOOOO

Today, we continue the Indiana Jones series with the third movie – The Last Crusade. As you may remember from yesterday, this is a film that I’ve not seen since the first release, so this should be a bit of an adventure for us all.

Made “as an apology for the second film”, The Holy Grail came five years after The Temple of Doom, and was supposed to be the final chapter in the original trilogy envisioned by Spielberg and Lucas.

Taking place primarily in 1938 (although there is an opening set in 1912, introducing us to Young Indiana Jones – and opening the franchise up in a whole new direction), The Last Crusade sees Indy on the trail of his father who has disappeared while on his on trail – that of the Holy Grail (fitting, really, since the first film was all about the Arc of The Covenant). Along the way, he crosses paths with a secret society who are trying to protect the Grail from evil, as well as, you guessed it – the Nazis. After finding his father and learning that they had been doublecrossed, the Jones’, along with their old pal, Sallah, end up at the Canyon of The Crescent Moon – the location of the Grail.

The Last Crusade definitely returns to the lighter tone of the first film and is a fitting end for the original trilogy. One thing I always remembered about my first viewing of this film was that it felt somehow “drier” than the others, and, while it is not as dry as I remembered, it wasn’t as forgettable as I had thought. While nowhere near as memorable as the first two films, it does definitely hold to their spirit. Plus, as a more personal bonus, since my interest in the grail mythology has greatly increased between that first viewing and now, I definitely got a heck of a lot more entertainment from it than I remember.

Now, I know that this film is particularly loved by a lot of Indiana Jones fans, primarily for the interplay between Harrison Ford and Sean Connery as Jones’ Jr and Snr, and I can definitely see that. Both men are at their crotchety best with each other which makes for some fun back and forth, which definitely helps the film move along. One thing I found in my studies of this film is that it had an uncredited rewrite from Tom Stoppard, one of my favourite playwrights – and I can definitely see it in a lot of the dialogue, particularly that of the Jones’.

All in all, I did like the film. It’s not something that I really need to revisit all that often, nor will I; but it did pass the time.

Tomorrow, The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skulls.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Doo Dah Doo Doo, Doo Dah Doo Doo DOO

We continue the revisting of the Indiana Jones film series with the second film – 1984’s The Temple of Doom. In addition to being, in my opinion at least, the best of the series, this film also has a couple of firsts to its name – it was the first film to be rated PG-13 (once a badge of honour, now kind of a kiss of death given the “softening” of the rating in recent years) as well as the first film to be officially labelled a prequel.

Much like Raiders, this is a film that I’ve not seen in over a decade (hell, the last time I saw it was on a VHS tape), so lets see if it holds up as well as the first, shall we?

Set a year prior to the action of Raiders, Temple of Doom sees Indy (this time backed up by Short Round, a Chinese orphan; and Willie, a nightclub singer he meets in Shanghai) in the wilds of India crossing paths with a cult who want to rule the world, at the behest of a local village whose children the cult have kidnapped. Accidentally(?) stumbling on a blood ritual to the goddess Kali (hey, no-one ever said that these things were learning tools) lead by the sinister Mola Ram, who has taken the children to help him mine for the rest of a series of stones that he needs to give the power to rule the world, our heroes must escape not only with their lives, but the lives of the children.

I said at the start that this is my favourite film in the series, and it holds as true now as it did then.  Filled with just as much action and adventure as Raiders, Temple of Doom manages to up the ante by adding some horrific elements to the mix as well, with the addition of the Thuggee cult (the scene where Ram pulls the heart from the chest of a hapless sacrifice, while not as scary as it was when I was a kid, is still pretty damn dark). Hell, even the addition of a Gumption Magee love interest, and worst of all, a wise cracking kid, can do nothing to dull the brilliance of the film – thankfully, they prove themselves useful and aren’t just there to get a chick and a kid into the mix.

While this film doesn’t introduce as many iconic elements as its predecessor, it does still give us a more than a few memorable scenes – in addition to Mola Ram and his aforementioned heart removal scene, you do get the awesomeness of the mine cart escape, which still holds up to this day. In fact, everything to do with the Thuggee temple is memorable, introduction to escape – Spielberg and his crew managed to make an amazing bunch of enemies for Indy to square off against, ones that even managed to top those in the first film.

Once again, this is a film that manages to hold up as well as anything could.

Tomorrow, The Last Crusade, a film I haven’t seen since its original release in the early 90’s. I don’t remember a whole heck of a lot about it – will it be good? Tune in to find out.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Doo Dah Doo Doo, Doo Dah Doo

Next up in the reviews, a bit of a well known series. Created by two of the biggest names in movies as an homage to the adventure serials of the 1930’s (and designed by comic artist Jim Steranko), Henry Walton Jones Jr. (known best by the nickname “Indiana”) first appearing in 1981, subsequently showing up in 3 more films, a television series, 3 video games, several books and a series of theme park attractions. They are films that I (most recent aside) haven’t seen in over 15 years.

I, of course, will only be reviewing the movies, starting with Raiders Of The Lost Ark. I remember loving the holy crap out of the first two, so let’s see how they hold up, shall we?

Set in 1936, Raiders pits Dr Jones (at the behest of the US government) against a troupe of Nazis, lead by the mustache twirllingly evil Major Toht and Indy’s rival archaeologist Belloq, who are hunting for the mythical Ark of the Covenant. Travelling across the globe, Indy is joined by Marion Ravenwood (the daughter of his mentor) in Nepal and his friend Sallah in Egypt; eventually racing against the Nazis to find the location of the Well of Souls (where the Arc is said to be kept).

There are so many now iconic images introduced in this film that have since become, basically, film lore; that I don’t think I really need to mention them in all that great a detail. In addition to Indy himself (a character who has become one of the most recognisable on the planet), you have the introduction scene in the South American temple – itself, one of the most well known scenes in all filmdom; the scene in which the Arc is opened and the final scene of the film – all of which have been parodied and referenced in countless films and TV shows since; alongside many other well known scenes and images, plus, one of the most iconic scores ever put to tape (seriously, just start whistling it near any film fan and I guarantee that you will have instant accompaniment – plus, tell me that hearing it doesn’t make you want to put on a fedora, grab a whip and get adventuring).

One thing that I noticed, especially while watching the first three films (and it’s somewhat similar to what I noticed during my time watching the Back To The Future films) is, these are definite products of their time. A time where pretty much EVERYTHING was done practically (yes, there is a little bit of bluescreen and model work, but most times – what you see on screen is what was shot on the day), which just helps to add to their awesomeness. There is almost no chance that you’d get these films these days, what with all that new fangled CGI and stuff, and that is a real shame – sure, the CGI can look awesome when done right, but you get a much different feeling seeing that compared to people interacting with an actual awesome set.

All in all, Raiders of The Lost Ark is a film that, while dragging a little bit more than I remember it as a kid, does hold up really well. With good reason, it’s a damn fun adventure.

Tomorrow – The Temple of Doom.