Monday, 22 January 2018
2018 UK/USA Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra
UK cinema release print.
Well this movie is a pretty mixed bag, I would have to say. This is another one of those Liam Neeson action vehicles which I usually quite like the idea of, when they’re done right. However, my desire to see another of these was countered by the fact that I tend to find the director, Jaume Collet-Serra, way more miss than hit when it comes to making competent, interesting movies... even when they're headlining Neeson.
The Commuter has the benefit of an extraordinary cast supporting Neeson in his endeavours to find a person on a train using his ‘very special set of skills’... including the always stunning (and sadly underused here) Vera Farmiga, her 'on-screen husband' from The Conjuring films Patrick Wilson, Sam Neil (who I honestly never even recognised throughout the film with that worrying beard) and the even more memorable looking Jonathan Banks (from Beverly Hills Cop). And, as you would expect from such a professional cast... they all pull their weight, even when the script is weak in a lot of places.
Now, I have to say, there’s a lot of good stuff about this movie...
The opening title sequence, for example, which is a montage of Liam Neeson being awoken by his alarm, having household discussions with his family and then dropped off at the train station where he begins his morning commute into work, is built up from various different seasons and years to give a sense of the dogged routine Neeson’s character, Michael MacCauley, commits himself to... as well as building up a sense of familiarity in the audience as to various passengers on the train we’ll get to take a closer look at later.
There’s also the set pieces of suspense and action which are, for the most part, terrifically put together and not over edited... leaving them with a raw energy and sense of tension absent from some other movies in this kind of genre (this director’s movies included). It’s nail biting stuff and the sound design and effects for things like gunshots are extremely present in the mix and give an active appreciation of the implied danger the characters put themselves in.
Another plus is the superb score by Roque Banos, who really provides something that’s far from the humdrum noise I associate with a lot of action vehicles of this type, using strong melodic hooks that linger in the mind long after the movie has punched its last ticket (yeah, I’ll definitely be picking up the CD on this one when it eventually gets released). It’s also, surprisingly, well mixed into the foreground (at least on the IMAX set up I saw this on) and it really does hold its own against the noise of the blood and thunder extraordinarily well.
One last plus, for me, was the beautifully rendered end titles where the entire cast and crew list scrolls up and reveals itself to be designed like a train map, with various terminus stops and branch lines indicated, breaking off to usher in another section of the often ridiculously lengthy roll call of names that modern motion pictures seem to require. It’s good stuff and I’m all for it.
Unfortunately, there’s also some 'not so great' stuff here too...
The plot has been constructed almost like a Hitchcock mystery with added action scenes and, you can almost imagine Cary Grant or James Stewart performing in a slightly less adrenalised version of this film sometime in the 1950s. Alas, the script isn’t that great and the director manages to telegraph a lot of the little twists and turns well before they actually happen. Some of this is even revealed in the casting when you recognise a face and then wonder why they would have such a small role in the movie... with the answer to that being, of course they don’t... they’re the bad guy. So, yeah, there’s some bad stuff here.
Perhaps as bad is that the director, I suspect, seems to realise he’s stepping into Hitchcockian territory and sometimes does his best to play to that... in as unsubtle a manner as possible, I thought. As a ‘for instance’, there’s a scene where he uses that overly clichéd simultaneous zoom/push/pull effect from Vertigo (popularised by Spielberg’s use of the same technique in Jaws, somewhat) to highlight a plot point which the audience had surely guessed twenty minutes or so before and which, honestly, was so bluntly handled that I nearly burst out laughing in the cinema. Seriously, guys? I mean, I know people like to homage that shot but maybe it’s time it was left alone for a couple of decades now.
So yeah, perhaps there’s less to list on the bad side of things but it’s elements like this that are all pervasive and they do, in some ways, take a lot of the wind out of the sails on this particular movie. Still, it’s a lot better than Neeson and Collet-Serra’s Unknown (reviewed here)... so there’s that.
Ultimately, The Commuter is a likeable romp which is maybe somewhat less clever than the creative forces behind it might like to imagine but which is also quite competent and entertaining enough for a good night out at the cinema on a first watch. I have my doubts as to whether it would hold up under repeat viewings but, overall, the film is not terrible and, while I couldn’t wholeheartedly recommend it, it’s not a bad way to while away a couple of hours. Be warned, though... the Spartacus homage scene (you’ll know it when it happens) is probably going to make you groan.
Sunday, 21 January 2018
Klaatu Barada Nyet-to
Attraction (aka Prityazhenie)
2017 Russia Directed by Fedor Bondarchuk
UK cinema release print.
I had to go to this one because, frankly... when was the last time my local cinema was playing a foreign movie with subtitles? The answer... next to never. So when it came to the prospect of a new Russian sci-fi movie on a big screen, I was well up for it. Now, obviously, when I hear the term Russian sci-fi I immediately associate that with one of my all time favourite directors, Andrei Tarkovsky, who directed stupendous genre adaptations such as Stalker and the original version of Solaris. However, when I took a quick look at the trailer for this film, which did huge box office in its own country, it looked more like a modern day, Hollywood spectacle blockbuster of a film. The truth lies somewhere in between.
Now, when I looked at the run time on my phone for this movie, I became fairly enraged because I learned that there’s a European cut of the movie which runs for just under two hours... but there’s also a full length version for Russian cinemas that runs 13 minutes longer and that really annoyed me. Why do distributors insist on cutting these things down for us foreign audiences? However, because these films are so rarely screened in UK cinemas anyway, I decided to give it a look and then, if I liked it, to try and find a full length version from whatever country puts it out in that form in Blu Ray. However, I’m happy to report that when I saw this at my local and noted the exact time the actual print of the movie itself started playing, that it ran for just over two and a quarter hours. Now, I don’t know if there’s any difference in running time between the 3D and 2D versions over here but, the IMAX 3D presentation (of sorts, I’ll get to that in a second) seems to be the full length cut so... you know... catch it while you can.
The first thing that struck me about this movie when I went to see it on its opening night, aside from it being the smallest (in single figures) audience to any IMAX 3D movie I’ve seen... was the warning up front where the people from IMAX have tried hard to disassociate themselves from it. Seriously, before the usual IMAX stuff comes up, there was a warning that the film had not been processed by IMAX for 3D and was therefore not a reflection of ‘The IMAX Experience’, which left me wondering just one thing.... why the heck had the audience paid out extra cash for premium tickets to an IMAX film which, in large bold letters at the front, belligerently stated that it was no such thing? Especially since this then went into the whole IMAX Experience spiel after this statement had been displayed. I think people need to have a little talk with Cineworld, adding this to a number of problematic policies inflicted on the general public by this particular chain. If it’s not made for IMAX, don’t charge me for IMAX.
An equally curious thing I saw, though, was that, just before the opening credits started properly, the film warned the audience that this would contain images of people smoking tobacco. What the what? Um... so would that be the scenes where people are smoking cigarettes then? Especially, since in this film, one of the characters makes it clear the harm smoking does to the human body? I mean... do the distributors think we’re so stupid that we can’t work out that people are smoking cigarettes? What the heck is going on here? Can we have a warning that, I don’t know, some people in the film are wearing non-matching sweaters or something too? Or that the dog in the film has fur on it. I don’t understand the reason for this warning at all. It's completely ridiculous.
Anyway... now that’s out of the way...
Attraction is an astonishing movie and, in terms of blockbuster type films, has a lot of things that the Americans could learn from when it comes to putting these kinds of big screen spectacles together. Where to start...
The actors were all amazing and their characterisations were great. And the script, while quite clichéd throughout, really did some things out of left field that I didn’t see coming. So from the start, I was pretty sure the main protagonist was going to be one specific person of two school girls who were best friends. However, when she goes to the roof of a building to watch the much publicised meteor shower (along with the rest of the world) and sends her best fried Yulia (played brilliantly by Irina Starshenbaum) and her ‘maverick boyfriend’ Artyom (played remarkably three dimensionally by Alexander Petrov) to her apartment to take advantage of their ‘alone time’, it soon becomes apparent, for reasons that I won’t go into here, that she is not the main protagonist after all... that it's clearly Yulia. I’m not going to spell out why though.
After an observing alien starship is knocked off course by one of the asteroids, over zealous military types shoot it down and it crashes into several city blocks with devastating consequences (for the people living in those blocks). After a high ranking military officer called Colonel Lebedev, who happens to be Yulia’s father (as played by an actor called Oleg Menshikov who has a very striking screen presence), talks to an alien, the devastated city blocks are locked down under military protection while the alien tries to repair the ship. Meanwhile, tensions are brewing in the hearts and minds of the local residents and it’s not long before Yulia is torn in her loyalties between wanting to make the aliens pay for the deaths they have caused and her new loyalty to Hijken, an alien who saves her life and who is played by Rinal Mukhametov. So we have all that going on while at the same time, the writers take the opportunity to indulge in some of the ‘fish out of water’ comedy that comes from the clash of two different cultures and, I have to say, the comedy and chemistry between Yulia and Hijken is very well done and brings a lot of heart the film.
Another thing that impressed me was that the characters are not, for the most part, one dimensional. They evolve and change over the course of the picture. One of the characters leads a mob of proletariat against both the aliens and the military forces and I couldn’t help think that, if Sergei Eisenstein had been able to see this, he would have approved of the Russian propaganda machine so well illuminated in these kinds of scenes here. The character I’m talking about (I’m treading carefully so as not to give anything away) starts off as somebody who I thought was going to be the male lead hero of the piece but, by the end of the film, has metamorphosed quite convincingly into moving into the role of lead villain and... it’s so subtly done that you have to take your hats off to the writers and actors here.
The other thing which impressed me here was, for once, the spectacle of the special effects. Especially when the starship crashed into the Russian streets. Obviously, the director and writers know the value of not crowding one action sequence on top of the other and give their action set pieces room to breathe but, honestly, this sequence single handedly tops anything Michael Bay did in any of his Transformer sequels and, at the same time, with all the billowing smoke and dust, it all looks so achingly beautiful. Russian filmmakers are still, as far as I am concerned, a nation of visual poets.
Also, the attention to detail in the streets in the wake of the craft as Yulia and her friends walk the abandoned buildings thick with floating debris and unbelievable set dressing to highlight the destruction is densely packed and astonishing. Not to mention little details like the brainy friend, nicknamed Google (presumably after the search engine... unless that’s a Russian name) having a Creature From The Black Lagoon poster in his bedroom. Nice.
All of this is coupled with a truly fantastic and, sadly unavailable (which is a crime) score by composer Ivan Burlyaev. Seriously, this score puts a lot of Hollywood movies in a similar vein to shame and it really demands to be heard as a stand alone listen away from the movie it ably supports and enhances. I would love to be able to grab this one.
As I watched the film race towards its, somewhat inevitable conclusion, it became clear that what I was actually watching was a roundabout remake, with details shifted and more action and political shenanigans, of the remarkable 1951 movie, The Day The Earth Stood Still and, while the intentions of the alien race depicted were different, the message they give is exactly the same, in essence. I guess if you’re going to borrow, borrow from the best.
Attraction is a truly cool film that, while it maybe drags a little in the last quarter, is well worth the time of anybody in love with the genre of science fiction to see. I can’t imagine this will be in UK cinemas for more than a week so try and catch it in the next few days if you are able to. And, despite the bizarre warning up front, the 3D on this is pretty good and that spaceship crash is well worth seeing on an IMAX screen, I can tell you. This may well be a shoe in for one of my best of the year list and it’s only January. I hope this film gets the international recognition it deserves... it’s already done very good business in Russia, by all accounts. Don’t miss this one.
Wednesday, 17 January 2018
Insidiouself At home
Insidious - The Last Key (Insidious 4)
2018 USA/Canada Directed by Adam Robitel
UK cinema release print.
I’ve quite enjoyed the Insidious movies s they’ve been released into cinemas so far. Starting with the weakest and least compelling of the series, the original Insidious (reviewed here) was more or less an expansion/remake of the old Little Girl Lost episode of The Twilight Zone. However, both Insidious Chapter 2 (reviewed here) and Insidious Chapter 3 (reviewed here), just like The Purge franchise, took ideas from the concept pitched in that first installment and created much more enthralling and entertaining pictures out of them.
Now one of the important things about what those sequels came to be and what they are, thankfully, continuing to be in the prequel movies (parts 3 and 4) is something which I pointed out in my last review from the series and its something horror seems to do better than certain other genres... change peoples attitudes to what it's possible to portray and get accepted in mainstream movies, by stealth. And by that I mean that what we have in these last couple of films is not just a female action hero carrying the main protagonist role (which is no mean feat by itself) but, also, a 75 year old female action hero (in the form of Lin Shaye as Elise Rainier) who is wandering around banishing demons and generally getting thrown around by them in a Marvel comics kind of way. I honestly applaud and support these films for this... where else in Hollywood are they giving action roles to heroines who are living past their seventh decade? So yeah, I wish these films well.
Now, the bad news for me was that this was another prequel to the first two movies, being set chronologically in between the first prequel, Insidious Chapter 3 and the very first Insidious. In fact, this one is set just weeks/days before the events of original film, at the point where Elise enters the narrative of that particular supernatural adventure. Now I was hoping that this installment would finally be a sequel to the end of the second Insidious movie, where the now dead Elise is still looking after her two sidekicks in the form of Specs and Tucker (played in this one again by the film’s writer Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson) from the other side of the spiritual realm known in this series as ‘the further’ and sees something there so terrifying that we need to know who she’s seen. Alas, the answer to that one is not tackled here, either but, at least the film does take us right up to the first one chronologically so, who knows, if this one does well enough at the box office (it certainly deserves to) then hopefully the writers will have nowhere left to go other than carrying on from that moment in time at the end of the second.
Either way, this is another strong entry in the series which, although I didn’t prefer it as much as the previous two, still entertains and brings the scares when it needs to... not so many scares, for sure but, when it gets those shock moments right, it really manages to get the jump on the audience. Actually, I found it amusing from the chuckles of anticipation and the pent up tension in the auditorium of the screening I went to, mostly from teenage couples, that the horror film is still very much, in some ways, a kind of ‘rites of passage’ experience. I could almost see the hormones bubbling up in some of the couples sitting in my nearest proximity.
So the film starts off with an extended flashback into Elise’s childhood and we begin to see, in this and other flashbacks and, also, in those moments where adventures in ‘the further’ overlap in shifting time zones, how Elise came to be the person she is at the time of this story. We learn just what kind of burden she carries around with her, too... as we meet her family at various points in time. It’s also a nice bit of writing that some of the revelations we find out about Elise’s past are also news to her and we see how she reacts to these reveals as we respond to them ourselves.
The movie goes gets straight to the point with all the supernatural stuff here and, although there are the obvious suspenseful, drawn out scenes of lurking dread in the mix, there is no slow build up reveal to the first presence of the ghostly apparitions and, although this approach maybe shouldn’t work so well, the director seems to really get away with it very well here. It's very rapidly paced and there’s a lot crammed in. Even some of the editing is judicious with short cuts like watching Elise walk through a door in relative close up, towards the camera and then, in the next master shot, cutting to her already being halfway through the next room. It’s something which, perhaps, should seem a little out of place here, when timing in these kinds of films is a crucial element but... nope... it all works quite well and the frights don’t lose too much impact in the scenes which matter in terms of jump scares.
There’s a wonderful sequence where Elise is going through a ventilator shaft (much like Dallas in the first of Ridley Scott’s ALIEN films) and she finds her way blocked in a couple of sections by piles of suitcases. As she goes through each pile, unlocking and opening as she goes, she finds sinister contents I won't reveal here and, as she does so, we are made aware of the old ‘sinister demonic ghost's point of view’ approaching one of the suitcase from behind. Each time Elise has a case lid up, shielding her view of the rest of the shaft in front of her, the ‘ghost camera’ saunters up from behind the lid and, as we cut back to Elise closing it, we assume that something is going to be there with her as she shuts the lid to reveal it and... each time she does it, nothing is revealed. And then, after a few of these cases, we get the expected jump scare but, because the director has deftly used the old clichéd horror syntax of manipulating expectations through shot movement, the audience is effectively blinded by those expectations of just where that ‘attack’ is going to come from. So, yeah, there’s some nice stuff happening here.
We also get a possible set up for a worthy successor to Elise and, it will be interesting to see whether, if they do decide to pick up the hanging thread from the end of the second movie, they bring back this character introduced here to act as the ‘conduit person’ between Elise in ‘the further’ and the real world. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s exactly what this character’s function is here, if the writer and producers are thinking far enough ahead.
As far as bad stuff here... well, two things really.
Once again, composer Joseph Bishara provides an appropriate though somehow more restrained musical score for the film but what he doesn’t do is give it the signature, scare the hell out of everyone, extended dissonance on the revelation of the film’s title at both the start and end of the movie as the previous installments did. This was always part of the fun and I don’t know why the decision was made to not do that this time when it’s become an established part of scoring these films.
Similarly, in terms of continuity... why is this not considered Insidious Chapter Four? While Insidious - The Last Key is an okay title and makes some reference to some truly, nicely surreal uses of keys in this film... it feels almost like the people behind the scenes are bailing out of the timeline they set up in the previous three somehow. Even though it’s certainly evident that this film finds a perfect fit in its place within the series. I don’t understand why that decision was made.
Still, those are my only real complaints and although, as I said, I didn’t quite think this one as strong as the previous two, Insidious - The Last Key is still a great ride for fans of the horror genre and, if you like the Insidious films anyway, surely not one to be missed. Plus, like I said earlier, this film has a main protagonist who is a 75 year old woman... go support this stuff so we can see more films with this option on the table. Send Hollywood that message by plonking down your pennies on stuff like this... I’m glad I did.
Tuesday, 16 January 2018
Ha! Why Five Oh?
My 1400th Post
For what turns out to be my 1400th post I thought I’d talk about something which has been on my mind for a bit, just recently. One week ago I turned 50 years of age. It’s a bit of a milestone, I guess and, if anyone were to ask me then I would probably tell them the same old cliché most people respond with when they hit a big, round number like that... that I don’t really feel like a ‘insert your appropriate number here’ year old. And, as it happens, it’s true... I don’t feel anymore like a fifty year old than I did when I was a forty year old.
However, that doesn’t mean nothing has changed for me.
This blog means a lot to me. It’s an indication to myself that I can a) write about film and other assorted arts in a, reasonably, coherent manner and b) it means I have been disciplined enough not to give up and keep plugging away at this thing regardless of the occasional set back. And then I think, since the primary focus of this thing is centred around film, how different the world is now and how, as a young lad, I would never have been able to even imagine the concept of a blog.
I was born in 1968... which means I pretty much grew up in the 1970s and early 80s. You couldn’t just watch the movie of your choice at your convenience in those days. There was no such thing as home video and, although we had a black and white television, films had a hold back from cinema to being shown on TV of at least five years (should one of the three TV channels decide purchase the broadcast rights). Furthermore... and this was in the days before you could record or time shift anything, remember... once a film had been on TV, it wasn’t likely to return to the schedule for another 3 to 5 years either. So if you missed it in the slot it had been allocated (such as a late night horror spot), then you’d had it. Also, although colour TVs were around, if you were brought up on a black and white set then you probably weren’t all that aware that you weren’t watching in colour. Because your mind used to fill the colours in by itself. Granted, you made your own colours up but, you know, sometimes they were better than the actual reality of the thing anyway. I remember feeling quite weird when I got my Dinky Thunderbird 2 toy and I had to ask my dad why it was a turquoise colour instead of being red like on the black and white telly. Which maybe says a little more about me than I might ordinarily like to share.
We also didn’t have video games back then. I can remember when the very first one came out which was two lines to represent bats and a dot to represent a ball... you controlled the ‘bats’ by a cylindrical knob on a controller hard wired to the big unit. People’s jaws were dropping. We couldn’t have conceived of this bizarre, virtual interaction with technology on our TV sets and it was a fair few years before the home computer boom began to change the way people thought even further. These were the days before Space Invaders, remember. So if you went into an amusement arcade in a seaside town there was very little in terms of a 'virtual' display. It was all slot machines, penny falls, the big mannequin of the cowboy bandit you had to outdraw, ski ball and, my favourites, the pinball machines (still my favourites but more or less, sadly, extinct).
So, yeah, accessability to things like films was a no go (although there was a small market for Super 8 'cut downs' of certain movies). It’s hard to explain the absolutely giant leap of technology I’ve seen in the last fifty years. Anyone under the age of 30 would probably have a really hard time trying to imagine what it was like in that bygone era and, I’m never really sure if that’s a bad thing or a good thing, to be honest.
There wasn’t much in the way of movie merchandise either, in those days... before films like Star Wars changed the face of the toy industry. We had the occasional, sometimes age inappropriate bubble gum cards like Shock Theatre. And there were Top Trumps, Corgi & Dinky toys, Mego Action Figures, Action Man, Cyborg & Muton and rubber sharks. But nothing like what is available for entertainment these days although, ironically, some of the toys we did have back then are worth a fortune now.
And, of course, we had our comics. Mostly Marvel, DC and Harvey for me but books and comics were my main focus of entertainment when I wasn’t spending my time drawing. I longed for the movie companies in Hollywood to try out making a movie about a superhero but, you know, high risk projects of material such as that were few and far between. Nowadays when I go to the cinema and see all these super-powered movies, I feel like I’m living the childhood I never had the opportunity to live when I was a lad.
And there you have it. I’m done with this post, I think. I’m not going to leave you with any positive message or a warning about ‘how all you kids have it lucky today’... especially with the state of things going on in the world at the moment. I will, however, say one thing which youngsters might want to discount as an ageing and unwanted word of wisdom on the subject, while I’m writing about such a thing and it is this... If you are going to attempt to live as long as I have and reach this age then... don’t try it without adult supervision.
Thanks for reading.
Sunday, 14 January 2018
They Ate Her
The Theatre Bizarre
Directed by Douglas Buck, Buddy Giovinazzo, David Gregory, Karim Hussain, Jeremy Kasten, Tom Savini, Richard Stanley
Blu Ray Zone B (Germany)
Warning: Yeah, you know what? This review is going to have some minor spoilers in it otherwise... well, otherwise I won’t have too much I can talk about.
The Theatre Bizarre is a film I ordered from a different country because I’d heard enough about it that I wanted to see it on a crisp Blu Ray transfer and, in the UK, it only seems to be around on DVD. Well, mission accomplished in terms of the transfer but, alas, it’s really not the film I was hoping it would be. The real trouble with anthology movies is that they tend to be quite hit and miss in the effectiveness of their stories, especially when they are traditionally, just like this one, put together by different directors. I’d have to say of this one that, on the whole, I found it more miss than hit and pretty much weak tea when it came to delivering on the shocks and scares normally associated with a horror movie. Likewise, it’s title leads to expectations of something truly unusual and, while it does have a few moments which I’ll highlight in a little while... again, there wasn’t exactly an abundance of bizarre imagery or story content available.
The film opens quite strongly with some nice credits leading into the first excerpt of a framing story by Jeremy Kasten. A lady doing frantic sketches and artworks of the titular theatre across the street from her window feels the call of the place and goes to the rundown and, seemingly closed, theatre. She gains entry and is greeted by a strange kind of mannequin puppet which, even from the start, is somebody who you can tell is Udo Kier. He’s got a fake head which looks like a rough, claymation impression of him and he mechanically introduces a series of mannequins, as the lady takes her seat and watches... each mannequin leading onto a segment of the film telling their story.
The first story, The Mother Of Toads, is directed by the great director Richard Stanley (Hardware, Dust Devil) and horror and giallo fans would probably twig right away that the clue as to the style of this segment is in the title. Yeah, that’s right. This whole segment is a little homage to the horror films of Dario Argento and Mario Bava and involves a man’s quest when he is offered a chance to go and view a copy of the infamous Necronomicon at the house of a lady whom his girlfriend buys some earrings from on a market stall. Anyone familiar with the writings of H. P. Lovecraft and his Cthulhu mythos will, of course, recognise the Necronomicon as a notorious fictional book within his writings... an evil book which has been referenced by many, many artists, writers, movie makers and musicians over the years.
It has to be said that The Mother Of Toads is easily the best segment of the entire movie and it has some beautiful camerawork such as an amazing shot of the canopy of trees of a forest reflected in a car windscreen from above, following the director’s little homage to the famous ‘road approach’ in Stanley Kubrik’s The Shining. There are also some beautiful, Bava-esque lighting juxtapositions of block colours, perhaps in slightly cooler tones, in certain scenes.
The sequence is not a masterpiece but it’s a great contribution to the film and ends up with a naked toad woman, mucus sex and aggressive toad murders. I kinda wished they’d saved this segment until the end of the picture because at least then it would have gone out with a high. Lucio Fulci enthusiasts might like to know that this segment also features a performance by Catriona MacColl.
Following another part of the framing story, where Udo’s mannequin starts to look less artificial and a little more... um... Udoish, we have the second story, I Love You. This one is filmed with a more clinically neutral palette but with big set pieces of goriness to offset that. It’s really a very disappointing story of a guy and a girl breaking up because she is leaving him and having an affair and... yeah... nothing new here and just a little tedious, I thought. It does, however, have the epic line... “Your penis and my vagina never really liked each other.”... which brought a smile to the face.
Between the second and third segments, Udo’s ‘host’ gets his real eyes.
We then have Wet Dreams, directed by and starring make up and special effects guru Tom Savini, who has been a famous genre fixture both behind and in front of the camera since the mid 1970s. This is the second strongest of the stand alone segments in the movie and involves the story of an abusive man who keeps having bad dreams and drifting from one dream to another. There’s a brilliant dream in this where his naked wife, who he is approaching to have sex, suddenly unleashes these beetle-like pincers from her vagina and bites his cock off. When he ‘wakes up’ to his normal routine, this is also revealed to be a dream as his wife serves him his cock for breakfast. So... it’s an old plot of dreams running like Russian dolls until the final twist. The final twist in these kinds of stories usually involves the person dreaming doing something absolutely terrifying to somebody before discovering that they had actually woken up for real but the end of Savini’s segment has a slightly different kind of reveal. Not necessarily a better one but.... at least it’s different.
The fourth stand alone tale is called The Accident and kind of deals with the loss of innocence of a child as she witnesses death up close for the first time. Alas, there seem to be no horror tropes in this one at all and absolutely no reveal of an ending either. It just kind of drifts along with, I thought, nothing to say.
The fifth story is called Vision Stains and involves a serial killing woman who is going around slowly penetrating people’s eyeballs with her syringe and extracting what she believes to be some kind of spiritual essence from her victims... which she injects right into herself soon after to see what she can learn. Or something like that... the reasons are pretty much the ravings of a deranged mind, to be sure. There are an awful lot of close up shots of people’s eyeballs being penetrated by the syringe in this story. The segment finishes when she kills a pregnant mother, extracts from the fetus inside her and then injects the essence of the baby into her own eyeballs. However, the baby then gets in her head and induces the woman to stab her own eyes out with a screwdriver. She then wanders the earth as a... well... as a blind serial killer, I guess.
The last story in the selection is called Sweets and it’s a very colourful look at a break up of a couple who are very much into eating sweets of all kinds. However, the woman who is leaving her boyfriend has an ulterior motive and... I wish I could say that her intent was fresh and original but, no, the ending of this story has been done to death before, it seemed to me so... yeah, not the strongest story you could have ended on.
And that’s about it. By the end of the film, the twist of the framing segment is revealed but, alas, if you’ve being paying attention to what’s going on in it then I’m afraid it’s not something you wont see coming a mile off. Which is a shame because I really wanted to be surprised by this movie and I even watched it late one night, on my own in the darkness, to add to the atmosphere. Not too much to say about this one though and I would have to say that, while The Theatre Bizarre does demonstrate some artistry and skill in certain places, it’s ultimately not the most interesting film I’ve seen in a while and I genuinely felt the scripting was weak in a lot of places. The directors did their best but the source material does not really seem enough to work with. Okay as a palette cleanser, perhaps, in an all nighter with some more serious or unsettling movies on either side of it... this could be the movie you stick on to have a little break but, as a stand alone experience, it doesn’t get much of a thumbs up from me, I’m afraid.
Thursday, 11 January 2018
And the winner is...
It’s that time of year again to reveal both this year’s winner of my, apparently quite fiendish, Annual Cryptic Movie Quiz and, of course, to give you the answers.
Once again, let me extend my thanks to all the readers and supporters who had a go and, as always, I hope you had some fun trying to crack these.
This year we have a complete newcomer to the competition as our winner so, without further ado, let me say congratulations to...
... who was the only person this year to come up with a completely correct full house of answers.
You can check out his twitter here @narwalker and his letterboxed account here... https://letterboxd.com/narwalker/
He also writes reviews here at https://youreawful.wordpress.com/ and, as he puts it, ‘blithering nonsense’ at https://gingerbreaddragoon.wordpress.com/ So... check out his stuff at some point soon.
Okay, so here we go with the answers... don’t kick yourselves too hard. ;-)
1. You received a new chauffer for coming first place in that competition.
If you come first place in a competition you WIN. A chauffer is a DRIVER that you won so... Win Driver... re-split the words to... WIND RIVER.
2. A laboratory test to see if a ringing object can knock you out.
Okay so, a ringing object could be a BELL. A knock out is often abbreviated to KO. A laboratory test is an EXPERIMENT so... Bell KO Experiment... THE BELKO EXPERIMENT.
3. I didn’t lose the red back for the lady.
If you didn’t lose, you WON. Red backwards is DER. A lady is more than often a WOMAN. So WONDER WOMAN.
4. You’d be one of these if you were taking the toddler out for a spin.
If you were taking a toddler out for a spin in your car you’d be a BABY DRIVER.
5. The examination of the religious ending of a British drink is medically assaulted for the thousandth time.
An examination is a TEST. A religious ending to something like a prayer would be AMEN. A British drink is TEA (let’s call it T). So TESTAMENT so far. Medically assaulted might be DR ABUSE. Slip in the Roman numeral for 1000 in the middle... M, so DOCTOR M ABUSE... THE TESTAMENT OF DR. MABUSE.
6. Jazz trumpeter wears head gear for the satellite of the apiarist's favourite spread.
Head gear would be HAT. A jazz trumpeter could be CHET Baker. So HATCHET. The MOON is a satellite. An apiarist’s favourite spread is presumably HONEY so... HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON.
7. Your audible, sorrowful breath is covered in hair!
An audible, sorrowful breath is a SIGH. If you are covered in hair it could be FUR. SIGH FUR... CYPHER.
8. Drowned swimming location.
DEAD in the POOL then, I guess. DEADPOOL.
9. Finally, a double consonant for an emasculated Clark Kent.
Finally would be LAST. Clark Kent is SUPERMAN. Emasculated would get rid of the MAN. Stick a double consonant in their would give you SUPPER. So... THE LAST SUPPER.
10. It’s almost a mixed up kangaroo, if you let it defrost.
If you let something defrost then you THAW it. A mixed up KANGAROO is almost RAGNAROK so... THOR RAGNAROK.
11. Tab back personified... but not quite a Hobbit.
Tab backwards is BAT. Personify it and you could end up with BATMAN. A famous Hobbit was BAGGINS but, it’s not quite that so change it a little to get... BATMAN BEGINS.
12. I happen to be a foot.
A foot is something at the END of a LEG so... I AM LEGEND.
13. Noah’s 4th vessel comes complete with urban environment.
Noah’s ARK. Fourth vessel along could be 'D' ARK so... DARK. An urban environment is a CITY. So... DARK CITY.
14. No, I see... this gent is made with the opposite of it’s literal meaning.
A gent is a MAN. Something which is used as the opposite of its literal meaning could be IRONIC. No, I see... No IC so, not IRONIC but IRON. Giving you IRON MAN.
15. Cunning but why is it a mix of red and green?
Cunning like a FOX. Mix red and green paint and you should get BROWN if you’re doing it right so... FOXY BROWN.
16. A cloned feline.
A COPY of a CAT... COPYCAT.
17. She is the pun!
She is the pun. THE PUN IS HER... THE PUNISHER.
18. Mutilated drone makes a bad guy.
Mutilate the word DRONE by taking out a letter, putting a stop in and rearranging the letters to give you famous Bond bad guy DR. NO.
This clue would also work as 65A.
Split it into number and letters... 5 4 A. Express the digits as Roman numerals V and IV. Then add the A to get Anna Biller’s VIVA.
20. I wish I was dead.
That would be a DEATH WISH.
21. A very quiet Lord Of The Rings species makes a hasty retreat.
A Lord Of The Rings species could be an ENT. Quieten it down to make it SILENT. Making a hasty retreat implies it’s RUNNING so SILENT RUNNING.
22. Saw her feller.
SPIED HER MAN... SPIDER-MAN.
23. Journal for you to keep track of the misplaced young lady.
A journal is usually a DIARY. A young lady is a GIRL. If she’s misplaced then she's probably LOST so DIARY OF A LOST GIRL.
24. Prejudiced against a villanous fantasy race no longer.
If you’re prejudiced against race then you’re a racist. If you’re prejudiced against an ORC then you’re an ORCIST. No longer means you’re EX that so... THE EXORCIST.
So there you have it. Truly hope all of you that played enjoyed racking your brains as much as I did to put this together. Hopefully this tradition will carry on again at the end of the year but, in the meantime, lots of reviews coming up soon.
Wednesday, 10 January 2018
Fifteen Scores of 2017
Okay... so I’ve been fairly ruthless again this year with my selections. If the film was released first run either at the cinema or ‘straight to home’ releases then it’s eligible on my list, as long as the score got a CD release. If it only got a vinyl release or, worse still, some kind of rubbishy electronic download (okay, those two formats are almost as bad as each other these days), then it’s not going to be on here.
Also, no archival releases are on here. As with most recent years, there have been some absolutely fantastic CDs of great, past scores in 2018, most of which would easily win out against the newer ones... so it’s not really fair to let them be on this list.
Anyway, here’s are my picks in reverse (aka ascending) order...
15. The Limehouse Golem by Johan Söderqvist
Söderqvist wrote a pretty cool thriller score which included some nice string orchestrations for this Victorian mystery tale. I could also hear some very specific influences from Jerry Goldsmith making their way into the film (although I don’t remember if those sections I’m thinking of made it onto this album). This CD was a very limited release from Varese Sarabande but... well... at least we eventually got a CD version. You can read my original review for this movie here.
14. Wind River by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis
Wind River had a very quiet and contained score, to match the icy visuals of this stark chiller. Everything seems like it’s a lesson in restraint as the score keeps sounding like it’s going to burst forth in anger at any moment. It also contains some vocal passages which I really didn’t like at first but which have grown on me and work as a part of the stand alone listening experience. My review of the accompanying film can be found here.
13. Pirates of the Caribbean - Salazar’s Revenge/Dead Men Tell No Tales by Geoff Zanelli
Probably the best of the poor crop of sequels to the original, much better movie, Zanelli’s score uses the themes developed by Klaus Badelt and Hans Zimmer throughout and, it has to be said, he does so in a much less subtle but certainly way more entertaining manner than most of the sequel scores manage. I was pleased that this didn’t jettison the soundscape developed over the years and was delighted with the results. My review for the ‘not as good as the score’ movie can be found here.
12. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women by Tom Howe
This is a lovely selection of cues from an amazing movie. When you have a dialogue based film with a script that sparkles the way this one does, without relying on any action sequences, some composers are better off just letting their music get out of the way as a support to the visuals. However, Tom Howe provides a rich accompaniment which raises the emotional highs and lows of the characters perfectly. It was an absolute nightmare to get hold of this CD, for some reason. After my third supplier told me it had somehow been lost in the post (How, when every other thing I ordered this year arrived safe and sound, did three copies of this from three different suppliers get lost in transit?) I despaired of ever getting to hear this before it went out of print but, thankfully, it’s here now and worth the wait. My movie review is here.
11. Happy Death Day by Bear McCreary
This is one of a few movies with scores by the wonderful McCreary in it this year, for what turned out to be a kind of teen slasher remake of Groundhog Day, no less. Bear’s score matches the slow burn shock of waking up every day and I love how the first four cues on the album, titled Day One through to Day Four, have similar, chilling, slow building openings to the tracks to enhance the familiarity of where the main protagonist wakes up every morning. The film wasn’t without some minor flaws but the same couldn’t be said for the score, which is absolutely marvelous.
10. Dunkirk by Hans Zimmer, Lorne Balfe and Benjamin Wallfisch
I’m not the greatest fan of Christopher Nolan’s, admittedly epic feeling, movies but I do like the scores on some of them and this one is no exception (thankfully, it’s no Inception, either). The film is quite intense in the way it piles on the suspense but I think, if you took away this score which, it seems to me, is doing all the work, then the whole film would collapse. So a score which, I suspect, saved the move in some ways. As reviewed here.
9. Spider-Man Homecoming by Michael Giacchino
The first of two Giacchino scores in my top fifteen this year is one which I wasn’t overstruck on when I first heard it (asides from the immediate impact of the Marvel Logo music being a new version of the old cartoon series theme). However, it’s really grown on me and it’s had a fair few spins this year. I reviewed the film here.
8. Blade Runner 2049 by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch
This unwanted sequel to the greatest movie ever made really missed the mark in a big way but I was really interested in seeing what the director’s more recent collaborator, Jóhann Jóhannson, was going to do with the score. Alas, he was replaced fairly late in the game with Zimmer and Wallfisch, both excellent composers in their own right but almost every decision about this film seemed ‘off’ to me. However, this final score, with an overpriced limited edition soundtrack which then turned out to be not so limited after all, is an okay listen, although it never quite seems to get to the heights of sonic empathy it really sounds like it wants to in terms of relating to the original Vangelis score for the original classic. The CD album suffers from the placement of songs dropped into the score which doesn’t help maintain a steady atmosphere in places. My review of Blade Runner 2049 is here.
7. War of the Planet of the Apes by Michael Giacchino
My second Giacchino score is his second score for the Planet Of The Apes series but, it’s also the first one of the modern films, as far as I am concerned, that doesn’t sound out of place with the stylistic leanings of the majority of the scores from the original, five films from the late 1960s and early 1970s. This one has some really great stuff in it including a kind of march for the apes to counter some of the rich, emotional stuff at other points in the movie. I reviewed this one here.
6. A Ghost Story by Daniel Hart
About the worst thing you can say about this truly interesting score by Daniel Hart for this amazing film is it’s too short. I could quite happily have listened to a double CD of this stuff. It even has a not unlistenable song on it which carries a lot of the emotional weight at times. My look at A Ghost Story is here.
5. Shin Godzilla by Shiro Sagisu and Akira Ifikube
The score from Shin Godzilla is a far greater achievement than the actual movie itself, as far as I’m concerned. Shiro Sagisu’s new material blends in perfectly with the new recordings of Akira Ifikube’s melodies from some of the original films and it’s a pure joy to listen to this. The CD is a bit pricey, as it comes from Japan but, worth every penny as it’s been in my player quite a bit since it arrived. I recently reviewed this one here.
4. La La Land by Justin Hurwitz
Despite what I said in my initial review, this film has both a strong score and a pretty good, if small, range of songs in it too. When I’d listened to the songs a second time, after writing my review, I realised just how great they were and what I’d been missing. The album had a strange release in that it was split, unnaturally, into two albums... one for mainly score and one for mainly songs... which is an expensive way to do it, especially when I suspect most people, myself included, were going to recompile it into a proper album reflecting the combined order in film sequence. Then, towards the end of the year, a third double CD in a box was released with even more stuff and alternate material which is finally, more or less, what should have been released in the first place. My slightly wrong headed review of this movie is here.
3. Jackie by Mica Levi
I was absolutely gutted this music by relative newcomer Mica Levi didn’t win the Oscar for best score last year. Well, at least it got nominated, I guess. Like her earlier Under The Skin score, this one is just pure genius and may take you to emotional places you didn’t realise you had. Any other year, this may well have been my number one choice but, as you can see below, the competition for the top spot was tough in 2017.
2. King Arthur - Legend of the Sword by Daniel Pemberton
Well, this is one of those ‘not so rare as you may think’ instances when a quite terrible movie has a truly stupendous score which takes on a life of its own as a stand alone listen. This is right up there with Pemberton’s equally cool score for the same director’s recent reboot of The Man From U.N.C.L.E and it basically feels like... well... medieval rock n’ roll. The percussion and various other effects like the use of breathing as a musical instrument really serves to give a fresh and ‘beyond toe tapping’ suite of musical delights. I gave this one a lot of play and you can read my response to the less than stellar movie it’s trying its best to support here.
1. Wonder Woman by Rupert Gregson-Williams
I couldn’t believe I missed just how brilliant Rupert Gregson-Williams’ score for Wonder Woman is on my first listen through at the cinema. I sure as hell twigged it when I heard it away from the images which inspired it, though. This is a case of my number one film from 2017 and the score from the same both taking the top spot. While Gregson-Williams occasionally uses Hans Zimmer’s Wonder Woman theme from Batman VS Superman (to very good effect... less is more) he also introduced numerous rich, extremely emotional and, for sure, powerful themes which tend to sweep me off my feet every time I listen to it. In fact, when I was walking around London with earphones on and listening to this thing, I began to start tearing up exactly the same way that I do when I see the movie (actually, tearing up may be a bit of an understatement). A truly soulful set of cues which, considering just how much good music has been left off the CD, really needs an expanded 2-3 disc release from one of the boutique soundtrack labels like La La Land or Intrada. This disc has been played to death by me this year and I suspect it will be getting a lot of spins by me over the next decade or more. My review is here.
Sunday, 7 January 2018
Fulci In Motion
Splintered Visions -
Lucio Fulci and His Films
by Troy Howarth
Midnight Marquee Press
Lucio Fulci is one of those directors who I’m never sure whether I’m on board with. I loved his films like Lizard In A Woman’s Skin (reviewed briefly here), Seven Notes In Black (aka The Psychic), Don’t Torture A Duckling, The New York Ripper (reviewed here), City of the Living Dead (reviewed here) and The Beyond (reviewed here) whereas others such as Four Of The Apocalypse and The House By The Cemetery (reviewed here) leave me completely cold. And then others such as Manhattan Baby (reviewed here) and his much celebrated Zombi (aka Zombie Flesh Eaters aka Zombie 2, reviewed here) are quite fun but with some clear problems which I’m only just about able to overlook. So whenever anyone asks me how I feel about Lucio Fulci as a director... I’m never too sure how to reply.
So I decided to read a book about him and see what I was missing.
Troy Howarth’s Splintered Visions - Lucio Fulci And His Films is actually a pretty good tome if you want to know a little bit more about the subject although, I would add the caveat that, as excellent as the book is (and it really is), it tends to focus on the ‘and his films’ part of the title more than it does the man himself. Although, in terms of his collaborators... well I feel I know a little more about them.
The book starts off with an intro by Brett Halsey which, in terms of the typographic design of the book goes, seems to inexplicably blend into the author’s own preface and makes a nonsense of the words until you realise that a software design accident must have happened and gone unnoticed before going to print. After this though, we get a fantastic study of the films that Fulci worked on in one capacity or another, highlighting his work when he started out and not only as a director but as a writing contributor too. So the early sections about his career in his celluloid endeavours was really interesting to me because I knew nothing about it.
As the volume progresses, the same format is utilised all the way through but Howarth, who really does know how to write about this stuff in the way that a lot of academics aren’t able to master, throws in loads of peripheral information about the various actors, actresses, writers, special effects guys and composers of note who worked on various films with Fulci. And it all seems very thorough and very interesting. Not as thorough as Tim Lucas’ book on Mario Bava, of course but, certainly I learned a lot I didn’t know while reading through here. For example, I found out a little about composer Piero Piccioni being accused and linked with a murder charge on an infamous, unsolved case involving the death of a woman on a beach and I also found out that famous singer Mina was, apparently, publically shunned for her pregnancy by a married actor she was having an affair with. Stuff like this hardly ever comes up on album liner notes so it was interesting to be reading this kind of information here.
Another thing Howarth does, aside from reveal little gems about the conditions Fulci had to put up with on set... such as panning around a shot with the furniture being immediately removed by repo men as said items left the camera’s field of vision because the producer owed so much money, is the regular insertion of interviews with various key people and collaborators from Fulci’s long career. Some of these are lifelong friends and others are people who only worked with him once but many of the insights are, if not always invaluable, at least entertaining. And it's especially nice to hear from one of his more frequent musical collaborators, composer Fabio Frizzi, about his working relationship with him.
It’s interesting in that Fulci’s notoriety at treating his actors and actresses like cattle (and worse) is acknowledged by almost everyone who is interviewed for this book but, as far as I can see, only one person in the book has said he was actually like that to them. One wonders if the legend of his behaviour is more of a storm in a tea cup or, perhaps more likely, the majority of people who could have been interviewed had no interest in talking to people involved with a book extolling Fulci’s virtues.
The reason this is only a fairly short review is because the only complaint I really have about this book is that, although I felt I knew a fair few of Fulci’s films better... which I’m grateful to the author for because I now know which ones to seek out and which ones to ignore... I didn’t feel I knew Fulci ‘the man’ in any way better than I had before going in and, since I knew practically nothing about him before I started reading, I guess in terms of the personality behind the films, I felt a little short changed in that respect.
That being said, the writer had me on his side straight away by rejecting the claim, early on in the book, that the non-Fulci film Perfume Of The Lady In Black (reviewed here) is, in any way, a giallo film. Sure, it uses the cinematic language of the gialli being made at the time but, if it was going to have to be pigeon-holed into a particular genre of Italian exploitation cinema... giallo is not the one I would label put it in (and to label it would give away the ending of the movie to anyone who’s not seen it so I’m not commenting further on that here). Howarth is a writer I now trust to write competently and informatively about various aspects of cinema and I shall be seeking out further books from this gentleman in future, I think. If you are a relative Fulci novice, like me, then you will find a lot of information in this book and it’s written in an accessible and entertaining way. If you are more of an expert, well I think the ‘devil’s honey’ is in the detail and I believe you will still find this one informative for all the many nuggets of information about various other figures involved with Italian cinema at the time. Whichever camp you are in, Splintered Visions - Lucio Fulci And His Films is a strong recommendation from me as I think this is an indispensable book for people interested in this man’s work... if not necessarily the man himself.
Friday, 5 January 2018
Staging Mr. Serling
The Twilight Zone
Adapted by Anne Washburn
Directed by Richard Jones
5 December 2017 - 27th January 2018
Well this was a real treat. I was fortunate enough to be able to go and see this excellent new production inspired by The Twilight Zone on a matinee on Wednesday 27th December and it was much better than I was expecting.
I’ve always liked The Twilight Zone (see my review of the first series here) and this new stage version, directed by Richard Jones and adapted by Anne Washburn, lead me to believe that the show was three episodes strung together. I had this preconception because I saw that the play was based on the works of three of the more prolific of The Twilight Zone writers - Rod Serling (who pretty much was The Twilight Zone, with his name and narrative performance stamped into every episode), Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson.
However, the play surprised me by being a mish mash of about eight different episodes by these writers sewn together to make a surprisingly unconfusing whole, as various scenes from different stories are cross cut via a group of ‘intergalactic scene shifters’ living on a version of the iconic starry background from the show, who build, destroy and then recreate sets which are pieces of furniture and, of course, the famous ‘door’ from some of the old title sequences, to give a rough impression of the setting where these stories play out.
When I and my cousin (on a visit from Australia) entered the auditorium, we were greeted by the frame of a giant sized TV set housing the stage with the old 1950s/60s CBS Network logo on it... all in black and white. The frame edge stays for the duration of the show, of course but, when the logo on the middle section drops out to give access to the main event, I was pleased to see that the monochrome aesthetic I tend to associate with the original shows (which all aired in black and white) is carried through to all the props and costumes, giving the performance an authentic ‘TV Land’ vibe and, when colour is introduced into the costumes, it’s done so in a very subtle way. So much so that, unless you are really looking, you might fail to notice that the odd jumper or shirt may indeed have a very slight tinge of sepia or pale blue to them.
In terms of the performances and the strength of the original stories performed here, the play is a winner. I was totally enthralled by the interaction of the players and the way the stories can still draw the audience in. And, yes, being that the nature of the show was that there would quite often be a ‘final twist’ at the end of the story, there are some plots here where the ending is easy to see coming but this doesn’t make them any less of a pleasure to watch. There’s even one chunk of a story, which is tackled mostly in the second half which, given the current Brexit negotiations going on with this country, turned out to be all the more timely or, at least, as pertinent to modern attitudes as it was when the episode first aired.
I was very curious, on inspection of the nicely presented printed programme (which includes essays by the likes of Neil Gaiman and Michael Giacchino), to see how they were going to take their adaptation of the famous episode Little Girl Lost, which has been unofficially remade or, at the very least, used as a starting point, for numerous films in the intervening years (such as Poltergeist or Insidious) and I think that, although this was one of the slightly weaker adaptations on display here, the abstract nature of the constantly shifting sets did at least help the director and performers overcome certain potential staging problems so... yeah, that was way more successful than I thought it would be.
One of the things I did feel was a little ‘off’ was the rushed through, throwaway presentation of the classic episode Eye Of The Beholder. Rather than the tour de force that was the original broadcast version, we are really just treated to small highlights interspersed as mini vignettes while scene transitions are happening and, while the masks used for some of the actors here are the dead spit of those used in the original (I really don’t want to give away any spoilers here) I felt this segment could have been represented a little bit better or, at least, more full on. After all, it’s an extremely challenging thing to try to do in a stage environment so I was wondering why the heck they chose that episode to have a crack at, to be honest.
However, while these are mostly great adaptations... they’re not absolutely carbon copies in most instances and nor are they supposed to be, I think. There’s a song and dance number in one segment which I really don’t remember being in the original episode on which it was based and there are also some very funny moments involving actors suddenly channeling Rod Serling’s monologues and accidentally interacting with the scenes they are in, not to mention the hilarious use of cigarettes, that helped make this play stand out as something respectful but also unique in its own right.
My only other niggle is that, although the show has a composer credited, a fair amount of music from the obvious contributors to the show like Bernard Herrmann, possibly some Jerry Goldsmith and, of course, the cut and paste version of Marius Constant’s famous ‘title music’ which was used from the second season onwards, were left uncredited, as far as I could make out.
However, niggles aside, this production of The Twilight Zone at the Almeida Theatre really was a great afternoon out and, while the final address to the audience maybe went on just a little longer than I would have liked, I can’t recommend this play and the work of these wonderful performers and crew strongly enough. It was totally brilliant and I’m so glad I managed to catch this before it closes in a few weeks time. This one’s only at the Almeida Theatre until the 27th of January so I would say that, if you’re close enough to the venue and you are an admirer of the classic TV series, then you should do your best to try and catch this one before it’s gone. Tickets can be booked for performances here... in the Almeida Theatre Zone. https://almeida.co.uk/whats-on/the-twilight-zone/5-dec-2017-27-jan-2018
Wednesday, 3 January 2018
Let The Sun Shin In
Shin Godzilla (aka Shin Gojira)
Japan 2016 Directed by Hideaki Anno
and Shinji Higuchi
Manga Entertainment Blu Ray Zone 2
Warning: Very minor spoilers here.
Okay, I’m really grateful to be able to finally see the recent Japanese Gojira movie since the UK theatrical release towards the end of last year was practically non existent. That being said, Shin Godzilla reminded me a little of the latest Star Wars movie in terms of my general experience of it. By that I mean there are vast stretches of this movie which are deadly dull but that every now and again (every time that we see some Godzilla action, I would say) we have some really cool stuff which does a lot to outweigh the rest of the picture.
The film is actually a reboot of the character and, I believe, it’s the first time this has been properly done in Japan. Although there have been three previous ‘waves’ of native Gojira movies, each series has usually referenced at least the original 1954 version of the film. This one doesn’t and when I say it’s a reboot it’s pretty much, in some ways, a remake of that 1954 classic.
The film mainly takes place in boardrooms and focuses on the political PR and committee response to the new threat of a giant monster doing a ‘Tokyo stomp’. There are lots of actors in here who I recognised from various movies over the years and, if I could match faces to names from the terribly sparsely populated photo section on the IMDB, I could point them out more clearly. However, I can say that various people from movies such as the Takashi Kitano version of Zatoichi, Tarantino’s Kill Bill and Takashi Miike’s Ichi The Killer, among others, are here and are easily recognisable.
The film mostly takes place in various rooms with either bureaucrats trying to figure out what they should be telling the public or with a pool of ‘professional nerds’ who are coming together to find a solution to the problem at hand and, as the film progresses, sometime before the US of A, on behalf of the United Nations, drops a nuclear bomb on Tokyo in a desperate attempt to kill Godzilla. While some of these sequences are quite interesting, they do kinda get a little dull when you realise the majority of the movie is pretty much just the same kinds of discussions going on. There are not very many true hero characters who go off on their own and get into the thick of the action here... although there are plenty of candidates in this who have the kind of personality that could have carried the film in such scenes. In fact, the director seems so intent on making this look almost like a documentary film that, in one scene where officials are holding a meeting, the screen briefly blacks out and the words “Following abbreviated” are flashed up.
The film picks up a fair bit in the Godzilla carnage sequences but the introduction to the character is a bit of a slow burn.
For instance, I was completely taken aback when the sea creature who starts messing with Tokyo, who we can only see from the back fins and a huge, somewhat out of place tail, turned out not to be Godzilla at all. In fact, it looked a little like one of The Big G’s oldest foes, Anguirus. When his head finally surfaces, I couldn’t help laughing because it looked totally unrealistic with these terrible stuck on eyes. I realised that the Japanese had gone back to the whole ‘man in a suit’ way of doing things which kinda made me happy except... I just found out that the monsters in this new movie is 100% motion capture CGI. So what that means is... they’ve done their best to make them look like a badly made costume but, in fact, they aren’t (go figure). I mean, if you’d have stuck googly eyes on this thing, it could not have been more inappropriate to the tone of what I was watching.
Then came a bigger surprise because, after a while... it turns out this is Godzilla, after all. He’d just not ‘metamorphosed’ into his more familiar form yet... which he promptly does about 10 minutes later. Okay, so the strangely ridiculous eyes have gone but it still looks like a man in a suit (which I frankly love, although they might have been better going with practical costumes instead of using computers). I can also confirm that, alas, this is a much less comical Godzilla, more reminiscent of his first cinematic appearance. So anyone expecting to see him/her jumping for joy and kicking his/her heels together or teaching the offspring to blow smoke rings, as in certain previous movies, is going to be disappointed. This is a serious ‘kick Tokyo’s ass’ version of the character. How serious? Well, there were one or two surprises when he started battling those pesky human aircraft in this one.
For instance, before he starts utilising his fire breath, a little eye shield like an extra eyelid covers the eyes to stop them getting scorched. But not only does he have a fire breath... he also seems to have a laser breath, for some unknown reason, which he uses to slice up hostile aircraft and buildings as he goes about his daily carnage. The best additional surprise though, when you can accept that this creature would somehow be able to shoot laser beams out of its throat, is that the creature’s back spines can throw out an equally deadly laser grid to take out anything attacking from above. This looks duly spectacular and it’s one of the reasons I elevated it into my top 26 movies of the year (which you can read here).
That and the music.
The score combines material from composer Shiro Sagisu with new recordings of classic Godzilla themes by ‘the John Williams of Japan’, Akira Ifikube. So a lot of the familiar marches and menace music that people associate with the series are here for you to tap your toes along to. And, thankfully, Sagisu’s new compositions are, frankly, excellent and just the kind of thing you want to be listening to here. They already sound like classic Ifikube pieces and cement in with the older material perfectly. This is easily one of my favourite scores of the year, it has to be said and probably one of the better scores of the entire range of movies.
So yeah, the film uses lots of dryer, boardroom scenes to contrast with the monster shenanigans and, while I could have done with a little less meeting scenes and much more fire breathing, laser slicing, explosive action... I can kinda see why the studio went with this approach.
Shin Godzilla isn’t, in any way, a hard slog of a movie... it’s just a tad dull in certain places but it really, as I said before, makes up for it with some standout Monster VS Military action. Perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea but certainly something that I suspect will please longstanding fans of the titular monster, for sure. Check this one out if you can’t get enough of Godzilla but, if you are not that familiar with the character, maybe go back to the monochrome 1954 version instead.
Monday, 1 January 2018
Tech The Walls
At House Of Molly
2017 China/USA Directed by Aaron Sorkin
2018 UK cinema release print.
Well that’s the first movie of my year done and dusted. Molly’s Game opened on New Years Day here in the UK and I knew it would probably be a pretty good one, based on the trailer and the one reason I wanted to see this... Jessica Chastain.
I’ve liked this actress since I first saw her in the excellent horror movie Mama (reviewed here) and my fondness was compounded by seeing her in other fantasy roles such as her excellent turn as the lead villain in Crimson Peak (reviewed by me here). However, it was her true powerhouse of a performance in last year’s absolutely astonishing Miss Sloane (reviewed here) which made me realise just what an actress for the ages she really is. If you want someone who can carry a film with a performance of someone who can demonstrate a confident sense of power while simultaneously showing the vulnerability of a character’s facade shining through, then Jessica Chastain is the actress for you.
And she relly does carry the movie on her shoulders, along with some very able support from the always watchable Idris Elba as her attorney and some nice work from Kevin Costner as her dad, which gives him some of the better dialogue of his career to work with, as far as I’m concerned.
The film tells the real life story of Molly Bloom (who wanted Chastain to play her in this film iteration of her, apparently) and is based on her book of the same title. In it she tells the story of how, after dropping out of being an olympic skiing champion after an accident which cost her a lot of her spine, she became embroiled in running gambling games for her awful boss, before setting up and running her own, ‘mostly legal’ gambling dens which were then raided by the FBI who arrested her for connections to the Russian mob, amongst others (people who she did not know were connected in any way to a criminal organisation, by all accounts).
The film is interesting in that the structure is all over the place, flashing back to childhood versions of the character and also to different points in her adult life whenever it needs to but one of the strengths of the great writing from the director here is that this jumping around never feels chaotic. Instead, it informs the steadily unfolding story of Molly’s problematic career choice in a way that it slowly reveals certain key aspects of her character and her relation to those around her in an intelligent and, luckily for the audience, entertaining manner.
The film’s biggest strengths are the quality of Sorkin’s dialogue and the incredible performances of all concerned here. Even the minor characters seem well acted and add value to the whole. There are a couple of points I’d have to be a little critical of, however.
One of the disappointing aspects of this movie, I felt, was that the shot design is merely extremely competent, rather than outstanding. Sure, the film is dominated by interior sets and the director sometimes makes use of the vertical, rectangular blocks to cut out a pleasing composition on occasion but... nothing that really stood out in the same way that, for instance, the aforementioned Miss Sloane shone in terms of the visual aspect of the picture. That being said, it’s probable that the director made the decision to steer clear of allowing the compositions to draw attention to themselves, perhaps assuming that this would be a barrier to the smooth running of the film. Personally, though, I don’t think that would necessarily be a valid choice (if, indeed, it was the direction he went with here) and I think films like this one, which are mostly all about the dialogue plus the information given to us on the ‘voice over’ narrative, can benefit from a more overt, visually arresting style.
The only other bad thing I could see here was that I was thrown into absolute confusion by the fact that the lawyer played by Elba was able to read Molly Bloom’s real life published book while, simultaneously, she’s still looking for a publisher for it. I was not clear as to whether they were talking about a second book or something else. The IMDB cleared that up for me when I saw that, yes, the book wasn’t published yet in real life at the time of the events depicted in the movie and that, somehow, we were being asked to believe that the book was somehow, like Shrödinger’s Cat, in two possible states of being at the same time... already published while at the same time, unpublished. I don’t know why we are expected not to question this but it was very clearly something which confused the heck out of me and I don’t know why the writer/director did that.
The amazing Daniel Pemberton’s score is, sadly, not that evident in the mix and didn’t make much of an impression on me during the course of the film. However, there is a CD being released for this in four days time and I might have a listen to the samples once they’re up to see (or hear) if it’s something that would reveal a more rewarding experience away from the movie if I bought a copy. As it stands, though, it certainly doesn’t jar with the on visuals or general tone of the piece and it is, at the very least, an appropriate score for the movie. So there’s that.
As for everything else about Molly’s Game, though... pitch perfect and the good stuff here more than outweighs the problems I had with it. Certainly a good one to start the year off with and I have already started recommending it to my friends to take a look at. I can only keep my fingers crossed that they’re all at least as good as this one in the coming months.
Sunday, 31 December 2017
Movies of 2017
Unlike many years, I won’t make any apologies this time around for my top movies list being dominated by product made in the USA. Of my 26 favourite 2017 movies here, around 16 of them were made with American dollars and that’s absolutely fine by me when their contribution to cinema this year has been so great. In my Christmas Day post (here) I touched on the fact that this year has seen the poorest cinema box office since the 1980s. And yet, I find I’ve been to the cinema way more than I have on many previous years. Admittedly, there were a fair amount of bad movies too but even this list has some really great films left out.
What we have here are films which got a UK cinema release (of some kind) in 2017 but I’m pretty sure a couple of those may not get a general release over here until next year (if at all). Similarly, some of the films on this year’s list opened in some other countries in 2016 but this is the first time we’ve had a release of them over here. This does create the odd anomaly. For instance, Alice Lowe’s brilliant Prevenge (reviewed by me here) was released earlier in the year but I already had it pretty high up in my best films of 2016 list because I’d seen an early screening at the London Film Festival. So... yeah... I’m not putting the same movie in a list two years running.
Anyway, that’s enough of my caveats... here’s the list in ascending order with number 26 being the least of my best picks and number one being the absolute bees knees. Enjoy!
26. War For The Planet Of The Apes USA
The latest and possibly last in a trilogy of rebooted Planet Of The Apes films had an emotional storyline, some good action and a fine score by Michael Giacchino. My review for this one is here... https://nuts4r2.blogspot.co.uk/2017/07/war-for-planet-of-apes.html
25. Their Finest UK
Beautifully heart rending British movie about a lady screenwriter doing her bit for the propaganda of the Second World War on the home front. A real tear jerker, this is reviewed by me here... https://nuts4r2.blogspot.co.uk/2017/12/their-finest.html
24. Wind River UK/Canada/USA
An FBI agent and a tracker try to solve a murder mystery on a snowy, Native American Indian Reservation. Harsh, bleak and somewhat beautiful with two of Marvel’s The Avengers team as the main protagonists. My review for this one is here... https://nuts4r2.blogspot.co.uk/2017/09/wind-river.html
23. Shin Godzilla Japan
Just like the latest Star Wars movie, this film is somewhat disappointing in places with long, dull stretches in between the good stuff. That being said, it’s nice seeing The Big G back on screen with a new Japanese incarnation and with a surprise arsenal up its scaly sleeve. It also has one of the best scores of the year so, even during the boring bits, you can tap your toes along with the on screen shenanigans. My review for this one should be out sometime in the next week.
22. Elle France/Germany/Belgium
This tale of slow burn revenge by a somewhat questionable character who comes from a background of deviant violence is a far cry from some of the other films I’ve seen from Paul Verhoeven. Isabelle Huppert is exceptional, as she generally is, in this interesting study of a powerful, female cat playing with her cornered mice. My review of this one here... http://nuts4r2.blogspot.co.uk/2017/03/elle.html
21. The Handmaiden aka Ah-Ga-Ssi South Korea
This stylish and relocated adaptation of Sarah Walter’s Fingersmith was sexy and suspenseful, with all of the elegance in shot composition that you would expect from a director like Chan-wook Park. My review can be found here... http://nuts4r2.blogspot.co.uk/2017/04/the-handmaiden-aka-ah-ga-ssi.html
20. Star Wars - Episode VIII - The Last Jedi USA
Much as I love the films of the director responsible for this, after viewing it a second time I can confirm, at least in my own mind, that this is a bit of a dull and disappointing misfire of a Star Wars movie. However, there is some really good stuff going on too and I enjoy watching this with an eye on what it might potentially have been, rather than what it is. It’s enjoyable enough, though, to warrant inclusion in this list, I feel. My review of this one is here...
19. Colossal Spain/Canada
One of those films that changes tone drastically about half way through, Colossal starts off with a wonderful idea about waking up to find that you’re manifesting as a giant monster in another part of the world before going into far more serious social commentary. My review of this little gem is here... http://nuts4r2.blogspot.co.uk/2017/05/colossal.html
18. Most Beautiful Island USA
Wonderful film about a twisted ‘job offer’ given to an immigrant trying to survive in modern America, inspired by the writer/director/star’s own experiences. My review of this film, which I’m hoping will get a wider release sometime soon, is here... https://nuts4r2.blogspot.co.uk/2017/10/most-beautiful-island.html
17. Kong - Skull Island USA
For once, a modern made King Kong movie which manages to look beyond the admittedly fantastic origins of the character and do something different with it. Stay past the credits to see exactly where this franchise is going and for a clue as to why the opening credits here looked very similar to another monster movie that was released a few years ago. Reviewed by me here... http://nuts4r2.blogspot.co.uk/2017/03/kong-skull-island.html
16. Daphne UK
Slice of life movie about a young woman dealing with the world around her, this is exactly the kind of film which British cinema does so well. I reviewed this one here... https://nuts4r2.blogspot.co.uk/2017/10/daphne.html
15. Personal Shopper France/Germany/Czech Republic/Belgium
Oliver Assayas’ take on ghosts with two mysteries at its heart - one a murder mystery and the other a metaphysical riddle, is definitely worth a look if you can do so without expecting the genre conventions of either of those kinds of movies to be given any play. I reviewed this quite recently here... https://nuts4r2.blogspot.co.uk/2017/12/personal-shopper.html
14. Ghost In The Shell USA
I enjoyed this live action version of the famous Manga much more than the original Anime (when I eventually saw it... a review I wrote for that will see the light of day soon, I hope). Riveting but with something of a rushed ending, the film was much closer, for me, to the beauty of Ridley Scott’s original Blade Runner than the film which actually was a sequel to that classic (and which I certainly hadn’t expected to be absent from this list but... yeah, that one missed the mark for me). My review of this live action version is here... http://nuts4r2.blogspot.co.uk/2017/04/ghost-in-shell.html
13. Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool UK
Absolutely first rate look, from Bond movie production company EON Films, of the last years of the life of famous noir actress Gloria Grahame. Annette Bening and Jamie Bell positively shine. I reviewed this one here... https://nuts4r2.blogspot.co.uk/2017/11/film-stars-dont-die-in-liverpool.html
12. Happy Death Day USA
This is basically a slasher movie remake of Groundhog Day, using the central idea of that film and grafting it onto the ‘teenager in peril’ genre. It even goes as far as to reference that film in its dialogue towards the end of this one. Way better than I thought it would be, the film is one of many this year to benefit from a score by Bear McCreary. My review can be found here... https://nuts4r2.blogspot.co.uk/2017/10/happy-death-day.html
11. Blade Of The Immortal Japan/UK
Takashi Miike’s 100th feature film is a bloody ronin flavoured tale of revenge based on a manga with the levels of extreme violence you would expect from this director... especially when he occasionally dips his toes into chanbara. You can read my review of this one here... https://nuts4r2.blogspot.co.uk/2017/10/blade-of-immortal.html
10. Patti Cake$ USA
All I will say is about this one is that I certainly wasn’t expecting to be inspired enough by a movie that I wrote my entire review as rap lyrics. My rap for this one can be vocalised by you here... https://nuts4r2.blogspot.co.uk/2017/09/patti-cake.html
9. Ingrid Goes West USA
A funny but also concerning look at the lengths some people will go to, to be around those who are popular. If it isn’t on instagram then... did it really even happen? Only Ingrid would know. My review is here... https://nuts4r2.blogspot.co.uk/2017/11/ingrid-goes-west.html
8. The Love Witch USA
I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as Ana Biller’s previous feature, VIVA but, it was still a pretty cool movie and aesthetically ‘right up there’ compared to many movies made this year with strong and colourful compositions to offset the near perfect levels of irony in the film. I reviewed this one here... https://nuts4r2.blogspot.co.uk/2017/07/the-love-witch.html
7. The Villainess aka Ak-Nyeo South Korea
I only saw this a few days ago but it’s pretty much this year’s best action spectacle (even beating out Atomic Blonde in the hand to hand combat stakes, as far as I’m concerned). It’s also a remake of Luc Besson’s phenomenal Nikita but, it’s certainly one of the more successful ones of that much remade classic. My review of this can be discovered here... https://nuts4r2.blogspot.co.uk/2017/12/the-villainess-aka-ak-nyeo.html
6. La La Land USA
As my initial review would seem to indicate, I didn’t react that well to this movie the first time I saw it. Then, when I heard the music again, it caught up with me with a bang (luckily while I was still able to get a few more screenings in at the cinema before it left town). This one is a great modern musical which I intend to watch a fair few times more in my lifetime. That initial, somewhat downbeat review, is here... http://nuts4r2.blogspot.co.uk/2017/01/la-la-land.html
5. Brigsby Bear USA
Well, there are two films in this list which starred Mark Hamill and, believe me, this is by far the better of the two. This film starts off a little like Dogtooth but then goes in its own, much different direction. Truly great movie which deserves to be seen more than it has so far... https://nuts4r2.blogspot.co.uk/2017/12/brigsby-bear.html
4. Miss Sloane USA
Wow. This is exactly the kind of movie that the Americans really know how to do right, It’s somewhat predictable but that journey to the ending is absolutely fantastic and, frankly, I wouldn’t have wanted it to end any other way. Jessica Chastain should have won an Oscar for this performance. Truly astonishing work in this one from everybody. I reviewed this in awe here... http://nuts4r2.blogspot.co.uk/2017/05/miss-sloane.html
3. A Ghost Story USA
This surprising movie about the afterlife of a silent ghost who is basically a walking sheet was truly entrancing, inventive and had an absolutely pitch perfect ending. My review of this one is here... https://nuts4r2.blogspot.co.uk/2017/08/a-ghost-story.html
2. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women USA
The story of the creator of both Wonder Woman and the lie detector, this tells of a man and two women in the 1920s - 1940s, living in a fetishistic threesome lifestyle with their various children (by the same father). It has an absolutely brilliant script, three amazing central performances and was written by a director who really knows what she is doing. The dialogue practically sings. I wrote about this one here... https://nuts4r2.blogspot.co.uk/2017/10/professor-marston-and-wonder-women.html
1. Wonder Woman USA/China/Hong Kong
I can’t say enough good things about Patty Jenkin’s absolute masterpiece of modern super-hero cinema. This isn’t just the greatest super-hero movie ever made (which it certainly is), it’s also one of the 10 greatest films of the decade as far as I’m concerned. There’s so much going on in this movie on every level that, when I think about the coordination that must have gone on for this to happen, my head hurts a bit trying to figure out how Jenkins could have held all those juggled balls in motion without dropping any. Every time I revisit this, my tear drenched eyeballs see something new and the nuances of the performance and direction/editing/scoring/costume/set design just leave me in awe of this cast and crew. Absolutely phenomenal and all involved deserve Oscars for this artistic triumph. I am so going to be watching this pretty much once every year for the rest of my life, I suspect. My initial, “what did I just see” review is here where, frankly, I don’t gush enough... http://nuts4r2.blogspot.co.uk/2017/06/wonder-woman.html
And so that’s this years list. I realise there are some big omissions which people might get angry about (and which won’t do much for my credibility) but I hope I’ve been as uncompromising in my choices here as I try to be with everything else on this blog. I’m also encouraged that over half of them are pretty much about strong women and wonder if this is a trend which will continue. I hope you enjoyed reading this (if you made it this far) and I hope next year’s cinematic offerings are even half as rich as this years. Keep reading and watching.