Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Men Behaving Badly

At the Earth's Core: Cheap 1970s movie which more or less follows Burrough's text for two-thirds of the movie, then realises they don't have time for all the travelogue bits and quickly channels "Doctor Who and the Daleks" to finish the story off. Worth it for Cy Grant as Ja.

The Man Who Fell to Earth: David Bowie is subjected to Nick Roeg's impressionistic jump-cuts, and perserveres.

The Servant: Man comes into the life of another man, drives off his girlfriend and dominates him completely. The gay subtext is so obvious it's practically text, but it's also massively homophobic. Can't quite believe it of Harold Pinter.

Megapython versus Gatoroid: Entertainingly self-aware badflick. Features Tiffany in the least practical park rangers' outfit ever, but nonetheless passes the Bechdel Test in spades.

Movie count for 2014:32

Sunday, May 11, 2014

What I saw at the SF London Film Festival

Coming soon to a festival, theatre and/or DVD shop near you...

Lost Time: Sort of like a feature-length episode of The X-Files where the entire cast and crew dropped acid before the shoot; the results unfortunately tend more towards "tedious and weird" than "mind-bending".

Suicide or Lulu and Me In A World Made For Two: A film about obsession, control and mind-bending, which was pretty good but unfortunately prevented from being brilliant by a major contradiction in the plot setup which emerges at the climax of the story, and by a slightly-too-coincidental series of connections between the characters.

Bunker 6: Now this one did actually verge into the "brilliant" category. Set in an alternate history where the bomb was indeed dropped during the Cuban Missile Crisis, it features a group of Canadians, ten years on, deciding whether or not to open the Diefenbunker and face the outside world. A The Shining-style twist at the end which retroactively changes everything.

The Creep Behind the Camera: Lynchian documentary/docudrama about the making of The Creeping Terror. Creep is a psychological horror film about its director, a monstrous psychopath who abuses his wife, cheats his collaborators and leaves as his legacy one of the worst badflicks of all time.

Time Lapse: Another brilliant one, a story about a group of twentysomethings who discover a camera which will show them a picture from the next day, but tells them nothing about how they got there. Events inevitably devolve into infidelity, organized crime, and bloodshed.

Short Films: "Cooking with Venus" was quite possibly even better than the features above despite being about 2 minutes long, and "A Stitch in Time for $9.99" (another story about events affected by a glimpse into the near-future), "Eden 2045" (a rather sad take on similar themes to The Prisoner) "The Tea Chronicles" (about a peculiarly British obsession) and "Flesh Computer" (just... weird, but it works) also worthy of mention. On the other side, "H270" was probably the single most boring thing I've seen at SFL ever.

Movie count for 2014: 28

One Of Our Films Is Too Long

One Of Our Aircraft Is Missing: Powell and Pressburger film about an air crew shot down in occupied Holland, making their way back to the UK. Gains chutzpah points for having actually been made during wartime, but through modern eyes the protagonists are a bit too reminiscent of Armstrong and Miller's chav-talking pilots. Watch out for a young Robert Beattie, uncredited, as an American volunteer.

Toy Story 3: Nice conclusion to the saga, ending it before the formula becomes too overused. I held off on watching it because TS2 always makes me cry buckets and I was afraid this would be similar, but fortunately, apart from a little poignancy at the end, it was more upbeat.

The Devil Rides Out: Beautiful British horror film, with Christopher Lee as the good guy for a change. Lovely sets and Surrey landscapes, but the cast of phlegmatic and faintly dim Edwardians did occasionally make things feel a little Bertie-Wooster-Meets-Satan. Co-starring Paul Eddington as a man far too calm about having his car stolen, his living room covered with chalk circles and his house filled with refugees from covens.

Ali: Mohammad Ali biopic, with Will Smith and directed by Michael Mann. There's a good story in there, but there's also about 90 minutes of padding.

Movie count for 2014: 23 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Cabin Crew

Cabin Fever: Horror film of the Sam Raimi school, i.e., "put a bunch of really unlikeable people in a cabin in the woods and pick them off gleefully one by one". In this case, a bunch of nasty university students on spring break are besieged by a flesh-eating virus, seemingly crazed rednecks, and an even more crazed Alsatian. Has a really quite charming twist at the end.

Movie count for 2014: 19

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

In the Days Before Television

Rocket Ship XM: Oddly-paced B-movie about a mission to the moon which goes wrong and hits Mars instead. Suffers from a distinct lack of both characterisation and tension; even when the crew are being chased by Martian mutants or trying to make it back to Earth on too little fuel, it's hard to care. It also can't seem to make up its mind if it's a B-picture or not; it has cliched characterisation, space adventure and Martian mutants, but it also has no antagonists (bar the abovementioned mutants), and a rather surprising ending, giving the whole thing the feel of one of the nerdier episodes of The Outer Limits. The sets are pretty nice, though.

The Star Packer: Unfortunately-named early John Wayne film, with no incidental music and minimal editing. Features Wayne as a sheriff out to save a girl from evil outlaws with the aid of his ethnic stereotype of an Indian sidekick. There's a couple of nice stunts during the climactic wagon-chase and shootout, but one can't help but suspect that it's where the budget went. It can be entertaining to think of a better film for the name (a Brando-esque drama about an excellent factory worker, pitted against a corrupt union? A sports picture about the meteoric rise and fall of Green Bay's best quarterback?) but it's still not worth it.

Movie count for 2013: 18 (SF London Film Festival coming up in a couple of weeks, hooray!)

Sunday, April 06, 2014

What's Wrong With "The Musketeers" (BBC1 Version)

1. The characterisation. Seriously, one of the reasons The Three Musketeers has been so frequently adapted is because of the simple, easy-to-understand characterisation of the main characters: there's the Romantic One, the Angry One, and the One of Prodigious Appetites, plus the Naive and Innocent One. The fact that the series itself regularly became confused over which one was Romantic, Be-Appetited or Angry, with all three Musketeers being all three at all times, is a real problem.

2. Race. I was really happy when I saw that Porthos was played by a black actor-- it's a nice nod to the fact that Alexandre Dumas was himself black, as well as acknowledging that not everyone in pre-industrial Europe was white. However, because the series was filmed in Croatia, all of the extras were white-- and so was 99% of the guest cast, meaning that for 9 out of 10 episodes, Porthos appears to be the only black person in France, and no one appears to notice. And the 10th? That's the horribly patronising one about the slave trade. Which brings me on to...

3) Historical accuracy (lack of). Yes, I know it's a drama, and that dramas take liberties with historical facts. But this one's connection to history is so tenuous it might as well be set in Ruritania as in France. The abovementioned slave-trade episode is particularly egregious (17th-century France has no major colonies? That's news to any Canadian raised on stories of the coureurs de bois and the Jesuit missions), but it's far from the only offender.

4) Familiarity. 17th-century France is a pretty strange place by modern standards, a society with very different ideas about legitimate governance, the value of life, the place of religion, marital fidelity, and science. This is a popular drama so I'm not expecting Hawksmoor, but it can't be impossible to nonetheless give an idea of the foreignness of the past-- hell, even the likes of Poldark managed it better. Just to give an example: at one point a character exclaims, "I'm a citizen of France! I have rights!" to which someone ought to have responded "No, on both counts, for at least another 150 years."

5) Repetition. Someone is accused of a crime they didn't commit. But it's actually all a ruse to entrap someone else. Lather, rinse, repeat. The series is only 10 episodes long, for heaven's sake!

Good points: Peter Capaldi, of course; the characterisation of Louis XIII was a lot subtler than I was expecting, and yes, they did find some pretty palaces to film in (even if those shots of the painted ceilings did get old rather fast). For the first few episodes it was fun to do a counterfactual reading of the series in which the Cardinal is actually the hero and the Musketeers the villains, though that did get boring eventually.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

What's Been On My Skybox Lately

Robocop 3: You know the series has completely hit bottom when a character calls Lewis a "dumb broad", and then it takes a pickaxe and continues digging. Torchwood-like resistance, annoying child hacker, xenophobia, sexism, this film has it all. The Japanese robot is sort of cool, though.

The Invention of Lying: Satire about a world in which no one can lie, except Ricky Gervais. Starts to get really good around about the point where it flat out says religion is a lie, but then realises where it's going and cranks the plot around to turn it into a fairly conventional romcom (complete with the usual annoying woman-as-prize trope)

American Werewolf in London: Groundbreaking, and uncompromising, horror-comedy, and quite probably the only film about Americans in the UK which manages to patronise neither Americans nor Brits. Watch for an uncredited appearance by Rik Mayall.

Little Voice: A story about how sometimes it takes a world-shattering tragedy to break free of your constraints and start really living your life.

From Here to Eternity: Drama about an infantry base in Hawaii on the eve of WWII; brilliantly characterised, even if I did wind up hating one of the nominal protagonists (he was well-drawn and believable, but a completely selfish jerk). It only has one real problem, namely, that it's implied that once the incompetent chief officer is removed from the base, it will stop being a hotbed of bullying and corruption and instead run smoothly; other military dramas have taken that ball and run with it down a rather more pessimistic direction.

Movie Count for 2014: 16

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Oscar Night Roundup

Behind the Candelabra: Liberace biopic, about his relationship with his much-younger lover Scott Thorson. If it took place now, it would just be a simple story of celebrity marriage and divorce, but the homophobic backdrop of the 1970s adds drama. Plus you can play Spot Scott Bacula with the supporting cast.

Gravity: Technically impressive adventure story about an astronaut isolated in space after a Russian missile hits an obsolete satellite and sends debris rocketing through orbit; verges on the cliched in places (woman emotionally destroyed by the loss of a child finds The Strength To Carry On, sigh), but it really is genuinely tense and by turns claustrophobic and agoraphobic.

Nebraska: Dementia-suffering pensioner becomes convinced he's won a million dollars, and insists on taking a road trip to Lincoln, Nebraska to collect, visiting his old hometown on the way. A brilliantly credible performance from Bruce Dern, and scarily accurate portrayals of the sort of micropolitics that emerge in small communities.

American Hustle: Clever heist drama, working as both an homage to the mafia/crime films of the 1970s and as an intelligent, complicated story in its own right. A good film to play Spot the Boardwalk Empire Alumnus, and/or Spot Anthony Zerbe, plus Robert de Niro's only good role this decade.

Movie count for 2014: 11


Robocop: Biting, classic satire on privatisation and corporate control, which seriously didn't need a remake, as it's pretty much all still true today. Although it's not often mentioned in reviews of this film, I'd like to flag up Lewis as another of those believably-strong heroines of 1980s fantastic film, and praise it for showing a man and woman having a professional relationship characterised by mutual respect, without degenerating into cliched romance or annoying patronisation.

Robocop 2: Starts promisingly, with the police out on strike and Roboscab, being corporate property, nonetheless carrying on with the crime-fighting. However, the film rapidly forgets about this and degenerates into a bit of a mess; it's not without good ideas and entertaining satire (particularly when it's revealed that the evil corporation is deliberately running the city of Detroit into the ground to buy it out and operate it privately), but the villains are annoyingly cartoony, and there's a bit of a naive-libertarian plotline going (Robocop is given a bunch of ludicrous politically-correct directives which slow him down, but which he remedies by erasing all directives from his databank, but nonetheless carries on doing the right thing because, as we all know, rules and laws just get in the way of The Good Guys). At least Lewis is still in it.

Movie count for 2014: 7