Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Dead or Alive

The Dead Zone: Early Cronenberg about a man who develops the gift of prophecy following a car accident. Filmed around rural Ontario, apparently entirely on location, which makes the whole thing feel at once ultra-realistic (the houses look like real houses, not like something designed) and fantastical (everything has a curious sense of isolation and decay). Guest starring Martin Sheen, who doesn't realise he's really auditioning for The West Wing, and Anthony Zerbe, who for once doesn't actually kill anyone (at least, not directly).

Ancient Grease

The Warriors: Low-budget classic interpreting a myth about Greek warriors returning home from battle into a tale of rival gangs in 1970s New York. Ludicrous in places (gangs themed around baseball and mime makeup? Really?) but does capture the weird atmosphere that pervades the subways of big cities after midnight.

Cleopatra: High-budget classic (modern viewers might have to keep reminding themselves that those are real people in the crowd scenes), which ultimately boils down to a story of a woman who finds her soulmate, loses him, then tries to recreate what she had with a younger man who ultimately proves inadequate.

Sunday, August 03, 2014


Attack the Block: A cross between Doctor Who and Top Boy, as aliens invade a London council estate, and its various colourful inhabitants (a gang of teenage muggers, a drug dealer, a posh university student ostentatiously slumming it, a nurse, and others) are drawn into trying to repel them. Best teeth ever.

And Soon the Darkness: Essentially a feature-length pilot for Brian Clemens' anthology series Thriller, featuring all the early-1970s horror tropes: pretty young women in peril, check, sinister stalkery man who turns out to be on the good side, obvious red-herring character, sensibly-shod lesbian, taciturn foreigners. The plot revolves around a killer who is murdering young women who go on cycling holidays in France, and that makes for the most interesting part: the beautiful, sometimes creepy, rural French landscape, isolated and cut off in a way that no place is anymore.

Movie count for 2014: 45

Saturday, August 02, 2014


Rise of the Planet of the Apes: Reboot which goes back to the racial-metaphor roots of the series. Caesar is a hyper-intelligent ape who is raised by humans, but recognises his privilege when events cast him out of the home, and works to uplift the rest of the apes. The movie's also improved on the original in explaining the ape origins-- I could never totally believe the ape-slaves conceit of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, but having them as transgenic research animals being used to find an Alzheimer's cure (with the side effect that it improves the intelligence of normal individuals) is believable.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: Carries on the allegorical exploration of the first film, this time pinning the woes of both human and ape societies, after the plague apocalypse, to fascism and the easy availability of guns. Marred by a completely unnecessary Bechdel-test fail (seriously, someone on the team should have read some Jane Goodall before developing that ape society).

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Older academic couple making each other's lives, and their colleagues' lives, miserable in complicated ways.

Movie count for 2014: 43

Friday, August 01, 2014


What I watched on my summer holidays in Italy, three Harryhausens and a macaroni war epic:

It Came From Beneath the Sea: Giant octopus monsterflick. At first I was hopeful that it would be a kind of American Gojira, since at first we're told that this gigantism is the result of nuclear testing; however, by the climax of the film they've changed their minds and it's apparently a normal thing. The government naturally wants to destroy it, and what's surprising is that the scientists all have no problem with this-- no Gojira-style moralising where one scientist wants to kill it with fire and the other one argues that it has a perfect right to live. The giant tentacles are cool but there's not enough of them.

Earth Versus the Flying Saucers: A strange one this-- a 1950s America where everyone is on a military footing, and yet the Soviet Union doesn't seem to exist (apart from a brief bit of stock footage when the aliens broadcast their ultimatum to the people of Earth). In the real world, satellites going missing and strange flying craft sighted would be enough to set off Bay of Pigs six years too early, but here, they're unproblematically down to the aliens. Again, we have scientists who are remarkably incurious about the extraterrestrials, agreeing with the military that they have to be destroyed and not even considering the ethical ramifications of this.

20 Million Miles to Earth: Arguably the most nuanced and interesting of the three Harryhausen films, in which the Americans have somehow managed to conduct a secret mission to Venus, and bring back one of the natives, who promptly escapes after the spaceship crashes off the Sicilian coast and goes on a rampage which culminates in the destruction of the Coliseum and the zoological gardens in Borgia Park. Somehow none of this sparks any kind of international incident-- possibly this takes place in the same Sovietless universe as the previous film, but even then you'd think that there'd be a few sharp telegrams flying between Rome and Washington at least. One's sympathies are firmly with the Venusian, though the humans are a little more interestingly characterised this time, and for once neither the scientists nor the military are out to kill it with fire (the Italian police are, but that's another story).
Eagles Over London: An Italian film about the Battle of Britain, well, sort of. It takes such hilarious liberties with history (apparently there was an American in charge of the RAF, the Battle of Britain was fought in a single night using the entire British air force, there was an army of German agents infiltrating every single British installation...) that one can't help but love it. Also a nicely sobering reminder about the liberties we take with other people's histories.

Movie count for 2014: 40

20 Feet from Muppets

Frozen: The Disney studio's attempt to simultaneously address every single criticism of sexism in one movie, but it does work pretty well. Not as entertainingly postmodern as Beauty and the Beast, but I did like the subtextual message that love between the Plucky Princess and the Handsome Prince isn't the only sort of love worth having.

20 Feet from Stardom: Documentary about backing singers, which really highlighted the sexism and personality cults of the music industry; one of the interviewees, for instance, had sung with the Rolling Stones since 1965, to the point where Jagger himself described her as part of the group, and yet nobody will every consider her a Stone.

The Muppets: Reasonably decent addition to the Muppet film series, with at least some of the subversion and surrealism of the original, but it sort of pulled its punches rather. I did like some of the ideas, like Animal winding up in rehab and Miss Piggy becoming the new Anna Wintour, but where the 1970s Muppets could make you wince as often as they could make you laugh, this one didn't really.

Upside Down: Gave this one a pass at the SF London Film Festival because the plot didn't sound terribly interesting, and it turns out it isn't. The effects, on the other hand, are frequently pretty spectacular-- the premise involves two worlds which have "opposite gravity", meaning that half the cast are on what the other half perceives as the ceiling, and a lot of imagination has gone into figuring out how this would work. When it wasn't doing that, though, it wound up being sort of dull.

Movie count for 2014: 36

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