Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Flavours of the Month: November 2010...

LOOKS:

The Walking Dead - as you will have noticed I have been putting up my thouhts about each episode every week, so you can read what I've thought of this spiffing new undead TV series from AMC.

Twin Peaks - the Horror Channel has been having a David Lynch season this month, and the tentpole of it has been the showing, from start-to-finish (at the time of writing it's still part-way into season two), of Twin Peaks. I had never seen it before, but knew of it, and being a fan of the videogame Alan Wake, it's interesting to see where various elements of that game came from (indeed the creators are big fans of Lynch's dream-like drama).

Avatar 3-disc (Blu-Ray) - if only every studio/distributor would tell you in advance that a kick arse version of a movie on disc was coming later on. Fortunately Fox and James Cameron put it out on front street that Avatar would be getting a super-duper home video release in due course (when they were launching the vanilla disc). Naturally, being a whore for making-of documentaries and special features in general, I bided my time and finally I got my mits on Cameron's eco-actioner. It may not be in 3D this time, but now I get to view it without the 30% loss in brightness/contrast (such as you get with 3D glasses) and with 16 extra minutes (which, handily, you can view on it's own if you want to).

As far as the new footage goes, some is mere extensions, but quite a bit of it provides worthwhile new content and background. We get to see what Earth has become (providing good grounding and context, as well as visible reason, for mankind's actions on Pandora - it's a nice Blade Runner-esque counterpoint too), and learn more about Augustine's school and her relationship with the Na'vi. You can still see plotpoints coming from miles away, but Cameron's work has often (if not always) worked in popular broadstrokes. In short, it was great to get back to Pandora.

Toy Story 3 2-disc (Blu-Ray) - I never got to see it in the cinema, and I'll blog about the film separately, but it was great to finally get to see Pixar's latest, and well, that moment (if you've seen it, you'll know what I mean) was jaw dropping. That entire sequence was jaw dropping in fact. Bravo Pixar. Bravo.

The American Nightmare - I've seen Adam Simon's documentary on the American/Canadian horror flicks of the 1960s and 1970s several times over the last several years, and it's still a joy to watch. Informative, incisive and creepily stylish in its construction. A must-watch for any fan of the horror genre.


SOUNDS:

Airbourne "Runnin' Wild" - I already had the vice-rock group's second album, so it was about time I caught up with their debut. Fast, loud, wild and all about women, drink and everything in between. Inspired by the sound of AC/DC, it's a thrashingly good time.

Angelo Badalamenti "Twin Peaks Theme"/"Laura Palmer's Theme" - unsurprisingly, having gotten into Twin Peaks at long last, Badalamenti's dreamy score has become one of the constant sounds of November for me.

Godspeed You Black Emperor "Moya" - I'd always wondered what that mournful-then-energised music was in The American Nightmare, but I finally found it, and it's mesmerising.


VIBES & FLAVOURS:

Solitaire - sometimes when I'm listening to shows from the SModcast Podcast Network I'm not doing all that much, but then I remembered about Solitaire (which I used to play quite a bit in the 1990s), and I've become oddly fascinated by it again. It took me ages to get a win on it initially however as I kept running into dead ends - frustratingly so - fortunately the vagaries of a computer software's random card dealing didn't last long and I've been enjoying this little trip down memory lane.

Dead Rising 2 - I've got it for the 360, but I'm not good enough at it to do the story (or the rest of it anyway), so I got it for the PC so I could use cheats to just run around having all sorts of fun - and, importantly, actually get to play the story mode. You might think that slaying thousands upon thousands of zombies with a Light Machine Gun (or a Humvee) would get boring, but you'd be wrong.

STALKER: Call of Pripyat - I was a big fan of the original STALKER game (Shadow of Chernobyl), which provided the best atmospheric dose of gaming that year (2007, if memory serves), and while the follow-up (Clear Sky) was a bit disappointing towards the end it again provided that jolt of The Zone that we "STALKERs" crave ... in 2007 I got into the whole thing in a big bad way with the game, and the movie and book upon which it was based (not to mention absorbing documentaries about the real "Zone" itself). Anyway, it's been on the to-do list for a while, but I finally got around to it.

Unfortunately the DirectX 9 graphics are nowhere near as good as they were in Clear Sky (no doubt to push the DX10/11 technology), and while the pace is a bit slow so far, I'm getting into the world of STALKER all over again. It might be feeling a bit dated and too-samey to the previous two games, but you can't deny the lure of lurking around the rotting ruins of "The Zone".

Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday 13th by Peter M. Bracke - I got this for my birthday and I've only just gotten around to it, and boy will it be a long old read. Nevertheless I've covered the first two movies in the long-running franchise. It's a must-have for any fan of the franchise as it's crammed with behind the scenes photos and mountains upon mountains of information from those involved.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

The Walking Dead Episode Four "Vatos" thoughts...

Straight out of the gate, episode four was a mixed bag for me - the opening scene was troublesome. The purpose of the scene was good, but the dialogue used to get there didn't work for me, it felt forced and convoluted and as if we'd joined a conversation half-way-done (in that perhaps we could have used some more time with Amy and Andrea to get to know them a bit better).

Later in the episode we have the titular gang, and again it didn't play particularly well for me. It didn't feel entirely necessary, and it felt undercooked. There was some interest provided by it, but the gang weren't awfully compelling and their segment of the episode generally seemed a bit weak.

Fortunately, being a mixed bag, there was plenty of good stuff too that allowed me to still enjoy the episode. While there isn't a huge amount of high pressure tension on offer with The Walking Dead (unlike other TV big hitters like 24 or Lost) - so far at least - we finally get some time with the character of Jim, in an impressive couple of scenes that developed the already impressive counterpart scenes from the graphic novel - indeed, this episode was written by franchise originator Robert Kirkman.

A nice touch was Glenn's intelligent approach to leading the gang through Atlanta - Glenn has been consistently entertaining throughout the season, and is one of my favourite characters. Furthermore it was good to see Daryl Dixon fleshed out a bit more as in previous episodes he was mostly the 'unpleasant redneck', but in this episode they were able to set him up as a useful member of the team - someone who is skilled at zombie hunting (when he's not having an impassioned wig-out, that is).

So after the first half which was a mixed bag, the second half - particularly the fourth act of the episode - really brought things up to standard. It illustrated exactly how enough shamblers can catch you off guard and provide a real threat - when you're dealing with one, all the others will continue to steadily advance, and you can easily find yourself overwhelmed and distracted.

This sequence provided some real treats for the gore hounds, and as I'd figured, some of the nameless potential cannon fodder lived up to their purpose and took it on the chin so-to-speak.

However, it wasn't just the background fodder who got it in the neck ... suffice to say, Laurie Holden got to act her arse off in a wonderfully performed moment that, for me, stole the entire show - but another nice character moment was provided by Dale talking at the campfire about his watch. DeMunn's intelligent and amiable performance continues to capture exactly who his comic book counterpart is.

So all-in-all it turned out to be a good episode, despite the wobbles of the first half, and it'll be interesting to see where they go with the two remaining episodes of this season - by the looks of the 'next time on' teaser they will be straying from the source material once again with a new side plot. As a reader of the graphic novels (I've done the first four trade paperback volumes so far) it's nice to not just have a direct translation, but at the same time I haven't fully made up my mind yet about how much they're working outside of the established box, but so far it's working quite well - it's not been perfect, but it's been good.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

My most memorable movie viewing experiences #2...

Childhood Favourites:

Ghostbusters 1 & 2 (Ivan Reitman, 1984, 1989):
When – Late 1980s/1990/Early 2000s
Where – Television/Home Video
Why Ghostbusters was my entire world in my earliest years. The movies, particularly the first, the spin-off cartoon The Real Ghostbusters, and a whole array of toys (including the Proton Pack, which was a must-have kids toy for Christmas – my Dad successfully acquired one for me FYI) … suffice to say, bustin' ghosts was a big deal.

I just thought the Ghostbusters were the coolest guys on the planet, and I would repeatedly watch the show and the movies. Then when I moved into my teenage years I got wrapped up in a whole bunch of other movies and it wasn’t until my second or third year at university that I rediscovered the two flicks on DVD and it was a fantastic re-introduction to what was still a childhood favourite in my mind.

This time however, at the age of 20/21, I suddenly understood all the adult jokes and comedy, and it was like watching a whole new movie, but at the same time as watching one which I knew so well it was like it was in my bones. Sound effects, musical cues, lines of dialogue, the pacing of the editing etc – so ingrained in my memory from repeated childhood viewings. What’s more it was my first chance to see the flicks in their original aspect ratio – as a child I had no understanding of the horror that is Pan & Scan, and in the VHS era everything was Pan & Scanned.


Back to the Future trilogy (Robert Zemeckis, 1985, 1989, 1990):

When – Late 1980s/Early 1990s/Early 2000s/2010
Where – Television/Home Video/Cinema
Why – Like the Ghostbusters, I thought Marty McFly was one of the coolest guys on the planet – but throw in a time travelling DeLorean (I was, like most boys, fascinated with cars) and a tip-top script and they had my attention. I was only a year old when the first movie came out, so it wasn’t until it was shown on television/home video that I got to see it. Then the back-to-back sequels came out, but I can’t remember if I saw the second one on video or at the cinema. However, one of my earliest cinema-going memories was seeing the third film on the big screen.

Similar to Ghostbusters, a number of years went by without seeing any of them, and so I rediscovered them on the 3-disc DVD box set several years ago. Yet again it was like no time had passed, and thanks to multiple childhood viewings, the dialogue, sound effects, music, and everything in-between was as fresh in my memory as it had been a good fifteen years prior.

Finally, with the 25th anniversary of the first movie, I got to see the original flick on the big screen - and even though I'd seen it dozens of times, it was a superb experience, which I wrote about at-length here: http://deadshed.blogspot.com/2010/10/back-to-future-25th-anniversary.html


Short Circuit 1 & 2 (John Badham, Kenneth Johnson, 1986, 1988):

When – Late 1980s/Early 1990s/Early 2000s
Where – Television/Home Video
Why – As far as I was concerned as a kid, Johnny Five was alive, and being a small boy I was fascinated by robots. Looking back on the films today, as the Nostalgia Critic has done, there are some questionable elements to the films, but I guess it was a more innocent time - and as a kid, nothing about the flick was questionable.

Yet again, fast forward to my second or third year at university and I rediscovered both films on DVD, and once again my memory of them was so strong that I could anticipate the sound effects, music cues, pace of the editing and so on. My love of these two movies came flooding back, from the sense of wonder of the first film, to the final act of the second movie which packs two memorable punches - Five's attack, and Five's capturing of the bad guy. What's more I got to see them in their original aspect ratio at long last, which is particularly important for the first film, which has been dreadfully Pan & Scanned in the past (a recent showing on Channel 5 was quite possibly the most horrendous Pan & Scan job I've ever seen).


Jurassic Park (Steven Spielberg, 1993):

When – 1993/2010
Where – Multiplex Cinema
Why – In the summer of 1993 the movie to see was Jurassic Park. I went crazy for this movie, looking forward to the weekend matinee showing with such anticipation it was like an early Christmas. Then there we all were, in the darkened cinema, watching dinosaurs come to life – at the time the CGI was like nothing we’d seen before and was truly a marvel to behold – but aside from the fantastic effects (both CG and practical), it was Spielberg doing what he does best. The pacing is ideal and the action sequences are tense and impressive, but even more than that the characters were interesting.

That summer was all about Jurassic Park; it was without a doubt a phenomenon. I read the kid’s version of the book, the comic book run, got the making-of book, and went nuts for it on video. Then, yet again, I didn’t see it for many years until 2010 when I rediscovered it on Sky Movies. The movie was still fresh, still tense, still exciting, and the assured pacing remained impressive – more-so now that I’m of an age (and film education background) that I can seriously appreciate just how good the movie is and how it holds up so well. It’s amazing to think that come 2013 it’ll be twenty years old.


Batteries Not Included (Matthew Robbins, 1987):

When – Late 1980s
Where – Television/Home Video
Why – like with Short Circuit, I was fascinated by robots (in this case robot space aliens that recycle scrap metal and feed on electricity), but it was also the spectacle of this crumbling old apartment building that really captured my imagination. However, the sequence that truly fascinated me was, perhaps oddly, when the building burns down. It was a thrilling experience to see that, and – weirdly – it became a little bit of a obsession with me. I would draw versions of that sequence over and over in my drawing books as a kid, not that I was some kind of arsonist-in-waiting, but it was the spectacle of that sequence that really grabbed my attention.

Looking back I think that that sequence, among other favourite moments from the movies listed here, that helped plant the seed in my mind that filmmaking was what I wanted to do in life – something that I wouldn’t finally realise and figure out until I was 18.


The Money Pit (Richard Benjamin, 1986):

When – Late 1980s
Where – Television/Home Video
Why – I think the unrequited Architect in me was drawn most to this movie (the same part of me which is drawn to Channel 4’s Grand Designs), and I became fascinated with this crumbling old mansion (particularly the collapse of the staircase). It’s funny how certain things can grab you as a child, and this was one of those cases – I wasn’t fussed about the plot (I'd frequently fast forward to the point where they'd arrive at the house), I was just interested in Tom Hanks’ trials and tribulations with this unmitigated disaster of a fixer-upper.

It's still a fond favourite of mine, even if it was a bit of an 80's rip-off of Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House (H.C. Potter, 1948), and it always manages to transport me back to the TV room in the first house I lived at ... so more of a personal favourite than a critical favourite, but so what, eh?

Monday, 22 November 2010

General updates...

Been having some meetings of late - trying to get some contacts to try and move a project or two forward from the idea stage. There's two ideas - a feature length live action ensemble comedy done in a grass roots style purely here in Herefordshire, and the other is a motion comic short (around 15 minutes long in my mind) based on a script I did a while back.

Script wise, Summer Road is still in at the BBC Writersroom, and I've returned to working on Allen Bridge. I guess after finishing the former I was a bit drained creatively speaking, and despite the odd flourish of ideas here or there on the odd days, it has been a bit dry in the old noggin - however I'm looking to dive back into the creative juices now that my brain has had a bit of time to decompress from one big script before I get really going on the next big script - which is still Allen Bridge, my drama/thriller/mystery with a touch of something else to it.

Sometimes things just tick along in the back of your mind for a few weeks in between main projects. It's always the way between drafts of a script - you need two or three weeks to leave it alone and decompress your mind about it before you can get going again, so it's kind of like that, but a bit bigger and a bit longer.

Point being though, I'm getting the creative juices flowing again. I'm really looking forward to figuring out Allen Bridge, which is - at the moment - kind of half-figured in my mind. It's definitely a far more complex and involved script, and just the very nature of writing a mystery (or part mystery) brings its own set of challenges - but ones I'm looking forward to tackling.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

The Walking Dead Episode Three "Tell It To The Frogs" thoughts...

After the extended first episode which introduced us to the key characters (but specifically Rick Grimes), and the wider world of the zombie apocalypse, and after the second episode which gave us a jolt of zombie destruction writ large, comes the third episode which fully chows down on the meat of the character interplay that is so central to the source material.

Glenn continues to entertain and provide the voice of the average viewer, brandishing a pleasing mixture of wit, common sense, and moments of child-like wistfulness. The first two episodes were a bit light on several key characters, but episode three fleshes-out the likes of Lori, Shane, and Dale nicely. Jeffrey DeMunn brings an old school sense of class and intelligence to his role - a perfect match for his character in the comic books - while the whole Rick/Lori/Shane triangle is given a more satisfying angle here than in the original material.

The characters here really think things through, and so much is left appropriately unsaid - merely written in glances and body language - and it makes for a satisfying viewing experience. If someone is thinking of doing something stupid or dangerous, someone else will call them on it, but then the reasoning will come through. Decisions are nicely thought-through, specifically Rick's reasoning for going back to Atlanta, which calls back to both of the first two episodes.

Furthermore it's really starting to feel like The Walking Dead. The first couple of episodes do change things up quite a lot - perhaps more than some were expecting - but this third episode not only suggests why those changes were made, but it also gives us the vibe, that those of us who have read the first story in the comics, have already experienced. I'm talking about the sequence during the campfire - I really got a greater sense of this truly being The Walking Dead, after many differences along a similar path, as witnessed in the first two episodes.

A couple of smaller observations would be the performance of Carl (Chandler Riggs) - which is impressive and not at all annoying (something that can easily happen with child actors). Specifically I'm referring to the nicely played moment between Lori and Carl, with few words, when Carl is heartbroken to not see (initially anyway) his father amongst the returning members of the group. In a few strokes we get a glimpse into the mother-son relationship, and a nice grounding for Carl.

Furthermore the attack upon the zombie which is seen chowing down on a downed Deer was pretty damn cool. Lifted from the original material too was Dale getting to bring-the-awesome with a decapitation, and then the severed head still being alive and trying to get at them - a sight in the comics that was not only cool, but quite creepy.

Finally it was interesting to see how they handled the moment, again from the source material, in which the women address the fact that they're the ones washing up after, and cleaning the clothes of, the men in the camp. This reversion to stereotypes was more of a throw away gag on one page in the book, meanwhile here it is handled head-on with Carol's unreconstructed chauvinist husband Ed. As an interesting aside, Carol's partner was dead before we're introduced to her in the book, and seemingly the TV adaptation combines Carol and Donna. In the books Donna had twins and a husband, Allen, who was a bit of a scruffy middle aged slacker, but a nice enough guy. There are still others wandering around the camp who we haven't been introduced to yet, so I'm not sure if that's actually the case - but it seems to be the case.

Here, after some apparent fiddling around with the characters (Carol is pitched as older than her comic book counterpart, but still the mother of Sophia), Ed - a newly created character, seemingly de-evolved from generally-amiable Allen - is a right bastard. A perfect example of a male pig if ever there was one, whose overtly old school approach to gender roles is grotesque, but challenged by Andrea - as I've said, a throw away gag in the source material is here turned into a confrontation, and ultimately it's a better handling of the fact that the men and women have both regressed to their classic cave-man-era roles. The women look after the camp and the children, and the men do the hunter/gatherer/protector thing.

Finally - I really dug the little cliffhanger at the end of the show - clearly The Walking Dead is working nicely, because I really wanted to see the next episode when the credits rolled. Roll on episode four!

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Double Bill Mini-Cine Musings...

Jackass 3D:
Looking back on the original three seasons of Jackass, it's pretty damn tame by today's standards. At the time it was hilarious and cringe-inducing, but the further you go, the further still you'll have to go to continue eliciting the same level of response from your audience.

Such is the case with Jackass 3D, and indeed the case with the previous entries. The first Jackass movie stepped things up a considerable notch and released the franchise from the constraints of MTV on American TV. The second took things into a considerably more vile, more painful, and more shocking arena - but an arena filled with more laughter than ever before.

Jackass 3D doesn't quite have the same impact of Jackass: Number Two, especially as many of the skits are re-heats of established themes and ideas, but then again there's only so many ways to hurt yourself and make yourself vomit. This might seem like an issue, but in the world of Jackass, it's cheeseburger charm goes down a treat anyway - it's almost like a victory lap. Some of the members are showing their age now, and the closing credits includes 'then and now' footage of all the key players. There's a sense of this being a family of sorts who have grown up together, and it's this vibe which keeps the Jackass experience fresh, and maintains it as the pinacle of the stunt show thing that dominated the 2000's.

More of the same, sure, but there are stand out skits - both of the slapstick and gross-out variety - that keep things moving along nicely. It was a pleasure to see with an audience too, with everyone roaring with laughter or gasping with grimaced disbelief in unison, however when it comes to the 3D it's a mixed bag.

The resurgence of 3D made for a no-brainer when it comes to this sort of material, but also because of the type of presentation often featured in Jackass, and how the technology itself works, you're really getting half of a 3D movie and half of a 2D movie converted (sometimes seemingly not converted at all) into 3D. Certain set pieces worked nicely in 3D however, and afterall, if you're into this kind of entertainment you're going to want to see it in 3D, even if you don't get everything flying into your face.

I look forward to seeing what the DVD/BR release has to offer in terms of cut footage. Apparently there was an awful lot of good stuff cut out, and I have to say that at times you felt like certain members were being short-changed during the flick, but even still it manages to hold together well enough to make for an entertaining old romp for those inclined and acclimated to this sort of fare.


Due Date:
Following on from last year's all-conquering comedy The Hangover, which had a rubbish trailer that didn't inspire much confidence prior to seeing it, comes Todd Philips and Zack Galifianakis - accompanied by RDJ and a funny-looking, self-abusing dog - in a Planes, Trains & Automobiles-a-like ... with a rubbish trailer.

Fortunately, The Hangover turned out to be really quite entertaining, even upon a second viewing, and while Due Date doesn't quite hit some of the sheer fun of the former, once it gets going after a somewhat slow first act, it really starts to cook with some properly hilarious moments. Perhaps the trailer was so rubbish because they - wisely - didn't overexpose the comedy and kept the big gags as surprises for the audience, which wasn't the case with Burke & Hare, which gave away its best gags in the entertaining promos.

The emotional side to the plot is more subtle, or perhaps less explored, than that of Planes, Trains & Automobiles, but instead the shock-comedy factor is turned way up. It's just a good slab of fun, littered throughout which are cameo vignettes that work to varying degrees of success, and while it's not got the infectious sense of chaos which The Hangover had, the two leads (and the dog) hold your funny bones in their hands throughout. Definitely worth a watch.

Hextuple Bill Mini Musings: November 2010...

Witchfinder General:
I've never seen many, if any before now, British horror movies from the era of Hammer, but I found this - which was at the time a bit of a 'last hurrah' for Brit-horror at the time - to be really quite interesting. The actions of these deluded witch finders writ large across the screen really does pack a punch - you often read about such things as a kid in history class, but to see them painted vividly before Vincent Price's scowl is another thing entirely.

Most interesting of all was the print itself - as shown on BBC4 during the run of Mark Gatiss' History of Horror - which showed in no uncertain detail, exactly which moments of the film's violence had previously been cut out. It's a period of history that's not commonly covered in horror, if at all really, so even coming to it decades after-the-fact, it manages to hold on to the impact it no doubt had upon its original release.

Jennifer's Body:
Following hot on the heels of the just-this-side-of-smug Juno, comes what almost becomes a vehicle for Megan Fox to cock tease the sweaty-palmed teenage male section of the audience. Most of the famed 'Diablo-gue' already feels passe, but certain lines still hold on to the individualism that Juno displayed ("you give me such a wettie", for instance).

The tone of the movie however, is unsure, illustrated best by the fire that acts as the catalyst for the rest of the script. I was left feeling dumbfounded by how off that whole portion felt, and the flick never really gains a strong sense of footage, let alone itself. Perhaps the main problem is two-fold - firstly it's essentially Juno for the horror genre, and secondly because of the insane amount of focus on Megan Fox that surrounded the movie.

In short - it's disappointing. It has some good moments, but the whole feels misguided.

Miss March:
I entered this movie expecting the usual level of direct-to-DVD smut-comedy - thinking it'd be like one of those quite naff "American Pie Presents" flicks - but I was pleasantly surprised. The plot is simplistic, but it's the foul-mouthed, sex-obsessed, wide-eyed half of the central duo that makes for a pleasantly vulgar surprise throughout. Trevor Moore (who also co-wrote the screenplay) really stands out, grabbing his dialogue and performance with both hands, to give a comedic turn that's way above the expected station for this kind of fare. Without his character, his performance, and a handful of appropriately daft running gags (the whole "horsedick.mpeg" moniker, for one) it would be like all the other direct-to-DVD sex comedies, but his gusto lifts it head-and-shoulders above its peers.

Brides of Dracula:
Included in the same week of programming as Witchfinder General, I was quite surprised BBC4 didn't show 1958's Dracula. Instead they showed this, which to be honest wasn't all that great. There's barely any horror, the first half is pretty damn dull, and it never pops when Peter Cushing isn't on-screen ... so aside from some charming production design, I wasn't too interested in this one.

Let The Right One In:
Much was made of this Swedish vampire horror, which isn't really about vampires or horror, when it first came out, but I just never got around to it. Fast forward to May 2010 when it showed on FX and I stuck it onto the Sky+ box ... then fast forward six months to when I finally got around to watching it.

I can see exactly why this got so much praise. As Mark Kermode said, it's a film about childhood that just so happens to feature vampires - and that's exactly why this stands out. More than that though, the Swedish sensibility elevates this further in my opinion - when so many horror flicks are British or American, the perspective of an entirely different nationality comes as a welcome change of pace.

Subtitles wise though, I have a mixed view of them. Sometimes it's entirely appropriate for the film - such as the superior Downfall - but other times, particularly on visually electric flicks like Versus, I feel a dub is better (as long as it's done well, of course). It all depends on the type of film, and I do sometimes struggle to keep up with screeds of dialogue represented in English subtitles, something that's more annoying because I want to experience the visuals (for example a swift paced action flick like District 13). However Let The Right One In has really quite a sparse script in terms of dialogue, and this lends itself to the subtlety of it all. Little needs to be said when so much information is delivered visually with the smooth, almost painterly, direction and cinematography.

The moments of horror come quickly and leave just as swiftly, but their imagination, presentation and execution makes them memorable and entirely worthy of one or two rewinds to get another look-see. It'll be interesting to see what the American's English language remake does, but if Mark Kermode's assessment that it has been turned into a 'vampire movie that just so happens to include children', then it certainly won't beat the original ... but that's so often the case with remakes, be they inspired by age or a foreign language.

Pontypool:
Sat on the Sky+ box for a couple of months, all I knew of it was that it was a viral infection flick where the virus is spread via the English language, and that we focus on a small town disc jockey (played superbly by character actor Stephen McHattie). The fact that 99% of the movie takes place within the confines of the radio station is impressive, even more so in that you never want to leave it. The first act gets us gradually into the swing of things with performances, dialogue, editing, direction and sound design that convincingly present us with a truthful depiction of a small town radio station.

The pace is pitch perfect, and the performances (particularly that of McHattie) emphasise the almost-entirely-off-screen action and horror so well that the movie is genuinely creepy. As things take a turn for the worse and it becomes clear that there is an infection spreading through this small Canadian town, which we learn about on-the-hoof, you really do get a sense of this is how things would really play out in an equivalent real-life scenario.

The last ten minutes go a little bit off-the-boil, but other than that this is a properly creepy horror flick with a great script that successfully keeps the all-too-real-feeling horror off screen. Highly recommended.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

The Walking Dead: Episode Two "Guts" thoughts...

Week two of the rather spiffing television adaptation of The Walking Dead comic books delivers on the gore and the action in spades. Picking up where the first episode left off, with Rick trapped in a tank surrounded by walkers, we're immediately off to a thunderous start.

Within minutes we've seen the 'Hinzman hobbler' zombies pose a real, armchair-gripping threat, and been introduced properly to Glenn (played pitch-perfectly by Steven Yeun) - who goes on to provide the best lines and the most fun throughout this episode, which boasts an impressive mixture of serious issues, horror, humour and moments of gruesome gore (such as the titular scene, re-worked somewhat from the source material).

Similar to the first episode, some of the zombies - at times - can seem a bit too spry, but I guess these are the vagaries of wrangling a whole cast of zombie extras on a production. I'm sure over time they will really find their footing to create a consistent shambler for the series.

Branching out in a slightly different direction, character wise, from the source material, episode two introduces us to some new faces - such as Michael Rooker's racist redneck Dixon, who gets into a bit of a fuss with African American T-Dog, which establishes a story arc that we'll see play out in future episodes.

Speaking of these newly introduced characters, some of them feel a bit useless - only there to provide a piece of information and then just to become bystanders (I'm thinking along the lines of Jacqui and Morales, who don't do an awful lot here). Then again the comic books (in particular Volume 2 of the trade paperbacks) had their fair share of bystander characters who weren't of much use - perhaps we'll see these characters expand in future episodes, but with so many other characters at the camp site that we've not been introduced to yet, I do wonder if we really need this many side characters. It would be nice if some of these side characters actually had names, or had their names said more than once, so we could at least identify with, and refer to, them by more than just what they look like.

More impressive though is the sense of scale, as our protagonists desperately try to figure a way out of the zombie infested city, and the aforementioned titular scene in which Rick and Glenn have to make themselves smell like the zombies to avoid detection as they go in search of means of escape.

This is the sort of thing that The Walking Dead handles really well - the sort of situations and ideas that we zombie fans (or "zed heads") like to discuss on internet forums and chatrooms to the nth degree. To see these 'what if' and 'how would you' scenarios play out on screen is a real joy - speaking of which, Glenn zooming around in a brand new Dodge Challenger? So much fun!

So with a considerable amount of action, and future plotline establishing, handled in this episode, I'm looking forward to the next one, which will no doubt really get into the meat of the character interplay as we finally get to see everyone come together and really get to explore the camp site set-up and characters. Although that said, the main scene between Shane and Lori was impressively worked with a deft hand and sense of subtlety.

This is shaping up to be an excellent series.

Friday, 12 November 2010

My most memorable movie viewing experiences #1...

Best Silver Screen Experiences:

Dog Soldiers (Neil Marshall, 2002):
When – Summer 2002
Where – The Savoy Theatre, a small independent theatre.
Why – not only was it a thoroughly enjoyable werewolf flick, and Neil Marshall’s debut, but it spooked us so much that on the way home we were all creeped out by what could be out there in the darkness of the woods and fields all around us.

Sunshine (Danny Boyle, 2007):
When – Spring 2007
Where – Cineworld Multiplex
Why – Danny Boyle’s sci-fi actioner was so well shot, edited and scored that I felt truly moved by the whole experience of seeing it. Rarely have I literally been gripped to my seat when watching a movie, my heart-beating faster and faster during certain tense sequences (such as mending the sun shield). The flick’s physical impact upon me as a viewer was what really cemented Sunshine in my mind as a great cinema experience.

The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008):
When – July 2008
Where – Cineworld Multiplex
Why – I’d rather enjoyed Batman Begins, but Nolan’s all-conquering sequel was the event of 2008. A friend and I went along to a morning showing, and while he preferred Iron Man, I got totally swept up in it all. The time flew by for me, so involved was I in the twists and turns of the tale, but the moment that really stuck in my mind was when during one sequence an entire articulated truck does a front flip into the air and, several rows behind us, a young boy screamed out “WOW!” with genuine awe and wonder. It summed up what I thought of the movie, and it made me smile just hearing such an enthused reaction.

The Pit and the Pendulum (Roger Corman, 1961):
When – November 2006
Where – The Cube Microplex, Bristol
Why – in 2006 I went to the Bristol Bloodbath Film Festival (my short film VHS was being shown as part of a series of indie shorts), and the first film on the schedule was this Roger Corman flick. I’d never seen it, nor many Vincent Price roles, before and I really quite enjoyed it. However, what made this a memorable screening was the print itself – here we are sat in a half-remodelled independent theatre somewhere in the depths of Bristol, and the print is rough, gritty and raw. It broke down entirely two or three times, the reel got jammed, and even when running just fine it was full of damage. It was still certainly watchable, but this particular viewing just had so much character and charm, and it reminded me of some of the screenings we’d have at Univeristy of restored prints. It felt like a real grindhouse experience.

Boy Meets Girl (Ray Brady, 1994):
When – November 2006
Where – The Cube Microplex, Bristol
Why – again at the 2006 Bristol Bloodbath Film Festival, this was the third film on the schedule the day that I attended (which, if I remember correctly, was Saturday the 26th). Even with short breaks between films, it was this third one in a row – one with its own history of controversy and moral panic around it, and one which is undeniably brutal on the viewer – that really drained me. I began to feel like I was experiencing the Ludovico Technique, and was really quite glad when we had a break afterwards. It’s a good movie, and a tough movie, but it was even tougher in the circumstances in which I viewed it.

Drag Me To Hell (Sam Raimi, 2009):
When – 31st May 2009
Where – Cineworld Multiplex
Why – so often on documentaries and featurettes about classic horror films have I heard statements along the lines of “the audience just went nuts, everybody was screaming!”, and I was beginning to wonder if this was just filmmaker hyperbole. Fast forward to the lads and I viewing Sam Raimi's return to the horror genre, and what became quite possibly my all-time favourite cinema-going experience as the entire audience bucked and weaved in their seats as the tension and shocks worked their full fun-house magic upon them (and us). The audience was all in it together, chuckling at isolated mutterings of tense desperation, and laughing at themselves after a good scare. As I’d said before, I'd thought that these sort of audience reactions were essentially hyperbole by filmmakers on retrospective documentaries, but with this film I experienced exactly that kind of atmosphere for myself – and it was fantastic.

Avatar 3D (James Cameron, 2009):
When – 20th December 2009
Where – Cineworld Multiplex
Why – say what you like about James Cameron’s block busting eco-flick event-of-the-year about 10ft tall blue alien cats, I rather enjoyed it, and what’s more I enjoyed the spectacle of the event itself. I’d never seen a movie in 3D before, let alone this new fangled “it actually works” 3D, and so – with the theatre packed with people – we all got thoroughly stuck into the visual wonder of the 3D effect, and the fully realised world of Cameron’s Pandora. 3D is still an imperfect gimmick, but for the duration we were all transported to Pandora.

GoldenEye (Martin Campbell, 1995):
When – November 1995
Where – The Savoy Theatre
Why – I’ve never really gotten into the James Bond movies before Pierce Brosnan’s debut as the gadget-carrying, heavy drinking, shag machine secret agent, but I’ve seen all of them after (and including) GoldenEye. I went to see it with my Dad at the same small independent theatre where I saw Dog Soldiers (and several other flicks), but at the time it had recently re-opened. The d├ęcor was unfinished and the heating wasn’t working, but there I was as an 11 year-old, just me and my Dad, enjoying the hell out of it.

The Matrix (The Wachowski Brothers, 1999):
When – June 1999
Where – The Savoy Theatre
Why – once again at the same small independent theatre, now in my mid-teens, and just me and my Dad, sat on the stiff seats with my jaw on the floor as I witnessed the movie event of that year. We were both blown away. It was just awesome, 'nuff said.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

The Walking Dead: Episode One "Days Gone Bye" thoughts...

For months now I, and many other zombie fans, have been feverishly devouring any piece of information, image or video clip about the Darabont/Hurd/AMC adaptation of Robert Kirkman's revered The Walking Dead. I'd known of the source material for a while, but it was the initial news of the adaptation that inspired me to get on reading them (I don't read many graphic novels) and so far I've covered the first four trade paperback volumes.

Fast forward to November 5th - the UK premiere (on FX) of one of the most anticipated entries in the annals of zombie history, and me sitting with eyes glued to the television. A low quality version was leaked to the internet a couple of weeks ago, and while some couldn't resist to whet their whistle early, I held steady in my determination to show my support for the show officially. I mean how often do you get a zombie TV series, and how often do you get one that features shamblers?

The opening sequence is a mission statement in no uncertain terms. It establishes the style, pace, outlook and serious nature of the show - symbolised in a head shot that could possibly turn away curious folks with a distaste for gore and a fondness for camp silliness. Anyone looking for a Dawn remake style blitz of poorly drawn characters making stupid decisions for stupid reasons while the undead run faster than Usain Bolt, scream like Raptors after a glue-huffing binge, and practically fly from all the bullshit they exude, will be most disappointed - and that's a good thing.

The Walking Dead takes place in a zombie apocalypse, but that's not the point of it all - the point is what it does to the protagonists. We see how it affects them, how it forces them to do things and cross lines that they never thought they'd ever need to, and how society crumbles in human terms - not just visually speaking.

As someone who is familiar with the source material (or, at least, the first four trade paperback volumes), the TV adaptation is a joy to watch. We still get the same milestones happening along the way - the punctuations in the overall journey - but we get to them at a different pace, and sometimes by different means, so even if you've read the comics already there is plenty of interesting new takes (and new content) on what you've come to know, and quite possibly love.

There comes a point in the first episode which really solidifies what the adaptation (and indeed the franchise) is all about - a sequence which intercuts between Rick going after the 'bicycle zombie' and Morgan (considerably more fleshed out than in the comic) attempting to deal with an intensely troubling situation of his own. This sequence absolutely nails the dramatic intentions of the series, with the 'bicycle zombie' encounter delivering a devastating amount of pathos - the undead performance alone is just fantastic.

Further to this, the acting has a real weight to it, a sense of gravitas, but not in a way to become stifling or overpowering. It's not a burden to watch, rather it's compelling - just like all good television. Frank Darabont's sense of character and pacing is strongly evident and assured throughout this episode (which he directed), making it an involving season opener that leaves you wanting more (not least because of the episode's kick arse climax).

Atmosphere wise, TWD is full of it. The visuals of the zombie aftermath, particularly from a production design standpoint, are beautifully bleak. From dozens of covered bodies lying neatly in a hospital car park, to a tank surrounded and almost swallowed up by an incoming sea of the shambling undead, this show knows how to keep your attention. Sometimes the look of the show can feel 'a bit TV' (perhaps in their choice of cameras/lenses), but this is barely noticeable.

Musically the show was fairly bereft of interference; the silence suitably echoing the lifeless streets of Atlanta - although I wasn't particularly keen on the track chosen for the closing moments. It didn't match the tone well enough for me ... but maybe I've been spoiled by the Comic-Con trailer, which featured the pitch-perfect "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore" by The Walker Brothers.

Moving on, and something all zombie fans crave, is the gore. This isn't a gore fest - that's not the point in the show - but equally it's no lightweight whatsoever. Even greater is the fact that KNB are the ones pumping the blood and flinging the entrails about, and it's impressive to see how they've done their best to stay true to source material in the look of the undead - I for one will be looking forward to seeing more of the undead with their lips stretched back across their teeth. From the 'bicycle zombie' to a horse getting torn asunder, KNB are on top form. We never see too much or too little, and it fits the show well.

Speaking of gore, naturally we're going to come to the issue of CGI blood. I fully understand why CGI blood is being used more and more, and sometimes it can look absolutely shocking, but when handled appropriately it works nicely - and fortunately it's a case of the latter with TWD. While it's not 100% perfect (it was never going to be) the CGI blood letting is pretty damn close to ideal, although I did see a couple of 'blood strings' that didn't feel real ... but this is nitpicking.

Indeed the use of CGI in the show is saved for when it's really needed, and when it's wheeled out it never feels blunt. It feels appropriate.

In closing, I was very pleased with this opening episode of The Walking Dead. It's great to finally see the shambler zombie being taken seriously - or to get really technical, see the 'Hinzman hobblers' being taken seriously. A couple of shots seem to show the zombies moving a smidge too swiftly for shamblers, but again it's nothing major - just another unimportant nitpick. Furthermore the cast and crew's passion for the material really shines through. There is a palpable sense of respect throughout, making this a most welcome new era for the flesh eating ghouls that George A. Romero so vividly introduced us to in 1968's Night of the Living Dead (Darabont's 'zombie bible' guide for TWD).

George A. Romero has done more than enough for us horror fans, Dawn of the Dead alone is a cinematic milestone, but Romero has given us so much more over the years. Some have criticised (even rabidly) Uncle George for his recent entries (Land, Diary, and Survival of the Dead), but I feel this is unfair. While they may not be as beloved, or as potent and virile, as the holy trilogy that is Night/Dawn/Day, the man has earned the right to just have a giggle in his later years - to have fun. They may have split audiences (although polls on HPOTD have consistently shown that, while the original trilogy are preferred, more dig the new flicks than don't ... it's just that the haters shout the loudest), but so what? George has done more than enough - let him have fun, and you know, join in and have some fun yourself - there's room for both having fun with Uncle George and getting into some serious shit with Frank Darabont.

Without Romero we wouldn't have the zombie we all know and love - he's done more than enough for we horror fans - to expect him, after all these years and all these movies, to still be the same filmmaker he was in the 1960s through 1980s is unfair and entirely unrealistic. No mortal man could ever live up to such scrutiny and demand by a one vociferous section of the audience - give him a break - people change, filmmaking changes, the world changes.

Why can't someone else pick up the mantle and proceed onwards with serious determination? This is where Frank Darabont and Co have stepped in - with the balls and vision to give us 'the next great thing in zombies'.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Double Bill Mini-Cine Musings: Burke & Hare see RED...

RED...

Like a retirement age version of The Losers, which came out earlier this year (and also based upon a comic book), it's nothing special but it's a decent slab of fun at the same time. The action is solid, the plot gets the job done, but the real point in this flick is seeing the quality line-up of aging actors get their chompers into a bit of fun - the peak of this being Dame Helen Mirren, in a full evening gown, sternly pulling the trigger of a 50 calibre machine gun - and quite frankly, who doesn't want to see that?

Burke & Hare...

It's all true, except for the bits that aren't. Two of Edinburgh's nastiest historical figures are played for bumbling laughs in John Landis' return to filmmaking after a decade-long hiatus. It's obviously not going to have the cult following vibe of An American Werewolf in London, or the sheer farce-writ-large of The Blues Brothers, but Landis is clearly just out to have fun as he dips his toe back into the Director's profession.

It got an absolutely shocking review in Total Film (a mere 1/5!), but the vitriolic scorn poured over the two Williams is most undeserved. While it's not a real stomper of a laugh-fest, nor a real stormer of a horror flick (it was never supposed to be, aside from a couple of genuine jumps and gross-outs), it's - pardon me for using the term to describe a second movie in a row - a solid slab of entertainment.

Landis' 19th century Edinburgh is intriguing to behold (particularly for me as I was only in Edinburgh a couple of months ago on holiday), and I think the next time I go I'll be seeking out the locations used in the film. However, one of the real, and continuous, joys of the movie is seeing the procession of British comedic talent getting wheeled out for a scene or two each to fulfil all the side roles - again, it's clear as day that Landis is just out to have a bloody good time - to make a bumbling farce out of true horror, and that's exactly how Burke & Hare should be viewed.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Octuple Bill Mini Musings: October 2010 catch-up...

Midnight Cowboy:
It's thoroughly of its time, from the drugs-fuel of the 1960s obsession, to the cutting edge of the New Hollywood era where daring-do was the order of the day. It's a shame that such risk taking is rarely seen these days - could you imagine a film being made today about a country boy looking to 'make it big' in New York as a male prostitute, only to fail miserably and end up living in squalor, and at the same time be weirdly funny about it all? I don't think so.

Cat People:
Part of BBC4's horror season, and in-connection to the first episode of Mark Gatiss' "History of Horror" documentary, I was really surprised by how utterly, utterly dull this film is. Aside from a couple of decent scenes of suspense (the bus, the pool, the office), three-fifths-of-sod-all happens for 70 minutes. The opening half an hour is painfully dull, and painfully dated - in that 'oh my darling, I've known you for five minutes and I love you so, let's get married' kind of way that's unbelievable rather than charming. Each to their own and what not, but I think I'll side with John Carpenter on this one - it's naff.

I Walked With A Zombie:
From the people that brought us the dreadfully dull Cat People the year before (Director Jacques Tourneur and Producer Val Lewton, but with different screenwriters), comes this tale (again with corny 'oh I hardly know you at all, yet I want to marry you' tacked-in 'love' subplot) of a nurse brought to a beautiful-but-deathly island to look after a rich white man's zombified wife. The rich white folk view any suggestion that the native rituals and beliefs might actually hold sway over this woman's plight with condescension and mockery, but the curious nurse is keen to investigate. The pacing is far, far superior to Cat People. Stuff actually happens for one, we also see things for two, and the emaciated, bug-eyed zombified local who appears twice is genuinely creepy. The lush visuals and the intriguing plot smooth over any out-dated world views, and it was well worth a watch. I was quite charmed by it.

The Battle of the Bulge:
Only a few years after the genuinely brilliant and involved epic that was The Longest Day, came this cheesy epic. It's nowhere in the same league as the former, it's too long-winded and far too "movie!" about everything. It feels more like a kid's action man comic book than a revered take on true-to-life (and, then, recent) events.

Planet 51:
The trailer made this look genuinely funny and entertaining, but the set-up is only good enough for a trailer really as it is stretched mercilessly thin across 90 minutes. The 1950s-on-an-alien-planet-where-a-homosapien-astronaut-is-the-actual-alien angle is charming, and initially quite amusing, but then a wafer-thin 'run around for a bit, get into some scrapes, get captured, escape, run around some more, learn a lesson, say goodbye' plot turns a nifty idea for a short subject into far-from-Pixar fare. It has some nice moments and a few good chuckles, but it's undercooked and disappointing in the end.

A Serious Man:
Unapologetically Jewish, if you don't know your goys from your barmitzvahs, then too bad (but it's all the better and individual for it). Fortunately the classically-Coens plot filled with dilemmas, oddballs, and morals galore keeps things moving for the uninitiated. I much preferred the likes of No Country For Old Men, Fargo and The Big Lebowski, but the Coen charm holds it all together. Not one of their greats, but quite possibly one of their most personal efforts.

Away We Go:
An indie-vibes comedy drama from Sam Mendes filled with supporting oddball repulsives and depressed drones, about a young couple who aren't far from becoming a family for the first time, and they're looking for a place to settle. There's not an awful lot of meat to chew on, or gravitas to engage with, but it's just a really nice film to watch. The central pairing are sweet and nice. Their problems aren't demanding to the viewer, their happiness isn't overplayed or saccharine, but aspirational and a perfect balance for a succession of guest-star segments, the most notable and entertaining of which features Maggie Gyllenhaal as a mind-numbingly awful, smug, rabidly left, and forceful hippy. Do you want a happy little flick with two charming protagonists? Have a gander at this.

The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard:
Featuring a whole host of "oh that guy/chick from that comedy show/movie" actors and actresses, the first half an hour is slick and fast paced with 'the funny', but the remaining hour gets slower throughout as the basic plot movements have to get untangled, solved and wrapped up inside the 90 minutes running time. A decent comic diversion for a Friday or Saturday night - it's the sort of film you'd rent or watch on Sky Movies with a couple of friends and a couple of cans.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Upcoming blog post series...

Just a heads up to say I'll soon be doing a little series of posts - all about my most memorable movie viewing experiences. So keep an eye out for that.

I also plan, in a couple of months time, to do an update and re-assessment of my Top 50 Films of All Time list.

Deadlands 2 - limited edition Blu-Ray...

http://diabolikdvd.com/category/Browse-All-Titles/Deadlands-2-~-Trapped-Limited-Edition-%28Blu~Rayr-and-DVDr-Combo%29.html

Make your way over yonder if you want to snap up one of the remaining Blu-Rays for Deadlands 2: Trapped. It's a limited release done by the director, Gary Ugarek, himself.

The special features are as follows:

Region Free Blu-Ray (BD-r) and Region Free DVD-r (2 Disc Set)
1. Extended and Unrated Version of Deadlands 2: Trapped with over 2 minutes of additional never before seen footage
2. 5.1 Dolby Digital Audio
3. Director's Commentary
4. Introduction by film star Jim Krut
5. Introduction by Helena, Hussy of Horror
6. Composing Deadlands Featurette (10 Mins)
7. Weapons and Tactics Featurette (20 Minutes)
8. I am Zombie Man Short film Series - Includes I am Zombie Man 1, 2, & 3 w/ intro by UK writer/director Nick Thomson (35 Minutes)
9. Deadlands: The Rising - Work Print w/ Alternate and original ending (73 Minutes)
10. Trailers (4 Deadlands 2: Trapped trailers, 1 Deadlands: The Rising Trailer) (12 Minutes)
11. DEADLANDS: The Rising DVD-r (A DVD-R of the ORIGINAL and NOW out of print DVD release for Deadlands 1, now you get both versions of Deadlands 1)
Since each disc is manufactured, and printed by the director himself quantities of this 2 DISC SET will be limited.FUTURE RELEASE OF DEADLANDS 2 BLU-RAY will have different special features, so this is a COLLECTOR'S ITEM
Price: $29.99