Monday 31 January 2011

Flavours of the Month: January 2011...


Kick Ass (Blu-Ray) - still a great flick. I'd forgotten how thrilling the action set pieces were, too.

Scott Pilgrim VS. The World (Blu-Ray) - three of the four commentaries and another viewing on top, plus all the special features. I must have heard the menu music a hundred times by now.

Inception (Blu-Ray) - Nolan's mind-bender blockbuster is still as spiffing as it was in the cinema, if not more so.

The Expendables (Blu-Ray) - Ultimate Recon Mode is quite impressively done, and one of the best Picture-in-Picture tracks I've seen so far. While I generally prefer Rambo to this, it's still a bloody good time and I look forward to a sequel.

Black Books - years late to the party, but we barged through the rest of the complete box set.

Boardwalk Empire - it took a couple of episodes to get into it, but you find yourself becoming really quite invested in the characters and the complexities of their relationships. Plus the re-creation of the 1920s is superb.

Clarkson: The Italian Job - I think his DVD from 2009 was better, but it was still good for a bit of a Top Gear-like fix. The best sequence was the race at the end.

Lost: Season Three & Four DVD Extra Features - now I just need to get my mits on the last two seasons.

Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide - 3 discs of video nasty goodness, and surprisingly informative. Definitive, most definitely.


The Black Angels "Directions To See A Ghost" - I love their first album (Passover), and I've come to really dig this second outing too.

Daft Punk - Tron: Legacy Soundtrack - the flick was the visual and aural treat of 2010, so Daft Punk's superb soundtrack has been in my CD autochanger ever since.

Sex Bob-Omb, Metric "Black Sheep", and Nigel Godrich "Hillcrest Park" - there's been a distinctly Scott Pilgrim flavour to January, so that naturally extended to the aural world too.

Kick Ass OST - not only was it a great action superhero movie, but it had a cool score to boot.

Black Spiders "Just Like A Woman" - as recommended by a fellow fan of Airbourne.

Bo Diddley "Hey, Bo Diddley" - as heard during one of the Mafia 2 cutscenes.


Cold - I haven't had one since January 2009, so that was a rubbish few days. I do maintain however that some people who say they have "the flu" actually have a cold, and they're just trying to sound tough. Cold or Flu, they both suck. As if the time of year when you're packing away all the festive decorations wasn't depressing enough, eh?

Script Writing - working on the new version of the short version of zombie mini-epic "The End" (working title), as well as working on an idea to enter for a Public Information Film.

The Big Book of Top Gear 2011 - it's just a bunch of silly old nonsense mostly, but I do love Top Gear.

Cyanide & Happiness Vol. 2: Ice Cream & Sadness - my favourite online webcomic in book form for a second year running.

The Walking Dead Vol. 5: The Best Defense - I continue to make my way through the trade paperbacks for the first time, and while the dialogue is still needlessly filled with unrealistic exposition, the scenarios are intense and gripping. By the end of this volume I was gagging to read the next.

Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life (Vol. 1) - the Scott Pilgrim feel to January extended to the first two (of six) volumes of the graphic novels.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (Vol. 2) - it's interesting to see that volumes 1 and 2 basically make up an hour of the movie (which runs for an hour and 50 minutes), but it's also cool to see further exploration of the characters and entire sequences that never made it to the film version (such as Ramona and Knives' library battle).

Call of Duty: Black Ops - the second time around, like with the previous CoD, it's not about the hype and all about playing the game on its own level. It also helps that you know what to do, so you don't have moments where the action gets too confusing, which has been the case with first-runs for the last couple of CoD games.

Mafia 2 - I fancied some 1950s gangster action, so I gave this another spin. It's no GTA IV or Red Dead Redemption (essentially being a linear game in a sandbox world), but I still found myself really enjoying it as the story continues to make you invest in the characters. I even got to nab some more achievements and collectibles I'd missed the first time around.

Jeremy Klaxon - Driving Us Insane (A Parody) - just a bit of fun, and one of those pleasant surprise gifts you get at Christmas.

Friday 28 January 2011

"The End" - animated zombie mini-epic update...

The new version of the script received the final touches today, so it's all in place, and I have to say I really hope I can find an animator - a talented, willing, artistic, and most-of-all reliable animator - to bring the script to life, as I think it would be a great visual treat.

The idea with this script, in all its incarnations, has always been to show things that have never been shown in zombie films before, and to do so in a stylish way. Just as a big fan of the zombie genre - and horror in general - I'd absolutely love to see this 20 page script as a 15-minutes-or-less animated short ... and as a filmmaker, I sincerely hope I can get it made!

Due to the sheer scope of the script, it can't be done practically, so that's where animation comes in - specifically motion comics (the good ones at least) - even more specifically, The Walking Dead motion comic video that went online just before the premiere of the television adapatation. I saw this motion comic and thought "that's how this script could be done". Follow the above link, or find it on YouTube, and have a look to see what I mean.

The search for an animator is already on around Herefordshire via The Rural Media Company, and the Herefordshire Media Network, but any potential 2D computer animators who fit the (above, italicised) bill can get in contact with me via my YouTube channel - which is (I tend not to put email addresses up willy-nilly so as to avoid spambots slurping up the data and sending more inane spam).

Links to examples of your work (on YouTube, or Vimeo, or similar video sites) would be good, as well as some information about you and your work.

I unfortunately cannot afford to pay, so it's purely about helping me create an excellent, visually stunning showcase of the talents of all involved in the project - to gain a credit, and hopefully garner recognition for your work and talents (I hope to spread the video online like a viral video via social networking, video sites, horror sites & blogs, and film festivals - and gain word-of-mouth to spread it further still - for it to be not only a great short animated film, but be a great stepping stone for all involved).

If you're an undergraduate, or graduated, 2D computer animator - or just willing to work for the credit and the opportunity - then please do get in touch via my YouTube channel.

Double Bill Mini Musings: Eternal Panic of the Nasty Mind...

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind:
I'm years late to the party on this one, sure, but I got there in the end and I really dug it. I wasn't much into the likes of Being John Malkovich (same writer - Charlie Kaufman), and I was half-annoyed-by-and-half-enjoyed Be Kind Rewind (same director - Michel Gondry), but Spotless Mind really drew me in. The central idea of wiping painful memories is consistently interesting and explored in such a way that you can follow it as well as explore it on your own, and it's not deliberately obtuse either, which is nice.

Most of impressive of all however was how they were able to represent memories on screen - how memories look, how they feel, how they leap from one-thing-to-another, and how they might look whilst they're being erased. I really enjoyed it and I found it to be really quite touching at the same time. A most rewarding watch.

Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship and Videotape:
It's no surprise that Jake West produced this impressively realised doc on the 1980s moral panic that struck the UK - as you can see the influence of these grue-and-grot flicks (some genuinely impressive, others utterly rubbish) on his past works.

The 'grubby old videotape' aesthetic is a lovely bit of visual flair added to proceedings - and impressively realised in fact - it was most convincing, including at one point bring up that old familiar friend 'the tracking bar'. Filled with notable writers and academics, and even some filmmakers, with a passion for these so-called video nasties, it's a thoroughly informative piece and took me back to 1999 when the BBFC experienced a seismic shift in its attitude to these kinds of movies - at the time I was in my early-to-mid-teens, and this sudden onslaught of video nasties was a joy to behold for me. In a way I got to experience, at least partly, what the talking heads in this documentary got to experience back in the early 1980s.

It's shocking to believe the whole video nasty nonsense took hold, but on the other hand it's entirely believable. Anyone who dared to question the 'common thoughts of the established order' was chastised and berated, and even bullied ... something which we now have in relation to Climate Change, sourced from the apoplectic rage of those who fanatatically believe in one way and one way only, and anyone who dares question or seek alternate routes is a heathen. Such an extreme approach to anything - be it horror movies, or Climate Change, or whatever socio-political panic/concern/issue you fancy - is entirely inappropriate, downright frightening, and a case of taking two steps back with every step forward.

Furthermore it's incredible how the legislation came to be - through 'research' that was ineffective and ultimately stolen and warped by an apparent egomaniac, and through a process of de-contextualised 'montages of mayhem' splattered across the eyes of MPs who probably only knew of horror as that produced by Hammer in the 1950s through 70s, or even Universal in the 1930s ... what was even more incredibly, as discovered last year, was that the resultant Video Recordings Act was never actually a law. It wasn't enacted correctly - but now it has been.

The documentary sticks closely to the main period of contention - namely the early 1980s - but at one brief point there is mention of the utterly tragic and totally horrific murder of James Bulger in 1993, which again resulted in cries of "Ban These Sadist Videos" from reactionary tabloids. It's a shame they didn't explore this a little further, and it's incredible that the filmmakers didn't analyse the collapse of the video nasties era in 1999 when the BBFC experience a major shake-up, resulting in a torrent of previously banned and/or heavily cut horrors were unleashed upon the public (who were either excited genre fans (such as myself), or everyone else who wasn't particularly fussed). So it was quite disappointing that they didn't follow the story all the way through to the end.

Also, it was disappointing that they focused solely on Conservative MPs of the time - now, sure, the Conservatives were running the country at the time, but as pointed out briefly at around an hour into the film, the legislation received no opposition and went on the books with all-party support. What's more, it almost seems as if just the Daily Mail (and Mary Whitehouse) was banging on about these "video nasties", when surely there was a far wider discourse across tabloids of all political hues going on. So that was a bit annoying - the realisation that the proceedings leading up to the VRA seemingly received no opposition in Parliament - from any political party - was quite something, and it would have been nice if library material featuring MPs of different hues discussing the video nasties issue.

However, despite a couple of gripes, it's a great documentary (and an entertainingly stylish one at that) - a must-see for any horror genre and/or "video nasty" fan - and I highly recommend you check it out. It's still astonishing that the MP who was essentially the 'MP guide' for the anti-nasties movement once said that these movies would detrimentally affect dogs!

In addition to all this are trailers (with detailed introductions) for the various films which featured on the DPP's list of 72 titles (39 of which became "the final 39" for which those supplying them could face harsh fines or even jail). It's an impressive package all round, so if you're into your 'grue and grot' cinema then it's a definite must-buy.

Monday 17 January 2011

Hextuple Bill Mini Musings: December-to-January...

Silent Night, Deadly Night:
There are moments during this festively themed slasher that are surprisingly nasty and mean spirited ... not that slashers are generally known for their good natured hugs and kisses, that is ... but it is easy to see how the premise alone enraged a whole league of middle American soccer moms.

What is actually messed up though is that some of the Santa Slaying stuff goes on in front of child actors, which was a bit odd and uncomfortable to see ... however outside of that it's a decent killer flick, even if it becomes more about disjointed scenes in the second half, unlike the clear narrative paths of better known slashers.

Fantastic Mr. Fox:
Charming, in a word. Roald Dahl's tale is given the old school stop-motion animation treatment, with big-and-indie-name cred, and it was really quite enjoyable. Not much to say about it really, but I dug it.

Return to The House on Haunted Hill:
A cheap direct-to-DVD sequel to the post-Scream mental asylum jumper. It's a shame the characters are either bland and uninteresting, or off-the-peg baddies, because the central plot could have been fairly interesting - especially if they'd gotten more into the house itself and it's tortured past. Quite frankly just seeing a few flashes of horror icon Jeffrey Combs (who has no dialogue bar one "NOOOOOO!") isn't good enough and it feels like a missed opportunity ... and once again I'm left still wanting a properly good mental asylum horror flick.

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls:
This 1970 Russ Meyer flick (written by, weirdly, Roger Ebert) is so insanely 1960s than even the 1960s weren't this 1960s. Words of the decade are thrown around at machine gun pace, everyone's into the free-love-and-drugs, and good lord it's just too long. Meyers hadn't really gotten into his full-on swing yet, but his fast-cutting and creative visuals (a precursor to the music video) at least give a bit of flair to all the nonsense that's going on. It's strengths are also its weaknesses.

Crazy Heart:
Not a lot to say about this one, but Jeff Bridges is on tip-top form as an alcoholic country singer given a shot at personal redemption and another shot at the big time. His Oscar was well deserved.

The Bone Collector:
A properly 1990s Se7en cash-in that takes the sinister tone and shocks of Fincher's stand-out horror/thriller and waters them down for more mainstream tastes - an assertion summed up by the rushed reveal, and feel good ending. Before that, however, it was a decent enough serial killer thriller ... although still very much in debt to the superior Se7en.

Sunday 9 January 2011

Script updating...

After the distractions of the Xmas season, I got back into The End - the zombie mini epic which I have returned to - and did a tidy up of the new draft.

Again, the idea with this is to find a 2D computer animator who is reliable, talented, artistic, and willing to bring the visuals to life (the sorts of visuals that would cost a lot of money and take a lot of time and man power to do practically). I want to do something that's, relatively speaking, on a small scale (i.e. a handful of people to cover the animating, voice artistry, and music, while I act as writer/director/editor), but which is visually-speaking big scale.

The idea came about in 2007 when someone asked me 'what would you really like to see in a zombie movie'.

So that's what I'm working on right now - with Allen Bridge still germinating in the background, as it has proved to be a trickier thing to figure out than I had perhaps initially thought.

Wednesday 5 January 2011

Tron Legacy 3D...

The original Tron was a very important moment in cinematic history. It employed the first use of computer graphics in a motion picture and inspired a whole new way of filmmaking - and included in the tidal wave of inspiration was John "Pixar" Lasseter. However, looking back on the original flick just recently, the script is a bit iffy. It's filled with cringey computer jargon that feels thrown in for the sake of it, and the plot - that essentially boils down to 'computer programmer's games are stolen by somebody who clearly doesn't look like a games maker at all, ends up regaining his intellectual property by accidentally ending up inside one of his creations, only to win and become the boss man' - wasn't all that great.

What was great was the world of 'the grid' itself, and that has been the reason for the enduring power of this out-of-the-blue 1980s milestone.

This sequel came as a little bit of a surprise on one hand, but on the other - considering the current, advanced state of CGI technology that the original movie set in motion - it makes total sense. What's more the plot is much more interesting than that of the first - even if certain areas could really do with some beefing up - being that it's essentially a son trying to find his father after a two decade absence.

Fortunately, after hearing a bunch of reviewers go on about a "disappointing plot", I was pleasantly surprised to find it actually much fuller than I'd been led to believe, albeit with some shading and definition left undone. However, Tron Legacy does two things very well - the looks, and the sounds.

Building on an already iconic look established in the first movie, Legacy finds us in a world of cool blues and threatening oranges - a maze-like world of neon glow and glassy surfaces. The visuals of the movie as-is are so strong in fact, that they totally over-ride the use of 3D. I saw it in 3D and suffice to say I barely noticed. This will partly be down to the overpoweringly good visuals of 'the grid', but also because you don't often get a sense of planes of distance - the very thing that provides 3D with its ability to make stuff poke out of the screen.

So despite disappointingly unnecessary 3D (the 3D previews were far better in that respect), the look of the Legacy clearly marks it as the visual experience of 2010 without a shadow of a doubt.

Moving on to the aural experience, and Tron Legacy boasts a superbly suited soundtrack from Daft Punk - something which has had the internet giddy with excitement since the announcement. The marriage of Daft Punk's electric orchestra sounds with Legacy's awe-inspiring digital vistas and cityscapes is perfect. Suffice to say that as soon as I left the cinema I bought a copy of the soundtrack CD.

So, all-in-all, it's a truly impressive and memorable visual and aural, with a plot that could use some extra shading - but which was nowhere near as flimsy as I'd been led to believe - and featuring solid performances from Hedlund and Bridges. Speaking of which, it's cool to see the elder Flynn after all these years, chilled out zen talk and all, with Hedlund successfully depicting a junior Flynn who is every bit his offspring, and every bit the modern day extreme sports playboy that you'd imagine he would have been all along.

I'm really looking forward to seeing this again on Blu-Ray ... in 2D. Here's hoping we get a quality package to go along with this thoroughly enjoyable techno-flick.

Monday 3 January 2011

My Chronological Top Ten Films of 2010:

The Book of Eli (17/1/2010):
More of a movie apocalypse than the realism of The Road, with arse kicking action, superb visuals, and a great soundtrack. It's not perfect, and the central theme might turn some away, but I really quite enjoyed it from start-to-finish.

Shutter Island (27/3/2010):
A B-Movie genre flick with the talent and budget of an A-Movie. Scorsese excelled at forboding atmosphere and paranoid asylum-bound mystery, while DiCaprio delivered yet another quality performance.

Kick Ass (4/4/2010):
Superheroes that aren't so super, but who cause a lot of violent havoc and have filthy mouths. Pure, unrestrained entertainment. Sequel please.

Inception (19/7/2010):
A mind-bending blockbuster with a thunderous score, the best trailer of the year, and the ability to mix wow-factor visuals with huh?-factor smarts.

The A-Team (1/8/2010):
One of the pleasant surprises of the year. I thought it was going to be a disaster upon first hearing about it, but it grew on me gradually, and then proved to be an thoroughly enjoyable action romp.

The Expendables (22/8/2010):
I prefered Rambo, but the sheer bad-assery of this 1980s throwback actioner employing modern techniques provided an addictive dose of adrenaline. Plus Terry Crews' shotgun was amazing.

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (28/9/2010):
It's a shame it didn't do a bit better at the box office, but it was clear from the first frames that this was going to be a cult hit all the way. This unappologetically niche flick has kept coming back into my mind over the months since its summer release, and I look forward to delving deeper into the Pilgrim universe with the graphic novels.

Jackass 3D (7/11/2010):
The whole 3D thing hasn't evolved beyond a flashy visual gimmick, and I doubt it ever truly will, so a bunch of idiots hurting themselves and flinging various bodily fluids at the camera was an ideal use for this technology. An ideal audience participation experience, filled with absurdly gross-out moments.

Toy Story 3 (Blu-Ray) (23/11/2010):
Perhaps the best one of the three, but certainly tied with the original, this series closer provided guffaws and lumps-in-throats in equal measure. A visual treat with a heart-felt script to match. It tugged on your heart strings with Pixar's perfected storytelling skills and was a definite 2010 Top Five moment. That sequence in the final act alone was enough to earn it endless kudos.

Tron Legacy (2/1/2011):
The script could have used a touch more shading for certain aspects, but as a visual and aural experience it was second-to-none for 2010. The 3D wasn't employed to particularly involving effect as the neon glitz of The Grid overtook any depth-of-field snazziness with ease, and the soundtrack by Daft Punk was pulse-poundingly perfect. I really enjoyed this flick, and while the original was a very important moment in cinematic history, this sequel really delivered the goods for me.

Honourable Mentions:

The Road (31/1/2010):
This is exactly how the apocalypse would be in real life - unlike The Book of Eli's darkly entertaining movie-apocalypse - a harrowing and tough experience. It didn't quite have the hauntingly memorable quality of Cormac McCarthy's superb book, but the heartfelt father/son tale translated perfectly to devestatingly moving effect. It's a film for fathers to deal with the fact that one day they'll be gone and their offspring will have to fend for themselves, and it's a film for sons to deal with the realisation that one day their guiding light will be extinguished. Like I said - devestatingly moving.

Machete (28/11/2010):
Perhaps I had amped it up in my head too much since the release of the thoroughly enjoyable Grindhouse, but Machete didn't quite fire on all cylinders after an uproariously entertaining opening. However, despite the slight disappointment, it was filled with that gleeful grindhouse vibe and I'm sure I'll enjoy it time-and-again on home video.

The Town (26/9/2010):
Ben Affleck's heist thriller might have treaded similar boards to many other heist thrillers, but it's honest and detailed approach to Boston's criminal class, and the three superbly crafted heists made it stand above its peers who have come out in the wake of influential flicks like Michael Mann's Heat.

Back to the Future (re-release, 3/10/2010):
I didn't include this in the 2010 Top Ten as it's a re-release, but it was easily one of - if not the - best cinema-going experience of 2010. The movie is perfect already, so it was glorious to see this life-long favourite on the big screen, but more than that it was heart warming to see young parents bring their young children to see this film that had been so important to them and successfully pass their enjoyment onto their offspring.

Sunday 2 January 2011

Hextuple Bill Mini Musings: December 2010 left overs...

The Descent: Part 2:
Neil Marshall's spelunking 'chicks with picks' claustrophobic nerve shredder was a truly wonderful piece of pin-sharp scare mongering, but annoyingly for the American release it had to have an 'up' ending (relatively speaking) ... or, rather than 'up', an ending capable of providing a sequel.

So here we are with a second part that brings in a bunch of American spelunkers, including one beligerant bastard of a Sheriff, and off we go again as the sole survivor of the first quietly goes along with the plan to head back down into the caves.

There are a few moments of nice scene setting, but there's no mystery here. The first had mystery, and it had build-up (lots of it), and most importantly it was nail-bitingly claustrophobic and provided a handful of proper scares. Sadly, yet entirely predictably, this unnecessary sequel can't beat Marshall's superior original, which should have always been a stand-alone affair.

Lost Highway:
Having been all about Twin Peaks for a few weeks, I figured I'd give David Lynch's surreal dose of disjointed nightmares another go - I say that because during my teenage years I attempted to watch it and gave up after half an hour. So a good ten-or-more years later I returned, determined to see it through to the end.

There's not really much of a plot, nor does it seem there is supposed to be one, so really it's a series of vaguely connected nightmares and nightmarish ideas. Like a blended mixture of shreds of various disturbed night's sleep. I much prefer Blue Velvet, but it was good to finally see this one through to the end.

The Bird With The Crystal Plumage:
Everything that Dario Argento is, does best, and does time-and-again, is exemplified during an early sequence in which an artist witnesses a mysterious attempted murder in an art gallery. Everything about this sequence summarises Argento's direction, writing, and attention to appearances.

Typically, the plot has its fair share of holes (particularly the typically last-minute-seeming twist), but Argento has never really been about having a solid plot. It's all about the carefully crafted design behind the camera of what is in front of the camera, and Crystal Plumage proved to be an involving muder mystery.

Deep Red:
Similar to Crystal Plumage, this gore-flecked murder mystery features an artist (a pianist) becoming fascinated by solving a murder, which becomes a series of murders, featuring a figure clad in leather gloves, a black hat, and a leather trench coat. Once again the plot isn't the main focus - it's the lush visuals and sheer design aesthetic - and, again, the twist reveal is all a bit hurried. However, once again, this proved to be a hypnotically good bit of giallo.

The Cat O'Nine Tails:
It's not really a horror flick, it's a murder mystery, that just so happens to feature moments of horror-movie-like crimson grue, and - you guessed it - aesthetic takes the driver's seat. The plot is a little more dense than either Deep Red or Crystal Plumage, and while I enjoyed it least of the three, I still dug the overall vibe.

Up In The Air:
Thank You For Smoking, and Juno, were both memorable comedies with an indie-ish vibe that stretched beyond the dull and banal traditions of many recent Hollywood laughers, and Up In The Air continues in a similar vein. The final act may prove less assured than the first half, which provides a strong central protagonist for George Clooney to sink his teeth into - a protagonist who is a bit of a narcisistic git who only cares about getting to 10 million frequent flier miles and being away from 'home' as much as possible. Yet, much to the quality of the script and direction, you never feel put off by this man - indeed you find yourself becoming fascinated, impressed even, by his carefully organised business travel life going from city-to-city sacking employees of various companies, whose bosses are too wimpy to do the deed themselves.

I really quite enjoyed it, and out of Reitman's two previous flicks, it feels more like Thank You For Smoking - with it's not-that-likeable-yet-still-likeable protagonist - than Juno, with it's face-punchingly-sarcastic high schooler.