Sunday 26 June 2011

Hextuple Bill Mini Musings: June 2011...

His Girl Friday:
I've wanted to see this Howard Hawks screwball comedy for quite sometime. Indeed I'm surprised it wasn't shown during my film course (although we did watch another screwball comedy - Bringing Up Baby), and I'm pleased to report that the dialogue was as machine-gun-fast and whip-smart as I'd hoped. It's a marvel unto itself, the dialogue and the delivery. Cary Grant's newspaper editor is still fascinated by his now ex-wife Rosalind Russell (who's about to head off and marry another man and leave her sharp journalistic wits behind), and over the course of the film he pulls out every dirty trick he can to keep her in town and lure her back into her passion for the newspaper game. A mighty fine example of the screwball comedy.

99 Women:
Prior to this point, I believe the only Jess Franco movie I'd ever seen was Oasis of the Zombies (a movie so bad it's kind of good) ... although I have also seen the superior Zombie Lake (which Franco co-wrote). This is an earlier example of the 'Women In Prison' genre, and it boasts an aggressively lurid synopsis that has you believe it's a grot-filled sleaze epic ... when in fact it's anything but. Positively tame for the most part, the back-of-a-fag-packet plot consists of 99 women stuck in an island jail run by a sadistic Warden. Not an awful lot happens, there's an escape, then everything goes back to normal. Best reserved for die-hard Franco-fans.

The Card Player:
After the rather disappointing The Stendhal Syndrome, and the solid Sleepless, I was quite pleased to find that this Argento giallo flick from 2004 was pretty decent. A maniac is on the loose, challenging the police to win at games of poker to save the lives of his potential victims. While the climax is curiously void of tension (it's a touch wacky, to boot), and the plotting is typically light when it comes to characterisation and motivation, it moves along at a decent pace and manages to involve you for the most part. Naturally its far from Argento's heyday, and while Sleepless was better, it's not an atrocity by any means.

A Town Called Panic:
Fellow Brits might be familiar with those Cravendale milk adverts featuring a jumble of plastic toy figures (all stop motion animation) ranting at the top of their lungs about how mad-for-milk they are. Well this is that - but an entire feature film (in French), featuring Horse, Cowboy, and Indian. It's gleefully childish (in the best possible way) in its almost bedtime story-like narrative - Cowboy and Indian seek to build Horse a BBQ for his birthday, requiring 50 bricks, but they accidentally order millions of them, which leads onto a bizarre journey (which at one point involves a giant snowball-flinging Mech-like metal penguin piloted by scientists). Beautifully shot, the animation is simple - but joyously so - indeed it reminds you very much of your own playtime when you were a child (minus the barmy French characters shouting feverishly). It's a film for all the family and it's highly recommended you check it out.

A Nightmare On Elm Street 2010:
Wes Craven's franchise-starting 1984 original had an inventive idea driving the properly crafted narrative, and it introduced us to a pitch-perfect new face of terror (well, until he turned into a cartoon character marketted - bizarrely, even perversely - to children as a cuddly rogue at the height of his popularity). Samual Beyer directs his film debut like a music video (he's best known for the video to Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and Green Day's "American Idiot" videos). Like a music video it's impatient to get going (the movie begins at minute zero with us already in a nightmare), and due to the rush you care little (if at all) for the protagonists.

On the one hand it wants to rip-off the famous moments from Craven's decidedly far superior original, and on the other it wants to branch out ... but whenever it does, it hints at an idea that could have (in the hands of a talented screenwriter who cared about motivation, characterisation, tension building, and pacing) created a really interesting new take on a well-worn genre legend. Then it goes and blows it, time and again, and just cobbles together a bunch of vaguely connected dream sequences (none of which are scary, let alone chilling, nor mildly cool). Half of the cast feel totally disconnected (more like celebrity wannabes, than anyone interested in acting), and the other half that have any talent are totally wasted (I'll be interested to see Roony Mara take on The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo under the superior direction of David Fincher, and Kyle Gallner in Kevin Smith's much-talked-about chiller Red State).

Only one sequence - a flash back to how-and-why Freddy got fried - holds any intrigue (indeed, a talented screenwriter could have crafted a deeply dark origin story), but that doesn't save the movie from being a heartless, witless, and completely-and-utterly pale immitation of Craven's iconic original. Presentationally it feels like an imitation of the Friday 13th remake, which in-turn was an imitation of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, and The Amityville Horror remake (all produced by Platinum Dunes ... or 'The Remake Assembly Line' as it should be known). These Platinum Dunes movies have dropped in quality consistently with each new product that's foisted upon the horror community (notorious gluttons for punishment, whose curiosity inevitably kills the cat) from good-but-still-inferior-to-the-original, to downright woeful.

Jackie Earle Hayley is also wasted here - under a supposedly 'more realistic' (yet entirely unconvincing, nor frightening) mask - with a dud script and a director who blows his load almost immediately revealing too much of Freddy early on (several times). This could have been a golden opportunity to make a dark origin story that avoided the content of the original almost entirely, but instead this is just another cash-hungry, churned-out, load of old bullshit. Avoid it like the plague, and let's hope they don't make a sequel to it!

Angelina Jolie, a CIA agent, discovers she is an undercover Russian sleeper agent and goes on the run in this far-fetched, but briskly entertaining actioner. It does a relatively decent job of keeping you guessing (enough at least) throughout most of the movie, the action is entertaining, and the punchy running time stops it from outstaying its welcome. It's no classic, but it's a fun way to spend 90 minutes.

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