Monthly Archives: October 2011

The Dambusters – Dated but excellent war movie, focussing on both ingenuity and bravery 8/10

The Dambusters (1955) 

This movie is based on the true story of a raid by British bombers to take out the dams of Germany, used to power and aid in the steelmaking process, powering Germany’s war machine. It’s dated somewhat both in presentation (the dialogue is clipped, very stiff-upper lip) and certainly in its special effects. It’s also a bit problematic in that the leader – Guy Gibson – has a dog whose name is now quite a severe racial slur (the N-word), and whose presence is throughout the movie – which is a shame as it means they barely ever put this movie on the TV.

However, it’s very stirring stuff, despite being pretty anti-gungho. I really enjoy how technical problems kept coming up, and the boffins or the airmen just shrug and say ‘we’ll work it out’ – and they do just that for each and every seemingly-impossible problem, by sheer ingenuity and brainpower. The attack requires a new type of bombing mechanism – the ‘bouncing bomb’, thought up by Barnes Wallis – one of the great engineers of the war, which has to dispatched at exactly the right height and distance from the target.

The bombers who have already dropped their load go in with each run of the next bomber to help draw flak, and given these men have to fly very low over water at night, with spotlights on, and always unload the bomb in exactly the same position – these guys were sitting ducks and they knew it.

It’s a movie of brave men training to fly at insanely low heights for hundreds of miles just to get where they needed to, and then fly into flak with courage and coolness to deliver their payload. There’s no dflag-waving, there’s no histrionics, just men knowing what they have to do, and doing it. It ends in a downbeat way, with the survivors resting in their bunks, whilst the bunks of the 56 lost men lie empty.

A war movie with a documentary feel, I’d thoroughly recommend this as long as poor special effects don’t bother you.

Rating: Good, 8/10

Trilogy of Terror – fun little made-for-TV anthology horror, especially the final story 7/10

Trilogy of Terror (1975)

This is a made-for-TV anthology horror movie consists of three stories.  Each story is about a specific woman or women, and each central character is played by the same actress, Karen Black.  She’s actually quite a good actress, selling you the preposterousness of some parts of the story, and she’s very striking with odd features…kind of grotesquely pretty.

The first story is about a mousey, timid woman who teaches at a college, and who relucantly agrees to a date with one of her students (they’re both adults, by the way).  This guy turns out to be a really sleazy type who drugs her and takes pictures of her so he can blackmail her for months to do all sorts of terrible things (this is all implied rather than shown).  I loathed this guy, but the end saw a great comeuppance, so I enjoyed this story a lot.

The second story was a tale about two sisters, one bad and one good, who inhabit the same house and hate each other…however you could see the end a mile off, as they were both played by Karen Black – there’s no way she can hide her features enough to pull this off convincingly.

The third story was a hell of a lot of fun, and the one most remembered by anyone who has seen this movie.  Basically a lone woman is terrorised by a little warrior voodoo (‘Zuni’) doll in her apartment – imagine gremlins with a scary looking doll instead of a gremlin.  Now, this should be completely ridiculous and laughable, but Black sells it completely – it’s genuinely scary and you’ll be getting tension in the shoulder-blades as she creeps around the apartment, trying to find the thing or as a door-handle turns.

Definitely recommended.

Rating: ODD, 7/10
Suitable for teens and adults

The Wicker Man (1973) Mysterious and unique horror movie 10/10

The Wicker Man (1973)

In the Cinemas in 1973 but made a few years earlier, The Wicker Man is an exceptional and very classy horror movie, dealing with a seemingly gentle though unusual society, seen through the eyes of a stout Christian.

A policeman is sent to a remote Scottish island called Summer Isle to investigate the disappearance of a young girl. He’s a dedicated old-school Christian, and is first disconcerted by the strangeness of the community, then shaken by its open sexuality and possibly passive-aggressive stance to his questions, and then finally disgusted by its adherence to Pagan rituals. Finally his investigations lead him to the truth behind the girl’s disappearance, and the more startling secret behind that…

This film is wonderful. Edward Woodward (probably known to many of you as the star of ‘The Equalizer’) is excellent casting for the dour and grim hero of this piece, as is Christopher Lee as ‘Lord Summerisle’, leader of this community. This film is also whimsical (in the folky music) and erotic (with Britt Ekland playing the pub landlord’s daughter Willow, who tries to entice the policeman by singing a slightly bawldy song while dancing). Woodward convinces you he is deeply tempted, but also a man of conviction that can hold out to such temptation.

This is a slow-burn movie, but does convey a sense of off-kilter from the very beginning, as the policeman arrives. We are aware he is an outsider given his uniform and his obvious fish-out-of-water demeanour, and we empathise with his dislocation, I think. The growing dread of the policeman as he nears the truth of the disappearance is obvious and palpable. The film builds confidently as it goes, and the different elements (music, sex, ritual, mysticism) are conveyed brilliantly through the dialogue and direction. This wouldn’t have worked with a less talented director and screenwriter, but here it is just wonderful. The sense of creeping, dawning dread has you on the edge of your seat at times, just waiting to see the next discovery in the investigation.

The film is also remarkable as it is one of the most cliche-free movies you’ll see. It doesn’t rely on the usual horror movie conventions to frame and create its tension…it’s more like a detective movie with a touch of the eerie and erotic much of the time, but it is definitely tense and ultimately horrific.

I’ve been very careful not to give away too much here, as the whole film should be a pleasure taken first-hand, and if you’ve not seen it and don’t know about the story from start to end, I envy you and urge you to see it.
Rating: ODD, 8/10
Suitable for adults only.

TV Review: Doctor Who Regeneration 1 Series 003 – The Edge of Destruction 5/10

Doctor Who Regeneration 1 Series 3: The Edge of Destruction (aka Inside the Spaceship aka Beyond the Sun)

This two-episode serial is quite unusual.  It only features the 4 main principals, and is set entirely on the Tardis.  The story is that the crew awake disorientated, and slowly realise it’s a race against time to figure out what’s wrong before the Tardis is destroyed.

It’s an odd one, especially the first part of the first episode, where the cast act completely disorientated, repeat things like they can’t remember what they said, and so on.  As it goes on, they get more lucid, but various issues arising from earlier serials come to a head.  The doctor shows distrust of Ian and Barbara, thinking they are trying to sabotage the ship, but slowly realises he’s wrong, and how valuable his new crewmates are.  We also get a setup of the Tardis being more than a machine, having some sort of innate intelligence.

However, it’s very slow and rather tonally hysterical in places (in that the acting is overwrought and much too melodramatic).  Worth a look for Whovians though.

Rating: ODD, 5/10
Suitable for all ages

 

Book Review: American Gods by Neil Gaiman 7.5/10

Book Review: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

This is my first time reading Neil Gaiman, having decided to give him a try after his excellent episode of a recent Dr Who, where the Tardis become personified as a woman.

This particular story involves the premise the gods and mythical creatures from all major pantheons are alive and well and living as (mostly) people (except the Greek and Roman pantheons – they seem absent) in America – ostensibly because people from all across the world that believed in them migrated to America.  However, the old gods are fading as less and less people actively believe in them, whilst new gods (such as TV, the motorcar, etc) are rising.  The main protganist is a man who gets sucked into this by one of the old Gods to help gather the old gods into a coherent force, as this old god believes the new gods are trying to actively destroy the old gods.

He’s an efficient writer, keeping a good balance of dialogue, narrative drive, and interesting asides that inform and enrich the story. The story is twisty enough to not see the turns coming, and I thought I’d spotted the ending half-way through – and was completely wrong.  It takes an unexpected path and avoids what looks like the predictable ending, and keeps readable and engaging to the end.
Rating: ODD, 7.5/10
Suitable for older teens upwards

Movie Review: 25th Hour – excellently made drama about a failed life 8/10

25th Hour

25th Hour examines the last day of freedom of a man before being sent to jail for 7 years. The main character is Monty Brogan, a drug dealer in New York City. He is played by Ed Norton in a really powerful and moving lead performance. The film is directed by Spike Lee, a director I’ve admired and liked for some time, and who I felt had peaked with the wonderful ‘Malcolm X’ – until I saw this.

This movie is essentially a long goodbye, where Monty plays out all the issues he has with his real friends, his business associates, his city and its citizens, and his girl. This is a beatifully-played film, filled with such issues as longing, regret, and ‘what if’, and friendships/love that may or may not be over. It’s a film about goodbyes in that sense, but there’s much more here than meets the eye.

Each of his friends are an important element in showing us the real Monty, and not only him, but how he has reflected on them (in no small way). They feel guilt and remorse in not having stopped him becoming a dealer, for example. There’s no plot other than him saying his goodbyes, but that’s more than enough. The support actors are excellent, and more than match Norton’s intense and realistic performance. The support includes Rosario Dawson as his girlfriend Naturelle, Philip Seymour Hoffman as his thoughtful and reticent friend who is a teacher with the hots for one of his students (Anna Paquin), and Barry Pepper as a pushy stock-market guy who is deeply struck by how he’s let his friend Monty down. These people give brilliantly-acted, blistering scenes that elegantly and dramatically fill in their backstory, and tell you how they got to the here and now.

Also wonderful is the moving interplay of father and son, with Brian Cox playing Monty’s father. How he comes to terms with his son’s prison sentence, and how he tries to lead his son to not go to prison and run, is powerful and striking. It illustrates the nature of fatherhood perfectly (to me at least), of how you care for your child, but can’t engage him as fully and as emotionally as a mother can. But still, you do your best.

There have been assorted criticisms ranged at this movie, particularly suggestion how the 9-11 motif is jammed in, and how this creates jarring scenes and moods that spoil the flow of this movie, but I find it appropriate and fitting. This is a film about New York and New Yorkers too, so to ignore this aspect of New York and American life would be trite, and seem to me a little petty.

The fact that this is a film about a low-life drug dealer that engages your sympathy and makes you think and feel pretty deeply towards this guy, and think on it long after the movie has finished, confirm the quality of film-making here. It’s a film that will have you thinking, and talking about it afterwards, and wanting to get people who haven’t seen it to give it a go.

Also, be aware, it’s a love/hate letter about New York. Norton does a rant about what he hates about NY early on that will strike a chord with the ‘angry man’ inside us all.

I can’t think of any films even close to this in most ways – it is a one-off, done by Spike Lee. Nice work, Spike!

Rating: GOOD 8/10, suitable for older teens upwards.

TV Review: Doctor Who Regeneration 1 Series 002 – The Daleks 7.5/10

Doctor Who Regeneration 1 Series 2: The Daleks (aka The Mutants aka The Dead Planet)

This seven-episode run was the introduction of the Doctor’s longest-standing and greatest enemies, the Daleks. Whilst it’s stagey and slow compared with modern drama, it still holds up.  Some bits are a little ridiculous (the pretty Thal race talking like blueblood luvvies, for example), but overall it’s easy to see why the Daleks had such an impact.  I think it’s a reasonably supposition that some of the longevity of Dr Who is down to the clear iconography and character of the Daleks.  Even small children can impersonate them, and they are clearly and purely evil and self-serving – about as villanous as it gets.

In addition, this story was remade into a motion picture in 1965 with Peter Cushing playing the Doctor (in this, billed as ‘Doctor Who’)

Recommended to anyone with any interest in TV history or sci-fi.

Rating: GOOD, 7.5/10
Suitable for all ages

Book Review: The Dark Tower (the series) by Stephen King 8/10

The Dark Tower (the series) by Stephen King 

This sprawling epic of 4,000 pages, written by Stephen King, consists of 7 main books, and tells the story of Roland The Gunslinger and his friends as they quest to reach The Dark Tower, possibly to save creation.

This is most certainly a recommended read for King fans.  For others, there is certainly entertainment to be had, but you’ll need a lot of time on your hands.  The books aren’t all necessarily self-contained either.  The first book does stand alone as a series of short stories linked by a greater arc, and is a fairly short book.  It doesn’t quite serve as a taster, as it doesn’t have the richness of characterisation that comes in book 2 and onwards, but it’s still nonetheless the perfect place to dip your toes in this particular pond.

Book 2 – The Drawing of the Three – is the book where Roland draws together his quest-friends, helping them in their former lives and bringing them into his world. Book 3 charts their progress as a group (and ends with a cliff-hanger), and Book 4 details part of Roland’s past, and his first love affair.  That makes it sounds bland and wishy-washy, but I believe it’s by far the strongest book in the series, with excellent characterisation, and antagonists that aren’t supernatural and offstage (which is much the case in the other books).

Book 5 details how Roland’s ‘ka-tet’ defend a town against raider-robots after the town-children, and is also quite a good, standalone tale. 

Book 6 is rather weak, and really doesn’t stand alone as a read – it’s really the lead-in to the final book; and you’d only read it if you were invested in the series at this point.  Book 7 is the resolution of the whole saga, and probably the second-best book in the series.

I’ll try not to give spoilers, but here’s the good and the bad of it.

Good things: Major sections of this work were almost wholly unpredictable, both in terms of story and in terms of characters and incidents.  It’s hard to imagine a writer of exciting tales about a travelling quest deciding one of his major protagonists should have no legs, for example. Another good thing is that the ending is about perfect, in my opinion (though there’s by no means universal agreement on this) – I’m a long-time King reader, and he really struggles with endings for his longer stories.  This one was fine, however.

Bad Things: He introduces things from other stories (such as references to Harry Potter, and weapons called ‘sneetches’) or things that take you out of this story, somewhat fracturing the internal narrative (Stephen King is a significant character in the later books!).  These take you out of this story quite a bit when you first get to them. There’s also a little too much ‘deus ex machina’ going on, in that things get resolved by some convenient magic or gobledegook a little too often.  I can’t say more without spoiling the end of book 7, but the death of the final villain is probably the worst instance of this.  And finally, some ofthe major villains in these books – who are built up as near-mythically-powered – are way too easy for Roland to tackle.

Overall, I would recommend this series, but I think you need to decide for yourself at the end of book 2 – that’s the point you’ll know well enough if you want to stay with Roland on his quest.
Rating: ODD 8/10

TV Review: Doctor Who Regeneration 1 Series 001 – An Unearthly Child 6/10

Doctor Who Regeneration 01 Series 001: The Unearthly Child (aka 10,000BC aka The Tribe of Gum)

This is the very first episodes of Dr Who, broadcast in November 1963. It consists of 4 episodes of about 23 minutes each. 

The first episode is distinct in that it introduces us to Susan Foreman, a mid-teenager who is judged a little odd by two of her teachers.  She seems to know an awful lot about some things, things she really shouldn’t know, but then seems very ignorant of some everyday things any normal teenager would be well aware of.

The teachers go to her home, and find an old man who turns out to be her Grandfather, and they then stumble into the famous Tardis.  The first episode ends with the Tardis taking flight and them ending up in a barren rocky plain, with an ominous man’s shadow in shot.

The remaining 3 episodes concern a tribe of cavemen, with a struggle for power over who can make fire.  One caveman sees the Doctor light a match, and thinks he can make fire from his hands, and various to-ing and fro-ing ensues.

Like many episodes of the Hartnell era, it’s quite stagey, but it does move at a reasonable pace, and sets up the tension reasonably well.  There’s lots here that will jar a little with anyone who knows their Who, such as the way the Doctor talks about the Tardis, the things the doctor does when they land (soil tests) which he never does thereafter, and so on.  This is perfectly understandable and legitimate, of course, this being the pilot, and their just trying out different concepts/backstory for fit.  Some things they get spot on, like the Tardis’s ‘disguise circuit’ failing.  Overall, a recommend to watch, if nothing else as a curio.

Rating: ODD, 6/10
Suitable for all ages

Shane – A beautiful looking, mature, complex Western 8.5/10

Shane

Made in 1951, and I’d never seen it before. This was terrific, I was expecting a simple but enjoyable horse-opera, but what I got was much more; whilst old-fashioned in many respects, it was amazingly mature and sophisticated in dealing with several issues, most notably violence and its aftermath, but also things like unspoken attraction (between the mother and Shane…and the father being aware of it, accepting it for what it is, and knowing his wife well enough to be comfortable with it), the need for community to make civilisation, and even showing at least one “bad guy” knowing things have gone too far and stepping away from it and trying to make his peace with the wronged people. Plus, it looks beautiful.

And I can see this film being the daddy of all those Westerns that have an element of a supernatural being appearing to return harmony to somewhere – particularly Eastwood’s “High Plains Drifter” and “Pale Rider”. As Shane himself says, “There’s no living with a killing. There’s no goin’ back from one.”

Rating: GOOD, suitable for all ages

8.5/10

They Live and top 5 Coolest Movie Characters Episode 016

In this episode, the guys discuss John Carpenter’s They Live, the coolest characters in the movies, the videogame Assassin’s Creed, and various movies including Attack The Block, The Magnificent Seven, and Crimson Tide.

Movie: The Elephant Man – Beautiful, mesmeric study about beauty and redemption 9/10

The Elephant Man

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Dr. Fox: Have you ever mentioned his mental state?
Dr. Treves: Oh, he’s an imbecile, probably from birth. The man’s a complete idiot. I pray to God he’s an idiot.
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The Elephant Man is a story about a severely deformed man who is discovered being paraded in freakshows in Victorian England, and his rescue and care by a doctor practicing in a London hospital. The Elephant Man, John Merrick, is treated brutally by his ‘owner’, and the doctor takes it on himself to remove the man from these circumstances. At first, the doctor is interested in the man’s afflictions but assumes him an imbecile, but comes to discover there is a gentle soul beneath the terrible afflictions and deformities. The brutality this man has suffered, and his own realisation he is more than this grotesque thing to be paraded or abused by others, coupled with the realisation by others of the humanity inside ‘The Elephant Man’ and their reaction to his deformities, and then to his personality and inner essence, form the basis of this extremely powerful and moving film. However, even though he is treated with kindness and respect, there are still people minded to exploit his appearance and treat him like a beast instead of a man…

The film stars John Hurt as John Merrick (you’d never recognise him) in an oscar-nominated performance, Anthony Hopkins is his saviour Dr Treves, and Anne Bancroft is an actress (Mrs Kendall) that pays him a visit and finds herself surprised at his humanity. They are all great here, but Hurt steals it; the gentle politeness of Merrick and Hurt’s projection of the man are powerful and clear, and lend the film a sense of both deep tragedy and a pure sense of uplift simultaneously – no mean feat. This is particularly intense when we get to know the character, and he then becomes subject to unnecessary and unthinking cruelties – which are even more disgusting because they are often deliberately carried out for not better reason than to entertain. In fact, some commentators note the near-cartoonish badness of the bad people here, and note that these are mere caricatures of men, and aren’t realistic. However, physical and mental cruelty for the purposes of entertainment seem to be perfectly acceptable (and indeed a measure of self-worth) for some people, so while it might seem unrealistic, it isn’t THAT far out of the range of human behaviours that people like Merrick might have encountered (unfortunately).

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Dr Treves: I know exactly what you’ve done to him and he’s never going back to that.
Night Porter: He’s a freak. That’s how they live. We’re partners, he and I.
Dr Treves: *You’re* the monster! You, you’re the freak!
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This movie was directed by David Lynch, more famous for surreal/weird movies such as Eraserhead, Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, and proved to be an excellent choice in directing this moving and powerful piece. Incidentally, The Elephant Man has clear links with Lynch’s previous film Eraserhead and the film that followed this one, Dune. It definitely invokes memories of Eraserhead with its stark black-and-white images, industrial noises, and short dream-like sequences, and links to Dune by its use of a female face among a starry sky as an end/start device. I guess when Lynch likes an idea, he likes to play it out more than once. His limited use of his usual style to relatively short sections means it has huge impact here, and also shows his film-making abilities aren’t based in being weird alone, and shows his obvious talent in a more traditional film.

Also of note is the fact it was produced by Mel Brooks, who must be applauded for his efforts with this movie. He apparently fought long and hard to first get Lynch accepted as director for it, and then again to allow Lynch to retain his final cut of this movie, in particular the opening and closing sequences, and much kudos to Mr Brooks for being involved in this most serious of films. (In his interviews about this movie, I remember Brooks saying how impressed he was with Lynch’s talent – presumably from watching Eraserhead – and the gentle nature of Lynch himself, who Brooks described as ‘like James Stewart from Mars’).

It is beautifully photographed in a very sharp black and white by Freddie Francis, and brings into vivid ife the ugliness AND beauty of Victorian England. It is a striking piece of cinematography, and seems both strikingly real and otherworldly at the same time.

The score and the use of sounds are also used remarkably well in this movie – noise/music is another of Lynch’s many filmic talents.
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Dwarf: Luck, my friend, luck. Who needs it more than we?
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It’s hard to find criticism of this movie, but there are criticisms to be made: the bad guys here are almost cartoonishly bad as written; however Freddie Jones as the Elephant Man’s ‘owner’ does bring a little more to it than the script gives, so he at least makes up for this issue. Secondly, there is much criticism that the script is an entire fabrication and is completely untrue, but frankly when did that ever matter for movies? Finally, it is referred to by some as manipulative. It is to some degree, but again, I never found that much of a problem in movies unless overbearing and when it overtakes the thinking part of the movie – this film keeps you intellectually engaged as well as emotionally engaged all the way to the end.

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Mrs. Kendal: Why, Mr. Merrick, you’re not an elephant man at all.
John Merrick: Oh no?
Mrs. Kendal: Oh no… no… you’re a Romeo.
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This film contains many lessons and messages about appearance, inner beauty, how a kindness given to others can benefit both them and you, and to me, the most important is said by Merrick himself, when he says his life is now full because he knows he is loved. To be loved is his salvation, it seems to me.

Take care with this remarkable, devastating film: It has the power to lift your spirits, but it will break your heart too.

OVERALL: 9/10

REWATCHABILITY: Once every 2-3 years; it is a little too profound to rewatch too quickly after the last viewing, and will be a pure pleasure every time if you leave a decent break. Whilst I think it’s a PG, this is really only suitable for adults or mature teens.

Movie: Attack the Block – A fresh fun B-movie – hoodies vs aliens 7/10

Attack The Block

Attack the Block concerns itself with a group of South London street-kids who bring the wrath of an alien swarm on themselves when they kill the first one they meet.

It’s a fun, short, punchy movie, permeated throughout with South London lingo, scared but brave kids born and bred in the London ghetto, trying to survive. 
It starts with the gang who become our main characters mugging a lone woman (who becomes part of the group trying to escape/fight off the aliens), and they seem like a gang of scumbags.  As it develops, we see a more human side to them, and get a sense of a tough life (though not as much of a sense as could have been explored – but hey, this is pure B-Movie, so that’s fine). As one of the characters says after someone says they don’t like going through corridors waiting to be picked off, “sounds like another day to me.”  It’s fresh, and lively, and keeps up a good pace, showing both the courage and the fear of the protagonists, and it does a reasonable job using the young cast (who I think are non-actors in the main) to best effect.  It was also very well directed by the debut director, Joe Cornish.
A lot of fun.

Overall: 7/10
Rewatchability: Yearly, suitable for older teens up (lots of strong language)

 

 

Wayne’s World and top 5 videogames that would make good movies Episode 015

In this episode, Mark and Sam review Wayne’s World, and discuss the videogames we’d most like to see turned into movies. We also discuss a number of movies, TV shows and games, including Red State, Dante’s Inferno, and South Park

Movie: Bubba Ho-Tep – Subversive little pulp horror/action movie that is surprisingly deep 6/10

Bubba Ho-Tep

Elvis is alive! Or at least he is in this film. The premise of the film is this: Elvis swapped places with an Elvis impersonator when he got bored with the fame and restrictive lifestyle, and while the impersonator died, Elvis lived on to old age, and eventually wound up in a nursing home. In with him is an old black guy who claims to be JFK. The pair of them are feeling their age, and how everything is going to hell, until, somehow, an ancient mummy ends up creeping the hallways, sucking the life out of the residents so that it can live…

Ok, this screams pulp horror garbage, but you think that, you’d be wrong. This is a class film. Elvis is played by Bruce Campbell, of Ash/Evil Dead fame, as a down-beat, running-on-fumes old guy that suddenly finds meaning in battling the ancient mummy. Ossie Davis – a great black actor seen in countless 60s and 70s TV shows – plays JFK. They bring a dignified air to their parts, and in the lead up to the battle and while they try to battle the mummy, they bring a solomn gravitas to the proceedings. Here, buried in the pulp story, is a study in the effect of ageing on the spirit, and how the elderly are treated in modern society, done to a touching and meaningful depth that ‘serious’ films rarely reach.

This makes is sound pompous – but it isn’t. It’s fun, interesting, and engaging. All this is wrapped up in a fun and interesting 92 minutes, and I believe you miss this, you’re missing something very good.

Also, there’s been talk of a sequel where a younger karate-kicking Elvis takes on Dracula or similar in ‘Bubba Nosferatu’. This gets less and less likely the older Bruce Campbell gets, but we can only hope, huh?

OVERALL: 6/10

REWATCHABILITY: Once every year or two Okay for adults and teens above 13 or so.

Videogame: Dantes Inferno (XBox 360) – Excellent gameplay, visuals, artwork, a little repetitive 8/10

Dante’s Inferno (X Box 360 version)

This game involves a crusader cast into Hell to try and rescue his true love, whilst fighting Satan’s minions and descending through all the Circles of Hell.

So much for the story, let’s talk about what was good and bad.  Good, or rather excellent, was both the gameplay and graphics.  This looked absolutely fantastic (though hellishly disturbing at the same time – this really is a game suitably rated at 18), and was rendered smoothly and richly.  The movement and action was excellent, smooth and going exactly where you intended it (with some minor issues aside, when the hero was climbing) and matched the controller precisely – no lag, no ‘I didn’t mean him to do that!’, no significant issues at all. 

In terms of gameplay, if you’ve played God of War, or the recent Castlevania game (or even Arkham Asylum), you’ll have a good idea what to expect.  It was a linear narrative, with some very nice tapestry-style artwork used when giving the detailed backstory of Dante and his activities, and very little exploration outside the linear (but you need to explore, to get various bonuses).  There’s also some problem-solving, which was nicely balanced – it was tricky in places, but usually not so difficult you had to keep revisiting youtube to see how to do it.

The monsters were interesting, but after about halfway through the game, you tend to encounter variants of the same thing.  This leads to the weakness of the game – it is quite a button-masher.  You’re pretty much powerful enough to just go head-to-head with Satan’s hordes in 95% of situations.  Most of the time, that’s fine, that’s part of the fun, but there were times it got a bit too much. The penultimate-to-final level was particularly bad for example, where you have to face 10 very similar challenges, one straight after the other, and after about 6 or 7 it’s old and boring. Having said that, these are relatively minor quibbles, and becuase of the great visuals and fluid gameplay, I’d recommend this game heartily

Rating: 8/10

TV: PSYCHOVILLE – Very very dark comedy with horror elements 6.5/10

PSYCHOVILLE

Season 1, Halloween Special, Season 2

Spawned from half the team that brought the world ‘The League of Gentlemen’, Psychoville occupies a similarly-dark universe to the village of that show. Indeed, ‘Psychoville’ is named after the Japanese title of The League of Gentlemen.  It’s a series written by and starring Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton, each playing several different characters in this weird and sometimes wonderful show.

Season 1 occupies itself with a group of seemingly disparate characters whose stories slowly draw together as the series climaxes. There is a weird mass-murder-obsessed mother and son (the Sowerbutts); a troubled dwarf; a midwife who cares for a toy baby like it’s real; a blind millionaire dealer in toys who has dark secrets; and my favourite, a bitter and twisted one-handed clown called Mr Jelly who is vexed by a competitor called Mr Jolly.

Season 1 trundles along at a good pace, leading to the story of a shared, dark history of these characters.  It starts with each getting a note saying “I know what you did.”  It is very, very darkly funny and odd, and culminates in a semi-satisfying conclusion, and recommended to all people who like their comedy both weird and dark.  If you liked the darker elements of Twin Peaks, say, you may like this.

The Halloween special is, to my mind, the best of this show.  It takes the form of a set of short stories joined by a bigger strand, and these stories are classic horror tales – mysterious children; killer on the loose on a dark night; and a tale about transplanted eyes seeing more than they should.  It also serves as a decent bridge between seasons 1 and 2.

Season 2 is slightly different.  In this one, the main characters in the first start to get bumped off.  There are new characters (one of them – a librarian – sees a weird dancing figure that is very reminiscent of the dancing dwarf in Twin Peaks), and the story is about a mysterious necklace,  It’s a little baggier than the first series (there’s one major storyline involving a TV makeup woman called Hattie that adds virtually nothing to the main story – but it’s amusing nonetheless).

This is clearly a series for adults, and I’d say the best laughs come from Mr Jelly and the inappropriate behaviour and phrases of mother-and-son, the Sowerbutts.

Recommended.

OVERALL: 6.5
REWATCHABILITY: Once or twice every 5 yearas. Suitable for adults only.

 

Movie: 28 Days Later – Fast zombies, excellent first half, not great second half 6.5/10

28 Days Later

The whole premise of this film can be summed up in two words: Running Zombies. That’s not to denigrate this cool B-movie with A-movie ambitions, but that’s what it is. And it’s a great premise, even if similar films like the remade Dawn of the Dead have watered it down some by repetition.

This movie is set in England, where a group of animal rights’ activists unwittingly unleash a ‘Rage’ virus that decimates the whole country, leaving anyone who gets it as ‘The Infected’. The Infected are very angry, bloodthirsty ‘zombies’, by any other name.

The hero of this movie, played nicely by Cillian Murphy, has been in an accident, and wakes up 28 days later, finding the place deserted. And when I say place, I don’t mean some little-out-of-the-way hospital, I mean London. He wanders empty London streets in daylight, passing overturned buses, trying to make sense of it.

Finally he encounters other people and these running, raging zombies, and starts to understand what has happened. The survivors show him – graphically – how you have to be ruthless against anyone who might be infected without mercy if you yourself are to survive. More survivors are encountered, and finally they find themselves going northwards, following a faint radio broadcast.

They encounter, after losses, an army unit holed up against the Infected. But things aren’t quite as you’d expect…

I won’t say any more, but this is a film of two halves. The first half is absolutely terrific, and if you’d only seen that, you’d be not far wrong thinking it was one of the best horror movies ever. First, you get our hero wandering an empty London. This is completely startling (especially to someone like me, from London), as is the first contact with the ‘Infected’. These are scary monsters. The old-school shambling zombies are creepy and tend to build tension (you only die if you get complacent or careless with those guys), but these running zombies are terrifying, with no easy way to stop them, knowing one bit of contact with them might turn you the same…

Finally, the survivors decide to move on, following a broadcast radio message, and travel through London to get to the northbound motorway, and hit the quiet country and roads, and there’s a sense of both peace and dread. Finally they hit a roadblock, and meet an army troupe.

This marks the end of the first, great half of the movie. There are lots of distinct and clear homages/echoes of other apocalyptic and zombie movies. Day of the Triffids, The original Romero Zombie films (especially Dawn of the Dead in the first half), The Omega Man, The Last Warrior, The Quiet Earth, as well as the Richard Matheson’s book ‘I am Legend’. It’s startling, scary and engrossing, and shows some of the pain and fear, as well of the humanity and sacrifice of humanity, of the survivors in a satisfying and engrossing way.

In the second half, when the soldiers are encountered, the film, which to me had tremendous potential to go anyway it chose at this point, seemed to close itself down. The soldiers were mostly stupid and unsympathetic (though the only good new thing about the second half is the watchable Chrisopher Eccleston as the commanding officer), and the whole plot was similar, but significantly inferior to, Romero’s ‘Day of the Dead’; bickering soldiers and civilians trying to understand what to do, and not knowing what’s left of the world and whether they will be rescued.

While it continues at a steady pace, and resolves reasonably well, the film is unsatisfying for the disparity between the fantastic first half and the formulaic second half. Overall though, it’s a solid horror movie that’ll scare and entertain. And really deserves to be seen because of the brilliant and near-hypnotic-in-places first half.

And great music!

This movie is not for the faint-hearted though.

OVERALL: 6.5
REWATCHABILITY: Once or twice a year. Suitable for older teens up.

Movie: Red State: Interesting but flawed horror-thriller, with excellent first half 6.5/10

Red State

The latest film from Kevin Smith, and a big change of gear from his usual, jokey offerings, this is a film that changes gear about every 20 minutes or so – starting as a teen comedy, then switching to what appears to be torture-horror, then switching again to some kind of siege movie, then again to something else by the end (I won’t spoil it).

It stars Michael Parks doing a fantastic job as a fire-and-brimstone preacher so radical that neo-nazis distance themselves from him. If you can’t place him, he did the great semi-monologue at the beginning of From Dusk Till Dawn as a sheriff.  The first half of the movie is terrific, with Parks taking centre stage, but unfortunately it goes off the rails somewhat as events escalate.  It’s still fine (there’s even an action sequence that very well executed – which I am surprised Smith could pull off).

Also starring is the always-solid John Goodman as a weary, troubled G-Man brought in to handle the situation, but ordered to handle it in a way he doesn’t want to go.

It’s flawed – for one, we have no central character spanning the movie that we can sympathise with – Goodman doesn’t show up until about half-way-through – and the resolution is a little kooky – but somewhat amusing.

If it had kept the pace of the first half, and avoided the pure-exploitation route it seemed to be heading towards at the half-way point, this could have been a really great movie – maybe even a classic -but as it stands, it’s good and solid, and worth a watch.
OVERALL: 6.5/10
REWATCHABILITY: Every 5 years maybe
SUITABILITY: Strictly adults only

Movie: The Battle of Algiers – Tense docu-style movie that remains contemporary 7/10

The Battle of Algiers

This is a film made in 1965 about the late 1950’s uprising in French-run Algeria. It has a soundtrack by Morricone, and is filmed in an interesting and gripping documentary style, in order to try and stress the realism of the events portrayed. It’s an even-handed film, showing evil acts perpetrated by both sides during the struggle, and I was quite surprised to find out that it was actually commissioned by the Algerian government. It doesn’t seem particularly biased (or as unbiased as such film can be).

There’s no flinching here from the acts committed. We are shown children and civilians being carried from collapsed buildings after some French action, and emotive, welling music rises (‘hm’, I thought, ‘so it’s gonna be anti-French’), but later similar footage is shown of the aftermath of a bombing of innocent civilians in a cafe, and a similar montage and the same music is used. More bombings – at a race course for example – presenting the approach of the Algerian Liberation Front (FLN) are shown, but again, this is balanced by unflinching footage of the torture of arab suspects by the French – electrocution, drowning, hanging in awkward positions, beating…

There’s more scary stuff here. The ease with which the women change from traditional covering clothing to Western-style clothes and make-up to get through checkpoints with bombs, the hiding of guns in the robes which are quickly pulled and used to shoot policemen going about their jobs (at the start of the agitation), and how the fighters assume (correctly!) that other arabs will willingly help them. Other striking scenes include how one of the fighters is going to be blown out of his hiding place and the French offer to allow a boy to come out – but the man keeps the boy with him. Another is the FLN (early on, before the struggle is really underway) declare they will clear the Kasbah of drink and drugs and prostitution, and a gang of small boys start taunting an old drunk. He staggers up a wide stairway, but the boys whistle and call other boys, until there’s a mass of them, pulling the drunk about, and then dragging/forcing him down the stairs on his back…

There’s a lot to be said for watching this film. I can’t recall any movie quite like it, and it is a cliche, I know, to say it’s never been more relevant. But it’s a true cliche.

It’s tense, it’s gripping, it’s thought-provoking.

This film is in French and Algerian/Arabic.

OVERALL: 7/10
REWATCHABILITY: Once a year. Suitable for middle teens up. Quite grim and bloody, but it is in black and white.

Movie: This Gun for Hire: Tight film noir that is the prototype for all solitary movie assassins 7/10

This Gun for Hire (1942)

Containing Alan Ladd’s first starring role as a stone-cold killer, this is an excellent, though twisty (and rather contrived) plotted piece apparently based on a story by Graham Greene. Ladd is magnificent here as Raven, and I think the first instance of the solitary assassin movie archetype that we see in assorted movies, such as Le Samourai (whose main character Jeff probably saw this movie way too many times), through to Jean Reno’s Leon in The Professional.

Veronica Lake also stars and is rather fine in this movie as a singing magician (yep, that’s right) wo gets involved in this plot about revenge, stolen formulas, traitors and trains.
A classic noir in all senses – the brooding characters, the beautiful women, and the tough dialogue all add up to make this an excellent way to pass 80 minutes.

Overall: 7/10
Rewatchability: Yearly
Age suitability: Early teens or even mature 10 year olds + upwards.

Johnny English – Family-friendly Bond-spoof with solid laughs and sight gags 3.25/5

Johnny English (2003)

Likeable, old-fashioned (in a good way) pastiche of James Bond, starring the man with the most expressive face ever, Rowan Atkinson. It’s fun, there’s reasonable laughs all the way through, and there’s even some quite good stuntwork (a car chase with a lorry and a hearse).

A lot of the jokes involve English making a major gaff such as treating an innocent party of funeral mourners as criminals, accidentally knocking out a secretary with a pen-dart, and so on. He is the spy equivalent of Inspector Clouseau (the difference being he is aware of his own gaffs, and tries to hide them – Clouseau is not clever enough for that). There’s also a lot of sight gags, so younger children can enjoy.

Plus you have to love that the bad guy is French.

OVERALL: 6.5/10
Rewatchability: Every few years
Age Suitability: All members of family can watch and enjoy.