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Films for 10-year olds: Priest (2011) ** February 27, 2012

Posted by ghostof82 in : Film General , 1 comment so far

Whats the old saying? Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, or something like that? From The Searchers to Blade Runner to The Matrix, you could play a drinking game watching this film (knock back a drink at every ‘homage’) and be blind drunk before you are halfway through. In this post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller, in an alternate world ravaged by centuries of war between man and vampires, Paul Brettany stars as the titular Priest who defies the all-powerful ruling Church in order to save his niece, who has been captured by Indians, sorry, a rogue Vampire horde. The Priest ventures beyond the giant walls of Mega-City One, ahem, sorry, Cathedral City, on his Lawmaster, sorry, electric speed bike and ventures into the blasted, war-torn ruins of the Cursed Earth, sorry desert wasteland and…  

If you’ve never read 2000AD (particularly the Judge Dredd strip), or watched Blade Runner, or THX:1138, and if you never saw or heard of the tv series Firefly or it’s movie spin-off Serenity, or watched a certain  John Wayne flick, you might well watch this film without being persistently distracted by a sense of deja-vu. However, if you’ve seen any of those films, or Dark City or The Matrix, or several others, then you may find yourself yelling foul at the screen a few times or reaching for the remote in disgust. Or if you’re playing my suggested drinking game, find yourself utterly pissed in no time at all.

Director (and I use that term loosely) Scott Charles Stewart is the guy responsible for the truly awful Legion, which I attempted to review here on my blog last year- I say attempted, as words failed me regards truly describing the horror of the experience. The news that Stewart was actually working on a second feature was… well, I was pretty shocked, frankly. But lets be fair here; Priest is in no way as bad as his execrable first feature. There. I’ve said it.

And if we point the blame at it’s borrowings and ‘homages’ towards the scriptwriter and the graphic novel it’s based on, well, Stewart almost gets away with it. It’s fairly well shot, using the widescreen frame to mimic the style of Leone westerns, with low angles and wide landscapes, huge skies. Its got a few decent fx shots that mimic the cityscapes of Blade Runner, complete with shafts of light splitting the frame and giant projections impeaching the masses below that walk through crowded streets of rain and steam with umbrellas and…. It’s got confession booths for said masses to repent to heedless pre-recorded voices as in THX:1138. It’s got huge citywalls straight out of the Judge Dredd comic, with the bikes to match speeding through the Cursed Earth landscape… wait, stop. I’m playing that bloody game again. I may be too drunk to finish this soon.

Alas, where Stewart loses it is his repeated inability to shoot an action scene without it descending into videogame nonsense, or his inability to ditch utterly cringeworthy dialogue from the shooting script and thus spare his thespians from looking like idiots who’d sell their souls for any gig (if stupidity were an artform, some of these films would be in the Louvre or replace Shakespeare in schools). Couple that with a merciful, albeit suspiciously short running time of something like 87 minutes (thats something like $700,000 a minute, budget-wise, but I guess thats where the producer gets the blame rather than Stewart) and it’s over before you think. Indeed it really is over before you expect, as I’m not sure it’s actually got a finale. I kept expecting something to happen, something to happen, something to happen… and yet bam, there’s the credits.

Still, nowhere near as awful as Legion, and I have to admit, I almost rather enjoyed it… well, I did, sort of. Well, here’s the thing: it’s a comic. A lot of films are comics, these days. Thing is, comics aren’t films. Comics have lots of cool imagery and action, but films, well, they are supposed to have characters and motivation and emotional arcs and empathy and an intelligence and wit beyond that of what a ten-year old thinks is fab. But frankly, most films these days don’t, they are just comics for ten-year olds. Hell, even the once-violent ‘adult-action’ films are being edited down to PG-13. It’s like the ten year old American kid is the epitome of what Hollywood is crafting its films toward. So we get films like this.

Not utterly awful, but close.  

I will say this though- if the film has one redeeming feature, it’s the simply magnificent score by Christopher Young. It’s a really impressive soundtrack that sounds like its from a different movie entirely. And yet in another demonstration of how messed up our modern world is, the soundtrack is not available on CD anywhere, just a download on itunes or on-demand CD-R at Amazon.com; what the hell is going on with the music industry these days? I’m getting too old for this; I remember the good old days of John Williams’ Superman: The Movie on double lp. Back when you could pick up pretty much any soundtrack on vinyl. These days so many great soundtracks never get released at all. World’s gone mad.

Oscar who? February 25, 2012

Posted by ghostof82 in : Film General , 1 comment so far

It’s the Oscars this Sunday. It shows how utterly redundant all that back-slapping is when it feels so inconsequential to a movie fan like me, and I have had no interest at all in the nominations or anything else to do with it. Whats the point? I mean, looking back at the last twenty years, how many Best Pictures does anyone really agree with? How many times have directors had awards that felt like apologies for not being given it for better films in the past that failed to win? So many times I’ve read the lists of the winners and shook my head in disbelief.

Infact the news that it is happening this weekend came as something of a surprise to be honest. Perhaps its just me, but it seems to be low on the media radar over here. How much of that is because it has been shown on Sky movies for the past several years, making it feel even more of a niche thing, removed from the mainstream? Certainly I recall it seeming a bigger deal back when the BBC used to air it live.

Sometimes I think the Hollywood business guys do themselves a disservice longterm when they sell rights to things like this to the highest bidder. Sure, it gets more money in the short-term but long-term does it do more harm to the brand etc than good?

Oh well. I fell out of love back when Star Wars didn’t win Best Picture. No, seriously. What? At least the Oscars would be honest about what its really all about if they just gave the Best Picture to the biggest-grossing film of the year, and finally gave up the lie about all that artistic integrity nonsense.  

I Am Number Four (2011) ** February 22, 2012

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I Am Number Four (Blu-ray)

Hmm, a sci-fi Twilight, if you will- substituting Aliens for Vampires, and about as inspired as that sounds. It pretty much follows an unsurprising, too-familar plot of misunderstood/loner teenage girl who falls for mysterious gorgeous young hunk who arrives in town. Cue romance and eventual danger when bad guys arrive on the hero’s trail- the bad guys being ugly guys who dress, yes, totally in black just so we are sure who’s good, who’s bad. It’s mostly harmless, but it’s all been done before, and done better. To be honest, it seems such a generic version of Twilight I was surprised it wasn’t just a movie producers clever idea to launch a sci-fi franchise to mirror the success of said horror/romance series, as it’s actually based on a book. Possibly a series of books, as the film ends seemingly promising more adventures? It practically screams “Launching A New Teen Franchise!” at you. Actually the whole thing feels more like a tv-pilot than an actual movie (fairly high production values notwithstanding)- the premise might make a fairly successful tv series for the teen crowd. Making it as a glossy movie seems pretty redundant.

I’m also struck by the uninspired title, as it hardly slips off the tongue, does it? Must have been the marketing team’s nightmare, but I guess its the title of the book it’s based on? Just seems a bit weird, going with a title like that. Oh well. File under once seen, soon forgotten.

Troll Hunter (2010) ** February 14, 2012

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Another of those ‘found footage’ movies, this again reinforces how tired this mini-genre is fast becoming- to be honest, it’s been pretty much all downhill ever since Blair Witch Project. What raises this above the rest in some ways is the beautiful location footage of Norway’s damp misty mountains and fjords, simply jaw-dropping scenery that lingers in the memory long after this rest is forgotten (indeed, if viewed as a travelogue it’s a far more successful experience).

Because, unfortunately, all else is pretty much forgettable. We have the usual footage of the film-makers arguing or dashing around in dark woods bugged by creepy noises and chased by unseen terrors (at least until the ropey cgi Trolls start strutting around).  There is a nice line in self-deprecative humour here, as the film is really pretty tongue-in-cheek, but really its all been done before. Otto Jespersen’s Troll Hunter Hans is the highlight of the film, a laid-back bearded loner who looks more smelly fisherman than, well, Troll Hunter, but the rest of the cast are non-entities really, which is more the fault of the script not bothering with any characterisation or arcs for them. It’s all about the ‘found’ footage, Hans and the Trolls. We don’t really care about what happened to the film-makers, perhaps we’re not supposed to- perhaps we are simply meant to remember the Trolls, the Norse folklore, and wonder where the hell Hans wandered off to… and of course, remember how beautiful the wild landscapes of Norway are.  Not a terrible film, just a worthwhile rental.

The Skull (1965) *** February 9, 2012

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The Skull / The Man Who Could Cheat Death (Blu-ray)

Ah, this scared me witless when I was a wee lad watching it on tv in the Friday Night Horror slot back in the 1970s; I had nightmares for I don’t know how long (but then again, Dr Who was pretty scary for a kid back then too). It’s always a bit sad watching things like this again many years later, but I’m glad to say that this Amicus production fares quite well. Part of a double-bill Blu-ray (with Hammer’s 1959 The Man Who Cheated Death, which I haven’t seen) from the States that is thankfully region free, it was a real treat being able to watch this film again after so many years.

The film starts in a nicely gothic tradition, in a misty graveyard from which the skull of the Marquis de Sade is disinterred. The scientist/collector who takes possession of the macabre trophy soon meets his end as we realise the Skull has an evil life all its own.  Time moves forward to present-day 1965,where arcane collector Christopher Maitland (Peter Cushing) is offered the piece by shady dealer Marco (Patrick Wymark). Not convinced, Maitland consults his friend Sir Matthew Phillips (Christopher Lee) who informs him that it is indeed de Sade’s skull, but adds that the Skull is hideously evil and dangerous. Maitland ultimately ignores his friend’s advice to ignore Marco’s offer as he becomes increasingly ensnared by the web of horror that surrounds the malevolent Skull.

In many ways I was struck at the stories Lovecraftian style and themes- of an innocent and curious man delving in horror beyond his understanding until said horror overcomes him. Indeed The Skullmay be the most Lovecraftian film I have ever seen, as it maintains its serious, doom-laden tone throughout wheras most actual Lovecraft-based films resort to humor and gore which ruin everything. Peter Cushing is typically excellent in this film, as the film’s star he carries the film with his usual charm and is very effective at showing his character’s descent into horror and madness- indeed he makes it look so easy and natural its a marvel.  Christopher Lee ably supports in a fairly minor role, but lets face it, the scenes with these two horror greats are just a joy for fans of this kind of horror film.

Infact the whole film may be a minor entry in the genre in many ways but its a real treat to finally own it and I’ll no doubt return to it and wallow in its old-style horror pleasures over and over. The Blu-ray is nothing particularly special -the film has not had any restoration or any special features on the disc- but it’s in it’s original widescreen ratio at least and shows, in HD, details I dare say were missing in any earlier DVD release. Then again, I bought this just for The Skull so I see The Man Who Cheated Death almost as an extra in itself, and having never seen or indeed heard of that film before, look forward to giving it a go. These double-features seem like a good idea for minor films that will never receive the restorations or bonus features that their more esteemed kin may get- I’d like to see more such releases in the future.

Melancholia (2010) * February 7, 2012

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Melancholia (Blu-ray) 

One day someone will make a film about the End Of The World about ordinary people; you know, people like you and me. As opposed to the usual Hollywood blockbuster starring some superhuman Stallone/Cruise/Willis, or, as in this case, an arthouse movie full of weirdos. Because make no mistake, this self-indulgent pile of tosh has not one character remotely normal, and despite what critics and art dahlings might say, is no more relevant or realistic than any Bruckheimer/Joel Silver epic. Infact, it might be worse.

I have little time for director Lars Von Trier- his previous film, Antichrist, was a thoroughly nasty amateurly-directed film dressed in arthouse stylings with a cast of bored star actors slumming it to support their artistic/’serious actor’ credentials. Of course the critics loved it, and we have more of the same here.

The planet Melancholia- I mean come on, who the hell names a planet Melancholia other than a trippy director who thinks its a clever knowing wink to the audience regards the depressive character who stars in the film?  It signifies everything that is wrong with this film; too clever, too indulgent, too smug with itself. I hated it. The prologue sequence is like a poor-mans Terrance Mallick movie condensed to about ten/fifteen minutes, in which we see beautiful shots of enigmatic people in enigmatic slow motion intercut with fx shots of a giant planet first passing by, and then colliding with the Earth, all of this cut to Wagner’s epic music from Tristan & Isolde as if to reinforce the importance of what we are seeing. Film Over? Not quite- the film then pulls back in time to shortly before Melancholia is discovered, and follows the remaining months and days on Earth for two sisters, Justine (Kirstin Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg).

It is Justine’s Wedding Day, and she and her new hubby Michael (Alexander Skarsgard) arrive at her sister’s home where a party has been organised to celebrate the happy union. Of course Claire’s husband John (Kiefer Sutherland) is fabulously wealthy, living in a huge mansion in massive grounds with a private 18-hole Golf course, stables with horses… you know, ordinary people, everyday lives. Only as the party wears on Justine becomes depressed, shags a stranger on the golf course and tells Michael the marriage was all a mistake, and Michael and his folks promptly storm off never to be seen again.

During all of this we see a bunch of oddball freaks that could only be endearing in David Lynch/Tarantino movies. John Hurt plays Justine’s father, a nutter who is carrying on with two girls both named Betty, Charlotte Rampling plays Justine’s mother, a bitter old bat who detests marriage, hates John Hurt and informs Justine of her mistake before Justine realises it.  Stellan Skarsgard plays Jack, Justine’s crazy advertising boss who has hired someone to shadow Justine throughout the evening on the offchance that she shouts out the tagline he’s waiting for for the latest campaign. The wedding planner is so offended by Justine spoiling his elaborate plans he shields his eyes with his hand whenever she is near so that he cannot see her. Justine wonders off to have a bath while everyone waits for the newlyweds to cut the cake. The arthouse crowd must love this rubbish, convinced It All Means Something.

The film gets worse as it moves on and Melancholia increasingly fills the sky and fills the characters with dread. Jack is convinced that scientists are right when they say it will be a near-miss/fly-by and everything will be fine. Claire is increasingly unhinged, and Justine takes to going outside at night, stripping naked and lying on a riverbank in the glow of the hurtling planet while the soundtrack goes all deranged with more Wagner. At this point I’ve got the giggles. I mean, its looks pretty enough and the classical music adds some pathos but deary me, whatever happened to normal people, characterisation, plot? We never see the news reports, the panic in the Outside World, the Economic issues, Religious issues. The film is forever set in this Fairytale Neverland of Jack’s huge mansion and Golf course, as if the rest of the world doesn’t exist. As Doom approaches, we never see or hear from the sister’s mother or father; indeed once the party is over, no-one else seems to exist other than the sisters, Jack, their son, the odd servant, the horses. It’s utter madness.

But of course its an arthouse movie, it isn’t supposed to make sense or have internal logic, its too clever for that, it can be endearingly weird and self-indulgent. It isn’t really about The End Of The World or anything like that; its about Justine’s depression, how she realises that when something is happening like utter world annihilation there’s no sense in being depressed about it. Wheras confident Jack, when he realises everyone really is doomed after all, rushes off to the stables and takes an overdose, leaving his wife and son to suffer alone. Oh give me a break. It’s utter rubbish. 

Possibly The Worst Trailer I Have Ever Seen… February 2, 2012

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no, seriously, watch this trailer for The Phanton Menace 3D if you dare… words fail me…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T69ftWNg97U&feature=player_embedded

What on earth was going on in the minds of Lucasfilm execs?

The Princess of Montpensier (2010) **

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“A sweeping and romantic historical epic”… hmm, can’t say I agree with any of that. Sadly, for all the fine pedigree of (most of) its cast and crew, the whole thing comes across as a fairly turgid potboiler in lavish costume. Set in the high courts of 16th Century France, during religious wars between Catholics and Protestants, it’s less the epic and more the romantic drama, but it’s not particularly romantic at that, as the main roles are taken by actors with little personality or charisma, severely undermining the film.

Melanie Thierry is woefully miscast (or, to be fair to her, badly directed) as the beautiful Marie de Mézières, the Princess of the title. A young aristocrat in love with her self-centered handsome cousin, Henri de Guise (Gaspard Ulliel), unfortunately for the two lovers Marie’s father arranges her marriage to the Prince of Montpensier (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet) to engineer the family’s political and financial gain. Marie reluctantly consents to marry the prince but as the story progresses repeatedly crosses paths with Henri, and tempted by old passions to betray her prince. 

Unfortunately there is something wrong here- the passion is utterly missing, in spite of the lingering glances and panting. Melanie Thierry is, yes, beautiful, but there is a little warmth to her, no passion or personality. Indeed, she simply seems incredibly irritating, fairly charmless as men puzzlingly throw themselves at her- why? Because she looks pretty? She has no personality, no soul- I just couldn’t see the fascination, particularly when her tutor, the Count de Chabannes (Lambert Wilson, the highlight of the film) bizarrely also falls in love with her. What the hell do all these men see in her? Crippled by her lack of charisma, the film flounders.  The men themselves -chiefly the Prince and Henri, but also their royal cousin- are all three pretty wooden, given little to do but ride into battle and when back in court stare at the object of their unlikely passions.

The film certainly looks the part, particularly on the blu-ray rental I saw. The costumes and the decor are sumptuous and the sets and locations certainly look authentic, but all that attention is sadly wasted on an undeserving film. It looks very pretty but there’s nothing to it, there is no fire here, no passion, little drama at all. And for a “sweeping and romantic historical epic”, well, thats pretty terminal.

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