Archive for February, 2008

Live from th’Oscars

1.00 am (GMT) - Well, from the sofa, at any rate. There’s no sleep for me tonight, so I might as well spend my insomniac hours in front of the telly, following Sky TV’s coverage of the Academy Awards.

Not much going on at the moment. Claudia Winkelman and her girlie buddies are discussing the dresses in some detail. Jennifer Garner looks great, apparently. Tilda Swinton appears to be wearing a bin liner, I’m told. Sadly, the point is lost on me.

Of this year’s big hitters, I’ve seen all but There will be Blood, thanks mainly to the fact it isn’t showing anywhere. That means when I’m thinking about who or what I want to win, it’s without one of the favourites in mind. My feeling is that Michael Clayton, whilst not bad, is there more or less to make up the numbers. Juno is the ‘hip’ choice that shows the Academy is still in touch with all ages (yeah, right). I loved it. It’s mainly my Britishness that makes me want good things for Atonement. Again, a very, very good film, though impossibly worthy and over-earnest, and I thought the first thirty minutes or so dragged in the much same way as Ian McEwan’s novel. Still, the second half of the movie is simply superb, building up to one of the best and most logical twists I have seen since the climax of The Sixth Sense. Oh yes, and the beach scenes were filmed in my home town, Redcar, which adds kudos from the very start.

For me, though, all entries pale in comparison with the utterly monumental No Country for Old Men. I caught it very recently, and was pummelled into submission by its gut-wrenching tension that was somehow mixed in with melancholy. Just when I figured all the Coen brothers’ best ideas had been used up, back they come with this. It’s an amazing experience, and instantly hushed my previous opinion that they could have given Sweeney Todd more of a look in.

I’m off to make a brew, and hope that something happens shortly. I don’t expect that many people will stumble across this page whilst I update it through the night (tiredness permitting), but if you do please feel free to leave a comment and let me know what you think. Please. Don’t let me feel I’m all alone here…

1.34 - Hmm, Jon Stewart doesn’t seem to be as funny as Jonathan Ross (and that’s not saying a lot), but at least we can hear him.

1.43 - The award for best costumery goes to Elizabeth: The Golden Age. A dreadful movie, but it did look good so no arguments from this quarter. Surely, the Academy could have done more with this one - in days of yore, they’d have spent some time wheeling out displays of costumes for us all to coo over. Did anyone think to ask the winner why one of Queen Bess’s dresses had what looks like kites on its rear?

Talking of crap films for a moment, I went to see Rambo at the weekend. It was awful, a definite step backwards for Sly after he had rehabilitated Rocky so successfully. Cardboard cutout characters, uneasy (at best) morals, terrible dialogue, and so much violence that by the end, I hardly batted an eyelid when someone lost an arm/throat/legs, etc. Worst of all was the starring role for a baffled looking Julie Benz. Darla deserves better!

Oh god, Clooney’s on, and he sounds like he’s settled in.

1.54 - Ratatouille can’t lose to a flick about penguins on surfboards, can it? Thankfully, no it can’t. Best animated feature, and speaking as someone who thought the ‘Anton Ego scene’ to be the single best celluloid moment last year, I approve.

1.59 - Norbit was nominated for an Oscar? Say it ain’t so. Thankfully, La Vie En Rose wins for Best Make-Up, and sounds like a worthy victor. I’ll really have to catch it sometime.

I like the way that if the winner talks for more than thirty seconds, music starts piping in - a clearer way of telling someone to get off the stage I’m yet to find. Only in America, huh?

2.14 - The Rock sounds like a good laugh, doesn’t he? Hey, I mean it; I once had the dubious pleasure of reviewing Be Cool for DVD Times, and he was by some distance the finest thing in it.

The Golden Compass gets a statue for Best Visual Effects, beating Transformers and Pirates of the Caribbean. Watching the brief clips about how they put the effects together, I didn’t see much difference in any of the examples. They could, for all the world, have been for the same movie, so similar were the techniques. Rubbish film, mind. I didn’t think any of them were that much cop, but I should like to have seen the Transformers people getting something for bringing those robots to life so superbly.

Art Direction goes to Sweeney Todd - loved it.

2.20 - Crumbs! Jennifer Hudson’s dress doesn’t leave much to the imagination!

We’re in Best Supporting Actor territory, the award preceded by a backslapping montage of past winners. This includes Cuba Gooding Jr making a complete tit of himself - no change there, then. There are actually some sterling performances being bigged up here, but inevitably Javier Bardem is chosen. Don’t act surprised, Javier. I wish he sounded in real life like he does in the movie. Like the Kurgen, in other words.

2.42 - Knickers! I was making another cup of decaff and missed Le Mozart des pickpockets being named as Best Live Action Short Film. Peter and the Wolf follows for Best Animated Short, which seems fair enough, though I quite liked the look of the one about John Lennon.

Needless to say, I’m enough of a philistine not to have seen any of them, but oh look! Here comes the award for Best Supporting Actress. I understand this is more or less Cate Blanchett’s for the taking. La Blanche seems to be one of those Oscar-friendly actresses who looks the part but isn’t afraid to do some chameleonic stuff (e.g. playing Bob Dylan) so that the lack of subtlety in her performance is masked by pretending to be a bloke. In any case, Tilda Swinton wins, to general surprise. A good call. Not only is her performance in Michael Clayton outstanding (bet it doesn’t get one more award all evening), but she’s fantastic full stop. Her turn in Young Adam took my breath away, and she even manages to do the obvious, bread winning fare (Narnia, The Beach) and come away with some dignity. Call me sniffy, but I didn’t think her dress looked that bad. Just shows what you can do with a bin liner, really.

2.50 - The Coen Brothers win Best Adapted Screenplay for No Country for Old Men. I quite like the gag about how selective they are with their sources, only choosing from Cormac McCarthy and Homer.

Really though, what’s the business with Jack Nicholson all about? Has he turned into some sort of Oscar mascot, so often do they refer to him, and sure enough there he is, bizarrely wearing sunglasses whilst indoors, and mouthing to the camera? It all seems very sad and undignified, this geezer in his seventies who is still talked of as though he ‘has it.’

3.09 - There’s an excruciating gag about pregnant actresses from Jon Stewart, before the evening’s first good joke shows up in the form of Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill, who are announced as Dame Judi Dench and Halle Berry! They could be brothers, and their ongoing routine about which actress they most resemble is done in good jest. What they’re actually here to do is present a pair of awards for Sound. Both go to The Bourne Ultimatum, a rip-roaring flick that actually used its audio to maximum effect. But…

Though I didn’t think an awful lot of Transformers, I find myself arguing in its defence. Technically, the film was ahead of just about everything else in 2007. The sound of the robots ‘transforming’ remains in my mind even now. A case of it deserving better, perhaps, though I have no argument with some recognition for Bourne.

3.13 - Hell’s bells, Marion Cotillard is Best Actress for La Vie en Rose. She’s adorable, and I think I preferred her speech over the sort of dignified and restrained verbiage we might have expected from Julie Christie. I really will have to see that film.

3.20 - Colin Farrell nearly slips over as he introduces another song. I hope in the midst of this over-choreographed nonsense that we might get an abrupt ‘Shu-ite!’ from Faz, but he composes himself in time.

I’m starting to feel fatigued now. Keeping up this blog and following the comments on other sites isn’t easy, and I remember I have to go to a parent governors’ meeting at The Boy’s school in sixteen hours’ time. I hope they don’t expect much a contribution from me - perhaps I should consider wearing shades, for obvious reasons, and start to wonder if this is Jack Nicholson’s secret.

3.30 - Christopher Rouse collects the award for Best Editing, thanks to his work on The Bourne Ultimatum. A perfectly judged Oscar, in my opinion. I know the critical cachet went to Paul Greengrass, but the work done in the editing suite was flawlessly slick. Good call.

We also get to enjoy an extended look at all the previous winners - how A Beautiful Mind won is utterly beyond me.

3.35 - Art Director Robert Boyle picks up an Honourary Oscar. We get some clips of North by Northwest, which are of course worth the seconds of anyone’s life. Boyle’s eulogy to Hitchcock is a reminder of some of the true greats who the Academy somehow manages to forget.

3.43 - Die Falscher wins the statuette for Best Foreign Language Film, though oddly enough the award is announced as going to Austria, like the entire country was involved in its production. Of course, I haven’t seen any of the nominated features. They don’t tend to go for many foreign language affairs at the Odeon in Rochdale, though I could watch Rambo virtually every hour. Speaking of which, the bloke I went to see it with is a massive fan. Halfway through, I was about to make some caustic comment when he turned to me and whispered ‘This is fantastic’ in tones that suggested real awe. I mean, WTF?

3.50 - It’s time for Best Original Song - what’s going on with Travolta’s so called hair? Once wins this one (co-writer Glen Hansard makes a lovely, humble speech), and apparently it’s a good film. Certainly, I can’t argue with the absence of Disney, and more importantly no Elton John, who at one point seemed ever to be hovering on the fringes of this award.

4.00 - Three hours in, and still going strong(ish). There will be Blood gets the Cinematography award in a field that looked very, very good. I’m slightly surprised that Atonement didn’t snag it, but oh well. Presumably this Oscar is the build-up to Daniel Day-Lewis’s obvious victory in the acting stakes. I don’t want to suggest I’ve sneaked a look at the winners before the event, but come on…

4.11 - We’ve had the ‘Death List’ (no Roy Scheider?) and now it’s on to Best Score, which I guess won’t be won by No Country. In fact it’s Atonement, which managed the marvellous achievement of placing a typewriter within its orchestra. Fantastic.

4.19 - Time for the Best Documentary, Short Subject gong. I don’t understand why but the Academy chooses not to show us any clips from the nominees, instead making a big song and dance of getting some of America’s brave soldiers who are currently serving to announce the… oh right, I get it now. Freeheld picks up the award, but I’ve no idea what it’s all about.

Clearly, we’re rushing through these. Tom Hanks races from this Oscar to Best Documentary. I’ve seen Sicko, and wonder if we’re in for another controversial Michael Moore speech to spoil the saccharine. Maybe they’ll just cut in the music before he has a chance to say anything.

Phew, it doesn’t matter. Taxi to the Dark Side wins, and by all accounts is a must-see feature made by a film maker who looks as though he could Moore in his place in terms of uneasy subject matter. Alex Gibney gets good applause for his slightly angry speech, which gives some idea of the Stateside mood right now.

4.26 - Did the Academy get most of its inspiration from BAFTA this year? I’m talking about Diablo Cody (superb name - sounds like a supervillain) getting the award for Original Screenplay, in favour of Juno. Just like at the BAFTAs. I suspect the similarities won’t extend to the Best Film Oscar.

I thought Juno was excellent, perky and really good fun, and wish it only well. Maybe I’m seeing things (starting to flag now), but I’m convinced that IMDB’s homepage is being updated with the winners before they’re actually announced.

4.31 - Here we are then. Best Actor time. Dame Helen is out to make the announcement. I. Wonder. Who. It. Will. Be…

4.34 - No surprise for us. Daniel Day-Lewis it is, and clearly I’m going to have to get my butt down to the nearest theatre that’s showing There will be Blood. I might even have to venture to Manchester’s Cornerhouse, which is a bit scary as I’m ’small town’ these days. Heck, Day-Lewis is full of it, isn’t he? Personally, I feel sorry for Viggo Mortensen, who was magnificent in Eastern Promises, but even as his name was read out his resigned wave to the camera kinda said it all.

4.45 - Nice to see Martin Scorcese’s pithy speech from last year in advance of this year’s Best Director Oscar. My money’s on Joel and Ethan… and I’m right! It’s incredible to think this is the first time they’ve won it, though. Their body of work contains so few duds. Good speech too - that might guarantee them a return visit.

4.46 - No Country for Old Men is 2007’s Best Picture. And rightly so.

4.56 - Thanks to typing and flicking around the web to visit other sites’ reactions, this has been a breezy four hours. Thanks for the wit to the people burning the midnight oil at DVD Times forums.

I’m off to bed (preferable to some bonus Claudia on Sky any day). Overall, I’m quite happy with the awards. I was blown away by No Country for Old Men, not always pleasantly so but sufficiently to agree wholeheartedly with the verdict. I appreciate that so often, the awards go to people for their life’s work and not what they’re nominated for (Scorcese being a case in point). Not so with the Coens. Though their previous achievements deserve more than the one Oscar for Fargo’s screenplay, No Country was quite simply the year’s best movie. That is unless I eventually get to see There will be Blood and change my mind completely.

I hope anyone who has chanced across this page (er, anyone?) enjoyed my frazzled quippage, and if I’m a very lucky boy will pass their considerations on to me via the ‘Comment’ box below. Go on. I worked very hard on this. Good night.

Posted on 25th February 2008
Under: Uncategorized, Award Fodder | 1 Comment »

Hammer Time! Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)

Prince of Darkness posterHaving read various comments and reviews about Dracula: Prince of Darkness, it strikes me that this film is seen almost as the quintessential Hammer experience. If you don’t like it, then you aren’t a true Hammer fan, and it’s time for you to watch something else instead, like [insert name of postmodern horror film here; something along the lines of The Hunger, with its Bauhaus music and ’style over substance’ ethic that bewilders the average viewer]. Unfortunately, it left me absolutely cold. Though not entirely without entertainment value, DPoD appeared to go through the motions, retreading a familiar formula but doing so with little effort or enthusiasm. At its (lack of) heart is a staid, disinterested performance from Christopher Lee. Making his long awaited reappearance as the eponymous Count, Lee acts as though he would far rather be somewhere else. The irony of the film is that its best moments all come either before Dracula is brought back to life, or during scenes that don’t feature him.

DPoD starts with a brief reprise of the closing act from Horror of Dracula, reminding us of the climactic duel between the vampire and his nemesis, Van Helsing. Sadly, this is the last we see of Peter Cushing, who presumably was convalescing after squaring off with David Peel in Brides of Dracula, which appears to have been expunged from the canon now that Lee has made his comeback.

It’s ten years since the Count’s death. The vampire cult lingers in the memories of the Transylvanian peasantry, despite the best efforts of cynical Father Sandor (Andrew Keir) to crush it. He knows that as long as nobody goes to the mysterious castle above Carlsbad, then all will be fine. And perhaps in time, the diabolical legacy of Dracula will fade. Everything appears to be working out, providing the region isn’t visited by some hapless British toffs who are tailor-made to stroll directly into the path of terror…

Enter the stiffs, our lambs to the slaughter. The menfolk are Charles (Francis Matthews) and Alan (Charles Tingwall). Buttoned up Helen (Barbara Shelley) and prim Diana (Suzan Farmer) are their ladyfriends. They’re warned about going to Carlsbad, and off they trot regardless. Once on the town’s outskirts, they’re booted out of their own coach, the driver refusing to take them any further. As though this weren’t foreboding enough, another coach without anyone driving it appears out of nowhere and takes them straight up to the castle. Helen doesn’t think they should proceed any further, but her companions are suitably amused, particularly by the table that’s been prepared for dinner. Klove (Philip Latham), the ashen, sinister butler, makes his appearance. As he serves the bemused guests, he explains that his dead master wished the castle to be used for entertaining people. They eat and then go to bed, only Helen at all sceptical about what’s happening.

Dracula bares all (very poor)Seasoned Hammer viewers will have realised what was going on some time ago. The travellers are walking into a trap, a trap that started opening as soon as they made their first appearance in the movie. Forget the wholly implausible plot and the frankly unbelievable gullibility of the characters. They’re only present in the film to provide the means for resurrecting Dracula, who of course is the ‘dead master.’ It’s at this point, however, that DPoD enters its best and creepiest sequence. They’re all supplied by Klove, who draws in his guests by clunking around, appearing at doorways and pulling a coffin along the corridors. It’s Klove who dispatches Alan, ritually sacrificing him in a scene that’s shocking by today’s standards. Alan’s blood is used to bring the Count back to life, and when another victim is required, Klove sends for Helen.

Poor Helen. The sole member of the group to doubt the castle’s hospitality, she winds up being Dracula’s first bitten. Fortunately, this makes her character far more interesting. Shelley simply transforms Helen into a siren and a killer, at once tempting and moving in for the kill. The change in her is altogether astounding. Helen is miles ahead of the wan bloodsuckers dished up by Hammer previously. She knows how to work any men who come near her, and the scene where she’s tapping on Diana’s window, begging to be let in, is one of the film’s best. Eat your heart out, Salem’s Lot

The downside is Dracula himself. In The Many Faces of Christopher Lee, the interview that was supplied on this disc as an extra, the actor claims that having read DPoD’s screenplay, he felt the Count’s lines were ‘literally unsayable.’ As a result, his vampire doesn’t speak, communicating instead in hisses and snarls. This relegates Dracula into a standard movie monster, but also robs the film of Lee’s voice, surely one of its better assets. Dracula should be an intelligent, cunning villain, but we find little sign of that here. Klove does all his dirty work. Helen supplies the words. The Count simply threatens people, and never looks entirely comfortable doing so. Besides, the method in which he is finally offed comes across as arbitrary and rushed, as though everyone involved knew how silly their project was and simply wanted it finished.

Maybe it’s the absence of a dignified Cushing that ruins it. Possibly, the cheap, cliched excuse of a story is the problem, or the horribly shallow characters, none of whom appear to have any more complexity than the extent to which they serve the mechanisms of the stale plot. DPoD is a step down from both its prequels, conjuring little of the fairytale nightmare that underpinned ‘Horror’ and ‘Brides,’ and turning out to be inferior to its supposed ‘B’ feature, Plague of the Zombies (subject of the next review, eager reader). That said, it isn’t a total disaster. The scenes featuring Klove or vampiric Helen are frequently unsettling, whilst the noticeable increase in gore hints at a production company willing and ready to push the boundaries of what they were allowed to show.

 

Posted on 5th February 2008
Under: Horror, Hammer | 4 Comments »

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