Archive for June, 2008

Beneath The Planet Of The Apes

1970, US, Directed by Ted Post

Colour, Running Time: 91 minutes

Review Source: DVD, R2, Fox; Video: Anamorphic 2.35:1, Audio: Dolby 2.0

After Taylor and Nova set off towards the Forbidden Zone at the end of Planet of the Apes they encounter a series of strange phenomenon in the desert that results in Taylor’s unexplained disappearance. Navigating the same interstellar trajectory as Taylor another astronaut called Brent crash lands on the planet and comes across the aimlessly wandering Nova. Realising that she knows Taylor (she keeps his NASA necklace) they set off in search of the lost man, instead finding Ape City where the militant gorilla Ursus is plotting an invasion of the Forbidden Zone due to several recent missing ape reports. Brent makes contact with Cornelius and Zira and they try to help him avoid capture so he can find Taylor and figure out a way of escaping from the hostile world. After being temporarily captured he and Nova get away into the Forbidden Zone where they find a subterranean domain, Brent here learning the truth about the planet’s history and precisely why the area is referred to in such a deterring fashion. But there’s exposure to even greater danger in the underground tunnels though this time not from the apes, who have themselves already organised a huge army that marches into the area. The smell of a battle is in the air…

The mighty Ursus

There is the feel of classic science fiction that pervades the original movie, something that’s partly lost here due to several avoidable flaws. James Franciscus makes a good lead as Brent - a reasonable replacement for Charlton Heston who only appears for a few minutes - and Linda Harrison’s Nova is quite stunning to look at (she’s not really heard, though does get to utter her first and only word in this film). Development of the Zaius character loses its way with an inconsistent continuation of his onscreen presence between the first two chapters - whereas he was despotic, overwhelmingly fearful that humanity would once again threaten ape, and willing to sacrifice anything for the good of the species, he is now reduced to merely supporting the destructive drive of Ursus in an almost passive manner. It seems that Ted Post knows how to compose an attractive image, making valuable use of the 2.39:1 ratio throughout, but he fails to grasp simian behaviour in the context of cinema, with some of the onscreen ape acting being quite amateurish in comparison to Franklin Schaffner’s original. It doesn’t help that Roddy McDowall couldn’t make it for Beneath… (his only absence in the whole film and TV series), his role being temporarily adopted by a poor David Watson (who?), though admittedly this man looks awkwardly cast throughout. McDowall studied chimp movement prior to the filming of the original movie and out of all the ape actors he is the most consistently convincing, plus physically distinctive and socially likeable. Watson by contrast is clumsy and skips across the room as if taking part in some sort of psychedelic pantomime. I love the Ursus character, a powerful warmonger who aptly leads a huge army into the Forbidden Zone with the sole intention of destruction - he predates Urko, the principal antagonist from the TV series, and is clothed similarly. Leonard Rosenman replaced Jerry Goldsmith as the composer and his contribution is not quite in the same class, though remains functional - Goldsmith would return to work on Escape… whilst Rosenman would return for the final film, Battle for the Planet of the Apes. Something that really becomes problematic also is the excessive use of masks for background apes - while the principal simian actors wore prosthetics that hold up exceptionally well considering the era, many of the lesser characters were reduced to wearing masks that were often very badly designed; god-awful in some cases. What this film does do is add to the Apes mythos in a number of ways and it’s worth noting that despite being the second outing, Beneath… is really the last in the series from a chronological point of view, each subsequent movie taking place in a time before. The race of mutant survivors that live below the surface provide a threat not just to the human visitors, but to the apes and every living thing on the planet, worshipping as they do a relic that happens to be an operational atomic bomb. It seems there is an underlying commentary on religion here: the apes claim that God made them in his own image while the mutants believe that the bomb is some sort of divine being, or representative of such. Looking at the contradictory comparisons that occur when dissecting religions that exist globally today the film’s ideas seem to be a reflection of the misinterpretations that can be made when attempting to understand our creation/formation/origins, and how people will devote themselves to such misinterpretations with no accurate and well-founded idea who, if anybody, is right. Of course I’m not claiming that there is no god (nobody has such a right given the limitations of our own understanding and perception), but the variations evident between religions indicate that somebody has to be wrong at the very least (i.e. everybody can‘t be right), and those very people are adamant that they’re right just like most of the population strangely, atheists included. Providing a few moments of tension, some interesting philosophical ideas amongst the muddle, and one of the greatest endings in cinema, Beneath the Planet of the Apes is alas not the upgrade it could have been and limitations are apparent that let it down periodically.

The even mightier Nova!

Having seen this for years on television and 4:3 VHS the DVD was a visual revelation, boasting a colourful and moderately detailed widescreen image that lends an epic ambience to the proceedings. Of course the transfer is a little soft, perhaps a side effect of the film’s production date but it will be intriguing to see what Blu-ray can offer a movie like this (aside from emphasising just how much of a train wreck those background masks are). Stereo audio is serviceable and extras are restricted to a few trailers and stills, though the boxed set does contain a two hour documentary as an excellent supplement.

Posted on 26th June 2008
Under: Science Fiction | 6 Comments »

The Incredible Hulk

2008, US, Directed by Louis Leterrier

Colour, Running Time: 114 minutes

Review Source: Cinema screening; Image: 2.39:1 Anamorphic Panavision

Pretty much everybody on the planet was disappointed with Ang Lee’s interpretation of Hulk, including me, so with some trepidation I approached my local Cineworld to see if the inexperienced Parisian Louis Leterrier could repair the damage done to Marvel’s famous green monster. While this movie does pretty much ignore Lee’s film it refrains from a full blown recreation of the character’s origin, opting for a brief summary during the opening credits and getting things moving pretty quickly as a result. An experiment with gamma radiation goes devastatingly wrong leaving Bruce Banner to experience periodic physical mutation into a monster, after which the gifted scientist is forced to take refuge from the military in a hopelessly overcrowded Brazilian town. Avoiding detection by having abandoned anything that can be traced to him Banner uses an online alter ego to retain contact with another (anonymous) scientist who may be able to help cure him. After months without incident his position is discovered by General Ross, a man who in reality wants Banner under military detention due to his altered genetic structure holding the key to breeding a race of super-soldiers. During the chase Banner is transformed into Hulk, a phenomenon witnessed by Blonsky, one of the men Ross has hired to help capture the beast. Blonsky develops some sort of perverse bloodlust and in attempts to equal or exceed Hulk’s astronomical physical power he has himself injected with serum created from Banner’s modified blood cells, mutating him into some sort of… abomination.

Get these straps off, I FORGOT TO FEED THE CAT!!!

The Incredible Hulk seems to have taken a couple of leafs out of the Batman Begins book, taking time to establish a credible lead character in the form of Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) as he isolates himself in a foreign land while seeking some sort of profound personal improvement, in this case a cure. Banner is aware that Ross has purely military interests in mind with the reacquisition of what he feels is his ‘property’, and this intensifies the drama of the chase: Ross almost comes across as a person evil to the bone and easily dislikeable, this being a nice narrative tool for involving the audience. Of course the matter is complicated further by the fact that Banner and Ross’s daughter are in love with each other. It’s really Norton himself who manages to elicit the largest portion of emotional response in the audience, creating a human being at odds with his own destiny who experiences almost constant inner turmoil due to his sicknesses - the genetic transmogrification that leads to the arrival of the monster, and the love for Betty Ross that can’t be satisfied.

That's the last time I have cabbage for breakfast!

What I find a little surprising with this film is that it pays homage not just to the comic books, but to an extent to the television series also. From a Marvel fan’s perspective the Incredible Hulk TV show was hardly a faithful adaptation - it changed the name of the character to David (because Bruce at the time sounded a little too gay), altered the catalyst from an atomic explosion to genetic laboratory experiments gone wrong (the latter being particularly sensible and realistic considering the period), omitted super villains almost entirely, etc. In fact it took one or two core elements of the comic book and that was about it, but in the process it created something quite unique, adult-like, and sombre in many ways despite having accrued the unwanted attentions of various critical comedians and other self-proclaimed funny people in recent years. During the opening of Leterrier’s film Banner’s experiments resemble what happened in the TV show’s pilot episode surprisingly closely. Elsewhere Lou Ferrigno (looking amazing for his age) has another cameo as a security man, and there’s one or two in-jokes such as a budding journalist called Jack McGee, a brilliant twist on the “you won‘t like me when I‘m angry” phrase originally uttered by Bill Bixby (R.I.P.), and even a snippet of the show‘s closing credit music! The screenwriters were obviously familiar with the TV show and possibly fans of it, so the fact that they have incorporated a small number of aspects into this movie is quite heart warming to older fans such as myself. There are a number of very exciting set-pieces along the way, particularly the battle between Hulk and Tim Roth’s Abomination - explosive, utterly destructive, and cinematically thrilling (aptly supported by a strong score courtesy of Craig Armstrong, a departure from his usual outings). Aside from one sickly love scene in a cave the drama and action are balanced especially well establishing excellent pacing and I rarely felt an ounce of boredom. Despite Leterrier’s lack of directorial experience this is a way better film than Ang Lee’s, and justice is done to one of Marvel’s better known and immortal characters. The small epilogue also announces in a rather cool and enticing fashion that the amalgamation between Marvel and cinema has arrived well and truly.

Posted on 22nd June 2008
Under: Science Fiction | 4 Comments »

Road Kill

2001, US, Directed by John Dahl

Colour, Running Time: 95 minutes

BBC3 Broadcast, 1.78:1, English Dolby Stereo soundtrack

Better known as Joy Ride in the US (renamed here due to the British connotations of that name with crime) this appears to be a fairly conventional modern slasher type of story. Lewis is about to fly back home when he decides to buy a car and road-trip it instead, mainly to impress the girl he likes who probably places more value on a guy’s vehicular habits than she does on his integrity as a human being. On the way back he picks up his irritating brother Fuller who’s just been released from gaol, sorry - jail, after which they proceed to play a prank on a trucker via CB after Fuller is offended by one of the arguing inhabitants at a hotel they stop by. Pretending to be a nubile young chick Lewis arranges to for his fictitious female persona to meet the trucker at the room the angry inhabitant is staying, hoping to get their own back on the guy whilst simultaneously acquiring a bit of fun. What they don’t anticipate is the trucker turning up at this guy’s room (which is next to theirs), some sort of trouble occurring (an especially well orchestrated sequence where we see almost nothing but hear enough to know something‘s very wrong) and the guy ending up in a coma with his jaw ripped clean off. After being questioned by the police the brothers are hurried out of town with seemingly nothing more than a guilty conscience. But then the persistent and relentlessly psychotic trucker seems to be in pursuit of them, thus initiating a chase that becomes increasingly threatening and potentially homicidal.

Hold that pose.

Obviously bearing similarities to films like The Hitcher and Duel, there is something inherently limited about a plot such as this - psychotic trucker becomes offended by the prank of a couple of teenagers, psychotic trucker relentlessly pursues them at the expense of everything, presumably with the intention of wiping them off the face of the Earth. And deservedly so in the case of Fuller, one of those grating American teens that you find in all slasher films nowadays, though this is not strictly a slasher of course. Lewis (Paul Walker) is reasonably likeable and assists in holding attention by having dual characteristics, someone who is out for a laugh while encouraged by his wayward brother, but possessing nagging moral instincts that repeatedly suggest to him that what they’re doing isn’t entirely right. Of course they soon realise the error of their ways but that comes a little too late as they’re illogically unable to shake their pursuer. Along the trip they pick up Fuller’s girl (Leelee Sobieski, now a little more grown up from her role in Deep Impact, and all the hotter for it) and she’s dragged into the equation involuntarily, attempting in vain to bring some sanity to the proceedings. It’s a very well shot film, and especially well edited leading to a thrilling climax, but the holes are plentiful and impossibilities are difficult to ignore (the trucker must have some sort of tracking device on these people as well as records of their personal lives to maintain his ‘game’ to this level). But I suppose this is a film where it’s better to disengage the cranium contents and the first half in particular creates tangible atmosphere. In that respect there are worse ways to spend a couple of hours.

 

BBC3’s broadcast looked fantastic though they presented a visually modified version of the film at 1.78:1. I’ve previously seen the DVD and this is a small shame because the images are perfected to a point where this is a very good looking piece of work in its original 2.35:1 ratio. For fans the one to go for is the special edition DVD released on region 1 in 2005. Providing some moments of tension but refusing to step into areas of significant originality, Road Kill/Joy Ride may offer a moderate supply of entertainment for the evening but is highly unlikely to be remembered as a genre landmark.

Posted on 14th June 2008
Under: Horror | No Comments »

12:01

1993, US, Directed by Jack Sholder

Colour, Running Time: 94 minutes

DVD, Region 1, Image, Video: Anamorphic 1.85:1, Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1

Groundhog Day was a successful film in its era and has since acquired a cult fan base, being a film that managed to dig a little deeper than the average product of mainstream film-making. What some people weren’t aware of at the time was that there was a very similarly themed movie produced in the same year by New Line, the story adopting the identical core concept of someone waking up repeatedly to exactly the same day. Barry Thomas works in the personnel department of technology giant Utrel, persecuted by lady boss Jackson on a daily basis and trapped in a mundane job. The only thing that brightens up his ennui is Lisa Fredericks, one of the scientists he sees mostly from a distance and someone who is unlikely ever to have the time for such a lowlife office worker (damn lowlifes…), while his buddy Howard is constantly offering advice and playing practical jokes at the most inappropriate of times. At the end of an especially disheartening day Barry and Howard are outside the building when they witness Lisa being shot in a drive-by, seemingly targeted specifically but for reasons unknown. Acknowledging that the day is pretty much as bad as it can get Barry and Howard spend the rest of the evening downing alcohol. But before he beds down for the night Barry is trying to fix a broken lamp wire when he receives an electric shock, and the next thing he knows he’s waking up again at 7.35am. Initially going about his business as usual he’s somewhat confused by various uncanny similarities to the previous day but as events unfold Barry eventually realises that an illegal experiment with a particle accelerator at Utrel has resulted in time itself repeatedly bouncing back upon reaching 12:01 (the time of experiment) to the beginning of the day. Somehow the electric shock he received at that very moment has separated him from the loop and it’s clear that he must try to prevent the test taking place in order to restore time to its original state whilst ensuring that Lisa is saved from the assassination that is in some way linked to everything.

So let's get this straight: we've moved back in time, everything is happening all over again, and we should shag silly, right?

The obvious difference between this and the aforementioned Bill Murray film is the fact that this one explains why time is repeating, whereas in Groundhog Day the recurrence was inexplicable, possibly divine. This essentially places each film into a different genre: one in fantasy, the other in science fiction. Both stories introduce a love interest for the protagonist, someone who is virtually unattainable for whatever reason but must be won over regardless, and in each case this forms the primary narrative driving force throughout, though in 12:01 he must also stop the experiment or his efforts will forever be in vain. Jonathon Silverman (as Barry) is no Bill Murray but he’s charismatic and his comic timing tends to be fairly sharp, a likeable man who helps the viewer to identify with the situation and character’s struggle. He successfully injects small doses of humour along the way that ramp up the entertainment factor of the film, this definitely aided by the presence of Jeremy Piven as his joker mate Howard (strangely revealed to be a withering coward later on in the film). A pre-Ed Wood Martin Landau appears as a scientist obsessed with his work while Helen Slater is Barry’s love interest. Slater was just outside of her prime here but still makes an attractive lead lady, plus she’s in possession of reasonable thespian abilities too. The wardrobe department should have taken some medication, however, dressing her in one ugly looking, old-fashioned costume that she would have to wear throughout the entire film thanks to the nature of its theme. There are lots of little things happening repeatedly that Barry gets to interfere with to amusing effect such as Jackson’s threats (seemingly covering up some sort of complex), or Howard’s trick floppy disc that catches Barry out on the first day but never again. The bad guys are stereotypes that could have been lifted from any episode of a TV cop show but they were never going to be anything more than background puppets anyway, plus the conclusion is slightly predictable and cushy. There’s something very appealing about the concept behind this movie and its bigger cinematic brother - essentially the idea itself stems back to the writings of philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and the fantasy almost arouses a feeling that there are no longer any consequences. We can do as we wish and everything will be restored to normality the following morning, but clearly for the principal characters in both films this novelty wears thin (something better explored in the Harold Ramis flick) and a craving for unpredictability is reinstated by each respective conclusion, this verbally outlined by Barry at the end of 12:01. This is really a low-key film that rises above the average TV excursion.

 

This has never been widely distributed on home video. Here in England I’ve owned the fullscreen rental tape for years and watched it quite a few times. At last Image have offered us a DVD version and the transfer is easy on the eye, something that stems no doubt from the movie’s celluloid origins (despite being made for TV/video, it has a professional theatrical look throughout). Sound comes in its original stereo format as well as a marginally upgraded 5.1 mix, plus there is surprisingly a commentary from the director. Worth checking out.

Posted on 8th June 2008
Under: Science Fiction | 2 Comments »

Very Bad Things

1998, US, Directed by Peter Berg

Colour, Running Time: 100 minutes

DVD, Region 1, Universal, Video: Anamorphic 1.85:1, Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1

What’s this - a bunch of mainstream actors in a Hollywood film that contains brutal violence, boobs, and the blackest, nastiest streak of humour this side of Braindead? I seem to remember not many liking this film back in the late nineties, and in reflection of that it took years to materialise on DVD too. Contrary to popular opinion (as usual) I was one of the few that really enjoyed this film on its theatrical run so lets consider how it stands up to repeat viewings… It all starts off sort of like Swingers with a bunch of boys heading off to Vegas for a stag do, leaving their ladies behind to worry about what they’re going to get up to, or get off to. And debauchery it is: excess alcohol, cocaine, insane babbling, and the hottest prostitute Vegas has to offer. But you can almost feel something is going to go wrong as their behaviour leaves them increasingly open to unpredictable consequences, you just don’t realise how wrong it’s going to go! During violent sex at the hotel room the prostitute is accidentally impaled on a bathroom hook by Michael and the guys are left standing around, suddenly slightly more sober, staring at a corpse in a pool of blood. Then follows a dramatic conflict of interests: Adam immediately wants to dial 911, while Boyd reasons that they’d pretty much be hammered by the law given the nature of events that night, despite the actual death being an accident. While arguing about what to do a security guard knocks at the door in response to complaints of a little noise, and at first he’s appeased by some lad talk and a bit of cash but when he notices the body Boyd reacts to the situation and brutally stabs him before he has chance to talk. Now they have two bodies and no options but to get rid of them, so they arm themselves with spades and other useful items and head off into the desert after cutting up the bodies, cleaning up the hotel room, and packing the limbs, etc. into suitcases to get them out of the building. After the nocturnal burial they make a pact never to tell anybody, even (or particularly!) their respective women, before heading off back home to carry on their lives as normally as they possibly can. Alas it was never going to be that ‘easy’ and soon guilt is getting to one or two of them, tension increases, conflicts arise, and the situation begins spiralling even further out of control.Anyone got that mop?

The premise focuses on friendship stretched to its ultimate limits while doused in the blackest comedy you could ever have imagined squirming from Hollywood imaginations: this is the Farrelly Brothers on Speed. It begins in light with a group of mates looking forward to the night out of a lifetime, one of them - Kyle - more so looking forward to marrying a well structured but erratic woman (Cameron Diaz), however their self control is lost somewhere in the mix and they begin their descent to Hell. Michael is distraught at causing the death of the prostitute and it’s only a matter of time before he goes off the rails, not helped by the fact that he’s almost constantly at odds with his brother Adam. Adam himself finds the guilt increasingly difficult to deal with while Boyd on the other hand is the one keeping a cool head and perpetually delineating possibilities through ordered reasoning devoid of morality. Through all of this the only thing Kyle is really interested in is marrying the woman who is almost certainly going to add to his personal hell one day, such is her blatant obsession with getting married for the sake of the wedding day itself rather than love. But nobody in this film gets what they want… nobody! By the film’s end even the dog has lost a leg, and however grim you thought things were going to get, it’s worse. What the film’s success depends on is whether it makes the viewer laugh, such is the duty of black comedy and I suppose this is where it might have failed for many, because the humour is niche. The fact that it finds humour in such nastiness could be considered bad taste but in an industry where bad taste has all but been eradicated by the easily offended it’s a welcome asset from my point of view. Plus Berg and the principal actors with their acute comic timing hit the mark for me, therefore what is potentially a disgusting experience becomes one of elation. Tension is not only maintained consistently but it escalates to madness, underlining Berg‘s adept handling of the material. Even better is the fact that it has the same effect even after having seen it a number of times, therefore it makes a good buy for the movie buff.

 

After waiting so long for a DVD the Universal disc didn’t exactly tick all the right boxes. The US disc featured both wide and fullscreen versions but extras were almost nonexistent. Transfer is okay but quite soft and possibly over-saturated although the 5.1 track (it defaults to two channel so make sure you switch) is enveloping and dynamic. Aside from average DVD presentation, Very Bad Things is almost the ultimate sit-back-with-a-few-beers movie and can suitably take your mind of whatever’s going wrong in your own life, because that’ll pale in comparison to what’s going wrong in the lives of these characters.

Posted on 4th June 2008
Under: Other | 5 Comments »

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