Poppycock and Bunkum

May 13th, 2007

Dust yourself off.

Posted by sidebog7 in Interlude

So, I haven’t written anything for a while. There are reasons. Most of them revolve around work and not having time to really watch films. When I am busy I tend to only watch films I have seen before because I think it is unfair to not give my full attention to a film I haven’t seen before.
My packed schedule finally ended and I have been chilling out at home all day and I have got back into watching films with a vengeance. I watched four films which I will give little reviews here for no real reason. I might expand a couple later if I get some time.

My Patricia Velásquez ’season’ is over for the moment. I was waiting for a film to arrive and it didn’t. Then my time got sucked up and here we are. I will endeavour to watch more of her films and review them in the coming month but I also want to review other non-Patricia films as a break. Anyway, on to the mini-reviews.

First on the list, and first film I watched, is:

Night at the Museum [2006]

A fantastically entertaining little movie. I went into this not really expecting to like it. I don’t particularly like Ben Stiller’s style of comedy. It’s OK in small doses but for an entire film it becomes grating. Here, however, it is not a problem and the few outbreaks of his annoying sarky retorts are quite funny. The film revolves around a museum which comes to life at night. This in itself is a superb idea and leads to a series of imaginative encounters with dinosaurs, lions, Romans, Mayans and Robin Williams. Robin Williams is another comic who I tend not to like but here he is fantastic as Teddy Roosevelt.
The main stars of the movie (for me at least) are the trio of Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney and Bill Cobbs. They made a great team and I wish they were in the movie more.
I was pretty much sucked into the film for the entire duration as all of the CGI seemed believable and worked. I would recommend this to most people looking for an entertaining family movie which is unlike anything I have seen before.

X-Men 3: The Last Stand [2006]

The first two X-Men movies were fantastic and I had high hopes for the third until I learned of Brett Ratner’s involvement. This is perhaps slightly unfair as his previous films are generally agreeable but I expect X-Men to be more than that. It is unfortunate then that this is just that. It is more predictable than the previous films and the lack of characterisation and focus on action seems to make the film less than great. Everyone is back reprising their previous roles and they all fit but seem to be going through the motions. The new members of the group include Kelsey Grammer as Beast who is pretty good in the role, the lack of characterisation meaning that he doesn’t seem to have any motivation. The other major addition is Juggernaut, played by Vinnie Jones. He is pretty bad and the part could have been made silent (one particular line springs to mind) and given to somebody who was bulkier than Jones.
Overall, I enjoyed it but I probably won’t watch it again (unless I have an X-Men day or something).

Gestapo’s Last Stand [1977]

Not a film for the faint of heart. This was a particularly nasty addition to the Nazisploitation genre. I read a review of this recently that compared it to Salo. Both are pretty nasty and both bring out the inherent corruption and sadism of the fascist/Nazi regime. I don’t know what Cesare Canevari’s motivation was but there seems to be no real desire to rage against the regime as in Salo and it appears to be straightforwardly nasty for nasty’s sake. By this benchmark it is a success and is not easy to watch. My turn-away moment came when a bowl of ‘unborn Jew’ was poured over an unconscious victim.

However this was not the worst film that I watched today. That acclaim went to:

The Wicker Man [2006]

Oh dear. What more can I say? The bees, not the bees. I went into this film not expecting much. That is exactly what I received from this film. Even if it was bad I was expecting it to be unintentionally funny but this didn’t start happening until about an hour in. Until then it was just dull. Rather that being unsettling in a scary way that the original attained it seemed to be weird with no actual menace until the end.

March 13th, 2007

12 Days of Christmas Eve [2004]

Posted by sidebog7 in Review, Velásquez, Patricia

Directed by: Martha Coolidge

Starring: Steven Weber, Patricia Velásquez, Molly Shannon.

Four words: Groundhog Day meets Scrooged.

With those four words you have pretty much the exact start beginning and end of this predictable piece. It is unfortunate that both of the above films star Bill Murray as while watching this I found myself thinking, ‘this would have been better with Bill Murray’.

The obvious focus of the film is on a selfish, business driven, divorcee and father who has 12 days in which to fulfil the perfect Christmas Eve. Any failure brings him back to the beginning of the day in an effort to be less selfish and make the day better for everyone.

Films like this are pretty much a by the numbers job for both the director and the stars. Martha Coolidge, who has had a terribly spotty career, directs this with all the anonymity of a made-for-TV director. Molly Shannon and Patricia Velásquez have incredibly little to do. Shannon, who can be hilarious, plays Angie the angel who oversees the ethereal hospital to which Steven Weber is sent at the end of each Christmas Eve. She performs the role with a smidgen of humour and as with most appearance I can remember her in seems to be having fun.

Velásquez and Weber

Velásquez plays the role of the Latin American business woman Isabel, who is looking to offer a company the opportunity to expand into Brazil. She has very little to do and what she does do could have been done by any ‘Latin American’ actress. The character is incredibly obvious; a businesswoman who is more interested in the personality and interrelationships of the prospective partner than of their business acumen.

Weber and Shannon

Weber plays Calvin Carter, a businessman who has built up his ailing father’s discount store business from the brink of failure. He is the sole focus of this movie and therefore has to be interesting and engaging in order for the movie to have any chance of working. He generally succeeds with this task but, as mentioned above, Bill Murray is the obvious comparison and it is not favourable for Weber.

The comedy in this is very, very gentle, perhaps too gentle. The sentiment seems to be applied with a trowel and involves an ex-wife, a son in a Christmas concert and a father who is slowly degenerating. I guess this is generally what you should come to expect from a TV movie. Scrooged and Groundhog Day certainly had mawkish ends but, when coupled with Murray’s incredibly cynical starting points, the release for the characters involved was, if not realistic, certainly understandable. Weber’s character here doesn’t seem too bad at the beginning, maybe a little misguided and over-ambitious but he never seems like the type of person who would need angelic intervention rather than a bit of familial guidance. I have to commend the film for one slight plot point that I shan’t reveal here but I was convinced wouldn’t happen.

I certainly cannot recommend purchasing this film but if it is on at Christmas and the only alternatives are the Tori Spelling version of A Christmas Carol (called A Carol Christmas, it does exist, unfortunately) and The Great Escape (for the 700th time) then, well, watch The Great Escape. But if that’s not on then you will probably enjoy this more than Tori Spelling or a Christmas special of Heartbeat.

February 24th, 2007

Beowulf [1999]

Posted by sidebog7 in Review, Velásquez, Patricia

Directed by: Graham Baker

Starring: Christopher Lambert, Rhona Mitra, Oliver Cotton, Götz Otto, Charles Robinson, Roger Sloman, Layla Roberts, Patricia Velásquez.

Described as ‘An Extreme Mix of Highlander, Dragonslayer & Mortal Kombat!’, how can the film go wrong? Let me count the ways.

The film follows the basic plot of the first and second battles of Beowulf as played by Christopher Lambert. The first being the fight against Grendel, a monster of pure evil. The fight ends with, in this case, Grendel’s arm being severed by some sort of bladed weapon rather than being ripped off. The second battle is fought against Grendel’s Mother and ex Playboy Playmate, Layla Roberts. This section deviates quite a bit from the poem as is Hollywood’s wont.

Beowulf has so many problems that it can’t even really be enjoyed on a so bad it’s good level. Firstly the film, for no apparent reason is set in some weird future where people are still using swords, knives and the like. Yet there are sentries on the battlements with what appear to be fairly intricate telescopes and there are sentries outside the castle with a computer enhanced spyglass. The scenario is described as ‘Living in a techno-futile world of the future, a medieval land where technology’s secrets are locked away in a mute past’. That this aspect is never delved into is irksome as it is a completely pointless plot convolution that breaks its own rules when the computerised telescope appears.

Another major problem is with the music. Normally, I wouldn’t place this as particularly high on a list of things to ruin a film but the music by Juno Reactor is just so out of place it is untrue. It would appear that the music style is harkening to the ‘techno-futile’ future setting. However, as that is a worthless aspect the music becomes just a set of random sounds in the background. I think if the future setting had been dropped the music could have been more in the style of Conan or even Kull.

My career is over.

Christopher Lambert meanders through the film with very little to do and when he has a fight scene he does so many flips that he must have spent half the shooting time upside down. Maybe this explains why he appears to be so rubbish and only manages to win battles when the enemy makes a huge mistake. This is not completely true as the first fight outside the castle gives the impression that he is some sort of undefeatable super-hero.

Rhona Mitra spends most of the time with her huge cleavage pointing towards the camera. She comes off as worse than useless which is entirely the fault of the script. In fact all of the castle occupants seem to be incompetent and deserve to be killed posthaste.

A fairly bizarre aspect of the film is the number of familiar British actors appear. Oliver Cotton, Robert Wilcox and the unmistakable Roger Sloman appear, all having appeared in daytime TV fare such as Doctors or Heartbeat. This distracts somewhat as you have Lambert flipping all over the place and then you see ‘that actor out of that episode of Midsomer Murders’. Maybe it’ll have a similar effect when I watch The Bill and I will be distracted thinking ‘there’s that actor out of Beowulf’.

A final insult is the CGI battle at the end. I can say that I have never usually laughed at CGI. Generally, if the rest of the film is any good I will accept dodgy CGI and think ‘well the budget probably didn’t let them do much better’. The CGI in Beowulf is out of place and not very good. Has CGI gone so far in 8 years that a $20 million film from 1999 has far worse CGI than a £1 million pound TV show in 2007?

Patricia Velásquez

The positives: Patricia Velásquez is pretty good in her role as a frightened castle captive who escapes only to be caught by the army surrounding the castle. They think she contains evil from the castle and rough her up and condemn her to death. She has the obvious good sense to get out of the castle and out of the film as early as possible.

Licky Licky

Another positive for Oliver Cotton, at least, is that he gets to have his nose licked by a Playboy Playmate as she appears with a see-through top and straddles him. Think of that next time you see him in Casualty.

February 20th, 2007

The Mummy [1999]

Posted by sidebog7 in Review, Velásquez, Patricia

Directed by: Stephen Sommers

Starring: Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, John Hannah, Arnold Vosloo, Kevin J. O’Connor, Oded Fehr, Jonathan Hyde, Erick Avari, Bernard Fox, Omid Djalili, Patricia Velásquez.

From investigating The Mummy it is obvious that it could have been something completely different.  In 1992 the film could have been a violent $10 million Clive Barker film.  It could have been a George A. Romero zombie film or it could have been a John Sayles penned Joe Dante film.  In some ways it would have been interesting to see what would have been the outcome of any of these fantastic film-makers taking the mantle of directing a ‘Mummy’ film.  However, The Mummy comes with such a history that I think that anybody trying to just recreate the original would just be setting themselves up for a fall.

It is curious that when Stephen Sommers was finally attached to the project that the budget increased from $15 million to $80 million.  Sommers, who had previous directed the solid and charming version of The Jungle Book and the fantastically entertaining B-movie (with an A-movie budget) Deep Rising, set this version in very much the same action/adventure mould as the Indiana Jones movies.  The budget appears to be spent mainly on CGI which, while there are moments where it looks ‘fake’, overall enhances the movie without being the sole reason to watch.

The action starts shortly after the opening scene which is reminiscent of the exposition scenes in the original Mummy sequels.  Brendan Fraser demonstrates a talent for action scenes with bursts of comedy.  Hannah is obviously enjoying himself with the role and is amusing as the slightly cowardly brother of Weisz.  Weisz is enjoyable as the intrepid Egyptologist and has a great screen chemistry with Fraser and Hannah.  The ‘villains’ of the film are played with great aplomb by Arnold Vosloo and Kevin J. O’Connor.  O’Connor’s character is completely clichéd but is overplayed with a great sense of fun and is my favourite individual in the film.

The story is pretty standard stuff.  Evil curse, secret society, lost city, etc.  The Egyptian angle gives it a little more interest to anyone who finds the period interesting (and who wouldn’t).  In spite of that, this is not the sort of film where we can dissect the narrative and spending a few minutes thinking about it would be over-analysing it.  It is this that ultimately prevents it from being in quite the same league as the Indiana Jones series.

The film belts along for most of its 2 hour runtime.  There are several scenes that particularly stick in mind as being, at least to my mind, absolutely marvellous.  The first is a scene near the beginning where Fraser and his legion unit are attacked by arabs and the resolution of this comes with an amusing scene and then a great looking special effect.  The other standout scene is Bernard Fox’s appearance as an old RAF veteran who takes Hannah, Fraser and Fehr in his biplane for one last adventure.  Fox completely steals the scene for me.

Egyptian Treasure

I cannot finish this review without pointing out two areas which elevate this film to greater heights than it is often thought of.  Firstly the cinematography is splendid.  The vistas look fantastic and the scenes set within the city are lit beautifully.  The late Adrian Biddle was the DP for this film and The Mummy ranks as one of his finest achievements beside Aliens and V for Vendetta.  Secondly, the music by Jerry Goldsmith is also incredible.  I find it difficult to rank Goldsmith scores as they are all, with a few exceptions, wonderful to listen to (as part of the film or on their own).  The score to The Mummy is certainly one that I have listened to many times and am still not tired of it.

I might have sung this film’s praises slightly too much.  After all, it isn’t without its faults.  However, I think it one of the few adventure films of the past ten years that is exciting, interesting and rewatchable.  The tone of the film is so completely different to the 1932 version that I think that Sommers sidesteps any possible complaint that might be raised and it stands on its own, maybe not as a classic that will last 70 years but certainly as an enjoyable 2 hour spectacle.

Patricia Velásquez

Finally, Patricia Velásquez.  Appears for about 1 minute towards the beginning.  Great eye candy.

February 16th, 2007

Mindhunters [2004]

Posted by sidebog7 in Review, Velásquez, Patricia

Directed by: Renny Harlin

Starring: James Todd Smith (LL Cool J), Jonny Lee Miller, Kathryn Morris, Patricia Velásquez, Clifton Collins Jr., Eion Bailey, Will Kemp, Val Kilmer, Christian Slater.

From the director of Die Hard 2. Written by the writer of The Cooler. With the stars of Trainspotting, Heathers and Any Given Sunday.
Or…
From the director of Driven. Tweaked by the writer of Blood and Chocolate. With the stars of Love, Honour and Obey, Alone in the Dark and Rollerball.

Which of these is the most accurate tag line for this movie?

Mindhunters is a film which was filmed in 2002 but went unreleased until 2004. It only cost an estimated $27 million. Distributed by what seems to be a different company in every country. The story is from the standard template. All of this seems to be going against the film but for some reason the film works and, if you let yourself be sucked in, is one of the more enjoyable thrillers of the past few years.

The storyline is based on the old standard (set by Agatha Christie in And Then There Were None) of a group of people who, whilst isolated from the world, start dying one by one. This has been used in many films ranging from Identity to the several film versions of the original book. Even Quincy had an episode based on it. In Mindhunters there are only 9 possible suspects. The twist is that eight of them are trainee FBI profilers and the other is their instructor. They all have very specific characteristics (indeed LL Cool J’s character points this out for our benefit) which after the first quarter of an hour are pretty well defined. This is done though a (potentially) film stopping opening scene and a scene at a bar where each character has a few seconds to show their defining trait.

Val Kilmer is the misunderstood FBI instructor who is not taken seriously by his peers. Christian Slater is the headstrong leader. Jonny Lee Miller is a supposedly fearless man who was orphaned when he was a child. Kathryn Morris is the insecure woman who really wants to succeed. Patricia Velásquez appears to be a jack of all trades who is trying to quit smoking. Clifton Collins Jr. is the paraplegic who always has a gun to hand. Eion Bailey is the Mr Fixit. Will Kemp is the intelligent British exchange profiler who is addicted to coffee. LL Cool J is the perceptive outside observer, but can they trust him?

The ensemble cast work well together although half of them are only there for fodder and as such don’t have particularly strong characters. This could be in part down to the other actors being more overpowering, i.e. LL Cool J and Christian Slater. However, Kathryn Morris stands out as a strong, if uncertain, woman driven by a desire to become a profiler. The characters played by Eion Bailey and Will Kemp might as well not be there and only really serve to up the body count.

Mindhunter

The film keeps up quite a fast pace and never seems to become stale or tedious. Harlin’s direction and editing has always impressed me. Even in dreck like Driven he keeps the movie going and it never becomes dull (even if it does become very stupid). Even when I was not convinced by a scene, the next scene came barrelling along and kept the story going.

It could be the fact that I tend not to be able to guess whodunit but in this instance it seemed relatively unimportant. It is obvious who is going to come through in the end so you can spend your time rooting for them. I certainly wasn’t really surprised by the eventual outcome, nor could I spot any obvious clues that I had missed. This is the films main failing but this is a failing that films based on Christie have a penchant for.

Is this the best film in the past 10 years. No. Does it deserve to languish on the shelf for years waiting for a release. Definitely no. It seems unfair that rubbish thrillers like Basic Instinct 2 and Valentine can get a full cinema release (although I can see the draw for the former) yet this relatively entertaining film with a well known ensemble cast gets jettisoned into Straight-to-Video obscurity. In my opinion, Mindhunters is certainly worth a rental if you enjoy thrillers.

Patricia Velásquez

Onto the reason why I have chosen to review this film. Patricia Velásquez comes off, as mentioned above, as a bit of a jack of all trades. Her quitting smoking seems to be a bit of a clichéd shorthand for making her abrupt and most likely to snap. However, she certainly handles the role well and I would hope to see her in more action/thriller movies in the future.

February 12th, 2007

For My Next Trick…

Posted by sidebog7 in Interlude, Velásquez, Patricia

I figured that if I wanted to write an interesting film blog, I would need an angle. I sat down and thought what sort of odd or quirky thing would interest me and hopefully interest other people.

The idea that I came up with after several days of thinking was to take a single actor/actress and write a review for each film in their career. Now, obviously that would be difficult if I chose someone like Christopher Lee who has been in more films than I have had hot dinners (at least cooked by myself). So I decided to choose someone randomly from any films I watched over the past few days.

The winner is:

Patricia Velásquez

Patricia Velásquez

The film that I was watching that decided this was Mindhunters [2004]. An enjoyable diversion (but more on that in the review blog) from one of my favourite directors Renny Harlin.

Patricia Velásquez (I’m going to call her Patricia from now on, not because I know her but because it takes me a minute or so to get the little acute to appear) is a Venezuelan actress and model. During the 90s Patricia dated Sandra Bernhard. She is, however, bisexual. This is not really anything to do with her films but it makes me wonder if someone who looks like Sandra Bernhard can get an international model then there is hope for me.

Some will recognise Patricia as the soap opera star that Gob and Michael fight over in the wonderfully funny Arrested Development. That won’t be on my list of things to review here as if I allowed TV into my review list I would have to watch CSI: Miami, and that is not going to happen. More are likely to remember her as Anck-su-namun in The Mummy [1999] and The Mummy Returns [2001]. These will definitely be reviewed.

The complete list of films starring Patricia are below. I will endeavor to review them all and update them with relevant links.

So, I intend to start by reviewing Mindhunters in the coming few days. The other films are either winging their way to me or will be soon. Let’s hope they hold my interest.

p.s. If you have any ideas about anyone who might make a suitable second ‘project’, let me know.

February 8th, 2007

Deadly Swarm [2003]

Posted by sidebog7 in Review, Bugs

Directed by: Paul Andresen

Starring: Shane Brolly, Kaarina Aufranc, John Patrick McCormack, Pepe Serna

There are two types of ‘bug’ movie:

  1. The cheap generic ‘killer swarm’ type film with new faces and possibly a famous face slumming it in the twilight of their career.
  2. The expensive all-star bee film which is terrible but you can’t help but watch with a constant look of ‘oh my god how the hell did this cast get assembled for such a bad film and why can I not look away’.

This is obviously not The Swarm so therefore falls into the first category.

The star of this film is Shane Brolly who you might remember from Underworld where he played the vampire leader Kraven. In this film he stars as an entomologist who, whilst researching mosquitoes in a small town in Mexico, discovers a wasps nest with particularly nasty occupants. He tries to get the town to cancel its festival (like that ever works) to prevent an attack and generally attempts to uncover the secrets of the wasps.

Swarm Festival

Olé

The wasps have been given the name ‘Black Fire’ and are of great interest to a group headed by Dr. Schroeder played by John Patrick McCormack (General Wendall in The West Wing). We learn that they are obviously completely evil within the first few minutes when we see Schroeder threaten some ‘Indians’ to find the location of the wasps.

We are introduced to the female interest in this movie when a journalist played by Kaarina Aufranc follows the truck containing the wasps.

In my opinion bug films need several things to succeed:

  1. A cast that is not afraid to be slightly over-the-top. Large characters based on obvious stereotypes. If the film is too subtle then you are no longer interested in the bugs.
  2. Decent special effects. This is split into two, the bugs themselves and the effect of the bugs. It is OK not seeing the bugs as long as there are some gurning faces looking scared/quizzical. However if we see the bugs they shouldn’t look like someone has just splattered ink at the film cell.
  3. A reasonable running time.

This film has some success. The characters are all fairly obvious and the Mexican setting allows for the police chief to utter my favourite Spanish word ‘Vámonos’ (and also ‘ándale’). You don’t really care about the woman but she is pretty enough. Shane Brolly does quite well to hold the whole thing together.

The effects however are not good. The make-up effects are OK but the wasps are the aforementioned specks on the film and not remotely convincing. Seeing people react and knowing that they are swatting at nothing makes it a whole load funnier though.

Swarm Death

It burns

The film definitely doesn’t outstay its welcome (as film reviewers like to say). It is only 81 minutes before the credits roll and it keeps up the pace throughout.

The film was directed by music video director Paul Andresen who’s direction is perfuntory. The music contains some interesting sections but is generally average.  There are some intriguing instruments and sounds and the orchestration is generally good and quite overpowering at times.  The music is composed by Neal Acree who also scored mutant snake film Venomous and the opening music for World Of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade. The cinematography which is sometimes quite interesting is by Hitcher II DP George Mooradian.

Good Points
Interesting, if slightly predictable plot.
Mad, tin-foil hat wearing loon ‘cries wolf’.

Bad Points
Female character is not really utilised.
Bad CGI(?) bugs.

Available from Amazon as part of a Creature Feature triple bill.

February 6th, 2007

Hi all.

Posted by sidebog7 in Prelude

Welcome to my den of dross and tripe. In this blog I will be reviewing some of the lesser known films. There are very good reasons why most will be less known.
I have interesting plans and hopefully you will help me improve my catalogue of bad films which I enjoy even though they are rubbish. If you have any suggestions just leave a comment and I will give it consideration.

My first film review will be uploaded tomorrow and will be the great ‘bugs attack’ film, Deadly Swarm.

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