Sunday, January 25, 2015

In short: Springfield Rifle (1952)

For a Western directed by the great André de Toth, I was actually a pretty disappointed by this espionage piece taking place during the US Civil War. There’s a surprising lack of complexity to the film’s characters, and even protagonist Gary Cooper’s central moral dilemma (you can’t have a 50s Western without one) is rather clear-cut to me, with the film’s script underplaying and undervaluing copious opportunities to give more depth to the proceedings. The films seems to see no place for an actual character arc for Cooper’s Major Kearney, leaving us with a story about a man who starts the tale it tells just as he begins, with no changes to him at all in between.

Then there’s the Gary Cooper factor, the man’s very personal type of blandness that, as always, sees him saying his lines, scrunching his face up from time to time, but never developing much of a personality. Who is his Major Lex Kearney? Neither Cooper’s performance nor the script seem willing (or able?) to tell, which leaves quite the hole where the film’s emotional and intellectual heart should be.

Still, while this is a minor de Toth film, even working from a bland script that ends in pretty unendurable fawning about the (oh so wonderful, so buy one) Springfield Rifle (capital letters totally necessary), the director knew how to make an entertaining movie, even if there was no room for depth, so Springfield Rifle’s big set pieces really deserve the descriptor of “rousing”, with beautiful photography, excellent staging and the kind of visual imagination that should have been served by a better script. Plus, the film features one of Beloved Horror Icon Lon Chaney Jr.’s Western appearances as a rather dumb main henchman.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

In short: Thor: The Dark World (2013)

I’m actually a bit embarrassed for Kenneth Brannagh that a – talented – journeyman director like Alan Taylor is able to make a decent Thor movie for Marvel, where the so-called artiste’s attempt was mostly an example of bored indifference, wasted actors, and of how to make expensive effects look a lot like cardboard.

Don’t get me wrong, this second Thor movie is generally cute instead of riveting, fun instead of exciting, and really not very rich on interesting subtext, which does keep it far from being one of the first rate superhero films, but, unlike with the one that came before, I was enjoying myself tremendously watching it. This Thor movie also makes good use of an actually pretty wonderful cast, and is generally giving the impression the people on screen are having fun doing what they do. Why, even Anthony Hopkins seems to be awake this time around, and Hemsworth and Hiddleston are the two actors we saw in the Avengers instead of the ones looking awkward and dull in Brannagh’s film.

Add to that how much imagination The Dark World shows, how many lovely nods towards Kirby and Simonson it contains, and how it dares to be silly without being embarrassed about it, and you find me rather happy with it even though it doesn’t try to be a superhero version of A Tale of Two Cities (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Three Films Make A Post: A MONSTER MOVIE FOR THE THINKING PERSON.

Beckoning the Butcher (2013): This Australian POV movie – directed, written and edited by Dale Trott – is a perfectly serviceable spook show that avoids some of the usual found footage clichés. There’s no climactic running through the woods (though there is running through an outback desert stretch), no tearful confession into the camera, and the film purports to be an actual documentary built from the footage of the mandatory disappeared kids. It’s also quite well made on a technical level and knows how to pace itself (no format typical sagging middle here).

So why am I still somewhat lukewarm about the resulting movie? I suspect the reason is that it seems a bit too comfortable for my tastes with being a decently made POV horror film that avoids some clichés, not aiming even a little bit beyond that. There’s a certain lack of depth – of emotion, of imagination, of ideas – that make it difficult to say much more about it, really. The film’s central supernatural force lacks any visible or suggested backstory, or really any characteristics that would make it interesting, mysterious, weird, or what have you, leading to a blandness I wish a film this technically competent would have avoided.

Grave Encounters 2 (2012): On paper, I should be all about a horror sequel acting this meta towards its predecessor. However, there seems not point at all to the amount of metafictional nonsense John Poliquin’s film gets up to, at least if you’re like me and like this sort of thing only when it has a reason to be in a film beyond providing an excuse to make the first film again, just worse, with added unfunny jokes and a pacing that drags us through so much “funny” and “ironic” horror film making business it truly becomes a drag. It’s difficult to see all that irony as anything but padding, a mutant, even more horrifying form of odious comic relief that isn’t just a part of the movie that’s out to destroy all tension anymore, but the film actively gloating about destroying its own tension. Or, given the quality of the actual horror parts, here, supposed tension.

Inner Demons (2014): Given my usual dislike for possession style horror films (and yet I’m still watching them - because that makes sense in my world), I’m surprised by how much fun I had with Seth Grossman’s “demonic possession at a reality TV rehab show” film, but then, as a high concept, that’s hard to beat. Of course, the film only makes little sense looked at from the angle of actual psychiatric practices or actual human behaviour, and becomes increasingly improbable in these regards the longer the whole affair goes on, but until the rather hilarious climax rolls around, it’s just surprisingly fun to watch, with a lead actress in Lara Vosburgh (who looks a bit like a young Jennifer Connelly) who throws herself into that possession stuff in all the right and all the wrong ways, a plot that isn’t sensible yet moves at an atypically fast pace for POV horror, and quite a bit of fun to be had. 
And hey, that’s a lot more than The Last Exorcism was ever willing to provide.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Lucy (2014)

A series of unfortunate events starting with a bad choice in boyfriends leads American-in-Taiwan Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) onto the road to become an involuntary drug mule for South Korean drug kingpin (I assume) Mr. Jang (Choi Min-sik). When more unfortunate events bring the experimental drug she’s smuggling from her stomach into her blood stream, Lucy starts to develop better superpowers than you get from being bitten by a radioactive spider. Lucy becomes able to use ever more of her brain capacity, using the 90 percent of the human brain we can’t access according to the bullshit science of the script (seriously, people, I know that’s a much-loved bit of nonsense, but it’s nonsense nonetheless). From then on, the plot increasingly resembles a random assortment of disconnected scenes, with nobody doing much that makes sense, neither on the level of logic nor on that of basic human psychology. Or what, just for example, is Mr. Jang’s actual motivation for his killing spree that includes basically everyone his goons encounter? Lucy for her part tries to give her increasingly superhuman knowledge to one Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman), famous neurologist (tee-hee) before she’ll die, or, as she in fact does, turn into the sort of entity that’ll make people who like some privacy for their masturbation decidedly uncomfortable.

So, as should be obvious writer/director Luc Besson still hates logic, physics, and all that comes with it. Unlike with many a EuropaCorp movie, the resulting film-like entity is quite fun too watch, probably also because it was directed by Besson himself, a man with a keen visual imagination, a classic eye for the staging of all kinds of scenes, and none of the love for video clip bullshit that can make the films of some of his protégés – like the dreaded Olivier Megaton – so difficult to stomach. Sure, neither the science nor the psychology make sense, and the film’s Big Answer to the Big Questions it is supposedly asking in those scenes where no perfectly idiotic bit of violence is happening seem to be “Time’s a bit important. I think.”, but then, I didn’t really expect Besson to make a proper philosophical SF movie, nor even a science fictional action movie with proper philosophic bits.

As nearly always with Besson’s films, it’s not the question if the film’s a mess or not, but rather if it’s a hot one or not. Lucy, fortunately, is the former, at first pretending to use its superhuman basic as an excuse to have Scarlett Johansson do a Liam Neeson (as if we needed an excuse for that, particular since she has turned out to be such an excellent Black Widow in the Marvel movies) but then quickly turning into an excuse for Besson to do the thing he’s really good at: making up weird stuff while things explode from time to time, and – in this case – Morgan Freeman pops in for a few scenes to hold a scientific lecture (not based in actual science), look wise, and manage to not break out into fits of the giggles. If you take it for what it is, Lucy really is pretty fantastic, eschewing sense for the free-floating game of associations of a very loud and flashy dream that culminates in one of the most peculiar nods to Kubrick’s 2001 you’ll ever see.

I’m happy there are many SF films that aren’t like Lucy but I’m totally fine with Lucy being as it is, in particular because it’s a film much too weird to ever bore you, and so random I find it difficult to assume even Besson did see anything that happens in it coming beyond the explosions and Johansson and Freeman putting way more effort in than their characters deserve.

Also, what the hell did I just watch?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

In short: The Long Riders (1980)

There’s something peculiar about the fact that various groups of what most certainly were deeply unpleasant men of the Old American West have become folk heroes. But then, there seems to be a strain in US culture that values independence far more than any moral or ethical values. Of course, in the case of the James-Younger Gang, history did make things quite easy for folklore by involving the even more unpleasant boot of the rich and equally lawless in form of the Pinkertons on the other side, and including the taste of betrayal.

Where folklore went, Hollywood followed very early on, so Walter Hill’s film about the rise and fall of the James and the Youngers is only one particularly fine film about these dubious people among many. And a very, very fine film it is, perhaps one of the best – und certainly one of the more underrated – revisionist Westerns ever made. It’s a film that does little wrong, starting out leisurely in a tone of highly stylized authenticity - which of course isn’t authenticity at all, but a way to make the world a film takes place in feel believable and lived in by real people – that slowly but surely turns darker, culminating in the most surreal Great Northfield Minnesota Raid ever put on screen, as far as I know.

In between, the film walks the line of treating its robber heroes as its heroes without ever turning them completely into the folkloric heroes, nor treating them as mere psychopaths. The James’s and Younger’s exploits are also located in a very specific kind of post-US-Civil-War resentment of poor Southern whites towards the Union, not a place I find particularly comfortable to sympathize with (because, d’oh, slavery) but again something that adds complexity to the characters and positions them in a believable social milieu, something Hill is – to my surprise – just as adept at showing as he is at the violence and the underplayed male friendships. And even though this is quite the male dominated film, Hill also finds room to show women with agency and minds of their own; it just doesn’t help them much.

It’s a humanizing effort that is further supported by some fine acting by the collected Keachs, Carradines, and Quaids that make up its cast in what sounds like stunt casting but really does work out very fine in this case, with the various siblings playing siblings with not exactly surprising sibling chemistry. Ironically, at least for me, for once letting actual relations play relations does feel a bit strange in a movie, because I – and I do imagine I’m not the only one – have so gotten used to see siblings on my screen not looking similar at all, the film’s gesture of particular naturalism does feel weird rather than natural. Which, come to think of it, is quite a trick of Hill to play on his audience.

But then, The Long Riders does play quite a few tricks on its audience, subverting expectations and making things much more messy than they appear at first; that the film is also just a fantastic revisionist western might be one of these tricks.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Kite (2014)

In a near future South Africa dominated by gangs and a corrupt police force after some sort of economic collapse. A young woman named Sawa (India Eisley) hunts a mysterious slaver and trafficker in kids only known as The Emir, the man responsible for the murder of her policeman father. To keep her trauma at bay, Sawa is taking the drug Amp that not only makes the psychological pain go away but also erases parts of her memory and increases her combat reflexes, though I’m not sure her killing machine style really needs much improvement. Her only friend is Karl (Samuel L. Jackson), her father’s former partner who keeps her in weapons, drugs and information and tries to erase as many of her traces as he can, which gets increasingly more difficult the closer she gets to the Emir and the higher her body count becomes.

Of course, taking a drug that destroys one’s memory isn’t necessarily a good thing to do because you just might lose your personality, or the actual reason for doing the things that you do, with it, and consequently, Sawa might have forgotten some rather important facts. Like how she is connected to the young guy (Callan McAulifee) who seems to be following her, helping her out (or at least trying to) and who says they know each other well.

What we have with Ralph Ziman’s Kite is a US/Mexican/South African co-production of the adaptation of a Japanese anime I haven’t seen but which is supposedly much, much smuttier. The whole international she-bang was filmed in South Africa, giving the film more of the feel of one of Luc Besson’s more obscure productions than of your typical US SF/action movie.

In fact, on an aesthetic level, Kite doesn’t so much remind me of its own anime roots as of a live action version of a francophone comic crossed with the 2010s interpretation of an old Duran Duran video clip. Which, if you ask me, is a good thing, and certainly an aesthetic that gives the film an individual feel, particularly in connection with the use it makes of its South African locations (only the most ugly and run-down, of course, because this is a post-economical apocalypse movie and not a tourist video) and minor role actors. It’s an interesting mix to say the least, and while Kite’s plot isn’t anything I haven’t seen a dozen times before (including the idea that vengeance probably-maybe doesn’t solve everything or makes you whole again), the rather more lived in world it takes place in gives it a bit of originality – at least inside the genre borders of post-economical collapse SF action. Which yes, is a thing now.

The film’s action is pretty great too, with a variety of increasingly tense and bloody fights that actually manage to sell the not exactly threateningly built Eisley as a frightening killing machine through clever choreography, fast-but-not-too-fast editing, and Eisley’s surprising ability to go from controlled childlike to fierce through poise and facial expressions. Sure, she probably couldn’t take most of the guys she makes mincemeat out of here in real life but she sure has the eyes of somebody who could, and that’s what counts in movies. On the other hand, the film also doesn’t make the mistake of never letting her lose a fight; as all good action heroes, one of her qualities is not that she’s never going down but the way she gets up again.

The plot, as I said, isn’t very original, but the film is well enough paced and doesn’t just go from one action sequence to the next. At the very least, Kite possesses an actual story, as well as characters that make sense in their comic book-y way, and while it isn’t exploring questions of trauma, memory and identity deeply, it’s not a thoughtless movie either. In particular when it comes to a style of worldbuilding that suggests more than it explains about its specific post-collapse world but which does intimate things that feel to belong together and form the place in which these characters attempt to survive.

And that’s really the part that makes Kite work for me the most, the feeling that its crazy, a little sad, and a little silly plot takes place in a world appropriate to it.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

In short: WolfCop (2014)

Right, spoilers.

Every 32 years, there’s weird shit happening in an otherwise sleepy US small town. Alcoholic and worst cop ever Lou Garou (Leo Fafard) has rather a bad time of it, for he finds himself victim of a ritual that turns him into a werewolf. His transformation is part of the ass-backwards plan of the shapeshifting reptile people secretly running the town who snuff werewolf blood harvested at the time of a solar eclipse. To keep things handled as easy as possible, they usually turn the least capable people they can get their hands on into their blood donator werewolves, but in Lou’s case, something – possibly thanks to all the alcohol he’s marinated his innards in – goes very wrong and he turns into some sort of super werewolf who just happens to be a much better – though decapitation-happy – cop than the original human.

But will his stupid wolf powers, his wolf mobile (don’t ask), and the help of the only sane person in town, his decidedly more competent colleague Tina (Amy Matysio), be enough to thwart the shapeshifters’ vague evil plans?

I’m generally not too fond of the whole “instant cult film” approach to filmmaking, but I did find myself somewhat charmed by Lowell Dean’s WolfCop. Probably because it does work as an actual horror comedy and not only as an exercise in ironic winking at its audience (something I generally react to with eye-rolling, annoyed muttering and the shaking of fists). Now, it’s not the deepest of comedies, and not every joke is a hit but I really appreciate how most of the humour here is based on setting up a ridiculous situation and then following it with the appropriate logic, which is to say, the logic of the ridiculous, an approach that does at the very least provide the film with an absurd sort of coherence.

From time to time, the film even hits pay dirt, deserving some hearty chuckles for scenes like our hero’s invention of what I can only call the Wolfmobile, or a wolfman/woman sex scene filmed exactly like you’d have found it in 90s action cinema, just that one of the participants is a werewolf in a sheriff deputy’s uniform. As I said, it’s not deep, but it certainly has its moments. WolfCop also gets bonus brownie points for its pleasant use of Tina, who doesn’t suddenly turn from competent to helpless for the film’s finale so our hero has somebody to rescue; instead there’s a lot of female lead and male lead rescuing each other going on. Mainstream movies could learn something from that.

And if that is not enough to entertain you for 80 minutes, there are many spirited practical gore effects, a wolfman get-up that is as silly as it is expressive, and basically never a dull moment.

Friday, January 16, 2015

On ExB: (The) Shepherd (1999)

aka Cybercity

Hey, you! Yes you! You might not know it, but you need some Shepherd in your life! It’s the cheap-o post-apocalyptic sort-of cyberpunk action movie of choice for everyone who wants to witness how Roddy Piper gets religion, C. Thomas Howell makes a growly face, and David Carradine becomes one with his ventriloquist’s doll (I suspect The Method).

Just click on through to my column at the brilliant ventriloquist doll lovin’ Exploder Button for enlightenment!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

In short: The Houses October Built (2014)

Friends Zack (Zack Andrews), Brandy (Brandy Schaefer), Bobby (Bobby Roe), Mikey (Mikey Roe) and Jeff (Jeff Larson) are going on a road trip, visiting various haunted house attractions in the run-up to Halloween, filming whatever they encounter. The attractions our protagonists visit become increasingly disturbing, featuring moments where the line between make-believe and something much more disturbing and real becomes more than a little blurred.

Internet hints and rumours lead the friends on the trail of a mysterious “extreme haunt” that seems to move from state to state with every year. That sounds like a thing to look for when you’re as low on self preservation instincts as these people are, so go and look for it is what they do. Unfortunately for our heroes, what they are looking for might already have found them, and it might care little for the fine differences between the anything goes space of the haunted house attraction and the outside world.

Bobby Roe’s excellently titled The Houses October Built makes pretty fantastic use of the basics of POV style horror, adding some choice bits of verité by using some real roadside haunts as locations, and telling a simple yet effective story that really works best told in this style. The real haunts add quite a bit of veracity to the proceedings, making the slow approach of the worse things awaiting our protagonists that decisive bit more plausible, playing with the fact that the particular home-made character of the attractions gives their horrors a more authentic and therefore potentially more disturbing feeling than a slick corporate production could provide. It’s a bit like the difference between Poltergeist and Texas Chainsaw Massacre (the latter of which Houses makes repeated nods towards).

Roe is also very clever in the way he integrates his – or the production’s, for in this kind of indie production, where half of the cast is also involved in the writing, not to speak of the direction, the distinction is rather difficult to make – own pieces of creepiness into the original houses, emphasising the blurring lines between showmanship and reality even further.

It does of course help that these pieces of creepiness are designed with a keen sense for the disturbing schooled on the modern campfire tale. Simple and highly archetypal masks – skulls, and clowns, and creepy girls – abound, and the shadow of what we imagine a snuff film would like (Last House on Dead End Street?) lies heavily over the proceedings. The escalation of the film’s real threat works just as nicely, again using simple means to great effect.

Now would probably be the point where I’d have to grumble about he film’s characterisation, but for the plot at hand, the sheer basics the film provides are just about enough, and the actors are definitely competent enough for the characters. I might have wished for some kind of explanation beyond stupidity for the way three out of five of our characters rush headlong into obvious danger where most people would be running into the other direction but the point didn’t really encroach upon my enjoyment of The Houses October Built too much, given how well it does everything else (with extra bonus points for starting with a Walter Jon Williams quote).

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

SyFy vs. The Mynd: Interceptor Force 2 (2002)

A few years after the first film, the second (and final, don’t you worry) Interceptor Force movie found its true home with the Sci Fi Channel, which doesn’t seem to have changed the production values for the worse. The new crappy CG alien still looks and moves ridiculous, the number of locations is limited and corridor-heavy – you know the drill by now.

Plotwise, the company idiot mercenary Sean Lambert (Olivier Gruner) is still working for is now under exclusive contract to the US government, a fact the mild-mannered will explain with the theory that they must be very very cheap, the cynical with corruption. Both philosophical factions will at least agree the reason for renting these guys can’t be competence, because if ever I’ve seen a group of “special operatives” where the “special” is the same as in “special needs” it’s the guys and girls who accompany Sean on his new alien hunting assignment. The gang’s off to a nuclear reactor near Grosny the mate of the alien (who prefers the form of one Eve Scheer to the crappy CGI form it can also take because Terminator 3 is totally a film you want to copy from) is planning to explode together with enough nuclear war heads to poison the whole world. I’m sure Sean, his new best black buddy McCallister (Roger R. Cross), least likely to get through any psychological assessment – even among these people – Adrian Sikes (Elizabeth Gracen), German heavy weapons guy Bjorn Hatch (Alex Jolig) – totally a German name - and scientist without field experience or training – because why would you need that when you fight aliens from time to time - Dawn DeSilvia (Adrienne Wilkinson) will have everything under control, not one of them will panic or play a junior version of “oh noes! You might be the shape-shifting alien, you fiend!”, and there certainly won’t be need for a last minute bomb defusing by people you wouldn’t trust to locate their own hands while a nuclear strike force wants to strike.

Again, as with the first film, I actually kind of enjoyed this thing, not as much as the first one thanks to its replacement of crazy stupid with mere stupid, but on the very simple level where attractive people move in front of a camera, mild action sequences excite mildly, guns are shot, people are fake-killed and Nigel Bennett makes profound efforts to look concerned. So, just like the first part, but a bit less so. We can probably be thankful for the lack of a third Interceptor Force film, for the highly probable next step down on the quality ladder would have been from mere stupid to boring stupid.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

In short: See No Evil 2 (2014)

I know it’s a bit unfair to try and compare Jen and Sylvia Soska’s film after the brilliant American Mary with the one that came before, seeing as it is the belated sequel nobody ever asked for in would-be slasher franchise the WWE tailor-made for Glenn “Kane” Jacobs (whoever he may be), but then, one might ask why waste talent and time on something like this?

The optimistic view would of course be: because you can probably do much more interesting things in a franchise nobody cares about than you could do with, say, Halloween. The optimists, it turns out, aren’t completely wrong, yet they aren’t completely right either. See No Evil 2 certainly is a better film than the first one, but then, so is Jason goes to New York. Seriously, though, as far as minor slashers go, the film is perfectly fine, with the Soskas showing a – after the film I’m not going to mention anymore not too surprising – great eye for making things look interesting. Even if their film takes place in the boring corridors that make up a morgue, at least it’s a morgue dominated by various beautiful lighting effects in actual colours, and while neither the sets nor what happens in them is particularly exciting (I mean, how often have we seen this exact same thing happening?), at least it is photographed well.

I also appreciated that at least Danielle Harris’s Amy and Kaj-Erik Eriksen’s Seth are better drawn than the usual final girl and boyfriend (or in this case, guy who doesn’t dare ask her out-friend), and their little love plot is actually much better observed than you usually get in a slasher. Alas, the rest of the film consists only of the most minor variations on slasher standards, and while I’m happy there are any variations on screen at all, it really makes little difference if character type A dies ten minutes earlier than usual in a slasher, at best drawing the script from boring to perhaps mildly interesting, with none of the changes to the usual clichés eventually leading anywhere worth going.

So there’s not enough to recommend See No Evil 2 as a revisionist slasher, and at the same time, while it is always nice to look at, it is by far not viscerally exciting enough to work as a traditional slasher. The killings are perfunctory, the suspense scenes too obvious, and worst of all, Jacob Goodnight is just not a very threatening killer, lacking the archetypal power that makes the Shape or even Jason so long-lived. Instead, it’s a big guy who randomly slaughters people and from time to time flashes back to his mummy and rambles a little about sin.

It’s just not enough, which is my problem with the whole of See No Evil 2 – there doesn’t seem to be any reason for it to exist at all.

Music (ahem) Tuesday: Weighty Edition

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Sunday, January 11, 2015

In short: The Numbers Station (2013)

When CIA killer Emerson Kent (John Cusack) starts to show signs of a developing conscience, he is dispatched as “protection” to a numbers station. He’s there to take care of code broadcaster Katherine (Malin Akerman), a state of affairs the woman who hasn’t quite wrapped her head around what kind of world she is working in interprets as him being her bodyguard. As a matter of fact, it’s Kent’s job to kill Katherine in case of a security breach, protecting the one unbreachable line of communications the espionage business knows.

When that breach comes, though, Kent finds himself unable and unwilling to do what he’s supposed to do. Instead, the station gets into a minor siege situation, and it might just turn out that Kent acting like an actual human being – as well as Katherine being rather brilliant at her job – will save more lives than the more traditionally monstrous choice would.

Obviously, we’ve seen all the elements that make up Kasper Barfoed’s rather low key espionage thriller The Numbers Station before, but this is another film where the beauty and the success lie in the execution. Barfoed demonstrates a calm and secure control over his material that at the very least turns the film into something very much worth watching, where a viewer might know the borders inside of which the film operates very well, yet still find himself captivated. I at least did, appreciating Barfoed’s focused and methodical direction befitting a film centring around a usually focused and methodical character, the fact that he’s actually keeping the lost art of using colours in a meaningful way alive, and the excellent use he makes of a small yet fine cast and the handful of locations. There’s a real sense of concentration on display here, with no moment wasted on anything that isn’t important for the simple yet effective plot. On the other hand, the film never falls into the trap of giving its audience too little to work with.

Add to that the pleasant fact this is one of the film’s where John Cusack isn’t just showing up but actually giving his role a quiet intensity, and a strong performance of the kind that looks simpler than it actually is by Akerman, and you have a film that will probably not send many people raving with excitement but whose focus and steadiness are actually things one might find worth cherishing.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Winter of the Dead (2012)

aka Meteletsa

It’s snowing in July over a Russian town. Curiously, at the very same time, the phone lines are going down and the cell phone networks become unavailable, so it might be even more than climate change going on here. In fact, before you can say “zombie apocalypse”, there’s an outbreak of slow yet somewhat shouty zombies. Muscovite TV reporter Kostya (Mikhail Borzenov) and his crew were in town to film some sort of protest, but Kostya soon teams up in running for their lives with Iskra (Tatyana Zhevnova), who is handy with a nail gun and also just happens to be the daughter of Khan (Sergey Shirochin), a gangster/businessman aiming for the governor’s seat of the region.

The rest of Kostya’s crew runs into Khan and his well-armed group of thugs, giving the film opportunity for some slight satiric jabs at oligarchs of this particular type as well as providing the opportunity to have some parts play out in our beloved/hated POV horror style. You can pretty much imagine the rest. Just add Khan’s arch enemy, part time tough guy Knyazev (Dmitriy Kozhuro), Khan’s wife/Knyazev’s girlfriend Dariya (Yuliya Yudintseva), and a priest (Aleksandr Abramovich) who’s very good at fighting zombies with axes.

So, how is the first Russian zombie movie I have encountered? In a lot of ways, like half of all the other zombie movies from around the world I’ve seen, going through the same time tired plot beats in generally the same ways. Could we call a moratorium on the “loved one becomes a zombie thing” at least? I know, the concept as it is still is horrifying but the tireless repetition of it in every damn zombie film ever made has turned what should be an archetypal fear into a tired cliché, so why not not have it in your film?

Not surprisingly, Nikolai Pigarev’s film is at its best when it doesn’t concern the traditional plot beats, and when it attempts to turn the facts of Russian life into fodder for its zombie apocalypse. We haven’t seen the particular unpleasant tough guy type represented by Khan in many horror movies, for example, which makes his final destiny slightly disconcerting, seeing as it does suggest a degree of approval for him from the side of the film. At least, there’s no page in the zombie filmmaking rule book for him.

For my tastes, there’s really not enough of this more individual stuff in the film, and – apart from haircuts and fashion – a lot of what takes place here could happen the very same way everywhere from Timbuktu to Gdansk. Well, apart from the mild religious undertones to parts of the proceeding, but, given how little I know about the Russian Orthodox church and its ways, I’m not sure how seriously I’m supposed to read them.

Fortunately, and not totally surprising for me in a Russian film after some of the late period Soviet movies of the type Western film critics never talk about because they’re too busy pretending each country in the world only produces one type of movie I’ve seen, Winter of the Dead also finds its feet whenever it tries to be a cheap, cheesy action movie with zombies. Particularly the last third has quite a few fun moments concerning improbable acts of shooting, the eternal fight between construction machinery and zombie horde, and a big damn explosion (which our survivors escape not by the classical running away from it but by the hopefully soon-to-be classic driving away from it on a train). While this doesn’t make the tiredness of the zombie apocalypse tropes go away it does give the film a bit of a personality of its own, and should be enough to entertain people who enjoy a bit of cheap and cheesy action cinema in their zombie movies. Which I, of course, do.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Three Films Make A Post: HEAVEN IS FALLING, SO EARTH MUST MOVE

Apocalyptic (2014): Are all contemporary films about apocalypse cults the same? Discuss! But seriously, Apocalyptic’s big problem isn’t that it’s a bad film – it certainly isn’t – it’s that I’ve seen more or less exactly the same film more than once before, which can’t help but make the very low survival skills of the protagonists even less believable, nor make the same damn twist ending (where “twist” means “something utterly predictable”) all these movies have any more interesting.

But hey, if you haven’t seen one of these before, you might as well watch this one.

Falcon Rising (2014): Ernie Barbarash’s Michael Jai White vehicle is a perfectly decent low budget movie with all the problems that entails – the often a bit too cartoony characters, the plot that jumps from nearly having something interesting to say about power structures to utter nonsense (and never back again), and creativity in the set-up of the action scenes that is at times visibly constrained by the available money. Barbarash’s direction tends towards the decent instead of the excellent here, while the action choreography is good. The film moves along at a nice enough pace for the most part, and Michael Jai White is – as has been often the case in his career – generally better than whatever surrounds him.

There’s really little else to say about the film. It’s like the movie equivalent of fast food, probably not very nourishing, never too exciting, yet pleasant enough while it lasts.

Game of Assassins aka The Gauntlet (2013): A bunch of people who have killed before find themselves in a cardboard dungeon set even copious amounts of dry ice can’t make more convincing. They have to survive a series of contrived and deeply idiotic tests that have a moral dilemma aspect so flat many videogames would be ashamed to use it. Characters babble clichéd nonsense about their past. Some violence happens. Then, some more violence happens until the whole stupid affair climaxes in a twist-y ending so dumb yet played with so much seriousness and conviction it does become funny enough I suddenly found myself kind of liking the film for it, despite having reacted to what came before mostly with yawning, eye-rolling and damning the influence bad RPG trap design seems to have had on the script.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

SyFy vs. The Mynd: Finders Keepers (2014)

Following the separation from her husband Jonathan (Patrick Muldoon), writer Alyson Simon (Jaime Pressly) and her little daughter Claire (Kylie Rogers) move into a surprisingly cheap house in what I assume to be one of these archetypal US small towns. Not surprisingly, there’s a rather violent reason for the new home’s excellent price, and it hasn’t got anything to do with home foreclosures.

Barely moved in Claire finds one of the most hideous dolls ever created by human hands (or is it?) hidden away in her room. The doll quickly becomes the girl’s only friend, but it’s a rather bad influence on her. Before you can even say dollmonic possession, Claire starts ripping off fly wings, cats are skinned, and various people are killed in various silly ways. This being a SyFy movie and all, Alyson will have to team up with Jonathan - as well as her very useful expositional anthropologist professor friend Elena Carranza (Justina Machado) - to set things straight again.

Because some things are just naturally creepy, it’s really difficult to mess up a horror film about a creepy doll, particularly when the film in question also uses the that other mainstay of utter creepiness, children. Consequently, Alexander Yellen’s Finders Keepers is watchable and mostly entertaining throughout.

Alas, it is also little more, for in the tradition of the mediocre third of SyFy originals (the other thirds are of course the genuinely good ones, and the atrocious ones, respectively), there’s not just a decided lack of originality on display but also a somewhat sad unwillingness – or maybe a lack of ability – to use the standard elements the film is built on to their full potential. So you have a film that first brings up a plot point where Claire’s psychiatrist (a very sleepy Tobin Bell who doesn’t look or sound like he actually wanted to be on set, or get up in the morning) has to think Alyson is abusing her daughter thanks to evil doll machinations but then doesn’t do anything worthwhile with it, never daring to actually dive into the combined anxieties surrounding child abuse and the horror it would be to be innocently thought to abuse one’s child. Instead of going this more subtle and potentially disturbing way, the film’s horror becomes increasingly silly, until Claire (not the most convincing creepy kid even in her best scenes) is plucking out eyeballs and setting anthropologists on fire. On the positive side, the film certainly doesn’t drag its feet or ever stays still long enough to bore, eyeballs are plucked out, and anthropologists are set on fire.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

In short: Timecop: The Berlin Decision (2003)

The timecops of the TCE are still policing the timelines, protecting them against changes by evildoers and the well-meaning alike. But, in a classic “who watches the watchmen?” decision, the Powers that Be decide that there needs to be another time travelling organization to check the timelines really haven’t been tampered with. Or something.

Unfortunately, said organization’s boss, Brandon Miller (Thomas Ian Griffith) goes into the business of changing the timeline for the better himself. Top timecop Ryan Chan (Jason Scott Lee) just barely manages to stop Miller from killing Hitler. Miller’s wife dies in the process, leaving the already crazy Miller absolutely batshit.

That could be that, but a freak time-travelling accident cum timecop stupidity changes the past of Miller’s organization just enough for some of his men to be able to free him from his imprisonment. Miller now begins to systematically prevent the birth of the TCE’s members, which curiously enough doesn’t lead to a different bunch of timecops but to an organization so understaffed, soon only Chan is left. Timey-wimey, etc.

Our hero now needs not only to somehow catch Miller but to prevent him from killing his younger self.

In 2003, the masses were clamouring for a straight to video (well, DVD) sequel to Timecop, and this Van Damme-less effort is what they got. To my surprise, it’s actually a fun little action flick that works around its low budget pretty well without losing out on the feeling of letting its hero travel through time. Obviously, there were some western sets available on the cheap, Nazi uniforms are basically everywhere, everyone can build a disco and put silly wigs on various characters, so time travel to places other than warehouses and empty industrial buildings are a go.

Director Steve Boyum – just before an actually pretty impressive career in episodic television – keeps things moving along nicely, using cheap yet effective ways to impress in his audience that yes, indeed, people are traveling through time in inappropriate directions here, and yes, the time line has indeed been changed, even if it’s just putting an eye-patch on Chan’s boss played by John Beck. I found myself pretty impressed with the way the film handles these things, its use of shorthand perhaps more than just a bit silly but generally clear and not totally stupid.

I also liked how simply and effectively the film portrays the strange sense of alienation Chan is suffering from, from time to time emphasising the dream-like quality the life of someone travelling through time like he does would probably take on. It’s much more thought and care than I’d have expected to encounter in a film that by all rights only needed to provide some decent action scenes – which it does – and a few shots of a shirtless Lee – again, mission accomplished. Now, I’m not saying this is a particularly intelligent or deep treatment of time travel and its potential ethical complexities, but I am saying The Berlin Decision actually does put some thought into these things, leading to a film that feels just that decisive bit more convincing and satisfying than one that would not make the effort at all.

Friday, December 19, 2014

On ExB: Bram Stoker’s Burial of the Rats (1995)

My final column of the year over at the delightful Exploder Button concerns this little Roger Corman/Mosfilm production about Bram Stoker’s adventures with a cult of sorta feminist, thong and bikini (etc) clad rat women. It’s probably obvious why you might want to click on through.

It’s also my last utterance on here for the rest of this year. So, whatever holidays you may or may not celebrate, I’ll see you on the other side.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

In short: Tactical Force (2011)

A quartet of irresponsible meathead LA Swat cops (Steve Austin, Michael Jai White, Lexa Doig and Steve Bacic) earn themselves a bit of a refresher training run in one of those mini complexes of empty warehouses beloved of all cheap-o action films.

Unfortunately, these warehouses are also where a crook named Kenny (Michael Eklund) has hidden a mysterious McGuffin, and where said Kenny now has trouble with two different groups of gangsters, one lead by Russian gangster Demetrius (Michael Shanks), the other by African Italian Lampone (Adrian Holmes). Quickly, our under-armed cops are finding themselves in the middle of a siege situation, with various double-crosses between the gangsters adding a bit more danger and possibility to the situation.

Now, if there’s one thing less promising than a direct-to-DVD action movie starring Steve Austin it must be one that also happens to be a comedy. So colour me surprised when – after a pretty horrible first ten minutes – I found myself mostly amused by Adamo P. Coltraro’s Tactical Force. Sure, Austin is – as always – not very good, what with his generally wooden acting and his for an action hero very stiff physical performance (I suspect the ex-wrestler curse of back damage?), but he’s at least not horrible. Plus, unlike in every other Austin film I’ve seen, this one doesn’t have a scene where he holds an “America, fuck yeah” monologue.

Then there’s the little fact that the rest of the cast is really fun to watch, with Shanks, Holmes and Eklund hamming it up lovingly while White and Doig are their usual dependable likeable selves (so much so I don’t really see much of a reason why White’s and Austin’s roles shouldn’t have been swapped). While the script isn’t exactly full of scintillating dialogue, it does time its bargain basement Tarrantino-isms quite well. Why, I even found myself laughing at some of them!

And even though the film is clearly pretty darn cheaply done, Coltraro does make the most out of his miniscule budget, with some finely timed and decently staged fights, as well as an absurd yet played straight mini car chase on the empty warehouse lot that is much more fun to watch than this sort of thing by all rights should be. Fitting the economical plot, Coltraro’s direction is clean and straightforward in a classical budget style, without too many annoying editing effects, depending on a cast and stunt performers who actually know what they’re doing, and there’s no love for the teal and you know what colour (or rather lack of colour) scheme direct-to-DVD films love even more than their more costly brethren.

While the resulting film isn’t a masterpiece by any means, it delivers much more than you can normally expect of a film like it.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Three Films Make A Post: When the angels kiss the demons,... you'd better be ready.

Wolves (2014): I didn’t get the memo, but it turns out we needed another urban fantasy YA coming-of-age movie where a lot of acting talent (poor Stephen McHattie and Jason Momoa! Poor everyone else!) is wasted on a script that has not a single memorable idea, dubious dialogue, characters without all that pesky character, and a story that’s so obvious and by now so overdone even the least imaginative viewer will know and understand everything that’s going on here before the thirty minute mark is reached. Things like subtlety, complexity and ambiguity are of course completely out of the question, following the seeming philosophy of about 50 percent of YA stuff that “young adult” means “stupid”, which I – as a former young adult – find pretty infuriating and patronizing.

After reading various interviews with director/writer/Solid Snake David Hayter that talk up his love for classic monster movies, I’d also have expected this to be, you know, more of a monster movie, and less of a crap superhero origin tale. I’d have taken a good superhero origin tale – which we know Hayter as a writer can do – but that’s not happening in this one either. As a director, Hayter is slick but lacking in style or taste, leaving us with a movie that’s not horrible but intensely forgettable.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014): So, if anyone asked oneself how the Michael Bay empire would react to the fact that the last half decade or so has proven that you can in fact make a blockbuster movie that has a degree of intelligence and personality and still keeps all the explosions, this piece of crap is your answer. Bay and his troupe just don’t care as long as the money keeps coming in, and, going by script and direction of this thing, putting effort in when you might as well get paid without making any is against the Baysian principles. So, yeah, Turtles is still everything that made older Bay productions so hateful, including no effort, no love, no sense of fun and a script so idiotic it’s difficult to believe it was written by actual human beings.

Bigfoot Wars (2014): Speaking of crap, there’s also this concoction of breasts and gore that might sound fun on paper (everyone love’s a bigfoot, even if they seem to be the new zombies after all) but is horrible in all aspects beyond the good old “well, at least the camera’s in focus most of the time”. For some, this might just barely push the so bad it’s good buttons. Me, I found myself annoyed and somewhat bored. The film seems made in the same spirit of not giving a crap as the Bay Turtles, though Bigfoot Wars does at least have the excuse of a tiny budget. Not that this helps much when you actually have to sit down and watch it…

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Hercules (2014)

Colour me surprised, for the thing I expected least of this particular Hollywood Hercules movie was for it to actually entertain me. On paper, it has everything going for it to push all the wrong buttons for me: directed by Brett Ratner, usually one of the worst directors working in mainstream cinema, and doing that horrible “telling the true story behind the myth thing” that seems meant for an audience that can’t even suspend its disbelief when it comes to a film about mythical figures of ancient Greece. I can’t help but call that an imaginary audience, going by the popularity of superhero movies and all things fantastic in the mainstream right now.

But while watching Hercules, a strange and surprising thing happened: I found myself drawn into the film. While the script really doesn’t accept anything supernatural into its world at all, it’s not at all going for real po-faced realism but the kind of pulp historical adventure I personally find highly enjoyable, populated by one-dimensional yet distinctive and fun to watch characters (on the side of the good guys, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal’s amazon Atalanta and Rufus Sewell’s Autolycus were the obvious stand-outs for me), doing stuff that isn’t exactly realistic in the sense the word would be used by somebody who is really into mimetic literature. Surprisingly enough, the film puts quite a bit of effort into getting certain historical basics right, actually seeming to have more than just a vague idea of military tactics in ancient Greece, even realizing why and wherefore the phalanx was used. Of course, this being a historical adventure in the pulp style, Hercules is also perfectly willing to let the real and appropriate application of fighting styles rest by the wayside when it wants its heroes to do some actual heroics, aiming for the best of both worlds and – for my highly specific tastes – generally hitting the mark.

I also found myself surprised by how little Hercules turned out to be the grim and gritty version of the Greek myths I expected. Sure, there’s the not exactly unexpected redemption arc for Hercules waiting in the wings (with a truly awkward writing hiccup waiting in the final scenes concerning the sudden appearance of Joseph Fiennes’s character that seems to come from a very different, and decidedly inferior film), most everyone in his little family of mercenaries has some sort of trauma in her or his past, and there are a lot of dead bodies on screen, but tonally, this isn’t a film interested in exploring the dark recesses of humanity when it can instead let its characters make a quip and do something adventurous and probably awesome. And, quite in the tradition of sword and sorcery movies without the sorcery, when the film has to decide between psychological realism and cheesy heroics, it’ll choose the cheesy heroics every time. As would I, particularly when this sort of thing can result in a scene of a ridiculously evil, basically cackling, John Hurt condemning his own daughter to death, provoking Hercules into the traditional breaking of chains by really ill-advised mockery (and evilness). Perhaps to appease old peplum fans like me, the film additionally features a moment of extreme statue toppling, as well as not a single boring moment.

Ratner’s direction this time around turns out to be surprisingly decent, too, with the director showing himself always at least to be competent, staging clear and exciting battle scenes, and turning his not-quite real Greece into a perfectly fitting place for his heroes and villains to inhabit.

Because this is an American movie, it also has a lot of nice things to say about the basic value of showmanship, about the lies people telling others turning into the basic truths about themselves if they only tell them with enough belief, and the redemptive value of pretending to be the son of Zeus. Personally, being European and all, I’m more into winning the day by the power of the actual truth, or clever instead of boisterous lies, but then I’m not toppling any statues over here.

Last but not least, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson deserves his own shout-out here too, turning out a Hercules who is likeable, charismatic, and demonstrating an excellent sense of timing as an actor. If anyone wanted to make an actual Robert E. Howard adaptation instead of whatever that last Conan movie with poor Jason Momoa was supposed to be, Johnson would be the guy to cast, if you ask me. Alas, that’s not going to happen.

However, I’ll always have this excellently fun bit of silly nonsense to enjoy.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

In short: Leprechaun: Origins (2014)

Little does Sophie (Stephanie Bennett) expect her little trip to a village down in the boons of Ireland (a place also often known as “the Brown Isle”, at least going by the film’s colour scheme) together with her boring boyfriend, her boring best friend, and her boring best friend’s boring boyfriend to end up as badly as it will.

For the villagers lock the quartet in a hut even more out in the boons so the local Leprechaun can kill them. It’s to make amends for the gold the villagers stole from it, or something along these lines. Turns out these particular tourists aren’t very easy to kill.

So, to ask the most obvious question first, why would you reboot a series of films about a wisecracking magical murderous little person only to turn said little person into a grunting and snarling monster played by some wrestling dude (Dylan “Hornswoggle” Postl, whoever he may be, though it’s not important anyhow, because we never get a good look at the monster anyway, and there might really be anybody doing the snarling) that might as well be a rabid dog or a mentally ill leopard, because it attacks everything it sees anyway, gold or no gold, and never does anything that says “Leprechaun” instead of completely random monster? Why would you choose an approach to this particular monster that isn’t just the anti-thesis of what the handful of people who’d actively seek out another Leprechaun film would want to see but also one that is this bland, boring and generic?  Then, why would you design a creature suit you are so ashamed of you never actually show it to the audience in full, in good light, or without adding a digital out of focus effect that also looks really crap?

Why use a script for the film that is so generic even lesser SyFy movies (well, not director Zach Lipovsky’s) have better ideas (and certainly are more fun to watch), that uses no even vaguely interesting mythological ideas whatsoever and does not contain a single fun or clever or just not actively, painfully bland idea or line of dialogue? Why direct a film when you don’t have anything to bring to the table beyond bland competence and a visible disinterest in actually entertaining your audience in any way, shape or form?

And why, last but not least, call this lame concoction of boring boredom from planet bore “Origins”, when it’s neither a prequel nor about your franchise monster hero’s origins?

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Breakheart Pass (1975)

An Army train secretly carrying diphtheria medication, a doctor (David Huddleston) and replacement soldiers led by Major Claremont (Ed Lauter) for Fort Humboldt, has to cross the Rocky Mountains. The train also carries US senator Fairchild (Richard Crenna) who accompanies his fiancée Marica (Jill Ireland) to her father, the highest officer of the Fort. Apart from the Doctor and the senator, nobody else on board knows about the diphtheria situation, and that will only change when the train will have reached the point of no return.

On the last stop before that point is reached, the train rather unwillingly picks up Marshal Pearce (Ben Johnson) who has just rather accidentally caught former doctor, con artist and murderer John Deakin (Charles Bronson). Ironically, Deakin will turn out to be the ideal detective when a series of curious accidents and murders begins to hinder the train’s journey.

Though Tom Gries’s (who was also responsible for the fantastic Will Penny) direction seems a bit perfunctory and TV movie like from time to time, lacking a bit of edge and sometimes even the sense for making the best out of some of the film’s set pieces, Breakheart Pass still turns out to be an excellent film. The script by Alistair MacLean based on his own novel provides a surprisingly clever, and often cleverly surprising mixture of the mystery and the Western genres, both working well together not just because of the relative (there are of course other genres mixtures of its type) novelty of the mix but because MacLean (and perhaps Gries) actually seems to have a very clear idea which parts of the Western genre and which of the mystery film mix well and which don’t.

Some of the film’s better red herrings are more effective if the audience involved has some working knowledge of the Western genre and its clichés and habits because they are at times running against exactly these expectations. Not with a grand gesture of deconstruction or from a position of ironic knowingness, as much as from the more practical kind of view the sort of commercial writer MacLean was for better (in this case) or for worse (in many other cases) comes to reach with experience in his craft, using the expectations of an audience against it not to necessarily to make it think about genre structures and what they might mean but to provide it with the joy of surprise. One might complain that this approach lacks a certain depth, but then one should by all rights be too entertained by the little games MacLean is playing here to care.

I certainly found myself too entertained to complain. Watching Breakheart Pass, I also found myself appreciating many of the little things the film does right: how it introduces the Bronson character as a man focusing on using his brain instead of using his brawn to make the latter scenes when Gries’s depiction of the action becomes more exciting and our hero suddenly does use his brawn a bit surprising and certainly more exciting, while still emphasising the character’s intelligence before his propensity for physical violence; the way Bronson makes tiny little shifts to his at this point well established screen persona that actually make his performance here very convincing; the excellent supporting cast of character actors doing what these people always do in the best, the worst, and the most mediocre films; the moments of witty dialogue that generally come when you least expect it; and how the film implicitly suggests more mysteries should end with a climactic Indian (and these are “Indians”, that is, a bizarre product of unexamined clichés, suppositions and plot functions rather than Native Americans, which are of course various generally mistreated culture groups who have little to nothing to do with Hollywood’s Indians) attack instead of a chunky guy with a fake Belgian accent explaining the plot to people assembled in a room.

All the competence and these minor delights probably don’t turn Breakheart Pass into what people are bound to call a classic, but it’s such a fine example of unassuming yet not stupid genre filmmaking, I can’t say I care if that’s the case or not.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

In short: The Pyramid (2013)

This Italian movie of interconnected episodes by different directors tells the tale of a demonic pyramid that brings death, madness, destruction and infrequent nudity wherever it goes. Starting small, the whole thing culminates in a bit of a no budget apocalypse with fast zombie style possessed and two guys dressed in very silly motorcycle garb (which is to say, very traditional Italian post-apocalypse fashion) fighting them.

And really, as far as no – or nearly no – budget movies that try to walk in the footsteps of Hellraiser, Demoni, Evil Dead and various zombie apocalypses go, The Pyramid is a whole lot of fun. Sure, some of the acting is highly dubious, there’s little of your so-called production values on screen and at least two of the five directors haven’t met a video editing effect they didn’t like, but there’s also a lot of real creativity on display, with many a moment that reminds of a more impoverished version of everything we (meaning I) liked about Italian horror of the past. So there’s an often dream-like aspect to the narrative that isn’t necessarily in play because the writer couldn’t do more “linear” and “clear” but because an incursion of the illogical shouldn’t be logical and coherent; eye mutilation maestro Fulci would have approved of; really weird gory deaths; an approach to narrative that’s more interested in mood than anything else; and the clear feeling you’re in the hands of true enthusiasts here.

Thanks to the episodic structure, not a single idea overstays its welcome, and things move along in the sprightly jumps of an extra-dimensional creature with a sack over its head.What more could I ask of a production like this?

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Three Films Make A Post: Beware! When Karloff stops the clock, your hour has come!

From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money (1999): Ah, as someone with a heart for dubious direct-to-DVD films, I really wanted to like Scott Spiegel’s completely unasked for (just like a TV show adaptation that spends hours and hours repeating the basic plot of a movie, mostly adding lots of useless crap to it – oops) sequel to Robert Rodriguez’ original film, but somehow, the film never really comes together as the trashy horror comedy it attempts to be. There’s a lot happening here, and everything’s as loud as possible, and still I found myself getting distracted and bored watching it, mostly because nothing of the loud things that are happening is much interesting. The actors – among them Robert Patrick and Bo Hopkins – seem to have fun, but little of that is transmitted to the audience.

Dark Mountain (2013): Tara Anaïse’s POV horror film about a trio of filmmakers (sort of) searching for the Lost Dutchman Mine in the adorably named (thanks, America) Superstition Mountains, on the other hand, does offer so much I found interesting, I was having a lot of fun watching it. Sure, this is POV horror that is satisfied with playing variations on genre themes, but it does so with class and style, some clever horror effects, decent acting and excellent sound design, all the while making good use of the inherent creepiness of large empty spaces. I’m also rather fond of the film’s more fortean approach to its supernatural occurrences that produces a slightly different kind of disquiet in a viewer than usual in the genre.

Particularly the film’s final third contains some very effective moments of horror which alone would be enough to make this a rewarding watch.

Hercules Reborn (2014): Yup, it’s the other Hercules film of the year. This one’s an Asylum production directed by Nick Lyon featuring some wrestler much less interesting than that other wrestler as the big-breasted one, and it’s another puzzling example of the utter inability of contemporary filmmakers to make a decent Hercules film, which really can’t be that difficult when the Italian film industry managed during the heyday of the peplum with budgets that can’t have been much higher.

Lyon’s film attempts to make up for its lack of imagination and sense of wonder by various grimdark gestures. While it’s not exactly the direction I want this sort of film to go, I could imagine this approach working, if a film actually tried to do something with the grimdarkness. In a development that will surprise exactly no one, Hercules Reborn can’t be arsed to do anything much beyond being pointlessly unpleasant whenever it is not plain boring – and ye gods it does get frightfully boring with the high adventure you’d hoped for mostly replaced by aimless dithering – with clearly no thought wasted on providing the long-suffering audience with anything entertaining.