Thursday, August 26, 2010

Turdsday Movie Review: Exorcist: The Beginning (2004)

The problem I have, ever since seeing Fear Dot Com, is that I can no longer label any other horror movie "the worst ever made". It doesn't matter how bad a film is, and Exorcist: The Beginning is pretty bad, I just don't believe anyone will ever reach the spectacular ineptitude displayed by Fear Dot Com.

The problem with Exorcist: The Beginning is that it's just not meant to be a horror movie. The script is actually pretty good, but it's good in a Raiders Of The Lost Ark Saturday afternoon matinee, kind of a way. There's lot's of interesting plot elements that give the story weight, but none of it amounts to anything that will actually frighten anyone.

Stuck with a Saturday matinee adventure script, and orders from the bridge (ie Warner Bros. studios) to make it scary, director Renny Harlin fills Raiders Of The Lost Exorcist with as much blood, gore, and nasty subplots as his relatively limited budget will allow.

The end result is a mess.

At one point, CG hyenas tear apart a little boy. This scene epitomises almost everything that's wrong with this film: it's not scary, the effects are woefully unconvincing, and it's conceptually (if not visually) sick for no real reason.

It's a constant source of frustration that film-makers seem so intent on crapping all over the memory of classic horror films. Add Exorcist: The Beginning to the metaphorical crap heap of crappy sequel crap.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Redneck Vs Alien: Altered (2006) Review

In 1999 a couple of blokes by the name of Daniel Myrick, and Eduardo Sanchez grabbed three untrained actors, a video camera, a permanently out of focus 16mm movie camera and created the ultra-low budget horror film The Blair Witch Project.

You may have heard of it. It did reasonably well at the time.

Of course the problem for film-makers who create such ridiculously successful films with their first swing of the bat is that there’s really only one way to go from there, and that’s down. So, what have Daniel and Eduardo been up to since Blair Witch? Well, Daniel established the production company Raw Feed whose debut production was the direct-to-video stinker Rest Stop. Eduardo Sanchez fares a little better as the director and co-writer of his first film since Blair Witch, Altered.

Altered starts with three rednecks poking around the woods at night looking for some sort of, possibly extra-terrestrial, creature. Much to their surprise they actually capture their prey and subsequently seem quite uncertain about what to do with it. After wrapping, taping, and chaining the clearly dangerous creature they decide to take it to Wyatt (Adam Kaufman), a young man who clearly has a history with it, or its of its kind.

The thing I really like about Altered was the fact that I was never really sure where it was headed or what was going to happen next. It’s comparatively unpredictable in a genre renowned for being formulaic. Sanchez resists giving us too much exposition up front which keeps you guessing about the nature of the beast and its history with the protagonists.

The pacing is a bit uneven, and it does tend to spend too much time lingering on the repetitive squabbles the protagonists have with one another about what to do with the creature. But once it gets past these flat spots Altered is a very solid genre pic.

I suspect Sanchez had little time, money, or both to shoot the film because it pretty much takes place all at one location, with a number of contrivances clearly designed to confine the action to one spot. Having said that, this actually tends to work in the film’s favour, giving it a tense claustrophobic feel.

Altered is not high art but at a time when so many modern horror movies are sub-standard regurgitations of other horror movies, it stands out as a refreshingly original example of the genre.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Turdsday Movie Review: House Of The Dead (2003)

House Of the Dead has the dubious distinction of being in the top 100 worst movies on and has been universally panned by critics and dubbed by many as the worst horror movie ever made. Is it really that bad? Well, frankly, yes. But I still think Fear Dot Com is worse.

Director Uwe Boll has absolutely no clue how to create tension or suspense. House Of The Dead is never scary or thrilling, it’s just plain inept.

The delusional German has pleaded in numerous online interviews that the photography, editing and sound are all very good in House Of The Dead. I wouldn’t argue with him. Technically, the film looks and sounds fine. But, of course, in making those observations Uwe has completely missed the point of what makes a good film.

Take for instance, a scene where the main protagonists emerge from the woods and have to cross a clearing full of zombies to reach the house of the film’s title. They have to get from point a to point b, probably thirty yards or so, and they have to get past the zombies to do so. It’s a simple set up that’s similar to hundreds of set pieces in other horror and action pictures. A competent director would concentrate on the adversity and struggle to get from point a to point b, never losing sight of what the protagonists are trying to accomplish. Uwe Boll, however, whips out "bullet time" camera tricks, introduces a plethora of continuity errors (which are screamingly obvious if I manage to notice them), and has his protagonists aimlessly running around in circles fighting the zombies. The scene descends into complete and utter whatthefuckery, as Uwe totally looses sight of what the scene is about. There is no tension. There is no suspense. You’re just left wondering "what the hell is going on here?!"

The film continually suffers from Uwe’s inappropriate use of everything from helicopter stedicam shots to the bizarre mix of techno and rap music. Uwe has obviously learnt the technical aspects of film making but hasn’t got the faintest idea on how to use them to tell a story.

With all that said I think I need to stick up for the poor actors in this sorry film. Much of the criticism of House Of The Dead has included the panning of the performances. I truly feel sorry for these actors. Given the material, and the incompetent director, their performances aren’t that bad. Most make the best of a very bad situation and can rightfully plead ignorance when explaining why they got involved in a Uwe Boll picture given this was his first big English language film. This, of course, can’t be said for the more established actors who have signed on for subsequent Uwe Boll projects.

Epilogue – How Does Uwe Boll keep getting work?

Given that House Of The Dead is so bad and Uwe Boll’s follow ups (including Alone In The Dark and Bloodrayne) are reportedly not much better many people are asking how does Uwe Boll keep getting work? It’s an interesting question that I’ve wondered myself. Like many mysteries, there has to be a logical explanation.

Firstly, I think one has to concede that, whilst Uwe Boll is a hopeless director, he’s not a complete idiot. He understands brand recognition and has tapped into an arguably undervalued pool of brands: video games. Uwe picks up the film rights to various video games relatively cheaply. This guarantees Uwe brand recognition for his movies and subsequently guarantees him an audience. Typically, the sorts of people that pay to see film versions of video games won’t bother to investigate who’s responsible for making it and will enter the cinema (or video library) blissfully unaware of the fact that they’re about to be Bolled.

Secondly, Uwe is effectively self-employed. House Of The Dead was produced by his own company using money from small (presumably German) investors. The major studios are not lining up to have Uwe make their movies. He is, for all intents and purposes, an independent film maker. I think that’s something people loose sight of given the kind of movies he makes. House Of The Dead was distributed by Artisan who are not a major distributor. In fact, last time I checked I think they may have gone out of business.

Thirdly, there are supposedly favourable tax laws in Germany for film production. I’ve not been able to find any information in English that adequately explains them but there are alledgedly some tax breaks for German film makers and investors.

Lastly, because Uwe is technically competent, and fairly resourceful, his films do look OK. This means a good looking trailer can be pieced together from the mess that ultimately becomes the Uwe Boll feature film. The trailer for House Of The Dead looked like it could have been a OK movie. This helps him market his artistically bereft movies to an unsuspecting public.

I watched House Of The Dead out of sheer curiosity. I had been warned by numerous reviewers just how bad it was, but I just had to see for myself. Now that I have, I won’t be watching any more Uwe Boll movies. It’ll be interesting to see how many more turkeys Uwe manages to produce before everyone else vows the same.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

One Trick Pony: Twentynine Palms (2003) Review

In Twentynine Palms, David (David Wissak), a location scout of some description, heads out into the Californian desert to, uhm, well, scout locations. His neurotic, French speaking girlfriend, Katia (Kaita Golubeva), tags along giving him someone to argue with, eat with, and have sex with, in between looking at rocks, sand and trees.

Eating, arguing, shagging and scouting fill the first hour and a half (or so) of this plotless film before, as they say in the location scouting business, things go terribly wrong.

Twentynine Palms is a bit like a Jack-in-the-box toy. It makes no real attempt to entertain you while you wait patiently for the thing to pop. It’s all about the anticipation. And it doesn’t matter how prepared you think you are for it’s final pop, unless you’ve seen it before, it still manages to catch you off guard.

I had the lowest of low expectations when sitting down to watch Twentynine Palms so I can say quite sincerely it was better than I expected. But it’s still not a great film. Firstly, it really needed to be shorter. If you make people wait too long for the Jack to pop they become less impressed when it does, or worse they walk away before it does. Also, for this movie to rise above being the one trick pony that it is, it needed more character development and less protracted shots of cars disappearing into the distance (yes Mr Bruno Dumont, I get it, they’re isolated).

The conclusion was startling, to be sure, but it would have had even more impact had I actually given a toss about David and Katia.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Friday The 13th

About five years ago, I set myself the task of watching all the Friday The 13th movies back-to-back. Up until that point Jason Goes To Hell was the only installment I’d ever seen, so I felt like a bit of a fraud calling myself a horror movie fan without having seen any of the others (particularly the original).

After watching the first three I realized you can have too much of bad thing so I broke this odyssey up into three lots of three. I watched parts I to III, took a break, watched parts IV to VI, took a bigger break, and finally finished with parts VII to IX.

While going on this enlightening journey of self discovery I posted my thoughts on a, now defunct, movie forum. In honour of today’s date, and the fact that recycling my old crap is easier than writing something new I've dusted off those comments and now present you with the most comprehensive assessment of the Friday The 13th saga ever written.*

Friday The 13th (1980)
Bad performances and even worse dialog are strangely entertaining in this hallmark slasher.

Friday The 13th Part II (1981)
Different killer, same formula.

Friday The 13th Part III (1982)
Just when you think the acting and dialogue can't get any worse, it does. Part III is the worst Friday The 13th sequel, not helped by the fact that it was originally shot for 3D exhibition and, like most 3D movies from the 80’s, looks particularly stupid when viewed in 2D.

Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
Saddled with probably the most erroneous title in film history (it’s actually part 4 of, what was at last count, a 10 part series (11 if you count Freddy Vesus Jason)), The Final Chapter doesn’t even attempt to conclude the Friday legacy. In fact, it’s really the seed for the plethora of sequels that followed, as it was the 1st sequel to establish Jason’s ability to rise from the dead. A very young Corey Feldmen out acts the adults he’s surrounded by, but apart from that The Final Chapter is just another Friday slasher.

Friday The 13th: A New Beginning (1985)
More Jason slashing action ensues in this 5th Friday The 13th instalment, but with a twist ending that seems to annoy a lot of Friday purists. Kudos to the makers for trying something a little different, but it’s so arbitrary, and makes so little sense (even by Friday standards) they probably shouldn’t have bothered.

Friday The 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)
Of all the Friday sequels up to this point, Part VI is definitely the pick of the bunch. The story is truer to the original than most of the others and it has an amusing self-awareness that the others lack. Sadly, the hallmark nudity and gore has been cleaned up, but it’s still more fun than any of the other sequels.

Friday The 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988)
The seventh Friday instalment starts with a back story that doesn’t really seem to fit the chronology of the previous films. That probably doesn’t really matter, as continuity has not been a strong point of the Friday movies, but this one has so little else going for it would have been nice to get the story right. Once again scripting and performances are second rate, and the amusing self-awareness of Part 6 has been ditched in preference for the unintentionally funny straight faced approach of Parts 1 to 5. Unfortunately, the nudity and gore from Parts 1 to 5 (cleaned up in Part 6) failed to return, and the film concludes with probably the dumbest Friday finale to date. It’s probably not bad enough to take the award for worst Friday sequel away from Part 3, but its pretty close.

Friday The 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)
It’s funny how many of the Friday The 13th movies have misnomer titles. In Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, Jason does not actually take Manhattan. He takes a boat cruise from Crystal Lake to Manhattan in what I can only assume was an attempt to free future sequel screenwriters from the confines of Crystal Lake. If further proof was needed that Paramount should have stopped at Part VI then Part VIII is it. It is without doubt the dullest and most sanitised, of all the Friday sequels to this point. Performances and production quality take a small step up from poor to fractionally better than poor, but the movie plods along as if all those responsible for making it are just there for the pay cheque. It’s completely perfunctory and lacks the sense of fun, deliberate or otherwise, of the other films.

Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday (1993)
Another Friday sequel: another misnomer title. This, the ninth Friday film is a lot more inventive than any of the other sequels, and avoids taking itself too seriously but the attempt to explain why Jason can not be killed is pretty stupid and, like part 5, seems to annoy the Friday (or should I say Jason) purists. The notion that Jason has to be killed by a Voorhees is fine but one can’t help wondering where was, the newly introduced character of, Jason’s sister during the first 8 instalments. Probably the most interesting thing about this film is the very last scene. SPOILER ALERT (like it maters) – we see Freddy Kruger’s knife fingers emerge from the ground and pull Jason’s mask down (to hell presumably). I never realised that the seed for New Line’s cross over movie Freddy Vs Jason, had been sown so early. OK, so it’s not that interesting.

*by me.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Turdsday Movie Review: Fear Dot Com (2002)

Partly a rip-off of The Ring and partly a rip-off of What Lies Beneath, this steaming turd of a film doesn’t even reach the basic level of competency that even the worst horror movies manage to reach. It’s not just implausible, it’s completely nonsensical.

If you lock your disbelief in a box and buy into the supernatural-transference-via-the-internet notion, you’re then insulted by a screenplay that suggests a dead woman’s spirit, who just wants to avenge her death, kills everyone who tries to help. It could not make any less sense even if the writer had intended for it to make no sense at all.

But, is it scary? Hardly. The scariest death in this film is that of Stephen Rae’s career.

Possibly the most frightening thing after that is watching Jeffrey Combs (of Re-Animator fame) trying to be a “serious” actor, as Stephen Dorf’s police detective partner. In fairness, his character is limited by a screenplay that simply asks him to repeat the line “leave it for the feds” fifty times, but he is still atrocious.

I’d heard bad things about Fear Dot Com, and assumed it was the usual horror genre bashing that accompanies most modern horror films. I was wrong. Fear Dot Com is pure, unadulterated, stupidity, and sets a new low for horror films. Actually it sets a new low for films of all genres. No suspense. No horror. No sense… No stars.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Girls On Film: Barbarella (1968) Review

Barbarella is pure camp. Actually, to describe Barbarella as "camp" is a bit like describing that bloke, who over-eats and explodes, in Monty Python's The Meaning of Life as "chubby". Barberella is really very camp.

Barbarella the film opens with Barbarella the character (Jane Fonda) weightlessly floating around her small fur lined space craft, seductively removing her cumbersome space suit as she does. This opening scene is a bit of a tease for two reasons. One, Jane Fonda bares her breasts in the scene, promising a film that is going to be more salacious than it actually is. Two, it contains the only visual effect in the whole film that’s even moderately convincing. Nude women, cool special effects: this movie is going to be awesome. Bzzz… wrong answer.

Shortly after Barbarella's weightless strip-tease she receives a video communication from the president of Earth instructing her of her latest mission: to seek out the evil Dr Durand-Durand who has in his possession a destructive weapon that the president fears could be used against the peace loving inhabitants of Earth.

Like colourful kids' party ware, the plot is completely disposable. It's basically an excuse to string together a series of innuendo riddled encounters Barbarella has with various bizarre characters, in various bizarre costumes, on various bizarre sets thrown together in, what I can only assume was, drug induced enthusiasm, at Paramount studios in 1968. At no point does the film look like its taking place anywhere other than a film studio.

Barbarella is a lot of fun, in its own bizarre kind of way. Some of the laughs are intentional. Some of the laughs are unintentional. And with many of the laughs it’s difficult to know what the intent was. It's the sort of film that makes me wish I had a time-machine. Not to go forward to the future depicted in Barbarella, but to go back to a time when films like this got made. It's as inventive as it is tacky.

I'm not sure whether this film would register as such a loud blip on the popular culture radar if it weren't for those 1980’s pop stars, and purveyors of hair gel, Duran Duran. But it is a very curious piece of film-making that is good for a laugh and at a modest ninety minute run time doesn't out stay its welcome.

Friday, August 6, 2010

WTF Friday

Well, I guess it was only a matter of time. Everything else has gone 3D, why not bear porn.

It is bear porn, right?

Thanks to slashfilm for this important update.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Rant O'Clock: Blu-ray

Q) How awesome is Blu-ray?
A) Not very.

I finally got around to shoving Avatar on Blu-ray into my relatively new Blu-ray player this week. I then sat back, waited patiently for the movie to start (because Blu-ray discs take their sweet time to load), and prepared to be dazzled (to a level of dazzlement never before experienced) by the most visually impressive film ever on the most visually impressive video format ever.

At least, that was the plan.

Half way through the movie I was less dazzled and more… how can I put this… completely pissed off, when I started getting large obtrusive scene selection "thumbnails" popping up. They'd pop up for about five seconds, disappear for a short while, then reappear with increasing frequency. They were incredibly distracting and made the film unwatchable from the half-way mark onwards.

Given that I've only watched a dozen or so Blu-ray movies so far, I wasn't sure if this was a real problem or some sort of bizarre "feature" that I needed to turn off. After farting around with all the remote buttons and menu functions, I just couldn't get the pop-ups to go away. I eventually hit the stop button and walked out of my home theatre room in disgust.

After googling "how crap is blu-ray?", or something similar, I quickly found out that many other people had experienced the same problem with the Avatar disc on several different brands of Blu-ray player.

The manufacturer of my Blu-ray player proudly proclaimed that they had a firmware upgrade to fix the problem. Great, thanks Pioneer, it's good to know that all I need is a high speed internet connection and a USB stick to get my new Blu-ray player to actually do what it's supposed to do.

Could you image having to upgrade the firmware on your toaster each time you inserted a new kind of bread? Or upgrade your car when you try to give a friend a lift who you've never had in your car before? 'Sorry Jim, the firmware on the Pontiac is four months old, so it won't take passengers called "Jim". On the bright side, the toaster is up to date and will now toast fruit loaf.'

Given that my Blu-Ray player is less than six months old I'm absolutely gob-smacked that this was necessary. Firmware upgrades to add additional functionality are one thing, but having to perform a firmware upgrade just to get the basic functionality (ie video playback) to work properly is ridiculous. If I have to have internet access to get my Blu-ray player working I might as well just download illegal rips of the movie off the internet and dispense with an optical media player altogether.

If you add the fact that you can't be guaranteed your Blu-ray player will play any given Blu-ray disc properly to the fact that Blu-ray discs take such an inordinate amount of time to load, you realise Blu-ray is about as impressive as anything else, you care to think of, that's slow and unreliable. Public trains? Domestic bread makers? The Tax Office?

Blu-ray schmu-ray. Long live DVD!

Technical bit - My Blu-ray player is a Pioneer BDP-120.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Grindhouse: Death Proof (2007) & Planet Terror (2007) Review

Most people, interested in such things, now know the story of Quentin Tarrantino and Robert Rodriguez's ill-fated Grindhouse project. It was supposed to be two exploitation homage flicks (Rodriguez's Planet Terror and Tarrantino's Death Proof) released together as one film complete with fake trailers for other non-existent exploitation flicks that gave viewers the long lost experience of attending a "Grindhouse" cinema or drive-in.

Unfortunately, for all those involved, Grindhouse bombed at the US box office. Many commentators put this down to movie goers being too stupid to get the concept. Maybe, that was the problem. Or maybe, just maybe, no one wanted to pay good money to watch two crap films. This is, after all, why "Grindhouse" cinemas and drive-ins died out in the first place.

Once it was obvious Grindhouse was a box-office dud, and before you could say "fuck artistic integrity" the Weinsteins decided to dismantle Grindhouse and release Death Proof and Planet Terror separately in new extended cuts. This, of course, completely misses the point of why these films were created in the first place and puts them in the unenviable position of having to stand on their own which they were never designed to do.

Death Proof

Death Proof tells the story of two separate groups of women who are tormented by a charming, but ultimately psychotic and homicidal, stuntman in a death proof car.

Well, sort of.

For the largest part of its running time Death Proof simply features a bunch of female caricatures sitting around reciting page after page of repetitive Tarrantino dialogue. They never really seem like characters from a 70's exploitation flick, and they certainly don't seem like real women. They're just dull Tarrantino mouth pieces.

The trailer may fool you into thinking the film is a car chase action fest. Don't be fooled. There are only two action sequences in the whole film. The first is over almost before it starts and the other comes way too late in this ridiculously long film.

Tarrantino's commitment to doing an exploitation homage seems a bit half-hearted too. The fake film artefacts, dodgy cuts, and stagnant direction are applied to the first half of the film, but the second half of the film is almost pristine and looks more like a modern action film (when it finally kicks into gear). It's almost as if he became bored with the concept and didn't bother maintaining theses devices all the way through. I can’t blame him, I suppose, I was pretty bored by it all myself.

And why is the film nearly two hours long? Most of these exploitation films were notoriously short. I'm pretty sure, like virtually all Tarrantino films, Death Proof would have benefited from some more judicious editing.

In a much shorter form, and combined with fake trailers and Rodriguez's Planet Terror, maybe Death Proof, as part of Grindhouse worked. But on its own it's an overly long, inconsistent exploitation homage that nearly bored me to death.

Planet Terror

Planet Terror is a balls and all (and I mean that quite literally) homage to splatter movies of the 1980's. Unlike Death Proof the tone is consistent, and things move at a pretty brisk pace.

Of course, being a homage to 80's splatter movies it, quite deliberately, inherits all the problems these films had. No character development, cheesy dialogue, and confused plotting. But these films often work in a "so bad they're good" kind of way and that’s exactly the level Planet Terror works on.

There is blood and guts galore in Planet Terror, so much so that, like many splatter films of the 80's, when the umpteenth virus-infected mutant person is hit by a truck and explodes in a shower of blood, guts, and body parts it's not shocking it's actually pretty amusing. Of course, Peter Jackson did this kind of thing years ago with Bad Taste and Brain Dead.

I also thought it was ironic that Rodriguez has reached a point in his career where he's made such an expensive film that deliberately looks cheap, when he really made a name for himself making cheap films that looked expensive.

If you're a fan of 80's splatter movies then you'll probably get a kick out of Planet Terror. If not, then you would probably be well advised to give this blood and pus soaked film a wide berth.