Thursday, March 31, 2011

BIQ Guide To Remakes: My Bloody Valentine

Original: 1981
Remake: 2009
Best Version: Tied

I enjoyed the My Bloody Valentine remake in glorious anaglyph 3D, when it was first released on DVD. Actually, to be honest, anaglyph 3D (where you use red/cyan glasses, in case you’re wondering) is not really “glorious” at all (shocking, I know); the image is murky, the colour is all screwed up, and the 3D effects are blurry. But should I really let the crappy anaglyph 3D affect my judgement of the MBV remake? Well, if distributors are going to release it on DVD that way then, yes, I think it’s fair. So, on one hand, we have the original: a one and a half hour long commercial for Moosehead beer. On the other hand, we have the remake: a murky 3D slasher. I’m gonna call it a tie and pretend I actually thought about it for longer than it took me to check the spelling of “anaglyph”.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

BIQ Guide To Remakes: A Nightmare On Elm Street

Original: 1984
Remake: 2010
Best Version: Original

Similar to the Friday The 13th remake, the film-makers behind the Elm Street re-do attempted to reconcile what their main protagonist had become in the sequels with what he started out as in the original. By the time Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare hit cinemas (yes, that crap got a cinema release), Freddy was a wise-cracking cartoon character with a brightly lit latex face. This, of course, was a long way removed from the virtually mute shadowy disfigured demon that tormented the first batch of Elm Street kids in the original. Jackie Earle Haley’s interpretation of Freddy in the remake is impressive and certainly more effective than Robert Englund’s version of Freddy in the later sequels, but it's not as effective as Englund's original Freddy and it's not enough to make the 2010 version anything more than an unnecessary re-tread.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

BIQ Guide To Remakes: The Hills Have Eyes

Original: 1977
Remake: 2006
Best Version: Remake

Wes Craven’s resume contains a strange mix of seminal and shitty horror movies. A Nightmare On Elm Street is a genuine classic. Deadly Friend is pure idiocy. The original The Hills Have Eyes is, in my frequently ignored opinion, one of Craven’s lesser movies. After directing the impressive High Tension, the highly talented Alexandre Aja got the nod to direct the remake which is, in all respects, superior to Craven’s schlocky original.

Monday, March 28, 2011

BIQ Guide To Remakes: Halloween

Original: 1978
Remake 2007
Best Version: Original

Even though I am of the marginalised opinion that John Carpenter’s original is somewhat over-rated, and the remake is Rob Zombie’s least worst film, I still have to give the nod to Carpenter’s original as the better version. I just don’t think the margin is as wide as many people assert. That said, Mr Zombie’s total and utter abomination, Halloween II, should be avoided at all costs.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

BIQ Guide To Remakes: Friday The 13th

Original: 1980
Remake: 2009
Best Version: Original

As Kevin Williamson famously reminded us in Scream, Jason Vorhees is not the killer in the original Friday The 13th. But, of course, thanks to the plethora of Friday sequels, Jason is synonymous with Friday the 13th. So, the film-makers responsible for the remake set about rejigging the origin story in order to make Friday The 13th about Jason. This idea has merit, but the result is really just another preposterous Jason slasher that lacked the suspense and thrills of the original.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Torch A Pawn: I Spit On Your Grave (2010) Review

In amongst this pile of words that I try to pass off as a blog, I think I've previously mentioned that I don't have a problem with film-makers remaking an old film if the original hasn't aged well or was not very good to begin with. This certainly applies to the original I Spit On Your Grave. Whilst it has an interesting history with Australian censors (which you can read about here), the film itself is pretty awful. If I remember correctly the original ISOYG basically has two modes of operation: stupid & boring. Opening rape scene: stupid. Middle section where nothing happens: boring. Final scenes of revenge: stupid.

So now we have the inevitable remake (I say "inevitable" because Hollywood seems to be on a collective mission to remake every frickin' horror movie ever made) which fixes a lot of the problems that the original film had, but in doing so creates a few problems of its own. It's not entirely dissimilar to what happens when I try to fix things around my house.

After the success of her previous novel, Jennifer (Sarah Butler) decides she needs some genuine solitude to write her follow up novel. So, she does what all good horror movie protagonists do and heads out into the woods to stay in an isolated cabin. On route to the cabin she gets slightly lost and has an ominous encounter with a group of rednecks when she stops to ask for directions at one of those grungy grimy single-pump gas stations you only ever see in horror movies.

Jennifer eventually finds her peaceful idyllic secluded cabin and, briefly, enjoys some quality writing time and vino consumption. Of course, such idyllic peace can't last long when you're staying in a horror movie cabin after a run-in with some horror movie rednecks at a horror movie gas station. So, not surprisingly, Jennifer receives a visit from the rednecks who proceed to physically and emotionally torment her before icing their particularly nasty metaphoric cake by raping her.

I don't think it's a spoiler to reveal that, after Jennifer makes an improbable (read: impossible) escape from her tormentors, she returns quite some time later to exact some cruel and unusual revenge.

"I'm gonna kill those bastards... no, wait... I'm gonna fix my hair, then I'm gonna kill those bastards!"

The major improvements over the original here are the pacing, the performances, and the gravitas of the scene in which Jennifer is tormented and raped. All these elements were crap in the original. If I remember correctly the original's rape scene, in particular, played more like a Benny Hill skit than a horrific scene of torment. This is not the case here. The protracted scene of torment in this new version is not "enjoyable" to watch, but it's credible, horrific, and effective.

The major problem with this remake is the improbability and exploitive nature of Jennifer's revenge scenes. Basically, the film works reasonably well up until the point where Jennifer escapes her tormentors, but then it jumps the shark with a phenomenal amount of clearance.

In the original we see our female protagonist slowly (too slowing for it to be effective filmed entertainment, but anyway) recover from her ordeal, before exacting her implausible revenge. In the remake she simply disappears and reappears without a skerrick of a clue as to how she manages it. She then seeks revenge using methods that would make Jigsaw proud. It's at this point you feel like you're watching a series of contrivances conceived by a screen writer, not the wrath of a woman brutally tormented and raped, and it completely undermines any chance you have of taking any of it seriously.

Additionally, like most modern torture porn, there's a complete absence of suspense. This stuff just isn't scary. I guess, to be fair, the very early scenes are ominous and, briefly, suspenseful but once the torment and torture start it's more gross than scary.

Whilst, in most respects, this remake is a superior effort to its predecessor, that's a bit like saying wood chips taste better than dirt. Yeah, sure, this remake is an improvement but the bar was set so low by the original, that's not really saying much.

Friday, March 18, 2011

One Guy No Girls And A Coffin: Buried (2010) Review

If you've got a lawyer you might want get them on the phone because there's every chance you're going to want to take legal action after what I'm about to say...

I like Ryan Reynolds. Always have.

There, I said it. So, you know, sue me.

Ever since Reynolds made Two Guys A Girl And A Pizza Place the moderate success it was rather than the flop it deserved to be, he has been the shining light in a number of sub-standard projects. He's proven his comedic ability in movies like Van Wilder: Party Liason and his dramatic ability in movies like The Amityville Horror. Now, don't get me wrong, neither of those movies are terribly good, but Reynolds was good in them. With the possible exception of The Nines, the only thing Reynolds hasn't quite managed to do is get on board a project really worthy of his talents. Until now…

Buried starts in total darkness, where we can only hear muffled and increasingly distressed breathing sounds. Eventually a flicker of light, from a Zippo lighter, illuminates the face of Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) a truck driver working in Iraq who, we quickly learn, was ambushed by some Iraqis knocked unconscious and buried alive in a coffin somewhere.

For reasons that become apparent later, there's a working mobile phone in the coffin with Conroy, left by his abductors. Conroy uses the phone to try to call for help, but is continually frustrated by government bureaucrats who don't take him seriously or the voice mail messages of people who don't answer. Obviously with limited phone battery life and, more importantly, limited oxygen, he becomes increasingly anxious about his dire predicament.

Buried completely subverts the Horror genre by featuring a mobile phone that actually works.

Most people that are aware of this movie are aware of the fact that the whole thing takes place inside a coffin. It sounds like a gimmick, and maybe it was conceived as a gimmick, but it certainly doesn't play that way. Never seeing what's happening outside the coffin makes Conroy's plight all the more compelling, and his horrific story all the more immediate. And despite the confines of such a small physical space, Rodrigo Cortes’ creative direction never lets the proceedings feel static.

You virtually never get any respite from the claustrophobia Conroy is feeling because you're effectively trapped right along with him. I watch Buried in my darkened home theatre and I was literally squirming in my seat, subconsciously (I guess), trying to escape from the confines of Conroy's coffin. It's uncomfortable to watch, but in the best possible way.

The film isn't just a riveting suspense story; it also has a bit to say about our occupation of Iraq, western bureaucracies, heartless corporations, and the impure motives of some "freedom fighters". But it never becomes didactic. It's all there to serve the story, and it all rings true.

Buried is really the best kind of horror movie: a film so good that no one wants to label it a "horror movie" and saddle it with the baggage of so many other inferior movies. But make no mistake, this is a horror movie in the truest sense of the word, and thanks to its clever script, creative direction and customarily excellent central performance by Mr Reynolds, it's the best one I’ve seen for a long time.

Friday, March 11, 2011

You're Entitled To My Opinion: Crazy Charlie

Does anyone here remember the last time a well-known actor seemed to completely loose his marbles in full public view? Here's a reminder:

Of course, it turned out to be an elaborate hoax designed to be the subject of, and marketing for, the faux documentary I'm Still Here.

With that in mind, am I the only one that thinks Charlie Sheen has been acting just a little bit too wacky lately? Whenever I see the latest transmission from planet Crazy Charlie, I can't help wondering whether it's all a put-on that's ultimately going to end with the release of a new documentary about his life, or some lame reality TV show.

If Charlie's lunatic rants had actually been deeply offensive (like Mel Gibson's tirades), I might think "woah, this guy has really lost it". But so far all the stuff I've seen has been pretty inoffensive. Yeah, he's been completely nutty, and even narcissistic, but ultimately he's been pretty harmless.

Just like Joaquin Phoenix.

So, am I being too cynical, or is Charlie Sheen currently giving the best performance of his career?

"Coming Soon to a theatre near you... Charlie Sheen is The Rockstar From Mars"

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

BOO!: The Haunting In Connecticut (2009) Review

The opening credits of The Haunting In Connecticut state that this film is "based on the true story". Not just any true story, the true story. If we are to believe the film-makers this, apparently, is the Highlander of ghost stories.

It's a big call which begs the question; can any film – scratch that – can the film live up to the expectations created by such a bold opening declaration. Can blind, deaf, limbless pigs fly? The answer, of course, is no, not really. What the opening credits should have said was that this film is "loosely based on a story that some bullshit artist claims to be true." Had that been the intro, then maybe The Haunting In Connecticut might not have been such a disappointment. Although to be honest, I actually doubt that.

In the late 1980's the Campbell family's eldest son Matt (Kyle Gallner) is receiving experimental treatment for his cancer at a Connecticut hospital. The long commute to the hospital is taking its toll on Matt and his mum Sara (Virginia Madsen) so the family relocates to a big cheap rental near the hospital. Why is the rent cheap? Like all movies that start this way, and as the real estate agent actually spells out, this place "has a history".

Before long Matt starts seeing... BOO! ...ghostly apparitions, but he's indirectly encouraged to keep them to himself because... BOO! ...if his doctors find out that he's seeing things... BOO! ...they are likely to interpret his visions as a sign of brain damage and... BOO! ...cease his treatment.

The story goes from unbelievable to preposterous as... BOO! ...the history of the house is revealed and the other family members, including three other kids, are... BOO! ...drawn into Matt's nightmares.

"Just look at this mess on the wall! We're totally gonna loose our bond."

A better title for this film might have been Jump Scares in Connecticut. To make up for the lack of suspense in the story director Peter Cornwell, inserts more jump scares into his movie than my local Chinese takeaway puts peas in their special fried rice (just to be clear, they put too many). Cornwell's like a kid who gets a positive reaction to a practical joke and then decides that if one practical joke went over well then a barrage of practical jokes is sure to be a huge hit. It just becomes tiring after a while. You become less concerned with the characters and plot, and more worried about when the next random crap is going to suddenly appear in frame accompanied by a loud BAHZING in the soundtrack.

Other problems with the film include the nagging questions of why Matt persists with sleeping in the basement given that it appears to be the epicentre of the haunting, and why they all don't just leave the house when things get really nasty, given that they are only renting.

There's also an underdeveloped sub-plot involving Matt's Dad (Martin Donavon (the "go to" actor for a normal looking guy with a dark side)) who's a recovering alcoholic struggling with a new business venture. At first his predicament seems like a contrivance of plot in order to make Sara and the kids more vulnerable as they are forced to stay in the house alone without Dad. But later in the film Dad falls off the wagon, and very briefly becomes more of a threat to the family than the house's ghosts. It's, sort of, just there and feels half-baked.

All that said THIC (unfortunate acronym, no?), is not a total disaster. It's well made, well performed and is actually pretty effective in the early stages, before the silliness and... BOO! ...excessive jumps scares take over. It's watchable, despite it's many flaws.

And that, my friends, concludes the review of the movie about the true story.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Quick BIQ Review: The Last Horror Movie (2003)

The Last Horror Movie is a particularly difficult movie to review. Just about anything you say about it is a potential spoiler, and I'm still somewhat undecided about whether I really liked it or not.

It is just about the purest form of high-concept, low-budget, movie making you're ever likely to see, which has it's pluses and minuses. I think the concept is truly brilliant, but the execution (if you'll pardon the pun) lets it down a little.

That said, if you think for a moment that what you are watching could be real, or even start asking yourself "what if it was real…", The Last Horror Movie is quite effective, and probably the scariest thing you'll ever watch. On the other hand, if that thought never enters your head, then you're more likely to laugh the whole thing off as a silly low budget shocker.

I have to admit, towards the later stages, this movie did get under my skin and managed, very briefly, to genuinely scare me.

PS - For reasons that I can't really eleborate on (IE spoilers), this is the one and only movie I'd suggest would be better enjoyed on VHS than DVD.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Turdsday Movie Review: Anatomy Of Hell (2004)

Has the thought of using a used tampon as a tea bag ever crossed your mind? No, me neither. It has, however, crossed Catherine Breillat's mind. But rather than filing that thought in the "things best not admitting to having thought about" compartment of her brain (like I believe most sane human beings would) she decided to include it, and other similarly bizarre notions, in her infamous piece of pretentious exploitation, Anatomy Of Hell.

Anatomy Of Hell starts with some dude whose name we never learn (Rocco Siffredi) shaking his groove thing at a gay dance club. Some straight chick whose name we also never learn (Amira Casar), is wondering aimlessly around the same club. Eventually she heads for the restroom brushing past Siffredi on the way. For reasons that don't really make any sense, Siffredi decides to check out what Casar is doing in the restroom. When he discovers her trying to slash her wrists he stops her, but not in a heroic "don't do that, life is precious" kind of way, more of a "don't mess up the bathroom of my favourite dance club with your damn blood" kind of way.

After getting Casar some medical attention the pair go for a long walk together because, as we all know, there's nothing gay guys like to do more than walk the streets at night with a suicidal straight chick. The evening concludes pretty much as you would expect. Casar gives Siffredi a blow job and offers him cash to regularly visit her and stare at her in the nuddy. No, I'm not making this crap up, that's what happens.

The rest of the movie chronicles the series of visits Siffredi pays Casar, as part of the "deal", where Casar gets her gear off and Siffredi sits in the corner, drinking JD, looking at her contemptuously. At least, I think it was supposed to be a contemptuous look. It's a bit hard to tell with Siffredi, who seems to be channelling such thespians as Chuck Norris, Jean Claude Van Damme, and Dolph Lundgren. The allegedly contemptuous looks are accompanied by esoteric insults that the pair direct at each other's gender.

The rendezvouses become increasingly strange as Siffredi starts getting his gear off too and doing odd things to Casar like applying lip-stick around her anus, or drinking a glass of water with her blood soaked tampon floating in it like a tea bag. Unfortunately, their infrequent cryptic dialogue really gives you no clue as to why they are doing what they are doing.

If Catherine Breillat really wants to be known as a serious film-maker rather than a creator of pretentious exploitation then she really needs to stop casting porn-star Siffredi in her films, and focus a little more on creating some real characters. Her films actually remind me of Rob Zombie's films in that her characters don't act like real people, they act like characters out of a Catherine Breillat movie. She's also so obviously trying to shock her audience, without any credible context for those shocks; it's really hard not to view it all as anything other than desperate exploitation. Again, just like Rob Zombie's films.

Any doubt about whether Anatomy Of Hell is lofty high art that I didn't understand or tacky exploitation (which is very little doubt, I should point out) is erased by the odd blurb that actually appears at the beginning of the movie. Before the opening credits roll, there's a wordy disclaimer about how the explicit close ups of Casar's character are a body double, not actress Amira Casar. Uhm, OK. Whatever. If the film isn't exploitative then why is such a disclaimer necessary? I can't say for sure why it’s there, but you could well imagine Amira Casar insisting on it in order to distance herself from what even she realises is exploitative vision.

After the similarly bizarre Romance (my first Catherine Breillat movie), I thought maybe something had been lost in translation. So, giving Breillat the benefit of the doubt, I gave Anatomy Of Hell a chance. Sadly, Anatomy Of Hell is even worse than Romance and just confirmed what I thought about Breillat from the outset. Her films are pretentious and exploitative, which is a thoroughly awful combination.