Sunday, 29 August 2010

Carpenter's Portmanteau & Comedy Critters

John Carpenter is one of my favourite directors, I've seen most of his films at least twice even the rubbish ones like Vampires or Invisible Man. Anyways I hadn't, until now, seen his horror anthology Body Bags and despite it's starry cast it is most definitely one for the crappy pile. The 3 stories - Gas Station, Hair & Eye - are framed by Carpenter himself playing a juvenile morgue attendant and none of them are particularly successful. The 1st has some promise, the second is a sub-twilight zone comedic fable and the third directed by Tobe Hooper is hamstrung by having Luke Skywalker in it. One for fans of anthologies or Carpenter only I think.

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is a made for TV movie from 1973 that Guillermo Del Toro is remaking next year, well he's producing it or something, so I thought I'd give it a go. Anyways a young couple move into Grandma's hideous old house and unwittingly unblock a chimney that seems to have been a prison for some odd little critters and once free they start messing with wifey's head. It's ok I guess, the acting is a bit rough and the critters are laughable but I dunno it musters a little atmosphere along the way which I guess is what interested Del T.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Truly Expendable & School Jazz Chops

The Expendables is as dumb as you'd imagine but, sadly, not quite as enjoyable as you'd expect - an ensemble cast of actioneers old and new seemed like a great idea but it's a bit of a turkey and a campy one at that. Sly and his muscley mates take on a corrupt Southern American dictator in 90 mins of mangled dialogue, incoherent plotting, obvious face-offs and worst of all lazy, lacklustre action scenes.

Chops is a heart warming documentary bout a high school jazz band preparing for a prestigious jazz competition run by Wynton Marsalis. The film focuses on a school from Jacksonville, Florida as they start to learn the Ellington pieces required for the comp and straight off the standard of playing is pretty amazing but it's after they get a visit from Ron Carter that they really start to swing.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Sciencey Smorgasboard

An unusual crater on Mars has the boffins puzzled, via io9, original article and image from ESA.

Bad Astronomy has a couple of amazing fire tornado videos - here and here.

Jumbo hailstone from South Dakota - courtesy of Digg.

Neatorama has a rather hypnotic video of our Asteroid discoveries from the last 30 years.

Finally the most detailed image of a sunspot yet from Techvert who have the original, much bigger version.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Gallic Zombies & Big Jim

La Horde is a tidy little French b-movie, think (rec)2 with shades of Assault on Precinct 13. There's no shortage of flesh chewing and gun violence as a bunch of cops and crims have to work together in a rundown tower block fighting against some quite peckish zombies. They could have worked the scenario out better & the characters are pretty basic but it knows what it is and it's a solid, unpretentious b-movie. The Frenchies are putting out more and more good genre cinema these days - shame we're lagging further and further behind.

When You're Strange is a Tom Dicillio documentary on the life of Jim Morrison, it's quite good with footage I hadn't seen before, some nice live performance snippets and a thoughtful script narrated by Depp. My major complaint was it was censored, I understand it was broadcast on the US PBS channel but pixelating just the nipples is just plain odd and all the swearing bleeps became very very tiresome. Worth a look but you won't learn much if you already know the story. Shown as part of some arts series called American Masters I think I'll start looking for more.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Satoshi Kon (1963-2010)

The highly talented anime director Satoshi Kon has tragically passed away aged just 47. He directed a number of excellent animated features, like the Xmas parable Tokyo Godfathers or the Hitchcockian Perfect Blue and the brilliant, bewildering anime series Paranoia Agent. From the scifi anthology film, Memories, here's the first part of his short film Magnetic Rose. Part 2 here.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Richard and Judy Satire & a Winner from Winner

The Infidel was a pretty lame, written by David Baddiel and starring Omid Djalili, it constantly pulls it's punches and ends up in super cheesy Richard Curtis territory. Omid plays a Muslim gent who finds out he's an adopted Jew just before his son's wedding - scenario ripe for satire and some close to the knuckle comedy but all that follows is a mild toothless farce.

I'll Never Forget What's 'Is Name is a black satirical dramedy from Michael Winner. It's a peculiar but quite entertaining film starring Ollie Reed as an ad man who chucks in his career and affluent lifestyle to look for something ''real'' while his boss, played by Orson Welles perpetually hounds him to rejoin the ratrace. Reeks of the 60's throughout but it's whimsy is soon expelled by a dark pessimism in the last act that took me quite by surprise. An interesting early film from a Brit director who's usually underestimated.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Sherlock's predecessor & Hall's Southern defence

Murder Rooms was a pretty good miniseries - it's a mostly fictional account of Conan Doyle's experiences as a medical student in Edinburgh under the tutelage of a certain Dr Bell. Bell did indeed assist the local police from time to time but these fictional events and escapades are supposed to be the inspiration for some of Doyle's most celebrated Sherlock stories. In that respect it's quite similar to the H.G.Wells miniseries I watched a while back but with a little less cheese and better acting - especially from Ian Richardson playing the good doctor. The first episode was probably the best with a fairly grim ending which haunts the remaining few episodes.

Rich Hall's Dirty South is an amusing look at the cinematic depiction of the South over the years and it's fondness for depicting the inhabitants as racist, inbred rednecks. There's plenty of interesting films discussed along the way, a number of which are now in my viewing pile, and some background info into Southern culture which certainly taught me a few things, for example I didn't know that Hillbillies from the Appalachians are descended from Lowland Scots which explains a lot. All in all a nice little documentary with Hall providing plenty of bone dry sarcasm throughout. My one complaint was that his argument about the stereotyping came, on occasion, close to denying the reality of the South's racism. If I were in charge of the Beeb I'd have commissioned Reginald D Hunter to do a counterpoint.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

The Title is the Toughest Thing

Graditutes to Lord Luton for a snapshot of his recent playlist.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Brit Thrillers on Shoestrings

Fright is a British horror/thriller about a young babysitter in a old house getting spooked by faces at the window and needless to say it's soon develops into a unpleasant evening for everyone involved. It's quite well done I guess with Ian Bannen's demented performance cementing the gradual tension of the first half and he's ably supported by the cast of Minder, Honor Blackman and Susan George. Quite good fun if a little basic.

The Sorcerers is a '67 scifi/horror about a pair of geriatric techno-Mesmerists who take over the mind of a young man. Directed by Michael Reeves this feature isn't nearly as accomplished as his next film The Witchfinder General, the mind control plot is a little rough around the edges as is the acting but it's still a reasonably enjoyable chiller steeped in 60's London sights & sounds. Probably only for the curious.

Marshall's Missing 9th & Aldrich's Mad Widow 3

Neil Marshall follows his messy PA flick Doomsday with a much tighter historical action film called Centurion. Based on the legend surrounding the disappearance of the 9th Roman legion during the British campaign there's plenty of halved heads, amputations and grisly combat as the Romans get their asses handed to them by some rather unruly Picts. It looks stunning and sports a decent cast including Dominic West, Michael Fassbender and David Morrissey but the script is pretty weak and after the initial set up it descends into your standard chase movie nonetheless I quite enjoyed it - a unashamedly genre piece that's restored my faith in Marshall who directed both Dog Soldiers and Descent.

Despite it's Columbo/TV movie production values What Happened To Aunt Alice? is a nicely balanced psychological thriller about a recently widowed snob who'll go to murderous lengths to maintain her fancypants lifestyle. Produced by the esteemed Robert Aldrich it's the 3rd in his series of psycho-biddy pictures which started with Baby Jane and was followed by Sweet Charlotte which I haven't seen. Geraldine Page and Ruth Gordon put in impressive performances as the combative female leads and help lift this film above mediocrity and though it's not a patch on Jane it's a competent, enjoyable little chiller.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Musical Swan Songs

I'm not a rabid Beatles fan but thought I'd watch the Let It Be documentary as it's the only film of theirs I'd never seen but jesus I wish I hadn't bothered as it's a right old mess. Sure there's plenty of rehearsal stuff, informal studio banter and a smattering of the famed bickering though they seem to get on better than I'd thought but I hadn't expected it to be so amateurish, badly edited and just plain ugly. According to wikip it was shot initially for TV on 16mm then blown up to 35mm for it's cinema release but the result is hideous looking more like badly composed home footage than anything else. Other than the poignant roof top gig at the end it's not worth your time.

Scorcese's The Last Waltz on the other hand is a magnificent triumph, a beautifully shot concert peppered with interesting interview segments and an amazing array of artists supporting The Band in their swan song appearance. Though I don't own a single album by The Band this film has been a late night, drunken favourite of mine for some years and probably will be for some time to come - a film so bursting with joie de vivre and the love of music that I doubt it'll ever be matched.

Friday, 13 August 2010

The Great Antidote

Some amazing pics of some rather hideous but tiny critters, courtesy of The Telegraph. The beauty above is a Bluebottle maggot.

Er what? Slime mould is capable of comparative valuations similar to humans.

Big sciencey news of the week is the surprise discovery of geology's Holy Grail, some original earth, a lava pocket that's gone undisturbed for 4.5 billion years.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Whose Helmet ?

Crap shack - thought I was a scifi buff but even though there's some repetition I can still only identify a few of these spacefarers. Thanks to the excellent DangerousMinds and some German site.

Soviet Bloc SciFi - Part One

Thought I'd have myself a little season of some vintage scifi from behind the Iron Curtain and I'm hoping it's all as magnificent as Ikarie XB-1 - a Czech film from 1962 about a journey to Alpha Centauri in search of other intelligences based on one of the few Stanislaw Lem novels (The Magellan Cloud) that I've yet to read.

It's a surprisingly beautiful and thoughtful B&W epic about long term space travel and the inherent dangers involved that's well acted and keeps ticking along at a decent crack. The SFX are as you'd expect a bit ropey but it's a fantastic film that really deserves much more recognition especially given it's purported influence on Kubrick's 2001.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Reddit provides

Made me think of The Mist

Bang goes the rocket

Even wearing the helmet etc this guy has balls.

Thursday, 5 August 2010


The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane is an excellent, peculiar thriller-ish film about a young girl new in town besieged by a predatory pederast who's curious about her living arrangements. Jodie Foster, fresh from Taxi Driver, puts in an exceptional performance as the young lady who unwittingly attracts the attention of her sleazy neighbour Martin Sheen. It's a measured if disquieting film which relies on atmosphere and the skills of the actors involved to drive the narrative. My one problem with the film is the unwarranted nude scene, though performed by Foster's older sister Connie it seemed a little exploitative and given the subject of the film rather inappropriate.

Freaked, written and directed by Alex Winter, is an amusing if childish comedy about a shallow celebrity unwittingly turned into a hideous freak by a crazed circus owner played by Randy Quaid. It's quite the twisted little tale with a surprising amount of satirical bite but it's also stuffed with plenty of low brow laughs and some good turns from Brooke Shields, Mr T, Keanu and Quaid. A unpretentious B-movie that deserves it's cult status.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Smattering of Sciencey Bits

Some archaeologists have reopened a deliberately sealed 1800 year old tunnel under the Teotihuacan complex and may have found a tomb or two.

Violent dreams may be a predictor for degenerative brain disease according to a new study highlighted on Wired.

New Scientist have an abstract regarding a couple of Frenchy researchers who think our planet's iron core is melting and reforming continuously over a 100 million year cycle. Good luck with testing that hypothesis.

Strange article on Atlas Obscura about a natural nuclear reactor found in Africa.

Blacks Good & Bad

Black Death is a hack 'n slash medieval thriller about a monk guiding a bunch of heretic hunters to a village that seems strangely plague resistant. Directed by Christopher Smith (Creep & Triangle) it's a really nice Hammer-ish tale of country-style cult worship with a competent cast dominated by a strong performance by Sean Bean. Though the plot is a little derivative there's plenty of gore and a few dark laughs that keep things ticking along.

Blackout is a closed-room thriller set in a malfunctioning elevator in a NY apartment block and as you'd expect it's not long before the three people trapped inside soon find themselves at odds with one another. It's a mediocre little thriller that turns preposterous halfway through - I'd like to say more but I can't really say too much about it's failings without giving away too much of the plot needless to say one of the peeps has a dark secret they'd do anything to keep from being revealed.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Couple of Tent Poles

Chris Nolan's Inception is a fine film, a scifi babushka doll of dreamscapes with Dicaprio and an excellent cast romping around in other peoples noggins. There's a lot of huff and puff about the ambiguous ending but I didn't mind it's still a clever, highly enjoyable romp with some lovely fx . The main failing imo is that the dreams involved are a little humdrum, certainly more "normal" than my own oneiric experiences. If you want something a little more fantastical try Satoshi Kon's Paprika.

The Ghost Writer - Polanski's latest film - is a reasonable conspiracy thriller about a former British PM desperate to finish his memoirs as he's somewhat troubled by accusations of war crimes - ring any bells ? It's not bad I suppose with decent performances by Brosnan, McGregor and Williams but FFS Kim Cattrall, really ? who cast her ? she's wooden throughout and well out of her depth. The plot is a little over worked and the ending is a little blah/meh/duh but it's entertaining enough and certainly a cut above the usual dross churned out these days.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Maybe Crichton isn't all bad ?

I was mumbling about successful genre screenwriters a while back after watching a few Richard Matheson films and despite Stephen King I can only think of one other, Michael Crichton. Yeah I know he's churned out a tonne of big budget crap: Congo, Sphere, Twister etc but he did pen some decent scifi films at the start of his career like The Andromeda Strain, Westworld, Coma and The Terminal Man so I thought I'd check out a couple of his early films. First up is The First Great Train Robbery a fairly entertaining Victorian heist flick starring Donald Sutherland and Sean Connery. It's nothing particularly special and takes a while getting going but it's a funny bawdy romp with a couple of engaging performances and some decent stunts.

Next up is The Looker from 1981 a scifi thriller starring Albert Finney as a plastic surgeon whose customers unfortunately keep turning up dead. Though it's dated badly it still has merits with some startlingly prescient ideas about technology and our celebrity culture. James Coburn and Finney put in perfunctory performances and it's riven with continuity errors but somehow I still enjoyed it.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Sweet Smell of the Sixties

Haven't seen John Boorman's Point Blank in at least a decade but it's just as stunning as I remember a sleek, stylish 60's revenge thriller that's become a template for plenty of films since. Nowadays it makes me think of Seijun Suzuki's gangster films from around the same time all sharp suits, concrete architecture and stoney faces.

The Prize is a comedic Hitchcockian thriller about a drunken author, played by Paul Newman, who wins a Nobel Prize and on attending proceedings accidentally gets himself rolled up in some East/West espionage shenanigans. The script is quick, full of wit and the action well handled if a little slight but it all crackles along with plenty of brio. You could fault it for it's formulaic plot (Lehman also wrote North By Northwest) but to be honest the quality is so high it doesn't really matter, all in all it's a nicely shot, well acted thriller done with that seemingly effortless 60's panache that it makes you wonder why so few film makers today are capable of producing anything near it.

Living Dolls and a 80's Double

As expected Toy Story 3 is another Pixar classic blending kids fluff beautifully with adult resonating themes and yet still finding time for plenty of laughs, po-mo references up the wazoo and buckets of sentiment. Scripting and voice acting are spot on as you'd expect and the animation itself is stunning. Can Pixar sustain this level of quality?

The Monster Squad is other horror spoof from Fred Dekker this time about a gang of young treehouse dwelling kids fighting the classic Universal monsters Dracula, Wolfman, Frankenstein's Monster, a Mummy and er a Fish Thing. It's maybe not quite as funny as Creeps but it's still an enjoyable pastiche of monster movies with surprisingly decent creature effects.

I've got a lot of love for Roger Corman and only recently realised he was behind Battle Beyond the Stars - one of those films from my childhood that had that warm nostalgic itch to it. Well it holds up not bad I guess as a bit of nonsense space opera but it squanders it's first hour with a weak final third. The plot is basically a scifi ripoff of Seven Samurai and the idea is sound (see Samurai 7) this time we've got John Boy from the Waltons recruiting Hannibal from the A-Team, The Man from UNCLE and a few others to defend his home planet from John Saxon, the whitey fighter from Enter The Dragon. Credit should go to the young James Cameron who did a admirable job making the SFX look nice on what was probably a tiny budget.