Thursday, 30 September 2010

1968: My Favourite Year in Cinema

Hitch + Steinbeck + Highsmith

As I've just acquired 3 seasons of Alfred Hitchcock Presents I thought I'd watch a couple of his films to get in the mood.

Lifeboat is one of those early Hitch films that I've neglected for his later films. Bit of a mistake as this tight little thriller written by John Steinbeck is superbly acted and a masterclass in tension. In case you haven't seen it already the plot follows the fortunes of a gaggle of survivors who help a Nazi onto their boat.

I haven't seen Strangers on a Train since I was a kid but I'm glad I've given it another go as I hadn't realised it was written by Patricia Highsmith nor picked up on the coded homosexuality of Bruno. Anyways its another fine Hitch thriller this time about a tennis star who has lunch with an affable lunatic not realising just how super keen he is on doing a murder swap. With a brilliant performance by Robert Walker and a razor sharp script this dark little film is one of Hitch's best.

Blake's 7

I was too young to watch Blake's 7 when it first aired but I did have a cool model Liberator but it met a melty end in the fireplace. Anyways I've finally finished watching the entire run of 52 episodes and it's been surprisingly good stuff, a bleak, adult themed, Star Trek-ish space opera that romps through scifi tropes with abandon , cheap fx & very little fashion sense.

Terry Nation's setup is pretty straight forward: Blake leads a team of criminals in a revolt against a evil empire after finding a deserted alien spaceship but it's the moral ambiguity and flawed characters that adds the depth to proceedings. With a competent cast and strong scripts it rises above it's meagre roots and is well worth your time. It's a shame Sky have decided not to give it a reboot but given the mess they made of The Prisoner maybe it's for the best. Can't find any online episodes to link to but here's the opening credits.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Space Pron: Gassy Giant edition

Saturn's aurora revealed through infrared pics, via APOD.

Couple of Saturn's moons, Dione & Rhea, in an illusionary space smash - thanks io9

Insanely detailed mosaic image of Jupiter's Great Red Spot, bigger version here. Courtesy of

Sunday, 26 September 2010

British Monsterism & Shabby Sequel

While the creatures in Monsters take a back seat this is still an interesting sci-fi road movie that works it's tiny budget really, really well. Anyways in a post alien-invasion world a reporter is tasked with escorting the boss' daughter back to America but a series of attacks forces them to cross the infected zone on foot. Making the most of the amazing Mexican landscape and a decent couple of actors this lo-fi gem relies on character and the writing as well as some thoughtful CGI to build the story and shows yet again you don't need a bucket of cash to make a good film.

30 Days of Night: Dark Days is a straight to video sequel to the Alaskan vampire movie from a few years back. The original was ok but had it's fair share of cheese - this follow up, sans Melissa George, is a just big bag of shit. Dunno if it's based on the graphic novels but the plot is weak, aby the numbers script and the action is cheap and cartoonish. Not quite as bad as From Dusk Till Dawn 2 but not far off it.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

The Devil & Something Sharp

The Last Exorcism is a mock-doc horror film about a fraudulent preacher who takes a film crew to a hillbilly demon cleansing. It's pretty average fare; the acting is decent enough but it's not scary in the slightest and the few wisps of atmosphere it creates are squandered with a really clumsy finale.

The Grindhouse double bill that came out a few years ago was hit & miss so I wasn't sure what to expect from Machete, a film first featured as one of the trailers between the original double. Rodriguez has ditched the pretentious print aging and missing scenes that blighted PT & DP and has concentrated on crafting a gleefully violent, retro action thriller that's highly enjoyable. Trejo is suitably wooden but is blessed with plenty of screen presence and is helped along by Alba, Fahey, De Niro & Seagal.

Monday, 20 September 2010

The Other One Eyed Monster

Martin Scorsese muscles his way onto the small screen with Boardwalk Empire, a Prohibition era drama about Atlantic city and it's morally challenged inhabitants. The first episode was pretty stunning introducing a complex web of characters & plot with ease all pinned down by a strong cast including the always excellent Steve Buscemi. Hopefully it's inevitable success will encourage other feature directors onto the tube.

I'm a big fan of Plait's blog Bad Astronomy so was delighted he's got presenting a nerdy show called Bad Universe. The first ep is about asteroids and he packs in plenty of science in the hour but softens the impact with Mythbuster-ish experiments and some goofy cartoons. It's not exactly groundbreaking stuff but it's entertaining enough that I'll keep watching.

At last! The Venture Bros return with the 2nd half of the 4th Season of the highly amusing cartoon spoof. If you haven't seen it before I'd start at the beginning.

The Event is a new Lost/Flash Forward big budget mystery show thingy. First episode was alirght, a bit too much jumping between timelines for my tastes and well the event itself was a little underwhelming but I'll give it a few more episodes before deciding whether it's a turkey or not, mainly cause I think it'll be about aliens.

Real Time With Bill Maher is back and just in time. with the sudden victory of the dim, anti-wanking politician Christine O'Donnell the Teabagger movement has shifted into top gear so it's just as well Maher is blackmailing her to appear on Real Time with embarrassing clips from his earlier show Politically Incorrect.

You've probably already heard but Colbert/Stewart are also pushing back against rise of the idiots with their own D.C rallies.

Small Scale Thrillers

The setup for Frozen is about as simple as it gets but doesn't stop it from being an entertaining b-movie thriller. After cajoling a ski lift operator into letting them have one last run, 3 unlikeable Yanks find themselves stranded 50ft in the air with little chance of rescue. Cue shonky acting, idiotic decision making and some schlocky gore.

The Disappearance of Alice Creed is a tight, one-set Brit thriller about the kidnapping of young woman by a pair of gay gangsters. It's a solid film, nothing amazing but reasonably well acted and there's a few twists to keep things interesting even if it is all a bit daft.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Trouble With Dreams

The Lathe of Heaven, adapted from Le Guin's novel, is an intelligent SF film that succeeds despite it's tv-movie budget. Set on a decaying, war ravaged, near-future Earth the film follows George Orr who realises that some of his dreams have been altering reality but who unfortunately seeks help from an unscrupulous psychiatrist whose sole concern is harnessing this power. Though it suffers from ropey FX it's a nicely paced film with some big ideas & considerably more enjoyable film than the 2002 remake. Whole film below.

Chasing Sleep stars Jeff Daniels as an insomniac with a missing wife problem and some suddenly malfunctioning plumbing. It's a kind of ambiguous Lynch-lite thriller a little theatrical but it has some atmos and Daniels puts in an decent performance as the Uni professor descending into a druggy/sleepy fugue with added sprinkles of hallucination.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Mr Rhythm's Blues

Andre Williams, writer/performer/producer of crazy R&B grooves - Shake a Tail Feather, Chicken Thighs and Cadillac Jack to name but a few - is the subject of the excellent if depressing documentary Agile, Mobile, Hostile.

At 70 years old, Andre is on really hard times; skint, struggling with the bottle & the pipe, with ailing health and faced with a gruelling tour schedule just to pay his rent but it's a testament to Williams' character that despite all his problems his fun loving, optimism and love for music still shine strong. I know it's a year-in-the-life of type thing but I hankered for more about his early career. Anyways you can make own mind up as the whole film is below courtesy of snagfilms. Muchas Gracias to Luchador Ed for the tip.

Watch more free documentaries

Monday, 13 September 2010

Sixties selection

The Madwoman of Challiot is an unusual ensemble comedy starring Ustinov, Brynner, Chamberlain, Pleasance & Katherine Hepburn as the rather odd, eponymous heroine. A surprisingly biting satire, Hepburn plays a romantic minded woman who becomes disgusted by our contemporary world when she discovers there's plans to exploit oil deposits found in her own Parisian neighbourhood. It's soaked in sixties thinking but the razor sharp script pulls it above a trivial protest film into a much more reasoned, intelligent little film. Directed by Bryan Forbes

Modesty Blaise, starring Stamp, Bogarde & Monica Vitti, is a glorious 60's mess. If you enjoy silly retro comedies like Our Man Flynt then I wholeheartedly recommend this film as it's a real gem otherwise I wouldn't bother. The plot is incoherent nonsense and the action is pretty lame but Vitti's charms dispell any flaws and one thing for sure though it's waay better than the version Tarantino produced.

To finish there's What a Way to Go! a musical-ish, 60's satire pointed at our relationship with a then burgeoning capitalist culture. Shirley Maclaine stars as a country girl who seeks a simple life but unwittingly marries into big money over and over again. Maclaine's suitor's include Mitchum, Newman, Dean Martin & Gene Kelly. It's a bit of 60's fluff that should have been funnier.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Greek Gore & Train Troubles

Greek Zombie splatter fest Evil is a pretty decent zombie flick given it's obviously tiny budget. 3 dudes investigate a mysterious cave and unwittingly release a people chomping plague so a band of survivors end up traipsing the city looking for a safe haven. It's a little crude and the acting is so-so but once it gets going the action is amusingly violent, reminiscent of Bad Taste/Braindead with head popping, gouging etc. The prequel was at the EIFF this year apparently so I'll check that out when it becomes, er, available.

Horror Express is a surprisingly entertaining Cushing & Lee romp from '72. Sure it's hardly original, mashing Murder on the Orient with The Thing from Another World but it somehow works. Lee uncovers a frozen corpse in Manchuria and is shipping it home to Blighty via the Transsiberian railway and obviously corpsey has his own agenda and the killing starts. A nice schlocky b-movie with bonus Telly Savalas ham-aganza.