Monday, 28 February 2011

Hollywood Sucks Baws

Michel Gondry sucks in his strangeness while directing The Green Hornet - a reimagining of the TV show that brought Bruce Lee to the world's attention. Seth Rogen wrote the script and stars, unsuccessfully, as the playboy who takes up vigilantism after his industrialist Pa dies and he inherits the $ and his Pa's former coffee, kung fu & cars man servant Kato. It's not terrible, there's a few good lines & some touches of visual flair as the duo smash and crash about the city but it's so unremarkable and bland its hard to remember much about it after just 24 hrs. A waste of the not inconsiderable talents involved.

Paul is a fairly colossal cloud of guff - SOTD was funny and Hot Fuzz less so but still quite charming. Paul on the other hand has minimal charm and relies almost soley on dick/fart/pot jokes and unsubtle geek references for it's laughs. Two nerds pick up a foul mouthed alien after leaving comic con and get involved in a Starman-ripoff romp across the States to help him meet his Mothership. It does have it's moments but it's so unoriginal and the jokes so tawdry I was increasingly depressed and frankly a bit embarrassed by the end. Pegg and Frost need to extract themselves from the Hollywood machine before their talents are completely sanitised.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Sciencey Vids For Saturday

Dangerous Minds have a nice bit about Orson Welles' documentary bout E.T life.

Lovely but depressing time lapse vid of our nuclear detonations since '45.

Massive Solar flare caught on film by NASA's SDO spacecraft.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Pulp & Pith

The Gunslinger is the first in Stephen kings Dark Tower series and is perhaps unsurprisingly headed for the big screen. Set in a distant future on a degraded Earth a lone gunman chases a mysterious, ma- in-black across a never ending desert encountering mutants, cults and the shoddy remnants of a more advanced but now ruined society. It's not terrible, there's some nice ideas along the way and the protagonist occasionally minded me of Wolfe's Severian, sharing the same cool, detached view of humanity but sadly like most of Kings work it's spoiled by a heavy over cheesing and I was decidedly unimpressed with the time travelly bits that unfolded. I might pick up the next in the series but only if it's super cheap.

I really enjoyed Patrick Harpur's previous nonfiction books Daemonic Reality & The Philosopher's Secret Fire, two impressive, intelligent forteanish examinations of myths and our realities. However I wasn't sure what to expect from his earlier novel Mercurius, a lengthy split narrative about Alchemy told by a small town Vicar in the 50's and a contemporary researcher picking through his notes after finding them in the house she's renting. It's well written and is probably one of the finest, most exhaustive discussions about the work of alchemy (both chemical and psychological) that I've read but characters aren't exactly Harpur's strong point - Smith the alchemist is sparsely drawn and taciturn while Eileen unrealistically lacks insight into her new village life. I guess you could defend Harpur for these shortcomings as they're somewhat necessary for the plot but it doesn't help what's a long and tricksy read. Still a stunning book if you fancy learning about the secret art and there's enough detail and plenty of mysteries here to entice me back for a reread.

Digit(al) Distractions

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Bogeymen Real & Imagined

The intersection between true crimes and urban myths are explored in the documentary Cropsey. Two Staten Island filmmakers start investigating the truth behind the local legends of a child snatcher that surround an abandoned mental asylum and soon uncover a complicated, tragic history at the very heart of their neighborhood. It's a decent film, well made with plenty of face time with key individuals but they failed to get the one interview that would tie the whole thing together so by the end it all seemed a little fruitless and more like a special on Crime & Investigation.

The Troll Hunter is a cracking Norwegian found footage flick about some documentarians who try to make a film about rogue bear hunters but discover far more deadly, mythological predators in the wilds of Norway. It's great fun with some nice creature effects and a well thought out mythos that's gradually unfolded as the filmmakers dig deeper into their government's secret Troll management scheme. These found footage films rely on poorly lit, shaky cam action to build the tension and it does get a bit tiresome but the film's quality pushes through and it's well worth a watch. There's plenty more juice in Trolling so I hope they make a sequel, shit I'll probably be happy with a prequel.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Monday, 21 February 2011

Weegies at War & Middle Age Madness

Peter Mullan is an excellent actor and his directorial efforts, Orphans and The Magdalene Sisters displayed plenty of talent and a grim, biting view of life in our cloudy Isle but Neds, his latest feature, doesn't quite match his earlier successes. Despite being a swotty youngster our protagonist follows his older brother's example and becomes involved in the violence and mayhem of Glasgow gangs 80's style and his life spirals down a tragic path. It's well acted and it clips along at a decent pace with plenty of realistic brutality but it felt limited by some paper thin stereotypes and an over worked patricide sub plot.

Day of the Wacko is a dark Reggie Perrin-esque Polish film about a man struggling to free himself from the repetitive mundanity of modern life. Suffering from OCD and an overbearing mother our misanthropic protagonist starts to break free from the shackles of his routine and look for a better life. It's a good watch with some nice pitch black laughs along the way and Kondrat's central performance is brilliant but there was a tonne of allusions, jokes and political references that went well over my head.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Psycho Killer Qu'est-ce que c'est

William Wyler's assured adaptation of The Collector succeeds mainly due to the talents of a young Terence Stamp. It follows the novel's plot pretty closely but they've had to excise the portions narrated by his victim so it's unsurprising that Stamp's unnerving performance of the disturbed, kidnapping entomologist dominates the proceedings, that's not to say Eggar's isn't good too, she handles her slightly reduced (& imo enfeebled) role with aplomb. I knew Wyler directed Roman Holiday and Ben Hur but I must have a dig around and see what else he done did. A chilling classic that needs more attention.

I like a bit of Korean cinema now and again and I Saw The Devil is another example of the stunning thrillers that they've been producing. A practised sex killer offs the pregnant fiance of a secret agent and unwittingly initiates a brutal cat and mouse game between the two. It's startlingly violent in parts and the cool calculated attitude of both heighten the merciless atmosphere but despite all the gore and blood letting there's still an intelligent, well acted thriller underneath that gives itself plenty of time to brood over the costs of revenge. An intense film that makes Oldboy look fluffy.

Psych 9 is a half hearted, hokey load of codswallop, purportedly a horror thriller about a troubled temp who takes a night-shift filing job in a mothballed hospital but finds herself losing her noggin after reading too many of the files oh and there's a lady killer on the loose. There's a fair effort in building some tension but it's constantly punctured by the crappy script, poor acting and contradictory plot turns and the whole thing just descends into a puerile guessing game. Only the appearance of Michael Biehn kept me watching to the end so to be honest so I'd give it a miss.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Southern Scenes

Intruder in the Dust is a terrific film about race relations from the 40's. A surly black small holder is arrested for shooting a whitey in the back and is counting the hours before the locals get worked up to optimal lynching speed but a young boy decides he's going to help prove his innocence and starts investigating the crime despite considerable opposition. Given it's age this is a remarkably nuanced film that kept me guessing right till the end and it's unfamiliar cast brought a realism to proceedings that might have been obscured by bigger stars.

Monte Hellman made some unusual films and Cockfighter, about a handler who refuses to speak until he's won the coveted Cockfighter of the Year medal, displays the same quirky, quiet genius apparent in Two-Lane Blacktop & The Shooting. Warren Oates stars as the dissolute Frank Mansfield who drinks and gambles himself into a corner but still doggedly strives to reach the pinnacle of his sport and win the love of an old flame. Though it's a bit simplistic it's got bags of sweaty southern atmosphere and Oates gives a charismatic performance despite having a handful of lines. One thing I should mention though is that there's plenty of duelling cock action so I guess if you're a animal lover you're probably not going to want to watch it.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Black & White Gold

Peter Cushing stars as a stuffy manager of a small town bank in Cash on Demand another early pre-horror Hammer production. His life falls apart when a twinkly eyed Colonel arrives under the ruse of checking the bank's security procedures but is actually a bank robber who has kidnapped Cushing's wife and daughter. The cast is pretty strong but Cushing's performance as the pompous pedant under pressure lifts this tense little thriller into something special. A neglected gem.

Billy Wilder's able direction and witty script for the brilliant Five Graves to Cairo makes me wonder why it's never had a DVD release here. A British corporal stumbles from the desert into an Egyptian town the Allies have abandoned only to find Rommel and his chums right behind him. Disguising himself as a waiter in the ramshackle hotel our hero tries to stay alive and uncover the secret of Rommel's success and the mysterious five graves. A brilliant, funny thriller that romps along with some excellent performances throughout.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Refractions of Reality

Clint is working on a Hoover movie at the moment so I thought I'd check out Larry Cohen's little biopic The Private Files of J Edgar Hoover. It's not bad but it attempts to cover Hoo's entire career in under two hours so there's little time for detail and it plays out more like a docudrama than anything else. None the less there's two solid performances from Broderick Crawford & Rip Torn that help ground the relentless sprint through some momentous events in US and it's a nicely frank run through given it was made just 5 years after he's popped his clogs.

Animal Kingdom is a Aussie crime drama about a teenager forced to live with his cousin and his bank robbing family after his junkie mum carks it. Unfortunately the locals police are keeping close tabs on the bunch and they seem to prefer shooting first so life gets messy pretty quick. It's pretty good, with bags of tension and it's apparently (loosely) based on some Pettingill family from 80's Melbourne anyways it's a tad flat footed and the sluggish, no blinky central performance didn't help but it's got a nice, Wire-ish naturalism to the criminal life and the rest of the acting was strong.

The King's Speech was actually better than I expected - sure it's one of those Monarchy rimming period dramas our film industry relies on but at least it's well made and has a few laughs to lighten the sycophancy. Firth is good but I thought Rush was better, playing the vocal coach trying to cure the future King of his stuttering. If you were cynical you might suggest it was deliberately crafted to be awards bait - disability? check, period drama on the cusp of historical event? check, glorifies the media? check blah blah blah. It's competent and will do for lazy Sunday but it's so bland it's bound to make big money.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Candles & Caterpillars for the Dead

David Peace has fast become one of my favourite authors, the Red Riding quartet was a difficult, harrowing tale of murder & corruption in 70's Yorkshire that was beautifully complex and written with an intense, burrowing subjectivity, anyways I've seen reviews comparing his prose to James Ellroy's frenetic, declarative style but his latest series of books, set in post war Japan, show he's a far greater talent than the self styled Demon Dog. The first of this new series, Tokyo Year Zero, was based on the real case of serial killer Yoshio Kodaira and it painted a horrifying picture of the chaos and tragedy of life in the devastated country. The second called Occupied City is even more disturbing, again based on a true crime, the Sadamachi Bank poisoning, and uses a vast cast of characters to further probe the terrible realities in Japan at that time including the hypocrisy of the Allied victors, the horrifying Japanese biological experiments in mainland China and the everyday anger & despair of the ordinary citizens as the country struggles to rise from the ashes of defeat. While TYZ was feverish & frantic Occupied City stretches well beyond - a full tilt descent into a dizzying array of Rashamon narratives with disparate styles for each voice, ranging from police notes to poesis via hopelessness & madness. Be warned reveals Peace's roots as a poet so some of the sections are (quite successfully imo) experimental oh and it's definitely not going to cheer you up but don't let me put you off - it blew me away and I wish everything I read was as well written.

Handling the Undead is written by John Ajvide Lindqvist the author of Let The Right One In. No vamps this time instead we've got a strange re-imagining of a Zombie outbreak, not Romero flesh eaters however, instead these undead clods are a bit more placid neither chomping flesh nor craving brains. The story follows three families as they try to deal with return of the recently deceased who still seem to have consciousness within their decomposed bodies and the strange telepathic effect they seem to engender. Lindqvist isn't the greatest writer, don't get me wrong he's no Dan Brown but the prose style is functional and the characters flat. Twin that with a muddled mythos and a dribbling, pseudo religious grub-based finale and you've got a disappointing read that will still no doubt get optioned for the big screen.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Facing Our Future

Into Eternity touts itself as a film for ther future and it's this aspect that works and irks in equal measure. The documentary concerns the humongous subterranean nuclear waste facility being built in Finland called Onkalo. As the radioactivity willl last approx 100,000yrs the engineers and designers must plan for the seriously long term and the discussions and considerations are fascinating - if only all public policy was as thoughtful. Sadly the director intends to entomb the film on site and asks most of the participants to film a message in case it's discovered which was a little cheesy to say the least and Madsen's pieces to camera, filmed by match light, a little over dramatic. None the less it's a excellent film that illuminates a terrible problem for the proponents of nuclear energy.

The schooling of our children has provided fertile ground for documentarians but Waiting for Superman is certainly one of the most powerful I've seen. A devastating critique of the American school system it lays out the terrible facts of illiteracy and innumeracy in the world's "greatest" country and the turgid bureaucracy & unions that hinder improvement. The facts are bolstered with the heartbreaking stories of three families as their kids progress towards the lottery for places at the best schools in their area. Maybe it's effectiveness is down to our inexorable educational decline but this excellent film ably demonstrates the serious consequences for society when we don't embiggen the minds of the young.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Fearsome Foes

Viy is fantastical Russian horror film from 1967, a simple fable about a drunken priest who becomes obliged to keep vigil over a young woman's body in her family crypt, he's not too keen however as she's a witch and he killed her during an earlier encounter. It's a little slow to get going but it's a beautifully made film with a hallucinatory palate a la The Singing Ringing Tree and there's plenty of humour in the script that keep things chugging along until it's bizarre nocturnal denoument. The phantasmagoria that besieges the idiot priest over the three nights is stunning, a triumph of imagination given it's budgetary constraints and surprisingly effective. You won't be scared but you will be entertained with this classic folktale.

Ministry of Fear is a rollicking noirish thriller directed by Fritz Land and written by Graham Greene. A mental patient is released back into the world and is almost immediately caught up in some convoluted Nazi intrigue but of course everyone thinks it's all in his mind. Ray Milland heads up a fairly competent cast as the loon on the run and there's plenty of unintentional laughs to be had from it's stuffy, stiff script and quaint depictions of British life. Despite being ridiculous and poorly disguised propaganda it's an entertaining and quite gripping little thriller.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Never Made & Never Finished Films

BoingBoing have a lovely post about some well crafted trailers for films that never exisisted, if you enjoy Triangulus you can follow it with The Long Dead Smell. It got me thinking about unfinished films and after a quick browse I found some genuine uncompleted features. First up is a trailer for the Jodorowsky/Moebius animated The Incal a film apparently based on Frank Herbert's Dune, followed by 1 of 2 clips from Orson Welles' famous unfinished picture The Other Side of The Wind and finally there's a clip of George Kukor's star studded Something's Got to Give. No doubt there's loads more out there so let me know if you find anything interesting.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

The Great Antidote

Unusual hole punch clouds off Myrtle Beach, via Neatorama.

As NASA limps into an uncertain future private companies look to fill the breach and some former astronaut is developing a plasma engine that he thinks could clock up 123000 mph. Popsci.

A bafflingly powerful new X-Ray laser is now capable of taking pics of living viruses. Via DG.

Chinese labcoats are developing a maglev train that can reach speeds similar to aircraft.

Some boffins have been working on a sensible set of protocols for attempting to communicating with aliens. They should read Lem. Physorg.

NASA & ESA are planning to send two orbiters to Europa.

Earth like clouds have been spotted on Titan. DG.

Seems gently zapping your noggin might be rather beneficial. New Scientist.

HiRise images of Martian dunes show the landscape is much more active than previously thought. Science Daily.

Rustling leaves have inspired a new development which might improve wind farm efficiency. Arstechnica.

China takes steps towards creating Sino City One with an estimated population of 42 million. Neatorama.