Sunday, 22 January 2012

The Quick and the Dead (1995) Dir: Sam Raimi

Sam 'Evil Dead' Raimi goes all Wild West on us, with pretty satisfying results.

The plot:
Redemption is your typical frontier town, ruled over by tyrannical land owner Herod, played with some zeal by the ever-menacing Gene Hackman.
A tournament is arranged, where all of the local shootists and assassins can compete, one against one, for a huge cash prize.
Only trouble is, you either win outright, or you die trying.
Lady, the sole female entrant - Sharon's Stones - struggles to be taken seriousy to begin with, but soon proves her worth. And besides, she has more reason than most to win the competition for, as a small girl, she witnessed Herod execute her father.
So how do you think this one's gonna end, pardners?

Yeah, not exactly hot on the originality front but then, that wasn't really the idea. Seems Raimi just wanted to try his hand at a new genre, happy to throw in as many Western cliches as you could toss down a gold mine.
Saloon doors, fire water, The Old Joanna, chewin' tobaccie and busty harlots, all are present and correct, and that's fine.
'Cos it's a Western.
With a stellar cast, including DiCaprio, Crowe, Lance Henriksen and Tobin Bell, as well as the two already mentioned - though no sign of Raimi stalwart Bruce Campbell, unfortunately. His scenes were left on the cutting room floor, apparently - this is a cut above your average homage flick, certainly in the acting stakes.
If gritty, realistic Western is your bag, or if the more Spaghettified option floats your boat, you may be a touch disappointed, but for those of us who just like a good old fashioned shoot 'em up, there's plenty to entertain here.
Decent enough.

4 out of 5

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008) Dir: Eric Brevig

Fun filled adventure for all the family.

The plot:
Brendan Fraser is teacher Trevor Anderson, and that rarest breed of teacher too, for an American movie, as all of his students appear bored in his lectures, adding a genuine air of reality to proceedings. Usually they are hanging on every fucking word; pupil-bots the like of which exist NOWHERE.
Anyway, when his nephew comes to stay, albeit reluctantly, Trevor finds a copy of Jules Verne's eponymous classic, along with annotation from his recently deceased brother.
See, his brother was on a mission to find 'volcanic tubes' to the centre of the Earth.
Could it be that he really found them?
Could this very book contain all of the clues to follow in his footsteps?
Well, could it?
You bet your flingin' flangin' ass it can, Batman.
Quicker than you can say Around the World in 80 Days, Trevor's off to Iceland for an adventure of a life time, and not a sign of Kerry Katona anywhere.

Mildly diverting as far as family adventure movies goes, this is perfectly adequate stuff.
At no point is anyone imperiled, at no point do we genuinely belief the giant insects or T. Rex's are gonna mash 'em, crush 'em, or inject them with anything too deadly, so nothing to frighten any vulnerable ones - I'm looking at you, Matt.
With a decent budget, the special effects would be expected to be of a decent standard but, truthfully, they are laughably poor, which only serves to distance from the on screen action. Listen, I love my old Who and Blake's 7, so have no problem with ropey FX and wobbly sets but, for a Hollywood movie in 2008, this just ain't good enough.
One to put on when the kids need quietening, then.
For everyone else, it's safe to avoid.

3 out of 5

Saturday, 14 January 2012

The Woman (2011) Dir: Lucky McKee

A movie that has the feel of a 'made for TV' production, this is nevertheless interesting stuff.

The plot:
A traditional family man, who rules the home with an iron fist, decides that it is the family's moral duty to 'civilise' a wild woman he captured in the woods. Imprisoning her in an underground shed he, along with his wife and children, attempt to feed her, to keep her clean and to teach her how to behave correctly.
But the man has other designs on The Woman.
One night, when he thinks his wife is asleep, he sneaks from the marital bed and goes to The Woman, raping her.
Only trouble is, the wife was not asleep at all.
Calm is maintained, until an inquisitive teacher from his elder daughter's school comes to visit, when all manner of madness ensues.

Cheap as chips in terms of production, the first hour or so has the real feel of a Hallmark movie or the like. Everything is muted, reigned in, wasting opportunity after opportunity to really traumatise the viewer.
Then the final act kicks in, and the director unleashes the beast within, with much bloodshed, tearing of flesh, and general behaviour befitting a true demoniac.
An intriguing one, then, with some interesting concepts explored, though rendered a little flat to begin with, this is still worth sticking with for the balls out ending.
Liked it.

3 out of 5

Friday, 13 January 2012

The Crazies (2010) Dir: Breck Eisner

Yet another remake of a horror classic, this one came out of nowhere, really, as few outside the circle of true horror fans are likely to have even heard of the original.

The plot:
A college baseball team are mid-game when onto the field of play wanders a local, known to be slightly eccentric. Thought to be drunk, the town's Sheriff approaches, only for the man to point a shotgun at him.
Instinctively, the Sheriff shoots him point blank.
Assuming alcohol to be the cause for his behaviour, the Sheriff is surprised when the toxicology report indicates no alcohol in his bloodstream.
Next, an ordinary family man sets fire to the family home, with wife and children inside.
So begins a sequence of events that will see the town quarantined, as an unknown virus contaminates the population, the government unprepared to answer any questions, intent instead upon eradicating the problem via a Scorched Earth policy.
Can the Sheriff and his family get out alive?

George Romero's original is oft hailed as a cult classic, but that is stretching it a little. Overly long, bloated and amateurish in places, the remake strips away all the fat, trims the story right down to the bone and focuses on one man's struggle against seemingly impossible odds.
And, say it quietly, folks: it's better than the source material.
Gone are the prolonged sequences where nothing really happens.
Gone are the overtly political exchanges of dialogue that really take you nowhere.
All replaced, but replaced for the better, by nought but tension and fear.
Just how would you react if your town was cut off from the rest of civilisation, and you were forced to fight enemies both beyond and within the boundary of the quarantine?
Decent performances, the odd moment of gore, and an occasional spot of the old ultra-violence, this is perhaps unique amongst remakes in that it only serves to improve upon the original.
I feel slightly ashamed of myself, now......

4 out of 5

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Primal (2010) Dir: Josh Reed

Australian horror, here, from debut feature director Josh Reed.

The plot:
Six friends head into a remote region of The Outback, one of them preparing a thesis on Aboriginal cave paintings, the site selected as it features a cave with some early examples of the art form which, so the story goes, have not been see for several hundred years.
Arriving and setting camp, it's not long before things start to go awry.
Mel, the liveliest of the bunch, goes skinny dipping, only to emerge covered in leeches. Soon after, she is a-fevered, and the group assume an allergic reaction to the leeches' anti-coagulants.
Before the night is out, Mel's normal teeth have fallen out, and fangs have grown in their place and, more disturbingly still, she appears to have a taste for raw flesh.
And what's with all the insects eating everything in sight?

Haven't seen many Australian horrors, but the ones I have tend to be pretty bloodthirsty and pretty low budget, and both factors are true here, also.
With a reasonably competent set of actors, the implausibility of the scenario is easily overlooked and, with some stylish directorial flourishes, the action bounces along at a fair old clip.
True, it only just has the legs to sustain the relatively brief run time - about 80 minutes - but I'm never one to complain about brevity as far too many movies outstay their welcome.
If a bit of gory, shrieky, Aussie mayhem sounds like it might float your boat check this out.
At the very least, you'll probably enjoy the script because, let's face it, no-one swears as well as an Australian.
Entertaining, then.

4 out of 5

Puppet Master (1989) Dir: David Schmoeller

Written by Charles Band, a man who has forged a career out of straight to video, low budget horror, a huge proportion of which deal with killer dolls of one form or another.
This is probably his most famous effort.

The plot:
It's 1939, and a master puppeteer, Andre Toulon, is applying the final coat of paint on his latest creation, a living puppet. Around him, other puppets appear animate. Suddenly, unwelcome arrivals: Nazi's. as the door is broken down, Toulon places a pistol in his mouth and pulls the trigger.
Present day, and a psychic sensitive begins to 'feel' things. Drawn to an old house in Bodega Bay, the psychic invites a motley collection of imbeciles along to help him figure out what secrets the house holds, little realising that the legend of the puppet master lives on and that, by meddling, they will be awakening forces they cannot possibly understand.

Straight to video, this one, but don;t let that put you off.
as with the sequels, this has real charm.
The killer dolls themselves are great creations: Leech woman, Blade, Pinhead and co. putting their particular talents to murderous use in reasonably inventive style.
In terms of quality movie-making, well, don;t hold your breath, cos there's none of that here, but to expect that would be entirely missing the point.
Cheesy, and by God it knows it is, this is just about enjoying the ride and, truthfully, not thinking too hard about anything that is taking place as even the most cursory amount of scrutiny would spew forth a kidney bowl full of plot holes and logical flaws.
So forget all that.
Turn the lights out, lock the door, sit back and enjoy.
Just make sure you've locked away all the kids toys before you do.

4 out of 5

Watchmen (2009) Dir: Zack Snyder

Based on the Alan Moore graphic novel, a work that Terry Gilliam declared unfilmable when he had a bash at it - that's right, Terry Baron Munchhausen, Twelve Monkeys, Brazil, Time Bandits Gilliam - Zack Snyder seemed an unlikely choice to achieve the impossible.

The plot:
In an alternate reality, Russia and America teeter on the brink of nuclear Armageddon. A huge, metaphorical nuclear clock points at five minutes to midnight and, should the hour strike, Western civilisation will end.
An unlikely band of superheroes, each getting on a bit, may be all that stands in the way of total war, but here there are complications, too, not the least of which is Dr. Manhattan, a nuclear physicist who, by virtue of a terrible accident, can now bend time and space to his will.
When the women he loves rejects him, Manhattan vanishes.
But has he gone for good, or could he possibly be planning to wreak a terrible revenge?

There's more to it than that, much more, as this is multi-layered and complex, apparently in keeping with the source material, something I am yet to read.
With a runtime verging on the three hour mark, it was with some trepidation that I approached this movie, but my fears were groundless as, with a style and verve that belied the fact that the same director brought us last year's execrable Sucker Punch, this deftly manoeuvres from all out action, to political intrigue, to scenes of tenderness, however brief.
Dazzling to look at - seriously, some of the effects here just knock your socks off - this has just about everything going for it.
It's violent, too, reminiscent at times of the simply excellent counter-culture celebration that was Kick Ass.
By far the best of the Alan Moore adaptations - V for Vendetta is all but unwatchable, and From Hell fares little better - this is one that the author could be proud of but, as is his wont, he choose to remove his name from the project, the eccentric old curmudgeon.
Snyder's best film, and one of the best comic book adaptations out there, this is a must watch.

5 out of 5