Friday, 24 December 2010

One last one... MERRY BLACK CHRISTMAS!!!

I've gone blog crazy!!! So I shall stop after this one and take a bit of a breather (I might get one out before New Years, but we'll have to see). I just thought that for the time that is in it, it'd be better to end for the moment on a more time of year appropriate. So, if anyone out there is like me and enjoys watching horror films on Christmas day as much as any time of the year, but hate people judging you or going 'What the hell are we watching? It's Christmas, for Christ's sake!!', here is the middle ground: the very acceptable Black Christmas.

A remake of a 70s slasher that didn't really do it for me, this 2006 slick horror fare caught me by surprise. I initially watched it last January for reference for a film, expecting to pure hate it. To my delight, it was a complete dark horse!

Set in a college sorority house at Christmas time during a snow storm, hot college girls are butchered one by one by either a monster or a psycho boyfriend bent on revenge. Simple plot, simple characters, but I'll be damned if it wasn't one of the few times such shallow concepts came together to make a genuinely fun film. It's not as smart as Scream, but has a certain amount of its tongue in cheek humour. The kills are clever, you never know who is next, you spend time guessing why what is happening is happening, and all the while, the thing looks beautiful and is acted perfectly (ie. over the top).

Not groundbreaking, but it is difficult to find a good genre film set at Christmas, and this is easily my favourite (OK, behind Gremlins). Critics hated it, and I can see why, but it is what it is. It's fodder, but fodder you can enjoy again and again. This is one I'd recommend getting a hold of to enjoy during the holiday season in different ways (I mean by yourself, with friends, whatever. Nothing dirtier!!). So, without further ado, below is the trailer (which features a lot of stuff not in the film, but at least you get an idea) and I would like to wish you and yours a very merry Christmas!! Enjoy!!!



6 Albums From Big Artists You Plain Ignored

Plenty of lists are going to do the rounds about what was great and what wasn't from this year, but I am far too out of touch to have listened to any real popular music of the past 12 months, so instead I thought I would give my view on 6 albums for 6 well known bands/artists that people just seem to have ignored, whether this is due to paying more attention to 'better' albums or poor promotion is debatable.

I rarely will write about music, but there are a few albums I think are fantastic that many people just haven't heard or haven't appreciated. Music is one of those very subjective subjects(I am into the hard rock side myself), so it's akin to chasing a tail when saying what is good or what is not, but for what it's worth, here are 6 albums I think you just plain ignored.

6. JOHNNY CASH - A HUNDRED HIGHWAYS
Some quick (wiki) research shows this album is actually one of only two number ones for the man in black. Still, I thought it got little fanfare or attention (at least on this side of the pond). Being released shortly after Cash's death, the album is a tear jerker to say the least. I'm sure it was programmed to be this way, but it almost reads as his own eulogy. The highlight is the track God's Gonna Cut You Down, seemingly a self-reflective piece about a man with a troubled life.

5. QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE - ERA VULGARIS
I quite like QOTSA, but didn't listen to anything beyond Songs For The Deaf for years, so I was able to experience Lullabies to Paralyze and Era Vulgaris in the same week. I have to say, though I am quite into the sound that Lullabies to Paralyze promised, it just didn't deliver. It felt weak and repetitive, which cannot be said for this amazingly eclectic follow-up. Apparently inspired by a drive through Hollywood, the album is a mixture of odd industrial beats and out of tune guitars. It reeks of sarcasm and is mockingly hip to boot. A party album to knock parties!

4. KORN - SEE YOU ON THE OTHER SIDE
This one seems to split Korn fans considerably. Do you go for the original raw-sounding Korn of the 90s, or this revamped technoesque beat showcase? I really like the bands first album and am very into the latest album (Remember Who You Are), but find this to be the breaking ground in a band that was running stagnant. It gets a bit repetitive, but the repetitiveness comes out of a loop of bizarreness. It's a break from their original sound and is a peak of creative effort (before they 'went back to their roots'). Highlight: Coming Undone: An unusual marching beat mixed with straight forward vocals. Hard not to headbang with.

3. SEPULTURA - NATION
You could say I wrote this blog just to mention this album. Brazilian thrash metal band Sepultura have gone through so many changes member wise and sound wise it is hard to keep track of, but I feel this album was dismissed because many fans were still resentful of the change of singers from Max Cavalera to Derrick Green. I'll be honest, I find them two different bands completely and think this album should be taken on its own merit. It has a host of guest singers, which doesn't particularly inspire me, but seems to work in context. This is one of the few albums that has had a constant theme and tone throughout that has worked so well. I recently started to appreciate some of the hard driving tracks like Reject for what they are; brutal anthems with adventurous intentions. If you can get a hold of the deluxe edition, it's well worth it. None of the following albums have lived up to this diverse fist pumper. Also, listen to Sepulnation and Disturbed's Ten Thousand Fists and try ignore the similarities!

2. SATURDAY NIGHT WRIST - DEFTONES
The recent release of Diamond Eyes seems to have brought a lot of people back to the Deftones camp, but a lot of people seem to think there is a gap of ten years music wise between that and White Pony. I'll be honest, I think the musical output during those years was considerably different and not as catering to a mainstream audience, but a potential masterpiece has been lost among yells of a disaster. Saturday Night Wrist is dynamic, experimental, hard hitting and original in almost every sense. Just when you are about to get bored with the album, it turns on the screw. Songs go from hard rock to speed metal to anthems to electro without warning. If this was someones first experience of the Deftones, you could understand them being intimidated. Most bad albums are bad because they latch on to an idea and drag it out, whereas this album almost has the exact opposite problem. It's well known the band almost broke up during its making and a lot of people dismissed the album as a moneymaker owing to this. However, much like Metallica's St. Anger, I think this is what makes the album all that more meaningful. It is a snapshot of a bad time and encapsulates the anger and confusing perfectly. Who has never had a bad time? And I'm not saying this album is a bad time sonically. It is thumping and foreboding on every level. This is the so underrated (even by the band) that it really is disappointing.

1. MARILYN MANSON - EAT ME, DRINK ME
The 'shock rocker's most personal album takes the number one because I am almost sure a lot of people don't know it exists. The effort came out over here in a hush and seemed to disappear the same way, whereas the next album had much todo about it. Coming on the heels of his breakup with Dita Von Teese and affair with Evan Rachel Wood, Manson delivers a shocking piece, but in a different way. Made by essentially two men (Manson on vocals and Tim Skold on music), the album at all times feels intimate. There are no anthems like The Beautiful People or Fight Song, but instead we get epics like Putting Holes In Happiness. There is almost a homemade feel to the piece (I say piece because album doesn't feel appropriate). It's like one mans diary exposed to the world, and it echoes what most of us feel about different situations in our own lives. You need someone as characteristic as Manson to deliver some potentially cringy lines, so we can hear it and accept. Skold's music is just as stripped down and emotional as Manson. Guitars are the forefront, with a very staccato and eerie pulse throughout. There are even solos, which are delivered in the style of many past rockers, but take on new life in a downtrodden Goth rocker's memoirs. There are no bad tracks on the album, and there are too many good ones to single out (but fuck it, Evidence and the title track are my favourites). A video was released for Heart Shaped Glasses, which was one of the more disappointing tracks, even though it works well in context of the album. This is a change for Manson, one which he all but abandoned for his next album. It is personal and reflective, not just for him, but anyone who hears it. Please enjoy!

     

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Dialing Satan. Satan, are you there? A look at 976-EVIL and DEVIL

Back to the films.

I've had a nice bit of thematic continuity this week by watching a lot of Satan-related films and thought it'd be as good a time as any to make a quick mention of them (I actually wanted to write about the new Ju-On Grudge films I saw, but I need to finish the second one before I go there!).

So, we all know that there are many films that directly relate to Mr. Lucifer himself. Some of these are well executed classics (Rosemary's Baby, The Exorcist and The Omen the obvious choices), and some not so well executed (Exorcist 2: The Heretic and The previously debased Last Exorcism). If you are like me, you are very picky with these kind of films. Just today, I watched an exposé about J-horror (Japanese horror films) that hypothesised that the reason these horrors were so new and exciting for Western audiences is that Japanese horror stories revolve around a culture of the supernatural that you cannot escape, whereas the Eurocentric/Americans have a moral cause-and-effect theme (you do something bad, you suffer) with the evil typically being overcome and a lesson learned (it might depress you how many films fit this criteria).

It makes complete sense that a film about our cultures biggest tempter can either be effective or a complete lame duck. I like to think that the Big Red Fella is not some chump who can be tricked by the common man (where's the threat in that?) so a lot of these films that try to conclude with the a-typical overcoming and moral lesson really flatline with me. The Exorcist is so effective because it is both something that cannot be controlled (a young girl being possessed by a demon) and it even gives a moral lesson without dumbing it down (the ending is a sacrifice and choice, but for the right and uplifting reasons). The original Amityville Horror is a turd because the family run away from their haunted house and, through their love, get through their experience (OK, Amityville isn't exactly a film about the devil, but I ran short on good examples!). An audience needs to be put through the choices the characters have to make while dealing with Beelzebub, that is my point. We need to see justice and right and wrong, but more importantly, we need to see the possibility of redemption. This is where lesser Satan films fail (except Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey, of course). It is how epically they fail and if it is worth the experience that needs to be looked at. And that somehow leads me in to this review of 976-EVIL.

This 1988 horror is directed by none other than Freddy Kruger himself, Robert Englund. This virtue drew me to watch the films years ago and a recent Deftones song bearing the same name drew me back to it. This is around the time of balls-to-the-wall horrorfests like A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 and Evil Dead 2 and you'd expect such an icon as Mr. Englund to provide something to satisfy our blood lust. Look elsewhere!

The skinny is a young rebel without a cause (and the excellent name of Spike) finds the number for a novelty phone line that gives you a 'horrorscope', which turns out to be from the devil. He tries discard the number but his geeky cousin (brilliantly named Hoax) finds it and becomes addicted to the predictions, which quickly begin to dispatch with those he seeks revenge on, with the trade off being that he must essentially be the embodiment of evil and carry out these despicable acts (we are shown at several stages that those who don't follow through are struck down by the evil one).

The film is no big thrills. I just wanted to mention it because I'd seen it and am sure there is probably a lot of people unaware of it. For those who are curious, it is worth a peek. The first hour is good, what with some of the most odd acting (intentional, don't worry!) and a potentially strong storyline keeping it afloat. The last act just breaks down into typical horror fare and is only worth watching if you care about what happens to the characters (I personally became disinterested, but meh). Robert Englund definitely set out to make a horror different to the then-current offerings. It's almost like what John Waters might do with a horror. It's quite campy and it knows it. I can't quite call it a guilty pleasure, but I will say it was a bit of a laugh. I think a good drinking game could revolve around this film.

If anyone's seen Wes Craven's Shocker, it reminded me of this film, though this was by far better, if that means anything. This film is nearly forgotten, but should be in the pile of cheap DVDs for an 80s horrorthon.



Now to modern day, we have Devil.

Produced by M. Night Shamalamdamagamadana... in what is the first of a supposed trilogy of urban horror films, I have to say, this is a decent start. Now, let me put my view here in perspective: I liked The Happening. It was good B-Movie fare. Don't get me wrong, I see the problems everyone else sees (Marky Mark as a teacher? I'm pretty sure I read a quote where he didn't even believe it! and don't get me started on Leguizamo), but horror has a bad habit of getting into a pattern of taking itself too seriously. Films like this need to be made just to balance out all the Case 39s and Orphans (yeah, I found both are awful... sorry...). With that in mind, I will quickly dissect the piece in question and essentially say that Devil, while not earth-shattering, is part of its own deserving subgenre.

Devil is about five strangers who get trapped in an elevator, which the building maintenance cannot open. People start dying and nearby police (who were investigating an apparent suicide) are called in to try figure out what's going on. There is an early narration to let us know we are about to see a morality tale involving the king of the underworld (and if you didn't get it from that, the film is called Devil), and plot points about the shady acts of each of these people come to light so everyone is a suspect while we try figure out which one is the Devil just screwing around.

I won't reveal more than this as it will give away the suspense and prevent you from saying 'What a tweest!' (Robot Chicken anyone? No? Ok...). Needless to say, if I had to explain why I liked The Happening, you can see where I'm going with this. This film is ham-fisted at best, with important plot details thrown at us in dribs and drabs to keep us questioning. This can be effective, but this film isn't the one to do that. The basic idea of five strangers trapped in an elevator, with one of them actually being the Devil, is such a great plot device and should have brought a claustrophobic intensity and character driven piece with it, but alas, we have Devil. But take it for what it's worth. It knows it is a B-movie. It could have been more, but it doesn't try to be.

I think a lot of people were frustrated by such a great idea under-performing, but when you get over that, you find a film that just wants to entertain. It is pure popcorn. Like I mentioned, it is a subgenre in itself. Think of it like the array of nuclear monster movies from the 50s. Just instead of big bugs, we get supernatural suspense. I went in to this film knowing it was going to let me down (when compared to the trailer anyway), but I got over that and enjoyed a film with enough character and plot development to keep me in, and shot well enough to stand along any big budget bad boys.

If I could recommend one film to see this year, it isn't Devil (but you knew that. It wasn't even in my top 18). But if you want an easy horror fix, you could go a lot worse (again, Case 39, what the fuck!?!). Like Frozen, a far superior simple premised piece, this film builds on a basic fear (here, being trapped in an elevator), but doesn't go far enough to evoke any lasting reaction (the aforementioned Frozen is well worth seeing for this reason, props to Joey). I actually had to Wikipedia the film to precisely remember the ending. But think of it like the B-film it is. You know it is going to at least try deliver on an entertainment level that an A-film would be too serious to attempt.

Final recommendation? Both films are worth checking out, particularly for guilty pleasure or a dumb movie night with friends. However, maybe wait until their prices are nice and cheap!






Eventually I will figure out how to link this thing to the UK Amazon properly!

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Blinkbox: Why You Should Care

Alrighty, time to step away from giving armchair reviews about movies and do something far more interesting: give an armchair review about a movie site!

If you are on the internet with any regularity, chances are you break the law on a regular basis. And I'm not talking about downloading here. I mean simple streaming, including sites like YouTube. We could go on for days about if or not we the viewer should be held accountable for watching the content offered before us (my view? Probably not), but the real matter at hand here is that as long as there is an internet, there will be ways to view content that we maybe should not be able to sample. And I don't know about you, but I sometimes feel a certain amount of guilt about this.

I don't like being labelled a pirate or thief or whatnot. I share content I have created myself and take full advantage of those innovative few who use the ease of transferring data as a tool for advertising (obvious examples include musicians such as Trent Reznor and Korn. In my ignorance, I only really know about the free music, but I am positive there are so many different mediums out there). All my spare money goes into DVDs, Blu-Rays and CDs. If I like a film, I will let the world know, and vice-versa if I don't. All in all, I am the average consumer and function as such. I enjoy  films/music/art and many corporations provide me with the stimuli. But the internet has thrown a curve-ball into the mix. I'll argue it is nearly impossible not to engage in what is considered illegal copyright infringement for most web surfers. I go by the broad definitions that the trigger-happy RIAA and MPAA seem to go by. I'm not a bad person, nor are the many people that seem to be the targets of the action these bodies. I truly feel I balance what ever wrongness I may do by my purchases and informative word of mouth. To ham-fistedly segue-way into what I want to discuss, there is a new player in town that may be helping to meet me, the modern internet user (who has no intention of ruining lives but is in no way immune to the limitless information/entertainment at my finger tips) and the studios (who may discover a new business model aside from 'sue your client' effective) halfway. This peacemaker is called Blinkbox.

I became familiar with Blinkbox through the ads at the side of my blog (it might only be visible in the UK, but google that shit anyway) and, being the curious moo I am, decided to make sure nothing completely inappropriate was lining up near my typings. Sure enough, this website is essentially an online video store. Here, you can download or stream a variety of films that you can either rent or buy. I'm not sure if there are many British websites offering this at the moment (there MUST be plenty of American ones), but it stands out to me for its lovely little unique selling point: the website offers a plethora of films for free streaming.

Now, there is a catch with this as you may imagine. About every 10 minutes, you are subjected to about 3 advertisements (that seem disproportionately louder than the film you're watching) and the films are only for free for a temporary time (I have only discovered the site over the last few days, but I assume this is true). But I've got to say, this is not exactly an unfair trade off. The site has many films I know for a fact are good, and plenty that are rubbish, but at least I found this out for free! I haven't rented or bought a film yet, but it seems to be an ad-free version of the film for streaming or download. It is DRM-protected, which I will get to in a moment.

If the advert is at the side of my blog, I encourage you to check out Blinkbox, but if not, just go search it out. It is such an interesting site and while perusing it, I got the impression it was designed with actually users in mind, so it has a load of handy features like easily categorizing things and saving films you want to check back on later. As of the moment I am writing this, it also has George A. Romero's DAY OF THE DEAD for free streaming. FREE! ZOMBIES!!! Come on, how is that not the most amazing thing since sliced bread!? So please check it out.

(A quick side not: I am not sure if it is against the rules for me to talk about advertisers on my blog, but I think I am singing enough praise and shooting sunbeams enough for it to only be an advantage. If not, I'd hope someone will politely tell me and I will alter this *hinthint*)

However, this fantastic site that caught my attention so much made me think hard about why sites like this don't rule the roost. The obvious answer is: people will not pay for content. I'll be honest, I find many reasons that this is true and also right, but I'll stay my tongue on that for now. But the website offers free content on a rotation basis, that's good, right? It is, but we live in an age where people can have what they want when they want. But the films here are actually decent pieces, not C-Movie fare I have never heard of. Could a site like this not co-exist with the illegal sites, where it can fill the needs of those who would chose the legal alternative if it was available? Well, they might do. I would. But when I said the site was a bridge between us and them, I should have said that it is an incomplete bridge.

The idea is that the site can offer these films for free because they generate revenue by placing adverts in the film, like television. I thought to myself 'oh ok, I can accept that. Sure, it's all good otherwise'. However, I have abandoned films that have failed to immerse me because of these ads. Normally, I might watch the entire film, even if it's sub par, because it's such a minimal effort on my behalf, but by placing ads in the films, I suddenly feel I am doing work. It's stupid, I know, but it's how I feel. And I think everyone else will too. I loaded a film towards its last act and had to watch about 15 ads before it started, but you know what? I managed that. That didn't bother me. But then the ads within the film happened again. And that bugged me.

I have thought up what I think may be a better mode of operation (and everyone is going to listen to me...). Placing ads intermittently throughout the film made it too much like television, but the beauty of online video is that it is video on DEMAND, as in, when I want it. It is far easier to withstand a larger quantity of ads at the top of a film than it is to watch many ads throughout. I'm not sure if having a bunch of ads around the halfway point would work or not either, but less frequent but longer ad breaks are far easier to maneuver than these 'ad-bombs' we see now. Maybe I'm wrong, but if everyone in the world was like me, this would certainly make the legal streaming content that much more appealing (seeing as the ad advertises it as legal streaming, they know there are people like me out there).

Now about the downloads I mentioned earlier. I haven't yet had a chance to try this, but research (what the...) has shown that a downloaded film is DRM protected, which is basically a way of making sure you can't share the film with everyone and can only play it on the one computer. The prices on the site are quite fair, but I stopped in my tracks when I saw the limits of the DRM. I watch films off my laptop into a monitor, which is fine, but the DRM means that I cannot watch the film off Ally's laptop and monitor at hers. Nor can I make sure I have a backup if my computer hits the skids (as it seems to be doing more and more frequently). The cost of a certain film I was looking at is about the same as the DVD and seeing as there are no special features on the disc, I considered the download. What stopped me is the age-old argument that so many people are throwing around the net at the mo: it wouldn't feel right because I didn't have a physical copy of the film. I was willing to try downloading the film which is a big step for me as I am an avid DVD collector so I salivate over fancy boxes (the same goes for CDs. I have downloaded some music legally, but considerably miss the cases and artwork), but this lack of control over my purchase made me stop.

I guess what I am getting at, in a very long-winded way, is that if I am to give up physically having a film, I should at least still have the same control over it that I would have otherwise. I don't want to be a slave to my entertainment. There are thousands of people committed to making sure this doesn't happen. If businesses don't want to play friendly with us, we have no obligation to them (though there is that guilt, damn it!). And in terms of streaming, the computer is not a television. I can accept banner ads and ads placed with the video, but by mimicking watching a film on the TV, I have completely lost patience as there are so many alternatives.  Blinkbox is brilliant. I think everyone should check it out. I have ripped at its biggest flaws in my eyes, but as I said, it is still a bridge. This site should be encouraged. Maybe an employee will read this and go 'hmm... there are some interesting points here' (probably not, because no one reads my shit!) and they will change and we will be witness to a company that are doing what the others just aren't: thinking about their clients.

Right, that's done! To wrap up, I again cannot say enough good things about the site. Currently, my favourite is that it is showing Day Of The Dead. Easily the darkest of George's zombie films, it is almost the best, in my humble opinion. You are dared watch a film where there are no heroes and everyone seems like a jerk. This is the true end of the world, and it's in splendid Savini gory detail! So, click through to Blinkbox, grab a drink and some nibbles, and enjoy this decayed and monstrous cinematic masterpiece!

Sunday, 12 December 2010

You MUST Know What I Think! Best of 2010

Well, it is quickly nearing the end of the year, snow is falling, presents are being bought, and end of year lists are about to spring up.

Get ready for it, for I am going to add my very own list to an already overpopulated area. There is no real reason I need to do this besides the fact that I just enjoy putting my opinion about films out there. What follows is not the opinion of someone reviewing professionally or for the people. These are simply my thoughts and feelings on the films that have been released over the last year. I like to think that some of my views are different than the general consensus and it would be interesting to see what people think of a bit of a peculiar sorting.

Looking back on it, it has been a bad year for horror, and not been particularly fantastic for cinema in general (with exceptions), which is why there are only 18 films on the list. I was hoping to do 20, but what can you do? I don't want to discuss films I didn't enjoy!

I won't lie, there are MANY films I haven't seen yet (Despicable Me and Mastermind being some very blatant examples) and since it isn't the end of the tear yet, there are a few still to go that I am very excited about (I'm looking at you, Tron Legacy). This list really stands as my favourite films this year so far.

So, sit back, get your reading glasses on and enjoy the ramblings of a sore-backed film geek.

18. BURIED
A fantastic film centered around the basic premise of a man being kidnapped by terrorists and buried alive in a coffin. The hook of the film is that we never leave the coffin. All our contact with the outside world is done through a cell phone and any setup and exposition is given to us in real time (so we only know what we are told). Lagging in parts and with some questionable plot points, the film is tense, heart-wrenching and just a good idea. Not something I'll probably view again anytime soon, but definitely worth the time I gave to it.

17. THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE (First Sequence)
An extremely disgusting concept (a mad scientist surgically attaching three people together mouth to ass to make a human digestive track, or human centipede) presented in a shockingly conservative way. You watch a film like this so you can go 'I watched a film where people had their asses sown to people's mouths and had to eat their shit', to which most people go 'ugg...', but those who have seen it know better. There is very little in terms of gore or gross-out moments, which I know some people hated the film for, but I personally think this makes it that much more reputable. It's well acted and seriously shot, with a story that keeps you with it fairly well. Think Misery, but in German and with a mad scientist.

16. KICK-ASS
Good and fun, and I actually liked Nicolas Cage in this, which is a rare feat for me. The basic story is a kid trying to be a real life superhero, but ends up beaten for it, with ironically gives him nerve damage, which is science for invincibility. He goes back to crime-fighting to find himself over his head between the mafia and a revenge-bent vigilante. Not a perfect film and not the best kid superhero film of the year (see below for that), but it got the adrenaline going and dealt with the idea of a superhero in the real world in an accessive way. There was some controversy over the 10-year old girl character using the word 'cunt' and having her dress in revealing outfits, but I actually didn't notice this when I saw the film. My attention was captivated more by the intensely unexpected graphic violence she commits. I gotta say, I am shocked at what the 'moral keepers' were in uproar about. In my view, their priorities were completely wrong. Also, films are films and are not real, so stop getting so uptight over violence/sex/swearing.

15. CLASH OF THE TITANS
Leave me alone, I enjoyed it. It's dumb, but it's fun dumb. There's bad acting and a kind of predictable plot, but there are also fantastic giant monsters and epic battles. It's like the kind of story you'd hear around the campfire. It's fast-paced, it has all the usual elements needed, it's in no way complicated, and it has Liam Neeson! When I want to switch off and enjoy something, this is it. On a side note, I saw it in 3D, which was such a waste of money. The 2 dimensions of the DVD are more than enough for this lad.

14. PREDATORS
I'm more into the Alien franchise, but will always have a place in my heart for Predator. The idea was that this would be to what Aliens was to Alien, but it doesn't really do this. What it does do is present you with some fun. It's the definition of a B-movie really. The filmmakers obviously love the original films and give them nods, which any fan will appreciate. I'm quite a big Robert Rodriguez fan, so that helps. The film lags considerably in the middle, and I don't know if I ever really buy Adrian Brody as a soldier, but it doesn't matter. It has one of my favourite openings of all time (abrupt, engaging, bold) and a decent climax. Visually, it's also easy to enjoy (probably the nicest stuff since Avatar).


13. THE SOCIAL NETWORK
Brilliant soundtrack and good script, but this film just doesn't live up to the hype people had for it. The story of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg really felt like half a film to me. It was pointed out to me that since it is a true story, there really isn't any end yet, but as a film, it felt kept building and building and just ended unsatisfactory (insert sex joke). In fairness to the film, the acting is brilliant, as is the cinematography, and it certainly didn't feel like a two hour running time. It just feels like it was a good film that could have been great if it had delivered on what it had been setting up. Still recommended (it's No. 14 and in a list of my favourite films, duh!).


12. IRON MAN 2
Robert Downey Jr. Need I say more? Not really an intelligent film, and is borderline cluttered in terms of characters and plots, but very enjoyable. Also, probably Mickey Rourke's only good role since The Wrestler.


11. SAW 3D
The final film in the bloody franchise. It's a massive step above the 2 previous films and has some genuinely stomach turning moments (and that's something coming from me!). The opening scene is nothing short of epic, and the plot throughout the film just worked for me. It's pretty forumalic in comparison to previous installments, but has enough added substance to keep you hooked. There were also some very good jumps, which I had all but given up on from modern horror films. The only downfalls for me was the sadly predictable outcome of the people in the traps (honestly, would some variation have killed you?) and the big ending feels somewhat rushed and tacked on. Still, one of the few good horrors of the year.


10. RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE
Right, these films are as braindead as the zombies in them (wow, that may be the height of my wit). The film delivers on the vast epic zombie idea that was covered poorly in the second installment in the franchise. Characters are cliché, the plot 'borrows' heavily from other films and you can't really relate to these characters who seem too dumb to open a cereal box, but fuck it. Milla Jovovich is shooting zombies and other assorted creatures while A Perfect Circle plays in the background. I enjoy these films a lot, but it has always bugged me that such a brilliant scary horror video game inspired these mainly sci-fi centered action fares.


9. INCEPTION
The big 'intelligent' film of the year. When you think about it for a few moments, there are quite a few plot holes and inconsistencies, but it is a high concept idea that pretty much pays off. It's Heat meets A Nightmare On Elm Street, if you will. Recommended, but beware, a film that could have been a classic undermines itself horrible in the final few frames.


8. THE A-TEAM
I was fearing seeing this film, but oh God, how wrong I was. Based on the 80s TV show of the same name, the film is completely in the spirit of its source material. The characters feel like modern day representations of those that we have known and loved for years. It knows it's a throwback, and it plays it perfectly, as opposed to The Dukes of Hazzard, which was insulting in its stupidity. There was a triple threat of action films with this, The Expendables and The Losers, and this just delivers. Like the original show, it isn't going to break new ground, but I'll be damned if it isn't fun to watch Hannibal chomp down on the cigar once again.


7. THE CRAZIES
Based on the George Romero film that I am quite a fan of, this film goes the Dawn Of The Dead approach and is only loosely based on its original counterpart. It's kind of like what The Happening should have been. There is a pandemic on a massive scale, and what people do to keep away from it is just engaging. Easily one of the best horror remakes out there, and I think it crosses over into the action genre to become accessible. It'll probably be forgotten in the mass of remakes that are in the market, but it is beautifully shot and well executed. Its style feels big budget yet quaint at the same time (surely intentional, owing to its setting). Easy, but intelligent on a certain level at the same time.


6. PIRANHA 3D
If you are a horror film fan and haven't seen this film, get your hands on it now! See my previous blog for more thoughts on it.


5. SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD
THE best superhero film of the year, hands down. I hated the trailers and wasn't familiar with the comics, so I can relate to why no one else saw this film either, but Ally and I took a chance and saw it. The second the opening logo was in 8-bit video game style, I knew I'd have to review my opinion. There is no other film like this. Director Edgar Wright made something new and that should be seen by everyone. Whereas Kick-Ass is kind of riské, this is quite accessible. It's insane in its style, its music, its characters, everything! When I left the cinema, I suddenly knew I had another Serenity on my hands ie. a fantastic film that no one will see. I know it bombed and to be honest, the fanboys, who campaigned for it and the studio (and Edgar Wright) depended on to see it, failed the film. It should have at least been Zombieland levels of attention. Again, I blame the inactive fanboys. And the trailer. The trailer sucked.


4. SHUTTER ISLAND
I have not seen any films this year as much as I have seen this film. It has so many layers and more things become apparent on repeated viewings. It's actually pretty predictable, but the filmmakers know this and don't care. You are there for the loop-the-loop, not when you exit the cart. The film feels flat visually in places, which ties in with the era and contents of the story. It's a film that has all the hallmarks of a forgettable piece of drivel (see Gothika) with its asylum setting and missing persons plot, but Scorsese shows why he is the master. This is a film that people will watch years from now and go wow.


3. THE GHOST
Polanski shows everyone how it's done. This is a thriller in the classic sense of the term. There is no big action, no people going from being ordinary joes to James Bond for the sake of the plot, and is utterly believable. Pierce Brosnan pretty much plays Tony Blair while Ewan McGregor is a journalist ghostwriting his autobiography. Ewan is replacing a previous writer who died under mysterious circumstances and uncovers a potential conspiracy. The acting is solid, the plot is griping and Roman takes risks visually that new filmmakers could learn a thing or two from. One very long shot towards the end had me so tense I may have strained a muscle. The film is thrilling in a captivating way, not a boom-boom way, and is all the better for it.


2. SPLICE
Right, I have a soft spot for director Vincenzo Natali, so I was always going to enjoy this film, but reviews and responses were so positive it looked like this was going to be his massive crossover hit and bring him to the big time of filmmaking. It didn't. The film centres around a couple of scientists creating a creature that is intended to be used for livestock replacement, but ends up being something far more interesting, which they decide they must protect. It gets much more complicated in all the right ways from there. I don't know if it's the fact it is a sci-fi horror or that it bares a somewhat similar plot to Species, but people have missed out. Spice is intelligent, brilliant technically, and asks moral questions of the viewer. David Cronenberg seems to have moved away from making body horror films now, and this is what is taking up the mantel, adequately, I may add. I don't want to say too much about it as I think this film (as with all the films on the list) should be experienced without spoilers. It's actually a bit like a modern day Frankenstein movie, adapted for the modern age. It poses questions we all should make ourselves think about, all the while giving us a brilliant film that can easily be enjoyed. Get Santa to bring you this, seriously.


1. TOY STORY 3
Was it ever going to be anything else, really? I saw the premiere of this film at the Galway Film Fleadh and met the writer afterwards. It doesn't happen often (unless you believe certain people) but this film had me on the verge of tears so often. Pixar deliver, we know that. The previous films were great, this one was bound to be at least alright. We should count our blessings that we got a film that obviously had a lot of thought go into it. This is not a sequel, it's the end of the story. I think what makes it so powerful is that those of us who grew up with Toy Story are roughly the same age as the toys owner Andy, and they are OUR toys in the film. We were kids during the first film. We were the teens beginning to grow out of our toys in the second. Now we are the people on the verge of adulthood having to decide what to do with our childhood. This is powerful stuff and is surely going to win an Oscar. Never at any time do you feel the filmmakers are trying to tug on your heartstrings. The characters are being themselves, with the filmmakers really just being a means to an end (I know that's not how it works, but bare with me). Change is difficult for anyone, and in these days, the world can be such an ominous place. It is whether or not the innocence of childhood is decimated or lovingly let go that this film really concerns itself with. There are reviews a plenty of the plot and what have you, but this is what I care about. This film hit home and is beautiful. Pixar once again prove cartoons are not just brain fodder for kids. Miss this film at your own risk.


   

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Jumping on the Band Wagon: Piranha 3D and The Last Exorcism

Seen as I enjoyed discussing The House on Haunted Hill, I thought I should mention some more films. I am very much into horror films, and am always interested to see people discussing them. Maybe someone will read this and it will spark some chat about the genre. I plan to look at some more overlooked films I think deserve a second chance in the future, but for now, I want to put my thoughts out there about two of the summers bigger horror fares. What I say will probably just echo the majority, but I have been watching a lot of films recently and these two represent extreme ends of the spectrum. These films are Piranha 3D and The Last Exorcism.

Piranha 3D represents all that is good about big budget horror. I have been a fan of Alexandre Aja for awhile now (Haute Tension, Hills Have Eyes remake and, yes, I even enjoyed Mirrors) and the first thing you get when you watch his films is that he os obviously a fan himself. This film is full of genre nods and references and presents itself in a manner that would make any fanboy stiff (hehe). The basic plot is an earthquake releases a prehistoric species of piranha from a subteranian lake, who proceed to massacre horny teens during spring break at the lake. Simple, but oh how well it works!

The film is of a technical high standard, so visually, there is nothing to subtract there. The colours pop and the scenary intrigues. What could have been the major downfall of this film is its simple and unoriginal plot, but this is where the fan side of Aja mentioned comes into full swing. This film isn't trying to take itself too seriously. It wants you to go 'what are you doing, you fool!?' and 'that sucka gonna get it'. This is its key selling point. There is a sadistic glee in watching people be morons and receive their comupents for it. You don't watch a film like this to be intellectually challenge, and frankly, it would be the downfall of the film if it tried to be what it was never going to be. This film (and the original on which it is based) is a parody of Jaws, and not in a Scary Movie kind of way. It is self-contained and a great film in its own right.

One of the few flaws of Piranha 3D is its CGI effects. The eponymous creatures just look flat out fake. There's no mincing words here. But the thing is, it just doesn't matter! It's like watching a Waner Bros. cartoon. Everything is so insane and over the top. If they looked real, we might question what we are witnessing and lose out on the fun we are being invited to. This fun cannot be understated. Film fans will probably get more out of this than your regular Joe Bloggs, but nothing is out of reach. The cameos make this film. One of the very first things we witness is Richard Dreyfuss essentially reprising his Jaws role. Eli Roth, horror wunderkid and purveyor of 'torture porn' (ug... don't start me on this phrase), plays a gleefully irritating role, and we all know what happens to irritating characters in a horror film! My biggest shock was seeing Christopher Lloyd. I thought he may have retired from film as I haven't really seen him in much, but no, here is is. It won't take you long to presume that Piranha 3D takes place in the same universe as Jaws and Back to the Future! There are many familiar faces on show here, in terms of the starring cast, I will give the award to Jerry O'Connell. He is almost playing a character that is just too perfect and grimy to be real. I applaud you, sir.

Apparently the film got good reviews from critics and that they understood the tone of the film. Thank god. It did well in the box office and will probably be responsible for a slew of inferior ripoffs. but I ain't complaining! Horror has, aside from the notable exception, been very boring for the last few years (a pattern that becomes apparent every few years). This film is hopefully the turn of that trend. This may be our generations Return Of The Living Dead.



Now to the complete flip side: The Last Exorcism.

Another Eli Roth production (not directed by though, please not that!), The Last Exorcism builds itself up to be a mix between The Exorcist and The Blair Witch Project (or do people say Paranormal Activity now?). I was very excited about the film for many reasons. One: I am a massive fan of found footage films (Cannibal Holocaust, Blair Witch, and the poorly acted but immensely entertaining Cloverfield). Two: I love the idea of a good exorcism film, with The Exorcist being a gateway into a darker world of horror for me. Three: I am a big Eli Roth fan (he goes right into the Alexandre Aja category of making a film a fan would enjoy). Four: For a moment, it looked like my short film, Lovely Dinner, was going to be in the same festival as The Last Exorcism was premiering in. Unfortunately, the film let me down in almost every regard.

If you've seen the trailer, you can see why this film was so exciting. It looked terrifying and had a simple but high potential plot (a reverend who is low on faith wants to do one last exorcism for a film crew to show them that it's all baloney, but then shit gets real) that could have made it one of the most terrifying horrors of recent memory. Unfortunately, it fell into more Exorcism of Emily Rose territory than Paranormal Activity. Allow me explain.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose was marketed essentially as a modern day Exorcist, but turned out to be little more than a slightly odd courtroom drama. This was frustrating as it was unexpected, but The Last Exorcisms tie to this is that it also is pretty much a lame duck. It isn't scary. At all. Anyone who has seen the one sheet should immediately be pissed off that the film contained no scenes of the possessed girl climbing on the ceiling. I understand the idea of the film being realistic, but it was marketed in a more balls-to-the-wall horror way. I didn't ever have reason to question if it was a real possession or not. I know the film tried to do this, but I honestly just didn't feel any intrigue. I think this may be an unfortunate result for any film about exorcism. Though it didn't hold up in my older age, The Exorcist is still the only good possession film I have seen (I am not counting things like the Evil Dead), with an intense straightness and just good and giving you chills. Maybe someone can point me on to some other good possession films, but so far, none have presented themselves to me.

Now, in terms of its found footage approach, it is shot well and acted appropriately, but this alone couldn't save the film. Standing out in the film, at home in any other typical film, is one of the biggest flaws of this piece: its score. Now, I am not saying it is a bad score. Far from it. I am a fan of Nathan Barr and could happily listen to his work in a thousand films. But this film is trying to present itself as an as-is documentary. This isn't Diary of the Dead, where we are aware the footage is cut together and music added for dramatic effect. This is more like Paranormal Activity or Blair Witch. The music took me right out of it, and sadly it had no other way of getting me back in.

There are plenty more problems with the final and very few saving graces (though, again, the acting and technical side is great. It is redoubtably story and the poor choice of non-diegetic sound that deflate a high potential film). Most critics reviews make mention of the poor ending. It's not that bad, but it is ripped right out of (and I say this without spoiling it) The Wicker Man. I know horror is famous for losing the plot (excuse the pun) by its last act and has been the downfall of many a film, so, even though the ending didn't do it for me, I could accept it and move on. It didn't ruin a good film and it certainly didn't make a bad one.

I, as always, could go on, but I really just wanted to make my opinion on two more recent and popular films known. Maybe if you want to relax back and watch one, you can take these musings into account (though neither are out on DVD/Blu-Ray until the new year!). Piranha is destined to be a good group film, perhaps mixed with pizza and beer, you will have some good fun, whereas The Last Exorcism is sadly forgettable (honestly, I wanted to like it. I really did). So, to close you out, save your time with The Last Exorcism and just watch its immense trailer and let your imagination create the story the filmmakers couldn't deliver.