Wednesday, 30 March 2011

RaimiFest: The Quick And The Dead

Currently my blogging rival (and I say that only in the most affectionate of terms, especially seeing how he just writes so much prettier than me) Bryce over at “Things That Don’t Suck” is currently holding “Raimifest”, a celebration of all things Sam Raimi and encouraging the blogging community to submit their opinions on the life and work of the man in question, so make sure you go check it out for some varied and great musings on all things Raimi! Title: The Quick and The Dead Director: Sam Raimi Released: 1995 Staring: Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman, Russell Crowe, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobin Bell, Keith David, Lance Henrickson, Gary Sinise, Jonothon Gill Plot: Ellen (Stone) a mysterious female gunslinger rides into the small prairie town of Redemption, which ruled by the ruthless John Herod (Hackman), who has arranged a quick draw competition as part of his ongoing campaign to eliminate any potential threats to his rule, while at the same time forcing his former Henchman turned preacher Cort (Crowe) to enter.

Review: Today is actually a pretty special day, seeing how it’s my son Williams first birthday, which brought up a lot of memories of my own childhood, including that stereotypical view that all boys will be fans of Westerns and Football, the later of which will for myself never happen, while as for Westerns these have always been a largely ignored genre for myself, with it taking something real special or unique for me to watch most westerns, which I guess is the reason I like this one so much, for not only is it a western I totally dig, but also an oddity on Sam Raimi’s Directorial C.V, who had shown no real interest in the genre, even more so when he was at this point in his career associated more with the Horror Genre especially after the success of “The Evil Dead Trilogy”. Coming across like a homage to the films of Sergio Leone, the film pretty much hits the ground running and never lets up the pace, especially when we are mere minutes into the film, before Ellen or “The Lady” as she’s frequently referred to has beaten up Tobin Bell’s greasy prospector Dog Kelly and left him chained to the wheel of his wagon, with little provoking needed for this “Mad Max” style of revenge, other than the fact he’d attempted to shoot her, which on second thoughts actually seems pretty reasonable when you think about it. Still this seemingly random act of violence is the perfect introduction to Ellen, who speaks softly while letting her actions do all the talking, in particular with her quick draw skills. Still she is a woman whose past and reasons for riding into town are murky at best, much like all of the best of Leone’s antihero’s. Plotwise it is essentially a two thread story switching between Ellen’s reasons for coming to Redemption and entering the competition, aswell as her murky past seen here largely in flashbacks, with Raimi having enough faith in his audience to resist not just hamering home the big revel and instead allow the audience to piece it all together, especially when Ellen only mutters a handful of words at best, though it does bare a worrying similarity to the ending of “Once Upon A Time In The West”. The other main plot thread concerning Herod and his attempts to goad Cort back into his former violent ways by not only burning down his orphanage, but also dragging him into town in chains. Still it’s not quite clear what Herod’s true intentions really are, especially when he leaves Cort chained to a rock, while also forcing him to shoot with the cheapest junk pistol he can find aswell as giving him only a single bullet, but then Herod is hardly about fair play, especially when he frequently changes the rules to suit his own personal means. The town of Redemption is a dusty and tumbleweed strewn town, were it’s townsfolk will happily steal anything that’s not nailed down, as frequently proven by the hordes which decent on the dead, frequently while their bodies are still warm stripping them of anything of value in second and in one case even taking their Gold Teeth, with the crippling taxes imposed by Herod reducing many of the townsfolk to vicious savages. Still thanks to the contest it’s also one, which Raimi has been able to also fill with a variety of colourful gunslingers and bandits all willing to take their chances to collect the prize money. This mix of characters is certainly one of the high point of the film, especially as they are so varied from the flamboyant trickshot and Teller of tall tales Ace Hanlon (Henrikson) to the fast talking gunslinger known as “The Kid” (DiCaprio), though for all the colourful characters who Raimi brings to life with his usual flair and style, there are a couple of duff characters such as “Spotted Horse” (Gill) whose sole contribution to proceedings seems to not stretch past constantly shouting “Spotted Horse cannot be killed by a bullet”, whenever he appears on screen and really only adds another body to add to the pile once they start mounting up, rather than anything particularly important plot wise. This is much the same for the townsfolk who are pretty much the usual group of stereotypical characters, with only a handful fleshed out to be more than background characters. Still even the most colourful characters in the cast are quickly pushed to the side when Herod is on the screen, as Hackman once again seems to be having a blast not only chewing up the scenery, but also playing a decent and truly ruthless villain, as he portraying Herod much like his namesake, surveying the competition from a throne and often while drinking fine wine from a goblet, let alone his habit of constantly changing the rules to serve his own means and it’s of little surprise that Hackman once again provides the majority of memorable moments here. The action sequences are all pretty thrilling, with Raimi pretty much levelling the town in a hail of gunfire and exploding building for his finale, which did have me questioning how Ellen even manages to setup such a spectacular finale showdown, I mean did none of Herod’s lackeys happen to notice all these barrels of gunpowder being placed in key locations around the city? Meanwhile the violence is pretty restrained for Raimi, especially after the memorable gooey fun of “The Evil Dead”, with the majority of the violence here being limited to bloody gunshot wounds which only makes the money shots like the hole in the head all the more satisfying when they happen. Sharon Stone seriously makes the most of her Producer credit here, not only personally choosing Raimi to direct, but also bringing on board both DiCaprio and Crowe, who at the time were still essentially unknown talent and while DiCaprio is still a peach fuzzed youth, he is cocky but not to the point of irritating, while watching this film now, it only makes me wonder why it took Crowe so long to be recognised as a mainstream actor, as he’s in great form as the former bandit who has long since turned his back on his violent past. Raimi has not only created a great western here, but one which although lacking in subtly and high on gloss is still a fun and exciting ride and how really cares about historical accuracy and plausibility, especially it’s this much fun!

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Dreadfully Ever After

Since the release of the original Quirk Classic mash up “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”, there have been a slew of imitators in its wake while Quirk have continued since then to lead the charge, having perfected their mash up technique of combining classic literature and new material, be it steam punk with “Android Karenina” or Sea Monsters with “Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters”. Still the original “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” alone has already spawned a much needed prequel, which helped clear up a lot of the plot holes found in the in original novel, especially with it’s uneasy 50 / 50 mixture of new and original material and with original author Seth Grahame – Smith choosing not to return, it was left to Steve Hockensmith to pick up the reigns and pen the prequel, which proved to be a worthy companion to the original novel and again he makes a welcome return here to complete the trilogy.
Once again here we are thrown into this alternate version of Austin universe and a lot certainly seems to have happened in the four years which have passed since Elizabeth married the dashing Dreadful slayer Mr. Darcy and it’s this Elizabeth that we first meet here, who proves to have changed the most in the meantime, having been forced into a more restrained lifestyle than she is used to, thanks to her newly married status, yet even this hasn’t harmed her slaying skills as soon proven by an early skirmish against a group of dreadful’s proves, yet it is clear that she sorely misses the days when she could freely slay dreadful’s without her status getting in the way, after all it is hardly ladylike for a married woman to be seen carrying a Katana! Still her happiness is cut short when Mr. Darcy is attacked by a rampaging Dreadful. Now faced with the rapid zombification of her husband, Elizabeth only hope comes when she told off of a cure by Darcy’s aunt and her long term rival Lady Catherine, which soon see’s Elizabeth on an undercover mission to London to obtain the cure, along with her father and youngest sister Kitty, as she battles to save her one true love, from joining the ranks of the undead.

Hockensmith has once again got a firm handle on the inner workings of this alternate universe, as he now finally gets to show how London has adapted itself to the constant threat of the dreadfuls, with heavy fortification around the city and patrols checking for early signs of the infection, while its residents have even taken to using dreadfuls for entertainment, by having dreadfuls chase an Irishman down a track, a scene which was reminiscent of the Zombie amusements seen in Romero’s “Land of the Dead”. Meanwhile he finally gives Kitty a chance to break out of the shadow of Lydia, who for too long I found her to be pretty much interchangeable with and it was nice to see her character being developed, while Lady Catherine and her Ninja henchmen also make a welcome return, as she manages to become even more devious than before, if that’s even possible.

Written in alternative chapters between Elizabeth’s mission to obtain the elusive cure and Darcy’s ever growing list of zombie symptoms, which also see him suffering several graphic and feverish dream sequences which frequently see him feasting on his wife’s organs or anyone else’s. Still this dual storyline style helps to keep the story flowing, especially when it feels to going over familiar ground and Darcy’s gradual change into one of the Dreadful’s helped it from being just more of the same. Still the dreadful slaying sequences are just as brutal and frequently creative as ever and while Elizabeth might have spent the last four years living a more restrained lifestyle, she certainly wastes little time getting back to her old ways when given the chance, while equally at home putting her “Deadly Arts” to work on the Ninja henchmen of Lady Catherine. These scenes are all splattered with gruesome details as limbs are swiftly amputated and skulls cracked all written with the same playful glee, which we have come to expect with the series.

“Dreadfully Ever After” is a suitable close to the trilogy, though it feels far too overly familiar, to the point were I found it hard to get into this latest edition to the Quirk Classic library, though whether this is down to the setting or the fact that it’s yet another Zombie story, in an already bloated horror genre, which like the “Paranormal Romance” genre, currently feels far too over saturated at the moment and seeing how they are kind of limited with how zombies can be used, it makes it all the harder to give the reader something they havn’t seen before, despite Hockensmith making a valiant effort here and I feel that Mr Bennet sums up the situation when he states “Somehow I find all this less entertaining than I once did”, which is pretty much what I was left feeling here.

Sowhat does the future hold for “Quirk Classics”?? Well thankfully for the moment atleast it doesn’t seem to involve Zombies as they once again move away from the world of Austin and instead focus on the Frank Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” which saw a salesman waking up to find that he had turned into a cockroach. This story which is set to be the next title to receive the “Quirk Classic” treatment as “The Meowmorphosis” which will see Fabric salesman Gregor Samsa waking up to find himself turned into a man sized Kitten. It’s a change of direction which certainly has me curious enough to give it alook and certainly what will help keep Quirk ahead for the moment of it’s rivals such as A E Moorat’s alternative history series which so far has included “Henry VIII: Wolfman” and “Queen Victoria: Demon Hunter” and not to mention the numerous one shots like “I Am Scrooge: A Zombie Story For Christmas” which have flooded the market since the release of “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” so I guess for the moment, only time will tell if Quirk have what it takes to keep the formula fresh, just please don’t let it involve more zombies!!!

Sunday, 13 March 2011

All The Boys Love Mandy Lane

Title: All The Boys Love Mandy Lane
Director: Jonathan Levine
Released: 2006
Staring: Amber Heard, Anson Mount, Whitney Able, Michael Welch, Edwin Hodge, Aaron Himelstein, Luke Grimes, Melissa Price, Adam Powell

Plot: Mandy Lane (Heard) is beautiful and pure while also being desired by the majority of the boys at her school and also sharing a close friendship with outcast Emmet (Welch). Invited to a party at a friends ranch, Mandy soon becomes a target of lust for the boys, all eager to be the one who finally manages to sleep with her, but when a hooded stranger shows up at the ranch, its only the beginning of a real killer weekend.

Review: What is it about the Weinstein’s which causes them to make such lousy decisions, with the most bile inducing of these choices, especially for those us based in the UK being their decision to split the Tarantino / Rodriguez double feature homage “Grindhouse” into it’s separate features, rather than allow us Brits to see the original cut of the film, after it didn’t perform as well as expected stateside and this is only after a heavy international promotional campaign, making it only all the more of a kick in the teeth when they didn’t even bother with either a limited cinema release or DVD release of this cut. This decision did however prompt me to fly out to LA to see the film, in an insane weekend which saw me leave work to get on a plane for god knows how many hours, to then go from the airport on a hunt for a cinema showing the film, before then returning to the airport and flying back to the UK and pretty much straight back to work the next day, which might sound insane but was honestly was totally worth it! Due to the failure of that film, it would also serve to have a knock on effect on the distribution for this film, which at the time was also owned by the Weinstein’s, only for them to sell the film beliving that "Grindhouse" failing to make an impact was the begining of a decline in popularity for horror and sold the film to “Senator Entertainment US” only for them to go out of business and throw the film into distribution limbo, which meant that it has only now received a US release, almost three years after it had it’s UK release, though honestly despite this I have only now just gotten around to watching it myself.

From the beginning Director Levine chooses to shoot the character of Mandy with an almost siren esq aura, as a pure creature whom the boys in her high school are willing to do anything to impress and more to the point anything to get into her pants. This is only further proven by one member of the popular group of kids, who not only fails fatally with his attempt to impress her by jumping off the roof of his house during the opening pool party, but also provides a great example of what can be best described as “Thinning the herd”. Flash forward nine months and Mandy is non the less alluring with the story of what happened at the party only adding to her allure it would seem, somthing especially proven by the latest group of boys all wanting to try their chances. Still Mandy is the sort of girl that many of us remember from school who had that something about them, which made them seemingly irresistible to our hormone driven selves back then and it’s a credit to Heard that she has managed to not only capture this essence but also convincingly portray on screen and archetype which can’t truly be described, while the rest of the cast get the considerably easier task of playing more character with more traditional and cookie cutter style characterisation.

From the outset it might not seem any different from any of the other cookie cutter slashers filling the market, after all we have the usual group of oversexed teens, going to some remote location and meeting their maker in a variety of creative ways. So yep that’s all covered here, but were it differs is the clear desire by Director Levine to not obey the restrictions of the genre, as he plays around with camera styles and keeps an almost dream like feeling running throughout the film, only allowing the occasional moment of sobriety in which he shoots the film straight, all this aided by a soundtrack which avoids the usual noisy indie bands instead opting for chilled out shoegaze bands and a classical score to keep the calm feeling, which he sundrenched and isolated ranch setting only further instils, only making it the more effective when he takes his slasher from the traditional nocturnal stalk and slash pattern and continues into brilliant daylight, turning paradise truly into a nightmarish landscape, similar to the effect seen using the Australian outback in Greg McLean’s shocking debut “Wolf Creek” (2005), with the colour palette leaning towards yellows and browns providing an interesting washed out look.

When it comes to the gore, Levine gets pretty creative and gives us some different deaths than the usual Teen meets Axe / Knife / Random blunt object and even though the identity of the hooded slasher is revealed shortly after he is introduced, it still doesn’t take anything away from the film, as this killer is more about motive than mystery, especially when appears to enjoy taunting his intended victims and takes the time to play with each of them, before delivering the final death blows. Still Levine at least attempts to throw a red hearing into the mix, whom even after the slasher is revealed is still left with questionable motives, until Levine decides to remove them from the equation.

“All The Boys Love Mandy Lane” is a low key horror film and I think that’s why it works so well, as it doesn’t feel the needs to be big, brash and loud like so many of it’s slasher counterparts and while it’s style might turn off your more hyperactive slasher fan, for those of you who like an edge of indie cool to your films, then this might be what happens when you apply that edge to the slasher genre, especially with Levine not allowing his vision to be restricted and instead filming it how he wants to and forcing the rest of the world to bend to his vision and although it might turn of some, it’s a refreshing change from just going through the same slasher motions, which “Wolf Creek” also used if perhaps with a more brutal edge than seen here.

Monday, 7 March 2011


Title: Slugs
Director: Juan Piquer Simón
Released: 1988
Staring: Michael Garfield, Kim Terry, Philip MacHale, Santiago Álvarez

Plot: When people start mysteriously dying, local health inspector Mike Brady (Garfield) discovers that a mutant strain of black slugs are responsible, but can he convince the authorities in time?

Review: There have frequently been moments throughout the history of the creature feature, were upon realising that the usual scary animals (Snakes, Spiders, Sharks etc) had been exhausted, that studios started looking to less likely objects of terror, such as Worms (Squirm), Giant Bunnies (Night of the Lepus) or Ants (Phase IV), while Larry Cohen has spent the best part of his career making the least likely of things scary, most memorably with his killer baby trilogy “It’s Alive” as well as also turning his attention to the idea of Killer Yogurt with “The Stuff”. Still some of these films worked surprisingly well or at least held some camp value, while as to be expected, these idea also created some serious none starters which it’s safe to say this film is certainly one of.
I first came across this movie, like I did for “Xtro 2” which was while scanning the shelves of my local video store "The Video Bug". It was here that I spent hours looking through the horror titles mainly and getting my kicks off the various gruesome cover arts and equally graphic film stills and like “Xtro 2” something stuck with me about this film, even though I’ve only now finally got around to watching the darn thing, which honestly for all it was hyped up by my cousin back when I was a kid, it really wasn’t worth dwelling over, for while slugs are naturally creepy things, they don’t exactly lend themselves well to horror, even if they are particularly vicious mutant strain complete with angry teeth filled mouths and even less when your relinging on showing speeded up footage of them.

The main problem “Slugs” suffers from is that it’s strengths all draw from it's gory scenes, which grows increasingly graphic as the film goes through with Simón not satisfied to stick with just slug on human carnage, but also manages to include a popped eyeball, a hacked off limb and even finding time to include what is possibly the first exploding greenhouse captured on film, aswell as a particularly standout moment were the slugs give one unfortunate victim one hell of a headache. Sadly as result of this focus the film has far to many dull patches between these scenes, were none of the cast and least of Director Simón seem to know what to do, which is helped even less, by how unlikable the characters are, with the majority of them nothing but slug chow. It’s kind of a shame actually that Simón’s interest doesn’t seem to stretch past the attack scenes, as these are frequently quite haunting in places including a scene towards the end were one character after being knocked into a pool is suddenly ravaged by the titular beasties in a scene which not only features a truly laughable attempt at a rescue, but also a corpse that looks like it’s deflating. Still these chills could be more to do psychological effect that slugs tend have over folks (myself included) than anything to do with any directorial talent of Simón.

Still when it comes to the method for dealing with these pesky beasties, no one seems to have considered using anything resembling the traditional way of dealing with them, by showing them with salt, but rather opting for the Hollywood way of Explosives and electricity to despatch them back to whatever slimy circle of hell they slithered out from. Yes this is the plan devised by a so called SLUG EXPERT played here by Santiago Álvarez, who here also handily fills the requirement for a British scientist, the kind of who are required by law to appear in these movies and preferably wear lab coats at all times, as after all that's how we know he's the expert.

The other problem the film suffers from is that it is a page to screen copy of the original novel by Shaun Hutson. Yes that’s right kids the publish world also bought into the idea of killer slugs and incase you were wondering, it’s bizarrely enough also garbage, just in the written word form as it is in the moving picture form, not that Hutson really cares it would seem apparently stating that Simón could “do what he liked” providing that he got paid and his original work wasn’t changed, which only surprised him further when Simón took him at his word, which might not have really been the best option here, especially as the plot is painfully plodding at best, with disposable characters having back stories fleshed out, which serve to really only add to the local colour of the town than anything plot wise.

The soundtrack here is almost schizophrenic, seeing how it seems to have been compiled purely of library tracks, rather than anything written specifically for the film, with only the slugs getting any form of soundtracking, while the rest of the soundtrack verges from sitcom to just plain random tracks, with none of it seemingly being placed to represent the action on screen.

“Slugs” is a film with numerous issues and wasn’t exactly worth the wait to see it, even if the gory moments are quite satisfying and no doubt the bits your more than likely to revisit, which is now only made the easier thanks to the film getting a DVD release, which is also the fully uncut version which gives you a few extra seconds of gore, but still nothing to explain how this film made it onto the banned list in Australia.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Boxset Binges #3 - Breaking Bad (Season One)

Opening with the sight of a pair of discarded trousers flying in slow motion through the desert air, we quickly cut to Walter (Bryan Cranston) frantically driving his AV slash mobile drug lab through the desert, wearing nothing bar his underwear and a gas mask and from this moment it’s safe to say that this is one series which really knows how to hit the ground running, as these frantic opening moments are soon followed by a quick video confession, before Walter steps out into the road pistol drawn as the approaching sirens grow ever closer, as he looks set to go out in a blaze of glory, before suddenly cutting back to the beginning of his story, for Walter isn’t just another drug dealer, but a downtrodden high school chemistry teacher, who is struggling to pay the bills and subsidising the money he earns teaching, by working a second job at a car wash for his abusive (and wacky eye browed) Russian boss. Still when Walt finds out he is suffering from terminal lung cancer things seem to be only getting worse for him. Still it’s only after going on a ride along with his brother in Law and DEA officer Hank (Dean Norris) as Hank's team raid a local Meth lab, that Walt suddenly realises there might be a way to solve all his problems.
Soon it’s not long before he’s hooked up with his former students turned Meth dealer Jesse (Aaron Paul), using his extensive chemistry knowledge for a slightly less than legal means.

Created by Vince Gilligan, who fans of “The X files” might recognise, especially as was responsible for not only writing some of the more memorable one shoot / monster of the week episodes across the nine seasons the show ran, but for also helping to wrap up both “The Lone Gunmen” and “Millennium” offshoots with their final episodes disguised as X files episodes and it’s nice to see that rather than retread over similar ground on another sci-fi show, that he has instead taken the natural humour of “The X Files” and transferred it into this first attempt at an original project of his own.

Bryan Cranston who plays Walter is probably best known for playing the hen pecked Hal in “Malcom in the Middle” and to an extent it’s a role he reprises here, to great effect as the downtrodden Walter, who after giving up a promising career to teach high school chemistry is just a guy who seriously can’t get a break and although it’s familiar material for Cranston, it’s his gradual slide to the darker side of his personality, were he truly shines and it’s only later in this first season when these darker moments become more frequent, that it become clearer why the shows creator Vince Gilligan lays on Walters trouble so thickly, for it’s discovering that he has cancer that like Lester's midlife crisis in “American Beauty” (1999), that it creates the trigger point needed to induce a radical switch in personality and Cranston truly sells this role, as he more than convincingly switches between mild mannered Walter the science teacher, while verging on becoming a psycho as he Meth cooking alter ego especially in the final couple of episodes, which is only added to by his newly shaved head.

While watching this first season I found the constant urge to draw comparisons between this show and “Six Feet Under” due to both having a streak of pitch black humour throughout, while being set in a profession not exactly known for being the greatest source of humour, though the majority of this humour like “Six Feet Under” comes from both Walter and Jesse trying to muddle their way into the big leagues of the Meth trade, based more on the quality of the Meth that Walters chemical expertise creates, rather than any kind of “Scarface” (1983) style rise through the ranks, especially when they frequently find themselves out of their depth, while towards the end of this first season soon coming to release exactly how much they need each other.

Something which might raise a gripe with some of you, especially for the more detail orientated is the lack of focus on the addictive nature and effects of meth addiction, which in this world see’s it as the casual drug of choice and no doubt could easily have been replaced with the production of Marijuana and with Walter being a Biologist instead of a chemist, but seeing how “Weeds” cornered that market, the other drug choices are limited with Heroin being still far too taboo and Cocaine too predictable, it seem that Meth was pretty much the only workable option remaining. Still the lack of concern which Walter shows in regards to the people he supplies, is something which is strangely over looked, even when Walter is at his most Naive and straight edged, with Walters only real concerns being the money they are making from the product and hiding this secret double life from his wife.

The other main gripe that comes with this series is all to do with the pacing which is only all the more evident when Walt and Jesse don’t really start cooking Meth seriously until the final episode of the seven episode season, with the other six episodes being looking instead at their misguided beginnings and general clashes of personality, until their grand realisation of how much they need each other, but this still amounts to what seems like a lot of running around, for only the smallest amount of progress, which makes it clear that Gilligan is in no hurry to rush this story along, preferring to concentrate on characterisation than spectacle.

Despite a few gripes, this is overly a great first season and definatly worth giving a look, especially if you’re like me and like a healthy dose of black humour in your drama, while Cranston is riveting as Walter and truly sells the role, while by the end of this first season I was already eager to hunt out season 2 and seeing were the series goes next, especially after the strong foundation setup by this first seasons
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