Tuesday, 28 February 2012

The Brood

The Brood
Director: David Cronenberg
Released: 1979
Staring: Oliver Reed, Samantha Eggar, Art Hindle, Susan Hogan, Cindy Hinds

Plot: Frank’s (Hindle) wife (Eggar) is currently under the care of the eccentric and highly unconventional psychologist Dr. Hal Raglan (Reed), who is also pioneering a technique called “psychoplasmics”. Meanwhile a brood of mutant children responsible for a series of violent attacks seem to be linked to the reclusive psychologist but how?

Review: Cronenberg has always held a strange fascination for me, perhaps due to his obsession with bodily mutation, disease and infection, which even from my early exposure to his work, easily set him apart from other directors especially as they always felt like they contained some element of clinical study of these themes within, perhaps due to voyeuristic nature in which he chooses to shoot these main obsessions in his work.

So with my blogging hombre Emily over at “The Deadly Doll’s House of Horror Nonsense” wrapping up her month long celebration of vertically challenged villains with “The Shortening”, I was inspired to delve into one the Cronenberg back catalogue and revisit one of his earlier films, aswell as one of my personal favorites yet sadly most overlooked from this period.

Written and directed during his messy divorce from his first wife, this would be one of his most personal films to date and almost a form of personal therapy, with his own battle for custody of his daughter being especially highlighted through Frank’s own battle to protect his daughter Candice, who is seemingly being harmed by his wife, when she returns to him covered in cuts and bruises. Still being a Cronenberg movie nothing is quite what it seems, as he crafts here what could almost be seen as the horror version of “Kramer Vs. Kramer”.

Opening with Dr. Raglan holding a showcase for “psychoplasmics”, a highly experimental method which forces his patents to invoke painful and traumatic memories with encouraged role play, which we get to see him demonstrate with one of his patients, while the more Cronenberg side of this method is kept for a later revel. This however is the perfect introduction to the barmy yet fantastic performance Oliver Reed brings to this character and while some might argue that Reed’s appearance here was miscasting, I personally adored his performance here, especially as he frequently plays the big secret so close to his chest that we never see the big revel coming, which also serves to highlight in many ways the depths of his own personal obsession with furthering his psychoplasmics research.

While the rest of the cast might not manage to reach these same levels of performance, Hindle is still convincing as the concerned father, while Eggar is suitably insane as his committed wife, while her most bonkers scenes sadly felt the wrath of the censor cuts, much to the frustration of Cronenberg who rightfully argued that these cuts completely changed the context of the scenes they were cut from. Hinds however is possibly one of the worst child actors I have ever seen in, as she fails at any given moment to show any form emotion other than looking permanently stunned and to see her try and pull off any kind of performance is a painful experience to sit through, so it’s almost a blessing when she gets kidnapped by the mutant kiddies.

Despite frequently being sold on the prospect of baseball bat welding mutant dwarf children, this film is actually a lot more of a slow burn than you would expect, with the mutant kiddies only making a handful of appearances throughout and while memorable as they are, it still feels like more of a detective story with elements of horror than a straight forward shocker, as Frank investigates what is really happening at Dr. Raglan’s clinic, an investigation which along the way leads him into a number of colorful characters, who all hint at the larger secret being hidden by Dr. Raglan.

Still gore fan’s needn't be too disappointed, as we still get some meaty bludgeoning to enjoy via a variety objects from mallets to paperweights and these sporadic deaths are shot with such a sobering view point, that they are just as effective as if Cronenberg had doubled his body count, an urge he resists in favor of more focused kills with each death ultimately serving a larger purpose, rather than to just add to the death toll. While perhaps traumatizing a whole group of small kids with the clubbing scene at Candice’s school, Cronenberg would also go on record in “Cronenberg on Cronenberg” that he particularly enjoyed the scene were Frank strangles his now frenzied wife, especially with so many of her characteristics being based on his ex wife.

Howard Shore provides a rich and haunting classical score to the film, which adds the perfect edge to the film, especially as it is frequently kept to the background with Cronenberg allowing his imagery to present their full power, rather than using the soundtrack to provide any false sense of horror or discomfort.

“The Brood” would serve to be the film to elevate Cronenberg from his schlocky origins which had began with “Shivers” and “Rabid” and showed a director with an impassioned desire for artistic expression, while setting the tone for the films to come which would continue to push the boundaries explored here, yet on it’s own merits it remains like it’s director great, yet sadly underrated.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Fantastic Mr. Fox
Director: Wes Anderson
Released: 2009
Staring: George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Wallace Wolodarsky, Eric Chase Anderson, Michael Gambon, Willem Dafoe, Owen Wison, Robin Hurlstone, Hugo Guinness

Plot: Having turned his back on his poaching days, Mr. Fox (Clooney) now lives with his wife Felicity (Streep) and their sullen son Ash (Schwartzman) in a hole, while working as a newspaper columnist, while also looking after Felicity’s nephew Kristofferson (Anderson).
Craving a better home, he moves the family into the base of a tree, despite warnings from his lawyer Badger (Murray) about the three mean farmers living close by, Boggis (Hurlstone), Bunce (Guinness) and Bean (Gambon), triggering a desire in Mr. Fox to pull off one final raid.

Review: My acting resume is limited to say the least, mainly because I really suck as an actor, though while in school I did managed to con my way into what would be my closest appearance in a leading role, when I appeared as “Mr. Badger” in my school’s production of “Fantastic Mr. Fox” which although ambitious for a school play with its creative production values, now seems positively timid and boring in comparison to this latest interpretation of the classic kids book, which takes the term “Artistic license” to a whole new level!

Despite being a self confessed fan of Roald Dahl, Director Anderson clearly has few qualms in chopping and changing such a well known story to suit his own vision, especially as this is a very different / alternative version than the original, were as in the original novel, the animal characters despite portraying human characteristics were still very clearly still animals, but here they hold down careers and even have their own secret society out of the view of humans, while Anderson has also edited the Fox family down to one moody child and his cousin from the original four fox children they have in the book.

Still despite such radical chops and changes, I was surprising how few grumbles have appeared about taking such creative leaps with the source material, as I expected when I learned about how different the film version was to the book, yet somehow he has managed to make it work, not only in managing to shoot it in his quirky indie style, which has made him such a memorable force in indie film making, but also makes the audience effortless buy into his alternative vision, which is certainly no easy thing especially when most folks don’t tend to take kindly to directors attempting to basterdise their happy childhood memories of the book.

Choosing to shoot in Stop motion it brings a refreshing old school style to the film, especially with CGI being the usual preferred method for adapting projects of this type (god help us if they ever tried to do a live action version) and a method which has previously proven to work effectivly when done well, with prime examples being the films of “Aardman Animation” aswell as most memorably “A Nightmare Before Christmas”, whose director Henry Selick was originally drafted on board to help develop the project while it was being developed at “Revolution Studios”, only to leave the project to direct “Coraline” when “Revolution Studios folded, leading to Mark Gustafson being brought in to replace him, whose background in claymation might explain the frequently noticeable adjustments on the characters, were they have been adjusted for each shot, rather than the more polished look of “Nightmare before Christmas” were it is impossible to see any of these adjustments, still this really only adds to the retro styling which Anderson has chosen to adopt for the film, bringing back early childhood memories of both “The Clangers” and “The Wombles”, while also an expansion on his previous stop motion dabbling we saw with the underwater creations in “The Life Aquatic”, were it seemed like a quirky touch but now seems to hint at more of an hidden obsession after seeing this film.

Anderson has once again managed to assemble a first rate cast, with Clooney seemingly born to voice Mr. Fox, while Dafoe seems to be bringing the essence of Bobby Peru from “Wild at Heart” for his portrayal of Rat, who in the book was much more of smaller character and under Defoe’s sinister vocal styling’s becomes a much stronger character with his increased presence, much like Gambon’s portrayal of “Bean” who is now seen as the ringleader of the three famers, rather than just a follower caught up in the plot. Anderson alumni Murry is once again on great form as “Badger” and has many of the best lines of the film, which makes it only the more of shame that he is reduced from sidekick status to supporting animal here.

Released alongside Spike Jonze’s “Were the Wild Things Are” it was a double header of indie takes on established classics, but it was certainly Anderson’s which would not only prove the boldest, but also the most memorable of the two and while it might only share a handful of memorable scenes with it’s source material it is still a fun and frequently amusing watch, which manages to stand well in a comparison to source novel, while it might appeal more to the adults than it’s intended younger audience, who may find it’s stop motion stylising a little alienating, especially after growing up on a diet of polished animation, much like Anderson’s traditionally obscure soundtrack choices, as it’s hard to say if the kids of today really get anything out of hearing the famers digging up the foxes home to the tune of “Street Fighting Man” or not. Needless to say for those of us, willing to allow alittle tampering with our childhood and establishing members of the Anderson fanbase this is an easy sell.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Ballistic: Ecks Vs. Sever

Title: Ballistic: Ecks Vs. Sever
Director: Wych Kaosayananda
Released: 2002
Staring: Antonio Banderas, Lucy Liu, Gregg Henry, Ray Park, Talisa Soto, Miguel Sandoval, Terry Chen

Plot: When the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) has his son kidnapped by former DIA agent Sever (Liu), former FBI agent Jeremiah Ecks (Banderas) is called in to find the boy and track down Sever.

Review: Another film to be branded “Worst film of all time”, this film actually sparked something of a worry in me, for all though it has some serious faults I actually kind of enjoyed it, for much like “Jaws: The Revenge” here was a film every other critic was seemingly raining scorn and hate upon, while I was being for the most part pretty entertained by this film. Does this mean that I have become too soft with my critical views on the films I watch? or has all the numerous bad movies I have watch over the years, finally burned out the part of my brain which regulates film and taste would otherwise regard this as celluloid trash?

To start I should point out that this film which suffers greatly for it’s flaws, the major one being down to the plotting, which is essentially non existent with what plot we do get causing more confusion than clarity, as what I can only assume were supposed to be clever plot twists frequently prove increasingly nonsensical, while the film spends most of it’s time trying to find a way to bridge action scenes.

The other problem with the plotting is that no one seems to know what exactly is supposed to be happening, thanks to numerous plot threads such as a mystery nano technology weapon, the death of Ecks wife and even the supposive rivalry between Ecks and Sever, which doesn’t stretch past a single confrontation before we have the two agent teaming up to take on the films big evil, nothing really gets fully developed past the stage of throwing the idea out onto the screen and trying to link it with the various other plots happening at the same time, something only made clearer when we meet Eck’s son in a yawn full twist which produces only further confusion as for how a couple clearly of Latino decent managed to produce a child so white!

Helming the film what would be his second feature film after previously directing “Fah” which was one of the highest budgeted films in Thiland’s history and from its success, lead to Director Kaosayananda (seen here under the call name Kaos) being given the chance to helm this film, though after this film it would be a further 10 years before he got chance to helm another, with his forthcoming “Bangkok Love Story” unsurprisingly as result of this films failings is being made back in his native Thailand. Still clearly having set out with the intention of making something flashier than he was able to pull off he struggles to hold the production together, while only showing any form of directorial confidence during the action scenes, which are essentially the only reason to watch the film, as anytime things aren’t exploding on the screen the film starts to seriously loose it’s focus, despite Kaosayananda frequently trying to add similar stylistic fair to these scenes, which more often than not comes off more cliché than effective, as Eck is shown frequently moodily smoking or shooting him in slo-mo as he walks in the rain, which while undoutably pretty to look at, doesn’t give us much in the terms of mood or character development, especially when we are shown flashback with no previous context to indentify what they are supposed to be.

Despite having two strong leads with Banderas and Liu, both having proven capable of turning around even the most questionable of plots, as shown by Liu in the “Charlie’s Angels” movies and Banderas having most memorably having done this with “Assassins” and even more so in my own opinion with “Desperado” which much like this film was a collection of flashy action scenes strung together with a simple revenge story, with his performance raising it way above what it could have been, thanks to his portrayal of the revenge seeking mariachi, something only further emphasised when you compare it to it’s indie source material and Robert Rodreigez’s debut film “El Mariachi”. Sadly both of the leads look frequently bored during the action scenes, even when Liu gets to unleash a heavy machine gun on a group of FBI agents.

The supporting cast are surprisingly made up of no name actors, especially for a film with a box office budget and backing of a studio I would have expected them to have at least drafted in a half decent actor to play the big evil, but the best we get here is Ray Park who is probably best know for his roles as Snake eyes in “GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra” and Darth Maul in “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace” and yet again he proves that he is great when he’s not required to speak, especially as his talents are truly with his Martial arts, which once more receive a suitable showcase, especially during his showdown with Sever which was another of the high points, even though it didn’t make sense to suddenly have them stop shooting at each other so they can then toss down the small armoury they are carrying between them, all so they can have a knife fight.

The action sequences are in my opinion the sole redeeming feature of the film and what also stops me from wanting to agree with the masses in thier branding it as the “Worst Film of All Time”, as Kaosayananda is clearly a subscriber to the John Woo style of shooting when it comes to action, as he fills the action scenes with wave after wave of faceless agents to provide target practice for Ecks and Sever while no one seemingly ever has to reload another key staple of Woo’s movies. Kaosayananda also shows a flair for making things go boom, demonstrating some ambious shots frequently throughout these scenes, including a long tracking shot of an agent falling from a building and hitting a car in a single shot and even making two cars pirouette side by side at one point. Needless to say if the leads were more into shooting these scenes they would have been better, but both still manage to pull off some great performances in these scenes, while the use of stunt doubles for some of these scenes are so well blended with the actual performances of the actors, that I couldn’t tell if they were even being used, with Liu especially showing herself once again rather capable when it came to her big kung fu showdown.

Yes it is beyond flawed and more of a bloody quivering mess of a film, that has been almost crudely sewn together and pushed out in front of an audience, but when it works it works well and while there might be some horrible acting on display and the less said about the scripting the better, but perhaps unlike so many of the general mainstream movie going public and critics which branded it, that having seen so many horrible movies and knowing while watching it, that I could still name a bunch of movies I would consider to be worse than it, that I still consider it harshly rated and far from the worst movie of all time which many would have you belive it is, though best approached with pre warning of what to expect.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

LAMB Casting: Taxi Driver

For those of you yet to be exposed to “LAMB Casting” over at “THE LAMB” aka The Large Association of Movie Blogs. The rules of the game are deceptively simple were “The LAMB” members are given a film, whose main roles they have to recast, which is were the real challenge begins as what actors could truly embody some of cinema’s most memorable roles? This is somthing especially true for the current film choice “Taxi Driver” a film which many to consider to not only be Director Martin Scorsese’s best film, but also one of De Niro’s most memorable roles perhaps only rivalled by “Raging Bull”, especially with it’s now legendry “You Talkin’ to me” scene being countlessly homaged since the films release.

So as those of you follow the "Twitter" or "Facebook" feeds you will know that I've been asking for your votes for "LAMB Casting" but at the same time not being able to revel my alternative cast until now, for the results have been announced were the winner was Dan Simpson (of PG Cooper’s Movie Reviews), so congratulation to Dan on a well played game and thanks to everyone who voted, especially if you managed to find my own casting list I will now revel, aswell as my reasons for choosing the cast I did.

Being a big fan of both Scorsese and De Niro, aswell as the film itself I was keen to throw my hat into the ring and in doing so I now present my case for my alternative cast of “Taxi Driver”.

Travis Bicke (originally played by Robert DeNiro)
Alternative Casting Choice:
Michael Pitt

While the whole film essentially rests on the casting of this iconic role, my list of potential choices was actually pretty short and while many may have gone for the like of Christian Bale or Josh Brolin, who have previously proven to play crazy well, I wanted to choose someone whom like De Niro portrays Travis as calm on the surface, only revealing his darker distain for the world he see’s around him while he is alone or through his voice over he provides throughout and seeing how both of these actors tend to favour a gruff and gravelly voice over to portray menacing, which really doesn’t work for Travis.

My original first choice was Vincent Cassel, who himself has frequently admitted to basing his own acting style on De Niro’s while also receiving numerous comparisons throughout his career, while even homaging the “You Talkin’ to me” scene so memorably in his breakout role as a young hood in “La Haine”, but again Cassel does threatening well, but I couldn’t see him pulling off the more tender moments such as those were he takes Betsy to the movies or any of his small attempts at connecting with the rest of humanity and it’s the flexability to switch between these two sides of Travis which finally lead to me choosing Michael Pitt for the role.

Still lets look for a moment at the description of Travis given by Paul Schrader’s script which potrays Travis like this

"Age 26, lean, hard, the consummate loner. On the surface he appears
good-looking, even handsome; he has a quiet steady look and a disarming smile which flashes from nowhere, lighting up his whole face. But behind that smile, around his dark eyes, in his gaunt cheeks, one can see the ominous stains caused by a life of private fear, emptiness and loneliness. He seems to have wandered in from a land where it is always cold, a country where the inhabitants seldom speak. The head moves, the expression changes, but the eyes remain ever-fixed, unblinking, piercing empty space."

It’s a description that only further suits the acting style of Pitt, whose style switches effortlessly between a boyish charm and intense seriousness, something especially seen during his more recent role as the Cauffer turned bootlegging gangster Jimmy on the Scorsese produced “Boardwalk Empire”. When I think of him playing the role I can instantly see his clumsy and frequently attempts at picking up Betsy, while his voice is perfectly suited to voice over, as is his intense side needed for when Travis sets about preparing for his war on the human scum he see’s around him, whether it’s working out intensely or just buying guns for his stockpile Pitt seemingly has the acting skill set required to pull of the role.

Iris Steensa (originally played by Jodie Foster)
Alternative Casting Choice:
Abigail Breslin

Possibly the toughest role and certainly the most controversial role to cast in the film, especially seeing how Iris is an underage prostitute, something that would no doubt cause mass flustering of certain censorship groups had the film been released today, yet she is also the source of Travis’s salvation from his self imposed madness. Still at the same time I can’t help but also draw on the fact that it was after seeing Foster in “Taxi Driver” that John Hickley, Jr. became obsessed with her to the point were he even attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan and for some strange reason I feel that who ever plays the role, needs to have the power to her performance to inspire the same thing, which is no easy thing to find, especially when 95% of child actors seemingly subscribe to the Disney school of Overacting, or generally being an irritating smart arse without any of the maturity which Foster brought to the role and Breslin despite largely being in indie comedies, has shown occasional flashes of serious acting, which help further the idea of her being able to pull off the role of Iris.

Sport Higgins (Originally played by Harvey Keitel)
Alternative Casting Choice:
John Leguizamo

While not the biggest of roles, Sport was originally supposed to be black only to be changed by Scorsese after he felt the film was already filled with enough racial tension and that keeping his character as a black man would give the film an overly racial subtext. Despite this the only person I want to see playing the role is Leguizamo who tends to specialise in greasy characters like this one, while certainly able to pull of the dangerous edge which this character still processes, with my main inspiration for casting him in the role coming from his performance as Meth dealer Spider Mike in “Spun” a character who could easily be adapted for this role

Betsy Higgins (originally played by Cybill Shepherd)
Alternative Casting Choice:
Zooey Deschanel

Another key character in Travis’s life and responsible in many ways for his further decline into madness thank in no small part to his own personal quirks, especially after for some random reason deciding that what every girl wants to do on a first date is to be taken to a porn theatre and not to a good porn film either but some random Swedish sex education film, which not only furthers the idea of how apart from society Travis has become and really making the audience realise how little they understand the inner workings of Travis’s mindset.

Deschanel for some reason seems to split audiences opinion with those like myself who love her indie quirkiness, while the rest seem to have the same sort of distain for her that I personally reserve for the likes of Noel Clarke and Keira Knightley, but she is one of the few actresses along with Emma Stone that I could ever see playing the role, especially as it requires for the character to view even the most random aspects of her date with seemingly little shock, outside of occasionally questioning Travis’s choices, something which limited my actress choices further as I could see plenty pulling off the scenes with Betsy talking with Tom or working in the campaign office, but it’s the scenes of her date with Travis which proved the breaking point for most potential choices as I could see them more likely spraying him with mace or just freaking out at the prospect that their date would imply that a porn film is the perfect choice for a first date. Deschanel in “500 days of Summer” showed her playing a similar character to Betsy, especially with the calm complexion she brought to even the most random of activities be that playing house at IKEA or raiding the adult video section, while let’s not forget the psychological crippling effect she had on Tom, which could be easily compared to Betsy’s rejection of Travis which in many ways proves the breaking point which sets Travis on his path as the self imposed saviour of society. Still it’s because of the similarities between Betsy’s effect and the performance by Deschanel in “500 days of Summer” which stopped me casting Joseph Gordan Lewit as Travis, as didn’t want it just to be a rerun of “500 days of Summer” with added psychosis so alas the sacrifice had to be made.

Tom (originally played by Albert Brooks)
Alternative Casting Choice:
Jason Schwartzman

Certainly not the biggest role in the film, perhaps only beaten by the role of Sport here Tom’s dissection of Mafia trademarks would make his character slightly more memorable than most of the supporting cast, while also bringing out Travis’s jealous as well as fuelling his more dangerous side, by being his rival for the affections of Betsy, even though she seemingly hold no feelings for either man.
Tom is an office geek trying to come across more intellectual than he is and Schwartzman tends to play these characters well, let alone the fact that with “The Stool Pigeon” speech he is the sole actor I could see pulling it off convincingly, especially as he bring the right amount of fake intellectualism to his roles that the role requires, for although he might portray himself as a deep thinker, Tom frequently misses the point or fudges his facts while trying to provide an explanation for his opinions.

Wizard (originally played by Peter Boyle)
Alternative Casting Choice:
Jeffrey Tambor

Wizard is almost like the adopted father figure of the Taxi Driver’s of “The King Kong Cab Company”, having been driving cabs longer than any of the other drivers and having long grown wise to how things work on the New York streets, while at the same time peddling his own brand of street philosophy. In many ways is the same to Travis aswell and from whom Travis tries to make sense of the madness he see’s around him, as he remains the sole person to which he confesses his concern for this change in outlook and while Wizard might mistake these feelings as Travis adapting to the job, his numbness to the world around him, does in same way indentify that perhaps not everything is in Travis’s head.

Wizard needs to be played by an older actor and although Ed Harris was a strong contender for the role and while I love Peter Boyle who is underused these days in the god awful “Everybody loves Raymond” and seeing how the rules require me to sadly recast him, Jeffery Tambor was the best possible replacement, edging over Harris only because of how he would read the lines, which would be no doubt with the same casual intensity that Boyle does, were what he is saying is important to listen to, but he still makes it sound like casual conversation and it’s this style of projection that Tambor also excels at as best seen in the severely underrated “Arrested Development”.

So there you have it, my alternate cast for "Taxi Driver". But who would you cast??
So why not put together your own alternative cast and post it in the comments section

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Jaws: The Revenge

Title: Jaws: The Revenge
Director: Joseph Sargent
Released: 1987
Staring: Lorraine Gary, Lance Guest. Mario Van Peebles, Michael Caine, Karen Young, Judith Barsi, Mitchell Anderson, Roy Scheider

Plot: Ellen Brody (Gary) is still living on Amity, despite her husband Martin (Scheider) being killed from a heart attack brought on by the two sharks he had battled previously. Now living with her son Sean (Anderson) who has since become a deputy sheriff, she is once again forced to face the horror when Sean is killed by a Giant shark. Wanting to take her away from Amity, Michael (Guest) returns from the Bahamas’s, were he has been working as a marine biologist, especially worried that Ellen is now convinced that her family are being targeted by another giant shark. To help her recover from Sean’s death he invites Ellen to come back with him to stay with his wife Carla (Young) and their young daughter Thea (Barsi). However the shark is following them closely behind intent on having its revenge.

Review: Frequently named as being one of the “worst movies of all time”, which is kind of an exaggeration. I mean have these people never seen any of Noel Clarke’s films? Or even “Wrecking Crew” which if I was still rating films here on the blog, it would still be one of the lowest rated films I have reviewed so far, next to “The Human Centipede”. Still it retains it’s 0% rating on rotten tomatoes the complete opposite of the 100% rating held by the classic original.

The plot from the start is completely insane, especially as last time I checked, sharks don’t usually take the death of other sharks that personally, so for one to suddenly develop an understandable grudge against the Brody’s is certainly an interesting take on the term “Creative freedom” as you generally get the idea that director Sargent doesn’t watch a lot of shark documentaries, especially as the shark even roars and while the first three films were hardly factually accurate either, they at least didn’t push things to the same levels of randomness we get here.

Despite being offered a cameo in the film Scheider declined to reprise the sheriff brody, perhaps being down to the fact it would have seen him being eaten by the shark in the opening, a fate which now falls to his son Sean and leaving Ellen to pick up the shark killing mantle, which is an interesting decision, especially seeing how she was more the provider of emotional support, with the shark killing being previous left to her husband and son’s, not that their success in “Jaws 3D” is noted atoll, especially with the film supposedly set in a timeline were those events never even happened, which really is such a minor problem compared to some of the films flaws it’s almost unnoticeable.

Still Gary makes for a surprisingly strong and believable lead for what would be her final role to date and it really sells her paranoia, without feeling the need to overact and it’s a funny turn of events which see her working with Sargent again after they first worked together on the TV movie “The Marcus-Nelson Murders” which Spielberg citing it as the motivation for him casting her originally for the role of Ellen, which of course also had nothing to do with the fact that she was also the wife of the studio’s chief executive at the time.

The main meat of the plot, outside of the crazy shark stalker, it's essentially just a rerun of the plots of the first three films, with the shark showing up and killing off a few disposable cast members, while our leads try to convince the rest of the cast about the shark being there, before the inevitable final showdown and once again the only thing which has changed is the setting as we now get the warmer setting of the Bahamas, which despite Michael stating that Great Whites don’t like the warmer waters, it would certainly seem that this shark doesn’t have too much of a qualm in the change of location either.

What has changed here though is the violence of the Shark Attacks which had always been largely gore free, outside of the occasional detached limb. Here the shark attacks are bloody and visceral, with Sean getting his arm torn off in the first 10 mins, while the few attacks we get are frequently shot in slow motion as the victims writhe in the sharks’ mouth, spraying crimson like a burst water pipe. The strangest thing though is the despatch method for the shark, which depending on which version you are watching differs greatly with the US release having the shark explode, while the European release has the shark impaled on the bow of the boat (something I questioned further in one of my “Random Film Moments” posts) which lack either of the impact of the previous films finale, though the European release does atleast get to show off the sheer size of the shark, while seeming slightly more plausible than the sloppy editing job used for the US death scene.

The Shark effects vary greatly throughout, with the pole moving the shark being clearly visible on more than one occasion and while it’s clearly just a giant rubbery looking shark, it still has more presence than any of the cheap CGI monstrosities currently showing up in creature features, though Sargent never seems to manage to make it as scary as Spielberg did, with the best shocks he can achieve usually being from the jump scares rather than any of the prolonged attacks.

Frustratingly this film also has the lowest body count of the series and while the original “Jaws” might have also have had a low body count, the action between attacks was enough to keep the audience interested, were as here we get a lot of boring interaction as Sargent seems to struggle to find anything interesting for the cast to be doing, leading to him ripping off the dinner table imitation scene between Brody and his son from the original film, while also tacking on a questionable romantic angle between Ellen and the carefree airplane pilot Hoagie (Caine) who would have been a much more clumsy and irritating character had it played by anyone other than Caine, who manages to charm his way through the film, machine gunning off tall tales and bizarre life philosophies, meanwhile the most irritating character award goes to Jake (Van Peebles) who I can’t help but believe that they originally expected to be a much more humorous character than he is, but here Van Peebles is one of the few established actors and as such manages to do a decent job on damage limitation caused by this character, while his father the legendry blaxploitation Melvin Van Peebles puts in a cameo appearance as the local mayor and proving that there really is no limit for what some people will appear in to get a free holiday.

While it might be light years from perfect, there is still something likable about this last official entry in the series which effectively killed the franchise, even though rumours still circulate regarding a prequel “Jaws: Deadly Seas” telling the story of Quinn on the USS Indianapolis and we also still have “Jaws 5: Cruel Jaws” courtesy of the Italian Maestro of the cash in Bruno Mattei (the same man who also gave the world his own take on “Terminator 2”) aswell as more recently “Jaws In Japan”. Still the meantime we still can get our giant shark fix with Steve Alten’s “Meg” series the first book of which still remains stuck in development hell, despite frequent positive articles regarding the production moving forward, but currently outside of the barmy giant creature antics of the “The Asylum” it could still help bring the creature feature back to the mainstream were it is still sorely missed.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

The Dragon Lives Again / Deadly Hands Of Kung Fu

Title: The Dragon Lives Again / Deadly Hands Of Kung Fu
Director: Kei Law
Released: 1977
Staring: Bruce Leong, Sin Il Lung, Tong Ching, Jenny, Alexander Grand, Eric Tsang, His Chang, Fu Lai, Mei Wong, Kah Wah

Plot: After his untimely death, Bruce Lee (Leong) wakes up to find himself now in the “Underworld”. Having decided to set up a gym to allow him to continue to share his martial arts skills, he soon finds himself under attack from some familiar faces, who are plotting to take over the Underworld, while drawing equally unwanted attention from the King of the Underworld (Ching).

Review: Yes that’s right boys and girls it’s another “Bruceploitation” movie! The genre which proves, that just because your leading man has suddenly died, that it shouldn’t stop you making money off their legacy, by hiring either actors who look like them or using actors with similar sounding names. This however is possibly the most insane Bruceploitation movie I have seen to date, seeing how not only is Bruce in Hell, but also facing off against Zatoichi (The Blind Japanese Swordsman played here by Mei Wong) which might not sound too random, until you find out that he also set to fight James Bond (Grand), The Godfather (Il Lung), Dracula (Chang) and Emmanuelle (Jenny), while gaining support from The One Armed Swordsman, Kain (from “Kung-Fu”) and Popeye and yes I mean the same spinach eating sailor that we all know and love.

Having thrown plausibility out of the window, director Law takes full advantage of the surreal situation by essentially pushing it as far as he can, as Bruce also fights a bunch of Mummies as well as skeletons, yet still keeping a familiar Kung Fu framework from within which the action unfolds, hence we have Bruce opening a gym, only for it to come under attack, with the more traditional rival school here being replaced by a gang of famous pop culture icons, everything else though is just good old Kung fu right down to it’s quarry based fight scenes.

Leong might not look anything like Bruce Lee, but that doesn’t really matter seeing how in this version of Hell, no one looks like their former selves an idea which basically writes off the fact that no one looks anything like any one of the pop culture icons they are supposed to be playing and hence why we also get the Asian versions of Clint Eastwood (Wah), Dracula and more interestingly Kain, a role which was originally meant to be played by Bruce Lee in a concept he was working on while he was working on "The Green Hornet" called “The Warrior”, only for the idea to be stolen by Warner Bros and turned into “Kung Fu”, so it was especially interesting to see this role, finally being played by an Asian actor. Still Leong does randomly don the “Kato” costume from “The Green Hornet”, but like so much in this film no real explanation is given for it’s appearance here.

The tone of the film is clearly being played for laughs, rather than any kind of seriousness, atleast that’s what I hope Law was aiming for, especially as unlike other Bruceploitation movies which atleast had some element of paying tribute (largely though it was more to do with making as much cash as possible) to Bruce Lee’s legacy and the mystery behind his much discussed untimely death. This like “The Clones of Bruce Lee” however is a much more surreal kind of film. Still it hard to say that’s not amusing to see Bruce Lee fighting James Bond or a group of skeletons, which essentially resemble a bunch of guys in cheap Halloween costumes.

The alternative argument however is in terms of the tastefulness of releasing a film like this, a few years after Bruce Lee's death, let alone the fact it opens with Bruce sporting what would appear to be a monster erection, only to then be revelled to be his nunchuck's (easy mistake to make), much less to have Bruce apologising reflectively to Linda for his cheating ways. Meanwhile Bruce’s penis does seem to be a source of great interest to the King’s Concubines, which also gives us the great line “When a man’s endowed like Bruce, the girls are bound to want him.”, something which is never revelled even though we do get to see a move called “The Third Leg of Bruce Lee”.

Like so many Kung Fu movies of the 70’s the moves on display here all come with their own colourful names, none better seen than during the quarry showdown between Bruce and Zatoichi were the names of the moves explode onto the screen in huge white letters, with Bruce’s moves all being named after his films hence we get “Way of the Dragon” & “Enter the Dragon” were as Zatoichi shows us the colourfully named “Blind Dog Pissing”. Still this quarry setting you’re best getting used to seeing how nearly every fight takes place here. Still the fight scenes are all enjoyable enough, with Leong fighting with nowhere near the ability of the real Bruce Lee, but certainly with enough skill on show here to make for exciting brawls, even when taking on multiple opponents, while even the usually non martial arts trained of his foes all seem remarkably skilled usually after failing to shoot him at seemingly point blank range!

The soundtrack mainly consists of snippets of the “Enter the Dragon” theme, while we also get a Kung Fu reworking of the James Bond theme, while even more bizarrely the opening strains of Carl Douglas’s “Kung Fu Fighting” also makes an appearance, with seemingly no purpose outside of cramming in another pop culture reference and raising a cheap laugh.

This film is without a doubt one of the craziest films I have seen in a long while and despite having a plot which is beyond implausible, but it atleast sticks with it’s ideas down to it’s insane final showdown which see’s Bruce squaring off against the king of the underworld and his army of mummies, while being backed up by Popeye and the One Armed Swordsman, which is the sort of fight I never fought I would be writing about, yet at the same time reminds just how much fun, can be found in writing about such obscure and random classics such as this, which would be unlikely to be found if I was writing about purely mainstream cinema, as I’ve a feeling that one is going to take some beating to knock it off the top of the weirdness totem pole.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

The Long Lunch

Title: The Long Lunch
Director: Antony Redman
Released: 2003
Staring: Jeanette Cronin, Ian Bliss, Vice Gil, Alex Menglet, Victor Rodger, Steph Song, Conroy Chan, Teik Buck Ooi, Edwin Pang, Li Yang

Plot: Five Hardened criminals plotting their next big robbery, meet at a Chinese restaurant unaware that the staffs have overheard their plans and soon making plans to hijack their heist, in a bid to save the restaurant owner whose debt to a local triad gangster threatens to put them all out of business and all before the bill is paid.

Review: “The Long Lunch” might possibly be one of the most obscure movies I have reviewed here on the blog, seeing how there is no Wikipedia pages about it, seemingly no other reviews (outside of a couple of minimalist Amazon reviews) and even the IMDB page is nothing more than a synopsis and cast listing, which is especially suprising seeing how even the most random pieces of cinematic trash and student films usually get more activity than this.

I originally stumbled across this latest find at a car boot sale (essentially the same principle as a yard sale) a few months back and since then it has sat in the watch pile taunting me with it’s intriguing plot and cover (especially the character in the giant costume head). So in a bid to finally clear some out some of the VHS I have amassed, most of them picked up with every good intention of reviewing them, only to get distracted by other films, I finally decided to watch this one and the results were mixed to say the least.

This sole feature film of Australian Director Redman, whose background is predominantly in advertising, who according to his IMDB profile has won awards at nearly every major advertising award show around the world as a copywriter aswell as art / creative director, before switching to directing commercials were he was named “one of the hottest new directors” at the Cannes Advertising Festival in 1997 (yep I never knew that existed either) and yet despite shooting advertising campaigns, for Sony, Audi, Carlsberg, Sprite, Kia and Sunsilk still remains an unknown to most of us bar those who I guess obsessively research their favourite adverts to find out the directors.

Still advertising has produced many great directors in the past including such visionary directors as Spike Jonze, Mark Romanek and David Fincher and like them Redman also processes an eye for visual flair with his direction, which he brings to the film as he intercuts shots with video game footage and karaoke screens to help tell his story, with the whole film clearly shot with the intention of giving it more flair and style than the usual run of the mill thriller, with Redman also clearly being another director keen to imitate the pop culture cool of Tarantino, yet like many of the imitators he too suffers from lacking Tarantino’s ear for dialogue.

Opening with an unnamed triad (Yang) performing his own brand of liposuction intimidation on the restaurant owner (Pang), before disgustingly drinking the contents of the liposuction jar, a technique he later confesses to being pure improvisation and even name checking this technique as being the same one used by Robert De Niro, though honestly I can’t remember seeing De Niro ever drinking the contents of a liposuction jar. Still if this doesn’t have you reaching for the eject button, you soon get to meet the hardened criminals at the centre of the films plot who also frequently push the boundaries of taste, while also your usual bunch of colourful characters, who it would seem are sadly all surface colour as we never really get to learn much about who these characters are, or what their backgrounds are outside of their individual skill sets. The same can also be said for the restaurant staff planning to rip off the crooks, who include a moody waitress (Song), a roast duck obsessed chef (Chan) and a crazy ex Hong Kong Cabbie (Ooi) who like the crooks remain painfully undeveloped and nothing outside of the surface gloss.

These plus and minus qualities continue throughout the film as it frequently feels that with every good point, it will usually being followed closely by a negative point, hence we get colourful yet under developed characters, a great ending only to then have a clumsier one tacked on the end, which seems for some reason to be trying to attach some kind of confused half assed moral message to the film. We also get a great setup, yet the film is frequently sewn together with clumsy scenes, so that while the main action of the plot is unfolding with scenes of the crooks discussing random subjects such as bird nest soup with none of the aforementioned Tarantino cool it’s clearly trying aim for and with seemingly no point but to show what they are doing while the restaurant staff rip off their heist.

The film all looks very nice and despite being shot on what would seem to be an indie budget still looks great and despite a strange leaning towards giving it a grimy feel, with the scuzzy highlights including a loveless fuck against an arcade machine (while still playing the game no less) it thankfully never slumps to the sleazy depths of nearly every British gangster film of late, with the few actions scenes all being handled well, even though it ultimately feels a little hollow, with a twist towards the end looses a lot of it’s power, thanks to it raising more questions regarding it’s plausibility, even to the least nitpicking of viewers.

Ultimately the film does show a lot of potential for Redman and while he has yet to follow it up, it would be nice to see something a little more polished and focused from him in future, especially with his talent very much being comparable at the moment to the penny in the pile of shit and with a decent editor or more firm studio head behind him, he could potentially be a director worth watching more from, should he ever decide to break away from advertising again, which looking at his IMDB page wouldn’t seem to be anytime in the near future. Still if you can find it and willing to watch with an open mind, there is still fun to be had here but it’s one best approached with caution.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

100 Followers!! - Thanks for your support

This is almost like an action replay of my reaction to finding out

Wow I can hardly believe that I have now reached 100 followers, a feat I never thought I would achive when I started out writing this blog, hardly expecting one never mind 100 people who liked my blog enough to follow it and it's certainly the perfect way to end another great year here on the blog, especially as I now prepare to enter Year four.

I should really thank at this point everyone who has read the blog since it started and especially all of you who have chosen to follow it. Thanks should also go to my wife Lily for putting up with my obsessive film hording which continually threatens to take over any flat surface in our house, let alone my random film rants and continual efforts to teach our son William the names of all the Toho monsters.

Thanks also to all the bloggers who have supported the blog over the years, with many of you having grown into great friends and fun rivals over the years, with special thanks going to Jenn (Cavalcade of Perversions), Bryce (Things That Don't Suck) and Emily (The Deadly Doll's House of Horror Nonsense) to name but a few of the blogs I regualrly try and read and I hope that those I havn't named but frequently try to support, will know already that they too are a constent source of inspiration, aswell as reminding me frequently that the blogsphere is still home to some of the most exciting voices in film critisim, especially in these times where many mistaken lean towards Video based critism.

So what does Year four hold? Well as the watch pile only continues to grow from numourous mispent hours digging through boxes of VHS at flea markets, car boots and charity shop backrooms, let alone a reading pile which constantly threatens to fall off my bedside table and kill me in my sleep aswell as "Elwood's A-Z of Asian Cinema" still to finish, it's already looking like it's going to be another jam packed year of obscure film watching, especially as already there are just so many titles that I'm looking forward to watching and writing about, I could hardly think about giving up now, especially when it's still just so much fun to hunt down these films and write about them.

Once again, I thank you all for the support and hope that Year four is just as much fun as the last three have been :)

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