Friday, 27 August 2010

F - New British horror gets premier at Frightfest

Frightfest is the place to see horror movies in the UK for the first time and F is a perfect example of that. Getting its world premier at the festival the synopsis goes something like this -

"F tells the story of Robert Andeson, a burned-out alcoholic world-wearty English teacher, a man who has to face this most terrifying demons. F is set in a huge, sprawling UK comprehensive school, after lessons have finished for the day. What is a place of learning during the daytime becomes a vast and deserted labyrinthine nightmare of endless corridors, empty classrooms, woodwork rooms, gyms, welding rooms, motor pool shops, canteens, photographic darkrooms, art studion and sports halls. The school comes under relentless attack from a group of bloodthirsty hoodies, intent on only one thing, to spread terror. Anderson must battle these brutal killers, and his deepest fears, in a desperate battle for the survival of his pupils, fellow teachers and those he holds most dear.

F will be released nationwide from September 17th courtesy of Optimum Releasing."

We don't normally cover non-supernatural horror here, but we like to support British film-making when we can.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Sci Fi Totty - A Genre's Shame

There can be little more schizophrenic than the science fiction genre's depiction of women. On the one hand the genre was amongst the first to show women as being intelligent and capable whilst on the other it saddled them with ridiculous outfits that made the most of their outstanding assets.

Just think of the original outfits that the crew of the Starship Enterprise wore in the original STAR TREK. Could those skirts have been any shorter? Is that what Starfleet considers to be practical spacewear? And yet the show had a string of capable women from Nurse Chapel and Lt Uhura through to the subject specialists that appeared.

In THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, Patricia Neal was a single mother completely in command of her situation, but Anne Francis in FORBIDDEN PLANET had another of those ridiculously short skirts to deal with. Faith Domergue was one of the world's leading scientists in THIS ISLAND EARTH Julia Adams was a top scientist in THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, but her main contribution was to swim about in a one-piece swimsuit.

That reference is apt because the reason for this speculation is the release in the UK of PIRANHA 3D, which again goes all schizophrenic. It features a female sheriff heroine who is as good as any man, but has so many scantily and unclad females as to completely spoil the effect. Hell, even Ripley, the ultimate science fiction heroine got down to her skivvies in ALIEN.

Alice, the genetic killing machine in RESIDENT EVIL, is as competent a woman as it gets, surviving when all the men around her are killed off, but even she had to be seen being 'born' naked.

The there's Stella Starr, who saves the universe no less in STARCRASH, but she does it in the skimpiest of outfits. Princess Leia led the rebellion against the empire, but she had to sport a gold bikini when necessary.

It seems that no matter how much the genre tries to show women in a positive light, there's always someone who wants to put them in their underwear instead.

Piranha 3-D
Forbidden Planet [Blu-ray]
Resident Evil - The High-Definition Trilogy (Resident Evil/ Resident Evil: Apocalypse/ Resident Evil: Extinction) [Blu-ray]
Creature From the Black Lagoon (Universal Studios Classic Monster Collection)
Starcrash (Roger Corman Cult Classics) [Blu-ray]
The Day the Earth Stood Still
This Island Earth

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Style Over Substance?

Just the other night I got the chance to see SCOTT PILGRIM vs THE WORLD and had a thoroughly good time thank you very much. It is very funny, nicely played, has lots of visual gags and tons of cinematic creativity.

What it doesn't do is make any sense. This is a film where the story isn't the thing. To keep dating the girl of his dreams Scott Pilgrim needs to defeat her seven evil exes. Why? Because it's a fun idea. This is not reality. This couldn't possibly happen. This isn't meant to be taken seriously. It's a fun ride rather than a true film.

Kids today spend more time on computer games than going to the pictures and they are now the mass entertainment market of choice. That SCOTT PILGRIM vs THE WORLD therefore does everything it can to look like a video game shouldn't come as a shock. Defeated enemies scatter coins like Sonic scatters rings, there are popup screens and scores and even an extra life that comes in handy towards the end. There are even magic doors.

OK, so films don't have to tell a 'real' story to be great and they don't have to make any sense either (anyone who's seen LAST YEAR IN MARIENBAD will attest to that), but is this a trend? AVATAR looked like a videogame and was certainly more interested in putting pretty pictures on the screen than having a plot or acting and stuff. TRANSFORMERS 2 had big robots hitting other big robots else. SPEED RACER was nothing but flashy visuals. CLASH OF THE TITANS was an empty CGI-fuelled experience.

Fortunately, I don't think this trend is going to go damage cinema too much. There have always been films that look better than the content they are filled with. Right now, though, there are films that are as good in terms of plot and character as they are in visual quality. Think back to last year's MOON, which was all about plot and character. This year's biggest hit has been INCEPTION which has a startlingly good plot for such a huge blockbuster and the animated likes of TOY STORY 3 and HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON have shown that even a kids' movie can max out on plot and contain good characters. KICK ASS shows that a plot can still be good whilst being matched to a great visual sense.

So let's just sit back and enjoy the hybrid experience that is SCOTT PILGRIM vs THE WORLD (because it is a really good night out) and not worry about the future of science fiction in the cinema. There will always be the empty eye-candy, but the good plot and likeable character is making a comeback.

Inception [Blu-ray]
How to Train Your Dragon (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Dragon Double Pack) [Blu-ray]
Toy Story 3 [Blu-ray]

Monday, 16 August 2010

Shyamalan-bashing to become Olympic Sport?

Do you remember (it might even have been September) the first time that you saw THE SIXTH SENSE and were utterly blown away by this film from a director was clearly something of a genius?

How times have changed. With the release of M Night Shyamalan's THE LAST AIRBENDER garnering the kind of critical abuse unprecedented by even his standards we have to ask where it all went wrong and why the man considered most likely to succeed is now Hollywood's favourite pinata replacement.

Nobody likes a smart arse and Mr Shyamalan has never been backward in coming forward and telling everyone what a genius he is. In THE LADY IN THE WATER he cast himself as the man whose writing would save the whole of humanity! When he burst on the scene with the hugely successful SIXTH SENSE then he would have put a lot of more established noses out of joint, but it was a brillliant film. After all, he wrote, produced and directed it all himself. What a (talented) git!

Then came UNBREAKABLE, also starring Bruce Willis and another tricksy tale that proves to be a smart comic book origin story with another nice twist. THE VILLAGE was nicely put together with some scary moments, but it suffered from a twist that made it all a bit silly in retrospect and SIGNS was also a bit silly, but it was creepy too and had some major good jumpy bits.

Then came THE LADY IN THE WATER and the downward spiral began. This was Shyamalan's most personal project, based on a story that he told his kids, according to the hype. That's all well and good, but a bedtime story isn't necessarily what you want to base a film on and this film appealed neither to adults nor to kids. It was probably well received in the Shyamalan household, though. This was the film where everyone suddenly felt safe venting their envy and the bashing began.

It was THE HAPPENING, though, that took the sport of Shyamalan bashing to stellar levels. Sure, it was not a great film. It wasn't even a good film, but it had some supremely creepy moments at the start and some good jump moments in it as well. There were much worse films that the critics could have taken their spleens out to wipe all over, but it was Shyamalan and so it got far worse than it deserved. After all, the man who made THE SIXTH SENSE is capable of so much better.

And so we come to THE LAST AIRBENDER, which has had some gleeful savaging. We've not seen it, but feel confident that it's not as bad as everyone seems to think. It's a kids' movie and it doesn't seem to be being reviewed in that spirit.

M Night Shyamalan is the cinematic whipping boy of the moment. He needs to quit writing, directing and producing his own films and either write films for someone else or direct films that someone else has written. That way, he can't take all the blame himself.

M. Night Shyamalan Vista Series Collection (The Sixth Sense/Signs/Unbreakable)

Friday, 13 August 2010

AVATAR back for more of your money

Yes, AVATAR makes it way back to the big screen in an attempt to snaffle more of your hard-earned cash and the excuse for this is a whacking great 8 minutes (yes, 8 minutes) of new footage.

Now 8 minutes sounds like quite a lot, but consider that the film originally ran to 162 minutes which means that there will be a whole 5% more to see. Are you actually even going to notice that since it is presumably not going to be one new 8 minute sequence? And don't forget that James Cameron thought that these 8 minutes weren't even worth being in the original movie. It's unlikely to be some recently recovered footage of the actors delivering hitherto unnoticed oscar-worthy performances is it?

This brings us to the whole issue of 'Director's Cuts'. Now where a film has been messed up by a studio or has been restored with recently discovered footage then we have no issue with putting out the new version. The recent BLADE RUNNER boxset came with 5 different versions of the one film and we went ahead and bought that anyway. But when a film comes out with the director's vision intact and then is re-released with a chunk of stuff that he didn't want to put in first time around then that's called profiteering.

Enhancing the experience for a new medium is also something that we don't have a problem with. When you're sat at home and can pause the DVD to nip upstairs to the loo or make a cup of tea then the extended versions of THE LORD OF THE RINGS are an entirely different proposition than being stuck in your cinema seat with your legs crossed not wanting to miss a thing.

So, why do we have a problem with AVATAR being re-released into the cinema? Well, we don't in principle. Some films ought to be re-released and we have loved big screen showings of THE WIZARD OF OZ, IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, DOUGALL AND THE BLUE MOON CAT, ET THE EXTRA TERRESTRIAL, IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE and many others which we had only ever seen on TV or hadn't seen on the big screen for a long time. The cinema is the only place to see these films in their full glory, but they were brought back in their original form with no pathetic excuses about adding in extra bits. If you want to go back to Pandora and see AVATAR on a big screen with 3D glasses on to witness again the wonder, scale and epic beauty of the computer generated vistas then that's fine, but don't be lured back by the promise of 8 minutes of new stuff just tacked on for that very purpose.