Du rififi à Paname aka The Upper Hand (1966): Denys de La Patellière's crime movie is a sort of retirement home for tired looking old and middle aged actors (Jean Gabin! Gert Fröbe! Nadja Tiller! Claudio Brook! George Raft!), the kind of film that thinks just letting the actors turn their faces in the direction of the camera equals acting performances. What's actually going on is that no one in front of the camera seems even the least bit interested in the film they are involved in, which is somewhat understandable given the been there done that nature of the film's crime plot, and the script's insistence on not developing the plot's few interesting elements in any direction worth following. De La Patellière manages to make the film pretty, but doesn't provide any sense of tension or drama, and also seems to delight in the kind of "witty" dialogue only very few films can get away with. Most of those films have actors actually doing more than coasting on their mere existence, though.
An American Ghost Story aka Revenant (2012): Derek Cole's film could be a fine, low-key ghost story, if a highly derivative one. At least, the core performances by scriptwriter and male lead Stephen Twardokus and Liesel Kopp are never less than decent, often even quite good, the camera work is atmospheric, and the film has a nice, concentrated flow to it. Unfortunately American Ghost Story suffers from a case of Advanced Jump Scare Syndrome that borders on the ridiculous. There's no quietly effective scene of the supernatural the film doesn't ruin by making inappropriate loud noises at the audience in moments that aren't at all meant to be jump scares, no scene that doesn't end up destroying its own effectiveness by shouting "boo". It's nearly like a parody of other films who like their jump scares a bit too much, and feels as if the film were afraid to just let the creepy mood it so desperately tries to build work on its audience, permanently losing faith in its own ability to function without VERY LOUD NOISES. While this technique doesn't work at all to actually make the film scarier, it ruins any mood it actually builds quite effectively, dragging the whole effort down from the at least decent to the nearly insufferable.
Star Trek Into Darkness (2013): I'm more than just a little surprised that this one is the film of these three I actually like, but then surprising me is what J.J. Abrams's movie did more than once: by feeling much more like a Stark Trek movie than the first one, by not just fixing the first film's dubious politics but actually consciously having and using political themes and coherent morals, by actually doing some rather great (or at the very least fun) things with the Star Trek movie it is playing with/off, and by this time around actually having something (though still not enough by far) to do for its female cast members. If the last trend continues, the next Star Trek movie might even see Zoe Saldana's Uhura as an actual female lead instead of a relatively large supporting role for Pine's and Quinto's perfectly entertaining boy's club.
As it stands, the film is still nearly up there with the Avengers or the last Batman or Pacific Rim as a film that fulfils all blockbuster demands on spectacle, yet still has the time and space for human things of one kind of the other. Most of the time, it even remembers the spectacle is there to dramatize the humanity and not the other way around.Technorati-Markierungen: american movies,french movies,horror,crime,sf,in short,j.j. abrams,denys de la patellière,derek cole,jean gabin,gert fröbe,nadja tiller,stephen twardokus,liesel kopp,chris pine,zachary quinto,zoe saldana,benedict cumberbatch
The last few Japanese low budget horror films I watched left me with a bit of a sour taste in my mouth, as well as with a degree of pessimism towards the state of the genre in the country.
A film like The Crone, flawed yet made with obvious dedication and intelligence as it is, can't help but bring me around to optimism again. I'll explain why in my column over at Exploder Button.Technorati-Markierungen: japanese movies,reviews,other places,horror,eisuke naito,honoka miki,shiori kitayama,kaoru goto
Before the SyFy Original movie really came into its own, before Mansquito was a blink in Tibor Takács eye, the icky sounding Turner Broadcasting System aired Charles Robert Carner's Red Water, a film you could sell to me as part of the SyFy cycle any time. It has everything you'd expect from this sort of film: two likeable leads given by two actors whose faces we all know but who never really got a big break - in this case Lou Diamond Phillips and Kristy Swanson; a killer shark; non-rapper, non-actor Coolio non-acting and at least not attempting to rap; Cajun clichés; gangsters; ex-husband and ex-wife getting back together thanks to the magic of animal attacks; as many explosions as the budget can take, so not very many; evil oil business and evil banks. In other words, there's not a single original idea in the whole film. Instead Red Water tries to become somewhat memorable by at least mixing the clichés of a few different genres.
As with the SyFy films whose cousin Red Water is, there's a lot of fun to be had with it if you're willing to accept the lack of originality for what it is instead treating it as an insult to all of humanity, don't expect something spectacular, and just go with the film's flow. Carner makes that easy enough, for while there are no spectacular stylistic achievements visible on screen, the director does present his plot in a clear straightforward style that fits the clear straightforward story just fine. While there is no really clever moment in the film, there certainly aren't many dull ones, so if you're in the mood for a highly traditional yet effective mix of sharksploitation and thriller that aims to entertain the simple-minded like me, Red Water will scratch that itch nicely without letting you wade through too much idiocy, and without ever trying to bore you. Plus, I don't think I've ever seen a movie monster shark killed in quite this way before.Technorati-Markierungen: american movies,american tv,in short,thriller,horror,charles robert carner,lou diamond phillips,kristy swanson
Again, a maniac kidnaps a bunch of people, stuffs them into a decrepit warehouse, and plays games with them. Only this time around, the kidnapper will later turn out to be played by Gordon Liu Chia-Hui, his victims are all successful professional killers with martial arts skills (with Ammara Siripong, Johnny Messner and Tim Man as the central characters), and the only game Gordon likes - apart from gloating - is seeing them fight one-on-one to the death, promising survival to the last one standing.
Some of our killers (maybe the ones whose actors I named!?) are not quite as gullible as poor Gordon Liu may hope, though, and may find the brains to team up and take the fight into more warehouse rooms, and to their captor and his army of stunt people playing crazy dress-up.
If you've got to make a warehouse-bound martial arts/action movie, you can do much worse than decide what Kill 'Em All's Raimund Huber did and take your most basic set-up (sort of) from Saw but replace all semi-sadistic games and stupid plot twists with martial arts fights. Thusly, Kill 'Em All may not exactly win any prizes for originality, but it sure is a film trying to make the most of its miniscule budget and to deliver what its potential audience will probably really come to see - a lot of fights.
While there's nothing spectacular about Tim Man's choreography or Huber's way of shooting it, it's solid and dependable with some bursts of actual energy and - particular in the final fights - a nicely presented sense of brutality that befits a film whose heroes are professional killers. I'm also quite happy to report that Huber shoots the fights straight, with editing rhythms and camera angles meant to show off the actors' (all of whom have more martial arts and/or stunt experience than acting experience) skills, which seems to be a style that slowly replaces the micro-editing and camera-shaking that has marred low budget action movies in the last fifteen years or so again. Generally, martial arts is something I actually like to see in a martial arts movie, so I'm all for it.
There is little else to say about Kill 'Em All. Its level of writing and acting are about where you expect them to be in this kind of production - good enough for what the film is, probably horrifying if you're the sort of person who goes into a film called Kill 'Em All expecting much depth in these regards. The rest is silly bad guy talk, one rather funny joke about ninjas, and a lot of fun scenes of people beating each other up. I call that a highly satisfying evening's entertainment.Technorati-Markierungen: american movies,thai movies,german movies,in short,martial arts,raimund huber,johnny messner,ammara siripong,tim man,gordon liu chia-hui
At some point in time between the World Wars. Kit Walker (Billy Zane) is The Phantom aka The Ghost Who Walks, the newest in a long line of adventuring pulp-style heroes, ruling about some "native tribes" while wearing ugly purple costumes and having something of a skull fetish. When he's not chatting with the ghost of his father (Patrick McGoohan), Kit's in the habit of smiting evil in a semi-competent manner a bit too semi to not leave ghost dad rather exasperated from time to time. The evil Kit has to smite this time is a megalomaniac business tycoon from New York, the excellently named Xander Drax (Treat Williams).
Drax (not to be confused with Drax the Destroyer) and his merry band of evil-doers (including Catherine Zeta-Jones and James Remar) are trying to acquire three magical skulls that combine into a weapon of awesome supernatural power, with the usual resulting world domination dreams. Obviously, this sort of thing won't stand with the Phantom, nor with Diana Palmer (Kristy Swanson), the niece of a newspaper owner up to Drax's tricks. Diana, what with her having some actual survival skills (though not enough to not get kidnapped every ten minutes), is of course the perfect potential girlfriend for a pulp hero (and in fact, Kit and Diana know each other already, though that's a part of the script so useless to the proceedings I can only assume it is a left-over from an earlier script version), so face-punching, woman-rescuing, and romancing can ensue.
Simon Wincer's The Phantom is one of a handful of attempts made in the 90s to get at some of that old pulp magic by reviving long dead characters. Unfortunately none of these films was commercially successful enough to lead to sequels or a larger pulp and serial renaissance in the movies. The character of the phantom did of course start out in a newspaper strip, but in style and content, it's about as pure a pulp hero as you can find, though one lacking the craziness of The Spider as well as the cleverness of Doc Savage or The Shadow.
The movie at hand is generally entertaining in a very old-fashioned manner, and not really in the business of trying to change up much of import about the Phantom or its mythology. Though, to give the film its dues, it does pare the racist elements of the original down from "holy crap, seriously?" to "problematic" and attempts to make Diana slightly more than an object to be kidnapped and rescued. Unfortunately, and quite typically for this sort of endeavour, the film stops with this slight re-imagination about half-way, using the old "kidnapping of the heroine" cliché so much that said heroine's general poise and ability to kick a bit of ass are undermined for no good reason (surely, the script could find someone else to kidnap at least half of the time), which is a particular shame seeing how much Kristy Swanson seems to enjoy herself in her more heroic moments. That enjoyment stands quite in contrast to Zane's rather awkward performance that suggests an actor who can't forget that he's in a very silly adventure movie wearing a particularly silly costume.
The costume is rather emblematic of the film's other great weakness, set design and costuming that just isn't all that interesting, ending in a particularly lame villain lair that's mostly cramped and brown and without any interesting visual features. I'd have rather wished for more colour, imagination and an openness to at least be as silly as the Phantom's costume in the sets; after all, the film has no problem with being silly in everything else.
Still, if you're looking for a serial-style adventure movie, you can do much worse than The Phantom. It is at least well paced, acted with zest by an excellent bunch of character actors (excluding Zane whose perfect perfect teeth just aren't that impressing, as much as he shows them), and full of exactly the sort of stunts you'd expect.Technorati-Markierungen: american movies,australian movies,in short,adventure,pulp,simon wincer,billy zane,kristy swanson,treat williams,catherine zeta-jones
Force of Execution (2013)
Director: Keoni Waxman
Writers: Richard Beattie, Michael Black
Cast: Danny Trejo, Steven Seagal, Ving Rhames
MPAA Rating: R
Synopsis: A gangster with a goatee battles a rival with a penchant for cigars. Oh, and some guy with deformed hands befriends Danny Trejo in an alley. That's about it.
Thoughts: It's hard to believe Force of Execution is a legitimate movie. The scenes are strung together in such a haphazard fashion that you'd almost think someone took two completely different films and attempted to blend them together Godfrey Ho-style. Seagal, sporting an odd goatee and a spray tan, mumbles his way through the narrative in a manner that suggests he blew out his vocal chords screaming the blues. The only real star here is Bren Foster, who really deserves his own flick. The guy is an incredible martial artist and a decent actor, so it's kind of sad that his talents are wasted on this fetid garbage. Sadly, this ranks as one of the absolute worst endeavors Seagal has attached his name to in quite some time. If Maximum Conviction was one step in the right direction, then Force of Execution is easily five steps back. This one is strictly for the hardest of the hardcore. Even then you should question what you're doing with your life.
Recipe for Disaster: Steven Seagal's Infernal Mumbling + An Overall Lack of Coherence + Bren Foster Deserves Much Better Than This.
The Film Fiend - Cinematic scribbling to stimulate your pineal gland.
The couple of Uday (Raj Kumar Yadav) and Ragini (Kainaz Motivala) are going on a trip to a place owned by a friend of Uday's in the country for a romantic weekend, or really, to get rid of Ragini's pesky virginity. What Ragini doesn't know: Uday doesn't just act like a sleazy prick most of the time, he has also agreed to help a movie producer friend of his to secretly make a sex tape, so the house is full of hidden cameras ready to turn the unknowing Ragini into a very special kind of celebrity. He's a charmer, Uday is.
Things conspire against Uday's plans, though. First, Ragini's friend Pia (Janice) and her boyfriend Vishal (Rajat) appear at the mansion in an obvious attempt at what I think is called cockblocking among experts. Then, once they've disappeared, the actual owner of the house makes herself known. Turns out the place is haunted by the ghost of a woman who wasn't a witch and didn't kill her children, and she's loathe to have guests. Uday doesn't take well to the haunting, and soon Ragini finds herself alone with a dead (asshole) boyfriend and an angry ghost. Oh, and she's cuffed to a bed with sex toy handcuffs.
By 2011 - or perhaps earlier, but I couldn't find anything about that - the POV/found footage horror wave had obviously reached India, resulting in this Hindi production directed by Pawan Kripalani. The film's sex video set-up provides the opportunity to not just have the usual hand-held shaky cam but to also use quite a few well-placed static cameras, particularly inside the bedroom where much of the film takes place.
The set-up does of course also provide another, different, opportunity, namely for quite a few scenes of very coy sleaze. That sort of thing rubs badly against the things allowed to be shown in Indian movies, and those that aren't, so what the film sells as sleaze, we around here call heavy cuddling. I'd rather wish the film had foregone the not-really-sleaze completely, for as it stands, it's neither really titillating, nor all that relevant beyond providing the film with an excuse for having more than one camera working at any given time. More negatively, its approach to its sleazy contents puts Ragini MMS very much into the group of exploitation movies that never gets around to doing anything interesting or subversive with its sleaze beyond the usual schizophrenic wagging of its finger at things it is only to happy to show in as much detail as it can get away with (which isn't much).
The ineffective sleaze drags the film's early pacing down considerably, too. The early lack of excitement is not improved by the lackluster style of the ghost's first attacks, nor by the coy use the film makes of it. It's rather typical for that part of the film that the usual "food turns creepy-crawly" scene is shot so ineffectively not even a hater of centipedes and their ilk like me felt very yucked out once it happened; other "shocks" are equally deserving of apostrophes.
Consequently, I was already mentally writing a "the same procedure as always" assertion of boredom. But then something rather wonderful happens once Ragini has been lovingly handcuffed by Uday (don't be kinky, virgins!), and Uday has been dispatched by the ghost - the remaining half hour of film turns into an effective tour de force where every seeming success of our heroine to free herself from her rather horrible situation is countered by further escalation from the ghost who suddenly isn't as harmless and boring as before anymore. Even better, while the situation Ragini finds herself in is of course rather contrived, Kripalani plays it with such earnestness and a sudden talent for creating tension and a feeling of dread, that it never feels contrived. On paper, nothing that happens is new to any even mildly experienced viewer of horror, but its execution is so well-timed this stops being a problem at all.
Motivala, who up to that point was mostly spending her time with looking "innocent yet sexy" (oh, the minds of exploitation directors), also rises to the occasion, embodying just the right mix of believable terror and determination to make it impossible not to root for her. She's also a particularly good screamer. That might sound a little glib, but a really believable scream of terror and frustration by an actress (or an actor, of course) can improve the impression a scene of horror makes considerably.
The same can be done by an excellent final thirty minutes for an up to that point charmless film, as Ragini MMS proves.Technorati-Markierungen: indian movies,bollywood,reviews,horror,pawan kripalani,kainaz motivala,raj kumar yadav
Policewoman Goldie Ho (Sammi Cheng Sau-Man), excellent at the physical aspects of her work but not much of a detective, hires the blind master detective Johnston (Andy Lau Tak-Wah) to solve a disappearance that has bothered her since her childhood. Johnston likes reward money, good food, and solving age old cases for a living, so things should be set for a quick solution but things tend to get in the way, particularly Johnston's ways of finagling himself into Ho's apartment (so she can learn the art of detection from him, or was it because his own apartment needs repairs?), and using her to assist him in solving other crimes. Then there's this pesky little thing called love.
Blind Detective finds Johnnie To half-way between his most commercial impulses (the - very effective - tear jerkers that finance the films generally seen as more personal to him, though this just might be the result of a critical bias against certain genres) and his more involved films. On one hand, it's a sometimes - effectively - sentimental film full of physical humour and wild melodrama bringing together the stars of a successful romantic comedy, on the other one, it's also a film full of the visual energy and sheer imagination that makes To's films so special, and that he pares down for affairs like this. Consequently, I suspect this may be a film that won't taste quite right to the admirers of either one of To's extremes as a director.
To my own surprise as a definite non-fan of Hong Kong romantic comedy (or really, Hong Kong comedy at all), I found myself rather taken with the movie, the natural way it goes from light slapstick to outrageous melodrama to the sort of film that features a serial killer keeping quite a few corpses around his home and back again, the weird yet organic and elegant way To marries stylistic elements that really shouldn't belong into a single movie. This approach is rather typical of To of the last one or two decades, watching Blind Detective, however, never felt as if I were watching a film by a director coasting on his successes but rather a film made by a man still in love with the imaginative aspects of filmmaking, the possibilities of play, and the (perhaps childlike) joy of seeing disparate elements collide. Somehow, To also manages to make these things look slick.
While he's at it, To also makes a romantic comedy full of love gone wrong for one reason or the other, a cynical (or realist, depending on one's personal philosophy) view that again rubs disparately yet naturally against the happy end.Technorati-Markierungen: hong kong movies,in short,comedy,crime,johnnie to,andy lau,sammi cheng
Oh, look, it's the third movie in what is now officially the premiere Nazi zombie movie franchise (by sheer virtue of actually being a franchise). Not that the Outpost movies aren't fun enough to watch, but I'll come to that a bit later.
First, let's get that "plot" thing out of the way. Despite the very obvious "to be continued" ending of Outpost 2, the movie at hand is not a sequel but a prequel, so if you want to learn the origin story of the bunker in film one, or maybe film two (the films didn't impress so much I actually remember much of what was going on in them beyond Nazi zombies and underground bunkers, which is probably for the best), this was made directly for you.
So it's World War II, and a small unit of Soviet Guards led by Dolokhov (Bryan Larkin doing one of the better, that is to say, least hilarious accents in the film) is harassing the Germans behind their frontlines somewhere in German occupied territory. They get pretty close to a secret German scientific base where the Nazis under the leadership of a certain Strasser (Michael McKell, with a fake German accents that manages to be at once inauthentic to an embarrassing degree as well as often difficult to penetrate) make the kind of crazy super soldier experiments that don't result in Hauptmann Hakenkreuz but in nearly uncontrollable rage zombies.
Unfortunately, the surroundings of the titular outpost are quite well patrolled and defended, so most of the Russians are soon dead, while Dolokhov, his friend Fyodor (Iván Kamarás who is Hungarian not Russian, but hey, it's closer than being Scottish, at least) and their colleague soon-to-be-dead-guy are captured to be used in some choice Nazi science. After a bit of Nazi zombie cage fighting, Strasser decides his captives are best used for zombification. They are, after all, much tougher than his own men, and might just survive the zombification process better than them. He doesn't explain why he thinks building Russian super soldiers is a good idea, but then he does rant and rave a lot without half of his sentences actually being understandable. Whatever could go wrong?
As is obvious, the largest part of this Outpost is pretty much exactly like the first two, with many a scene of armed men running and sneaking through a dark bunker and doing violence to other armed men, and an occasional Nazi zombie or three. While this sounds a bit boring on paper, in practice, O: RotS (you didn't expect me to write the stupid title out, did you?) is rather good low budget movie fun, at least when one can accept that this Nazi zombie movie contains more zombie-less bunker-based action than one would hope. Said action is realized by director Kieran Parker (acting as a producer and writer on the first two films) fast-paced, bloody, and competently choreographed, though, so I didn't find myself missing the zombies too desperately when they weren't there, particularly since the zombie make-up turned out to be the point where O: RotS''s low budget shows most. As in, the zombie make-up is really quite bad.
Visually, the film's a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand, I appreciate that Parker doesn't go all out on horrible digital editing tricks, whoosh-edits and that sort of distracting nonsense, on the other hand, O: RotS is yet another contemporary movie whose colour scheme is so desaturated it can hardly be called a colour scheme. One might be tempted to say they might as well have shot the film in black and white, but then black and white films need filmmakers to think about the relation between light and shadow in their compositions where the desaturated style is more a way for the lazy or unimaginative not to have to think about colour uses and colour meanings at all.
Still, O: RotS is mostly entertaining pulp action fun with one or two cute ideas, a lot of violence, deeply unpleasant protagonists fighting even more unpleasant enemies (seriously, there's a scene of Strasser urinating on a corpse just for shock value and to prove that he's really evil, as if the whole Nazi zombie thing weren't a hint), some moments of grim b-movie humour, and a few fine cheesy lines of the sort that clearly didn't write themselves. Consequently, I find myself looking forward to a potential fourth film, perhaps even one with one (or even two!?) larger female roles again - as long as it's not going to be called Outpost: Cry of the Nazi Valkyries.Technorati-Markierungen: british movies,reviews,pulp,horror,action,kieran parker,bryan larkin,iván kamarás,michael mckell
Iron Man 3 (2013): If someone had told me ten years ago that a few years later, some of the best non-stupid blockbuster movies around would be a series of interlocked Marvel superhero movies produced by Disney, I'd laughed him off, but there you have it. Shane Black's Iron Man 3 is a very fine example of its species, hitting all the mandatory Hollywood blockbuster beats with relish and talent, but adding some intelligent twists to certain parts of the formula without trying to completely deconstruct it. It's a film absolutely impossible for me to dislike, seeing as it - as most of the other Marvel movies - is the kind of pop high budget cinema the blockbuster concept should be ideal for; of course, far too often, we get Michael Bay movies or whatever that Green Lantern thing was even supposed to be instead. Happily, there's a difference between "far too often", and "always".
The Midnight Meat Train (2008): With hindsight, you can see this Clive Barker adaptation as director Ryuhei Kitamura's first step away from his old show-off direction ways towards tighter and moodier approaches to filmmaking. About half of Midnight Meat Train is a pretty swell tale of big city paranoia told in ways that often remind me more of 70s horror cinema than of video clips. The film's second half is a bit of a mess, though. Particularly the murders see Kitamura fall into his old direction pattern featuring too much CGI and braggart editing and camerawork distracting from what should be gritty and unpleasant. The film also suffers from a script that doesn't quite seem to know how to sell the film's supernatural aspect, nor how to make Bradley Cooper's increasing obsession with the true heart of the City believable. Neither Kitamura, never much one for actual humans on screen, nor Cooper himself seem to know either.
In fact, in true Kitamura style, most of the performances (except Leslie Bibb's lamely doomed girlfriend Maya) are rather drab, leaving as Midnight Meat Train a film lacking an emotional core.
Sleeping Dogs (1977): Believe it or not, before Roger Donaldson went to Hollywood, he made some fine movies in his native New Zealand. Case in point is this pretty bitter, very 70s sort-of thriller about Sam Neill trying his best not to get involved in or against a new and improved fascist New Zealand but ending crushed by the wheels of history anyway. The film does avoid heroic, mostly even defiant gestures like the plague and instead shows flawed incompetents like you or me as they stumble through a world that suddenly has turned nasty on them, with no way out and no control at all regarding their own fates. Not even violence does change much.Technorati-Markierungen: american movies,new zealand movies,in short,superheroes,action,horror,sf,thriller,shane black,robert downey jr,gwyneth paltrow,ryuhei kitamura,bradley cooper,leslie bibb,roger donaldson,sam neill
It's 1971. Carolyn Perron (Lily Taylor, putting her considerable talent to dubious yet effective use), her husband Roger (Ron Livingston) and their truckload of children have put all their money - which isn't much - into buying a beautiful house out in the middle nowhere. Unfortunately, as soon as the family has moved into its new dream home, Weird Shit™ begins to happen. Frequent horror movie goers will at once identify their troubles as sure signs of Demonic Infestation™.
When weird turns dangerous, the Perrons ask demonologist couple Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) and Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson) for help. The diagnosis isn't promising, because the family's troubles are the worst case of Evil™ the Warrens have encountered in their career until then and it'll take all of their resolve to get rid of the unwanted entities.
While I wasn't looking, James Wan turned into quite a horror director. Sure, he still wouldn't recognize subtlety it fell on his head, but he has obviously learned to use loud and garish, even more loud and garish, and incredibly loud and garish so well, his The Conjuring is something of a fun time, if a very empty one. In particular, Wan has now learned to use jump scares in a manner that doesn't induce eye-rolling and loud sighing from me, seeing as he mostly uses them as pay-offs for long and surprisingly effective suspense scenes.
One could argue that a really good director would probably just keep the suspense scenes and get rid of the jump scares completely but that would be too subtle for The Conjuring. For where Wan's efforts are hitting the mark, the script by Chad and Carey Hayes is the sort of concoction I expected (before I read other reviews online) even the mildest of viewers would have a hard time not to describe as outrageously stupid or just plain idiotic. There's really not a single thought to be found in the film beyond "demons bad", "family good", "Jesus awesome", "buy the books of Ed and Lorraine". For most of the time, the script tries to distract from that absence of anything, and from its manifold plotting troubles (just look how plain stupid the Warrens repeatedly act, despite having their own museum of haunted artefacts, and oh so much experience), by throwing one shouty, hopefully creepy set piece after the next at its audience. Thanks to Wan, this distraction manoeuvre is quite effective, though the film never reaches the point of transcendent stupidity, that is to say, the point where stupid turns into awe-inspiringly strange, nor the point where I stopped caring about the stupidity going on.
The Conjuring is always at its weakest when it feels the need to work as an advert for the real-life Warrens and their "demonology" bullshit, really not giving the on-screen couple any mentionable flaws beyond their stupidity, whose existence the film doesn't even seem to realize, and not putting a single thought into what it would actually mean to live in a world as haunted by the supernatural as it and the Warrens argue it is. But then, that would lead to a film that actually has something interesting to say, and we can't have that, now can we?
Still, as far as intellectually and emotionally empty experiences that try to distract from their failings by copious amounts of - real and metaphorical - shouting go, The Conjuring is pretty awesome.Technorati-Markierungen: american movies,in short,horror,james wan,vera farmiga,lili taylor,patrick wilson,ron livingston
A prison for young women has a curiously high lethality thanks to a peculiarly high density of inmates with very weak hearts; nobody seems to care much, though, until young progressive social worker Carol Adams (Charlotte Austin), new to the facility, starts to take an interest. What she doesn't know is that most of the staff consists of the original mad scientists led by a Dr. Murdock (Victor Jory) who learned at the feet of the Count de St. Germaine how to siphon young women's bioelectric energy and become immortal in the process.
Nearly two hundred years seem to have made the group complacent, though, and an attempt to get rid of Carol by blaming her for the faked suicide of the newest of their victims only brings in another outsider with the best interest of the girls at heart, this time in the 50s-manly form of psychiatrist Jess Rogers (William Hudson). The scientists' life isn't made easier by the fact that their life-prolonging life-force-sucking isn't taking as well as it once did. In fact, Eric (Friedrich von Ledebur), the mute working as the group's factotum, by now needs a new soul nearly nightly lest he meet the end that awaits all of these semi-immortals and turn to stone. And you know how difficult to find good mute servants are. At the same time another member of the coterie has grown squeamish and might just leave a detailed account of what's going on to Jess when his friends decide to act against his defeatism.
László Kardos's The Man Who Turned to Stone is an obscure and minor entry into 50s SF/horror, but it's not a film completely without interest. Unlike other films of the style The Man is quite low on truly reactionary content. In fact, writer and blacklist victim Bernard Gordon makes it quite obvious that he approves of Carol's rather more progressive ideas about re-socialisation - though he's not so progressive not to turn to Jess as the film's actual hero and leave Carol by the wayside for most of the running time. On the other hand, he gives the female victims of our scientific vampires a smidgen more agency in their own rescue than usual in these films, and while they're not allowed to rescue themselves, they do at least have a hand in their own salvation. Additionally, it's rather difficult not to interpret a film that is about a group of older, well-situated people who literally suck the life force out of the young people they are supposed to better and take care of, until other, luckier young people who try to get through the class barrier with good-will and trying to see eye to eye with their wards save the day, as at least somewhat left-leaning.
The film's science vampire idea and its execution comes right out of a pulp story of the sort you could have found in Weird Tales or just about any other magazine interested in using the old science gone mad thrills, with Eric in the end turning into the usual mute fiend who likes to carry unwilling women around. But here, too, the film has a handful of half-way interesting ideas, with the addition of occultists' favourite Count de Saint-Germaine to its backstory, the simple yet effective details of the life force sucking process, and the plain strangeness of having the not-quite immortals slowly turn to stone when they are not feeding, their heartbeats suddenly audible to everyone around.
Thinking this over, I can't help but imagine what a fantastic film could have been done with this material. What we actually get is decent 50s low budget feature that could have used a director with more visual imagination than Kardos shows (except in one or two scenes the more generous viewer might call influenced by expressionism) but that does at least pace its often very obvious outward thrills decently and features a romance which, while not exactly bound to make the viewer of 2013 happy, not makes you want to scrub your brain out afterwards.Technorati-Markierungen: american movies,horror,sf,reviews,lászló kardos,victor jory,william hudson,charlotte austin
Secret - so secret we never even learn what organization he's working for - agent Jacques Kristoff (Jean-Claude Van Damme, obviously) has a very bad day in front of him. Not enough that his people take him off his birthday vacation to help the thief Galina Konstantin (Laura Harring, totally Eastern European) escape from Slovakia carrying some very secret loot she's selling to his people, a thing sure to anger his wife (Susan Gibney) and kids (Jessica Bowman and authentic Van Damme son Kristopher Van Varenberg) who think he's some sort of business person. No, additionally, the train Jacques and Galina escape on after Jacques explodes some cars is hijacked by international evildoer Mason Cole (Tomas Arana) and his goons, Jacques's family makes a surprise visit on the train and now thinks he's having an affair with Galina, and the very secret loot turns out to be an upgraded variation of small pocks that of course is set free when Jacques starts playing Die Hard on a Train, infecting everybody on board.
Fortunately, Jacques can shoot, knows That Kick, drives motorcycles on roofs of moving trains, and is totally honourable too.
Bob Misiorowski's Derailed, produced by Van Damme's own company in cooperation with the usual suspects (I really need to get around to computing the percentage of Van Damme films involving Boaz Davidson in some capacity), is how I imagine most people not as involved in actually watching these films imagine all Van Damme movies are: cheap, dumb, and full of the sort of ridiculous action movie cheese that either leaves you giggling happily or rolling your eyes a lot (I prefer the former). Van Damme rides a motorcycle on the roof of a moving train for gods sake, and when one of his henchmen tells Cole he fell off doing this, Cole's reaction does not contain words to the effect of "wait, he drove what where?"!
Because doing Die Hard on a Train alone would be a bit too boring (one can't fall behind the achievements of Steven "The Whale" Seagal, after all), somebody involved in the production had the brilliant idea to add disaster movie clichés to the action movie clichés in a gesture I can't help but find quite daring. Not surprisingly, Derailed's interpretation of the disaster movie genre is even more low-rent than that of the action movie (or is it the Die-Hard-alike?), so don't go and expect the one-note characters to be played by Hollywood stars past their prime, or George Kennedy (a man perpetually past his prime). On the other hand, the mild melodramatic contortions the film goes through with small pocks and train engines on fire do result in a complete lack of slack in the film. When Van Damme isn't kicking people in the face, there's guaranteed to be some sort of train problem, a Texan losing his shit over the small pocks outbreak, Van Damme's doctor wife doing heroic disaster movie doctor stuff, or something else to distract a viewer from the horrible emptiness of the universe and the cold glare of the stars.
Given this, you really can't say the film isn't working hard for its money (there are also unconvincing CGI and miniature effects to admire). Sure, it's dumb, sure, it spits on your notions of logic and gravity, but it's also lacking boring attempts at self-irony, and contains lots of scenes of Van Damme doing Van Damme things; though if you're coming for nearly nude Van Damme or ass-shots of our hero, you'll probably leave rather disappointed.
Be that as it may (and heterosexual me has seen JCVD nearly nude so often, I'm starting to get confused when he keeps his pants on), I know, it's only a cheap Die Hard rip-off with disaster movie elements, but I like it.Technorati-Markierungen: american movies,reviews,jean-claude van damme,bob misiorowski,laura harring,susan gibney,tomas arana,action,disaster
Even in the rather sad state it is in right now, Hong Kong cinema can sometimes still offer positive surprises. Case in point is the anthology movie Tales from the Dark 1, which features three independent yet thematically connected horror stories by different directors (Simon Yam Tat-Wah in his directorial debut, Lee Chi-Ngai and Fruit Chan), all based on the stories of Lillian Lee Pik-Wah.
Simon Yam's story sees a half-crazed impoverished man played by Yam finally touching a spirit world he has always been closer to than he expected when he attempts to steal and ransom some urns. Lee Chi-Ngai's second story concerns an aging fortune-teller's (Tony Leung Ka-Fai) last job before his retirement and his attempt to get back together with his wife, shown in a very low key - at least for Hong Kong - comedic manner. Finally, Fruit Chan's story concerns the folk sorcery tradition of villain hitting (a link worth following, I think) and ghostly vengeance.
All three stories are moodily filmed, with Simon Yam showing himself as a director able to really get into a capital-w weird mood, and as the kind of actor you can actually put behind a camera without horrible consequences. Why, he's even rather subtly hiding away certain elements of his plot in plain sight. Everyone behind the camera is clearly well versed in the technological the state of the art of filmmaking without feeling the need to show off.
So far, so competent. What makes Tales from the Dark 1 interesting, particularly as a Hong Kong movie, is how little it tries to follow the expectations its prospective audience will carry towards horror cinema from the city. There's barely a single centipede on screen, the gore is not at all plentiful (only Chan's episode is interested in being gruesome at all), and where Hong Kong horror generally likes to wallow in cynicism and misery, all three stories here are connected by quite a different thematic angle. These are all stories about letting go (even if it means dying, or not committing an act of vengeance), about accepting change and endings, and because they are also all stories that don't pretend life as such is necessarily nice or fair, they are quite a bit more convincing at making their points than you'd expect, generally avoiding a kitschy feelgood vibe while also keeping away from mere cynicism. For a film with so much death and sadness in it, Tales' basic feeling is one of hope.
Even though I've always been a fan of Hong Kong horror's extreme nastiness, I find the approach of Tales from the Dark towards horror and the ghost story a rather enticing one, suggesting that there's still quite a bit of life in the old lady Hong Kong, at least today.
And who'd have thought to ever see a horror movie from the city that finds a ghost stopping her vengeance because she feels compassion?Technorati-Markierungen: hong kong movies,in short,horror,simon yam,lee chi-ngai,fruit chan,tony leung ka-fai