Sunday, 27 February 2011

Paul (2011)

The prospect of a film written by and starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost is always a beautiful thing to me (and indeed my lady, who accompanied me along with three other ladies to go and see the flick the other night. I mention this for a reason). The fact that it's about two comics/SF geeks and a wisecracking alien made the deal even sweeter. And footage set at Comicon? I was sold. The film tells the tale of two English blokes (which is lovely to see for a movie geek from the North like me) who go to SDCC and then on a road trip across sites of alleged alien crashes in order to fulfil their childhood dreams. Along the way they meet the titular Paul, a marvellously realized alien voiced by Seth Rogen. Thus an exciting chase movie ensues as the geeks try to help Paul out with getting where he needs to be.Absolutely packed with references to science fiction movies, comics, novels, geek culture and more, it feels much like some crazed fever dream shared by Pegg and Frost's characters from the seminal TV series Spaced. In short, it's quite brilliant, and after a shitty week that saw myself and my girl both succumb to insane levels of stress, it was the perfect antidote to feeling like crap. That's a good way to sum it up, really.

With shades of ET, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The X-Files, Men in Black and a bunch of other classics old and new, the film is an unashamed adventure with a heavy helping of well- placed comedy. It even reminded me of stuff like Explorers and The Last Starfighter. More than just a love letter to the stuff that makes nerds like you and me tick, it is a hugely entertaining film that everyone can enjoy (as noted by a cinema full of people loving it).

It certainly helps you get on board if you can pick out the genre references and quotes (as I did throughout it, laughing out loud on repeated occasions), but it's more than just a greatest -hits-of-geekdom package. Everyone can enjoy it. That's why I mentioned who I went with earlier on up there- not everyone in our group was a complete geek, yet the film gets its message and its humour across perfectly well to everyone.

The humour is superb, a mix of UK style comedy and an almost View Askew strain of American laughs. The tropes of the genre are turned on their head, theories of old are debunked, and a small, foul-mouthed alien is naked far too often. Tightly directed by Greg Mottola and blessed with a hugely gifted cast alongside Simon, Nick and Seth, Paul is a good-natured film with plenty of thrills, lots of heart and the atmosphere of the sort of movie you remember from your childhood with warmth. To everyone involved- thank you so much for cheering us up.

Friday, 25 February 2011

TRAILER TREASURES: TRICK OR TREAT (1986)

Not to be confused with the recent 'Trick R Treat' flick, this 1986 teen horror movie follows the misadventures of a teenaged heavy metal fan who is constantly bullied by his peers. When is rock hero dies and an unreleased album is passed on to him, he discovers a hidden message that is able to resurrect his idol as a super-powered demon. Chaos ensues.

This film tapped into the controversy over supposed back-masked messages in metal albums, as well as offering up a rock n' roll Freddy Krueger in the form of Sammi Curr. It became my absolute favourite film for a while as a teenager due to the fact that it was like watching my own life unfold onscreen, erm, apart from the demonic bit. I was the geeky metal nerd that everyone loved to hate, even the other rockers hated me at school. Trick Or Treat made it all a bit easier to deal with.

I mean, who wouldn't love to see a school bully garrotted to a table with a high-powered drill aiming at their head?

I recently found the soundtrack album to the film on ebay and had to have it in my life. Those Fastway songs, cheesy as they are, perfectly sum up a period of my life that was extremely turbulent. Then again, it usually is for everyone.

Anyway. Here's the trailer to an underrated gem that I see as a genre classic. Rock on.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Spider-Girl 4 (Marvel Comics)

Aw hell. I was really enjoying this series, but issue 4 lets the side down with some really rough and scratchy artwork (not the regular guy) which isn't bad, but really isn't suited to a commercial superhero title like this (although it would suit a DC Vertigo title perfectly). The script is typically strong, but I'm not much of a Kraven fan and thus the yarn left me a bit cold. That's not to say it's a bad story, just not one that really appeals to me much.

The previous issues have been excellent, and while this does have its moments, the art just doesn't fit the title. One aspect I find increasingly appealing about this current version of Spider-Girl is the lengths to which the creative team show off the conflicting elements of her life and the effects of one on the other. I'll be sticking with the title for the foreseeable future, but I'm really looking forward to getting the previous team back. If this is your first issue of Spider-Girl, pick up the others first!

Transformers 16 (IDW)

The Autobots are damaged and on the run from all of humanity, the Decepticons are bickering, and Megatron is all for humanity turning against the Transformers. This latest issue of the Gen 1-centric IDW series reads like the classic Transformers comics of the 80s, just with supercharged cutting-edge artwork. It feels very much like a classic TF story, urgent and exciting.

It's not that deep, but hey, it doesn't need to be. This is the Transformers, after all. It has the perfect amount of action and plot, and some very eye-catching visuals that are sure to please the diehards (even with the weird-looking incarnation Megatron's currently in) as well as newer fans. Oh yeah, and the final page has already sold the next issue for me. Niiiiiice.

Wonder Woman 607 (DC Comics)

A lot of people still aren't sold on this new version of Wonder Woman, but I think the new costume is great and the younger character taking on the WW mantle is really interesting. The 'Odyssey' storyline hits part 7 with this issue, and is starting to grate on the nerves a bit, but the creative team just about pulls it off.

There are some shocking sequences throughout the comic, making the issue pack quite a punch, but it's the emotional conflict that the new Wonder Woman is still going through that is the most interesting to these eyes. I do hope this storyline ends soon though, as I'm not sure how much further it can stretch. Good stuff, though. The extra preview pages from 'War of the Green Lanterns' isn't all that awe-inspiring, but extra material is always a pleasant thing.

Wolverine and Jubilee 2 (Marvel Comics)

Wow, yeah, this is more like it. I didn't like the first issue of this series much at all, but took a chance on the second. I'm glad I did, as while it's still very low key and a little slow, the character interplay between Wolverine and Jubilee is back to its best. The story is still leaving me kinda cold, but it's awesome to see Jubes back in the costume we know her best for (the yellow coat and pink sunglasses are back!) and her banter with Logan continues to hold the attention.

Towards the end of the issue, stuff finally starts happening, and we get a deeper look at the nature of Jubilee's new vampire status. I'm still all vamp'd out, but the quality of the writing in the two-handed Wolvie and Jubilee scenes is delightful. Phil Noto's artwork is expressive and perfectly suits the tale, and it looks like I'll certainly be picking up the rest of the series thanks to this chapter.

The Amazing Spider-Man 654 (Marvel Comics)

The Spider-Slayer 'Big Time' story comes to a poignant end with a Spider-Man comic that has a great deal going on but never feels cluttered. Everything seems to have been balanced perfectly, giving the reader a very satisfying read that ties up the story very well whilst still paving the way for the future of the title.

Mind you, with so damn many Spider-Man titles currently on the market (along with all of his guest appearances, such as in the new version of the Fantastic Four, FF) it's impossible to actually figure out where all the stories take place anyway. It'd be great if the number of titles could be slimmed down and all of them have such a high standard as this one. This is a mainstream book that is well worth your time and cash. The preview pages of the new Venom series are a bit weird though- kind f a mix between Avatar and Deadpool. Odd.

Birds of Prey 9 (DC Comics)

The 'Death of Oracle' storyline hits its penultimate chapter with an issue that perfectly balances action, plot and character in a perfect demonstration of why DC are getting more of my money than Marvel lately. The opening pages, featuring a harrowing vision Dinah is trapped in, are superb, as is the rest of the issue, with consistently excellent art from Inaki Miranda.

The final pages offer a breathtaking cliffhanger to lead us into the final episode of this game-changing story. The Birds of Prey won't be the same after next month's issue, and as all good comics should, this has got me excited for more. In addition, the extra preview of a new Batman and Robin tale is intriguing, but not much else.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

The Stendhal Syndrome (1996)


This somewhat overlooked gem in the careers of both legendary director Dario Argento and his movie star daughter Asia Argento deserves much more attention than it ever seems to get. While the dub is dubious and there are some dated special effects, it is a highly entertaining and unsettling film that satisfies the need for both visceral blood and psychological tension.

I find it an addictive viewing experience that continues to improve with repeat viewings for several reasons. There always seems to be something else to notice. I like that in a film. Makes it worth your money.

The Stendhal Syndrome is a film that splits opinion, with many deriding it as one of Argeento's weakest efforts and others talking of its brilliance. I fall somewhere between the two camps, as while it's no Suspiria or Inferno, it's certainly not his worst film by a long way.

Asia plays a cop called Anna who becomes drawn into a world of madness by a rapist and murderer who discovers he can play on the fact that she suffers from the titular syndrome, which causes people to become mesmerized by art, inducing a trance-like state. Forced to witness his atrocities, Anna soon becomes a victim herself and thus begins a tense game of cat and mouse mixed with some very stylish visuals and what was at the time the first ever use of CG special effects in Italian cinema.

Thomas Krestchmann is on fine form as the lunatic serial killer, taking on a part originally (and quite clearly) intended for Julian Sands. He does a good job with the psycho role, and he and Asia are far and away the best elements of the cast. Their extremely complicated relationship makes for gripping viewing, and the overall effect of the film is somewhere between arthouse and grindhouse.
It has less power when viewed with the English language track on, as it's a terrible dub job, but it still hits home when it matters the most. If you can get the English subtitles to actually work on the Arrow Films DVD (which I've bought for this review), then the original language track is much more fitting, but either way it stands as a fine film that may even be a good place to start for those of you unfamiliar with the work of Dario Argento and the Giallo genre.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Black Swan (2010)

So the hype finally got the better of me and I went to see Black Swan, the Natalie Portman starring, Darren Aronofsky directed psychological horror/thriller that so many people have been raving about. The ballet theme of the film was an attractive prospect, as I can be cultured when forced, and with Aronofsky helming, I sat down in the cinema with high hopes. Sadly those hopes were dashed by ninety minutes of tedium shot in headache-inducing hand-held shaky-cam.

Thankfully I did get most of my money's worth with the last quarter of an hour of the film, which was superb. This made for a frustrating experience with the film, as the ending was quite wonderfully stylish and tense, but the uphill slog to get there was infuriating. Natalie Portman puts in the finest performance of the whole ensemble, with Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel and the rest of the gang coming across as rather wooden (although Winona Ryder is impressive in her role as an ageing ballet star).

The ballet sequences are nicely handled, with some very clever techniques used in order to trick the viewer into believing Portman is a pro ballet dancer. The techniques are tricky to pick out, but they're impressively done.

Sadly, the same cannot be said for the script, which seems to have plundered many of the tropes of the Italian Giallo films of the seventies for its mad folks, set pieces and atmosphere. In fact, once Nina (Portman) starts really going mental during the last act of the film, the atmosphere feels rather like Argento's classic Suspiria, and not just in terms of there being dancers onscreen.

Black Swan, while the final act is stylish and chilling, suffers from an uneven script (three writers on one script? *sigh*), some predictable shock scenes and some pedestrian camera-work. Then again, I think the worst thing the film suffers from is the enormous amount of hype surrounding it.

If the middle act could have been taken out and the first and third extended to meet in the middle, it would have deserved the 'Masterpiece' tag that many people are painting it with. My negative feelings towards much of it aside, its ending is a wonderfully delirious symphony of madness and mayhem, and I must commend the fact that it ends perfectly. It's certainly a film that divides opinion, and mine is most certainly divided.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Zombie Flesh Eaters 3 (aka Zombi 4/Zombie 4: After Death) (1988)

This film is a complete shambling wreck, and all the more enjoyable for it. Though it plainly states in the title that it is a continuation of the series Lucio Fulci began by sequelizing Dawn of the Dead, it has no link to even the first two Zombie Flesh Eaters films, let alone Dawn of the Dead itself.

Directed by Clyde Anderson (aka Claudio Fragasso) and starring notorious porn star Jeff Stryker (under the name of Chuck Peyton), Zombie Flesh Eaters 3 is a romp of a different kind, with gore galore mixed in with the constant explosions and gun battles. There are moments when Anderson/Fragasso attempts to recreate Lucio Fulci-styled gore scenes and atmospherics, which on many occasions are actually pretty cool, but with a maddeningly bad script, a daft story and a cast with assorted comedy moustaches, it's hard to take even remotely seriously.

As some late-night brainless schlock, it's absolutely brilliant, but as a sequel to one of the most infamous horror films ever made, it's an embarrassment. A bunch of mercenaries get caught up with a bunch of researchers on a remote island when it is besieged by zombies that have been awoken by a curse. The curse is also seen to be the cause of a virus that is turning the world's population into flesh eating zombies.

There are some striking visuals, but almost no dialogue for ten minutes at a time, endless set pieces that go nowhere and woefully underdeveloped characters played by actors you could make a heavy bookcase out of with a good saw and some quality varnish. Add to this a soundtrack of fist-pumping 80s hard rock and cheesy synths, and you'll find more atmosphere down the back of your sofa.

The best thing about Zombie Flesh Eaters 3 is that it makes even Zombie Flesh Eaters 2 look like a masterpiece. Still, at 3am and with a beer and some chicken wings, it's possibly the best (and indeed worst) thing ever made. Only under those circumstances, though...

Zombie Flesh Eaters 2 (aka Zombi 3) (1988)

Right, this is where it gets a bit confusing. Zombie Flesh Eaters 2 is the sequel to Lucio Fulci's Zombie Flesh Eaters, which in itself was an unofficial sequel to George A. Romero's legendary Dawn of the Dead. Dawn of the Dead was known as 'Zombi' in some territories, followed by Zombie Flesh Eaters as Zombi 2. When a sequel to that was brought into being, it was either the second or third film in the series, depending who you spoke to.

One aspect of the film that makes it interesting is the fact that, while Lucio Fulci is listed as director, he fell ill on location and was too sick to continue shooting, despite only having completed about 60% of the film's material. The film was then completed by Bruno Mattei, and it's interesting to pick out the parts directed by each (very different) helmsman.

There are flourishes of Fulci's dry-ice swathed trademark scenes along with some typically blunt splatter, mixed together with the action movie/science fiction elements that Mattei brought to the production. The zombies have been brought into being by a man-made virus this time around (Echoing Zombie Creeping Flesh), and are screaming, running, demented maniacs mixed with the usual shambling hordes.

The conflicting styles are all too visible onscreen, not helped much by a script even more rotten than the zombies themselves, and dubbing performers that were half asleep throughout the recording. It's an interesting curio for horror fans who have a stomach strong enough for terrible films, but if you want quality, you should look elsewhere. Me? I enjoyed it for what it was- a pleasantly entertaining mess.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide (2010)

This is the holy grail. The era of the video nasty is something I lived through as a child. I didn't see any of the films back then, but the controversy is there in my memory. It was a big deal at the time, a real cultural moment that is even more fascinating than the films that were involved. The political and cultural elements of the video nasties controversy were so closely intertwined that they are impossible to separate.

The bill that was passed which banned these films and prosecuted those selling and distributing was an ill-informed move that was largely based on the cover artwork of the films on their list of so called 'Video Nasties' rather than the content. Plus, when the content was shown to MPs while the bill was being rushed through, instead of entire films, a compilation of the most extreme scenes was put together and shown instead. This, of course, would be grotesque and ludicrously offensive to anyone that saw it. Thus, these films were seen completely out of context when boiled down to just a couple of minutes of gore as opposed to complete 90 minute films.

This astoundingly comprehensive and fascinating triple-disc set tells the story of that time, the films, the censorship and the culture of the video era, along with bringing together trailers for every single one of the 72 films on the Video Nasties list, new intros from experts, artwork, company idents and more. It's pricey, but worth every penny for any fan of one of the most notorious moments in horror history. Here's one of the most important selling points I can give you: It is nigh on 13 AND A HALF HOURS LONG!

Let's take a look at each disc in the set.

Disc One:

The first disc of Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide contains the hour-plus Jake West documentary 'Video Nasties: Moral panic, Censorship and Videotape. It's an engrossing and in- depth look at what happened with the whole controversy, how it came about, the reaction of the media and the government, the culture of the video-tape era and its supposed effects on society.

The whole era is covered in depth by an array of film critics, politicians and people involved on both sides, along with some truly astounding archive footage (some featuring the astonishingly ill-informed Mary Whitehouse, whom I remember causing so much hassle in the 80s), press clippings and much more. It's an eye opening, engrossing documentary that has been made with obvious love for the films themselves.

Also included on the first disc is a lengthy compilation of video company idents (the company logos at the start of videos), which may well be something for completists only, but is interesting viewing for the faithful. The interlinking footage stars notorious UK actress Emily Booth, and is very in keeping with Jake West's own films.

Disc Two:

The second disc features the original trailers to all of the 39 films that were prosecuted as 'liable to deprave and corrupt'. These trailers are wonderful snapshots of a truly insane period in genre cinema, and the grindhouse visuals and atrocious acting are sure to cement this disc in the hearts of many fans.

The trailers are arranged in alphabetical order, and there is an option to watch them with newly filmed intros from some of the people involved in the documentary. These intros are excellent, but on repeat viewing you'll probably want to go for the'trailers only' option. This disc also includes an artwork gallery from all 39 films. I would have happily paid full price for this disc alone.

Disc Three:

The final disc of the set contains the trailers for the 33 films on the banned list that were acquitted and removed from the list. Those trailers are every bit as entertaining as those on the previous disc, but there is perhaps a little less of the perverse satisfaction of knowing you're watching naughty things like there is on the second disc.

Once again there are newly shot intros for each film, and the option to view with or without them, along with an image gallery of artwork. The disc may not have the brilliance of the first disc or the taboo excitement of the second, but it perfectly rounds off a box set that is, in all honesty, completely and utterly essential and indispensable. It is impossible to recommend this box set highly enough. It is worth every penny of the price, and sure to have you hooked for pretty much all of its massive running time.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Diary: On A Nasty Mission

Okay. I got that Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide DVD set (which I'm currently enjoying every second of and completely immersing myself in) and have come to a decision. I'm going to try and track down most of the films on the video nasties list and either add them to my collection or, at the very least, watch them in as close to an uncut state as possible.

I think these films sum up a very volatile and interesting period in genre cinema, and while many of them are utterly reprehensible, I would argue that many of them have a great deal of aesthetically and thematically interesting material to be experienced.

I already own fifteen or sixteen of the films on the notorious Video Nasties list, and I'm going to watch those again while my mission to find most of the other titles to add to my personal movie knowledge and collection. I say 'most' of the films as there are entries on the list that don't interest me at all, namely those based around concentration camps and suchlike. I mean, even I have my limits.

My review of the Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide box set is on its way, and it's gonna be huge.