Wednesday, 29 July 2009



Of course I've seen The Blues Brothers before. But never projected. The last time I caught it, it was on a 4:3 pan-and-scan rental VHS tape, many years ago. So kudos to Universal for including it on their digital reissue schedule, following on from the wonderful Spartacus a few months ago and with Scarface, The Thing and Animal House to come soon.

And why I like it I've no idea, because it's a musical and that's not a genre I can usually watch on a full stomach, though that generally applies more to big splashy song and dance epics like Oliver and Showboat. Maybe it's that the R+B music appeals to me more than blowsy Broadway showtunes. Maybe it's the gallery of guest stars from both the music and film worlds (Carrie Fisher, John Lee Hooker, Steven Spielberg, Henry Gibson, Aretha Franklin, Charles Napier). Or Dan Aykroyd's deadpan performance. Certainly the funniest scene is where Jake and Elwood misbehave outrageously in a snooty restaurant - a scene I had completely forgotten since my last viewing. And it is thrilling to find, particularly in the wake of countless rapid-fire over-edited action movies such as Quantum of Solace, car chases made by people who know how to put car chases together without leaving the audience baffled as to which car is actually doing the chasing.

My one worry is that people just aren't going to bother going out to see these films on a cinema screen when they could - if they really wanted - just get them on DVD, as they're very cheaply available. Unfortunately, if nobody bothers to support them, these retro screenings aren't going to happen any more as the studios aren't going to bother doing them and the films will in time be forgotten. Why should cinemas bother to book a one day reissue of a semi-classic like The Blues Brothers when they can get more people through the door with another four screenings of the worthless Bruno - a film that actually deserves to rot in obscurity and the sooner the better? Great films deserve to be seen and re-released regardless of their age, and surely the willingness to experience more than this week's bland and homogenised studio sludge, no matter how shiny, should be encouraged? What classic movies are we making now that should be rediscovered in thirty years time? What cinematic legacy is being left for future generations? The numbers for Spartacus were apparently not high, but that's a three hour film from 1960. Scarface is also three hours long but has a bit more of a cult status, so it might get some decent sized audiences.

Meanwhile, The Blues Brothers is still great and it's a particular shame that it's only on for one day. These retro screenings should be seized upon while they're still there, whether you've seen the movie before or not. Terrific fun.


Sunday, 26 July 2009



Are the 1980s supposed to be The Decade That Taste Forgot? I like the eighties. Even though they weren't set then, some of my favourite movies come from that time - Blade Runner, Aliens. Though I've never been a big pop music fan, I've tipped my musical toe in the 1980s water and recently started discovering some songs of the era, and my current favourite "Clouds Across The Moon" dates from 1985. The eighties was when I started watching unhealthy amounts of films, so it's probably the decade that resonates with me more than others.

The Informers is set in 1984, a period of casual sex and drugs without apparent consequences, and is an ensemble piece stranding various characters and events together that intersect at various points in the manner of Short Cuts. A movie producer (Billy Bob Thornton) moving back with his wife (Kim Basinger) but knocking off a TV newsreader (Winona Ryder) on the side; a drugged-out rock star sleeping with underage groupies; teens in numerous sexual permutations....inevitably, of course, the spectre of AIDS is on the horizon. The one story that doesn't seem to fit has Mickey Rourke as a kidnapper; it's only tenuously connected to the rest of the film and could be dropped entirely.

It's hard to care about any of the characters in this movie, because they are all amoral, selfish, fundamentally unlikeable individuals, but they look fabulous: the 80s hair and dress and decor all look and feel right. It gains points for summoning up the period so well, but I just wish they'd given us a character or two actually worth caring about.


Monday, 20 July 2009



It's nice, once in a while, to catch a film without knowing anything about it beyond "50s romantic thriller" or "Bolivian vampire comedy". This is one of the rarely trumpeted advantages of online rental - you can be surprised in a way that doesn't really happen at the cinema, as the trailers, posters, merchandising and the endless promotional juggernaut mean that actually going to see the movie feels like an afterthought as you feel you've already seen it.

Apparently The Nines did get a cinema release in the UK but I completely missed it; it certainly didn't come to any of my locals. Ryan Reynolds is an actor off a CSI-style TV show who is placed under house arrest after a drugs'n'booze bender and gradually becomes aware that Things Are Not What They Seem - principally the prevalence of the number nine (at this point I thought, obviously, of the Jim Carrey film The Number 23, but this is mercifully unconnected) and something called Knowing. His neighbour (Hope Davis) and his PR manager/minder (Melissa McCarthy) seem to want to convince him that he's not who he thinks he is. And then the world ends.

And then it's a reality TV show following the production of a new pilot show by writer Ryan Reynolds (not the same character): a mystery called Knowing which seems very much in the vein of Lost, and which is being produced by Hope Davis and starring Melissa McCarthy. But things aren't going very well and strange things start happening: he thinks his house is haunted (it's the same house Ryan Reynolds I was living in earlier), and the number nine keeps cropping up.... And then it's the Knowing pilot itself starring Reynolds (again, not either of the first two characters but now, apparently, a completely fictional person in a TV show) and Davis and McCarthy. What does it all mean? Who is he really? Who are Davis and McCarthy? What's it all about? Actually, the solution given is pretty interesting and I didn't see it coming, though I'm not entirely sure how it all works with regard to its crossing over of different realities. And I'm glad I hadn't read much on the web about the film in advance; it's a case where seeing it as cold as possible yields the best results. I don't think it's a great film, but it's certainly worth a look.


Friday, 17 July 2009



A massively entertaining, visually rich (thanks to greenscreen) and occasionally crunchily violent martial arts comedy/action/thriller, and flipping between period and contemporary timelines, The Myth has the typically inventive and perfectly timed combat scenes that you'd expect from the mighty Jackie Chan. He was 51 when he shot this film (four years ago) and while it may be a cliche that he's got the energy, speed, reflexes, physical flexibility and stamina of a man half his age, it's damn well true. Cut it to a third of his age and it still holds true.

Two thousand years ago, Jackie Chan is an Imperial General assigned to protect a princess (destined to be a concubine for the aged Emperor) from rebels. And in the present, he's an archaeologist drawn into a quest for a mysterious artefact that has anti-gravitational properties, so it's a bit like Indiana Jones And The Floaty Thing with a reincarnation subtext. But damnit it's fun. The numerous combat sequences are mostly as brilliantly choreographed as you'd expect and, although the movie could stand to lose one or two of them as it runs a scratch over two hours, it never bores. One set-piece fight in particular, on a conveyor belt in a glue factory easily wipes the floor with anything Hollywood's put out in the last five years.

Okay, so maybe it could drop ten minutes or so, and maybe the ending is a bit lame. And maybe it's a bit too reliant on CG which in places doesn't really work. But when Chan does his stuff, it's dazzling. So I don't care that much: I'll forgive the minor flaws.


Friday, 10 July 2009



Asian horror. First we started with The Ring, which was excellent: genuinely creepy. And then, in an "if-you-like-that-you'll-like-this" kind of style, they gave us The Grudge. Which we again lapped up (though I personally wasn't keen on it) and begged for more, so lo and behold they gave us The Eye. And eventually they said "Well, rather than doing this one movie at a time, here's 548 other Asian horror movies - knock yourselves out." That's where it all went wrong, of course. We soon realised that we'd already had most of the best ones, and of the 548 others a few were still pretty good (I really liked the original Shutter), several were absolutely unspeakable and the bulk of them were pretty ordinary with little to commend them. Nevertheless, the bandwagon (and its attendant bandwagon of dumbo American remakes) was off and rolling. That's how we end up with The Wig, in which we really seem to be running out of household objects to be infused with a supernatural curse. What's next? Soup Spoon? Umbrella? Bogroll Holder?

The Wig is, fairly obviously, about a cursed wig: bought for a terminal leukemia sufferer by her sister, the curse's originator starts to inexorably possess her. People start dying, there are dream sequences, none of it makes much sense: the usual Asian horror movie nonsense. On this occasion there's little in the way of spectacle beyond a car pile-up in a tunnel, which is quite effective but it's the only scene that really works. The rest of it is, frankly, a bit on the dull side.

The other effect of having a film about a wig, of course, is that it allows the makers to drag out the now too-familiar Asian horror trope about hair. Ringu and Ju-On (the original Ring and Grudge films) both had female ghosts with long, lank black hair that covered their faces and did look really creepy. But that was around ten years ago and since then every other Asian horror movie since has been obliged to include the spooky girl with the long lank black hair. It's not that scary any more.




There are things I don't like in movies. Defecation, sexual violence, animal cruelty, Mark Wahlberg. There are specific things I have to look away from: with me it's spiders. But in general there's not much that's going to have me yelling "Stop that! Stop it now!" at the screen. It did this time. (This was at home so no cinema audiences were annoyed in the viewing of this film.)

Savage Grace tells the true and tragic story of the heir (Eddie Redmayne) to the Bakelite plastics empire up to the murder of his mother (played by Julianne Moore) in 1972. He's very (as in too) close to his mother and once his father (Stephen Dillane) has walked away with a Spanish floozie half his age, there's really only one way this can go. Now I don't really know the ins and outs of the historical truth, but on the evidence of this movie the relationship between son and mother is not just bordering on Creepy but launching fullscale incursions into Wrong.

I could barely stomach the scene with mother and son in bed together with their mutual bisexual lover between them but I really wasn't prepared for the whole Oedipal thing in the last act where they Go The Whole Hog. Discreetly filmed from behind the sofa it may be, and fully clothed it may be, but she's your mum! Urghhh. Urghhhh. Please. Stop that now.

It probably doesn't help that Savage Grace is cold and leisurely, and you don't care about any of the characters - even though they were real people. But it's the incest that really turned me away from it.


Still, if you're in the mood:

Sunday, 5 July 2009



It is 2034. Mankind is all but extinct after a global virus, and the few survivors have retreated underground and somehow built a massive city called Subtropolis. A team have been sent up to the surface to try and make it habitable but they've disappeared; another team is duly sent in on a search and rescue mission. This second batch is made up of the usual sweary military hardnuts and a Ralf Little lookalike. Once up on the surface they find themselves in what looks like an abandoned college campus. Oh, and it's full of zombies.

There's a slimy giant bug movie coming up later this year called Infestation, and it looks like fun. But this Infestation is actually a British zombie flick with the same name, made on a budget of £5000 if you believe the IMDb (and £2.50 if you believe the evidence of your own eyes) and going by the appalling picture quality it looks like it was shot on someone's mobile phone: it's that cheap-looking. That's down to having such a low budget but surely if you can't afford to make a decent zombie movie, that's no reason to go out a make a rubbish one. Infestation is incredibly dull and noisy; the music (credited to something called Emissary, which I guess is some kind of group) isn't any good either, and much of the dialogue is of that wannabe tough talk variety that just sounds silly even if delivered by a Seagal or a Willis (or if wet, a Lundgren). When uttered by someone who looks as if he should be offering you fries with that (or a Big Issue), it's just insulting. Much of the movie is suffused in a dull green light, whether it's an underground corridor or an abandoned college campus full of zombies (though giving everything a green hue does obviously make the zombies look a bit green). And when the CG effects sequences look as if they came off a very early Atari machine, surely it's time for the makers to wonder whether it's actually good enough to put out and charge real money for?


I wouldn't advise it, but if you must:



Bah. My sleep patterns are all disrupted by my staying up all Friday night in Leicester Square, in the "sleepy queue" for FrightFest tickets (more on that later, as that Scots woman off Newsnight is wont to say) so I'm writing on here at a ridiculous time on a Sunday morning.

It's a depressing time for the movies right now: all the major studios are putting out the big summer blockbusters and there's basically one dumn effects-driven behemoth after another until the kiddies go back to school. We've already had Ice Age 3, Transformers 2 and Terminator 4 (which so far is the only one I've liked - overblown and senseless, but that's probably what I was in the mood for); coming up are G-Force (guinea pig secret agents in 3D which I refuse to see), Land of the Lost (Will Ferrell vs dinosaurs, might be tolerable), GI Joe (elite spy team action movie, almost certainly very noisy) and Harry Potter 6 (whatever).

So it's theoretically encouraging that Universal take this opportunity to release Public Enemies, an $80-million period gangster drama with two A-list stars and helmed by an A-plus-list director. However, when even the combination of Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Michael Mann, composer Elliot Goldenthal, and cinematographer Dante Spinotti leads to thoughts of "how much longer is this going to take?", something is wrong.

There's a sense that this really wants to be another Heat: an epic battle of wills between two men from opposite sides of the law. I loved Heat, and frankly this movie is not another Heat. In that film, nobody was under any illusions that the Robert de Niro character was anything but a thief, a ruthless killer, The Bad Guy, and despite his faults, the Al Pacino character was The Good Guy who would bring him down. However, the Bad Guy in Public Enemies is John Dillinger, who in addition to being a thief and a ruthless killer, is also some kind of celebrated folk hero for whom there's a level of public admiration. This kind of thing muddies the film's waters. I've no time for thieves and killers and it puzzles me why some people look up to them. They can be colourful, witty and charismatic in James Bond movies, Dr Who, Batman and so forth; meanwhile on Planet Reality they're the obnoxious little brats who nicked my car. (It's interesting that Public Enemies has come out in the week our beloved Justice Minister has put the kibosh on cult folk hero thieving bastard Ronald Biggs' parole requests. Ronnie, if you'd stayed in prison you'd have been let out a decade ago, you dumbass.)

So I don't get the mythic appeal for the Johnny Depp character, since it's a true story and he was a real thief and killer, and thus I don't care when the Feds finally shoot him (does that count as a plot spoiler or fact of history?). But I don't get the appeal for the Christian Bale character either (incidentally he's one of the few recent cinematic heroes named Melvin; the only other one I can think of is The Toxic Avenger). We have absolutely no information about him at all and he is ultimately just a bloke in a suit barking orders at other blokes in suits. In Heat, we had loads of information about the Al Pacino character: his obsessive nature, his shaky marriage, his relationship with his stepdaughter. We have nothing to work with at all. We can't really blame Bale: he hasn't got anything to work with either.

But the biggest problem with Public Enemies is, surprisingly, the look of the film. Heat was beautifully shot on 35mm film by Dante Spinotti. Collateral was shot digitally, but the digital camera gave a completely different look to night-time Los Angeles. Miami Vice was also shot digitally (I only saw it on DVD so I'm not sure what it looked like on the cinema screen). Public Enemies, however, is a period piece, a costume piece, and the decision to shoot on digital really does detract from the setting. It looks like television. It looks like video. And video looks cheap. Video gives a sense of immediacy, but immediacy is no use when you're working with a historical setting; it's like filming Jane Eyre on a Sony Handycam. It's like performing Beethoven's 5th symphony on a Casio keyboard. Lesbian Vampire Killers, a British Hammer pastiche with sitcom stars, was also shot digitally, on a Red camera, but crucially it looked like it was shot on 35mm film: you wouldn't know it was digital. There is something badly wrong when a piece of fluff like Lesbian Vampire Killers is more cinematic than the new Michael Mann film. Just as you really need a symphony orchestra to get a satisfactory performance of Beethoven's' 5th, this really needed 35mm film stock rather than a hard drive. This doesn't look like it was shot by the same man as Heat and Manhunter; it looks like it was shot by the bloke who does the DFS commercials. It's more disappointing than anything else.


You can share the disappointment:

Friday, 3 July 2009



Hurrah! It's another movie in 3D! But although I really like the new 3D polarisation process (rather than the old red/green that didn't work on objects or characters that were actually red or green and turned everything to a kind of dogmess brown) I'm not going to go and see everything. I passed on the handful of music concert films we've had: The Jonas Brothers, U2, even Hannah Montana, but obviously I'll go to horror movies in 3D (Scar, My Bloody Valentine) and there are more on the way - another Final Destination, a remake of Piranha. And I've tried a few "digimation" movies - computer animation of either the motion-capture or Pixar varieties, and generally enjoyed them.

But now there's Ice Age 3: Dawn Of The Dinosaurs, and I'm afraid it's damping my enthusiasm for the 3D process. Ultimately, whether it's in two or three dimensions is secondary to whether it's actually a decent movie or not and I really don't think this is up to par. It's certainly not up to the level of the first two movies - I don't see all the CG cartoons, but I do catch a few of them and both Ice Age and Ice Age 2 were more or less acceptable. This isn't. I don't think the characters are there, it isn't funny enough and despite all the slam-bang and scary monsters it isn't really exciting enough either.

I'm also slightly puzzled as to who it's aimed at, because while the first two were generally agreeable knockabout full of cute cartoon animals aimed at children, this seems on one level to be full of genuinely adult material. It's about pregnancy and childbirth. It's about midlife crisis. It's about parenting. It's about Moby Dick. It's also about terrifying big-ass flesh-eating monsters. But it's got a U so it should be fun for the kiddies, right? Even Jurassic Park only got away with a PG after a poster warning advising of its intensity.

I deliberately aimed for a one o'clock showing because I didn't want the place to be full of screaming schoolkids making a damned nuisance of themselves. Unfortunately this didn't exclude pre-schoolers and babes in arms who were placed on the row in front, just too far away to yell or throw things at and too young to realise what was going on (and certainly too young to understand the pregnancy and parenting stuff). The older of the two children - aged about four - wasn't even wearing the 3D glasses! As a result he whined endlessly but the mum was too busy trying (and failing) to shush the baby and she patently didn't give a hoot about anyone else disturbed by their noise. Really, just because it's a U doesn't mean it's somewhere to take the tiny tots if you can't even try and exercise some form of control over them. It's not a creche.

And on a similar subject: just because it's a heatwave doesn't entitle blokes to go around the cinema with their shirts off. Possibly, if you're sculpted like a Greek god with a physique that could turn Peter Stringfellow, you might get away with it. But when it's a middle-aged gut like a bowling ball in a plastic bag, please don't.


Amazon stock this: