Tuesday, 23 February 2010



I've nothing against remakes in principle. They're like cover versions. It happens in theatre all the time: for every production of The Mikado or King Lear in the traditional textbook doublet-and-hose variety there's another production performed in the nude or on stilts (or both). Fine. Movies aren't sacred texts that Must Not Be Re-Interpreted and if someone has a new and exciting angle on an old story then they should go for it, and we can judge the results not just as a film on its own terms but in the light of its predecessor. Thus the remake of The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three fails on both counts because the only things Tony Scott has brought to the table are swearing and noise, while the revamped Dawn Of The Dead gets away with it as a solid, entertainingly grisly zombie movie although it's not a patch on George A Romero's original (though as the Romero film is The Greatest Film Ever Made, it was obviously never going to match up). But why do a xerox movie remake, scene for scene, or even shot for shot, where the whole point is that you're NOT bringing anything new to the party? Okay, so the only reason they did a 95% restaging of The Omen was because some marketing bods spotted the release date gimmick of 06/06/06. But in what sense is Gus Van Sant's Psycho actually A Gus Van Sant Film when every single creative decision had already been made by Alfred Hitchcock decades previously?

The new Long Weekend is a pretty faithful xerox of the 1978 film: a couple try to get back to nature for the weekend but treat Mother Nature so shabbily that She doesn't get mad, She gets even. Strange noises in the night, a dead dugong apparently crawling up the beach, spearguns that go off by themselves, animal attacks. This doesn't help the couple's fractured, fractious relationship, which descends from sullenness through aggrieved bickering down to shrieking hostility. Since Jim Caviezel plays the leading role as such an arrogant, despicable individual (far moreso than I can recall from the original), his final moments do elicit a cheer.

It's not bad: it rattles along perfectly well but I'm still not sure what we're supposed to get out of it that we didn't from the Colin Eggleston original (this remake is dedicated to him, and he's namechecked when they couple stop off at the Eggleston Hotel). Maybe it's more like a tribute act than a cover version - but wouldn't you want to see, for example, the real Coldplay rather than a bunch of people pretending to be Coldplay?


Monday, 22 February 2010



I was all set to really hate this one. I've had a string of terrible rentals recently and this film, to judge from the artwork and blurb, looked just as lousy as anything I've had recently. So it sat by my DVD player for over a week before I finally popped it in, fearing the worst and expecting yet another cheap zombie non-epic made by an idiot and his buddies. Well, you should never prejudge these things.

Wasting Away is not, let's be clear, any kind of masterpiece. But it is a nicely played, occasionally quite witty and well thought out romzomcom, done with a light touch and with a few neat and original ideas in the mix. Chief of these is seeing the action from the zombies' point of view: they don't actually know what's happened to them and they think everyone else - the living - are the ones infected with some kind of disease. It's a clever angle that I can't recall seeing before. A military project to create a serum for "supersoldiers" goes horribly wrong and some of the chemical accidentally ends up in some ice cream: consumed by a more than usually likeable bunch of teens who promptly turn zomb. Matters are heightened when an apparent SuperSoldier turns up claiming there's been a deadly viral outbreak in the town and only these five people are left uninfected. As it switches between colour and monochrome depending on whether we're with the living or the undead, the zombs are either typically shambling ghouls or ordinary young people trying to work out what's going on and why all the "infected" are behaving so strangely.

So the moral of the story is Never Prejudge. In fact you can prejudge a lot of the time, quite safely, but once in a while they will sneak one past you that's better than it immediately looks. A pleasant surprise, and worth a look.


Saturday, 20 February 2010



I'm not really a philistine. I'll be the first to acknowledge that Bicycle Thieves is beautifully made and emotionally powerful, but after a hard day at the coal face I'm never going to choose it over Bride Of ReAnimator for an evening's entertainment. Jean-Luc Godard may be more politically radical and more cinematically adventurous, but he doesn't have a scene like that bit in A Nightmare On Elm Street 4 where a hot girl is turned into a cockroach and shoved in a matchbox. Though after more than 90 minutes of tedious anti-bourgeoise hectoring it wouldn't have surprised me.

1967's Weekend actually starts off in relatively coherent fashion as an affluent professional couple seek to inherit a fortune by bumping off some relatives (Down with the evil middle classes!) in the mode of Kind Hearts And Coronets (Down with the aristocracy!). After a merciless unbroken shot (Down with editing!) in which the wife describes at length a threesome in nauseatingly pornographic detail (Down with sexual hypocrites! They're no better than the working classes!) they get stuck in a traffic jam in another lengthy take in which the camera crew can occasionally be seen reflected in car windows. Along the road are such noteworthy events as some people playing chess in the road (intellectuals watching as the world goes to hell), a bloke peeing up a tree (man's disregard for nature) and a Shell tanker (oil will be key to the collapse of Western civilisation).

Once past the jam they find themselves in some sort of post-apocalyptic nightmare landscape in which fact, fiction and history seem to merge: the 18th Century revolutionary Louis Saint-Just (Down with the revolution!) blathers to camera about I don't know what, and Emily Bronte turns up talking rubbish in a forest while dressed as Alice In Wonderland (Down with gender conventions in Gothic literature!). They get a lift with a bloke who plays the piano in a farmyard (Down with the class-based exclusivity of Art! The proletariat shall have Mozart sonatas!). They are hijacked by a couple of ranting lunatics with guns (Down with ranting lunatics with guns!). They end up working on a bin lorry eating small fragments of a baguette (Down with French loaves!) and listening to ceasless diatribes about Western oppression of the Third World (Down with America!). Eventually they arrive at their destination two weeks late, get disinherited, and join up with a bunch of hippie cannibals (Down with pre-packaged foods!) in the woods. The Radio Times film guide claims they're Maoist cannibals; I wouldn't know for sure but they do have a drum kit.

The single take tracking shot of the traffic jam is admittedly a breathtaking one, but it's to no effect whatsoever in a film designed for maximum dullness. Not only was it boring me, it was boring my sofa. What's the point of it? Where's it going? Because there has to be more to it than incomprehensible finger-wagging Bolshevik agitprop and increasingly anarchic and surreal incidents (doubtless the collapse of the capitalist power structure is mirrored with the collapse of narrative conventions. Oh Jean-Luc, you are a card!). Now I'm not entirely sure how Mousieur Godard has come to be so highly revered in critical circles if this meandering and humourless codswallop is typical of his career - this may be the duffer in an otherwise fascinating oeuvre - so I'll probably give him another go sometime, but right now I need to cleanse my cerebral cortex with back to back Saw and Hostel sequels.


Monday, 15 February 2010



This was original a 70s American TV show: I don't know whether it showed up in this country or not. Then it was a 90s American TV show which again may or may not have made it to the UK. Now Land Of The Lost is a big summer blockbuster spectacular showcasing the mighty comedic talents of Mr Will Ferrell, and that's the point at which the wheels fall off the wagon.

Because basically the mighty comedic talents extend to little more than wee jokes, poo jokes and crotch jokes (strangely enough there's no farting - presumably they thought they should hold something back for a sequel). Implausible crackpot boffin Will Ferrell and cute British scientist Anna Friel (in a thankless role as the crumpet in tight shorts and target of a running gag about having her boobs groped) join up with a redneck halfwit and get sucked into an alternative dimension filled with CG dinosaurs and an army of lizard men intent on conquering the universe. The other jokes, the ones that aren't directly related to wee, poo or crotches mainly consist of Will Ferrell stating an inviolable fact about dinosaurs, and then being proved completely wrong.

The IMDb claims that the estimated budget was a hundred million dollars and to be honest it doesn't look as if it cost a tenth of that - where exactly did the money go? It's very ramshackle and the narrative is only there to string along a series of lowbrow gags, none of which are very good. Only tolerable in fleeting moments.


Friday, 12 February 2010



This is the second film of the year so far that's been dogged by studio executives messing about with the finished product. A few weeks ago we had Edge Of Darkness which suffered from men in suits tinkering and changing and rejecting a music score by John Corigliano; now we have The Wolfman which was supposed to come out last year but instead was re-edited and rescored to ultimately little effect, finally limping out over Valentine's Day weekend.

Ostensibly following the same setup as the 1941 Lon Chaney version The Wolf Man, this one has English aristocrat Benicio Del Toro (a Puerto Rican actor playing English with an American accent) returning to his ancestral pile and bonkers Dad Anthony Hopkins (a Welsh actor playing English with a wandering if-it's-Tuesday-it-must-be-Irish accent), after the pre-title killing of his brother by a mysterious beast on the moors during a full moon. Emily Blunt (English, playing English and sounding it) is the late brother's fiancee who doesn't really have much to do, and Hugo Weaving (Nigerian-Australian) is actually the fictionalised real-life Inspector Abberline fresh from his Ripper investigations. Some circus gypsies, as in the 1941 film, are camped on the moors; they're led by Geraldine Chaplin (playing unidentified Eastern European). Look, I don't care where actors come from but they really should try and sound like they're all from the same hemisphere at the very least. Bloody mayhem ensues as the beast gets loose.

It's a movie that doesn't really work, almost certainly due to the interference of the studio numpties. Presumably it's supposed to be a straight homage/reworking of the Chaney version (Del Toro at least resembles Chaney but behaves nothing like him) with the dry ice pumping over the moorland but the level of gore and grue distract from the period recreation. Some of the effects work is obviously CGI as well. For a while it was even going to have an electronic (!) score by Paul Haslinger replacing the gloomy Gothic Danny Elfman score; when that didn't work they stitched back the Elfman, tailoring it to fit the new edit that was shorter by half an hour. In the final event it's all a bit of a mess, sadly, and not much of better watch than the Chaney. The midnight moorland stuff and period detail look fantastic, though.