Monthly Archives: September 2012

Horror Movie Month

Well, it’s very nearly October, which means Halloween isn’t far away: that time of year everyone goes a little bit crazy for horror films. In celebration of Halloween, I’ve decided to do something a little bit different (for me, anyway) and dedicate the entire month of October to the genre of horror. I’m sure plenty of other blogs are doing the exact same thing, but as I don’t watch a huge amount of horror films, it will give me the opportunity to immerse myself in them a little more and will also change things up a little on the blog. All of my usual features will appear, but I’ll look to give them a bit more of a horror focus.

The reason I don’t watch much horror is because, plain and simple, I get scared by it. I know that’s the whole point, but I have a very active imagination and get myself far too tense, especially when I know something is going to scare the crap out of me at any moment. This is particularly the case with supernatural horror. I can cope with slasher films as blood and guts rarely put me off, but anything involving ghosts and the paranormal really gets in my head. Still, I’m going to try and put my wimpish nature to one side for a month and find a love for the genre as I know there are so many good films out there I’m missing out on.

I already have a few horror-related posts in my archive, so I’ve dug those out below if anyone would like to have a read…

Calling all horror fans

I’d also like to give my fellow bloggers the chance to contribute to Horror Movie Month. There is so much out there that I’ll never even be able to scratch the surface over the course of a month, but with some help I might be able to cover a bit more ground (excuse the multiple metaphors). I’m open to absolutely any contributions, just as long as it’s horror related. It can even be something you’ve already written and I can give it some fresh airtime. If you’d like to get something featured on the site, just email me at chris1039@hotmail.com either with details of your post or with it already attached.

Happy Halloween everyone!

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Film Review: The Raid

The RaidIs story really that important? Sure, in many films it’s absolutely essential, but there are some where it’s of secondary concern or even of no concern at all. There are surrealist films in which you’d be pushed to find anything resembling story whatsoever. Whilst The Raid isn’t quite to that extent, it definitely does sacrifice narrative, although when it’s in favour of unbelievable kick-your-face-off action scenes, it’s a little more forgivable.

There is some story, however. A team of elite police officers, including rookie cop Rama (Iko Uwais), is sent to infiltrate a tower block to take down crime kingpin Tama (Ray Sahetapy) but to do so they must fight their way through several floors of dangerous henchmen armed with guns, machetes and deadly martial arts skills. However, things are complicated somewhat by the fact that Rama’s brother has cemented himself as one of Tama’s right hand men.

There’s little point in discussing the plot (writer/director Gareth Evans clearly didn’t when making the film), but that’s not the reason you watch The Raid. If it is, you’ll be sorely disappointed. No, you watch it for its quite stunning martial arts and action sequences. Pretty much from the word go the action is relentless, rarely letting up for more than a couple of minutes at a time. There are shoot outs, knife fights and incredible hand-to-hand combat, particularly from Uwais and villain Yayan Ruhian. The martial arts scenes are beautifully choreographed, balletic at times, often incorporating several participants at once. They are also shot in a way that lets you fully appreciate them. Similar films may use quick and disorientating editing, Evans and his cinematographer Matt Flannery hold those shots that little bit longer, allowing you to see more of the action and realise just how intricate it is.

It’s no surprise, then, that the film is also very violent. You never have to wait long before someone gets their throat slit or their neck broken, and there are plenty of moments that will make you physically wince and recoil. It works though; whereas excessive violence in a film such as Lawless can start to feel a little out of place, it fits perfectly with the tone of The Raid and it would probably be a poorer film without it.

Iko Uwais

It can get to a point, however, when the action can be a little too overwhelming and you long for a bit of respite. Perhaps that was the intention of the filmmakers, to give make the viewers feel the same relentlessness as the characters, but there are times where a little extra dialogue and some more focus on the story wouldn’t go amiss. The film rocks in at just over an hour and a half and that feels just about right; any longer and the fight scenes would lose their impact and the viewers’ interest.

A sequel (as well as a Hollywood remake, bah) is planned, which will need to up its game if it wants to have the same impact as The Raid. It must have a more engaging and focused story if it’s to repeat its success; The Raid’s minimal plot struggles to keep on track and it’s not long before you realise you don’t really care about it and are just waiting for the next punch to the windpipe. For example, the initial focus of the plot is on the police trying to fight their way to the top of the building and take down the bad guy. However, towards the end of the film, that part of the plot seems almost secondary and it’s the relationship between Rama and his brother that is most interesting. It’s actually a preferable ending that way but the way it’s handled does marginalise the role of others that were previously built up, namely Wahyu (Pierre Gruno) and his shady involvement in the operations; by the end you simply don’t care about him.

The Raid may well be a case of style over substance, but sometimes that really doesn’t matter. It’s fast, it’s frantic and, most of all, it’s fun, which is exactly what a good action film should be.

A quick word on the Blu-ray release: The overall picture quality of the UK release is really rather disappointing. Whilst at times it does look great, it’s all too often rather muddy and lacks the clarity one would expect. It is, however, laced with extras, including a director’s commentary, video blogs, short film Claycats, and a variety of interviews and other interesting features. The film itself could have looked spectacular with decent Blu-ray production but there are times when it looks no better than DVD quality.

Words: Chris Thomson

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Blood of the Beasts (1949)

Blood of the BeastsI wasn’t sure how to approach the write-up for this one as it’s not a film that can be easily expressed through a simple blog post. I decided to dispense with the usual ‘Film Review’ tag and simply let the title sit there alone. This is not a film that plays well with others.

To be honest, it’s debatable whether it’s actually a film at all. It certainly isn’t a film in the traditional sense of the word; it’s a sort of part film, part documentary and continually jumps between the two during its 22 minute run time. The film is a snapshot of the realities of the workings of a French abattoir and it does absolutely nothing to protect the viewer from some of the horrific scenes that play out within. There is no cutting away to spare our sensitive little eyes; we see the grim reality of how animals were (still are?) slaughtered for their meat, hides and whatever else was salvageable.

Heads are cut off, skins are, erm, skinned, and entrails are removed. The instruments used to put the animals out of their misery (in theory) are brutal and seeing a decapitated calf continue to writhe around on the floor is something that is enough to turn even the most iron of stomachs. It goes without saying, then, that Blood of the Beasts is not an easy watch. However, it’s made all the more shocking by director George Franju’s direction, cutting between the horrendous events inside the abattoir to the peaceful scenes of post-war Paris occurring outside, accompanied by rousing orchestral music. This counterpointing does nothing but heighten the horror of what we are seeing.

Whilst the film could have been shot in colour, it’s no small mercy that it wasn’t. If it were in full glorious technicolour, it would simply be too much to handle for probably just about everyone. Seeing gallons of blood pour out of a horse’s throat is bad enough in black and white; in colour it would have been atrocious. But again, that’s part of Franju’s clever direction. Keeping the film in black and white helps it to achieve an emotional response, whereas in colour it would have, no doubt, elicited a physical one, that of being reacquainted with a previous meal.

The film is narrated very matter-of-factly, which mirrors the attitudes of the abattoir workers. They go about their work without obvious emotion, cigarettes in mouth, tossing severed heads to one side with ruthless efficiency like a discarded apple.

There’s something (quite a lot, in fact) utterly repulsive about Blood of the Beasts but, at the same time, something intriguing and powerful. It’s harrowing to see animals treated this way, but it’s also interesting to see human nature at work, the barbaric lengths gone to for a plate of food. Franju’s direction also help turn it from shockumentary into a much more tangible piece of filmmaking. It’s worth taking the time to watch, but be prepared for some uncomfortable viewing.

Blood of the Beasts can be watched on YouTube here.

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Movie scenes recreated with Lego

Everyone loves Lego; it’s just one of those ageless toys that kids and adults love playing with. When children get Lego for their birthday or Christmas, the initial excitement soon fades as it’s always their parents or older siblings who invariably end up putting it together whilst the sad, forgotten about child sits there staring longingly as their dad, brother or whoever, revels in their creation. What starts off as some good ol’ bonding, working together to build a speedboat, soon becomes a case of “why don’t you go and play with something else for a bit and I’ll call you when it’s finished” and “be careful with that, I spent ages on it”.

So when you cross two of the best things in the world – Lego and movies – great things happen. Recreating movie scenes, sporting events, etc, with Lego is nothing new but it always brings a smile to people’s faces. Here’s some classic movie scenes brought back to life through the medium of little plastic figures with removable hair. I can’t take credit for any of these, so if you’re reading this and happen to be the creator, well done indeed.

Pulp Fiction

Pulp Fiction

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What Dya Mean You Haven’t Seen… Strangers on a Train?

This is the first ‘What Dya Mean You Haven’t Seen…?‘ feature and you may be forgiven for thinking that Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train is an odd choice to kick off with. Sure, it may be considered one of Hitchcock’s classics but there are other films I own and haven’t seen that would perhaps be more fitting. Well, the reason I have chosen Strangers on a Train is that whilst I was at university it was one of the films on the list we were required to watch as part of my film studies course. However, due to one thing or another (I was a student after all) I didn’t get round to watching it and was subsequently berated by my lecturer. Therefore, I thought I should right a wrong and actually watch the damn thing.

Spoilers ahead!

Plot: Amateur tennis star Guy Haines (Farley Granger) is travelling by train when he bumps into Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker), an enigmatic and mildly flamboyant man who invites him to have dinner in his carriage. During dinner it is revealed that Guy wants rid of his adulterous wife Miriam so he can marry the beautiful and sophisticated Anne Morton (Ruth Roman) and that Bruno despises his father. Bruno gives Guy what he believes is the perfect way out of their predicaments – to stage a ‘criss-cross’ murder, so that Guy kills Bruno’s father whilst Bruno kills Guy’s wife. Guy politely tells Bruno that it’s a great idea before leaving. That’s enough for Bruno to keep up his part of the bargain and then pursue Guy to ensure he does the same.

One thing that struck me was how dark the tone of the film was. The topic of murder becomes average dinner party conversation, turning what would be a normal, lighthearted discussion into something much more sinister, almost trivialising it in the process. This could well be a metaphor for Man’s desensitisation to murder and other terrible things, but you’d have to ask Mr Hitchcock on that one. It certainly works as one, anyway. Bruno’s murder of Miriam is probably the most shocking moment in the film. Up until this point, you’re not sure as to whether he’ll actually do it or not but, sure enough, he goes through with it and, whilst relatively tame by today’s standards, it was certainly a lot more graphic than I expected. However, the murder is even more chilling when you consider Miriam was pregnant at the time, therefore making Bruno not just her killer, but also the killer of her unborn child. This is something that is never mentioned in the film, probably in order to get it past the censors, but it certainly adds another dimension to Bruno’s evil actions.

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New feature: What dya mean you haven’t seen…?

This man can’t believe I haven’t seen Apocalypse Now

The creative juices must be flowing. It’s not been that long since I introduced a new feature to the blog, ‘What is…?‘, and now I’m slinging another one in. This could well be a case of information overload but I’m just hoping it’ll give the blog a decent amount of varied content.

What Dya Mean You Haven’t Seen…? is essentially me watching films that I probably should have already seen but I’m only just getting around to watching; films that when people learn I haven’t seen, they go ‘what dya mean you haven’t seen <insert film title>?’. Clever, eh?

When I do reviews of relatively recent films, I tend to write them with a critic’s hat on and try to keep them rather formal. For example, I never write anything in the first person, “I think this, that or whatever”, etc. However, when a classic film has been out for years and has been reviewed to death, it doesn’t make an awful lot of sense to try and do that. Therefore, in this feature I will give some of my personal thoughts on the film, whether it lived up to expectations, what I liked, didn’t like, and so on. It’s hardly a ground-breaking feature but it’ll hopefully mix things up a bit and allow me to get some more classic films onto the blog.

Here’s the first ‘What Dya Mean You Haven’t Seen…?’ – Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train. Not the most obvious of choices, but all will become apparent why I started with that one.

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Film Review: Lawless

Seeing Tom Hardy crack someone with brass knuckles is a thing of brutal beauty. Sure, we may be getting used to him doing that kind of thing by now (after all, we’ve seen him as the sadistic Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, cage fighting machine Tommy Conlon in Warrior and the crazy Charles Bronson in, erm, Bronson over the past few years), but when someone’s good at something, it’s often best to just let them get on with it.

The Bondurant brothers

In Lawless, Hardy plays Forrest Bondurant who along with his two brothers Howard (Jason Clarke) and Jack (Shia LeBeouf) are successful alcohol bootleggers, producing moonshine during the Prohibition era. Forrest is the bumbling hard man who is in charge of operations, whilst Howard likes to sample the moonshine a little too much. Jack is the runt of Bondurant litter and is in the constant shadow of his older brothers.

All is well in the bootlegging world until Special Detective Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) is employed with shutting them down and will go to extreme lengths to ensure he does so. However, Forrest and his brothers aren’t keen on going quietly. The film is based on a true story and adapted from Matt Bondurant’s novel The Wettest County in the World.

One of the most striking things about Lawless is how violent it is. There are throats slit, necks broken and skulls caved in, and there are times when it can feel a little unnecessary and over the top. Indeed, at times the violence threatens to define the film, especially considering the somewhat flimsy plot.

Hardy & LeBeoufThere’s enough to keep the story going but there’s little else going on aside from the usual good guys vs bad guys story arc. However, it’s interesting working out who the good and the bad guys actually are. The Bondurant brothers are the ones breaking the law, yet it’s they who we root for, not the authorities trying to uphold the law.

The actual issue of bootlegging is nothing more than a MacGuffin; the real focus of the film is the relationship between the brothers and their struggle to adapt to changes in the law and technology. Due to this, it very much feels like it should be a character driven film, but with little exposition and character development (aside from perhaps Jack), it falls short on this front also.

There’s some confusion as to who the film wants to make its real protagonist. It’s narrated by Jack, but for large portions of the film the focus is firmly on Forest. It shifts between the two throughout, whilst Howard remains nothing more than a secondary character. And talking of secondary characters, there is criminal under use of the film’s leading ladies. Bertha Minnix (Mia Wasikowska) is the daughter of a local preacher and becomes Jack’s love interest in the film, whilst Forrest’s attentions are turned by city girl Maggie Beauford (Jessica Chastain). Again, Howard doesn’t get a look in.

Both of these characters feel a little like an after thought, as if the filmmakers realised they hadn’t actually included any women in the script and so wedged them in where they could, which is a shame because they do add another dimension to the film and the actresses’ performances are excellent. Gary Oldman is also reduced to little more than a cameo; again, his character, mobster Floyd Banner, could easily have had a little more screen time. In fact, there are so many interesting characters that Lawless could well have been a mini-series, offering more time with each, although Boardwalk Empire has pretty much got that period sewn up right now.

Special Detectice Charlie RakesAlthough this review has been quite damning, there is a lot that Lawless gets right. It’s not just Wasikowska and Chastain who provide top notch performances; the acting is superb across the board. Hardy once again proves he’s much more than just muscle, and even Shia Lebeouf proves he’s got some talent there after all. With Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac on the horizon, LeBeouf is clearly trying to move away from the Hollywood blockbusters that have earned him a somewhat tarnished reputation. Dane DeHaan also gives an entertaining performance as the brainy but rickets-riddled Cricket who help the brothers with their operation.

It’s arguably Guy Pearce’s Detective Rakes who’s the star of the show, however. His creepy, eyebrow-less visual is enhanced further by his equally creepy demeanour and willingness to go to any lengths to stop the three brothers. Pearce is superb as Rakes, giving the role the attitude and uneasiness it requires.

The film also looks absolutely fantastic. Director John Hillcoat has created a totally believable snapshot of the Prohibition era; the costumes, locales and cinematography all help create an incredibly rich mise-en-scène and a world you want to invest your time in. There’s also an excellent original soundtrack, but with Nick Cave behind the script (and some of the tracks), the music was always going to have elevated importance.

Whilst Lawless doesn’t quite reach the epic heights it clearly aspires for, it’s still an excellent watch with great performances and an interesting, if sometimes one-dimensional, narrative. It could, and perhaps should, have done a little more with the subject matter and the characters, but what it has done is immensely enjoyable and a worthy addition to all of the actors’ filmographies.

Words: Chris Thomson

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What’s your Bacon number?

Kevin Bacon

What’s your Bacon Number?

The Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon has been knocking around for quite a long time now, but now Google have got in on the game. For those aren’t aware what this is, it’s the theory (put forward by Bacon himself) that he knows almost every actor or someone who knows them. It’s the Six Degrees of Separation, but with Kevin Bacon.

The whole idea of actually putting this to the test was conceived by three college students, and they now, along with Bacon’s approval (although he was initially against the idea) have appeared on talk shows, released a book and a board game has even been produced.

To find out an actor’s Bacon Number simply go to Google and type ‘bacon number’ followed by a particular actor’s name. For example – ‘bacon number Al Pacino’ or ‘bacon number Julia Roberts’. Google will then work out how that person is linked to Kevin Bacon and will show you the link and which films they have appeared in. Kevin Bacon has a Bacon Number of zero, and someone who has worked directly with him has a Bacon Number of 1. The numbers then get higher depending on how many degrees of separation there are.

You’d think it would be easy to find someone not linked to Bacon in some way, but it’s actually pretty difficult. Some really obscure actors aren’t included but a startling amount are. I thought I’d go for someone like ‘Lillian Gish’, but even she has a Bacon Number of 2.

I managed to get my Bacon Number down to 3. I acted at school with Tom Hughes. He was in Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll with Bill Milner. Bill Milner was in X-Men: First Class with Kevin Bacon.

Do you have a Bacon Number? You can cheat and you don’t have to have acted with someone, simply met them. Let me know in the comments how close you are to Kevin Bacon.

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Desert Island Films

Terry Malloy's Pigeon Coop:

Tyson over at Head in a Vice has been running a Desert Island Films feature and he has kindly allowed me to submit my choices. There’s a couple of classics in there, a couple of modern belters and a few cheesy choices too. Have a read, leave some comments, and make sure you stop by his site.

Originally posted on Head In A Vice:

Chris from Terry Malloy’s Pigeon Coop has kindly submitted his Desert Island Films. Read on for his choices and reasons, and be sure to check out his site.

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Quickie: Knocked Up

Knocked UpThere are now certain expectations when you see names such as Judd Apatow, Seth Rogan and Jonah Hill on a film’s billing, but Knocked Up moves away from most of those expectations to present a much more rounded experience that offers drama and sentiment as much as it does comedy.

Layabout Ben Stone (Seth Rogan) lives off compensation he receives for an injury and works on a website with his stoner flatmates that documents when nudity occurs in films. On a night out he meets the career-driven Alison (Katherine Heigl), one thing leads to another and they end up gettin’ it on, so to speak. However, due to a misunderstanding in the bedroom, Ben doesn’t use protection and Alison ends up pregnant. The two of them then have to overcome numerous difficulties to discover a solution that’s best for them and their soon-to-be-born child.

The film’s strength undoubtedly lies in the chemistry between Rogan and Heigl. They work very well together and are able to confidently convey the problems that many who go through such a situation will no doubt experience. Paul Rudd also puts in a shift as Alison’s brother-in-law and there is plenty of crass humour for the Superbad fans from the likes of Jonah Hill and Jason Segel.

However, one of the main problems with the film is that it suffers from some all-too-familiar stereotypes. Essentially, all the women are power crazy nutjobs and the men are idiots who fuck everything up. This leads to a little too much predictability and we therefore end up exactly where we thought we would. Despite that, Knocked Up is light-hearted, easy to watch and provides enough humour and drama to successfully straddle both genres whilst providing a lesson in neither.

Words: Chris Thomson

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