Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

Megashark Versus Giant Octopus

February 3, 2012 1 comment

One of the things all journalists are taught from the start is to determine Who, What, Where and Why. With the movie Megashark versus Giant Octopus, I find myself at a loss to explain why. Why it exists and why on earth I watched it. For those who haven’t heard of it, it’s pretty much what it sounds like; a recently made creature feature movie, where two huge aquatic creatures duke it out.

Badly made schlocky movies can be charming in a quirky, funny-looking sort of way. Poor dialogue, terrible sets, awful special effects and badly written plot can add up to making an enjoyable experience. More often than not though, a bad movie is just bad, and Megashark versus Giant Octopus is an example of what happens when you try and make an entertaining but awful movie and fail.
The plot, for those who care, can be summed up thusly; The military accidentally shatters a giant block of ice, containing the titular characters. Both the octopus and shark proceed to go on the rampage, devouring battleships and airplanes in their path1.

A giant shark. Eating a bridge. Should be exciting. Isn't.

Scientists use science2 to arrange for both the shark and the octopus to attack either Los Angeles or Tokyo, before realising that it’s a terrible idea. Drawing inspiration from every school playground ever, they instead use science to get the two monster to fight each other, whilst they stand round on the edge of the battle chanting ‘Fight, fight’.

The two awfully CGI’d monsters then get down to the battle royale. Except they don’t, because the movie’s budget only allows for a series of standard, stock footage style animations. Until you watch this movie3, you’ll never have believed that a feature about two huge sea monsters beating each other up could be dull.
It also features Debbie Gibson, whom, if you’re from the United Kingdom, you’ll struggle to remember why she was famous, and will confuse her with Tiffany. (Who also makes a living making shitty movies.) This movie is simply bad in every way. You can try to find something to laugh at, but you will be struggling. I recommend you watch the trailer instead; it’s got all the good bits in it. (And by good bit, I mean it ends quickly.)

1: Yes, airplanes. Apparently, super-sized sharks can fly out of the water. Yes they can. Shut up
2: You can tell they’re scientists because they wear lab coats and nod sagely when they mix chemicals together. These chemical occasionally glow. This is the best bit of the movie.
3: Don’t.

Categories: Movies

Chico and Rita

January 27, 2012 1 comment

To my utter delight, Chico and Rita has been nominated for an Oscar (Best Animation, no less1) which is about time. Given that it’s now available on DVD for about a fiver, I wonder what took them so long, but then the Oscars have never been very good at noticing foreign films.

So why does the Spanish language, animated feature film set in Cuba just before Castro happens deserve an Oscar? Well, probably because it’s one of the most beautifully rendered love stories ever to make it to screen. This is a tale of jazz pianist Chico and talented singer Rita, and how they try and escape their hum-drum lives to create something beautiful. It’s rich and evocative of pre-Castro Cuba, and though it romanticises that period in history, it’s also very blunt about the politics of the time. (Though this is not the focus of the feature).

Apparently, designer Javier Marisca created Rita in a dream. I can believe that.

It’s a tale filled with fiery latin passion, fantastic music (jazz, but don’t let that put you off) and eye-poppingly gorgeous moments. One particular scene practically sizzles on the screen. The characters are drawn in a strongly European comic-book style 2, each character oozing with their key character traits. (Rita drips sex-appeal, Chico is filled with pride and bravado). The art is lovingly detailed and it’s the sort of feature that reveals fresh things on repeated viewings.

Animation is at its most flexible and amazing when it uses the medium to create unique worlds. Chico and Rita exist in an idealised form of the Cuban music scene of the time. Cigar smoke wraps around the singers just so, the pianists are always impeccably dressed and the entire place is filled with beautiful people. At its core though, it’s a movie about what happens when art and passion meet and fall in love.

Spanish speakers will find some of the subtitled translation amusing, as they’ve (thankfully) gone for context-based translation over a more literal interpretation. This is a life affirming, thrilling little feature that I urge everyone to watch. If you find yourself in need of cheering up, I recommend it, though do bring the tissues; it’s as emotional as it is fiery.

1: It’s up against Kung Fu Panda Two and Puss in Boots amongst others. Frankly, those two movies, though nice, pale in comparison to this one. Kung Fu Panda may be all about confidence, and Puss In Boots certainly has a strong hint of passion, but seriously, Chico and Rita is the better work of art, and will dance a bolero around the competition.

2: If you’ve ever read the confusingly titled magazine “Heavy Metal”, you’ll know what I mean. Self Made Hero do produce a comic book version of Chico and Rita as well, and it’s worth your time; what it lacks in movement and music it makes up in artwork.

Categories: Movies, Reviews

Ninja Terminator

January 23, 2012 Leave a comment

The names of some directors are an almost certain guarantee of quality. The mention of Spielberg, Miyazaki or Scorsese can be all one needs to sell a film. Likewise, a few names guarantee that a movie will be awful, and yet still entertaining. Ed Wood, Joe Da’mato, Uwe Boll and of course, the master of the terrible chop-socky movie, Godfrey Ho.

Ho is best known for Ninja Terminator, for several reasons: Firstly, it’s his worst movie, which of course, given that he’s valued for being terrible, means that it’s the one most people like to ridicule, second, it’s actually several aborted movies spliced together (so the plot makes no sense) and thirdly, it takes some of the finest actor/martial artists of the time and utterly misuses them.

For example, Korean martial arts expert Hwang Jang Lee, an actor so iconic within his genre that martial arts homage Kill Bill repeatedly references his work, spends the entire film in a bright yellow goldilocks wig, for no discernible reason. Jack Lam, an actor known for his legs, spends of most of the movie driving a car, and Richard Harrison1, the actor who famously handed Clint Eastwood his career, cites Godfrey Ho’s movies (and this one in particular) as the main reason he retired from cinema.

This man is 7th Dan martial artist. I wouldn't mention how bad that wig is.

More jarringly, not only is this two failed movies re-edited to make a single failure, but the movies were shot 10 years apart from each other. On different film stock. In different locations. Ho cunningly stitches the two movie plots together through the use of a novelty Garfield telephone and a battery operated toy robot. 2

The plot, such as it is, features the efforts of good ninjas trying to take down the Ninja Empire, through the use of a magical statue. Or something. Frankly, important parts of my brain began to shut down round about twenty-minutes in when crabs turned up for no apparent reason.

In short, Ninja Terminator is everything you’d expect from a movie with a name like Ninja Terminator, and it will delight connoisseurs of crap. Fans may be interested to learn that there is another Ho movie called Ninja Protector. It’s not a sequel, but it has the same actors. And some of the same scenes.

1: If you have no idea what he looks like, imagine a weaponised version of cricket commentator Des Lynam. With a more terrifying mustache.
2: Sadly, Ho is not a secret master of the subtle and the surreal. He just happens to own a Garfield telephone.

Categories: Movies

Rare Exports

December 26, 2011 Leave a comment

It is the season for Christmas related things, so let’s talk about Rare Exports, a rather charming action/adventure movie dealing with the true origins of Santa Claus. Unlike the usual Hollywood schmaltz starring some TV comedian, Rare Exports takes the clichéd ‘Santa Movie’ idea and puts a distinctly Finnish spin on the whole affair.

All the elements of the traditional Santa Movie are here; a little boy believes in Santa (despite no one else doing so), there’s a local bully causing said little boy a load of trouble and the whole thing is set in a bleak social setting, where only the true meaning of Christmas can save the day.

Sounds hum-drum so far, but Rare Exports is nothing of the sort; the little boy who believes in Santa does so because he realises the terrible truth about Father Christmas, and the dark and deadly secret that lurks in the nearby mountain. The bully is just another boy, looking out for his father, and the bleak setting is the border between Finland and Russia.

Jorma Tommila plays the ‘grown-up’ and does so very well. He also happens to look like several people I know.

In short, this is a mix of ‘secrets man should not know’ horror and ‘Christmas time fare’, and the blend works fantastically well. Imagine, if you will, what you would get if The Thing and The Santa Clause had a baby. Now imagine it with more white bearded, naked old men and you’ve got a good idea what this is like.

The father and son pairing that the movie hangs on works so well because the actors actually are father and son. The characters are believable and react to insane circumstances in believable ways, and though the bulk of the movie is in Finnish, the subtitles don’t get in the way of the action at all. In addition, the movie is filled with little gags and references that make it a joy to re-watch. The “Safety Instructions” are especially fun.

This little Finnish film has been around for a while; it started life as a series of internet shorts and has been doing the rounds in foreign language cinemas for some time now. With any luck, the recent DVD release will give this cracking little movie a much deserved following. I heartily recommend this to anyone looking for an antidote to overly sentimental seasonal entertainment.

Categories: Geek, Movies

Oooh, Shock Treatment…

November 21, 2011 1 comment

Did you know that The Rocky Horror Picture Show1 had a sequel? Are you now wondering why you’ve never seen or heard about it? Perhaps, you suspect, there’s a reason this movie has been buried? Well, curious chap that I am and buoyed by a healthy sense of curiousity, I set out to investigate Shock Treatment.

Looking back, the fact that my local DVD merchant thrust the movie into my hand for no charge, with a slightly haunted expression should have been a sign, I suppose. Shock Treatment is one of those ‘sort of sequels’. Some of the characters are meant to be the same, but really there’s little to link one movie to the other, the term sequel in this case really meaning ‘by the same people who brought that thing you enjoyed’.

The premise is fairly straight forward; Brad and Janet, the couple from Rocky Horror are having marital problems, and show in an effort to fix their relationship, end up mired in a bizarre reality TV show. Now, what this movie almost becomes is a precursor to films like the The Truman Show. There is so much potential for it to be fantastic commentary on the rise of reality TV, on the perils of fame and the self-help industry. What we get instead is a disjointed mess. Many of the individual elements of the production work fantastically well. For example the cast features some great talent2 such as Jessica Harper and a surprisingly sinister Rik Mayall. Sadly, it fails to be greater or even equal the sum of it’s parts.

As visually arresting as it's sibling, but fails to be as charming.

Like its older, much better known sibling, it has some ace songs. Little Black Dress and Bitchin’ in the Kitchen are just two amidst a great selection of fun tunes this movie has, but both suffer from not being terribly well presented. Shock Treatment feels rushed and bitty, and makes you suspect that the producers of The Rocky Horror Picture Show just got lucky the first time.

It’s a real shame because Shock Treatment could be something much better than it is. I’d love to see it re-imagined and re-made, with a slightly re-worked story and better produced tunes. As it is, it deserves its place in the bargain basement bin. If you plan on hosting a ‘terrible movie night’, give this one a go, as it’s wacky and odd enough to entertain a room full of heckling drunks. But apart from that, isn’t really worth your time.

1: Often, when geeks talked about Rocky Horror, someone quotes the TV series spaced, which describes Rocky as “boil in the bag perversion for sexually repressed accountants and 1st year drama students…”. I don’t entirely agree with this. Rocky Horror fandom is primordial cos-play, and we have moved on from dressing up like Riff-Raff to dressing up as anything from any movie. This is no bad thing, but is one of the reasons why the movie is ageing so badly. Dress-up is no longer as remarkable as it once was.

2: And also, sadly, Barry Humphries. AKA Dame Edna. Who has never been funny.

Categories: Movies, Reviews

Doctor Who, the other movies

November 17, 2011 6 comments

With all this talk of a potential new Doctor Who Movie, I think it’s time to talk about the Timelord’s previous trips to the big screen. By which I don’t mean the 1996 TV movie featuring Paul McGann. I mean the big screen.

In the Sixties, Doctor Who was a new and exciting show, having first reached our screens in 1963. By 1964, Dalekmania was sweeping the nation. The pepperpot dictators where new, exciting and nothing of their like had been seen before, especially on national television. By 1965, Amicus Studios 1 had released Dr. Who and the Daleks and would later release Daleks’ Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. in 1966.

They planned to release a third, but it never got made. This is probably because the first two movies where terrible. They where panned by critics at the time and modern viewers have a lot of difficulty with them as well. When they were made, Doctor Who was still in its infancy as a show; The First Doctor, William Hartnell, played The Doctor as an unpredictable and crochety old man with a mysterious past. In the movies, the horribly underused Peter Cushing looks like Hartnell, but the character is entirely different. For a start, he’s called Doctor Who (as in his surname is “Who”), and he’s clearly cast as a kindly old white-haired genius.

All mystery is stripped from the titular hero in the first five minutes of the movie. To modern viewers, Cushing’s character is mortal and bland, and an elderly, doddery cliché at that. Action sequences are pretty much handled by younger characters2 , and we don’t really care about any of the cast. Compared to even the earliest episodes of the classic series, it pales in comparison. (This is quite a feat, as the movies are in colour).

On the other hand, the classic movie posters look fab

The plots are stripped down versions of Dalek stories from the original series. This improves the pacing, but also makes the whole thing less engaging. Even the pleasure of seeing multi-coloured Daleks and the oddly painted Thals does not make up for intense boredom the movies produce.

As family-friendly action movies made in 60’s go, they aren’t that bad. But because it features Daleks and a TARDIS, we expect more. I can remember watching both these movies as a child, and being very disappointed. They are the Doctor Who equivalent of being promised chocolate and getting carob.3.

If I was producing a new Doctor Who movie today, I would give these movies some repeated viewings. Their greatest flaw is that they imitate the elements of the original series without any of the charm. Even though there is now a greater body of lore surrounding the show, the Peter Cushing movies should serve as an example as to why one should not re-invent the wheel when one is playing in someone else’s creative sand-pit.

1: Interesting studio, Amicus, often mistaken for Hammer Films as they also tended to make movies starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Dr Terror’s House of Horrors is one of theirs.
2: Roy Castle in the first one, Bernard Cribbins in the second. They play characters of course, but it really doesn’t matter, because both actors don’t have any real chance how talented they are. Both Cribbins and Castle are charming of course, which is why both went on to become much loved celebrities. (In the UK at least).
3: Carob looks like chocolate, and sort of tastes like chocolate if you don’t have taste buds. It used to be billed to concerned parents a healthy, vegetarian alternative to chocolate, but I suspect it was actually produced to instil into children a deep seated mistrust of vegetarians

Categories: Geek, Movies

Inner City Versus Outer Space

October 17, 2011 2 comments

Riffs on the idea of an alien invasion have been redone countless times. Marauding creatures from beyond the stars have been defeated by everything from cowboys to Santa Claus in the past. But Aliens versus South London Hoodies? There’s a novel idea. What happens when you take a tedious British movie about urban decay and how tough it is to be a youth on the streets and drop alien monsters into the mix?

The result is Attack the Block. Director Joe Cornish1 has taken UK Film Council money and made a B-movie reminiscent of the sort of fun films Hollywood used to make in the 80’s, such as Critters, Gremlins and CHUD. It’s refreshing to see a British movie that’s fun for the sake of being fun, and a B-movie that isn’t trying to be anything else. That’s not say it’s not got subtext and clever social parody; of course it has, it’s been partially funded by Film4 so we expect that, it’s just that’s also has big monsters eating people.
The story is tight, the characters fun and interesting. Humour is injected throughout the movie, but so is a constant feeling of danger and terror. One flows naturally into the other, neither is particularly forced.

(c) Film4

I wonder what would have happened had the aliens landed in Glasgow...

I would say that the first five minutes of the movie are the least promising; it really does start out as yet another British movie about how crap Britain is, even though those opening scenes are done suberbly. Maybe it’s the strength of the opening scene or the raw talent of actor John Boyega’s performance, but I utterly fail to have any sympathy for the lead character, Moses. Whereas the rest of the hapless hoodies all seem to be kids way out of their depth, Boyega’s “Good kid in a bad place, doing the best he can” fails to elicit any empathy; I suspect I’m supposed to feel for him, but I don’t. Boyega is simply too convincing as a thug. In a way this is a good thing as it lends a heavy dose of pathos2 to movie.

If you have a spare couple of hours and like monster movies of this ilk, you could do a lot worse than check this out. I hope to see more from Joe Cornish in years to come. It would be awesome if the UK could continue to produce this sort of scary fun.

1: Jo from Channel Four comedy programme Adam and Joe. Sad to say, no toy pastiche action in this movie. I’m sure someone will do one.
2: Pathos is like salt; you may not notice it’s missing when you first tuck into your meal, but once it’s added, it can improve things immensely.

Categories: Geek, Movies, Reviews Tags: ,

Rich Man, Poor Man, Beggar Man, Thief

October 12, 2011 3 comments

They are, broadly, two different ways you can tell a story about spies; one involves gadgets, explosions, exotic locations and beautiful women. The other tends to involve paper work, surveillance, anonymous corridors and grumpy looking old men. We tend to be more familiar with the former, which is a pity, as the latter can be every bit as thrilling and exciting. Good spy thrillers mix action with paranoia to keep you on the edge of your seat throughout the story.

The movie Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is two and half hours of grumpy old men being extremely paranoid at each other. As unappealing as that sounds, it’s very good. But then, of course it is, because each component of the movie, from the script to the direction is exactly right. The cast is brilliant; any film that sticks Toby Jones1, Gary Oldman and John Hurt in a room together would have to try pretty hard to fail, and Tinker Tailor does not disappoint. At the start of the movie, they spark of each other brilliantly and this sets the atmosphere for the rest of the feature. The rest of the cast are equally superb; Benedict Cumberbatch is perfect as the steadfast and brilliant Peter Guillam and Tom Hardy is equally superb as the heroic yet tragic Rikki Tarr.

 George Smiley (c)Working Title Films

Gary Oldman has been Sid Vicious, Dracula and now George Smiley. That makes a strange sort of sense, in many ways.

The sheer weight of talent on the screen is enough to carry the movie through. However, as it’s a clever adaption of a John le Carré directed by Tomas Alfredson2. The result is brilliant, and I firmly expect it to sweep up all the Oscars. Even the imaginary ones.

In essence, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a period piece about Cold War paranoia. This is a movie that is soaked in the fear and misery of the that time. The 70’s back-drop is drab and grim, nobody smiles and everyone is expecting the world to end in nuclear fire at any moment. Every element of the movie, from the direction to performances drips terror of an age we were all very happy to see the back of. This is not a spy-movie, this is movie about Intelligence agencies and the paranoia that surrounds them.

If tense, brilliantly directed, superbly acted dramas about paranoia, creeping despair and the spying game aren’t your thing, then avoid this. Otherwise, go see it if you haven’t all ready.

1: Yes, it’s another review about a movie with Toby Jones in it. What can I say, he’s probably one of the best actors around right now.
2: He directed Let the Right One In. Y’know, that brilliantly evocative vampire movie that was doing the rounds a couple of years ago? If you’ve missed it, seek it out.

Categories: Geek, Movies Tags:


September 22, 2011 1 comment

Trollhunter is a Norwegian movie currently doing the rounds at the sort of cinemas that show sub-titled movies (you know the one, the one you keep meaning to go to more often). The premise is pretty simple; Modern Day Norway has trolls, and has been keeping this a secret from the world. The movie follows a small band of student film-makers who, over the course of the movie, become embroiled in a world much larger, and much scarier than they ever dared to dream.

Trollhunter is, in essence, a classic creature feature. Like all creature features, the focus in on the characters that have their lives affected by the monster’s existence. In this case, that role is filled by Hans, the titular Troll Hunter, brilliantly played by Norwegian satirist Otto Jespergian.

(c) Film Fund FUZZ

Yes, the Troll Hunter does look a bit like Warren Ellis. Perhaps there's something he's not telling us.

The movie not only explores the implications of giant monster roaming the wild parts of Norway, it also takes it time to have a satirical stab at religion, government and education, but in a subtle way. The main focus is the action, and the entire is shot in a mockumentary shaky-cam style1. This helps us sympathise with the characters a bit more, and lets the viewer buy into the whole idea that Trolls are real and have to be managed in the same way that other wild animals are.

Though darkly comic at times, I do suspect that some of the movie is lost in translation. This is very much a movie that only could have been made in Norway. It’s also great. Engaging, funny and exciting. You should go see it. Even if you don’t like subtitles.

Of course, being a good movie that happens to need subtitles, Hollywood plans a needless remake. (Article here.) I have a problem with this sort of remake anyway2, but in this particularly case, they really are missing the point. This is a movie steeped in Norway, and works so well because it’s a Norwegian movie with local talent, local scenery and local monsters. Introducing an American into the mix would detract from entire affair.

If you haven’t seen it, and you like creature features, go see it. It’s miles better than Cloverfield was, and much more fun.

1: As is traditional for such movies, the movie is allegedly ‘Found Footage’. The Blair Witch Project has a lot to answer for.
2: Partially, I resent the implication that most people won’t read subtitles, and I also hate the fact that Hollywood hoovers up foreign films and remakes them in order to protect it’s market share.

Categories: Movies

The streets of New York look a lot like the streets of Manchester…

August 17, 2011 2 comments

Went to see Captain America (The First Avenger) recently, and enjoyed it a fair bit. Of course, I went to see it in 2D1.

It’s a pretty simple tale; Set in World War Two, it follows Steve Rogers, a weedy nerd type who, through the magic of science, becomes superhuman and beats up Nazis.

Such a movie should be pretty hard to mess-up, and luckily, they get the mix just right. The villians are appropiately villianous2, the heroes lantern jawed and heroic. This isn’t a movie where the concepts of ‘heroism’ and ‘good’ are dissected through a complex narrative, this is an action movie about a super-hero who is also a soldier.

One of the core concepts of the Captain America comic book is that the title character is the spirit of the nation; he stands for an idealised form of heroism and hard work, a version of the American Dream that kick your arse if needs be. The movie pulls this off without being too nationalistic or repulsive. This is not “Team America: World Police”, this is the story of a Nazi-bashing, rights-defending dream of America, set in a bygone age.3

If you liked The Rocketeer, you’ll love this. (It’s also by the same director). If you’re a ‘Make Mine Marvel’ type, you’ll make little happy sounds at some of the little references. (There’s a brief glimpse of the 50’s version of the Human Torch, for example. And of course, a SHIELD style flying car.) Go see, if super heroes or fantasy-laden war movies are your thing.

(c) Marvel Pictures

The plot is lean and muscular.

1) 3D is for movies that have no story. Transformers 3 and Avatar, for example, are movies that are more about the spectacle than they are about anything else. You go to watch the explosions. Personally, I avoid that sort of thing as if I wanted to see things go bang, I’d go to a proper fireworks display. The plot tends to be better.
2) It’s nice to see Hugo Weaving and Toby Jones get a chance to chew scenery. Of coure, Jones will always be ‘The Dream Lord’ to me and Weaving will always be Mr Smith, but this just adds to the fun.
3) One of the movie’s flaws is that this theme jars slightly with the movie’s framing mechanism. But not terribly so.

Categories: Comic Books, Movies, Reviews