Reviews, articles, rants & ramblings on the darker side of the media fringe

Archive for May, 2011

Peter Cushing

Peter Cushing was born in 1913 in Kenley, Surrey, England. At an early age Cushing was attracted to acting, inspired by his favorite aunt, who was a stage actress. While at school Cushing pursued his acting interest in acting and also drawing, a talent he put to good use later in his first job as a government surveyor’s assistant in Surrey. At this time he also dabbled in local amateur theater until moving to London to attend the Guildhall School of Music and Drama on scholarship. He then performed in repertory theater, deciding in 1939 to head for Hollywood, where he made his film debut in ‘The Man in the Iron Mask’ (1939). He featured in a few other Hollywood films such as ‘A Chump at Oxford’ (1940) with Laurel & Hardy. However, he soon returned to England by way of a stint on Broadway in New York. Back in hisEngland he contributed to the war effort during World War II by joining the Entertainment National Services Association.

After the war he performed in the West End and had his big break appearing with Laurence Olivier in ‘Hamlet’ (1948), in which Cushing’s future partner-in-horror Christopher Lee had a bit part. Both actors also appeared in ‘Moulin Rouge’ (1952) but didn’t meet until their later horror films. Towards the end of the decade he began his legendary association with Hammer Film Productions in its remakes of the 1930s Universal horror classics. His first Hammer roles included Dr. Frankenstein in ‘The Curse of Frankenstein’ (1957), Dr. Van Helsing in ‘Dracula’ (1958) and Sherlock Holmes in ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ (1959).

Cushing continued playing the roles of Drs. Frankenstein and Van Helsing, as well as taking on other horror characters over the next 20 years. ‘The Revenge of Frankenstein’ (1958), ‘The Mummy’ (1959), ‘The Brides of Dracula’ (1960), ‘The Evil of Frankenstein’ (1964), ‘The Gorgon’ (1964), ‘She’ (1965)’ ‘Frankenstein Created Woman’ (1966), ‘Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed’ (1969), ‘The Satanic Rites of Dracula’ (1973) and his last outing as Frankenstein in ‘Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell’ (1974). He also appeared in films for the other major horror production company Amicus Productions where he made a couple of Dr. Who films (1965, 1966), ‘The House that Dripped Blood’ (1971), ‘I, Monster’ (1971) and ‘The Beast Must Die (1974), among others. By the mid-1970s these companies had stopped production, but Cushing, firmly established as a horror star, continued in the genre for some time thereafter.

Perhaps his best-known appearance outside of horror films was as Grand Moff Tarkin in ‘Star Wars’ (1977). He made appearances on television shows ‘Hammer House of Horror’ (1980) and ‘Tales of the Unexpected’ (1983). Cushing’s retired in 1986. I grew up watching Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee on television every weekend, they stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Universal horror legends.

In 1989 he was made an Officer of the British Empire in recognition of his contributions to the acting profession in Britain and worldwide. Peter Cushing died in August 1994 aged 81. Legend.

Alien – Released 32 years ago today

32 years ago Alien was released in the United states… ‘In space no one can hear you scream’

The Nostromo, an interplanetary mining ship loaded with ore, is on it’s return voyage to Earth. The crew are woken early from their hibernation tanks by Mother, the ship’s computer, after a radio transmission from an unexplored planetoid has been detected. Company policy requires making contact with alien life-forms whenever possible. Upon landing, crew member Kane (John Hurt) is attacked by a octopus-like parasite. Days later, a hideous alien erupts from Kane’s chest. The alien escapes and the crew start a hunt through the ship’s dark, claustrophobic passageways. The alien grows at an alarming rate and begins picking them off one-by-one. Warrant Officer Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) fights for her life and tries to escape in a shuttle but she discovers that the Alien is also aboard…

32 years ago today, Alien was released (May 25, 1979). The film arrived in between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back as a stylishly malevolent alternative to George Lucas’s space fantasy. The Ridley Scott directed film became an instant classic and set a tone of its own, offering richly detailed sets, ominous atmosphere and relentless suspense. The HR Giger designed Alien was an incredible shioft in style from those in previous space-set movies, Giger so impressed Ridley Scott that he was hired to design the alien fachugger, chestburster and the alien sets. They would become iconic. 

The cast are all exceptional, Sigourney Weaver as Ripley setting the tone for all the action heroines that followed; Ian Holm is creepy as android Ash; John  Hurt almsot steals the movie with his iconic ‘chestbursting scene’; Harry Dean Stanton, Yaphet Kotto, Veronica Cartwright and Tom Skeritt are all good.   

Scott would further enhance the Sci-fi genre a few years later with his equally ground-breaking Blade Runner (1982), though that film was initially not well received it has since become a cult hit.

Alien spawned a further 5 sequels of differing quality. The best of which was James Camerons excellent action movie Aliens (1986);  David Finchers directorial debut Alien³ (1992) and Jean-Pierre Jeunets awful Alien: Resurrection (1997). There were also two cross-franchise movies where the Alien(s) battle with versions of the Predator in Alien Vs. Predator (2004) and Alien vs Predator requiem (2007)… both should be avoided at all costs. Scott is currently filming ‘Prometheus’ a rumoured prequel/sequel/re-imagining of the first Alien. No one is really clear what it is about, but at least with Scott back at the helm of the franchise he started we can at least be reassured that it is in good hands.

Source Code ****

Colter Stevens (Jake Gylenhall) wakes up on a commuter train heading to Chicago. He’s seated opposite Christina (Michelle Monaghan) who although he has no recollection as to who she is, appears to be in the middle of a conversation with him. After a few minutes, 8 minutes precisely as we are about to discover, the train explodes killing everyone on board. Stevens ‘wakes up’ in a confined metal pod, he’s strapped in and as unaware of his surroundings as he was in the train. He is questioned by a military officer, Goodwin (Vera Farmiga). She wants to know if he knows who the bomber on the train is, when Stevens answers ‘no’ he is sent back to the train. This time he is slightly more aware as to what is happening and realises that he is living the same 8 minutes as before.

Again the train explodes and Stevens finds himself back in the pod, this time he wants answers, what is happening to him, where are his squad, the last thing he remembers is being under attack in Afghanistan. A senior officer, Dr Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright) explains quickly that Stevens part of a project that can put him inside another person’s consciousness but only during the last 8 minutes of that person’s life. He can help the military prevent an explosion in busy down-town Chicago, but only if he finds the train bomber… he’s sent back to the train, again and again.

The script is a good blend of thriller, sci-fi and emotional drama. It has enough tech-talk to keep the sci-fi fans happy and is a smart enough thriller with some nice character moments to hold your interest for the duration. The end is a stretch but if you’re willing to go with it then it’s satisfying conclusion to an original idea. It has been compared to last year’s best film Inception; it’s not as good as that and has also been compared to ‘Déjà Vu’ (2006) with Denzel Washington with which it shares more similar themes. Although Source Code lacks the budget of both those movies it doesn’t suffer at all by comparison.

Source Code is the second feature from Duncan Jones, the man behind one of my favourite movies of 2009, ‘Moon’ which starred Sam Rockwell whose exceptional performance was overlooked for all of last year’s Best Actor Awards. As with Moon, Jones has crafted another smart, entertaining and suspenseful film. The actors are solid and believable. The effects, again, as with Moon, are better than their budget would imply. This is definitely worth seeing if you want something other than fast cars, loud explosions, pounding music score or sequels to sequels.

Quality: 4 out of 5 stars

Any good: 4 out of 5 stars      

Carrie – Remake on the way

Another week and another remake is on the way… this time however it’s a more understandable update. ‘Carrie’, the 1976 teen classic starring Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Amy Irving, Nancy Allen, horror staple PJ Soles and a young John Travolta was the first Stephen King novel to be filmed. Made by director Brian DePalma, the movie helped to set the tone for the countless prom-set horror movies that followed.

The original movie follows Carrie White, a shy young girl who doesn’t make friends easily and lives with her domineering, religiously obsessed mother. Carrie is different to the other students in more ways than anyone can imagine, she can move things with her mind, and she’s not sure why. After her class mates taunt her about her horrified reaction to her totally unexpected first period one of them takes pity on her and gets Tommy Ross, her boyfriend and class hunk to invite Carrie to the senior prom. Meanwhile another girl who has been banned from the prom for her continued aggressive behaviour is not as forgiving and plans a trick to embarrass Carrie in front of the whole school. What she doesn’t realise is that Carrie is … gifted, and you really don’t want to get her angry.

Although well made, the movie is somewhat dated and the ‘bullied teenager at school scenario’ is perfect fodder for a remake that unlike some of the other remake titles bandied about of late, The Exorcist and The Thing both of which should remain untouched, Carrie is well suited to an update. Stephen King is no stranger to updated versions of movies based on his work. There are two versions of ‘Salem’s Lot’ , the first made by Tobe Hooper in 1979 with David Sole and remade as a TV movie in 2004 with Rob Lowe. Most famously though King was very unhappy with Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 version of ‘The Shining’ starring Jack Nicholson, a movie considered a horror classic by most observers. King wrote the screenplay for the television remake in 1997 and although it follows his book more closely and is a decent effort it’s not a patch on the Kubrick version.

The remake of Carrie is slated for a release sometime in 2012 and will be produced by MGM and pertners Screen Gems. There is no news yet on the director or who will star as Carrie… Today’s teen audience probably haven’t seen the original so please retain the original shock ending and PLEASE stop at one, we don’t need another ‘The Rage: Carrie 2’..!

Jim Jarmusch Vampire movie

Tilda Swinton, Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska have been confirmed for Jim Jarmusch’s untitled vampire movie, which the writer/director calls a “crypto-vampire love story”. It’s an exceptional cast and with Jarmusch behind the camera should be an exciting take on the vampire genre.

Jeremy Thomas and Reinhard Brundig will produce the film which will be “set against the romantic desolation of Detroit and Tangiers,” and will shoot on location in Detroit, Germany, and Morocco early next year.

Buried ****

An American contractor in Iraq, Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) wakes up bound and gagged in a roughly hewn wooden coffin. He finds a Zippo lighter, pen knife, pencil, hip flask and mobile phone. Unable to read the Arabic instructions on the mobile he calls his wife back in the States, she’s not home, he calls 911, the FBI and his contract company. All the calls frustrate him further until he receives a call from his kidnappers, who inform him that they want $5 million dollars for his release and he only has 90 minutes of air in the coffin.

Paul gets through to a hostage negotiator who informs him that they are on the case. The kidnappers call back and instruct him to make a hostage video for the media, when he refuses they send him a video file of one of his associates, a female driver who Paul was close too, she’s murdered on camera.

Buried spends the entire 95 minute running time in the coffin with Ryan Reynolds. It sounds boring but Director Rodrigo Cortes keeps the film flowing and really works to make it visually interesting without cutting away from the situation at all. The use of various light sources is excellent; we only ever see Paul in varying glows cast from the lighter, a glow stick, shoddy flashlight and from the mobile phone screen. They all differ and work as a visual aid to Pauls mental and emotional state, he’s resourceful when using the lighter, frustrated with the dying flashlight, tense with the glow stick. The blue glow from the mobile breaks up these different states and drives the ‘action’.

Cinematographer Eduard Grau does an exceptional job with the film and you really feel that you’re in there with Paul throughout his ordeal.

The script is well written and takes us on an emotional ride with Paul; we feel his frustration and fear especially during the tense and sometimes oddly amusing phone calls with his captors and the people who are supposed to be on his side. Scriptwriter Chris Sparling said in a recent interview that his previous scripts were all knocked back due to the prohibitive budget costs so he thought of the simplest scenario he could. He certainly put more thought into Buried than that throwaway line indicates and has delivered a fantastic premise that really works on emotional, intellectual and visceral levels.

Ryan Reynolds delivers a performance I never thought him capable of from his previous outings. He’s alone on screen for the duration and entirely believable in a difficult role. Tense, suspenseful, exciting and original, Buried won’t appeal to everyone, especially those looking for cheap thrills and big action set-pieces, but it has far more to offer and is worth the effort.

Quality: 4 out of 5 stars

Any good: 4 out of 5 stars

Harvey Milk Day

Harvey Milk Day is organized by the Harvey Milk Foundation and celebrated globally each year held May 22 in memory of Harvey Milk, a gay rights activist who was assassinated in 1978. The holiday was established by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2009 following the success of the award-winning feature film ‘Milk’ retracing Milk’s life.

Milk is a 2008 American biographical film on the life of politician Harvey Milk, who was the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California, as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Directed by Gus Van Sant and written by Dustin Lance Black, the film stars Sean Penn as Milk and Josh Brolin as Dan White, another city supervisor who was Milk’s assassin. The film was released too much acclaim and earned numerous accolades from film critics and guilds. Ultimately, it received eight Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, winning two for Best Actor in a Leading Role for Penn and Best Original Screenplay for Black.