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

Archive for June, 2011

Prometheus News

Screenwriter Damon Lindelof appeared on The Kevin Pollak Chat Show this week and talked about his latest work writing on Ridley Scott‘s Prometheus, how he got the job and how that connects to the Alien films. Find out what he said here

Dr. Raymond Moody

Dr. Raymond Moody was born today, June 30, in 1944. He is most famous as an author of books about life after death and near-death experiences (NDE), a term that he coined in 1975. His best-selling title is ‘Life After Life’.

Moody studied philosophy at the University of Virginia, United States, where he obtained a B.A. (1966), an M.A. (1967) and a Ph.D (1969) in the subject. He also obtained a Ph.D in psychology from the University of West Georgia. In 1998 Moody was appointed Chair in Consciousness Studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. After obtaining his M.D., Moody worked as a forensic psychiatrist in a maximum-security Georgia state hospital.

Moody’s own beliefs on NDEs can be summed up with the following quote from his interview with Jeffrey Mislove: “I don’t mind saying that after talking with over a thousand people who have had these experiences, and having experienced many times some of the really baffling and unusual features of these experiences, it has given me great confidence that there is a life after death. As a matter of fact, I must confess to you in all honesty, I have absolutely no doubt, on the basis of what my patients have told me, that they did get a glimpse of the beyond.”

From a study of 150 people who had clinically died or almost died, Moody concluded that there are nine experiences common to most people who have had a near death experience. These are:

  1. hearing sounds such as buzzing
  2. a feeling of peace and painlessness
  3. having an out-of-body experience
  4. a feeling of traveling through a tunnel
  5. a feeling of rising into the heavens
  6. seeing people, often dead relatives
  7. meeting a spiritual being such as God
  8. seeing a review of one’s life
  9. feeling a reluctance to return to life

Decide for yourself if he’s a nutter or not by checking out this interview with Moody and his website where you can purchase a signed copy of his book. All this fuels the supernatural movie genre so I view it, with skepticism, as a good thing.

Haunted Mansion – Review by my 5 year old son ***

Another review from my 5 year old son. He couldn’t wait until the weekend to review ‘Transformers: Dark of the Moon’ so knocked out this review until he sees that behemoth on Saturday afternoon. This is more of a synopsis than a review. SPOILER ALERT. He gives away the ending. I usually edit out huge spoilers from his movie reviews but figured that this is so old now and no-one is going to rent it anyway.

“It’s about a spooky house that’s called a mansion. It’s about ghosts and graveyards. A man and a woman give some people some cookies. There’s a nice ghost. The nice ghost helps the man get his children out of a box from the skeletons that are spooky. The bad ghost can’t get hurt by anyone but in the end he gets fire on him and the good guy is okay. It’s not too scary for kids but little kids might get scared. It’s spooky and funny but spooky.”

Any good ***

Robert Evans

Robert Evans (born June 29, 1930) is a Film Producer best known for his work in the golden era of new Hollywood. He started out as an actor, however, dissatisfied with his own acting talent, he determined to become a producer.

He got his start as head of production at Paramount by purchasing the rights to a 1966 novel entitled ‘The Detective’ which Evans made into a movie starring Frank Sinatra in 1968. This got Evans noticed by Charles Bludhorn, who was head of the Gulf+Western conglomerate who owed the studio, and hired Evans as part of a shakeup at Paramount Pictures.

When Evans took over as Head of Production for Paramount, the foundering studio was the ninth largest. Despite Evans’ inexperience, he was able to turn the studio around. He made Paramount the most successful studio in Hollywood and transformed it into a very profitable enterprise for Gulf+Western. During his tenure at Paramount, the studio turned out classic films such as ‘Barefoot in the Park’, ‘The Odd Couple’, ‘Rosemary’s Baby’, ‘The Italian Job’, ‘True Grit’, ‘Love Story’, ‘Harold and Maude’, ‘The Godfather’, ‘Serpico’, ‘The Conversation’, ‘The Great Gatsby’, and many others. Although he obviously had an eye for a hit, he did turn down ‘The French Connection’ and ‘Jaws’…

Dissatisfied with his financial compensation, and desiring to produce films under his own banner, Evans struck a deal with Paramount that enabled him to stay on as studio head while also working as an independent producer. Other producers at Paramount felt this gave Evans an unfair advantage. Eventually Evans stepped down, which enabled him to produce films on his own. He went on to produce such films as ‘Chinatown’, ‘Marathon Man’, ‘Black Sunday’, ‘Urban Cowboy’, ‘The Cotton Club’ and the Chinatown sequel, ‘The Two Jakes’.

Evans began to fall on hard times in the early 1980s, when during the production of ‘Popeye’ he was convicted for attempting to buy cocaine. Things got even worse for him when he began filming ‘The Cotton Club’. Evans was slated to direct, but due to production complications Francis Ford Coppola was called in during the filming. The budget for the film soared and Coppola and Evans fought endlessly. Evans was peripherally linked to the murder of Roy Haddin, an investor in The Cotton Club, who was murdered. Evans was accused of involvement; he pleaded the 5th Amendment and was sent home. Evans wrote in his excellent 1994 autobiography ‘The Kid Stays In The Picture’ that he was a “tangential character, at best” in regard to the case.

Hollywood scriptwriter Joe Eszterhas repeatedly describes his friend, Evans, as “the devil” in his book, Hollywood Animal, and goes on to say that “all lies ever told anywhere about Robert Evans are true.”

Ray Harryhausen

Ray Harryhausen, born on June 29, 1920 in Los Angeles, California, is an Producer and special effects creator. Check out the official Ray Harryhausen website

After having seen King Kong for the first of many times in 1933, Harryhausen spent his early years experimenting in the production of animated shorts, inspired by the burgeoning science fiction literary genre of the period. A friend arranged a meeting with Harryhausen’s idol, Willis O’Brien, animator of ‘King Kong’  O’Brien critiqued Harryhausen’s early models and inspired him to take classes in graphic arts and sculpture to hone his skills. Harryhausen became friends with an aspiring writer, Ray Bradbury, with similar enthusiasms. Bradbury and Harryhausen joined a Los Angeles-area science fiction club formed by Forrest J. Ackerman in 1939, and the three became lifelong friends.

Paramount executives gave Harryhausen his first job, on the ‘Puppetoons’ shorts, based on viewing his first formal demo reel of fighting dinosaurs from an abortive project called Evolution. H also produced a variety of other short animation demos during the post-World War II 1940s. He put together a demo reel of his various projects and showed them to Willis O’Brien, who eventually hired him as an assistant animator on what turned out to be Harryhausen’s first major film, ‘Mighty Joe Young’ (1949). O’Brien ended up concentrating on solving the various technical problems of the film, leaving most of the animation up to Harryhausen. Their work won O’Brien the Academy Award for Best Special Effects that year.

Harryhausen was hired to do the special effects for The Monster from Beneath the Sea. While in production, the filmmakers learned that a long-time friend of Harryhausen, writer Ray Bradbury, had sold a short story called “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms” to The Saturday Evening Post, about a dinosaur drawn to a lone lighthouse by its foghorn. Because the story for Harryhausen’s film featured a similar scene, the film studio bought the rights to Bradbury’s story to avoid any potential legal problems. Also, the title was changed to ‘The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms’ (1953). Under that title, it became Harryhausen’s first solo feature film effort, and a major international box-office hit for Warner Brothers.

He followed that movie with minor hits, ‘It Came From Beneath The Sea’ (1955), ‘Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers’ (1956) and ’20 Million Miles to Earth’ (1956) before his greatest masterpiece (and biggest hit) of the 50s, ‘The 7th Voyage of Sinbad’ (1958).

After ‘The Three Worlds of Gulliver’ (1960) and ‘Mysterious Island’ (1961), both great artistic and technical successes, his next film is considered by film historians and fans as Harryhausen’s masterwork, ‘Jason and the Argonauts’ (1963). Among the film’s several celebrated animation sequences is an extended fight between three actors and seven living skeletons, a considerable advance on the single-skeleton fight scene in Sinbad. This amazing stop-motion sequence, never since equaled by a single individual, took over four months to complete, and helped to inspire an entire generation of subsequent filmmakers such as Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Tim Burton, Sam Raimi and James Cameron, among many others.

Harryhausen was then hired by Hammer Film Productions to animate the dinosaurs for ‘One Million Years B.C.’ (1967). It was a box office smash, helped in part by the presence of shapely Raquel Welch in a cavewoman bikini. Harryhausen next went on to make another dinosaur film, ‘The Valley of Gwangi’ (1969); the movie is set in 1912 Mexico, in a parallel Kong story—cowboys capture a living Allosaurus and bring him to the nearest city for exhibition. Sabotage by a rival releases the creature on opening day and the creature wreaks havoc on the town until it is cornered and destroyed inside a burning cathedral.

After a few lean years, Harryhausen re-teamed with Schneer, who talked Columbia Pictures into reviving the Sinbad character, resulting in ‘The Golden Voyage of Sinbad’, often remembered for the sword fight involving a statue of the six-armed goddess Kali. It was first released in Los Angeles in the Christmas season of 1973, but garnered its main audience in the spring and summer of 1974. It was followed by ‘Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger’ (1977), which disappointed some fans because of its tongue-in-cheek approach. Both films were, however, box office successes. The latter was my first cinematic experience of Harryhausens work; I’d been a fan as a little kid watching his movies on saturday matinees but seeing his effects on the big screen blew me away.

The last feature film to showcase his effects work was the ‘Clash of the Titans’ (1981), for which he was nominated for a Saturn Award for Best Special Effects. It featured an amazing set-piece with a Kraken, however despite of the relatively successful box office returns of “Clash of the Titans”, more sophisticated technology developed by ILM and others began to eclipse Harryhausen’s production techniques.

Amazingly, none of Harryhausen’s films were ever nominated for a special effects Oscar. Harryhausen’s contribution to the film industry and he was finally awarded a Gordon E. Swayer Award for “technological contributions [which] have brought credit to the industry” in 1992, with Tom Hanks as the Master of Ceremonies and Bradbury, a friend from when they were both just out of high school, presenting the award. This recognition made Harryhausen an international celebrity. A long series of appearances at film festivals, colleges, and film seminars around the world soon followed as Harryhausen met many of the millions of people who had grown up enjoying his work. On one of these tours he visited the Disney studio in Sydney where I was lucky enough to meet him and score an autographed copy of ‘Jason and the Argonauts’ DVD… it’s still my favourite piece of memorabilia.

30 Days of Night: Dark Days **

Taking place a year after the Alaskan town of Barrow was decimated by vampires during the annual month long darkness. Stella Oleson (Kiele Sanchez) has spent her time since the attack trying to convince the world of the truth about what happened at Barrow and that vampires exist. She is met with scepticism and laughter wherever she goes. After a meeting in L.A. where she turned ultra violet lights on the audience and burned up a couple of vampires Stella is cautioned by FBI agent Norris (Troy Ruptash) who warns her to stop her crusade. Upon returning to her motel, Stella is met by Paul (Rhys Coiro), Todd (Harold Perrineau) and Amber (Diora Baird) who introduce themselves as vampire hunters. They inform her that the vampires who attacked Barrow were instructed to do so by Lilith (Nia Kirshner) who happens to be in L.A… Blah, blah, blah…

After a series of action set-pieces where first Paul is killed by vampires, then their vampire contact Dane (Ben Cotton) is killed by the now turned vampire agent Norris; Stella decides to take on Lilith and her coven head on.

If you really liked the original ‘30 Days of Night’ you probably won’t like this sequel very much. I liked the original and I wasn’t expecting much of the sequel and was still underwhelmed. Although both movies followed the outline of the Steve Niles graphic novels they are markedly different movies.

Whereas the first movie has character development, good actors, a decent script, a wonderful premise and a good stylish director; this sequel, well, it doesn’t really have any of those. Although to be fair Kiele Sanchez is okay, far better than any of the rest of the cast.

It starts well enough then descends into an action flick where we follow stupid characters doing stupid things. If you’re going to hunt vampires and you know where they are it may be a good idea to do it during the day. Not these clowns, they do all their hunting in darkness. Well, it’s cheaper I suppose. And why do head vampires always look like someone out of an Evanescence video clip?

The SFX is a mixed bag, some of the prosthetics are very well done and some of the blended CGI shots work okay. I think they spent most of the budget on the effects. There are also some pretty good, gory action scenes although some of them though just don’t make sense. It’s established early on in the movie that ultraviolet light kills vampires so no one ever uses it again… They use guns and machetes for the remainder of the movie.

It’s not useless; it’s just not very good. Watch the original or Blade 2 instead.

Quality: 2 out of 5 stars

Any good: 2 out of 5 stars (because I wasn’t expecting much)   

30 Days of Night ****

Barrow, Alaska – Northernmost town in the U.S. Isolated in 80 miles of roadless wilderness. Cut off every winter for 30 days of night. Town Sheriff Eben Olsen (Josh Hartnett) notices some strange occurrences during the last day of sun, cell phones burned, local dogs slain, the town helicopter sabotaged and his estranged wife Stella (Melissa George), the regional Fire Marshall, is stranded in town after missing the last flight out. Eben arrests a stranger (Ben Foster) after he’s aggressive in the local diner; the stranger informs him that “they’re coming” and that he’s a dead man.

The vampires then arrive for a feeding frenzy during the month long darkness. Led by Marlow (Danny Huston), these vampires aren’t sexy, seductive or cool; they’re vicious, brutal and single-minded. It only takes 17 minutes into the movie before the first attack, quickly followed by another and another on the helpless townsfolk “You just keep shooting and they just keep coming”

Eben, Stella and a small band of locals must survive for the next 30 days or perish at the hands of Marlow and his clan of vampires…

Written by Steve Niles from his graphic novel; Produced by Sam Raimi and Directed by David Slade. This movie has some solid credentials and doesn’t disappoint. The original source material has been followed quite closely; I’m a big fan of the graphic novel and Steve Niles has done a great job retaining the sense of dread and isolation. David Slade has done a fantastic job translating the story to the screen. His first feature, Hard Candy (2005) was an incredible debut and he’s followed it up with one of the better vampire movies of the last decade, and there have been a lot of them! Here he focuses on a gripping story of perseverance and survival against the odds; the characters are fleshed out as the movie progresses and their reactions are grounded with real emotions.

The cast are all solid; Josh Hartnett is the best he’s been as stoic Eben. Melissa George and Ben Foster are very good; however the movie belongs to Danny Huston wheneverhe’s on screen. As the lead vampire he’s incredibly menacing, intense and creepy.  

The visuals are beautifully shot and the movie looks amazing; the setting and characters look and feel so cold and real. The movie makers haven’t shied away from bloody violence, the movie is filled with incredibly brutal attacks by the vampires. An original take through a well worn mythology that feels fresh. It is intense, violent, gory, action-packed and great fun.

Quality: 4 out of 5 stars

Any good: 4 out of 5 stars

LIVING THE NIGHTMARE: An Interview with Heather Langenkamp

Living the Nightmare: An interview with Heather Langenkamp.

Triangle ****

Jess (Melissa George) sets sail with her friends Greg (Michael Dorman), Victor (Liam Hemsworth), Downey (Henry Nixon), his wife Sally (Rachel Carpani) and her friend Heather (Emma Lung). Jess is slightly disoriented, fatigued and suspicious that there is something wrong with the scenario. Her suspicions are vindicated when they are rocked by an electrical storm and the group are stranded on the upturned yacht. They board a passing ocean liner and Jess is convinced that she’s been aboard the ship before. The ship appears to be deserted, but the group are not alone. Someone is hunting them down one by one…

Triangle is a difficult movie to write about without giving anything away. It really is a puzzle of a movie that needs to be seen without any prior knowledge to get the most out of it, that’s not to say that the movie doesn’t hold up on repeat viewings, which is a good thing as you’ll probably want to watch it again immediately to spot the clues.

This is the third movie from writer/director Christopher Smith after the impressive ‘Creep’ and ‘Severance’, it is also his best. It is a very well constructed, ambitious, frustrating, complex and fun mystery that audiences will either love or hate. Smith has improved with each outing and on this evidence deserves some backing and a chance to prove his worth with a bigger genre flick. Triangle didn’t do very well at the cinema but will hopefully find an audience on DVD, it is surely destined for the cult film circuit and although not strictly a horror film, it marks Smiths elevation as a writer and director of note within the horror genre.

Melissa George is very good in the lead role, she has been given more to do here than in 30 Days of Night or the woeful remake of The Amityville Horror; this time she has to display some real range and delivers. The rest of the cast are solid in fairly undemanding roles, particularly Michael Dorman as the sympathetic Greg and Liam Hemsworth (brother of ‘Thor’).

I really enjoyed it when I saw it last year and again when I recently rented it for my 21 year old nephew to watch, he loved it. It would be too easy and a little lazy to compare Triangle to a couple of other movies but that would give away too much. The movie is not without faults and probably wouldn’t really stand up to too much scrutiny if you were to pore over the plot twists/holes, but as with most of these movies, you can either go with it and enjoy the ride or pick it apart and complain. I did the former, I hope you will too.

Quality: 4 out of 5 stars

Any good: 4 out of 5 stars      

Paul Thomas Anderson

Paul Thomas Anderson (born June 26, 1970) has written and directed five feature films: ‘Hard Eight’ (1996), ‘Boogie Nights’ (1997), ‘Magnolia’ (1999), ‘Punch-Drunk Love’ (2002) and ‘There Will Be Blood’ (2007). He has been nominated for five Academy Awards — There Will Be Blood for Best Achievement in Directing, Best Motion Picture of the Year, and Best Adapted Screenplay; Magnolia for Best Original Screenplay; and Boogie Nights for Best Original Screenplay.

Anderson has been hailed as being “one of the most exciting talents to come along in years” and as being “among the supreme talents of today.” In 2007, Total Film Magazine named him the 20th-greatest director of all time. In 2011, Entertainment Weekly named him the 11th-greatest working director calling him “one of the most dynamic directors to emerge in the last 20 years”

Anderson was involved in filmmaking at a young age and started making movies on his dad’s video camera when he was a 12-year-old. As a high school student at the age of 17, he made the 30-minute mockumentary using a video camera called ‘The Dirk Diggler Story’ (1988), about a well-endowed male porn star (inspired by John Holmes, who also served as a major inspiration for Boogie nights). Anderson began his career as a production assistant on television shows, music videos and game shows in Los Angeles and New York. With some money he won gambling, his girlfriend’s credit card, and $10,000 his father set aside for college, Anderson decided to make a 20 minute film that would be his “college”. The film he made was Cigarettes & Coffee (1993), a short film made for $20,000 connecting multiple story lines with a $20 bill. The film was screened at the 1993 Sundance Film Festival Shorts Program and he decided to expand the film into a feature length film and was subsequently invited to the 1994 Sundance Institute Filmakers Lab.

In 1996, Anderson made his first full-length feature, Sydney, which was retitled ‘Hard Eight’ (1996). He submitted the work print of his cut of the film into the ‘Un Certain Regard’ section at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival. The acclaim from the film launched his career. Anderson began working on the script for his next feature film during his troubles with Hard Eight, completing the script in the summer 1995. The result was Anderson’s breakout film ‘Boogie Nights’ (1997), a full-length major motion based on his short ‘The Dirk Diggler Story’.  It was released on October 10, 1997 and was a critical and commercial success. The film received three Academy Award nominations, for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Burt Reynolds), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Julianne Moore), and for Anderson in Best Original Screenplay.

After the success of Boogie Nights, Anderson was told by studio New line he could do whatever he wanted for his next film and granted Anderson creative control without hearing an idea for the film. Initially wanting to make a film that was “intimate and small-scale” as he started writing, the script “kept blossoming” and the resulting film was the ensemble piece ‘Magnolia’ (1999), which tells the story of the peculiar interaction among the lives of several individuals in the San fernando Valley area. Anderson used the music of  Aimee Mann as a basis and inspiration for the film. Magnolia received three Academy Award nominations, for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Tom Cruise), Best Original Song for “Save Me” by Aimee Mann and Best Original Screenplay.

His next feature was the comedy/romance film Punch-Drunk Love (2002), starring Adam Sandler with Emily Watson as his love interest. The story centers around a beleaguered small-business owner (Sandler) with anger issues and seven emasculating sisters. Sandler received critical praise for his role in his first major departure from the mainstream comedies which made him a star. At the 2002 Cannes Film Festival, the film won Best Director Award for Anderson and was nominated for the Golden Palm.

Anderson’s most recent film, ‘There Will Be Blood’ (2007). The budget of the film was $25 million, and it gained $76.1 million worldwide. Anderson had previously stated that he wanted to work with Daniel Day-Lewis who starred in and won an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role. Paul Dano received a BAFTA nomination for Best Supporting Actor and Anderson was nominated for Best Director from the Directors Guild of America. The film also received eight Academy Award nominations, tying with ‘No Country For Old Men’ for the most nominations that year. Anderson received nominations for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay, losing all three to the Coen Brothers who won for No Country For Old Men. There Will Be Blood was largely regarded as one of the greatest films of the last decade.

Anderson is a member of the first generation of “self taught filmmakers,” much like directors Quentin Tarantino, Steven Soderbergh, Richard Linklater, David O. Russel and Spike Jonze, who learned the craft not in film schools, but by viewing thousands of movies on video. He may yet prove to be the most talented of a very talented group.

A Clockwork Orange & Psycho – Poster Art

Here are another few reworked art posters for some great movies.

Both are from the Castro Theatre in San Francisco.

Stanley Kubrick’s ‘A Clockwork Orange’

Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’.

You’re welcome… enjoy.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – News

Will Emma Stone ever get away from those pesky zombies? The “Zombieland” star has been offered the lead role of Elizabeth Bennet in Lionsgate’s “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” with Craig Gillespie directing.

Seth Grahame-Smith, who penned the original tome, is writing the script which faithfully retells the love story between Jane Austen’s famous lovers Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy, but with one major twist: the idyllic Victorian setting of their courtship is overrun with blood-sucking, brain-eating undead zombies.

The movie is a spinoff on the Jane Austen novel — with the twist that Bennett and Mr. Darcy are fighting off zombies, as the title implies. Natalie Portman, Annette Savitch, Richard Kelly, Ted Hamm and Sean McKittrick are producing through Portman’s Handsomecharlie Films and Kelly’s Darko Films.

Rob Zombie – Woolite Commercial

And you thought your clothes would never be this dirty… Rob Zombie, the director of such horror films as House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects, has managed to infuse his special brand of horror into … a laundry detergent commercial? check it out…

Nancy Allen

Nancy Allen was born today, June 24, 1950. Allen began an acting and modelling career as a child, and from the mid-1970s appeared in small film roles, most notably in ‘The Last Detail’ (1974) with Jack Nicholson. A pivotal supporting role in ‘Carrie’ (1976) brought her recognition, and after marrying the director Brian De Palma, she appeared in several of his films, including ‘Home Movies’ (1980) with Kirk Douglas, as Liz Blake in ‘Dressed to Kill’ (1980) with Michael Caine, and as Sally Bedina in the under-rated ‘Blow Out’ (1981) opposite John Travolta.

Although, she received a Razzie nomination for her performance as Liz Blake, a prosperous call girl who dabbles in the stock market, in the murder/horror film Dressed to Kill, Allen was also nominated for a Golden Globe for ‘New Star of the Year in a Motion Picture-Female’. Known for taking risky roles in the 1970s and 1980s, she played prostitutes several times, participating in racy sex scenes or appearing nude… she was a big hit in the 80’s home video boom!

She followed ‘Strange Invaders’ (1983) with ‘The Philadelphia Experiment’ (1984), opposite Michael Pare. For her role in the latter, Allen was nominated for a Saturn Award for Best Actress. She also hosted the documentary ‘Terror in the Aisles’ (1984), which presents clips from various horror features, including Dressed to Kill and Carrie. Allen played the police officer Anne Lewis in the classic ‘Robocop’ (1987) opposite Peter Weller in the title role. The film, which was the Hollywood debut of director Paul Verhoeven, did extremely well at the box office. Allen was nominated for another Saturn Award for Best Actress.

Her subsequent films include ‘Poltergeist 3’ (1988), ‘Out of Sight’ (1998) and the ‘Robocop’ sequels 2 & 3. Allen is a staunch environmentalist and is the Executive Director of the weSPARK Cancer Support Center.

Raiders of the Lost Ark

31 years ago today, (June 23, 1980) filming started in the seas off the French town of La Rochelle of what would become one of the greatest movie successes in history. Who doesn’t know this story by now?  

Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) leads a double life as a professor of archaeology and a globetrotting adventurer. He hears about an archaeological dig for the ark of the covenant, which contains the original Ten Commandments and divine power. Indy heads off to Nepal to locate Marion (Karen Allen), who owns a vital clue to finding its resting-place. Fellow archeologist René Belloq (Paul Freeman), has been hired by the Nazis to find the Ark, so it is up to Jones, to get to it first. Working in the shadow of the German excavation, they locate the ark but lose it to Belloq. So now Indy and Marion have to stop the Nazis. But if they can, what will they find inside the Ark- divine enlightenment or divine retribution?

No review, it’s 5 stars anyway, instead here’s some Raiders trivia:  

In 1982, it was nominated for 8 and won 4 Academy awards; winning for Best Sound, Best Art Direction, Best Film Editing and Best Visual Effects. Nominated for Best Picture, Best Director – Steven Spielberg, Best Original Score – John Williams and Best Cinematography.

Indiana Jones was named for George Lucas’ malamute dog Indiana.

Harrison Ford was actually dragged behind the truck for close ups. When asked if he was worried, Ford said: “No. If it really was dangerous, they would have filmed more of the movie first.”

Indiana Jones’s kangaroo-hide bullwhip was sold in December, 1999 at Christie’s auction house in London for $43,000

Tom Selleck was Spielberg’s first choice, but the studio was could not break up the contract Selleck had for his television series Magnum P.I. Thank God for that last intervention..!

…and the movie is called ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ NOT ‘Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark’… ridiculous.

I Spit On Your Grave (2010) **½

Jennifer Hills (Sarah Butler), a writer working on a new novel rents a riverside cabin in upstate New York. Upon arrival she inadvertently attracts the wrong kind of attention from three deadbeat locals led by Johnny (Jeff Branson), who harass her at the local gas station. They eventually attack Jennifer in her cabin and humiliate her until she escapes into the woods. She runs into the local Sheriff (Andrew Howard) who is on a hunting trip, he escorts her back to the cabin and things take a turn for the worse. The other locals reappear and the group strip her naked and encourage Matthew (Chad Lindberg), the local simpleton, to rape her. She is then repeatedly attacked and raped in turn by the rest of the group. Jennifer wanders to a nearby bridge and falls into the river below, unable to find her body the group believe her to be dead. Jennifer recovers and sets about her bloody revenge, ensuring that the punishment fits the crime…

Produced by original writer/director Meir Zarchi and directed Steven R. Monroe. Another unnecessary remake, this time of the cult rape/revenge ‘video nasty’ from 1978. I’m loathe to use the term ‘classic’ as the original is not worthy of that status, and neither is this remake. It’s not a bad film, in fact in comparison to many of the pointless remakes of classic 70’s horror that we’ve had to endure over the last few years; this is one of the better ones.      

Similar to the original; the remake differs mainly in quality, of dialogue, direction and acting, all of which are of a much higher standard than the original. There are also technological updates such as cell phones, laptops and a handycam which one of the assailants uses to document their attack which seems insane when you consider their crime, but is not so far-fetched when you look at ‘YouTube’ these days.

The addition of the sheriff to the group is pointless apart from the addition of another character to kill, and seeing as Jennifer kills her assailants in ways similar to however they defiled her, well, as the sheriff seems to like anal rape he gets his in a horrific manner. In fact the way Jennifer exacts her revenge is slightly less believable this time around, as she rigs-up methods of retribution more akin to the extravagant torture porn of the ‘Saw’ sequels.

Well made, violent, visceral, brutal, disturbing although ultimately pointless. As with the original, this movie will have its critics and fans; see it only if you have the stomach for this kind of thing.

Quality: 3 out of 5 stars

Any good: 2 out of 5 stars

I Spit On Your Grave (1978) **

Jennifer Hills (Camille Keaton), a writer working on a new novel rents a riverside cabin in upstate New York. Upon arrival she inadvertently attracts the wrong kind of attention from four deadbeat locals who harass her. They eventually attack Jennifer in the woods and strip her naked for the village idiot, Matthew (Richard Pace) to rape her. She is then repeatedly attacked and raped a further two times and left for dead. As an afterthought they send Matthew back to kill her but he’s unable to do it; he tells the guys that she’s dead and they believe him.  Jennifer recovers and sets about her bloody revenge, ensuring that the punishment fits the crime…

This was one of the movies I first saw in the early 80’s because it was banned as one of the ‘video nasties’ on the BBFC hit list. Described in less than glowing terms by Roger Ebert as “A vile bag of garbage” and “The worst film ever made” it has a reputation that is warranted. It isn’t the worst movie ever made; it is vile, repulsive and shocking, not necessarily negative terms when used to describe a movie intended to shock.

The subject matter, a violent rape and revenge has been done many times before, most notoriously in ‘Last House on the Left’ and ‘Straw Dogs’ (both 1972) although the revenge in the latter is not a reaction to  the rape. The difference with ‘I Spit on Your Grave’ (1978) is in writer/director Meir Zarchi’s refusal to cut away from the rapes, show them in locked shots without any score (taken to its natural conclusion in Gaspar Noe’s ‘Irreversible’). He then made the punishments ‘fit the crime’ so to speak. Zarchi himself has staunchly defended the film as a feminist work, and to his credit, the character of Jennifer is not a weak victim, she’s a fighter.  

I watched the original again only recently after I’d seen the remake. I didn’t particularly enjoy it the first time I saw it and was curious to see if it still warranted its reputation. It is not particularly well made, the direction is weak, the editing sloppy and Keaton apart, the acting is poor. The violence is well choreographed and although the rapes are graphic, shocking and unpleasant viewing, the revenge attacks are bloody and should satisfy most gorehounds.

The movie has its critics and its defenders. I neither love nor loathe it. It is what it is, a nasty rape/revenge flick and that’s never going to please everyone. It features an incredibly powerful poster/cover that the sequel wisely replicated.

Quality: 2 out of 5 stars

Any good: 2 out of 5 stars

Original vs. Remake

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Ben suggested that I review some of the older horror movies and their modern remakes as a series. I had planned something similar which will commence next week called ‘The Groundbreakers’ featuring articles on each of the 4 movies that I consider to be the originators and subsequent templates for the majority of horror films released over the last 30+ years. Those movies are: ‘The Night of the Living Dead’, ‘The Last House on the Left’, ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ and ‘Halloween’.

However I liked Bens idea of comparing originals with remakes so the first one will appear today. After I’ve posted a few I’ll run a poll to get some feedback and of course I’ll post the answers and take the heat! So, to begin I thought I’d start with a movie that divides audiences rather than something everyone loves. The first movie is ‘I Spit On Your Grave’, the review of the original will be posted shortly, the review of the remake will appear within an hour or so, enjoy… or not.

Billy Wilder

Born 105 years ago today, one of the all time greatest Hollywood writer/directors, Billy Wilder. Originally planning to become a lawyer, Billy Wilder abandoned that career in favor of working as a reporter for a Viennese newspaper, using this experience to move to Berlin, where he worked for the city’s largest tabloid. He broke into films as a screenwriter in 1929, and wrote scripts for many German films until Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933. Wilder immediately realized his Jewish ancestry would cause problems, so he emigrated to Paris, then the US. Although he spoke no English when he arrived in Hollywood, Wilder was a fast learner, and thanks to contacts such as Peter Lorre (with whom he shared an apartment), he was able to break into American films.

His partnership with Charles Brackett started in 1938 and the team was responsible for writing some of Hollywood’s classic comedies, including ‘Ninotchka’ (1939) and ‘Ball of Fire’ (1941). The partnership expanded into a producer-director one in 1942, with Brackett producing, and the two turned out such classics as ‘Five Graves to Cairo’ (1943), ‘The lost Weekend’ (1945) (Oscars for Best Picture, Director and Screenplay) and ‘Sunset Boulevard’ (1950) (Oscars for Best Screenplay), after which the partnership dissolved. (Wilder had already made one film, ‘Double Indemnity’ (1944) without Brackett, as the latter had refused to work on a film he felt dealt with such disreputable characters.) Wilder’s subsequent self-produced films would become more caustic and cynical, notably ‘Ace in the Hole’ (1951), though he also produced such sublime comedies such as his most well known movie ‘Some Like It Hot’ (1959) and ‘The Apartment’ (1960) (which won him Best Picture and Director Oscars). He retired in 1981.

Meryl Streep

Considered by many movie reviewers to be the greatest living film actress, Meryl Streep has been nominated for the Academy Award an astonishing 16 times, and has won it twice. Born Mary Louise Streep 62 years ago in 1949 in Summit, New Jersey, Meryl’s early performing ambitions leaned toward the opera. She became interested in acting while a student at Vassar and upon graduation she enrolled in the Yale School of Drama. She gave an outstanding performance in her first film role, ‘Julia’ (1977), and the next year she was nominated for her first Oscar for her role in ‘The Deer Hunter’ (1978). She went on to win the Academy Award for her performances in ‘Kramer vs. Kramer’ (1979) and ‘Sophie’s Choice’ (1982), in which she gave a heart-wrenching portrayal of an inmate mother in a Nazi death camp.

A perfectionist in her craft and meticulous and painstaking in her preparation for her roles, Meryl turned out a string of highly acclaimed performances over the next 10 years in great films like ‘Silkwood’ (1983); ‘Out of Africa’ (1985); ‘Ironweed’ (1987); and ‘Evil Angels’ (1988). Her career declined slightly in the early 1990s as a result of her inability to find suitable parts, but she shot back to the top in 1995 with her performance as Clint Eastwood’s married lover in ‘The Bridges of madison County’ (1995) and as the prodigal daughter in ‘Marvins Room’ (1996). In 1998 she made her first venture into the area of producing, and was the executive producer for ‘…First Do No Harm’ (1997) (TV). Awesome in ‘The Hours’ (2002), ‘Angels in America’ (2003) (TV) and ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ (2006).

Talented, humble, beautiful and a realist, when she talks about her future years in film, she remarked that “…no matter what happens, my work will stand…”

The Last Exorcism ***

In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, second generation evangelical Reverend Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) has had a crisis of faith. He has invited documentary camera crew, Iris Reisen (Iris Bahr) and Daniel Moskowitz (Adam Grimes) to record his last days as a minister. Cotton explains that the exorcisms he and his father before him have performed are all fraudulent and he will expose his secrets for the cameras. He takes the crew on his final exorcism, to a farm in rural Louisiana where Louis Sweetzer (Louis Herthum) has requested help for his possessed daughter Nell (Ashley Bell).

They meet with resistance in the form Nell’s brother Caleb (Caleb Landry Jones) who clearly doesn’t want them there. Nevertheless, Cotton performs the fake exorcism and ‘cures’ Nell. He takes his fee from Louis and leaves the farm, however things are worse than anyone could have imagined…

Produced by Eli Roth and well directed by Daniel Stamm who focuses the film on the characters and mood rather than cheap shocks or gore. The mockumentary style has been used with increasing regularity in the horror genre since the breakout success of ‘The Blair Witch Project’ in 1999. This is better than the ‘Diary of the Dead’, ‘Cloverfield’ and ‘Paranormal Activity’ and its sequel, but is nowhere near as good as ‘Rec’. That’s not a huge criticism as ‘Rec’ is an outstanding addition to the genre.

The main reason the movie works, at least for the most part, is that the actors are all excellent, individually and as a collective they are really believable and manage to sell the documentary feel of the movie. Patrick Fabian and Ashley Bell are real standouts, they both show incredible range. Ashley Bell is a star in the making; there is one particular moment where Cotton opens Nell’s bedroom door and asks who she’s talking too, deadpan she answers “No one”, as Cotton closes the door, Nell gives a disturbingly sweet smile straight to camera.

The Last Exorcism is a good suspenseful drama with a different and original take on the possession/exorcism sub-genre. That’s what it is, what it isn’t, is a good horror film. There aren’t any real scares, it’s a refreshingly realistic approach to exorcism and if you buy into the characters on concept is genuinely disturbing in parts.

There has been a fair bit of criticism of the ending and fair enough as it takes a huge turn from the preceding 80 minutes; it’s a clear homage to ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ and feels added-on. If the movie had ended 10 minutes earlier I would have been much happier; however as with most of these things if you choose to go with it you’ll enjoy the movie.

Quality: 3 out of 5 stars (4 without that ending)

Any good: 3 out of 5 stars (4 without that ending)

Left 4 Dead *****

213 hours. That’s the amount of time I’ve spent surviving the zombie apocalypse… In the world of Left 4 Dead, that is.

Left 4 Dead is a 4-player co-operative shooter game set in the present amidst an outbreak of an infection that has turned everyone else into, well, zombies. And not the brain-dead type either… the type that runs at you flailing its arms in the air, as it tries to rip you to shreds.

You take the role of a ‘survivor’ who has not yet contracted the infection, and your goal is to reach an evacuation point at the end of the campaign. The campaigns are generally split into 4-5 acts (levels) and you work your way through – reaching a new safe room at the end of each one. (I won’t go into too much detail, but the levels are awesome – there’s a hospital, underground subway, and an airport level! And one where you are stuck in a cornfield! Epic!)

As a survivor, you can carry a med-pack, a primary weapon, pistols, and if you’re lucky enough to find one, a Molotov or pipe bomb. Primary weapons include pump-action shotgun, automatic shotgun, M4 carbine, hunting rifle and sub-machine gun. Character roles aren’t locked so you can use whatever takes your fancy as weapon of choice. I really only have two tips – aim for the head and double tap. Just because you blow an infected’s arm off, doesn’t mean he’s going to stop running at you. Also, avoid shooting/touching a car that has an alarm – it will go off and it will cause any zombies in sonar range to swarm you like a horde of pissed off rhinos. Fun though. Especially when you throw your beeping pipe-bomb, which will cause them all to chase after it and literally disappear into a puff of blood red smoke.

Did I mention that there are also special infected? First off you have the Hunter – a dude in a hoodie who shrieks and can jump great lengths and scale any wall. He can pounce from afar and he’ll pin you down as he rips you to shreds. No, you can’t fight him off; you have to wait til one of your teammates shoots him off you. While you’re waiting for that to happen, camera will go into 3rd person mode with an eerie red vignette so you can watch yourself being shredded to bits all alone.

Another enemy you can’t fight off once he’s got you in his grasp is the Smoker. He has a ridiculously long tongue which he can grapple you around the neck with and pull you towards him. He’ll then choke you as he beats you. You can however, fight off the Boomer – this guy is a fat mo-fo who will vomit bile all over your face. This bile will not only screw with your vision and hearing, but will attract any zombies nearby. You can avoid him by melee-ing him back with your weapon and then shooting him. Only shoot him up close if having stomach contents exploded all over you is your thing.

Then there’s the witch – who can easily be avoided as all she does is sit on the floor and cry. Though, you’ll have to turn your flashlights off because light will grab her attention and she’ll come shrieking at you and you will have to put at least a full clip into her before she dies. One hit from her, and you’ll be incapacitated on the ground, and have to wait til a teammate comes and picks you back up. If you don’t have a med-pack to heal after that, you’ll be hobbling around really really slowly and you’ll be ‘that guy’.

Oh and then there’s the big guy – the Tank. He’s Stallone on steroids that will throw rocks/cars and send you flying across the map with one swing of his arm. You should be able to outrun him if you’ve got more than 75% health but it’ll take at least 4 full clips of ammo –each – to take him down. You can set him on fire – which will eventually burn him to a crisp – but as he’s pre-heating, he runs a hell of a lot faster. Good Luck.

My personal favourite mode is versus – 4v4 where you can actually play as the special infected (with the exception of the Witch) against survivors. Although if you just feel like shooting things without the story – there’s survival mode – where there is an endless horde of zombies, and you are timed to see how long you last.

The game has various difficulty settings from Normal to Expert, so however hardcore you are feeling can be accommodated. Furthermore, L4D has an AI director every time you play. The AI director places items and enemies in varying positions and quantities based on each players situation, status and skill. This dude also creates mood and tension with emotional cues in the form of VFX, dynamic music and character dialogue. So each time you play through a campaign, you’ll have a different experience.

While this game requires a fair amount of co-operation with others, it’s really fun just to shoot the crap out of zombies. The game is very balanced in its design and game play and overall very fun and thrilling. Except when you get shot in the back with friendly fire or when you have ‘that guy’ on your team. Though, if you just let ‘that guy’ bleed out next times he gets ‘incapped’, problem solved.

Game play: 5 out of 5 stars
Fun: 5 out of 5 stars

Thanks to my special guest reviewer Ashe Smash

The Wild Bunch – released 42 years ago

“Suddenly a new West has emerged. Suddenly it was sundown for nine men. Suddenly their day was over. Suddenly the sky was bathed in blood.”

Pike (William Holden) is the leader of the wild bunch, a group of mercenaries living in the dying days of the west. They are hunted down by Thornton (Robert Ryan) who was once part of the Wild Bunch himself. Pike realises that the Wild Bunch lifestyle cannot last forever and wants to do a “last job”, stealing weapons for a Mexican general, that would make them wealthy. One of Pike’s partners is Angel (Jaime Sánchez), a young Mexican who doesn’t feel comfortable with the idea of giving guns to someone who is oppressing his people. So a deal is secretly worked out whereas they will allow Angel to take one crate of rifles to the freedom fighters. But the general finds out, and then all hell breaks loose.

Released 42 years ago today, The Wild Bunch changed the western genre forever. Director Sam Peckinpah’s movie was accused at the time of being overly violent (and glorifying that violence), macho and mysogynistic, not exactly alien terms to Pekinpah. It is a violent movie, but it is also so much more than that. The first movie is beautifully shot, especialy in the dersert vistas and more importantly from a historical point of view, it was the first film to really utilise slow-motion in action sequences, and has been rarely equalled since. The Matrix, John Woo, Tarantino and a slew of action film makers owe a huge debt to this film.

Warner Brothers are (obviously) planning a remake although there doesn’t appear to be anyone attached to the project at present. The success of the recent ‘True Grit’ remake will no doubt hasten them to get it out asap. 

Here’s a cool stat: The wild bunch used over 90,000 rounds of blank ammunition. “More than was used in the entire Mexican revolution” Warner publicity would later claim.

Super 8 – my 5 year old sons review **½

Another movie review from my 5 year old son; his reviews are proving to be far more popular than mine. This time it’s for the new JJ Abrams movie ‘Super 8’

“Super 8 is about a monster who is an Alien. It is about some kids who film stuff; they’re filming a guy talking to a girl when a big train crashes. And it’s very loud when the train crashes. The movie they’re making is about zombies, fake zombies and models. It’s about ‘little metal heavy things’ that shake and fly and crash through walls and posters. It’s about army men and army tanks. My favourite bit is when (lead character) Joe sees something in the cemetery and when all the metal boxes, and bikes and cars get stuck on the water tower. The movie is very scary when Alice crashes on her bike and her dad crashes his car; the other really scary part is when the monster alien gets into a bus and attacks people. Really little kids will be too scared.”

2½ stars out of 5