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


Snowpiercer **

snowpiercer-posterAfter a prolonged ‘disagreement’ between director Bong Joon Ho and distributor Harvey Weinstein over the length and pacing of Joon-Ho’s Snowpiercer the film was finally released in the States earlier this month and here in Australia this week. It wasn’t worth the wait. The film, which stars Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer, Jamie Bell, John Hurt and Ed Harris has done well in Korea and France and has gotten strong reviews… and I’m perplexed as to why.

Snowpiercer is an adaptation of French graphic novel La Transperceneige by Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette. The Snowpiercer of the title is a massive train that travels around the world via a perpetual motion engine in a future frozen wasteland. The train is massive, divided into the spacious front and middle carriages in which the wealthy and privileged live in relative luxury while the lower classes are crammed into the back few carriages, living in squalor and fear for their lives. Led by Chris Evans, it’s the ‘Masses Against the Classes’ as the inhabitants from the back of the train fight their way to the front…

I had high expectations for Snowpiercer, the source material is good, and Bong Joon Ho’s previous films, The Host (2006) and Mother (2009) are exceptional examples of their relative genres. Snowpiercer starts well; is beautifully shot, it looks incredible and continues to look incredible throughout. The performances are all fine, the cast is very strong for a genre flick, Tilda Swinton is always great and I like John Hurt and Jamie Bell. It has some fantastically graphic violence and some oddly dark humour. All aspects that would generally make for an enjoyable genre flick, but for some reason it just didn’t work for me.

I think one of its main problems is it’s not sure what it wants to be. It made no sense, you can get away with stereotypical dialogue and nonsensical set-ups and reveals in graphic novels as you are generally more forgiving with the format. Transferred to film we expect more, and visuals aside Snowpiercer doesn’t provide anything else. I’m sure that fans of the film will point to its world society in microcosm, a dark satire and declare it a ‘thoughtful’ piece of work, and ‘damning world view of the future’ or some random rubbish.

Without spoiling it, I really hated the ending. When Evans finally gets to the front of the train, not a spoiler, the ‘mythical designer/operator’ reveal just made no sense and descends into nonsense rapidly. If anyone is really shocked or amazed at the ending they probably haven’t seen many good films. It’s inspired and sloppy, stylish and dumb.

To my mind, Harvey Weinstein was probably right this time around… he should have been allowed to cut it.

Filth ****

filth_ver5_xlgBigoted, corrupt, sociopathic, misanthropic, alcoholic junkie Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) is in line for a promotion. A promotion he sets about attaining by Machiavellian games, manipulating his colleagues, withholding information on a sensitive murder case and sexually harassing the wife of his ‘best friend’ Bladesey (Eddie Marsan).

However, as the racially motivated murder case remains unsolved, his increased drinking, drug taking, sexual misadventures, the office Christmas party, a trip to Amsterdam’s red light district and realisation that his estranged wife and daughter are no longer part of his life, initiate a shift in Bruce’s mood swings. His scheming, bitter, pathetic, rage and insanity give way to a more fragile, tragic and emotionally unstable character.

McAvoy is exceptional in the lead role and totally dominates throughout. If awards were given honestly, for actual performance and not as popularity contests, McAvoy would be on best actor short lists now. He is more than ably supported by the aforementioned Eddie Marsan, as well as Jamie Bell, Imogen Poots, Gary Lewis and Shirley Henderson.

Filth_James McAvoyCredit must also go to director Jon S. Baird for turning the labyrinthine source novel into a cohesive script. Dispensing with the novel’s ‘tapeworm’ inner monologue in favour of dream sequences with psychiatrist Dr Rossi (Jim Broadbent), and adjusting the books revelation about the murder all work well on film. However, there’s still plenty to work with here, freemasonry, drug abuse, sexism, discrimination, racism, pornography, prostitution and alcohol abuse abound. Baird’s directing style works well with the subject matter and is a marked improvement on his debut feature Cass which I also liked.

8640235554_bb8d865427_oComparisons between Filth and Trainspotting are inevitable due to the source material. Irvine Welsh has stated that Filth is the best adaptation of his work, it’s not, Trainspotting is a far superior film in all aspects apart from performance, in that respect they are impossible to split. However, Filth, in dealing with more unsavoury material and a lead character with no redeeming traits was always going to be a much harder sell.

Gritty, darkly humorous, complex and politically incorrect, Filth feels like a throwback to those gloriously unrepentant crime dramas from the 1970’s, which I love. Exceptional performances, great script and solid direction combine to make Filth one of the better films of 2013… and look out for a fantastically surreal cameo in the final third.    

8:47 – A Short Film ****

847_Banner PosterIn a loop of desperate measures, Maia and her sick sister Emma find themselves backed into a corner. Standing in their way is Roger, a father with everything to lose. As the seconds tear away from them, each battle against the only thing that can save them. Time.

So reads the blurb for 8:47, a short film starring Lauren Birdsall, Shae Beadman and Roger Sciberras, written and directed by Nik Kacevski.

An Official Selection at the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal, and Hollyshorts Film Festival at the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood,  8:47, clocks in at a swift 12 minutes minus credits, however the film feels part of a bigger whole, a fantastic teaser for what could very easily translate into a feature length film. A feature length film however, not shot in one-take, a technique employed here by writer/director Nik Kacevski. The one-take aspect isn’t a gimmick as it really works to the films advantage, on visual and narrative levels, as well as showcasing the vision and talents of those involved.

It would be easy to focus on the one shot aspect of the film, and that would be remiss as there are some good ideas at work here, as I mentioned earlier, ideas that could be worked up into a feature film. The cast are solid, with special mention of Lauren Birdsall who carries the films emotional thread with genuine conviction. The cinematography is fantastic, the technicalities of the shoot must have been a pain to work  through for all involved. Special mention must also go to the music and sound design which really help to keep the film moving and add to the feeling that we’re being dragged back and forth with Maia.

It’s difficult to say more about the film than the blurb, or comment on many aspects without giving it all away. Suffice to say that 8:47, is a film short on time but big in ambition. I look forward to seeing where these guys go next… Check out the trailer HERE and the official site HERE for more information about the film.

Pacific Rim ***½

Pacific Rim_Banner PostersPacific Rim begins with an incredibly entertaining backstory informing us that ‘we’ the human race had gotten it wrong, we were looking to the skies for clues to an alien invasion. A fissure between two tectonic plates in the Pacific opens up a portal that allows Kaiju, giant Godzilla inspired monsters access to cities bordering the Pacific Ocean… Massive destruction ensues.
PACIFIC-RIM_Charlie Hunnam_Rinko KikuchiThe human race fights back by building Jaegers, giant robots manned by two pilots, linked by mind-meld technology called ‘The Drift’. Jumping forward a few years and Jaeger pilots are treated like rock stars. Our hero, Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) and his brother Yancey, pilot their Jaeger against a Kaiju off Anchorage… things don’t go well and Yancey is killed. Another five years later and Raleigh is ‘off the grid’ working construction on a giant sea wall along the Pacific coastline. He’s called back into service by his ex-commander, Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) to co-pilot his old robot out of Hong Kong with a new partner… More massive destruction ensues.
Directed by Guillermo Del Toro, Pacific Rim is visually spectacular. The Hong Kong city sets are reminiscent of Blade Runner, run down neon reflected in rain-swept streets. It’s here we feature a quirky side story with Ron Perlman as a dealer in Kaiju parts. The visual effects are as spectacular as you would expect, and work exceptionally well in the 3D format, although a few more wide shots would have allowed us to take in the scale more clearly.
pacific_rim_widescreen wallpaperThe movie only falls flat in the non-effects driven sequences as the dialogue is fairly cheesy and delivered a little too straight most of the time and a little too comical from the ‘scientists’ who help Pentecost look for a way to bring the Kaiju down. Del Toro got the balance right with the Hellboy movies but it generally falls flat throughout most of Pacific Rim. A special mention must got to the two ‘Australian’ Jaeger pilots, as they deliver some of the worst accents I’ve ever heard.
But we go to see these movies for the spectacle, and Pacific Rim delivers more than its fair share in that department. The battles are huge and numerous, matching and exceeding the Transformers battles. This is blockbuster popcorn entertainment on a massive scale. Not Del Toro’s best work, but it’s great to have him back directing again after his numerous scripting and producing duties over the last few years. My 7 year old is jumping out of his skin to see this, he’ll see it on the weekend and his review will follow, but I can guarantee now it will be five stars from him.

Only Lovers Left Alive – Variety Review

only_lovers_left_alive_posterAlmost exactly one year ago I posted some exciting news that Jim Jarmusch was planning to make a vampire movie with Tilda Swinton that would be a ‘crypto-vampire love story’. Well, he’s made it and by all accounts it’s amazing. Check out the Variety review from Cannes:

Did somebody make it a rule that every director has to do a vampire movie at some point? If so, Jim Jarmusch got the memo, and he tweaks the genre slightly in “Only Lovers Left Alive” to fit his own laid-back vibe, turning in a sweet but slight love story about world-weary hipster bloodsuckers. Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston have empathic chemistry as the leads, and the pic (acquired by Sony Classics at Cannes) is a smidge more commercial than Jarmusch’s meandering previous effort, “The Limits of Control.” But it still feels like an in-joke intended only for select acolytes, who will probably love it with an undying passion.

The end credits mention Jarmusch’s longtime partner, Sara Driver, for “instigation and inspiration,” and indeed the film feels a bit like a quirky, fitfully touching love letter from one aging punk to another. Slightly upending the conventions of the vampire film (although there are precedents for this sort of reinvention), “Lovers” is a celebration of connubial bliss between two creatures who are still in love after centuries, but are out of step with the modern world. They’ve been there, done that, and ripped up the band T-shirts long ago to make cleaning rags for their awesome guitar collection.

Jarmusch’s characters tend to be either laconic, enigmatic ciphers or garrulous clowns, so it’s a surprise to hear what sounds like a clearly spelled-out author’s message for once, when Eve (Swinton) tries to cheer up her suicidal paramour, Adam (Hiddleston), by pointing out all the things in the world there are to live for, like “appreciating nature … kindness and dancing.”

Indeed, these are basically nice, hepcat vampires, deeply attractive despite their fried, undernourished-looking hair, and exquisitely unscary; they score blood from hospitals and almost never feast on live humans, which would be so 15th century. Hyper-sophisticated to the point of being sometimes irritatingly supercilious, they despair at the stupidity of humans, whom they call “zombies,” and congratulate themselves for all the great art they’ve made and the famous luminaries they hung out with, inspired and/or used as fronts to disseminate their own great masterworks (as in the case of Schubert and Shakespeare). It even turns out that Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt), another vampire, really wrote Shakespeare’s plays; he’s still alive and well, living in Tangiers and hanging out with Eve as the film opens.

Adam and Eve (someone should have talked Jarmusch out of those names) are so secure in their relationship that they can spend long stretches of time apart on separate continents, like nuclear particles in Einstein’s theory of entanglement (which is explained in the dialogue), but still keep the connection between them alive. So while she’s in Tangiers, surrounded by a library of books in every language she loves, he’s in decrepit Detroit, making droning dirge rock on vintage recording equipment supplied by Ian (Anton Yelchin), a helpful human dealer in rare goods who’s unaware of Adam’s true nature.

Foreboding dreams about her sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) send Eve on a night flight to Detroit to be with her beloved. When Ava duly blows into town from Los Angeles, Adam and Eve grit their fangs and bear it, even though they have to hide their blood stash from this selfish, feckless houseguest and can’t leave her alone with their human friends.

“Only Lovers Left Alive” works best in this section, when it’s essentially a light comedy of social mores set among a bunch of bohemians whose drug of choice just happens to be human blood, rather than cocaine or heroin. The attempt to introduce a more tragic dimension in the final act falls flat, however; by this point, the film has run out of juice, not unlike its wan, exhausted protagonists.

Languid pacing makes the result feel longer than its two-hour running time, and although lenser Yorick Le Saux’s nighttime traveling shots of desolate Detroit cityscapes and Tangiers’ acrid backstreets have a bewitching beauty at first, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. Likewise, Jarmusch brings the film to a stop too often to show off his taste in slightly recherche music from all over the world, even if the tracks will collectively make for an interesting soundtrack album.

Dredd 3D ****

In the near future, the post-apocalyptic Mega City One stretches the length of the Eastern seaboard of the United States. It has over 800 million inhabitants and a crime rate so out of control that the City’s law enforcement, the Judges, can only handle 6% of crimes committed.

Uncompromising Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) is assigned rookie Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) for assessment in the field; Anderson has failed her final exam but is being a chance due to her rare psi abilities.

They’re called to a triple homicide at Peach Tree apartments, one of the massive tower blocks that dominate the Mega City skyline. The block is run by drug dealer Ma Ma (Lena Headey), main distributor behind new drug on the market Slo-Mo, which gives the users the sensation of time moving at 1% speed. With the block sealed by blast doors, the Judges trapped inside and Ma Ma placing a price on their heads, the Judges have to fight for survival against endless armed thugs.

Fairly true to the source material, the film is written by long time Dredd fan Alex Garland (28 Days Later), with input from Dredd creator John Wagner, the script and visuals are littered with references to the comic. Director Pete Travis does a great job, especially considering the budget restrictions; the action is violent, frequent and very bloody. Some of the slo-mo fuelled set-pieces are incredibly stylish and a real showcase for the 3D.

The cast are all solid, Karl Urban is a pretty good Dredd, he looks the part, thankfully doesn’t remove his helmet, and is believable in the action scenes; however his voice wavers slightly during some of his longer deliveries. Lena Headey is a convincing villain, with this and her role in Game of Thrones, she’s cornering the market in evil characters. The strongest performance is that of Olivia Thirlby, she has the most to work with as her Judge Anderson undergoes the most growth and development over the course of the film.

The simple premise works well, both in terms of action, and budget limitations. This is a violent, humorous, bleak and almost fascistic film, just like the comics… violently adult, this is great fun and well worth a look for action fans. I’d love to see a sequel focussing on Dredd stories The Cursed Earth or Judge Death, however, the film hasn’t had a very successful run in the U.S. so a sequel seems unlikely.

Much better than I anticipated, a film to finally erase memories of the awful Stallone adaptation.

Quality: ****

Any Good: ****

Killing Them Softly ****½

Set in a dilapidated New Orleans during the 2008 Presidential campaign; low rent criminal Johnny Amato (Vincent Curatola) hires Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and his junkie friend Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) to rob a back-room card game run by Markie Traftman (Ray Liotta). Markie is known to have staged a robbery on one of his past games, so the assumption is that he’ll take the fall. Mob boss, Dillon (Sam Shepard) sends hit-man Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) to sort out the mess.

Cogan meets with local mob representative Driver (Richard Jenkins) to discuss details and fees for the job. As Cogan is known to Amato, he brings in fellow hit-man Mickey (James Gandolfini) to take him out; Cogan will take out Frankie and Russell.

It’s a simple premise; however this film is anything but, it’s a dark, cynical, violent and blackly humorous tale. Australian director Andrew Dominik focuses on character, giving each of his cast room to breathe, and they reward him with uniformly excellent performances.

Pitt featured in Dominik’s previous film, the beautiful The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007), one of my favourite films of the last decade. Ray Liotta is better than he’s been in years, Richard Jenkins and Ben Mendelsohn good, James Gandolfini is excellent as the wounded, self-pitying hit-man, drowning his pain in alcohol and prostitutes, his profane speeches about his sexual prowess and broken marriage are both heartbreaking and sad. However, Scoot McNairy steals every scene he’s in; he’s wonderful as the nervous, twitchy Frankie, his miss-placed optimism at odds with his constant agitation at his friends and situation.

For all the talk, and there’s a lot of fantastic dialogue, this is a very violent film. Ray Liotta is subjected to a brutal beating that is as far removed from glamorised violence as it can get, at odds with the stylised, super slo-mo shooting that follows, almost fetishistic gun porn.

The script, written by Dominik, is based on the 1974 novel Cogan’s Trade by the late crime author George V. Higgins. I haven’t read it, however, in updating the action from the 70’s to coincide with the final days of Obama’s race for the presidency is not lost on the audience. Obama’s speeches of hope and the potential of the United States are at odds with the story unfolding on screen, the economic collapse, the miserable fate of the underclass and the repetitive cycle of behaviour which keeps them there, there is no hope for these characters. Not exactly subtle delivery, Dominik ensures we get the message.

The film is shot in grimy, washed out tones, almost monochrome noir in a desolate, rain drenched New Orleans, as bleak and unwelcoming as the nameless city in David Fincher’s SE7EN.
This is muscular film-making; not for the faint hearted, but well worth a look, especially if you like your crime dramas of the hard-boiled variety.

Quality: *****

Any Good: ****

The Exorcist 2: The Heretic *

Four years after her bout of demonic possession, Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair) seems at peace as she enjoys a privileged but lonely adolescence. Her actress mother, absent on-location, leaves her in the care of her childhood nanny, Sharon (Kitty Winn), who feels inextricably bound to her young charge despite the terror she endured during the girl’s possession. Regan attends frequent counselling sessions with Dr. Gene Tuskin (Louise Fletcher), an unorthodox psychologist who believes Regan remembers more of her ordeal than she admits. Meanwhile, Father Lamont (Richard Burton), a protégé of Father Merrin (Max von Sydow), the priest who died exorcising Regan, is called to investigate the death of his mentor.

The Church is divided over the teachings of Father Merrin and wants to gather documentation of his views about demonic existence. Father Lamont himself is conflicted, haunted by images of a possessed woman he could not save. As he and Dr. Tuskin become convinced that the demon still exhibits a hold on Regan, the priest heads to Africa in search of Kokuma, who as a boy was possessed by the same demon and exorcised by Father Merrin. Learning the true name and ancient origins of his supernatural foe; a re-invigorated Lamont returns to America to stage a climactic battle for Regan’s soul.

The Exorcist
set a high bar when it was released in 1973, a bar that still remains out of reach for most horror films to this day. Pity then all involved in this turgid sequel to the greatest horror film ever made. I saw this on the same bill as The Exorcist and the lasting impression hasn’t really changed that much over the last 30 or so years. Watching it again recently I really gave it a chance, and to be fair there are some decent moments and some great ideas, however as a whole, the film remains a let down.

It would have been an easy decision for Warner the time: audiences must surely want to see more of Regan and her Mum after the exorcism, how they handled the fallout, Father Merrin’s backstory, and the investigation into the death of Father Karras. The decision then to get a director who hated the first film to work on the sequel beggars belief.

Despite the fact that most of the vitriol aimed at The Heretic, blames John Boorman for the whole mess, he’s not entirely to blame. Boorman must have initially seemed like a good choice, he’d made the Lee Marvin thriller Point Blank, and the backwoods classic Deliverance. However, it appears that Boorman wanted to make something completely different this time around. What he didn’t want to make was a horror film, as The Heretic is almost completely bereft of scares.

The cast are uniformly awful in the film, Burton delivers one of his worst performances ever, his delivery is stilted and hammy, he’s entirely unconvincing throughout. Even Louise Fletcher, who had won the Oscar previously for her incredible performance in One Flew over the Cuckoos Nest, is poor but still much better than Linda Blair and a one-note Kitty Winn. On a positive note, the score by Ennio Morricone is beautiful, albeit out of place in some places.

As I mentioned earlier, the film is full of interesting ideas (the most interesting being the idea of pure goodness as a magnet for evil), however, they’re not followed through and in the end simply discarded in favour of a ridiculous climax. The best, wasted idea is outlined in the scene at the Natural History Museum (in the full 117-minute version) where Father Lamont tells Regan about Teilhard de Chardin and briefly explains the World Mind theory. William Peter Blatty based the character of Father Lankester Merrin on the Jesuit scholar Teilhard de Chardin who espoused a metaphysical concept he called the World Mind, an interpretation of Christian mysticism which sees all minds as joined and gradually evolving into a full awareness of Being as a single consciousness akin to the New Thought idea of Christ Consciousness–the “only begotten” extension of Universal Consciousness, or God. This idea, a synthesis of Christian and Asian religious concepts, is resonant with many unorthodox spiritual teachings. After de Chardin’s death his papers were suppressed by the Vatican and his work was investigated on charges of heresy (his ideas being heretical by the standards of the Catholic Church.)

This could have made for an interesting movie, it didn’t; the central idea that people who have been possessed and survived can then themselves heal others who are similarly afflicted is not explored with enough intelligence to work. It’s not the worst movie ever made, it’s not even the worst Exorcist movie, that would be Renny Harlin’s abysmal Exorcist: The Beginning. Blatty made a much better Exorcist sequel, Exorcist III from his Legion novel, that was also largely ignored, as were both ‘prequels’; it would appear that audiences don’t want more Exorcist movies, they just want The Exorcist, I know I do.

Quality: 1 out of 5 stars

Any Good: 1 out of 5 stars

The Dark Knight Rises ****½

Eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is a reclusive Howard Hughes-like figure, hidden away in Wayne manor, mentally and physically broken from his battles as Batman. Gotham has largely forgotten Batman, believed to be responsible for the death of the lionised Harvey Dent, the city has moved on since the end of The Dark Knight.

Wayne still lives with his loyal butler Alfred (Michael Caine), as ever, the heart of these films and Bruce Wayne’s link to humanity, who reminds him that he isn’t living his life.

Lured back into the world by two women, Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), socialite investor in Wayne Enterprises’ clean-energy programs, and cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), Wayne finds his world and Gotham on the brink of collapse when a new villain, the remorseless Bane (Tom Hardy), emerges with a plan to destroy Gotham and everyone in it. Batman must return to confront this new threat, to save both Gotham and his own legacy from ashes.

You really need to have seen Batman Begins before watching The Dark Knight Rises. Bane’s modus operandi is similar in tone to that of Ra’s Al Ghul, Batman’s former mentor and nemesis. Bane states that: “Gotham is beyond saving and must be allowed to die” and he means it, targeting Gotham’s stock exchange and football stadium in two hugely impressive set-pieces.

Modern-day themes and fears are central to this final part of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy; corporate collapse, global and local terrorism, and class warfare (people may draw parallels with the recent ‘occupy’ protests), which could be lifted from any recent headline. These are distilled in the dubious motivations of Bane, who for all his ‘smash the system’ rhetoric actually makes a few good points.

In Bane, Batman faces an enemy with similar motivation of the Joker, but in a much more physically imposing form. Hardy manages to instil Bane with some personality beyond his face mask and monolithic appearance, however his performance, and especially his dialogue delivery suffers due to the constraints of his mask.

Catwoman (Anne Hathaway), although still oozing sex-appeal, is less fetishist than in previous outings, here she’s a real presence, with a real story arc and a sly sense of humour, she has great chemistry with Bale.

Unlike The Dark Knight, where The Joker was central to the whole, here the film revolves around Batman, and fittingly, this is also Christian Bale’s best performance in the role, he was always good as Bruce Wayne, portrayed this time as an older, more thoughtful, melancholic character, and this time his Batman is a more fully rendered character.

The returning cast of Michael Caine and Gary Oldman are as solid as ever, Marion Cotillard is restrained and the introduction of Joseph Gordon-Levitt as an earnest young police officer gives the audience hope for Gotham’s future.

As with Nolan’s previous Batman movies, this is more dark and serious than most superhero movies, and the previous Batman outings. There are many ideas thrown around in this film, not all of which lead to the expected conclusions, and it feels like Nolan has tried to fit a little too much in there, however the film works, it is spectacular entertainment.

It is visually beautiful, and cinematic on a massive scale, again due to Nolan regular, Wally Pfister’s gorgeous cinematography and fantastic production design by Nathan Crowley.

The film is also quite long, the first half build-up gives each character their moments, as well as a backstory that encompasses the previous movies and beyond; as it moves into a massive second half everything is geared towards a spectacularly ambitious conclusion. It’s been a big year for superheroes, with Marvel’s The Avengers and The Amazing Spider-Man already box-office hits; it’s time for DC’s Dark Knight to stake his claim back at the top where he belongs.

Quality: 5 out of 5 stars

Any good: 4 out of 5 stars

Quadrophenia *****

The mid-seventies success of the Ken Russell directed rock opera Tommy (based on the Who album of the same name) prompted The Who films to bring their classic tale of teen angst, Quadrophenia, to the big screen.

Set in 1964 at the peak of the first Mod subculture, Quadrophenia is the coming-of-age story of young London Mod Jimmy Cooper (Phil Daniels), a disillusioned, confused and angry young man.

During the day, Jimmy works as a post-room runner at a large corporate firm in the City, however at night and on the weekends, Jimmy is a Mod. He hangs out with his friends Dave (Mark Wingett), Chalky (Philip Davis) and Spider (Gary Shail), enjoying an amphetamine fuelled alternate lifestyle of drinking, partying and posing.

Influenced by peer pressure, and desperate to ‘belong’ to the ‘scene’ at all costs, Jimmy alienates his childhood friend Kev (Ray Winstone), who is now a Rocker. In a classic example of Jimmy’s mindset, when asked by Kev why he is a Mod, he answers: “Look, I don’t wanna be the same as everybody else. That’s why I’m a Mod, see? I mean, you gotta be somebody, ain’t ya?”

Adding to his confusion, Jimmy has a crush on local girl Steph (Leslie Ash), and feels increasingly detached from his parents who ‘don’t understand him.’ To make matters worse, in a retaliatory attack, Jimmy and his friends beat up Kev’ simply because he is a rocker albeit not the one responsible for injuring their friend. This act of betrayal only adds to Jimmy’s growing drug-induced confusion.

A chance to get away from it all comes when the Mods converge on the coastal town of Brighton over a bank holiday weekend. In some of the film’s most iconic scenes we meet the hordes of Mods led by the self-styled ‘Ace Face’ (Sting in his film debut), and witness a running battle between rival gangs of Mods and Rockers, during which Jimmy escapes down an alleyway with Steph where he finally has the girl of his dreams, only to emerge and be arrested.

At the moment he belongs and appears to have everything he wanted, everything is taken away; Jimmy’s life continues to fall apart, his identity crisis escalates, alienating him from everything he knows…

Written and directed by Franc Roddam with an obvious love for the subject matter. Jimmy is real; he’s likeable, flawed, annoying and complex, not a one-dimensional movie teenager like so many other coming of age stories.

The cast are all good, delivering natural performances, many in their debut roles, headed by Phil Daniels who is exceptional as Jimmy in the most iconic and most important performance of his underrated career.

I love this film; the energy, performances and depiction of Mod subculture, as it says on the poster: “It’s a way of life”. The film is gritty, humorous, violent and cool, it’s also quintessentially British.

SPOILER ALERT: I also love the ambiguous and symbolic conclusion, symbolizing either Jimmy’s death (though he is not shown falling) or the death of his belief in the Mod culture and his final decision to live without it. It still remains a talking point 30 years later.

Though not a major box-office hit, Quadrophenia quickly went onto receive a cult-following. An apparently accurate sample of the times, the films celebration of the Mod movement partly inspired the Mod revival in the UK in the late 1970s and early 80’s. Many of the Mod revival bands were influenced by the energy of British punk rock, new wave and of course, the music of The Who. The revival was led by The Jam (whose front man Paul Weller is nicknamed The Modfather), and included bands such as Secret Affair, Purple Hearts and The Chords.

The Who are everywhere throughout the film, a poster on Jimmy’s wall, performing Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere on TV and the My Generation single played at a party.

It’s interesting to note that John Lydon screen tested for the role of Jimmy, it would have been a very different film with him, I can see him inhabiting Jimmy with angst and anger, not so much anything else.

“We are the Mods, We are the Mods, We are, We are, We are the Mods…”

Quality: 5 out of 5 stars

Any Good: 5 out of 5 stars

Enter the Void **½

French director Gaspar Noé has fashioned himself a reputation as a provocateur. His films push the boundaries of what his audiences, and of course various classification boards around the world, can handle.

His debut, I Stand Alone (1998), is a brutal companion piece to Taxi Driver, complete with a final act so graphic that Noé prefaces it with a title card that offers the audience a chance to leave the theatre before viewing it; of course no one would leave, at least until the violence starts…

He then courted world-wide controversy with his follow up, Irreversible (2002) featuring Monica Bellucci, an international star. The movie that featured the now infamous nine-minute, single shot anal rape scene.

Enter the Void is a 3 hour extension of the camera work featured throughout the first half of Irreversible. It could be described as an acid trip in film, featuring dizzying, swirling camera work, lurid colour palette and strobe lighting effects, although technically a brilliant experiment, unlike his previous efforts it falls short on genuine interest.

The film is told throughout from a first-person perspective of a young American, Oscar (Nathaniel Brown), a drug dealer and addict in Tokyo. He lives with his sister Linda (Paz De La Huerta), a pole dancer. The siblings share a close bond due to the early death of their parents while they were young; all they have is each other.

When Oscar is beaten to death in a bathroom deal, his spirit leaves his body and takes a trip around Tokyo, staying close to his sister, through his spirit we witness her descent as he experiences death as “the ultimate trip.”

Before he dies, Oscars French friend Alex (Cyril Roy) gives him a copy of The Tibetan Book of the Dead and explains the central belief of the book, and of course, the film we are watching:

  1. The spirit leaves the body after you die.
  2. You can see and hear everything, but can’t communicate with the land of the living.
  3. Lights put you on different planes of existence.
  4. The “bad dream” ends in reincarnation.

The film then ticks off that list throughout its duration as it portrays life as bleak, while the “death trip” is seen as the ultimate drug-fuelled head trip. Oscar follows Linda, experiencing her unwanted pregnancy, and abortion, he follows Alex who has sunk to new lows, he sees the death of his parents by car crash clearer than his earlier memories of it. And there we have it, Oscar and Linda’s lives were shattered by the death of their parents and they struggled to cope… duh!

Where life is jarring and gritty, the afterlife is fluid and trippy, so it doesn’t really matter if Oscar, Linda or Alex waste their life in their pursuit of sex or drugs, or whatever, they’ll enjoy their death and eventual rebirth. .. or not, it’s hard to care.

Of course this is a Noé film, so we have the expected shots of graphic sex, real or acted, it’s not important, and that’s pretty much my feeling about this ‘difficult’ third film from Noé. He brings so many ideas to the mix, he’s an original thinker, pushing those boundaries again, however for me this was a tedious exercise. It’s a simple plot, over complicated by artistic experimentation. Some judicious editing could have lifted this film to the heights of his earlier efforts.

It’s hard to dismiss the film as Noé is at least trying something new, as I’ve mentioned, he’s an original voice; he experiments with film as a medium and even though I found this film lacking the emotional punch of his earlier efforts, it certainly doesn’t lack their visual and artistic energy.

It’s original, experimental, distinctive and pretentious. As odd and out there as anything by Alejandro Jodorowsky and seemingly styled as a head trip with the pretentions of 2001: A Space Odyssey, albeit with all the style and none of the substance. I don’t mind being shocked, just don’t bore me.

Epileptics beware; there is incessant flashing strobe lighting throughout.

Quality: 4 out of 5 stars.

Any Good: 1 out of 5 stars

The Cabin in the Woods ****½

You should see Cabin in the Woods before you read this review; see it before seeing the trailer, which gives away far too much. The main problem of course is that it has been difficult for most people to see the movie at all. Bankrupt studios, lawyers, delayed release dates and a seemingly difficult movie to market; the Cabin in the Woods has had a troubled time over the last couple of years.

It beggars belief that this film hasn’t been championed by the studio or distributors, it was only due to an online campaign that we finally got to see it in the cinemas here in Australia, over a year late!

The premise is a seemingly simple one, five college students jump in a camper van and head out to distant cousins Cabin in the Woods, not an entirely unfamiliar scenario in the horror film genre. The students are Dana (Kristen Connelly), her best friend Jules (Anna Hutchison), Jules’ boyfriend Curt (Chris Hemsworth), his friend Holden (Jesse Williams) and stoner dropout Marty (Fran Kranz).

They are not your typical stereotypes, initially at least; however, their personalities change soon after they arrive at the cabin. A few beers and a game of ‘truth or dare’ lead them into the basement where they encounter a plethora of odd artifacts. What could possibly go wrong?

Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) and Hadley (Bradley Whitford), the two guys watching them on closed-circuit TV, and apparently manipulating their surroundings seem more than willing to ensure that a lot will go wrong for these kids…

To say anything more would only ruin the surprise and lessen the impact of what is so far the best movie of the year.

Written by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, the script is exceptional; it’s smart, fun and filled with tension. An obvious love and deep knowledge of the genre has been poured into almost every scene and it pays off for horror fans of all sub-genres. Filled with references to horror films of all eras, with a particular focus on the classic 80’s period, most notably The Evil Dead, this movie is destined to be a drinking game staple for years to come.

The script is filled with fantastic dialogue and some excellent jokes, all of which are delivered by a solid cast, with a special mention of Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford who are particularly good.

I was never a massive fan of Buffy or Firefly, however Whedon has surpassed those efforts this year with this film and some other super hero flick that has done quite well recently. Drew Goddard has done a great job bringing all the elements together, paying homage to many the films referenced.

As a horror film it’s not really very frightening and it loses it’s way slightly towards the end, however, as a horror-comedy, it’s up there with the very best. No spoilers here, if you like horror, see it at any cost, if you love horror you’ll want to own it as soon as possible.

Quality: 5 out of 5 stars

Any Good: 4 out of 5 stars (It would have been 5 with a few more scares)

Prometheus ***½

In 2089, a team of scientists led by Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover cave drawings that appear to form a clue to the origins of mankind on Earth. Shaw believes that the beings indicated on the paintings have visited Earth and are inviting us to their planet. Cut to 2093, on board the spaceship Prometheus (named after the Greek god who gave fire to mortal man), the scientists and small crew are heading towards the distant star system. As the crew awake from hyper sleep we are introduced to Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), the chief executive of the Weyland Corp., the mega-corporation funding the mission, Janek (Idris Elba), the ship’s captain, and other token crew members. Vickers is the corporate face of Weyland Corp., she’s remote, cold and dismissive, mainly of the Shaw and Holloways theory.

The other crew member is David (Michael Fassbender), an android with a penchant for Peter O’Toole’s Lawrence of Arabia, a quick, dry wit and more unnervingly, a hidden agenda.

Shaw and Holloway disagree on precisely where we came from and how, they believe these visitors hold the key. At stake is the origin of human creation itself.

When they arrive at moon LV-233 they find a huge alien labyrinthine construction in which they hope to find answers… however, they must fight to save the future of the human race.

Ridley Scott, director of Alien and Blade Runner, returns to the genre he helped define with those early landmark films. With Prometheus, he creates another beautifully rendered near future. The cinematography, sets, props and costumes are all superb and set a new bench mark, as do the exemplary special effects which blend beautifully .

Its Scott’s best movie since American Gangster (2007), however it doesn’t quite manage to reach the heights achieved by his breakthrough original. Having said that, Prometheus came pre-loaded with so much hype and expectation, partially tempered by Ridley denying this was a direct prequel to Alien, that it would be almost impossible for the film to deliver on all fronts. There are a few incredible set-pieces unlike anything you’ve ever seen before that have to be seen to be believed. No spoilers here.

The cast are good, Noomi Rapace is a strong, believable lead, Theron is suitably cold, however Michael Fassbender steals the movie, his android is not as cold as HAL (2001), or Ash (Alien) or as likeable as Bishop (Aliens), he reminded me more of David from Spielberg’s Artificial Intelligence, I can’t recall him blinking. After the film ended I wondered how his character would/could fare in Scotts proposed Blade Runner sequel.

The script was reworked from a direct Alien prequel into a standalone effort that remains firmly within the same universe. This is the film’s smartest idea, as it immediately removes the usual prequel shortcomings of your audience knowing exactly how it’s going to end. However, while striving for its own identity, it still references to both Alien and James Camerons sequel Aliens. The screenplay, credited to both Jon Spaihts (who apparently wrote the first, more prequel-like draft) and Damon Lindelof (who revised the story and mythology), is an uneven affair. The general plot structure is solid, but some characters are underdeveloped and given some poor dialogue. Not all bad, however, as Scott is so adept at creating incredible imagery that it is easy to ‘go along for the ride’ and enjoy the film as a visual spectacle.

Big ideas are thrown around, the creation of human life, God, Darwinism and more; there are more questions posed than answered, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, although I’d expect answers from the inevitable sequel, to the not-direct-prequel.

I can see it annoying some viewers, I really enjoyed it and overall I loved it as a spectacle; it’s not as smart as it set out to be, but it’s still better than most of the other sci-fi we’ve seen lately, and the 3rd best Alien movie of the franchise.

Quality: 3 Stars

Any Good: 4 Stars

Battleship *½

The official synopsis for Battleship states that the movie is: “Based on the classic Hasbro naval combat game…” It then goes on to state: “Battleship is the story of an international fleet of ships who come across an alien armada…” What?!? Erm… I don’t recall that aspect to the game.

Earth has been sending signals out into deep space with the hope of communicating with planets in other galaxies that may share a similar proximity to the sun, and mass, water and oxygen properties. These planets are called ‘Goldilocks planets’, named by Stephen Hawking. That’s explained in the first 5 minutes of the movie, it’s also the last time in the 2+ hours duration that bears any relationship to realism.

Aliens from a distant galaxy, home in on the signal and speed to earth, crash landing in the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii, where fortunately for mankind, the US Navy are on manoeuvres. Our hero is Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch), ‘loose-cannon’ younger brother to the grounded Stone Hopper (Alexander Skarsgard). Alex is in love with Samantha (Brooklyn Decker), who happens to be the daughter of Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson). Not that any of that back-story, character development stuff means anything, these guys are going to kick some alien-ass. Rihanna is there to help too…

Directed by Peter Berg (Very Bad Things, Friday Night Lights… erm Hancock), Battleship is the latest entry into the Transformers, Armageddon, Battle LA and Independence Day styled blockbuster genre. Battleship is the best advertisement for the US Navy since Top Gun, although it substitutes the homo-erotic volleyball game for a soccer match.

I’m still unsure if Berg has delivered an incredibly accurate satire of the aforementioned movies, or just another massively dumb popcorn movie for the US Summer. The script is incredibly clichéd, filled with inane dialogue that the cast try to deliver straight-faced. However to be fair, the cast aren’t exactly thespians… Taylor Kitsch is better than he was in John Carter, not that difficult; Liam Neeson sleepwalks through his role, doing just enough to pick up his paycheck; Rihanna and Decker look great, however they are all out-acted by the CGI aliens.

The effects are spectacular, and so they should be on an alleged $200m budget, that’s where the money has gone. The design of the aliens, their ships and props, are impressive, more of the aliens would have been welcome. The massive combat sequences are suitably huge and LOUD, however they become increasingly repetitive as the 2 hour duration rolls around.

For all my cynicism, this was a guilty pleasure. Berg manages to keep the movie moving along and it is fun, although not as much fun as immediately afterwards when the group I was with tore through all the plot-holes and aforementioned problems. Points must go to the creative team for managing to shoe-horn in a sequence which almost replicates the Battleship grid-style board game as the Navy target the alien ships. Oh, and not once did anyone say “You’ve sunk my Battleship!”

Quality: 3 Stars (for the quality of the effects)

Any Good: 1 Stars

ANOH – Zombies! Zombies! Zombies!

That time of year again, six friends and myself attended the ‘Zombies! Zombies! Zombies!’ short film night at the 6th Annual A Night of Horror film festival. The festival this year is being run in conjunction with Fantastic Planet, therefore there are more films and shorts, however they are an equal mix of Sci-Fi and Horror. The shorts program we attended consisted of ten short zombie flicks of varying length and quality.

As with last year, rather than review them all and give you my opinion I decided to poll my friends to get a more balanced response to the screening… this is the result of that poll. The originally programmed final short was the fantastic Play Dead (See the trailer HERE), however due to a delivery delay it was replaced at the last moment by Brutal Relax which was a favourite from the H. P. Lovecraft session.

Year of the Child (Dir: Adam Simpson / 7m / NZL / 2011) 2/5 Stars A paint-sniffing teenager races home to save his sister from some extremely fast, zombie like crazy people. Frenetic chase movie, however most of the crowd were underwhelmed.

Bats in the Belfry (Dir: Joao Alves / 7m / PRT / 2010) 2½/5 Stars Animated cowboys & vampires as an homage to Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns and bloodsucking monsters. Nice style, very much in the same vein as Samurai Jack.

Rotting Hill (Dir: James Cunningham / 4m / NZL / 2011) 3½/5 Stars Rotting Hill is an excellent short film about love and zombies! Parody of the famous movie “Notting Hill” but this time with living dead, this zombie short film was completed in twelve weeks by the students of the Media Design School. Awesome short film, very funny and nailed some great zombie touchstones.

Zombirama (Dir: Ariel Lopez and Nano Benayon / 7m / ARG / 2011) 3½/5 Stars Ariel Lopez Zombirama is a 7-minute “whimsical” mash-up of animation comedy and horror featuring potato-faced zombies that go around doing zombie stuff. Delivered in an early 80’s VHS style. Great fun, got better as it went on, more than could be said for…

Just Say No (Dir: Abiel Bruhn, John Rocco / 22m / USA / 2011) 2½/5 Stars Darius stumbles upon two mangled corpses and a 2 pound bag of pot, apparently the remnants of a drug deal gone wrong, he swallows his morals and steals the drugs, planning on flipping them and leaving town with his girlfriend Vanessa in one short night. But after he gets his clients amassed for an impromptu party, he quickly finds out that the weed has some rather harsh side effects – loss of motor function, pale or clammy skin, and the insatiable hunger for human flesh… way too long.

Early Evening of the Meth Head Hipsters (Dir: Jonny Fleet / 7m / CAN 2010) 2½/5 Stars A Whistler couple’s trip to the city takes an unfortunate turn when they run into a bicycle gang of meth head hipsters with a taste for blood. Can they be saved? Well, we hope not.. stared well and featured some nice bloodletting.

Fitness Class Zombie (Dir: Chris Walsh / 1m / CAN / 2011) 1½/5 Stars According to the director Chris Walsh, this short animation addresses a serious issue that our society faces today- growing undead obesity. A fun one-note short.

Hell Blaster Bastards (Dir: Gabriel Bouvier, Remi Bouvier / 9m / JPN / 2011) 1½/5 Stars In the deserted island, the man is buried in the sand up to his head. Four shadowy figures emerge, the bloody bastards of the title… Cannibal, Brain crushing, Japanese tits out, mental short film… Overlong and pointless but elicited the odd laugh throughout the crowd. The only short to receive a couple of ‘0’ scores.

Dead Friends (Dir: Stephen Martin / 11m / CAN / 2011) 3¼/5 Stars Nine year old Lola Turtle is an odd and lonely little girl whose only companion is her treasured and tattered stuffed bunny, Mister Wimperbottom…until she finds a way to grow her very own ‘DEAD’ best friend. It’s a bedtime story filled with blood, guts, and gardening… Really well done, excellent make-up and effects.

Brutal Relax (Dir: David Munoz, Adrian Cardona and Rafa Dengra / 15m / ESP /2010) 4/5 Stars Mr Olivares has already recovered, but now he needs a vacation. To go to some heavenly place where he can relax and blithely enjoy himself. However, when a group of blood-thirsty (LoveCraft style) monster-aliens appear and kill everyone on the beach, Mr Olivares takes matters into his own hands. Best kills of the night, using a bloodied childs corpse as a bludgeon… best audience response.

Overall a fun evening, however the shorts on display weren’t as good as the best of last year, there was nothing as good as The Living Want Me Dead. We had a laugh. Two notes for the organisers, most of these shorts are almost 1 year old now and readily available on YouTube, also most of the films were too dark, washed out and had little to no sound level control. I realise that the quality of the movie files aren’t high end, however cutting them together with an audio pass isn’t difficult to do.

Redd Inc. ***½

Chosen as the closing night film for the Australian Film Festival, could REDD INC. be the film that relaunches the ozploitation craze of the 70’s and early 80’s..? If the reaction from the sold out premiere audience is any gauge, the answer is a resounding “yes!”

Redd Inc. starts with news reports and clips informing us that a serial killer Thomas Reddmann (Nicholas Hope) known as the ‘head-hunter’ has perished in fire during an attempted escape from a local mental institution. Annabelle Hale (Kelly Paterniti) an online stripper who was a key witness at Reddmann’s trial is kidnapped and wakes up chained to an office desk with 5 other people who were also involved with Reddmann’s trial in various capacities.

The captives are soon introduced to Mr Reddmann who informs them that he is their regional manager and that they have a job to do. He declares that he is innocent and expects them to work to the best of their abilities to find the real head-hunter killer. Assigned to different tasks using the court case documents, the 6 captives get to work, or face a strike against their name, in the form of a cut to the forehead… 5 strikes and you’re out.

Redd Inc. is a new low-budget Australian horror film from co-writers Anthony O’Connor and Jonathan Green (who also co-produces with Sandy Stevens), and director Daniel Krige; who have managed to deliver an original take on a familiar theme.

The ensemble cast are all good, with Nicholas Hope turning in a delightfully creepy performance as Redd and a nice cameo from Tom Savini who worked as special make-up effects supervisor.  Newcomer Kelly Paterniti’s character visibly grows in confidence throughout the film and she’s probably one to watch. However, the real star is the script, littered with references to keep most genre fans happy; it’s tight, menacing and genuinely funny. Described by scriptwriter Anthony O’Connor as “office giallo”, placing the horror in the everyday office makes the setting instantly recognisable to most of us and therefore more unnerving due to that familiarity.

The effects which were done by Sydney based Make-up Effects Group (MEG), and supervised by the legendary Tom Savini, are suitably gory and in a few notable scenes had the cinema audience squirming. Slashes to foreheads, removal of fingernails, limbs and heads are all on display and considering the budget restrictions are all done exceptionally well.

I really enjoyed the movie and would recommend it unreservedly to any horror fan. With the release of last years The Tunnel and 2010’s The Loved Ones, Australian horror seems to be back in a good way, original, gory and wickedly funny.

Check out my two-part interview with Jonathan Green, Sandy Stevens, Anthony O’Connor and Daniel Krige HERE

Quality: 3 out of 5 stars

Any good: 4 out of 5 stars

FLASH GORDON – The 1936 Serial

Guest Writer Mark Sonntag. With the release of Star Wars Episode 1 3D I can’t help but remember the time when there was only the original Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. Like all kids I was hooked, but that’s all we had, that, comics and whatever old scifi movies were re-run on TV, plus the odd campy 70s scifi show. No video games and a multitude of high end CG movies like today… oh yeah and no internet.

Maybe it was because of Star Wars, but during the early 80s the Flash Gordon movie serials were constantly repeated on TV, they were already almost 50 years old at that time but I didn’t care I loved them and believe it or not it is pretty obvious now that they are a direct ancestor of Star Wars, from the cliffhanger format of film making to the opening title roll… George Lucas grew up on them.

Flash Gordon debuted on Sunday January 7, 1934 in the color comic section of the Hearst newspapers. Like Star Wars, it’s straight into the action with the opening panel showing a newspaper headline “WORLD COMING TO END” and it’s non stop from there with Dr Hans Zarkov kidnapping Flash Gordon and Dale Arden to save the world from the evil Ming the Merciless. Created by Alex Raymond and writer Don Moore it was King Features Syndicate’s answer to Buck Rogers, and very quickly surpassed Buck Rogers in popularity.

It wasn’t long before Hollywood came calling when in 1935 Universal bought the movie rights for a reported sum of $12, 000. At this point in time Universal was renowned for it’s horror films and movie serials, and still under the control of founder Carl Leammle.

Henry MacRae, head of Universal’s serial department allocated a budget of $350, 000, triple the amount normally allotted to a serial. Work began in 1935 with screen writers Frederick Stephani (who would also direct), George Plympton, Basil Dickey and Ella O’Neil assigned to adapt the comic strip to the screen. Unlike most Hollywood movies of the time the screen writers opted to follow the strip and the serial  that  was finally made is essentially a faithful adaptation of the first year’s continuity.

Paramount contract player and 1932 Olympic swimming champion Buster Crabbe was cast as Flash Gordon, dying his hair blonde for the part. He remembered visiting the Universal lot during auditions when Henry MacRae spotted him and offered him the part.

19 year old Universal contract player Jean Rogers was cast as Flash’s girlfriend Dale Arden and for some reason ordered by Universal to go blonde (Dale is a brunette in the comic strip). Frank Shannon was cast as Dr. Hans Zarkov.

As for the evil Ming the Merciless, the part went to character actor and sometime foil of Laurel and Hardy, Charles Middleton about whom Crabbe recalled “he strutted around like Ming (when in make up); he really did strut! He was a very nice guy, but he had to stay in character. The minute he put on his street clothes, he was a different person.” Priscilla Lawson was cast as Ming’s daughter Aura, Richard Alexander as Prince Barin the rightful heir to the throne of Mongo and John Lipson as Vultan king of the Hawkmen. Future Frankenstein monster Glenn Strange makes an appearance as a lobster clawed monster and as one of Ming’s guards.

In order to create the lavish fantasy sets required, Universal hired Ralph Berger as art director. Even with the higher budget, costs still needed to be watched in order to complete thirteen 20 minute films. Sets from previous Universal films were utilized, Bride of Frankenstein, The Mummy and Dracula’s Daughter to name a few. Even props were reused, the Egyptian idol from The Mummy became the great god Tao, the rocketship from Fox’s Just Imagine was purchased and used for Zarkov’s rocketship. Kenneth Strickfaden’s wild electrical devices from Frankenstein can be seen in Ming’s lab.

Special effects which look primitive today were created by propman Elmer Johnson and cameraman Jerome Ash using 2 foot long models made of wood and metal, hanging on wires with cigar smoke trailing from the exhaust.

As with most of Universal’s B projects the Flash Gordon score is reused from older Universal movies, The Invisible Man,  Werewolf In London, The Black Cat and Bride of Frankenstein.

Flash Gordon began production in October 1935 and took six weeks to shoot with cast and crew working from 8am to 10:30pm six days per week.

The 13 chapter serial premiered on April 1936 and was immensely popular, with theatres adopting the unusual practice of showing each weekly episode at night instead of just to the Saturday matinee crowd. It was re-edited later that year into a 68 minute feature version, unfortunately it’s success came too late for founder Carl Laemmle who sold his interest in Universal in May 1936 due to bad debts.

In 1996, Flash Gordon was included in the National Film Registry .

Of course with the serial so successful and the weekly comic strip ever popular what was Universal to do but make a sequel… TO BE CONTINUED.

Attack the Block ***½

Set in an inner-city, south London housing estate, Attack the Block follows a gang of young hoodies who rob female nurse Sam (Jodie Whittaker) at knifepoint in the opening scene. As the robbery appears to be taking a distasteful turn, the kids are distracted by an explosion something falls from the sky into a parked car. The nurse takes the opportunity to escape as gang leader Moses (John Boyega) goes to investigate; he is scratched across the face by an unseen creature that makes its escape through a local park. The gang chase the creature and proceed to kick it to death.

Heading home to their housing block to score some weed, they carry the alien carcass in the hope that it will be worth something to barter with… then the big aliens arrive.

Attack the Block is another entry into the tricky horror-comedy genre. It’s been compared to ‘Shaun of the Dead’ (probably because it’s British more than any other reason), which is misleading, it lacks that movies intelligence and humour. That’s not to say that Attack the Block isn’t fun, or smart, it is and along with ‘Tucker and Dale vs. Evil’ is one of the better entries into that difficult horror-comedy genre. Sharing more in common with early 80’s creature features like ‘Night of the Creeps’, ‘Monster Squad’ and John Carpenter’s siege classic ‘Assault on Precinct 13’, Attack the Block manages to bring the horror (in PG-13 doses) and add a few moments of laddish humour.

There have been a few people upset by the fact that the heroes are low-life hoodies, and that they don’t really go through much of a character arc and change or show that beneath the tough bravado they are just average kids. If the movie had done that it would have undone all the good work that writer-director Joe Cornish puts into his directorial debut. It’s not really about redemption or change; it’s about defending your turf and standing your ground against the odds. These kids will go back to what they know when the action is over.

The plot is simple and Cornish keeps the movie flowing at a decent pace although it never feels rushed. The movie looks good, the action is done well and the aliens look fantastic.

The young cast are all quite good, with Moses Boyega a real standout. Granted he is given more to do, his character is more fleshed out and feels more real than the more one dimensional members of his gang. The humour quotient is mainly due to Nick Frost in a supporting role as dopey grug dealer.

The London gangsta dialect becomes a bit tedious and there are moments early on when I just wanted Harry Brown to come along and end it all. Overall it’s a fun movie, a nice distraction from the more formulaic fare out there at the moment.

Quality: 3 out of 5 stars

Any good: 4 out of 5 stars

Red State ***½

In a Middle American town, the Cooper Clan, an extremely right-wing Christian group are protesting at a young man’s funeral. They are waving placards bearing slogans such as ‘God Hates Fags’ and ‘God Hates America’… clearly based on the idiots from the Westboro Baptist Church.

Three teenage boys, desperate for sex, answer an advertisement offering all they’re after. They drive out of town to rendezvous with the woman (Melissa Leo) from the ad and on the way side swipe a parked car in which the married town sheriff (Kevin Pollack) is receiving oral sex from a Mexican man. Upon arrival at the trailer, they meet the woman from the ad, she gives them a few beers and they wake up captive in the Cooper’s church.

Reverend Cooper (Michael Parks) is sermonising about the moral decay in the world, how God must be feared and various typically religious extremist views. The kids then witness the clan execute the Mexican from the sheriff’s car earlier that night. Things have taken a serious turn for the kids…

Well known for his early break through cult classic ‘Clerks’ and it’s loosely linked follow ups ‘Mallrats’, Chasing Amy’ and ‘Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back’, Red State is complete change in style and direction from Kevin Smith, the film’s writer/director/editor/producer and as of the Sundance Festival earlier this year, the film distributor. Advertised misleadingly as ‘A horror film from Kevin Smith’, Red State doesn’t fit neatly into any distinctive genre. It is horrific, dramatic, political, daring, satirical and headline baiting, or at least it would be if it were given any space in the mainstream media.

There are no real characters to cheer for in the movie; maybe the three kids are as close as we get to ‘likeable’.  Not taking any side, Smith attacks both the religious right and the government with equal vitriol; he clearly feels that America is under siege from within and this is his howl of rage against those he deems to be (ir)responsible.

The script is well written and Smith gifts his cast with some wonderful dialogue. His cast are excellent; the three kids and Kevin Pollack are solid; Melissa Leo and the Cooper Clan are all terrifyingly believable and John Goodman also turns in a fantastic performance as a weary, sceptical ATF agent. However Michael Parks steals every scene as the clearly insane Reverend Cooper.

The movie has divided critics and audiences alike; it’s not as good or as bad as most reviewers will have you believe. I really enjoyed it and hope that Smith continues to stretch himself more artistically in the future, that would be far more preferable than another ‘Cop Out’.

Quality: 4 out of 5 stars

Any good: 3 out of 5 stars

Warrior ****½

If you’ve seen the trailer for ‘Warrior’ you know where the movie is headed in the third act but little about what takes place for the characters to get there. If you haven’t seen the trailer, don’t, just go to see the movie.

The story of a fractured family, estranged brothers Tommy (Tom Hardy) and Brendan (Joel Edgerton) torn apart by the abuse from their formerly alcoholic father Paddy (Nick Nolte), on a collision course via their entry into a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) tournament. Tommy has returned from serving in the Gulf war with the Marines, while sparring at a local gym he knocks out a contender for an upcoming MMA tournament, and the video clip of the fight is a viral hit. His brother Brendan is a happily married father and teacher at a local shool, however, he suffers financial hardship due to a crippling mortgage and starts fighting in amateur MMA fights in local bar car parks for extra cash.

Both brothers manage to gain entry to the Sparta tournament, a winner takes all promotional event with $5m in prizemoney. Not exactly the most original story, there have been comparisons to the recent ‘The Fighter’ as well as ‘Rocky’ and any number of boxing movies. However this story is told so well that any comparisons are pointless lazy journalism; this movie isn’t about the fights, although there are many of them and they are brutal, it is about these three men, and how their joint past and disparate present lives come into renewed conflict. The physical fight that they are headed towards is nothing compared to the emotional battering they can’t leave behind. Through a series of exceptional set-pieces we are able to re-construct just how and why the family became so broken; the alcoholism of Paddy is the obvious catalyst from the outset, however that is only part of the story, how the family splintered and what drove a wedge between the brothers provides the drive and tension heading into the final act.

The three main actors are all perfectly cast and deliver exceptionally believable performances. Tom Hardy is terrifying as a man on the edge, driven to fight; obviously suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, Tommy is a powder keg of tortured emotions. On this evidence he will be awesome as Bane in next years Batman finale. Joel Edgerton as Brendan is the initially more likeable of the two brothers who wants everything for his family that was denied him as a child. His is a more restrained performance but no less enthralling. He has excellent support from Jennifer Morrison as Brendans wife Tess. Nick Nolte is fantastic as the reformed abusive alcoholic father Paddy, a man who is desperate to reconcile with his two sons. It’s a career highlight from Nolte who hasn’t been in much of note for some time. He delivers a heart-breaking turn as a man battling for the forgiveness and acceptance of his sons. Award winning.

I din’t know much about director Gavin O’Connor other than ‘Pride and Glory’ (2008) which had similar themes involving a family of New York policemen. On the evidence of those two movies, his strength seems to be in enticing great performances from ensemble casts, he is definitely one to watch. My only gripe would be the Hollywood styled ending that is slightly at odds with the grittier 2 hours that precedes it, however that is a minor complaint as it still works. 

Quality: 4 out of 5 stars

Any good: 5 out of 5 stars

Tucker & Dale ****

Tucker (Alan Tudyk) & Dale (Tyler Labine), two easy going West Virginian hillbillies head out to their new vacation cabin in the woods where they plan to drink beer, fish and fix-up the run down cabin.

They run into a group of college students who are out for a camping weekend, to drink some beer, smoke weed and skinny dip. After an awkward meeting at a gas station both groups jump to the wrong conclusions and assume the worst stereotypes of each other.

That night Tucker and Dale go fishing as the college kids get high and go for a swim, Ali (Katrina Bowden) mistakenly thinks she’s being watched by the hillbillies and falls into the lake. Dale rescues her from drowning and the college kids assume that Ali has been kidnapped. Misunderstandings and gory slapstick ensues…

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is the latest and fortunately, one of the better, entries into that dubious sub-genre, the comedy-horror. Taking a different stance than the self-aware, pop-culture referencing movies of the last few years, this is basically a slapstick farce, comedy of errors style movie. Reversing the genre stereotypes of redneck, serial killer hillbillies is a new twist and the characters of Tucker and Dale are sweet, lovable guys with real heart. Conversely the check-list college kid stereotypes remain relatively unchanged for this type of movie and it is easy to guess who will be killed in order. The killings are handled well, clearly set-up and more fun because of it, and the wood chopper scene is a real standout.

The cast are solid, Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine are the standouts, Katrina Bowden is good and Jesse Moss nails it as the psychotic Chad.

Director Eli Craig has crafted a fun movie, one that deserved a much wider cinematic release than some of the crap that clogs up the multiplex screens. A good blend of comedic gore, it’s never horrific or in the least bit scary, but the humour should satisfy most fans of the genre who will appreciate the nods to genre conventions.

Don’t watch the trailer before seeing the movie, it shows almost every kill and most of the obvious gags. Great fun and although much better than a host of recent comedy horror attempts, it’s not quite as good as ‘Shaun of the Dead’, ‘Evil Dead’ or ‘Zombieland’ no matter how many platitudes it gets on IMDB.   

Quality: 4 out of 5 stars

Any good: 4 out of 5 stars

The Exorcist III ****

Lt. Kinderman (George C. Scott) and his close friend Father Dyer (Ed Flanders) meet up every year on the anniversary of the death of their friend Father Damian Karras (Jason Miller), who died in Georgetown 15 years prior.

Kinderman confides in Father Dyer that his latest case, a series of gruesome murders, resembles the same pattern of murders by the Gemini Killer, a man convicted and executed in the electric chair 15 years earlier. The murders are complex and grisly, each one more elaborate than its predecessor. They involve crucifixion, bodies drained of blood, beheading and religious desecration. Kinderman is frustrated and confused; is the Gemini killer back, did he have an accomplice, is there a copycat killer or did they convict the wrong man?

As Kinderman’s frustrations grow, Father Dyer is admitted to hospital where he becomes the Gemini killer’s latest victim. Kinderman starts to doubt his own mind as his investigations lead him to interview patient ‘X’ in the hospital mental ward, a man who looks like Father Damian Karras…

The Exorcist III starts as a serial killer tale and slowly gives way to a bigger story concerning unfinished business from 15 years earlier involving the Gemini killer and the spiritual fight to save the soul of a young girl in Georgetown. The screenplay, adapted by William Peter Blatty from his novel ‘Legion’, is excellent, it’s well crafted and told with the kind of patience rarely seen in horror movies over the last few decades.

Blatty, who also directs, introduces real characters, fleshes them out and gives his actors time and space to perform some excellent dialogue. George C. Scott is solid as usual, as is Ed Flanders; their relationship rings true and feels very natural. Nancy Fish is superb as creepy Nurse Allerton as is Brad Dourif as the Gemini killer; he turns in a fantastic performance; yes it’s hysterically over the top, but it’s also subtle and punctuated with moments of delicious black comedy.

The atmosphere is foreboding and the tension builds as Kinderman closes in on the truth behind the murders. The movie relies on the collective skills of Blatty and his cast to deliver the horror rather than shocking the audience with gore and violence. The killings are not shown; they are described by the investigating officers and are all the more disturbing for it. However, the murder of Nurse Amy Keating (Tracy Thorne) is still one of the best shocks in the genre. The build up is almost interminable but the payoff is well worth it.

My only gripe with the movie is the over the top last 15 minutes. The blood soaked ‘exorcism’ and awful lightning effects lessen the overall effect and feel out of place with the tone of the rest of the movie. Bad contact lenses and those awful lightning effects aside, this is a good film and is the real sequel to the original Exorcist with some genuinely creepy moments; far more worthy than the execrable Exorcist II: The Heretic.

Quality: 4 out of 5 stars

Any good: 4 out of 5 stars

Priest *½

Priest is set in an alternate, post-apocalyptic world, which has been ravaged by centuries of war between men and vampires. After the last vampire war, which was won by warrior Priests, the religious guardians have created massive walled-in dystopian cities in which they control the population with Orwellian slogans and faceless, automated drudgery. Outside the walls lie vast wastelands populated by nomadic people and farmers trying to eke out an existence on the lifeless earth.

A family of farmers are attacked by vampires, the mother (Madchen Amick) and father (Stephen Moyer) are slain and their teenage daughter Lucy (Lily Collins) is taken hostage. She is the niece of a former warrior Priest (Paul Bettany) who against the church leaders wishes, sets out from the city to track her down to rescue or kill her…

Priest is a grab bag of material from a myriad of sources; stolen from Judge Dredd, 1984, any Terry Gilliam futuristic film, most post-apocalyptic adventures of the last few decades, The Searchers and innumerable martial arts flicks with a bit of Blade for good measure; so not much original thought.

It’s both poorly written and poorly performed; Paul Bettany as the titular Priest is wasted here even more so than in the similarly lack-lustre Legion. Karl Urban as bad-guy, former Priest turned vampire and Cam Gigandet as a kind of frontier sheriff are charisma vacuums. Maggie Q is also wasted in a pointless role as another former Priest sent out to track ‘Priest’ down.

Written by Cory Goodman from a Korean graphic novel, which I haven’t read and have no intention too, Priest has a thin plot, underwritten characters and pedestrian dialogue. It’s directed by former visual effects developer and Legion director Scott Stewart, and as you’d expect with his background, some of the production design and special effects are good. But without characters worth following, a predictable storyline and distinctly PG-13 styled violence, Priest has very little else to offer. The vampire design is more akin to Salem’s Lot with a bit of The Descent and the odd Orc thrown into the mix than the sparkly versions that have been populating the screens of late.

There are some nice touches, the solar-powered motorcycles look great and the vampire war history told through some violently bloody, graphic animation in the opening titles is a fun few minutes.

The movie leaves itself wide open for a sequel, apparently there are several graphic novels; however it’s difficult to see anyone being interested in seeing it.

Quality: 2 out of 5 stars

Any Good: 1 out of 5 stars    

Fright Night (remake) **

Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) lives with his mom (Toni Collette) in a new housing estate on the outskirts of Las Vegas. His father ran out on them and Charley naturally feels protective towards his mom, more so when new next door neighbour Jerry Dandridge (Colin Farrell), moves in, Charley is suspicious of their mutual attraction. However not as suspicious as his ex-best friend Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who believes that Jerry is a vampire. Charley is initially dismissive of Ed’s claims because, well, Charley is a dickhead who dumped his previous best friend so that he could ‘fit-in’ with the cool kids at school when he scored hot girlfriend Amy (Imogen Poots). Then Ed goes missing and Charley investigates…

I liked the original Fright Night, it was a fun, campy tribute to all those fun, campy horror movies I grew up watching as a little kid. The characters were well cast, especially Roddy McDowall, they were fun caricatures, quirky and we cared enough about them to enjoy the ride. Although the remake has better quality actors, they are given less interesting roles and feel slightly miscast, Colin Farrell apart, who is obviously having fun in a role that although not a stretch allows him to dominate the movie. Some mention must also be given to David Tennant plays Peter Vincent as a Criss Angel styled Las Vegas illusionist with obvious glee. He and Mintz-Plasse supply the only humour in what I assume was meant to be a horror comedy.

Fright Night looks good, it’s well shot and features a few excellent set-pieces, and that’s it. It doesn’t really have much else going for it. There are two well choreographed scenes, a home invasion (or home extraction), followed by car chase and Charley’s attempted rescue of a neighbour from Jerry’s house. These scenes apart, Fright Night has no tension, suspense or God forbid, horror; we know exactly what’s happening and where the movie is headed.

The special effects are awful in this remake; CGI effects have no place in the horror genre unless they are used to supplement traditional latex and make-up. The effects in Fright Night are almost exclusively CGI and the movie suffers because of it. Without CG, Colin Farrell appears menacing, with it he looks like a cartoon character. Awful design, awful execution, awful results… points off for the effects, they really are that bad.

On a positive note, Fright Night is a passable popcorn movie; I enjoyed it while in the cinema, it’s lightweight fun but it is also immediately forgettable. It is better than Van Helsing, but I hate Van Helsing more than almost any other movie I can recall, it was a massive waste of talent and resources, and so is Fright Night. It feels like an extended episode of Buffy. At least Jerry doesn’t sparkle in the sunshine.

Quality: 2 out of 5 stars

Any good: 2 out of 5 stars (a point off for bad CGI effects)