Friday, December 10, 2010

Over the last couple of years I have been, from time to time annoyed by a old memory of something I had seen in the cinema when I was a kid. A couple of vague images of jewels, men in red suits and some sort of ray gun - and an even more vague impression that it was a comedy of some sort. Tonight, quite by chance I trip over this:

And suddenly I'm 12 maybe or 13 years old again, in the balcony of a cinema in France, being utterly baffled. I was on an exchange trip. A French kid stayed with our family for two weeks and then I went over there to stay with his family. I think the idea was we would learn some of each other's language and make lifelong friendships that would mean we would never go to war with France again. As plans go it wasn't bad... I don't remember us going to war with France since I went - but I didn't learn much of the language, and I couldn't stand the arrogant little twerp I was paired with. What I did do was get drunk at the local pub, fall in love with a girl called Isabel, and get my hand down her friend's knickers (the friend's name, I'm ashamed to say, I don't remember) - and I also seemed to have gone to the cinema to see a rerun Italian superhero movie. My adolescence went downhill from there.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

There are times when I know I'm getting old. One such moment came a couple of weeks ago at a drama workshop. Ilona who was taking the class told us all to pair off and stand facing each other 'about three feet apart'. A couple of the girls there, in their late teens I would guess, looked blank. "Just under a metre," I explained. Light dawned.

Another happened today. Listening to an otherwise interesting programme on Radio 4 about the little-known 1969 war between Honduras and El Salvador, I heard 'an expert' opine that the 1969 war between Honduras and El Salvador was so little-known because it had happened at the same time as Apollo 11 was on its way to the moon. Fair enough. Holding a war when the world's media is preoccupied with events off-planet might easily relegate your war to a footnote. I'm not arguing with that. What I object to is that he didn't say "Apollo eleven", he said "Apollo two". Rocky II, Godfather II, Apollo 11. Makes sense. Mind you he was "an expert" on football and therefore almost certainly pig ignorant about everything else. Though you would have thought someone in the BBC would have spotted it and tweaked it before it went out.

I'm feeling a terrible urge to write to Anne Robinson. "Dear Points of View, Oh Why oh why...."*

* moment number III.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

So, it's cold. It hasn't got anything like above freezing for the past week and we've got no snow to play in. This means the ground gets really really cold. Without the cuddly blanket of insulating snow that the rest of the country is enjoying the ground here is just getting colder and colder. Having the sun disappear behind a mountain at about 1 pm doesn't help either.
Our water main froze sold then thawed. It had burst. Gush! gush! gush! Tomorrow I will be driving to the Fort to buy some piping and other bits and pieces, then spending the rest of the day wrestling it all under my floorboards, freezing my nuts off as I crawl around in the couple of inches of semi-frozen water down there.
But you don't want to hear about that do you? You want to read about all the crappy movies I watched last month.... I know I do.

  1. The XYZ Murders (1985) - aka Crimewave. The Coen Brothers had just made Blood Simple, Sam Raimi had just made Evil Dead, somehow everyone involved thought this was going to be their first mainstream hit. The co-producer, Bruce Campbell, nicely summed up the resulting mess, in his book If Chins Could Kill;
    Overall, Crimewave is a lesson in abject failure - no matter how you slice it, the film was a dog, and everyone involved can pretty much line up to take forty whacks. As filmmakers we failed to execute a misguided concept and our studio refused us the benefit of any doubt
  2. Æon Flux (2005) - stylish bit of comic book fun which I enjoyed far more than I was expecting to.

  3. Day Watch (2006) - over-long, sloppy, incoherent mess of a sequel to Night Watch. In which the forces of Good and Evil do stuff, phone each other's mobiles every couple of minutes, and do lots and lots and lots and lots of unexplained mystical and CGI heavy SFX stuff for no particular reason (other than they did it in the first one which did make some sort of sense - or at least far more than this one). Somewhere buried under this barrage of wiz-bangery is a piss poor excuse for a story that stops every now and then to strain for laughs - which it fails to get. Even the usually sure fire laugh a minute body swap gag where our hero is thrust into a woman's body - only to pitch the woo to his own girlfriend - oh! the lesbian titillation! is so ineptly done you wonder why they bothered. The only mildly amusing bit in it was the moment when suddenly, at the height of all the mayhem and apocalyptical destruction, one of the characters just stops time. Sorry! What? Time. Stoped. Hero in peril, it's the end of the world and with no particular effort a character just stops time in its track. All I could hear in my head was Christopher Plummer, as the Emperor of the Galaxy in Star Crash, declaiming, "Imperial Starcruiser - Halt the flow of time!". It's the sort of crap Get out of Jail Free Card scriptwriters could pull out of their arse for 1970s, who-gives-a-shit? Italian SF movies - and Plummer had the decency to do it wearing a floor-length gold cape and an imperious wave of the hand. Here? Time just stops. 'Okay, were at the end of the movie. We can't think how to end the show so we'll just stop time and let our hero use the magic dingus ('The Chalk of Fate' no less) to put everything right.' Utter fucking pants.

  4. The Killer Shrews - doesn't get any better with a second viewing

  5. Easter Parade (1947) - never seen it before and was pleasantly entertained.

  6. Den brysomme mannen (2006) - aka The Bothersome Man to us Anglophones. Weirdly funny (I laughed on the first cut without a word of dialogue having been spoken), slow, surreal allegory of something; Hell? Purgatory? or, as one astute and convincing reviewer on IMDb would have us believe, everyday life in Norway?

  7. Twisted Brain (1974) - aka Horror High. Feeble Jekyll and Hydealike in which a nerdy high school type develops a drug that turns his guinea pig into a cat killing monster and himself into a rampaging beast who kills everyone who torments him, padded out with some tremendously vacant scenes in which nothing much happens at all. Set in the sort of American high school that has an oil-drum full of concentrated sulphuric acid in the biology lab, and props that conveniently rotate themselves 180º between shots to make it easier for people to impale themselves. Some seriously dreadful music too. Really the most terrifying aspect of the whole movie was waiting for the next music cue.

  8. White Zombie (1932) - plodding Bela Lugosi melodrama which had some bravura opticals. There were some terrific use of wipes to create split-screen effects but the script and acting were terrible. Or are terrible. I don't know how it played at the time but it looks insanely dated now. Lines like:
    "Surely you don't think she's alive... in the hands of natives? Oh no! Better dead than that!"
    don't help. I am constantly intrigued by acting styles in old movies. In the early days of sound there was a whole range of gestures and attitudes which have just vanished over the years as actors struggled for 'naturalism'. The knuckle bite of repulsion. The outstretched arms walk of helpless yearning. The holding the invisible basketball of beseechment. All gone.

  9. Farewell, My Lovely (1975) - not bad, not bad at all. I've been not watching his one for years because I am so fond of the original (well the Dick Powell version, there was an earlier version but that doesn't count) but I needn't have worried. Robert Mitchum is perfect in the part.

  10. The Wizard of Oz - (again) and I nearly cried at the end (again).

  11. Alien Vs Hunter (2007) - a fuckawful piece of shit straight-to-video Asylum knockbuster 'Starring' Dedee Pfeiffer which amazed me by being even worse than the two other Asylum knockbusters I've seen. I didn't think that it was possible to make something shoddier than Journey to the Center of the Earth but they had. THE only redeeming feature of the disk is on one of the extras where Dedee Pfeiffer in a 'making of' piece describes the 12 day shoot as even worse than guerilla movie making' "This," she says, "is baboon film making." And with that remark she cemented herself a special little place in my heart. (All together now: Aaaah!).

  12. Red Planet (2000) - The first manned mission to Mars goes tits up. The movie fell to pieces before the end of the opening credits, the plot had more holes than a lace doily, and Terrence Stamp forgot to act - probably deliberately. He did play most of his scenes with Val Kilmer (the 'star' of the show) and was, presumably, instructed to make Kilmer look good. (As evidence for this almost certainly libellous assertion I'll point at a deleted scene included on the DVD where Stamp is playing opposite another actor and almost looks interested in what he is saying.) Another £1.20 (inc. postage) wasted on eBay. I really should learn shouldn't I? If it's going for £1.20 (inc. postage) on eBay there's probably a very good reason!

    Red Planet
    has more than its fair share of SF movie illiteracies and dead pure stupid moments but the one that made me really spill my gravy* while watching it tonight was the moment when heroic Val Kilmer - having walked for 19 hours across the Martian desert, survived attacks from a killer robot, an ice storm with temperatures of -50F, killer exploding nematodes, and all the rest, finally reaches the 30 year old Russian unmanned explorer which is to be his salvation. (It failed to launch see, so if he can hot-wire it and sit in the box on top where the Russians were going to shove rock samples, he might just make it into orbit - just in front of the mother ship piloted by Carrie-anne Moss five minutes before she has to burn the big engines and blast for home, because if she doesn't there won't be enough fuel to get back etc... - its one of those movies.)

    Anyway, arriving at the site of the 30 year old piece of shit Russian lander he prizes off a panel and fires up the 30 year old Russian computer within. Clickity-click! Aha here it comes now up on the screen...


    The Russians not only helpfully labelled everything on the outside of their unmanned lander in big letters, they also built in a 15 inch colour CRT monitor!?


    Why would anyone spend god knows how many gazillion litregallonunits of rocket fuel first launching, and then gently landing, a computer monitor on Mars?

    You will be glad to hear that neither the writer nor the director of this turd have made a movie since.

    *I'm not really sure I know what that metaphor means - but I like it.

  13. Atomised (2006) - The everyday story of two half brothers, both German, one a brilliant geneticist (and a virgin), the other a depressive neo-fascist high-school teacher who masturbates over his female pupils' homework. Two hours after the opening credits one of them is psychotic and the other is happy with his childhood sweetheart - and I didn't give a shit. The depressive neo-fascist high-school teacher who masturbates over his female pupils' homework is so repulsive you have no sympathy for him at all - even when his paraplegic swinger girlfriend commits suicide by throwing herself off her umpteenth storey flat balcony. And the brilliant virgin geneticist (pass the irony trowel will you, I think they missed a corner!) is so boringly bland and underplayed that they might as well have employed a photograph of him for most of the movie. The book on which this film is based is reckoned by some to be a true modern classic. I don't know about that but the film is a slow and tedious slice of soap opera. Actually I do give a shit. Here it is.

  14. Death Race ( 2008 ) - And what a crock of crap that was too. A remake of a Roger Corman movie that makes the original look like a masterpiece (which in its own small subversive way it was) and proves, yet again, my assertion that:
    'Any SF movie set in a prison is shit - not 90% of them but ALL of them'.
    In Death Race Jason Statham is sent prison for murdering his wife, a crime he didn't commit. Once he's inside we are told, via some incredibly clunky exposition, that he is an ace racing driver and he's given the chance by the warden to take part in the Death Race of the title. If he wins he walks free. Pretty soon it's obvious that the warden had Statham's wife murdered so he would be sent to her jail so she could make money from the televised races. The race is in three parts and takes up most of the 100+ minutes running time. Lots of explosions and lots of car crashes and lots of frenetic cut cut cutting. The script for this movie must have taken up four or five pages the storyboards by comparison probably looked like a stack of telephone books. But as the dialogue runs along the lines of:
    "Okay, cocksucker. Fuck with me, and we'll see who shits on the sidewalk."
    I'm pretty glad there wasn't more of it. It's the sort of movie that thinks it's funny to call a part of the heavily armoured racing car 'The Tombstone', just so that Ian McShane (in the Morgan Freeman part) can point at it and say 'Tombstone'. Ho fucking ho. It's also the sort of movie who is so concerned that it might actually be taken seriously by its knuckledragging target audience that at the end of the show there is an end title card telling us that car stunts are dangerous and not to try them at home. Well duh!

  15. Riverworld (2003) - 'Well poke me!' I thought, 'A movie based on a SF classic (albeit it one I didn't much like) I'll have a go at that.' My next thought was, 'I'll go get some popcorn'. It should have been 'Wait a minute... what's it doing on the notoriously crappy Movies4men channel'?

    Riverworld by Philip Jose Farmer is a storyteller's dream. In the first book of what became (for obvious reasons that will soon become apparent) a series, Farmer opens at the moment almost the whole of humanity, from the time of the first homo sapiens through to the early 21st century, is simultaneously resurrected along the banks of a river on an unknown planet. Basically Farmer can populate his stories with whoever he wants mixed and matched from any period in history and happily has Sir Richard Burton, Alice Hargreaves (the Alice of Alice in Wonderland), Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), King John, Tom Mix, Mozart, Jack London, Baron von Richthofen and Hermann Göring - interact with fictional characters in a quest to discover the purpose behind the creation of RiverworldRiverworld: the let's pretend it's a movie and not the pilot for a failed-to-materialize TV show, has a space shuttle pilot for a hero and the Emperor Nero as the villain. The river, despite being shown repeatedly in long shot as a river - you know, a RIVER - (an a pretty narrow on too) suddenly has crashing waves battering its banks and tides. Why? So the Emperor Nero (Mwahahaha!) can have our hero staked out at low tide, to drown as an offering to Neptune (don't worry, he was rescued by a seven year old girl - honest!). The resurrections in this version have been going on for 10 years prior to the start of the movie. Ten years in which the original arrivals have been able to knock up vast quantities of tools and machinery like a full-sized Mississippi paddle steamer - including some huge well-engineered cast iron gear wheels - and all sorts of wicked, fantasy-wank swords and spears, while living in the sort of rudimentary huts that movie set designers think look authentically 'medieval'. Some of the performances are TV movie adequate but Emily Lloyd (as Alice Lidell Hargreaves) turns in a hopelessly unconvincing attempt to act, really dreadful...

    Riverworld was remade earlier this year. The remake didn't spawn a series either.
    and their reincarnation. (End of cut and paste from Wikipedia... - and you thought I just knew stuff.) The

  16. Carousel (1956) - a deathly dull (a few nice moments) two hour long musical which left me yawning but daughter number one distraught.

  17. Queen of Blood (1966) - I'm not sure how many movies there are that can be summed up as 'the first manned mission to Mars goes (all together now!) horribly wrong', but I seem to have watched more than my fair share recently: Mission to Mars, Red Planet, and Battle Beyond the Sun. Queen of Blood is a low budget entry to the field that uses great chunks of technically impressive footage from Russian SF movies (including some from the source of Battle Beyond the Sun) and added a small dream-team, of low budget trash casting: Dennis Hopper, John Saxon, and Basil Rathbone. The end product is a short (81 min) and, at times, atmospheric and creepy little movie which makes me want to find more of the director's work.

  18. The Alien Conspiracy: Grey Skies (2002) - link goes to my IMDb review. It's too shitty even to mention here.

  19. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001) - Colons appeared to be popular in film titles at the turn of the century. Early (first?) use of motion capture CGI doing what Japanese SF does best: incomprehensible bollocks of a story, big explosions, and animated females with cute bums. And lots of vehicles which transmorphicate at the touch of a button to the sound of bucketloads of hydraulic machinery noises slapped on the soundtrack. High score on the eye-candy meter but not a lot else.
Next month ART!


Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Many many years ago (1993 or so) I worked as an extra on a movie. I spent several days lying around in a bog on a freezing hillside (it was late autumn) dressed in off the peg, medieval peasant rags pretending to be dead. (I was pretty good, I do inert very easily. I was a natural.) I then several days on the catering crew, peeling potatoes and making buckets full of Waldorf salad in the pitch black at 4AM. (I needed the money.)

A couple of years later the film emerged from wherever Warner Brothers had been trying to hide it and turned up in the Edinburgh Film Festival. I went to see it. I suspected it might be my only chance. (This was long before the days of everything being available via torrent, Youtube, ex-rental DVD, or even eBay.) The film was, I'm sorry to say, an incredible bore and to add insult to injury - I wasn't in it. Several days of near hypothermia and I wasn't even in the bugger.

Last night I found I was in it after all. Or at least in the cut that has been posted here on Youtube.

Just to save you from the pain of Vincent D'Onofrio's 'Irish' accent I'll tell you I appear around the 7:23 minute mark. Dead body carried on on stretcher screen left to disappear behind Robin Willam's shoulder centre screen. My entire on-screen movie career (to date). All two seconds of it - though I suspect I'm on longer in the widescreen version. And just for the record my 'Oirish' accent is bloody awful too.

Hello Mum!

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