Saturday, 19 April 2014

Feature - You're Next (2011 - Dir. Adam Wingard) vs. The Innkeepers (2011 - Dir. Ti West)

I've seen both You're Next and The Innkeepers recently and seeing as though there seems to be some kind of friendly connection between the directors, (they both directed segments of the dire V/H/S and Ti West actually appears in You're Next) I decided to pit them against each other.

Both films suffer from some failings of current (and past) horror films: a reliance on loud noises for scares, characters who split up and go into dark rooms armed only with a torch, and worst of all not being horrific or scary in the slightest. Now let's get to the differences.

You're Next bucks the trend of having a heroine who starts off weak and then increases in strength throughout the film. Erin (Sharni Vinson from Home and Away) is a different character altogether. She goes to a dinner party with her partner Crispian at his family's home. They have a bit of snap accompanied by some not too pleasant chat - Crispian gets accused of baby-snatching by his brother - and then the film turns into a house under siege type affair as the family gets attacked by blokes in white animal masks. 

Erin is a strong character right from the off. Problems are thrown her way and she just sorts them with ruthless efficiency. Normally I would be applauding the use of a strong female character (let's face facts, Hollywood seems to have forgotten all about them in Prometheus and Gravity) but here she's too strong, almost to the point of being super powered. It's as if kryptonite didn't exist in the Superman universe. I never felt that she was in any danger. It's more along the lines of Rorschach being sent to prison in Watchmen (and indeed Daredevil in The Devil, Inside and Out), he's not in prison with them, they're in prison with him. In those examples, it's completely cool, but here it kills any tension and destroys any chance of this being scary in the slightest. (It doesn't help matters either that the other female characters run around screaming at every single minor thing that happens.)

Two other problems I have with You're Next are the colour palette and the severe lack of gore. This has to be one of the most beige films going. Hearing the director talking to the colour grader must have been a thrill-a-minute, "No, that's way too much colour. I can actually see a blue pixel there. Make it more beige. Ah, that's better. Nice and bland." Then the gore: it feels more like a slasher from the eighties where severe censorship was rife. It looks like it's been cut badly and that somewhere out there is a director's cut that has all of the juicy violence reinstated. I doubt this is the case though.

The Innkeepers suffers massively from the stupid characters syndrome also but it gets away with it due to a fantastically likeable performance from Sara Paxton (a distant relation to Bill Paxton). Her reactions to scary occurrences are priceless and had me chuckling away at the sheer quirkiness of it all. It distracted me from the low quality of the actual scares. 

Claire (Sara Paxton) works at a soon to be abandoned hotel with her friend Luke (Pat Healy) and they are trying to investigate stories of a ghost that supposedly roams the hotel for Luke's new website. Funnily enough, spooky things start to happen. 

Ti West's film suffers from the same thing as his previous film The House of the Devil: a great central performance that has the viewer caring for the main character, a fantastic slow build up that lasts for the majority of the film, and then a useless ending that is over way too quick. In the finale things start to kick off, there's a bit of running around (with the obligatory torch) and then she hits a problem. One problem. That's your lot. She doesn't overcome successively difficult trials to reach a thrilling climax. No. Just the one. If Ti West can put together a slow burning start with a meaty ending he may be able to produce a cracking film. As it is...

If I had to sum up You're Next in one word it would be 'smug'. There is a pervasive sense of smugness to the whole production. Whereas, the word I would use for The Innkeepers would be 'charming'. Shame about the ending which badly cripples the overall rating but I would still watch it again. Anyway, let's see the final score for these two horror offerings.

You're Next - 2/10
The Innkeepers - 5/10


If you like these you could also try:
A Horrible Way to Die, The House of the Devil.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Review - Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961 - Dir. Irwin Allen)

When I decided to put Joan Fontaine into the FA Cup of Actors I was expecting to randomly generate a quality black and white offering along the lines of Rebecca or Letter From an Unknown Woman. But no, what turns up but a slice of action from the disputed master of disaster, Irwin Allen.

Admiral Nelson (Walter Pidgeon) takes his new nuclear sub for a test run when, surprise, surprise, the Van Allen radiation belt gets set on fire, causing the Earth to heat up in an alarming fashion. He comes up with a plan to solve this minor problem and in true American style it involves blowing stuff up with missiles. In his quest he is backed up by Captain Crane (Robert Sterling) and Dr. Susan Hiller (Joan Fontaine) who is a guest on the sub, investigating what happens to people's mental health under severe pressure.

Seeing as though I only watched this for Joan Fontaine, it's a bit disappointing where she's concerned. Despite being the film's leading lady she doesn't get a close up for the first half hour. Saying that, there's not much to get a close up of. She spends the whole film looking like a local dignitary opening a new museum of which they have zero knowledge or interest. To say that she is distant is an understatement. 

The film creates a suitably under water atmosphere due to the sets and the miniatures. It shows the magic of film when some dubious model work and shaking the camera around can create the sense of a crew working under the sea. Saying that there is a shocking scene where an octopus attacks a few members of the crew who are out in their diving gear. They basically roll themselves up in its tentacles and look a bit scared. The editing is partly to blame as it lingers for an age on a useless long shot. When it cuts quickly between close up shots of the action, things improve immeasurably and it actually looks fairly convincing.

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea plods along at an okay pace, throwing new challenges at the crew: a saboteur, other subs trying to scupper their plans, and the sight of Barbara Eden dancing in a slightly deranged fashion. But if you want to watch a film about a fiery end to the world give the superior The Day the Earth Caught Fire a go instead. A disappointing entry for Joan Fontaine, but will Barbara Crampton be able to capitalise on her defensive slip ups and power through to the next round. Find out soon...

If you like this you could also try:
The Day the Earth Caught Fire, The Towering Inferno, The Poseidon Adventure.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Review - Our Children (2012 - Dir. Joachim Lafosse)

Now it could be said that normally I watch a right load of rubbish: B-movies, low budget horror and other such cult offerings (Beastmaster 2:Through the Portal of Time springs to mind). So it's a bit of a shock when I actually watch a proper film. And Émilie Dequenne's entry in the FA Cup of Actors is indeed a proper film.

Our Children tells the story of Murielle (Émilie Dequenne), a lady who meets a young gentleman, Mounir (Tahar Rahim) and they fall in love. They have a family and things are looking rosy. Murielle could not want for anything as they move in with Mounir's adopted father, a rich doctor by the name of Andre Pinget (Niels Arestrup) who puts a roof over their heads and purchases anything they need. Well anything they need apart from their independence...

Lets start this review by saying how fantastic Émilie Dequenne is. In every film that I've seen her in she's played very different characters. And she's been great in every part. In this film the standout shot is a very lengthy shot of her in a car driving along listening to some music and having a little sing-a-long. But as she drives the viewer is treated (?) to her visibly crumbling emotionally. It's a cracking bit of acting. She's also not afraid to look haggard and not at all like your typical movie star. In the later scenes she looks really poorly and a complete mess. I don't know how they achieved the look but it's very impressive considering how gorgeous she looks in Brotherhood of the Wolf. She should be a tad on the aggrieved side that she hasn't got top billing. The other two guys are before her in the credits and yet she completely owns this film.

The film is shot in a Peeping Tom style, the camera always lurking about being doors, peeking in to watch the family. The director has his reasons for this choice (to give the feeling that they are always being watched) and I can see how that works. For me, I felt as though I was privy to a side of family life that I wouldn't normally get to see, as if they had invited me into their home, and I felt quite privileged despite what happens in the latter stages.

One of the achievements of the film is how it shows the passing of time through its scene transitions. Whether it's a piece of dialogue or a visual, the film quickly dashes through the first part of the couple's life together and gets to the meat of the story. It's all rather cleverly done.

The theme of the film is the importance of independence. Murielle has everything that she could materially want (although saying that I didn't see a huge Scalextric knocking about anywhere). Yet she's a complete mental wreck due to her lack of autonomy. When they try to break away from Pinget he doesn't exactly behave in a caring manner and manipulates them into staying. Not that he's a traditional evil villain, but he is quite controlling. I can see completely how she falls apart. It would drive me mad not having my independence. To have some wealthy benefactor buying me meals at swanky restaurants, huge stereos, my own private cinema, posh cereal bars and an unlimited supply of Ginsters just doesn't appeal. (Well, okay, maybe if it was Scarlett Johansson I may swallow my pride and eat all of those gorgeous pasties. Grudgingly.)

Our Children is a powerful film that is extremely well made. Émilie Dequenne is a force to be reckoned with and on this form is going to be hard to beat. Nathan Fillion didn't have much of a chance against her (unless Serenity had been his random choice) and so he's knocked out with the pretty decent film Slither. (If he'd been against anyone else it would have probably been enough to see him through to the next round.) As things stand though, he's out and Dequenne will go on to face the winner of the Fontaine vs. Crampton match.

If you like this you could also try:
Sister, Rosetta.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Review - Run Lola Run (1998 - Dir. Tom Tykwer)

(To increase your enjoyment by a factor of 2.35 when reading this review have a listen to a lovely bit of Kool & the Gang - evlkeith.)

This is a low key German offering with the faint aroma of Groundhog Day permeating its soul. Lola (Franka Potente) must run to save her dodgy boyfriend Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu) from certain death, after gormlessly leaving a gangster’s substantial wedge of drug money on the tube. Why she bothers to save him I have no idea, because she could seriously do better, but she tries anyway. Over three distinct episodes she tries, tries and tries again, each time making subtle differences to each separate reality.

It’s well made and relatively enjoyable, but it leaves you mysteriously unsatisfied. Obviously there’s lots of frantic running from Lola as she dashes about breaking the laws of time and space. This is fine, but her outfit is woefully inappropriate for the task and you really want her to get changed into some gym kit for her subsequent outings. Sadly this never enters her head and the horrible tattoo around her belly button doesn’t help matters. The sub-plot of her father’s mysterious relationship is a welcome and interesting embellishment, but it’s unfortunately only short respite from the breathless pounding of those streets.

It’s cleverly plotted to an extent, but there’s little of the time travelling wow factor of Timecrimes or even Harry Potter and Prisoner of Azkaban. It’s a clinical but underwhelming experience, and this isn’t helped by the superficial main characters who are neither likeable or particularly nasty. In the end we are left ambivalent to their fate(s) as the film performs like a mid table Bundesliga team; efficient yet without the creativity to climb the table.

It’s not a terrible film, but it falls under the most damning of categories; somewhere between faint praise and mildly annoying. Yes it’s mediocre! It neither offends nor enlightens. Watch with limited expectations at best.


If you like this you could also try:
Good Bye Lenin, The Lives of Others.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Review - Slither (2006 - Dir. James Gunn)

I was secretly quite pleased when this was randomly generated as Nathan Fillion's entry for his FA Cup of actors match against Émilie Dequenne. To be honest though, the odds are stacked against him; Émilie's entry looks pretty decent.

I saw this on its original release and despite the passing of time my opinion of it hasn't changed: it's fun, but ironically lacking in any real meaty goodness to get your teeth into. This is the directorial debut of James Gunn, writer of the Dawn of the Dead remake (not bad nipper), the live action Scooby-Doo (ah well, we'll allow him one mistake) and Scooby-Doo: Monsters Unleashed (ooh, he's pushing it now). 

Bill Pardy (the legendary Nathan Fillion) is a sheriff in a small town that becomes the landing place for a very small meteor. As luck would have it, inside the lump of space rock there's some kind of alien creature that latches on to an unwilling human host. The unlucky victim then proceeds to become rather hungry and has a proboscis or two peep out of their stomach that can make ladies pregnant with lots of lovely cute slugs. The slugs then infect yet more people and what you have is a cross between Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Slugs (obviously) and a zombie film. How bad can that be?

Not bad at all, despite his Scooby-Doo origins. It's a pretty tight B-movie experience that cracks along at a fair old pace. There's never a dull moment. Conversely, there aren't many fantastic moments either. There are a couple of highlights: the naming of the character Grant Grant (which always makes me chuckle) and his obsession with eating meat. Raw meat. Tonnes of raw meat, that is occasionally rancid. Sweet. His desire for meat is up there with your average football supporter at half-time (shame there's no meat content in football pies, just gristle, spinal cords and floor sweepings: gorgeous).

Nathan Fillion is eminently watchable, as he is here, yet its not his greatest role (that would have to go to Serenity in my book). This is down to the writing as it doesn't allow Fillion to be at his wise-cracking best. He does get his fair share of good lines but it's quite telling that the best Fillion action in Slither is in one of the special features where he constantly repeats, "I am Bill Pardy". Okay, it doesn't sound like the greatest of things but you would have to watch it to appreciate it.

Fillion is surrounded by some other accomplished thespians: Michael Rooker and Gregg Henry for two. I still find it hard to accept Michael Rooker as an actor. His performance in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is so great that I can't help thinking that he is a real serial killer and they were just making a documentary of his unsavoury ways. Gregg Henry steals his fair share of scenes as the inappropriate mayor. He basically swears and rants a lot but it is very funny.

Things fall apart in the final third when it starts to resemble a low budget zombie film more than anything else. Gurning people surrounding cars and dragging them out in a shuffling manner hadn't been overdone in 2006 but now it's starting to get a tad tiresome. Luckily, the ending manages to pull it around.

A mention has to go to the special effects which are quite good to say the least. The slugs in particular are really realistic, which is a rarity for CGI creatures. There's even an infested deer that enters the fray, this time it's a practical effect, and it fulfils its comedy role beautifully.  

James Gunn seems to be a director to watch on the basis of this and the excellent Super (I'm really hoping that comes up as Ellen Page's entry in the next round so I can watch it again). He's currently working on Guardians of the Galaxy which looks pretty splendid too. Anyway, it's not about him, it's about our beloved Nathan Fillion. Will this just above average rating be enough to take Fillion into the next round? He is after all facing the might of Émilie Dequenne. We will see very soon...

If you like this you could also try:
Splinter, Super, The Crazies.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Review - Hemoglobin (1997 - Dir. Peter Svatek)

Jennifer Connelly managed an average 5/10 in her first round match with Inventing the Abbotts. Now it's time for Rutger Hauer to hit back with full force.

After the first ten minutes or so of Hemoglobin (originally titled Bleeders) things seemed to be going quite well. The screenplay was written by Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett (of Alien fame) plus Charles Adair (of nothing else that has granted him any fame whatsoever). It's loosely based on H.P. Lovecraft's "The Lurking Fear", so that's another positive in its favour. What's more, it starts off with a little tale of narcissism where a lady has a dalliance with her twin brother because it's the closest she can get to having some 'How is your Father' with herself. This is taken to the logical conclusion with the inclusion of a character who just so happens to be an hermaphrodite. Topical stuff indeed in this celebrity selfie obsessed culture who would love nothing more than doing rudies with themselves because they're so great. 

You can probably sense that things go wrong with Hemoglobin. And they do. The main story revolves around a pale bloke called John Strauss (Roy Dupuis) who has a rare blood disease. His wife Kathleen (Kristin Lehman) and a disgraced Doctor (Rutger Hauer) are helping him to find a cure. Yet this is another of those films that I can't remember much about it despite only seeing it last night. This goes to show that the characters aren't up to much. Rutger Hauer was obviously just in need a pay cheque and knocked this off without any effort (as he occasionally does, but the poor fella has to eat.) Sadly there aren't any memorable Hauer moments, which is a shame seeing as though that's the only reason I got this.

There are some memorable moments though. One lady has a haircut that only be described as a monstrous grey helmet. It is so fake and so huge and so full of mullet that I couldn't help thinking that it was hiding some special effect creature head type thing that would be revealed later in the film. Yet no. It's just a bad wig. Or - and my sympathies go out to the lady if this true - it's just a bad haircut. (Unfortunately I can't find a photo to show you the helmet in all its glory but if you have a look at 9:30 on this little clip you're in for a treat. And it's in German too.)

On the subject of special effects, they're not too bad. But the creature design is. Despite their passable appearance in photo form the monsters are laughable on screen looking like mutated versions of Yoda crossed with Frank Sidebottom. Saying that, they become quite creepy when seem from a distance en masse. 

The music is quite effective in the early stages and coupled with the cinematography it gives Hemoglobin the feel of Dead & Buried (another Dan O'Bannon/ Ronald Shusett script and also one of my favourite film posters). Apart from that there's not much else. (Oh, apart from the ridiculously thin moustache that Hauer has groomed.)

I hope Rutger Hauer managed to buy himself a couple of Pek and lamb fat sarnies from the proceeds of this film, then at least someone will have got some pleasure from this tedious offering.

At the end of that not so tense encounter Jennifer Connelly goes through to the next round of the FA Cup of Actors and poor old Rutger is out. She now faces Marc Singer in the quarter finals. Surely she has to be the favourite in that match. Oh well, we'll see...

If you like this you could also try:
Necronomicon, Dagon.