Movie Review #42 / 250 : ‘PEEPING TOM’

I don’t normally do this, but, Spoilers.  Seriously.  There was sod all to talk about here unless I spoil a lot of it.  A good sign, I find.

Evening, WordPress.  Remember me?  I’m not sure I do.  I digress.  Let’s just crack on with talking about films, eh?

‘Peeping Tom’ is widely revered as a killer thriller tour de force.  It’s been in the cinema mill for absolutely donkey’s years, and from what I understand, it was one of the very first to push a cold-blooded psychopath to the forefront, to almost protagonist status.  It also got banned, cut, slashed, what-have-you, in reverence of the sheer gratuituous horror it purveys.

So, this got me thinking.  A film that’s maintained notoriety for well over fifty years has to still carry some sort of shock factor these days, doesn’t it?  I mean – Psycho still gets some people.  Christopher Lee’s fanged menace still sends chills. Peeping Tom is a film that I first heard about years back, and have been so mesmerised by the almost hushed chatter about its infamy that I’ve choked back several chances to watch it.  Maybe that’s why I’ve been away all this time – maybe I’ve been stunned by either its majesty, or by its brain-freezing horror.

Sadly, it’s neither.  Before I fly into my opinions (as I am wont to do, dear reader), let’s have a look at the plot.  Mark Lewis (Carl Bohm) is a bit of a weirdo.  A repressed, reclusive chap, he’s a jobbing cameraman for his local film studio, while taking bawdy shots of willing lasses for paying pervs.  Only thing is, Mark’s camera isn’t just his work tool.  He’s obsessively attached to it.  Disturbing accounts from his childhood unveil how he has a rather unsavoury habit.  That is, he gets his jollies from filming women, killing them, and capturing their final moments of terror on celluloid.  He then catalogues it all in his gloriously over-the-top filming library in his penthouse flat.  The film surrounds an unwitting new friend, his ground-floor neighbour Helen (Anna Massey), being sucked into his previously private world, and her incredibly slow realisation that the bloke she’s showing interest in is a bit of a psycho.

It’s a great concept.  There’s some brilliant story touches throughout that help establish Mark as a troubled man, one with a bit too much investment in his whirring little moviebox, and of course, in his thrill of knifing women in the neck while recording the moment to eat popcorn over (euphemism).  It’s a classic slasher story, only this one is vaguely different in that it foregrounds the killer as a protagonist.  Most of this genre sees an unwitting innocent or future victim pushed to the front of the story, with the killer acting as a forever shadowy menace, antagonising behind the scenes.  For its time, this is daring.  Absolutely so.  It’s most definitely creepy, and to have a story stitched so tightly into its character’s frankly mental childhood is a move unseen.  Sadly,. it doesn’t hold up against absolutely monstrous pieces of cinema such as Saw, but then, sadly again, that’s going to be expected.  Very much like I’d explained in my review of the original Ladykillers, concepts of humour and horror change.  They evolve, and stuff dates.  Sometimes terribly.  Often terribly, in fact.

Peeping Tom does actually date quite badly.  The performances aren’t amazing, and the characters are beyond paper-thin (excluding Mark).  While I’m taking into account time’s hideous weathering effect upon cinema, however, there is one element in this picture that I simply cannot escape scrutiny, nor childish derision.  If you’ve seen Peeping Tom, you know where I’m going, and you may skip to the end if you wish.  Mark is meant to be British.  He has a distinctive and inexplicably German accent.  Granted, his actor is German, so that’s a given, but – there is absolutely no piece of dialogue, nor story footnote, that alludes to why Mark should be German.  His Dad was British, we assume his mother was.  He was brought up and has lived in Britain all of his life.  Why does he have a German accent?!  Don’t get me wrong – Bohm plays his part better than anyone else in the picture – but it’s jarring.  It’s like if Norman Bates in Psycho had a French accent despite a blatant American upbringing and heritage.  It’s a really weird touch that I can’t un-notice.

Despite that last point, it doesn’t really ruin things.  But I was pretty underwhelmed.  I think, taking into account the passage of time, the evolution of taste, and my expectation given its holy reverence, seeing Peeping Tom as being anything other than disappointing from the off was perhaps a massive given.  A shame, really.  It’s an absolute milestone of cinema.  And it’s pretty damn creepy.  But, here’s the thing – you won’t care.

BEST BIT : Mark unveiling his grand scheme to Helen in the last two minutes of the film.  Superb last-minute unveiling, it has to be said.

WORST BIT : Mark’s accent.  Or the awkward sequence where that bloke goes in to the newsagent’s to buy porn.  You know, the one that lasts about twenty minutes.  Still.  Has to be the accent.

RATING : 4 / 10.

UP NEXT : ‘GROSSE POINTE BLANK’.  God, I hate Minnie Driver.  But John Cusack is always worth watching.  This could be messy.  Good to be back, folks… here’s hoping I can stick with it!

Movie Review #41 / 250 : ‘ATTACK THE BLOCK’

Remember how I’d said Videodrome was completely off the wall in both its concept and its execution? Remember how I pretty much labelled it as the most insane screenplay I’ve ever come across? Of course you do. It was only yesterday. No offence to any of you that may or may not be goldfish, obviously.

Attack The Block is probably one of the most original films I’ve seen so far. While I’ve misled you into thinking it’s confusing, it’s far from that – but it is cheerfully mental. The movie focuses around a gang of British teenagers against the gritty urban backdrop of an inner-city tower block, roaming the streets in a pack, generally causing mayhem and chaos. So it’s a social study, right? It’s going to be a no-holds-barred depiction of urban Britain in the 10s, right?

It looks that way, at least until the gang’s mugging of a young nurse is interrupted by the explosive crash landing of a furry white alien with no eyes and lots of teeth.

Bear with me.

Rather than chaos breaking out, however, the gang hunts down and kills the creature without a second breath, and keeps the corpse as a trophy, celebrating the victory as if they’ve just won a game of FIFA. However, it’s not over. As the gang retires into the solace of their weed-growing neighbour atop the tower block, scores more bigger creatures fall from the sky, and seemingly start to hunt down the killers of their original fallen. What snowballs from here is a totally unexpected change in style and pace, as the characters in the block begin to fight for their lives in a scenario not entirely dissimilar to your archetypal zombie flick. This is an urban drama that crashes head-on with a sci-fi twist, and it works brilliantly well.

There’s an absolute bumload of stuff to talk about with Block. It’s a film that’s taken me by surprise in all honesty – and I’ll run through a handful of what I reckon are the more important points. Firstly, what I was genuinely scared of was that I’d be unable to connect to the main characters. As any law-abiding person living in Britain and over a certain age would tell you, characters like Moses’ gang are all too real (and some are nowhere near as sympathetic). Having characters initially portrayed as willing villains of polite society evolve into the protagonists of the movie (and, furthermore, the good guys) is a concept that doesn’t sound amazing on paper.

And yet, it excels on screen. As these characters are so real and believable, their skirmish against the aliens becomes far more enjoyable than if we were given a cookie-cutter set of character types (tough guy, smart guy, sarcastic guy etc), I think I seriously would’ve enjoyed the movie a lot less. The reactions, the decisions and the rationale of these characters, while they’re all flawed in one way or another, feel absolutely natural. It’s this that helps get rid of what could’ve been a heavy coating of sci-fi bumph over the top. But, no. The only information we get about the beasties is the information the characters realise, and of course, what we see. We’re also handed very little awkward character bumph.

That leads me into my favourite scene in the movie, where our perceptions of the gang are first pulled into check – as the kids decide to face the alien onslaught head-on, they choose to storm down the tower block, one by one splitting away to go into their own homes to retrieve weapons. It’s here that we get given brief, but telling snapshots of what sorts of lives each if them leads – and they’re all extremely normal, adjusted, and lacking the broken home scenarios we were all (admit it) expecting. Whether this scene was done for laughs or not, it doesn’t matter – it’s a brilliant piece of cinema, and it totally arrests you to the gang’s side for the rest of the film. The leader, Moses, has quite a different story that gets hinted at later on, though it really doesn’t kill your faith in him.

So, yeah – I’n not going to talk much longer on this. The concept is fantastic, the characters are real and deep enough to carry a story, and the sci fi elements are so low-fi that you’ll barely call this much more than a survival picture. While it’s really not everyone’s cup of tea, and one or two of the characters don’t work brilliantly (pretty much everyone bar the central kids, in all honesty, pales in comparison), this is a real gem buried amongst piles of box office dreck. If you want to see it, I wouldn’t advise hesitation, as it’s a real marvel.

PRO: Amazing concept. Brilliant visuals. Characters that grow on you. Good pacing, and as long as it needs to be. Some great little touches that show care has been taken.

CON: Some of the characters are flat. Themes and style are a bit exclusive. Little more than a survival flick wrapped up in a character study.

9/10. So far, this is the only film I would recommend at all cost. A brilliantly low-budget little film that avoided big bucks at the box office, as a debut for director Joe Cornish, it’s something on the stupendous side. Well worth an hour and a half of your life.

MOVIE REVIEW #39 / 250 : STAR WARS : RETURN OF THE JEDI

Well, strike me silly.  You wait two weeks for one review, and two come at once.  What a treat, eh?

Alright, alright.  It’s hardly been long since I last trod into the world of intergalactic Jim Henson puppets, but having been left on such a low note from my last review, I felt I needed to get myself a guaranteed kick from somewhere familiar.  I’d rated New Hope as 8, and Empire as 9.  Things can only get better, right?

So, basically, things pick up in Jedi where Empire left off, as you’d hope, really.  The main gang set off to get Han Solo out of carbonite and out of intergalactic crook Jabba the Hutt’s swinging underground lair, and this naturally leads to scenes of chaos, fighting, more chaos, more fighting and talk of the force.  Only this time, it’s final.  The stakes are higher as the dreaded (and more to the point, informed) evil empire begin building their second Death Star, and up the ante on both annihilating the rebellion, and naturally Vader still has unfinished business in wrangling his son Luke to the Dark Side.  This time around, there’s ewoks, too.  Annoying doesn’t cover it.  But, never mind.

It’s kinda sad to draw this saga to a close (before you say it, no.  Check the list.  NO.  Forgot to include them here, but, no.  NO.), but Jedi pulls everything to a suitably dramatic and, of course, explosive close.  There’s even more reliance here upon lengthy action sequences (can’t say too much of this stuff is my kind of thing, but hey, think about what we’re dealing with) than there is in the two preceding films, and it’s definitely more interesting to look at.  What Empire was missing was the weird legion of beasties that clogged up the Mos Eisley cantina in New Hope – fans of rubbery weirdos will be well at home in Jabba’s palace, and the new monsters that are introduced here are fantastic.  Not much gets added to the story nor the saga as a whole other than a climax, though – Jedi is the archetypal closing chapter, so it’s probably a bit late to be wading in with much more on the story front.

What sets this finale apart from any other, though, is that it’s not rushed.  Oh, no.  Not by halves.  The story may be thin, but every last drop is milked – everything that can blow up, does.  It’s not the shaggy dog story of Empire, and nor is it the complete story of New Hope – it’s an all-singing, all-dancing bookend, basically.  I still definitely appreciate Empire more for its contribution to the story and for its character development – Jedi takes this development and, admittedly, doesn’t do much with it – but ensures that there’s still a few tricks up the old plot sleeve.  There’s a few unexpected character twists along the way that bring everything to a really satisfying conclusion.

Ewoks are annoying.

So, yeah.  I really don’t have much left to say about Star Wars.  It’s been a long time coming for me to finally sit down and appreciate all three of the original films (even though the version of Jedi I’ve just watched had HAYDEN CHRISTENSEN show up as a hologram for ten seconds), but I’m really glad I have.  Like I’d said initially when I first sat down to watch New Hope all those weeks ago, I don’t think I’ll become one of those people that dresses up as Boba Fett and shells out £600 to go geek it up with hundreds of people that have analysed how many trees appear in the woodland chase sequence in Jedi… not yet, anyway.

PRO : Visually amazing, brilliant visual pace and variety, great acting, awesome score.

CON : Action sequences milked to high heaven.  Little plot on top of Empire.  Ewoks.

7/10.  I like to think the first two were better, but it’s a great finish.  The end of an era.  I’ve watched the original trilogy, and the end of what has probably been the dullest set of reviews on the whole of the blog.  Right then.  Now what?…

MOVIE REVIEW #38 / 250 : ‘THE VILLAGE’

Oh, God.  Deep breaths.

M Night Shyamalan!  Not his real name, obviously, but that’s beside the point.  M, as he shall be known for the rest of this review, is rather… infamous.  He’s written, produced and directed several blockbuster movies over the past decade or so, some receiving critical and audience praise (The Sixth Sense, Signs), while others have… let’s say struggled to capture people’s imaginations (Lady in the Water and The Happening came under more critical and commercial hilarity than others).  Put it this way.  Do you like suspense?  Do you like last-minute twists that make you rethink the entire film you’ve just watched?  Do you like seeing the director making a cameo in each film he makes?  Then you’ll probably love M’s stuff.  Me?  I’m undecided, or at least I was until I watched The Village.  I coped with Unbreakable (disregarding what’s probably the most abrupt ending to a movie I’ve ever seen), and laughed most of my way through Signs, so I naturally thought this’d be good for a yuk or two.

The Village, believe it or not, centers around a village.  Not any village, mind.  A moral, methodical and pure society dwells here, a town thriving on simple means and simple pleasures, without a touch of corruption or lust to be found.  You’d almost call these people religious, though curiously there’s very little mention of Biblical matters.  In any case – the characters here are innocent and fearful, and more than a little socially awkward – in what’s basically a period piece.  The main action centers around the colossal secret of ‘Those We Do Not Speak Of’, and the ‘Towns’ that apparently exits beyond the confines of the village, which is entrenched in the thickest woods I’ve seen since I last went to Epping Forest.  The village elders strive to protect their community from growing rumours and ‘warnings’ given by creatures that seem to corss the border, and the movie focuses on the fear that encapsulates each and every one of its residents.  Of course, one of its residents, Lucius (Joaquin Phoenix) requests to visit ‘The Towns’ to fetch necessary medicine – he is, naturally, denied.  It’s not until he is attacked and in dire need of help that the elders reluctantly allow Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard), the only blind resident of the village we know of, to prepare to cross the border… and unravel the secrets of the village to us, the viewers.

It’s a very clever twist.  M, as mentioned, is the undisputed king of the swerve, building up a mountain of tension before hitting you with a resolution that will make you query your own sanity.  There is literally nothing within the movie that alludes to what the revelation may be until the final third of the film, which in a way is pretty satisfying – good mysteries, I reckon, are always buried deep.  And, unlike a lot of mystery cinema and television, Village delivers on answering all of its questions.  Well, the big ones, anyway.

I’m afraid this is the bit in the review where things stop sounding so positive.  What is a clever idea is executed to such a mind-numbingly boring extent that the shock and resolutions to the story feel more like a release than a treat.  This is not a story that fits almost two hours of screentime.  This is, at longest, an episode of The Twilight Zone.  I could be heavy-handed enough to say it’s a Goosebumps book.  An hour of slow, plodding alleged suspense-building frustrates more than it intrigues, and one half wonders if we’re actually going to get any resolution from any of it.  The characters are (perhaps necessarily) two-dimensional, and given the revelations, inexplicably awkward.  Seriously.  After watching this through, considering the implications of what the village actually is, and so forth, why are the characters so socially bereft? Timid I can understand.  But, argh.  It’s hard to express my gripes with this movie without going headlong into spoilers, which I said I’d never do – even though most of you will know the twist anyway – but I think the main facet of the problems lie in that it is a movie that consists of a plot built entirely around its final revelation.  You may argue that this is the main facet to all mystery stories.  But bear in mind, dear reader, that next to sod all actually happens throughout the film, save for people talking cautiously, or spreading vague and open-ended rumours, or simply being sodding awkward all of the time.  Not even costume drama characters are this beige.  This is a movie that paces around, bored, waiting for the climax to happen.  Unlike other mystery dramas, there is barely any external focus other than on a slow, agonising plod towards the punchline – this can be seen point-blank in the final scene of Village (and this really isn’t a spoiler, before you start yanking my chain), which looks set to resolve its main, hanging plotline with a few further minutes of action, but chooses to do it with one line of dialogue and a cut to black.  Oh, sorry, a cut to black and the words M NIGHT SHYAMALAN.  Good god.

I’m perplexed, really.  I love twists.  More than any other device.  I’ve always loved Twilight Zone and Tales of the Unexpected.  But Village is clumsy, boring and despite its admittedly great sting in the tail, pretty unmemorable.  It’s handled and delivered with all the precision of someone doing brain surgery whilst wearing oven gloves.  I don’t even think this is a film you could feasibly watch at ‘Bad Movie Night’, for fear of it killing the mood.  And believe you me, I am by no means whatsoever tainted by critical perception of M’s work, as I’ve been exposed to it before – but regardless of who is responsible for Village, the can must be carried by the name at the top of the bill.  While Village benefits from some clever direction and dialogue in keeping its resolution an absolute secret throughout, it’s messy and blinded (no pun intended) by its desperate focus on the finale.  It’s as if you can hear the low murmur of omg the ending is amazing omg the ending is amazing chuntering below a screenplay which really doesn’t budge an inch.

PRO: The twist is good.  Some of the acting is good.  I still don’t like William “I LOVE YOU WIFE” Hurt.

CON: What is meant to be suspense exists only as tedium.  Literally no plot beyond the existence of the final twist.  Characters are (in my opinion) unnecessarily awkward and flat.  Unmemorable.

0.5/10.  Harsh?  Have you seen The Village?  Have you seen it?  No.  You really haven’t.  Worse than Network.  Let’s all agree on that.  I need to go soak my head in bleach for the next few hours…

MOVIE REVIEW #37 / 250 : ‘STAR WARS : THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK’

Aaaand we’re back!

Not just in the land of moviereviewage (for tis a plentiful and prosperous land), either.  We’re back to the saga that’s been the bastion of science fiction for the past three decades, and the reason why autograph conventions exist.  It’s Star Wars!  And this one, word of mouth tells me, is the best of the original three.  In fact, it’s also touted as the best of the entire six.  Because, you know, no Jar Jar Binks.  God.  I can’t believe I made a Jar Jar Binks reference in 2012.  I’m firing these cultural phenomenon out of the barrel quicker than greased dysentry.

But, let’s set aside our revolting similes and dive right into Empire.  ‘Episode V’, as it’s subtitled, sees the returning cast (of whom I was about to name, but really don’t need to – seriously, you can name the six main protagonists off of the bat without seeing any of these movies) leading Darth Vader’s evil Empire on a merry goose chase across the galaxy, as said majesty of almighty doom is obsessively keen to track down young Luke Skywalker following the destruction of his Death Star hub in the last flick.  There’s alterior motives for Darthy heading after Luke though – and I wonder what they might be – and while the protagonists (and indeed some of the baddies) are thickly unclear on what the husky-voiced menace is truly plotting, much of Empire is a shaggy-dog story as Han Solo et al play an epic game of space chess with renegade fleets in a bid to secure the rebel alliance’s liberation.

The story follows two strands shortly after the off, with Luke following a message from beyond the grave to go into further Jedi training guided by a diminuitive green sage with the voice of Frank Oz, and Solo’s rag-tag crew playing cat-and-mouse with hapless Empire redshirts, eventually ending up at the home city of one of Han’s old compadres – however, the game, of course, doesn’t end there.  As I’ve rattled out previously, it’s rare anyone reading this won’t know Star Wars already – but, rules are rules, and if there is anyone yet to see Empire, fear not.  The plot exposition stops here, folks.  What follows is one of the most iconic film twists of all time, and a classic cliffhanger.

In fact, that’s what strikes me most about EmpireA New Hope was a stand-alone film, and it’s obviously framed as such – there’s a clear start, middle, and conclusion – no hanging threads, although the potential universe enveloping the story could allow for a bumload of additional adventures.  Naturally, this is why Empire strides into its story and picks up momentum so well.  Sure, the obligatory gratuituous panning text at the very beginning seals the gap between this movie and its prequel, but the first movie did such a good job of painting the colourful universe these characters inhabit that we barely need to concentrate to get into this one.  And, despite how short my plot description actually is, this one is crammed full of stuff.  I’m pretty sure I could sit through Empire five times at least before I’d be comfortable with having taken it all in.  It’s a basic story of good versus evil, with an unbelievably rich context.  I believe I said similar things in my review of A New Hope.  But, it needs repeating.  Doesn’t it?  Tough.

So, yeah.  Very little I can pick apart here.  Again.  The designs and effects for the late 70s/early 80s when this was produced and released are beyond fantastic.  There’s not a single string out of place.  Sure, the whole thing is cheesy as sin nowadays, but the whole thing is just so unavoidably epic.  Forget your notions of Harry Potter being ‘epic’.  Because I know you have such notions.  Don’t you?  Well, anyway.  As I watch more of the Star Wars saga, I appreciate more and more why it’s so insanely revered and obsessed over.  Again, I’m not likely to hot-foot it to a cosplay event in a Boba Fett costume (though I am to be guilty of attending this in June), but… you know what, it’s been said. Empirebuilds on the first movie as it no longer has a backstory to build up, and despite heavy reliance on long, drawn-out action sequences, it’s one of the most visually and aesthetically interesting films I’ve ever watched.

So, yeah.  That’s another one down.  I can’t tell if this is a shorter review than my last SW recap, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it is.  I think my Jedi review is probably just going to be OMG SPACE I LIKED IT, PRETTY VISUALS, EWOKS ANNOYING.  I’ll be checking into the final chapter of the big three later in the year.

PROS:Great visually, superb story world, well paced.  Well acted, even.  Frank Oz.

CONS: Ehhh… I’m gonna say I think some of the action is gratuitous.  I mean, it’s a sci-fi action thriller, so I’m missing the point here, but… well, if not, C3PO.  He did my head in.  Again.  If that’s the point of his character, well played.  I have half a mind to wager it probably is.

9/10.  An improvement on the original stand-alone, which leads in nicely to further never-ending prancing across the black void.  A great film to come back on.  Bring on some truly awful stuff, I’m ready for it!!

Still Alive!

Wow. Two weeks, really? New record. I guess real life just sailed into the way there for a bit. I’m sorry my regularity dans le blog has slipped dramatically – but rest assured, expect some of the good old GTC again from tomorrow onwards.

The movie project is getting tough. Keeping my interest piqued by sticking to a pre-ordained schedule was a war I was losing. So, the rules have changed slightly – no more scheduling! Each review will come at you without preview, and you’ll never know what it’ll be (obviously within the scope of the 210+ films I have left), meaning you could get Empire Strikes Back one day, and Meet Dave the next. You might not. Some folk have also pointed out that getting to 250 in a year now is an uphill climb. That, my friends, may well be. But I’m gonna see how many I actually manage. If I get 150 at least, I’ll be happy. But, the goal is still there.

So, in short, sit tight – normal service resumes tomorrow!

G

Movie Review #35 / 250 : ‘THE PRESTIGE’

Erm.  Abra… cadabra?  I know, I know.  I’ll get me coat.

Christopher Nolan.  If you recognise the name, he’s very quickly become quite the cult director in the past ten years, having helmed the Batman reboot Batman Begins and its sequels The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises (out July as far as I remember), and everybody’s favourite kaleidoscopic-dream-hopping-adventure Inception (it’s on the list).  He also directed The Prestige, which is full of his trademark confuddling plot twists and closed-book characters (and Michael Caine).

Nolan films aren’t everybody’s cup of tea.  They require a lot of attention, and, surprisingly, quite a bit of coherence.  If you miss one or two slight touches or turns in the entire movie, you’ve blown your chance of appreciating it to its fullest.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  The Batman reboots have been lavish and multi-layered as a result, and Inception was in IMDB’s top 5 movies ever for an extended period.  But, digressing.

The Prestige is essentially the continued one-upmanship between two rival magicians (or illusionists, though ‘real magic’ as opposed to ‘illusion’ is discussed several times here – whether you like it or not), played by Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale.  It all takes place in Victorian England, where the hats are lofty, and the accents are either plummy or missing their ‘H’s.  The dominoes start to fall when Jackman’s wife is killed in a trick where it’s unclear if Bale was responsible – but consumed by grief, Jackman chooses to make it his life’s work to outdo Bale, while Bale similarly gives as much as he receives.

That’s pretty much your plot.  There’s not much to it other than that, and that’s probably a good thing.  There is an intense amount of detail added into the tricks, the scheming and both the politics and ‘religion’ of what it means to be a practicing magician that fill up the plot, and Nolan’s trademark twisting and turning about all over the place work really well here.  Sometimes, such depth and such convolution comes off as smug or conceited – and in some places, Prestige is very conceited – but as we’re dealing with tricksters, we as the audience surely don’t mind being tricked ourselves.  Do we?  I didn’t.

This is a very angry, brooding film with very little in the way of joy for its characters, but I guess that’s not really the point here.  It’s all about the spectacle, watching the two magicians play off against each other, and wondering who will win right through to the climax.  As a movie, it’s a brilliant mental spectacle, and there’s an absolute bumload of clever surprises.  None so grand as the finale, where, if you didn’t see it coming from the clues (and they’re there, believe me – right from the beginning), you’ll either find it maddening or marvellous.

What bothers me most about Prestige is not the length, nor the persistent gloom – they’re both fine and necessary – it’s who we’re meant to be rooting for.  Even after at the film’s end, I was still behind Jackman’s increasingly obsessed character, despite the film flip-flopping between him and Bale for role of heroic protagonist all the way through.  Maybe, given both their stories (which I’m not spoiling, though this is making this particular entry a wee bit sparse), we have to take them on equal merit.  They’re both as cunning and as sleazy as each other.  Plus, I plain don’t like Christian Bale.  I don’t know why.  I think it’s the whole saga he had with that cameraman on the set of Terminator Salvation years back.  Or, it could be that I find him immensely over-rated.  I unwisely chose to publicly claim George Clooney and his nipples to be a better Batman (something I’ve since detracted for the sake of my own teeth).

For a film so amazingly over-the-top, and so desperately, gloomily serious all of the way through, I’m finding it hard to say much else.  I think it’s a good one to see once.  If you like twists and turns, it’s one to watch.  If you like Nolan’s other stuff, it’s one to watch.  If you like going away from a film content with what you’ve seen, feeling warm and fuzzy and without any further questions, avoid it.  I don’t think I’ll watch it again, purely because I know its secrets (how ironic!).

PROS : Good acting, even for Bale.  Great twists and moments of surprise.  Great visuals.  David Bowie suits a moustache.

CONS : If you lose concentration for ten seconds, you’ve lost the whole movie.  Desperately intense and poetic.  Not much joy.

OVERALL : 7/10.  Erm, see above.  I needed to cool my brain down afterwards.  How will I cope with Inception?  Find out in July.  I’m taking a seven-month break from Nolan.  I need it.

Movie Review #30 / 250 : ‘BLUE VELVET’

Possible spoilers, Don!  Hit me with your possible spoilers!

‘Alrighty then’, as a profound man once said.  We’re now thirty films into my 250 onslaught, and this is the first entry from one director David Lynch.  Hoo, boy.  Let me talk to you about David Lynch.  He’s the creative and administrative force behind the likes of Twin Peaks, Eraserhead and Mulholland Drive (those last two being films I’ve still yet to see on my list, though I’ve tried sitting through E-Head previously, and failed).  If you know anything about these works, you’ll probably know what to expect from something like Blue Velvet.  It’s gonna be a visual and audial brain-melter, with metaphors galore and plenty of kooky characters with thin, unexplicable motives.  These aren’t necessarily bad things, though.  The worst thing a film can be is unmemorable.  And believe you me, BV is a two-hour experience in ridding yourself of nerves that you’ll barely be able to recoup.

The story concerns small-town American teenager, Jeffrey (Kyle McLachlan), who works at his local DIY store while his father recovers from an accident.  While throwing stones at a wooden shack (don’t ask),the lad comes across someone’s ear, sliced off and nestled amongst the grass.  Naturally, he informs his local sherriff-type and is told to stay out of the matter for his own good.  But, of course, he doesn’t.  The sherriff’s daughter, Sandy (Laura Dern) tells Jeffrey that a singer by the name of Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rosselini) is involved in the lughole mystery, and this spurs the hapless lad on to snoop into Vallens’ life, with more than a few nods to Hitchcock’s Rear Window, eventually leading him into the seedy underbelly of the town he calls his home.  Jeffrey gets entangled with local crime lord and general psycho Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper) as he grows closer to Dorothy, putting his life, his sanity, relationship with Sandy and the case itself into jeopardy.

It’s a pretty basic story, and it’s a pretty solid one.  A classic tale of protagonist character taking matters of good versus evil into his own hands, only for it to lead to more drama for himself and those close to him.  While there’s not much of a mystery (it’s pretty much sussed about half an hour in) as Jeffrey would have you and I believe, the journey – from Jeff’s initial fascination, to obsession, to the league of dominoes that lead to the climax – forms the bulk of the plot, and provides for some particularly intense drama.

Even more so, considering the direction.  May I remind you, this is a David Lynch picture.  The dialogue and interactions are, for the majority of the time, incredibly muted.  At least three-quarters of spoken dialogue is whispered, and at that, it’s incredibly simple – none of the characters nor the story warrant overcomplicated spiel or interaction, and this is something Lynch has clearly run with.  The first third of the film is very quiet, very awkward, and very tense.  It’s almost as is normality is being pastiched, not so much emulated.  If you get what I mean.

And then we have the bad guys.  Dennis Hopper is psychotic.  Psychotic, animalistic, and without a train of logical thought on his tracks.  Him and his goons are motiveless, soulless and nightmarish, subjecting Dorothy and her family, as well as Jeffrey, to nights of wanton violence and depravity, without a passing moment of care or judgement.  Lynch depicts his antagonists as fearless, automated eaters of souls, and the events unfolding from Dorothy discovering Jeffrey in the closet onwards peel away gradually like unlinked dream sequences, unveiling to Jefrey that not everything is as simple or good-natured in this world as he or Sandy would want, nor would believe.  The whole picture, I guess, is a metaphor for loss of innocence, or for the dawn of cynicism.  Whichever.  I’m not fussy.

This is an absolutely terrifying film.  It’s quiet, it’s moody, and for the most part it’s pretty hard to see where it’s headed.  I can’t fault direction or characterisation as far as building tension or instilling fear goes, but the only big stumbling blocks for me with Velvet lie in, again, length.  It’s two hours long.  I don’t think I’ve done a review yet where I don’t criticise run-time, but here, it’s definitely justified.  I understand Lynch has tried to up the ante by drawing things out as much as possible, but there are literally no expenses spared.  There’s a five-minute sequence of Jeffrey walking to Dorothy’s apartment.  Agreed, this builds suspense, its builds tension – but it happens way too often.  It gets annoying.  The introduction of Frank and his heavies, for me, fleshes out the chill factor far more than fifteen minutes plodding down the street does.  But, again, that’s me.  This film is more frightening than The Thing.  Yep.  I just wrote that.

PROS: Great, compact little story.  Bizarre, twisted characters.  Tense, and in places terrifying.  Good cast.

CONS: Has a tendency to plod.  Some of the metaphorical stuff will likely alienate a general audience.

7/10.  Memorable and haunting.  I’m glad I watched it, but I’m not sure I’d watch it again so soon.  I need to bleach the… striking… image of Dennis Hopper leering about with an oxygen mask out of my retinas first…

Movie Review #29 / 250 : ‘THE THING (1982)’

Spoilers. Or are they…?

Yeah, so. Folks that know me well will be alarmingly aware that I’ve been putting off watching John Carpenter’s The Thing for not just as long as this 250 movie mission has been running, but for years. It’s on my list, and it’s been reviewed so early on in the year as I decided enough was enough. I’d deferred paying any attention to the movie as I’m not a huge fan of gore (or visceral horror, for that matter) – I am quite easily repulsed. I mean, there were even sections of Dawn of the Dead that I winced at. But, consider this: I summoned up the strength to sit through Hellraiser and four of the Saw films – so how have I rightfully avoided Thing all this time? Enough preamble. I sat down, I braced myself, I watched it. *gag*

The Thing is a tale of around a dozen arctic scientists/engineers discovering that a Norwegian team of explorers out in the vast coldness were mysteriously deformed and killed. They soon discover that the team unearthed an alien spaceship beneath 100,000 years’ worth of ice, and that whatever was riding in the craft emerged, and killed them all. It soon transpires that the alien (the titular Thing) shape-shifts. It absorbs and mimics living organisms, in order to continue splitting off, replicating and absorbing more prey. Its transformations are huge, vivid and disgusting (you should seriously see what it does to a dog) – and the bulk of the film’s drama comes from the protagonist team trying to suss out if they’re all still human after the Thing infiltrates and infects their compound. Naturally, this leads to standoffs, restrainings, folks going stir crazy, and all but two of them dying or becoming part of the Thing’s macabre stew by the climax.

I actually enjoyed this. The film’s selling point, its punter-puller, is the extreme gore and bodily horrors that ensue – and thirty years on, the effects are still absolutely horrifying. Considering this is a film celebrating its thirtieth anniversary, the vast majority of the animatronic and design hold up – like the stuff of nightmares.

It wasn’t so much this that impressed me, however. This is a ridiculously subtle film. Believe it or don’t. The vast majority of the drama comes from the silent, brooding, paranoia that runs rife through the various characters as they try to figure out who to trust, and who to torch. The surroundings and staging are both bleak and confined – it’s just them, and this grotesque shapeshifting killer beastie. There’s actually very little in the way of gore in the grand scheme of things – but what little there is, is horrible. This is a magnificently scary film only so due to the prolonged, tense spaces between Thing attacks and nervous breakdowns.

The characters aren’t massively developed, but there’s a fair few of them, so lavish back stories are absent for a reason. If anything, there’s too many characters – it was hard keeping track of who was who and where out of the tertiary cast (save for Kurt Russell, Keith David and Wilford Brimley, who are the most prominent). But, as the film goes on, it’s clearly not about the characters – it’s about The Thing. This should be insanely obvious, but things don’t start steamrollering ahead until about halfway through, when the paranoia starts kicking in, and when Brimley gets a touch of the ol’ cabin fever.

Despite its lack of depth, the direction and style of this film create more than enough fear, and enough tension, to entertain anyone out for a quick psychological scare, as well as those in it simply to laugh at the outrageous FX.

PROS: Subtly directed, great cast, incredible visuals, wonderfully intense. Truly scary, unlike a certain zombie flick…

CONS: Ultimately pretty depressing given the hanging ending, and no glimmers of hope for any of the characters. Too many characters.

9/10. I seriously don’t have much to say against this. I haven’t seen a movie this desperately intense or genuinely frightening in a while, and of those I’ve seen so far this year, it’s one of the best directed, and among the most memorable. I think I’ll watch it again. I may even watch the sequel. Who knew?

Movie Review #28 / 250 : ‘DAWN OF THE DEAD’ (1978)

Spoilers ahead. Arm the cricket bat.

Erm. Yeah. Well. Zombie films. They’re a whole genre to themselves, aren’t they? Not content with merely sitting under the ‘horror’ umbrella, they often hop the boundary to ‘comedy’ purely on the basis that zombies are the most ridiculous foes in cinema. Full stop. They might move in hordes, but they move at a gnat’s pace, and they’re easily felled by innocuous objects like, let’s say, a sandwich. You could beat a zombie half to death with the blunt end of a hard-crusted BLT. Seriously.

So, again, like I did with Inglourious Basterds, I suspended all belief from the very off. Looking for plot or any meaningful characterisation in a George A. Romero zombiefest is a redundant move. This one is the sequel to Night of the Living Dead – and it’s been a while since I’ve seen that. But from what I remember, I liked it. In Dawn, four people find themselves trapped in a mall at the height of a zombie epidemic, finding themselves having to fight off various grey-coloured goons whilst nicking radios and high-end clothing. And why bit? I would. And you would, too.

They have a lot of fun with the genre in this one. There’s a lot of darkly comic moments as the humans manage to live alongside the baying goons, adapting to a liberated life inside the mall – and there’s a grim fascination that runs throughout. I think that’s probably what kept my interest. It’s such a grim, yet chaotic series of ridiculous events that you somehow find yourself eager to see how the next lot of corpses is going to be felled out.

Unfortunately, my interest came through in drips and drabs. Like Spinal Tap, this hasn’t fared well with age. And first and foremost, it is a B-Movie, so as discussed, expectations shouldn’t be skyrocketing. But there’s a lot here that’s just plain unforgivable, regardless of the era, regardless of its status as a trailblazer (the whole ‘mall zombies’ concept falls at the feet of this one). Most of the acting is abysmal. Oh, and I hear you – acting doesn’t matter, as it’s just about flogging zombies off, not about any deep melodrama – but we cannot connect with these characters. Most moments of supposed terror are unintentionally hilarious due to the misguided hams wandering around, delivering lines as if it’s rehearsal number two. If a character is fumblingly transparent, it turns a story, a film, into something else. This is first and foremost a horror film – and a lot of it is lost due to a sheer lack of actual delivery from a lot of the cast.

This would be forgivable, if the film was reasonably edited, with plenty of subtlety and moments of high suspense. The suspense is there, but the subtlety isn’t. The scenes cut wildly from one to the next, cameras switch from one to another furiously during action scenes, and the quieter, more suspenseful moments don’t hit in until about half of the way through. The film switches from quiet talky bit to muddled chaos frequently, and if this were coupled with delivery I could believe, I’d find it all a bit more entertaining.

But I can’t give this an abysmal score. For the most part, it’s certainly visually and conceptually interesting, and as discussed, there’s a lot of fun moments – but on the whole, I was left pretty underwhelmed. This is revered, through history and through many an IMDB review, as ‘one of the best horror movies of all time’. Some go so far as to call it the quintessential horror flick. It isn’t. Not in my opinion. But it is a trailblazer. This probably helped kick-start the wave of horror films that would take over 80s cinema (one of them, The Thing, I’m reviewing next), and for the right audience, I’m sure this is the right film. But even after suspending my belief, and taking into account the age of the thing, there’s a lot of crucial factors that get fluffed here – inexcusable ones which lower the entertainment value, certainly for me, irreversibly.

PROS: It’s zombies. Lots of brainless arsing about, sometimes played for laughs. Visually and stylistically interesting. Iconic.

CONS: Bad acting, horrible editing, dissonant soundtrack, too long by at least half an hour

4/10. It’s an iconic film. But it ain’t for me.